You’re Not Alone In Your Struggles

(Don’t forget: get your tickets for the September 14 screening of Heart of Man here. Get the powerful 7-day devotional here.)

Jesus told us, “Do not judge,” but this can be a big struggle, man. Big. If you try to just “not judge,” you’re going to have a really difficult time.

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

I think sometimes we judge because we can be a bit cowardly, at least in certain areas. We don’t want to go to a guy and talk to him directly about why we don’t like him. We don’t want to dialogue with him about what we think he’s doing wrong, or how he frustrates us.

All we really want is to feel that way about him without having to do anything about it. We want to just look at him 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 then walk away.

The problem is, we’ve just judged that guy seven or eight times, and yet we still want to think, “I’m a good person.”

The reality is, we can strive to be good people, but no one is a good person until Jesus is in them saying, “This is what you do. This is how you can be good.”

We all have demons hidden in our closets. We’re not going to get rid of them on our own. 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 realize, “This is where heaven is.” My struggles in life are not necessarily going to go away, but Jesus is where I am going to find my peace. With His help, I’m going to receive peace in my struggles.

When you have Jesus, you have something inside of you that’s different.

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. Because I’ve found Him. And in Christ, I can have all things. When I have the Spirit of God living in me, I have all things.”

The key is to replace judgment with love. I can go around trying to “not judge” with all my might, but I’m still going to judge.“Not judging” is too hard, unless I turn to God for help.

When I am filled with His Spirit, then judging my neighbor is replaced by loving my neighbor. Not judging is so much easier when you do something in its place, like listen and help.

I know I’m going to mess up. I know I’m going to have issues. I’m going to struggle with my own problems. But with Jesus, I have someone to turn to. I have peace in the midst of my struggles. I’m not alone.

Can I be that way for others? More on that next time. See you Wednesday.

Peace is a Sign of Wisdom

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

How do we know when we are receiving God’s wisdom? The examples in the Bible give us a lot of options. Jesus famously turned the money changers out of the Temple, but he also reached out in love to Zacchaeus, the tax collector, and made a disciple of him.

So how do we know when to be loving and compassionate, and when to grab a whip and do some cleansing? How do we know when we’re doing what the Holy Spirit tells us to do, versus doing what we want to do? How do we know when we’re doing God’s will, and not just following our own will?

How do you know that the voice you hear speaking into your life is God’s?

I think you’ll know it because of the peace you’ll have when you’re sharing that wisdom. Have you seen people on their soapboxes sharing John 3:16, and they’re yelling? They’re actually sharing Jesus by telling people, “You’re going to go to hell if you don’t believe that God gave His only son for your sins!” There’s no way those people have peace in what they are doing.

I think they want to do the right thing, but they don’t know how. So they just yell it. Their faces are angry, and they spit it out. And then they say, “There, I got the Word of God out there. Now it’s not my fault if they don’t accept Christ.”

In this, we don’t see self-control. I’ve seen people challenge these soapbox guys, and when that happens, they yell even more. They don’t want to listen. All they do is repeat themselves. They just keep saying the same thing, over and over again. Someone challenges them, and they point their finger right in that person’s face, and go on yelling about John 3:16. I’ve seen it happen!

That’s not self-control. It’s chaos.

I think you have to ask God for wisdom all the time. There is a time for grabbing a whip and doing some cleansing, sure. But there are so many times in which wisdom tells us to be loving and compassionate. We don’t necessarily know which time is which, and that’s why we have to ask.

How will you know you’ve received God’s wisdom, and you’re not just acting on your own will?

You’ll know when you feel peace about what you’re doing. You’ll see the fruit of the Spirit. That’s how you’ll know.

War and Peace

And while He was still speaking, behold, a multitude; and he who was called Judas, one of the twelve, went before them and drew near to Jesus to kiss Him. But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.

But Jesus answered and said, “Permit even this.” And He touched his ear and healed himLuke 22:47-51

There’s a lot of war in the Bible. Early in the Bible’s account of history, war was about conquest, because various tribes were trying to establish their boundaries. Now the boundaries are pretty much set. In most cases, everybody knows which country is which. We even have empires. And yet we still have war!

