Peace is a Sign of Wisdom

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

How do we know when we are receiving God’s wisdom? The examples in the Bible give us a lot of options. Jesus famously turned the money changers out of the Temple, but he also reached out in love to Zacchaeus, the tax collector, and made a disciple of him.

So how do we know when to be loving and compassionate, and when to grab a whip and do some cleansing? How do we know when we’re doing what the Holy Spirit tells us to do, versus doing what we want to do? How do we know when we’re doing God’s will, and not just following our own will?

How do you know that the voice you hear speaking into your life is God’s?

I think you’ll know it because of the peace you’ll have when you’re sharing that wisdom. Have you seen people on their soapboxes sharing John 3:16, and they’re yelling? They’re actually sharing Jesus by telling people, “You’re going to go to hell if you don’t believe that God gave His only son for your sins!” There’s no way those people have peace in what they are doing.

I think they want to do the right thing, but they don’t know how. So they just yell it. Their faces are angry, and they spit it out. And then they say, “There, I got the Word of God out there. Now it’s not my fault if they don’t accept Christ.”

In this, we don’t see self-control. I’ve seen people challenge these soapbox guys, and when that happens, they yell even more. They don’t want to listen. All they do is repeat themselves. They just keep saying the same thing, over and over again. Someone challenges them, and they point their finger right in that person’s face, and go on yelling about John 3:16. I’ve seen it happen!

That’s not self-control. It’s chaos.

I think you have to ask God for wisdom all the time. There is a time for grabbing a whip and doing some cleansing, sure. But there are so many times in which wisdom tells us to be loving and compassionate. We don’t necessarily know which time is which, and that’s why we have to ask.

How will you know you’ve received God’s wisdom, and you’re not just acting on your own will?

You’ll know when you feel peace about what you’re doing. You’ll see the fruit of the Spirit. That’s how you’ll know.

Walking in the Spirit

I have a story for you.

A guy I know was speaking at a conference. He had some friends in town, and they asked him to meet with a woman they knew. This woman had been dealing with a lot of troubles. The friends thought maybe the guy could help her.

So he met her for coffee. They sat down together and he asked her, “How are you doing?” She told him directly, “You know, I’m not a believer.”

“Yes, I know that,” he said. He started to say something else, but she was very defensive and interrupted him. “I don’t even believe that Jesus existed!” she told him. And then she went on in that vein. She was trying, verbally, to push him away.

Finally he got a chance to speak. He gently said, “I just wanted to ask you what you want in your coffee.”

She was so surprised! She said, “You don’t want to try to convert me?” And he said, “No, I just want to have this cup of coffee with you.”

“Okay,” she said.

So he went to the counter and got cups of coffee for both of them. By the time he returned to the table, she had calmed down. They sat there together for a bit, quiet, just sipping. And then she said, “Why are you here?”

He looked directly into her eyes and he said, “I’m here to have a cup of coffee with you.”

“You know I’m not a Christian,” she said. “I don’t believe in Jesus. So if you know that, what could you possibly have to say to me?” And he said, “I can tell you that Jesus not only loves you, but He likes you.”

The woman started weeping. That’s all he said to her, and she released all her pain.

I can guarantee you that scenario is not in scripture. You cannot open up the Bible and find the place where it talks about how to handle a woman in a coffee shop who is angry and hurting. Sometimes, we have to ask for wisdom.

Suppose the guy had told her, “Your time is coming. Jesus is coming back and it’s going to be too late. You’re going to go to hell.” What if he had said that to her? He would have turned her off. She would have walked out of that coffee shop, and that chance to know Jesus would have been crushed.

But that’s not what he said. He didn’t react to her feelings or her words. He just let her speak, and he got her a cup of coffee. He earned enough trust that she was ready to listen to him. And when she asked, “What do you have for me,” he told her, “Jesus loves you, but He also likes you.”

It’s all he had to say.

Not everything you need to know is in the Bible. Sometimes you need to walk in the Spirit. And when you do, you will receive wisdom. He got her a cup of coffee and told her exactly what Jesus wanted her to hear. This is a promise fulfilled!

