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….

Don’t Fold Your Bold! – Part One

As I have matured in my faith, I’ve learned that God wants us to be bold, to take risks through His leading us out of our comfort zones. We, of course, prefer our comfort.

Most of the time we want to play it safe, to remain comfortable and pursue what is convenient for our busy schedules. But God is bold by His very nature, and as we follow Him and are led by His Spirit living within us, we find the strength and courage to take actions that we’d never take on our own.

We see this illustrated through the vivid descriptions of the struggles and triumphs of the very first group of Christians in the book of Acts. This account was written by Luke, a medical doctor by profession, who captured some of the highlights of the first community of people who believed in Jesus. One of the dominant themes of the Book of Acts is the boldness of believers. When you look at the story of the early church, you see miracle after miracle. Relying on nothing but the power of God’s Spirit made them undeniably bold in everything they did.

Now, whenever I read these accounts in Acts, I usually ask myself, “Why don’t we see these types of miracles in our world today? Or at least in our churches?” Perhaps I’m wrong, but I suspect the answer is because we don’t have the same bold faith to act in bold ways to bring about bold results like the early believers did.

Before we go any further, allow me to define what I mean by boldness. It’s not crazy, irrational, odd, illogical, subjective behaviour. No, boldness is simply behaviour born of belief. Because what you believe – about who you are in Christ and who God really is – determines how you behave. If you believe everyone is going to criticize you, you’ll behave cautiously. If you believe you’re probably going to fail, you’re going to venture out tentatively. If, however, you believe that the one true Lord God is calling you, empowering you, leading you, and equipping you,, then you will live boldly. Why? Because boldness is behaviour born of belief. 

The Greek word from Acts that’s translated as boldness is the word parrhesia, and this word means more than just skillful speaking. The original Greek word conveys the idea of outspokenness; it means “assurance, courage, and confidence to act without fear.” So often fear keeps “us” front and center and in need of reassurance from other people or from our possessions or titles. And thus we fear stepping our boldly in faith, trusting God. But when we have ‘died with Christ’ we find liberty and can then boldly live by faith and not by fear.

Perhaps the boldness spotlight doesn’t shine more brightly anywhere in Acts than it does on a guy called Peter. One of Jesus’ original twelve disciples, Peter is someone most of us can relate to easily. He’s the one who’s often characterized by bold intentions followed by timid actions. One of the most glaring examples of his bold intentions came right before Jesus was arrested. Peter boldly declared, “If all of these other losers turn their backs on you, I’ll still be here. I would never leave you. I’m your guy. I’ve got your back. I’ll never deny you. I’ll boldly stand by you.”

Before the day ended, not just once but three different times Peter denied knowing Christ. His bold intentions folded under the pressure of having to act in faith. But Peter’s story didn’t end there; something happened in Peter, and I pray that same something will happen in us. When Jesus died and then rose three days later, Peter encountered his Master with unbounded  joy. And Jesus basically said to him, “Hey, you’re forgiven; it’s all good. Let it go. Shake it off. Be bold. Take care of My sheep. You’re my rock.” (my impressions of their conversation found in John 21).

A switch flipped inside of Peter after that encounter, and suddenly the guy who used to fold his bold under pressure could not be contained. Not long after, he stood before this huge group of people and preached one of the boldest messages in history (read: Acts 2). He didn’t hold back and spoke the whole truth boldly regardless of the consequences.

This was to become the norm in the early Christian Church as recorded in the Book of Acts and the letters (epistles) to the early Church.

More next time… 

Integrity Deficit – Part Three

Let’s look at four serious benefits of living a life of integrity. While there are many more, these are some of my favourites:

1> You’ll walk closely with God.

Think of it like this: If I can clearly impart my family values to my children, and they choose to live their lives according to those principles and values, then obviously, this will increase our harmony with each other. On the other hand, consider what would happen if I clearly shared my important values with my children, and one or more of them decided to go their own way, contrary to what I had taught them. Now, of course, I’ll still love that child, but certainly their choices are going to interfere with our intimacy, our communion, and our ongoing fellowship. Our relationship with God follows a similar dynamic. When you live according to His values, you’ll naturally walk with Him, enjoying His presence daily.

2> You’ll have divine GPS.

Proverbs 11:3 says that “the integrity of the upright guides them.” When you allow integrity to lead you, you don’t have to guess what’s right. Decisions become much easier when they’re based not on what you think you can get away with but on what’s right in God’s eyes. It’s the difference between following your best guesses on how to reach your destination versus using a first-rate GPS that tells you how to proceed every step along the way. We must allow our integrity to guide us.

