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!

(Note: I know some of you may have already read this through my Twitter feed, but I’m republishing it for my blog’s subscribers. You are important to me. Thank you for reading!)

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!

The Last Christian?

“In truth, there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross. . . . What has been called ‘evangel’ from that moment was actually the opposite of that which he had lived.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche said the last Christian died on the cross.

That is such a bold, yet powerful and piercing statement. Is it true? In some ways I feel that the threat is always there. It could always become true. That’s painful! And it’s not just how one man saw it. I think a lot of people see it that way.

Christians can change that now, just by changing how we do things. It’s so simple. We have to love, not judge.

It’s a joke how much we judge in the church. We judge other people. We think we’re better than other people. We think we’re better than others because we found Jesus.

Jesus wouldn’t support that way of thinking. No! Jesus would say, “You shouldn’t try to make yourselves look better in the eyes of others just because you found Me. That’s not how it works. You should love other people better because you found Me.”

Finding Jesus should help us love better, because love is just so good, man. I’ve seen the good that comes from loving people. I’ve been part of it. I’ve been there when someone does something wrong. They do it and then they look at me, as if to say, “Oh, you’re a Christian guy, you think you’re better than me.” They expect me to look at them wrong. They expect me to shake my head and judge them right there.

You know what? I want that to happen! I want it to happen because it gives me the opportunity to look at them and smile. And give them a hug. It lets me say, “I love you.”

When they see that I don’t judge them, they say, “But I just did something you think is wrong!”

And I say, “You’re right! I don’t agree with what you just did. I wouldn’t do it, because I don’t think it’s right. But that does not change my view. I love you. I love you so much. And I love your life! I hope that you will know the right and wrong way to do things one day, but brother, I will not turn my back on you. I love you.”

That heals the soul immediately. When you do that, people are blown away. They’re like, “Whoa, wait! That’s not how it’s done!”

Well, they’re right! That’s not how it’s done. We haven’t been doing it right! Jesus showed us the right way to do things.

The church’s calling is to love. We are called to love like Jesus.

See you Wednesday.

Can Christians Be Loved?

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 stand for Jesus, and they would not be wary of me.

That isn’t what happens right now! 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.”

Jesus was loved by the majority of the 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. They have nowhere else to go! They’re struggling! They think, “Maybe this Christian will 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? There is immediate anger.

Of course they get angry. They ask Christians for help, and they get judged! We’re not helping them, we’re just telling them how bad they are. I confess, sometimes I do it. Sometimes I don’t access God’s Spirit quickly enough. I try to, but sometimes it’s too late or I’m too tired, or I just feel like getting mad. I’ve done it!

I also understand that there’s no room for that in the Christian life. Grace leaves no room for judgment. The only person that should be telling people how bad they are is the guy that died for them. That’s the only guy that has a right to say anything to anybody. No one else. And He didn’t judge us. He loved us. He freed us!

Sinners loved Jesus. These were the outsiders. They were outcasts, and their society called them evil. Sinners! They loved that guy.

This really intrigues me. I’m really intrigued by a guy that was so well loved. If anybody had an issue with Him, it was the leaders. Think about that. The people who couldn’t deal with Jesus were the same authorities that served His Father.

What if I had been like that? If I had been there, would I have been one of the people rejecting Jesus? What if I saw Him in the streets, healing and teaching, and failed to believe in who He is? What if I had avoided Him? What if I had judged Him? I’m afraid of that. I don’t want to be one of those Christians that makes people wary. I want to make people feel loved.

I’m trying to change the public’s perception of Christians. I think a New Testament 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, to love on them, to be able to help and encourage them, and to recall at all times that this happens because His Spirit is in me.

It’s so hard to do, but I try to do it the best I can. I try not to judge. When I do, I try to replace that judgment with love and encouragement.

I think I do it better now than I’ve ever done it before, because I’m starting to understand these concepts. I’m nowhere near where I need to be, but we’re all in that boat. We’re all learning.

See you Saturday.