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

War and Peace

And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him. But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.

But Jesus answered and said, “Permit even this.” And He touched his ear and healed himLuke 22:47-51

There’s a lot of war in the Bible. Early in the Bible’s account of history, war was about conquest, because various tribes were trying to establish their boundaries. Now the boundaries are pretty much set. In most cases, everybody knows which country is which. We even have empires. And yet we still have war!

Now war is about economic power, or taking someone’s land, or getting access to resources like oil, water, or trade routes. But one way or another, most wars are started in hate. Whether it’s inter-religious hate or hatred between nations, war is almost always begun in hate.

When Jesus said, “Preserve the peace,” I don’t think He was making an anti-war statement. I believe there are wars that have to be fought, and there will be war in the end times. This is part of what the Bible says is going to happen: wars and rumors of wars. So it is not my goal to picket against wars.

My goal is to love. A big part of the Christian’s duty is to preserve the peace. And for me, love is the only way to preserve peace. If you love people, there will be peace.

As you have read many times in this blog, one way we can love our neighbors as ourselves is by helping those who are in need. That is the love the Jesus, so that is the love that preserves peace.

What about judging people? No. You’re not preserving peace by judging people. I don’t think that you’ve ever judged someone and then they’ve said to you, “You know what? Thanks for judging me. I feel a lot more peaceful now that you’ve judged me and condemned me.” You don’t see that happen!

We should conduct our affairs by replacing judgment with love. But I understand that in our flesh, it’s really hard to do that. When we see something wrong, we want to handle it ourselves. God says, “Judge not,” and we want to answer, “Yeah, I know, but this isn’t right, and that person needs to know it! So I need to tell them!” We are always going to struggle with this as ambassadors of Christ.

Jesus didn’t have that struggle. He never struggled with it. Jesus would say something to somebody, and it was over. He wasn’t ever physically required to make things right. He showed us another way. When Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, who was trying to grab Jesus, He said to Peter, “Put your sword away. What are you doing? We’re preserving peace here. I’m going to die for mankind, so that they have a hope. You don’t cut a guy’s ear off! You don’t understand what you’re doing.”

And then Jesus preserved peace. He restored the servant’s ear. He put it back on his head!

Self-restraint like this is just so hard for us. I would cut the guy’s ear off in a cold minute, and I just wouldn’t care! I understand Peter completely! “You’re attacking my God, so I’m going to cut your ear off. You’re lucky I don’t kill you.” In that time and place, no one would have told Peter he was wrong. No one would have spoken against Peter for defending Jesus.

But Jesus showed us another way. He preserved peace.

Compared to God, we are really limited in what we can do. I believe we truly want to do what’s right. We want to make things right. And in our desire to do that, sometimes we lose control.

The thing is, when we lose control, we want to attack, just to get that feeling of control back. This happens to everybody. It’s natural! But it’s not preserving peace.

Remember, in times of conflict, Jesus always give you a way out. Always. You just have to look for it.

The Other Cheek

Everyone’s going through a refining fire sooner or later, but you’ll be well-preserved, protected from the eternal flames. Be preservatives yourselves. Preserve the peace. Mark 9:49-50

Preserving peace should be our goal as believers, but it’s been hard for me. As a professional athlete, I competed every day, and I pitched with something you could only describe as aggressive, competitive anger. I wasn’t joking around out there, and I didn’t feel bad for the hitter.

When a game was finished, I had to switch out of that mode. That could be really hard to do. Sometimes I had to go out into the world before I’d finished putting the competition away for the day. In those times, I relied on God’s grace to get me through.

One night after a game, I was going to my car with my wife and one of our sons, who was five years old at the time. We were with a couple of friends and their three daughters. Our son stopped to do something, the way that little kids do. My wife turned to help him and get him moving again. But she was pregnant, so she didn’t move as quickly as usual.

There are employees of other companies that use the player’s parking lot at Giants stadium. They park there as visitors. That night, when our son stopped and my wife moved to help him, we accidentally got in the way of a guy who was also leaving for the night, a guy who didn’t work for the Giants. When my wife went to help our son, a couple of things the guy was carrying got knocked to the ground.

