Suck it up, Buttercup

Feelings are good. They can let us know when things are okay or bad or scary or wonderful. Some would have us believe that we should be ruled entirely by our feelings. We should always feel safe. We should never feel threatened. We always have a right to feel whatever we want to feel and express those feelings however we choose. And how is that working out for us?

Even King David, upon learning of the death of his son Absalom, had a moment when he let his feelings overtake him. He retreated to his safe space. And you know what that earned him? A big, fat lecture from the leader of his military.

The king covered his face and cried aloud, “O my son, Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Then Joab when into the house of the king and said, “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come upon you from you youth till now.”

2 Samuel 19:4-7 (NIV)

Ouch! Who would be brave enough to tell a king to get off his butt, wipe the tears off his face, and congratulate the army that killed his son? From David’s perspective of intense grief, one may say that Joab was overly harsh with his king. What right did he have to say what he did in the manner he said it? Was David not allowed to mourn for his son?

Had David chosen to put his feelings first and wallow in his grief, it would have cost him the kingdom that had just been saved. Instead of closing the door on Joab, David heeded his commander’s advice.

So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway. When the men were told, “The king is sitting in the gateway,” they all came before him.

2 Samuel 19:8 (NIV)

We are all entitled to our feelings, but our feelings are not entitled to rule us unless we allow them to. God gave us feelings. He gave us the ability to rejoice and to grieve. He made us to be glad as well as sad. But He also gave us dominion. To be ruled by our feelings is to look solely on our inward selves. To give in to every feeling with the unction to express every little emotion that comes upon us is to become utterly selfish.

Was David selfish in wanting to grieve for his son? No. But in his grief, he stole the joy of victory from his men. They thought they had done well in restoring the kingdom to its rightful ruler. But instead of a pat on the back, all they saw was David’s back as he turned to mourn the death of his enemy.

While we should welcome feelings and emotions, we cannot be entirely ruled by them. Sometimes how we feel must take a back seat to what we must do. Sometimes we have to suck it up and do what is best for the greater good rather than our own good.

Take a page out of David’s book, literally. He learned to channel his feelings and emotions, pouring them out to God in the pages we now know as the Psalms. There, the shepherd boy who became a king, let it all out. He figured out how to handle his emotions while balancing them with the responsibilities of ruling God’s chosen people. He learned humility above all.

My heart is not proud, O Lord,
my eyes are not haughty
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
like a weaned child with its mother,
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 131 (NIV)

Read: 2 Samuel 19-20, Luke 21:20-38 

Know that it is good

Now Saul heard that David and his men had been discovered. And Saul, spear in hand, was seated under the tamarisk tree on the hill at Gibeath, with all his officials standing around him. Saul said to them, “Listen, men of Benjamin! Will the son of Jesse give all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make all of you commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds? Is that why you have all conspired against me? No one tells me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse. None of you is concerned about me or tells me that my son has incited my servant to lie in wait for me, as he does today.”

1 Samuel 22:6-8 (NIV)

This sounds like the rant of a madman. It is the rant of a madman. Jealousy can be a powerful motivator. Saul saw David as a great threat to his rule over Israel and sought to destroy him. He allowed his jealousy, anger, and rage to consume him. Instead of ruling the nation as he had been anointed to do, Saul took his best men and went running around the countryside seeking to kill the man who had once been the only one who could calm him.

David, on the run, had long ago been anointed as the next king of Israel. The present king was doing all that he could to prevent David from ascending the throne. At one point, David had ample opportunity to take Saul’s life, and thus, the throne. His men would have followed him that day in the cave had David chosen to relieve Saul of his life while Saul relieved himself. But that would have made David just like Saul.

Saul had once been an honourable man. Anointed as king over Israel, he started off well, but soon took matters into his own hands rather than leaving them in God’s hand. God had already taken his anointing from Saul’s familial line. David, the man who chased after God’s heart, would be the start of a line of royalty that would not only last for generations, but for eternity.

But all of that could have easily been cast away had David chosen to kill Saul instead of trim his robe. David took the path of humility over the path of vengeance. Just one of many instances that earned him the eternal bloodline.

He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you?’ This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the Lord’s anointed.'”

1 Samuel 24:9 (NIV)

David’s faithfulness and his haste to repentance when he wasn’t so faithful allowed God to continue to work through him. By continuing to seek the Lord rather than pursue his own desired, God was able to make Israel great and, eventually make a way to save the whole world. David’s obedience and faithfulness to God far outlasted his own lifetime. It spared many generations to follow—all the way to Jesus, who came to save all generations.

