Getting Connected

God is a jealous God, so your relationship with Him is your number one priority. And when you truly strive to have a relationship with Him, there will be a change in you. You will become a better person. Intimacy with God means intimacy with people, and there is so much joy in that! Ask anyone who walks that path.

I think sometimes Christians work on their relationship with God but don’t work on their relationships with people. That’s a shame, because working on the vertical without working on the horizontal doesn’t get us very far. It’s only half of our calling.

Here’s a familiar example. You’re driving to work, and this is what goes on in your mind:

“I’ve got to make sure I read my Bible today, and I’ve got to make sure I take communion, and I’ve got to memorize my memory verse. Hey! That person just cut me off! Eff you!”

That’s a little comical, I know, but we’ve all been there or somewhere like it. When it happens, we know that we can confess it to God and let it go. We know that we’re forgiven.

But sometimes it’s so much worse. Sometimes Christians see people right in front of them and think, “I don’t care about that person.”

If this is you, then you’re messing up. When you’re connected to God, you don’t struggle in your relationships. So if you’re not connecting to people, you’re not connected to God. You’re struggling in your relationship with Him. I know. Sometimes I struggle in my relationships, and I know what it feels like.

The key is to find the source of the disconnect.

If you’re having trouble caring about people (or you are cussing at them) then somewhere along the line your ability to connect to God has been disrupted. To connect, you have to open your heart. Reading or memorizing verses isn’t enough. If you’re not doing it with your heart, then you’re not doing it. The Bible says, “Write the commands on your heart so they will not leave you.” (Proverbs 3)

Write these commandments on your heart. Love the Lord God your Father with all your heart, soul, and mind. That’s the first commandment. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said the second is like the first (Mark 12:31). Loving your neighbor is loving God. That’s why an increase in intimacy with God leads to increased intimacy with people. There is no separation between them.

All people were made by God. All people bear His image. And we were all set on this world by Him. We are called to love everyone! Yet God looks at the world and says, “I have created everyone in my image, but some people are so much less fortunate than others.”

If you forget about them, you’re forgetting about God.

Matthew 25 is the way into understanding this simple point:

Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40)

Jesus is saying, “In every human being, you need to find me. I am there, in everyone. When you feed a hungry person, you feed me. When you give water to a thirsty person, you give water to me. When you help shelter and clothe people who are homeless or in great need, you take care of me in my time of need. When you visit the sick, or visit people in prison, and love on them in any way you can, you love on me.”

Do you want to be a better human being? Pursue a relationship with God! As you grow more intimate with God, you’ll become more intimate with people. Are you going to mess up? Yes. You’re going to mess up. But in connecting to God, you will learn to love your neighbor as yourself. That is what He is asking you to do.

See you Wednesday.

A Savior You Can See

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed. Luke 4:18

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?”

Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:32-36

Last time we reflected on the parables of Jesus. He told them using familiar scenarios, making the Kingdom of God visible and tangible to the people who listened to Him. In the same way, the righteousness and justice of His throne become visible and tangible through His acts of compassion.

Just as Jesus showed people what the Kingdom really is, we need to show people who Jesus really is. We have to make Him visible and tangible to the world.

He has come to set us free. This is what He says! He says, “I have come to proclaim liberty to the captives.” He says, “I have set you free.”

Freedom is in Christ Jesus! And if freedom is in Him, then freedom is part of what makes Him. Jesus is freedom! Therefore in order to make Jesus visible, we need to show people freedom. We have to literally show them what freedom is.

That’s why I think that Jesus is the frontrunner in the fight against human trafficking. That’s why I think that He wants us to help Him rescue the slaves.

When people are put in bondage, enslaved, that is not freedom! That is not Jesus! So I can’t allow slavery to take place. You see, I have the freedom to do what I want. So if I love my neighbor as myself, and I am free, then shouldn’t I want my neighbor to be free?

We can’t love our neighbors less because they happen to live in areas where slavery is a high risk. They didn’t choose to live there! What about us? Did we choose to be born in America? No! But we still have all the opportunities that come with being American.

And think about this: approximately 250,000 Americans are in slavery right now! Why? Maybe they grew up poor and needed the work, and got caught up in labor trafficking. That’s a nasty cycle that’s almost impossible to escape without help. Or maybe they grew up in a scary home so they ran away, and then, out on the street, someone took them in and said, “Do what I say if you want to live.” They didn’t choose this! They don’t deserve it, any more than I do, or you do. They deserve Jesus, and He came to set them free.

