Don’t shoot the messenger

We all have people in our lives that we’d rather not have in our lives. An annoying coworker. A nosy neighbour. That weird uncle that only shows up at holidays. We avoid these people at all costs and even begrudge them when something good happens in their lives. We hold on to our dislike—hate even—like a security blanket. So long as that person keeps doing the things we dislike, we can grip our sense of superiority over them.

Jonah experienced a similar feeling when God brought him to a certain city in a rather roundabout way. Jonah finally made it to the city of Nineveh by way of fish. It probably wasn’t the most popular mode of transportation in his day, but it did the trick. Jonah was finally where God told him to be—surrounded by people he didn’t like. Not only did he have to be there, he had to share a certain message.

On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”

Jonah 3:4 (NLT)

Still believing himself to be above the people in the city, Jonah shared his message with a great sense of satisfaction and then found a prime spot to watch the promised destruction. Yet that destruction would never come. Because, in spite of his hatred for the people of Nineveh, they had received and embraced his message.

The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they decided to go without food and wear sackcloth to show their sorrow.

Jonah 3:5 (NLT)

I doubt this was the response Jonah was expecting. In a city he hated, Jonah was forced to watch as his reluctant message was acted upon. Repentance ran rampant.

What all the saints make a matter of joy and praise, Jonah makes the subject of reflection upon God; as if showing mercy were an imperfection of the Divine nature, which is the greatest glory of it.

Matthew Henry

The account of Jonah is not merely a story of delayed obedience. It is a story of attitude, of mercy, of grace. And it is an account that show us that, even if our attitudes do not reflect our message, God can still work in the hearts of even the greatest sinners. But, unlike Jonah, when our message is received, our hearts should rejoice along with those who have received the gift of grace.

It is the neighbour we like the least that needs the most love. Hesitation on our part to share the Gospel is like shooting the messenger before he even has a chance to tell his story. We do ourselves and our neighbour a disservice by holding on to our hatred and dislike. We want to show our superiority while God wants to show His grace.

Immediate obedience to God’s instruction is far easier on our egos than waiting until the last possible moment.  Let us share in the glory of God’s grace rather than hoarding our own personal comfort.

Daily Bible reading: Jonah 1-4, Revelation 9

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

Hope anew

As humans, when left entirely to our own devices, we make poor choices.

left alone

Whether it be cereal or flour all over the kitchen, makeup all over the bathroom, or permanent marker all over the sibling, no kid ever had to be taught to make a bad decision. It all comes naturally. If we are never taught any different and are left to make our own choices, it is pretty much a guarantee that life will become a series of one bad decision after another.

People need to be free to make their own choices. Yes, they do, but they also need to be taught to make the right choices.

I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
stories we have heard and know,
stories our ancestors handed down to us.
We will not hide these truths from our children
but we will tell the next generation about
the glorious deeds of the Lord.
We will tell of his power and the mighty
miracles he did.
For he issued his decree to Jacob;
he gave his law to Israel.
He commanded our ancestors
to teach them to their children,
so the next generation might know them—
even the children not yet born—
that they might teach their children
So each generation can set its hope anew on God
remembering his glorious miracles
and obeying his commands.
Then they will not be like their ancestors—
stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful,
refusing to give their hearts to God.

Psalm 78:2b-8 (NLT)

There are reasons why the Bible first, exists, and second, is full of verses about wisdom, knowledge, and instruction. These are not things that happen by chance. As you can see by the photos above, humans aren’t born wise. We are all prone to bad decision-making.

If you’ve been instructed to go somewhere you’ve never been before, but have not been given a map, how will you ever get there? Will chance lead you to that place? It’s doubtful.

Teach your child to choose the right path, and when they are older, they will remain upon it.

Proverbs 22:6 (NLT)

Young or old, every person must be taught to make good choices—it’s never too late. Just like Israel passed on accounts of the miraculous things God did for their nation, so should we pass on accounts of the things God has done for, in, and through us. If the people around us are never given a map, how can we expect them to arrive at salvation?

…but you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.

Luke 9:60b (NIV)

PROCLAIM: to announce; to utter openly; to make public

Church, it is our mandate to publicly proclaim the Gospel, to utter it openly, to make it public, to know Christ and to make him known.

So you must never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord.

2 Timothy 1:8a (NLT)

This generation and the ones to follow will not be able to remember God’s glorious miracles if they never heard about them in the first place. When God does something, talk about it! When He says something, tell someone else. Give the next generation the opportunity to set their hope anew on God.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 78, Romans 7

Lead

How often do you ask to be lead rather than to lead? Who really wants to follow when you can be a leader?

How often do you ask what you should be doing? Who really wants to be told what to do when you can tell someone else what to do?

Lead me in the right path, O Lord,
or my enemies will conquer me.
Tell me clearly what to do,
and show me which way to turn.

Psalm 5:8 (NLT)

Life isn’t all about being the one in charge. Sometimes—and even more often than we think—it should be about asking for direction and instruction. It’s about letting someone else be in charge. God’s guidance isn’t there to stifle us. He doesn’t want to lead us like a dog on a leash.

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them sing joyful praises forever.
Protect them,
so all who love your name may be filled with joy.
For you bless the godly, O Lord,
surrounding them with your shield of love.

