Embarrassed by Christians?

I do some work with Larkin Street Youth Services, a San Francisco-based youth ministry. One year, when I was still pitching, I took seven or eight of the kids to a Giants game. One of them had a tattoo on her arm, and when she saw mine, she said, “Hey, what does that tattoo on your arm say?” I said, “It’s Latin. It says Solus Christus.” She asked me, “What does that mean?” And I said, “In Christ alone.”

“Oh,” she said. She sounded disappointed. But then she looked at me, and she asked, “Are you a Christian? Are you a Catholic?” And I said, “I’m neither.”

“Really?” she said. And I told her, “Well, if I have to side with one, it’s going to be Christianity. But I don’t know if there is a side.” I thought about what to say. Then I told her, “I’ll tell you this. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. That’s what I do. But honestly? I disagree with some of the things that Christian people say they believe. Especially with the way they handle people at times. And I don’t necessarily agree with the Catholic Church. I don’t agree with some of their theological views, and I don’t agree with how they handle people at times either.”

She was still listening, so I said, “I’m not really either, I guess. I’m more Christian, if I had to choose, but this is such a long definition!” That made her laugh. So I finished, “All I can really say is that I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. I love Him! So I just try to follow in His footsteps and I try to do what He tells me to do. And I mess up a lot. But I’m not going to come across as holier-than-thou. You know?”

Actually, she was very accepting of that, which was pretty interesting. I’ve been told that some of the kids in Larkin Street have been kicked out of their homes. They came out about their sexuality, and their parents kicked them out. So when I told her I was a follower of Jesus, I thought she would have a lot of reservations about me. But she accepted me.

I didn’t assume she was gay. But I know that some of the kids who came to the game that day could have been gay. And they might have written me off, or maybe distrusted me, for being Christian. And I wanted to make sure they knew how I really felt. I wanted them to know how much I love them. I love those kids no matter what. I love that they dream. I love their dreams so much, because these kids are very motivated to become somebody. They are motivated even though they were kicked out of their homes by their families. They didn’t have anywhere to go. They wound up on the streets. They might have survived being trafficked. No matter what, I don’t need the details to know that really bad things have happened to them. And yet they don’t shut down. They dream big things for themselves.

With these kids, I don’t want to say, “I’m a Christian.” If I do, their first thought could be that I am judging them, and that’s not what I’m about at all. All I want to do is express the love of Jesus.

It’s getting harder all the time to say, “I’m a Christian.” I’m not afraid to say I’m a Christian. Never! But sometimes I’m embarrassed to say it. I’m embarrassed because Christianity comes across these days as a judging faith. And that’s not what following Jesus is about. Not at all.

The way people view Christianity today is not like the way that outcasts and sinners viewed Jesus. They loved Jesus! They loved Him because they knew He loved them!

As much as it is possible, I want to be viewed like Jesus was viewed, as someone who loves people.

Do you think the Christian churches are doing enough to distinguish themselves from the Pharisees? More on this next time. See you Friday.

Life and More Life!

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. Phil. 1:21-22, NKJV

Alive, I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can’t lose. As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. If I had to choose right now, I hardly know which I’d choose. Phil. 1:21-22, The Message

To Live is Christ

“To live is Christ.” What does this mean? It means that we’re here to reflect Christ, every single day that we walk this earth. It’s why we’re here!

Being a Christian is not just telling people, “I’m a Christian.” Being a Christian is not just getting into our church clothes and going to church on Sunday. Being a Christian is not even going to church twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday! No. Faith in Jesus is not a religion. Faith in Jesus is a lifestyle.

Being a Christian is how we live. To live is Christ. That’s what it is. It’s a walk that we walk, and we walk it every single day. If you’re living now, you are being Christ. You will be Christ as long as you live.

Sometimes we fail at it. Sometimes we do really well! And sometimes we’re just okay. We’re going to have good and bad days just like everybody else. God knows that, which is why He gives us grace.

To Die is Gain

“To die is gain.” What does this mean? It means that as long as you live for Christ, then when you die, you will gain heaven. You will gain a life that will be so much better than the one you had here.

As long as you’re here, you’re representing Him. And once your life is over, you no longer have to represent Him, because you gain Him. Whether you die for Jesus, or whether you die of old age, you will gain Christ.

You’ll find yourself in the throne room with God! You’ll get to hang with Him. You’ll get to sit with Him, and walk with Him, and laugh with Him. You’ll hang with the angels and worship Him! In death, you will gain everything. There will be no more fear. There will be no more death and disease. There will be no more lying, betrayal, or mistrust.

You will gain so much when you die. Eternity is so much better than what’s here on earth.

Life Versus Even More Life!