To make Jesus visible in the world, we should help Him bring justice and righteousness. We should join him in doing acts of compassion. Just like Him, we should want to live for other people.

More on this next time. See you Monday.

Justice You Can Hold in Your Hands

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:44-46

Jesus spoke through parables a lot. Some people think His parables were mysterious. They think He used parables in order to obscure His meaning and make the seeker work to find it. But I think that Jesus spoke through parables to make His meaning more accessible to His audience. After all, He used real life scenarios.

The examples from Matthew are a perfect illustration. Jesus would say, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who finds a treasure in a field,” or, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls.” These are scenarios that would have been very familiar to His audience. To describe the Kingdom of God, Jesus used stories that referred to things that people would know. He used things that listeners could picture and understand.

This means that the Kingdom of God is tangible. Jesus is saying, “Look. This is what the Kingdom of God is like. It’s actual. You can touch it. You can see it.”

I think the same concrete, tangible meaning runs through all of Jesus’ teaching. When Jesus said, “I’ve come to set the captives free,” there was a literal meaning to that. Now, obviously, most people say, “Yes, Jesus said that, but He was talking about the human heart.” Well, He was. But He was talking about literal captives too.

The Bible says that righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne. (Psalm 89:14). His Kingdom is founded in right living and justice. But what does God’s justice look like? Does it mean that He’s going to come down and destroy everything evil? Does it mean that He’s just going to blow everything up? Does God come saying, “I’m going to put people in prison. They need to go to jail. Justice is going to be served. They are all going to jail.”

I don’t think so. The Psalm also says that mercy and truth go before His face. Mercy and truth are another way of describing righteousness and justice. So justice is acting on compassion. That’s what justice is. Not just having compassion, but acting on it.

This is what compassion looks like:

“Oh, there’s 30 million slaves in the world. Oh, man, that stinks. Oh, wow, I feel bad for all those people, man, that they have to live in that scenario.” That’s compassion. That’s beautiful. But God doesn’t stop there. God acts on His compassion.

God’s justice is active. It is creative. It is doing acts of compassion. This is what an act of compassion looks like:

“Man, 30 million slaves in the world? That stinks! Now let’s do something about it. Because I do not need to hear about this anymore. So, what do we have to do?” We roll up our sleeves, put our minds and resources together, and we get busy. That’s God’s justice.

So, do I think Jesus would be the frontrunner in the fight against human trafficking and the rescuing of slaves? 100% I do!

More on this next time. See you Thursday.

Defining Success

I care about people. I love them. I love them because I love the God that created them. He’s the same God that created me. He’s the same God that saved my life! So of course I want to help Him save more lives.

I’m focused on success for the same reason. I want to achieve something not only for myself, but for those who do not have. I’m focused on those who don’t have food or clean water. I’m focused on orphans and victims of human trafficking. Imagine being hungry, or having a contaminated water supply. Imagine what happens to children who don’t have a parent to love them. Imagine what it’s like to be deprived of your freedom! These are the lives I want to help God save. This is my definition of success.

I’d love to see this approach to success take root in society. Go find a random person right now, anywhere you like, behind a desk or on a ball field or in a doctor’s office. Go anywhere you like. Ask them if they get up in the morning and set a goal to achieve something. They’ll probably say yes. But then ask them, do they do it in order to help provide for someone who does not have? Most people are going to say no, I don’t think that way when I set goals.

I’d like to see that change.

I think it starts with kids. When we approach kids with the idea of setting goals to help others, it turns out that they love it! I’ve seen it in my work with the Not For Sale campaign and the Something to Eat campaign. In those organizations, I see kids setting goals to achieve something just so they can help save a life. They say, “I guarantee you I can come up with fifteen cents to feed someone.” Or they say, “I guarantee you I can come up with five cents to help with Not For Sale. In fact, I can do chores and I’ll raise a dollar!” They follow through, too, because for them, helping people in need is a priority.

Involving young people in projects like these is the best way to transform society. We’re helping them see that they can live their entire lives as servant leaders. When they think of success as leadership through service, they get really motivated. They decide to be the best at what they do. They work hard to follow their dreams.