Now war is about economic power, or taking someone’s land, or getting access to resources like oil, water, or trade routes. But one way or another, most wars are started in hate. Whether it’s inter-religious hate or hatred between nations, war is almost always begun in hate.

When Jesus said, “Preserve the peace,” I don’t think He was making an anti-war statement. I believe there are wars that have to be fought, and there will be war in the end times. This is part of what the Bible says is going to happen: wars and rumors of wars. So it is not my goal to picket against wars.

My goal is to love. A big part of the Christian’s duty is to preserve the peace. And for me, love is the only way to preserve peace. If you love people, there will be peace.

As you have read many times in this blog, one way we can love our neighbors as ourselves is by helping those who are in need. That is the love of Jesus, so that is the love that preserves peace.

What about judging people? No. You’re not preserving peace by judging people. I don’t think that you’ve ever judged someone and then they’ve said to you, “You know what? Thanks for judging me. I feel a lot more peaceful now that you’ve judged me and condemned me.” You don’t see that happen!

We should conduct our affairs by replacing judgment with love. But I understand that in our flesh, it’s really hard to do that. When we see something wrong, we want to handle it ourselves. God says, “Judge not,” and we want to answer, “Yeah, I know, but this isn’t right, and that person needs to know it! So I need to tell them!” We are always going to struggle with this as ambassadors of Christ.

Jesus didn’t have that struggle. He never struggled with it. Jesus would say something to somebody, and it was over. He wasn’t ever physically required to make things right. He showed us another way. When Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, who was trying to grab Jesus, He said to Peter, “Put your sword away. What are you doing? We’re preserving peace here. I’m going to die for mankind, so that they have a hope. You don’t cut a guy’s ear off! You don’t understand what you’re doing.”

And then Jesus preserved peace. He restored the servant’s ear. He put it back on his head!

Self-restraint like this is just so hard for us. I would cut the guy’s ear off in a cold minute, and I just wouldn’t care! I understand Peter completely! “You’re attacking my God, so I’m going to cut your ear off. You’re lucky I don’t kill you.” In that time and place, no one would have told Peter he was wrong. No one would have spoken against Peter for defending Jesus.

But Jesus showed us another way. He preserved peace.

Compared to God, we are really limited in what we can do. I believe we truly want to do what’s right. We want to make things right. And in our desire to do that, sometimes we lose control.

The thing is, when we lose control, we want to attack, just to get that feeling of control back. This happens to everybody. It’s natural! But it’s not preserving peace.

Remember, in times of conflict, Jesus always gives you a way out. Always. You just have to look for it.

The Other Cheek

Everyone’s going through a refining fire sooner or later, but you’ll be well-preserved, protected from the eternal flames. Be preservatives yourselves. Preserve the peace. Mark 9:49-50

Preserving peace should be our goal as believers, but it’s been hard for me. As a professional athlete, I competed every day, and I pitched with something you could only describe as aggressive, competitive anger. I wasn’t joking around out there, and I didn’t feel bad for the hitter.

When a game was finished, I had to switch out of that mode. That could be really hard to do. Sometimes I had to go out into the world before I’d finished putting the competition away for the day. In those times, I relied on God’s grace to get me through.

One night after a game, I was going to my car with my wife and one of our sons, who was five years old at the time. We were with a couple of friends and their three daughters. Our son stopped to do something, the way that little kids do. My wife turned to help him and get him moving again. But she was pregnant, so she didn’t move as quickly as usual.

There are employees of other companies that use the player’s parking lot at Giants stadium. They park there as visitors. That night, when our son stopped and my wife moved to help him, we accidentally got in the way of a guy who was also leaving for the night, a guy who didn’t work for the Giants. When my wife went to help our son, a couple of things the guy was carrying got knocked to the ground.

I didn’t know it was because of us, but I tried to help him pick them up. He didn’t look at me. He ripped his stuff out of my hand and shoved past my family. He didn’t even say thank you.

As he shoved past us, I saw him mouth at my son, “Get out of the effin way.”

I stopped him. I said, “Excuse me. Did you just say that to my little boy?” He got defensive, so I said, “I think you did, because I watched it come out of your mouth.”

