From Bitter to Better

The term “bitter,” when used in the Scriptures, is not typically a word used with favor. In fact, “bitter” is typically used to describe one who holds contempt for another, or how awful something is. kermit-coffee-6When it reigns in the heart, sin is not far behind. Paul states in Ephesians 4 to “Get rid of bitterness” and instead “be kind and compassionate, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
A bitter taste is typically unpleasant, but after a while, it may become an acquired taste. Some foods and drinks that we typically consume with bitterness in them are grapefruit, beer, olives, unsweetened cocoa and coffee. Since “America runs on Dunkin” and Starbucks makes some bucks on their coffees, we know that many have grown not only accustomed to the bitterness, but enjoy it. Others who like coffee attempt to cover the bitter taste with creamer and sugar, sometimes adding up to 5 packets of sugar! Crazy.

The bitterness of our hearts can’t simply be covered up by sweet acts.  Bitterness can only be altered at the source – the heart.  It starts with seeking God’s forgiveness for our bitterness.  When we hold on to bitterness, we are deliberately sinning against Him.  Knowing that He loves us, He will forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness (I John 1:9).  Did you get that last part?  He cleanses us from unrighteousness.  He removes the bitterness of our hearts when we humble ourselves before Him.  He continues to remove the bitterness when we humble ourselves and seek forgiveness from those with whom we are bitter.  This may not be possible in all circumstances, but when it is possible, to do so can be healing for us, too.  Finally, as we humble ourselves before God and recognize that He forgives us and cleanses us, we, in turn, forgive others who have offended us or hurt us.  Forgiving the other person, however, should come before seeking forgiveness from the offender.

“Rid yourselves of bitterness,” Paul states.  When we do this, we become more like Christ.  We become, well…. “better.”

On a similar note (yet also off topic), I have recently agreed to become a Consultant with a Cause with SOLUDE Coffee.  SOLUDE Coffee removes some of the bitterness at the source.  The gourmet coffee beans are air roasted from a patented technique so that the bitter taste that is present in most coffees is minimal.  If you purchase through my SOLUDE web page , a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Foundations Christian Counseling Services.  So here’s my shameless plug…“Rid your coffee of bitterness.  It will be better.”  🙂

The Bully In Me

The past two years, I have noticed a greater attention in the schools on bullying.  Walking into my kids’ school, there is a large banner hanging in the hallway saying, “This is a bully free zone,” and another banner stating “Be a buddy, not a bully.”  I wish we could make bully free zones where children would be accepting to others and stronger children would not prey upon the weaker ones.  But in reality, can we truly achieve this?

If we are to be honest with ourselves, many of us have been on both sides of bullying.  We have been victims of bullies and we have been bullies ourselves.  Bullies are not simply the people who try to intimidate us to get us to do what they want, but there is a bully inside us, too.  The bully came out with our younger siblings, when we told them what to do and when to do it.  The bully comes out in marriage when a husband intimidates his wife (often using his physical strength or hurtful words) or when a wife criticizes her husband for not doing what she wants him to do.  Bullying in all cases is not a “give me your milk money” kind of thing, but can be on different levels or extremes.

I remember a time in 8th or 9th grade when a classmate would “bully” me by using his strength and popularity in the class to give me a “purple nurple” (twisting a guy’s nipple until it bruises).  Then, when a less popular classmate would try to empower himself by trying to do the same to me, I shoved him against the locker threatening him with force.  I was bullied.  Then I bullied.  I was the weaker and intimidated.  Then I was the stronger and the one who intimidated.  Bullying empowers us to change others and get them to do what we want…and you know, often it works, but at the expense of another.

To bully is to “use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.”  Bullying involves fear and intimidation (often using threats of physical or emotional harm) to get others to do what we want.   It stems from our sinful nature, the part in us that says, “I want what I want when I want it….and you need to do what I want you to do…or else.”  

