Forgiveness

When you get into stressful situations, you probably start to get a little irritated. Maybe you get angry. You might even snap! I haven’t always handled stress well. Sometimes I’ve been pretty bad at it.

Dealing with failure and conflict is part of being human.

In my baseball career, there was a lot of success. And there was a lot of failure! In fact, I succeeded so much at the end of my career because my early failures were so bad. Those failures taught me how to handle stress a little bit better.

Even when I got better at it, stress still presented a challenge. One season, when I was wth the Giants, I lost my temper during a game in Toronto. When I came out of the game I kicked some stuff, I punched a water cooler, and I kicked some chairs in the clubhouse. In other words, I did not handle it well at all.

It was humbling! I had to talk to some of my teammates, and I had to sit down with my manager. I had to tell them I was sorry, and that I knew I should have handled it better. We talked it out after the fact, and everything worked out in the end. But it wasn’t easy.

To humble yourself before athletes as an athlete, one who tries to carry himself with confidence (but not cockiness), is a real challenge. It’s a challenge in any situation to humble yourself and say, “I was wrong. That’s the truth, and I’m sorry.” A lot of guys can’t do that. But as Christian men, Godly men, that’s what we have to do.

You have to know that when you make a mistake, your first question should be, “How should I be like Jesus in this scenario? How can I share in the image of God?” You do it by apologizing, and asking for forgiveness from the people you affected.

I’ve learned to do that. I’ve learned to do it well! I did it through awareness. I maintain awareness of my true self as an image-bearer of God. And yet I remember that, in my flesh as a human being, I can fail. You have to accept that failure is part of being human.

There is strength in that. Part of our strength as Christian men and women is recognizing that we are human. We are going to make mistakes, and we have to apologize for them.

And that’s the easy part, because you also have to forgive yourself. That’s a huge challenge. To forgive ourselves, we have to overcome fear. Yes, fear is the obstacle!

The fear goes something like this: “If I forgive myself for something I did, and then I let it go, then I’ll forget how bad it was and I’ll do it again.”

Sound familiar? We have a hard time forgiving ourselves. We think we need to live in the guilt. We think that as long as we live in the guilt, we won’t repeat our mistakes. It’s our way of saying, “As long as I can feel the sting, I won’t make that mistake again.”

Trust me, this is the hard way to do things. And it’s not what God wants.

Once you’ve been forgiven, it’s time to move on. You don’t need to live in the memory. You don’t need the sting to keep yourself on track. You’ve humbled yourself and asked for forgiveness. You’ve handled your mistakes directly and with humility. You’ve learned. You’ve become a better person. That’s growth. You can let it go!

The people around you forget about it, and that’s your affirmation. That’s Jesus, reflecting back to you!

So don’t hold onto that sting. Trust in that forgiveness.

You have no condemnation now, because of what Jesus did on the cross. You’ve been forgiven by the King of Kings! And if He can forgive you, then it’s okay. Forgive yourself.

See you Tuesday.

Find Your Fulfillment in Work

We were created to love our neighbors as ourselves, with the same love that Jesus has for us. That’s why it’s so fulfilling. It feels so good. You feel so good when you love your neighbor! It feels good whether you’re a Christian or not. Loving your neighbor is loving like Jesus. Love for your neighbor is His love. It’s the love that makes you tick, and enjoy life.

There are no limits to this love, either. There’s no law against it. You can love your neighbor in any environment, and in any job or career.

Why do you work? Obviously, you work to earn a paycheck. And lots of us work because we want to earn tons of money. Why not? There’s nothing wrong with tons of money!

But why stop there?

Most of us can do something more.

Maybe you’re not earning tons of money yet. Maybe at the end of the month, you only have an extra fifty cents. Maybe you have a dollar extra, or even two. You may not think you can do much with that, but you can. You can pay for someone’s day.

Imagine that. One or two dollars is the same amount of money that people in some countries make in a day. It doesn’t matter how hard they work, or how many hours they put in. One or two dollars is all they can earn. That’s all anyone will pay them. This is chronic, intractable poverty, and it’s real.

