Bitter Trap

Consider this description, this portrait of bitterness provide by Carol McGalliard in the Discipleship Journal, Issue 141, May/June, 2004.

“Long ago someone hurt you.  Your shoulders hunch up when you think about it.  You set your jaw and get a bad taste in your mouth.  When you talk about the hurt, your voice sounds crabby no matter how carefully you choose your words.  You hope God will get even with the one who hurt you, but you dream about your own revenge – just in case He doesn’t.”

Strong’s defines bitterness, or the Greek word “pikria” as acridity (especially poison), literally or figuratively.  If you are like me, you might not know exactly what “acridity” is so I looked that up too…and it means sharp or biting to the taste or smell; bitterly pungent…exceedingly caustic.  That…when I think about bitterness…makes sense and hits home.

So with that in mind, think about some qualities of a bitter person?  Someone who endlessly replays a wrong in their mind in detail (and perhaps exaggerated).  Someone with selective memory who might focus only on the bad times.  Someone full of self-pity or who is self-righteous…thinking they “have a right to be bitter”.  Someone who is only has cynical (and sometimes irrational) comments or who is only harsh with others.

The Psalmist gives us a pretty clear picture of bitterness.  “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before You.” (Psalm 73:21-22; NIV).  A brute beast.  That is a powerful image and one I am ashamed has described me at times…before my God, my wife, my children and pretty much everyone that has meant something to me.

Bitterness is a dangerous thing and it can destroy a family.  As a husband, I am told “do not be bitter toward my wife” (Colossians 3:19) and in general we are to avoid “any root of bitterness springing up” in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15).  Bitterness leads to wrath, wrath leads to anger, anger leads to clamor, clamor leads to evil speaking, evil speaking leads to malice.  (Ephesians 4:31).

The key to overcoming bitterness…or wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking, malice?  The key is a deep conviction with reference to the existence and nature of God, a deep confidence in God and faith in God who can be trusted in all circumstance!

God has forgiven you and me in Jesus.  It is right that He expect us to grow and to show the same grace and mercy to others.  In Him we are safe and free to love.  In that safety and freedom, we can cast the burden of bitterness on Him and know that He cares for us and will not forsake us…even when it feels like the people most important and special to us have.

So why bring this to you today?  I bring it to you today because I know that bitterness can be a very real trap in our lives laid out by Satan to separate us from those we most care about.  I have heard it said “it hurts the most when it’s someone you know” and the hurt can be a number of different things.  I have been bitter and I have let that bitterness drive a wedge in my marriage, my relationships with sisters in Christ, with my own sister…with my friends.  It has disarmed me of any grace, mercy, love or other spiritual tool and blessing and has in some circumstances created a long road to come back from in terms of reconciling a relationship and truly looking to God for my strength and my peace.

Bitterness is a trap.  It can be avoided if we keep focused on our Abba Father.  It’s still a very real trap…so be careful where you step.

Me First

I sometimes can get caught in the trap of looking at the world or other people in my life and thinking “there is so much going on that is wrong that there is no hope” or “this person is so wrong that there is no way I can have anything to do with them” or “it’s their fault” or “why bother, it doesn’t make a difference anyways”.  Notice I said I fall into a trap here because that is exactly what it is.  It is a trap or snare set by the devil to keep me from fulfilling the roles and responsibilities God has given me or to shine the Light that He has placed in my heart.  It is a trap and if we fall into looking outside of ourselves for positive change, or to fix others, or locate the source of the problems in our lives as we “lead” or “shepherd”; then we will be wrong, disappointed, and ineffective.

If positive change is going to happen in my relationships…my workplace…my home…my church…that change has to happen in my life.  It is easy to see the flaws, faults, and failures of others but God calls me to see mine first.  The word of God is likened to a mirror in James 1:23-25.  As I look into the Word, I see myself as I truly am…I see my true self in God’s mirror.