Now, we had just lost a really close game to the Dodgers. I was still in that competitive mode. And then I saw him say that to my son. He only mouthed it, but I got really angry. I needed to protect my little boy! So I was definitely not in the mood to preserve the peace. I was in fight mode. In fact, I was going to chase after him. I was going to punch him in the face. I was going to knock him out.

I turned to tell my wife to get in the car and wait for me. Instead what I saw was my son and those three little girls, looking up at me. The second I saw them, I knew that they came first. So I simply said, “Alright, let’s go guys. Let’s get in the car.”

Imagine what could have happened! Just for an instant, I wanted to do something to that man that was definitely not going to preserve peace. It wasn’t going to help anything beyond satisfying my desire to compete and win.

I have the Spirit in me, but I’m still a flesh-and-blood man. I still have issues. I still fail. I don’t always do the things I should.

But God always gives us an out. We just have to look for it. In the passion of the moment, it may be hard to see, but He always gives us an out. That night, God gave me those children. He gave me the grace of those four pairs of eyes looking up at me, waiting to see what I was going to do.

I think there are going to be times when I have to protect my family, but this wasn’t one of them, and I could see it. God told me, “You can go after that guy and teach him a lesson. You can take that route, and there will probably be a bunch of people saying you were justified. But I’m showing you that there’s another way.”

I’m thankful for that night. I’m thankful that God helped me preserve the peace. I will always prefer God’s way over the ways of men. I don’t want to aggrieve the Holy Spirit.

Also, I’m a dad. I want to be a faithful father to my sons, the way that God is a faithful father to me. This was a chance to show my son that it’s possible to turn the other cheek. Five year-olds act out in anger. That night, God let me show my son that he can handle conflict without resorting to hitting or punching. I got to help my son learn that!

Even though we got in the car and drove away, my adrenaline was still pumping. This was more grace from God. He gave me time to cool off, and that gave me a chance to think. Is turning the other cheek the same as doing nothing, and moving on as if nothing had happened? I don’t think so. Jesus taught us that we must be preservatives in this world, and preserve the peace. To do that, we need to address conflict and resolve it. Peacefully.

So I decided to find the guy’s employers at the park the next day, so we could talk it out. And that’s what I did. Think about it. How much better was it to talk, instead of fight? I settled the conflict with no broken noses and no broken hands. I relied on honesty and fellowship. I preserved the peace.

It was beautiful. That’s how we should do it.

Healthy Confrontation

Everyone’s going through a refining fire sooner or later, but you’ll be well-preserved, protected from the eternal flames. Be preservatives yourselves. Preserve the peace. Mark 9:49-50

Just the other day, I read Chapter 9 of Mark’s Gospel. It was just so good. I’m reading it in the Message Bible. Sometimes the Message Bible’s translation is so fresh, that I’m struck fresh by the words. It’s such a good feeling to see familiar chapters and verses rephrased in a new way.

The last part of Mark Chapter 9 says that we should be “preservatives” in this world. We are to preserve peace. I’d never seen it that way before. It meant so much to me. Imagine it! “Preserve the peace.” Jesus gives His peace to us, and we have the privilege of preserving it.

Does that mean we should never argue? I don’t think so. Preserving peace is not the same as avoiding confrontation. Preserving peace is about the love we bring to the situation when confrontation arises.

Avoiding confrontation isn’t good. You need to be confrontational at times. In fact, if you are grounded in your beliefs, then confrontation is inevitable. You can’t avoid it.

But Jeremy, you’re saying, I’m never confrontational. Never? If you’re never confrontational, it could mean that you’re not grounded in what you believe.

How can you tell? Well, what happens when someone asks you to do something that goes against your beliefs? What do you say? If you say, “No, I won’t do that, and I don’t want to talk about it,” then maybe you need some grounding. Refusing to talk about it does not preserve peace. In fact, it can stir up storms! That’s not healthy.

You don’t have to fear confrontation. It’s okay to confront people, and still be in a healthy relationship with them and with God. In a healthy confrontation, you stand up for what you believe. You stand your ground. You talk about it. You explain your beliefs.

You can do this and still preserve peace. Just be calm about it. In a calm confrontation, you’ll hear a grounded person explaining their beliefs. They’ll say, “Here’s why I believe what I believe.” They’ll explain their reasons for saying no.

I’m so aggressively competitive that this can be very difficult for me at times. I think it’s natural for anyone to take a lot of pride in what they do. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing. It’s just confidence.