3> You’ll feel constant peace.

This is the benefit that means the most to me. When I lay my head on my pillow at night, I don’t ever lie there worrying, “Man, I sure hope nobody finds out what I’ve done today.” When you live with integrity, you’re not constantly looking over your shoulder, fearful of getting caught, wondering how long it will be until you’re found out. When you simply do the right thing, you abide in constant peace. There’s no fear, guilt, shame, or regret; just peace.

4> You’ll gain trust, respect, honour, and influence.

If you want to lead and inspire your family and friends, be a person of integrity. If you want great children, be a parent of integrity. If you want influence in the business community, be a person of your word. When you live with integrity, people will follow you and honour you. They’ll listen when you speak. Over time, they’ll even begin to seek out your wisdom and advice. Such is the legacy of integrity.

The benefits of integrity may seem obvious, yet they remain out of reach for many people, including those who should be the best examples — Christians. One of the most common complaints I hear from people outside the church is that Christians are a bunch of hypocrites, clearly a problem since a hypocrite is the opposite of a person of integrity.

Hypokrites, the Greek word that we translate “hypocrite,” means literally “an actor or stage player.” In the tradition of ancient Greek drama, each actor played several different roles. They used a different carved wooden mask for each of the various characters they were playing. Maybe you’ve seen the smiling comic mask alongside the frowning tragic mask used as symbols for the theatre or to represent drama in general. When an actor in ancient Greece needed to switch to a different character, he simply picked up a different mask and held it in front of his face. It was as simple as that.

I think many of us do exactly the same thing. For each social circumstance we find ourselves in, we present ourselves in the best possible light, even if it’s not honest, accurate, or authentic. We calculate who we think someone wants us to be, and then we select the appropriate mask to play that part for them. But it’s only a mask. It’s not who you really are; it’s just who you’re pretending to be.

It may be hard to see it in yourself, but each of us lacks integrity at some point or other. But it seems like we can always justify our pet behaviours, whether it’s by calling them “little white lies” or telling ourselves that we’re protecting the feelings of others. But consider how God looks at our “little quirks.” While Jesus openly welcomed repentant prostitutes, adulterers, and other vile sinners into His Kingdom, He was relentless in condemning hypocrites. Here’s what He says in Matthew 23:25-28:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Jesus exposed them for what they were. He essentially said, “You fakers. You play actors. You have zero integrity. You put on your game face and you look religious. You look nice and righteous on the outside. But inside, your heart us absolutely filthy with sin.”

It doesn’t make any difference if people appear to be righteous. What matters is to be pure on the inside. Woe to you if you lack integrity, full of hypocrisy. We must start with what’s inside us, allowing Christ to transform us, and then our actions will follow suit. Through Christ, we clean the inside of the cup before we move on to the outside. We sacrifice our selfish, deceitful, ego-driven impulses on the altar of truth so that our behaviour reflects God’s righteousness. Integrity starts from the inside out, not the outside in. 

Integrity Deficit – Part Two

With integrity we see a consistency of character. A person of integrity is the same no matter where he is or who he is with. One of the best examples of a person of integrity is the biblical Samuel, from the Old Testament.

Toward the end of his life, Samuel recaps his record of faithful service before the Israelite people:

Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.”“You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.”

(1 Samuel 12:3-4 NIV)

At the end of his life, Samuel stood before his entire community and said, “Have I lived a life of integrity? If I’ve ever wronged any of you, just tell me, and I’ll make it right.”

And they answered him, “No, you’ve always done the right thing. You are a person of integrity, Samuel. You’ve been faithful.”

At the end of my life, I want to be able to ask the same question and get the same response. I want my children, my grandchildren, and generations of Howes after me, to be able to do exactly as Samuel’s community did. At the end of my life, I want to be able to say honestly, “Here’s your free shot. Did I do what I claimed I would do? Did I practice what I preached?”

People may even answer, “Well, we didn’t like your sense of humour or the way you dressed or your style of ministry. But, yes, you are a person of integrity. All the things you said you believed you actually lived.”

Another biblical man of integrity was David, perhaps made more credible because he failed big time and tried to hide it but in the end couldn’t live with himself. He offers another picture of what integrity looks like. In one of his psalms, David asks, “LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?” And then catalogs the traits of such a godly person (Psalm 15:1-5):

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?

Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose walk is blameless,

who does what is righteous,

who speaks the truth from their heart;

whose tongue utters no slander,

who does no wrong to a neighbour,

and casts no slur on others;

who despises a vile person

but honours those who fear the Lord;

who keeps an oath even when it hurts,

and does not change their mind;

who lends money to the poor without interest;

who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things

will never be shaken.

