Love Your Neighbor

Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31

Why are we here? We are here to love our God and our neighbor, with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. I think that’s the reason everyone is here.

Loving your neighbor as yourself is not just something you do when you go to church on Sunday. It’s really easy to love your neighbor at church. We turn and shake hands, we pass the peace, and we greet each other.

Then when we leave church, everything changes. Our whole attitude is like, “I don’t see people.” We’ve got our headphones on, we’ve got our phones, and we gear our body language to say, “Don’t talk to me.”

We don’t want to have neighbors when we’re outside of church. That’s why the headphones come off when we go to church. In church, we greet each other. In church, we say, “Hey! How are you doing? You look great! This is an awesome day.”

It’s so easy to love our neighbors in church.

But we have neighbors all around the world, not just in church. We’re asked to love our neighbors everywhere we go, not just in church. We’re asked to do it in our life. We’re asked to do it in our walk. The Bible says that we are to be the aroma of Christ. People should feel Jesus in us everywhere we go.

Love your neighbor as yourself is as morally clear as I’ll ever get. There is no law against love!

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.

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.

Worshipping the Problem Solver, Part 2

We  often ask God for the things that we want, and we are thankful when we get them. We have all these moments of asking and thanking, asking and thanking. But we don’t remember to have a simple time of adoration for our God.

So I started to do that this year. And I’m continuing to do it. This year’s knee injury came at a really bad time, just as my arm was just starting to feel better, and just as everything was starting to go a little bit better. I had to step back and say, “Abba, Daddy, I need you. I need you to be my strong tower. I need you to be my strength and my deliverer. I need you to be my all-knowing God and remind me that you know everything. Because Abba, Daddy, I feel like I’ve been abandoned.”

And that’s truly how I have felt at times. Sometimes I have to purposefully remember that I have not been abandoned. I’m a member of the family of the King of Kings, to whom He has said, “I am your father. I will never leave you, nor will I ever forsake you.”

God is for us. He’s for me. There’s this aroma that I have to remember. It’s the aroma of Christ. It’s that feeling that we can trust Him. Our circumstances may not be what we want, but He makes all things work together for good. Trust Him.

It is so difficult at times. I read in scripture to trust the Lord with all my heart, soul, and mind. His Word tells me to lean not on my own understanding. The scripture says trust Him, because in all my ways, He will make my path straight. And I have to say, man, you are right. I can’t lean on my own understanding. Because I don’t understand. I don’t understand why this season went the way it went. Some of you might not understand why your job’s not going the way it’s supposed to be going. Or your marriage isn’t going the way it’s supposed to go. Or school’s not going right. Or things are falling apart. We don’t always understand that. And that is why God says, “Run to me. I am your rock. I am your strong tower. I am the person you can hide in. I will protect you.”

And we have to trust that! We have to! Because if we fight, if we don’t trust God, if we take our own way, then it will get harder. It will.

When I can get into that avenue of trust, sitting, even laying in the sanctuary of my King, then I can say, “Abba, Daddy, you’re right. Your burden is easy and your yoke is light, and I can come to you for rest.” I start to feel the Holy Spirit take over, and my heart fills with joy.

And so that’s been my year. I have had to learn to step back and trust. I have had to learn to lay before my God until my heart opens up and He says, “Yes. Jeremy, that’s what I’m looking for. Trust me. And that truth will set you free.”

If you don’t trust the truth, it can’t set you free.

I have really been tested this year. But I know my God is going to come through. It’s all going to work together for me. I love Him, and I trust Him, and I adore Him, and He is my God and King.

So I’m asking you, trust. If you need Him, if you don’t feel Him, then trust Him. You’ve gotta trust that aroma. I’m not going to guarantee that you will see God right now if you ask Him into your heart. I’m not going to guarantee that you’ll find Him sitting right there on the hood of your car. I’m not going to say that you will hear His audible voice. You won’t necessarily see some bright light. But you will feel Him in your heart. It will heal. Something inside of you will feel real joy. The joy that is true.

And it all comes from trusting. Trusting our King.

Worshipping the Problem-Solver, Part 1

There’s nothing like a tough personal challenge to remind us that we’re only human. Baseball is tough enough without the personal challenges. Mentally it’s difficult. Emotionally it’s difficult. Our blood, sweat, and tears go into this sport. What you don’t see behind closed doors is how human we are. We’re not robots. We don’t like failing. We don’t like losing. And when we see things happen on the field, whether it be our fault or not, it’s very frustrating.

