Prison to Palace

I’ve been writing a lot about grace in family life, but God gives us grace in our work too. Make yourself available to hear His wisdom, and He’ll show you where to focus your efforts. The next thing you know, you’ll succeed in everything you do.

Just look at what the story of Joseph can teach us. What a good story! But it’s more than that. There is so much wisdom in it. There is so much to Joseph.

The story goes like this: Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him, so they sold him to some traders who took him to Egypt. In Egypt, Joseph was sold to the household of Potiphar, who managed the Pharaoh’s household.

Potiphar was impressed with Joseph and put him in charge, and even grew very fond of him. But Potiphar’s wife wanted to seduce him. When Joseph refused her advances, she framed him for attempted rape, and Potiphar threw him in prison.

Like Abraham, Joseph lived in grace. It was before God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. It was before God gave us the law against adultery. Nevertheless, when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him, Joseph said no. Potiphar’s wife said to him, “Sleep with me.” And Joseph said, “My master has been so good to me, and you’re his wife! How could I violate his trust and sin against God?”

Joseph didn’t need a commandment that would tell him what to do. He already knew right from wrong! He called adultery a “sin against God” long before we had a commandment that said, “Don’t do that.”

When the Bible talks about Joseph, it says, “The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man.” (See for example Genesis 39:2.) The Lord wasn’t with Joseph because of Joseph’s legalism. We didn’t have the law yet! Joseph did not do anything to merit God’s favor, but God was with him nonetheless. That’s why Joseph succeeded in everything he did. When Potiphar put him to work in his home, not only did Joseph succeed, but the whole house of Potiphar was blessed because Joseph was there.

Now you might object and say, “Sure, Jeremy, the Bible says Joseph was successful, but he was sold into slavery and then got thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit! You see goodness in this story?”

Well, just look at God’s plan! Joseph resisted Potiphar’s wife and was thrown in prison, but he had to be in that exact prison for God’s plan for him to unfold. The warden liked him so much that he put Joseph in charge of the whole operation. Joseph went right on succeeding! And in that exact prison, Joseph met Pharaoh’s head baker, and Pharaoh’s cupbearer. His successful interpretation of their dreams led Joseph to Pharaoh. And when Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, he was put in control of the kingdom! So you see, when the Lord is with you, even the bad things are part of His good redemption story. A good journey is unfolding. God is good, and good things are happening. Trust Him!

When the Bible talks about Joseph, it says, “The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man.” Now the Bible talks about us, and it says, “Because of grace, Jesus is in you and with you and through you.” In other words, just as the Lord was with Joseph, now He is with you. You have His free and unmerited favor. You don’t have to do anything to earn it in advance. Just live in it. Let God bless you and work through you, and you will be successful in your journey!

I have more to say on this next time, so see you Monday.

Can’t Do It Without Him

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10

In a Spirit-led life, our deeds are righteous. But they don’t belong to us. If I am a righteous man, it’s only because I have the blood of Jesus on me. If I live a righteous life and make the right decisions, it will be because Jesus is in me and works through me. I can’t boast about that.

I can’t do this without Him.

We feel like we need to control things. Maybe we even want to control other people. And as we know, when we try to do that, things go wrong.

I’ve given that up. In fact, I’ve given up my life — to Jesus Christ. You have to do that in order to live in grace. I don’t try to control my family. I prefer to live with them in grace. This is the basis for a true relationship with Jesus.

The Bible says that we love Jesus because He first loved us. So I don’t go to my wife and children and tell them to love and respect me. They will love and respect me when I first love and respect them.

If you try to control your family, they will fight you. If you only love them when they do certain things, or when they live a certain way, then you’ll have a battle on your hands. I think that is why it was so hard for us before Jesus came. You see the battle in the Old Testament. We had to live a certain way and act a certain way. We had to follow the Ten Commandments. It was too hard, and we could never do it, so we always had to make sacrifices to make up for our transgressions.

I think there was a plan all along. God saw that we wanted rules. We sent Moses up to Mt. Sinai because we wanted rules. Rules cause problems, but we wanted them, so God gave them to us. Then we had the law, and we couldn’t follow it. We broke it all the time! Then we had to offer sacrifices all the time, to make things right with Him. There were a lot of sacrifices!

To free us, God sent His Son to make the ultimate sacrifice. After that one perfect sacrifice, there was only one commandment. Love your neighbor as yourself, and love God. But we can only fulfill that one commandment through the blood of Jesus Christ. That’s why you can’t boast about the good things you do. You can’t say, “Look at me! I did this, and I did that.” Jesus is the only reason that you can do the good things you do.

When you can give up legalism and give your life up to Jesus, then His Spirit will live in you and through you. Then you will walk in grace. You won’t walk in condemnation. You won’t walk in judgment. You won’t walk in expectation. You’ll live your life in freedom, not bound by all those laws. You’ll be free to do the work God has prepared for you. You can truly love.