I didn’t know it was because of us, but I tried to help him pick them up. He didn’t look at me. He ripped his stuff out of my hand and shoved past my family. He didn’t even say thank you.

As he shoved past us, I saw him mouth at my son, “Get out of the effin way.”

I stopped him. I said, “Excuse me. Did you just say that to my little boy?” He got defensive, so I said, “I think you did, because I watched it come out of your mouth.”

Now, we had just lost a really close game to the Dodgers. I was still in that competitive mode. And then I saw him say that to my son. He only mouthed it, but I got really angry. I needed to protect my little boy! So I was definitely not in the mood to preserve the peace. I was in fight mode. In fact, I was going to chase after him. I was going to punch him in the face. I was going to knock him out.

I turned to tell my wife to get in the car and wait for me. Instead what I saw was my son and those three little girls, looking up at me. The second I saw them, I knew that they came first. So I simply said, “Alright, let’s go guys. Let’s get in the car.”

Imagine what could have happened! Just for an instant, I wanted to do something to that man that was definitely not going to preserve peace. It wasn’t going to help anything beyond satisfying my desire to compete and win.

I have the Spirit in me, but I’m still a flesh-and-blood man. I still have issues. I still fail. I don’t always do the things I should.

But God always gives us an out. We just have to look for it. In the passion of the moment, it may be hard to see, but He always gives us an out. That night, God gave me those children. He gave me the grace of those four pairs of eyes looking up at me, waiting to see what I was going to do.

I think there are going to be times when I have to protect my family, but this wasn’t one of them, and I could see it. God told me, “You can go after that guy and teach him a lesson. You can take that route, and there will probably be a bunch of people saying you were justified. But I’m showing you that there’s another way.”

I’m thankful for that night. I’m thankful that God helped me preserve the peace. I will always prefer God’s way over the ways of men. I don’t want to aggrieve the Holy Spirit.

Also, I’m a dad. I want to be a faithful father to my sons, the way that God is a faithful father to me. This was a chance to show my son that it’s possible to turn the other cheek. Five year-olds act out in anger. That night, God let me show my son that he can handle conflict without resorting to hitting or punching. I got to help my son learn that!

Even though we got in the car and drove away, my adrenaline was still pumping. This was more grace from God. He gave me time to cool off, and that gave me a chance to think. Is turning the other cheek the same as doing nothing, and moving on as if nothing had happened? I don’t think so. Jesus taught us that we must be preservatives in this world, and preserve the peace. To do that, we need to address conflict and resolve it. Peacefully.

So I decided to find the guy’s employers at the park the next day, so we could talk it out. And that’s what I did. Think about it. How much better was it to talk, instead of fight? I settled the conflict with no broken noses and no broken hands. I relied on honesty and fellowship. I preserved the peace.

It was beautiful. That’s how we should do it.

Healthy Confrontation

Everyone’s going through a refining fire sooner or later, but you’ll be well-preserved, protected from the eternal flames. Be preservatives yourselves. Preserve the peace. Mark 9:49-50

Just the other day, I read Chapter 9 of Mark’s Gospel. It was just so good. I’m reading it in the Message Bible. Sometimes the Message Bible’s translation is so fresh, that I’m struck fresh by the words. It’s such a good feeling to see familiar chapters and verses rephrased in a new way.

The last part of Mark Chapter 9 says that we should be “preservatives” in this world. We are to preserve peace. I’d never seen it that way before. It meant so much to me. Imagine it! “Preserve the peace.” Jesus gives His peace to us, and we have the privilege of preserving it.

Does that mean we should never argue? I don’t think so. Preserving peace is not the same as avoiding confrontation. Preserving peace is about the love we bring to the situation when confrontation arises.

Avoiding confrontation isn’t good. You need to be confrontational at times. In fact, if you are grounded in your beliefs, then confrontation is inevitable. You can’t avoid it.

But Jeremy, you’re saying, I’m never confrontational. Never? If you’re never confrontational, it could mean that you’re not grounded in what you believe.

