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Thoughts on Bitterness

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Bitterness

Just saying the word evokes certain feelings and emotions that most of us can identify strongly with. After all, who hasn’t felt the sting of bitterness well up inside of us?

We know that bitterness comes in many forms and from many sources. You may have been done wrong by a spouse or friend. Perhaps you were overlooked for that job promotion. Or maybe you’ve been “church hurt”. And how could you ever forget the diagnosis you received?

All of these can bring about the feelings of bitterness. Some of us may have even felt like God let us down or disappointed us in some way, and we allowed bitterness to cause us to blame God. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has ever screamed at God asking why He allowed ‘this’ to happen.

Personally, I’ve dealt with just about all of these. On many occasions I might add. Just as you have.

Bitterness strikes at all of us, and while it would be easy to simply say it’s all part of our humanity, there is also a spiritual application to bitterness. How bitterness impacts our walk with Christ is the focus of this post.

The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us to “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. 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”. Hebrews 12:14,15  KJV.     emphasis mine

How do we avoid bitterness since we are virtually assured that as long as we remain here on this earth, circumstances are not always going to go our way? How am I supposed to live peacefully with those who have done me wrong? How can I escape bitterness when I’ve been dealt life-altering circumstances?

As we just read, the answer to all of these questions lies in the scripture that encourages us to live peacefully with all men, endeavoring to live a sanctified life, set apart from the world and its many temptations.

More often than not, that means we must have a forgiving heart. More on that later.

Whatever the source, unless we deal with it by giving it to God, it will come back to haunt us in the form of bitterness. That is simply human nature, and none of us are exempt from it. Face it, we are emotional beings. We laugh, hurt, get depressed, feel overwhelmed, and have the capacity to enjoy many things in this life because we are so emotional.

The Lord created us this way, but if we’re not careful, the devil will use our negative emotions as an entrance into our lives. This is why we must be diligent, as the writer says, because Satan is always looking to find an avenue to “steal, kill, and destroy”. [1]

Allowing bitterness to enter our hearts is opening the door to the adversary, and once opened it can be very difficult to shut that door on him. The danger in all of this is that if even a tiny root of bitterness takes hold in our heart, it begins to weave its way into every fabric of our life.

Picture bitterness as the root of a plant. A plants roots run deep and spread wide. Roots have to do that in order to sustain the plant they are a part of. Those roots feed the plant, and without the proper nourishment the plant will eventually wither and die.

When we allow bitterness to take hold of us, it does everything in its power to burrow itself deeply within our heart. Left unchecked, it will spread into every facet of our life. When that happens, its impact will be seen by all, and it won’t be pretty.

The things that used to bring us joy no longer will. The things we used to look forward to doing we now look at from a very different perspective. That’s what bitterness does to us. It changes our outlook on life, both in the natural and the spiritual. This is why we must constantly be on guard, checking our hearts lest a root of bitterness find its way in.

Let me give you a personal example of how the enemy would like to ensnare us in bitterness.

Recently, our family made the very painful decision to leave the church we had been attending for the past 2.5 years. It isn’t necessary to share the details here, but suffice it to say that these things do happen unfortunately, and they present a myriad of emotions that must be dealt with. In our case, those included hurt, betrayal, and yes even bitterness.

Shortly after we left, I began to have people tell me that they had been told a very different version of what actually happened that caused us to leave.  Needless to say, this did not sit well with me because if there is one thing I cannot stand it is when people are not completely honest.

So I was now in a position of either allowing my emotions to gain the upper hand, or let it go and ask God to deal with my heart about it. Which is exactly what He has done. You see, I chose not to allow bitterness to rule my heart.

I hope you caught that. I chose, or I made the conscious decision that bitterness was not going to spring up or take root in my heart. That’s right…bitterness is a choice, and if you and I choose the path of bitterness we are actually giving others power over us.

Why would we do this? This is where having a forgiving heart comes into play. I have learned through many seasons of bitterness and despair that the best course of action is to forgive and move on. Easier said than done? Of course it is, but read on please.

You know what else I have learned? I’ve learned that forgiveness is a product of a heart that is right before God. When we hold grudges against someone, forgiveness cannot come. If we remain angry at someone over a wrong that was done, forgiveness cannot come.

