Wednesday, January 28, 2015


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Most of us know that we need to do the right thing whether we “feel” like it or not. We have been told that eventually our feelings will catch up with our actions, that our emotions are treacherous and not to be relied upon.

At the same time, we sometimes deny that we need to forgive someone for an offense even though our emotions tell a completely different story. Or, we simply refuse to forgive the offense and believe, falsely, that our lack of forgiveness will have no effect on our lives.

That assumption could be very expensive.

The story is told about the Franklin Expedition to the Arctic in 1845. The explorers were looking for the Northwest Passage. They went poorly equipped, with only enough coal to feed their steam engines for twelve days. But they did take along a 1,200 volume library, fine china and crystal and personalized silver cutlery.

The ships were trapped in the ice and after several months the men tried to make their way south to find help. No one survived. Later it was discovered that two of the officers had pulled a sled loaded with silver cutlery for over sixty-five miles before they finally died of hunger and exposure.

When we carry around what is useless, and even dangerous, we suffer the consequences. Anger and bitterness, the fruit of an unforgiving spirit, will kill our peace and sap our spiritual, physical and emotional energy.

Hebrews 12:1 tells us to: “…throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles….” This is good advice.


Paul has something to say about things that are associated with bitterness in Romans 3:13-18.

Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Bitterness has friends. Bitterness internalized eats us up from the inside out. Eventually the “friends” appear: plotting revenge, slander, angry words, constant turmoil, et al. This passage is a description of the man of sin who chooses to sin because he has no fear of God.

That’s not where believers want to be!


Another emotional response that characterizes an unforgiving spirit is anger. James 1:19-21 has some practical suggestions on how to deal with it.

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for a man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

The context suggests that, as believers, we need to practice what the Word of God says in relation to our responses especially, as James mentions specifically, to “keep a tight rein on [our] tongue” (vs. 26). Remember that ancient adage: There is a reason why the Creator gave us two ears and only one tongue.

As believers committed to that “righteous life that God desires” we need to deal with bitterness and anger and its root cause, the unforgiving spirit if we want to live out the life that God designed for us.


Both Hebrews and James tell us to dump the stuff that causes us to fail in our pursuit of the righteous life that should characterize the believer. How do we do that?

Hebrews 12:14, 15

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

When an unforgiving spirit destroys the peace that should exist between brothers, the most serious consequence is the break this causes in the relationship that both enjoy with the Lord. Out of this break in relationship—sin—comes bitterness and bitterness entertains all its other “friends” and contaminates everyone it touches. God’s grace, or favour, does not rest on the person who refuses to cultivate all the characteristics of righteous living.

The passage does not assume that the other person involved in the problem will respond correctly, hence the “make every effort.” We can only do what we need to do and then leave the rest to the Lord.

Proverbs has much to say about the issue of dealing with feelings. Here is a sample. Anger and bitterness often give way to seeking revenge. Solomon writes: “Do not plot harm against your neighbor…Do not envy a violent man or choose any of his ways, for the Lord detests a perverse man but takes the upright into his confidence” (Proverbs 3:29, 31, 32).

Sometimes, though we might not plot revenge on those we have not forgiven, we enjoy it when something hurtful happens to them. It becomes our vicarious revenge on them. This is what the Scriptures say about that: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, for the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him” (Proverbs 24:17, 18). The assumption here is that God has brought some kind of discipline into the other person’s life, but we are not to be happy about any suffering endured by those who have offended us. I am reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1, “…with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”—a solemn warning indeed!

It is easy to believe that as long as we don’t act on our feelings and “put a good face” on  the problem, we don’t have to deal with them. Proverbs warns us that eventually everything will be exposed—including what we have so carefully harboured in our hearts because of our unforgiving spirit. Proverbs 26:24-26 reminds us: “A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart. His malice may be concealed by deception, but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.”

Perhaps the privotal passage on this subject is given to us in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Here’s what he says:

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

This passage is loaded with lessons for us. But the bottom line is that harbouring the emotions caused by an unforgiving spirit, and the actions resulting from them, is characteristic of those who do not know the Lord. If we truly belong to the Lord and want to “live by the Spirit” we have to deal with those things that are not of the Spirit.

We have to abandon the negative emotions. Even when we have forgiven, Satan will bring those negative emotions back into our minds. But certainly when we haven’t forgiven, the first step in dealing with the emotions is to forgive. Then, each time we are tempted to relive those negatives, we can go back and lay them at the foot of the cross. Eventually Satan will give up trying to trip us up with them.

Paul’s words to the Ephesians remind us that no one could offend us as badly as we have offended God. But He forgave us because of Christ. Not only did He forgive us but He treats with love and mercy because of that forgiveness. This is our model.

…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children…” (Ephesians 4:30-5:1).

Is this easy? No, it isn’t. But it is directly commanded by God, who has given us the resources to do it and who will do it in us as we submit to Him.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ…it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Ephesians 1:3; Philippians 2:13).

We need to dump the junk that will kill us.

Friday, January 9, 2015


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George MacDonald wrote: “The principle part of faith is patience.”

Unhappily, patience is something most of us don’t have in abundance. Ours is an “instant” world. We expect instant communication, instant “fixes,” and instant gratification. It’s the way the world works. Waiting for God to act in the face of injustice often leads to frustration, to unbelief, and to taking upon ourselves a role that only belongs to God Himself.

