Anger, Bitterness, and Resentment

Journal 2005

One day three guardians named Anger, Resentment, and Bitterness stepped into my heart, and one day I decided they needed a come-to-Jesus moment.

“I’m tired, says Bitterness. “I don’t want to carry this anymore. I’m willing for You to take what’s in my heart. I just don’t know how to give it to You.”

“I’ve been waiting for you,” says Jesus. And He stretches out a full-length cloak to place around the guardian’s shoulders, but Bitterness resists.

“I’m too dirty and ragged. I don’t want a cloak to cover me.”

Jesus smiles. “I was just measuring to see if it fits.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“That’s okay,” He says. “Now, let’s see . . . what shall we do with you?” He has a teasing twinkle in His eye.

“I just want to be clean!” Bitterness cries.

Jesus smiles and nods toward a nearby pool of Living Water. Bitterness leaps in, splashing and laughing as the cool water soaks into his scabs and melts away the dirty garments. He’s fascinated the water doesn’t turn murky as a result.

Little Emotion, now free at last, says, “I’ve been trapped here for so long, but Bitterness was too strong for me.”

Bitterness asks forgiveness of Little Emotion. “I was just trying to protect you,” he says.

“I forgive you,” she replies. “And thank you.” I watch as they hug.

Then Little Emotion eagerly runs to Jesus. “Can I have a cloak too?” she asks.

“In a minute,” He replies. “You have some wounded places that need healing first.” And He touches some spots on her shoulders, her back, and down her torso. In fact, the more spots He touches, the more appear. But when He touches them, they begin to glow, like they’re radioactive or something. I don’t understand what’s happening.

“This is just revealing where all the hidden spots are,” He explains.

“So many!” she cries.

“Not too many,” He says. He turns her around and examines each one. “There, I think we have them all,” He declares.

“Now what? What are You waiting for?” she demands.

His eyes are kind. “You’ll see.”

There’s an eruption in the earth at our feet, like an explosion, and a cylindrical structure rises from the depths. What in the world?? At first, I think it’s from the netherworld, the work of the underground, but Jesus says He wouldn’t allow that on my castle grounds.

It’s a Guard Tower, a turret, located on the back, right corner of the property, near the little pool. The three Guardians are curious. “For us?” they ask in wonder?

Jesus laughs and hands each one a cloak, just their size. Resentment, Anger, and Bitterness rush up the stairs, exploring their new digs. “So cool! Look how far we can see! Jesus, can we have some weapons too?! And please, can we change our names? We don’t like the old ones.”

And Little Emotion steps forward, tugs on His robe, and weeps. “Please, Sir, can I have one too?”

He kneels and embraces her. “Let it all out, Honey,” He says. And all the glowing spots begin to fall off like they’re made of plastic discs, clink, clink, clink on the ground. And still she weeps until the tears run dry.

“Little Flower,” He calls her, and slips a strange cloak around her shoulders made of multi-colored fabric petals. She doesn’t particularly care for it. “I’d rather have a rainbow one,” she declares, and it immediately turns into many colors. “Or a tiger-striped one” and it changes instantly.

“What kind of a cloak is this?” she wonders. “It’s not what I expected.”

“What did you expect?”

“Something soft and shimmery and golden or something.”

“Ahhh,” He says. “This is a special cloak. It is not fake, like you thought. (How did He know she was thinking that?) It changes with your mood. People can see what you’re feeling according to what color and shape it is. Bitterness hid the real you. You are now free to feel what you feel and enjoy the shifting and changing inside. It’s the beginning of Joy.”

“I’m related to Joy?” she exclaims.

“Yes, Little Flower. You may run along now to the castle, if you wish, and see her.”

The three Guardians are giggling and racing around and poking their heads through the openings in the turret. Jesus laughs with them. “Ready for your new names?” He calls.

They stampede down the stairs, nearly tripping over their new garments. These might take some getting used to, they think.