Just as David could not fathom all that God had planned for his lineage, we cannot even begin to understand the plans God has for us. We can live in the moment and take the path of least resistance, or we can live for the prize God has set before us.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:14 (NIV)

That prize that Paul was talking about is our green card, our citizenship in heaven. I can guarantee that there will be opportunities to take the easy way—like Saul in the save before David—but I can also guarantee that there is another way. We can’t know all that God has planned for us and how it will affect the generations to come. But we can trust in His plan and know that it is good.

Read: 1 Samuel 22-24, Luke 16:1-18

Teach. Pray.

It is our duty as believers to pray for one another and to pray for the Church. Prayer is good and it is right, but it cannot take the place of teaching.

Near the end of Samuel’s life, he has a heart-to-heart with Israel. He’s been their spiritual Father for many years. He’d made his fair share of mistakes. So had Israel. But at this point in time, Israel was on the road to repentance. What Samuel really wanted to do at times was walk away from them as a parent might wish to walk away from a belligerent child who just can’t seem to learn his lesson. But because the Lord was faithful to Israel, Samuel would be, too.

He encourages the people to set aside all idols and worship God alone. He tells—he teaches—Israel the right way in going about life as God’s chosen people. Prayer is all fine and good, but if someone is never taught the right way to do something, their chances of getting it right are slim. In addition to praying for them, Samuel chose to tell Israel what to do.

As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.

1 Samuel 12:23-24 (NIV)

And he prayed that God would help them to do what is right.

Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

Obedience and faithfulness must first be taught. To neglect teaching it to remain ignorant and immature.

Then we must pray that those lessons we have learned take root and grow and become fruitful. Once we learn what God says and how He says it, our prayers allow us to hear His voice so that He can continue to train us in the way we should go.

Read: 1 Samuel 10-12, Luke 13:22-35

Side effects

As much as possible, I avoid the use of prescription medication. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I’m one of those people that experience side effects more often and more acutely than most. I can use nearly any list of side effects as a checklist should my health require the use of prescriptions. In most cases, the initial symptom is easier to endure than the side effects of the drug. As a result, I deal with chronic allergies instead of the nosebleeds, cough, fever, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, trouble breathing, and fatigue that come with over-the-counter nasal spray.

Now, I’m a more extreme case than the majority of the population, but most of us, in one way or another, have resigned ourselves to side effects and recovery time. A common cold may last just a few days, but the recovery of it can last a week or more. The same goes for the flu. A couple of days of being sick and medicated can lead to a week or two of recovery. We’re used to the idea. We expect it. And, whether we realise it or not, I think it’s had a dramatic effect on our faith.

“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

Luke 4:35 (NIV)

So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.

Luke 4:49 (NIV)

These are just two accounts of many where Jesus performed a miracle. The miracles are incredible, but for now, look at what happened afterward. The demon-possessed man was freed without injury. Simon’s mother-in-law got up and started serving guests. When was the last time you were up and around doing housework the moment your fever broke? Probably never.

Here’s the thing about Jesus. Not only did he heal people, not only did he free them from demons, he did so without side effects. I cannot think of a single miracle in the Bible that required a time of recovery. Even Lazarus, dead for days, simply walked out of his tomb as though nothing had happened.

Our resignation to side effects and recovery time has stifled our faith. We pray just to get better and that’s good enough. But what Jesus has in mind for us is far better than good enough. It’s more than enough.

I think the possessed man would have been glad for a few scrapes and scratches, even a broken bone just to be free. Simon’s mother-in-law probably would have been content just to have a few degrees relief from her burning fever. Jesus didn’t just heal them, he made them whole.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10 (NIV)

There are no side effects in Christ. There is no recovery time. When Jesus does something, he gets the job done the first time. That is where our faith should be. You may have heard it said that good enough is the enemy of great. It’s true. We’ve adopted an Eeyore mentality, convincing ourselves that just enough is okay. But it’s not.

The Jesus we follow is the same Jesus who called Simon to cast his nets so they could be brought back up so full they nearly sunk two boats. The Jesus we follow is the same Jesus who first forgave the paralytic, then told him to get up and walk. The Jesus we follow is the same Jesus who not only rose from the grave, but conquered death itself.

So why are we settling for just enough when we serve the God of more than enough?

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17b-19 (NIV)

Read: Joshua 14-15, Luke 4:33-44 

In and out

I’m scheduled to leave for a short missionary trip to Mexico in just a few days. This morning I received a phone call from the mechanic (where I managed to push my car after it broke down in the middle of the road yesterday) saying I needed a new fuel pump. It’s not a cheap fix. Cheaper than needing a new car, but not cheap.

