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.

Growing Awareness

God found a lot of different ways to raise my awareness of the problems of poverty and injustice. For one thing, I started hanging out with Mike King. He’s trying to do a new kind of youth ministry, so I hang out with him because I like to see how he’s training young people. One of the things he’s trying to do is help kids understand what’s going on in the world. He introduced me to the Something to Eat program, and when I read about human trafficking in the newspaper I asked him what he knew about the Not For Sale Campaign.

As I started learning about problems like hunger and slavery, I started reading more about them. And when I did that, the suffering of these people grabbed my heart.

Also, I have boys of my own now, and I’m feeling a strong fathering instinct. I’ll do whatever it takes to be sure they are fed. I feel this powerful sense of compassion, and I want to make sure my family is safe. So I really feel for the people that are trying to do whatever it takes and they still can’t feed their children. That would be devastating to me. Like I said, it grips my heart.

I used to wonder why teenagers are homeless. Are they running away? Then I spent time at a shelter for homeless youth, and I learned something shocking. Yes, some of them are runaways. But a lot of them have come out to their parents and said that they are gay, and their parents kicked them out. These kids are on the street because their parents want nothing to do with them, just because of their sexuality.

They get kicked out of their homes, and then they get trafficked. They get sent out as prostitutes, and they have go. If they don’t, they won’t eat. If they don’t, they could get killed. Something like 80% of the girls in one of the shelters I visited had been trafficked at one point in time, or had been raped, or had to have sex for money to live. They have no choice, they die.

How do you even make sense of that? This is not light! This is evil! There is something so wrong with this. I would never throw my son out on his own, saying, “Fend for yourself.” I wouldn’t do that because he would die! Even if these kids physically survive, they die inside. There’s a lot of restoration work to be done.

It’s so sad, and so confusing. It’s happening right here, in our own country. There’s not nearly enough love. There’s not even enough understanding of the concept of love. And I just don’t get that. I don’t understand where our thoughts and intentions are when it comes to love.

Maybe I used to understand. Or maybe I never really understood. Maybe there was a time when I could just ignore it, or shrug it off.

But now I’m not okay with any of it.

All of these things are hitting me because God is showing me. This is God’s concern! So the more I pray about it, and the more I ask Him to show me awareness, the more He responds. He is always showing me more.

And you know what? It doesn’t overwhelm me! It doesn’t make me say, “God, there’s no way I can ever help. This is too much.”

Actually, it stirs me. It stirs me to want to join or start a movement. I’m not saying I want to start an organization. I have one of those already. I want to start a movement. Think of what Martin Luther King, Jr. did. He caused a whole country to embrace his dream and say, “Whatever it takes, we need to create justice where there is injustice.”

I know King died for that. But the movement continued, because God is moving in the world, and stirring His children. He is stirring me. Is He stirring you?

See you Tuesday.

United in Love

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? Not, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you won three World Series, congratulations!” That is not what He will say! And it’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 Jesus 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 will 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, or Evangelical Free, or non-denominational church. I’m not talking about any of that. We need to unify, but I don’t see a need for everyone to unite in one denomination. That wouldn’t make any sense! We need diversity. Every believer needs to be able to go to the church where they were saved.

No, no. I’m talking about something else. I’m talking about uniting in our calling. I’m talking about uniting in our mission. I’m talking about unity of purpose, about bringing the Kingdom of righteousness and justice.

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. It’s in this commandment that we experience ourselves as one church. We are the body of Christ, and we have one calling. We are called to love.

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

See you Monday.

Why Should Christians Fight Human Trafficking?

I mentioned last time that in my early experience, suburban churches were slow to respond to social justice issues like human trafficking. But I have seen that change. Churches are increasingly getting involved.

The Church is called to make Jesus visible in the world, and we do this by doing what He did. We are the sons and daughters of the King, so we do battle for the Kingdom. We bring righteousness and justice. We bring mercy and truth!

I think this is why churches are increasingly starting up trafficking missions, along with hunger initiatives, water initiatives, mental health initiatives, homelessness initiatives, help for orphans, and help for refugees.

Bay Area churches tend to be more aware of trafficking issues because the Bay Area really has a problem with it. Also, the Not For Sale Campaign has been very successful in getting the word out, and is able to use its influence to mobilize people. Bay Area churches and their youth groups have started taking the initiative, talking about trafficking and working on solutions.

Churches increasingly have human trafficking missions, and these missions are really, really good. I’ve been invited into a lot of different churches in California, and I have really enjoyed the time I’ve spent with them, seeing what they are doing. It’s inspiring!

I used to have to go around and ask churches to get involved, but now a lot California churches come to me and say, “Hey, we’re trying to start a justice mission in our church. We’d really like to hear your views on human trafficking, because we really want to encourage our congregation to fight harder.” Near the end of my baseball career, I had so many invitations to speak that I had to turn some down. Awareness is definitely spreading! And now that I’m retired, I can accept more invitations to speak. I get to continue being part of this awesome work that God is doing.

But we’re still at a stage where churches are trying to educate their congregations. Churches are still trying to help people understand how important it is to fight trafficking. Some churches are still trying to get their elders to see how important this is.

I’m happy to see churches making the effort to launch these missions and gain some momentum. I really am! But if you think about it, they shouldn’t have to try.

Churches shouldn’t have to convince their congregations, or their elders, that fighting trafficking is important. It’s important! It should be obvious that believers are going to be in on the fight. Period. Slavery is not Jesus. If you are part of a church, or you are a pastor, then you should be part of freeing the captives. No question, no debate. Freeing the captives is Jesus.