See you Monday.

Attitude of Leadership

My job as a husband and father is to nurture my family into becoming the fullness of who they are. I can only do this by living with them in grace. I have to let them be free.

Trying to control them is like pushing them down. They cannot grow if I’m pushing them down. They need to be free. They shouldn’t have to worry that I’ll judge them. They shouldn’t have to fear that I’ll get angry. We all need to live in grace. There is so much freedom in grace! It is absolutely amazing to me.

And I realize this seems like a simple concept, but most of us deal with it on some level every day. It’s part of life.

For example, how often do you come home and find out that your husband or your wife has disciplined the kids in a certain way, and you want to change the rules? You might have a completely different idea of how to discipline them when they talk back, or fight with each other.

I used to come home and try to change the rules. My attitude was, “Hey, I’m the dad here, so I should lead. It’s important that I lead.” Then I realized something.

The Bible says the husband is the head of the family, as Christ is the head of the church. It’s a funny thing, though. When I look at Jesus, I don’t see someone standing on a pedestal and dictating to the church. I don’t see that at all!

Jesus led by becoming a servant. He served us, and He loved us, and He died for us. Because He served us, we respond by putting ourselves under Him. We naturally make Him the leader, because of how He served us, His family.

If you go to your family and say, “Listen up! I’m the head of the family, and you will do what I say,” then you put your family under you. That’s legalism. Do that to your family, and you will get resistance. They will shut you down, and they will quit listening to you. They will rebel against you, because you forced them under you. You’ll be out in the emotional cold.

But if you love your family, and serve them as Jesus served, then they will naturally put themselves under you. They’ll draw near to you. They’ll trust you to lead them. They will trust you because you love them in grace, and you love them with understanding.

I don’t want to be in control of everything. It stresses me out. It stressed me out for years trying to control everything, trying to make my family be a certain way, and act a certain way. I no longer tell my family, “I’m the head of the family, so do what I say.”

Instead, I co-lead. I am not the only leader of the family. My wife and I are co-leaders, as Eve and Adam were intended to be, and as Paul reminded the Ephesians. We co-lead in grace. When she needs me, my first question is, “How can I help?” I ask, “How can I be available? What can I do?” I’m not here to judge her, or to tell her how I would do things, or to tell her to act this way or that way. I just ask, “How can I help?”

And since my wife doesn’t feel judged, she can tell me. She can express herself to me. Then I can love on her. And man, it is amazing how free and happy my wife is. It’s the same thing with my kids. They’re just happy! We’re growing!

We can learn, as men, to lead from the attitude of servant leadership, not dictatorship. If you do that, your family will look to you to lead. You and your wife will find partnership and love, and your family will grow in happiness and grace.

See you Thursday. Happy Easter! He is risen!

Children Loved in Grace and Freedom

In a life filled with grace, you receive such joy and fulfillment from loving your neighbor and doing the right thing that the law becomes unnecessary. You want to love, so that’s what you do. You love. You want to give, so that’s what you do. You give. You don’t need a set of rules to tell you to do it. It’s your lifestyle!

There are ways to teach our children about this. How often do we meet resistance when we say, “Clean your room!” When I tell one of my sons that he has to do something, the resistance can at times be incredible. There might be yelling, and jumping and stomping of feet. Doors might be slammed.

But what if I can look at him and say, “Hey bud, you know what? It’s your call.” What if I take my own son’s freedom into account? When I do, it is amazing. No one gets angry! I don’t yell at him and he doesn’t yell at me. If you can allow your children to make their own decisions, then you may not meet quite so much resistance.

I have learned to talk with my son, instead of making demands. I tell him, “You need to clean your room, because Mama has asked you to clean your room. I’m just letting you know that you can make your own call here. There are two roads you can take, and you’re the one who has to choose. If you take the wrong road, there will be consequences, but we’ll deal with them together. I’m going to help you, and I’m still going to love you. So it’s your call.”

So when it comes to doing his chores, my son knows it’s his choice. And I also tell him, “You can be angry. It’s okay to be angry. I’m not going to force you to clean your room. We’re living in grace here. I’m not going to tell you what you have to do. I’m going to help you understand what you should do. And then after that, it’s your call. If you make the wrong choice, we’ll handle it as we need to, in love. It’s up to you.” And then I just look at him, and he looks at me, and then he says, “Okay, I’ll clean my room.” And he does. He cleans his room and we go on with our day.

I’ve had to learn that my way of making decisions is not necessarily my son’s way of making decisions. My boys don’t have the same personality as mine. God has given each of them their own personalities. It’s tough to learn the personalities of your children and live in grace. It’s a challenge, but when we can do it, there’s freedom. There’s freedom in being able to allow our children to work in grace. There’s freedom in saying, “Hey, look, this is going to be better for you if you choose to do it, but it is your choice.”

