Living and Loving in Joy, Faith, and Hardship

I believe that there is something after I die. While I live on this earth, I live because of Christ. When I die, I gain the kingdom. I gain heaven. I gain a new relationship with God that I don’t have here on earth.

But until that happens? Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We’re supposed to bring the kingdom to earth.

I live under that understanding. While I’m here, I’m an ambassador who is supposed to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. And I believe that I can help do that. I believe that the Spirit of God helps lead us into areas where we can help. The Spirit will lead us, that is, if we’re living a lifestyle of Jesus.

That’s what the disciples did. They lived the lifestyle of Jesus. Jesus foretold it. He told the disciples, “Greater things will you do after I leave, because you will be empowered by the Spirit.” And after Jesus was gone, they did!

The proof is in the persecution they suffered. I mean, no one dies for a decision. There’s no way you can tell me the disciples were hung upside down on crosses, were martyred, jailed, stoned, and beaten, simply because they were trying to get people to say they accepted Christ. For the disciples, conversion wasn’t just a matter of saying that Jesus is Lord. If that’s all we had to do, there’s no way anyone would die for it.

No, they were persecuted because they lived like Jesus. They not only accepted Him as Lord, they lived the way He lived. They lived in a relationship with the Spirit. They lived with a discipleship mentality. They walked the walk!

That’s what they died for. They died for their way of life. They died for true life. They died understanding that when they accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, their lives would not end.

What was that way of life that got them killed? It was the “love your neighbor as yourself” mentality. The disciples wanted to make sure that they brought the kingdom to earth by living like Jesus lived. They wanted to bring the kingdom by loving people like Jesus loved people.

So they died for the lifestyle that they knew was right. I get that. If I’m going to die for something, I’m dying for something that I know is right.

The disciples knew true life. Paul said, “Take joy in trials and tribulations.” How? Who does that? Disciples! Disciples don’t find their joy in the physical aspects of life. Life for disciples isn’t hunky dory all the time. Disciples aren’t joyful because nothing bad ever happens to them. The first disciples always had something bad happening to them! Their life was never turmoil-free.

Why did they challenge people to live a life of Jesus when they knew they would die for it? They did it because that life was fulfilling. They did it because they had true joy. They had happiness. They said, “Things may go wrong around me, but I know where my joy is and it’s in my Savior. I know what it’s like to love people.”

That’s the way to live. The way to live is true. True life!

See you Monday.

The Jesus Mindset

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:10

If you take a moment to think about the suffering people of this world, the people who suffer from the effects of theft, death, and destruction, then it will pierce your heart. Sometimes the pain of the world can feel overwhelming. It really can.

But it’s okay, because it helps us truly understand the awesome love of God. Jesus tells us that He has entered a suffering world to bring life. And not just life. Abundant life.

Abundant life! What does that mean? An abundant life is a life that is not in need. You don’t need to find food because you have it. You don’t need to find water because you have it. You don’t need to find a place to live because you live somewhere. You don’t need to find a job because you have a job.

Abundance doesn’t mean having millions of dollars. Not at all! The concept of abundance is humble and deep. Abundance means having enough, plus some for somebody else. If you have enough and you have extra, then you live in abundance.

Abundance doesn’t mean having a lot of stuff, either. In fact, consumerism can actually kill people. You can get caught up into buying more stuff for yourself — stuff you don’t even need — while there are people who will literally die if they don’t get your help.

That’s the situation we’re in.

I know people are going to tell me, “Well, Jeremy, you have trinkets.” It’s true! I have an iPad, an iPhone, and a laptop. I’ve got three things that get on the internet all at once. Maybe that’s excessive! But I also give to projects that are much more important, like hunger projects, or projects to provide clean water.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have anything. It’s okay to have things. But we also need a mindset to help people who suffer. We need a mindset to be like Jesus. If you have enough, plus some for somebody else, then when you give your extra to somebody else you help them have abundant life too.

We need that Jesus mindset to help people in need. Without it, we’re living a life that is shallow. I’m not saying that we should never buy anything for ourselves. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that if our drive, our heart, our focus, is simply to make sure we have what we need, then we have the wrong heart. If we’re always saying, “I want this and I want that, and I know I could live without it but I’m going to get it and I’m going to get that too,” and we don’t have a thought for anybody else, then we have the wrong mindset.

You could go to a lot of places in the world and ask, “What does abundance mean to you?” They’ll say, “You know when I have abundance? It’s when I’ve got a home. I don’t care if it’s a 600 square foot home. It’s a home. My family doesn’t have to live on the streets. I’ve got that, my kids are going to school, I’ve got a job, we’ve got food on the table, I’ve got a fresh water well to get well water from, and my kids aren’t dying of dysentery. That’s abundance. I know what it’s like to not have these things. Now that I have them? And my family’s safe? That’s abundance.”

