A Savior You Can See

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed. Luke 4:18

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:32-36

Last time we reflected on the parables of Jesus. He told them using familiar scenarios, making the Kingdom of God visible and tangible to the people who listened to Him. In the same way, the righteousness and justice of His throne become visible and tangible through His acts of compassion.

Just as Jesus showed people what the Kingdom really is, we need to show people who Jesus really is. We have to make Him visible and tangible to the world.

He has come to set us free. This is what He says! He says, “I have come to proclaim liberty to the captives.” He says, “I have set you free.”

Freedom is in Christ Jesus! And if freedom is in Him, then freedom is part of what makes Him. Jesus is freedom! Therefore in order to make Jesus visible, we need to show people freedom. We have to literally show them what freedom is.

That’s why I think that Jesus is the frontrunner in the fight against human trafficking. That’s why I think that He wants us to help Him rescue the slaves.

When people are put in bondage, enslaved, that is not freedom! That is not Jesus! So I can’t allow slavery to take place. You see, I have the freedom to do what I want. So if I love my neighbor as myself, and I am free, then shouldn’t I want my neighbor to be free?

We can’t love our neighbors less because they happen to live in areas where slavery is a high risk. They didn’t choose to live there! What about us? Did we choose to be born in America? No! But we still have all the opportunities that come with being American.

And think about this: approximately 250,000 Americans are in slavery right now! Why? Maybe they grew up poor and needed the work, and got caught up in labor trafficking. That’s a nasty cycle that’s almost impossible to escape without help. Or maybe they grew up in a scary home so they ran away, and then, out on the street, someone took them in and said, “Do what I say if you want to live.” They didn’t choose this! They don’t deserve it, any more than I do, or you do. They deserve Jesus, and He came to set them free.

To make Jesus visible in the world, we should help Him bring justice and righteousness. We should join him in doing acts of compassion. Just like Him, we should want to live for other people.

More on this next time. See you Monday.

Justice You Can Hold in Your Hands

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:44-46

Jesus spoke through parables a lot. Some people think His parables were mysterious. They think He used parables in order to obscure His meaning and make the seeker work to find it. But I think that Jesus spoke through parables to make His meaning more accessible to His audience. After all, He used real life scenarios.

The examples from Matthew are a perfect illustration. Jesus would say, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who finds a treasure in a field,” or, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls.” These are scenarios that would have been very familiar to His audience. To describe the Kingdom of God, Jesus used stories that referred to things that people would know. He used things that listeners could picture and understand.

This means that the Kingdom of God is tangible. Jesus is saying, “Look. This is what the Kingdom of God is like. It’s actual. You can touch it. You can see it.”

I think the same concrete, tangible meaning runs through all of Jesus’ teaching. When Jesus said, “I’ve come to set the captives free,” there was a literal meaning to that. Now, obviously, most people say, “Yes, Jesus said that, but He was talking about the human heart.” Well, He was. But He was talking about literal captives too.

The Bible says that righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne. (Psalm 89:14). His Kingdom is founded in right living and justice. But what does God’s justice look like? Does it mean that He’s going to come down and destroy everything evil? Does it mean that He’s just going to blow everything up? Does God come saying, “I’m going to put people in prison. They need to go to jail. Justice is going to be served. They are all going to jail.”

I don’t think so. The Psalm also says that mercy and truth go before His face. Mercy and truth are another way of describing righteousness and justice. So justice is acting on compassion. That’s what justice is. Not just having compassion, but acting on it.

This is what compassion looks like:

“Oh, there’s 30 million slaves in the world. Oh, man, that stinks. Oh, wow, I feel bad for all those people, man, that they have to live in that scenario.” That’s compassion. That’s beautiful. But God doesn’t stop there. God acts on His compassion.

God’s justice is active. It is creative. It is doing acts of compassion. This is what an act of compassion looks like:

“Man, 30 million slaves in the world? That stinks! Now let’s do something about it. Because I do not need to hear about this anymore. So, what do we have to do?” We roll up our sleeves, put our minds and resources together, and we get busy. That’s God’s justice.

