Tag Archives: Bitterness

Rug-Pulling Moments

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You have put an end to his splendor
    and cast his throne to the ground.

Psalm 89:44 (NIV)

This past week Wendy and I enjoyed hosting both of our daughters and their husbands, along with our grandson, Milo. It was a first in many ways. Madison and Garrett just celebrated their first wedding anniversary and it’s the first time that all seven of us were gathered under our roof. It was a really fun week together as a family.

Wendy and I particularly enjoyed three-year-old Milo climbing into our bed early in the morning to cuddle with Papa and Yaya. One morning Taylor joined us one the bed with her cup of morning coffee. A short time later Madison walked in and climbed on the bed, as well. We got to talk, laugh, share stories, and reminisce. What a joy.

On New Year’s Eve, Wendy and I will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. I couldn’t help but mentally juxtapose the week of being a family together in one house with this relational milestone. Fifteen years ago, the girls were young teenagers reeling from all the changes and turmoil that come when parents divorce and then remarry. It’s messy, and it’s hard when life doesn’t turn the way you planned, and the way you’d always trusted and believed that it would.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 89, is the final song in “Book III” of the compilation of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we know as the book of Psalms. It was likely written after the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. Through the first half of the song the lyrics read like an emotional tour of the “glory days” of King David, of God’s blessing on David, God’s anointing of David, God’s covenant with David, and God’s assurances that the throne of David would be established forever.

Then, the songwriter does a 180-degree pivot. After building up the rosy picture of the Davidic monarchy in all its glory, he quickly yanks the rug out from under me as a reader: “But you have rejected, you have spurned”. It’s such a shocking change of tone that it felt unsettling as I read it in the quiet this morning. And, I couldn’t help but think that this was the songwriter’s intent, to have me feel the shock that he was feeling when life didn’t turn out the way he’d trusted and planned.

The psalmist foreshadows the misunderstanding that surrounded Jesus’ followers when the Messiah’s kingdom turned out to look nothing like what they’d envisioned, believed, and had been taught their whole lives. David’s throne was established forever, which is why the Christmas story we are currently celebrating took place in “the City of David” with a mother and earthly father who were descendants of David. God kept His covenant with David, it just didn’t happen the way everyone expected. As God tells us through the prophet Isaiah:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

Isaiah 55:8 (NIV)

Today’s psalm reminds me of the very human reaction I tend to have whenever life doesn’t turn out the way I planned. Tragedy, unexpected death, life-threatening illness, divorce, job-loss, global pandemic and leave me reeling like having the rugged pulled out from under me. There is shock, there is anger, there is grief, and there are oh so many questions. Like the ancient songwriter, my prayers in these reeling moments on the road of life tend to sound bitter, blaming, and cynical.

I’ve found it to be part of the journey. Like I said in yesterday’s post, these are the stretches of life’s road that lead to digging deeper roots and growing spirit strength. It was hard for me to see it in the middle of the shame of a failed marriage and feeling the anger and disappointment of teenaged daughters. This was never the plan. This was not how it was supposed to work out. Oh, so many questions.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that as a follower of Jesus I need the rug pulled out from beneath me on occasion. Comfortably standing on my own illusions and expectations of what I think life should look like will never allow me to follow Jesus where He is leading me. And even though there are still times when it leaves me reeling for a time, I’ve learned that there are divine purpose in the rug-pulling experiences on this life journey. It usually makes no sense to me in the moment.

Then, down life’s road fifteen years or so, I find myself one morning on the bed together as a family. We’re cuddling the next generation, drinking coffee, swapping stories, and experiencing the joy of being together.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

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About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Victim of My Own Poison

So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai.
Esther 7:10 (NIV)

I once had a person who told me they were angry with me. I had done something to offend, and the person confessed that they knew I had no idea what I had done to hurt them so deeply. I asked what I had done and sought to reconcile, but they chose to not to tell me. Sometime later, I made another appeal and asked the person to share with me what I had done. Again, they chose not to do so.

Two cannot be reconciled if one is unwilling to do so.

Along my life journey, I have encountered many individuals who hold on to their anger, their grudges, their hatred, and their judgments of others. Typically, I find that underneath it all lies a spiritual, relational, and/or emotional wound. The wound often remains carefully hidden beneath all the bitterness and rage. If the wound is not addressed the destructive emotions remain.