The Word of God exposes me and I am naked and open before Him (Hebrews 4:12-13).  Along with Peter I can say “I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8) and the heart and the words of the Prodigal Son will be my own “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight” (Luke 15:18).

The Word shows me my flaws, faults, and failures but it also shows the forgiveness available in Christ Jesus!  My Savior offers me refreshing spiritually through His blood.  Through God’s Word I see a different way…His way…and I repent or change my mind and how I live and in that, God changes my heart:  “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

I am then in a position to lead if I am quick to deal with my own sins before I seek to correct another (Matthew 7:1-5).  But if I think myself to be something, when I am nothing, I deceive myself (Galatians 6:3).   If I want to be in a position to influence another and before I ever think about it, I must honestly examine myself (Galatians 6:4).

Think about Peter in John 21.  Jesus is restoring him, giving him purpose and though Peter is hearing Jesus…he is in part thinking about John.  Jesus tells him to forget about John for now…focus on Me and what I have for you to do and I will take care of your brother.  Like Peter, we must respond to Jesus call to “follow Me”.  That is our part.  That is our job.

In that, I must be honest about what I see (James 1:24).  I must trust in GOD to mold me and make me into the image of Christ (Jeremiah 18:4; Romans 8:29).  I then can be the change that will result in the glorification of GOD, the edification of the body, and the growth of the family of GOD.

With this mindset, together, we can “excel still more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1), if individually we proclaim, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  Each of us committed to being the change that we want to see in the world and we will then be in a position to lead and make a difference…and let God work from the inside out.

Disappointment

Disappointment is inevitable in a sin-cursed world.  Disappointment is all around each of us in our own lives or in the lives of others.  Why is this so?  Why is there such a thing as a “sin-cursed world” and is the disappointment in it necessary?

We see how this all came to be as a result of Adam and Eve rebelling against God and sinned, there were consequences.

To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”

Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.”  (Genesis 3:16-19; NKJV).

And it is not just man and woman that is affected but creation in its entirety.

For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. (Romans 8:19-22; NKJV).

 Sorrow.  Pain and Suffering.  Sweat or Tears.  Physical Death.  These are the results of sin.  These all certainly sound disappointing if you don’t understand the why of them.  But in understanding the why we know that all of this is intended to drive us to God and His Son.

In doing so, we live today in the context of eternity and we understand that what is going on here is but a moment and the disappointment of this life does not measure up to the tremendous eternal rest and gain in Heaven.

But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”  (Hebrews 11:16; NKJV)

God is in His country which is Heaven.  Heaven is the country to which those who believe and obey the Gospel of Jesus go. We get to see His face!  What we will not see is deception, lies, temptation, sin, suffering, or death.  These things do not exist there!

In knowing this, we can then bring encouragement into the lives around us as they might be experiencing disappointment in this world.  We can demonstrate the great hope we have in Jesus and in our expectant Heavenly home.  We can live in such a way that clearly articulates “there is no disappointment in Heaven” and “I sure would like to help you get there”!

This will shine a light into someone’s life and if they let you help will lighten their load as they go.

Beautiful Feet

Romans 10:14-15; NKJV:  14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:  “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”         (Cross-Reference:  Isaiah 52:7)

 This scripture came to my mind as I was thinking about what I might write about for today.  These couple of verses are from a portion of scripture in which Paul is teaching about the fact the Gentiles on the whole had been reconciled to God and had a covenant membership in God’s family by faith.  Along with this, Israel on a whole had not received the same righteousness.  There is a lot here in Romans 9-1 and I don’t want to take away from the bigger message or teaching but am going to pull out the above passage and offer a couple thoughts.

I like this passage because if we take verse 14 in reverse we understand how important it is we who believe Jesus is the only way to salvation and are in a right relationship with God not keep that blessing to ourselves.  This isn’t something we should keep to ourselves but something we should share with others…and we are here in this world to do just that as we shine our light into a corrupt world (Matthew 5:16).  We are sent to share our salvation story.  And because we are sent and we share, then others will hear and having heard with a good and honest heart will believe and they will call on God through their obedience in the Gospel…repenting, confessing Jesus as their Lord, being baptized, and through their faith are saved.  How awesome is that!  And how awesome that we have a part in it!

