The Tradition Keepers – Part One

My parents had a set of rules by which we, as a family, lived. They were based loosely on the Ten Commandments. Sort of rules that help us to apply the rules. Some were well known and referenced often. Other were somewhat unspoken but recognized and upheld nonetheless. 

Mt parents were not the first to establish a secondary rule to keep someone from breaking a primary rule. Thousands of years ago certain religious leaders were making careers out of it. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, more than five hundred rules had been added to the laws handed down to Moses by God Himself. This ever-growing body of regulations was called “the Tradition of the Elders.” Its sole purpose was to prevent the Jewish population from accidentally breaking one of the original commandments. For example, the Law of Moses forbade commerce on the Sabbath; so they added a clause that forbade the handling of money on the Sabbath, thereby ensuring that no one would violate the original Sabbath law. Over time, the religious leaders had assigned to these traditions a status equal to the Law of Moses.

To the continued chagrin of the Pharisees and Sadducees – the self-appointed guardians of “the Traditions” – Jesus paid very little attention to their traditions. While He and His disciples observed the Mosaic Code, Jesus seemed to go out of His way to violate the man-made laws of the Jewish hierarchy. The religious authorities would often point to these infractions as evidence of His blatant disregard for the Law, thereby refuting His claim to be a spokesman for God.

Matthew records once such incident. Interestingly, the rule that got Jesus into hot water on this occasion was a rule we had around our house when I was growing up. He forgot — well, I guess Jesus never forgot anything. He decided not to wash His hands before He ate. And His disciples followed suit. This was troublesome to the Pharisees, just like it was to my mom.

According to the Tradition of the Elders, everybody was suppose to wash from the tips of their fingers all the way down to the elbows before partaking (there’s a neat church word) of food. Persnickety as it may seem, the Tradition of the Elders went to great lengths to explain how one should wash his hands before eating. Beyond basic hygiene, this rule was designated to keep people from accidentally becoming ceremonially unclean — that is, to keep a person from unintentionally putting the wrong thing, or something that had touched a wrong thing, into his or her body.

But washing your hands before a meal wasn’t required by the Law of Moses. Sure, it’s a good idea, but the rabbis had made it a standard for righteousness. Over time this rule had taken on the same significance in the Jewish community as the original laws handed down at Mount Sinai.

But Jesus ignored this rule and didn’t insist that His followers apply it either. Here’s how the whole thing went down as recorded in Matthew 15:1-20 (you can read the whole story ahead if you so which before moving on…)

“Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat (verses 1-2).

Clearly these guys needed something to do. Here they are, standing in the presence of a man who heals the sick and calms the seas with His words, and they’re in a tizzy over the fact that He doesn’t wash His hands before meals. 

Jesus answers their question with a question (which He often did).

“And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (verse 3)

He turns it right back around on them. The Pharisees accuse Him of ignoring the rules they’d tacked onto the Law. Jesus in turn accuses them of breaking God’s law in order to keep one of their tacked-on rules. Then before they can respond, He launches into a scathing mini-sermon. He doesn’t hold back. Calls ‘em hypocrites. He accuses them of nullifying the Word of God for the sake of their homemade traditions. It is brutal.

As soon as He finishes with the Pharisees, Jesus turns His attention to the disciples (who were probably busy high-fiving each other over the spectacle of seeing the religious referees beaten at their own game). He picks up on the cleanliness theme the Pharisees have introduced:

“Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? (verse 17)

Now there’s an insight. What enters a person’s mouth will ultimately pass through the body and exit … I doubt anyone wrote that down, except Matthew. But now that He has their undivided attention, Jesus drives home His point.

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (verse 18).

His point? God isn’t nearly as concerned about what goes in our mouths as He is about what comes out of our mouth. God isn’t nearly as concerned about what goes into our bodies as what comes out of our bodies. This is new territory for the Jews; they were extremely cautious about what they put in their mouths. Now Jesus was saying that God was more offended by what came out than what went in. 

But it was this comment that must have gotten their attention: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” 

The heart? Everything that comes out of the mouth comes from the heart. Everything? Did He really mean that? At first glance, I’m inclined to disagree. Surely, not everything that comes out of my mouth originates in the heart?

If you’re like me, there have been plenty of times when you said stuff you didn’t really mean. Again, we’ve covered our mouths and muttered, “I don’t know where that came from!” But apparently, Jesus would respond, “I do. It came from within. It came from your heart.” 

But it gets worse.

Jesus goes on to say that the heart is responsible not only for our words but for our deeds as well.

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (verses 19-20).

Evil thoughts? I thought these originated in my …mind. If Jesus is right — and I’m betting He is — my mind isn’t the source of all my thoughts. It goes deeper than that. My evil thoughts originate in my heart. Take a look at the other items on His list. They are all actions, deeds, and behaviours. And they all come from the heart as well.

