Good and Faithful Servant

In recent posts, I’ve been focused on the causes of doubt, be it doubt in God’s existence or His purpose for us. These are the doubts that come from our own lives, when we struggle with failure or frustrated desires. But God is everywhere, not just in our personal circumstances. We have to remember that, because another kind of doubt arises when we look beyond our own circumstances. This one is a serious challenge. What are we supposed to make of God’s purpose when a newborn baby starves to death? What plan could God have possibly had in that?

That’s a tough question, and I don’t claim to know the answer. If we wanted to end poverty, we could. There’s enough money in this world to end poverty forever. But it’s not going to happen, because sin is in the world. Selfishness will always keep that from happening.

Instead, I think about the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.” As ambassadors of Christ, we are called to help bring the redemptive love of Jesus to the earth. That’s bringing the kingdom. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” That’s bringing the kingdom to earth.

I think God has a plan for how this is going to all work out. It’s a perfect plan. And there are so many ideas, so many talents, so many skills, so many different callings, and so many different passions among people that we are overflowing with opportunities to bring the kingdom. I don’t really know how much I can or cannot do. I won’t know unless I truly challenge myself, and I challenge myself more and more all the time. I am certain that I’m always going to try to do as much as I can. My biggest fear is that I’ll sit before the throne of God one day and He will say to me, “You gave me 90%. I needed one hundred.” I don’t want Him to say that. I want Him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I’m not saying that I’m working for my own salvation, because that’s not what I’m doing. I don’t have to! By the blood of Jesus, I am saved. No, what I’m trying to do is be a light. I’m trying to be a city on a hill. I don’t want to be one of those cities that didn’t light up enough. I want to be as bright as I can possibly be. I want to make sure that I’m hearing God call me. I pray for understanding, and pray that I’m doing what I need to do. I pray without ceasing that I will hear and respond to Jesus when He calls.

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

Just Sit and Listen

Recently, I’ve been writing about doubt. Doubt is a normal part of the lives of the faithful, especially when we’re facing failure. Humans are “show me” types who need to see to believe, so it’s really easy for us to wonder if God is truly with us when things are going wrong (or threatening to). Our Biblical ancestors were “show me” types just like us. They doubted just like us, even though they were eye witnesses to God’s miracles, signs, and wonders! If they saw and doubted, it’s no wonder that we doubt! But spending time in the wonder of creation can comfort and reassure us. It satisfies our need to see God and be shown His goodness. The amazing complexity and beauty of creation clearly reminds us of God’s incomparable sovereignty.

Sometimes, though, we doubt God’s purpose. Sometimes, even when we believe that He exists, that He is with us, and that He is sovereign, we doubt. We doubt that He knows what He’s doing!

This kind of doubt is particularly painful, and it’s particularly hard to overcome. We doubt God’s purpose because we are always trying to control our own lives. How often have you asked, “Well, if I were God, this is what I would do. Why isn’t He doing it?”

It’s so hard to give up control. There have been so many times in my life when I wanted God to do what I wanted Him to do. Yet in every case, with hindsight I can say, “Well, now I know why He didn’t do that. How awesome that I didn’t have my way! Look at how well everything turned out. What would have happened if He’d given me my purpose and not His? Thank you, Daddy!” God sees it too. He says, “Yes, I know. I’m God, remember? You can trust me. My thoughts are not your thoughts. My ways are not your ways. My way is better than your way. I created everything, remember? So I probably know what’s best!”

When we look back and see what God has done, we realize that we don’t have to control everything. We don’t even want to! It’s so much better to surrender control to God. He knows what’s best for you and He loves you so much. Be like Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus. She just sat there and listened. It comes to a point where you have to do the same thing. You have to just sit and listen. Trust and obey. Lean back, and fall into the arms of God. Say, “okay,” and believe that it’s all going to work out.

Whether things go your way or not, you can trust God’s purpose. You can depend on Him because He loves you. So just sit at His feet. Tell Him, “Okay. I’ll go with you on this. I’ll believe in this.”

It is so empowering to listen to the Spirit and understand that He is everywhere, not just in our circumstances. We are so blessed! Hearing His word and seeing His goodness can deepen our understanding of His global presence. Listening to Him deepens our sense of His grace. It guides us to understand that we are so important to His plan for all of humanity. You are so important to His plan! What happens when you understand that?

