Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Bitter Root

“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” – Heb. 12:15

         We lived for a while in a lovely house that had a big yard in both the front and back. My husband and I loved that house…except for one thing: There were many places in those two yards where underground tree roots had worked their way to the surface of the ground to varying degrees. As you can imagine, this became most frustrating when you were trying to mow the grass. You had to try to work around them without ruining your mower. It was not fun. Ask my husband.

         Few things match the resilience of a sturdy root. Once it gets a good start, it’s well nigh indestructible. No wonder God chose to use it to exemplify bitterness, the sin that slips so easily into the soil of our souls and takes hold before we’re conscious of its infestation. We may consider it only a nagging uneasiness that is only natural under the circumstances. And more often than not that “circumstance” is a past hurt or (real or perceived) injustice. In fact, I think I can say bitterness is harboring a hurt, the memory of which can be watered over and over with new material to bolster the validity of the original offense. I have come to believe there is a “forgiveness” that still hangs on to the hurt, always expecting the worst. And mark it down: There will always be something or someone to make that old hurt “spring up,” no matter how deeply we may think it’s buried.

         Psalm 14:10 says, “The heart knoweth his own bitterness,” and I can think one man in Scripture who was willing to admit it. The beleaguered Job says three times “I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (7:11); “He…filleth me with bitterness” (9:18); and “I will speak in the bitterness of my soul”(10:1). He even accused God of being the cause of his bitterness (9:18). Nor could his friends, such as they were, cause him to look inward. It took God to do that.

         The rest of this verse in Hebrews tells us what’s at stake when we refuse to deal with this insidious disease of the soul. First, it’s a sure sign we’ve failed in our stewardship of the grace of God measured out freely to us by Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:7). Paul was able to say that the grace bestowed upon him “was not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:10). Can you and I say that when it comes to bitterness? Second, it will cause us trouble all of our lives until it is rooted out. And third, it will be a source of defilement to everyone with whom we come in contact. This is why the discerning Christian will spend very little time with another believer who is nursing a past hurt or disappointment. They poison the very air.

         How shall we rid ourselves then of this blight? Once we’ve allowed God to point out our bitterness, I think a good place to start is Ephesians five.

ROOT IT OUT: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.” (v. 31)

REPLACE IT: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (v. 32)

         I was struck by this danger in my own life recently, and had to deal with it accordingly. I always think of D. L. Moody’s advice to “keep short accounts with God.” Now I have taken the liberty of passing it on to you. Will you accept it in the spirit in which it was given? God help us all to be on constant alert against this bitter, bitter root.

“When the root is bitterness, imagine what the fruit will be.” – Woodrow Kroll

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Be Yourself!

“And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of God.” (1Cor. 6:11)

Much is written and said about the advisability of not trying to be like someone else; in other words, just be you. In general, this is good advice, since none of us is ever comfortable in someone else’s skin. The idea in many cases, however, is to eliminate any boundaries on our lives except the ones we choose; which can look more like personal anarchy than individualism. And in any case, the whole exercise falls apart if one doesn’t know who he or she is! Christians are not exempt from this kind of vague thinking, by the way.

For example, we’re sometimes guilty of looking at believers who are most conscientious about their Christian walk as being overly pious, or just not quite real; because real Christians have a hard time living for God and fall down spiritually…a lot. We are so quick to latch onto the second sentence in 1 John 2:1 (“And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”), we hardly give lip service to the first one: (“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not”). God provided us with an Advocate because He knew we would sin, but not because He expects us to. This may come as a surprise to some of us, but sin is not normal for a Christian. We do it, but it is an aberration, an abnormality. And, when it happens, we’re not being who we really are.

Paul gives the Corinthian church a short list of sinful behavior in verses nine and ten of 1 Corinthians six, then begins verse eleven by saying, “And such were some of you.” The operative word here is were, not are. Not that everyone in the church was completely free from the mentioned sins; only that when it happened, it was abnormal behavior. It was not who they really were. If you and I allow sinful acts or thoughts to go unrestrained in our lives, under the guise that it’s just the way we are, we should know this: We are not being who we really are. What we really are is “washed…sanctified…justified.” Anything else is a deviation.

One thing on which I disagree with organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous is that people who haven’t had a drink for over twenty years are still forced to say, “I am an alcoholic.” Well, they were that when they joined! If they’re still what they were, what has changed? The answer will no doubt be, “They no longer drink.” To which I would reply, “Then they’re no longer alcoholics!” Get it?