I think God teaches us the same way. We have the freedom to choose between right and wrong, and when we choose wrong, there are consequences. But there is no condemnation. We’re living in grace here. God has brought us into His family, and He will help us deal with the consequences, in love. I’m going to love my son just as much if he doesn’t clean his room, even though my wife and I will discipline him. I will never love my son less. How much more does God love us?

More yet to come on grace.  See you Monday.

Thriving in Grace

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, but 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.”

When you read between the lines in Romans, you can hear the questions that people are asking. They are saying, “Yeah, but wait a minute! If we don’t have any boundaries, then we’ll have chaos!” They are clearly telling Paul, “So you’re saying that we can just live in sin.”And Paul says, “Of course not! Here’s what I am saying: if you live in the Spirit, then your actions will be guided by the Spirit.”

The Bible says grace abounds over sin. There is no condemnation. And when you live in grace, you’ll naturally live a righteous life.

More on this next time. See you Monday.

Work in Grace

It’s amazing to me how the whole Bible opens up and begins to live, I mean really live, once I look at it through the lens of grace.

The Gospel of John tells us a story about the day the resurrected Jesus miraculously filled the disciples’ net with fish (John 21:1-14). It’s a wonderful example of what happens when we choose to live and work in grace.

You see, the disciples had been fishing all night, but they hadn’t caught anything. That was discouraging! And yet when morning came, there was Jesus, on the shore — and cooking fish! You can imagine the conversation. The disciples said, “Hey, you caught fish!” And Jesus said, “Yeah! Where’s your fish?” “Well,” the disciples said, “We’ve been working all night, but we didn’t catch any fish.” So Jesus said, “Well, why don’t you throw your net over there?” And they said, “Jesus, didn’t you hear us? We already labored all night, and we didn’t catch anything!”

There it is. They labored all night. “Jesus,” they said, “we worked all night, but we didn’t succeed. We worked, and worked, and worked.” And Jesus said, “Yes, I know, but hold on a second. When you live with me, it’s different. I am grace! I am truth! So when I tell you to throw your net somewhere, believe me, you will catch fish!”

This is an awesome message! “Work in my wisdom,” Jesus says. “That’s where you will find your success. You tried to do it all on your own. You worked and worked and worked to get your fish, right? I saw you! But guess what? You don’t have any fish! So why not just do what I say? I’ll give you the wisdom you need.”

So what did the disciples do? They said, “Okay, Jesus, tell us where to throw the net.” “Throw it right there,” He said, and they did. Boom! There was so much fish that their boat almost sank! There was so much fish that their net should have broken! But Jesus even took care of the net for them. That’s grace! That is grace!

Jesus tells us, “Apart from me, you can do nothing. Work all you want. Live by the law all you want. But I’m telling you, you will not find what you need. Instead, why not live with me? Why not listen to me? I am grace! I am truth! You know what? I will set you free! Work in grace, and you will have abundance.”

Every single day, Jesus teaches us in grace and in truth. “Come, live with me,” He says. “When you are apart from me, you can do nothing. But when you are with me, all things are possible.” Think about that!

John’s story is a lesson in law and grace. Legalism means working to save yourself. Grace means letting Jesus save you.

Everything in scripture reflects this choice between grace and legalism. One works, and the other one doesn’t.

More on this next time, and in the coming weeks. See you Monday.

Live in Grace and You Will Be Free

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:13-14

Sometimes believers can get caught up in rules. We think we have to act a certain way, and we think we have to do certain things. Sometimes we even bury ourselves in rules, trying so hard to make sure we do this and we don’t do that. This is a prominent subject in Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Galatians. For some reason, I didn’t see this until just the past few months. I don’t know why I didn’t see it, because it’s right there. Paul emphatically says that we are not under law. We are under grace! Continue reading

Don’t Think of Pink Elephants!

I’ve created a word picture for you.

Every day, I pull out of my driveway to go to work. Every day, the GPS says, “Make a right.” So I make a right. I’ve discovered that the GPS knows the way.

I trust the Spirit of God to help me navigate too. The Spirit of God helps me navigate my life. In every little detail, I try to just listen to Him. He’s like my GPS voice, a voice that says, “Make a right.”

But what if instead of just saying, “Make a right” every time, the GPS voice said, “Make a right, just don’t make a left.” Continue reading

A Second Chance in Grace

When the Spirit of God works through you, you don’t need a list of rules.  The Spirit shows you what to do.

If you want to know what it’s like to live in grace, look at how people lived before commandments and sacrifices. Look at Abraham and Joseph. The Spirit of God was alive on the earth and lived in them. Now the Spirit is alive in us, and we are free from law. We have a chance now! We have grace.