David asks, “LORD, who gets to enjoy your continued presence? Who gets to walk with you and fellowship with you?” In each case, the answer is the person who lives a life of integrity, and the promise is that “whoever does these things will never be shaken.”

When we live this way, we will never be shaken! Do you realize what an incredible statement that is?

So, the question remains: Are you a person of integrity? Be really honest with yourself. And, if there are some areas where you could do better, where your walk and talk don’t line up … decide today to make some changes. You may be able to make the changes on your own or you may need someone to walk with you through them. But, the bottom line is simple: do what it takes to be a person of integrity.

Integrity Deficit – Part One

Isn’t it tragic that we live in a world where people are more shocked by a display of integrity than a lack of it? More and more often, people seem surprised when someone does the right thing instead of when someone fails the morality test. This inversion is a sad indictment of how corrupt and self-absorbed our culture has become. Our ethics are determined by what we want and when we want it. It is all about us.

Integrity is living what you believe. It is walking on the outside what you believe on the inside. As Tony Dungy so brilliantly stated, “Integrity doesn’t come in degrees: low, medium, or high. You either have integrity or you don’t.” Integrity is living with all aspects of your life lining up into one whole.

You don’t have to look far to find a story about people who lack integrity. Maybe it’s a professional athlete everyone looks up to. He’s the best at what he does, but on top of that, he selflessly gives of himself to some charitable organization that’s making people’s lives better. Then one day the news comes out: he had a whole other sordid secret life that we never knew about.

Some politicians do this same thing. They run for office on a platform to make things better, and one day we discover they’ve been living covertly s though they’re above the law. It even happens to Christian leaders – pastors, ministers, evangelists – who preach God’s Word but are taking drugs, visiting prostitutes, or embezzling from their churches. They are living without integrity. They are not ‘integrated’ or functioning as a unified whole. They live contrary to their beliefs. They say one thing and live another.

All of these things are so “normal” that they don’t really take us by surprise anymore. It’s only worse, it seems, when the same thing happens to a close friend. You thought you knew them. You loved them, trusted them, and then boom, the curtain falls and you see the mess that was going on all along behind the scenes.

So if the lack of integrity is clear, what is true integrity? Here’s a simple definition: Practicing integrity means that your behaviour matches your beliefs.

That’s all there is to it. All the parts of your life seamlessly form one united whole. There are no secret compartments or double lives. What you say actually matches what you do. Your lifestyle is integrated. Your private life matches your public life, with no surprises. What other people see is that they get no matter what the setting in which they meet you. You may have heard the term defined  this way: “Integrity is what you do when no one else is looking.”:

Just to clarify, personal integrity is not the same thing as your reputation. No, your reputation is who other people think you are. Your integrity (or lack thereof) is who you really are.

God’s Word tells us, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Proverbs 11:3). How true. Just think of all the people who were destroyed when their house of cards – built on the shaky foundation of deception – came crashing down. I think many segments of society are being destroyed today by the duplicity of leaders, even entire organizations, who claim to believe one thing, yet practice something else. 

Some biblical examples next time (Part Two)

I Know, It’s Crazy, Right?

Jesus said to His disciples that we were to go into all the world and make disciples. To do this He appointed us as ambassadors of His Kingdom which means we represent Him and the Kingdom as we go into our neighbourhood, work place, and community. We are ministers of reconciliation. Crazy, eh?

And, He tells us that we have His authority to be the ambassador of His Kingdom and ministers of reconciliation. Not only do we have the appointment and the authority, He promises to go with us and be there for us each and every time we step out “in His Name.” I know, it’s crazy, right?

And, He promises that we need not worry about what to say or do because He will give us the words to speak when we need them and will show us what to do and how to do it. So, we don’t need to know what to say or what to do; just listen to the One who sent you. It’s His authority that authorizes us to speak on His behalf and not our own. We are speaking on God’s behalf. Again, crazy, right?

Take Paul; over and over again he said, “I’m not an eloquent speaker, I just preach by the power of the gospel. I’m the least of all the apostles. I just do this in the authority that’s been given to me by Christ.” And he wasn’t afraid of what people thought or how they might misunderstand. He explained, “I may seem to be boasting too much about the authority given to us by the Lord. But our authority builds you up; it doesn’t tear you down. So I will not be ashamed of using my authority” (2 Corinthians 10:8 NLT).

