The Lord Said! Really?

As I work with believers I often hear them say “the Lord told me…” or “I heard the Lord say…” followed by some nice thing that He is promising. Something He plans to do for them. An adventure that He is sending them on. A vacation. A blessing. A financial breakthrough. A calling. A ministry. The list is endless.

And, they are so sure that they have heard the Lord speak to them that they begin immediately to make decisions based on what they believe they have been told. And some of these decisions are fairly life-changing affecting family and friends. 

However, often what they believe they have heard simply justifies their existing lifestyle or the sin they are living in. Thus they don’t have to change and believe they are in the Lord’s will and thus He is blessing their current situation or circumstance and the decision they have made.

They don’t test what they are hearing to the Word of God, the Bible. They don’t seek the wisdom of more mature believers with whom they fellowship. They don’t take into account the timing of what they think they have heard. And, they don’t question that what they heard might not even be the voice of the Lord for them – but more their own desires and emotions. 

I have found over my 50+ years of walking with Jesus and listening to what people think that He has spoken to them that 90% or more of what they hear is simply their own emotions, desires, and dreams. It is their soul speaking to them and not the voice of the Holy Spirit living in their spirit. 

If God is truly speaking to us then, again by experience, I have discovered a number of things…

      • What He is saying will stretch you and make you somewhat uncomfortable and is usually life-altering.
      • Whatever He is asking you to do will be greater than what you are able to do on your own. You will need to join with others and work as a team.
      • You will need to go through a season of learning and growing; developing new skills and understanding.
      • What He is calling you to is most often not something you would desire in the natural.
      • It will cost you something. It comes with a price. You will be taking up your cross.
      • It will challenge what you know and cause you to grow spiritually before it begins to come to pass.
      • You will need to build new relationships with people who can help you to achieve what the Lord has spoken – someone to disciple you, mentor you, and walk with you in this stage of your journey. This will require you to submit your life to others and be accountable.
      • There will be many tests and trials along the way which you will need to go through so as to grow into the calling and be strong in your faith. Joseph, in the Old Testament, went through ten different tests before reaching the fulfillment of what the Lord said to him. (See “The Ten Tests” article in the resources section of ralphhoweminsitries.com)  
      • It will involve hard work and a good length of time to see what the Lord has said come to pass. 

So, my observation is that what most people think “the Lord said” is not Him at all. And, because people are fairly vocal about what they think the Lord said to them the world gets the impression that believers are unbalanced and not to be taken seriously. 

We need to be really careful with “The Lord said…” and make sure that He really did!

 

No Other Gods But God Only!

Speaking to people today it appears that they have numerous – and often many – gods before God Almighty. They worship money and all that it can do for them. The pleasure it can bring. They put technology before God and spend more time posting on Facebook and Instagram than they spend in God’s Word and in His presence. They have a seriously dysfunctional relationship with their followers on Facebook, their phones, and their many social apps. But they don’t care. They know something should change. But they just shrug it off. They think, “I’m fine with it. I like it. This is just my thing. Even if it’s wrong, even if God has something better for me, I don’t care.”

In the Old Testament, Gideon faced a similar problem with the people around him. They willingly bowed to idols and thumbed their noses at God in the process. But God was having none of it. With righteous passion, He told Gideon, “Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it” (Judges 6:25). Notice that God didn’t tell Gideon to help the people manage their idols, to shorten them by a few feet, just keep them under control. No, He commanded Gideon to tear them down. Cut down the poles. Don’t tolerate the idols. Crush them. Destroy them. Smash them. Obliterate them.

If you know your unhealthy obsessions are interfering with your most important relationships — with people or with God — it’s time to act.

Today.

This moment.

Now.

God doesn’t want you to have any gods before Him. Not a single one. God longs for you to know Him, to enjoy His constant presence and goodness, to walk by His Spirit, and to live in His love.

When Jesus saw a rich guy who idolized his money and things, Scripture says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack, He said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me’” (Mark 10:21 emphasis added).

Don’t miss Jesus’ motivation here for asking so much of this rich young guy. Jesus didn’t tell the young man to give all his money to Him and to His disciples, or to the building fund for the new temple. Jesus simply loved him. Do you see that? Jesus loved him. And Jesus loves you more than you can imagine. He doesn’t want you to allow yourself to be seduced into settling for something counterfeit. He wants you to embrace His grace, satisfied in your soul, because He is not only all you need but more than you can imagine. 

