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.

Never a Burden

I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather. 2 Cor. 11:23-27

The Bible doesn’t say when or how Paul died, but in his letter to the Corinthians, he describes a tough life. He wasn’t the only one. The Bible tells us that Christians were persecuted and put in prison for what they stood for. Peter and John were arrested and whipped, Stephen was stoned to death, James was executed, and Peter was imprisoned. Paul and his companions were repeatedly chased out of town, and those were the easy days. They were also stoned, beaten, whipped, and repeatedly imprisoned. Acts 14:19-20 says Paul nearly died from one attack.

Christian tradition holds that Peter and Paul were both executed in Rome. Peter was crucified, and Paul was beheaded.

People must have been scared, right? Think about it. It was a big deal to make a statement that you were a Christian, because it could lead to beatings, prison and even death. People were fearful of Christians. Ugly rumors about weird Christian rituals and practices spread around the territories of the Roman empire.

Christians were scared, and rightfully so. I’d be afraid too, if persecution was rampant in my country.

It is rampant in other countries right now. China is officially atheist, so Christians are only allowed to worship at state-authorized churches. A lot of Christians worship in hiding. Chinese Catholics have a particularly hard time, because the government believes that their loyalty to the Vatican leads to disloyalty to the state.

According to the US State Department, ISIS executes Christians in areas under its control, and forces Christian women and girls into sex slavery.

Less than a week ago, the New York Times reported that Egyptian Christians feel they are at a breaking point. Violence against them has been surging, and while their non-Christian neighbors stand with them, the government is not protecting Christian homes, churches, or people.

Christians are facing a lot of tough scenarios right now.

In America, I’m not afraid to say I’m a Christian. I realize what a privilege that is. It’s another reason why the tattoo on my back says, “To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain.” As long as I’m here, I want to do Jesus. I want to make an impact for the kingdom.

And I can. For me, it’s so easy. I won’t have to go through what Paul went through, or the early Christians. I won’t have to go through what Christians in places like Libya and Mosul have to go through.

These are powerful reasons to take up my cross. Compared to the burdens my brothers and sisters have carried, there’s no burden in being a Christian, not for me.

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

Life and More Life!

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. Phil. 1:21-22, NKJV

Alive, I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can’t lose. As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. If I had to choose right now, I hardly know which I’d choose. Phil. 1:21-22, The Message

To Live is Christ

“To live is Christ.” What does this mean? It means that we’re here to reflect Christ, every single day that we walk this earth. It’s why we’re here!

Being a Christian is not just telling people, “I’m a Christian.” Being a Christian is not just getting into our church clothes and going to church on Sunday. Being a Christian is not even going to church twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday! No. Faith in Jesus is not a religion. Faith in Jesus is a lifestyle.

Being a Christian is how we live. To live is Christ. That’s what it is. It’s a walk that we walk, and we walk it every single day. If you’re living now, you are being Christ. You will be Christ as long as you live.

Sometimes we fail at it. Sometimes we do really well! And sometimes we’re just okay. We’re going to have good and bad days just like everybody else. God knows that, which is why He gives us grace.

To Die is Gain

“To die is gain.” What does this mean? It means that as long as you live for Christ, then when you die, you will gain heaven. You will gain a life that will be so much better than the one you had here.

As long as you’re here, you’re representing Him. And once your life is over, you no longer have to represent Him, because you gain Him. Whether you die for Jesus, or whether you die of old age, you will gain Christ.

You’ll find yourself in the throne room with God! You’ll get to hang with Him. You’ll get to sit with Him, and walk with Him, and laugh with Him. You’ll hang with the angels and worship Him! In death, you will gain everything. There will be no more fear. There will be no more death and disease. There will be no more lying, betrayal, or mistrust.

You will gain so much when you die. Eternity is so much better than what’s here on earth.

Life Versus Even More Life!

You can see why Paul says that if the choice were his, he wouldn’t know what to do! Life is awesome, because we get to reflect Christ. Death will be awesome too, because we get to hang out with Him. We can’t lose!