So, do I think Jesus would be the frontrunner in the fight against human trafficking and the rescuing of slaves? 100% I do!

More on this next time. See you Thursday.

When Kids Can’t Dream

I have so much to be grateful for. So much! I want to show my gratitude by inspiring you to dream the biggest dream you possibly can, and then work for it.

A really big part of our energy and success lies in our ability to dream. There’s a great line in the movie Grey Owl starring Pierce Brosnan, where the Ojibwe elders tell Archie Grey Owl, “A man becomes what he dreams. You have dreamed well.”

When moms and dads at the ballpark would ask me for advice, I always told them to help their kids dream, and dream big. That’s what I did as a kid. I didn’t know if I could be a professional ballplayer! But I dreamed about it anyway. You see, back then I could dream any dream I liked! I had no idea what a privilege that is. It’s not the same for every kid.

Some of the kids that we rescue from slavery have awesome talents. But those talents have been squandered by the people that were slaving them out. These kids never enjoyed the chance to use their talents or challenge themselves. They didn’t dare to dream, not even small dreams.

Imagine not being able to dream at all! It’s shocking! Instead of dreaming and telling their parents, “Some day I’m going to…,” these kids were saying, “I just want to wake up one day, and not be a slave. I just want to wake up one day, and know that I’m not chained to the floor, that someone won’t come take the chains off just to tell me to go have sex with some guy.”

Think of the children out there who never dream for anything more than release, maybe even death. They are tired. “I’m tired of going in these fields and working hard. Every day I work. I don’t play. I don’t go to school. I don’t see my mother. At the end, I get hooked to the floor in a dark room, and I get a thing of bread thrown in front of me as my food.”  Kids. This is happening to kids.

That’s why we have to dream as big as we possibly can. It’s through our dreams and determination that we can rescue these kids from slavery and restore them to their talents and their dreams. These kids are suffering and I promise you that Jesus is with them, waiting for you and everyone else to come and love these kids just the way He did: by saving their lives.

Everyone can help, no matter how old they are. I’ll tell you more about this next time. See you Monday.

By Grace Alone

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. (Genesis 39:1-2)

Why is Romans such a key text? Why is Galatians key? Why are Corinthians and Colossians key? It’s because they teach us so much about grace!

The Christian life is not about rules. It’s not about laws. Our lives are about grace. That’s what these letters teach us.

We wanted laws, so God gave them to us. But we don’t need laws, we need grace. Think about it. The entire book of Genesis took place before God gave us laws. If we need laws to be made righteous, then no one in Genesis was righteous.

And we know that’s not true!

When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, he ran. Why? God hadn’t told us yet that “thou shalt not sleep with another man’s wife.” There was no law about that. Still Joseph said, “I cannot sin against God.” How did he know? This was 400 years before God handed down the Ten Commandments.

Joseph knew because he lived in grace. Abraham, Sarah, and all the others lived in grace. I think this is because the Spirit of God was alive on the earth, talking to us and telling us what was good in God’s eyes. I really believe this. Before the time of the law, people lived in grace. They lived by faith.

By the Spirit of God, Joseph knew that adultery is not right. By the Spirit, Joseph refused to sin against God. God was with Joseph. It says so right there. God was with him, and Joseph succeeded in everything he did.

I think the law separated us from God. Once we had the law, the only time we could be with God was when we sacrificed a lamb. A sacrifice would justify our sins for awhile, but it wouldn’t last. We just couldn’t handle the Ten Commandments. Right? We messed up all the time! So over and over, year in and year out, we had to make the same sacrifice, just to make up for all of our sins.

Prophetically, David looked up to heaven and said, “God, you really don’t care about sacrifices, do you. You only care about the heart.” And God said, ”Right. You brought the law in. You guys wanted the law. So I gave it to you. And now you’re in a never-ending circle of death.”

