BITTERROOT AND BINDWEED

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. [Hebrews 12:15 (NLT)]

bitterroot - hedge bindweedThe bitterroot plant was a staple in the Native American diet; just a few ounces of the dried root provided enough nourishment for a meal. Bitterroot could also settle an upset stomach, relieve the itch from poison ivy, and numb the pain of a sore throat. Unlike the bitterroot, however, the root of bitterness is anything but life-sustaining or healing.

With its large pink flowers, the bitterroot is lovely and welcome; the root of bitterness is not. Bitterness is more like bindweed, a wild relative of the morning-glory. Both look harmless enough at first but, before you know it, they take root. Bindweed wraps itself around every plant nearby and bitterness wraps itself around our hearts. The roots of both bindweed and bitterness can reach deep and spread wide. Gardeners often call bindweed the “zombie plant” because it’s nearly impossible to kill; the same goes for bitterness. Without continual effort to keep cutting down bindweed and cutting out bitterness, both may be here to stay.

It’s hard to avoid bindweed, and the same goes for bitterness. We’ve all had people who’ve hurt us in seemingly unforgiveable ways. When bitterness rears its ugly head, we may find ourselves wishing ill upon them or taking secret joy if adversity hits them. Their inexcusable behavior makes us feel justified in allowing this bitter root to grow. The longer bitterness and bindweed are allowed to grow, the deeper their roots go and the more they destroy the garden or life hosting them.

Forgiveness is the only way to eradicate the root of bitterness and it doesn’t come easily. A desire for justice, revenge, and retribution is the natural response to injury. While we think that someone should pay for the harm that’s been done to us, we forget that Jesus has already paid that debt. If we ask how we possibly can forgive those who’ve hurt us, we must also ask how God possibly can forgive us. When Jesus saved us from God’s condemnation, we lost any right to condemn other people; we are no less a sinner than anyone else.

It takes patience, perseverance, and determination to rid a garden of bindweed and the same goes for ridding our lives of bitterness. As with bindweed, whenever we spot bitterness sprouting in our souls, we need to prune it back to weaken its roots. Praying for our enemies kills bitterness in much the same way herbicide kills bindweed. We should improve our soil with God’s word and consider cultivating new friends—ones who won’t share our bitterness, feed our resentment, encourage our hostility, listen to our complaints, or tolerate our anger. It can take three to five years of concentrated effort to eradicate bindweed from a garden; ridding ourselves of bitterness doesn’t happen overnight either.

There is one similarity between the root of bitterness and the bitterroot plant. Bitterroot’s scientific name is Lewisii (in honor of Meriwether Lewis) and rediviva (meaning “reviving from a dry state”) because of its root’s ability to grow again after being dug up, dried whole, and stored for several months. Like the bitterroot, the root of bitterness often can find a way to revive when we think it’s dead and gone. Then again, we must remember that both bitterroot and the root of bitterness can only revive if we replant and water them.

Love keeps no record of wrongs, but bitterness keeps detailed accounts. (Craig Groeschel)

Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. [Luke 6:28 (NLT)]

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. [Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)]

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THE CROWN OF MARTYRDOM

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. [1 Corinthians 13:3 (MSG)]

yellow-crowned night heronWe all know drama queens (and kings) who don the crown of martyrdom. On occasion, we even may have worn that crown ourselves. Along with the crown, we put on a robe of selfishness and self-righteousness. Dressed for the part, we see outer circumstance only in the light of how they negatively affect our lives (ignoring how they may be affecting those around us). Rather than asking, “What can I learn from this?” we protest, “I don’t deserve this!” as if anyone else does! Forgetting that God only wants our best and there is purpose in our pain, we find our troubles the perfect excuse for resentment, complaints, bitterness, and an all-out pity party.