Psalm 5:11-12 (NLT)

We don’t have to listen to God’s directions and instructions, we get to. When we put ourselves into God’s plan, not only is it His will that all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28), but He surrounds us with His shield of love. We can take refuge in Him. He will protect us.

Submitting to God is not a trial. It’s a joy. A privilege.

I will lie down in peace and sleep,
for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.

Psalm 4:8 (NLT)

Submitting to God leads to joy. It leads to peace. It leads to love. Who else can you follow that will lead you to all of that?

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 4-6, Acts 16:16-40

More instructions

If some scary looking guy suddenly appeared in front of me and told me I was going to have a son, I can’t say I’d believe him. That is, if I’d even stuck around long enough to hear what he had to say. But that’s exactly what Manoah and his wife did.

In those days [when Israel did evil in the Lord’s sight] a man name Manoah from the tribe of Dan lived in the town of Zorah. His wife was unable to become pregnant, and they had no children. The angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife and said, “Even though you have been unable to have children, you will soon become pregnant and give birth to a son.”

Judges 13:2-3 (NLT)

The woman runs to tell her husband about the unexpected visitor. Instead of being livid like I imagine most men would respond now, he prayed and asked that the Lord send the man back to them so that they could receive further instruction.

What amazes me most about this account is that Israel is currently in one of their we’re-going-to-worship-any-god-but-the-one-true-God phases. The chapter starts off saying that the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight. So here we have a couple that have more than likely been raised worshipping pagan gods. They haven’t been taught to honour and respect the law. Yet, when an angel comes to them (they assume he’s just a prophet), their response isn’t to question the word from the Lord, but to pray and ask for further instructions. And what does God do? He sends the angel back with more instructions!

What we should take away from the actions of this couple is that it’s okay to ask for clarification. If you believe that you’ve had a word from God, but aren’t 100% on the facts, ask! God is totally okay with us asking questions. In fact, I believe He wants us to ask questions. He didn’t drop us all on the earth with limited knowledge and understanding just to watch us squirm. He created us to have a relationship with him. If one of your friends tells you something that is unclear to you, do you walk away from the conversation in confusion? No, you ask your friend to make things a little more clear so that you can fully understand what they’re saying.

Oh, that the Church would be humble enough to ask! If you’re unsure, if you’re confused, if you don’t feel like you have enough information to act, simply ask for more instructions. I have yet to read an account in the Bible where God refuses to answer the heart that is truly seeking Him.

Daily Bible reading: Judges 12-14, Luke 9:37-62

The Law of Love

Do you ever read through the Old Testament and wonder at all the laws, rules, and regulations? Those people had a lot to live up to. And then we think, man, am I glad we don’t have to live like that. But do you every wonder why the Israelites had to live up to such high standards?

Let’s take out all the sacrifices—we know that Jesus came and was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. What about everything else? Why did God give so many instructions on how to live life?

You’ll note that much of it was practical—don’t do your business among the tents, go away from everyone, dig a hole, and bury it. Makes sense. This kept disease from spreading. The same goes for people with skin rashes and mildew in homes. They were quarantined until considered clean and then there was a process for reintroduction back into society.

God not only set Israel apart to be holy, but He called them apart to be clean—in the literal sense. Canaan, after all, was a land filled with people who had defiled themselves in all manner of ways. Not only were they dirty, they were diseased.

God even gave instructions regarding the crops—Israel wouldn’t be allowed to eat the fruit of the trees they planted until the fifth year. There are several reasons for this, the first being that a new tree will not produce good fruit in its first years. If it is cut back and pruned early on, it will be more productive later. Second, God was deserving of the first fruits—the reason why the fruit of the fourth year belonged to Him. By year five, if the Israelites had followed God’s commands, the fruit would be plentiful and sweet.

God doesn’t give us rules to watch us squirm under the weight of them. He gave the law out of love. All the instructions He gave to Israel were for their own good. For their health. For their prosperity. For their pleasure.

We can have more freedom and be more fruitful within the boundaries God has given to us than we can outside of His love.

Daily Bible reading: Leviticus 18-19, Matthew 27:32-66

Learn

What skills have you learned?

That’s a bit of a trick question. What skill do you have that you haven’t learned? There are very few things we do as humans that we don’t have to, at some point in our lives, learn.

I believe that one of the greatest skills we can acquire is also often one of the rarest and most difficult to attain. Obedience.

Many people are under the impression that obedience should come naturally. Once we accept Christ, we should be good to go, right? Hardly.

Even Jesus had to learn to be obedient.

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.

Hebrews 5:8 (ESV)

This is a loaded statement. We know, in the end, what Jesus suffered. Yet he was still obedient. He was not coerced into obedience, but took it upon himself as a man to be discipled, instructed, and directed to do the will of His Father.

It can be argued that Jesus was fully God and therefore, obedience came easily to Him. Do not forget that He was also fully man. Had He learned obedience in theory only, how could we then learn from Him? Someone who has lived in the city all their life could describe for you the Amazon Jungle, but how much more effective would the description be coming from someone who lives there? Yet even more so from someone who has seen both the city and the jungle.

During His life on earth, Jesus saw both the city and the jungle. And, not only did He see them, He experienced them to the fullest so that we could trust His word on both.

And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.

Hebrews 5:9 (ESV)

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 49-50, Hebrews 5