It is wondrous and awe-inspiring to understand, but it comes with its own challenges. Maybe it’s even more challenging than overcoming doubt! More about this on Friday.

God Clearly Seen

The most common cause of doubt is frustrated expectations. People doubt God because things don’t go the way they planned or wanted. “If God loves me and knows my heart,” they reason, “He would give me what I need, or what I long for.”

A lot of these people are parents, and they probably don’t do that with their own children. I don’t do it with my sons. I love them and know their hearts, but there are things they want that I won’t give them. Sometimes, I have to disappoint them because I know what will happen if I give them what they want. They don’t see that, though. They just want what they want. They don’t know that I’m protecting them from a bad outcome.

Sometimes they get frustrated or mad at me, but they never doubt that I’m their dad. They can see me! I’m right in front on them! God’s children can’t always physically see Him. That’s why, when He doesn’t give us what we want, we sometimes doubt His existence. We don’t realize that He doesn’t give us what we want because He wants to protect us. Instead we say, “Where is God? Let me see God.”

Well, it’s been a while since God walked among us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t see Him. We can see Him everywhere we look. Look at the Earth! Look at what’s around us. You know what will happen? You’ll find yourself saying, “There He is. There’s God.” You’ve just got to look at your chest moving in and out and say, “There’s something allowing me to breathe. There’s something that allows my brain to tell my lungs to suck in air and breathe out carbon dioxide. There’s God.”

You want to see evidence of God? Contemplate nature! This will help relieve your doubt. Just look at how a leaf is formed. Think of everything that must occur in order for a leaf to grow and develop. Science will show you that creation is very complex. You can’t just say that there was a Big Bang and then all of a sudden there was this incredibly complex creation. There had to be a Creator. There had to be something that developed this complex scenario and then set it in motion. Our bodies work in such complex ways. Our brains! We barely know anything about how the brain works.

There are so many things that can release doubt if we actually start thinking about them in a certain way. Paul’s letter to the Romans says that, too. Paul teaches us to look at the very nature of the Earth and know that there is a God. Just look at how the fish of the sea work. Look at how animals work. Look at how human beings relate. Look at how complex we are, and how our souls connect. Look at it all, and see what may be known of God.

Because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…  (Romans 1:19-20)

I’ll meet you back here on Tuesday.

See It to Believe It

Doubt was a big part of the experience of our Biblical ancestors.

Consider the Israelites. God rescued them from Pharaoh’s army by parting the Red Sea. “There must be a God!” the people said. “He parted the Red Sea!” Moses told them to have faith. He said, “God is going to give us the ability to cross this sea.” He smote the water with his staff, the waters parted, and the Israelites crossed safely to the other side. Having seen it, they believed. They said, “There must be a God!”

But then after forty years in the desert, wandering in circles, seeing the same thing over and over again, they doubted. They said, “Well, maybe He isn’t who we think He is.” And so they made a Golden Calf. They made the image of the God they wanted, because they doubted the God who is.

Think about all those people in the Bible, man, they saw God work miracles, signs and wonders, and still they doubted His very existence. They kept asking “Are you really Him?” Look at John the Baptist! This was the guy who prepared the way for Him and still, when he wound up in prison, he sent people to Jesus, saying, “Hey, ask Him! Ask Him if He’s really the guy.”

This is after John personally witnessed signs and wonders. He stood with Jesus in the Jordan River, and saw the dove come down from heaven. He saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus as he baptized Him, and still he wondered, “Are you the guy?”

Faith takes trust, but we have to see something to believe it. We can’t help it. We’re physical beings. Suppose you tell me there’s a tree right in front of me. If I can’t see it, I won’t believe it’s there.

I’ve had people tell me, “Well, you don’t see air, but you trust that you’re breathing.” That’s not a good example. I can see my chest moving in and out. That’s how I know I’m breathing — I can see my body functioning!

Sometimes I suspect that the people with the least amount of doubt are blind people. They really have to trust. If someone tells a blind person there’s a tree in front them, they need to believe it. They have to believe it when they hear the beep that tells them that it’s okay to cross the street.

Jesus declared, “Let the blind see.” I think he said that because he wants everyone to see the sovereignty of God.

But can we? Is there physical evidence of His sovereignty that will satisfy us “show me” types? Sure there is. I’ll tell you next time. See you Friday.

Scared to Death

When I was a professional athlete, I didn’t trust people well at all. I struggled with trust. I was a very insecure person. I was scared. What do you think I was scared of? I was scared of failing. Failing! I was scared to death. 