You can see why Paul says that if the choice were his, he wouldn’t know what to do! Life is awesome, because we get to reflect Christ. Death will be awesome too, because we get to hang out with Him. We can’t lose!

So as long as we’re here, let’s live for Christ. We’ll gain a lot when we die, but let’s not waste our time here. Life is awesome because to live is Christ. There is so much good work for us to do. Let’s not sit around and do nothing. Let’s make an impact for the kingdom. Let’s do as much as we can while we’re here!

This is not a works-oriented mentality. Works will not gain the love of Jesus. Works will not gain heaven. Paul isn’t saying that. He’s saying that we get to make our time on earth worthwhile. We get to reflect Christ!

I know that when I die, I’ll gain the kingdom. I will gain my time with the King. I’m going to gain so much when my time here is up. But as long as I’m here, I want to make an impact for the kingdom. I want to make an impact like Christ made, in the hearts and lives of other people.

I’m going to live as Christ, because to live is Christ!

See you Friday.

A Tattoo to Remind Me: This is Who I Am

We think a lot about how permanent tattoos are. Permanence is kind of the point when it comes to tattoos! But tattoos can also be visible or hidden. The tattoo on my left forearm reads, “No Man Shall Live for Himself.” This was my second tattoo. And I keep it where I can see it.

At first, I didn’t think I’d ever get any tattoos at all. Obviously that changed, because you’ve been reading about my “Solus Christus” tattoo. That sola is so important to me, and a point came when I realized I was definitely going to get a tattoo of it.

When I got my “Solus Christus” tattoo, I thought that was it. I didn’t think I’d get another one. Everybody was telling me, “Tattoos are addicting! You have to be careful! Once you get one, you’ll want more!” But I really didn’t think that was going to be me. I thought I’d stop at one.

On the other hand, I think I always knew, in the back of my mind, that there would be more. There are some other things that mean just as much to me as that sola.

First, though, I had to see how that “Solus Christus” tattoo sat with me. It turns out I enjoyed it! I really liked the conversations that it started.

I had the same thing in mind for my second tattoo. I wanted it to be something really deep and meaningful to me, and I wanted it to be a conversation starter.

That’s why the second one says, “No Man Shall Live for Himself.” This is very meaningful to me. It is the standard that I have set for my life. It’s the standard I want to live by. I want it for my family, too, for my wife and sons, and my friends. I want to be known as a servant.

Living as a servant, like Jesus did, is not always easy. So I like the reminder. Putting it on my left forearm means I get reminded a lot, because I use my left arm a lot! I do everything with my left arm. I start my day with it. I’m in the mirror, combing my hair, getting ready for the day, and I see the tattoo.

It’s always there reminding me, in everything that I do, whether it be in photographs, whether it be at work, or whether it be simply getting ready for the day.

And at the time I got it, I was pitching for the Giants. I pitched with my left arm, so the tattoo was always there to remind me of why I was out there on the mound. “No Man Shall Live for Himself.”

So putting the tattoo on my left arm really meant something. It solidified who I am for others, by saying, “Hey, this is what I stand for.”

It’s easy to read, and it’s not hidden. In fact, when I was pitching, it had a lot of visibility. I’ve never wanted to hide it. I don’t want to hide what I stand for.

A lot of tattoos can be hidden. I have a couple that can be hidden, one on my shoulder and another on my back (more on that another day). But unless I wear a long-sleeved shirt, “No Man Shall Live for Himself” is always visible. And I never want to cover it up. I want it to be seen by everybody. I want people to know that this is who I am, and this is what I stand for.

And just as I had hoped, it has started a lot of amazing conversations!

More on that next time. See you Thursday.

Solus Christus Sums It Up

Solus Christus sums up everything for me. My lifestyle, my passion, my commitments, everything.

Do I believe that Christ is the only way to God? Yes. I believe it. I believe Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. No man sees the Father except through Him.

When I do something, I do it with the understanding that I do it in Christ. What drives me to be who I am? The answer is Christ. I don’t get to hang with the guy every day like his disciples got to do, but I have His Spirit inside of me. Solus Christus. It’s in Christ that I do the things I do.

I try to view things the way that Christ wants me to view things. I know I will stand before the throne of God one day and He will say, “Jeremy, sometimes you were wrong.” I’m willing to accept that. It’s not like we get to go through life depending on an audible voice from God on every single topic. We read in Luke that Peter, John, and James went up on the mountain with Jesus to pray. A cloud came down, and out of the cloud God spoke and said, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” We don’t all get that opportunity.

Solus Christus tattoo

But His Spirit is in me. Through His Spirit, I can ask for wisdom. In Christ, I do what seems right. I try to. I try to do things with an authority that says, “This is how Christ would do it.”