Forgiveness is a product of a heart that is right before God.

I encourage all of us to remember this the next time we’re faced with hurt or disappointment. Choose wisely friends, choose the path of love and forgiveness instead of the path of bitterness.

Be blessed in Jesus name!

Ron

[1] John 10:10

A sure and steady anchor

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As I look out the window of what we refer to as our multi-purpose room(the ladies of the house refuse to give me complete control of it so I can’t call it my office), everywhere I look I see signs of life.

Here in Florida the grass has been growing for quite a while now. Since March I’ve been mowing once a week, and in a few more weeks the rainy season will change that to a twice-weekly chore.

Songbirds are constantly singing their unique songs, while a chorus of screeching jays, cardinals, and blackbirds announces the arrival of a bobcat, now hidden in my flower bed. Little gray squirrels run about the yard, chasing each other in an endless game of tag.

If I look to my right, I see pots of shrubs I started from cuttings a few months ago. Just beyond them is a pineapple plant that I grew from a rooted top of a pineapple bought at the grocery. Another one sits in a glass jar, awaiting the development of its own root system.

Palm trees are everywhere, which reminds me I need to call someone to trim the tallest ones. I no longer have the balance I once did, so climbing a 20’ ladder no longer seems like the wise thing to do.

The jasmine are beginning to bloom in force, filling the yard with their musky fragrance. Pink, red, and coral hibiscus are showing off their brilliant colors, as are flowering shrubs I potted up months ago but can’t recall the names of at the moment.

If all of this seems a bit idyllic, it’s because it is. Though I may be surrounded by homes, traffic, and people all running here and there doing whatever they are doing, this is my refuge.

You see, I need a place where I can get in touch with the things that matter to me. Whether it’s getting my hands in a flower pot, mowing the lawn, or simply enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of a myriad of living things, these are the things that ground me.

This does sound pretty nice, even if I do say so myself. And I do not want to give the impression that like the Apostle Paul, “I have learned that whatever state I find myself in, I am content”. I wish! Yet I know all too well that any peace and contentment would be impossible were it not for the anchor of my soul that holds this all together.

Jesus is that anchor and the rock that I rest upon.

While I do not have great wealth, I am rich in ways that no amount of money could purchase. When you possess the love of Christ, the desire for material wealth fades into obscurity.

I would like to think that you also have a place of refuge, a place to get away from the daily grind and the stresses of this life, a peaceful place to enjoy the things that are most important to you.

Most of all, I trust that you are anchored in Jesus Christ. Without Him, any such peace and contentment would be impossible.

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

 

 

 

Why do we complicate things?

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I don’t know about you, but I like easy. Doesn’t matter if we’re talking work, home, church, or any other aspect of our lives, I prefer the simplest approach. The less complex the better, I say.

To be honest however, it can be challenging to live a simpler life, especially in light of the fact that all of us are immersed in a world of technology that grows more complex by the day.

I love technology. I love seeing new ideas that increase productivity and efficiency. I like technology that allows us to work smarter instead of harder. If you really think about it though, the improvements that have come about because of technological advances are a two-edged sword.

Having the power of the computer in a small handheld device is great, that is until that same device becomes master of your life and you cannot function without it.

            the journal.com

While Google, Siri, and Alexa may seem like a modern version of Aladdin’s Lamp, able to grant our wishes on command, the price these devices extract from us leaves us in the precarious position of trying to protect what little privacy we have left. The massive amounts of data they are collecting could easily leave us “exposed” should it fall into the wrong hands.

All around me are grocery stores that provide internet ordering from the comfort of my home. Were I to use this service, never again would I have to contend with screaming kids, little old ladies who park their cart in the middle of the aisle, or old men who have to call their wives because they either forgot what they were sent to buy or because “they’re out of that”.

The cost of this convenience? Not much, unless you consider yet another database collecting information on your eating and shopping habits ‘not much’.

All of this begs the question: is this what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of the Abundant Life? Does having an endless array of conveniences at our fingertips mean we’re living “our best life now”?

If it is, whatever happened to “and having food and clothing be content”(1 Ti. 6:8)? Or the Apostle Paul informing us that he had learned that in whatever state he found himself to be in, he was content?

