The Difference Between Joy and Hell

Jesus is grace. This is a very, very big idea. It’s huge. It’s almost too big to fully grasp, because it sums everything up.

Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”

Jesus answered him, “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.” (Mark 12:28-31)

“No other commandment greater than these.” Love is the golden rule of relationships. Our lives happen in relationship. God is a relational God. He dwells within and among us. He teaches us, heals us, and loves us, in relationship. And the key to relationship is grace. That’s the big idea.

To love God with all your heart, soul, and mind is to love the One whose grace is infinite. Our love for Him brings us into the community of grace. Our love for our neighbor reflects His grace. Grace is It! Without grace, there is chaos.

Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”…And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.

Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (Matthew 27:45-46, 50-53)

Just for a moment, Jesus felt forsaken. The world was devoid of grace, and there was chaos. There was darkness in the middle of the day! The temple curtain was torn in two. There was an earthquake that split rocks and opened tombs. The bodies of saints rose from their graves and went into the city!

If this is what happens when grace leaves, then oh, my goodness! God, don’t turn your back!

No grace. That’s hell.

People ask, “Is hell a real place?” I don’t know, but I can tell you this: hell is devoid of God. When there is a lack of God, there is a lack of grace. That’s why there is gnashing of teeth, arguing, bitterness, shaming, judgments, and fighting. It’s hell. A relationship without grace is hell.

Can you be in a living hell? Yes, if you have no grace. Relationships without grace become relationships without trust.

When there’s no grace in a marriage, it’s a hellacious marriage. When there’s no grace with your children, it’s a hellacious life for you and them. When you don’t have a relationship of grace with your family, you will not have them, and they will not be yours. 

This is not what I want! This is how huge grace is. It’s the difference between joy and hell.

See you Friday.

Legalism Breeds Shame

There is an unbreakable connection between legalism and shame.

In our story as Christians, this goes all the way back to the fear and doubt that the Israelites experienced in the desert. They followed Moses out of Egypt after witnessing miracle after miracle. God even parted the sea to help them escape, and then drowned the entire Egyptian army! But they still said, “Moses, we need structure. We can’t live without structure.”

That’s when God summoned Moses to the mountain. But Moses was gone for over a month, and the people didn’t know when he was coming back! So they built the golden calf. They were thinking, “We can see an idol, and we can touch an idol. If we worship a god that we can see, then all our problems will be solved.”

Moses was so angry when he saw this that he punished everyone. And it was severe!

Moses turned around and came down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of The Testimony. The tablets were written on both sides, front and back. God made the tablets and God wrote the tablets—engraved them.

When Joshua heard the sound of the people shouting noisily, he said to Moses, “That’s the sound of war in the camp!”

But Moses said,

Those aren’t songs of victory,
And those aren’t songs of defeat,
I hear songs of people throwing a party.

And that’s what it was. When Moses came near to the camp and saw the calf and the people dancing, his anger flared. He threw down the tablets and smashed them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, melted it down with fire, pulverized it to powder, then scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it. (Ex 32:15-20, MSG)

Later the Israelites said, “We need a king.” So God gave them Saul, and Saul tanked it. He really did.

All of this happened because we believe we need structure, and structure includes rules. For example, we want something written down that says it’s wrong to kill somebody. We know it’s wrong, inherently in our souls. You can’t take a human life that you didn’t create, because it’s not yours to take. You don’t need a rule to tell you that. But we crave structure, so God said, “You want a rule, okay. Here’s your rule.”

Do you think the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” brought the murder rate down? No! There was all kinds of killing after the Israelites followed Joshua into the land of the Canaanites. You might say that establishing the rule increases the behavior. This is how sin corrupts.

It’s like the pink elephant. Suppose someone told you, “Don’t think of a pink elephant. It’s illegal.” What’s the first thing that happens? You start thinking about a pink elephant! That’s just how the human brain works.

Now look at how this leads to shame. Someone knows that you thought about the pink elephant and calls you out. “Man, what a wretched person you are for thinking of a pink elephant. How dare you think that way?”

Now you feel crappy and shamed. You tell yourself, “I’m never going to add up, because I can’t help thinking of a pink elephant.” See how sin corrupts?

