What’s Bugging You?

Do you find that little things annoy you at times. Apart from any big issues in your life, there may be smaller things that just annoy you.

My daughter recently had a situation where her old car increasingly gave her trouble. So she decided to sell it. But then she found there was no interest when she advertised it. She dropped her price and there was still no interest. She then decided to let a friend use it, but it wouldn’t start.

In the grand scheme of things the car isn’t worth much money and if she were to trash it there would be little loss, but the series of frustrations began to get the better of her.

That reminded me of how little things can build up in my life. I have several weaknesses, including that I hate to let people down. If they express to me their hope, I feel keen urge to help them see their ambition fulfilled. However, I can end up overwhelmed by the feeling I might let people down. It’s not a big deal, but it wears away at me.

We probably all have areas where little things irritate us. Many things are fine to cope with initially, but can wear thin over time.

The bible talks about little things and how annoying they can become.

“Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vines have tender grapes.” Song of Solomon 2:15

Little foxes are not as serious as famine, fire or flood but they can spoil things for you.

“A continual dripping on a rainy day and a quarrelsome wife are alike.” Proverbs 27:15

Dripping water is not a big deal at first, but when it does not cease it can drive us crazy.

There are two main considerations when you face little things bugging us.

One is to see if God is trying to highlight something in your life for you to deal with. 

The other is to cast your cares on the Lord and wait, patiently, on Him.

Maybe the reason you get annoyed with your spouse, children, parents, job, car, equipment, etc is because there is an underlying issue in your heart you need to deal with.

One such issue could be fear. You may fear that things will go bad or not get any better. Every time you think you see evidence for that, you feel not just the weight of the small incident but the crushing weight of your fear. You may fear that your marriage or home will never be happy, or that you’ll never get ahead in life, of that your limitations will trap you in an inferior existence to the one you want.

God can use these little annoyances as a way to shine His spotlight on your area of vulnerability.

Another issue could be pride. Maybe you despise certain things around you because they are not as good as you feel you deserve. You might think those things make a poorer reflection of who you think you are than you want. 

Maybe you are struggling with feeling outperformed by others, shown up by them, and so you react to little things they could use to highlight their superiority over you.

Maybe you struggle with feelings of helplessness and you hate being in situations where your limitations are put under test.

There could be a multitude of hidden inner thoughts and agendas which make you vulnerable to reacting to little things.

Most of these things are idols: things you elevate as highly important in your life. The Bible advises that if you have an idol in your heart you will cause pain to yourself.

“A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.” Proverbs 15:13

The original Hebrew text could be translated “By having an idol in your heart your spirit is crushed”.

So consider the example. If a person held material goods as idols in their life, such as wanting to own a shiny new car, then every time they see someone in a particularly impressive new car they will feel stung. The idol will be a source of pain for them.

Obviously, then, the solution is to remove the idol from your heart, so you can be glad for those who have what you previously wanted, and you can be joyful with what you have.

Take a moment to audit those little things that get under your skin and annoy you. Ask God to show you what they are linked to in your heart that you need to deal with.

When it comes to casting your cares on the Lord, you are invited by God to give Him your concerns and issues, and let Him deal with them.

“Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” 1Peter 5:7

Those things that make you anxious, fearful, frustrated, feeling vulnerable, undermining your peace and joy, are all things you are to put in the hands of the Lord. He cares for you and He cares about the little things as much as the big ones.

My daughter’s car issue was handed to the Lord. My concern over people’s demands was handed to the Lord. 

Once issues are handed to the Lord they don’t belong to you anymore. They are God’s problems, not yours. You can rest easy, confident in faith that God has everything under control.

So, with those reflections in mind, let me ask you this question. What’s Bugging You?

A New Deal

On the night Jesus was betrayed He introduced a new element of worship, that we call the Last Supper, or Communion, or the Lord’s Table.

Jesus had just completed a Passover Meal with His disciples. He picked up the bread and broke it, blessed it and passed it to them, saying it was to be eaten in remembrance of Him. He also picked up a cup of wine from the table, blessed it and passed it to His disciples.