Two things drove me: fear of failure and fear of success. I battled with it all the time. I’m not going to lie to you, man, fear of failure is what drove me to success on the mound. You can see clips of me pitching in the World Series. You can look up my stats. You can see that I was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, and you can probably find video of me crying after we won. But I’m telling you right now, I didn’t make better pitches in the postseason than I made during the regular season. In fact, I made some terrible pitches in the postseason and got away with it. 

So why did I put up those numbers? What drove me on that mound to have such intense focus?  It was fear, man. Fear of failure. I didn’t want to be the loser of the 2014 World Series. I didn’t want to be the scapegoat. That would follow me around my whole life. “Jeremy blew it in Game 7, boo, we hate you.” I am not going to lie. I was driven to compete because I was scared to death. 

Everybody’s like that. It’s not just me. Everybody’s afraid of some kind of failure. I’m tired of us not being able to talk about it. I’m tired of us not being able to say how we really feel. We’re all afraid of something, but we hide it because we don’t trust. 

Instead, we make things up. Somebody asks, “How are you doing?” and you say, “I’m doing great!” Only you’re not. All someone has to do is look at your wife. I can look at anyone’s bride, and I can see if they’re doing great or not. I’ll ask somebody at church, “How are you doing, man?” And he says, “I’m doing great!” Then I look at his bride. She’s just sitting there looking at him,  shaking her head. She’s like, “You’re a jerk.” Sound familiar?

We say we’re doing great even when we’re not. I did it all the time. I faked it to make it. I didn’t trust people very well. But that’s been changing. I’ve found a few people that I can trust with me.

Everybody needs a few people they can trust. It doesn’t have to be a whole lot of people. You only need a few. They just have to be the people that you can trust to love you, not judge you or shame you.

They have to be the people that you can trust with your whole self — all of you — the worst of you as well as the best of you. You have to know that no matter what, they will love you. They might hold you accountable when you mess up! In fact they should, because sometimes you need their help in order to grow. You only need to know that they do it out of love.

Hot, Sweaty, Uncomfortable

Why do we shame each other? You hear it in church all the time. “Shame on him! Shame on her! That is so wrong!” You might even say it to yourself.

This is a terrible way for us to hurt each other. Can you honestly say that you have never lived in your flesh? You’ve never acted out? Never cut someone off in traffic? Never flipped someone off? Never yelled at someone? Never gossiped? Never had a bad thought about anybody? Never lied? I know you can’t say that, because none of us can.

But we shame one another anyway. Why?

We do it because we don’t understand trust. We don’t understand that we have a companion and savior we can trust, named Jesus. We don’t understand that we can seek and find a few people who will love us no matter what. We don’t even dare to imagine what that could be like. So we wear masks in the hope of hiding our shame. We try to show, “Nope! I’m perfect! This is who I am!”

It’s not true. Masks are fakes, and they are uncomfortable fakes. Kids take their Halloween masks off all the time, right? Masks are uncomfortable and they don’t want to wear them anymore. You will get hot and sweaty behind your mask, too. You won’t breathe well at all. Masks may start out comfortable, but they won’t stay that way for long.

It’s not fun to wear a mask, but that’s what happens when you try to hide your shame. You think, “I’m not a good person, so who will love me? I have to look like I’m good. I’m going to have to fake it. I’m going to have to put on this mask. It’s going to make me look like I’m always doing well, and I’m going to always try to act as if it’s true.”

It’s very exhausting.

It’s so freeing to get into relationships where you don’t have to hide your flaws. It’s so freeing just to be liked, flaws and all. It’s even more freeing to be liked and loved, just as you are. When that happens, it’s easier to accept that you will make mistakes and have problems. The flesh will always be the flesh, but there is grace for us in Jesus and in the people He brings into our lives. Mistakes, problems and flaws all come with the territory, but in trust, you are freed from the shame of it. You’re free! Just because a few people love you, and even like you.

In Christ, the truth will set you free. There’s no condemnation now. Grace abounds over sin, and you are invited to live in grace. You can live a righteous life.

That’s what happens when you take off the mask and let people see the Spirit of God.

Your First Step

And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”

And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Matthew 14:29-32

A couple of years ago, I broke the rules. You know how everybody acts in church, going around greeting each other and asking, “How are you doing?” And everybody is saying, “Blessed, blessed, all blessed, I’m so blessed, oh man, God is so good.” 