And it doesn’t stop there. How about the guy that just shamed you? What do you think he was just thinking about? He calls you wretched, but he’s thinking about a pink elephant too. Maybe he tells himself that he hasn’t thought of it as much as you. He tells himself, “I’m not as bad as you, because you’ve thought of the pink elephant four times, but I’ve only thought of it twice. You’re way worse than me!” He’s going to shame you to make you feel bad because he’s hoping to feel better.

We’re in a chaotic mess based on shame. Based on shame.

So God says, “No! We are going to end this. I’m going to bring my son, and with Him, my grace. Then you will find that my grace is sufficient for you.”

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

The Crucifixion of Shame

After they had finished nailing him to the cross and were waiting for him to die, they whiled away the time by throwing dice for his clothes. Above his head they had posted the criminal charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Along with him, they also crucified two criminals, one to his right, the other to his left. People passing along the road jeered, shaking their heads in mock lament: “You bragged that you could tear down the Temple and then rebuild it in three days—so show us your stuff! Save yourself! If you’re really God’s Son, come down from that cross!”

The high priests, along with the religion scholars and leaders, were right there mixing it up with the rest of them, having a great time poking fun at him: “He saved others—he can’t save himself! King of Israel, is he? Then let him get down from that cross. We’ll all become believers then! He was so sure of God—well, let him rescue his ‘Son’ now—if he wants him! He did claim to be God’s Son, didn’t he?” Even the two criminals crucified next to him joined in the mockery.

From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around midafternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some bystanders who heard him said, “He’s calling for Elijah.” One of them ran and got a sponge soaked in sour wine and lifted it on a stick so he could drink. The others joked, “Don’t be in such a hurry. Let’s see if Elijah comes and saves him.”

But Jesus, again crying out loudly, breathed his last.

At that moment, the Temple curtain was ripped in two, top to bottom. There was an earthquake, and rocks were split in pieces. What’s more, tombs were opened up, and many bodies of believers asleep in their graves were raised. (After Jesus’ resurrection, they left the tombs, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.) (Matthew 27: 35-53 MSG)

Grace is huge. It’s the huge hard-to-define. It’s an awesome and beautiful gift. It’s an action and a way of being. Being in a state of grace is a way of being in relationship, because relationship is where we give and receive.

Maybe giving someone grace is the opposite of giving them shame.

We live in a culture where we shame each other a lot. We do it to each other a lot. But in the crucifixion, Jesus allowed Himself to be shamed by everybody. Matthew describes it in heartbreaking detail. All and sundry joined in shaming Him — even the two criminals who were crucified with Him!

In this way, Jesus shared in shame with us. I think He did it to free us from it. He died a shameful death, naked on a cross, while people literally mocked Him. He could have taken Himself off that cross, but His grace for us said, “Nope. I’m going to go through with this, and I’m going to say, ‘Father, forgive them.’ The whole purpose of me coming down here for 33 years was to die today, and I’m not going to take myself off this cross just to prove a point. I’m going to die, naked, abandoned, and suffering.

“Then I’m going to resurrect! That way, people can actually live in freedom!”

Shame is a big deal, man. It is a big deal. That’s why Jesus shared in it with us. He crucified shame. He did it for us! Now there is no condemnation. We don’t have to live in shame.

And we can give grace in place of shame. That is freedom!

But because of our flesh, we seem to need a set of rules to live by. This stems from our immaturity. I’ll tell you more about this next time.

See you Friday.

Letting Go

Grace is supposed to be the foundation of our lives, but how often do we truly live in it? Sometimes, to get back to grace, we have to repent. It’s not easy. I remember when God said, “Jeremy, let’s make grace your foundation. Grace is essential for you and your family to thrive.”

And then He said, “You have to give up control.”

It’s hard to see the extent to which we cause bondage by trying to hang onto control. I understand why we get into controlling patterns. It’s because we worry about what people might think of us. As Christians, we think we have to look a certain way and act a certain way. That way lies legalism, and it’s the easiest thing in the world to let happen. Believers can get caught up in rules. We can bury ourselves in rules, trying so hard to make sure that we present the “right” face to the world.

How is grace different? The Bible says that I am to love my wife — and by extension my family — as Christ loved the church. I don’t think I really understand that at first, as a man or as a husband. So I asked God, “Well, how is that done? How does Christ love the church?”