How can you tell? Well, what happens when someone asks you to do something that goes against your beliefs? What do you say? If you say, “No, I won’t do that, and I don’t want to talk about it,” then maybe you need some grounding. Refusing to talk about it does not preserve peace. In fact, it can stir up storms! That’s not healthy.

You don’t have to fear confrontation. It’s okay to confront people, and still be in a healthy relationship with them and with God. In a healthy confrontation, you stand up for what you believe. You stand your ground. You talk about it. You explain your beliefs.

You can do this and still preserve peace. Just be calm about it. In a calm confrontation, you’ll hear a grounded person explaining their beliefs. They’ll say, “Here’s why I believe what I believe.” They’ll explain their reasons for saying no.

I’m so aggressively competitive that this can be very difficult for me at times. I think it’s natural for anyone to take a lot of pride in what they do. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing. It’s just confidence.

But sometimes, we have a hard time with the line dividing confident ability from boastful pride. That line is very fine, and we can cross it, real quick. That’s a battle we all have.

The good news is, there’s grace in this. Jesus gives us grace. It doesn’t mean He’s okay with it. It doesn’t mean that He doesn’t mind when we cross the line. But He doesn’t reject us, or expect some kind of sacrifice to make it up to Him. He gives us grace! He says, “I understand your situation. And I understand that this is a really tough thing for you.”

Still, along with the grace He offers, I think He has high expectations of us. He says, “Hey, you have to be humble. You have to know that you have these these abilities, because I have given them to you. And this strong confidence you have? I’ve given you that too. You don’t do these things without me.”

Staying confident without crossing over into boastful pride is really, really hard, which is why we need Him. It’s something I have to make myself aware of, every day. I can do the easy things! It’s easy for me to look at someone who’s hungry and give him something to eat. I can do that. It doesn’t necessarily preserve peace, but if I loved on a hungry neighbor, I helped him get through his day. And maybe I did preserve peace in a way, because maybe giving him something to eat made him feel loved. That’s easy.

But when you challenge my beliefs, or my principles, or my self-confidence, or my family? That’s going to be really, really hard for me.

That’s when I have to look for the grace Jesus gives me. When I’m in an angry confrontation, I have to really look hard for the out that Jesus gives us. Because He always gives us an out. I just think it can be really hard to see it.

Next time, I’ll tell you a story that shows what I mean. See you Friday.

When Pastors Become Pharisees

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. James 3:1

James said teachers will be judged more strictly than others. Why? I think it’s because of the power they have. Teachers have authority because of their words, and words have power.

Have you ever been with a pastor who got on a power trip?

It’s a good thing to hear a pastor say, “Hey, through what I’ve seen and read, and through my prayers, I feel like the Spirit has given me peace by helping me see things this way. You could pray about this too.” It’s a good thing to hear a pastor say, “Pray about my message,” or, “Think about these things and see what’s good to you, in the Spirit.”

But you don’t always hear that. Sometimes pastors just insist, “I’m a pastor so you have to listen to me.” That sounds like a power thing.

This was the attitude of the Pharisees, too. We have a lot of stories about Jesus and the Pharisees. We know that Jesus ate with the Pharisees. We also know that He read their minds. Then He blasted them for the thoughts He found in there!

In our congregations today, we read the Gospels and talk about the Pharisees. We talk about how bad they made people feel. They really did, with their holier-than-thou approach, especially to outcasts and sinners. Then along came Jesus. “No, no,” He told them. “It’s not your place to judge.”

But shouldn’t we also take a look at how we make people feel? What if we are doing the same things as the Pharisees? If we are, then we need to take a time out, in order to reflect on that. If we treat people the way the Pharisees treated people, we need to rethink what we’re doing.

If you’re called to be a pastor, I believe this means that you are given wisdom, and that you are called to share it. And I genuinely believe that most pastors are very sincere about their calling. But I worry when I hear a pastor say, “I was praying the other day, and God told me to talk to you about this.” When he says that, he is basically telling people, “This is what God said.” Now he can say whatever he wants.

And most people in his congregation will say, “Amen! I guess I’ve got to do it then.”