They line up in a row in front of Jesus, panting.

“You,” He declares, pointing to Resentment, “are Forgiveness.”

“And you, Anger, are Guardian.”

“And you, Bitterness, shall be called Sweetness.”

“Sweet! Can I have some candy? Preferably bittersweet chocolate?”

Jesus laughs. “Go on with you. There’s some in your drawer in your quarters upstairs.”

Forgiveness kneels before Jesus. “Jesus, I’m sorry for staying away from You so long. I’m sorry I held Little Emotion captive.”

“Ah, dear child, you are already forgiven. I took that for you two thousand years ago. Welcome home! And thank you for trying to help. I appreciate that.”

“I like Your way better, though, Jesus. Thank You.”

“Guardian!” He commands. “Step forward please.”

Anger Guardian bows his head, ashamed of his role in this little drama.

Jesus kneels, lifts his chin, and looks him in the eyes. “You did your job the best you knew how. There is no shame in that. Thank you for doing your part to protect Emotion. Are you willing to try My way now?”

“Of course, Jesus! It would be foolish to go back to my former life.”

Jesus nods sadly, “Yes it would. But I have a feeling you might change your mind under different circumstances. When you’re in the thick of the battle, you might resort to your old cloak again. But I promise to be there with you. As soon as you realize you’re doing that, I’ll be right there to exchange cloaks again for you if you wish. All you have to do is ask.”

“I’ll try to remember. I like Your way better than mine.”

Guardian bows to his Lord. “I’m still feeling bad.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know . . . I don’t like me very much when I use the old cloak. It’s not who You made me to be.”

“You’re not? Did you know I get angry sometimes?”

Guardian’s head pops up. “Really? You!? But I thought we weren’t supposed to use that cloak.”

“Oh no, my child. I don’t use that one. I use the one I gave you. I created you for a reason. You are a protector, a guardian. Your new Anger Cloak is for defending others who need it. When you defend yourself with the old cloak, you hide yourself from Me. When you defend yourself or others with your new cloak, you become strong and effective in battle.”

Guardian scratches his head. “I have to think about that,” he says. “How will I know which cloak I’m wearing?”

“They look quite different, don’t you think? But if you’re confused, just check with Little Flower. She’ll help you decide, for she can tell the difference. The old cloak will start squeezing her, and she’ll begin to feel restricted again. I suspect she’ll let you know when that happens,” He says with a wink.

“I love you, Jesus. And thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I love you too.”

His Choice, My Choice

Journal 2010

I struggle with the concept of predestination. Romans 9 makes it clear that before the twins Jacob and Esau were born, before they’d made any life choices, God declared that the elder would serve the younger.

Why?

To carry out God’s purpose of selection “which depends not on works or what man can do, but on Him who calls them” (v.11). God decided ahead of time. It had nothing to do with man’s choices. God loved Jacob; He hated Esau.

Question: Was God unjust to do this?

Answer: No! “I’ll have mercy on whom I want to have mercy and compassion on whom I want to have compassion” (v. 15).

Think of it this way:

            He didn’t reject Esau; he just didn’t have mercy on him.

            He could have hated Jacob, but instead He had mercy on him.

Verse 16 says God’s gift of mercy is not a question of human will or effort, but rather of God’s mercy. God doesn’t have mercy on me because I deserve it.

Somehow in my self-righteousness, I believe God owes me because I’ve done something right. Some part of me wants to take credit for how good I am. But I’m looking at the world through faulty lenses, not from God’s perspective. (Job’s friends made the same mistake.)

This same chapter in Romans says God raised up Pharaoh for God to display His power so that God’s Name could be proclaimed around the world. God is the Potter. He gets to choose and decide what He wants to do with the clay in His hands—the clay that He created and formed out of nothing. My part is to submit and be grateful for His mercy. Even my ability to make good and right choices is a gift from Him.