All I had to do was ask! Then God completely changed my view on the subject. He showed me that He loves me as I am, not as He thinks I should be. This is a prominent subject in Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Galatians, but for some reason, I didn’t see it. I don’t know why I didn’t, because it’s right there. Paul emphatically says there is no law anymore.

As soon as I saw it, I saw the freedom that grace brings. After that, all I wanted was to learn to be full of grace. And God was glad to teach me. Letting go of control and living in grace has brought freedom to me and my family. Grace liberated us, and now it allows us to grow. We increase and thrive in grace.

This is the whole point of living with faith and understanding in Jesus Christ. Our faith in Jesus asks us to give up the law. It asks us to give up the Ten Commandments. It asks us to give up our tendency to legalism. Jesus said, “I have not come to break the law, I have come to fulfill it.” He said, “When I die, I am dying to that law. And when I rise again, I am raising up a new ideal, which is grace. It’s a new life, full of grace. And you don’t have to live by anything anymore.”

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

Free and Unmerited Favor

We want control. We’re only human!

We want control over what we do and what happens to us. We want control over the future. In our flesh, we experience hunger, so we have to provide for ourselves and our families. We have to eat, so it’s natural to want control.

But we also want control over other people. We try to control how they react to us. Some of us try to control how they behave in our presence! This isn’t about the hunger our bodies experience or the food we need to stay alive. This is about something else. It’s about avoiding shame.

The thought process is something like this: “I want people to act a certain way when I’m around because that will make me feel better.”

For some of us, our greatest need for control involves the people closest to us, like our families. How many of us have said, “If my husband (or wife) and my kids look like this or act like this, then people will think that our family is good.” Does that sound familiar?

There’s no shame in wanting control. It’s just being human.

As a baseball player, I was very control-oriented. When I went out on that field, I didn’t control where a hitter hit the ball. I didn’t control when a hitter took a swing. So I had to control everything before that. I controlled my environment at the field. I controlled my workouts and the development of my technique. I controlled the delivery of the pitch. All of this helped me succeed.

But when it comes to family and relationships, control won’t work. You cannot control other people.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “grace”? How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, I’ll give them grace this time.” It’s like saying, “I’ll just let it slide.” In some ways, grace has acquired a casual quality. This is a non-spiritual way of looking at it.

Maybe we hear grace and think mercy. We say, “Grace? That is Jesus dying for us. Grace is allowing us into His kingdom. It’s allowing us into His family.” That confuses grace and mercy a little bit. There’s more to grace than this.

I finally started to truly understand grace when I heard the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary. The OED defines grace as “the free and unmerited favor of God.” Think about that. How do we get God’s grace? We don’t! Grace is free. It is unmerited. We can’t earn it. God just gives it to us.

In some ways that is such a foreign concept! God just gives us His grace, even though we don’t deserve it? Who does that? Well, God does! Truly, that’s what He does. He just gives it to us. He simply gives us favor.

And when God gives us grace, He allows us to live in it.

God has been taking me on a journey into grace. I think this is a big part of the Christian life. Going on this journey, and understanding what grace means, has been a very big deal for me. It has allowed me to see scripture in a new way. God leads me to work with Biblical principles in new ways, and gain fresh insight.

I’ve been learning what the Bible really means when it says, “Don’t live by the law.” It’s leading me to freedom. Surrendering control and living by grace frees us. It frees the people around us. Giving and receiving grace is living in freedom.

More on this next time. See you Friday.

Husband and Wife in Grace

Christian legalism focuses on the box. Christian legalism emphasizes no. It says, “You’re not allowed to do that. You’re not allowed to do this.” And that causes problems!

It causes problems in marriages. I’ve been there, but I no longer try to control my wife or my children. If you try to control your wife, then things will get bad for your family. I’ve seen men, including myself, say to their wives, “You know what, as long as you live the way I say to live, then everything’s okay. But if you don’t, then I’m going to get angry, and basically, you’re not going to like it when I’m angry.” And when men start controlling, it gets really bad. Then you’ve got your family living at the address of misery.

What good is this? How does your family feel when you tell them that they can only make you happy if they live up to your standards? It’s an impossible situation! You’ll only make your family miserable.

It’s the same with any other relationship. Your friends don’t like you when you tell them they have to do what you say, right?