I have observed that anger, hatred, grudges, and vengeance are spiritually dangerous things. It has been said that harboring them is like drinking a cup of poison yourself and expecting that it will somehow kill your enemy.

In today’s chapter, the plot twist is downright Shakespearean. Haman’s plot to kill Mordecai and all of the Hebrews is uncovered. Ironically, Haman is impaled on the very pike he had erected for the impaling of his enemy, Mordecai. He allowed himself to drink from the poisonous cup of anger, resentment, bitterness, and rage for so long that he became its victim.

This morning I find myself praying for the person I mentioned at the beginning of this post, as I do whenever that person comes to mind. Perhaps someday the time will be right and they will be ready to talk things out. I hope so. I also find myself taking an internal inventory of my own wounds and examining my own levels of anger, resentment, bitterness and the like. I don’t want to harbor such things lest I find myself the victim of my own internal poison.

Seasonal Companions

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)
Colossians 4:10 (NIV)

“There are friends who are friends for a season, and there are friends who are friends for life.” Thus said a  wise woman to me while I was a Freshman in college. It was the first time I remember really thinking about the purpose and tenure of friendship in life’s journey.

Everyone knows that Jesus had twelve disciples, but Luke records that there was a wider circle of seventy-two disciples that Jesus sent out (Luke 10:1). Among the twelve it was only Peter, James, and John that Jesus called out to join Him when He was transfigured, when He raised Jairus’ daughter, and when He was in His deepest despair in Gethsemane. Like most of us, Jesus had concentric circles of relationship from the intimacy of His inner circle of three to the wider and less intimate relationships He had with the twelve, the seventy-two, and an even larger group of 500 followers to whom He appeared after His resurrection.

Along my life journey, I’ve had a number of friends, mentors, and protégés who became part of my “inner circle” during a particular stretch. Looking back, I observe a certain ebb and flow of pattern and purpose in relationships. As the wise woman stated, some paths converge for a season and then organically lead in opposite directions. Conflict, sadly, severed some relationships. In a few cases, I’ve realized it’s best to leave be what was. In others, reconciliation brought differing degrees of restoration. There is longing to experience reconciliation in yet others when the season is right. Then there are a few in which time ran out, and only memories both bitter and sweet will remain with me for the rest of my earthly journey.

Most readers of Paul’s letters skip through the personal greetings with which he typically tagged his correspondence at the beginning and/or end. This morning, it was one of these oft-ignored greetings at the end of the chapter that jumped off the page at me. Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, sends his greetings to the believers at Colossae. There is a back story there.

Mark, otherwise known as John Mark, had been a boy who was part of Jesus’ wider circle of followers. Mark’s mother was a prominent woman who also followed Jesus and likely supported His ministry financially. When Peter escaped from prison it was to the house of Mark’s mother that Peter fled. It was Mark’s cousin, Barnabas, who brought the enemy turned believer, Saul (aka Paul) into the fold of Jesus’ followers. Barnabas and Mark were part of Paul’s inner circle on his first missionary journey.

Then, it all fell apart.

In the middle of the journey, Mark left Paul and Barnabas and went back home. Paul felt abandoned and betrayed. Years later when it came time to make a return journey, Barnabas wanted to take Mark along. Paul, still angry that Mark wimped out and abandoned them, would have none of it. There was a big fight. There was a bitter separation. Paul went one way with Silas. Barnabas went the other way with Mark. The season of Paul, Barnabas, and Mark was over.

As Paul writes his letter to the Colossians it has been many years since the conflict with Barnabas and Mark. Paul is in prison and is nearing the end of his life. Mark is with him. We don’t know how the reconciliation happened or what brought them back together again, but Mark is there sending warm greetings through Paul. It’s nice to know that sometimes in this life we get over our conflicts. We let go of the past and embrace the present. Seasons of friendship can come back around.

In the quiet this morning I’m looking back and thinking of all the companions I’ve had along my journey. I’m whispering a prayer of gratitude for each one brought to my life and journey, despite where the ebb and flow of relationship may have led. And, in a few cases, I’m praying for the season when the journey might lead divergent paths back together, like Paul and Mark.

Poured Out, Changed, Improved

“Moab has been at rest from youth,
    like wine left on its dregs,
not poured from one jar to another—
    she has not gone into exile.
So she tastes as she did,
    and her aroma is unchanged.”
Jeremiah 48:11 (NIV)

Wendy and I enjoy wine with a good meal. We’re not experts by any stretch of the imagination, but I have learned some of the basics of pairing a wine with the food we’re eating and getting the most out of the wine we drink. Just last night I put a couple of beef filets on the grill and Wendy made some sweet potato medallions. We opened this big, bombastic Spanish red wine, a Cariñena. It was aptly named El Bombero, and its bold flavor was a wonderful compliment to the richness of the steaks.

