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.

avoiding hate (and hurt)- politics

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show itby their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambitionin your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3

There are few things more troubling than Facebook posts (and probably Twitter is just as bad). A majority of them are about US politics, and specifically about the President and his policies. With some blows against the last President (along with a few praises). If anyone thinks this is better and easier in real life, face to face, they sadly should think again. It seems like the politics of this world is inhabited by a spirit which is malevolent and dark indeed. And certainly not by the Spirit of Christ.

Of course there may be elected officials who keep a steady course which is honoring to God, but it seems to me that they would be an exception to the rule. There seems to be a pull that at least evokes heat rather than light. People most definitely take their politics personally. There is certainly good reason to take it seriously. There is surely evil to be found on every side. Even if we might see most of the evil on the other sides, and we do, we do well to step back and ask ourselves if engaging in such talk is either profitable to ourselves or others. One side hardly ever changes the other. And actually the best polemic questions both sides in the name of the one Lord of lords, and King of kings, and kingdom present in him.

There surely are times to speak out, but we want to make our appeal in a way which is helpful to all, a tall order, indeed. We more or less think there are issues now that we need to be aware of, and then tell others. Living in a democracy certainly lends itself to that kind of thinking. Apart from threatening others, we’re allowed to speak our minds here, with no lawful basis for retaliation.

The hard part is that there is a time to speak, and to do so will result in persecution, usually in being disliked. Hopefully a persecution for righteousness, as Jesus said. Although what I’m referring to here is not persecution at all, compared with what others have to go through, in other place. And Christians need to look beyond such differences by grace, embracing each other in spite of our disagreements.

We need to consider the entire chapter of James 3 on the tongue, just as I’ve posted before (click the link below and above). And I can’t do better than once again quote the above passage, this time in a different version:

Who in your community is understanding and wise? Let his example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness, blaze a trail for others. If your heart is one that bleeds dark streams of jealousy and selfishness, do not be so proud that you ignore your depraved state. The wisdom of this world should never be mistaken for heavenly wisdom; it originates below in the earthly realms, with the demons. Any place where you find jealousy and selfish ambition, you will discover chaos and evil thriving under its rule. Heavenly wisdom centers on purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy, and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy. The seed that flowers into righteousness will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.

James 3 (VOICE)

the problem with politics: the tongue

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James 3

There is good reason why at many dinnertables of the past, the discussion of politics (and religion, I might add) was forbidden. The heat in such discourses most often blocks whatever light might be present. It becomes a personal struggle, but it seems even more than that.

Let’s say a discussion, either a dialog, or more likely a lot of monolog goes on in regard to politics among adults who think they’re mature enough to handle it. Before long, at least in my experience, something quite disparaging, and actually judgmental of people’s characters is usually sooner than later said. And most of the time the others not only passively take this in, but noddingly agree.

Would that there could be some genuine political discussion. The world needs it both in terms of style and substance. Instead it normally becomes a diatribe against a party or politician. What is most awful is how others who might deviate from such talk are frowned or scoffed at, and if persisting looked down upon. I wonder why that’s so.

I think in a fundamental sense scripturally, that world government and the politics that is a part of it is a domain of what scripture calls the world, the flesh and the devil. Yes, God is sovereign in control, in that sovereignty allowing nations and leaders a certain kind of free will, but ruling and overruling, raising up one government official and putting down another one. Even raising up governments and putting other governments down. In ways we actually can’t trace or understand well, if at all.

It takes special character, indeed special anointing of grace from God to traverse such circles and do well in them. I can’t help but think of Daniel. But when we see his interaction in the kingdoms he served as a servant of God, we see plenty of trouble coming his way, and the way of others who so served with him.

And so we shouldn’t be surprised at the heat which comes out of our own hearts and onto our lips out of our mouth, in words which too often have more heat than light, straight from the pit of hell. We are playing with fire. We do better to step back, take note of this, speak less, listen more, pray, and consider this an opportunity to grow in the grace of humility and meekness, knowing that our total devotion and unconditional allegiance is to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, Jesus. Even as we pray for those in governmental positions, and seek to be a witness to the nation in which we live of the good news of the kingdom which is outside of Satan’s domain, and destined to crush his rule once for all and forever.

keeping one’s body in check

James tells us that one who controls their tongue is able to keep the rest of their body in check. That could mean that if our words are marked by holiness (truth and love in Jesus), the rest of our life follows.

