Love and Fire

The Lord your God will make you abound in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your land for good. For the Lord will again rejoice over you for good as He rejoiced over your fathers… (Deuteronomy 30:9)

It is God’s will to prosper us. The Bible is clear on this point. But prosperity doesn’t always come right away. There’s more to the lifestyle of Jesus than taking that first step. Yes, you start by loving Jesus. Yes, you embrace what He stands for. Yes, you accept His sacrifice for you. But the time still comes when you have to figure out who you want to be, in Christ. You have a decision to make.

God calls all kinds of people. There are the Pauls in Christ and the Peters in Christ. The Doubting Thomases are in Christ. There are the Marthas in Christ, and the Marys, the Davids, the Josephs, and the Joshuas. They all represent a different skill set in Christ. The church needs them all. Some are teachers and some are preachers. Some are evangelists and some are counselors. They’re different people, just like the parts of the body are different. (1 Corinthians 12:4-12) We all come together to make the church body work.

Everybody can be who they want to be in Christ. God will prosper you with giftings, too. Ask Him! He’ll show you. But you have to be open to becoming the person you’re going to be in Him. It can be a hard and even scary decision, because once you open yourself to God, there’s a fire you have to go through. God doesn’t simply allow you to be whoever you want to be. You have to become who you want to be. In Christ. It takes fire.

That’s why some people are fearful of saying, “Okay, I’m ready. Make me who you need me to be.” I understand! I don’t wish trials and tribulations on anybody.

But God’s love stirs in your soul. It stirs and calls to you. When that happens, you will ask Him to change you. You won’t be able to help yourself. You’ll want Him to make you into whoever you are going to be in Christ, fire or no fire. You will ask and He will take you up on it.

I’ve heard people say that they look forward to the fire. They say, “I welcome the trials and tribulations, because I know I need them to get to my next level.” I’m not one of those people. I don’t look forward to the fire. I just know that when I come out of it, I’m going to be better.

Paul said, “Be joyful in trials and tribulations because it makes your faith stronger.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) For me, this means that I can find joy in the midst of trials. I can ask God to give me joy while I’m going through the fire. I know He will! I’m confident that even in times of trial and tribulation, I will be joyful.

So when you’re ready, take this step. God has so much for you. He’s only waiting for you to ask.

A Gift. Freely Given, Never Earned

It can be difficult for us to trust God the King. We already have a lot of trust issues. We have trust issues with government. We see our representatives making deals without regard to morality. They will actually sacrifice their own morals to make sure their agenda gets done! We see that, and we get disillusioned. No wonder we don’t understand what it means to trust God’s Kingdom!

We can learn a lot about trusting God by exploring kingdom imagery. Imagine living in the 17th century and the King says to you, “Come and be my son.” What do you think someone back then would have said? Obviously, they would have said, “Really? You’re asking me? I am in! Yes!”

Now God says, “Come and be my child,” and we actually hesitate. Now we say, “I don’t know, I kind of like living out here, outside the gates of the kingdom.” Why? Because when we look at government, we don’t see trust. We don’t see a reason to trust.

So we don’t understand that we can trust God the King.

We’ve lost so much trust that we love Jesus and thank Him for saving us, but we still struggle to trust God. We don’t trust that He accepts us as His sons and daughters. We go out into the world, but we don’t really believe that we’ll be allowed back into the kingdom. We think God will shut the gate behind us.

So we get into a works mentality. We’re not perfect, so we sin. Then we feel like we have to cover for how we acted. We believe we have to earn our way back in, not understanding that we have never stopped being God’s precious children. We say, “I judged somebody, so I have to read five psalms today.” Or, “I had a lustful thought, so I have to put in two extra hours at the food pantry.” Or, “I thought I was a better Christian than my neighbor, so now I have to go to Nicaragua and help build a new school.” With this mentality, fulfilling the royal law becomes work. Honestly, it becomes an ordeal.

When you start doing stuff to make yourself feel better because you sinned, then you have a works mentality. You’re missing the point. We live in grace now, because of the sacrifice Jesus made, and then His resurrection. Now we live in God’s life. We walk in His Spirit and love with His love. When we sin, we can work it out on the spot with Him. He works all day every day for us. He loves us!

If you do something in order to show people what you’ve done, you’ll be dissatisfied. You won’t feel very good when you’re done. But if you do something to help a struggling neighbor simply because you love her, you’ll feel so good and fulfilled. Your heart will be right where it needs to be.