The implications of this are huge. More next time….

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.

God Is Watching You! – Part Two

Yesterday we saw that we are to be doing all things as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24). When we do so we will do things with extreme passion as we know the Lord is watching everything we do. And, we looked at the parable of the sheep and goats and saw that we are to treat all people with dignity, respect, and lots of love. And to do it passionately because we are doing it “onto the Lord.”

This principle is, of course, fondly known as the golden rule, and we see Jesus mentioning this in Luke 6:31-38 in The Message version.

“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behaviour: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.

“I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”

It would be wonderful to live that way, but how is it done? The golden rule sounds simple but proves difficult to live by. What is the secret to handling people as Jesus says we must handle them? For Brother Lawrence (see blog for July 28, 2020), it was an all-day, every-hour, wide-open passionate and personal intimate relationship with God. He experienced more joy in the kitchen than anyone with a million-dollar allowance at the world’s finest luxury resort — because Brother Lawrence was with God, and that showed him to pots and pans, and fellow monks in the monastery, in a whole new light. It enabled him to live by the golden rule.

We are empowered to live a truly passionate life when serving God is the object behind everything we do. Our passion is diluted when we live only to gratify self or win the approval and acceptance of others. Peter and the other apostles of the early church made it clear who was at the center of their activities: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The passionate ministry of those dedicated leaders resulted in thousands of people turning to Christ and the establishment of the early church.

Paul wrote, “Do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). Remember, Paul had been a very successful Pharisee, a well-educated man, a Roman citizen with every privilege that status entailed. Yet he gave it all up to follow his passion for Jesus Christ. He was consumed with that passion, and it gave him joy in every circumstance — even while sitting in prison or waiting for slow legal appeals when he wanted to be travelling and preaching. “To live is Christ,” Paul said, “and to die is again” (Philippians 1:21). There is no reason that you and I cannot live with such an unsinkable view of reality. And, to live that reality with passion. Embracing every day, engaging every person, living life with enthusiasm and expectancy. 

This is how a Christian is to live. And we need to remember that God is truly watching everything that we do and hears everything that we say. So, let’s made a decision right now and choose to live life passionately and for an audience of one – God, our Heavenly Father. 

God Is Watching You! – Part One

David Seamands, author and professor, tells a story about his seminary’s cafteria, which shared facilities with a college campus. One day, as the students moved through the lunch line, they found a basket of bright red apples. A sign places by the staff read, “Take only one please — God is watching.” The students progressed through the line, selected their courses, and reached the other end, where they found a box of broken cookies. There was another sign, this one hastily scrawled on notebook paper, clearly left by a student. This one read, “Take as many as you want. God is watching the apples.”

We chuckle because we understand that God is watching indeed, but He has no blind spot. He is watching the apples, the cookies, and everything else. Most of all, God is watching us. How often do we consider that fact? How much of a difference would it make in the lives of you, your family, your friends, and your coworkers if you lived with that message in mind all the time: God is watching. Perhaps you would find that to be a crushing burden. But perhaps, if you knew who God really is and understood His love and His grace, you would instead live passionately and on purpose. 

If God is watching — and smiling upon you — then you would want to please Him every moment. If God is watching — and love that hurting person in the next cubicle at work — then you would want to minister to that person because you know that is what God wants you to do.

The apostle Paul knew that Gof is watching. He challenged us in Colossians 3:23-24 to do everything passionately, “as to the Lord and not to men.” We work as to the Lord at the office, but that’s only the beginning. We work to the Lord while grouting the bathroom tile. We work as to the Lord when we stand to sing in church and when we change a diaper in the church nursery. There is no task in this world you cannot perform with passion, as long as you remember who that task is really for and all that He has already done for you. How you do it will reflect how you feel about your Master.

Brother Lawrence is a well-known monk even thought he lived in seventeenth-century Paris, France. He lived with a group of Carmelite monks. He was no deep thinker or learned theologian. But he had a very special gift: an understanding that God was with him everywhere. That transformed everything about Brother Lawrence, and his writings on the subject have transformed countless others. 

This particular monk, you see, was assigned to the kitchen. He cooked and cleaned for his Carmelite bothers. Kitchen drudgery? Not to him. Scouring every pot and rinsing every dish were extensions of his worship and service to God, as important as any other task in the monastery. He would pray, “Lord of all pots and pans and things … make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates!” He would tell others, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.” He called it practicing the presence of God, and we could all use a little practice of that kind.

In the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus illustrated how our passionate good deeds go much further than the people for whom we do them. God, pictured in the story as a great king, says to his righteous servants: “… ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me’” Matthew 25:34-36 ESV)

The servants are puzzled. Their master has never suffered in any of these ways. They ask him to remind them when he, a king, was ever hungry, thirsty, lonely, or naked. And he replies,   

“‘Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:40 MSG.)