Often, we think that in order to be happy, we need circumstances to go as we want them to go.  But because others are unpredictable and don’t always fall in line with what we want, we feel the need to influence them to do as we want.  In other words,  we try to control others.  Other people, therefore, exist for our happiness or for our pleasure.  We are the kings and queens of our worlds and our spouses, children, peers, congregations, coworkers, etc. are our subjects to do our bidding.

If we are to get rid of the “bully in me,” we need to go to the cross of Christ, seek forgiveness for our self-centered ways, and consistently make Him the center of our lives (not ourselves).  Like Christ, we need to accept others as they are and not for who we want them to be (our subjects).  It is impossible to love others as Christ if we only see them as our subjects to fulfill our purposes.  Ed Welch, in his book When People are Big and God is Small, says, “we need other people in order to accomplish God’s purposes and most accurately reflect his unlimited glory.

The bully in me says that I need people to make me happy.  Christ in me says that I need people to reflect his glory.  The bully in me says I need to control others.  Christ in me says I need to be self-controlled to love others.   The bully in me says others must do my bidding.  Christ in me says I must do His bidding.

Though I applaud the schools getting involved more to stop bullying (It is needed!), I believe they will fall short as they only police behavior.  In order to change the root cause (our sin nature), we must address the sin issue at the heart level and look to Christ to change us there.    The result of such efforts will be Christ in us, Christ in the schools, and glory to God.

Letters to Sin: Part 2

Dear Sin,

I said goodbye.  You said hello.  Didn’t I say that we were done?  So why are you back?  Oh.  It’s because I wanted you back.  I’m just confused.  I know that God loves me more than you do, but there’s a part of me that loves you more than God.  That’s why I can’t seem to break free.  Every time I try to follow Him, you are right there with me, pulling me back to you and I find it hard to resist your pull.  I do want to spend time with you, but you’re just not good for me.  (sigh) I don’t know.  I’m going to try to avoid you tomorrow.

Love,   Confused, Me

Dear Sin,

Why is this drive to be with you so strong within?  I just can’t seem to be free from you!  It’s like….it’s like there’s this bungee cord attached to us.  Every time I try to get away I only get so far for so long only to be forced to return to you.  I’ve asked a friend of mine to help keep me away from you.  I know I can’t do it alone, so I won’t.  I once thought that you were there for me.  You tricked me into thinking that I could find joy and comfort from you.  But I see it now that you did not wish to bring me joy or comfort, only slavery.  You deceived me and only wanted your own way without a care for me.  How could I be so stupid?  I want this relationship to end.  I will not be your slave.  I will choose to love God more.  I will choose to be free.  God help me.

Sincerely, Me

Dear Sin,

This will be my final letter to you.  Do not expect to hear from me again.  I kept trying not to see you, but I was trying on my own strength.  I realize that what attached us was not a bungee cord, but a rope.  You did not pull me back in, but you just tugged and in my desire to return, I was caught like a fish on a hook.  Not anymore.  You see, I decided to give you up.  I’m letting go of the rope.  I decided to surrender to Him.  I confessed to God about our relationship, our affair.  He forgave me.  God said that He already provided a Savior for me and let me tell you this, I needed saving.   He died for me, so that I don’t have to be with you anymore.   You’re leading me to death, but I want abundant life.   I’m choosing to love Him more than I have loved you.  Don’t bother trying to write me or contact me.  I won’t be answering.  Goodbye for good.

Me

Moving Heaven

Have you ever watched a movie (or Hallmark commercial) that simply moved you?  There is something about the theme, or words spoken or action shared, that literally moved your emotion from one state to another.  Ever since my body chemistry changed from having children :), I’ve found myself emotionally moved by actions of love towards others, or forgiveness granted, of the loss of a loved one, and from a father expressing pride in his son.   These things often provoke unmanly watering from my eyes and I find myself in need of being rescued from Saint Kleenex, who is there for me when my nose runneth over.