Several years ago, Our Daily Bread published the following story:

“What can travel the ocean currents for years before arriving at the shore and still produce life? It’s called a ‘Sea Heart,’ a bean native to the Tropical Rain Forest. Impervious to water, it has been known to travel the ocean currents from South America and end up on European shores.

This seed that carries life, rides the waves and survives the elements, illustrates a basic spiritual principle. God’s plans might include extensive periods of waiting while He works out His design for us. This happened to Noah, who put up with ridicule for 120 years while he built a boat on dry land; it happened to Abraham, who had to wait for a son till he was an old man; it happened to David, the chosen of God, who had to wait for God’s timing before he could become king.

Sea Hearts can’t choose to be patient, but we can. Nothing is more difficult, or better for us, than to follow the example of David who wrote Psalm 25. By waiting on the Lord we can have peace and our faith can grow even while we are riding the stormy waves of life.”

David cried out to God for justice on many occasions. We know from the Biblical record that often justice was slow to come, if it ever came at all!  But in spite of the depth of his despair at his circumstances, his writings inevitably reflected his confidence in a trustworthy God who would take care of everything that had to do with him.

This confidence, this resting in the Lord and on His promises, is something most of us still need to learn. When we hear of terrible events taking place around the world we wonder if justice will be served. When it isn’t, we tend to anger or despair. Every day we are assaulted through the media with stories that we’d rather not hear. And sometimes the horrors are close to home. Today I heard about a pastor (one associated with the denomination I belong to and to a church I have connected with on a number of occasions) who murdered his pregnant wife because of an affair he was having with a member of his congregation. He got off with 15 years. I also read an article in my own church bulletin which was both offensive, untrue, and unjust, written by a church leader.

And I prayed for justice (after I got angry). The idea of being patient until God fixes things was not at the top of my list of things to do, believe me! Today was a good day to revisit the Scriptures to remind myself of what God says about my reaction to injustices.

1 Peter 2:19-25 says: “…it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

As is always the case, Christ’s example is our model to follow when it comes to reacting to injustice. The idea is not that we shouldn’t react by standing up for truth and righteousness, but that our reaction should never be to add another sin to the one already committed. Jesus did not react sinfully to the sin committed against Him.

But let’s go back to the beginning of the passage. How we react to injustice is based on what we know God wants us to do, as illustrated in the life of Christ—bear it without recriminations, angry retorts, accusations, bad language, retaliation, or threats. Remember that the Lord was quick to call sin what it was, but when He was treated unfairly he never compounded the problem by adding sin to the sins already committed by those who sought to abuse Him.

Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” There is a world of promise here, first of all because we are assured that there is someone who will judge justly at some point. Secondly, students of the Scripture know enough about God to understand that He WILL act. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:35 when he writes in Romans 12:19, “‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” This statement is made as part of a series of instructions on the practical realities of loving people (12:9-21) that ends with: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The book of 1 Peter was written to believers who had been scattered throughout the world of that day because of persecution. Some may have already lost everything in their efforts to escape being abused, imprisoned or killed. Some were in danger of losing everything as the intolerance against Christians spread. Peter understands the risks and encourages them to be like Christ, to stand up for their faith, and to “bear up” under the consequences that might come for being faithful. 

1 Peter 3:13-18a: “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander, It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God…

"...set apart Christ as Lord." Before I react in any way, I need to renew my commitment to follow Christ in my thoughts, words, and action, to make sure that He is the Lord of my life.

As I read these verses I was reminded that I will need to say something to someone with authority to change things, for example, about the message that the article in my church bulletin conveys. But what I say must be with “gentleness and respect.” If there are consequences to me because of what I say they should not be because I sinned in how I expressed my concern.

1 Peter 4:19: “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

The message here is not one of withdrawal. Peter encouraged the believers who faced unjust treatment NOT to avoid anything that would result in bringing themselves to the attention of those who were just looking for an excuse to wipe them off the face of the earth, but to persevere in doing what was right. These actions were based, and continue to be based, on the truth that God, the Creator and Judge, is faithful to those who stand with Him.

But there is another reaction to injustice that needs to characterize the believer. James writes: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

Joy? You must be kidding! But notice that the joy is not in the trial itself, but is the result of correctly handling the trial. When we look beyond the moment of trial to the reward of spiritual maturity that come after having successfully handled it, we can rejoice that God has trusted us with that experience.

Being treated unjustly is one of those trials that come into our lives to “toughen us up.” Notice that “toughen” is different from “harden.” If unjust treatment makes us angry with those who have hurt us, unforgiving, bitter, then we become hard. But injustice that drives us to become mature in our faith, to trust God more deeply and to practice forgiveness as we have learned it from the cross, then we become strong, tough, able to face better whatever life has yet to bring our way.

There is the story told of a tree so badly bent over that its branches touched the ground. Someone remarked that it was such a pity that it was so crooked. His companion disagreed: “Those trees that were not able to bend when the storms roared through are now shattered and broken. This tree developed the capacity to lean, and survived.” Toughening makes us stronger, hardening just makes us easier to break! And break we will if we refuse to forgive others as Christ forgave us.