Expect, Endure, Embrace – Part Two

We have been chatting about what should happen when we are persecuted. To start with we should EXPECT to be persecuted when we are living life as followers of Jesus and speaking up for what is right and true. 

Then we saw that Scripture tells us that we must ENDURE the persecution and respond only in love as Jesus did. 

I would make a personal comment here: I have found that if I am earthly-minded and self-centered, I will always feel the sting of critical people. But if I’m walking close to God and my life is His, then by faith I can rise above the smaller-minded criticisms.

If you are facing persecution — or should I say when you face persecution — turn to God. EXPECT persecution. ENDURE persecution. By His power, even EMBRACE it, as Peter advices. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed …Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Peter 4:12-13, 16). Don’t be shocked when persecution comes. Take it another step: EMBRACE it. Rejoice that in some small ways you are counted worthy to suffer with and for the One who suffered for you.

When someone says something cruel about you because of your faith, don’t be ashamed. Instead, thank God that you belong to Jesus. Praise God that He’s chosen you. Never react with some defensive or hateful rebuttal. As you’re led and enabled by the Spirit, either respond in love or realize that you don’t always have to respond. Ultimately God is your Defender. And you live for Him.

Yes, it’s really tough when other people shoot at you. Believe me, I understand. All of us want to be liked by others. When you read a hundred positive comments about something you did and one negative one, which do you focus on most? If you’re like me, it often takes only one negative voice to drown out all the positive ones.

Becoming obsessed with what people think about you is the quickest way to forget what God thinks about you. But the opposite is true as well. If you’re living for Jesus in this selfie-centered world, you know a higher truth: becoming obsessed with what God thinks about you is the quickest way to forget what people think about you.

By faith, rise above the criticism. When persecution comes, EXPECT it. ENDURE it with the One who endured it for you. And by His power, EMBRACE it, thanking God that He is with you.

And that’s the truth. 

Expect, Endure, Embrace – Part One

As a believer and follower of Jesus you should expect persecution from others. That you should expect persecution probably isn’t something you want to hear, but it is something you need to hear. Paul told his younger disciple Timothy, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 emphasis added). Did you see the first word I emphasized? Everyone. No matter who you are, how old you are, or how much you care about others, if you stand up for Jesus, someone will try to shoot you down. Everyone who wants to live a godly life will eventually be persecuted. Don’t be shocked by this. Don’t be discouraged by it. Don’t be overwhelmed by it.

EXPECT it.

Some of your friends may not like what you say on Facebook. They may talk behind your back. They may not invite you to some wild party they’re having. Or you might even be overlooked for a promotion because you follow Jesus. None of these things surprise God. And they shouldn’t surprise you. In fact, Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:18-20a emphasis added) This is why I try never to worry when people shoot at me online for my faith. I actually worry when they don’t.

Not only should you EXPECT people to occasionally (or often) push back on your faith, but also when they do, you should ENDURE it. Paul said, “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it” (1 Corinthians 4:12 emphasis added). Our example is Jesus on the cross. When the creation mocked the Creator, He didn’t whine, gripe, or retaliate. Instead, He prayed for those who mocked and beat Him. Jesus ENDURED it. He rose above it.

When you’re praying for others who are persecuting you, it’s also wise to pray for yourself. If someone attacks, ask God to help you know how — or if — you should respond. Just because they shoot your way doesn’t mean you have to answer. There are times you should answer and other times when you should ignore it. Either way, be careful not to react out of emotion; respond only in love.

While ENDURING persecution, you might reply with a thoughtful or encouraging comment. But remember that social media isn’t a good place for long explanations. Just like a serious theological debate can’t happen in 140 characters or less, it’s hard to solve difficult problems in social media or email. Don’t feel pressured to respond. God can take care of Himself; He doesn’t need you to defend Him every time some online heckler rattles your cage.

When critics flail at you, you aren’t under any obligation to answer. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I responded to someone hurling bombs my way on social media. I often respond to people who have legitimate questions about the church or something I posted (blogs, articles, teachings). But I won’t debate with people who simply want to pick a fight online. Pray and ask God if He wants you to respond.

I also encourage you to ask God to help you know when to listen and when to dismiss invalid criticism. If someone has a valid point and they’re trying to help you, you should listen. Scripture confirms, “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.

