The Gospel Truth

From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around midafternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some bystanders who heard him said, “He’s calling for Elijah.” One of them ran and got a sponge soaked in sour wine and lifted it on a stick so he could drink. The others joked, “Don’t be in such a hurry. Let’s see if Elijah comes and saves him.”

But Jesus, again crying out loudly, breathed his last.

At that moment, the Temple curtain was ripped in two, top to bottom. There was an earthquake, and rocks were split in pieces. What’s more, tombs were opened up, and many bodies of believers asleep in their graves were raised. (After Jesus’ resurrection, they left the tombs, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.)

The captain of the guard and those with him, when they saw the earthquake and everything else that was happening, were scared to death. They said, “This has to be the Son of God!” Matthew 27:45-54

We all make mistakes. We’re only human! But we’re also forgiven. When we mess up, we don’t have to live in guilt. Jesus is right there. He lives in us, and He walks through the mess with us.

I know we forget that. We keep expecting ourselves to be perfect, and we keep trying to perfect ourselves for God. I can almost see God shaking His head. He’s saying, “These guys! They actually think they’re going to get rid of sin so that I’ll be close to them! Don’t they know? By the time they get rid of one sin, they’ve already sinned again, in some other way! Curing their own sin is going to be literally impossible for them!”

There’s no way that God would expect us to perfect ourselves. It doesn’t make sense that He would, because it can’t be done! But there’s another reason why He doesn’t expect it. It renders the power of the cross obsolete.

Think about that Temple curtain. The only way that anyone could enter the Holy of Holies was if they had no sin. What if the priest had a bad thought before he walked into that tent? Talk about fear! That’s fear.

We don’t live under fear anymore. We don’t. Jesus took away our reason for fear when He died and the Temple curtain was ripped in two. The very thing that required perfection was split in half, and Jesus said, “That’s over. You walk freely now.”

Now there is no shame. Jesus took it, man! He took your shame! Think about it. If I’m Jesus, and I’m getting mocked, I’m not putting up with it. I’m getting off that cross so that I can scare the hell out of everybody.

But Jesus put up with it. He did it for you! He knew He could get off that cross, but He said no. He hung there instead, and He took all the shame. They spit on Him. They mocked Him. They beat Him. They laughed at Him. And the whole time He said, “I’m taking all this on me. Because 2,000 years from now, I’m going to live in you. I’m going to be right there with you when you start to wonder what you’re doing in life, and if you add up. I’m dying on this cross to let you know that you do. You add up. You’ve done nothing on your own to prove it. Nothing. I’ve done it all. I’m the point system for you now, and it’s all good. You are free!”

That’s the Good News. And that’s truth. That’s truth!

See you Monday.

The Hole in Our Gospel

I’m so grateful for all the new visitors to my blog in the last few days! I thought, out of the nearly 500 posts I’ve written, which one would I want new readers to see first? Which one will tell you, in a few short paragraphs, what my blog and my upcoming second book are about? Which one will show you the direction I hope to take in my next phase of life? And I settled on this one. Please give it a read. Please stay connected to me. Please join the movement!

If you went to the Bible and removed all the verses where Jesus talked about justice, poverty, the poor, and helping the really vulnerable, like orphans, you would leave a gigantic hole in the Christian Gospel. That is the basic point of The Hole in Our Gospel, a 2009 book by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision U.S. Stearns also says that this is basically what Christians have done.

We skip reading those parts. We’re big into our “best life now” scenarios, and we’re big into asking how Jesus can help me in my life. We use the Bible to find out how we’re going to be better and how we’re going to excel in life with Jesus. Somehow we convince ourselves that the Gospel is all about us.

But how does that relate to what Jesus said: that all the law can be summed up in love your neighbor as yourself? In our “best life now” scenarios, we lose that. We’re not loving our neighbor.

Part of the problem is that we think it’s too hard. When you read statistics on poverty, you don’t feel like you can help. When you read how bad these issues are, everywhere in the world, you wonder, “What can my one dollar really do? Or my fifty cents, or my five dollars, or even my five hundred dollars?”

Stearns shows how the statistics can be overwhelming, deceiving, and even depressing. They can make you do the opposite of what you are called to do, and that’s trying to figure out a way to alleviate poverty.

And then he shows how effective we can be. He shows how we can alleviate poverty. We do it as the body of Christ. We do it as His Church.

Christian churches are supposed to be the pillars of their communities, and even the pillars of the world. Read about the early church, and what Jesus tried to do. This is why Christians came together as churches in the first place.

