Facing a Giant? You’re Not Alone!

photo credit: Fried Dough via photopin cc
photo credit: Fried Dough via photopin cc

A very real problem for all of us is that we tend to profess a depth of faith in God that we do not actually possess. Faith is easy on the mountaintop. The battlefield trenches of life are an entirely different matter. A football team may spend a lot of time practicing in preparation for the first game of the season against their arch rivals, but it isn’t until they step onto the field of play that their true abilities become evident.

All too often, our version of the gospel speaks only of God’s forgiveness in light of our sinfulness, of the efficacy of grace as opposed to our impotent works, of the glories of heaven compared to the pain of this world. All of these things are true, but they fail to present a complete picture. We even go so far as to portray the Old Testament Promised Land as an image of heaven. Do we actually believe that we will have to drive enemies out of heaven? No, each of us has a promised land, a favorable destiny, in this world.

photo credit: Monica's Dad via photopin cc
photo credit: Monica’s Dad via photopin cc

Why is it that every promised land has its share of giants? Why, when we seek that which we believe to be good, must we face health problems, a lack of finances, and all sorts of opposition—not only from others but also from within ourselves? And why, tell me, must these issues loom so large? There are times when a few miniature giants would do me just fine!

We sometimes fail to grasp that God saves us in order to restore us to His image (Romans 8:29), and that His image is that of the ultimate overcomer. God’s goal is never to save us for a sweet eternity only, but to transform us into champions of the faith. By definition, a champion is a person who defeats all opponents; the more formidable the opposition, the greater the champion. You would be unimpressed if I told you that I once knocked out every kid in my son’s fourth-grade class in a boxing tournament. But, if you saw me wearing an Olympic gold medal (that I had actually earned), you would immediately think of greatness. Until we face and overcome genuine giants, we are not true champions in the arena of life.

Our response to our personal giants reveals the true depths of our faith. The fact that we have sufficient faith in one area of life does not necessarily mean that we trust God in all areas. When fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, and bitterness take root in our hearts, they indicate areas in which our faith is shallow. Thus, every giant is in a sense tailor-made to help us grow in these areas. Am I saying that God is responsible for raising opposition against us? Not necessarily! Our fallen world provides more than enough difficult challenges to our faith. I do know, however, that our loving Father will use even the largest obstacles for His sovereign purposes.

Like the ten doubting spies of Numbers 13, many of us tend to view our giants as signs that God has abandoned us. Very few have the heart of a Joshua or a Caleb. Later in time, only the shepherd boy David stood up against the Philistine champion Goliath, while Saul and all of his mighty men cowered in fear.

photo credit: saturn ♄ via photopin cc
photo credit: saturn ♄ via photopin cc

How we respond to our giants will impact, not only our lives, but also the generations that follow. Sadly, David had to face Goliath only because Joshua’s generation failed to completely destroy their generation of behemoths. We can only imagine how Anak’s descendants tormented the nation of Israel for 400 years until a shepherd boy with David’s faith happened along. And not only did the kid fell that monster of a man, he used Goliath’s own sword to finish the job. God loves to show off by transforming our greatest weaknesses into our greatest strengths!

(This post is based on the content of my new book, Champions in the Wilderness, which is now available for sale through Amazon. Also, when our new SfMe Media website goes live, our blog posts will be switched our new ministry website, searchforme.info and this blog site will be phased out. You can subscribe to by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.)

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No Baloney in 2011!

Photo by Anna Bentley

Like many of you, on New Year’s Eve I watched a ball slide down a pole to commemorate the end of the old and the beginning of the new. Or perhaps you participated in a ceremony that was somewhat more creative. In Atlanta it was a peach instead of a disco ball. But Pennsylvania towns lead the way with many of their own traditions. In Dillsburg they drop a giant pickle. (No, I’m not joking! They actually do this as evidenced in the video below.) In Mechanicsburg it’s a wrench. In Lebanon a 12 foot long piece of bologna is lowered to the ground, probably as some type of cold cut music is played in the background.

Regardless of specific traditions, large crowds of people celebrated the end of a year filled with difficulty, tragedy and all around bad news. Perhaps that’s why celebrating the New Year carried so much excitement! Everybody was really ready for a change this time around.