It’s interesting to me that at least in the Gospel record, Jesus didn’t tell anyone else to sell everything snd give away all their money. This is the only time that Jesus gives such a specific command. Why did He tell this guy and no one else to get rid of everything? It’s not because God doesn’t want us to have money and things; it’s that He doesn’t want money and things to have us. Without question, the things of this world had this rich man’s heart. They consumed him. He’d been seduced. And because Jesus loved him, He wanted him to have something better. So He commanded him to get rid of his idols and follow Him.

If you sense the Spirit of God nudging you (or maybe it’s more like a kick in the cursor), don’t ignore Him. He loves you. If your soul has been seduced into serving a counterfeit god, the one true God wants something better for you.

But gaining the better requires tearing down the idol.

Don’t manage it.

Destroy it. 

What Do You Worship?

The question is “what” do you worship – not “who” do you worship. I am quoting from a book I recently read while on a three week retreat in the north of my province….

And, please note my definition of idolatry. Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.

A friend of mine who visited a remote, impoverished village in India told me a story. He saw a woman sacrificing a chicken as an act of worship to her god. My friend was shocked to see such blatant, modern-day idolatry. After striking up a conversation with the woman, he was impressed with her. She was well-spoken, kind, and educated.

When he learned that she had visited New York City three years earlier, he asked what she thought of America. She explained that she hated it. She had never seen more idolatry anywhere in her entire life. When my friend pressed her, she described three areas of idolatry that she saw.

First, she said, not so gently, the Americans worship their stomachs. Her eyes wide as she talked, this woman from a simple village described the massive stores overstocked with food to sell to people who had already had too much to eat. Evidently this woman was offended by people who are overweight when so many people in her village go hungry. 

Second, she described how Americans worship television. From her perspective, they design their homes around the television. It takes the most prominent place in the most important room, and the furniture is arranged not for talking to people but for watching television. It was almost too much for her to comprehend that some people even allow a television in their bedroom — of all places!

Finally, she said the worst form of idolatry was in the relationship people have with their phones. She was deeply offended that people use them while driving. Even worse was that no one (at least in her experience) could have a full conversation without reading something on their phone.

Kind of gives new meaning to American idol, doesn’t it. My friend didn’t try to disagree with the Indian woman. He knew he couldn’t. Everything she said was true. And she hadn’t even scratched the surface. 

Without getting into our obsessions with food and media, I’m simply raising the question about what we worship when we click. You are probably not putting a statute of a turtle ahead of God, and you probably aren’t a star-worshipper, but is your obsession with your phone gearing out of hand?

Some of us can honestly answer no. We are already using technology with good boundaries. We control it. It doesn’t control us. We might have a healthy view of social media and how we interact with it. If so, I’m thankful, and you should be too!

Yet I know many well-intentioned followers of Jesus who are being seduced, sucked into, and consumed by the virtual world. They think, “I just want to help my business.” Or, “This will give more exposure to my ministry.” Or, “I just love staying in touch with so many friends and family members.” 

As I read this and then took a long walk to think about it I had mixed feelings and several distinct reactions. I was pleased that for several years now I have set boundaries on my iPhone. It turns on at 9:00a. Before that is my time with the Lord, in prayer, reading and studying the Bible. It turns itself off at 10:00p so that I have an uninterrupted 90 minutes to read before heading to bed. I work so many hours in front of the computer screen in my office (9:00a to 1:00p) with emails and texts and then shut it down and go about other things – appointments, meeting with non-believers, and time in my study writing a book I am currently working on.

But I did realize that I needed to put up better boundaries regarding how much time I “waste” watching television some evenings. I realize there are more productive things I can do. But, after a normal day and early evening I am tired and want to simply relax and not have to think. But, that is simply a rationalization and an excuse. So, I have been changing my evening routine and putting my time and limited energy to better use. Establishing boundaries. No longer spending more time binge-watching than I do with the Lord in any given day.

Idolatry is still very much alive in the world today … no matter where you live or what language you speak. And, with all the technology now available idolatry has become an acceptable aspect of life. It is time to reclaim the precious time the Lord given to us each day. 

Remember: Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.