So trust the King! And when you struggle, send word to Him. Tell Him, “I need some help here.” Trust Him. He will come.

Everyone Will Thrive

And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God:
“Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.
“Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks.
“Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
“Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
“The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.
“The LORD will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand, and He will bless you in the land which the LORD your God is giving you. Deuteronomy 28:2-8

If you live in legalism, you eliminate God. Maybe you don’t tell lies, and that is consistent with a righteous life, but what if the only reason you don’t lie is because the Bible says, “Don’t tell lies”? Then you aren’t depending on God, You’re depending on rules. Things fall apart when you depend on rules.

What if you were able to just rest in God and understand that His grace will show you the way? When you do that, when you believe that God gives you His favor even though you didn’t earn it, then whatever you say, whatever you do, wherever you walk, wherever you go, you will be blessed. Your basket will be full. You will be at the head and not the tail of everything you do. You will be on top and never at the bottom. And everything your hand touches will prosper.

In grace, you will find success.

You may not find success in exactly the way that you want. It might not happen exactly as you want it to happen. But God will show you exactly what you need to do. He will show you exactly the decisions you need to make so that your spouse will thrive. He will show you exactly how to talk to your children so that your children will thrive. You’re on a journey, and you can believe that your entire journey will be a success because you are God’s precious child.

What happens when you walk and talk with the people you meet on your journey? They feel good around you. They feel good because you depend on Jesus to tell you what to say to them. You don’t have to be super-spiritual. You don’t have to quote Bible verses at them. Life’s journey is not about soapbox Christianity. It’s not about telling people to accept Christ or else rot in hell. Don’t tell people that they’re bad. Just ask God to tell you how to love them. He will tell you!

When you do that, what do you think will happen? Man, the people you meet on your journey will just love on you! They will want to live a righteous life because of you. Listen to Jesus, because He will tell you exactly what people need to hear. Then they will respond to His love! They will want to be around you! Maybe they won’t believe in God. Maybe they won’t do all the same things that Christians do. But you’re the one they’ll hang out with, because you won’t judge them. You’ll be too busy living in grace with them.

Allow Jesus to guide your steps, and everyone will thrive.

Hypocrisy or Healing?

After this he went out and saw a man named Levi at his work collecting taxes. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” And he did—walked away from everything and went with him.

Levi gave a large dinner at his home for Jesus. Everybody was there, tax men and other disreputable characters as guests at the dinner. The Pharisees and their religion scholars came to his disciples greatly offended. “What is he doing eating and drinking with crooks and ‘sinners’?”

Jesus heard about it and spoke up, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.” Luke 5:27-32

The Church is the whole body of Christians, believers who confess that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. Believers in the teachings of Jesus. The Church is here to bring good news to the afflicted, heal the brokenhearted, and bind up their wounds. Jesus said, “I didn’t come here to heal people who are healthy! Healthy people don’t need doctors.”

It’s very healing to expose sin and bring it into the light. It’s transforming! The problem is that in the church, it’s really hard to come clean about your sin. Too often, when someone exposes their sin they feel judged. You can talk to a lot of people that have been wounded by the church, right? They looked for healing and they got hurt. Now they look at Christians and say, “Those Christians are judgmental. They are hypocrites!”

I had one person respond to my blog recently who said, “You know what’s wrong with the church? You’re a bunch of hypocrites!” And I said, “Actually, human beings are hypocrites. People aren’t hypocrites because they belong to churches. People are hypocrites because they’re human. Being hypocritical is just being human.”

Nobody lives up to what they hope to be all the time. We go to work and come home and go to church, and we try to portray ourselves as cheerful and blessed, but we don’t always add up that way. In times of trouble, hurt, and shame, we’re supposed to be able to trust the church. The church was built to be trustworthy. It was built to be a place to get healed. But the church doesn’t always add up either.

That can have tragic consequences. It means that there are Christians who have been Christians for 50 years, but they are still living in shame and brokenness. They are afraid to reveal it because everyone expects them to be some kind of key icon of faithfulness. It means that there are wise old men who are afraid to reveal who they really are. Senior pastors fail all the time because of that. They’re afraid to reveal who they really are because they know they’ll be judged – in their own church.

So many people are afraid to seek healing. In church! They’ve seen the judgments, so they don’t want to look for help when something is wrong. They don’t want to reveal their sin and shame. They think, “If I reveal a sin, then someone’s going to get angry and judge me. I can’t be honest because I can’t deal with feeling worse than I already feel.”