If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself;  but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding” (Proverbs 13:31-32 NLT, emphasis added). But when strangers (or angry people) take cheap shots. You can often disregard what they’re saying and move on. Don’t let that poison seep into your heart.

Some people tend to be naturally critical and negative, but I choose not to let their foul disposition ruin a good day. It’s also helpful to remember that sometimes people are simply hurting. Rather than taking their negative comments personally, I try to let them remind me to pray (in private) that they will experience God’s healing. Peter describes how Jesus modeled this for us: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23 ESV). In the middle of His pain, Jesus din’t fight back. Instead He allowed God to be His defender and submitted Himself to he loving care of His heavenly Father. He call us to do the same. 

More next time… 

Technology Has Changed How We Relate – Part Two

 

Blog of September 7, 2020

We are looking at how technology has changed how we relate to others in our day and age. Last time we saw two of three major changes:

1> The term “friend” is evolving

2> We’re addicted to immediate affirmation

Let’s continue our look and see number three…

3> We have the power to do friendship on our own terms

Not only do many of us have more virtual Friends than real friends and are addicted to immediate gratification in connecting with others, we face another downside to social media: the power to define relationships on our own terms. Let me explain what this means. Let’s say my friend texts me. I have some choices, don’t I? I can read his text right away, or I can read it later. I can reply as soon as I read it, or I can reply later. I can even choose not to reply at all.

I have complete control over what I do — or what I don’t do.

If another friend posts a picture on Instagram, I have the power to determine several things. For example, is his picture Like-worthy? Is it worth the extraordinary inconvenience of double-tapping my finger on it? Or should I just scroll right on by? If this is another of his stupid cat pictures, you can probably guess what I am going to do. A dog picture. Different.

I am in total and complete control of these friendships; I manage them from a distance. If you are my online friend, I’ll show you only the parts of my life that I want you to see and tell you only what I want to tell you. If I don’t want to respond to the things you choose to show me, I’m not going to. If you post too many pictures of your product, or too many duck-face selfies, or too many “inspirational quotes” that the person you credit may or may not have actually said (because you can’t be bothered to check), or too many pictures of your cat making duck faces, I will unfollow you. We are in control of on-line friendships. And that control is changing how we manage our relationships.

Friendship doesn’t mean what it use to mean. 

I can’t speak for you, but to be really honest, I have to admit that the more I dabble on social media, the more I realize I’m delaying the personal interaction I crave. I have also never been more connected and yet feel so alone.

The author of Hebrews says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Wouldn’t it be amazing to get together with other followers of Jesus and discuss this topic? We could start with, “Guys, how can we become so aggressive in how we show love to one another that other people really stop and think, ‘Hey, these people must be Christians. Have you seen the way they love one another.?’”

The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 12:25). 

Really let that sink in: “Let’s not neglect our meeting together.”

“Let us not neglect our meeting together.”

“Let us not neglect our meeting together.

Have we fallen out of this practice?

If this passage isn’t enough to convince you, think about friendship in the context of your Christian faith. Think about what Jesus said: “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Isn’t that powerful? Jesus promises us that whenever we come together with other believers in His Name, we will experience His real presence in a supernatural way. Does that mean you con’t experience His presence when you’re alone? Absolutely not! You can. It’s just something more, something special, something powerful happens when we come together with other believers to seek God. When you join hands with someone, when you join your faith together and go before God on His throne, you experience His power and presence together in very real ways (Acts 16:25-26).

Something supernatural happens when we join together with other believers and lift up holy hands before our God to worship Him (Exodus 17:10-13). 

Something supernatural happens when we join together with other believers and, as believers have done for centuries, open up God’s Word and read it aloud together (Nehemiah 8:1-12).

Something supernatural happens when we unite our faith and passionately seek God together in prayer (Acts 12:11-14).

Presence is powerful!

Think about it this way: God didn’t shout His love from heaven. He showed His love on earth. He stripped Himself of all heavenly glory and became one of us. God became flesh in the person of Jesus. Even one of Jesus’ names, Immanuel, literally means “God with us.” He came and lived with us, He loved people others rejected. He poured His heart into people who the religious community said were not worthy. He hung out with — and even ate with — tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes.