So if you give a little extra, you can double somebody’s pay for one whole day. You really do have the ability to do that!

A lot of us work for more than money. A lot of us work hard because we’ve also set goals. We say, “I want to achieve something great! I want to get that raise, or that promotion, so that’s my goal. That’s achievement, man! That’s doing something great.”

That’s awesome, because there is so much you can do with that kind of ambition! Think about it. What’s the point of being great, if it’s just to be great? That’s boring. Wouldn’t you rather turn that ambition into a means to an end?

Are you working hard because you want to be the president of your company? Yes? Okay. But why?

“Well,” you might say, “because that’s my goal!”

But why is it your goal? What are you aiming for? Two million dollars a year? Ten? Fifteen? That’s awesome, but why? Why do you want to be rich? What for?

You might be thinking that you’d like to buy cars and boats and houses. You probably want to fly all over the world and enjoy luxuries. I understand! I think almost everybody understands. But the thing is, you can only do that so much. There are only so many boats or cars or houses you can buy before you start to get bored.

As a baseball player, I was all over the income map. I started out in apartments with the minimum, and now I live in a beautiful home. And I’ve learned that they both achieve the same thing. I sit on the couch and watch TV. I go in the kitchen and cook food.

It’s not like I wake up every morning in awe. It eventually becomes normal. It’s just a place to live.

So to me, if the only reason you want to work hard is to be in a beautiful home, eventually you’ll be disappointed. We all need more. We want fulfillment, man. That’s what we really want.

I understand working hard because you want to have a nice house for your family. We all want safety and comfort. But we can do so much more. We can dream much, much bigger dreams, and we can achieve them, too.

I found fulfillment in working hard because it gave me the ability to help out someone else. There are so many people out there who work just as hard as I ever did, and will never, ever, ever, be able to make more than two or three dollars a day. Those are the people I keep in my thoughts, every day of my life.

Did you know that you can actually help someone start a business, in countries like Uganda, Kenya, India, or Haiti?  You don’t even need much money. You can do microloans.

Here’s an idea. Get together with your yoga club or your youth group and put in a well. Depending on where you put your efforts, you can provide clean water for a whole village for as little as $2,000. Or you can use all that hard work and ambition and go as high as $10,000. Challenge yourselves!

There are a lot of things a well can do that we don’t think about, like provide education for a village’s children.

I got an education, and I never had to think twice about it. One morning my parents said, “You have to go to school,” and so I went to school. But there are kids all over the world who say, “I’d like to go to school. But I’m too sick. I don’t have clean drinking water. I’m literally wasting away from diarrhea. I’m so weak that I can’t walk.”

Or they say, “I want to go to school. But I don’t have time. My mom needs clean water to cook food and wash clothes, and we need drinking water too. But the well with the clean water is in another village, so I have to walk seven miles a day to bring forty gallons home.”

That’s why I want to encourage you to work hard and achieve at a high level! Then you can get together with three other people, and the four of you can chip in $2,000 each. With that, you can provide fresh water for 1500 people for life. You will eliminate 90% of their diseases. The kids can go to school and get educated, just like we got educated, without ever thinking twice about it.

If we can truly grasp what other people are going through, we’re going to want to work harder. Our goals will change. Our concept of greatness will change! You’ll say, “I want to be the president of this company so that I can make the rules.” Then when you become president you’ll say, “The rule is that a portion of this company’s funds is going to build wells.”

What do you think of that? Aspire to be a successful entrepreneur, so that you can take your company and go help people!

The world is full of opportunities for fulfillment, if you’re not just working for a paycheck and thinking only of your own comfort. There is so much you can achieve, if you start thinking about how to love your neighbor! That’s when you’ll really start to tick. That’s when you’ll truly enjoy life!

A Movement Conceived in Love

Last week, I described the ways that God has chosen to teach me about suffering, poverty, and injustice.

The more I study, the more He shows me. And I don’t get discouraged.

It’s the opposite! This growing awareness stokes a fire in me! Growing awareness means a growing passion to help. I want to serve people the way that Jesus served them. Jesus loved people! He showed His love through service, so that’s what I want to do. I want to stir a movement of people, all with the same idea in mind.