They also realize how big they can dream. Be a CEO! Be an entrepreneur! They’ll dream this big when we help them see how powerful it is to be the one to make the rules. One of those rules can be to devote a portion of their company’s revenues to building orphanages, or responding to a food crisis or a water crisis. Or they’ll find a way to put an end to slave labor in their industry.

Showing up to help a person or a community in need is holy. Servant leadership is holy. It really is. The effects are felt everywhere. People know they have been helped, so they want to do the same thing. They know that someone provided for them by setting goals and dreaming dreams. So now they set goals and dream dreams. Now they achieve for the sake of others. Now it goes global.

When we identify as servant leaders, we are motivated to excel in our jobs and our lives. We work harder for success when we know that our success can help God save lives.

It’s great to teach this to kids, but I really hope we can all learn to think this way.

See you Thursday.

By Grace Alone

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. (Genesis 39:1-2)

Why is Romans such a key text? Why is Galatians key? Why are Corinthians and Colossians key? It’s because they teach us so much about grace!

The Christian life is not about rules. It’s not about laws. Our lives are about grace. That’s what these letters teach us.

We wanted laws, so God gave them to us. But we don’t need laws, we need grace. Think about it. The entire book of Genesis took place before God gave us laws. If we need laws to be made righteous, then no one in Genesis was righteous.

And we know that’s not true!

When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, he ran. Why? God hadn’t told us yet that “thou shalt not sleep with another man’s wife.” There was no law about that. Still Joseph said, “I cannot sin against God.” How did he know? This was 400 years before God handed down the Ten Commandments.

Joseph knew because he lived in grace. Abraham, Sarah, and all the others lived in grace. I think this is because the Spirit of God was alive on the earth, talking to us and telling us what was good in God’s eyes. I really believe this. Before the time of the law, people lived in grace. They lived by faith.

By the Spirit of God, Joseph knew that adultery is not right. By the Spirit, Joseph refused to sin against God. God was with Joseph. It says so right there. God was with him, and Joseph succeeded in everything he did.

I think the law separated us from God. Once we had the law, the only time we could be with God was when we sacrificed a lamb. A sacrifice would justify our sins for awhile, but it wouldn’t last. We just couldn’t handle the Ten Commandments. Right? We messed up all the time! So over and over, year in and year out, we had to make the same sacrifice, just to make up for all of our sins.

Prophetically, David looked up to heaven and said, “God, you really don’t care about sacrifices, do you. You only care about the heart.” And God said, ”Right. You brought the law in. You guys wanted the law. So I gave it to you. And now you’re in a never-ending circle of death.”

We had no chance! You cannot live up to the Ten Commandments. You will fail. And when you do, you’ll feel like a failure. You’ll think, “I’m never going to add up.” That opens to door to shame. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had a time when we’ve looked at ourselves and said, “Ouch. I can’t. I’m not good enough.”

And then what does God say? He says, “You’re right. You can’t. That’s why I sent my son Jesus. He made you good enough. He fulfilled the law.”

Now by faith you are made righteous! By faith you are justified! You believe in Jesus and you know what He did, and guess what? That makes you good enough. Now God says, “Live in my Son! If you live in Him, you do not need the law.”

This message can be a struggle for people. If we don’t have laws from God, won’t we have anarchy? No, we won’t! We don’t need law to tell us what to do. Just like our ancestors in Genesis, we have the Spirit of God. We don’t need a “Thou Shalt Not.” We have relationship! And the Spirit will lead you to what you need to do.

Trust Issues

When He taught, Jesus used the paradigm of God’s kingdom, because the people gathered around Him understood monarchies. We have to try a little harder to form a kingdom mentality, but we can do it. It’s in our past, and it’s in our movies, TV shows, and books. We can learn to trust that the King has made us His sons and daughters, princes and princesses of the realm. We can learn to trust that when we represent Him in the world and need help, we can send word. He will help.

Still, it seems like it can be difficult for us to trust God the King. We already have a lot of trust issues with government. Our representatives in government make deals without regard to morality. They’ll actually sacrifice their own morals to make sure their agenda gets done. That’s what we have in government. No wonder we don’t understand what it means to trust!

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? I’m in!” But now, we 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 get 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, and then we feel like we have to cover for how we acted. We feel like we have to perform for God. “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. This is legalism. It misses the point. It misses the fact that 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. Help will come.