It’s interesting that Jesus uses down-and-outers to illustrate that passionate service to others is, in fact, ministry to Him. Perhaps because we find it difficult to serve people who are dirty, disrespectful, or potentially dangerous to us; it’s easier to be passionate about helping people who we consider deserving. But as Jesus explained in the Sermon on the Mount, it’s not up to us to make those kinds of evaluations. As long as the one who crosses our path is one who was created and loved by God, then we can be certain we must serve and love him too. And however we would wish to be treated, we can be certain were must treat that person the same way.  

More next time…

The Pursuit of Happiness

When I was growing up I loved to listen to the old 78 rpm records that my Mom and Dad had in their record collection. One in particular was my favourite: The Bluebird of Happiness by Jo Stafford (You Tube: https://youtu.be/af8oPFjzs2s).

It seems that today people are puzzled about where exactly the bluebird of happiness makes her nest, because all around us are passionless lives, lives idling in neutral, and lives out of focus. Deep down in our soul, we feel that there must be more to life than we are currently experiencing. It seems that life should be lived in fourth gear and we are still in first gear. Some live in reverse. From a distance they have caught sight of the exotic quality called passion, exhibited by certain characters from books or in the movies and, every so often, someone we meet in the real world. 

Years ago I made the decision to live each day fully. To grab hold of each day early in the morning and live every minute with passion. You know, get involved, be engaged, make life happen, don’t just let life happen to you. Be pro-active and not reactive. Live with enthusiasm. Grab the tiger by the tail and swing it for all it’s worth. Don’t settle for what is. Be excited. Anticipate, Live with enthusiasm, engaged fully.

It seems today that people don’t live life with a sense of excitement and anticipation. Not even the Christians who. you would think. would be passionate about life considering al that Jesus has done for them. 

So the question: How do we bring real, living excitement into this life? Not some cheap, store-bought, amusement park-simulated excitement — we want the genuine article. And, an excitement and enthusiasm that lasts, not a high gained through alcohol, sex, or drugs. What is there that could possibly make us eager to leap out of bed in the morning, filled with laser-intense purpose, exhilarated about the prospect of another twenty-four hours in earth?

We would like to know, because many of us are not living a life wide-open, full throttle. Not by a long stretch. We’re closed shut. We are passion-impaired, though we have surpluses of longing, yearning, hopelessness, loneliness, and purposelessness. Maybe we can remember the times when our blood was really pumping, when our heart was skipping beats, and when it seemed there was some purpose we were reaching toward with everything in us. But that was long ago, history. So, we long for a time, when we can live and experience the passion and purpose of a full life. 

As I read about the life and ministry of Jesus I see a life lived wide open. I see a man who embraced each day and lived each day to the fullest. I see Jesus engaged and interacting with the people He meets. I see that He is open, real, honest, connected, transparent, and even vulnerable. His teachings are meant to liberate us and free us to be totally ourselves. To no longer fear being the real you. The words spoken from His heart, when taken seriously and applied, totally transforms the way you see and live your existence and your purpose. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth held the key to ultimate power for living — more important, He is the key. 

As we walk with Him through the pages of Scripture we enter a passionate journey — a quest for all the riches of living in the presence of a God who absolutely, unconditionally, passionately, adores you and wants only the best and the most for you. As we watch Jesus live life. As we listen to His words which are life. As we apply His teachings to our every day life. As we allow Him to change us, transform us, fill us … we will no longer live a passionless life. We will, with Him, engage and embrace each day as a serious and wonderful gift from the Lord and follow Him as He leads and guides us through each day. When we do this we will no longer be passion-impaired. We will no longer wonder where happiness is found. We will live life with gusto and in fast-forward, excited about each and every opportunity and challenge that life brings our way. Jesus is the key. 

Why not pick up your Bible and study the life and ministry of Jesus (read the New Testament books called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Read with more than your mind – engage with the heart. Listen with the heart. See how He lived and listen to His words as He relates to others, as He teaches the multitudes, and as He shares more intimately with His twelve disciples. As you read, pause to feel what He is feeling; think about what He is saying; engage with the words, embracing the truths. If you will take the time to immerse yourself in the life and ministry of Jesus you will slowly be transformed and find yourself living with passion and purpose as never before. 

Forget the Bluebird of Happiness. Jesus is the key!

Without Faith You Can’t…

The Bible states that without faith we cannot please God. This is the God-kind of faith He wants us to walk ion daily. 