We need to help make that happen. We’re ambassadors for Christ! He said He came so that we may have life and life abundantly. He gave us the message, He gave us the example, and He gave us that quality of life when He was on earth.

When Jesus left, He didn’t take abundant life with Him. He gave us the heart and the Spirit to bring it to people in need, just like He did. Giving abundance to others is how we become His ambassadors. If we are to represent Him, we need His mindset.

See you Thursday.

The Surest Way to Be Happy

There are times when you’re going to be happy, and there are times when you’re not. You can’t always be happy. We live a life of the flesh. We’re vulnerable to sin.

When sin entered the world, our feelings of happiness became inconsistent. Sometimes we know it and other times we crave it. We crave it from the moment we’re born! It’s okay to want happiness and it’s okay to pursue it. And you know what? We have help.

We can remember to take God with us. Everywhere we go!

Complete happiness is found in intimacy with the Father. You’ll feel complete happiness when you are sitting at His throne and He smiles on you. That’s completion. That’s perfect happiness. That’s the warmth and joy you crave.

You will feel great! You will have peace and joy! No more anger. No more inconsistency. You’ll be on an even keel and all the storms will be over. Nothing left but calm.

I am sure that people who walk through life without Jesus will find happiness, but I don’t think it’s as great as the happiness that comes from intimacy with God. Now that I know the happiness and joy that comes from our King, I have to have it!

But I lose Him. We all do. Just remember that as often as you lose Jesus, you will find Him again. This is not a bad thing. It’s actually awesome. There’s nothing like the joy you feel when you find Jesus in different places on your walk through life. You’re like a kid whose Dad or Mom has just come home.

When I come home, my sons see me and they run straight for me. “There you are, Daddy!” They run and jump in my arms because they’re so glad I’m home. Man, I love the smiles on their faces when they run and jump in my arms! They say, “I’m so glad to see you!” I truly think they are happy when they do that.

I think that’s the feeling we have each time we find God. We have that feeling of, “There you are, Daddy! I’m so happy to see you!” You know? We have that same feeling of joy.

I don’t stay home all the time. I come home and I leave again. And I come home again, and I leave, and then I come home. When you’re a follower of Jesus, you’re going to lose Him the same way during your journey in life.

My sons lose me because I go to work, but we lose Jesus because of our flesh. We just get distracted. He doesn’t necessarily want us to lose Him, but it’s going to happen. It’s always going to happen until He comes again.

Even if He doesn’t go anywhere we’re going to lose Him. Even if He’s always there we’re going to lose Him. The irony is that we lose our greatest source of happiness, God, because we’re trying to find happiness! We think, “Well, this car will make me happy.” Or this outfit, or this new athletic gear, or this new book. This will make me happy!

Jesus says, “No, stick with me! You’ll be happy!” “Yeah,” we say, “but there’s this thing that I need. It will make me even happier.” And Jesus says, “Well, it won’t. It will bring you temporary happiness. You’re right about that. And that’s why I want you to have it.

“But just remember, that’s not it. If you forget about me, if you forget about intimacy with me and devotional time with me, if you forget to bring me along with you, if you forget to understand that we still need to talk and dialogue, you’ll lose me.”

I really think that’s what He says!  So that means the surest way to be happy is this: don’t forget Jesus.

See you Monday.

Sing for Joy!

(Note: I know some of you may have already read this through my Twitter feed, but I’m republishing it for my blog’s subscribers. You are important to me. Thank you for reading!)

Families all over the world have Christmas traditions. For many Christians, it’s the only time they go to church, unless they also go on Easter.

We go to Christmas Eve services, light candles, and sing carols. We sing “Mary Did You Know” and “Joy to the World,” and we have manger scenes. It’s all good. It’s part of the spiritual message and part of church history. It’s real.

But I’m still moved to ask, why do we do all this? For example, why do we have manger scenes? Is a manger scene just something you put in your yard or on your stage when you do your Christmas Eve production? Or do you really think about what it means?

Do we really understand the message?

We’re singing “Joy to the World,” but why are we joyful? That Jesus came and died?

Well, that’s part of the gospel, but there’s more to it than that. Jesus wasn’t born just to die. He was born to bring us good news! The gospel started with His birth on December 25th — if that’s the actual date — and we’re still living it. Living in the gospel’s truth! That’s the joy that the world needs to know.

When I sit and carefully examine the Christian life of discipleship, I see the Christmas message in a whole new light. The birth of Christ was a significant moment in history. It was the day that God’s redemption began its transformation of everything in creation. Christmas day — the day the Good News was born into the world — is the day that God started discipling people. Christmas day is the day our new life began.

At last, we can fully understand the concept of life — in all its glory!

This understanding is pure joy! We proclaim “Joy to the World,” because now we understand why we have life. We don’t live to judge or be judged. We live to love and be loved!