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see a whole lot of “being content” these days. From where I sit what I see is a constant clamor for more and more, with people not realizing until it’s too late that “more” brings with it it’s own set of complications.

Peace and quiet are a welcome relief from the maddening pace of the world today. Of course, the world has its own versions of those as well, but I think I’ll stay with Jesus’ version, thank you.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  John 14:27

Like all of you, my home is filled with gadgets of every sort. Computers, cell phones, iPads, TV’s, and some I’ve long forgotten about.

For all of that however, when I come home and walk through the door I am immediately greeted by a sense of peace and calm. There is only one reason for that, and it is because the peace of God envelops our home.

In the midst of a complex society where technology seems to have won the upper hand over our lives, the peace that Jesus brings restores order out of the chaos.

And that, my friends, is about as uncomplicated as it gets!

Be blessed

Ron

 

The Beatitudes: conclusion

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As I have a very busy week ahead of me filling in for my Pastor, I need to finish up my thoughts concerning the Beatitudes. So even though it makes for a lengthy read, I have included the remaining four in this final blog.

Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.

Mercy is the act of forgiveness and compassion from someone who has the authority to punish you, but instead chooses to offer mercy. If you’ve ever been the one in need of mercy, and you know you have, you can surely appreciate knowing that your Father in heaven is merciful.

When we are merciful and forgiving to others, we give them a glimpse of the Father’s heart of mercy and forgiveness that is offered to all. As his representatives on earth, we must always be mindful that we are often the only examples of the hands and feet of Jesus that people will ever see.

Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.

The Bible talks a lot about the heart, doesn’t it? The condition of our heart as it relates to God is of the utmost importance in our daily walk. Having an impure heart, for example, keeps us from seeing God for who he is because having such a heart is like walking around wearing blinders.

Having a pure heart, however, allows us to see God in all his glory and splendor because our vision is no longer clouded by sin, judgement, or guilt.

When the Psalmist prayed “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me“, he was essentially asking God for a pure heart. [1] May this be our prayer as well.

Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.

Would you agree with me that the world could use a few more peacemakers? After all, God is a peace-loving and a peace-making God, and we sure could use a respite from the constant bickering and fighting among ourselves today.

Peace is something that God has always desired for us. The whole history of redemption, starting with the fall of Adam in the garden to the death and resurrection of Jesus, is all part of God’s plan to establish a just and lasting peace between man and himself.

Not to be overlooked in this plan of redemption is God’s desire for men to also have lasting peace among themselves. It is never God’s will for men to quarrel and fight against one another.

If this message would somehow be heard by all today, what a different world we would be living in! All of us would do well to remember that if we are truly our Father’s children, we will display his attributes and character. What he loves, we will love. And God loves peace.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Persecuted. Not exactly a word that we associate with being blessed, or as some say today “highly favored”, is it?

Yet Jesus does calls us blessed if we are persecuted for righteousness sake. For certain, there are many types of persecution, and varying degrees of it as well.

Some will say that they are being persecuted because someone said something that hurt their feelings. Perhaps a promotion did not come your way and you determine that because of that, you are being persecuted.

I believe though that the persecution Jesus was referring to here is the type that results in the loss of liberty, freedom, and even one’s very life. So while American Christians have been spared (so far) such persecutions, regular readers will note that I have posted several articles on this blog detailing the severe persecution taking place in other parts of the world today.

Literally tens of thousands of Christians are being persecuted, imprisoned, and murdered for the testimony of Jesus in our day. Yet for all that, Jesus calls those of his servants enduring such persecution “blessed”.

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Let’s face it, the world in which we live is becoming increasingly hostile towards Christianity. Today, anyone who aligns themselves with Jesus is mocked, scorned, slandered, and generally treated with disdain.

This isn’t something new however, as Jesus said they did the same things to those who came before us. Our job is simply to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. [2]

Peter even went so far to say that if we were insulted for the name of Jesus, we are blessed because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon us! [3]

I hope that this series on The Beatitudes has been both worthwhile and a source of encouragement to you. I never tire of reading these words of Jesus because they seem to fan the flames when we need a little spark to keep us pressing onward, and my prayer is that you feel the same way.

