The overflow

Read: Genesis 38-40, Matthew 12:22-50

Whether it’s intentional or not, things are going in and out of us all day every day. I’m not talking about food here. Or maybe I am. But it’s the spiritual sort. We read an article. We drive past a billboard. We watch a TV show. We have a conversation with a friend. We pass by a stranger. It’s all stimulation and it’s all being absorbed one way or another. And what goes in is what will come out.

Matthew 12:34

Since there are a lot of things that go in that we have no control over, the situation may seem hopeless. But, as we discussed yesterday, there is always hope. Just because we can’t control all of the bad things doesn’t mean we have no control whatsoever over the good things. We just have to make sure that the good stuff outweighs the bad. It may be as simple as changing the radio station in the car on the commute to work, or putting down one book in exchange for another. In some cases, it may take a little more effort.

For me, it’s getting up earlier than my schedule requires so that I know I will have time first thing every day to spend in the Word of God. I can carry that with me all day.

I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11 (NIV)

Jesus said that a tree—that’s us—is recognized by its fruit. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit. Every once in a while, it does us good to take a look at the kind of fruit we bear. We cannot assume that it’s always good. And, once we’ve determined our produce, we may need to take a look at what we’ve been feeding it. Even if you believe you have pretty decent fruit, keep in mind it can always be better, and the better it is, the less chance there is of it turning on you. Your fruit affects those around you even more than it affects you.

So, what’s your overflow?

Everyone else was doing it

Who never used the excuse that “everyone else was doing it” when you were a kid? It was a pretty simple go-to reason for why you did something your parents explicitly told you not to to. But did it ever work? If you tried it, you may have received “if they all went and jumped off a bridge, would you jump off, too?” as a response. Of course you wouldn’t. You’re smarter than that. Yet you did do something for which your only reason for doing it was because everyone else was.

John warns against following evil influence. The influence he’s talking about has far greater repercussions than getting your bicycle taken away or being grounded from the internet for a week. It’s your eternal soul at stake.

Dear friend, don’t let this bad example influence you. Follow only what is good. Remember that those who do good prove that they are God’s children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God.

3 John 1:11 (NLT)

The evil influence John is talking about here is that a man, Diotrephes, is going around telling the church that they don’t need to welcome or care for travelling ministers—a teaching that is completely contrary to the example Jesus set. But we can take this word of advice and apply it to far more than just travelling ministers. It is advice for life.

Influence comes at us from all directions—all day, every day. It’s unavoidable. It comes from Christians as well as unbelievers. It is up to us as individuals to determine how we let it affect us. In this passage, John gives us a pretty simple answer—know God. When we know and love God, good deeds will be the visible byproduct. If we don’t know God, evil deeds will be the byproduct. And we cannot assume that everyone who calls himself a Christian knows God (John’s warning here was against someone in the church).

It’s all so confusing! How am I supposed to know what’s what?

It’s a good thing that God doesn’t expect us to know it all. And it’s a good thing that He does know it all. And it’s an even better thing that He gave us His Holy Spirit to guide us in that regard. The closer we are to God, the more in tune we will be with His Spirit and can allow ourselves to be influenced by Him rather than those around us. And the stronger God’s influence is in our lives, the more of a good influence we will be on those around us.

If you need an influence to follow, Jesus is your prime example. Get to know him. Don’t do something just because everyone else is doing it (even Christians), do it because Jesus did it.

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 11-12, 3 John 1

One bad apple

Yesterday, after being out for most of the day, I was anxious to get home. I like being at home. I pulled into the driveway, grabbed all my stuff from the car and stomped up the front steps. Unlocking the door, I expected to be greeted by warm comfort. Instead, an overwhelming stench assaulted my senses. Dropping my things, it then became a bit of a wild goose chasing trying to find where the smell was coming from and what was causing it. While all of our organic waste is supposed to be kept separate, something landed in my garbage bin and stayed there for a while—long enough to stink up the entire house. The bin barely had anything in it.

I’m sure you’ve heard the term one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. When it comes to produce, once something starts to spoil, it doesn’t take long for it to spread to the good fruit. Back in Ezekiel, God was busy giving the prophet some very specific instructions regarding the temple. One thing among many stood out.

Take careful note of who may be admitted to the Temple and who is to be excluded from it.

Ezekiel 44:5b (NLT)

Only certain priests from a certain lineage were permitted to enter certain places in the Temple. To have anyone else enter would mean that it, and any utensils they came in contact with, would no longer be holy. A long process would then have to take place in order to re-sanctify that place and those things.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will bring ruin upon anyone who ruins this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you Christians are that temple.