We had no chance! You cannot live up to the Ten Commandments. You will fail. And when you do, you’ll feel like a failure. You’ll think, “I’m never going to add up.” That opens to door to shame. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had a time when we’ve looked at ourselves and said, “Ouch. I can’t. I’m not good enough.”

And then what does God say? He says, “You’re right. You can’t. That’s why I sent my son Jesus. He made you good enough. He fulfilled the law.”

Now by faith you are made righteous! By faith you are justified! You believe in Jesus and you know what He did, and guess what? That makes you good enough. Now God says, “Live in my Son! If you live in Him, you do not need the law.”

This message can be a struggle for people. If we don’t have laws from God, won’t we have anarchy? No, we won’t! We don’t need law to tell us what to do. Just like our ancestors in Genesis, we have the Spirit of God. We don’t need a “Thou Shalt Not.” We have relationship! And the Spirit will lead you to what you need to do.

Trust Issues

When He taught, Jesus used the paradigm of God’s kingdom, because the people gathered around Him understood monarchies. We have to try a little harder to form a kingdom mentality, but we can do it. It’s in our past, and it’s in our movies, TV shows, and books. We can learn to trust that the King has made us His sons and daughters, princes and princesses of the realm. We can learn to trust that when we represent Him in the world and need help, we can send word. He will help.

Still, it seems like it can be difficult for us to trust God the King. We already have a lot of trust issues with government. Our representatives in government make deals without regard to morality. They’ll actually sacrifice their own morals to make sure their agenda gets done. That’s what we have in government. No wonder we don’t understand what it means to trust!

Imagine living in the 17th century and the King says to you, “Come and be my son.” What do you think someone back then would have said? Obviously, they would have said, “Really? I’m in!” But now, we hesitate. Now we say, “I don’t know, I kind of like living out here, outside the gates of the kingdom.” Why? Because when we look at government, we don’t see trust. We don’t get trust.

So we don’t understand that we can trust God the King.

We’ve lost so much trust that we love Jesus and thank Him for saving us, but we still struggle to trust God. We don’t trust that He accepts us as His sons and daughters. We go out into the world, but we don’t really believe that we’ll be allowed back into the kingdom. We think God will shut the gate behind us.

So we get into a works mentality. We’re not perfect, so we sin, and then we feel like we have to cover for how we acted. We feel like we have to perform for God. “I judged somebody, so I have to read five psalms today.” Or, “I had a lustful thought, so I have to put in two extra hours at the food pantry.” Or, “I thought I was a better Christian than my neighbor, so now I have to go to Nicaragua and help build a new school.” With this mentality, fulfilling the royal law becomes work. Honestly, it becomes an ordeal.

When you start doing stuff to make yourself feel better because you sinned, then you have a works mentality. This is legalism. It misses the point. It misses the fact that we live in grace now, because of the sacrifice Jesus made, and then His resurrection. Now we live in God’s life. We walk in His Spirit and love with His love. When we sin, we can work it out on the spot with Him. He works all day every day for us. He loves us!

If you do something in order to show people what you’ve done, you’ll be dissatisfied. You won’t feel very good when you’re done. But if you do something to help a struggling neighbor simply because you love her, you’ll feel so good and fulfilled. Your heart will be right where it needs to be.

So trust the King! And when you struggle, send word to Him. Tell Him, “I need some help here.” Trust Him. Help will come.

See you Monday.

Multiplying Grace

I am constantly stressing that grace is the unmerited favor of God. I like to stress this point because it’s so amazing. Grace is God’s favor! God smiles on you and delights in you just as you are. You don’t have to worry about whether you deserve it or not. God’s grace is unmerited.

But that’s not all you get with grace. God’s grace brings with it the ability to let God work through you. Because of His grace, you can walk in His Spirit. Take a minute to think about that, because it’s awesome. Grace makes more grace possible!

For example, suppose I get home from work and I discover that my family is experiencing some chaos. We do have three young boys, after all. What should I do? Should I get angry? Well, is that what God would do?