Hebrews 11:6 states, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

This means you must take risks. Living by faith is stepping out into territory that you are not familiar with and trusting that God is leading and guiding you. Living by faith means that, at times, you will fail. But remember Proverbs 24:16 states that “though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” When we walk by faith we might fail but we get up again, dust ourselves off, and keep moving forward. To do this we need to remember that failure is not a person – it is an event. You are not and cannot be a failure because you are a believer and one of God’s chosen. 

During seasons of failure, God is shaping us. If we take a risk, step out in faith, we might not succeed. But, if we avoid all risk, we guarantee we won’t succeed, and we miss so much of what God wants us to learn. Failure is often the price you pay for progress. And when you fail, remember you are walking by faith. So, look at what God is teaching you. What’s happening to you is not as important as what God is doing in you through the failure. 

Walking by faith and not by sight is dangerous. Stepping out in faith is often difficult because it means moving forward without all the facts. But, without stepping out in faith you just cannot please God.

Faith is believing in what you can’t see, following a voice you con’t prove you heard, and living by principles that God stays are true but don’t make sense in this world. But, without this faith, you cannot please God. 

So a personal question: What big faith risk have you taken in the last two years?

Most believers will answer that they have not taken a ‘faith risk’ in that period of time. Why? Because most believers are sailing the tranquil sea of complacency. 

Do you remember the story about Jesus’ disciples riding in a boat during a storm? Jesus wasn’t with them, and they were freaking out. (Which is exactly what I’d be doing, riding in a small, rickety fishing boat during the Perfect Storm.) That’s when Jesus miraculously walked toward them on the water. Then the disciples really started to wig out, thinking Jesus was a ghost.

Trying to calm them, Jesus said, “Take courage, it is I” (Matthew 14:27) 

Then one disciple spoke up. Above the terrified shouts of the others, Peter said, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to You on the water” (Matthew 14:28).

Jesus responded with one word: “Come” (verse 29).

Is Jesus saying that to you?

Come. Follow Me.

Come. Let Me lead you.

Come. Leave your comfort behind.

Come. Trust Me.

The next line of Matthew’s telling of the story will always amaze me: “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus” (verse 29).

Would you have done what Peter did? Eleven other disciples didn’t. Even though they had seen the same miracles and spent time with the same Jesus, they stayed in the boat. I can’t tell you why they wouldn’t hop onto the choppy, icy water. But I know why I wouldn’t. I’d be afraid I’d sink. In other words, I’d cower in fear of failure. Again. And, in the process, fail to walk by faith and please God.

Why did Peter do it? Because he suddenly grasped — even if only for a moment — the basic principle of faith. That principle is: God never fails. If He says to do something you can trust Him and step out in faith because He will never fail you. You can trust Him!

How can you become firmly convinced of God’s absolute trustworthiness? Peter’s courageous move of faith shows us the only way: You have to step out to find out. You’ll never know what God can do — and wants to do — through you until you leap over the gunwale and get your feet wet. 

Monkeys Can Teach Us a Lot

Scientists once conducted a very illuminating experiment. In the middle of a room, they hung a bushel of fresh bananas half-way up a pole. They they let four moneys loose in the room. Immediately the hungry monkeys dashed toward the bright yellow bananas. As they climbed the pole, one of the scientists blasted the moneys with ice-cold water.

The moneys backed off, regrouped, then made a second attempt. As they started to climb the pole, once again they received the discouraging dousing. After several unsuccessful attempts, the monkeys became convinced that failure was inevitable and finally stopped trying.

The next day, the researchers removed one of the four monkeys and replaced him with a new monkey. What did the rookie do? He went straight for the bananas. But before he even reached the pole, the three veterans pulled him away. Undeterred the new monkey tried again. Again his compassionate roommates intervened. At last he gave up and adopted their fatalistic attitude.

Each day, the scientists replaced one of the original monkeys with a new one. By the fifth day, four moneys occupied the room, none of whom had ever been sprayed with cold water. From that day forward, whenever a new monkey was traded in, the others would prevent him from going for the bananas …without even knowing why. Four had failed, and then they conditioned the novices to not even try.

This happens a lot in life, doesn’t it? Someone gets hurt in a relationship and tells everyone else, “Don’t risk the pain. Stay single.” Someone wounded by a Christian spreads the word: “Christians are hypocrites. Don’t trust them.” A teenager makes some bad decisions, and his parents advise a younger couple, “Don’t have kids. They’ll wreck your lives.” To avoid potential failure and pain, people abort their dreams. They stop trying.

The lesson: Don’t let fear of failure make a monkey out of you. 

(Sorry about that. I couldn’t resist.) 

The lesson: Just because someone else had a certain experience, learn from it but don’t let it stop you from moving forward in your life.

The lesson: “God has not given to us a spirit of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV).

The lesson: Sometimes the ones you hang out with will hold you back.

The lesson, There is not always wisdom in a group of peers.

The lesson: Be careful who you hang out with.