If anyone had the right to play the martyr; it was Jesus. He was born in a stable and slept in a feed trough! His parents couldn’t afford a proper offering at the purification ceremony and his family had to flee to Egypt for several years. Once they arrived in Nazareth, there probably were whispers among the neighbors. “That’s Jesus; he’s not really Joseph’s son, you know! That shameful Mary was already pregnant.” Jesus knew He was a king, but He didn’t live like royalty; instead, he lived and worked as an ordinary man. Rather than riding in a chariot, he walked the dusty roads. There was no bed in a palace for this Prince of Peace; he rested wherever he could lay his head. People pursued Him wanting miracles but forgot to thank Him for his healing. Angry crowds reviled Him and the religious leaders of His own town wanted to toss Him down a hill! He gave and taught, healed, blessed and loved, fully knowing where it would all end—on a cross at Calvary. He knew He would be martyred, yet he never complained; He never once said, “Pity me!” Brutally beaten and humiliated, Jesus wore his crown of thorns without complaint. Then, instead of being angry about His torture on the cross, He lovingly asked God’s forgiveness for those who were killing Him.

A few years later, Stephen, who is believed to be the first Christian martyr, followed Jesus’s example when, as the rocks rained down on him, he used his last few breaths to pray for his slayers’ forgiveness. Jesus and Stephen were real martyrs and no anguish we endure will equal theirs. Yet, rather than the crown of martyrdom, they wore the crown of love and forgiveness!

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. … Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life. [James 1:1,12 (MSG)]

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SPIRITUAL MALAISE

These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. [Isaiah 29:13 (NLT)]

queen butterflyA friend was on her way out the door when the CO (carbon monoxide) detector started beeping. Thinking the batteries needed replacing, she pulled it off the wall, removed the batteries, and departed for the day. Upon her return, she tried new batteries in the monitor but it started to sound again. She was faced with two options: either the detector was bad (they should be replaced every five to seven years) and she could ignore the alarm or her house was filled with an odorless, tasteless, colorless, and potentially fatal gas! Fortunately, my friend called the fire department. They detected a high level of carbon monoxide and discovered the cause: a chipmunk that got stuck and died in the gas water heater’s flue. With its carcass blocking the pipe, the heater couldn’t vent properly and deadly CO was backing up into the house. Had my friend gone to bed that night instead of calling the fire department, she probably would not have seen another day.

Spiritual malaise (what the early church called acedia) is nearly as undetectable and potentially fatal as CO; like that toxic gas, it can sneak up on us without our realizing it. While most of us probably won’t experience CO poisoning, I think we all, at some time or another, will experience a kind of spiritual malaise or lethargy. Rather than a blocked flue or a faulty exhaust system, its cause can be anything from being too busy to not being busy enough. It can occur when we feel defeated by our difficulties or too self-confident in our triumphs—when we’re disheartened by disappointments or become complacent in our blessings. Instead of nausea or drowsiness, spiritual malaise brings a subtle loss of purpose, an erosion of values, a wavering faith, a loss of hope, or a feeling of helplessness. Instead of replacing the oxygen in our red blood cells with carbon monoxide, it replaces the passion and joy in our worship with boredom, our desire for God’s word with disinterest, our fervor in prayer with listlessness, and our God-dependence with self-reliance. We grow drowsy in study, lethargic in worship, and sleepwalk through our prayers. Bible study, worship and prayer are seen as obligatory rather than the pleasure, privilege and honor they are. I think the enemy probably loves a passionless Christian almost as much as a passionate sinner!

When those passionless times come, and they will, we won’t have an alarm that beeps. We have to do our own self-monitoring and recognize the symptoms. Instead of opening windows or leaving the house, we need to turn to God, run wholeheartedly into His arms, and give ourselves fully to praise and worship. Rather than call the fire department, we must fellowship with other believers so that their enthusiasm can rub off on us. We must dig into God’s word and fill our minds with His truth, leaving no room for Satan’s lies. Most of all, we should pray for wisdom, strength, a rekindling of our faith, and the opportunity to use our gifts for His purpose.

Father in Heaven, remove our fatigue; renew, redeem, and restore us to your salvation. Fill us with the power of the Holy Spirit, transform our weariness into strength, and lift us on your mighty wings.

Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. [Psalm 51:10-12 (NLT)]

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. [Isaiah 40:31 (NLT)]

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BRIBERY

Don’t take bribes. Bribes blind perfectly good eyes and twist the speech of good people. [Exodus 23:8 (MSG)]

Don’t twist the law. Don’t play favorites. Don’t take a bribe—a bribe blinds even a wise person; it undermines the intentions of the best of people. [Deuteronomy 16:19 (MSG)]

wrong wayA college admissions conspiracy is in the news and we’re learning about parents bribing test takers, proctors to correct answers, and coaches to recommend college acceptances. There have been allegations of false references, fake ethnicity, made-up athletic credentials, Photoshopped pictures, sham charities, and bribes disguised as charitable donations!

