Bring Grace Home

There are so many wonderful things to say about grace. I frequently write about the freedom that comes with grace because it’s awesome. Grace frees us from sin! Grace frees us from slavish obedience to rules! We are free, because Jesus helps us with our sin. We are free, because the Spirit guides us and advises us. Do you see what this means? We don’t have to be afraid. We have help!

Think about that. Grace frees us from fear!

When your family is founded in grace, there is no fear in your home. Instead there’s freedom. Your kids are happy, your husband or wife is happy, everyone is growing and thriving, and you are living righteous and loving lives. People will look at your family and say, “Man! What are you doing? We want that too!”

I mean, who wouldn’t?

But then they ask, “What rule did you make? What law did you give them, that they live so well?”

That’s not the right question! That’s legalism. When people don’t understand grace, they think about dropping a Bible verse and making a rule with it. But that’s not me. I’m not a legalistic father who wants to drop a Bible verse on my sons when they’re not doing right. I want them to know grace.

I can hear you saying, “But Jeremy, does that mean you never discipline your children?” Not at all. It means I don’t use anger to control them.

We parents want so much to let our kids express their emotions. But have you noticed that we only really encourage it when those emotions feel good to us? We don’t get mad at them for being happy. We don’t get mad at them for laughing. We don’t get mad at them for being joyful. We don’t even get mad at them when they’re sad and crying.

But when they get angry, we get mad at them!

This is backwards. It makes no sense to tell them, “I’m going to get angry at you for being angry.”

Obviously we don’t want our kids to be angry. But it happens. What do they learn from us if we respond with anger? Nothing! It’s a vicious cycle.

I think our anger comes from trying to control our children. We want to control them so that we can control how we react to them. This is typical of legalism in the home. An angry child is not a reason to get angry. In fact, I think responding with anger is the worst thing you could possibly do.

Why not just accept them and be with them? You can acknowledge that there’s something going on. Maybe it’s something that you don’t know about. Maybe there’s something troubling them. Whatever it is, getting angry with them won’t help either of you. But grace can transform the situation. Grace says, “How can I help you? How can I love on you? How can I make you feel better? I can see that you’re having a bad time. How can I be here for you?”

When you do that for your child, then all of a sudden a bad day can become a good day. Now in their bad day, you’re not just someone else pounding on them. You are with them as a loving help to them.

I’m far from perfect, but I try not to get angry at my sons for getting angry. I let them be angry. And then we talk about it.

This is the difference between grace and legalism. My family loves and laughs and thrives because I didn’t give them a rule. I didn’t give them a law to live by. I gave my family freedom. My wife and I brought grace into our home and we are happy. With God’s grace, we are really truly free!

See you Friday.

We Can’t Do This Without Him

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10

In a Spirit-led life, our deeds are righteous. But they don’t belong to us. If I am a righteous man, it’s only because I have the blood of Jesus on me. If I live a righteous life and make the right decisions, it will be because Jesus is in me and works through me. I can’t boast about that.

I can’t do this without Him.

We feel like we need to control things. Maybe we even want to control other people, even though we know that things will go wrong when we try.

I’ve given that up. In fact, I’ve given up my life — to Jesus Christ. You have to do that in order to live in grace. Now I don’t try to control my family. I prefer to live with them in grace. This is the basis for a true relationship with Jesus.

The Bible says that we love Jesus because He first loved us. So I don’t go to my wife and children and tell them to love and respect me. They will love and respect me when I first love and respect them.

If you try to control your family, they will fight you. If you only love them when they perform, then you’ll have a battle on your hands. I think that’s why it was so hard for us before Jesus came. You see the battle in the Old Testament. We had to live a certain way and act a certain way. We had to follow the Ten Commandments. It was too hard, and we could never do it, so we always had to make sacrifices to make up for our transgressions.

I think there was a plan all along. God saw that we wanted rules. We sent Moses up to Mt. Sinai because we wanted rules. Rules cause problems, but we wanted them, so God gave them to us. Then we had the law, and we couldn’t follow it. We broke it all the time! Then we had to offer sacrifices — burnt offerings — all the time, in order to make things right with Him. There were a lot of burnt offerings!

God wanted to free us from this, so He sent His Son to make the ultimate sacrifice. After that one perfect sacrifice, there was only one commandment. Love your neighbor as yourself, and love God.

The only way that we can possibly fulfill that commandment is through the blood of Jesus Christ. You can’t do it without Him. That’s why you can’t boast about the good things you do. You can’t say, “Look at me! Look at what I did!” Instead, say, “Look at Jesus! Look at what He did!” Jesus is the only reason that we can love as God has commanded us to do.