I’m telling you, when the Church unites to do Jesus, everything is going to click. When the Church unites to reflect Jesus into the world, then we will be able to see Him. And that is when He will return. Don’t you want that? I know I do!

If we continue to narrow our focus to our own programs, our own suburbs, our own communities, then we’ll never unite. All we’ll end up saying is, “Hey, this is my church. Stay away.”

The unification of the church does not mean giving up our denominational identities. It just means that we should all be on the same page on certain issues: issues of righteousness and justice. These are the foundation of the throne of God!

See you Thursday.

Preaching Justice by Meeting a Need

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
Mercy and truth go before Your face. (Psalm 89:14)

The psalm says that righteousness and justice are the foundation of the throne of God. The foundation! But we don’t preach justice.

We preach righteousness, alright. We’re all over that. Not a day goes by that you don’t hear about righteousness. But we don’t preach justice.

We do small missions. Short term missions. And that’s justice? A church group goes to some poor area and builds a building that the local community can’t afford to maintain. What happens? It becomes a pile of junk. In no time.

They build a house for someone who cannot sustain it, and then they say, “We did a good deed.” They built what they wanted to build. Then they sat back and said, “Look what we did.” They called it their short term mission, because they did it in Jesus’s name. They actually said Jesus’s name. But that’s not Jesus! You know why? Because they didn’t ask the community, “What do you need?”

Jesus asked people, “What do you need?” And then He fulfilled their needs. He asked the man at the Pool of Bethesda, “Do you want to be healed? Is that your need”? Jesus knew it was! Obviously it was. But notice that Jesus asked.

And the sick man said yes. He said, ”Yes, I need to be healed. I’ve been like this for 38 years, but I can’t get close to the water.” So Jesus said, ”Okay, well just pick up your mat and walk.” Immediately the man was healed.

This is what Jesus did! He met people’s needs. The disciples went to Him and said, “These people are hungry, Jesus!” And Jesus said, “Oh, they’re hungry?” “Yes,” the disciples said. “Okay,” said Jesus. “Give me those loaves and fish.” Boom! He fed every one of them. Food left over. He met their needs.

After He met their needs, He spoke to them. After He met their needs. Jesus knew what people needed to hear. He knew! He could have just said it. But He didn’t start with that. He met their needs first, and then He spoke to them.

There are millions of people in this world who need to be rescued from human trafficking. They need to find Jesus! So go and meet their needs. Rescue them. Then you can tell them all about Jesus.

What happens when you don’t ask what people need? What if you go on the street and pass out a pamphlet talking about Jesus Christ? What if you hand one to a sex slave and their pimp’s watching? That slave does not care about your pamphlet. They are trying to turn a trick and get some money, so they don’t get beat up that night. What are they going to say to a pamphlet? “Thank you”? No! Because a pamphlet is not going to keep them from getting whipped.

What’s worse, that girl or boy is going to say to you, “I need to meet your need. I have to get some money.”

You have to start with their need. Rescue them. Tell them, “No, I want to meet your need, child. I want to get you out of this. I am going to rescue you from this. After that, I’ll tell you why I rescued you. I did it because I love you. My love comes from a man named Jesus Christ. He loved you so much that He died, so that you could be free.

That’s grace. That’s Jesus. That’s the vision.

More on this next time. See you Thursday.

Kingdom Warriors

Sometimes people ask me, “Do you really think we can end human trafficking in our lifetime?” The truth is, I don’t know. But I’m still going to fight it with every opportunity. If we fight, we can free some people from a pretty terrible life.

I can’t promise you that fighting trafficking will end it. But we can end it, and I mean end it permanently, for some people. That’s one promise I can make. We can give some people their lives back. And the men, women, and children that are saved because of our efforts are pretty happy that we showed up and fought for them. They are happy that we didn’t just sit back and say, “Well, I can’t end trafficking, so why should I try?”

Think of those people whose lives were spared because we fed them. Think of those people who have clean, safe water to drink because we put in a well for them. Now they have no disease and their communities are thriving. They’re living longer and living fully because they don’t feel sick all the time. They’re happy and full of joy! I think they are pretty happy that we helped them, even if we can’t completely eliminate hunger or contaminated water in our lifetime.

I know that when we put in a well and heal a community, someone else, somewhere else, is dying of thirst. There’s plenty of that going around. And even if we fix one problem for good, another might arise. There was the plague, the “Black Death,” in the 14th century. It devastated Europe, and the Europeans were probably wondering if it would ever stop. It did. Later, we learned to understand sickness, and to treat it. Yet disease still is rampant. We handled the plague, the Spanish flu, whooping cough, and many other diseases, but still others, like Ebola, pop up. So we ask, “Can we end trafficking in our lifetime?” And I think, even if we can, another threat may arise.

But we can end trafficking for some people. We can end poverty for some people. We can end disease, sorrow, and suffering for some people. And so that’s what we do. It’s our calling as human beings in Christ, and so we rise to the call. I can’t save the whole world, but I can do my part. I can reflect Jesus by meeting a need, whenever or wherever I see one.

We are here to create the conditions of God’s justice, like freedom and health, joy and community. That’s why we’re here, so that’s what we do! We don’t have to win the war. Jesus already did that for us. We just have to fight the battles. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. We’re here to help when we see a need. That’s all.

That’s the whole purpose of life!

See you Monday.

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.