God’s love is at the heart of this movement I want to inspire.

It’s a movement that begins and ends with Jesus. It’s a movement that begins and ends with knowing Him and His love. It’s a movement that begins and ends with following Him, and realizing His mission.

Do you want to know what God wants you to do? Look at what Jesus did. That’s all you need.

Jesus redeemed people. He had a relationship with them.  He loved on them. And that’s why when He spoke, people listened to Him. They gave Him the right to have a voice in their lives.

And when they did, what did He say? He said, “The opportunity you have here is to love God. To love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And to love your neighbor as yourself.”  That’s it! Just love God and love others.

But we don’t love others. We just don’t.

Why do I say that? Well, are you telling me that you want to be enslaved? Are you telling me that you want to starve and eat dirt? So many kids are doing that, just to feed their appetite. How can we say we love them, when we wouldn’t want that for ourselves?

Do you want to drink the same water that you relieved yourself in, and bathed yourself in, and washed your dishes in? We wouldn’t want to do that! But for so many villages, this is reality.

So I want us to spread the idea of this commandment, this awesome commandment to love others as ourselves. This commandment is not about following a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s about respect for what He did for you.

The idea is that I have a right to decide who I’m going to have sex with, and not have sex with. The idea is that I have a right to choose what job I want to do, even if I have to pay a debt. I have a right to choose my destiny and my path in life. And to love others as myself is to recognize that so many people have that right taken from them.

You really feel it when it’s happening to kids. Their mom or dad might have sold them. Or maybe their parents died, because of bad drinking water, or lack of food, or HIV. So they have no parents and they get snatched up by slavers and thrown into a truck and sold. Maybe they get turned into child soldiers who wake up every morning knowing they have to shoot people, because somebody bought them and now controls them.

A lot of these scenarios are taking place. This really happens. Diseases from hunger, HIV, or lack of clean drinking water, is killing parents and leaving children vulnerable to slavers. These scenarios all work together.

What better opportunity for a Christian, hearing God’s commandments, to say, “Hey! I can help make a dent in this!” Wouldn’t you like to feel the joy of releasing a captive slave? Wouldn’t you want to see a well that has been broken open, and get to say, “I helped with that”? Imagine being part of the joy these people have when they realize someone loves them. What do you think it’s like?

I can tell you. It’s life! It’s life in Christ! And you would say, “I feel fulfilled!”  This is such a good thing! This is the love of Jesus!

This is His love because this is what He did. He freed the captives. He healed the sick, and fed the hungry. Once you get a taste of this, you’ll find you want to spend your life loving God and your neighbors.

I want every Christian to realize this. It’s my dream that every Christian be moved by the love of Jesus to show the love of Jesus in order to know the love of Jesus.

That’s my idea.

See you Friday.

World Poverty: We Can End This!

What if you took a Bible and a pair of scissors, and cut out all the verses where Jesus talked about justice, poverty, the poor, and helping really vulnerable people, like orphans?

What would be left?

A gigantic hole, that’s what. This is the basic point of The Hole in Our Gospel, a 2009 book by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision U.S. According to Stearns, this is basically what Christians have done. They’ve left a huge hole in the Gospel.

How do we do it? Somehow, we skip over those parts. We’re big into our “best life now” scenarios. We’re big into asking how Jesus can help me in my life. We use the Bible to find out how we’re going to be better. We focus on how we’re going to excel in life because we have Jesus.

Somehow we convince ourselves that the Gospel is all about us.

So how does that relate to what Jesus said? When a scribe challenged Him to name the first commandment, Jesus replied:

“The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

You shall love your neighbor as yourself! Jesus said that! But in our “best life now” scenarios, we lose it. We’re not loving our neighbors.

Part of the problem is that we think it’s too hard. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed when you read statistics on poverty. You don’t feel like you can help. When you read how bad these issues are, everywhere in the world, you wonder, “What can my one dollar really do? Or my fifty cents, or my five dollars? Or even my five hundred dollars?”