The Apostle Paul was personally told about this event, after it happened, by Jesus Himself.

“I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: that the Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you, do this in remembrance of Me.” Likewise, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” 1Corinthians 11:23-26

Let me draw your attention to a phrase Jesus used, “the new covenant in My blood”.

Here is the same statement recorded in Doctor Luke’s historical record.

“Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” Luke 22:20

Notice that Jesus is referring to something new. It is a new covenant, or a new agreement.

The old covenant, the old agreement which the Jews were subject to, was based around the Law given through Moses, and the offerings and sacrifices of the Jewish religion.

At the time Jesus instituted the Last Supper / Communion He was about to die for our Sins. His death would completely do away with the Jewish Religious obligations of sacrifices, because Jesus was God’s sacrificial lamb, about to be killed to pay for all our sins.

On the cusp of this new situation Jesus asked His followers to remember Him in a simple ceremony of eating a piece of bread and drinking a sip of wine. The bread represented His body, which would soon be beaten, abused and killed. The wine represented His blood, which was about to be poured out through multiple points of injury, such as His hands and feet, and the spear thrust into His side.

The old covenant, the Jewish religion, was based on animal sacrifices. It was a covenant sealed in animal blood. It obligated the people to ritual, offerings and prescribed works they had to do. So it was a covenant dependent on the actions of the worshipper.

The new covenant, Christianity, is based on the Blood of Christ, shed as our sacrificial ‘lamb of God’, paying for our sins. It is sealed in Jesus’ blood. It is a covenant dependent on the actions of our Saviour, not us as the worshipper. We are free from having to earn our salvation in any way. We simply receive it by faith.

So Jesus could announce, “This is the new covenant”, and He could announce the basis of that covenant, as something other than the works of the Old Testament Jewish religion.

“This is the new covenant IN MY BLOOD”.

The new covenant is anchored in the Blood of Jesus, not the blood of animals, and not in the acts of devotion of the worshipper.

We are wonderfully invited into this new covenant. We are now wonderfully free from the obligations of religion. We are wonderfully adopted into God’s family as His children. We are wonderfully released from slavery to religious form and ritual. We are wonderfully allowed the new, instead of the old. We are wonderfully saved by Jesus’ blood.

So, in the Communion celebration feast, we celebrate Christ’s body given for us. 

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19

His body was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised (or crushed) for our iniquities. The whipping Christ received brings us physical healing.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; the disturbance of our peace was put on him, and with his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

So we celebrate Christ’s body and remember what He has done for us.

And in the Communion we also celebrate the Blood of Christ, because it is this blood that established a New Covenant (New Testament) in which we are made right with God by the blood, not by anything we can do.

Rather than Christianity being a religion of works, where things we do bring about our salvation, like offering sacrifices, there is nothing for us to do. We simply receive Christ’s salvation made possible by His blood. We believe that Christ has done it and we receive Him as our saviour.

“God gave to all who received Jesus, who believed in his name, the right to become children of God.” John 1:12

So, on the night when Jesus was betrayed, only hours before His crucifixion, Jesus announced the New Deal. He presented a new covenant, a new agreement between God and man. This one was not based on physical things, like circumcision or sacrifices, but on blood. Not the blood of animals but the blood of Christ. Not based on man’s actions, but on one eternal act by the Son of God.

Jesus says, “This is the New Deal – the new agreement – the new covenant, and it is IN MY BLOOD.”

Work While it is Day

Many years ago I attended a church which held services in a refurbished factory building in an industrial area. The church building was surrounded by small factory buildings which were all empty and quiet on a Sunday.

After the service, as I went to my car, I noticed a lone vehicle drive to one of the factories. A man opened the building and went inside. He may have had office work to do.

As I watched a thought came to mind, that it doesn’t matter how urgent the job a person might need done on a Sunday in that factory, nothing would be achieved, since there was no-one working and nothing productive going on.

That brought to mind the verse about working while it is day.

