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.

Church With a Capital C

I don’t believe it’s wrong that the Christian church is split into so many denominations.

Think about it. Do you go to a church because you agree with its teachings? Or do you go because it’s where you were saved, or where you feel loved? I’m willing to bet it’s salvation and love, not doctrine, that draws you to a church.

The size of the church shouldn’t be an issue either. I know I’ve put a few criticisms of megachurches out there, but not because they’re megachurches. That doesn’t matter. It’s the ministry that matters.

Why? Because love is what it’s all about. Love saves people. Loving them.

I have been to megachurches with campuses so large that they’ve built gyms for their members. But they also have huge hearts for the least among us, and they have built huge humanitarian programs to show their love.

Pastor Matthew Barnett runs the Los Angeles Dream Center. Talk about mega! It has five hundred thousand square feet, right by Dodger Stadium. You should check out their website and read about their extensive community outreach programs in the areas of homelessness, human trafficking, hunger, poverty, and recovery.

These Christians feed the homeless and take care of the poor. They’ll even paint people’s houses for free! They just want to serve people. They distribute food and female products in communities that don’t have the money they need to make ends meet. They pour a lot of money and effort into the injustices they encounter, in the country and in the world.

Pastor Matthew’s father, Pastor Tommy Barnett, runs the Phoenix Dream Center out of the Phoenix First Assembly of God, same deal. This is why I know that denominations don’t matter. We can have as many denominations as we have Christians, and still unify as a Church with a capital C. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, and been a part of it. Social justice efforts do not cause division or disunity. The opposite happens. Love creates community.

Think of a person who has a mental illness. The best thing you can do for their healing is just love on them. They still need other sources of help, but just to love on that person instead of shunning them is going to help them. It’s going to help them more than anything else.

What’s the response to a person that doesn’t have water? Love on them! Get them water! Show them that you love them. Help provide a resource they should have.

Sex slavery is a terrible thing. It’s evil. I was stunned when God showed me what’s going on in commercial sex trafficking. You know what sex slavery is? It’s the devil’s way of perverting love. Sexuality is showing love in a pure and beautiful way, and people have taken that and created evil with it.

God doesn’t stop at showing us the wounds of the world. He also shows us ways to help out, and the answer is obvious. How can I help a person trapped in sex slavery? By showing them that I love them. How do I do that? Rescue them!

God is showing us that He sees what’s wrong, and He’s showing us the answers. How does He show us? Through His people! Look at all the people willing to fight evil! Can you believe it? He’s raising an army that finds and fills the needs of their communities. He spoke about it in scripture, and He’s speaking to us about it now.

God opened my eyes to a whole new area of humanity, to all these people who are so unselfish. God has shown me how many of his faithful children know that love saves people.

That’s why I know that love will bring God’s Church together. If we work together to heal the wounds of the world, then we’ll love ourselves into communion. Catholic, Evangelical, Methodist, Non-Denominational, all of us, all with our own particular identities, will become God’s Church. Church with a capital C.

See you Friday.

World Poverty: We Can End This!

What if you took a Bible and a pair of scissors, and cut out all the verses where Jesus talked about justice, poverty, the poor, and helping really vulnerable people, like orphans?

What would be left?

A gigantic hole, that’s what. This is the basic point of The Hole in Our Gospel, a 2009 book by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision U.S. According to Stearns, this is basically what Christians have done. They’ve left a huge hole in the Gospel.

How do we do it? Somehow, we skip over those parts. We’re big into our “best life now” scenarios. 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. We focus on how we’re going to excel in life because we have Jesus.

Somehow we convince ourselves that the Gospel is all about us.

So how does that relate to what Jesus said? When a scribe challenged Him to name the first commandment, Jesus replied:

“The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

You shall love your neighbor as yourself! Jesus said that! But in our “best life now” scenarios, we lose it. We’re not loving our neighbors.

Part of the problem is that we think it’s too hard. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed 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, and even depressing. They can make you do the opposite of what you are called to do, which is trying to figure out a way to make it better.

But Stearns also shows how statistics can be deceiving. You see, we can help. We can be effective. We can be very effective. We can end poverty! How? Easy! Don’t work alone. This is the calling of the Church. It’s the calling of the body of Christ.

Christian churches are supposed to be the pillars of their communities, and even the pillars of the world. Read about what Jesus did. Then read about the early church. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is the reason why Christians came together as churches in the first place.