I’m reminded of King Ahab and his infamous wife, Jezebel. Wanting a vegetable garden next to the palace, Ahab offered to buy the vineyard of his neighbor Naboth. Because God had commanded that ancestral land was not to be sold permanently, Naboth refused the king’s offer. Unaccustomed to not getting what he wanted, Ahab pouted and even refused to eat. Jezebel, like her husband, was used to having her own way. Plotting to get Ahab what he coveted, she hatched a devious scheme and bribed false witnesses; as a result, the righteous landowner was stoned to death and the king got his property.

Like Ahab and Jezebel, the indicted parents are powerful, wealthy, and accustomed to acquiring whatever they desire. Believing that everything and everyone has a price, they wanted their children accepted by the most prestigious schools. Like Ahab and Jezebel, they resorted to bribery and deception to attain that goal. As I looked at the names of those indicted—including CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors, lawyers, realtors, physicians, and entertainers—I couldn’t help but wonder what other illegal or unethical shortcuts they may have taken through the years.

On the other hand, we have the coaches, proctors, administrators, and others who accepted those bribes and carried out the scam. They’re not much different than the two men Jezebel bribed to falsely accuse Naboth of blasphemy or even Elisha’s money-hungry servant Gehazi. In gratitude for Elisha’s curing him of leprosy, Namaan offered gifts to the prophet. Since it was God’s hand that healed the man, Elisha refused the payment. Like Jezebel’s false witnesses and some of those indicted, Gehazi coveted a piece of that wealth and the servant hatched a plan to defraud Namaan. Gehazi got the gifts for himself and lied about them to Elisha.

Like those who coveted college admission for their children and bribed people to attain it, Ahab, Jezebel, and Gehazi stole what wasn’t theirs to take. Unlike those who accepted bribes and payoffs, however, both Naboth and Elisha refused to disobey God by selling what wasn’t theirs to sell. In the end, God avenged Naboth with the deaths of Ahab, Jezebel and their family; the deceitful Gehazi lost honor, position, and even his health. Right now, things don’t look too promising for those fifty people named in the indictment, either.

Few of us can afford to bribe our children’s way into top universities and few, if any, of us are in a position to facilitate such improprieties. Nevertheless, the enemy is an equal opportunity tempter. He continually offers opportunities to covet, steal, deceive, abuse our position, or sell our honor; it’s just that he does it on a much smaller scale with most of us. Encouraging us to think we’re more deserving than someone else, he tempts us to push our way ahead of others or grab a little of what isn’t ours to take. When God gave the law to Moses, he made it clear that bearing false witness, coveting, and bribery were prohibited and I’m pretty sure He hasn’t changed His mind in the 3,400 years since then. Call it what you want: taking a short cut, using influence, fixing, taking advantage, doing a special favor, greasing the wheels, a sweetheart deal, a gift, or a bribe; whether we offer or accept one, it’s always wrong.

God, who gets invited to dinner at your place? How do we get on your guest list? “Walk straight, act right, tell the truth. Don’t hurt your friend, don’t blame your neighbor; despise the despicable. Keep your word even when it costs you, make an honest living, never take a bribe. You’ll never get blacklisted if you live like this.” [Psalm 15 (MSG)]

The answer’s simple: Live right, speak the truth, despise exploitation, refuse bribes, reject violence, avoid evil amusements. This is how you raise your standard of living! A safe and stable way to live. A nourishing, satisfying way to live. [Isaiah 33:15-16 (MSG)]

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TRAPPED

Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” [Luke 12:15 (NLT)]

You say, “I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!” And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. [Revelation 3:17 (NLT)]

grey squirrel in bird feederI looked at the greedy squirrel caught in the bird feeder. He’d managed to get himself in but couldn’t get out and wasn’t even able to enjoy the seeds that enticed him there in the first place. Other squirrels, however, were gathered beneath the feeder feasting on the seeds he knocked out of the feeder with his frantic movements. That silly squirrel lives in a bird sanctuary where there is more than enough food in the way of fungi, nuts, seeds, fruit, caterpillars and insects (along with the bird seed that frequently spills from the bird feeders) to keep him plump and happy all year long. Nevertheless, unsatisfied with enough, he hungered for more. We’re not much different.