All humanity is in a big pit, wretched and blind, with sores all over our bodies, up to our waist in filth, “ripe for destruction” (Romans 11:32). God’s mercy reaches down and offers to pull us out of the pit. I am too weak, however, to even raise my arms to Him. In His mercy, He chooses me. He bathes me, puts salve on my sores, and restores my sight. I didn’t do anything to deserve His love, grace, and mercy. But once I’ve been chosen, in gratitude I pledge allegiance to serve Him with my whole heart and for always.

I see Him reaching down to pull another one out of the pit. But this one resists God’s efforts to rescue him. He wants to try to get out of the pit on his own, but he can’t. He, too, needs God’s mercy, but he blames God for the condition he’s in.

God’s choices are all about His glory and His Name:

           . . . display My power, My name proclaimed (v 17)

         . . . make known His power and authority (v 22)

           . . . wealth of His glory (v 23)

If I view God as self-serving, arrogant, and egotistical, I become a reluctant worshiper. It feels like a power struggle, like a kid who doesn’t want to take a bath—petulant, balking, what’s-the-point, I-like-being-dirty, leave-me-alone kind of feeling. I’ll take one because I have to because you’re the parent, bigger and stronger than I am, and you have the authority and power to force me into the tub. Never mind that it’s good for me! Stubborn, arms crossed, crying, “I’ll get the water all dirty!” How foolish! I’m caked in red-clay hair, filthy feet, and body sweat.

When at last I give in, God sends a gentle shower and sweet-smelling soap for silky soft hair, moisturized skin, and scrubbing bubbles between the toes. And then He engulfs me in a gigantic fluffy wrap, gives me warm flannel PJs with feet in them, and tucks me between clean sheets.

So, what about “His Name? His glory? His power”? After I’m all safe and secure, He returns to His job—the most powerful ruler of the universe. He has work to do in His executive office, affairs of state I don’t need to know or worry about. But if I get scared in the night or need a drink, all I have to do is call His Name. It’s not that He’ll come running to meet my demands, but He’ll assess the need and respond accordingly. He knows if I’m truly thirsty, or if I just need the reassurance of His presence.

And the funny thing is, one way He protects His Name is by demonstrating to the world His love and care for His family. Moses appealed to His sense of power, authority, and reputation when God was ready to destroy the Israelites. “What will the nations think? he queries Yahweh.

God may be the most powerful force in the universe, but He’s my Daddy!

Tragic Women in David’s Life

I don’t harangue on this often, but have you noticed how many male preachers focus on only 50% of the congregation in their sermons? When David is the topic of conversation, for example, we hear about all his exploits—shepherd boy, giant-killer, musician, refugee, king, adulterer, and murderer. But what about a list of the tragic women he left in his wake?

Michal, David’s first wife, is a bride-price from her father Saul in exchange for David killing 100 Philistines. She loves David initially and helps him escape from her father’s murderous intentions. After Saul gives her away to another man (who obviously loves her), she’s ripped away again back to David’s side. Next, she has to share her lover with many other wives. No wonder she’s angry and hurt. Yet God still holds her responsible for her attitude toward David when he dances before the Lord in his joy that the ark has returned to Jerusalem. Her punishment is barrenness. I feel sorry for her.

Next, David marries Ahinoam (which means pleasant, though this woman lived a hard life.) Along with Abigail, she would have been with David while he was on the run. She was also taken captive when the Amalekites raided Ziklag, David’s Philistine base. And, sadly, her son Ammon ends up raping his half-sister, Tamar.

Tamar, David’s daughternow there’s a study! A rape victim, she ends up living in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman. Talk about tragedy!

Abigail was married to Nabal, a churlish boor. She wisely confronts David about his intent to harm her husband, and David is grateful to her. When Nabal dies from apoplexy, David takes Abigail as his next wife, and God rewards her for her faith. Yes, she’s rid of a nasty husband, but she now has to live the life of a desert refugee, fleeing from Saul with her husband and his band of outlaws. I admire this strong woman!