On those days when I sin miserably, by God’s grace, I will confess my sin to Him and accept the forgiveness He has offered. Then, hopefully, I will remember who I really am and say to myself, “I just wasn’t myself today.” That might not be a bad thing for you to do, as well, my friend.

 “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; and behold all things are become new”  - 2 Cor. 5:17.  (Or as I’ve heard it paraphrased: “If you is what you was, you ain’t!)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Good Word For a Heavy Heart

“Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.” Proverbs 12:25

         Did you ever feel like the Psalmist in Psalm sixty-nine and verse twenty? “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, and there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.”  Words of hope and cheer seem to be “as scarce as hen’s teeth,” as the old saying goes. But notice in this verse in Proverbs that the situation that gave rise to the heaviness of heart may not change, yet a mere “good word” is capable of changing that heavy heart to one of joy and gladness.

         Do you suffer from a heavy heart this day? Are you in need of a “good word” of cheer? Here are three, straight from the lips of our living Savior.

         “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matt. 9:2).  The man to whom Jesus spoke these words had come for healing and left with that and Heaven, to boot! If you belong to God’s Blood-bought band, every sin you have ever committed or will commit has been forgiven. Nothing can change that. God may chasten us, but He can never disown us (Jno. 10:27-30). Every other relationship in this life may be severed, but our abiding, comforting, life-changing relationship with the eternal God and His Son, Jesus Christ, is signed, sealed, and delivered (Eph. 1:13). It’s irrevocable. I ask you, “Is that not a “good word”?

         “For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mk. 6:50). Maybe, like the disciples, you’re in the midst of a crashing storm today, and it’s all you can see. And that seemingly distant, sometimes unrecognized, form before you is really the Master of the Sea; and He calls to you and me, as He called to them, “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid!”  How easy it is to feel we’re in this thing alone, unable to express our fears and longings to even our dearest loved ones, while the God of the universe has transcribed these wonderful words of assurance to His needy, fearful children. Oh, dear saint, is this not a good word!

         “These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (Jno. 16:33).  Does it not seem as though the world is closing in upon us with its well-nigh universal immorality, secular bias, persecution of Christians, and glorification of violence and war? Whatever your eschatological persuasion may be, I believe it’s going to get much worse before it gets better.  This world system is no friend to God or His people, and the sooner we recognize this, the sooner we will cease trying to appease it (1 Jno. 2:16). But we should also recognize that we’re not at the mercy of this world. We need not succumb to its allure or cower before its intimidation. Jesus Christ has overcome the world, and so can we. Now, revel in that good word!

         I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling better already. Not only is our future secure, but our present is under control. We have the promise of sins forgiven, a Companion in the wildest storms, and a Conqueror over this sinful world. It’s the word of a Gentleman with the authorization of Omnipotence. I have sought this day “to speak a word in season to him [and her] that is weary” (Isa. 50:4). I pray God has helped me to do so. May these words of our Lord ring long and loudly in your heart: “Be of good cheer!”

Jesus Christ: The Saints’ Cheer-Leader!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Road To Perfection

“For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of our salvation perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10)

         This verse in Hebrews forces us to shake our heads in stark bewilderment. The idea that Jesus Christ needed any kind of “perfecting” flies in the face of all we know about His Deity. But verses like these—and there are many of them—give us perfect assurance of His Humanity, as well, an idea contested nearly as hotly as the former. As with other Biblical truths, any seeming contradiction is only evidence of our less than perfect understanding, or our less than honest bias. But after reading this verse, as well as 1 Peter 5:10, one thing is for certain:

       The road to perfection is paved with the cobblestones of suffering.

       As you are aware, I’m sure, suffering may have many faces; but the effect is always the same: pain. It may be physical, spiritual, or emotional, but only an unstable individual would find pleasure in it. Still, if ever the adage, “The end justifies the means,” was appropriate, it would be in this case. If you or I ever hope to move from imperfection toward perfection, we will have to acknowledge that it will never happen…short of suffering.
 I walked a mile with Pleasure,
 She chattered all the way;
 But left me none the wiser,
 For all she had to say.

 I walked a mile with Sorrow,
 And not a word said she;
 But, oh, the things I learned from her,
 When Sorrow walked with me!

                        - Robert Browning Hamilton