I thought about King Solomon; while best known for his wisdom, like the squirrel, he was greedy. Although God had warned against a king amassing great amounts of gold, Solomon collected 25 tons of it every year and, unlike those bird seeds, his wealth didn’t even scatter down to his people. After Solomon’s death, they begged King Rehoboam for relief from their labors and heavy taxes. Perhaps hungry for an even more extravagant lifestyle than his father’s, Rehoboam refused and lost it all to the king of Egypt within five years.

Some say wealth brings happiness but, if anyone should know about wealth and happiness, it would be wise King Solomon. His words in Ecclesiastes, however, are not those of a happy man: “Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!” [5:10] Amassing money and possessions is like running on a treadmill: a never ending journey. We think that bigger, better or more will bring contentment but what once seemed a luxury soon becomes commonplace and a mere necessity. So, wanting something even more extravagant, we get back on the treadmill of acquisition. So rich that he considered silver worthless, Solomon got rid of his silver goblets and utensils and replaced them with gold. Had platinum been discovered in his time, I imagine he would have replaced the gold with it.

Wealth is not evil; in fact, it can do wonderful things. Wealth, however, is dangerous because loving it and all that comes with it can lead us into temptation and trap us in spots far worse than a bird feeder.

Don’t feel sorry for the squirrel; a naturalist freed him that afternoon. But, chances are, many of us are still on a treadmill of acquisition, foolishly striving for that elusive place over the rainbow where dreams come true, “troubles melt like lemon drops,” and that pot of gold is hidden. The squirrel’s desire for more held him hostage; we mustn’t let our craving for more do the same to us!

You say, “If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.” You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled. [Charles Spurgeon]

After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.  But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. [1 Timothy 6:7-10 (NLT)]

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THE LAMB OF GOD – ASH WEDNESDAY

New mexicoThe next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! [John 1:29 (NLT)]

Today is the first day of Lent, a season in which we remember the time Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for forty days and nights. Because Lent occurs in the weeks leading up to Good Friday and Easter, we tend to associate this period of Jesus’s life with the end of his ministry. It actually occurred early in His ministry, shortly after his baptism by John and his empowerment by the Holy Spirit.

During Jesus’s time in the wilderness, Satan visited and tempted Him. Jesus first was tempted to serve Himself—to alleviate his hunger by turning stones into bread. In the second temptation, Satan urged Jesus to jump off the Temple and reveal Himself in a spectacular display. This action would also test God’s love by coercing Him into saving Jesus. In the third test, Satan tempted Jesus to skip the cross altogether; all the kingdoms of the world would be His if only He’d worship the evil one.

Just because Jesus was divine doesn’t mean He couldn’t have fallen; He also was human and, like us all, susceptible to Satan’s wiles. He could have sinned as easily as Adam and Eve, but He didn’t! Resisting temptation was as essential to His mission as was suffering on the cross. Just as sin came into the world through one man, God would redeem the world through one man, but Jesus had to remain sinless for that to happen. If He hadn’t, there would have been no point to the cross; only a perfect sinless sacrifice could atone for mankind’s sins.

Because Jesus countered all of Satan’s temptations with Scripture, we tend to think of the temptation of Christ as sort of a “how to” manual on overpowering temptation. While it is that, it is so much more. Jesus didn’t go into the wilderness to teach us a lesson—He went into the wilderness to save us. He wasn’t just battling for His soul—He was fighting Satan for ours! He was defeating Satan by deliberating choosing to suffer for us as a man when He was God! He endured hunger when he could have spoken food into existence. He humbly chose to remain an obscure rabbi from Nazareth rather than use His power to win a following. Refusing to compromise with Satan, He chose obedience to God: to live, suffer and die as a man. Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, chose to endure the cross for sinful selfish mankind: the very people who would put Him there!

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. [2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT)]

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. [Hebrews 4:15-16 (NLT)]

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