But we have to stay in shape, put on the right equipment, and get to work.  I chose the above picture because these are athletic type shoes.  Think about when you lounge around the house…maybe in slippers, slides or some other kind of comfy shoes.  Do you wear the same shoes to exercise?  I don’t.  If I am going to work out, I put on tennis shoes.  Same thing with the Gospel and why Paul wrote Ephesians 6:15…because we need to “shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace”…a very important part of the Whole Armor of God so that we can run forward and preach, so others would hear, and hearing believe, and believing respond and in responding find what they need the most of all…forgiveness of sins.  We draw closer to our Father through His word and in doing so put our working shoes on and run about sharing the greatest story of all…the Gospel of Jesus.

With that in mind, the second thing I want you to consider is in vs.15.  “…how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace…”  I bring this to mind because I want you to think about those you know who dedicate their time (and some their professional life) to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus.  We all have those in our lives who are committed to saving souls and fully understand the importance of the work that God has given us to do in Jesus.  Take some time, make a list, and make some calls.  Encourage them.  Pray with them.  Share in their work.  Let your life shine…run swift…and fan the flames of another’s light and work for the Glory of God!

 

 

Son Your Sins Are Forgiven

And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
(Mark 2:5-7)

In Mark 2, we read of a paralytic man that four friends let down through the roof to get to Jesus. Jesus saw their faith and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” This statement sent shock waves through the religious elite in the crowd. They knew their Bibles.

Who can forgive sins but God alone? Great question. I have another question, who can forgive sins but the one offended?

So let’s say my brother comes up to me and punches me in the face and breaks a few teeth, leaving me on the ground bloody and toothless. A stranger then comes by and looks at my brother and says, “I forgive you.” I’m going to say, “What? You forgive him? I’m the one with blood and teeth coming out!” That person was not the one offended, I was.

Jesus was the one offended. He is God. It was the sins of the paralytic that hurt Jesus. Jesus was the one with blood and teeth coming out. Whatever sins that paralyzed man committed were directly against Jesus, and only Jesus could be the one to release him from that debt.

…But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities. “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
(Isaiah 43:24-25)

The Lord God (Jesus) is speaking here in Isaiah saying that the sins have burdened Him. God was the one offended, beaten up and saddened by what we have done.

So think about what happened in Mark 2 with this paralytic man. This man had a problem bigger than not being able to walk. He had sinned against the Lord Jesus Christ. But look at the mercy of the Lord, Jesus could have said, “You deserve not to walk for what you did to Me.” Jesus gave him two incredible gifts that day, but one was infinitely more valuable. That day the man walked, and that is great, but that day his sins against Jesus were released by Jesus.

What a merciful and amazing Lord we serve!

One Mediator

And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
(John 20:22-23)

Did Jesus give the apostles the authority to forgive sins? Is that the right way to interpret the above passage? I don’t believe so, because first of all, God is the only one who can forgive sins (Isaiah 43:25). We also know that there is only one Mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5).

What I believe is meant here is similar to what Jesus told His apostles in other passages like Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18 regarding what they bind and loose on earth. Their job as apostles was to reveal through divine inspiration (the breath of the Holy Spirit) the terms for forgiveness and to bind the will of Christ upon those to whom they preached. What they bound on earth was not of their own will and choosing, but instead were the things that were already bound in heaven. They simply declared the terms of the contract to men.