Strength or Weakness

Did you know that we actually connect with people through our weaknesses. We may impress them with our strengths, but we connect through our weaknesses

Let me explain what I mean. Have you ever met someone, mentally looked them over, and considered the life you think they have? They’re nice looking for their age. Their spouse is attractive. They seem to have great kids. Their life seems to be together. In so many ways, it looks to you like they’re living your dreams. What do you think? “They’re just … so. … perfect. I don’t think I like them!” Right?

Isn’t that tempting to do? 

But that’s not real. You’re not really connecting with them. They’re not connecting with you. We want so badly to connect with others and we think that the best way to do so is by showing off our strengths. But it doesn’t work that way. 

Now, after you’ve spent more time with them and seen them in many different circumstances, you begin to get to know them, and you realize, “Oh. I never would have thought they struggle with some of the same things I do. They’re human after all. You know what? I really like these guys!”

Why? Because we connect through weaknesses.

However — and here’s the issue. We tend not to lead with our weaknesses. We hide our weaknesses and play to our strengths. And, at times, we hide our weaknesses and wear whatever mask we think we need to present to be accepted. We wear masks so that people won’t come to know how weak we really are and thus, we think, not want to connect with us. Not like us. 

How do I know that? Well, we only post on Facebook and other social media what we want people to see. Not the real you but the you that you would want to be. You show only your good side. In fact, you often just make stuff up and post it because you want to come across strong and in control. On Facebook and other social media we have filters that even make us look better in the pictures we post. So, we end up playing a part and playing the role we have created for ourself. But, in your heart of hearts, you know you’re not the person you present to the world. And, e know, deep down inside we are not connecting because the real “we” is no where to be seen. 

The danger is that we can become so used to showing our filleted self, so accustomed to the half-truths and exaggerations, that we don’t even know who our real self is anymore. Are you one person in one group of people and a different person in another group? Until you show who you really are, until you know and are fully known, you’re going to be longing for something more. You won’t really connect.

When we’re always filtered, when every selfie shows only our best side, we may impress some people some of the time. They may think, “Based  

Now that we’re on the same page about this, what do we do? Where do we go from here? How do we “turn off” our desire to constantly filter who we show the world we are? Well, some off-the-cuff suggestions would be:

      • Don’t use a filter every time on your photos
      • Try not to care so much about what people think
      • Just be yourself – if you still know what you are

All of this qualify as solid advice. But the truth is you can get advice like this anywhere. I’d much rather give you godly advice, wisdom that can come only from the source: God’s Word. I can give the solution to the problems with one simple phrase. Only Christ can remove the mask.

That’s it. When we turn to Christ, He removes the mask and the need to be someone you’re not.

Maybe you’re exhausted. You’re weary because you’ve already tried everything else you can think of. You’ve looked everywhere you can for affirmation. You’ve turned to one person after another, but you still haven’t found that thing you’re longing for. This is the promise you have from God, straight from His Word: You don’t have to remove the mask. When you turn fully to Christ, He does it for you!

Then you can finally drop the mask because you’re not getting your approval from Likes; you’re getting it from His love. You will no longer be living for the approval of people; you will be living from the approval of God. He will reveal the truth: you are acceptable to God through Jesus. You are the righteousness of God in Christ. His grace, His righteousness, is sufficient for you.

When you realize that Christ is all you have, you’ll find that He’s all you need. You don’t need approval from someone else because you have approval from Christ. When you turn fully to Jesus, you have the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead living within you. Your identity is not connected to how many followers you can get. Your identity comes from who you are following, and you are following Jesus. 

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NIV).

Have you ever experienced the Spirit of God? Have you ever called out to Him? Asked Him to come and live inside you? When you do, you experience freedom. When we all take the masks off — because our lives are better when we’re together, when we act as the Body of Christ, when we allow each other to see the “real” us — we will truly see the Lord’s glory.

Why? Because we truly connect through our weaknesses and not through our strengths. Because it is not about you and me. It’s not about our selfies. The reason we exist is to give Him glory. When we do, this Scripture says we will begin to be transformed — not into the person we think others want us to be but into His image, bringing ever-increasing glory.

Turn to Christ.

He’ll take your mask(s) off for you.

He’ll transform you into the image of Christ, not for the approval of people but for the glory of God. 

We’re not called to elevate ourselves (John 3:30); we’re called to deny ourselves and follow Him (Luke 9:23-24). The way to follow Jesus in a selfie-centered, social media world is to give Him glory in all we do.  

Surrender your selfies and social media accounts.

Let Jesus lift off your masks.