One of the things I’ve learned about wine is that it changes after you uncork the bottle. In fact, some of the experts I’ve read believe that almost any wine will taste better if you “decant” it, or transfer it to a glass decanter, and let it breathe for an hour or so before you drink it. Wine often has an initial sharp taste from being shut up inside the bottle for a long period. That sharp or sour taste smooths out, and the true flavor of the wine opens up when it’s transferred to another vessel and oxygen has a chance to work its natural magic.

Today’s chapter of Jeremiah’s prophetic works is a message of condemnation for the ancient nation of Moab (located just east of the Dead Sea). Moab’s mountainous regions were known for their wine and vineyards, so Jeremiah leverages their wineries for the purposes of a word picture. The Moabites had not changed and had not been “poured out” into exile as other nations in the region had. But, Jeremiah’s prophetic word tells Moab she would be “decanted” when the Persian army came through.

As I pondered Jeremiah’s word picture this morning I meditated on my own life journey. One of the unexpected realities of my own journey is how much change I would experience as I reached this stage of life. When I was young I had this notion that a person sort of reaches maximum personal maturity somewhere in early adulthood and then just maintains. To be honest, I have observed fellow adults for whom this appears to be their reality. I had no idea how much, in my experience, the spiritual process of being poured out, matured, and changed is cyclical and perpetual.

Wine that stays corked, bottled up, and unchanged retains a sharp and bitter taste. I’ve observed that humans are much the same way. There is a benefit to wine being poured out, decanted, and allowed to patiently sit so that change can bring out the blessings of maturity and aging. So my spirit  benefits from a similar process as I continue on life’s road.

Chapter-a-Day Esther 7

Poison
(Photo credit: Thorius)

So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai, and the king’s anger subsided. Esther 7:10 (NLT)

I have heard it said that hatred is like drinking a cup of poison with the expectation that your enemy will die. Based on the experiences and observations of my own personal journey, I would expand that definition of that cup’s contents to include anger, bitterness, and prejudice.

Today’s story of Haman is a great example of this principle. Haman’s uncontrollable hatred toward Mordecai leads him to scheme, not only against Mordecai, but also against all of Mordecai’s people. The result is  that Haman himself is impaled on the pike he’d set up for his enemy.

Over time I’ve come to realize just how unproductive and personally destructive negative emotions are both relationally and spiritually. Wander through Jesus’ teachings and you find that the theme is always in choosing the things of God over the things of this world: love over hatred, trust over anxiety, faith over fear, kindness over anger, life over death.

Today, I’m asking God to reveal the pikes I have set up in my own heart:

  • Prejudice against entire groups people whom I don’t know or understand
  • Anger towards those who’ve crossed me
  • Bitterness towards those who long ago injured me
  • Frustrations, fears and anxieties over those whom I cannot control

God, help me take this cup of poison in my hand and pour it out harmlessly to the ground. Then fill it with your love, grace, kindness and mercy. Make me an instrument of your peace.

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 19

Don’t move your neighbor’s boundary markers…. Deuteronomy 19:14a (MSG)

Last night my wife and I received a pleasant visit from our two little friends, Nathan and Aaron, from down the street. The young brothers, ages five and two, stopped by with their parents and first thing they wanted to do is play a little basketball with our adjustable Goalsetter basketball hoop that I lowered down to six feet in height.

I have two basketballs which I pulled out of the garage. I gave one to the older brother and then pulled out the second for the younger brother. Immediately upon seeing his younger brother receive the second basketball, the elder brother dropped the ball in his hand. “I don’t want this one,” he said as he lunged to grab the ball out of his younger brother’s hand. At the sound of the blood curdling scream which began warming up in his brother’s throat, the elder brother dropped the second basketball on the ground, picked up the first and ran out of the garage. Let the games begin.

For the next half hour I watched with fascination as the two brothers jockeyed for position in every way imaginable. This is my ball; that one’s yours! Get out of my way; it’s my turn! I was standing here first. No, Tom, you just lifted him to dunk the ball; I get to do it now.

Dear God, bless their parents. A lot.

