Honour the Boss

Many years ago I was approached by a stranger who recognised me from my TV program. The young man hurried up and wanted to shake my hand and thank me. It turns out he watched my half-hour TV preaching program from time to time, although he was not a Christian, and was impacted by a lesson I gave on honouring our employer.
He had not been very good at that, often finding fault with things at work and telling the boss what he thought. The young man was not able to hold down a job for very long. After watching my message, the man changed his attitude and decided to honour his boss. That led to him keeping the job and being promoted to foreman. He had held the job for several years by the time he met me. He said his wife was wonderfully happy since he could now bring home a reliable income for their growing young family.
I was quite delighted to hear that report, but also struck by how a young man could have missed some basic instruction on how to fit in with an employer.
Let me review some Bible instruction for employees.
“Submit to your masters (bosses) with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” 1Peter 2:18
“Consider your masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.” 1Timothy 6:1
“Obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and sincerity of heart, as if you were obeying Christ.” Ephesians 6:5
I like that idea suggested in Ephesians 6:5 about serving our masters as if we are serving the Lord. That thought is amplified in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae.
“Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men; Knowing that you will receive the reward of the inheritance from the Lord: for you serve the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23,24
The attitude we are to have toward our boss at work is the same attitude we are to have in all we do, doing things as if doing them for Christ, not for the boss or for ourselves.
With that attitude our work becomes a form of worship.
Imagine a situation where work has become very unpleasant and most people are grumbling. If you grumble too then you are just like everyone else. But if you can say to yourself, “I don’t like this but I will do my best, as an act of worship to God”, you will live entirely differently to everyone else.
Let me add a disclaimer that being asked to do something immoral or illegal is excluded here, because Christ would never ask us to do that. We may have to take a stand against an evil instruction, losing our job if that’s what results, because we are doing things “for the Lord” so we must uphold godly standards.
Imagine what a shock it must have been for the employer of that young man I met years ago. The young man’s attitude was arrogant and prideful, disrespecting his boss. After taking God’s Word to heart he stopped being arrogant about his opinions and submitted to what the boss thought was best, even if he thought he could do it a better way. And he gave the boss respect. It’s no wonder he kept the job and was promoted.
We have many ‘bosses’ or masters over our lifespan, from parents to teachers, tutors, lecturers, trainers, club leaders, team captains, employers, church leaders, and so on. We are to give each of them our dutiful service, as if we are serving Christ.
That sounds nice as a thought, but it can be very difficult in practice. Many a child resents the decisions of their parents. Many a wife resents the leadership of her husband. Many a student scorns their teacher. Many a club or team member resents the way they are treated in that group.
In our day there is a strong draw to being individuals, having things as we want them, doing our own thing, speaking up for ourselves, ‘pushing back’ against those who impose on us, and so on. That cultural value, however, means we can easily disrespect those in authority in our lives and end up being arrogant and self-serving.
Christ wants to save you from that by emphasising your submission to Him, by submitting to and giving honour to all those who are placed over you.
Honour the Boss (whatever form of ‘boss’ you have, from parent to husband to leader) and you are honouring Christ. Dishonour your boss and you are dishonouring Christ, because how you respond to them reflects how you respond to Christ and God.
Become people of honour and allow God to honour you.
God says, “Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be despised.” 1Samuel 2:30

Being in God’s Presence

It is not unusual for Christians to enjoy a sense of being close to God, or maybe God being close to them. During times of prayer, worship or corporate gathering of believers, or even in times of tension, we may sense God’s presence, peace, comfort, joy and so on.

Recently I recognised that there are two ways I have experienced the presence of God and what I have heard from others confirms these two different experiences. Let me share them with you by reviewing an historical account given in the Bible at Genesis 28:10-17.

Jacob fled from his angry brother, Esau, after stealing the birthright blessing, by deceiving his father, Isaac. The escape plan was that he was being sent to visit his uncle Laban, his mother’s brother, and even to find a wife there.