Be real.

Be you!

Sink or Swim

Former British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin (1923-29, 1935-37) is quoted as saying, “I am one of those who would rather sink with faith than swim without it.

The quote, when I read it a few days back, reminded me of three Bible characters; friends. They were put to the test as circumstances where they were living changed drastically. Now they were no longer allowed to practice their faith in the one living God of Israel. They could not practice their faith either privately or publicly. Often in the Scriptures we see people who have their faith tested. I would judge that these three young men went through one of the most severe tests of faith of any Bible character.

Shadrach’s, Meshach’s, and Abednego’s very lives were at stake. They were faced with a terrible dilemma, as the rules for practicing their faith while living in Babylon changed dramatically overnight. They faced a terrible dilemma. They said, “King Nebuchadnezzar is telling us to bow down and worship him instead of God, or he’ll throw us in this fiery furnace. We’re not going to bow down and worship a man, even if that man is a king. We believe that God will deliver us. We believe that God will rescue us. But even if He doesn’t, it will still be okay. We’re not bowing down to anyone but our Lord.”

Do you see that deep, inward, unshakeable faith in a trustworthy God? Theirs wasn’t a faith based on the outcome they desired; it was a faith based only on the character and goodness of God. 

Essentially these three teenagers stood boldly and declared,

“We believe our God can.”

“We believe our God will.”

“But even if He doesn’t, we still believe.”

How could they have such confidence? How could they be willing to die instead of making a lifesaving decision and then ask God for forgiveness later?

Because they believed that God is God and that He has everything under control, and that was good enough for them.

They knew that even if they died a terrible excruciating death in the flames of the king’s furnace, God was still God. They believed that the Lord was on His throne and that they simply had to do their part and trust Him.

The Key: It was a faith based only on the character and goodness of God. Not based on answered prayer or desired results. It was a faith based on who God was — His character — and not on what He had done or was about to do. 

You might be shocked at how your trial can reveal a depth of faith you never knew you possessed. 1 Peter 1:7 says this: “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honour on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world” (NLT).

When things are not always going the way you want them to or you are about to be overwhelmed by circumstances and your situation. When you are going through one of the many tests and trials of your faith and are wondering if you are going to survive. It is always good to remember three small words that appear in the Bible whenever someone has reached the end of the road and have apparently run out of options and no longer have any hope. Those three little words are: “But the Lord…”

Recently we were looking at the prophet Habakkuk. He didn’t get the answer he wanted from God, but still he believed and hung on to his faith. Although his life was about to grow even harder, still he chose to keep the faith. He knew, like these three young teenagers in the furnace, that God was still God. He knew God was still in charge. No matter what Habakkuk experienced, he kept coming back to those three little words that carry such enormous power:

“But the LORD…”

It would be good for us to remember those words when we are having our faith tested and tried. 

Write It Down!

When God says something to you, record it, because your spiritual enemy is an expert at stealing the seeds of truth that God wants to plant. You might keep a notebook just for such impressions or jot them down in your daily journal. You keep a daily journal, right? God may show you something from His Word or speak directly to your spirit, and if you don’t write it down or make some kind of record that you can refer back to, it’s way too easy to forget what He showed you.

I can’t tell you how many time this has happened to me. I’ll be wrestling with something I don’t understand and praying about it. “God, are you there? What’s going on? What do you want me to do in the situation? What are you up to?” Then I feel that God is showing me something, providing direction, or simply speaking personally to my heart. I have learned to write down what I believe God is saying to me. I write it down because inevitably, a few days later, I’ll be thinking about it again, and I might talk myself out of it. “Well, I don’t know. Maybe it was that late-night snack. Just some divinely inspired indigestion.” So I begin to doubt what I knew with certainty only a couple of days before. My awareness of God’s message to me seems to vanish unless I write it down.

When I record it however – in my electronic journal on my laptop – it becomes a spiritual anchor that tethers me to God and to the consistency of His promises. “Yes, I believe that God has spoken.” And better than that, I have a reference point that I can return to; it doesn’t depend on my mood or what I had to eat the night before. It’s there in print just as I originally received it. 

When you develop the disciple of writing down what God shows you and what you’re praying about, you might be shocked over a few years at all that God does. George Mueller (one of my spiritual heroes from the early years of my walk with the Lord) was a well-known evangelist who lived in the 1800’s. One day, his heart broke when he saw hundreds of homeless children fending for themselves on the streets of Bristol, England.