Presence is so powerful. So why do so many of us settle for on-line relationships and neglect the old-fashion way of having friends; actually meeting with them one-on-one, face-to-face?  

Technology Has Changed How We Relate – Part One

I was away on my annual holiday for three weeks in July. And, every morning over my first cup of coffee I wrote a group text to everyone in my home church. Most were not aware that I was away and not at home in my office. It led me to think and briefly research how technology is changing the way we relate to the people in our lives. As we explore these ways, consider how each applies to your life and how you are using technology and social media to relate to others. 

1> The term “friend”is evolving

It used to be that when someone said another person was a friend, you understood exactly what they meant. A friend was someone who shared common interests or bonds, someone you enjoyed being around, someone you did life with. But it’s not that simple anymore, is it? Now a friend can be someone you’ve never met IRL (in real life). Friends can be people who follow what you post on social media. If they follow you, and you don’t follow them back, that’s one kind of friend. If you follow them, but they don’t follow you, that’s another kind of friend. And if you both follow each other, that’s yet another kind of friend. 

Currently, the average Facebook user has 338 friends. But surveys indicate that the average person has only two friends they consider to be close. As shocking as that statistic is, there is one that is even sadder: 25 percent of people in North America today say they have zero close friends! The struggles are real. Does it really matter that you have 338 Facebook friends if you have no one to share your life with? And I’m not even talking about the kind of friend who listens as you pour your heart out or share your latest struggles, Many people no longer have friends they can hang out with or who can drop by unannounced as a welcome surprise. (When was the last time you did that to someone, or they did it to you? Doesn’t it sound intimidating?) Technology supposedly saves us time, yet we seem to have even less time — at least for really relating to people. We have lots of online interactivity, but that doesn’t mean we have any personal intimacy.

Friends just doesn’t mean what it used to.

2> We’re addicted to immediate affirmation

Let’s say you were at home alone back in the old days (ten years ago), and you started feeling a little lonely. What would you do? You might pick up the phone and call a friend. You might even make arrangements to get together. You might walk outside and visit with your next-door neighbour. Any of these were reasonable choices, and they were all pretty easy, right? Apparently, they just weren’t easy enough.

What do we do today when we feel lonely? Text a friend, post an update, or share an old favourite picture. If you’re feeling really creative, we’ll surf for items to pin to Pinterest or make a new YouTube video. We might take a picture of our homemade chocolate chip cookies (gluten free, no GMO, hand-whittled, and carved from organic cocoa) and share it on Instagram. Or we Vine or Tic Tok a little clip about being bored.

Then there’s my favourite. If we’re really bored and lonely, we always have ourselves. That’s right, we can snap a selfie, right there on the couch. It we’re really motivated, we might even go into the bathroom and fix ourselves up a little first, then snap a selfie in the bathroom mirror. We tousle our hair, puff out our lips (duck face), and tilt our heads, snapping picture after picture, trying to get the light just right, determined to achieve a ‘perfect’ shot. We might even go as far as to wear our trendiest clothes, find a local you-wish-you-knew-where-I-was ally, and let the self-timer rip.

But we don’t have to stop there. We can touch up the photo, tweak the lighting a little more, maybe use a filter. We are nowhere near perfect, but we can manipulate images, apps, and filters to create an image of ourselves that’s perfect for the moment. And don’t forget the all-important caption. Is it inspirational? Clever, but not too obviously clever? We can even add a Bible verse for extra ‘Likes.’ Once all is in place we can post it. Then we can compulsively check our updates, hoping to hit the ‘Likes’ jackpot. 

Even if you don’t hit it big, we may score some fun comments. You know, things like: 

    • “Lookin’ good!”
    • “Love that shirt! Where’d ya get it???”
    • “omgosh amazing *swoons*”
    • “where r u? Totes adorbs!! [sexy, smiling emoji]”

We often get immediate feedback. But the problem with this kind of immediate feedback, this quick affirmation, is that it’s addicting. Even when we know it’s shallow, even when we don’t believe the sender is sincere in their flattery, we still love receiving it. To be fair, it’s not our fault. Scientists say that receiving positive affirmation like this release dopamine, a chemical in our brains that gives us a kind of euphoric feeling, a little rush. Just like similar drugs, we can get addicted to that high.