Suppose I fail? I know I will. Suppose I choose a route that I should not have chosen? Suppose I do something that involves sin? I’m still a man, made of flesh and bone, so I will fail. But when I realize my sin, I also realize that I’ve been redeemed. How have I been redeemed? Solus Christus. In whom have I been redeemed? Solus Christus. In Christ I am redeemed. In Christ I am made righteous.

It’s why I don’t have to live in guilt. I get to live in freedom! My freedom comes in Christ.

That’s also why I can live my life with such passion. I don’t look back. I don’t. When I mess up, I repent. Then I can heal and grow. When I recognize my sin, I also recognize that I have a way out of it. Repentance challenges me to go deeper in prayer. It challenges me to deepen my commitment to living more deeply in Christ.

So you see, this tattoo means so much to me. Everything for me happens in Christ. Solus Christus. I want my sons to grow in Christ. I want my marriage to grow in Christ. When my family does things, I want us to do them in Christ. Solus Christus is my family’s crest and shield.

I live in Christ, I make my decisions in Christ, I repent in Christ, I challenge myself in Christ, and I want my family to be a family in Christ. That’s why I put this tattoo on my forearm. That’s why I chose those two words. And that’s why I put it in a circle. A circle has no beginning, and it has no end. It just keeps going.

And that’s how I am in Christ.

I just want to continue to grow in Christ, and never stop.

A Tattoo to Talk About

I got my first tattoo in 2011. It’s on the inside of my right forearm, and it says, “Solus Christus.” Christ alone.

We were in San Francisco at the time, where I pitched for the Giants. The Bay Area occupies an important place in the history of tattooing, and a family friend from Seattle — a tattoo artist — visited us in order to learn more about it. When he flew down with his wife, he brought his tools with him, and my wife Larisa and I got our first tattoos.

He came to our house, so our oldest son’s nanny took him out to play. At three and a half, Walker was all over the place, and I was worried that he’d get in the middle of the work. I didn’t want to end up with some random line tattooed up my arm!

That little man blew my mind when he came home. He’s so observant. He ran in the house yelling, “Dad, I’m home!” I called out, “Hey, Buddy,” and he came running in the room. He was just about to give me a hug, when suddenly he came to a full stop. He was literally three feet away from me. He looked down at my arm and said, “What’s that? What’s on your arm?” I told him, “It’s my tattoo!” Right away he said, “I want one!”

“Well,” I told him, “you know, I’m not against that, but people might ask questions if my three year-old son shows up with a tattoo on his arm. Also, when you’re 16 and you have a tattoo of Go, Diego Go!, you’re probably going to be a little bit upset with me. So not right now, Buddy. Let’s wait on that.”

“Okay,” he said, “but can I get something fun too?” And I said “Sure!” Larisa, my wife, got online and ordered some of those sticker tattoos that they make for little kids. I was on a road trip with the team when they came, so she texted me a picture. She told me Walker wanted his sticker tattoo on the same exact part of his arm as I had mine. He was so proud of it! Since he could change his, he wanted to know why I didn’t change mine. He didn’t realize that my tattoo is permanent.

That was the first time that my oldest child said, “I want to be like my dad.” I was awed when I heard it, because that’s exactly how I view my relationship with my Father in heaven. I want to be just like Him. And I want to be like my brother Jesus, the Savior of the world. As a husband and father, I want to be like Jesus.

I also want to be like Jesus in the world. Like Him, I want to be a servant leader.

Getting a tattoo might make me seem more like a follower than a leader. They are pretty trendy! And I hadn’t always wanted one. What were they for? Rebellion? We look at people who have tattoos and think, “Oh, there’s a rebellious side to that one.” We just know it. Whether it be quiet or loud, you hear that rebellious voice. It says, “I have a statement to make.” Maybe that voice is saying, “Well, my mom and dad don’t like them, and they didn’t want me to get one, so I did.” Or maybe it’s saying, “You know what? I’ve been so good my whole life. I want to get something that’s really out there, just this one time.”

Of course, there are also the accidental tattoos. The mistakes, if you will. Sometimes I’ve asked people about their tattoos and they’ve said, “Oh, I was drunk when I got that. It really doesn’t mean anything.” It’s true! People have told me, “I really don’t know why I got this tattoo. I just woke up one morning and there it was!” Fortunately, I’m not the kind of man who would drink too much and then get tattooed.

In fact, I talked to a lot of people before I made my decision. I heard all kinds of different opinions about tattoos, but everybody agreed that a tattoo is permanent. When you tattoo your body, that picture or that message is going to be there for life. I know there are laser removal techniques, but that’s painful! I really didn’t want to do that! I had to be absolutely certain that when I put something permanent on my body, it would mean something truly significant.

