Saturday, June 29, 2013


Bitterness causes problems.  No matter how intelligent or crafty a person is, there is no escaping the consequences that follow a life of bitterness. It will not surprise you to learn of great thinkers, artists and power brokers who succumbed to the deadliest disease of the spirit – bitterness.  

Their end is misery and spiritual pollution.
Sigmund Freud died at the age of 83, a bitter and disillusioned man. Tragically, this Viennese physician, one of the most influential thinkers of our time, had little compassion for the common person. Freud wrote in 1918, "I have found little that is good about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all" (Veritas Reconsidered, p. 36). Freud died friendless. It is well known that he had broken with each of his followers. The end was bitter. 

Discoveries, Summer, 1991, Vol 2, No. 3, p. 1 quoted in Unfinished Business,
Charles Sell, Multnomah, 1989, p. 121ff.

Sigmund Freud was wrong.  Most people are not trash, but they do need to take out their trash.  Something that this father of psychiatry was unable to do for himself.

What trash is stinking up the house of your heart?  How can God help us to deal with situations and people that embitter us?

Hebrews 12
15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

·        It is possible to miss out on God’s grace.  Holding unforgiveness puts your spirit into jeopardy.
·        Bitterness roots itself in us and continues to grow.
·        Its end is trouble and causes a stench that sticks to others.

Some will say, “I have a right to be angry and I’m not ready to forgive.  No one else seems to understand what I’m going through, so back off!  Don’t tell me to let go of this hurt!”

Of the 7 deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back--in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you. 

Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking Transformed by Thorns, p. 117.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Several years ago when I was a young, inexperienced youth pastor I parted ways with a pastor I had been working with.  I was young and single and learning the fine art of being a pastor.  He took me under his wing and gave me an opportunity to be a pastor to the youth in his church.

I did my best and thought things were going reasonably well for the first few months.  But it began to become apparent that he was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  He began to try and help me become what he desired in a youth pastor.

I began to feel that he was disappointed in me.  I knew he was when he began inviting me in to his office for ‘little talks’.

Little quirks and habits of mine were getting on his nerves.  I was not very polished or professional in my demeanour.

One day he sat me down and said, “I don’t think you have what it takes to be in ministry.  If you ever thought about doing something else, you should.”

Needless to say, I moved on shortly after that to a long, healthy youth pastorate.

But what about the things that had come between us?  What about the hurtful things he had said to me?  What about the ways that I let him down?

Fortunately, God gave me grace to overcome the momentary hurt and carry on with the leading of God in my life.  I realized that he was partly wrong about me and had a different viewpoint on what ministry is.  I was fortunate to have come through the experience without any bitterness.  Anger and disappointment accompanied my sense of failure, but I never lost sight of the goodness of that man and the work of God going on his life.

Most of the youth pastors that followed me in that place, experienced similar experiences and departures.  Some of them did not cope as well.  Some left the ministry for good.

Many years later, I sit on district committees with the same man and even played golf with him, a sport he excels at.  It’s a game that I have no interest in.

How is it that I can feel safe around him and even be friendly toward him after the things I experienced?

In God’s Kingdom, there are friendships and working relationships that outlast severe disagreements.  It is important for us to learn how to disagree with one another and not break the connection we have through Christ.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


I am not too concerned about diet, health and exercise. I should be for my own good, but it doesn’t happen as much as everyone tells me it should be a priority. I find that I’m not politically correct at times and so I try to learn from the experts. 

The model spiritual person today has lots of rules about right and wrong. You need to eat what God wants you to eat, shop where God wants you to shop, be socially aware and environmentally sensitive. You need to be tolerant, unassuming and read the right books and share the popular opinions on theology.

What people might not tell you is that you can be healthy, politically correct, well disciplined and still be an insensitive pervert. You can buy into all kinds of ethical thought and still treat your family like crap. You can be socially active in just causes and still lack humility and grace. Gaining leadership in the church and being influential in the community can be a great place to hide the true condition of your heart.

Matthew Henry said,

External privileges, if they are not duly improved, commonly swell men up the more with pride and malignity. Jerusalem, which should have been a pure spring, was now become a poisoned sink. How is the faithful city become a harlot![i]

Anyone can honour God with their lips and still have a cold, dead heart at a great distance. I do not want to be ‘just talk’ for that is my greatest temptation.