“I must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day. The night is coming, when no man can work.” John 9:4

There are times when things can be done and other times when it is not possible to do things. During the week the factory is a place of work and productivity. On the weekend it is closed and silent. The machines aren’t working and there is no-one to make anything happen. No matter how desperate you might be to get a job done, it just won’t happen until the factory opens up again and the workers arrive to make things happen.

The manager can stand there all day on a Sunday watching the silent machines, wishing they would get a job done. But that’s a waste of time, no matter how desperate he might be to meet some deadline or get a project finished.

So I made a mental note that i must ‘Work While It Is Day’ because there won’t always be the opportunity to get things done.

That concept has a number of applications. 

While you are young and unencumbered with responsibility you have time for study, apprenticeship, discipline, training and preparation. If you waste those years you can’t get them back. You have to work on your study and preparation while you have opportunity, because that season of opportunity will pass.

Solomon specifically directs youth to use their young years to connect with God, including a sense that it is the timely thing to do.

“Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, or the years draw nigh, when you will say, I have no pleasure in life” Ecclesiastes 12:1

While you have strength make sure you get things done. That might even apply to those who find they tire early in the day. Work while you have capacity.

And if you think of something that needs to be done, go ahead and do it. Many people regret that they didn’t attend to something when they kept feeling prompted to, because the situation changed. God may well prompt you at times to get onto something. God knows you have the time and opportunity and how limited that opportunity will be. So “Work While It Is Day!” Get out and DO IT! The time will come when you won’t be able to do what you can now get to.

On some occasions you might be given a window of opportunity. For example you might be travelling near some friends or relatives you hardly catch up with, or you might be invited to do something you’d like to do but don’t get the chance to do. Some situation might come up that is not common and which gives you opportunity to achieve something not easily achieved. Think about what Jesus said about working while the opportunity is there. It might mean changing your schedule, squeezing something in, getting an extra early start, or something a little challenging, but this is an opportunity that might not come again in a hurry. Work while it is day! Take advantage of the ‘day’ of opportunity, and get done what might otherwise be impossible to do.

Sometimes you might have to go to some effort to create an opportunity. If you’ve always thought of writing a letter, or catching up with distant friends by a phone call or internet connection, then realise you actually have opportunity right now, and that opportunity may not always be there. If you’ve always planned to drop in on old friends, or to return a borrowed item, or stop at some roadside attraction you normally drive right past, then stop and realise you have opportunity which you are wasting.

Work while it is day! Get to it. Create the connection, make the moment, open the opportunity that is lying dormant right now.

For those of us who want to see other people connect with God, there are many opportunities each day. Take advantage of those opportunities right now. Share the gospel, shine your light, be salt, speak a word in season.

A final reflection on working while it is day, is the fact that our life is temporary. We will one day die and not be able to do any of the things left undone. So this is the ‘day’ of opportunity for you, to do courageously, diligently and effectively the things that deserve to be done.

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, where you are going.” Ecclesiastes 9:10

Did you hear what I said? Work While It Is Day!!!!

Hello Neighbour

The great commandment that we are to love our neighbour brings up the question that was asked of Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?”

Dr Luke records for us that, 

“One day an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. Teacher, he asked, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus answered, What is written in the Law? How do you read it? He answered, love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself. Jesus said, You answered correctly. Do this and you will live. But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, Who is my neighbour?” Luke 10:25-29

It is interesting that the man asking the question was an ‘expert in the law’. That means he studied the law and probably taught others about it. He correctly identified the two most important commandments, which are not given side by side in the Old Testament. That means he was attentive to the whole body of writing and could sift out what was important.

Yet he wanted a further definition. The command hangs on the interpretation of the word ‘neighbour’. If a neighbour is one who you know and like, who is part of your life and your world, then that is one thing. If the word ‘neighbour’ has a different meaning then fulfilling the command might require different things of us. We can all like and help those we like to help. We don’t want to care about our enemies or those we feel very uncomfortable around.