That’s why teachers will be judged more strictly.

You’d think if anyone could tell people, “This is what God says you should do,” it would be the apostles. But they didn’t! Think about what happened in Acts, when the church was having a big fight over the question of circumcision. They gathered in council, and when they communicated their decision, they said, “It seems good to us, and it seems good to the Holy Spirit, that what matters is a circumcision of the heart, not of the flesh.”

The meaning here is very important. The apostles did not say, “Look, God came down and said to us, ‘This is what you need to do.’” They didn’t say, “We’re the apostles, so we know what God said about this.”

That’s not what they did at all. They simply said, “It seems like the Spirit was okay with our thought process on this.” For me, that’s a pure message. That’s the wisdom pastors are given, and then called to share.

We should all pay more attention to the words in red. You know, Jesus. We should focus on His words, because those are the actual words of God. Not the inspired words of God, but the actual words of the Almighty God. Jesus carried those words. He spoke them into the world. They are the most powerful words in the history of words, period. God’s words. You can read them over and over again, and feel good every time. I mean, the actual words of God!

Are we doing that as believers? Or are we saying, “My pastor says…?”

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

Embarrassed by Christians?

I do some work with Larkin Street Youth Services, a San Francisco-based youth ministry. One year, when I was still pitching, I took seven or eight of the kids to a Giants game. One of them had a tattoo on her arm, and when she saw mine, she said, “Hey, what does that tattoo on your arm say?” I said, “It’s Latin. It says Solus Christus.” She asked me, “What does that mean?” And I said, “In Christ alone.”

“Oh,” she said. She sounded disappointed. But then she looked at me, and she asked, “Are you a Christian? Are you a Catholic?” And I said, “I’m neither.”

“Really?” she said. And I told her, “Well, if I have to side with one, it’s going to be Christianity. But I don’t know if there is a side.” I thought about what to say. Then I told her, “I’ll tell you this. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. That’s what I do. But honestly? I disagree with some of the things that Christian people say they believe. Especially with the way they handle people at times. And I don’t necessarily agree with the Catholic Church. I don’t agree with some of their theological views, and I don’t agree with how they handle people at times either.”

She was still listening, so I said, “I’m not really either, I guess. I’m more Christian, if I had to choose, but this is such a long definition!” That made her laugh. So I finished, “All I can really say is that I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. I love Him! So I just try to follow in His footsteps and I try to do what He tells me to do. And I mess up a lot. But I’m not going to come across as holier-than-thou. You know?”

Actually, she was very accepting of that, which was pretty interesting. I’ve been told that some of the kids in Larkin Street have been kicked out of their homes. They came out about their sexuality, and their parents kicked them out. So when I told her I was a follower of Jesus, I thought she would have a lot of reservations about me. But she accepted me.

I didn’t assume she was gay. But I know that some of the kids who came to the game that day could have been gay. And they might have written me off, or maybe distrusted me, for being Christian. And I wanted to make sure they knew how I really felt. I wanted them to know how much I love them. I love those kids no matter what. I love that they dream. I love their dreams so much, because these kids are very motivated to become somebody. They are motivated even though they were kicked out of their homes by their families. They didn’t have anywhere to go. They wound up on the streets. They might have survived being trafficked. No matter what, I don’t need the details to know that really bad things have happened to them. And yet they don’t shut down. They dream big things for themselves.

With these kids, I don’t want to say, “I’m a Christian.” If I do, their first thought could be that I am judging them, and that’s not what I’m about at all. All I want to do is express the love of Jesus.

It’s getting harder all the time to say, “I’m a Christian.” I’m not afraid to say I’m a Christian. Never! But sometimes I’m embarrassed to say it. I’m embarrassed because Christianity comes across these days as a judging faith. And that’s not what following Jesus is about. Not at all.

The way people view Christianity today is not like the way that outcasts and sinners viewed Jesus. They loved Jesus! They loved Him because they knew He loved them!

As much as it is possible, I want to be viewed like Jesus was viewed, as someone who loves people.

Do you think the Christian churches are doing enough to distinguish themselves from the Pharisees? More on this next time. See you Friday.