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?

He knows

When everything around us seems to be going wrong, sometimes it can be difficult to believe in a good God. Where is He when children are starving? Where is He in the violence? Where is He in the political turmoil?

He’s right where He’s always been. Waiting.

Many people are inclined to believe that a God that would let the world destroy itself is either one that doesn’t care about humanity or one that doesn’t exist at all. But that’s not how this faith thing works. You see, God first loved His creation so much that He let them choose whether or not they would love Him back. He still lets us make that choice.

Picture a person you barely know. Maybe someone you’ve heard something about. Now imagine finding yourself in trouble. You know that person has the ability to help you, but you don’t know them. They don’t know you. Would you expect that person to come to your rescue? When that person doesn’t come to your aid, would you be angry with them? Of course not! So why would anyone make the same demands of God?

God is more than able to help anyone in any situation. He knows your circumstances better than you do, but He is not going to step in uninvited.

The Lord is good. When trouble comes, he is a strong refuge. And he knows everyone who trust in him.

Nahum 1:7 (NLT)

A person who takes refuge is a person who flees a distressing situation and runs toward a place of safety. In order for anyone to take refuge in God, we must go to Him.

God knows your struggles. He knows every difficult situation you have to face. He also knows your joys and your triumphs. He knows you. So, if you ever wonder why you can’t find God in your situation, perhaps it’s time to bring your situation to Him.

Daily Bible reading: Nahum 1-3, Revelation 13

Plead your case

Today’s culture has made the blame game popular. Everyone loves to be the victim and point out villains. We all want to have our voices heard, the chance to plead our case.

Listen to what the Lord is saying: “Stand up and state your case against me. Let the mountains and hills be called to witness your complaints.”

Micah 6:1 (NLT)

Hey, that’s awesome! God is inviting us to state our case. If you have a complaint against God, now is the time to let it be known! Go ahead, let’s hear it.

“And now, O mountains, listen to the Lord’s complaint!”

Micah 6:2a (NLT)

Uh oh.

Here’s the deal, we all want to plead our case, but no one is interested in being pleaded against. It’s not fun. No one wants their faults or secrets pointed out. We don’t want to be blamed for anything whether we’re innocent or guilty.

Many are keen to paint God as a tyrant. The bully on the playground. The great villain of the ages. These people tend to be the ones hollering to have their case heard, but are the first to run and hide when someone calls them out on their own behavior. Here’s the lesson: don’t try to call God out unless you want to be called out yourself.

So how do we avoid having all of our dirty laundry aired with all of creation as a witness?

No, O people, the Lord has already told you what is good, and this is what he required: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8 (NLT)

You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. You can either walk humbly with God and avoid a very public trial, or you can do whatever you want and face God as judge. It’s not difficult. God has not given us impossible instructions.

Moral duties are commanded because they are good for man. In keeping God’s commandments there is a great reward, as well as after keeping them. God has not only made it known, but made it plain. The good which God requires of us is, not the paying a price for the pardon of sin and acceptance with God, but to love himself; and what is there unreasonable, or hard in this?

Matthew Henry

Avoiding the punishment for sin is simple. We must love God and accept His love in return. That’s it. If you’d rather take your changes and plead your case, be my guest. But you can’t say that you haven’t been warned.

On his deathbed, Matthew Henry made this statement: “A life spent in the service of God and communion with Him is the most pleasant life that anyone can live in this world.” Wouldn’t you rather walk with God than fight against Him?

Daily Bible reading: Micah 6-7, Revelation 12

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

Act out

A person stands on a stage speaking wise words with an eloquent voice. Their words are truth. Their words hold life.

A person sits in the crowd hearing words and, even though they are powerful, this person feels nothing. There is no change. They are hollow.

Then a stranger beside them gently takes their hand. Suddenly the world changes.

Which person is greater—the speaker or the silent hand-holder? Which one has more wisdom and understanding? We might be inclined to say that it’s the person speaking, but if their words have no effect, what use are they?

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth. And if you don’t brag about the good you do, then you will be truly wise.

James 3:13 (NLT)

Telling people what you know and what you can do isn’t the same as showing people what you know and what you can do. In the end, our actions hold far more sway than our words. Words, though they may be right, are empty unless our actions back them up. Words aren’t always necessary to convey a strong message. In fact, they are rarely needed.

We all make many mistakes, but those who control their tongues can also control themselves in every other way.

James 3:2 (NLT)

As Christians, especially as those who may not be in public ministry, we may struggle with ways to share our faith. We can’t find the words. Bringing up God in conversation always seems shallow and contrived. But what if words aren’t what we need to be sharing? I’ve personally had more people ask me about my faith based on my actions than my words.

When we act out Christ’s love and live a life of steady goodness so that good deeds will pour forth, we open doors that our words could never open. We make paths where our words could never go. We affect lives in ways words never could.

Don’t try to find the right words. Try to do the right deeds.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 24-26, James 3