If you don’t believe me, consider the last time you posted a selfie and didn’t get much response — at least in the first hour. Do you remember having an empty feeling and thoughts like these running through your mind?

    • “Where is everyone? What’s up with that?”
    • “How many have clicked on it? Did they ‘Like’ it?”
    • “Who ‘Liked’ it?”
    • “Why didn’t she ‘Like’ it? She never ‘Likes’ my pictures. I’m going to stop ‘Liking’ hers. Just keep that up sister, and you’re gonna get yourself unfollowed.”

Many of us are addicted to immediate affirmation. What is this addiction doing to us? How is it affected our relationships?

Sociologists call all this “deferred loneliness.” We’re trying to meet some short-term need, but in the process of meeting this need, we’re deferring a deeper, longer-term need. We are meant to have deep, sometimes difficult feelings of loneliness to motivate us toward the kinds of contact with others that meet our deepest, long-term needs. Every time we seek instant affirmation, we ignore our basic human condition of loneliness and the opportunity of loneliness that drives us toward real friendship, real intimacy, first with God and then with others.

So our addiction to instant gratification can stunt our relationships. We’re living for ‘Likes,’ but we’re longing for love. 

More next time …

Permission To Speak Freely – Part One

We have been chatting about mountaintop and valley experiences. Habakkuk knew firsthand what we have been talking about. He clearly slipped into the valley and experienced a crisis of belief. What he saw and what he knew about God didn’t line up. It was just hard for him, as a prophet and as a believer, to grasp that the God of Israel would sit on His hands and allow the kind of atrocities that Habakkuk was witnessing. He wrote:

“Lord, are you not from everlasting?

My God, my Holy One, you will never die.

You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment;

you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;

you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.

Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?

Why are you silent while the wicked

swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”

Habakkuk 1:12-13

Can you feel his pain? His doubts? His sense of injustice? Basically, he asks, “Aren’t you the eternal, all-powerful God? Why don’t you do something?” He goes on to remind God that God was the one who chose the people who are now punishing the innocent. The innocent, in Habakkuk’s eyes, being Israel. In an almost sarcastic tone, Habakkuk says, “You can’t even look at evil, but you allow it.” Like many of us, Habakkuk can’t figure out why God doesn’t do what he things God should do.

Keep in mind: Habakkuk is a man who loves God! This is in the Bible, not in an angry blog post from some smug person who hates Christians. Habakkuk didn’t hold back.

And neither should we.

God can handle any question we dare to ask Him. He may not answer in an audible, booming voice. Most likely He won’t. But He isn’t angry with us when we do ask. It’s not as if He’s going to storm out of the room when we throw a tantrum. He understands. Even as we’re pouring out our emotions, He wants to draw us closer to Himself.

We have His permission to speak freely.

Sometimes I think we’re afraid of expressing our questions not because we’re worried about God’s response but because we’re worried about our own. We’re afraid to say what we’re feeling, deep down in the dark corners of our souls. We’re terrified that if we admit how we’re truly feeling, then our faith will crack. But the opposite is true. It’s when we suppress the pain of what we’re experiencing, stuffing it down, and denying it, that our faith becomes so hard and brittle that it breaks.

Maybe this explains why, when some of us slip into the valley, we try to force our way back up to the mountaintop. We want that closeness we used to have with God. But denying that things are the way they are, refusing to believe the truth, is like trying to run up a sand dune.

A woman who’s been downsized might say, “It’s okay that I lost my job. I know that God can provide a better job. So I’ll just sit here and wait for it come to me.”

Or a man might refuse to believe his doctor’s diagnosis. “Nope. Not me. I’m just going to pray and trust that God will heal me. I don’t need to seek any kind of treatment.”

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not discounting that God can (and does) provide jobs out of the blue and heal people miraculously. But when we retreat and refuse to feel the pain of our disappointment, then we’re not really trusting Him. We’re using Him. And maybe missing greater opportunities for growth. Peaks are nice, but you don’t see many farms on mountaintops. Why? Because things grow better in valleys. Your time in the valley (with your many questions, doubts, and feelings) may not be pleasant, but it’s in the valleys of life that you grow closer to God and stronger in your faith. 

More next time… Part Two

Let us be equipped for the coming days

An apostolic perspective from Raffi Shahverdyan – apostolic leader living in Armenia and ministering worldwide.

