The Hole in Our Gospel

I’m so grateful for all the new visitors to my blog in the last few days! I thought, out of the nearly 500 posts I’ve written, which one would I want new readers to see first? Which one will tell you, in a few short paragraphs, what my blog and my upcoming second book are about? Which one will show you the direction I hope to take in my next phase of life? And I settled on this one. Please give it a read. Please stay connected to me. Please join the movement!

If you went to the Bible and removed all the verses where Jesus talked about justice, poverty, the poor, and helping the really vulnerable, like orphans, you would leave a gigantic hole in the Christian Gospel. That is the basic point of The Hole in Our Gospel, a 2009 book by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision U.S. Stearns also says that this is basically what Christians have done.

We skip reading those parts. We’re big into our “best life now” scenarios, and we’re big into asking how Jesus can help me in my life. We use the Bible to find out how we’re going to be better and how we’re going to excel in life with Jesus. Somehow we convince ourselves that the Gospel is all about us.

But how does that relate to what Jesus said: that all the law can be summed up in love your neighbor as yourself? In our “best life now” scenarios, we lose that. We’re not loving our neighbor.

Part of the problem is that we think it’s too hard. When you read statistics on poverty, you don’t feel like you can help. When you read how bad these issues are, everywhere in the world, you wonder, “What can my one dollar really do? Or my fifty cents, or my five dollars, or even my five hundred dollars?”

Stearns shows how the statistics can be overwhelming, deceiving, and even depressing. They can make you do the opposite of what you are called to do, and that’s trying to figure out a way to alleviate poverty.

And then he shows how effective we can be. He shows how we can alleviate poverty. We do it as the body of Christ. We do it as His Church.

Christian churches are supposed to be the pillars of their communities, and even the pillars of the world. Read about the early church, and what Jesus tried to do. This is why Christians came together as churches in the first place.

But in the Western church today, we get into our own little bubbles. We create these mega-churches. They offer yoga classes, Starbucks in the lobby, all these things intended for the comfort of their own people. I understand the importance of discipling, but the impression these mega-churches give is that they only care about themselves. They make it look as though they are there for only one thing: seeing to the needs of their own congregations.

We’re supposed to be a church as a whole, a church everywhere in the world. We’re supposed to go out into the communities of the world to figure out who needs help. And then we’re supposed to get together and help!

Jesus said, “I came to rescue.” He said, “I came to take people out of bondage and bring joy where there is none.” And when He ascended to heaven, He left it up to us to continue His work. That’s our fulfillment in Christ. That’s our real “best life now” scenario.

Who is with me?

See you Thursday.

Love Saves. Love Unites!

I don’t believe that it’s wrong that we have denominations. Denominations aren’t an obstacle to church unity. Think about it. Do you go to a church because you agree with its teaching, or do you go because it’s where you were saved, or where you feel loved?

The size of the church shouldn’t be an issue either. I have been to megachurches that have campuses so large that they have gyms for members. But they also have huge hearts for the least among us, and they have built huge humanitarian programs to show their love.

Pastor Matthew Barnett runs the Los Angeles Dream Center. It has five hundred thousand square feet, right by Dodger Stadium. These Christians feed the homeless and take care of the poor. They even paint people’s houses for free, just because they want to serve them. They distribute food and female products in poor communities that don’t have the money they need to make ends meet. They pour a lot of money and effort into the injustices they encounter, in the country and in the world.

Matthew’s father, Pastor Tommy Barnett, runs the Phoenix Dream Center out of the Phoenix First Assembly of God, same deal. And these social justice efforts do not cause division or disunity. The opposite happens. Love creates community!

Love is what it’s all about. Love saves people. Loving them.

Think of a person who has a mental illness. Probably the best healing resource is just to love on them. They still need other sources of help, but just to love on that person instead of shunning them is going to help them more than anything else.

What’s the response to a person that doesn’t have water? Love on them! Get them water. Show them that you love them. Help provide a resource they should have.

God has showed me a lot of things that are not good. Sex slavery is a terrible thing. It’s the devil’s way of perverting love. Sexuality is showing love in a pure way, a beautiful way. And we’ve created evil with it.

But He’s also showing me ways to help out, and the answer is obvious. How can I help a person trapped in the sex slave industry? Love on them. Rescue them!

God is showing us that He sees what’s wrong, and He’s showing us the answer. How does He show us? Through His people! Look at all the people willing to fight evil! He spoke about it in scripture, and He’s speaking to us about it now.

He’s opened my eyes to a whole new area of humanity, to all these people who are so unselfish. They know that love saves people. Love will bring His church together.

See you Monday.

Bring Jesus Back!

I’m praying not only for them
But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.
John 17:20-23

Before he was taken away to be crucified, Jesus prayed to His Father, asking that His followers would be one, just as Jesus and the Father are one. And this prayer was not only for the disciples that were with Him then, but for everyone who would eventually believe in Jesus because of their witness. In other words, Jesus prayed for you and me. He prayed that we would be unified as one heart and mind in God, just as Jesus was in His Father, and His Father was in Him.