Be blessed,

Ron

[1] Psalm 51:10

[2] Philippians 3:14

[3] 1 Peter 4:14

 

Blessed are the poor in spirit…

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Over the next several days I am going to be sharing my thoughts about The Beatitudes. Like many of you, I love these rich teachings of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount, and their application to our lives is as real today as they were to the crowd gathered on the side of a Galilean mountain nearly 2000 years ago.

My sincere hope is that these basic, foundational truths as taught by Jesus will give us pause to spend time reflecting on what is most important. I have found in my own life, for example, that there are times when I just need to step back, slow down, and revisit the basics from this sermon. It’s kind of like when your GPS needs to reorient itself, if that makes any sense to you.

Found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter five, the Beatitudes contain some of the richest teachings of Jesus, giving us a very concise revelation of God’s principles for how to live our lives in a manner most pleasing to him.

The Beatitudes all begin with the key word “Blessed”. This word, as spoken by Jesus, indicates a fullness, or spiritual well-being coupled with an inner sense of joy and peace.  His love, caring, and daily presence in our lives is meant to give us a sense of contentment, or what we might call blessed.

It is important to note that the “Blessed” that Jesus speaks of here is not referring to the modern “churchianity” interpretation of the word that centers around prosperity or wealth. Jesus is not saying to those on the mountain side that they will all be getting a new camel in their driveway if they toss a few shekels in the offering.

No, Jesus is teaching about an entirely different kind of blessed.

With that being said, I’d like to dive into the Beatitudes in the order they are written, beginning with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.

When we see or hear the word “poor”, most of us automatically assume a condition of lack. That is because we typically think of the poor primarily in terms of money or worldly possessions. While that may be true, there are other types of poverty, such as being spiritually or morally poor or bankrupt.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find it very interesting that Jesus used the words poor and blessed together. Today we would call that an oxymoron, because we cannot comprehend how someone who is poor would also be blessed at the same time. They just don’t go together.

Or do they?

Because Jesus was not referring to wealth and possessions, these two words fit together like a glove when you consider that the poor he is referring to are those who are humble before God. They understand that on their own they have nothing to give in exchange for being granted access to the kingdom of heaven. They need help!

People who are “poor in spirit” are not arrogant or puffed up within themselves. They know that if there is any good in them, it is because of the Jesus that dwells within them. They are not self-sufficient but dependent upon the Lord. Self-righteousness is not a part of their DNA.

The question then is why are they called blessed?

They are blessed because they have had their eyes and hearts opened to one of the greatest truths ever revealed to man: the sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

This blessing from Jesus tells the poor in spirit that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Again, his focus is not on material poverty, but upon the condition of the hearers heart. If you really think about what Jesus is saying here, you come to the conclusion that the kingdom of heaven is made up entirely of those who are poor in spirit and have a contrite heart.

The message that Jesus is teaching here in the beginning of his sermon is clear. If anyone is to inherit the kingdom of heaven they must become poor in spirit, which requires a repentant heart. Those who humble themselves and declare their need of a Savior, to them is given the kingdom of heaven.

There is no other way to get there!

Up next is “Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.”

Until then, be blessed and have a great day!

Ron

 

 

Create in me a clean heart,O God;

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Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.   Psalm 51:10-12

This was the prayer of David after he had fallen into deep sin. This once humble shepherd boy turned giant killer, the apple of Gods eye, has been knocked off of his lofty throne by pride, arrogance, and lust.

Having committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then having her husband killed in a vain attempt to hide his sin, King David found himself in bitterness and anguish of soul. As you read Psalm 51, the depths of this anguish nearly jumps off the page, and no doubt many of us can empathize with his sorrows.

For the rest of his life David would pay a tremendous price for his moral failures. Not only he, but his family as well would suffer the consequences of “the pleasures of sin for a season”. Indeed, his own son tried to take the kingdom from him, and never again would David know complete peace and contentment in his life.

thou-art-the-man_peter_rothermel_david_nathan_b

Thou Art The Man- by Peter Rothermel

There are several lessons to be gleaned from this tragic episode in the life of Israel’s beloved king, not the least of which is that none of us has to be a murderer or an adulterer to have need of a clean heart and a right spirit within us. All of us are in need of these things.

