You Are Being Watched

I was reminded yesterday about something that occurs every day–People are watching. The cashier at your grocery store, the teller at your bank, the person who cuts your hair, the lady who cleans your home–they are all watching you, looking to get a sense of what kind of person you are. We know this is the case because we do it too. Though largely on the subconscious level, we continually process the signals we receive from others and we quietly ascertain whether this is someone we want to know better, or whether this is someone we would rather avoid.

If you want to test my hypothesis, here is a scenario for your consideration: You walk into the bank that you have always gone to. You know all the staff. You’re in a fairly long line-up. Do you begin to hope that you will be served by a particular teller? Is there someone you are eagerly hoping to NOT be served by?

Am I the only one who thinks like this?

I was acutely reminded of this human tendency yesterday when I went to the post office to mail a small package. Thanks to ebay.com this is something I regularly do–and I always go to the same post office and am usually served by the same person.

“Life is Good?” the person serving me asked.

“Of course it is”, I responded with a modicum of awkwardness.

“Life is Good”, she repeated, this time pointing at my shirt. (I own a selection of shirts made by a clothing company, Life is Good – the shirt I was wearing is the header for this post).

“Do you believe that?”, she asked me.

“I sure do–Life IS good”, I insisted.

“That must be why you always seem happy and are smiling”, was her final response as she handed me my receipt.

The last thing the lady at Canada Post said left me encouraged, convicted, and compelled to write this blog–all at the same time.

I was greatly encouraged to know that I come across to others (at least to one person!) as a happy person. But as my encouragement from the encounter began to wane, a conviction began to arise. The woman at Canada Post doesn’t know the true origin of my happiness. The source of my happiness is appropriately summarized by the hymn line, ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’ But, how do I communicate that in a one minute conversation at the post office?

To be honest, I’m not sure how I could have responded differently. I’m not so much bothered by what I did or didn’t say–I’m bothered by my total lack of readiness for such an opportunity. I had forgotten sociology 101 principle: People are watching.

I wonder if this is why the apostle Peter writes these words in one of his letters to the churches of his day: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

In other words, if someone wants to know the source of your happiness, be ready to tell them the truth.

I lament that I wasn’t ready, but I’m thankful for the prospect of new opportunities. The next time I eat at a local restaurant, the next time I pick up my dry cleaning, and the next time I mail a package, I’ll remember that others are watching.

I’ll remember that I may have an opportunity to affirm with my words what my actions have been seeking to convey–that Life is Good because God is Good.

What Fuel Are You Using?

Are you easily exhausted? Do you ever feel that you are on the verge of burn-out?

That sometimes describes me. And yet, thankfully, I’m convinced that it doesn’t have to be this way. Whether we fall flat on our face or whether we finish the day energized depends upon what is fueling you.

If you’re at all like me, you begin the morning fueled by a large thermos of coffee. We think of food, and certain kinds of drinks, as fuel. Gatorade asks the question, ‘Is It In You?‘. Red Bull promises increased energy. Apparently some Major League Baseball players, in search of more of a lot of things, have turned to Human Growth Hormones (HGH) and anabolic steroids to gain an edge.

Most of us get the principle that what is “In You” hugely affects your output. What you might not know is that God provides something infinitely better than coffee, Red Bull, and HGH for your progress.

The apostle Paul (in his letter to the Colossians 1:3-14) speaks words of encouragement to a community of faith in desperate need of fuel for the journey. The fuel promised to the Colossians long ago, remains available to you and I today. I spoke about this on Sunday, January 27, 2008. Have a listen and you may find the way to gain fuel for the journey.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Taste For Yourself

I’ll explain the beef pic in a moment.

I’m thoroughly enjoying facebook. I totally get why it is the most popular social utility of its kind. Since subscribing in the summer of 2007, I have engaged in quite a few theological-type discussions with friends from my high school days. Maybe I’m a bit of a novelty–the guy least likely to become a pastor, becomes a pastor (further evidence of God’s sovereignty!). One particular dialogue has captivated me–one of my better friends from Ridley College describes himself as an atheist. We’ve been discussing everything from bible translations to the origins of life (evolution), and a bunch of things in between. One the one hand, I sense my training and education has adequately equipped me for such a dialogue–but, on the other hand, I get the feeling that the cogency of my points is less important than I’d like. I think that is because Jesus is not a concept up for debate. Yes, certainly, He is debated all the time–I realize that–what I mean is that I don’t think God intends to draw people to Himself through clever arguments. As I read the Gospels, and as I see individuals come to a saving faith in Christ, it is not because Jesus out-debated them. Individuals encounter Jesus in a personal way and that experience profoundly transforms them. The examples of this are myriad–Peter, Mary Magdalene, Zacheus, the woman at the well (John 4), just to name a few.

My point is this: We ought to recognize the limitations of arguing our friends and family into the kingdom of God.

So, let me suggest a better way…via an analogy:

Certified Angus Beef is the best kind of beef in the world. I am convinced of this (see: macgregors.com ), and I have been equipped to wax eloquent about the superiority of Certified Angus Beef versus other brands of beef. However, the more I think about it, the more I am convinced of the limitations of my arguments. The best way for me to convince skeptics of the superiority of Certified Angus Beef is to get them to taste it for themselves. Tasting the beef will be far more convincing than any argument I could marshal.