Grace allows us to be free. Grace allows us to liberate each other. When I go home at the end of the day, I am not living in expectation. I don’t have to stake my happiness on what my wife is or isn’t doing. I don’t go home thinking, “Great, unless my wife is doing what I want her to do, then I’m going to be miserable.” And I’m not making her worried or anxious. She isn’t wondering what to do or how to make me happy. When I get home, I assess the situation, and then I say, “Okay! How can I help?”

And when my wife has an opinion, I listen to it. When she wants to do something, I don’t try to stop her. I help her. I don’t feel compelled to say, “No, that’s not how I’d do it.” If she wants to do something a certain way, then that’s her call to make. She’s her own person, and that’s great!

Truly living in grace is an amazing experience. I feel so free, living without expectation of how things have to be. And I love living in a grace-based relationship. I don’t have to demand that my wife or my children live a certain way. I don’t want to control their demeanor, or control everything they do! God made everyone to be different. God gave us all different personalities. And if this is what God has done, then this is a good thing! Why would I try to control what God has made, or change what God has given?

See you Tuesday.

Grace Moves In

Someone asked me the other day, “What is grace?” That one is really hard to define for me, because it’s so big! I think grace is a lot of things. Grace is an action. It’s a way of being in relationship. It’s the opposite of shame. It’s the power to transform. Grace is a really big idea, because grace is Jesus.

People will often say, “Grace is that Jesus died for you.” But actually that’s not grace. That’s mercy.

Grace is the essence of our relationship with God. It’s the gift of understanding that you’re a human being so you’re going to mess up. Through His grace God says, “You’re going to mess up and it’s okay.” Grace is our second chance with Him. And since God is infinite, He gives us infinite second chances.

When we allow grace into our relationships, we give each other the same gift that God gives us. It comes from our hearts. We look at each other and we say, “I know you’re going to mess up. I’m going to mess up, too. It’s okay. Let’s talk about it. Let’s try to understand how we affect each other. And then let’s work through it.”

Suppose a friend or someone in your family says something to you that you don’t like. Maybe they say something mean to you, or maybe you just take it the wrong way. Either way, you react. You get angry, or you get hurt. Or both!

Grace moves in and says, “Hold on! That person needs grace from you.” Grace shows you what your relationship needs. It shows you that sometimes your family and friends need you to step aside and say, “You affected me deeply by that comment. It’s okay. Let’s take a time out. Let’s talk about it. Can you explain what you meant by that? I don’t want to get wounded or react to you in anger.”

Grace also moves in when you don’t take that time out. Sometimes a friend or someone in your family says something to you and you react immediately. We all react out of our wounds sometimes. You know what? It’s okay. Grace shows your friends and family how to look at you and say, “Hold on. You reacted very quickly to what I said. What did you hear me say? Let’s talk about it.”

If what they said is truly what you heard, and it still hurts you, then grace shows them how to say, “I’m sorry. How could I have said it differently?”

If you misunderstood what they said, then grace says, “Let’s take time and open up to each other. I would like to be able to explain what I said, because what you heard is not what I meant.”

So you see, grace to me is such a very big thing. It’s so rewarding to live in it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s very hard to do. I mean, most things are not black and white.

Sometimes we need grace to say, “Hold on, I love you, and I’m going to let that one go.” Other times we need grace to say, “I love you, and I’m willing to let that go. But we need to talk about it because I want to tell you how it affected me.”

I need grace when my children are acting out and making mistakes or getting in trouble. I look at them and say, “Look, I don’t want you to do that again. I’m going to extend grace to you right here and now. I’m going to tell you why I don’t want you do to that again. Then if you do it again, I’m going to give you a discipline. But right now, I want to talk through why it’s not okay to do that. That way, if you do it again and you are disciplined, you’ll understand why.”

I don’t want to just say to my boys, “You did something wrong so go to your room.” I want them to understand that their words and actions affect me and other people. I don’t want them to go to their room with no idea why they’re being sent there.

This is grace in action. It’s being in relationship with an understanding that there are always going to be second chances. Grace is liberating. Grace is without judgment. Grace is without condemnation. When the Bible says there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus, to me it is saying that there is grace.

Saying there is no condemnation is not the same as saying, “Do whatever you want.” No. Saying there is no condemnation is saying, “Now there is grace. You are going to mess up, but it’s okay. You get grace.”

See you Friday.