So as long as we’re here, let’s live for Christ. We’ll gain a lot when we die, but let’s not waste our time here. Life is awesome because to live is Christ. There is so much good work for us to do. Let’s not sit around and do nothing. Let’s make an impact for the kingdom. Let’s do as much as we can while we’re here!

This is not a works-oriented mentality. Works will not gain the love of Jesus. Works will not gain heaven. Paul isn’t saying that. He’s saying that we get to make our time on earth worthwhile. We get to reflect Christ!

I know that when I die, I’ll gain the kingdom. I will gain my time with the King. I’m going to gain so much when my time here is up. But as long as I’m here, I want to make an impact for the kingdom. I want to make an impact like Christ made, in the hearts and lives of other people.

I’m going to live as Christ, because to live is Christ!

See you Friday.

Relationships of Service

I think it’s very important to serve.

My “No Man” tattoo is a symbol. It’s my way of saying, “This is the best way I know to love my neighbor as myself.”

There are all kinds of tattoos that do the same thing. Everywhere, you see tattoos that symbolize something somebody read in the Bible, or in another spiritual book. It all boils down to one thing. Service.

It all boils down to living for other people. That’s what Jesus did, and that’s what He has called us to do.

If I had to tie up the gospel of grace into one simple statement, it would be, “don’t live for yourself.” The gospel is all about living for other people. It’s about being a servant to those around you.

It’s about being encouraging! The gospel talks about the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Every one of those fruits grows from not living for yourself.

And it’s not easy. To live with patience is very hard to do. But the gospel encourages us. The gospel sustains us. Take a close look at the times you’ve lost patience with people. It’s because you were being selfish, right?

Maybe sometimes we find it hard to serve people because we don’t have goodness, or we’re not feeling particularly thankful, or we don’t have self-control, or we don’t have joy.

But why don’t we have those things? I think if we really examine ourselves and our lives, we’ll realize that it’s because we’re living for ourselves. The more we live out of selfishness, the less joy we have. When we live for ourselves instead of the people around us, we are less thankful. We have less to be thankful for! We’re less loving. We’re more controlling.

When we live for ourselves instead of the people around us, the things of the flesh tend to creep up on us. Impatience, ingratitude, selfishness, lack of self-control, a need to control others, etc., are all the opposite of the spirit. Flesh is selfish and self-centered, while our spirit is very servant-oriented. Our spirit is good. It’s made in God’s very own image! Our spirit is about giving back. Our spirit is about trying to figure out what other people need.

We can’t do this without putting aside some time to understand our own needs. Your needs should be met. You are a human being, after all!

But I think it’s very important to serve others first. Then, hopefully, the people you serve will serve you back.

Think about that. By serving others, you create relationships of service. The people you serve are meeting your needs, and you’re meeting theirs. You know what that is? That’s living life!

Have I tempted you to get “No Man Shall Live For Himself” tattooed on your forearm? I wouldn’t mind! Hopefully you’ll do it because you’re joining the movement. Tattoo or not, I hope you’re thinking about joining the movement.

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!

A Tattoo To Invite Me In

I get all my ink done by my friend Matt in Seattle. I still remember flying in, sitting down with him, and saying “I want my next tattoo to say ‘No Man Shall Live For Himself,’ and I want it on my left forearm.” We sat there together and dialogued about it. He asked me what the phrase meant to me, and why I’d chosen my left forearm for it. It was a great conversation. I always have great conversations with Matt! And this one meant a lot to me. It was the first conversation I had about this tattoo.

Since then, so many people have been grabbed by it. It’s a statement. I remember Matt saying that it was a great idea because it’s the kind of phrase that people would Google or use in a library search. He said it was intriguing. And it’s true! I mean, people from 15 to 80 have grabbed my arm and said, “Do you mind if I read what your forearm says?” It always results in a good conversation. I’ve had such a great time with that. I love talking with people about what the phrase means and what it stands for. These conversations happen everywhere, while I’m out and about or doing things in the community. It’s just really cool.

Throughout my career as a pitcher with the Giants, I helped out at the Larkin Street youth shelter. I still go there. I was there the other day! I’ve learned a lot from my time there.

