rooting out bitterness

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Hebrews 12

We have all been hurt, sometimes in life-altering ways. And too often in ways we learn to live with in not such a good way. I think of those molested in childhood, others who have suffered physical or emotional abuse. Words inflict injury as well. James tells us that the tongue is a world of evil. Like a serpent, full of deadly poison (James 3). We carry around with us wounds, which hopefully are largely healed, or in the process of healing. But if not, can perpetuate a cycle of harm. “Hurt people hurt people.”

Oftentimes it seems that this root called bitterness plays out in people finding something wrong, something amiss and off, quick to judge others. And even when such judgments might be either largely or partially true, there is a poison in the air, which inflicts those around them. I think of what should be called gossip, or perhaps better, not putting the best construction on what’s being said or done. And unless we refuse to participate in such, we are taken in, and the problem can grow. It is sad when we can see that is where some people live. And yet we can have more of that in ourselves than we might imagine.

The text above tells us not just to look after ourselves, although that is surely where it must start. But we in Jesus, in the church need to look out for each other, as well. That means we have to guard our tongues to be sure, and work at guarding our hearts. We have to love others, including those who seem on a one track existence due to their bitterness. We all need help along the way, sometimes special help. The goal would be to root out the bitterness, get rid of that poisonous root. Otherwise it is sure to defile others, perhaps many.

Basics like prayer and loving counsel and repentance, and continuing to work against this, seem to be essential. And what is needed in all of this is an emphasis on grace (again, note the text above), no less than an air of grace in which we are careful to consider our actions, words, and what underlies that, our thoughts and attitudes. There is no other way of together following the way of Jesus.

 

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thinking through, along with praying through (“on further consideration”)

…the prudent give thought to their steps.

Proverbs 14:15

It is easy to think this or that, even for a long time, and take it for granted. It is hard to dig into whether or not such thinking is close to reality, or even logical, for that matter. And I’m not pointing fingers. I can fall, and have fallen into this fallacy myself.

Rather, we need to learn to think things through, prayerfully. Of course we need to do our part, but this process is best done with others. Proverbs tells us elsewhere that there is safety in a multitude of counselors. What one person doesn’t see, there might be two or three others who do, or at least someone else. Insight from our various perspectives is helpful. And we all need to dig and ask questions.

Thinking matters through, as well as praying through until an answer comes. We need both. As we seek to do well in God’s eyes in and through Jesus.

into the process

Yesterday I posted as it were (though unintended then) a brief introduction to how we approach trials (“wisdom needed“). Today I want to consider the process itself, a little (it is, after all, a big subject).

Only simpletons believe everything they’re told!
    The prudent carefully consider their steps.

Proverbs 14:15; NLT

It’s important to be thoughtful people about what we’re facing. Experience helps, being seasoned through life in the fear and love of the Lord. To consider everything, insofar as we can when facing trials, which, while we might and probably will to some extent learn the hard way, through the hard knocks of life, we do well to put at the forefront of our thinking. That means sometimes we need to step back, perhaps put where we’re at on pause, and prayerfully reflect.

First of all, in seeking to please the Lord, we must be considerate of others, sensitive to their expectations and needs. We need to weigh that in our prayerful consideration of the whole. So that we make no major decisions apart from having thought through a number of things, actually the whole of everything, from every practical angle we can think of.

Next (though not necessarily in this order, nor is this meant ot be complete) we seek the counsel of others, especially wise, experienced people of grace, who will pray with us, and may offer us much needed counsel and advice to avoid serious pitfalls, and do well (Proverbs 15:22).

And then we pray, continue to pray, wait on God, and give something time. We are in a process. Life itself is a process, and new things, likely trials to us since they are new, or perhaps certainly trials in and of themselves, need time to get through. “This too shall pass.” But we need to hang in there through those difficult times, looking to God for his help, relief and needed wisdom along the way. His grace and mercy poured out on us, and on the situation. And especially in how it might impact others.

As the passage in James makes clear, this is part of our growth toward full maturity, and necessary in our following of Christ, and being formed into his likeness.

wisdom and God’s will

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1

Yesterday at work we watched an interesting video from John Ortberg based on his book, All the Places to Go . . . How Will You Know?: God Has Placed before You an Open Door. What Will You Do?

What stood out to me was the insight that scripture doesn’t so much indicate that God has one particular plan that he shows us, or that God will simply tell us what to do along the way: who we’re to marry if we do marry, what job we’re to have, where we’re to live, etc. But God gives us wisdom so that we can discern what is good, and what is in harmony with his will for us in Jesus. And that the goal is not so much what we do, but who we’re becoming. Are we more and more like Jesus?

This seems so very much in line with scripture along with the best teaching I’ve received based on scripture. It’s not like God never makes something specific clear to us. The big question is just how God does that. Are we like zapped in a sense so that we just know just because God “told” us that we’re to do such and such instead of so and so? Or is it more like God leads us through helping us discern what is best, and what his will might be in the circumstances. I think clearly the latter. God might do something unusual along the way, but by and large we are left to discern what we should do according to what God has given us in his inscripturated word in line with the truth as it is in Jesus.

Of course we have to see all of scripture through the lens and fulfillment in Jesus, through the gospel. And we let God help us sift through it, pondering the truth that we find on every page. We pray and we consult others who are steeped in the truth of scripture and in how the Spirit has guided the church, sometimes in person, and oftentimes in books written, such as the one by Ortberg, linked above.