But wait! Didn’t this same scenario happen last year as well? And when we awoke on the morning of January 1, 2011, weren’t the headlines still all negative? The same economic woes. The same governmental conflicts. The same problems with terrorism. The same lack of morality. To be honest, not much changed from December 31 to January 1—except perhaps that we had more wishful thinking than usual.

Photo by Krusnade - MorgueFile

I’m not predicting doom and gloom for 2011, but the bottom line is that if we want things to change for the good in our lives, we’d better not rely too much on external circumstances. True change begins from within as we learn to abide in God’s grace.

Like I stated previously, bitterness is like poison to one’s own soul. Bitterness is a control issue as much as anything . . . and control is all about self-will . . . and self-will is the arch enemy of grace.

As I bring this series on bitterness/forgiveness to a close, I would like to challenge you to forgive again and again and again . . . .

Why does Jesus challenge us to forgive seventy-seven fold? Because life offers us so many opportunities to be bitter! Sometimes our outward circumstances don’t change. Sometimes other people don’t change. Sometimes negative thoughts continue to relentlessly flood our minds.

The only way that our hearts will stay tender toward God, the only way that we will abide in His grace, is to continually let go and forgive. This may seem to be impossible at first, but with practice forgiveness becomes a part of who we are.

Is extreme patience toward others required? Absolutely! But where would we be if our God had not shown extreme patience toward each of us? In all of my misery and failure I have yet to exhaust His patience! My guess is that you aren’t much different than me in this regard.

Do we want this year to truly be a better year? Then it’s certainly best for us to leave any bitter roots in 2010, allowing love to sprout in 2011. And this, my friends, is no baloney!

Forgiveness Is . . . Letting Go

In thinking of bitterness I would venture to guess that most people consider it an issue of being hurt or wronged. And while this is certainly true, there is an interwoven thread that so often colors the dynamics of our interpersonal relationships – CONTROL.

Almost from the very beginning of time as we know it, humans have tried to control other humans. This was never part of God’s original design.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.’” Genesis 1:26 (NET)

As the image-bearers of God we were given dominion over the created world around us, but never over each other. God’s heart in this matter can further be seen in 1 Samuel 8 as the Israelites demanded that they be given a king in order to conform to the pattern of the surrounding nations. Reluctantly He allowed them to have their own way. The line between leading and governing versus controlling may sometimes be a fine one, but there is a line nonetheless.

Through the centuries we have seen so many lives lost, so many families destroyed, so many churches devastated—all because one person (or group of people) sought to violate God’s design by controlling another.[1]

As found in the New Testament, one of the primary Greek words for forgive (aphíēmi) literally means to send off, release, let go, let be.[2]

Photo by kevinrosseel - MorgueFile

When someone hurts or wrongs us we feel as though they owe us a debt. We want to hold onto our right to be right. We expect them to pay some type of price for what they’ve done. And so we hold onto that expectation, nursing and coddling our pain. Over and over we replay the mental reruns of the wrong(s) that they have done, often adapting the scenario to vindicate and justify ourselves. At the root of it all is a desire/need for control.

When we try to control others, especially through bitterness, we forfeit the grace God would otherwise pour into our lives. The end result is that we are alienated from a place of abiding in Christ—a spiritually barren destiny for sure.

The Lord’s Prayer was designed to facilitate the government of God’s kingdom in our lives as we willingly surrender to His will. We would do well to take all of it to heart rather than to merely utilize this powerful prayer for mindless ritual.

Photo by alvimann - MorgueFile

Are you hurting as a result of someone’s neglect, cruelty, injustice or betrayal? Release the debt they owe you! Send it off! Let it go! Let it be! His healing grace will restore your heart!

“Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored, may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Matthew 6:9-13 (NET)


[1] I’m certainly not advocating a lawless society, but I am saying that freedom is the foundation of God’s design and that our laws should be designed to protect freedom more than to restrict (and certainly not to oppress). In this we see the genius of our founding fathers. While some were clearly not Christian, all realized the value of designing a government built upon Biblical principles.

[2] . Vol. 1: Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (509). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Imagine a World without Forgiveness

“Imagine there’s no heaven . . . It’s easy if you try . . . No hell below us . . .”