When you can give up legalism, and give your life up to Jesus, then His Spirit will live in you and through you. Then you will walk in grace. You won’t walk in condemnation. You won’t walk in judgment. You won’t walk in expectation. You’ll live your life in freedom, not bound by all those laws. You’ll be free to do the work God has prepared for you.

And what is that work? God’s work is love. With Him, you can truly love.

See you Tuesday.

Head of the Family

The Bible says men should love their wives just as Christ loved the church. It also says that the husband is the head of the family, just as Christ is the head of the church.

So as men, our families look to us for leadership.

It’s a funny thing, though. When I look at Jesus, I don’t see someone standing on a pedestal and dictating. I don’t see that at all! When I look at Jesus, I see Him leading by becoming a servant. He served us, and He serves us still. We respond by following Him. We made Jesus our leader because we wanted to.

I didn’t always understand this. I used to come home and insist that my family follow my rules. My attitude was, “Hey, I’m the Dad here, so I should lead. It’s important that I lead.” So I would go to my family and say, “Listen up! I’m the head of the family, so you will do what I say.” In other words, I put my family under me. That was my legalism. And it stressed me out! It stressed me out for years, always trying to make my family be a certain way and act a certain way.

You know what? Do that to your family, and you will get resistance. They will shut you down, they will quit listening to you, and they will rebel against you. That’s what happens when you force them under you.

Then where will you be? You’ll be out in the emotional cold.

Your family doesn’t want a dictatorship. They can’t thrive in a dictatorship. Trying to control them is like pushing them down. They cannot grow if you’re pushing them down. My job as a husband and a father is to nurture each member of my family into becoming the fullness of who they are, and I can only do this by living with them in grace. I have to let them be free, and to deal with situations as they arise.

So I no longer tell my family, “I’m the head of the family, so do what I say.” In fact, I don’t want to be in control of everything! It’s so much better to co-lead my family with my wife. My wife and I are co-leaders, as Eve and Adam were intended to be.

How do we do this? We co-lead in grace. If my wife needs me, my first question is, “How can I help?” I ask, “How can I be available? What can I do?” I don’t judge her. I don’t tell her how I would do things, or tell her how to act. I just ask, “How can I help?” And since my wife doesn’t feel judged, she can tell me. She can express herself to me, and I get to just love on her. Man, it is amazing how free and happy my wife is now.

It’s the same thing with my kids. They’re just happy! They don’t have to worry that I’ll judge them. They don’t have to fear that I’ll get angry. You should see how they are growing! Free from judgment and fear, they are thriving. There is so much freedom in grace! It is absolutely amazing to me.

Our families need us to lead as Jesus led. They need us to be servant leaders. When we lead with an attitude of servant leadership, our families will look to us. They will trust us. We won’t have to put them under us. When we serve them, they will respond by following us.

I love my family, and I am learning more every day to serve them as Jesus served us. I am learning to love them in grace, and to love them with understanding. If, as men, we can learn to lead our families with an attitude of servant leadership, then we’ll experience something wonderful. Our families will trust us, and draw near.

Did You Brush Your Teeth?

It can get pretty comical when one of my sons gets caught doing something, and he lies about it.

The other night I put my son to bed and I asked him, “Did you brush your teeth?”

“Yes,” he said.

So I asked him, “When? When did you brush your teeth? Remember, I’ve been downstairs with you all evening. Then I walked you up to your bedroom. I put you in your pajamas, and you jumped in bed. In all that time, you never brushed your teeth. So let me ask you again: Did you brush your teeth?”

“Yes!” he said. “I brushed my teeth!”

“Now,” I said, “I highly advise you not to lie! I’m going to give you a few minutes. I want you to think about whether you should lie to me, because I know you didn’t brush your teeth. If you lie to me, there’s going to be a consequence. You know I don’t want you to lie! So think about it.”

My sons know there are consequences to lying. They also know that the consequences don’t come from anger. They know it’s just because I don’t want them to lie. Lying is breaking trust! So I have to teach them to be truthful. I will take away an iPad, or whatever else I’ve got to do, to let them know that they can’t break trust. We have to trust each other.

Well, after a few minutes, my son said, “Dad, I didn’t brush my teeth.”

I said, “Okay! And remember, you don’t have to lie. You’re not in trouble. I just want you to brush your teeth.”

When it comes to our children, it’s best if we’re able to encourage them. We don’t have to condemn them and we don’t have to judge them. We don’t have to use fear tactics to manage or control them. We can just encourage them.

