Jesus the Lion, the King!

When you carry something on your back, it’s a sign of strength. I’ve cheerfully taken up my cross to follow Jesus. I’m glad to do it. I seek opportunities to serve like Christ served. I’ve learned that discipleship is a source of joy. It’s the truest joy! I’ve even literally put it on my back.

Paradoxically, though, there are those days when being a Christian itself feels like a burden. Sometimes we’re faced with challenges that seem insurmountable. We may not know what to do. We’re asking, “What does it mean to stand for Jesus?” And we really don’t know.

We might even ask, “Do I want to stand for Jesus?” As shocking as it sounds, sometimes we aren’t all that sure! Living like a Christian can be hard. It can be really frustrating. Sometimes we can be profoundly selfish. Even when our spirit is willing, our flesh can get rebellious.

What do you do when your heavy burden, the one Jesus offered to carry, is the burden of following Him?

Times like these do not feel good. You need courage, grace, and understanding while you’re asking, “This is so hard! How am I supposed to represent Christ today, when it is so hard?”

In times like these, maybe especially in times like these, our spirits long for Christ. We need reminders of who He is.

That’s why I got a lion tattooed on my shoulder.

lion-tattoo

You’ve seen a lion walk. He walks like he carries the world on his shoulders. But he does it with confidence. He’s strong. And when he looks at you, you see how brave he is. He’s full of courage. He is not afraid.

Why should he fear? He knows he’s the king of everything he sees.

Jesus is the lion. He’s the Lion of Judah. Jesus is the king! He’s the king of everything! And he gives us His lion mentality.

The lion mentality says, “You don’t have to fear. Don’t worry about what anyone thinks of you. Walk in who you are. Be who you are. You represent Christ! Be brave in that.”

Think about hanging out with lions. Watch what they do. Walking or laying down, the lion is very calm. He’s looking around. He’s just observing. But he can move into attack mode in the blink of an eye.

We need that calm, that strength, that ability to act in an instant. This is the lion mentality. Jesus is my savior who carries my heavy burdens and gives me rest, but He is also the lion. Sometimes I need that presence, too. Sometimes I need Jesus, my king.

There are days when I need a lion’s confidence, but I don’t feel it. There are days when I need a lion’s courage, but I don’t feel it. There are days when I need a lion’s strength, but I don’t feel it. Does it matter? No, because I know that Jesus has perfect confidence, perfect courage, and perfect strength. Always.

That’s why the tattoo says sola fide, faith alone, and sola gratia, grace alone. I know that when I need it, Jesus will give me a brave heart. He will give me the strength of a lion. And when I walk with the strength of a lion, so I walk with the grace of a lion. Jesus leads me to walk in His grace.

I know those days will come when it actually feels like a burden to live like Jesus. There will be days when the temptation to feel frustrated, angry, and selfish is almost overwhelming. I know. But when that happens, don’t surrender. Remember the lion, and receive Him.

Bless you. See you Tuesday.

The Compass on My Back

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Why would I get a cross tattooed on my back? For me, the cross is everything. I want to represent everything that it represents.

I chose this particular design because it’s a look I really enjoy. I have a necklace with the same design. I like the arrows on all sides. It shows that the cross is a compass I can use. No matter where I go, I want to encompass Christ.

Whether I turn north, south, east, or west, I want to represent Him.

Whether I am going up, down, right, or left, the cross is my guide.

No matter what direction I take in my life, I want to represent Jesus.

When you look closely at the tattoo, you’ll also notice that we made the cross look like a rock. That’s because Christ is my rock.

Whether I turn north, south, east, or west, He is my rock.

Whether I am going up, down, left, or right, He is my foundation.

Whenever I turn, I stand on that rock.

Whenever I move, I rest on that rock.

I want to represent everything that the cross represents: crucifixion and resurrection. Have you felt pain? Have you been humiliated or shamed? So has Jesus. He understands. Has someone hurt you? They hurt Jesus. He understands.

Think about it. The almighty and living God, creator of all that is, seen and unseen, knows exactly how you feel in your pain, loneliness, isolation, or shame. He knows because He felt it too. He came here and felt the worst pain that humans can feel, and why? Because He loves you. You. He did this for you.

Are you carrying secrets? Have you done things so bad that you thought you’d literally die? Jesus knows. He knows your secrets and He knows your fears. So He literally died for you. Now you’re forgiven! When He rose from the dead, that was the end of death. Now you can look forward to eternal life. That’s redemption! Think about it. That’s freedom.

The Bible says, “Take up your cross, and follow me.” Putting this cross on my back is my way of saying that I’m taking up my cross and following Him. I’m living for Him.

When I die, I’ll gain eternity. But as long as I’m here, I’m going to take up this cross. Jesus is my rock. He is my redeemer. And in Him, I know I will live.

See you Tuesday.

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.