Christmas is when it all started. Christmas is when it all happened. Two thousand years ago, or a little more than that, this good news came into the world. This man Jesus came down from heaven to walk this earth.

He walked with us. He answered all our questions and fulfilled all of our thoughts. Now we have a reason to live. Now we know why we live. Now we know how to bring joy. Now we know that we are are loved unconditionally. That frees us to do the same.

This is the joy we proclaim. So let’s sing “Joy to the World” this year, and let’s bring it! Let’s bring joy!

Merry Christmas!

Getting Unstuck from Shame

It’s so important to find a few people that you can trust with your true self. Men, you need to find just a few men who will know you and protect your heart.

I had a profound experience of that when I trusted a teammate and talked to him about watching porn. I confided that I didn’t even understand why I did it. It was so freeing when he didn’t judge me.

I told him that it started when I blew a game in Houston a few nights before. I gave up a homer to lose the game. I joked that a Houston homer is a cheap homer. It counts, kind of, but it’s Houston. You only have to hit the ball 215 feet. You should only get half a homer if you hit a homer there!

It was just a joke. The guy hit the ball. I’m the one that lost the game.

After giving up the game, I went back to the hotel, mad at myself. I was lying there and I got bored. And I just did it. My wife’s beautiful and I love her so I couldn’t understand why I did it.

So there I was, sharing my shame and frustration with my teammate, and we talked all the way through an entire Cincinnati rain delay. I’m sure there were other guys that walked into the lounge while we were talking. I didn’t see them, but I’m pretty sure they did a U-turn when they heard this conversation!

But for me, to have someone to talk to who would listen to me and dialogue with me and help me work it through was unbelievable. In the course of that conversation, the amount of trust I had with that man was unbelievable. It was awesome. Why? Because I could reveal some of my weakness without shame. Without being scared. Without being judged.

Without someone telling me, “Oh man, you know, I’m going to pray for you.” Sometimes that feels like a brush-off. Not this time. This time, somebody listened.

For the first time, I felt that I didn’t have to act holier-than-thou. I was the chapel leader, but I didn’t have to put on an act that seemed appropriate to the position. I didn’t have to be that guy that writes books, talks about Jesus, and speaks in churches. For the first time, I felt like I could actually reveal that I was weak, and it was okay.

It freed me. That night, I experienced exactly what I had been learning, which is that you need to trust other people with you. If you do not trust somebody with who you really are, you will never mature. Not ever.

By maturity, I’m not talking about a 15-year-old boy becoming a man. I’m not talking about getting gray hair. I’m not talking about being 70 years old. 

I’m talking about maturing as a human being. I’m talking about our souls maturing. I’m talking about our spirits maturing because we trust somebody with our true selves.

If you don’t trust somebody, if you hide your weakness and shame, then you will not mature. If you have an area of weakness and are too afraid to tell somebody about it, that weakness will keep you immature.

It will get worse. It will hurt you. It will cause a lot of issues in your life. It can crush you.

The solution is trust. More on this next time.

The Birth of Trust

Last time I started telling a story about a rain delay in Cincinnati. I told a teammate that I had watched some porn the night before. He had just spoken forcefully and with wisdom about the dangers and damages of leaving magazines like Maxim around. So I felt like I could trust him. And I really needed to be able to trust someone. I needed to get it off my chest.

I had recently been learning a lot of concepts about what it means to hide in shame and be afraid to reveal myself to people. We get afraid because we think we are going to be judged. That’s why I was afraid to trust anyone with my shameful secret.

I was afraid to tell my wife. I had told her before, and she had handled it really well, but I was still afraid. What if the day came when she didn’t handle it well? I was worried about that so I was afraid to tell her again. I was nervous, and I didn’t want to hide anymore.

One of the things I was learning is that you need to find somebody you can trust. You need to be able to reveal who you really are, and you need people in your life for that. A man needs to be known by a few men. We don’t need to be known by everybody, but we’ve got to be known by a few.

Maybe you’ve heard about men’s retreats. These men’s groups are all about understanding what it means to be known by a few. I felt like I wanted that. I needed it.

So after what he said about the magazine, I took the risk. I told him, “Frankly, I don’t know you. You just seem like you understand. I think you get it. I’m going to take a chance on trusting you. I’m going to throw it out there and see what happens.”

So I just came out and told him that I’d watched porn the night before.

He sat there, and at first, he looked like he honestly didn’t know what to do. But he did. He knew exactly what to do. He talked to me. He helped me. He let me trust him, and I learned how good it feels to have someone you can trust.

Basically, I trusted someone with a personal failure, and he didn’t judge me for it. He helped me. He made me feel protected.

I found out how it feels to reveal who I truly am, and to be truly known. This is so important. All men need a few men like this. All people do. We have to be able to protect each other.

I’ll continue this story next time.