Letting Go

Grace is supposed to be the foundation of our lives, but how often do we truly live in it? Sometimes, to get back to grace, we have to repent. It’s not easy. I remember when God said, “Jeremy, let’s make grace your foundation. Grace is essential for you and your family to thrive.”

And then He said, “You have to give up control.”

It’s hard to see the extent to which we cause bondage by trying to hang onto control. I understand why we get into controlling patterns. It’s because we worry about what people might think of us. As Christians, we think we have to look a certain way and act a certain way. That way lies legalism, and it’s the easiest thing in the world to let happen. Believers can get caught up in rules. We can bury ourselves in rules, trying so hard to make sure that we present the “right” face to the world.

How is grace different? The Bible says that I am to love my wife — and by extension my family — as Christ loved the church. I don’t think I really understand that at first, as a man or as a husband. So I asked God, “Well, how is that done? How does Christ love the church?”

All I had to do was ask! Then God completely changed my view on the subject. He showed me that He loves me as I am, not as He thinks I should be. This is a prominent subject in Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Galatians, but for some reason, I didn’t see it. I don’t know why I didn’t, because it’s right there. Paul emphatically says there is no law anymore.

As soon as I saw it, I saw the freedom that grace brings. After that, all I wanted was to learn to be full of grace. And God was glad to teach me. Letting go of control and living in grace has brought freedom to me and my family. Grace liberated us, and now it allows us to grow. We increase and thrive in grace.

This is the whole point of living with faith and understanding in Jesus Christ. Our faith in Jesus asks us to give up the law. It asks us to give up the Ten Commandments. It asks us to give up our tendency to legalism. Jesus said, “I have not come to break the law, I have come to fulfill it.” He said, “When I die, I am dying to that law. And when I rise again, I am raising up a new ideal, which is grace. It’s a new life, full of grace. And you don’t have to live by anything anymore.”

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

Free and Unmerited Favor

We want control. We’re only human!

We want control over what we do and what happens to us. We want control over the future. In our flesh, we experience hunger, so we have to provide for ourselves and our families. We have to eat, so it’s natural to want control.

But we also want control over other people. We try to control how they react to us. Some of us try to control how they behave in our presence! This isn’t about the hunger our bodies experience or the food we need to stay alive. This is about something else. It’s about avoiding shame.

The thought process is something like this: “I want people to act a certain way when I’m around because that will make me feel better.”

For some of us, our greatest need for control involves the people closest to us, like our families. How many of us have said, “If my husband (or wife) and my kids look like this or act like this, then people will think that our family is good.” Does that sound familiar?

There’s no shame in wanting control. It’s just being human.

As a baseball player, I was very control-oriented. When I went out on that field, I didn’t control where a hitter hit the ball. I didn’t control when a hitter took a swing. So I had to control everything before that. I controlled my environment at the field. I controlled my workouts and the development of my technique. I controlled the delivery of the pitch. All of this helped me succeed.

But when it comes to family and relationships, control won’t work. You cannot control other people.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “grace”? How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, I’ll give them grace this time.” It’s like saying, “I’ll just let it slide.” In some ways, grace has acquired a casual quality. This is a non-spiritual way of looking at it.

Maybe we hear grace and think mercy. We say, “Grace? That is Jesus dying for us. Grace is allowing us into His kingdom. It’s allowing us into His family.” That confuses grace and mercy a little bit. There’s more to grace than this.

I finally started to truly understand grace when I heard the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED defines grace as “the free and unmerited favor of God.” Think about that. How do we get God’s grace? We don’t! Grace is free. It is unmerited. We can’t earn it. God just gives it to us.

In some ways that is such a foreign concept! God just gives us His grace, even though we don’t deserve it? Who does that? Well, God does! Truly, that’s what He does. He just gives it to us. He simply gives us favor.

And when God gives us grace, He allows us to live in it.

God has been taking me on a journey into grace. I think this is a big part of the Christian life. Going on this journey, and understanding what grace means, has been a very big deal for me. It has allowed me to see scripture in a new way. God leads me to work with Biblical principles in new ways, and gain fresh insight.