The truth is that the nature of conflict really hasn’t changed in the thousands of years which have passed since Moses handed down the laws to his people. Our culture and technology may look very different, but people are people. Human nature hasn’t changed. We still find ourselves embroiled in interpersonal conflicts, neighborly disputers, familial conflicts and international conflicts because of boundary disputes.

Conflict always arises when boundaries are not clearly defined, when boundaries are encroached upon, and when boundaries are violated. It’s not just the well documented boundary lines between parcels of land which create dispute, but the invisible personal boundaries which are set between every person the world around them. These are the boundaries which define: What is mine? What is yours? What is ours? When boundaries are not clearly defined or clearly communicated then the seeds of conflict are planted. When boundaries are breached and the incident is not clearly addressed and negotiated, conflict bursts forth in anger and dispute. When boundaries are routinely violated, the continuous conflict bears the fruit of deep bitterness which will eventually choke the life out of a relationship.

Today, I’m thinking about my own personal boundaries and my responsibility to define and communicate them clearly for others. I’m considering the conflicts in my own life and how boundaries, ill-defined or poorly communicated, may be at the root of the dispute.

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 32

estranged
Image by Norma Desmond via Flickr

They continued, “If you think we’ve done a good job so far, give us this country for our inheritance. Don’t make us go across the Jordan.” Numbers 32:5 (MSG)

Land is a funny thing. Along life’s journey I’ve watched families and friends become enemies over land disputes. I’ve watched people fall into deep bitterness, anger, and resentment over arguments about boundary lines and the inheritance of land. I’ve written a lot about how things have changed since the time of Moses, but there are some things that I observe never change.

I knew two upstanding men who, each week at church, claimed a pew on the opposite side of one another in the sanctuary. They’d been feuding over a boundary line between their farms for decades and refused to speak to one another or sit near one another in church. In another case, I watched as parents used land and their children’s inheritance as a tool of manipulation and power which ultimately divided the family. I’ve seen siblings back bite and slander their brothers and sisters throughout their parent’s funeral as they squabble over who is going to get what in the estate. I’ve known people so focused on maximizing and increasing their land wealth that they isolated themselves until their land became a relational island.

Today, I’m reminded that the things of God can’t be bought or sold, nor can they be hoarded, deeded, or put into our last will and testament. Land, like all earthly possessions will end up possessing us if we do not guard our hearts closely.

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Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 5

Daily at the crossroads. When I expected good grapes, why did I get bitter grapes? Isaiah 5:4b (MSG)

I don't presume to know why things turn out the way they do. My eyes have seen showers of blessing fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. I have witnessed both drink from the cup of bitterness. I have known blessing, and I have experienced bitterness. My eyes can't see all ends. My mind can't fathom all of God's designs or perceive the intricate interplay of good and evil in each event. I regularly find myself at a loss to explain. No matter how long I ponder, such things are beyond my reach.

What I do know is that daily I stand at a crossroads and choose my path, no matter what my momentary circumstances. One path is the way of bitterness, self-centeredness, and blame. The other is the way of gratitude, humility and perseverance. I know both roads well. I've spent considerable time on both. Depending on which day you cross my path you may have happened to see me on either.

More often now I choose the latter. The steps are more difficult and the path normally ascends at an uncomfortable rate (The former choice provides such an easy descent!).  Yet, the place I end up is always more wholesome for me and everyone around me.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and elzey

Chapter-a-Day Judges 12

The men of Ephraim mustered their troops, crossed to Zaphon, and said to Jephthah, "Why did you go out to fight the Ammonites without letting us go with you? We're going to burn your house down on you!" Judges 12:1 (MSG)

Once upon a time, I pastored a church in a small rural town. In this church there were two men. One of the men had "his pew" in one back corner of the sanctuary. The other man had "his pew" in the opposite back corner. Each week they would come to church with their wives and go to "their pew" for worship.

I didn't think anything of this. One day, an elder of the church explained to me that these two men had a dispute over the placement of a property line. Arguments ensued. Bitterness followed. They never spoke to one another again, choosing to sit on opposite sides of the sanctuary to avoid seeing or speaking to one another.

I think of those two men from time to time and remind myself that life is too short to live in anger and hatred. Arguments are usually really stupid. This is especially true when men and their pride are involved, as with the Ephraimites and Gileadites in today's chapter. Why do we choose to hold on to bitterness and it's gnawing, destructive consequences than humble ourselves and seek the healing of reconciliation?