Photo by LifeHouseDesign (Flickr) - Creative Commons License 2.0

Such are the opening words of the opening track of John Lennon’s Imagine album that was released in 1971. Lennon’s desire was to help the human race recognize its oneness apart from the barriers that so often accompany greed, politics and religion. Noble thoughts for sure, but certainly misguided without the centrality of Jesus Christ.

Imagine another thought with me if you will—one of a world in which forgiveness did not exist.

Imagine yourself holding bitterness and anger toward every person who has hurt you even a little throughout the course of your life. Would you have any friends? How long could a marriage possibly last?  Can you picture the holiday gatherings?

Imagine everyone that you have ever hurt being bitter toward you. Has there ever been someone you have let down? Forgotten about? Offended? Looked at the wrong way? Imagine the same for everyone who even thought that you intended them ill will.

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If forgiveness could not take place between us as individuals, our world would be even further than it is from John Lennon’s dream. How long would friendships last? What would hold communities together? War would never cease.

Now imagine that there was no forgiveness for your sins. Any and every thing that you’ve ever done to offend God (or hurt another person) would be held against you forever. The effects of every moral failure perpetual. Guilt eternal.

In a world without forgiveness would happiness or joy exist to any degree at all? Would words such as freedom, family and brotherhood have any meaning?

All of this speaks of darkness. Miserable, cold darkness. No happy thoughts. No joyful days. No pleasant memories. Only darkness. Miserable, cold, barren darkness.

Perhaps, somehow, the contrast between the warm light of love and the cold darkness of bitterness provides us with a small taste of the heaven and hell that all of our imagining can never eliminate.

Photo by natepowers - MorgueFile

Lennon was right in one regard. We are all connected and the manner in which we relate to each other has far reaching effects. Those who learn to walk in God’s love and forgiveness become sources of light all across the globe. Those who hold onto bitterness serve only to deepen the darkness that already exists.

What is your personal contribution to the landscape of our world? What are you growing in the hidden spaces of your heart?

I believe that most of my readers would readily choose light over darkness. But to live in the light, we must be light. And being light is impossible without learning to both receive and confer the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Out of Place

 

Photo adapted from MorgueFile - pizzazz

In addition to the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates, western Pennsylvania is home to many Amish families. The Amish are a sect of Christianity that promotes simple living and plain dress. Due to their emphasis on separation from worldliness, they aren’t permitted to drive automobiles or utilize many modern conveniences. While it’s not uncommon to see Amish folks around some of the smaller Western PA towns, they must always walk, ride by horse and buggy, or hire a driver to get them where they want to go.

Every now and again I’ll see an Amish person say or do something that just doesn’t seem to fit. Like the morning several friends and I had breakfast in a restaurant while rehashing the drama of the most recent Steeler’s football game. Quite unexpectedly the older Amish fellow at the next table joined the conversation to share his critique of the team’s play. And while what he said seemed reasonable, we all stared at each other thinking that something wasn’t right. Being Amish and watching Steeler’s football on TV just seems like an odd mix!

Another fairly common sight is to see an Amish woman buying a case of cola at the supermarket. That scenario always makes me chuckle.

Now, it’s really not my concern whether Amish people watch TV or drink Coke (or Pepsi for that matter). My point is simply that such actions by a few individuals don’t seem to fit their professed Amish way of life. We’re left scratching our heads and wondering exactly what these folks are about.

Photo by Anthony Albright - Creative Commons License 2.0

And so it is with bitterness in the life of a Christian. It’s out of place! Jesus very clearly emphasized the importance of forgiveness to the point of loving our enemies. Even many non-Christians continue to admire the stand that He took and the example that He set in this regard.

To profess Christ is to align ourselves with His lifestyle of love. Bitterness and hatred just don’t fit the life of a Christian. When people taste or see ill-fitting bitterness in our lives, they aren’t left in wonder at God’s goodness. Instead they wonder what’s wrong with the picture and whether or not Christianity is for real.

I realize that forgiveness is not necessarily easy and that many contributing factors may be involved. (I do hope to address some of these things in the near future.) Still, we cannot forget that some scenarios in life just don’t work. The coldness of a bitter root in the midst of a warm-hearted faith is one of them. If we love God and long to see Christ’s sacrifice accomplish its full potential, we’ll find a way to forgive those who have hurt us.

Photo adapted from puroticorico - Creative Commons License 2.0

It Only Takes a Seed!