We must not be ashamed of using the same authority. It’s not our power; it’s the power of the One who appointed us. If I stand in the middle of the street with traffic everywhere and you’re driving towards me and I tell you to stop, what could you do to me? You could run me over, right? Because I’m just some goofy guy standing there talking. I’ve got no authority to tell you to do that.

If, on the other hand, I have a badge that says I’m a police officer and I tell you to stop, you know what you’d better do. I have the whole government standing behind me, and it’s not me telling you to stop; it’s the law. And so, as Christians, I come not in my own authority, but in the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.

First-century believers understood that their power was in Jesus and not in themselves, that they had that authority to use His Name. They would say, “Sick person, I’ve got no power to heal you, but in the Name of Jesus Christ, be healed,” and sick people were healed. They would say, “Demon-possessed person, I’ve got no power over demons, but in the name of Jesus Christ, come out!” or, and this is freaky, they would say, “Dead person, you’re dead; in the Name of Jesus Christ come back to life.” I know, it’s crazy, right?

Even crazier is that the New Testament says that we, as believers, can do even greater things (see John 14:12). Why? Because there’s no such thing as a “regular Christian.” You are an ambassador of Christ. You were not elected by people, but you were chosen and appointed by God to represent heaven on earth. I know, crazy!

You carry with you the message of reconciliation, as if God were making His appeal through you. And you never represent yourself; you always represent God. Why? Because just like Paul, you can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; my old life is gone. Nevertheless, I live. But it’s no longer I who live, you see; it’s Christ living through me.”

“But I’m just a stay-at-home mom.” You are not just a stay-at-home mom! You are an ambassador raising the next generation of world changers. You are called by God in your home with a divine mission.

“Yeah, but I’m just a student.” You’re not just a student! You are an ambassador in your chemistry class; you are an ambassador to your teachers at your school.

“Well, I’m just an entry-level bank teller.” You’re not just an entry-level bank teller; you’re a secret agent of the most high God, planted in that bank to represent Christ to people that you see all the time!

When you know who you are, you will know what to do; and you are, if you’re a Christian, an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ, not elected by people, but called and appointed by God. You never represent yourself, but you always represent Him. This is not your home; you’re from another country. You represent the King from the Kingdom that sent you, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and that makes your role on earth very important. There’s nothing regular about you, you see. You are the highest-ranking diplomat sent by God from the Kingdom of heaven, to this earth.

You know who you are.

So you know what to do. 

 

You Are God’s Gift – Part Two

We know for certain that we are not made right with God by our good works. We are saved only by grace through faith. And while we’re not saved by good works (Ephesians 2:8-9), we are saved for good works (Ephesians 2:10). 

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Jesus instructs us to let our light shine so that others may see our good deeds and glorify God our Father.

Matthew 5:16 NLT “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

Not only is God calling us to serve in His Church, He’s also calling us to serve as His Church. Don’t miss this important distinction. Yes, we have the honour of serving other believers inside the church, strengthening them to do the work and will of God. But our most important ministry doesn’t happen inside God’s Church. It happens as we are the Church, shining His light into a dark world desperate for His goodness. Our flame never diminishes when we light the fire of God’s love in someone else’s life; it only shines brighter. And when we decide that we want to be who God made us to be and to give our gifts away, He gives us even more opportunities to shine – and to be blessed by serving – in return.

No one intends to be a greedy, selfish person; we all justify our sinful decisions at some point. But the choices we make about serving others help us to take the focus off ourselves and to see the needs of those around us. You get to decide right now what your story will be, both the one you tell and the ones told about you. You can eat the fast food of selfish choices that tastes good in the moment, or you can eat the eternal soul food of serving others and grow closer to God.

For most people, the meaningful stories we have to tell involve doing things that matter. How often do you sit around with friends and brag about that time when you cheated to get ahead? Or that moment when you cut corners to get something you wanted? Those aren’t exactly things you’re likely to put in your highlight reel or your life story, are they? Chances are good that when you’re accepting some aware for job performance, you won’t be thanking all the coworkers you stepped on to get promoted.

No, the stories you love reminiscing about are the ones when you helped others, made a difference, lifted someone up. The times when you were a blessing to someone, when you were focused on others, when you served. The decision to serve may not feel natural at times, but when serving becomes our default ambition, we grow closer to God and experience more of who He made us to be.

The moments when you choose to serve others, to put their needs first, determine the kind of stories you tell tomorrow. And allows you to be God’s gift in someone else’s life. This is what we were created for. This is what brings great joy to the Father’s heart. This is how we and others give Him the glory that only He deserves.