Stearns shows how the statistics can be overwhelming, and even depressing. They can make you do the opposite of what you are called to do, which is trying to figure out a way to make it better.

But Stearns also shows how statistics can be deceiving. You see, we can help. We can be effective. We can be very effective. We can end poverty! How? Easy! Don’t work alone. This is the calling of the Church. It’s the calling of the body of Christ.

Christian churches are supposed to be the pillars of their communities, and even the pillars of the world. Read about what Jesus did. Then read about the early church. Loving our neighbors as ourselves is the reason why Christians came together as churches in the first place.

We’ve lost that. We get into our own little bubbles. We create megachurches that offer yoga classes and Starbucks in the lobby. They focus on the comfort and nourishment of their own congregations.

I understand the importance of discipling. We all must become disciples. Some megachurches do radical, amazing things in this area, like the Los Angeles Dream Center. But all too often, megachurches give the impression that they are insular, turned within, and focused only on themselves. They make it look as though they are there for only one thing: seeing to the needs of their own congregations.

Christians are supposed to be the body of Christ in the world. Christians are supposed to be His hands and feet, His face, and His reflection. We are supposed to be a Church everywhere in the world. We’re supposed to connect to the communities of the world, so that we can figure out who needs help. And when we know who needs help, we’re supposed to get together and take care of them.

We’re supposed to help!

Jesus said, “I came to rescue.” He said, “I came to take people out of bondage.” He said, “I am here to bring joy to those who have none.” Based on how people responded to Him when He was here, he made good on those promises.

When He ascended to heaven, He left it up to us to continue His work. That’s what it means to be the Church. That’s our discipleship. That’s our fulfillment in Christ.

That’s our real “best life now” scenario!

Who is with me?

See you Tuesday.

United in Love

I do not lie in bed at night saying, “Man, I’m so awesome, I’ve won three world championships! Oh, I’m so cool!” I do not do that.

I don’t go home at the end of the day and say to my three boys, “Hey sons! Tell me what your dad did,” just to hear them say, “Dad! You won three World Series!” I would be so disappointed to hear my kids say that. I don’t want them to say that. I don’t want them to know me as some pro athlete that won a world championship. In five years, no one is going to even know I was on the team. Okay, Giants fans might remember, because they really love their team! But most people will not know who I am.

When I stand before my God and King, and He looks at me from the throne, what is He going to say? Not, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you won three World Series, congratulations!” That is not what He will say! And it’s not what I want to hear.

I want to hear Him say, “Jeremy, thank you. Thank you for promoting the Gospel. Thank you for taking the least of these and loving them. Thank you for using your talents to love other people, and for using your success to help other people succeed. Thank you, Jeremy, for joining the movement of people devoted to loving their neighbor as themselves.”

I want to hear that because that’s how I read the Gospel. I read in Matthew 25 about the separation of the sheep and goats, and I hear Jesus say that when you feed the hungry and give the thirsty something to drink, you will go into eternal life. You will be righteous if you do these things. If you do not do these things, you will miss the boat. I can’t read it any other way.

So think about that when you go to work. Students, when you’re in school, think about that. Take that passion you have for your neighbor and bring it to your job or your classroom, and join the movement. Because it’s stirring. It’s stirring in you, and it’s stirring in the world. This is our calling as a Church.

When I talk about Church, I’m not talking about the four walls of a building. I’m not talking about a Presbyterian church, or a Baptist church, or a Catholic, or Evangelical Free, or non-denominational church. I’m not talking about any of that. We need to unify, but I don’t see a need for everyone to unite in one denomination. That wouldn’t make any sense! We need diversity. Every believer needs to be able to go to the church where they were saved.

No, no. I’m talking about something else. I’m talking about uniting in our calling. I’m talking about uniting in our mission. I’m talking about unity of purpose, about bringing the Kingdom of righteousness and justice.

If we follow the commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength by loving our neighbor as ourselves, then we will unify the church. It’s in this commandment that we experience ourselves as one church. We are the body of Christ, and we have one calling. We are called to love.

When I stand before God’s throne, I hope to hear Him thank me for joining His movement, because this movement of love will unify the church.

See you Monday.