Matthew 15:
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

All of these words that come out of our mouth… we have a religion of lip. We say all kinds of things everyday and worship fervently using our best words. So can someone tell me why we’re not feeling more defiled by our evil thoughts?

Murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander… Oh, that…

Seneca, complaining of most people’s being led by common opinion and practice said, ‘Things are taken upon trust, and never examined’, and he concludes, ‘Hence crowds fall upon crowds, in vast confusion.’[ii]

In the age of ten thousand instructors, have we disconnected from the one true Father? It is vital that we grow in the love of God.

We have said the right things. Can we let our heart draw close to the Lord? Can we let the love of God change us on the inside?

Like an uprooted plant, the false teachings and half-truths eventually die in God’s Garden. The Master Gardener watches over his wild garden and tends only that which He wants to grow. Weeds will be uprooted in time.

Again, quoting Matthew Henry:

Not only the corrupt opinions and superstitious practices of the Pharisees, but their sect, and way, and constitution, were plants not of God’s planting. The rules of their profession were no institutions of his, but owed their origin to pride and formality. The people of the Jews were planted a noble vine; but now that they are become the degenerate plant of a strange vine, God disowned them, as not of his planting…
What things are unscriptural, will wither and die of themselves, or be justly exploded by the churches; however in the great day these tares that offend will be bundled for the fire. What is become of the Pharisees and their traditions? They are long since abandoned; but the gospel of truth is great, and will remain. It cannot be rooted up.[iii]

May God help us to have an open heart that can hear Him speak. May we stop listening to our own lip service and engage the heart in passionate surrender to God’s love. Speak Lord, your servants want to listen.

[i] Matthew Henry Commentary
[ii] Matthew Henry Commentary
[iii] Matthew Henry Commentary

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


What might we find in Jesus’ religion of love that differs from the darkness of worldly, religious thought? 

In Jesus’ words we might discover how trivial and misguided we are. We might find out how stubbornly lost we are.

There is a great example in a Jesus’ encounter with some legalists. We might not think of ourselves as legalistic, but we might also be quite blind when we think we can see. Are you legalistic and unaware of it?

Matthew 15:
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’”

The Pharisees and teachers had strong ideas about right and wrong. Tradition amplified these ideas. We too, have some generic ideas about right and wrong. We say that you have to read between the lines. We also say that there is an unwritten rule in many instances.

This oral law was regarded by the Pharisees as having equal authority with the written law. It was codified as the Mishnah in the second century. One of its treatises covers details of hand washing, such as how much water is to be used, how many rinsings are necessary, and so on.[i]

The Mishnah was the modern equivalent of all the books and teaching available today that help us understand what the Scripture is saying. The Mishnah took what people were saying and wrote it down. Then the new writings became vital to ‘really understand’ what was meant in the holy book.

Matthew Henry from the late 1600’s gave some insight into this matter of eating with unwashed hands.

Rabbi Joses determined, “that to eat with unwashen hands is as great a sin as adultery.” And Rabbi Akiba being kept a close prisoner, having water sent him both to wash his hands with, and to drink with his meat, the greatest part being accidentally shed, he washed his hands with the remainder, though he left himself none to drink, saying he would rather die than transgress the tradition of the elders. Nay, they would not eat meat with one that did not wash before meat. This mighty zeal in so small a matter would appear very strange, if we did not still see it incident to church-oppressors, not only to be fond of practicing their own inventions, but to be furious in pressing their own impositions.[ii]

Before I rush to blame the people who want me to have more traditional values, I need to ask how have I looked down at others for not meeting the expectations I have for a ‘good Christian’? When have I castigated people who fell short of my lofty standards? I too, have obsessed over some matter of conscience that in the end may prove to be more about my ideas than the love of God.

Jesus is making a very serious point in this message. The ones who were so concerned about the hand washing were guilty of creating loopholes and justifying their own law breaking. Instead of sticking to God’s Law, they matched it up with the Mishnah and concocted a new law that nullified what God was asking of them.

How do we do that? Are there ways that we bypass God’s requirements, because our opinion on matters is easier to live with?

Instead of loving and taking care of parents (God’s law) they found a loophole that allowed them to give the money to the Temple instead. ‘Sorry mom, this money is for God. I can’t help you.’

It’s sometimes easier to do things ‘in God’s Name’ than to actually listen to what God wants. When we idolize ministry and the church, we might miss the heart of God. Go back to the Law and you will find God’s Love there.

[i] Reformation Study Bible notes
[ii] Matthew Henry Commentary

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