I can’t help but recognize that in the same way, God our Heavenly Father is moved by what He sees in our lives, too.  When we show love to others, we move Him.  When we humble ourselves to seek forgiveness (Lk 15:7), we move Him.  When we lose loved ones, He is deeply moved by our grief (Jn 11:35).  When we reflect His Son, the Father is moved and His pride comes out as He utters the words, “Well done, good & faithful servant” (Lk 19:17).  He is moved by us and by our actions.  He is moved by our circumstances.  This is worth contemplating as we often focus on our own selves and lives and don’t often see how our actions move heaven.

In Luke 15:7, Jesus says “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”    Want to move heaven?  If you’re involved in sin… repent.  Share with others the Good news of salvation through Christ alone.  Let’s move heaven today!

The Plumbing of a Godly Marriage: Just Say “No” to Poop-Slinging!

Godly marriages have plumbing? Really?  Absolutely.  Every house has plumbing.  Every person has plumbing.  And every marriage has plumbing, too.  As we continue in the series “Building a Godly Marriage” and using the analogy of building a house, I figure it’s good to stick with the theme.  So, what is the plumbing of a godly marriage?  Well, hold your pliers, we’re getting there.

The plumbing in a house is responsible for two tasks:  The first task of plumbing is to bring in a steady flow of clean water.  The second task of the plumbing is to get rid of the poop (or waste).  The second cannot be done without the first.  If something goes wrong with the plumbing, you often know about it quickly.  A small leak is usually not a big deal, but should be addressed before it becomes a bigger leak.  A toilet that is clogged must be addressed before the next use.  A water heater that busts or a pipe that bursts must be addressed quickly.  When these issues are not addressed in time, they can become expensive to repair.

The plumbing in marriage is bringing in the clean water of God’s grace and removing the poop in marriage.  What do I mean by this?  The poop in marriage is the bitterness that has built up from the sin-stained clogs in the relationship.  It’s the stuff that has built up over time and which has not been addressed.  And if that happens, yes, you too can become a poop-slinger.

I know a person who had a septic pump that broke and a warning signal that never came on.  After a short amount of time, the waste built up so much in the septic tank that it eventually came into the house at its lowest level.  Do you think they took care of the issue right away or let the waste build up and stink up the home?  Well, they took care of it right away.  When holding on to bitterness and resentment, the waste of anger builds up until it enters your everyday living space.  Then when that  happens, spouses, in their anger and revenge (they would call it justice, but it’s revenge), end up slinging the poop at one another.  The stench is awful in their nostrils and in God’s, too, but, they argue, “they can’t seem to help themselves” and “the other person deserves it.” So the poop slinging continues.   Instead of addressing the issue, spouses often choose to live in it and use it against one another.  Friends, this should not be, especially as believers in Christ.

Thankfully, there is another part of this plumbing which is important.  It is the bringing in the clean water of God’s grace.  We need His cleansing.  We need His forgiveness.  We need His love.  If we were to take an honest look at ourselves, we would see how covered in waste we really are.  Our hearts our filthy.  Our hands are covered in sin.  We need Him now more than ever.  Jesus shared in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt 18) that we should forgive as the Lord forgave us.  If we are unable to do this, the Lord won’t forgive us.  Wow.  Did you see that?  That is serious.  When the plumbing in our marriages is clogged, our relationship with the Lord is significantly affected.

God has forgiven us so much.  If we are to have marriages without plumbing difficulties, we must remember our sins, how we brought him to the cross through our sins, and how he loved us so much to take the punishment of our sins upon himself.  When we forgive, we must first consider his grace and then give as we have received.  For the plumbing in our marriages to flow without these clogs and poop slinging, we must be constantly aware of our sins and his love.  Then that which we have received, we must freely give.

This portion was taken from the Marriage Seminar: Building a Godly Marriage.  For more information about this seminar from Foundations Christian Counseling Services, please call Fred Jacoby at 570-402-5088.