With almost no money to his name, he decided to start an orphanage, and over the next sixty years, Mr. Mueller helped care for more than ten thousand orphans. All throughout his ministry, he kept a record of his prayers, in a journal that ultimately filled more than three thousand pages. He recorded how one night there was no food to give the children the next morning for breakfast, so he begged God to do something. Early the next morning, a local baker knocked at his door. When Mueller answered, the baker told him he hadn’t been able to sleep the night before, so he had gotten up and baked three batches of bread, which he had brought for them. Another time, a milk truck just “happened” to break down in front of the orphanage on the exact day they had no milk for the children. Since the milk would have spoiled in the heat, the driver gave it to the orphans. All in all, Mr. Mueller recorded more than thirty thousand direct answers to his prayers. Just imagine ow this built his faith, as he saw God’s faithfulness laid out before him again and again, in black and white in his journal.

If you are anything like me, journaling is a challenge. I can’t count how many years I committed to journal daily, only to forget and quit in the middle of January. Finally, I had a breakthrough. I got this idea from another pastor who has experiencing the same problem… 

Someone gave him a five-year journal that helped his relationship with God more than anything else. Instead of pressuring him to write a couple of pages a day about his feelings, prayer requests, and important events, this journal was way simpler. Each page represented one day but will eventually cover five years. For example, on January 1st there are five lines to write on for the current year. Then just below those five lines are five more lines, for January 1 next year. And so on. So essentially he was writing a fifth of a page each day. And over a five-year period, you get to see what happened each year on the same day. The best part – instead of writing pages, he only had a few lines to fill in, making it easy to continue. 

He writes … “During the first year, I found it easy and somewhat meaningful. The daily discipline helped me keep God at the front of my mind as I recorded something I was praying about each day. But during year two, I noticed something that really impacted me. When I returned to the same day from the previous year to begin the next one, suddenly I realized how many things that had weighed on me then were completely handled now. Problems worked out. Challenges met. Prayers answered. Concern with one of my kids had been resolved and was no longer even on my radar. Losing a valuable staff member had seemed like a big setback, but a year later we had someone in place who was even more effective. A challenge with a friendship had course-corrected, and we’re now closer than ever before.

Journaling daily with a glimpse back to the previous year helped me see the bigger picture. Once I stopped obsessing over my present problems and started looking back to past ones, I could see how God was faithful in ways I might have missed otherwise. And the power of this realization came from one simple discipline: write it down.”

Hope that helps and encourages you to try journaling for the first time or to retry journaling if you have tried in the past and it simply faded out. 

A Fork in the Road – Part Four

Paul the apostle had a life-changing encounter with the Lord while on his way to persecute believers. It was such a dramatic encounter that his name changed from Saul to Paul. Paul served the Lord from that day forward with his whole heart. With passion. He recorded his new approach to life in Colossians, chapter three and we call it “The Passion Principle.” It reads, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (verses 23-24 ESV).

Paul serves as a pattern for this passion in at least three areas. 

1> He shows us what it means to be sold-out, no-holds-barred servant of Christ

2> He is a model of the character of a passionate servant of Christ

3> He is a model or example of the ultimate goal of life – sharing Christ with others

When you reach the fork in the road and decide to make Jesus Lord of your life … then Paul’s words become our mandate. “Whatever you do …” This means that Jesus is Lord of all of your life and every aspect of your daily life. We have looked at two of the three examples for how to live life that Paul the apostle left us. Let’s continue with the third.

For every true believer the ultimate goal is sharing Jesus with others. If we truly love someone — and we are called to love everyone — then we would want them to know Jesus and receive all that He has accomplished for them on the Cross of Calvary.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, then to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). Great passion (Paul’s “Passion Principle” – ‘doing things heartily’) … great passion requires the ultimate in compassion. That’s what makes Paul’s desire to reach the lost so profound: He was one of only three people in the Bible who offered to exchange his life for the salvation of others. Paul declared, “I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites” (Romans 9:3-4).

Moses shared Paul’s self-sacrificing passion for others. He asked God to blot him out of His book if the Lord did not forgive the idolatrous Israelites in the Sinai desert (see Exodus 32:32). God responded by forgiving the people. And Jesus, of course, not only offered His life but “gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6).

