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.

 

avoiding gossip

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
    they go down to the inmost parts.

Proverbs 26

Gossiping is one of the themes covered in the book of Proverbs. It carries the idea of talking about others behind their back in disparaging ways, usually in a way that highlights their supposed character defects, or whatever perceived weaknesses they have. It often refers to something that has happened, or is going on. It ends up being a moral sickness for those who practice it, and for others who participate in that practice by merely listening. Listening and taking it in, as the passage quoted above indicates, is just as much to participate in it, as the actual gossiper, at least in how it affects the one who listens. By listening, one is affirming what the gossiper is doing.

It becomes more tricky when one just throws in some kind of slant about someone in the midst of what otherwise is normal talk. That is when one should be on guard in their heart not to be taken in, maybe ask a question, or say something which puts into question what is said, and perhaps exonerates the one who has been belittled.

To be a gossip means to have a moral sickness of heart. It is rampant in our society, it seems. Instead of talking about issues, we impugn the character of those we disagree with. And everyone more or less ends up doing that, so that it becomes a vicious cycle. And this affects those who don’t, so that they have to work at not doing the same, even while under their breath perhaps doing so.

We have to learn to hate this kind of practice, and a large part of that is to love the truth, and honesty. And graciousness of thought and speech is essential for this, as well. We should think the best of others, and when we see them fail, hope for better. We need the same grace ourselves from others.

Honesty and truth telling, and above all, being gracious in both thinking and seeking the best for others is essential. If we have a problem with someone, we should go to that person and talk to them, oftentimes clearing up a misunderstanding in the process. And when an offensive behavior persists, we should be slow to go to anyone else, of course depending on what the issue is, and what kind of help that person might need.

And we need to watch ourselves. Especially our hearts to avoid the damage which can be inflicted on others through our tongues. Instead we need to speak the truth in love and as it is in Jesus, and keep looking to Jesus and God’s good news in him, as we look at everything else. Seeing all through that, with the hope that brings for us all.

not dividing the head and the heart

Michael Minkhoff’s post, How Christian Rationalism Turned Me Into a Psychopath, or A Biblical Defense of Feelings is well worth the read. Even if there is only some truth in what he’s saying, and I think there’s plenty, it is enough to help one understand why either emotions are suppressed resulting in a cold, hard hearted rationalism, or why they’re given full sway resulting in a disparaging of the intellect and good, clear, coherent thought. What is needed of course is everything which makes up our humanity made in the image of the one who is moved not only with truth but in an emotional sense, with pity, compassion, anger, etc., in love.

I come to this myself, hardly knowing what to make of it, except to acknowledge that I too am a victim of the lie that we simply need to put aside our emotions for a clear understanding. When actually we need to grow both in our “emotional quotient” as well as our “intelligent quotient.” How in real life mind and emotions, the heart and the head we’re never meant to be separated.

What is often left is an emotional immaturity which actually affects the mind for ill, since good thinking was never meant to be separated from feelings. We can’t do well in one without the other. We need the full healing of our total humanity in and through Christ, a life-long process until the redemption to come, when that work will be finished into something new and dynamic and growing. Something we may be able to find in ourselves now, only with some work and imagination, but which will then be obvious and flourishing in and through Jesus.

 

 

hard hearts

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Matthew 19

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36

Hardness of heart is part of what God promised to address in the new covenant given to his people. A heart compliant to God in both truth and love is what is needed in us all. To love God with all our being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves is at the center of that.

On the way to such a heart (and we’ll always be on the way in this life; hopefully growing, but never fully arriving), we will have the need for a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51). A deep work of repentance over no less than the hard heart we have, and the sin of our hearts is what is needed. The Spirit and the word in and through Jesus and the gospel will do that work. We need to not only be open to that, but desire it. By faith over time we will be seeing God do the work. And yet God’s people are told to get a new heart themselves. In other words we are to be engaged in that work as well. Knowing at the same time that it is God’s work which makes this possible by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

(This new WordPress format which has started this week, is making my blogging a challenge since I’m confined to the tablet I have. So that I’m not able at the moment to do well what I ordinarily do on posts.)

really praying

I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.