He felt somewhat insecure and it was probably his first time so alone. At night he slept in the open, with a rock for his pillow. Overnight he dreamt of a ladder going to heaven right near him and watching angels go up and down the ladder. He also saw God speaking to him from heaven, promising him all the blessings on Abraham and Isaac, and to bring Jacob back safely.

When he woke Jacob named the place Bethel, meaning ‘House of God’.

We see in the vision of Jacob’s Ladder the idea of going up and coming down. The angels were ascending and descending in that spot. And there God spoke wonderful promises to Jacob.

At times I have felt as if lifted up to heaven and brought into God’s presence. 

We can be in God’s presence, as if having left our current surroundings and finding ourselves in God’s heavenly throne.

The Apostle Paul had rather specific experiences of this and was given wonderful revelations while in God’s heavenly presence. He explains this in 2Corinthians 12:2-7.

“Fourteen years ago I was caught up to the third heaven, Paradise. Only God knows if I was in my body or out of it. I heard things too sacred to be spoken, which no man is permitted to speak of. God gave me a thorn in my flesh to keep me humble.” 2Corinthians 12:2-7 (paraphrased)

At times I have also felt God’s presence coming into my space, coming down to me or onto me.

We see Biblical expressions of this with the glory cloud of God’s presence coming down onto the Tent of Worship (Tabernacle) and the Temple. We see it also when the Holy Spirit came upon people, such as Samson or the prophets, and giving them supernatural impulse.

So the Ladder in Jacob’s dream is a good analogy to remind us that God’s presence can be felt by us ascending into God’s Throne, or by God’s glory descending onto us.

So, how do you find yourself experiencing the presence of God?

The ideal way to enjoy that blessing is to receive it from God, such as being among other Christians worshipping God and entering into that worship, in song or prayer, stillness or devotion, then finding you are enjoying God with you.

Many years ago, as a Bible College student, I was in a carload of students travelling to preach in a church. We arrived an hour early and had to wait for someone to unlock the church. We sat in the car and decided to sing a few songs of worship to God. We were all prayed up and expectant and keen to be in tune with God, so we prayed and sang with sincerity.

Unexpectedly we all sensed God’s presence in the car. The sense was of the atmosphere being very holy, such that it would be wrong to speak or make any noise at all. I expect the others had their eyes closed in prayer as I did and no-one moved for probably ten to fifteen minutes. When that sense lifted we discussed how awesome it was to feel God’s presence with us and it gave us great expectancy for the services to follow that day.

We didn’t manufacture that sense of God’s presence. It just came as a result of our hearts desiring to worship God.

That kind of experience can’t be manufactured, but it can be observed. What I observe is that such times come when I lose myself in devotion to God. If I am too conscious of myself or my surroundings, maybe thinking of being in control of myself or how I look, or asking questions in my mind about what is going on, then it seems I get in the way of God’s manifested presence.

I have probably had that experience mostly in times of personal devotion and prayer or times of corporate worship with others. Sometimes when my wife and I are sitting with people who have sought our help we will sense God’s presence and be encouraged that God is at work in the life of those needing help.

There is another approach which others recommend, of “Practicing the Presence of Jesus”. This is a more conscious mental recognition that God is present, even if we can’t feel His presence, and that God is watching us. By assenting to the true fact that God is with you there comes a change in perspective.

I have done this as a means of reassuring myself or bolstering my faith and boldness when feeling under pressure. 

In that way it’s like what King David did when he felt ‘under it’.

“My soul, why are you discouraged and unsettled within me? Hope in God: I will praise Him for the help of his presence. O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore I remember You” Psalm 42:5,6

David encouraged himself by remembering God was on his side and putting his hope in God’s deliverance. David practiced the presence of the Lord.

I encourage you to reflect on the fact that God is actually with you, and that there are angels helping you, even though you cannot see or feel them. Get into the habit of respecting the presence of God in your world and of you lifted to sit with Christ in heavenly places.

God promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you” Hebrews 13:5

So His presence is with us – invading our everyday world of home, work, rest or whatever.

And Bible tells us we are already in heavenly places.

“God raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” Ephesians 2:6

Seek God’s presence and practice it when you wonder if it is really there. Remember Jacob’s Ladder, showing it is possible to go up into God’s presence, and God’s presence is brought down the ladder to you too.

May you always be in God’s Presence.

Being Friendly

Let me share a simple truth that some may not have caught yet. 

We are responsible for the quality of relationships we have with others.

Here’s a Bible verse to point that out.

“A man who wishes to have friends must show himself friendly” Proverbs 18:24

Some people tend to think the situation they are in with others is always the fault of the other people. That may not be the case.

Mind you, let me put in a disclaimer. There have always been jealousies and competitive attitudes among people and there are some people you may never get along with. The Bible allows for that in the lovely phrase “as much as you are able”. We are told to do all in our power to get along with others, but there is also the suggestion that for some it will never be possible.

“If it be possible, as much as you are able, live peaceably with all men.” Romans 12:18

People in communal groups such as schools, workplaces or teams will at times find difficult people around them. With the flourishing of social media it is possible for nasty or out of sorts people to inflict increased insult, hurt, rejection and pain on others. If you are in such a situation you have my sympathy.

My thoughts here are directed to people who don’t make an effort to build quality relationships, for various reasons.

Youth and others as well can often feel insecure about building relationships and breaking the ice with new people. This is specially so if someone has experienced insult or offence from others. Each new connection is a potential source of hurt, so it can feel safer to withdraw and avoid risk.

We tend to cut off sources of hurt and challenge, so some people cut off new social connections because of the insecurity it brings.

Yet the Bible truth is that those who would have friends, and friends are good things to have, must show themselves to be friendly people.

So let’s look at what it means to show yourself to be friendly.

People who are friendly and ready to make new friends tend to be welcoming and accepting of others. They may smile a welcoming smile and give a friendly greeting when they meet new people. 

Even if you are not inclined to be friendly and even if you are afraid of the other people, if you greet them with kindness, confidence and a nice welcome, you are on a strong starting position to build friendship, or at least have them think kindly of you.

For breaking the ice with others it is wise to be polite, friendly, welcoming and respectful.

Once the ice has been broken there will still need to be time to build connection. Allowing someone to feel included is important to them, especially if they are shy. If you continue talking to your friends about things the newcomer doesn’t understand you give the newcomer the feeling they are not welcome or don’t fit.

A good way to include people in your company or in your circle of friends is to take interest in the new person, by inviting them to join and share their ideas along with others.

It has been said that everyone’s favourite subject is talking about themselves. When the other person feels free and invited to share about their own likes and dislikes, or their interests they will feel affirmed and welcome.

However, if you interrogate each newcomer into your world you will give a different signal, maybe that they are under a microscope or have to meet your standards, or that you are just very nosey.

And if you make a negative judgment of what they way that will be hurtful to them and may shut down the friendship before it gets going. People hate being laughed at or treated as a misfit.

Connecting with others as real people is also very important to them and helps build relationship.

For example, suppose you meet some person in a service role, such as a cleaner or a person stacking items in a shop. If you see them as a menial servant you will tend to lock them into their servant role. If you were to say to a cleaner, “I think you missed that spot” you may be insulting them, reminding them that to you they are a cleaner. Even if you compliment them on a good job, which is a nice thing to do, you are still keeping them in the role of cleaner, and outside your personal circle.

If, however, you were to chat with them about how they are feeling that would give a different signal. Imagine asking a shop assistant if they have been able to keep up with the score on an important sporting match happening right then. That would suggest that you see them as equal to you in interest in sport, rather than someone who might deserve to miss out because they are of no consequence.

Many a business person has strong connections with the people who serve them, such as their drivers, security, cleaners and others. They relate to them as people equally allowed to enjoy life and engage with the things others enjoy.