Let us be equipped for the coming days

Scripture gives us many examples of good administration.  Our Lord calls the Church both to pray, equip itself for times of crisis, and to minister to those who are in need.

1 – You have something to do today

“I sought for a man among them to build the wall and stand in the breach in my presence on behalf of the land so that it won’t be destroyed, but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30, ISV).

God relies on you.  There is no such thing as a retired leader.  That is, if you were ever called to be a leader, then you are called to be a leader now also.  Even if you’ve never been a leader before, you can start being one right now. Along the way, you’ll discover aspects of your own personality that you never thought you had.

“When will all of this end?” -This is the question that all of us ask in difficult times, but let’s just change the question and begin to pray like this: “God, what should I do?  How can I serve you in this situation?  How can I be effective with the gifts that You have given me?

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many people” (Mark 10:45, ISV).

Depression conquers some people. It isolates them, and they become passive, but you must not be found amongst them. You must defeat depression and stand strong in the Lord by faith.

Don’t sit still.  Keep calm. Don’t slow down, don’t waste your time, but do something for God’s Kingdom and His people. Just one word of encouragement from you can change a person’s life. The Angel of the Lord once said to a very frightened Gideon: “The LORD is with you, you valiant warrior!” (Judges 6:12, ISV).

2 – Communication: the biggest need of the Church in these days

Someone needs you!

The Church is a body, whose parts are intimately connected to each other (see 1 Corinthians 12:12).

The Lord has said: 

“Where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20, ISV).

Moreover, the Scriptures command us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (see Hebrews 10:25).

While anti-Christian systems like communism and Islam forbid believers to assemble together by closing churches, today’s pandemic is an unseen enemy that is also working to prevent us from assembling ourselves together.  To meet the challenge, we ought to start thinking creatively about how we can communicate with one another, whilst still aiming to respect our governments’ health regulations.

To that end, we can communicate using these methods:

A – Managing all the projects of the church through the internet.  Download appropriate social networking apps on your devices such as WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook, Telegram, Signal, etc. Those of us who are tech-savvy need to help those who are new to technology and/or new to using these kinds of apps.  

B – Making phone calls (for those who don’t have an internet connection).

C – Communicating through printed literature and written letters.

D – Outside gatherings of small groups (maximum 5 people).

3 – Form and activate cell groups by using the internet

“I tell you that you are Peter, and it is on this rock that I will build my congregation, and the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18, ISV)

In other words, start a small Church.

Let us not be overwhelmed by this crisis, but let us find ways of communicating and building relationships with our brothers and sisters in the Church. Let’s not wait for “someone else” in the Church to do something.  Rather, let us be the ones who take initiative by the Word and Spirit of God – and act on it.

A – Take part in the group in which you are already a member.  Don’t stand alone.  You can join or form a group of intercessors, a youth group, a missionary group, a group from Sunday school, a home church group, etc. 

B – If communication has stopped for a while, don’t wait for someone else to start it back again.  Instead, you be the one to get things going again. Send invitations out and start new groups.

C – Make a new group with 5-10 members and have communication with each other via the internet once a week.

D – You can start with a few members and then add new members as you go. Seek out and make contact with those who are isolated and/or don’t have any means of communication.

E – Aim to have a mixture of ages – men and women, boys and girls, from different backgrounds, so as to keep the group both dynamic and persistent. You can start a conversation with some of your friends, and then your group may grow organically from there. 

F – The aim of the group can first be to establish communication.  Once you have a base of people connected, you will be able to add programs such as praying, preaching, teaching, and group Bible readings.

G – You can request study and ministry themes from the Church’s secretary or create them by yourself as you study various parts of the Bible.

H –For those who don’t have an internet connection, you can give them print outs of different Biblical lessons and themes.

I – You can meet with the members of your group in open areas.  For now, this should be done with a limited number of people and with, of course, masks and proper social distancing measures in place.

J – Find and invite those especially to whom reaching out is difficult.  Those who have, for whatever reason, been left out of the normal means and methods of communication ought to be a special focus of our efforts. Make new groups and don’t get complacent with existing ones.

K –Talk to your pastor about your activities and be open and ready to receive direction, input, and advice.