Bathsheba is a victim who loses both her husband and her son because of King David’s lust. Did she struggle with resentment? But because of David’s repentance, God rewards her with Solomon, the next king of Israel. I wonder how she worked through her grief.

And then we meet David’s concubines. When David flees from his rebellious son, Absalom, he leaves behind ten of his concubines, now vulnerable and helpless. And Absalom rapes these women in plain sight of all Israel. Chosen by a king and living in a palace does not shield them from heartache and disgrace. How did their stories end?

And finally, there’s Abishag. This beautiful, young virgin is chosen to curl up with the elderly king David to help his hypothermia. Seriously!? How’s she supposed to find a husband after that job!? Or was this such an honor she’d be guaranteed a higher position? In any case, I wouldn’t want any daughter of mine to have to sleep with an old codger.

Any preacher care to tackle this list from the pulpit next Sunday?

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Winning Souls

Journal 2005

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.

The legalistic Bible school I attended felt like a trap, sucking the life out of its students. They taught that “soul-winning” (a phrase lifted from Proverbs 11:30) was the only/primary goal of the believer. All else paled in significance in the Christian walk. And the associated church’s supreme goal was increasing their numbers, proudly announcing each Sunday how many souls they had won for the Lord, like a collection of scalps on their belts.

But there is no glory in collecting scalps from dead people on a battlefield. God gave these scalp-takers the job of searching the battlefield for dead soldiers and waiting there until the General arrived. Only He can bring them back to life. And so it’s a bit amusing to watch these braggarts showing off their trophies of war.

God has assigned me the job of getting wounded soldiers to the medic tent where the Great Physician can set their broken bones, remove bullets, and put healing ointment on their wounds. He has assigned other people to water boy duty. Some are healthy, front-line soldiers. Others are responsible to cook for the army. And then there’s the chaplain who prays with dying men.

It takes a whole army to win this battle—and the enemy is not people. To a select few, God gives the gift of scout/see-er who recognize Satan’s invisible hoards and know effective weapons for dismantling their power. Some take great delight in swinging wildly in all directions, hacking off their heads. But the General told His army all they have to do is stand still, fully armed, and He will fight the battle for us.

A 2022 Update. I have a lot more grace toward my alma mater now, for I see them as untrained soldiers, blind to the need for an army to work together against an unseen enemy. Over the years, I’ve watched some of them fall in battle, while others matured and became stronger in their faith.

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The Evangelism Thing

Journal 2005

Since birth, I ate, drank, slept, and absorbed evangelism in all my pores. I watched my parents and other missionaries plant churches in Africa. I read missionary biographies including the exploits of the Apostle Paul, and I tried to obey the Great Commission and share my faith with every stranger on my path. Though my heart was in the right place, however, my actions were paste jewelry.

Along with the injunction to share the Good News, I collected some lies. All these years, I’ve carried around a deflated, stretched-out balloon. The Lord offers me a colorful hot air balloon instead, but when I climb in, I can’t seem to let go of that useless piece of latex. I need to go back to where it first inflated.

I dedicated my life to missionary service in Grade 6, so when someone asked, “What if God called you to stay in the States,” I emphatically replied, “He wouldn’t!” It’s a little ironic how many times people have declared, “I’ll go anywhere, Lord, except . . .,” and usually they fill in the blank with “Africa.” Yet I could not face my own “What if” and fill in “America.”

And so, Lord, I hand you my pride and arrogance. That little balloon, held at arm’s length in my sixth-grade hand, stood for the call to evangelism, to missionary service. I should have placed that balloon in my heart and sought HIM instead, where He could fill it with His Spirit.

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I drop that melted balloon in the trash and soar with God, wherever His Spirit takes me. There’s no climbing out of this craft. I’m here now, and here’s where I plan to stay, and unless we land somewhere else, it’s safest in the center of the basket.