Walking in grace means asking God to give me the ability to say and do what is needed to make my family feel loved in a time of chaos.  That’s what Jesus does. He makes us feel loved in our time of chaos. He doesn’t love us for who or what we should be. He loves us for who we are, right now. That’s who He loves. He loves you. And then in that love, He nurtures you. He loves and nurtures you into becoming more like Him.

This is what grace allows us to do for each other! When we let God work through us, we let Him turn grace into more grace. When we ask what we as Christians should be doing, that’s our answer. Let God work through you. Let Him compound His grace, multiplying it everywhere. Let Him make you more like Him.

Realizing that I have favor with God gives me so much joy. It frees me! It frees me up to do what I can for others. It frees me up to think about other people. Walking in the Spirit allows me to ease their pain, and bring Christ into their lives. My joy is so motivating!

You might say, “Look, I don’t have much money. I can’t just give money away.” But that’s not the point. If you want to give money, and you can, then that’s one thing you can do. But that’s not even close to all that you can do in Christ. Walking in grace isn’t about giving money away. It’s about reflecting Jesus!

Loving your neighbor as yourself doesn’t cost any money at all. You meet people all day long. What do they see when they see you? Do they see Jesus? This is as simple as looking at somebody who is having a bad day and saying, “Man, I hope your day gets better.” It’s as simple as asking, “Are you okay?”

Let people know that you are there, and that they are not alone. That is Jesus. Let Him nurture each of you through each other. And then grace will multiply in abundance, everywhere!

See you Monday.

You’ve Got to Show Who Jesus Is

There are times when celebrities or public figures get involved with a charity, and through it, they do so much good. You see it and think, “Man, they are doing so much good in the world!” You really get a sense of appreciation for their good works.

But do you ask yourself why they do it? Is it so that they can be on TV? Is it so that they can push their name? Maybe even be in People magazine? If they do a lot of good, they can get their face in a lot of magazines. Is that why they are doing it, so that we’ll say, “Look at him! Look at her! She did this event. He funded that cause.”

Sometimes we need to ask ourselves the same question. What is our heart behind the good that we are doing? Why are we doing what is good? Are we doing it because we are led by the Spirit of God? Or are we led by the spirit of fame? We need to ask, because we can get pretty famous for doing good things.

I don’t think Jesus did anything for the sake of fame. Everything He did, He did to show the glory of God. Even though He showed no interest in fame and did nothing for the sake of fame, there have been more books and songs written about Him than any other person, ever. People who don’t even think He’s really God still write about Him. They still talk about Him. They still sing about Him.

It’s His name that gets used in vain! I don’t see anyone using my name in vain. Nobody is getting mad and saying, “Jeremy Affeldt! That sucked!” I don’t hear that! Right? But people use His name all the time!

I’m not saying that doing good works to get (or perpetuate) fame is a common or widespread activity. I’m not thinking about anyone in particular. I just want us to direct our thoughts to our hearts. Doing good brings a lot of attention, so be sure you’re in the right place when you do it. Do it because the Spirit of God is behind it. Don’t do it for the wrong reasons.

Now, if you say, “I love Jesus, but I don’t do anything,” then I would probably challenge you on that. I wouldn’t judge you. I wouldn’t tell you that without doing good, you’re going to go to hell. No. I would want to challenge you to think about it, because I don’t know if that’s what He would want for you.

In Christ, you can do all things. In Him, through Him, and by Him, we are new creations. In Him, we are made new. So to become a new creation who can do all things, and then sit and do nothing, just doesn’t seem possible to me. I don’t see how that could be your calling.

There are times to be quiet. There are times when you need to just be still and know that He is God. There’s a need to listen to Him, and let Him fill you. Let Him talk to you. Let Him hear you and be heard by you.

But there’s also going to come a time when you’ve got to show who Jesus is. He is in you, and you are in Him. So what are you going to do?

More on this next time. See you Thursday.