In their preaching and teaching you can see that the apostles did not forgive people’s sins, but what they did do is reveal the way to have forgiveness of sins. They taught that people had to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38), and to repent and be converted (Acts 3:19-20) in order to receive forgiveness of sins. The apostles “bound” those terms upon others, because that is how those folks would be forgiven. When speaking to those who were already Christians, the apostles taught them to repent, confess to God in prayer and ask Him for forgiveness (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9-2:2). You don’t see the apostles going around doling out forgiveness certificates, rather, what they did was direct people to Jesus. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

All of that to say this: There is one mediator between God and us. There is one who forgives and decides who is clean before God. We must keep this in mind. We are not the arbiters of another’s forgiveness. As followers of God we can direct people’s attention to the Way to be forgiven, but to give or withhold forgiveness of their sins before God is not our task. That’s God’s end of the stick. And thankfully, that end of the stick is in good hands!

A Very Humbling Contrast

We were studying Micah last Wednesday night in Bible class, and a sister emailed me afterward with this note:

After reading Micah 7 it is interesting how in Hebrews 10 the word says if we keep willfully sinning we trample Christ under our feet. Then back in Micah 7 it says that God treads our sins underfoot and throws them to the depths of the sea. Such a neat and very humbling contrast. The great terribleness of our deeds to the great awesomeness of the mercy and grace extended from God

Here are the two passages she referenced:

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old. (Micah 7:18-20)

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26,29)

It is truly a humbling contrast for us to ponder today. God has trampled our sins under his feet because He has delighted in steadfast love. God is compassionate and has cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. What then is my attitude and response to that grace, forgiveness and the blood of Christ?

Let us hold up that sacrifice as a sacred treasure by the way we think, the choices we make, the words we say, the places we go, etc. God has trampled on our sins, and it frees us to walk on a holy pathway of righteousness with the blood of Jesus covering our lives.

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
(Hebrews 10:21-25)

Fathers Teach not Provoke

And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.

This verse comes on the heels of Paul’s teaching to children to obey their parents in everything. The standard is clearly set for children in our homes just as the standard is clearly set for each of in the family of God…obey! Guess what…just like us…our children don’t always get it right and disobey and sin. The result…grief. With this in mind, what is Paul teaching us fathers?

Notice first that “fathers” are directed in this command. Paul knows how to say parents because he did so in verse 1. Why are fathers singled out? Ephesians 5:23 tells us that husbands are declared by God to be the head of the family and therefore responsible and accountable for what happens in the family. Fathers are to have an active role in the family, particularly in raising the children. Additionally, fathers are going to be challenged to not act in anger toward the children. There is a reason God says this to the men. The intention seems clear that this is an issue that we must be aware of. Fathers are going to have the temptation to provoke the children to anger.

Children test our patience, our will, and our authority as fathers. They grieve us, however, the command rules out excessively severe discipline/consequences, unreasonably harsh demands, abuse of authority, being unfair, nagging, being humiliating, etc. Children are persons in their own right and are not be manipulated, exploited, or crushed. Our Father is loving, graceful, merciful and long suffering…we must be the same with our children. With that said, this does not mean we allow our children to run the household. Children are not the head of the family.

The answer to the challenge of parenting…to fathering…is not to let the children do what they want. Verse 4 tells us fathers to raise our children and to not provoke them…both are required. So how might we do this? We might start with saying “no” with a reason. It is easy to just say “no”. But think about the frustration, confusion, and disappointment our child might experience if we do not explain the reason or make the “no” inconsistent with how we live. This is especially important with our children who are old enough to reason with and to make every effort with each “teachable” moment. Our Father teaches us with “no” and His consistent and Holy will gives us confidence “no” is right and best.

Please don’t misunderstand me…there are times as Godly fathers when our rule or word must simply be enforced. What I emphasizing here is we cannot let our attitude always be “my way or the highway”. The word “discipline” speaks to the activity of the education. Some translations rightly read, “training.” This is active and it is a partnership with our children. “Our way or the highway” all the time is not “parenting” or “teaching” or “leading”…that is simply “bossing”…and our God does not love us or raise us that way.