I then got to thinking. This isn’t the first time something really crappy has happened right before I’ve left for a missions trip:

  • Just days before I left on my first trip to Peru, my great-grandmother passed away, almost a year to the day since my grandfather passed away—my grandfather was supposed to accompany me on that trip.
  • Again, just days before leaving for Costa Rica, I broke a toe. It may seem insignificant, but is quite significant when you can’t put on proper shoes to walk through a squatter village.
  • Upon returning from another trip to Peru, I came home to learn that my employer had filled my position in my absence—an absence I had scheduled and made arrangements to be covered until my return.

In addition to these points, I’ve dealt many times with lost or delayed luggage, differences in opinion with leadership, and a plethora of other small issues that, when I think about it, really add up.

Does this mean I’m destined to deal with garbage every time I go on the mission field? Possibly. Does it discourage me? When I look at the bill for my car, maybe. Will all this stop me from future missionary work? No. Because I have a list of promises from the Bible—both in the Old and New Testaments—that say I can expect more.

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord you God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessing will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:

You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.
The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.
Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.
You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

Deuteronomy 28:1-6 (NIV)

This is an Old Covenant blessing, but I don’t believe that the New Covenant completely voids it. I don’t believe that God withdraws His blessings, He adds to them.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

Ephesians 1:3-6 (NIV)

My inheritance in Christ doesn’t included broken down cars, broken toes, or lost jobs. My inheritance includes every spiritual blessing in Christ. According to Ephesians 1:18-19 it also includes the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Just because we may deal with junk in life doesn’t mean that we can’t also expect good things from a good Father. In Deuteronomy, the blessings of the obedient Israelites were to serve as a sign to the nations that they belonged to God. In Ephesians, we were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Bad things happen. It is the nature of a fallen world. But it is our response in those situations that will either push us ahead or drag us down. I choose to believe that every attack I have encountered before a missions trip is yet another sign that I am on the right track. The enemy won’t waste his time on people who have no intention of accomplishing anything for the Kingdom. I choose to believe that God has a plan for me and that His plan is a good one.

I choose to believe that, even in the trial, I will be blessed when I come in and blessed when I go out.

Read: Deuteronomy 28, Mark 15:27-47

Worth your salt

Read: Numbers 30-31, Mark 9:30-50

Little Manitou Lake in Saskatchewan has a mineral density three-times that of the oceans. Who cares? Well, what this means is that, unless you intentionally put your head under water and breathe in, you can’t drown. The water is so dense, a human being can float with no effort at all. The high mineral—salt—concentration in the lake (and spa where the lake water is piped in) has disinfectant and healing properties. It is only one of three inland bodies of water on the planet that has such properties (the Dead Sea being another). It’s rare. It’s special. It’s worth taking note.

Mark 9-50.jpg

Many of us might read through this little verse and just assume that Jesus wants us to be flavourful, add a little spice to the world around us. That’s what salt is for, after all. And that little part about being at peace with each other, just a nice little add-on. The complexity and weight of this verse is completely lost on us if we don’t understand the cultural connotations of salt at the time Jesus said these words.

  1. Salt was valuable. When you start a new job you settle on what? A salary. Ever wonder where that word originated from? You’d better be worth your salt or you won’t be keeping that job. Some speculate that, because of it’s high value in the Roman empire, that soldiers were often paid in salt. Roads were built because of salt. Trades were made because of salt. Lives were made or lost because of salt.
  2. Salt healed. Like patrons of Little Lake Manitou, the Romans were also aware of the healing properties of salt. Drinking a saltwater solution could reset the digestive system. Soaking an open wound in saline could help prevent swelling and infection.
  3. Salt preserved. While the term pickled didn’t arrive on the scene for centuries, the concept of preserving food with salt was not lost on the Roman empire. Salty olives were as much a part of the Mediterranean diet then as they are now.
  4. Salt was considered holy. Since Leviticus 2:13, salt was a part of Jewish sacrificial offerings. No sacrifice was to be made without it.
  5. Salt declared covenant. In both Jewish and Roman cultures, sharing salt at a table was indicative of covenant or servitude. For the Romans, to eat salt from the table of another put you in their service. For the Jews, to share bread with salt was a sign of covenant between those who share the meal.

When we take into account the historical significance of salt, this verse is so much more than a little platitude for us to remember. Whether in food or water, the presence of salt is undeniable. Imagine a society without salt. Imagine your life without salt? It’s impossible. As trivial as those little granules may seem, they are an essential part of our lives.

Now take that idea and apply it to believers.

Everything that salt was to society when Jesus walked this planet, we should still be to our culture today. Believers should add value, no matter where we are. We should bring healing. We should preserve those things that are good and helpful and nourishing to every life. We should be set apart as holy. And we should share a covenant not only with God, but with each other. Our lives should be set apart for service to the Father and to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Suddenly this verse isn’t so little and that last bit about being at peace with each other means a little more.

Are you worth your salt?

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?