What did Paul mean by wishing to be accursed that Israel may be saved? He knew it wasn’t possible for him to be cursed in Israel’s place. But his heartfelt plea demonstrated his deep passion for those outside of Christ. He was willing to give up everything to reach his wayward countrymen. So he lived his entire life passionately in the face of painful opposition (from the same people he was wanting to see born again) to share the gospel. Eventually Paul did give up his life for his faith, but not before bending every effort to bring unbelievers to the Saviour to whom he owed everything.

Henry Thoreau, the rugged New England nonconformist of the nineteenth century, once went to jail instead of paying a poll tax in his state, for he knew the tax supported slavery. Thoreau’s good friend Ralph Waldo Emerson heard Thoreau was in jail and went immediately to visit him. Peering through the iron bars into the cell, Emerson exclaimed, “Why, Henry, what are you doing in there?”

The unperturbed Thoreau shot back, “Nay, Ralph. The questions is, What are you doing out there?”

Paul was in prison numerous times for preaching the gospel. I can imagine a friend coming to visit him and posing Emerson’s questions: “Paul, what are you doing in there? Why did you allow yourself to get arrested for preaching the gospel?” And I can hear the apostle’s bold response: “The question is, Why aren’t you in here too? Where is your passion for the lost?”

That question rings true to me: What else can be more important than sharing the Good News with others? 

Now, admittedly, you and I have not been called to the Gentiles as Paul was. Referring to the Gentiles, Jesus commissioned Paul “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in [Christ]” (Acts 26:18).

But just as surely as Paul was sent to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, you, too, have an assignment from God. As a Christian, you have been sent by God to share the good news with the people in your circle of relationships: family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbours. Paul wrote that God “has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Think of it. God came into the darkness at a great price — the price of His only Son — to rescue us and bring us back into His arms. Now He gives us the same task. We are to stride into the darkness and rescue as we were first rescued. Personally, I cannot imagine anyone who fully understands what Christ has done yet doesn’t have a powerful passion to pass on that gift to others.

Paul’s passion was great enough to land him in prison. And as you read this, there are Christians suffering all across the world because they dare to share their faith. Living with passion requires that we share the love of God as found only in Jesus with others. So those who fully understand the depth and power of God’s love for them march onward without hesitation. They know His power and grace will go with them — and be manifest most abundantly — when they dare to step into the darkness. 

Passion is not cheap. But it is real; it is priceless. It may cost your life, but it will save your soul. Generations of believers, now passed from the earth, handed down the gospel so that you could hear it. Now it’s your turn. You stand at a fork in the road as Paul did on the Road to Damascus – which way will you turn?

A Fork in the Road – Part Three

Paul the apostle had a life-changing encounter with the Lord while on his way to persecute believers. It was such a dramatic encounter that his name changed from Saul to Paul. Paul served the Lord from that day forward with his whole heart. With passion. He recorded his new approach to life in Colossians, chapter three and we call it “The Passion Principle.” It reads, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (verses 23-24 ESV).

Paul serves as a pattern for this passion in at least three areas. 

1> He shows us what it means to be sold-out, no-holds-barred servant of Christ

2> He is a model of the character of a passionate servant of Christ

3> He is a model or example of the ultimate goal of life – sharing Christ with others

We looked at the first one yesterday … let’s continue our journey into the truth of these verses and the passion with which Paul lived and we, as believers, are called to live every aspect of our daily life.

On December 1, 1955, a plainspoken African-American woman named Rose Parks boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to ride home – or so she thought. She, too, came to the fork in her road and a life changing and totally life-altering encounter. In her book, Quiet Strength, she wrote: “When I sat down on the bus that day, I had no idea history was being made — I was only thinking of getting home. But I had made up my mind. … I felt the Lord would give me the strength to endure whatever I had to face. It was time for someone to stand up — or in my case, sit down. So I refused to move.”

Though ordered by the bus driver to give her seat to a white man, Rosa Parks remained in her place. One thing led to another in her town and across the nation, and the legal conflict led to a ruling by the United States Supreme Court that racial segregation is unconstitutional.

Rosa Parks didn’t seek — and never claimed — credit for launching the civil rights movement. She only wanted to do what was right. She was passionate about generations of African-Americans who had been denied their God-given and constitutional status as equals among other Americans. She did something about it. A passion for others suffering wrong triggered in Ms. Parks a passion to do her part to make it right. That’s godly character making a positive difference in the lives of others.