This isn’t true in all churches. I’m not generalizing. I’m just saying that in a lot of churches, we get it wrong. We are not here to judge. As believers, we are called by Jesus. We’re called to heal. We’re called to love!

Let Them See the Spirit

I know that even though I’m going to mess up, and I’m going to have issues, and I’m going to struggle with my own problems, I have someone to turn to. Can I be that way for others, or am I too judgmental?

It would be so cool to feel like I could walk down the street and be loved for who I stand for. I wish that I could walk up to people, and they would know I stand for Jesus but not be wary of me. Now they say, “Oh, here we go, Bible thumper guy.” Or they say, “You know what, I hate you Christians because of how you act.”

Christ was loved by the majority of people that He walked around with, but His followers now are not.

There are times when people want to go to a Christian and ask for help. These are people with nowhere else to go. They’re struggling. They think, “Maybe he’ll pray for me. Maybe he can help me.” How do you think they feel when they go to that Christian, and instead of getting love and help, they get judged?

They feel the same way you would. There is immediate anger.

People are asking for help and they’re getting judged! We’re not helping them. We’re just telling them how bad they are. It happens to me. God’s Spirit is in me, but sometimes I don’t access it quickly enough. I try to, but sometimes it’s too late or I’m too tired. Sometimes, I just feel like getting mad. I’ve done it! I’ve done it this year.

But there’s no room for that in the Christian life. There’s no grace there. The only person that should be telling anyone how bad they are is the guy who said, “Who’s going to cast the first stone?” That’s the only guy that has a right to say anything to anybody. No one else.

And that guy? Jesus? Sinners loved him. I’m talking about the outsiders, people that were considered outcasts and evil. They loved that guy. That really intrigues me. I’m intrigued by a guy that walked the earth, so deeply loved by so many people. I fear that I would have been one of the religious leaders or authorities rejecting Jesus even though I believed in His father. I fear that I would have been one of the ones refusing to believe in who He is or be around Him. What if I had been one of the ones judging Him? I’m afraid of that.

I’m trying to change the public’s perception of Christians. I think a Christian should be someone that walks in love and simply loves his neighbor as himself. I crave to be able to look at everybody the same way, to love on them, to be able to help and encourage them and to let them see the Spirit because I am there.

It’s so hard to do, but I try to do the best I can. I try not to judge, and when I do, I try to remember to replace that judgment with love and encouragement. I think I do it better now than I’ve ever done it before. I’m nowhere near where I need to be, but I’m starting to understand these concepts.

Struggle in Peace

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Jesus told us, “Do not judge.” No one is different than anyone else, and we can’t change. We can be changed. And when the Spirit of God flows through us, judgment is replaced by encouragement, understanding, and love.

“Do not judge.” That concept is so much easier for me to grasp when judgment is replaced by loving my neighbor. If you try to just “not judge,” you’re going to have a really difficult time. “Not judging” is hard!

“Not judging” is much easier when you do something in its place. How about listening and helping?

I wish I could look in the mirror and say, “I don’t ever judge people,” but I can’t. I definitely judge people. I don’t like this about myself, but I still do it.

I think sometimes we judge because we’re cowards, at least in certain areas. We don’t want to go to somebody and talk to them about something we don’t like about them. We don’t want to be direct about what we think they’re doing wrong, or how they frustrate us. We want to be able to feel it, but we don’t want to have to do anything about it.

We just want to look at somebody and say, “This guy is driving me nuts. He’s doing all these things wrong and he’s an idiot.” You know? We’re happy enough to just think these things and walk away.

The problem is, you’ve just judged that guy seven or eight times! We do that, and then we still want to think we’re good people.

The reality is, I’m not a good person. I strive to be a good person, but I can’t do it alone. I need Jesus with me, telling me, “This is how you can become a good person.”

We all have demons hidden inside our closets. And you know what? We’re never going to get rid of them. That’s why, if you try to live without Jesus, those demons are going to frustrate you.

If you continue to live just for yourself, you’re going to fail yourself every day.

Life in Christ is a good way of life, because Jesus is where we find joy. When I think about Jesus, I think, “This is where heaven is!”

With Jesus, you are going to find peace. Your struggles in life are not going to go away. They aren’t. Life has its struggles. But you’re going to find more peace in those struggles. That’s because when you have Jesus, you have something inside of you that’s different.