L – Our main purpose is to feed and build the Church; to aid and arm God’s children to build His Kingdom and preach His Message.  Implementing measures to increase our communication and fellowship by whatever means available will not only help maintain the health of the Church, but it may also serve as an effective method of increasing evangelism and stimulating discipleship.

“…I kept them safe in your name which you have given to me: I took care of them and not one of them has come to destruction…” (John 17:12, BBE).

4 – Common means of communication and their potentials

Zoom – This is currently the most common app for video-calls.  It has the capacity to host large numbers of participants. A video-call up to 40 minutes is free.  After this expires, however, the connection may be reestablished to begin another 40 minute session.

Skype – You can have up to 50-minutes of video-calling, and it also gives other options not mentioned here.

Messenger – You can make hold a video-call with 8 members. There is an option to have a video-call with 50 members, but it is not available in Armenia yet.

Facebook / Instagram – Here you can share your messages with one another, individually or in groups.

Viber, WhatsApp, Telegram – These means of communication give you the opportunity to send large voice-recordings.  You can record and send your messages via these apps. You can communicate individually or create group-chats.  

SMS – This is the simplest means of communication, which is available on almost any kind of phone.  SMS messaging also allows you to correspond individually or in groups. Depending on the kind of phone that a given user has, you may be able to share voice recordings as well.  I would also like to utilize online Bibles and Bible apps, as well as implementing other methods for encouraging the reading and sharing of Bible verses.  Examples of some popular apps are YouVersion, Biblestone, and My Bible.  Most of these apps allow users to not only access, but download and synchronize information across multiple devices (e.g. smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, etc.) so that everyone can read and share God’s Word effectively and conveniently.

God bless you all.

With love, Raffi Shahverdyan.

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…

Don’t Fold Your Bold! – Part Three

Last time we were looking at the trial or Peter and John that was the result of them healing a lame man … and the resulting trial before the religious leadership of the day. In the trial Peter and John are literally seen as and called “idiots.” But the Bible translators were trying, it seems, to be a little more polite and used the work “unlearned” or “untrained.”

Sometimes I think the Bible translators are just too polite. A literal translation renders this verse as “these guys were amazed and couldn’t believe the boldness of these idiots.” There’s no mean-spirited, name-calling here; it just a fact that these guys had no special training or religious education that qualified them to heal a lame man. Here’s the deal: If you’re the best of the best, the brightest of the brightest, God obviously will use you in His Kingdom. It’s just that he specializes is using idiots — normal, everyday people like you and me. He loves, absolutely loves, using ordinary people. 

Our God loves to take people that others overlook and give them boldness. You may be thinking, “Well, I’m a Christian, but I’m just not naturally bold. I’m kind of a quiet person. I’m not a seminary guy. I’m not a natural leader or teacher of the Bible. You know, I’m just a stay-at-home mom.” Or, “I’m just a student.” Or, “I’m just a dude, man!” Remember, there are so many different ways to be bold, so many unique, exceptional ways to be bold for Christ. 

When you become spiritually bold for the glory of God, your boldness will amaze the world. We’re told that the members of the Sanhedrin were amazed at the boldness of Peter and John. Why? Because they knew they could kill these guys, and these guys didn’t care. They were “wow, we don’t have a category for this” crazy amazed. Even if the council members didn’t believe what these two idiots were saying, it was clear that Peter and John had no doubt whatsoever about their faith in Christ.

Here’s what I want to ask you: When was the last time someone was amazed by your boldness? When was the last time you stopped someone in their tracks because they were undone by your bold speech and actions? Now, keep in mind, I’m not talking about a wacky, odd, cheesy, thirty-three-bumper-stickers-on-your-SUV kind of Christian drive-by witness. I’m not talking about being bold in a bad-Christian-television way to make people dislike you or ridicule you. I’m talking about being bold with integrity. The kind of boldness where you’re serving people faithfully in Jesus’ Name, where you’re encouraging them, where you’re living in a way that reflects Christ’s compassion and selflessness, where others look at you and say, “There’s something different about this person.” The kind of boldness where you’re so generous with your money and your heart and your time, where you’ve served your way into people’s lives, and therefore you’ve earned the right to say, “I really do love you; may I tell you about my God?” 