But in the Western church today, we get into our own little bubbles. We create these mega-churches. They offer yoga classes, Starbucks in the lobby, all these things intended for the comfort of their own people. I understand the importance of discipling, but the impression these mega-churches give is that they only care about themselves. They make it look as though they are there for only one thing: seeing to the needs of their own congregations.

We’re supposed to be a church as a whole, a church everywhere in the world. We’re supposed to go out into the communities of the world to figure out who needs help. And then we’re supposed to get together and help!

Jesus said, “I came to rescue.” He said, “I came to take people out of bondage and bring joy where there is none.” And when He ascended to heaven, He left it up to us to continue His work. That’s our fulfillment in Christ. That’s our real “best life now” scenario.

Who is with me?

See you Thursday.

Worshipping the Problem Solver, Part 2

We  often ask God for the things that we want, and we are thankful when we get them. We have all these moments of asking and thanking, asking and thanking. But we don’t remember to have a simple time of adoration for our God.

So I started to do that this year. And I’m continuing to do it. This year’s knee injury came at a really bad time, just as my arm was just starting to feel better, and just as everything was starting to go a little bit better. I had to step back and say, “Abba, Daddy, I need you. I need you to be my strong tower. I need you to be my strength and my deliverer. I need you to be my all-knowing God and remind me that you know everything. Because Abba, Daddy, I feel like I’ve been abandoned.”

And that’s truly how I have felt at times. Sometimes I have to purposefully remember that I have not been abandoned. I’m a member of the family of the King of Kings, to whom He has said, “I am your father. I will never leave you, nor will I ever forsake you.”

God is for us. He’s for me. There’s this aroma that I have to remember. It’s the aroma of Christ. It’s that feeling that we can trust Him. Our circumstances may not be what we want, but He makes all things work together for good. Trust Him.

It is so difficult at times. I read in scripture to trust the Lord with all my heart, soul, and mind. His Word tells me to lean not on my own understanding. The scripture says trust Him, because in all my ways, He will make my path straight. And I have to say, man, you are right. I can’t lean on my own understanding. Because I don’t understand. I don’t understand why this season went the way it went. Some of you might not understand why your job’s not going the way it’s supposed to be going. Or your marriage isn’t going the way it’s supposed to go. Or school’s not going right. Or things are falling apart. We don’t always understand that. And that is why God says, “Run to me. I am your rock. I am your strong tower. I am the person you can hide in. I will protect you.”

And we have to trust that! We have to! Because if we fight, if we don’t trust God, if we take our own way, then it will get harder. It will.

When I can get into that avenue of trust, sitting, even laying in the sanctuary of my King, then I can say, “Abba, Daddy, you’re right. Your burden is easy and your yoke is light, and I can come to you for rest.” I start to feel the Holy Spirit take over, and my heart fills with joy.

And so that’s been my year. I have had to learn to step back and trust. I have had to learn to lay before my God until my heart opens up and He says, “Yes. Jeremy, that’s what I’m looking for. Trust me. And that truth will set you free.”

If you don’t trust the truth, it can’t set you free.

I have really been tested this year. But I know my God is going to come through. It’s all going to work together for me. I love Him, and I trust Him, and I adore Him, and He is my God and King.

So I’m asking you, trust. If you need Him, if you don’t feel Him, then trust Him. You’ve gotta trust that aroma. I’m not going to guarantee that you will see God right now if you ask Him into your heart. I’m not going to guarantee that you’ll find Him sitting right there on the hood of your car. I’m not going to say that you will hear His audible voice. You won’t necessarily see some bright light. But you will feel Him in your heart. It will heal. Something inside of you will feel real joy. The joy that is true.

And it all comes from trusting. Trusting our King.

Worshipping the Problem-Solver, Part 1

There’s nothing like a tough personal challenge to remind us that we’re only human. Baseball is tough enough without the personal challenges. Mentally it’s difficult. Emotionally it’s difficult. Our blood, sweat, and tears go into this sport. What you don’t see behind closed doors is how human we are. We’re not robots. We don’t like failing. We don’t like losing. And when we see things happen on the field, whether it be our fault or not, it’s very frustrating.

I’ve had a lot of frustration this year. I’ve had a lot of hurt, and not just in my body. My heart’s been hurt. My soul’s been hurt! And it wasn’t something that I was expecting. You come away from a world championship year like we had, and you walk back in expecting to have an awesome season. But it’s been so up-and-down, what with my arm hurting, and then another blowout of another knee.

The theme for me this year has been trust. God has been telling me to trust Him.