Dr Luke’s historical record notes that the teacher of the law wanted to justify himself. Maybe he wanted to justify his teaching that the word ‘neighbour’ was a more limited term, rather than a broad one.

Let’s assume for the moment that you know that great commandment, which Jesus said was the second greatest commandment of all, and let’s assume you actually intend to practice this great commandment.

That means you are actively going to elevate other people to a place of importance, and to serve them as you would wish to be served, fulfilling what we call the Golden Rule.

“Whatever you wish others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

Or, put simply, “Do to others what you would want them do to you”.

So now you have to find out for yourself who your neighbour is. You wouldn’t want to fail to treat someone like a neighbour if you were supposed to, but then you wouldn’t want to be burdened with trying to care for people you don’t have to. What is the line defining someone who is a neighbour from those who aren’t?

Neighbour can be defined with too much limitation, not including enough people, or too broadly, including people who are not supposed to be included.

Jesus answered the question in an interesting way. Jesus told the account of a Samaritan helping an injured Israelite. We call that the account of the Good Samaritan.

The simple summary is that a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho is attacked and left injured on the side of the road. A priest, the highest order of religious people, ignored the man and his needs. So too did a Levite, another kind of religious person. When a Samaritan came along he immediately met the man’s needs selflessly. Yet Samaritans don’t like Israelites nor Israelites Samaritans. They have different culture and religion.

Jesus then asked which of the three passers by was a true neighbour to the injured man. The answer is obvious. It is the Samaritan.

Jesus was setting quite wide boundaries in the definition of ‘neighbour’. Complete strangers can be neighbours. People who might likely be our enemies can be neighbours. All kinds of people in need can be our neighbours.

That was probably a much broader definition of neighbour to that taught by the man asking the question. I dare say the man used the Good Samaritan account from then on in his teaching.

However, is Jesus saying that everyone is our neighbour? I don’t think so.

Some zealous Christians can come up with the idea that everyone in the whole world is our neighbour and we have to love them all. Those people might invest themselves in chasing after need upon need, keen to do all in their power for everyone else.

That’s wonderful, but that is not what Christ is teaching.

The Good Samaritan took the injured man to an inn and saw to his needs, agreeing to pay any extras when he passed that way again. Note, though, that having found this wounded man the Good Samaritan did not set up a search party to go looking for other wounded men. He did not set up a Trust Fund for the good of all people attacked on the road. The Samaritan met the needs of one man and one man only. That was the man he came across while living his normal life and going about his normal business.

Observing that, we can come up with a working definition of ‘neighbour’ as, those people you come across in your daily life.

Neighbour doesn’t include all the needy people in the world. It doesn’t include all the sufferers we could be concerned about. It includes those God puts in your path on a day to day basis, in the course of your normal life.

So the definition of ‘neighbour’ is very broad, because you could come across just about anyone. But it is also very narrow, because on some days you might not come across anyone in need at all.

I smile at the story I heard of an Australian man who was in California and saw a lady sitting in a fancy convertible, with a flat tyre. He immediately went to her aid, jacked up the tyre, changed the wheel and put everything back in order again. As he told the lady she was good to go she waved a $100 bill for him to take and he declined. He didn’t do it for money, just to help out someone in need. She then pulled out a card and gave it to him, saying that if he ever had any needs he should call her. He looked at the card, bemused, and asked, “Madonna who?” He didn’t even know there was a performer named Madonna.

Now that man, if the story is true, was being a neighbour. Not to everyone who had a flat tyre, but to the one flat tyre he came across.

I recall hearing that people in old days would greet each other with the greeting, “Howdy, neighbour.” Maybe that wasn’t just a polite greeting, but a way of reminding themselves that the person they just met, even if a stranger to them, is right then and there, their ‘neighbour’ and someone they were to love just as much as they love their own self.

What Your Hand Finds to Do

Thousands of years ago the Prophet Samuel anointed a young man named Saul to be the first King of Israel. In his initial instructions to Saul, Samuel refers to Saul doing what his hand finds to do. I want to explore that instruction with you today.