Well, one day somebody asked me, “How are you doing, Jeremy?” And I said,  “Shitty.”

“What!?” he asked. “Yeah,” I said. “I’m having a rough one. I flipped a guy off on the way to church today. I got mad at my wife because she wasn’t dressed in time. We were running late, the kids wouldn’t get in the car, they wouldn’t listen, I mean, I am having a really rough day.” And I gave him the look. You know. The one that says, “What are you going to say to that?” 

Obviously I shocked him. What was he supposed to say? He gave me the stock answer. “Ah, well, man,” he said. “I’ll pray for you.”  

But I pressed in.“Will you?” I asked. “Will you pray for me? When? You could have prayed for me right now, but you didn’t. You’re walking away! You say you’re going to pray for me, but what are you actually going to do? You’re just going to go to the next person and ask them how they’re doing. Then you’re going to go on with your week. You’re not going to pray for me.”

I think I kind of got into the guy a little bit. I’m pretty sure he never asked me how I was doing again. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so blunt, but I was tired of acting like it was all good when it wasn’t.

We’re not very honest in church. The problem is that we don’t trust very well. We don’t trust the men that we golf with. We don’t trust the friends that we go out to eat with. We don’t trust our wives. We don’t even trust the men in our men’s groups. We don’t trust because no one really wants to reveal their shame. No one wants to be “the guy with the issues.” We want to fit in with our little groups. So we don’t speak up. We don’t tell anyone when something is wrong. 

We’ll never experience true freedom as long as we go on this way. Every single one human being needs to be truly known by a few. Every single one of us needs high trust relationships. In a high trust relationship, you are known for who you really are. You can trust someone to love you no matter what.

In a high trust relationship, you can a few people, the ones who knows the worst of you and the best of you, to always love you.

To get to high trust, you have to be able to take that first step. You have get out of that boat and walk on the water. It’s a leap of faith. The wind is blowing, and you have to take that step. When you do, you’ll find out what Peter did. Someone will catch you.

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

Hypocrisy or Healing?

After this he went out and saw a man named Levi at his work collecting taxes. Jesus said, “Come along with me.” And he did—walked away from everything and went with him.

Levi gave a large dinner at his home for Jesus. Everybody was there, tax men and other disreputable characters as guests at the dinner. The Pharisees and their religion scholars came to his disciples greatly offended. “What is he doing eating and drinking with crooks and ‘sinners’?”

Jesus heard about it and spoke up, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders—an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.” Luke 5:27-32

The Church is the whole body of Christians, believers who confess that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. Believers in the teachings of Jesus. The Church is here to bring good news to the afflicted, heal the brokenhearted, and bind up their wounds. Jesus said, “I didn’t come here to heal people who are healthy! Healthy people don’t need doctors.”

It’s very healing to expose sin and bring it into the light. It’s transforming! The problem is that in the church, it’s really hard to come clean about your sin. Too often, when someone exposes their sin they feel judged. You can talk to a lot of people that have been wounded by the church, right? They looked for healing and they got hurt. Now they look at Christians and say, “Those Christians are judgmental. They are hypocrites!”

I had one person respond to my blog recently who said, “You know what’s wrong with the church? You’re a bunch of hypocrites!” And I said, “Actually, human beings are hypocrites. People aren’t hypocrites because they belong to churches. People are hypocrites because they’re human. Being hypocritical is just being human.”

Nobody lives up to what they hope to be all the time. We go to work and come home and go to church, and we try to portray ourselves as cheerful and blessed, but we don’t always add up that way. In times of trouble, hurt, and shame, we’re supposed to be able to trust the church. The church was built to be trustworthy. It was built to be a place to get healed. But the church doesn’t always add up either.

That can have tragic consequences. It means that there are Christians who have been Christians for 50 years, but they are still living in shame and brokenness. They are afraid to reveal it because everyone expects them to be some kind of key icon of faithfulness. It means that there are wise old men who are afraid to reveal who they really are. Senior pastors fail all the time because of that. They’re afraid to reveal who they really are because they know they’ll be judged – in their own church.

So many people are afraid to seek healing. In church! They’ve seen the judgments, so they don’t want to look for help when something is wrong. They don’t want to reveal their sin and shame. They think, “If I reveal a sin, then someone’s going to get angry and judge me. I can’t be honest because I can’t deal with feeling worse than I already feel.”