Street kids can be a little suspicious, for obvious reasons. They are smart.

When I was over at Larkin Street after getting this tattoo, talking with these kids and doing stuff with them, I noticed that they’d started looking down at my arm. I would see them turn their heads sideways a bit to read. Then they would look up at me. And suddenly, it was so much easier for them to open up to me in conversation.

Think about it from their point of view. Here comes this guy, me, and they have to ask themselves, “Why is he here? What is his motive? He has a platform. How is he using it? Does he really care about me, or is he just here to represent a baseball team?” Good questions! They are smart for asking.

When Larkin Street kids see “No Man Shall Live For Himself” on my arm, it calms them. It speaks to them. It says, “Now this guy, he really wants to be here with us. He’s tattooed it on his arm! He doesn’t want to live for himself. He wants to be a servant leader. His tattoo says that when he goes and does something, like coming here, he has a motive. He wants to help other people.”

This tattoo invites me in. Those kids see it, and they let me in.

These days, when young kids see a tattoo, they regard it as a sign. To them, tattoos are permanent and significant. Tattoos speak. They say, “This is who I am.” And there’s story that goes with each one.

For young people now, tattoos have meaning. They’re not just something you get while you’re intoxicated or because you’re trying to rebel. They’re not something you do just because somebody else did it. They’re not something you do half-heartedly.

There’s a solid meaning behind every tattoo.

More on this next time. See you Monday.

A Tattoo to Remind Me: This is Who I Am

We think a lot about how permanent tattoos are. Permanence is kind of the point when it comes to tattoos! But tattoos can also be visible or hidden. The tattoo on my left forearm reads, “No Man Shall Live for Himself.” This was my second tattoo. And I keep it where I can see it.

At first, I didn’t think I’d ever get any tattoos at all. Obviously that changed, because you’ve been reading about my “Solus Christus” tattoo. That sola is so important to me, and a point came when I realized I was definitely going to get a tattoo of it.

When I got my “Solus Christus” tattoo, I thought that was it. I didn’t think I’d get another one. Everybody was telling me, “Tattoos are addicting! You have to be careful! Once you get one, you’ll want more!” But I really didn’t think that was going to be me. I thought I’d stop at one.

On the other hand, I think I always knew, in the back of my mind, that there would be more. There are some other things that mean just as much to me as that sola.

First, though, I had to see how that “Solus Christus” tattoo sat with me. It turns out I enjoyed it! I really liked the conversations that it started.

I had the same thing in mind for my second tattoo. I wanted it to be something really deep and meaningful to me, and I wanted it to be a conversation starter.

That’s why the second one says, “No Man Shall Live for Himself.” This is very meaningful to me. It is the standard that I have set for my life. It’s the standard I want to live by. I want it for my family, too, for my wife and sons, and my friends. I want to be known as a servant.

Living as a servant, like Jesus did, is not always easy. So I like the reminder. Putting it on my left forearm means I get reminded a lot, because I use my left arm a lot! I do everything with my left arm. I start my day with it. I’m in the mirror, combing my hair, getting ready for the day, and I see the tattoo.

It’s always there reminding me, in everything that I do, whether it be in photographs, whether it be at work, or whether it be simply getting ready for the day.

And at the time I got it, I was pitching for the Giants. I pitched with my left arm, so the tattoo was always there to remind me of why I was out there on the mound. “No Man Shall Live for Himself.”

So putting the tattoo on my left arm really meant something. It solidified who I am for others, by saying, “Hey, this is what I stand for.”

It’s easy to read, and it’s not hidden. In fact, when I was pitching, it had a lot of visibility. I’ve never wanted to hide it. I don’t want to hide what I stand for.

A lot of tattoos can be hidden. I have a couple that can be hidden, one on my shoulder and another on my back (more on that another day). But unless I wear a long-sleeved shirt, “No Man Shall Live for Himself” is always visible. And I never want to cover it up. I want it to be seen by everybody. I want people to know that this is who I am, and this is what I stand for.

And just as I had hoped, it has started a lot of amazing conversations!

More on that next time. See you Thursday.