I know we all want our children to safe and in the loving care of our Heavenly Father because that is what they choose to be. I know we want our children to have the life skills to be independent of us when they leave our home. Fathers, we have a job to raise our children so that when they turn 18 they can live life independent of us but are especially dependent on our Heavenly Father! We must show them that we desire God and find our joy in God. What we are doing is not an activity as if God is something to do. We desire these things because this is the whole life and joy.

(NOTE: These thoughts were amplified by a sermon by Brent Kercheville from West Palm Beach CoC; 2014.)

Rend Your Heart and Not Your Garments

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil.
(Joel 2:12-13)

The book of Joel begins with the discussion of a devastating locust plague sent by God as a destroying army to punish His people and to bring them to repentance. Those were dark days, literally (Joel 2:2).

God’s wrath comes slowly, but when it comes it is an overwhelming flood of devastation. When God brings His punishment it is thorough, but it is also done it the right way and at the right time. You know when God brings down the hammer of judgment He has exhausted all other avenues and given all opportunities for someone to come to repentance.

But after all this devastation which was left in the wake of God’s wrath, He calls them in love and grace to fast, call an assembly, and to return to Him.

But what kind of return does God want? Does He want them merely to feel sorry that they ended up in such a bad situation? Is He looking for them to have guilt just because things turned out so poorly?

It was clear throughout Scripture and certainly in our lives today that we do not always have “godly sorrow” which “leads to repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). We may be sorry we lost something important. It may be we are sorry we got caught. It may be we are sad because of the consequences, but that is not the sorrow God is looking for, is it?

The people of God could have torn their garments, fasted (it was not like they had much food at that point anyway), thrown ashes and dust on their heads and wailed and mourned. Was this what God was looking for? Not if their hearts weren’t in it.

“Rend your heart and not your garments…” Don’t tear your clothes, tear your hearts. God wants us to be heartbroken because of the broken relationship we have with Him, not merely sad because we are being punished for our sins.

Men, does God have our hearts? Are we on the surface trying to fix / avoid the consequences of our sins or are we truly getting down to the “heart” of the matter?

Rend your heart and not your garments.

Do Good

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10; NKJV)

 We are empowered to be a change agent for good in all of our relationships. We stand firm on the love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and hope of our Heavenly Father through His Son Jesus Christ. We have a peace that surpasses all understanding in the tranquility of right relationship with the Great I Am. We are free to love others how He has loved us and God will be at work.

The great spiritual battle rages on around us and I pray we will become stronger in it rather than bitter or beaten down. We will be hurt and tired for sure. We will are all at risk of becoming defeated or bitter even when we feel like our hearts and spirit are at their strongest. Yet we have a choice to not allow the devil even an inch, put on the whole armor of God, and allow the love of God to prevail in our choices.

We focus on the steadfastness of the Lord and not the fickle or hurtful people in our lives.

We choose to see His smiling face rather than the downtrodden or frowning faces we encounter.

We concentrate on the majesty of our God and not the messes we find ourselves or those we care about sinking in.

We love people from a position of strength in our loving, abiding relationship with the Lord.

We are the first to forgive and we forgive often and we sow mercy and grace.

We work to find common ground with those in conflict, reminding ourselves of the relationship we have or desire in Christ…that God wants us all in the Book of Life.

We die to ourselves (Galatians 2:20) and in doing so we die to other people’s criticism AND praise and focus only on the glory of God and its revelation in our relationships in love.

No matter the situation, we cannot sow evil and produce good, sow discord and produce unity, sow lies and produce truth, sow sin and produce holiness. Those around us might not understand this and have no interest in seeing it. But if we do good…if we sow repentance, compassion, love…we can trust that the increase belongs to the Lord (1 Cor 3:7) and He is working.

Remember the Golden Rule.

“…whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them…” (Matthew 7:12; NKJV)

Look for the Golden Result. People might just surprise you and return to you what you have given to them. Do good, be different, be a light, be the reason people ask “why do you behave that way”, be ready to tell them your story about Jesus, and trust God!