What gets us in trouble, even if we are only speaking to ourselves? The tongue. That is why the psalmist (attributed to David) asks God to set a watch over their tongue. Otherwise the psalmist is afraid they’ll be drawn to do evil. Getting to the core of that, we do wrong when our actions including our words are not in line with loving God with all our being and doing and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

So it is best to check our impulses and not act on many of them. Particularly when it’s about saying something which while we may be thinking it, is not particularly edifying in itself and potentially destructive of another. And we need to bring such thoughts to God. Oftentimes in confession of sin along with prayers such as we find in the psalms. We’re going to find often enough that our thoughts and judgments were awry, off the mark. And we are reminded again by James that we’re not qualified to stand in judgment of others, anyhow. As scripture elsewhere reminds us, we first need to judge ourselves. Often what we think we see in others is what we already know exists in ourselves. We fail to judge ourselves. Until we do that, we can’t help anyone, even when they could use our input. In such matters of course, we would have to tread ever so lightly and slowly.

So today and everyday we need to slow down, calm down, and keep a lot of our thoughts to ourselves and God. We need to focus on our own problems and be an example to others of those who follow the Lord with their tongues and then all the rest of their body.

talking about others

We live in a culture in which talking about others in the sense of putting them down, attacking their character- called “character assassination” is endemic. And in fact it’s not only accepted, but even celebrated. So I’m at the place that if I catch wind that I might be the victim of that, the hurt is fairly easily buried, it’s something I hardly blink at. Even while at the same time I dislike it and want to not only refuse to participate in it, but rebuke it.

James is a book that for many reasons is so timely for this day and age. We need all of scripture, but read this book to see what I mean. James, the pastor in Jerusalem, half brother of the Lord didn’t mince words and the book is one of the most down to earth books you’ll find. And he’s not really addressing the world, but those who are “believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.” It is a pity when we imbibe the culture of the world. As James says we’re not to be a friend of the world. In so being we become the enemy of God. But James also points out that the problem can arise from within us, from what scripture calls the flesh. And that the course of our lives can be headed for catastrophe from our tongues being set on fire by the fire of hell. So we see the world, the flesh and the devil as present and ready to move in and take over if we don’t put our faith into practice and refuse them entry.

What if we would make the radical decision not to talk down anyone even to our spouses, or perhaps a close friend? When we do so, we drag others down with us into that muck and mire, and they can easily become accomplices by just remaining idle, and can end up doing the same things themselves. We’re told not to keep company with angry people to guard against becoming like them (Proverbs).

Let’s find something good to say about others, about each other, or say nothing at all. We can bring our concerns to the Lord in prayer. Perhaps we can share with our spouses or close friend, or pastor or priest our general concerns, but guarding against putting another person down, perhaps by keeping their identity anonymous. God knows and we don’t. But even when they’re clearly in the wrong and perhaps hurting us we need to show them the love of our Lord, a love which loves to the end no matter what. That did love to the end, even toward his enemies.

We need to guard our tongues and our hearts, and ask the Lord to do so. And in so doing being to put our faith into practice.

watching one’s tongue

Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

James 3

James is a down to business, brass tack kind of book, that gets to the point without pulling punches. One know for sure when reading James that there’s no gray when it comes to how we should think and what we should do. That should all be one, otherwise we’re complicit with evil. In fact the reason we struggle with doubt (I would say from scripture and from life, one of the possible reasons) is because we’re not committed to God, but doubleminded in all our ways (James 1).

It does seem like from scripture, as in the passage quoted above, the tongue or what we say has a unique place. Of course, just as Jesus made clear, the tongue is the vehicle of the heart. So to address the problem of an unhelpful, evil tongue, one has to address the problem of the heart. That is a large subject in itself. What is key there is the gospel and the change that gospel brings through faith and baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. So that by the Spirit we can put to death the misdeeds of the body, including the tongue.

It is indeed an impressive thought that the tongue is the gauge whereby we can see just how far we have to go, our spiritual growth. We won’t reach perfection in this life; indeed we stumble in many ways and we need ongoing forgiveness of sin. At the same time, we don’t have to let sin rule over us, which means no unruly tongue. Since we are under grace. While we work on this, a good rule of thumb is to remain in silence as our default, speaking only what is hopefully pleasing to the Lord and good and helpful to those who listen. And a good place to start is wherever we may have the most sin in this area. The Lord will help us, as we set our hearts and minds and lives in this direction.