I’ve been learning what the Bible really means when it says, “Don’t live by the law.” It’s leading me to freedom. Surrendering control and living by grace frees us. It frees the people around us. Giving and receiving grace is living in freedom.

More on this next time. See you Friday.

Husband and Wife in Grace

Christian legalism focuses on the box. Christian legalism emphasizes no. It says, “You’re not allowed to do that. You’re not allowed to do this.” And that causes problems!

It causes problems in marriages. I’ve been there, but I no longer try to control my wife or my children. If you try to control your wife, then things will get bad for your family. I’ve seen men, including myself, say to their wives, “You know what, as long as you live the way I say to live, then everything’s okay. But if you don’t, then I’m going to get angry, and basically, you’re not going to like it when I’m angry.” And when men start controlling, it gets really bad. Then you’ve got your family living at the address of misery.

What good is this? How does your family feel when you tell them that they can only make you happy if they live up to your standards? It’s an impossible situation! You’ll only make your family miserable.

It’s the same with any other relationship. Your friends don’t like you when you tell them they have to do what you say, right?

Grace allows us to be free. Grace allows us to liberate each other. When I go home at the end of the day, I am not living in expectation. I don’t have to stake my happiness on what my wife is or isn’t doing. I don’t go home thinking, “Great, unless my wife is doing what I want her to do, then I’m going to be miserable.” And I’m not making her worried or anxious. She isn’t wondering what to do or how to make me happy. When I get home, I assess the situation, and then I say, “Okay! How can I help?”

And when my wife has an opinion, I listen to it. When she wants to do something, I don’t try to stop her. I help her. I don’t feel compelled to say, “No, that’s not how I’d do it.” If she wants to do something a certain way, then that’s her call to make. She’s her own person, and that’s great!

Truly living in grace is an amazing experience. I feel so free, living without expectation of how things have to be. And I love living in a grace-based relationship. I don’t have to demand that my wife or my children live a certain way. I don’t want to control their demeanor, or control everything they do! God made everyone to be different. God gave us all different personalities. And if this is what God has done, then this is a good thing! Why would I try to control what God has made, or change what God has given?

See you Tuesday.

Grace Moves In

Someone asked me the other day, “What is grace?” That one is really hard to define for me, because it’s so big! I think grace is a lot of things. Grace is an action. It’s a way of being in relationship. It’s the opposite of shame. It’s the power to transform. Grace is a really big idea, because grace is Jesus.

People will often say, “Grace is that Jesus died for you.” But actually that’s not grace. That’s mercy.

Grace is the essence of our relationship with God. It’s the gift of understanding that you’re a human being so you’re going to mess up. Through His grace God says, “You’re going to mess up and it’s okay.” Grace is our second chance with Him. And since God is infinite, He gives us infinite second chances.

When we allow grace into our relationships, we give each other the same gift that God gives us. It comes from our hearts. We look at each other and we say, “I know you’re going to mess up. I’m going to mess up, too. It’s okay. Let’s talk about it. Let’s try to understand how we affect each other. And then let’s work through it.”

Suppose a friend or someone in your family says something to you that you don’t like. Maybe they say something mean to you, or maybe you just take it the wrong way. Either way, you react. You get angry, or you get hurt. Or both!

Grace moves in and says, “Hold on! That person needs grace from you.” Grace shows you what your relationship needs. It shows you that sometimes your family and friends need you to step aside and say, “You affected me deeply by that comment. It’s okay. Let’s take a time out. Let’s talk about it. Can you explain what you meant by that? I don’t want to get wounded or react to you in anger.”

Grace also moves in when you don’t take that time out. Sometimes a friend or someone in your family says something to you and you react immediately. We all react out of our wounds sometimes. You know what? It’s okay. Grace shows your friends and family how to look at you and say, “Hold on. You reacted very quickly to what I said. What did you hear me say? Let’s talk about it.”