I’ve had a lot of frustration this year. I’ve had a lot of hurt, and not just in my body. My heart’s been hurt. My soul’s been hurt! And it wasn’t something that I was expecting. You come away from a world championship year like we had, and you walk back in expecting to have an awesome season. But it’s been so up-and-down, what with my arm hurting, and then another blowout of another knee.

The theme for me this year has been trust. God has been telling me to trust Him.

Obviously, I started this season trusting Him. Of course I trust God! But He turned up the heat on me. It’s easy to feel the trust when things go our way. When things don’t go exactly as we planned, we find out that trust is really hard. I’m going to be really honest with you. In my flesh, it’s very hard to trust this guy we call God, this God that we don’t necessarily see, or have audible conversations with.

I know His word is true, and I know what my soul feels when I truly trust Him. But still, it’s really hard sometimes.

Jesus says, “I’ve come for those who are sick. Those who are healthy don’t need doctors. I’ve come to heal those who are broken-hearted.” Well, I’ve needed my doctor this year. I really have. I’ve loved Jesus my whole life, and a lot of good things have happened. My bride and I have been married for 16 years. I have three wonderful boys, high energy boys, and yes, they do cause me physical pain sometimes! I’ve had a great career. I’ve had an unbelievable experience in San Fran, and I’ve had great teammates that I truly, truly love. I have all these good things, but there are still times when I need my doctor. Times when I need my daddy. And I feel like I’ve had that this year. I’ve really needed to lean on Him.

I have no problem telling God I’m angry. There might be theology out there that says you can’t do that. But I’m going to tell you right now, I rip my clothes and scream at the King all the time. And it’s okay. Because my heart opens up and He says, “That’s what I’m looking for. Open your heart to me. I want to heal it, and I will, as long as you can trust me.”

No one said being a Christian is easy. No one said that if you became a Christian, all your problems go away. I read something the other day that I will never forget. It said, when you start looking at all your problems, remember to start worshipping the problem-solver. That was huge for me. That’s been my year. In this scenario of trust that God asked me to walk in, He said to me, “You need to learn to adore me more.”

More on this next time. See you Thursday.

A Man After God’s Own Heart

Take a good look at who Jesus was. He never condemned anybody. He loved everybody. And He brought joy to the people He was with.

That’s what I’m trying to do. I want to be a different kind of baseball player. Of course I want to be a guy that makes lots of money, but not to have seven houses and six yachts and eighteen cars. I earn as much as I can for a different reason. I want to make money because it means I can help people that need to be helped. It means I can love people and bring them joy, just the way that Jesus did.

Of course, Jesus is God, so He’s perfect. I don’t expect myself to be perfect. Trust me, I know I’m not perfect. I mess up. I strive to live a life that is Christ-like, but I feel a lot like Paul did in his letter to the Romans. He said, “Why do I always do the things I don’t want to do, and the things I want to do, I don’t do? Because there’s a battle living inside of me and it’s called sin.” (see Romans 7:15-25)

That’s me! I’m always doing things I don’t want to do, and not doing the things I want to do. But I also live by Paul’s words in Romans 8: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives you life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (8:1-2)

When I mess up, I feel repentant like David. I want to tear my clothes! Instead I say, “I’m sorry. I’m trying to live my life the way that You’ve asked me to, and I messed up. Help me and guide me. Help me to hear You and not be in my own selfish thoughts.” And because there is no condemnation, He helps me. Jesus is the savior of my life!

Because of his repentant heart, David gets called “a man after God’s own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22) That’s what I strive to be: a man after God’s own heart. And I try to encourage others to be that way. As an athlete and believer, I’m trying to be a man after God’s own heart. In my circle, when people look to me, that’s what I want them to see. I don’t want them to see someone who’s working for their salvation. No, no. I want them to see someone who says, “You know what? Because I am saved, my works will represent Him.”

That’s what I’m about, and I that’s what I’m trying to get young people to be about. What you do in life will represent Christ because of who you are. Whatever your giftings are, whatever your talents are, you represent Him. Be a believer after God’s own heart.