My children's favorite part of Chinese food is getting the fortune cookie at the end of the meal. But fortune cookies and I have always had a love/hate relationship because you never know what kind of "fortune" you are going to get. Some fortunes are ambitious and attempt to predict life-changes like "You will soon have an opportunity to change your life, don't let it pass you by." Those fortunes are an attempt to tell the future by reminding us of things we should already know, but they at least put on the pretense of giving a fortune. Others, I feel, are much less entertaining because they say something like, "No one wants to be friends with a grumpy person." The fortune cookies in this second category are probably much more useful but those aren't the ones that I want to get. I want the fortune cookies that entertain me, not the ones that tell me some more useful thing that I should already be living by.
The author of the book of Lamentations described a similar phenomenon in the visions and prophecies during the time of the downfall and eventual destruction of Jerusalem. Lamentations 2:14 reads, "The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they gave you were false and misleading" (NIV).
In several places throughout the writings of the Old Testament prophets, God condemns both the people and the popular prophets of the time because they were of no value to the people. Most of the prophets cried, "Peace! Peace!" when there was no peace simply because the people wanted to hear it. They falsely assured them that Jerusalem was secure and invincible because God's temple existed there. They gave messages that made the people feel good about themselves, that would keep people coming back for more. The author of Lamentations pointed out those false prophets as part of the problem; they were entertaining but they were useless.
The temptation to pick and choose what we listen to based on what entertains us or makes us feel good still exists today, even in our churches. We want people who encourage us and inspire us and motivate us, but we don't want people to point out our sin. We want people to say that our selfish lifestyles and bad decisions are okay and we don't want anyone to "judge" us by saying that certain things (which we happen to do) are wrong. We want our preachers, teachers and friends to "mind their own business" and give us some generic teaching that doesn't intersect with our lives at all rather than hear a useful truth that might ward off disaster. But if we have any hope of moving forward in our relationships with God, if we have any hope of maturing spiritually, we need those teachers and friends who are bold enough to tell us in love, "This is wrong and it will lead you to a very bad place." We need those people who care more about our welfare than our approval. And every day we make the choice of which kind of people we keep in our lives.
What kind of teachers and friends have you surrounded yourself with? Are they entertaining fortune cookies which do you no good? Or are they people who are brave enough and loving enough to expose sin and ward off disaster? I'm not always sure which kind I want in my life, but I certainly know which kind I need.