We’ve lost that. We get into our own little bubbles. We create megachurches that offer yoga classes and Starbucks in the lobby. They focus on the comfort and nourishment of their own congregations.

I understand the importance of discipling. We all must become disciples. Some megachurches do radical, amazing things in this area, like the Los Angeles Dream Center. But all too often, megachurches give the impression that they are insular, turned within, and focused only on themselves. They make it look as though they are there for only one thing: seeing to the needs of their own congregations.

Christians are supposed to be the body of Christ in the world. Christians are supposed to be His hands and feet, His face, and His reflection. We are supposed to be a Church everywhere in the world. We’re supposed to connect to the communities of the world, so that we can figure out who needs help. And when we know who needs help, we’re supposed to get together and take care of them.

We’re supposed to help!

Jesus said, “I came to rescue.” He said, “I came to take people out of bondage.” He said, “I am here to bring joy to those who have none.” Based on how people responded to Him when He was here, he made good on those promises.

When He ascended to heaven, He left it up to us to continue His work. That’s what it means to be the Church. That’s our discipleship. That’s our fulfillment in Christ.

That’s our real “best life now” scenario!

Who is with me?

See you Tuesday.

A Movement to Bring Joy to the World

In April 2012, I published my first book, To Stir a Movement. It describes my coming of age as a baseball player, and as a man. It explains my passion for loving my neighbor as myself.

You might ask, what movement? Who is your neighbor? How do you show your love?

The movement I have in mind begins with awareness. It begins with the awareness that people all over the world, our neighbors and God’s children, are suffering. It’s the awareness that we are called to help.

This is awareness that goes much further than just knowing the world has problems. We all know the world has problems. I’m talking about a much deeper awareness. It it a profound awareness that you can help. You can make the world so much better.

How? Well, you can take part in ending the hunger crisis. Or you can play a role in ending the water crisis. You know what? You can help provide homes and families for orphans. You can even help end human trafficking, and restore the lives of its survivors. It’s true! You can do this!

And when you do, you’ll discover an awareness that goes deeper than anything you imagined. An awareness deeper than knowing. Deeper than doing. You’ll discover the awareness of the joy that you just created in someone else’s life!

You see, when you help someone, you give them joy. They feel joy because of you. Because you helped them. That joy is nothing less than the love of Jesus. That’s the awareness I’m talking about!

In 2010, two young women went to Uganda on my behalf to help build a well in a village in the south. Generation Alive, the youth organization I founded, built this well in partnership with Living Water International, a water charity headquartered in Houston, Texas.

Those two young women sent me pictures. I got to see what happened the day they busted the well. As clean water poured out, the kids were standing under it. They were washing themselves in it. This was clean water and they were rejoicing. I’ve never seen anything like it!

Now 90% of the diseases in their village are history. All it took was good, clean drinking water.

Here’s a video of the dedication of the well:

Look at the faces of those kids! Look at the joy that’s on their faces! That’s just for water! It’s the same water that’s in my toilet bowl, and these kids are actually rejoicing in it. This is so awesome! We flush our toilets every day and we don’t even think twice! Right? When do you flush your toilet and then rejoice over the water that’s in the bowl?

If I wanted to, I could go to a restaurant and say, “I don’t like this water, I’d like a different kind. Bring me the one in the blue bottle.” It’s that easy for us. We can actually choose our drinking water based on brand, or flavor, or bubbles. In Uganda, we’re talking about kids that are rejoicing because finally, they have water that simply isn’t dirty. Finally, their water won’t make them sick.

When those two young women from Generation Alive walked through the village, people rejoiced just to see them. The kids latched onto their legs and held their hands. They danced and sang for them, and they said, “We thank you so much! You’re a part of our lives now!” All we did was help them, but it earned us an invitation to speak into their lives. My girls got to sit with them. They got to talk with them. They just got to love on them.

That’s the cup of love. It is fabulous. It’s the love of Jesus!

And that’s what stirs this movement. It’s the love of Jesus. Give it a shot! As soon as you help create joy in someone, you’ll know. You’ll know by the way it fulfills you. You’ll know by the way that your spiritual hunger gets fed. You’ll find out that there’s something inside of you that craves Jesus.

Those who have Him want more of Him. You know why? Because He’s awesome.

See you Friday.

The Compass on My Back


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.

Life After Baseball

A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak at the Commonwealth Club of California. Over time, I’ll transcribe this and comment it, but for now, I thought you’d enjoy a vlog.

Let me know what you think!

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.