Here’s today’s point …

You may be reading this and cringing, thinking, “But I’m just not that kind of person. Does God really want me to act bold just to prove I’m a Christian?” Which leads us to a very important point. Spiritual boldness is not our goal; knowing Christ is our goal. Boldness is merely a byproduct of following Jesus and living as He lived, showing others the love of the Father. Spiritual boldness comes from knowing Jesus.

Remember our friends Peter and John and their bold stand before the Sanhedrin? We’re told that the council members were amazed because they were ordinary guys, but we’re also told that they recognized these guys as men who had been with Jesus. How in the world could Peter stand in the face of possible death and declare what he did? He knew Jesus. He could be bold because he had been with Jesus. Here’s the key: you have to remember this: boldness is not the point; knowing Jesus is the point,

When you live a life of faith, when you’re directed by the Spirit, you’re going to see opportunity after opportunity to be bold. Why? Because you’ve had time with Jesus. As your faith grows, so does your boldness. As your boldness grows, it leads to results. When you see spiritual results, guess what? You spend more time with Jesus, and when you spend more time with Jesus, guess what? You get more faith, and you start praying bigger prayers and you see God work, which leads to boldness which then leads to the Acts-type of results, which leads to more time with Jesus. And it goes on and on and on. 

Spiritual boldness is to be the norm for true disciples of Jesus. You aren’t called to “Fold Your Bold” but instead to stand tall and be a bold witness for Jesus where you live, work, and play. 

Don’t Fold Your Bold! – Part Two

Let’s continue our look at boldness…

He and John were walking the next day and came across a guy who had been lame for more than forty years, and they told him to get up and walk. Imagine in our context, someone who has been in a wheelchair for forth years, and then one day, these two guys come up and say, “In the Name of Jesus, take a walk.” And he does! That’s bold.

This miraculous healing stirred all kinds of controversy because everybody around knew this guy couldn’t walk. And so, some of the temple guards under the command of the Sanhedrin, the religious group in power at that time, sent some people to arrest Peter and John, and they were put on trial in front of the Sanhedrin.

When the Sanhedrin tried someone, all the members of the Sanhedrin, dressed in their official robes, would encircle the defendants to intimidate them. They would hurl questions from all directions and then decide on the defendants’ fate, typically saying, “We’re just going to beat you,” or “We’re going to imprison you,” or, “We’re going to kill you.” So it wasn’t looking good for these two followers of Jesus.

In the middle of this ominous gathering of 70 leaders, Peter and John were asked, “By what name and by what authority do you do these things?

Where they tongue-tied or intimidated?

See for yourself: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of our people, are we being questioned today because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful Name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene,…” Then Peter delivered the perfect strike to make sure they got the point: “… the man you killed but whom God raised from the dead’” (Acts 4:8-190)

Now, I cannot overstate how bold that was. The Sanhedrin hated Jesus, were glad he was gone, and hoped never to hear from Him. And the foundation of their convictions was the belief that resurrecting the dead was impossible. So Peter pointed right at the people who used their power to kill Jesus and said, “Where did I get this kind of power to heal a guy who’s been crippled for forty years? You remember Jesus don’t you? The innocent man you set up and crucified. Well, He’s back from the dead.” Essentially Peter response was like a declaration of war, the last thing these Jewish religious leaders wanted to hear.

There is just something about that Name. The Name of Jesus carries supernatural authority that empowers us in ways we can’t even grasp. So when Peter and John cite Jesus as their power source, the religious leaders couldn’t believe what they were seeing: The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 NLT). 

The Jewish religious leaders were stunned to see such audacity from a couple of regular Joes like John and Peter. It’d be like you and me standing before the Supreme Court telling them that we know what’s best for the country’s judicial system. They’d look at us, aware we’re not attorneys or scholars trained in the courtroom, and wonder what makes us think we are so knowledgable and confident and bold.

But here’s the thing: God gives ordinary people extraordinary boldness. You don’t have to be an expert or a scholar, have a seminary degree or experience as a missionary to serve Christ with amazing power. Consider the language of the verse again: “[The leaders] could see that [Peter and John] were ordinary men with no special training on the Scriptures.” Now the Greek  word translated as “ordinary” is the word idiotas. This word can mean unlearned; it can mean unschooled; it can mean ordinary. But the literal translation for the word idiotas is — you guessed it — “idiot.! Don’t you love it?

More next time….