With Jesus, the happiness is the struggle. That’s why Paul said, “Hey man, I take joy in my trials and tribulations. You know, I lean on God during these times and this is where I find the ultimate peace. I find Him. In Christ, I can have all things. When I have the Spirit of God living in me, I have all things.”

I know that even though I’m going to mess up, and I’m going to have issues, and I’m going to struggle with my own problems, I have someone to turn to. He has poured His Spirit into our hearts, and now we have hope without shame. Struggle becomes a whole new deal. In struggle we lean on Him, and He gives us peace.

Learning Love from God

When you trust people, you can freely accept and love them. When you trust people, you don’t judge or condemn them. You don’t react negatively to the way they act. You’ll see them do things that you don’t necessarily admire. No doubt! But they’re only human, just like you, so you love them with the same trust and mercy that God has when He loves you.

I have to tell you, I did not live this way for a long time. I wanted to! I had the knowledge to do it! But I just didn’t put it all together.

Now it has all come together for me. In my relationships, I am learning to feel free. And people are feeling free around me! This sense of freedom is continually growing in my family, and it’s growing in our friendships, too. My wife and I have Christian friends that live in the same trust mentality and we have a great time together.

Do you have Christian friends who are always correcting you or judging you? Do they disapprove of what you say or do? I’ve been around people like that. I can’t be fully honest when I’m with them because I don’t want to expose myself to criticism. I see how judgmental they are, so I don’t trust them with my whole self.

I think we’ve all met someone like that. It’s exhausting, right? It’s not freeing!

My wife and I have friends who live in trust. They are welcome in our house every day. We’re never exhausted. We talk and share our frustrations. We help each other. We say things like, “Yeah, I’ve been through that.” Or, “Here’s an idea. How about approaching it this way?” We never chide or chastise each other.

We don’t say, “You need to do this better.” Instead we say, “Let’s help each other. Let’s get a game plan together.”

People who live in trust also live in freedom and it’s freeing to know them. It’s also relaxing and energizing to be around them. That’s what friendship is all about. That’s what relationship is all about.

And that’s what God is all about! When you trust God, then relationship with Him is freeing, relaxing, and energizing.

I think that God tells me, “Jeremy, I know you’re going to mess up. You know what? I’m here to walk through it with you. When you mess up, I’ll say, ‘Look. Okay. Let’s strategize. You know you have my Spirit in you, so you have the ability to not sin. You have the ability to live in righteousness and holiness. So all we have to do is figure this out together. How will we get through this? How can I walk with you? How can I encourage you?’”

That’s the God who loves us. I feel close to Him! I’m so happy! I get to say that He is my Savior and my Lord and my God and my King, the one who forgives me, helps me, and never leaves me.

I’m not talking about a God who is a dictator. My Savior does not put me to shame. My Lord and King loves me and encourages me!

I trust Him so I learn from His love. I am learning how to love my family and friends as He loves me.

We love one another as He loves us!

How to Succeed

But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.”

He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Matthew 14:16-20

In the early years of my baseball career, I was not fulfilled. I was not fulfilled as long as I was just saying, “I’m a Christian,” and then going and playing baseball. I didn’t feel good. I didn’t understand my purpose for being here on this earth. I didn’t understand because my purpose was not to be a baseball player.

My only purpose for being on earth is to love my neighbor as myself. My purpose is to use any platform I am given to take that message and live it, and speak it into the world I know.

And then my purpose is to encourage you. I can encourage you to understand that your calling is not the same as your job. I can encourage you to combine your gifts with a mentality to love your neighbor as yourself.

When you do that, you’ll know your vocation.

You’ll also find success. When you respond to the call to love your neighbor as yourself and use your gifts to do it, you will find success. If you can have that kind of love for somebody in your workplace, you will feel successful.

I cannot love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength without loving my neighbor as myself. If I love God with my whole self, then I can’t ignore my neighbor’s needs. I can’t love God and go to my place of work without loving the people there. I can’t promote Jesus and ignore my neighbor.

I can’t say, “I’m a Christian,” and then accept the poverty of my neighbors or the injustice of their suffering. I can’t!

When Jesus walked the earth, He fought for justice. He fed well over five thousand men, women, and children that were hungry, and all He had was five loaves of bread and two fish. He said, “Hey, before I talk, we have to feed these people, man. They’re hungry.”

