Tag Archives: Bitterness

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