Obviously, I started this season trusting Him. Of course I trust God! But He turned up the heat on me. It’s easy to feel the trust when things go our way. When things don’t go exactly as we planned, we find out that trust is really hard. I’m going to be really honest with you. In my flesh, it’s very hard to trust this guy we call God, this God that we don’t necessarily see, or have audible conversations with.

I know His word is true, and I know what my soul feels when I truly trust Him. But still, it’s really hard sometimes.

Jesus says, “I’ve come for those who are sick. Those who are healthy don’t need doctors. I’ve come to heal those who are broken-hearted.” Well, I’ve needed my doctor this year. I really have. I’ve loved Jesus my whole life, and a lot of good things have happened. My bride and I have been married for 16 years. I have three wonderful boys, high energy boys, and yes, they do cause me physical pain sometimes! I’ve had a great career. I’ve had an unbelievable experience in San Fran, and I’ve had great teammates that I truly, truly love. I have all these good things, but there are still times when I need my doctor. Times when I need my daddy. And I feel like I’ve had that this year. I’ve really needed to lean on Him.

I have no problem telling God I’m angry. There might be theology out there that says you can’t do that. But I’m going to tell you right now, I rip my clothes and scream at the King all the time. And it’s okay. Because my heart opens up and He says, “That’s what I’m looking for. Open your heart to me. I want to heal it, and I will, as long as you can trust me.”

No one said being a Christian is easy. No one said that if you became a Christian, all your problems go away. I read something the other day that I will never forget. It said, when you start looking at all your problems, remember to start worshipping the problem-solver. That was huge for me. That’s been my year. In this scenario of trust that God asked me to walk in, He said to me, “You need to learn to adore me more.”

More on this next time. See you Thursday.

Love Saves. Love Unites!

I don’t believe that it’s wrong that we have denominations. Denominations aren’t an obstacle to church unity. Think about it. Do you go to a church because you agree with its teaching, or do you go because it’s where you were saved, or where you feel loved?

The size of the church shouldn’t be an issue either. I have been to megachurches that have campuses so large that they have gyms for members. But they also have huge hearts for the least among us, and they have built huge humanitarian programs to show their love.

Pastor Matthew Barnett runs the Los Angeles Dream Center. It has five hundred thousand square feet, right by Dodger Stadium. These Christians feed the homeless and take care of the poor. They even paint people’s houses for free, just because they want to serve them. They distribute food and female products in poor communities that don’t have the money they need to make ends meet. They pour a lot of money and effort into the injustices they encounter, in the country and in the world.

Matthew’s father, Pastor Tommy Barnett, runs the Phoenix Dream Center out of the Phoenix First Assembly of God, same deal. And these social justice efforts do not cause division or disunity. The opposite happens. Love creates community!

Love is what it’s all about. Love saves people. Loving them.

Think of a person who has a mental illness. Probably the best healing resource is just to love on them. They still need other sources of help, but just to love on that person instead of shunning them is going to help them more than anything else.

What’s the response to a person that doesn’t have water? Love on them! Get them water. Show them that you love them. Help provide a resource they should have.

God has showed me a lot of things that are not good. Sex slavery is a terrible thing. It’s the devil’s way of perverting love. Sexuality is showing love in a pure way, a beautiful way. And we’ve created evil with it.

But He’s also showing me ways to help out, and the answer is obvious. How can I help a person trapped in the sex slave industry? Love on them. Rescue them!

God is showing us that He sees what’s wrong, and He’s showing us the answer. How does He show us? Through His people! Look at all the people willing to fight evil! He spoke about it in scripture, and He’s speaking to us about it now.

He’s opened my eyes to a whole new area of humanity, to all these people who are so unselfish. They know that love saves people. Love will bring His church together.

See you Monday.

My First Tattoo

When people see my tattoo, they ask, “What is that?” And I say, “It’s one of the Five Solas of church history.” And then they say, “What’s that?”

We’ve forgotten the Five Solae! In fact, I think we’ve gotten away from church history. We’ve forgotten where things started and we don’t remember who we were originally supposed to be. God created the church. It was designed to be the mystery of God.

solus christusI’ve done several studies of church history. I haven’t done an in-depth study, but I think I get the gist of it. The Five Solae, which summarize the basic beliefs of the Protestant Reformation, have always stood out to me. There’s Sola Gratia, by grace alone, Sola Fide, through faith alone, Soli Deo Gloria, for God’s glory alone, and Sola Scriptura, according to scripture alone. And then there’s Solus Christus, in Christ alone.