Think about that! Jesus thought about people’s hunger before He thought about their spiritual needs. Why? He knew that when people are hungry, they can’t focus on anything else.

You love your neighbors by learning their needs. You don’t just say, “Yeah, I love my neighbor.” You love them by helping them out!

Imagine the success you’ll feel when you can get the people in your workplace to be aware of what’s going on in the world of poverty. Imagine how it will feel to show people what it’s like to love on their neighbors who are poor and suffering.

You can help people discover how amazing it feels to love people that they don’t even know.

You will feel so successful! You’ll say to yourself, “Now the blessings of my gifts make sense! I’m blessed with these gifts so that I can help. It’s so I can be the hands and fingers of Jesus.”

The aroma of Christ will just flow off of you.

See you Thursday.

Sing for Joy!

Families all over the world have Christmas traditions. For many Christians, it’s the only time they go to church, unless they also go on Easter.

We go to Christmas Eve services, light candles, and sing carols. We sing “Mary Did You Know” and “Joy to the World,” and we have manger scenes. It’s all good. It’s part of the spiritual message and part of church history. It’s real.

But I’m still moved to ask, why do we do all this? For example, why do we have manger scenes? Is a manger scene just something you put in your yard or on your stage when you do your Christmas Eve production? Or do you really think about what it means?

Do we really understand the message?

We’re singing “Joy to the World,” but why are we joyful? That Jesus came and died?

Well, that’s part of the gospel, but there’s more to it than that. Jesus wasn’t born just to die. He was born to bring us good news! The gospel started with His birth on December 25th — if that’s the actual date — and we’re still living it. Living in the gospel’s truth! That’s the joy that the world needs to know.

When I sit and carefully examine the Christian life of discipleship, I see the Christmas message in a whole new light. The birth of Christ was a significant moment in history. It was the day that God’s redemption began its transformation of everything in creation. Christmas day — the day the Good News was born into the world — is the day that God started discipling people. Christmas day is the day our new life began.

At last, we can fully understand the concept of life — in all its glory!

This understanding is pure joy! We proclaim “Joy to the World,” because now we understand why we have life. We don’t live to judge or be judged. We live to love and be loved!

Christmas is when it all started. Christmas is when it all happened. Two thousand years ago, or a little more than that, this good news came into the world. This man Jesus came down from heaven to walk this earth.

He walked with us. He answered all our questions and fulfilled all of our thoughts. Now we have a reason to live. Now we know why we live. Now we know how to bring joy. Now we know that we are are loved unconditionally. That frees us to do the same.

This is the joy we proclaim. So let’s sing “Joy to the World” this year, and let’s bring it! Let’s bring joy!

Merry Christmas!

Kindness and Deceit

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (NKJV 1 John 1:8-10)

The consequences of denying sin are not good. When we fear that we don’t look the part of the good Christian, we begin to judge. We try to make ourselves look better by judging the motives of others.

When we start judging, we start worrying about the people we hang out with. We get anxious about our friends and coworkers. We even judge the people we go to church with. We judge them and on that judgment conclude that we have to be careful “lest we become like them.” (Prov. 26:4)

We might even try to control the people in our lives. That’s also part of our denial. We want to control other people so that we can control how we react to them. We’re afraid of our reactions. We’re afraid to appear sinful.

Some Christians are afraid to let their kids hang out with non-Christians kids, because those kids may not see things the same way. Non-Christian kids might teach Christian kids the wrong stuff.

Well, what if the opposite happens? Maybe your kids will teach them things. Maybe your kid’s non-Christian friends will go home and their parents will see them love and act in new and different ways!

Fearing people who are outside the faith looking in leads us to become judgmental. We come at them in fear and judgment, and it’s no fun. It’s no fun to be around anyone like that, Christian or not.

I think we’ve got the wrong idea about influence. I think you have to keep an even keel. Whether you have believing friends or non-believing friends, you have people in your life that you must witness to. You have lots of people in your life, believing and non-believing, who need you to be around them.

You’ve got to be okay with this. You need to be kind to everybody. You need to be kind to yourself! Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, so you can trust that wherever you find kindness, you find Jesus.

We aren’t perfect. Our salvation did not perfect us. It made us saints who sin, and saints who sin have a call to lovingly bring the kingdom everywhere.

The consequences of denying sin are very serious, because they lead to fear. That’s the work of the enemy. Let’s follow Jesus to freedom! Fearlessly, and without judgment!