If someone new enters your circle and doesn’t understand what the ‘in talk’ is all about it would be courteous to give them a quick summary or something to tune them in. You could say, “They’re talking about a silly incident that happened on the weekend.” Or, “There’s been a long running issue about the equipment. You’ll see for yourself soon enough.”

The important lesson is to “show yourself to be friendly”.

Unfriendly things are when you treat new contacts as an audience to listen to your opinions or affirm how smart you are. It’s unfriendly to dominate conversations. It’s unfriendly to discount and trample on the ideas of others. It’s unfriendly to be secretive about who you are and what you think.

For some people it feels dangerous to allow new people into their world and to work on building friendships. Yet it is worth the risk. Even if you were to fail two times out of three, the end result will be that you build some new friendships.

I encourage you to do that and to get the help you need if these suggestions are not enough. And may you have great success in Being Friendly.

Unrestrained Living

Have you noticed that today it takes two incomes to maintain family life? In my childhood it was rare for a woman to work and large families survived quite well on a single income, buying a home, having a car, etc.

However, family expectations have changed radically over time, along with things becoming cheaper and more readily available. Today’s families would struggle if they went back to the living conditions of fifty years ago.

That prompts reflection on the human tendency to expand expectations based on available resources. When we have more opportunities we want to take them. When new things are available we tend to want them. When improved living standards become accessible we generally aspire to them.

That general tendency can lead to what I will call here ‘unrestrained living’, compared to stopping to manage our resources for other things than our own indulgence.

A friend pointed out many years ago that many members of a large church lived in expensive double storey homes. He noted that houses of the same living space that were only single storey were significantly cheaper. At the time he calculated that if ten of those home owners swapped their double storey home for a single storey home and gave the money released to missions there would be a million dollars suddenly made available for the Kingdom of God.

The idea was rejected out of hand by members of that church. They considered that the blessing of the Lord enabled them to have the more desirable double storey home and God did not tell them not to enjoy their heart’s desire.

There are others in church history who took the opposite approach, setting a pleasing but modest lifestyle and dedicating all their excess to God’s work. They did not need the latest and the greatest, or the most exciting technology, or the latest fashion. They were blessed with comfortable living and did not need to go beyond that. Their value system put other things ahead of their unrestrained indulgence.

Robert LeTournea is a famous example of this restrained living. You can learn about him from his book, Mover of Men and Mountains.

So recognise that there are alternatives to unrestrained living. Living to the limit of our resources means we have put our personal comfort and pleasure ahead of other things, such as giving to God’s work, or meeting the needs of the poor.

What do we do, then, if we want to reconsider our living? For many families there is little excess, despite two incomes, and family expectations are that they will all enjoy the latest and greatest, biggest and best of everything if at all possible.

So the first step is to start saying “No” to ourselves. Consider that life is not about how much you can get for yourself, but how you can glorify God with what you have.

The next consideration is probably to plan where you will direct spare money other than on yourself and your family.

A Swiss family I knew many years ago took a strong interest in missionaries and taught their children to say ‘No’ to themselves one meal a week. They would not cook dinner on that night but sit at the dining table reading letters from missionaries they supported and praying for them. The money saved from not buying food for that meal was put aside in the missionary support fund.

That’s a lovely way to teach a family to think of others ahead of themselves, but with today’s prices there is not much money saved on an average meal.

Another way to change attitude is to invite to a meal those families that are not so fortunate, having them enjoy a hearty meal with your family.

A challenge then is for the family to identify when they are wasting money on unnecessary indulgence. This can be hard to spot, since people want to enjoy a certain quality of life, and lose sight of how enjoyable life is even without expensive items.

There are, for example, amazing locations for expensive resorts, on tropical beaches, with brilliant sunshine and perfect weather much of the time. You can enjoy all those natural wonders at an exorbitantly priced resort, with added luxuries thrown in, or at a more modest resort, where all your needs are met, or at a budget place where you look after yourself more. And for all that, the locals, living in their grass hut, enjoy all of those natural blessings for free.