See you Monday.

Consuming Fire

Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire! Hebrews 12:28-29

When Jesus was here, the social environment was pretty black and white. I think He walked in a place where you were either somebody or nobody. Either you were elite or you were trash. There wasn’t a lot of in-between.

Jesus went to the so-called “trash,” and He made them feel so good. And when the Spirit of God is in us, we are free to do the same thing. Obviously Jesus was able to do things that we don’t always have the ability to do. You might say that He cheated a bit by doing things that we usually can’t do, like healing people. But there are a lot of things we can do to reflect Jesus. We can love our neighbors. Basically, that’s what Jesus did. What if people looked at you, and saw Jesus reflected back to them? What would that be like?

I think when Jesus was around people, they felt consumed. I think that’s why they called Him a “consuming fire.” They were around Jesus and they said, “I finally have peace. My mind is calm. I don’t feel like a loser. I feel like a winner! I don’t feel lost. I feel like I’ve been found!” It felt so good to be around Jesus! People felt consumed by it.

Jesus could do that with people just by talking to them. He made them feel like they were somebody. He went to the so-called “trash,” and He made them feel like royalty. And He loved them for who they were, right at that moment. He didn’t promise to love them later, after they cleaned up a bit, or succeeded at some task. No. He loved them right then, just as He found them.

He loves us the same way. He loves us just as He finds us. And when we have Him in us, we can do the same thing. That means we can bring peace to people. That means we can draw them to God, who will bless them and bring them into His kingdom, where they will live as His precious sons and daughters.

When the Spirit of God works through you, then He’ll lead you to what you need to do.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. Proverbs 16:9

Happy Independence Day! See you Thursday.

Multiplying Grace

I am constantly stressing that grace is the unmerited favor of God. I like to stress this point because it’s so amazing. Grace is God’s favor! God smiles on you and delights in you just as you are. You don’t have to worry about whether you deserve it or not. God’s grace is unmerited.

But that’s not all you get with grace. God’s grace brings with it the ability to let God work through you. Because of His grace, you can walk in His Spirit. Take a minute to think about that, because it’s awesome. Grace makes more grace possible!

For example, suppose I get home from work and I discover that my family is experiencing some chaos. We do have three young boys, after all. What should I do? Should I get angry? Well, is that what God would do?

Walking in grace means asking God to give me the ability to say and do what is needed to make my family feel loved in a time of chaos.  That’s what Jesus does. He makes us feel loved in our time of chaos. He doesn’t love us for who or what we should be. He loves us for who we are, right now. That’s who He loves. He loves you. And then in that love, He nurtures you. He loves and nurtures you into becoming more like Him.

This is what grace allows us to do for each other! When we let God work through us, we let Him turn grace into more grace. When we ask what we as Christians should be doing, that’s our answer. Let God work through you. Let Him compound His grace, multiplying it everywhere. Let Him make you more like Him.

Realizing that I have favor with God gives me so much joy. It frees me! It frees me up to do what I can for others. It frees me up to think about other people. Walking in the Spirit allows me to ease their pain, and bring Christ into their lives. My joy is so motivating!

You might say, “Look, I don’t have much money. I can’t just give money away.” But that’s not the point. If you want to give money, and you can, then that’s one thing you can do. But that’s not even close to all that you can do in Christ. Walking in grace isn’t about giving money away. It’s about reflecting Jesus!

Loving your neighbor as yourself doesn’t cost any money at all. You meet people all day long. What do they see when they see you? Do they see Jesus? This is as simple as looking at somebody who is having a bad day and saying, “Man, I hope your day gets better.” It’s as simple as asking, “Are you okay?”

Let people know that you are there, and that they are not alone. That is Jesus. Let Him nurture each of you through each other. And then grace will multiply in abundance, everywhere!

See you Monday.

You’ve Got to Show Who Jesus Is

There are times when celebrities or public figures get involved with a charity, and through it, they do so much good. You see it and think, “Man, they are doing so much good in the world!” You really get a sense of appreciation for their good works.

But do you ask yourself why they do it? Is it so that they can be on TV? Is it so that they can push their name? Maybe even be in People magazine? If they do a lot of good, they can get their face in a lot of magazines. Is that why they are doing it, so that we’ll say, “Look at him! Look at her! She did this event. He funded that cause.”