A 2022 Update. God is not limited by the choices we make, our deflated dreams, or even our emotion-laden vows. From my more mature perspective today high in the air, I can see the route He took to bring me to the fulfillment of His dreams for me, and I am at peace.

The Death

Something died inside

The day he said, “Do not.”

The end of a dream,

The end of her world,

Joy and light slipped into oblivion,

Trampled under the heavy-footed boot of disdain.

She did not cry,

No tears were shed,

Only a sorrow too deep for words.

A loss,

A mourning.

Her precious gem,

Her jewel,

So carefully crafted, loved and cherished,

Crushed beneath his careless words.

Dead, gone, to be no more . . .

A vow? Perhaps.

She’d never do that again—

Not cast her pearl before the swine—

Just keep it to herself,

Not to be shared with him.

What next?

Pile high the dreams on funeral byre

And let them float on down the stream.

Released.

Good-bye.

Empty-handed, return.

Now what?

Wait.

Hold your apron, Maiden,

And let the Master

Fill your skirts with gold,

Solid, precious, overflowing stones of worth.

No man can crush My words.

They’re not gone, forgotten, disappeared—

They’re there within your heart!

Journal April 2, 2005. A memory healed.

Atlas and Ant Bites

Journal 2005.

I had a God-orchestrated event today. A lady in upstate New York somehow found my name on the Internet and called me about her suicidal daughter who had just moved to our town. The young lady had set the date to take her life and was putting her affairs in order. I gave the mom our local suicide hotline number, the name of a counseling center in town, and permission to pass along my phone number. Four hours later, the daughter called me. We talked and prayed for almost two hours. At the end or our session, with hope in her voice, she said about her suicide date: “Jesus says it’s about life, not death.” Wahoo!

Now here’s the subtle irony. God orchestrated the entire event. All I did was pray and God showed up. He even gave me the gifts and training to know what to do, but Satan’s little lies whispered in my ear, “See what you did? You just saved a life! Aren’t you good?”

Immediately I recognize the voice of pride. I’m Atlas, brawny enough to hold up the world, while others are puny little ants crawling on its surface. [How sick is that!?] Soon those biting ants swarm over my arms and legs, and when I set the “world” down so I can scratch, I discover I’m not balancing it after all. There’s a power source, an air current beneath, making it twirl and dance. I had actually been blocking the airflow when I stepped under the sphere. Sheepishly, I realize the orb is not the world after all, but a toddler-sized, lightweight beach ball.

Now what to do with the ant bites? I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins . . .”

Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? (Isa. 40:13 NIV)

It’s laughable to think we can counsel each other—apart from God’s wisdom. And even more preposterous to think we could counsel God.

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On War

Journal 2008. How does God feel about war?

I confess I struggle with the concept of holy war. We condemn the Medieval Crusaders, and we condemn its use by certain people groups today. But when God wanted the Israelites to oust seven wicked Canaanite nations, He commanded holy war.

These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience). They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their ancestors through Moses. (Judges 3:1- 2, 4)

According to these verses, he used an enemy to test the Israelite’s obedience to Him, but He also gave them the training and tools to win. Was He capable of wiping out the evil nations by Himself? Of course. He did it in Noah’s day. But for some reason, He wanted His people involved in the process. He wanted relationship, trust, and obedience.

How do I feel about war?

I also confess I have no first-hand experience with warfare. I believe greed, hatred, and revenge are all wrong motives for starting a war. But war in obedience to God’s command, to defend the poor or helpless, to free the captive—I can justify that.

In any war, both sides pray to God for victory and saved lives. How can He answer equitably? What’s a suitable prayer then?

So let all Your enemies perish, O Lord! But let those who love Him, be like the sun when he rises in his might. (Judges 5:31)

A 2022 Update. This morning I read this perspective from torahclass.com, Acts Lesson 30. What do you think?