If what they said is truly what you heard, and it still hurts you, then grace shows them how to say, “I’m sorry. How could I have said it differently?”

If you misunderstood what they said, then grace says, “Let’s take time and open up to each other. I would like to be able to explain what I said, because what you heard is not what I meant.”

So you see, grace to me is such a very big thing. It’s so rewarding to live in it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s very hard to do. I mean, most things are not black and white.

Sometimes we need grace to say, “Hold on, I love you, and I’m going to let that one go.” Other times we need grace to say, “I love you, and I’m willing to let that go. But we need to talk about it because I want to tell you how it affected me.”

I need grace when my children are acting out and making mistakes or getting in trouble. I look at them and say, “Look, I don’t want you to do that again. I’m going to extend grace to you right here and now. I’m going to tell you why I don’t want you do to that again. Then if you do it again, I’m going to give you a discipline. But right now, I want to talk through why it’s not okay to do that. That way, if you do it again and you are disciplined, you’ll understand why.”

I don’t want to just say to my boys, “You did something wrong so go to your room.” I want them to understand that their words and actions affect me and other people. I don’t want them to go to their room with no idea why they’re being sent there.

This is grace in action. It’s being in relationship with an understanding that there are always going to be second chances. Grace is liberating. Grace is without judgment. Grace is without condemnation. When the Bible says there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus, to me it is saying that there is grace.

Saying there is no condemnation is not the same as saying, “Do whatever you want.” No. Saying there is no condemnation is saying, “Now there is grace. You are going to mess up, but it’s okay. You get grace.”

See you Friday.

 

The God of Second Chances

Jesus told the apostles, “I didn’t come just to die for you. I want to show you how to live. And once I show you how to live, I’m going to redeem you. You’ll have a second chance. Go and teach others what I have taught you.”

Jesus tells us, “Now that I have shown you how to live, you can be like me! I know you’ll mess up, but I died for you, so you’re redeemed. Because of my blood, you can come into heaven. I did that for you because without my redeeming blood, you don’t have a shot. You can’t live the right way. There is too much sin in the world.”

Second chances are so important. We all need one. We all need a lot of them! There are too many things working against us. There are too many enemies, right here in the world with us, telling us to live the wrong way.

That’s why we turn to Jesus. We need His powerful blood. Without it, we have no hope.

This is also why we need to evangelize. We can’t wait for Jesus to return. It’s our job to show others what Jesus showed us. We have to reflect Him now. People don’t really understand who He is, but without Him they have no hope. We need to bring Him to everyone.

Who is Jesus? For one thing, He’s a risk taker. He entrusted the Gospel to twelve men and a prostitute. Think about that. He gave the Gospel to twelve men, Mary, and later Paul. He gave them the Gospel to take into the world. He relied on them to show people who He was, and to remind people who God is.

Mary and those men did it. They did it well. By the time they died, there were one million Christians. One million!

He’s asking us to do the same thing now. He’s entrusted His Gospel to us. We have to continue that heritage. We have to continue the legacy left to us by Mary and the apostles. We have to show people who Jesus was.

Some people have lost sight of that. Some people think that the legacy of Jesus is make sure you go to church on Sunday, hang out within four walls and a roof, and then go home. That is not the legacy of Jesus! Jesus walked the streets. He hung out with people. He hung out with sinners!

And He didn’t judge them. He said, “I created you and I understand you. I don’t live like you but I can see how you would sin. You’re going to need a lot of forgiveness, because you’re going to mess up. You’re going to need my blood, because you are going to tank it. All the time.”

Jesus knew how hard it would be for us. So He showed us how to live, and then He gave us a second chance. He asked us to make sure the world understands. We need to do this. We need bring this to our relationships. We need to bring this to the church. This is grace, and we need to bring it.

See you Tuesday.

Life in Trust

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4

Thanks to my study time with the Truefaced ministry, I’ve learned so much about trust. Not only have I learned about the grace that comes from trusting others in who they are, I’ve learned about the grace that comes from trusting others with who I am. Not the person that I intend to be, always feeling great and never having a problem or a bad day. No, I’m talking about trusting others with the real, imperfect person that I actually am. The real me.