I try to constantly remind my sons of the leaders I think they are. I tell them I’m proud of them. And I teach them that they don’t have to lie. They can always be truthful. They need to be! A truthful leader will always attract more followers than a liar.

In the same way, the Holy Spirit encourages us. Maybe you’re not lying, but you might have something else going on. You might be looking at something you shouldn’t look at, or wanting something you shouldn’t want. Perhaps you are thinking about doing something you shouldn’t do. In those moments, there’s a feeling. There’s an intuition inside of you saying, “Hey, I wouldn’t do that. Here’s why.”

That’s the Holy Spirit!

I knew my son hadn’t brushed his teeth, because I’d been with him the whole time. It’s the same with the Holy Spirit.The Holy Spirit is always with you. The Spirit sees everything you do, or don’t do. My son couldn’t get away with not brushing his teeth, because I was there the whole time. It’s the same with us. The Spirit is there the whole time! And you know what? He forgives everything.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. John 14:26

That’s what Jesus told the apostles about the Spirit, the Helper. I think that this is what families can do for each other. This is what it’s all about.

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

Reminded to Serve My Family

Tattoos grab people’s attention because they are permanent.

It used to be a little more common to meet people who got tattoos because they were drunk, or because they wanted to go along with their friends. I think people also got tattoos because they were feeling rebellious. But tattoos are all over the place now. It’s pretty hard to rebel with a tattoo.

Now when you see a tattoo, you know it really means something to the person who got it. If you think about it, tattoos are interesting because they are permanent. You see someone with a tattoo, and you know they can’t wash it off or change it next week. They live with it, so you know they take it seriously. You know there’s a story there.

I think this is also why it’s becoming more common for people for get tattoos in areas that are visible. It’s possible to hide tattoos, but people don’t always go that route. And when someone makes their tattoo visible, then it can be a great conversation piece. This is what I’ve experienced with the tattoos on my arms.

When you get ink under your skin, people are interested. They want to know what it means. They know it must mean something. Why else would you do it?

There are stories behind my tattoos, but more than that, they are statements of my identity and my purpose. They say, “This is who I am.” They say, “This is what I believe.” They say, “This is how I live.” My tattoos have deep meaning and significance to me, and I love it when people ask me about them. I love talking about them.

I think it’s increasingly common to see young people using tattoos the way I am, as a way of saying, “This is who I am,” or as a way of telling their story, or of making a statement about their life’s purpose. A tattoo is a significant part of their life story. Whether it’s a word picture, or actual words, it has meaning.

I don’t know how many people use them as a reminder, but I suspect it’s pretty common. When you know there’s a story there, then you know there are strong feelings about it.

No Man Tattoo Large

The tattoo on my left forearm is really important to me for every reason I’ve given here. It’s a permanent statement of my purpose and my identity. It’s a conversation starter about what I believe and how I want to live my life. “No Man Shall Live For Himself” has deep meaning and significance for me.

And I really like the way it reminds me that this is how I want to live my life.

You see, I’m not always able to live for others. Like anybody, I can be selfish. Sometimes I get frustrated. And sometimes, you know, I just don’t want to. It can be difficult.

When I get into my selfishness, I have a reminder on my forearm that says, “You need to serve. It can be hard, and sometimes you don’t want to do it, but it’s still the right thing to do.”

It’s an especially good reminder when it comes to serving my family. It can be harder to serve our own families than it is to serve other people. You’ll see a lot of people serving the least among us, but then they don’t serve their wife, or husband, or children.

Mostly it’s because they’re with their families every day! It really can be as simple as that. But there might be some frustration there too, or some wounds, or other things built up, like anger or animosity. For whatever reason, sometimes it’s just harder to serve the people you live with and love the most.

I get that. It happens to me from time to time. But I have my tattoo to remind me. I see it and it brings things into focus. It balances me. It reminds me that living for other people is not just something I want to do. It’s a lifestyle I want to live.

The most important people that need to see me live it are my wife and children. That’s why I serve them, and I’m glad to be reminded of it every day.

Slight shift in my schedule here. I’ll be blogging Tuesday and Friday for awhile. See you Friday!

You’re Not a Failure!

How often have you felt like a failure? Sometimes we say, “Man, I’m failing as a Christian. I’m just not a very happy Christian. I should be, but I’m miserable.”

If I heard you say that, I would ask you to take a step back and examine your life. Are you living in legalism? You feel that you are not succeeding as a Christian, but how do you measure success? According to whose standards? Your standards? If you’re trying to succeed according to your standards, you’re right! You will feel like a failure.