But sometimes, we have a hard time with the line dividing confident ability from boastful pride. That line is very fine, and we can cross it, real quick. That’s a battle we all have.

The good news is, there’s grace in this. Jesus gives us grace. It doesn’t mean He’s okay with it. It doesn’t mean that He doesn’t mind when we cross the line. But He doesn’t reject us, or expect some kind of sacrifice to make it up to Him. He gives us grace! He says, “I understand your situation. And I understand that this is a really tough thing for you.”

Still, along with the grace He offers, I think He has high expectations of us. He says, “Hey, you have to be humble. You have to know that you have these these abilities, because I have given them to you. And this strong confidence you have? I’ve given you that too. You don’t do these things without me.”

Staying confident without crossing over into boastful pride is really, really hard, which is why we need Him. It’s something I have to make myself aware of, every day. I can do the easy things! It’s easy for me to look at someone who’s hungry and give him something to eat. I can do that. It doesn’t necessarily preserve peace, but if I loved on a hungry neighbor, I helped him get through his day. And maybe I did preserve peace in a way, because maybe giving him something to eat made him feel loved. That’s easy.

But when you challenge my beliefs, or my principles, or my self-confidence, or my family? That’s going to be really, really hard for me.

That’s when I have to look for the grace Jesus gives me. When I’m in an angry confrontation, I have to really look hard for the out that Jesus gives us. Because He always gives us an out. I just think it can be really hard to see it.

Next time, I’ll tell you a story that shows what I mean. See you Friday.

A Lighter Burden

How do you know when you’re living in grace? Well, how much do you enjoy loving on people? If you’re enjoying it, then you’re probably living in grace.

Living in grace is awesome. It’s joyful!

On the other hand, if loving on people is hard work, then you’re struggling. It can be hard to find that place of joy. Even when you do find it, it can be hard to stay there. Trust me, I know. It’s easy to turn grace into struggle. Maybe you’ve been wounded. Even if you haven’t, people can still hurt your feelings. Or those wounds can get more painful. No matter what, we can all get triggered by something.

When that happens, we try to use our own power. We say, “I don’t want to talk about it.” We don’t want to be transparent and vulnerable. So we resolve to deal with it on our own. We hide our feelings. We try to move on. We just want to get back to living in grace, back to that awesome, joyful place, where we’re loving on people and it feels wonderful.

Of course, hiding our feelings doesn’t help us get back to that joyful place. Hiding our feelings means that it’s only a matter of time before everything boils up and we explode. Boom! It happens! And when it does, the people around us are shocked. To them, it seems like it came out of nowhere. They’re confused. “Why did he just get so angry at me?” They don’t understand.

How could they? This is what happens when we hide how we feel. It definitely doesn’t help us find grace.

When I’m afraid to be vulnerable, I try to work things out by myself. I shut everybody else out. You know what? It’s hard. It’s exhausting.

The harder you have to work at something, the more likely it is that you’re trying to do it on your own. If you’re working so hard at something that you’re exhausted, it’s a really good sign that you’re trying to handle it all by yourself.

And the truth is, all you’re doing is trying to control things that you can’t control. This is especially the case when it comes to other people. To hide and protect ourselves, we try to control other people.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the thought process. “Man, if this person would just be like this, then it would be so much easier for me to live in grace. So I’m going to make these little comments, or try to tell him or her to live in a certain way. Then it will be easier for me.”

You know, you kind of get selfish!

In some churches, we say we’re trying to “sin manage.” It doesn’t work. The more we try to sin manage, the more we fail. The Bible says we can’t do this on our own. That’s why it says, “Don’t boast about what you can do.”

The good news is that God sees us struggling. He sees us trying to handle everything on our own. He knows it’s lonely and hard. So He reminds us that we aren’t alone.

The Bible also says, “Boast instead about what Christ has done!” What did He do? Nothing less than this: He made you who you are. You’re in grace already. You don’t have to crush yourself in struggle.

I’m very familiar with this. We all are. When I’m trying to do something, and I’m failing, I tell myself I’m failing because I’m not trying hard enough. So I try harder. Then I fail more. And then I just get frustrated.

What if I’m wrong? What if I’m failing because I’m trying too hard?