I believe Paul would have approved of the stand (or the seat) Rosa Park took ad the suffering she was willing to endure for it. He cared a great deal about integrity. He didn’t want his words to be devalued or rejected because he failed to practice what he preached. He lived at a high standard of character so that his actions would enhance, not detract from, his message.

For example, as an apostle, Paul had the right to be financially supported by the churches that he served. It was a common, accepted practice among first-century Christians just as it is today — the congregation pays the minister by some means. Paul built a strong case for this protocol in 1 Corinthians 9:1-11. But instead of taking what was due, Paul worked on the side as a tentmaker to earn his own support, and many of those with him took other jobs as well. He didn’t want to be burden to the those he served, and he didn’t want anyone to wrongly construe that he was in the ministry for the money, bringing reproach on the gospel he preached. Paul was passionate about maintaining godly character so that nothing would “hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12).

Like an athlete in training, Paul knew he had to be in world-class condition and play by the rules or he would be the laughingstock of his event. If he was not passionate about developing strong, godly characters those who heard him would have every right to discount him and his message. And Paul was not about to let that happen.

Living totally committed to the Lordship of Christ includes pursuing godly character with passion. And since godly character is really the character of God forming in us, we must rely on the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit to help is become a person of righteousness and integrity who reflect Christ. As Paul explained in Galatians 5, character building is the process of saying no to the flesh while allowing the Holy Spirit to cultivate His character – pictured as fruit – in our life: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). That fruit grows from a life of passionate devotion to Christ. It grows when we do “all things as unto the Lord.” 

When the world sees that fruit, it opens its heart, suspends its disbelief, and is ready to hear our story; to hear our testimony and the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14 and Revelation 12:11).

A Fork in the Road – Part Two

Paul the apostle had a life-changing encounter with the Lord while on his way to persecute believers. It was such a dramatic encounter that his name changed from Saul to Paul. Paul served the Lord from that day forward with his whole heart. With passion. He recorded his new approach to life in Colossians, chapter three and we call it “The Passion Principle.” It reads, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (verses 23-24 ESV).

Paul serves as a pattern for this passion in at least three areas. 

1> He shows us what it means to be sold-out, no-holds-barred servant of Christ

2> He is a model of the character of a passionate servant of Christ

3> He is a model or example of the ultimate goal of life – sharing Christ with others

Paul – or Saul, as he was called then – was galloping along with his fellow persecutors, salivating at the prospect of dragging more Christians off to jail and maybe even to their death. Then suddenly — bam! — he was on the ground, blinded by a powerful light. A heavenly voice asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4).

Saul answered the question with one of his own: “Who are you, Lord?” (Verse 5). I’ve always thought it amazing that Saul answered his own question: “Who are you? Lord.” Those from the Jewish rabbinic tradition — which was Saul’s background – understood any voice from heaven to be the voice of God Himself. I think Saul knew before he even hit the ground that his life was about to change dramatically.

Nothing reveals more about how Paul saw himself after his conversion than the way he frequently identified himself: “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:1). Not “Paul, the famous apostle to the Gentiles.” Not “Paul the author of most of the New Testament epistles.” Just “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ” — period. 

When Paul met Jesus, he didn’t merely assent to the Christian faith. He voluntarily became Jesus’s bondservant. He gave the Lord everything he was and everything he had – his life and breath; his past, present, and future; his hopes and dreams; his passion for living.

Paul’s voluntary servitude to his Lord is even more significant in light of the culture’s laws concerning slaves. In those times it was common for poor people to sell themselves to the wealthy as slaves. In exchange for their labour they received room and board, and, if the master was kind, others benefits. For these people, being enslaved and fed was more acceptable than being free and starving.

Before Paul was born, Roman law stated that no Roman citizen who had been born free could be enslaved. But some unscrupulous people were taking advantage of this law for their own profit. For example, a working-class Roman citizen (we’ll call him Marcus) sells himself as a slave into the employ of a wealthy, unwitting Roman landowner. Sometime after the deal has been done and the money exchanged, Marcus’s accomplish, Gaius, approaches the landowner with papers proving Marcus’s Roman citizenship. “Too bad, mister,” says Gaius, “but Marcus is a citizen and, by law, cannot be enslaved. If you don’t release him immediately, I’ll call the authorities.” Marcus and Gaius take the money and run, and there’s nothing the hapless landowner can do about it. The two men are free to con other wealthy Romans in some other area of the empire. 