That’s why I didn’t go for a standard tattoo. I didn’t want a Major League Baseball logo, or a baseball with flames on it. I didn’t want a cross, or a Bible verse. I didn’t want something obviously Christian, like John 3:16. I wanted a conversation piece. I wanted people to see my tattoo and ask me about it. People already know that I’m a man who lives by faith in the Almighty God, so John 3:16 wouldn’t advance the conversation in any meaningful way.

I had to ask, “What am I trying to say?” I needed a tattoo that would arouse people’s curiosity and prompt them to ask me about it. I wanted someone to look at my tattoo and say, “What does that mean to you? Why that tattoo?”

Well, I knew a tattoo in Latin would start a conversation. So that’s where I went. I had Latin words permanently inscribed on my body. My forearm reads, “Solus Christus.”

It’s worked out so well. I’ve had great conversations with a lot of different people because of this tattoo. It’s created all kinds of opportunities to talk to people about my faith. People see it and they ask, “What is that?” And I say, “It’s one of the Five Solas of church history.” Right away they ask, “What’s the big deal about that? What are you trying to say?”

The question itself points to the big deal. We’ve forgotten the Five Solas. We’ve gotten away from our history as God’s people. We’ve forgotten where things started. We’ve forgotten where things came from. We don’t remember who we are supposed to be.

I’ve done several studies of church history. I haven’t done an in-depth study, but I think I get the gist of it. God created the church. It was designed to be the mystery of God. And the Five Solas have always stood out for me. There’s Sola Gratia, by grace alone, Sola Fide, through faith alone, Soli Deo Gloria, for God’s glory alone, and Sola Scriptura, according to scripture alone. And then there’s Solus Christus, in Christ alone.

Solus means “solely,” or “alone,” so the Five Solas say something about our own individual journeys. My journey is different than the journey of the person next to me. My journey is different than your journey. When you look at the Five Solas, you can’t help but think, what is my journey?

They make you ask, right?

See how well this tattoo works?

My First Tattoo

When people see my tattoo, they ask, “What is that?” And I say, “It’s one of the Five Solas of church history.” And then they say, “What’s that?”

We’ve forgotten the Five Solae! In fact, I think we’ve gotten away from church history. We’ve forgotten where things started and we don’t remember who we were originally supposed to be. God created the church. It was designed to be the mystery of God.

solus christusI’ve done several studies of church history. I haven’t done an in-depth study, but I think I get the gist of it. The Five Solae, which summarize the basic beliefs of the Protestant Reformation, have always stood out to me. There’s Sola Gratia, by grace alone, Sola Fide, through faith alone, Soli Deo Gloria, for God’s glory alone, and Sola Scriptura, according to scripture alone. And then there’s Solus Christus, in Christ alone.

“Solus” means “solely,” or “alone,” so the Five Solae say something about our own individual journeys. My journey is different than the journey of the person next to me.  My journey is different than your journey. When you look at the Five Solae, you think, all right, what is my journey? Maybe it’s Sola Gratia, or maybe it’s Sola Scriptura. Only you and God know.

I would love to have tattoos of all Five Solae, but I don’t necessarily want to put a tattoo on every part of my body! So the one I chose had to personally mean something. It had to signify the journey that God has made for me. And the Sola that jumps out and attacks me the most is Solus Christus. It sums up everything. Do I believe that Christ is the only way to God? Yes. I believe Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and no man sees the Father except through Him.

When I do something, I do it with the understanding that I do it in Christ. Suppose someone asks me, “What drives you to be who you are?” The answer is Christ. He’s the reason I do the things I do. I try to view things the way that He wants me to view things. I didn’t hang with the guy every day like His disciples got to do, but I have the Spirit inside of me, which now puts Christ in me. Solus Christus. It’s in Christ that I do the things I do.

I know I will stand before the throne of God one day and He will say, “Jeremy, sometimes you were wrong.” But I’m willing to accept that. It’s not like we get to go through life depending on an audible voice from God on every single topic. We read in Luke that Peter, John, and James went up on the mountain with Jesus to pray, and a cloud came down and out of the cloud God spoke and said, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” We don’t all get that opportunity. But because of who I am in Christ, I ask for wisdom, and in Christ, I do what seems right. I try to. I do things in the hope that I get it, that I understand how Christ would do it.

That’s what Solus Christus means to me, and it’s why it was my first tattoo.

See you Thursday.

My First Tattoo: Solus Christus

When people see my tattoo, they ask, “What is that?” And I say, “It’s one of the Five Solas of church history.” And then they say, “What’s that?”

We’ve forgotten the Five Solae! In fact, I think we’ve gotten away from church history. We’ve forgotten where things started and we don’t remember who we were originally supposed to be. God created the church. It was designed to be the mystery of God. Continue reading