Jesus prayed that everybody would see His heart, and unify in it. He prayed that we would become one because He is in us. “I in them and you in me.” His heart and His love come directly from His Father. “God gave that to me,” He said, “and I’m giving it to you.”

He prayed that we would mature in unity, becoming like-minded. Jesus says, “I need all of you to be like-minded, so that the world will believe that my Father sent me.”

If Christians are going to unify and become like-minded, then we have to key in more on not condemning one another. We have to key in more on loving one another.

Jesus did not say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and judge each other by your sins.” That is not what He said! Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love one another. Love each other as you would love yourselves. Forgive each other as you would forgive yourselves.”

Now that is a huge deal. Imagine what could happen if we got into that place, creating a community of people that are willing to help each other in trials and tribulations. Imagine what could happen if we helped each other make decisions that are good and wise. Imagine what could happen in a community that gives advice and also accepts it, where everyone helps each other avoid the wrong road. Imagine what could happen in a community that shares love and wisdom, not condemnation and judgment. Imagine what could happen! This is the unity of heart and mind that Jesus prayed for! This is the evidence of God’s love for us.

If that happened? I think Jesus would come back.

More on this next time. See you Thursday.

The New Country of Grace

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land! Romans 6:1-3

I blog a lot about grace, but it’s because I hope that the message will reach your heart. I hope your heart says, “This is it. This is what I need to hear. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is going to help me get out of my issues.”

His grace is going to help you today and every day. You might have messed up, but it’s all going to be okay. Jesus loves you and He smiles on you.

You, me, the Apostle Paul — we all have the same experience. We do not want to sin. It is not our intention to sin. And yet, we still do. We sin. How are we going to get out of it? It’s only by grace!

The church is an agent of grace. It helps to hang out with other people that can honestly say, “I sin just like you.” People who have been where you are can understand what you’re experiencing. They can say, “I know that Jesus walks with me. He’s encouraging me! So I know He’ll walk with you through your issue. You can lean on Him. You’ve got to know that we are righteous and holy, and you’ve also got to know that sometimes, righteous and holy people act out of the flesh.”

Just remember what Paul says: grace abounds over sin. Because of Christ, there is now no condemnation. His grace will always cover our sin. People challenged Paul when they heard that. They said, “Does that mean we can sin whenever we want?” And Paul said, “Of course not! Once you’re of the Spirit, you will do things of the Spirit. You are living a new life now, in the new country of grace!”

You see? Once you’re of the Spirit, you won’t want to sin. You’ll want to do the things of the Spirit, like love unconditionally. You’ll want to! You won’t want to gossip or tell lies. Now at times, you will. You still have flesh on your bone. And that’s not going to change until Christ returns.

So you might mess up. You will mess up. I know. I understand. And you will want to hide in your sin, because that’s what the flesh wants to do.

But when you understand the grace of God, then you will know that you can go boldly before His throne in Heaven, and He will smile at you. He will say, “My child, I don’t see that sin. I see you for who you are. And this is who you are.” And then He’ll point out all the good in your life. He’ll show you all the good of who you are. He’ll say, “This is your heart! Your heart is good! This is how I want you to see yourself – as I see you. And I’ll free you, by exposing your sin. Bring it into the light, and it will die.”

More on this next time. See you Monday.

Unity Through Dialogue

As iron sharpens iron,
So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.
Proverbs 27:17

We need to take action. We need to unify the church. It’s key to the return of Jesus!

Let’s begin with an “iron sharpening iron” dialogue. Let’s come to an understanding. It’s going to be hard, but it’s not impossible. We’re all in this together, after all. We sing differently, we worship differently, and we handle our services differently, but we are all the church. Our differences should not stand in the way of seeking unity. We need a common understanding of who God is and how He works, so Christian thinkers need to come together and start sharpening each other.

By “sharpening,” I don’t mean “competing.” Dialogue is not a competition. It’s not about proving that your words are better than the other guy’s. Dialogue is not, “I know I’m right, and I know you’re wrong.” Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Be prepared to adjust your thought process when you find the other guy makes sense. Right now, I think we’re unwilling to do that. I think we’re afraid of conflict.

Generation Alive works with Spokane-area schools, but we’re also trying to unify the church. We’re working with the youth pastors to build unity. They are doing a terrific job, but it wasn’t like that at first. When we started out, they weren’t getting together very often. In fact, it felt like the churches were involved in a turf war! It felt like they were saying to each other, “Don’t get in our way.” It felt like everything turned into a competition! “When you put on an event,” they seemed to say, “we’re going to hold one at the same time.” Seriously! Unity felt like it was a long way out.

Things have changed now. The youth pastors are doing a great job, and I’m glad to see it. After all, they are the ones who are discipling our young leaders.

If you’re not willing to sit with thinkers and engage in a necessary and sharpening dialogue, you may never learn. Maybe some people are different from you. Maybe they have different lenses. But everyone’s focus is on the same God. Through dialogue, we try on each others’ lenses. And through dialogue, those different lenses could start to make sense. They could start to improve the way we see things. Look at God through the lens of another, and the way you see Him could improve. Let someone look at God through your lens, and the way they see Him could improve.