Sometimes we need to ask ourselves the same question. What is our heart behind the good that we are doing? Why are we doing what is good? Are we doing it because we are led by the Spirit of God? Or are we led by the spirit of fame? We need to ask, because we can get pretty famous for doing good things.

I don’t think Jesus did anything for the sake of fame. Everything He did, He did to show the glory of God. Even though He showed no interest in fame and did nothing for the sake of fame, there have been more books and songs written about Him than any other person, ever. People who don’t even think He’s really God still write about Him. They still talk about Him. They still sing about Him.

It’s His name that gets used in vain! I don’t see anyone using my name in vain. Nobody is getting mad and saying, “Jeremy Affeldt! That sucked!” I don’t hear that! Right? But people use His name all the time!

I’m not saying that doing good works to get (or perpetuate) fame is a common or widespread activity. I’m not thinking about anyone in particular. I just want us to direct our thoughts to our hearts. Doing good brings a lot of attention, so be sure you’re in the right place when you do it. Do it because the Spirit of God is behind it. Don’t do it for the wrong reasons.

Now, if you say, “I love Jesus, but I don’t do anything,” then I would probably challenge you on that. I wouldn’t judge you. I wouldn’t tell you that without doing good, you’re going to go to hell. No. I would want to challenge you to think about it, because I don’t know if that’s what He would want for you.

In Christ, you can do all things. In Him, through Him, and by Him, we are new creations. In Him, we are made new. So to become a new creation who can do all things, and then sit and do nothing, just doesn’t seem possible to me. I don’t see how that could be your calling.

There are times to be quiet. There are times when you need to just be still and know that He is God. There’s a need to listen to Him, and let Him fill you. Let Him talk to you. Let Him hear you and be heard by you.

But there’s also going to come a time when you’ve got to show who Jesus is. He is in you, and you are in Him. So what are you going to do?

More on this next time. See you Thursday.

Our Way to Heaven

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

I think there are a lot of good people that will not go to heaven. I really do think so. They can do good things their whole lives, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will go to heaven. What would keep them out? Just one thing: rejecting the only thing that matters. And that is Jesus. Grace! Just doing good things isn’t enough. They have to be done from the graced idea of living by the Spirit of God.

Think about it. None of Jesus’s works happened before the Spirit came upon him. He only started doing miracles, signs, and wonders when the Spirit came upon Him. He only started speaking in the Temple when the Spirit came upon Him. God came to Jesus and said, “This is what I need you to do.” And that’s when His work began.

It’s the same for us. If the Spirit is in you, then you’re going to live by the Spirit. But if you live in the flesh, you’re going to do things in the flesh. What is the flesh? It is selfish. It has no sense of service. It’s all about me and what can I have. As long as we live on earth, we will do things of the flesh. But with the Spirit upon us, we are forgiven. We live in grace, and we do the things that God wants us to do.

So when someone tells me that they said the prayer and were saved, but their lives didn’t change, I wonder. Have they asked God to send His Spirit?

The Bible says there will be people who say, “I cast out demons in your name,” and yet Jesus will say, “I never knew you.” You have to get into grace. That means you have to get to a point where you realize what Jesus did. He didn’t just die for us. He resurrected! He didn’t just die to works. He resurrected to grace! That’s what He did!

He said, “I have not come to break the law. I have come to fulfill it. I’m going to die, so you will know that the law has been satisfied. The law will become the old covenant. Then I’m going to resurrect, and this will be to new grace. That’s the way this comes into play.”

And did you notice? It was after the resurrection that we stopped needing to make animal sacrifices. It was after the resurrection that we quit stoning our wives for disobedience. Jesus put a whole new deal in place. The curtain was ripped, and the Holy of Holies was accessible to all. Because of Jesus, we all have access to the kingdom of heaven.

So no matter how good you are, if you’re not willing to go and access God, then all your works mean nothing. They mean nothing because they are not done with the backing of the Spirit.

In 2010, the Giants made a clerical error and accidentally added an extra half million dollars to my contract. I reported the error, and got the contract fixed. People said to me,”Oh, man, you could do a lot of good with that $500,000.” But I couldn’t have done any good with it, even if all my works were really good. It wasn’t my money! Right? This is what I’m talking about. You can do all the good you want. But if you do not carry the Spirit of grace, which is Jesus, I don’t know what it’s going to get you.