2 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NLT)

Now, we no longer live under the Old Covenant and we don’t need to go to a physical temple to make sacrifices in order to atone for our sin. Jesus was the sacrifice that made eternal atonement for us. And we are now the temple—that holy place where the Spirit of God resides. And, just like the priests of old, we should be very aware of who and what we allow into the temple.

Like a little bit of garbage can stink up an entire house, one wrong person in our lives can ruin the temple. We all have different social circles and levels of relationships in our lives. Our inner circle should be reserved for a very select few people. How do we know who to let in? Here are a few questions we can ask ourselves:

  • Does this person share my faith?
  • Do they lead me toward Jesus or draw me away from him?
  • Am I challenged to become better and stronger with this person in my life?
  • Can I depend on this person in the bad times as much as I can in the good?

The list could go on, but I think you get the point. The inner circle, like the holy of holies, is sacred. It should be protected so that it—we—can remain holy. We may even have to distance ourselves from certain people in order to preserve that sanctity. Don’t let that bad apple in.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 43-44, 2 Peter 2

Pardon me once

When my eldest niece was young and she wanted to be excused, she’d asked to be pardoned. Twice. “Pardon me. Pardon me.” Someone told her that she only needed to say pardon me once. Then next time she needed to be excused, she put into practice what she’d been told. “Pardon me once. Pardon me once.”

If you’re the one in the wrong who needs to be pardoned, you only need to ask God’s forgiveness once. We almost always look at forgiveness as something that God does strictly for our benefit. We know that God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die as a sacrifice in our place. But as much as forgiveness is for our sake, it’s for God’s sake as well.

I—yes, I alone—am the one who blots out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.

Isaiah 43:25 (NLT)

When someone commits a wrong against you, you have two options: you can forgive or you can hold a grudge. The only benefit to the latter is that you can feel self-righteous by holding this fault over the person who committed it against you. But by refusing forgiveness, you are effectually cutting off that relationship from the root and preventing it from ever being able to grow.

Harbouring unforgiveness keeps that offense in front of you and, when allowed to fester, it will make you bitter. Like a weed in a garden left unchecked, it will propagate to other areas and choke out anything good. Unforgiveness forces us to look at a person and see their faults first. Everything they say or do—good or bad—goes through the filter of their sin. No relationship can ever grow or even move forward unless there is forgiveness and acceptance of it.

More than it affects the person at fault, unforgiveness, if left unchecked, can ruin the one holding on to it.

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. He cancelled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross. In this way, God disarmed the evil rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross of Christ.

Colossians 2:13-15 (NLT)

So when God forgives us, for His own sake as much as ours, He forgets what ever happened. He has to. If He were to remember and keep record of all our wrongdoings, forgiveness in the future would be impossible to offer. In order to remain the God who forgives, God has to blot out our sins, destroy every record that it ever happened.

When we forgive others, three things happen: we release ourselves from being bound by unforgiveness, we release the offender from their punishment, and we take away the ability from anyone else to convict that person of their sin.

This is the example God has put before us. We only have to ask to be pardoned once. For His sake, God cannot withhold forgiveness, nor can He keep any record of our wrongdoing. That is to our benefit. And, if God has done all of this for us, what right do we have to withhold forgiveness from anyone who asks it of us?

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 43-44, Colossians 2

20 Questions

As I began writing today, my page began to fill with one question after another. So today, take some time and read through these questions. Try to answer them for yourself truthfully.

  1. What kinds of things do you say on a daily basis?
  2. Are they good things or bad things?
  3. Do you believe your words to be neither good nor bad, but neutral?
  4. Are you talking to others about yourself?
  5. Or are you talking about the grace of God in your life?
  6. What are the things that are pouring out of you?
  7. How often do you take the time to reflect on your own words?
  8. Do you examine the things you say as much as you do what others say?
  9. When you think someone else should be correcting their speech patterns, do you apply that same thought to yourself?
  10. Do you ever try to change your thought process so that your words will reflect that change?
  11. In all your daily talk, how much does God come into play?
  12. Do you talk about Jesus like a friend or like he’s a distant relative or a mere acquaintance?
  13. When you tell someone you’re a Christian (and I hope you do), are they surprised or is it just a confirmation of everything else you say or do?
  14. Are your words a result of what you believe?
  15. Do you speak because you believe?
  16. If your words reflect what you believe, listen to yourself, what is it that you truly believe?
  17. Do you believe in yourself?
  18. Or do you believe in Christ?
  19. Do you project your own glory?
  20. Or do you reflect God’s glory?

We don’t go around preaching about ourselves; we preach Christ Jesus, the Lord. All we say about ourselves is that we are your servants because of what Jesus has done for us. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made us to understand that this light is the brightness of the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:5-6 (NLT)

But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, and so I speak.”