I feel exactly the same way when it comes to sharing Jesus with my atheist friend, or with any friend for that matter. My words are imperfect. If a person’s salvation depends upon my wisdom, we’ve got a problem. Thankfully, Jesus makes Himself known in the Scriptures–He can be ‘tasted’ there.

My encouragement to my fellow Christians would be to recognize the limitations of our words. We need our unbelieving friends and family members to ‘taste’ Jesus for themselves. To this end, invite your friends to ask God to reveal Himself (invite them to pray!). Invite your friends to read a Gospel and to consider who Jesus is. Invite your friends to taste for themselves the goodness of God, which we have come to love and cherish.

Don’t get distracted by intramural arguments about translation, origins, etc. There is but one key question: What are you going to do with Jesus? Everything hinges on how one answers this question. To this end, I implore you: Taste Jesus For Yourself.

The Parable of the Snow-blower

Allow me to give you a little background information. In May of 2006 the MacPhail’s purchased a quaint little A-frame cottage North of Kingston, Ontario. Along with purchasing the cottage, we negotiated the inclusion of a few other items including a snow-blower. I knew a snow-blower would come in handy in this region, which was reputed to have excessive snow accumulation. I had no personal experience operating a snow-blower, but I had heard such great things about them that I deemed it a necessity.

The first winter came and went and, strangely enough, I had no occasion to use the snow-blower. When we were at the cottage, the snow was minimal. When the storms hit, we were in Toronto.

Winter #2: I arrive at the cottage on the evening of December 30, 2007. I park on the road since the driveway is impassable from the snow. ‘No problem’, I think to myself, ‘I’ll just fire-up the snow-blower tomorrow.’ The next day we are walloped by a massive snow storm. I make my way out to the garage and roll out the snow-blower. I’m excited. I’m anticipating the power of the machine and how it will make quick work of these substantial snow piles……but it won’t start. I notice it also has an electric starter, and so I plug it in……still no success. I play around with the choke setting, I manipulate some levers, and prime the gas……still nothing.

After more than an hour of experimentation, I launch an all-out search for the owner’s manual. I can’t seem to recall where I put it. I had never actually read the thing, so I had no instructions to recall from memory.

The storm continued steadily and snow fell for more than 24 hours straight. The accumulation of snow was substantial, to say the least. And, unfortunately, I never succeeded to get my snow-blower started. I was frustrated. I was agitated. I needed this snow-blower to help me cope with the storm. My first instinct was to blame (and kick) this, apparently, faulty piece of machinery. My second instinct was a lot more balanced–Why did I wait almost 2 years before attempting to start the snow-blower? Why did I wait for a massive snow storm before testing the snow-blower? Why hadn’t I read, or at least browsed the instruction manual? How did I allow myself to lose track of the manual?!

As I asked myself these questions, my mind drifted into theological reflection. I suspect that many of us regard God in a similar manner to how I regarded my snow-blower. We’re glad to know that we have God nearby, ‘just in case’. We know something about His power, and we have heard others speaking glowingly about Him, but we have never had any personal experience of Him. Eventually, the storms of life come rolling in and we find ourselves reeling. We call out for God’s help, but get the sense we might be on our own. Our instinct is to shout, ‘God, where are you when I really need you?!’ Our instinct is to blame God.

I want to clarify that the point of this parable is not to portray God as being like a snow-blower that won’t start. Rather, the point of this parable is to note how many of us take for granted the things that will help us cope in the midst of fierce storms.

Snow-blowers, of course, do not stop or reverse storms. Snow-blowers simply clear a path for us in the midst of a storm, or following a storm. Similarly, the Bible most often portrays God walking with us in the midst of trouble, rather than as a God who determines to make sure we never face adversity. Psalm 23 is a great example of this.

I am glad that God is not like a snow-blower that won’t start. I am comforted by the notion that He wants to help me cope with life’s fierce storms. And I am renewed in my awareness that there is something left for me to do. God has provided us with a manual (the Bible) to gives us a sense of how He operates. I don’t think it is wise to wait for a storm to hit before we consult the manual. I suspect we would blame God a lot less for our storms, if we spent more time acquainting ourselves with Him during the pleasant days. There are benefits to familiarizing ourselves with God and His ways even during seasons of ease and prosperity.

This is because God is so much more than my rescue plan. Jesus is so much more than the agent for my celestial insurance policy. He is the Creator who reaches out in love to His creation. I am grateful that ‘the manual’ doesn’t always read like a manual, but rather, it often reads as a letter of affection written by a Father to His children.

This is someone who I will gratefully welcome in a storm, but this is also someone I’d like to interact with everyday. I’m so glad that’s possible.

Please excuse me, it’s time to go find that manual.

Nobody’s Perfect?

Did you know that Jesus wants us to be perfect? (Matthew 5:48). The apostle Paul, after explaining to the Corinthians that he was praying for their perfection (2 Corinthians 13:9), tells them to “aim for perfection” (2 Corinthians 13:11).

Is this mission impossible? What is the sense in pursuing something that we have no hope of achieving in our lifetime?

On Sunday, January 20, 2008, I delivered a message on this subject…Have a listen:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.