This has been a lesson in freedom! It’s very freeing to be able to be my true self, knowing that there is now no condemnation. Now I can mess up and not feel ashamed. Imagine: I don’t live in shame now. I live in trust. I mess up! And I live in trust.

Here’s what it’s like. In my close relationships, I say, “I’m going to trust you. I’m going to tell you right now, I am not perfect. I am a Christian man who will fail. I will mess up. I will have a bad day. Maybe I will cuss every now and then. I might snap at somebody, or show some frustration.”

Then, when that bad day comes around, or I show some frustration, my family and friends will say, “I know. I don’t think of you differently. I know you messed up. It happens. But it doesn’t change my opinion of you. I love you.”

That’s what trust brings to relationships.

Jesus is the reason that I can trust people with my true, imperfect self. Jesus says, “I died for you. I took all of that shame and I died. I did it for you. And then, I resurrected.” The Bible says that because of Jesus’s death and resurrection, we are made holy and righteous. It also says that the same Spirit that lived in Jesus now lives in us. In His Spirit, we are free!

With this understanding, my wife and I can look to each other in trust. She looks at me and I look at her, and we see each other just as God sees us: righteous and holy. It’s the same with my close friends. It’s the same with my children.

I’m imperfect. I mess up. But there is now no condemnation! In trust with God and my loved ones, I am allowed to be a saint that sins. Not a sinner that is saved, but a saint that sins. The two perspectives are completely different. When you live biblically in your identity as God’s very own creation, His very own precious child, then you understand how God sees you. He looks at you and sees you just as He made you. Righteous and holy!

See you Friday.

Replacing Suffering with Joy

I don’t know how to replicate what Jesus did for me.

I know it’s not by standing on a soap box. It’s not by holding up a sign, saying that without Christ you’re going to rot in hell for eternity. I don’t believe Jesus did it like that. Jesus did not walk through the villages and say, “You better accept me or else rot in hell.”

So how do I do it? I’ve spent years working on this question. I’ve read and prayed. I’ve asked God to show me how He wants me to reflect the love of Jesus. I’m not done yet. I think this is an ongoing part of the Christian life. But the effort so far has been worth it. I truly believe that God has given me an opportunity to reflect Jesus in an awesome way. God has shown me how to follow Jesus by becoming a servant leader.

As a servant leader, I get to help give suffering people every possible chance to experience joy. What a blessing! I want to do this! I want to ease their burdens. I want to help create new and sustainable ways of living through clean water, food, family, freedom, and fulfilling work. I want to help create joy in the very best way that I possibly, humanly, can. That’s the most that I can do, but it’s the least that Jesus does. He loves us so much!

Being a servant leader also means guiding and teaching. While I am doing my best to create joy in places where people suffer, I am also creating opportunities for young people to participate. I am nurturing them as servant leaders. To me, there’s no greater way to feel Jesus than that.

I love my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I will do whatever He asks. I want to know that He looks down on me and smiles. I want to feel that so much, and I can feel His smile when I do something good for somebody. I can feel His love reflected back to me.

That’s why I feel good when I go to bed at night. I lay my head down on my pillow and I feel great. I’m enjoying life so much!

You can do the same. You can go to bed saying, “I just helped someone get rescued from slavery today.” Or you can say, “I just helped a village of 1500 people get good drinking water.” You can say, “I just helped build an orphanage that will put shelter over kids’ heads and give them positive opportunities to learn and to be leaders.” Or you can say, “I just sent 200,000 meals to hungry families and fed them for a year.” Whatever! There are so many opportunities!

There are so many opportunities for us to create joy. Not a day goes by that we don’t receive the opportunity to reflect the love of Jesus into the world. And when you know that you’ve done it, man, that’s just an awesome feeling. You have received the love that He gives and then you’ve shared it. You’ll feel it because you’ve replicated it.

That’s the joy of bringing the kingdom!

See you Friday.