We want clear answers and essentially an easy life. God wants  us to work through the issues, to be fully involved in the process. Even though God’s work and wisdom and ways are quite beyond us, yet we are given something of God’s wisdom to enter into his work and understand his ways enough to proceed according to what is good in his will revealed to us in Jesus within scripture. We are helped both for the day to day and current decisions which need to be made, as well as for the long haul, during which we should grow in this discernment in and by this wisdom from God.

We are recipients of God’s gift to us in Jesus, and we are active in our faith in terms of how we live, and decisions which need to be made, big and little ones, day after day. As we seek to grow along with others more and more like Jesus.

 

grace, grace, grace

Our pastors, Jack and Sharon Brown have hammered home again and again our need to live in grace in the sense of not working, not striving, but resting. Well, I can’t speak for them, but I share my impressions of what they have told us. Sharon leads us in prayer most Sundays and she is always helping us toward being open to God’s light to shine on our darkness, so that we might know and acknowledge our sins, and confess them to God. With the reminder that as we do our sins are forgiven, that there is indeed no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

They both have what I consider to be a strong Lutheran leaning with regard to grace and works. I appreciate that, but given my Anabaptist, Mennonite upbringing, I often have wanted to push back with some emphasis on what we do, our works. They certainly see works as important, but that we need to rest as those who in Jesus are nothing less than God’s beloved, fully and greatly loved by God just as we are.

Recently I had a personal revelation of sorts, something which came in the midst of great, prolonged internal pressure over problems and issues which seemed to need resolution from what I could do. Through the help of wise counselors here and there I was able to see more clearly. And then I seemed overcome by the sense to simply let go, do nothing, and rest. And God’s peace seemed to accompany that.

Of course that doesn’t mean that I never do anything, or that there might be something I need to do in a given matter. I contend that we certainly need to keep God’s commands given to us in and through Christ. But we need to do so as those who stand in grace, who have learned to rest in God’s promise in Christ through Christ’s finished work on the cross. We don’t want to live lives worthy of condemnation, though simply falling short at all in Biblical terms means being worthy of being condemned. And none of us in any given day, or even hour lives in complete perfection. We have to live as those who have no condemnation because we are in Christ. We are to live in and from God’s grace in Christ. Grace meaning gift, the gift of forgiveness of our sins and new life in and through Jesus.

That was a revelation and a weight off my shoulders then. But life goes on and it exacts its pounding in a number of ways. The question will become for me, will I learn to recognize the true grace of God in Jesus and live in that? In the midst of all the difficulties, uncertainties and trials that come my way. It is first and foundationally important not what I do, but what God has done in Christ. I can say I believe that, but do I actually think and live that way? Some things to ponder.

when up in the air

When trying to make a decision, oftentimes one is at a loss in knowing what to do. I like to study it out, the pros and cons of any choice and go from there. Online one normally runs across the naysayers on so many things. They may have a point, but it may also be blown out of all proportion.

One needs to pray, look to the Lord, and also seek counsel from others. I think we do well to have a trusted friend with whom we can share. We need to look to the Lord for discernment and peace in it all. I don’t think reason is thrown out the window. But that reason needs to be tested by others, especially by trusted friends who also are followers of Jesus.

One other point: there oftentimes is not a wrong or right choice. On some given matter, it may seem crucial to us. There may be a good, better and best option, even if every option has its problems, rather to be expected in this life. We need to deliberate in the right way, taking some time to sort information out. Thinking it through with others, and above all, praying for God’s wisdom, help and peace in it all.

In the end we make the best decision we can and entrust ourselves completely to God, by faith. And we go on. Together with others in Jesus for the world.

fellowship

The New Testament word translated “fellowship,” or perhaps more aptly, “participation” is from the Greek word transliterated koinonia. We in Jesus are in this new life together. We indeed are one body in Christ, and the Head, Christ actually does communicate and bless members of his body through other members. If I’m connected to the Head, Christ, I can be a blessing to others in him, as well as receive his blessing from others.

Yesterday I went to church not in the best of moods. I was unhappy over something about which I could do little or nothing about except to pray. Instead of waiting on the Lord, I was rather getting hotter inside, though holding that in well through the service and Holy Communion into what might be called fellowship time.

It was then that the Lord began to give me the grace needed to deal with the problem point. First with a sister who shared with me something appropriate and helpful, even liberating for my problem, then carrying on in friendly conversation with others, and then the clincher on this from one of our pastors. When we left, the problem was essentially taken care of inside of me, even if the matter itself is ongoing.

The fellowship of the body of Christ, or our participation together as Christ’s body is a blessing that is so inherent and integral, that is, necessary and a part of what it means to be in Christ and of his body the church, that to lose out on this for one reason or another, is to lose out on something fundamental to God’s work in our lives. We tend in this culture to downplay that, though I’m glad to be a part of a church which does not.

While it is possible to go to church gatherings, or be involved in that too much, so that we have little time for anything else, we should avail ourselves of every opportunity within reason of being together. It isn’t so much in what we do, but in simply being present with each other. That presence and God’s presence in Jesus by the Spirit will take care of the doing in the form of conversation, listening, words offered and prayer. Neither is the point in how we come across. Of course all should be in a grace-filled love. I may think I’m as weak as can be, ineffective, yes, but Christ may be using me just the same for another. Just as he is using another to minister to me, building me up/edifying me in love.

Yes, we’re in this together, no less. There is no such thing at all in scripture, in the New Testament as a lone ranger Christian. Though at times we may need to stand alone, we are essentially one body in Christ, for each other and for the world.