The letters in the New Testament talk about this. The harder you try to live in grace, the more you’re going to fail. The harder you try, the more you’re going to let yourself down.

You can’t do this on your own. I’ve learned! Turn to God. Go to Him and say, “Hey, I really need faith that I can walk in grace. Right now, I’m not doing very well. I need you. Please, do whatever you’ve got to do to allow me to be free.”

Now that’s a prayer! Because when you’re free, you can stop trying, and start living.

When you have Christ, you aren’t alone. You don’t have to try to handle things by yourself. You have Him, and there is no weakness in Christ. Christ is strength, and He is strong in our weakness.

One of the hardest lessons to learn is that it’s not all about you. You are not alone. So it’s not about you. It’s about Christ in you. It’s about Christ in me. Outside of Him, we fall to all kinds of temptations. But when we live out of our identity in Him, His strength conquers it all.

Living in grace is not about trying. It’s about understanding. He is in you. Grace is in you! Let Him live through you.

I’ll give you a simple prayer, one you can use every day. “God, give me strength to represent you today.” And then just live. Because the stronger you are in Christ, the less you’re going to react. The stronger you are in Christ, the less you’re going to be wounded.

That strength is going to make it easier for you to be transparent and vulnerable. You can let people know when you’re hurting, because you can be confident in who you are in Jesus. You don’t have to hide. Not in your sin, and not in your wounds. You don’t have to worry about being weak.

You can tell people, “This is where I can be hurt.” You can safely say, “This is where I can be wounded.” It’s a strength to be able to say that. Do you know why? Because it allows Jesus to love you through those people.

There’s no “trying” to live in grace. Just live out who you are. In Christ.

Christ in Jeremy means that I’m going to live in servanthood. Christ in Jeremy means I’m going to live with grace for people. I trust that God is going to allow me to live this way. When I feel I’m failing, I will pray. I will ask for His strength, because that’s the only way.

God is always saying, “Give me your burdens. My yoke is easy. And it’s light.” Life with Him is not necessarily going to be easy, not in worldly terms. But if you trust and lean on Him, it will seem easier.

Take the time you need. Tell Him, “Look, God, I’m not feeling like I can do this right now. I need you. Help me, so that this will be less of a burden.” He’ll be strong in you, and you won’t believe the relief.

Receive the lighter burden.

Bless you. See you Friday.

The Power of the Young

Two days until our Something to Eat event in East Palo Alto! We had such an incredible response to our 2011 event in Spokane. For four hours, 350 young people packaged meals. We were moving all day, working really hard, and we prepared 75,000 meals for the food banks.

Curiously, only one news crew showed up. We thought that was sad. You had 350 kids in Spokane, Washington taking care of people that were hungry, and the news crews had something better to do? I think not! I think that they missed the ball on that.

We weren’t doing it for media exposure, but the community needs to see that young people are acting in a positive way. Those kids definitely didn’t come to be on TV, yet they did such a special thing.

GAThis country needs to see that young people are no longer willing to be uneducated. They will respond when a crisis hits. They’ll hear about something like the suffering after the typhoon in the Philippines, and they’ll respond. They won’t sit there and say, “We never knew that this was happening.” They’ll say, “We know what’s happening, and we’re here to help with that. We’re going to fix that. We’re going to love our neighbor as ourselves.”

The Bible was written to bring complete peace to the world, by teaching us to love God and our neighbor. There’s no law against love. You cannot love somebody too much. You can’t go to jail for loving somebody. No one can hate you for loving somebody. No one’s going to be able to do that. The Bible is a fulfillment of peace, that’s what it is.

And so we need to know about these kids, loving their neighbor as themselves. The human traffickers need to know about them. They need to know that these kids have made up their minds and are saying, “We’re not going to sit back and accept that the chocolate industry is slaving out other kids. We’re not going to be okay with that. Because that’s a lack of respect for humanity, and that’s not how we love our neighbor. And the only way to bring peace to this world is to love our neighbor as ourselves.”

People need to know about the devastation of hunger, and lack of water, and lack of homes. And above all people need to know that our kids are no longer standing for it, and they’re going to fight it. This generation is going to be the generation that does what it takes to bring about a worldwide peace. People need to know.