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.

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 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.

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.