“Solus” means “solely,” or “alone,” so the Five Solae say something about our own individual journeys. My journey is different than the journey of the person next to me.  My journey is different than your journey. When you look at the Five Solae, you think, all right, what is my journey? Maybe it’s Sola Gratia, or maybe it’s Sola Scriptura. Only you and God know.

I would love to have tattoos of all Five Solae, but I don’t necessarily want to put a tattoo on every part of my body! So the one I chose had to personally mean something. It had to signify the journey that God has made for me. And the Sola that jumps out and attacks me the most is Solus Christus. It sums up everything. Do I believe that Christ is the only way to God? Yes. I believe Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and no man sees the Father except through Him.

When I do something, I do it with the understanding that I do it in Christ. Suppose someone asks me, “What drives you to be who you are?” The answer is Christ. He’s the reason I do the things I do. I try to view things the way that He wants me to view things. I didn’t hang with the guy every day like His disciples got to do, but I have the Spirit inside of me, which now puts Christ in me. Solus Christus. It’s in Christ that I do the things I do.

I know I will stand before the throne of God one day and He will say, “Jeremy, sometimes you were wrong.” But I’m willing to accept that. It’s not like we get to go through life depending on an audible voice from God on every single topic. We read in Luke that Peter, John, and James went up on the mountain with Jesus to pray, and a cloud came down and out of the cloud God spoke and said, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” We don’t all get that opportunity. But because of who I am in Christ, I ask for wisdom, and in Christ, I do what seems right. I try to. I do things in the hope that I get it, that I understand how Christ would do it.

That’s what Solus Christus means to me, and it’s why it was my first tattoo.

See you Thursday.

Church Divided

Why is the church divided? What do those divisions mean for God’s Kingdom? Should we unify the church, and if so, how? What will happen when we do? I’ve already blogged on that last question. I believe Jesus is waiting for us to unify, and when we do, He will return! But I plan to tackle those other questions too, beginning with the first one.

Why are we divided?

The first formal split in the church happened in 1054 AD, when the church in the East split from the church in the West. There were doctrinal differences between the two sides, yes, but in addition, the Eastern church just didn’t buy into the idea that the Pope in Rome was the ultimate authority for all Christians.

The second split happened in the Protestant Reformation, pretty much for the same reason. Martin Luther was not the first reformer, but he was the most successful. His timing was perfect, thanks to the printing press. His ideas couldn’t be suppressed. They were mass produced and distributed! The power of the published word!

The issues associated with the Reformation were complex. I mean, the entire Western world was changing. But we can understand this complicated historical moment through one simple issue: the sale of indulgences in exchange for the forgiveness of sins.

We’re all very familiar with Martin Luther’s frustrations over the sale of indulgences. That was a corrupt practice and no one agrees with it, not Protestants, and not Catholics. You do not have to pay money to the church or anyone else for the forgiveness of sins. The Pope was obviously wrong on this point.

It all came down to politics, of course. At the peak of its power, the Roman Empire ruled a huge territory that stretched from England in the west to Iraq in the east. Over time, though, it grew weak and started to crumble. It collapsed in the 5th century AD, and when that happened, Europe fell into chaos. Someone had to step up and provide order and security. The Church in Rome did that. It ruled for centuries, but couldn’t keep it up. Why not? Because there’s only one ruler, and that’s the Trinity: Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit, three in one. There’s only one King of Kings!

No one, not the Pope, not anyone, can say that God comes through them and to them for everything. Jesus said there’s only one King. And with the Bible translated into popular languages, and printing presses printing them, people were learning to read and they were reading the Bible for themselves. So they knew what it said.

If you’re in control and you’re a human being — like we all are — and you’re running a big church empire located in the Vatican, and only a small elite can read the Bible, then what do you think will happen? You can get away with saying whatever you want!

But once the Bible was available to everybody and people started to read it, they said, “Wait a minute! We all have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ! It says so right here! It’s not the Vatican’s relationship with Jesus, it’s our relationship!” So some people stood up and protested. That’s how the Protestants got their name. They were the ones that stood up to the Roman Church and said, “You know what? We’re tired of you telling us what we’re supposed to do!”

I’m not saying that Protestants or Catholics or Eastern Orthodox are wrong. And I’m not saying that the people of any church are wrong or bad. I’m only saying that when you look at history, you can see how the church got divided.

I also don’t necessarily think that it’s bad that we have Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox, or that we have all these different kinds of Protestant denominations. In fact, what grieves me about denominations is not that they exist, but that sometimes we feel like, “If you don’t belong to this denomination, then you are wrong.” I don’t believe that. Not at all.

More on this next time. See you Monday.