The land of Canaan was not a gift of conquest from God to the Israelites; it was a gift of inheritance. Why an inheritance? Why not as a spoil of war? Because God already owned the land; He had hundreds of years earlier promised to give it to Abraham; it became Abraham’s land the instant God promised it. All that remained was for Abraham’s descendants to possess it. So the Lord merely evicted the unlawful squatters, and then turned over to the rightful inheritors (Israel) that which He had long ago bequeathed to them. For God is a Father to His children, Israel and that’s what fathers do.

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My Path, My Choice

Journal 2005

As I pack my suitcase for another school reunion, I muse on the different paths my classmates’ feet have trod. Some of us stumble across rocky surfaces, trying to avoid sprained ankles. I watch others schlepping through oozing, muddy slime. Some classmates have only known soft and spongy lichen between their toes while some feet skate across glass-smooth ground. The footsteps we take are part our choice and part our circumstances. When we approach a mud puddle, for example, we can choose to skirt it (if it’s not too wide), lay down planks, slog through it, or wait till it dries up.

But always, we live with our choices and the circumstances God puts in our path. Fortunately, He can redeem those situations and choices (if we let Him). He can clean off the mud, dry our feet, and mend the sprain or broken toe. And a cottage with a cozy fireplace waits for us at the end of the journey.

A 2022 Update. I plan to attend our 50th year graduation class reunion in May and our all-boarding-schools reunion in July. I go, not because I’m curious about the different paths we’ve taken, but because we started this journey together, and I want to walk together the rest of the way.

Fear-based Triggers

Journal 2008. In my prayer ministry, I help people work through their triggers, born out of unresolved hurt and lies believed in their memories. In my Bible reading this morning, I note that human nature has not changed over the centuries.

THE SCENARIO: When the children of Israel approach the Promised Land to oust the local residents, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh declare they want to settle instead on the east side of the Jordan. Leader Joshua relents, as long as their fighting men help their brothers (the other 9 ½ tribes) conquer the land on the west side. And the tribes agree to the terms.

Once the men fulfill their duties, Joshua sends them home in peace. But before they leave, the 2 ½ tribes build an imposing altar on the west side of the Jordan. They’ve done a good job, their character is commendable, and all is well it seems. But then they get slammed.

And when the Israelites [the westerners] heard that they had built the altar . . ., the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them (Joshua 22: 11-12).

What! Driven by FEAR, the western Israelites accuse the eastern tribes of rebellion against God. Where did this fear come from?

TWO TRIGGER MEMORIES:

First, they recall the Baal of Peor incident when they played the harlot with Moab women who caused them to worship Baal and 24,000 died of plague (Num. 25:1-9). “If we turn from the Lord,” they conclude, “we’re all toast. God will get us all” (v. 18). From all appearances, any altar except for the one at the temple was contrary to God’s instructions—IF the altar was for the purpose of sacrificing animals

Second, they remember Achan—when the whole nation got punished for one man’s sin.

Israel rebelled many times, but apparently this one lesson stuck. A healthy fear of God and the consequences of sin is not a bad thing, but their fear made them jump to false conclusions.

THE DEFENSE. Meanwhile, the 2 ½ tribes push back in defense:

The Mighty One, God, the Lord! HE knows, and let Israel know! We’re innocent of rebellion (v. 22).

THEIR TRIGGER: “We did it from FEAR.”

Really?! Same emotion as their accusers, but for a different reason. Fear that “someday your kids will say to our kids: What have you to do with the God of Israel? There’s a boundary [Jordan] between us, and we’re scared your kids might make our kids stop following God. So . . . we built this copy of the real altar—not as a place for offerings, but to be a witness between us and generations after us.”

Ironically, their fear-based decision to protect themselves backfired. Later we read that those 2 ½ tribes drifted away from their roots. That altar was ineffective and did not produce the desired result.

Acting out of triggers can produce unwanted consequences. How much better if both sides had sought the Lord first and worked through their fears before they acted. If the easterners hadn’t built that altar, the westerners wouldn’t have risen to war. Sounds like we could learn a thing or two from the ancients.