If we don’t engage in dialogue, we may never know. And if we’re not willing to sit with other Christians in community, we may never be unified.

See you Monday.

Love is Stirring in the World

“I love you.” That’s what Jesus says. So that’s what I say. I see a homeless guy, and I love him. I’m going to help him if I can. That’s being Jesus.

The movement to love our neighbor as ourselves is stirring in this world. It is awesome to see. This is the movement that I’m asking you to join.

Where is it stirring? Everywhere! I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes Americans can forget that there are other countries out there. I mean, sometimes you can go to church and actually start to think that Bethlehem was in the USA and Jesus was white! He was probably clean-shaven, too. And He drove a Mustang. We might really think that sometimes!

But go around the world, and you’ll see a church that is passionately and deeply understanding of how to love its neighbor. You’ll see a church that is pushing congregations to really grasp the mentality of loving your neighbor as yourself. It’s so refreshing to me, because it shows me that we are starting to unify. We are starting to gain momentum in this movement.

I believe in the scripture. When the church becomes one, our God and King will come back. I truly believe His return is part of the unification process. Unity is stirring in this world, and I want to be a part of it. I want Jesus to come back! And our unity will flow from love. It will flow from loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Loving our neighbors seems so simple, and you might think, “Of course! That’s how I was raised!” But most of us still don’t do it very well. I don’t do it very well. There’s so much more I could do to love my neighbor as myself. But after all God has shown me, I am certain of one thing. I no longer pitch for myself.

I pitch to love my neighbor as myself. I pitch for people I don’t even know, but I love them. I really love them. I pitch for people who cannot eat. I pitch for people who cannot drink. I pitch for people who do not have houses to live in, and for people who are naked. I pitch for the men, women, and children being trafficked for sex, and war, and work. These are my neighbors, and I pitch to help give them something to eat and something to drink. I pitch to help house and clothe them. I pitch to free them. I pitch for all of them.

I get to help them! That’s why I am raising my three boys to be selfless. “You want to do something?” I tell them. “Then do it for somebody else. Do not do it for yourself. You’ll find joy that way!”

That’s the movement I’m stirring.

I pitch to glorify my God and King, and to represent Him well. But representing Him well extends far beyond the mound. I also put on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt after a game, and I walk out into the real world. I honor everybody. I don’t live in my own little bubble. That’s the reputation athletes have, but I want to break that mold. That’s not who I am.

If you see me on the mound pitching, pray for me. Pray for me, now that you know who I worship when I pitch. Pray for me, now that you know that to love like Jesus, I pitch for the least of these. When you go to your job or your classroom, don’t do it for yourself. Do it for somebody else. Think about your neighbor, because that’s how you will find your joy. When you love your neighbor as yourself, in your job and at your school, you will find your joy.

See you Thursday.

Unify the Church

I do not lie in bed at night saying, “Man, I’m so awesome, I’ve won three world championships! Oh, I’m so cool!” I do not do that.

I don’t go home at the end of the day and say to my three boys, “Hey sons! Tell me what your dad did,” just to hear them say, “Dad! You won three World Series!” I would be so disappointed to hear my kids say that. I don’t want them to say that. I don’t want them to know me as some pro athlete that won a world championship. In five years, no one is going to even know I was on the team. Okay, Giants fans might remember, because they really love their team! But most people will not know who I am.

When I stand before my God and King, and He looks at me from the throne, what is He going to say? “Well done, good and faithful servant, you won three World Series, congratulations”? That’s not what I want to hear!

I want to hear Him say, “Jeremy, thank you. Thank you for promoting the Gospel. Thank you for taking the least of these and loving them. Thank you for using your talents to love other people, and for using your success to help other people succeed. Thank you Jeremy, for joining the movement of people devoted to loving their neighbor as themselves.”

I want to hear that because that’s how I read the Gospel. I read in Matthew 25 about the separation of the sheep and goats, and I hear Him say that when you feed the hungry and give the thirsty something to drink, you will go into eternal life. You will be righteous if you do these things. If you do not do these things, you miss the boat. I can’t read it any other way.

So think about that when you go to work. Students, when you’re in school, think about that. Take that passion you have for your neighbor and bring it to your job or your classroom, and join the movement. Because it’s stirring. It’s stirring in you, and it’s stirring in the world. This is our calling as a church.

When I talk about church, I’m not talking about the four walls of a building. I’m not talking about a Presbyterian church, or a Baptist church, or a Catholic, Evangelical Free, or non-denominational church. Not any of that. I’m talking about a unified church.

If we follow the commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength by loving our neighbor as ourselves, then we will unify the church. We are one church. We are the body of Christ, and we have one calling. We are called to love.

When I stand before His throne, I hope to hear God thank me for joining this movement, because this movement of love will unify the church.

More about this next time. See you Monday.