Due to the adverse effect of this scam on the Roman economy, a new law was enacted just before Paul came on the scene. The law stated that any citizen that sold himself into slavery could no longer claim free status — not ever. This new law closed the loop-hole. Voluntary slaves became permanent, lifetime slaves with no recourse for freedom. It was with this backdrop that Paul, a Roman citizen, gave himself to Jesus as a servant for life. Paul was so passionate about serving Christ that he signed himself over once and for all. He lived what the hymn writer so eloquently declared: “The world behind me, the cross before me; no turning back, no turning back.”

Being a Jew, the apostle Paul was also keenly aware of Mosaic legislation concerning voluntary slavery. The Law allowed a slave who truly loved his master to declare upon being set free, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free” (Exodus 21:5). The Jewish slave who remained in voluntary submission to his master bore an identify mark: “His master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever (verse 6). Similarly, Paul, having suffered extensively in the passionate service of his master wrote, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Galatians 6:17)

The life of passion for the Christian begins with total surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, It is through presenting yourself to the Master voluntarily, unreservedly, and permanently that you unleash the power of the passionate life. This then becomes your fork in the road.

And, it is the ultimate fork in your road. You are a slave; you are a human sacrifice laid voluntarily upon the alter. You die to the old life so that you may be reborn to the new, wide-open life of Christ and all His power. You die in order to live, you become a slave in order to be free, and you give away the world in order to gain your soul.

More next time….

A Fork in the Road – Part One

General Lew Wallace was travelling by train when he came to his fork in the road. How can that happen when one is travelling on railroad tracks? It happens within. One moment can change more than your life; it can alter your eternity.

Wallace was casually chatting with a colonel named Ingersoll as the train steamed along. Neither of the two men counted himself as a Christian, but that day they were discussing the life of Jesus. Wallace said, “Myths and superstitions aside, I think His life would make a great novel.”

Ingersoll immediately said, “I should say so, and you’re just the man to write it. Once and for all, throw out all the hocus-pocus and show Him to be the plain, common man he undoubtedly was — a good man, but no more than that.”

General Wallace took the advice. But somewhere along the journey of writing, his book took a fork in the road. So did the tone of his life. The more he read, the more he studied, and the more he reflected on the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the more convinced he became that Jesus was no plain, common man at all. Truly this was the Son of God. Wallace began in cynicism and finished in worship. His book, Ben Hur, has become a classic. 

Frank Morrison was travelling in elite legal circles when he came to his fork in the road. He was a bright, articulate lawyer who started out with a passion to debunk the “resurrection myth” forever — and he completed his work with another passion entirely. He agreed with the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes that if the facts of a mystery are examined logically and every possible explanation is systematically eliminated, the one that remains must be the explanation, no matter how absurd or illogical it seems. Morison engaged in what his profession called “discovery of evidence” and came to the conclusion that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day, beyond any doubt. The book he wrote, Who Moved the Stone?, is still a classic defence of the Resurrection.

But there is a third writer more extraordinary than either of these two — and at least this one, when he came to his fork in the road, was actually on a road! His name is Saul, and passion coursed through his veins in a way the world has seldom seen. As a kind of ecclesiastical hit man for the Hebrew religious establishment, he sought out Christians and persecuted them with ruthless, uncompromising commitment. When he made the same discovery as Frank Morison and Lew Wallace — that the One he persecuted was, in fact, the Lord of life — he rose from the dust and travelled along a new road for the rest of his life.

It was Paul who gave us the passion principle in Colossians 3:23-24…

“Put your heart and soul into every activity you do, as though you are doing it for the Lord himself and not merely for others. For we know that we will receive a reward, an inheritance from the Lord, as we serve the Lord Yahweh, the Anointed One!” (TPT)

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (ESV)

For him, “whatever you do” was reaching the lost for Christ. Evangelism was at the core of every thought, word, and deed. Paul serves as a pattern for passion in at least three areas. First, he shows what it means to be sold-out, no-holds-barred servant of Christ. Second, he is a model of the character of a passionate servant of Christ. Third, he is a model of the ultimate goal in life — sharing Christ with others

Over the next few days, let’s soak up all we can from the remarkable story of the apostle known as Paul. Let’s look at the example he left us after reaching his life-changing fork in the road.