Photo by ppdigital - MorgueFile

When I was a kid we had an oak tree growing in our front yard. Over the course of the 17 years we lived in that house the tree went from a small sapling to a mighty giant, dropping acorns everywhere. To think that it all began with a single acorn—a simple seed!

As big as that tree was, you can be sure that a massive, but unseen root system had developed in order to water and nourish the visible growth. All that could be seen above the ground was made possible by the root.

Remember Hebrews 12:14-15? “Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through him many become defiled.” (NET)

“Pursue peace with everyone.” Wow! We aren’t given much of an option to stay mad! But what’s especially challenging is that a bitter root is not referred to as an it, but rather as a him (or her). And this is where it all gets really ugly!

Through the years I have encountered entire families that were dysfunctional and convoluted—primarily as a direct result of one person’s bitterness. In some of those situations it all began with a single seed—one cruel or unkind action that brought an unjust source of pain.

I know of a father who held bitterness toward another relative due to a cruel deed that led to his own father’s death. More than once he was given the opportunity to forgive and more than once he refused to let go of his bitterness. Through the years his children and his grandchildren paid a steep price in the form of toxic relationships–not to mention other issues.

I wish I could say that a bitter root refers only to cynical atheists, but unfortunately I’ve seen professing Christians defiled as well–and we’re not just talking about the rare, isolated person. Far too many Christian families continue to experience the long-lasting effects of the deadly poison of bitterness! In many cases it begins with just one seed. The bitterness of just one person due to just one experience can be toxic to entire families for generations to come.

Photo by Gracey - MorgueFile

Whether it be a natural family or a church family, we cannot allow even a single seed of bitterness to grow unchallenged in our midst. The potential damage is far too great—not to mention the fact that a refusal to forgive others casts a horribly poor reflection on our professed love for Christ.

Is all of this intended to be a scare tactic? No, just a reality check. Humans have an amazing tendency toward self-deception and we’re all masters at justifying practically any type of action or inaction. Unfortunately it’s to our own harm as well as to the detriment of others. When it comes to bitterness, a little honesty goes a long way. It takes only a single seed to defile many. If we have even an ounce of concern for those we love, we won’t hesitate to forgive those we don’t.

The Bitter Root

Photo by Stan Shebs - Creative Commons 3.0 License

Bitter Root. Sounds somewhat natural, doesn’t it? Actually, this Montana state flower was at times prized as a delicacy by some Native American tribes. But not everything natural is good. You can be sure I won’t be buying Poison Ivy Skin Cream any time soon!

The Bible also speaks of a bitter root—one that has a very natural tendency to creep into our lives and poison so much that is good.

The author of Hebrews wrote: “Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through him many become defiled.” Hebrews 12:14-15 (NET)

The primary context of this passage is illuminated by referencing Deuteronomy 29:17-18. It speaks of the damage caused when a person breaks his sacred covenant with God by turning aside to natural, idolatrous ways in responding to the difficulties of life.

Photo by Krusnade - MorgueFile

We can find several dimensions to the bitter root problem, but I’ll begin by focusing primarily on the most readily apparent—bitterness directed toward those who have somehow harmed us or our loved ones.

A bitter root can linger for a long time beneath the surface of our lives, sometimes scheming, always seething. Unless deliberately killed it will grow and spread, finally breaking the surface with visible expressions of jealously, anger, hatred and more.

I’ve heard it said that, “Holding bitterness in one’s heart is like drinking a deadly poison and expecting the other person to die.” To make matters worse, the bitter person is not the only one corrupted by the poison.

Bitterness isn’t just about 1 or 2 people. A bitter root spreads from generation to generation weaving a poisonous web, entangling and defiling far more people than we care to admit. In many cases, the price paid by ourselves and our loved ones is every bit as great (if not greater) than that paid by the person we are bitter toward.

A bitter person rarely sees (or refuses to see) this perspective. Consumed by their simmering pain, they have little concern or realization of the extreme damage being done to those they care about. As we’ll see in the coming posts, there is never a good reason to stay bitter.

Of course, we can always protest the unfairness of life and embrace our natural desire to hold a grudge. Everyone knows that loving those who hurt us simply isn’t natural. But, neither is Christianity natural. Only as we surrender ourselves to the supernatural love of God will we see the bigger picture and finally put the axe to the deadly root of bitterness.