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.

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.

Entrusted with The Gospel

To His followers, Jesus said, “I’m not only here 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 and give you a second chance.”

To us, Jesus says, “Now that I have shown you how to live, you can be like me. And because I have died for you, you’re redeemed. Because of my blood, you can come into heaven. I did that for you because right now, 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! And that’s why we turn to Jesus. His blood is so powerful. There are too many things working against us now, here in the world, telling us to live the wrong way. We need His blood. Without it, we have no hope.

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

Who is He? For one thing, He’s a risk taker. He entrusted the Gospel to twelve men and a prostitute. He gave them the Gospel to take into the world. He relied on them to show people who He was, and then to remind people who God is. And Mary and those men did it. They did it well!

And now He’s asking us to do the same thing. 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.

Jesus 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. Then, He asked us to make sure the world understands.

See you Friday.

A Tattoo To Invite Me In

I get all my ink done by my friend Matt in Seattle. I still remember flying in, sitting down with him, and saying “I want my next tattoo to say ‘No Man Shall Live For Himself,’ and I want it on my left forearm.” We sat there together and dialogued about it. He asked me what the phrase meant to me, and why I’d chosen my left forearm for it. It was a great conversation. I always have great conversations with Matt! And this one meant a lot to me. It was the first conversation I had about this tattoo.

Since then, so many people have been grabbed by it. It’s a statement. I remember Matt saying that it was a great idea because it’s the kind of phrase that people would Google or use in a library search. He said it was intriguing. And it’s true! I mean, people from 15 to 80 have grabbed my arm and said, “Do you mind if I read what your forearm says?” It always results in a good conversation. I’ve had such a great time with that. I love talking with people about what the phrase means and what it stands for. These conversations happen everywhere, while I’m out and about or doing things in the community. It’s just really cool.

Throughout my career as a pitcher with the Giants, I helped out at the Larkin Street youth shelter. I still go there. I was there the other day! I’ve learned a lot from my time there.

Street kids can be a little suspicious, for obvious reasons. They are smart.

When I was over at Larkin Street after getting this tattoo, talking with these kids and doing stuff with them, I noticed that they’d started looking down at my arm. I would see them turn their heads sideways a bit to read. Then they would look up at me. And suddenly, it was so much easier for them to open up to me in conversation.

Think about it from their point of view. Here comes this guy, me, and they have to ask themselves, “Why is he here? What is his motive? He has a platform. How is he using it? Does he really care about me, or is he just here to represent a baseball team?” Good questions! They are smart for asking.

When Larkin Street kids see “No Man Shall Live For Himself” on my arm, it calms them. It speaks to them. It says, “Now this guy, he really wants to be here with us. He’s tattooed it on his arm! He doesn’t want to live for himself. He wants to be a servant leader. His tattoo says that when he goes and does something, like coming here, he has a motive. He wants to help other people.”

This tattoo invites me in. Those kids see it, and they let me in.

These days, when young kids see a tattoo, they regard it as a sign. To them, tattoos are permanent and significant. Tattoos speak. They say, “This is who I am.” And there’s story that goes with each one.

For young people now, tattoos have meaning. They’re not just something you get while you’re intoxicated or because you’re trying to rebel. They’re not something you do just because somebody else did it. They’re not something you do half-heartedly.

There’s a solid meaning behind every tattoo.

More on this next time. See you Monday.

Abundance: Simpler Than We Realize

I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. John 10:10

Abundant life! What a gift! But what is it? An abundant life is a life without need. You don’t need to find food, because you have food. You don’t need to find water, because you have water. You don’t need to find a place to live, because you live somewhere. You don’t need to find a job. You have one.

It doesn’t mean you have millions of dollars. We think “abundance” and we see dollar signs. I think that’s America. But abundance is much simpler than that. Abundance is having enough, plus something for somebody else. If you have enough, and you have extra, then you live in abundance.

Clean water is abundant life.  We saw the joy clean water brings when Generation Alive built a well in a Ugandan village.

Clean water is abundant life. We saw the joy clean water brings when Generation Alive built a well in a Ugandan village.

Think of what abundance means in other parts of the world. There are so many places where people are locked in a daily struggle to keep themselves together, body and soul. You could go to any one of those places and ask, “What does abundance mean to you?” And they’ll say, “Abundance is 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 street. My kids are going to school. I’ve got a job and we’ve got food on the table. I’ve got access to a well with fresh water, so my kids aren’t dying of dysentery. Now that’s abundance. I know what it was like to try to live without a home, a job, clean water, and food. When I have these things, my family is safe. That’s abundance!”

Sometimes we struggle to understand the simplicity of abundance because we live in a consumer culture. It’s hard for us to see it, but consumerism can actually kill people. We get caught up in buying stuff that we don’t even need, while there are people around us who will literally die if they don’t get our help. That’s the situation we’re in.

I know people are going to tell me, “Well, Jeremy, you have stuff.” And it’s true. I mean, I have an iPad, an iPhone, and a laptop. I can access the internet with three different devices, all at the same time! Do I need to do that? It’s probably excessive. But I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have anything. I’m not saying that you should never buy anything for yourself. I’m only saying that we also need to have a mindset to help someone in need. If our drive, our heart, and our focus is simply to make sure that we have what we need, then we have the wrong heart. If we’re always thinking about what we want and what we’re going to get, and at the same time we don’t have a thought for anybody else, then we’re being shallow. We have the wrong mindset.

Jesus came so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. When He came, He gave us the message, He gave us the example, and He gave us abundance in Him. When He left, these things didn’t leave with Him. He gave them to us so that we’d live accordingly. Now we are His ambassadors! So if we are to represent Him, we need to focus our minds and hearts on bringing abundance to others.

See you Monday.

Abundant Life

I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. John 10:10

Abundant life! What does that mean? Well, abundant life is a life that is not in need. It doesn’t mean you have millions of dollars. It means you don’t need to find food, because you have food. You don’t need to find water, because you have water. 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. If you have enough, and you have extra, then you live in abundance.

If you could go around the world and ask people, “What does abundance mean to you,” a lot of them will tell you, “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. Even in a small home, my family doesn’t have to live on the streets. Abundance is when we’ve got a well to get fresh water, so my kids aren’t dying of dysentery. Abundance is when I’ve got a job so that my kids are going to school and we’ve got food on the table. That’s abundance. I know what it’s like not to have those things. When I have them? And my family’s safe? That’s abundance.”

Sometimes Americans have trouble grasping just how much we have. We’re so accustomed to abundance that we don’t recognize it! Instead we define abundance by how much we can buy. But consumerism can actually kill people. We can get caught up in buying more stuff, and people that need our help can die.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have anything. It comes down to what you have in your heart. We have to have it in our hearts to help those in need. I’m not saying that you should never buy anything for yourself. 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.

An abundant lifestyle is so much more than having a lot of consumer goods. We think “abundance” and we see dollar signs. I think that’s America. But abundance can mean something really different in other parts of the world. Let’s learn to think about abundance in a new way. Let’s say that abundance is having enough, plus some for somebody else.

Jesus 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. These things didn’t leave with Him when He left! He gave them so that we’d live by them. As Christians, we’re ambassadors for Christ! It’s our awesome calling to represent Him.

How do you know when you have enough? This is where reverential fear can help you. More on this next time. See you Thursday.