Everyday events can drain us, leaving us discouraged and feeling so lowly that we have to reach up just to be able to touch the bottom. Life, for all of its joys and triumphs, also brings with it incredible heartaches and disappointments. For these, we need the security of knowing that God is working “all things together for our good”.

Who among us doesn’t need renewal from time to time? Contrary to popular opinion, there certainly is no shame in acknowledging our own inabilities to “fix ourselves” by calling upon the Lord. As a matter of fact, He tells us to “cast all of our cares upon him, because He cares for us.”

I don’t know where you are in your walk with the Lord, but I’m craving a deeper walk with him. So many things in this life cause division and separation between us and God. Even good things, in excess, can come between us and our relationship with him.

The last thing I want is to be found like David, far from God, yet I know that if I don’t pray and study his word that is exactly what will happen. Our prayer then should always be like David’s; “Lord, cast me not away from your presence.”

In perilous and uncertain times such as we are living in today, all of us need the strong hand of the Lord to sustain us, to keep us pointed in the right direction. Let’s face it, we need Him!

David understood that even though he had committed horrible sins before his God forgiveness, albeit at a cost, was available to him. The son that was born to him out of the illicit affair with Bathsheba for example, would become sick and die. No amount of fasting and prayer for him could save his life, yet this event served a greater purpose in turning David’s heart back to God.

Having done that, he began the road back to once again having a clean heart, a right spirit, the joy of the Lord, and a restored relationship with God. Yes, there were consequences for his actions, however with God’s help; David was able to persevere in spite of them.

The grace of God is truly amazing isn’t it? A God that would forgive David is just as quick to forgive us for our own shortcomings. It really is as simple as calling upon Him to forgive us and create in us a clean heart.

Be blessed on this Lords day!

Ron

 

 

 

 

 

A Tale of two Paths

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The Path you have chosen.

The Path that has been chosen for you.

path

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

I’ve always been somewhat envious of those who carve out their own career path in life. Of course, I suppose all of us do this to a certain extent, whether intentional or not.

I’m referring however to those individuals who are driven to the point of mapping out their lives, setting specific goals, and then working their tails off to achieve those goals.

I’m sure you’ve heard someone talk about how all they ever wanted to do was to accomplish this or that, and years later they finally realized their dreams.

There’s something very special about a person who can maintain such discipline, especially from the perspective of a lot of us who don’t seem to have that specific gene in our DNA.

goals

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

When I was much younger, I too thought I had my life mapped out. I dreamed of making a career in the outdoors as a professional bass fisherman. If that didn’t work out my back up plan was to be a writer, a dream I still wish to pursue.

As is often the case however, things didn’t turn out the way I had envisioned. A little thing called LIFE got in the way, and I said goodbye to fishing and hello to a real job and real responsibilities.

In spite of the twists and turns, the ups and downs, and a few “falling off the cliffs” thrown in for good measure, one day God came knocking on the door of my heart.

And I’ve never been the same since.

It was obvious right from the start that God had another plan for my life. If you’ve ever sensed that God has called you to a higher purpose, then you understand what I’m saying.

When you sense that call, your perspective on life changes because you come to the realization that you are part of something much bigger than anything your own plans could ever accomplish.

When you yield to the call, you are relinquishing control of your destiny and placing it firmly in His hands. And when you take that final step of submission, that’s when it hits you: Someone much higher and much greater than you has had a plan for your life all along.

heavenly sky

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

This is not to say that allowing God to call the shots is always an easy thing to do, because it is not. There is a lot of fear in letting go of the reigns, and I have observed (and learned) that this is actually a work in progress.

Yet there is also a great calmness that comes over us when we allow the Master to take control. A peace that passes all understanding is how Paul referred to it when preaching to the Philippian church.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Philippians. 4:7

Perhaps you’re in a place where your life plans are just not working out the way you thought they would. Who knows, maybe you’re at the point where you’re ready to start over with a brand new plan.

If you are, I pray that you will give God an opportunity to show you the plan that He has for your life. Give Him the chance to show you the difference between you charting your own course, or carving your own path, and Him choosing the best path for your life.

I guarantee you that you will not be disappointed!

Be blessed,

Ron

 

 

 

 

 

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