2 Corinthians 4:13 (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Proverbs 21-22, 2 Corinthians 4

Consequences

We all have to live with consequences—both good and bad. To every action there is a reaction. Current culture would have us believe that we need only endure the good consequences. The bad ones, well, there’s always a way out.

What would happen if we changed our view of “bad” consequences? What if, rather than avoiding them or pretending they don’t exist, we learned from them?

All through Numbers (and most of the Old Testament), Israel suffered the consequences of their disobedience. Some would say that God was rather harsh with them. Remember that, because of Moses’ pleading, God was not as harsh as He would have been otherwise. Over and over again, Israel, despite being a living, breathing miracle, rebelled against God.

A group of leaders tried to usurp Moses as leader. The earth swallowed them and their families. The rest of that group burned to a crisp. Ten of the twelve men sent to scout the land returned with the (incorrectly assumed) news that they could not take the Promised Land. As a result, they wouldn’t live to see Israel inhabit the land. A man gathered fire wood on the Sabbath. He was taken outside the camp to be stoned to death.

What did all of these things have in common? They all went against what God had already commanded. God wasn’t being a bully, He was simply living by His word. One would think that, after a punishment or two, that Israel would have taken the hint and repented of their evil ways. Unfortunately, we still haven’t learned our lesson. We refuse to look at the consequences of our actions as our own doing.

Society as a whole has adopted the mentality of victims, much like Israel did as they wandered the wilderness. Rather than accept their fault in the matter and work to avoid similar situations in the future, they wandered aimlessly complaining about their hard life. The reality was that they could have obtained the Promised Land in a matter of months after fleeing Egypt. Their disobedience kept them from the promise.

Take a look at the “bad” things in your life. Are they things that have been done to you or are they a result of your own action (or inaction)? Try to avoid getting defensive right away. Really look at yourself. Now, how much can you change by simply adjusting your attitude and correcting your course?

The “bad” things can often serve as good reminders that we’ve veered off course and need a correction.

Daily Bible reading: Numbers 16-17, Mark 6:33-56

Weeds

Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as everyone slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew. The farmer’s servants came and told him, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds!’

“‘An enemy has done it!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Shall we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

“He replied, ‘No, you’ll hurt the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds and burn them and to put the wheat in the barn.'”

Matthew 13:24-30 (NLT)

Yes, I am well aware that this passage is from yesterday’s reading, but today we read the explanation of it.

Skeptics of Christianity often ask, “If God exists, why is there bad in the world?” The obvious answer is that there is a God, but there is also an enemy. While God is God and He is infinite in His mercy and goodness, if He made all evil disappear, our free will would disappear along with it and that would defeat His entire purpose in creating humanity.

But all of that is not what we’re looking at today. Why is there evil? Why are there weeds among the wheat? Why can’t we just pull the weeds and be done with it?

Have you ever pulled a weed from your garden?

I am convinced that the root systems of weeds are fifty times larger than those of good plants. It’s nearly impossible to pull a weed without ripping out all of the soil in a radius that seems entirely too large for the size of weed you’re pulling. Along with the weed comes its roots, additional soil, and anything that was growing in that additional soil. Transfer that picture to a wheat field. There is no way the harvest would survive the pulling of all the weeds.

So the bad exists with the good and will exist until harvest time.

We are both the good seed and the farmer’s servants. We’ve been planted and have been given the mandate to grow. We’ve also been commissioned to plant and encourage others to grow. What we have not been given the job to do is weed the garden. God didn’t give the Church the job of removing that which doesn’t belong.

Think of it this way: you planted your garden in the spring. You took the time to prepare the soil. You’ve read up on how to tend to every type of plant you want to grow. You are going to reap a bountiful harvest. In a matter of weeks, your little plants start to sprout. You see neat little rows of green shooting up from the dark soil. Another week or two passes by, you’ve watered and you’re seedlings continue to grow, but something else has happened, there are new shoots that aren’t a part of your neat little rows. Weeds!

If you then, over the course of the summer, focus solely on the weeds and their removal from your garden and completely neglect the good seeds, what sort of harvest—if any— will you have come fall? You can’t remove all the weeds without damaging your good plants. You can’t starve the weeds without starving your harvest. Some weeds will have to stay through to the end for you to reap the bounty you planned on from the start.

So it is with the Church. If our sole focus is on trying to keep the bad stuff out, we’re going to miss out on all the good stuff. It’s not our job to pull the weeds; it’s our job to tend to the fields.

Daily Bible reading: Genesis 42-43, Matthew 13:33-58