If you are going to enjoy sitting and enjoying a view does it matter that you are sitting in a beach buggy or on a rock? Does a hot drink taste better at a luxury resort or out of a chipped mug?

On my various strolls I have often noticed in summer how many houses have their air conditioning on all day long, without considering how lovely the ambient temperature is outdoors. In previous generations people had the amazing skill of opening windows and doors to allow cool, fresh air into the home. Some families seem to have lost all sense for such common sense, preferring to simply flick a switch and forget about the real world.

If we choose to put others as important in our world, we will start to look for ways to restrain our unrestrained living.

People now make donations to charities as a ‘gift’ for those who don’t really need any more things. People now limit spending on gifts for each other to a small amount, suggesting that extra gift money be directed to a chosen need or needy family.

God has blessed us with quality of life that kings and princes in previous centuries could not enjoy. Yet we seem to want more and more resources focused on us, seeking the newest technology, the latest gizmo and the finest quality of life we can afford.

Can you live for more than yourself? Can you teach your family to live for others and the Kingdom of God? Can you give up your unrestrained living?

I pray that by God’s grace you will start living more for God, for God’s Kingdom and for others, and check rein in your distraction with spending more and more. And may God’s Kingdom be blessed by what you release into God’s hands and to the benefit of the needy.

God’s Tin Can

At a recent gathering of Christians I had an interesting impression, which some might call a prophetic insight. I saw a partly rusting tin can, such as a child might use when rambling around a yard collecting items of interest. A child might collect a shiny stone, a feather, a coloured button and other unrelated items, each chosen because they seem to be a ‘treasure’ to the child.

The impression I had was of a hand holding such a can of unrelated items. I realised, however, that the hand was not that of a child, but the hand of God. The message I sensed immediately was of God bringing together a strange set of pieces that seem unrelated to us. Yet in God’s plan those unrelated pieces are meant to be brought together.

This applied immediately to the gathering I was attending. There were people from various churches and people with different ideas about how to worship God, all brought together for God’s purposes.

Our natural instinct is to gather with those who are like us, who do things the way we like things done. But God likes to surprise us by bringing together pieces which wouldn’t be our natural choice, and using them to surprise us.

“Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” 1Corinthians 1:20

“God choses foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and weak things of the world to confound things which are mighty; And God chose the world’s base things, and things despised, yes, and things of no consequence, to overturn things that are: So no flesh can glory in his presence.” 1Corinthians 1:27-29.

During the singing there was a chap near me who persisted in clapping on the beat, loudly. It didn’t enhance my enjoyment of the music. Part of me wished he would stop. He would have been one of the pieces in the can that I didn’t appreciate. Maybe in his church that kind of loud clapping was normal, but I would rather clap less intrusively and maybe with more variety than his driving rhythm.

After getting the impression of the tin can I began to thank God for the person clapping loudly, accepting that God, in His infinite wisdom, was happy with that man and his form of worship. I realised I had to also be happy with that man and his form or worship, since God was and God had put us in the same tin can.

I reflected on the wider group of people gathered in the meeting and realised that God was releasing grace to all of them, giving each of them opportunity to worship Him along with others they did not know.

Instead of feeling a little exclusive or elitist in my estimation of myself I accepted that we all, weird as some might seem to me, were each as much God’s choice as the other. We were all picked up by God and put into God’s tin can as His ‘treasures’.

This truth works in reverse as well. If you are one of those who feels you need to apologise for yourself and your inability to fit the standards of others, put that thought aside and realise that God has chosen you to be in His tin can, as one of His ‘treasures’.

You may be different, and you may fail to pass the test of others, but you are not here to serve those others who might stand in judgement of you, but you are here to be what God wants you to be and to glorify Him.

God, in His economy, has places for all manner of people. Our most important part is not to fulfil some religious duty but to be who God wants us to be, to accept His salvation and to live for His glory.

So, to all those who wonder where they fit, may I be the first to welcome you to God’s Tin Can. Hallelujah!