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, 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 Thursday.

Always More Grace Than Sin

It can be uncomfortable hanging out with Christians. I might feel like having a beer, but I don’t know if they’ll accept that. Sometimes I’m not even sure if my thoughts will be acceptable. I might literally say to myself, “Is it okay to have this thought? Should I admit to this frustration?”

Meanwhile, my non-Christian friends do not judge me. They don’t care if I have a beer or not. They don’t judge me for my thoughts or frustrations. If I’m feeling frustrated about something and talk about it, they really don’t care. They just accept it. They say, “I know what you mean. I’ve been frustrated that way too.” Their attitude is, “Yeah. You’re normal. Just like everybody else.”

I can sympathize with people who are struggling with something. We’re all human. So I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable around me. Believer or non-believer, I don’t judge them. I listen to them and love on them.

A guy can come to me in struggle and pain, and he can confide in me without fear of judgment. He can say, “Hey Jeremy, I’m struggling with something right now, and I want to tell my wife, but I’m afraid. I feel like a bad person.” I’m comfortable with this. I can say, “Yeah, I understand. I could probably go there too. And if I made the choices you made, I would be in the exact same spot.”

I don’t fear becoming like him in his sin. I think this is the mentality that Christians fall into sometimes, but it’s faulty. We have Jesus! He is with us always! There’s always going to be more grace than sin.

If I live by the Spirit, then I will act by the Spirit. So when someone confides in me, I can say, “Let’s figure out a way where we can help each other. I don’t want you to feel condemned around me. I want to love on you, man. I want to help you.”

I look at everybody, believers and non-believers, the same. We all sin. We all struggle. We all feel pain. I want to understand people’s pain. I want to understand their struggles. I want to be able to say, “You know what? I’ve been there, or I could easily go there.” And I want to help.

How many more people would feel comfortable around followers of Jesus if they were treated this way?

The night before Jesus was arrested, He celebrated Passover with the apostles, and then He washed their feet, telling them,

You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. (John 13:13-15)

Jesus is our judge, and yet He came as a servant king. When He knew His time with His beloved followers was ending, He did a job reserved for the lowest servant of the house. Why did He do that? He lowered himself in order to show humility. He said, “I have given you an example. Do as I have done.”

Humility doesn’t say, “I judge you.” Humility says, “I want to help you in your struggle and pain.”

That’s what He taught us. Let’s do that.

See you next Saturday.

Too Peaceful to Wander Astray

The righteous should choose his friends carefully,
For the way of the wicked leads them astray
. (Proverbs 12:26)

We are going to have all kinds of people in our lives. If we can stop judging people, then we can better love them and witness to them.

Still, the Bible says, “Be careful in who you hang out with lest you become like them.” Does that mean believers should shut themselves off from non-believers? I don’t think so. I don’t fear non-believers. In Christ, I don’t fear becoming like them. In Christ, I can just love on them. Why wouldn’t I?

Remember, Jesus is the hot water. Hot water flows through a copper pipe and the pipe changes. It gets hot. I may not be able to change myself, but just like a copper pipe, I can be changed. Jesus can change me. I turn that hot water on, Jesus flows through me, and I change.

I don’t have to turn on the hot water, of course. I can continue to live in my irritability and say, “What can I do? I will never change in my flesh. I’m a copper pipe, and always will be, and so is everyone else.” That’s the mentality that fears the non-believer.

But why would I be so fatalistic, when I can access Christ? The quicker I turn to my Savior, the quicker I’m going to change. So I’m hitting that hot water. The more I do it, the longer it stays on. It’s running through me a little more all the time.

We have access to all the hot water we need. And the more we hit that hot water, the faster Jesus flows through us. The peace of Christ comes over us.

It’s through Christ that we live in peace. It’s only through Christ that we live in His peace.

If you’re at peace, you’re slow to anger. You’re quick to forgive. And you become an encourager. You don’t have to be angry all the time, or deal with the burdens of lust or fear. This is the whole awesomeness of Jesus. Whatever our particular burden of sin might be, in Christ we don’t have to be that way.

That’s why I don’t fear hanging out with non-believers. The hot water of Jesus turns me into a blessing to them. They don’t lead me astray. I lead them to Him!

More on this next time. See you Saturday.

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 of 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 gives 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.