“The Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with the group of prophets; and you will be transformed into a different person. When these signs have come, do whatever your hand finds to do (as the occasion demands), for God is with you.” 1Samuel 10:6,7

That expression, about what our hands find to do, is also given in the writings of King Solomon.

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for there is no work, thought, knowledge or wisdom in Sheol (the grave), to which you are going.” Ecclesiastes 9:10

In life there are things that come to hand. Around us are people, situations and resources that are ‘at hand’, or close by. Those things might seem insignificant and of little value, but God seems to put emphasis on those things that He has placed around you.

If you are living in a village in the mountains you can’t rise in the morning and govern the nation. You can only engage in things of the village. If you are stuck in the suburbs you can’t get up and do farming things. If you are stuck in an office you can’t do things of the theatre. Each day you have a setting and a set of things around you.

Your setting might change from day to day, but each setting is what is ‘at hand’ for that day.

We can interpret Solomon’s wise observation about what our hand finds to do (from Ecclesiastes) to mean, ‘be diligent’. Solomon had much to say about diligence in his book of Proverbs.

“A slack hand leads to poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” Proverbs 10:4

“The hand of the diligent will bear rule: but the slothful will be under tribute.” Proverbs 12:24

But there is another dimension to this ‘at hand’ language. It suggests those things that God  puts into our life, whether we like it or not, that is ‘at hand’ and which we are supposed to engage with.

We can easily be distracted with what we don’t have, thinking that ‘if only’ we had more funds, or a bigger car, or better equipment we could do this or that. But God seems to want us to respect what we have, what He has given us.

When God called Moses to go back to Egypt and confront Pharaoh, demanding that Pharaoh let God’s people go, Moses struggled with the calling. As Moses argued with God, God asked him, “What is in your hand?” Moses would have looked at his hand and seen the shepherd’s stick he was holding.

That stick was just a tool of his trade. All shepherds carried along a stick for working with the sheep. It was just a lump of wood, a stick, a common hand tool. At 80 years of age it probably came in handy for walking and climbing too.

God took that commonplace item and made it the source of miracles, when it struck water to turn it to blood, was stretched over water to open the sea or struck onto a rock to bring out water.

“Moses said, What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? They may say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you.’ And the LORD asked him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ ‘A staff,’ he replied. The Lord said, ’Throw it on the ground’. So Moses threw it on the ground, and it became a snake, and he ran from it. The Lord then said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand and grab it by the tail’. So he reached out his hand and caught the snake, and it turned back into a staff in his hand.” Exodus 4:1-4

Moses would never have dreamed that that a common item from his toolkit, like a tradesman’s spanner or hammer, was going to be so miraculously significant.

So, what is in your hand? What common, everyday things are a part of your world today that God wants you to use with all your might?

It’s not that they are all going to become miracle power-tools, but that God wants you to respect them and to deal diligently with what this day holds, with whatever limited resources you have at hand.

Take Joseph as an example. He was just a youth when his brothers, who hated him, sold him as a slave into Egypt. There he was bought by a military offical and sent to do servant chores around the house. Instead of being resentful and sullen, Joseph engaged with his new challenge diligently and faithfully, attending to what was ‘at hand’. As a result he was promoted and became head of the household.

Joseph was then lied about and ended up in prison, where he was expected to serve other prisoners. Once again Joseph didn’t lament what he didn’t have, but he went about doing the best he could with what he did have, in the unwanted situation he was in. As a result he was elevated to be in charge of the prisoners, while still a prisoner himself. That then led to him becoming the second highest ruler in the land.

But what would have happened if Joseph was slack at hand, resentful and filled with wishful thinking about what he would rather have had?

So the Bible references to ‘whatever your hand finds to do’ speak to us about being diligent with what we have, but also accepting what we have and working with that as effectively as we can. Remember that what you are doing is not to please yourself, or just to serve those who expect you to achieve things for them, but it is for the Lord.

“Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not to men.” Colossians 3:23