This isn’t true in all churches. I’m not generalizing. I’m just saying that in a lot of churches, we get it wrong. We are not here to judge. As believers, we are called by Jesus. We’re called to heal. We’re called to love!

To Replace Control With Trust

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10

When we try to avoid sin, we will be frustrated. It can’t be done. Nobody can avoid sinning no matter how hard they try.

What’s worse, when we try to live without sin we frustrate others as well as ourselves. Especially our loved ones. When you make your life about avoiding sin, you live with unrealistic expectations about yourself and others. “I can live without sinning, and so can you.” How unrealistic is that? You’re not perfect. Nobody is perfect. Inevitably, your expectations don’t pan about. Inevitably you or somebody else sins, and you react. You’re frustrated, or maybe even angry. Those reactions come from the flesh. By trying to avoid sin, you’ve set yourself up to sin!

That’s why grace is so freeing! Grace gives you the freedom to trust yourself and others. When you live in grace, you don’t have to work day and night to contain your behavior or control the behavior of others. When you understand that you can be honest and confess, and trust that you will be forgiven, you don’t have to make your life about avoiding sin. You can make your life about grace.

Grace transforms your relationships. When that happens, your life will change. You’ll lose your former life of unrealistic expectations and the divisive, painful reactions they provoked. You’ll experience something so much better. You’ll experience trust.

1 John talks a lot about this, but people misinterpret it. 1 John is read as if it says, “Do not sin, and if you do any of the things on this list, you’re going to hell.” But that’s not what it says! It says that if you live a life of sin, with an attitude of sin and a habit of sin, and if you live with hatred towards people and God, then hell is definitely a destination. But it is not telling you that must avoid sin. It says, “Listen, you’re going to sin. But you have to realize that when you live in Jesus you are made righteous and holy. Live in that. Confess and God will purify you.”

You can still have all kinds of issues when you live in grace. And think about it. If you could never sin, then the death of Jesus wouldn’t make sense. If His death didn’t save you from your sin, then it was pointless for Him to die. Jesus’s death was not pointless! Living in grace does not mean that you don’t sin. It means that you replace control with trust. Now you trust that you are forgiven. And that is freedom!

It’s So Good to be Known

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
    rise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:11-14)

The Bible says to expose sin and bring it into the light. When you do, the darkness transforms. It becomes light!

For this to happen, you need to trust other people with you. 

I need a few people I can trust. We all do. When you find a few people you can trust with you, then you can finally mature. I’m talking about maturing as a human being. When we trust ourselves to somebody, we can feel our souls maturing. We can feel our spirits maturing. We grow out of darkness when we find some people that we can truly trust.

There are 70-year-old men who haven’t matured because they don’t want to reveal weakness. They want to look tough and figure everything out on their own.

There are dads who don’t mature because they don’t want to feel weak to their sons. They always want to look tough and strong.

There are sons who don’t want to show any weakness so they begin to challenge their families. They challenge their dads. They argue with their moms. They refuse to show remorse because they don’t want to feel weak. They rebel because they want to prove they’re tough.

Men of all ages struggle to mature because they think they have to look tough. But if you hide your weaknesses and do not trust, then you will not mature. If you have an area of weakness and you’re too afraid to tell somebody about it, then you will stay in that darkness. It will get worse. It will cause a lot of issues in your life. It will hurt you. It could even ruin you. 

That’s what shame does. That’s what Satan does. He shames you and then he tells you to hide.

It happened at the beginning of time. When Adam and Eve sinned they hid from God. God was walking through the garden and there they were, hiding from God. I am pretty sure you can’t do that! But they tried, and God played along.

“Hey, Adam, Eve, where are you?”

“We’re over here, God.” 

“I know. I’m just trying to appease you.” 

Right? Adam and Eve were covered up and hiding, even though they knew you can’t hide from God. But they were scared! That’s why they hid.

I think everyone knows how this feels. It happened with the first two people, the parents of all human beings, and ever since then, Satan looks for ways to shame us. Any chance he gets.

But Jesus says, “No. No more shame.” When He died on the cross, He said, “It’s over.”  

That’s why it’s so good to be known by a few. The Bible says it’s like waking up from death! It’s so good to be loved in our fear and shame. That’s what it is to be spiritually mature. To trust a few people with you is to release yourself from shame. Your so-called “weakness” dies, and in its place you live in the light.