Psalm 77

Lord, they came to you in their distress;
when you disciplined them,
they could barely whisper a prayer.

Isaiah 26

[Jesus] said to them, “When you pray, say:

“‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”

Luke 11

There can be value in saying prayers, especially when we practice what our Lord taught us so that we recite together and alone what is called “the Lord’s Prayer,” or the “Our Father” prayer. But if there’s no sincerity, saying prayers amounts to nothing more than mouthing words. The Lord looks at the heart.

There are times when we want to pray, but barely can. Those might be times of the Lord’s loving hand of discipline upon us, as the above passage says (Isaiah 26). But it’s a part of the human condition to be weak. We are weak and we cast ourselves on the grace and mercy of God. The Isaiah passage is encouraging in intimating that no matter how we’ve strayed, we can come to God. It may require much effort on our part, although prayer normally takes some effort. We may feel it is useless, that there’s a barrier between us and God. But it is always good for us to lift our voices to him. To do so when our hearts are torn or broken, or even seemingly distant from God for that matter.

Sometimes we are in more or less desperate straits. We cry to God over someone else’s plight, or over something we’re concerned about in our own life. And hopefully we keep bringing petitions to God for those in need. This is good, because inherently we are not people of prayer, people dependent on God. Life can draw us into that prayer which is an expression of faith, drawing us closer to God, hopefully into a deeper relationship with him.

Scripture is not superficial anywhere, very much attuned to life. Prayers are as human as they may be caught up into the divine. Sometimes blood, sweat and tears. Made holy and received by God through Jesus Christ.

our head is where our heart is (and the rest follows)

What are we thinking about? And from that, what are we doing? One can be sure that where our heart is, there our head is as well. And the rest of us follows.

That is intimated or made clear in both Jesus’ words as well as in the New Testament letters. Here are a couple places:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

It doesn’t take long in reading the Bible and specifically the New Testament and Jesus’ call to realize that this life takes all of us. Not part, not just a bit here and there, not even the best part or parts of us. Everything, period. We get into trouble when we think we can work through or attempt to do the hard stuff when our minds have been elsewhere. Why? Because our hearts were taken up with something else.

This can be so subtle. I’m not even thinking about what is clearly and overtly sinful. But this becomes sinful, even in things that in themselves are well and good and have their place. If we are entirely occupied with them.

Where is our head? Well, we have to ask the question, where is our heart? Then confession of our sin should follow. So that we can get our hearts and heads back on track. And follow.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung on virtue as a matter of the heart

In the end, both virtues and vices are habits that can eventually become “natural” to us. Philosophers describe the perfect achievement of virtue as yielding internal harmony and integrity. Compare, for example, the following two married persons: The first, let’s call Jane. Although she resists them, Jane regularly struggles with sexual feelings for men other than her husband. The second, call him Joe, enjoys an ardent affection for his wife throughout the ups and downs of thirty years of marriage. Are they both faithful? In a technical sense, at least, yes. Jane successfully exercises self-control over her wayward desires. But only Joe embodies fidelity as a virtue. His faithfulness is deeply rooted in who he is. While we can give her moral credit for her efforts, Jane’s faithfulness stays on the surface; it is the uncomfortable voice of conscience countering her adulterous inclinations and keeping her actions in check. By contrast, Joe’s desires are in harmony with his considered judgment. Who wouldn’t rather have a spouse with Joe’s fidelity than Jane’s self-control?

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle called this the difference between acting according to virtue—that is, according to an external standard which tells us what we ought to do whether we feel like it or not—and acting from the virtue—that is, from the internalized disposition which naturally yields its corresponding action. The person who acts from virtue performs actions that fit seamlessly with his or her inward character. Thus, the telltale sign of virtue is doing the right thing with a sense of peace and pleasure. What feels like “second nature” to you? These are the marks of your character.

Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung in Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, 16.