There is no doubt about this in my mind. Using your standards to judge yourself is just another way of living in legalism.

The answer is obvious. It’s grace! In grace, you’re not worried about being crushed by your own expectations. You don’t fail yourself anymore. Instead you’re relying on Jesus! You can ask Him for wisdom and He’ll come through, because that’s what He said He would do. You don’t have to expect yourself to come through on anything. Don’t even bother! You don’t even have that ability. Not in your flesh, at least.

Legalism comes with long lists of things you can and can’t do, and maybe even longer lists of things you should and shouldn’t do. It’s a constant struggle to try to meet all of those expectations. And it’s so unnecessary! You can’t control everything and everyone, and you shouldn’t try.

How many times do you walk into church, worrying in the back of your mind about what everyone thinks of you? Does this sound familiar? You’ve got the grace of God, and yet you’re living in fear of shame. You try to control people’s perceptions of you, but all you manage to do is make yourself miserable. There’s no need for that. Don’t live in shame. Don’t live in fear. You don’t have to! Now you’re in Christ! And through Christ, you will find your joy.

I read a story recently about a woman who wound up in her parish’s counseling office, husband in tow. He complained that she was forcing him to go to church. When asked why she forced him to go to church, she explained that he preferred to stay at home to watch cartoons on TV. “But,” the counselor said, “you’re making him miserable.” And she said, “What am I supposed to tell people when they ask me where he is?” And the counselor said, “You tell them he’s home watching cartoons.”

She was floored by the counselor’s answer. “How am I supposed to tell people that?” she asked. “What will people think of him?” And the counselor said, “They’ll think he’d rather watch cartoons than go to church. Big deal!” (Families Where Grace Is in Place, Jeff VanVonderen)

Do you see? She was making them both miserable and it was so unnecessary. Trying to control the thoughts and opinions of other people is an incredibly tough way to live. It will drain you.

Who really cares what people think of you? I don’t let it stop me. Just ask yourself: are you living in righteousness? Are you living your life in Jesus? Yes? Then that’s all that matters. God is smiling on you. Never mind about that legalistic person over there, who is frowning on you. You don’t live for that person. You live for Jesus!

There is so much freedom in Him!

See you Monday.

Rest in God

And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God:
“Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.
“Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks.
“Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
“Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
“The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.
“The LORD will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand, and He will bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you. Deuteronomy 28:2-8

If you live in legalism, then you eliminate God. “But Jeremy,” you say, “I’m righteous.” And maybe you are! For example, maybe you don’t tell lies. That is consistent with a righteous life. But what if the only reason you don’t lie is because the Bible tells you not to do it?  Then you aren’t depending on God. You’re depending on rules. And what happens when you depend on rules? Things fall apart.

What if you were able to just rest in God and understand that His grace will show you the way? What if you could believe that God gives you His favor, even though you didn’t earn it? As the scripture says, in obedience to God, whatever you say, whatever you do, wherever you walk, and wherever you go, you will be blessed. Your basket will be full. Everything your hand touches will prosper. To put it as simply as possible: in grace, you will find success.

Now, success may not happen exactly the way you want it to happen. In fact, you may be surprised by the form success takes in your life. I sure was! And that’s okay. It’s better, in fact! Let God decide what your success will be. Let God show you what to do. He will show you exactly what to do so that your family will thrive. He will show you what to do so that everyone you meet will thrive. You’re on a journey, you know. You’ve just got to believe that your journey will be one of success.

What happens when you walk and talk with the people you meet? If you let Jesus guide your steps and tell you what to say, then the people you meet will feel really good. You don’t have to be super spiritual and legalistic. You don’t have to quote Bible verses at them. Resting in God is not about soapbox Christianity. It’s not about telling people to accept Christ or else rot in hell. It’s not about telling people that they’re bad. You are here to love. That is your purpose. So ask God to tell you how to love people. He will! He’s our faithful God!

What do you suppose happens when you do that? Man, the people you meet on your journey will love on you! They’ll be inspired to live a righteous life because of you! So listen to Jesus. He will help you tell people exactly what they need to hear. And when you do that, they’ll want to be around you! Maybe they don’t believe in God. Maybe they don’t do all the same things that Christians do. But you’re the one they’ll hang out with, because you won’t judge them. You’ll live with them, in grace.

Allow Jesus to guide your steps. Allow the Spirit to give you wisdom. Do this, and you will find so much love and joy. And guess what? That will be your success.

See you Thursday.