Bitterness will kill your soul

The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.  The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter. (Revelation 8:10-11)

The imagery of Revelation is powerful and complex, and also multi-layered in its application.  Is this a passage about a cataclysmic event that will take place at the time of the end?  Yes.  But can we also find in it a principal for how we live our lives now?  Absolutely.

Jesus said that all who come and receive His life will find within them “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  (John 4:14)  So, what happens when that spring becomes sour?  What happens when our inner life becomes poisoned with bitterness, unforgiveness, and all their friends?

We die inside.

If Jesus wants to give us water of life, then the enemy of our souls wants to deceive us into letting that source grow bitter.  Don’t give in to him!  Don’t give ground to it!

No matter what steps you need to take or how hard it seems to be, look to Christ and draw on His strength to help you forgive.  Let go of your bitterness and give it to Jesus.  Let go of your hurt and give it to God.  Release them today and receive the fresh water of life instead, because if you don’t, you can be sure of this truth.

Bitterness will kill your soul.

–Pastor Phillip

Thoughts on working through a miscarriage

It was a Tuesday night around 9pm.

The doctor strode in to our room at the ER and announced to my wife and me, “I’m sorry, you’ve had a miscarriage.” Heather had already known; she had felt it in her body and her heart. I was holding on to hope, not wanting to believe, but with the matter-of-fact words of the doctor, the case was closed. It was over. We had joined the ranks of the 1-in-4 pregnancies that end in miscarriage.

She was ten weeks along, and though we had shared the news with a few people, we were waiting to let people know until we had ultrasound pictures to show. Now, instead of announcing the joyous prospect of new birth, we found ourselves having to share news of death.

In the wake of this shock, we knew we needed time to grieve, to process, to heal, but we didn’t know what to do. We felt we needed to get away, but didn’t have the money to do so. In God’s Providence, one of our congregation provided a Pastor’s Appreciation gift that enabled us to afford to drive to see family in Virginia, where almost the entire clan from my father’s side were visiting.

In the last sermon I preached before that fateful day, I shared this encouragement: “maybe your struggle is helping someone else grow strong.” Who would have guessed that that thought would end up being for me.

I never want to rush through something that God has allowed for a deeper purpose, and as I work through this new chapter in my journey, I wanted to share some thoughts God has put on my heart in the midst of this trial, in the hopes that they will encourage and strengthen you for yours.

– – –
I find myself alternating between strength and sorrow, between holding things together, caring for Heather and Bradley and the other facets of our life, and letting myself go into grief, embracing the ice-cold waves of sorrow as they rush without warning into my soul.

This back-and-forth experience is healthy, but it is hard. It is good, but gut-wrenching, this journey into the deeper layers of human experience in a broken world. For that is what this is, simply our turn on the merry-go-round of loss and pain, and like any merry-go-round, I know this, too, will come full circle in its time and bring us back to joy again.

I find myself frustrated because I know that grief is something you can’t simply rush through, but I have a family to take care of, a job to do, and a church to lead. In my more reflective moments, I have to admit that I don’t want to enter fully into the pain, because I am afraid of what it will do to me.

Yet, I have to face that fear. You have to face that fear.

– – –
I realize that for me, it’s still so early in the grieving process that right now I’m simply falling back on what I know to be true. I am clicking into auto-pilot to try and cope, and to hopefully bring something good out of this tragic moment.

Yet, at the end of the day, we are not the ones who bring light out of darkness, God is, and He will do so in His way, and in His time.

In the meantime, I cling to three things that give me hope. To share them with you doesn’t mean that I have it all together and figured out, but simply that I’m choosing to hang on to what I know is true, even as I realize that I’ve still only weathered the first few waves of grief in the onslaught of emotion to come.

– – –
First, Heather and I don’t blame God for visiting this pain upon us, nor do we believe He had nothing to do with it at all. Both of these extremes lead only to despair, and neither have any claim on the God of the Bible.

No, God did not cause our loss, but neither was He powerless to stop it. Instead, He stood by us and stands by us still in the midst of the pain. He has allowed us to go through this trial not because He doesn’t love us, but because He loves us enough to let us be tried and forged in the fire so that we might come out stronger and brighter than before.

Today we choose to not blame God.

– – –
Second, we don’t blame ourselves, because we know in the long history of a world marred by sin and marked by its repercussions, the day of heartache will come to us all.

In this world of death and loss and tragedy and pain, each of us is allotted a cup of suffering. Though we would nearly all choose to let it pass without partaking, that is not our decision to make. Rather, our choice is how we will drink it: with bitterness and resentment that God would dare allow pain into our lives, or with the strength and courage of Jesus, whose prayer in His hour of trial was, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Today we choose to not blame ourselves.

– – –
Third, we remember the Gospel, because moments like these are precisely where the glorious light of the Good News shines through!

If Jesus has indeed conquered the grave, then though our hearts may hear its bitter laugh in this moment, we choose to weather the pain in hope because we know death will never have the last word, and we will get to meet our unborn child someday.

If Jesus has indeed completely atoned for the penalty of sin, then though the weight of grief is strong, we choose not add to it the weight of guilt that this is in any way our fault. This is not God’s punishment for some failure; it is His providence for our future, a gift wrapped in darkness that still contains a seed of light.

If Jesus has indeed secured our position of favor with the Father, then not only can we take courage in knowing that “this too shall pass,” but we can also take heart in the truth that the Almighty God of the universe is not only with us in the storm, but is working it into a grander story than we can possibly imagine, a story with a sweeter and more glorious happy ending than our mortal minds can conceive.

Today we choose to believe the Gospel.

– – –
So there they are. Three truths and three choices that help us cope with loss and suffering and pain. Three truths and three choices that are Biblically correct and spiritually sound.

And it’s really, really hard to actually live them out.

Please don’t think that because I share these things, I’ve fully figured them out and am doing just fine. I’m not. We’re not. We are angry and hurt and confused and knocked down – but not destroyed.

This is hard and painful and disorienting and just plain bad – but it is not the end.

Today we choose to trust Jesus and take it one day at a time, and so can you.

– – –
What does this mean practically? It means we take time away to heal. We do not rush through the hallways of the house of mourning, or else we may find ourselves circling back though them longer and later than we would like or need.

No, we take them at their own pace, each turn at whatever angle and speed it requires to truly move past it to the next. We write. We cry. We pray. We cry some more. We talk. We listen. We cry again.

We remember our past dreams and by faith begin slowly to build new ones, starting simply with the dream that someday, somehow, this blood-red thread in our life’s tapestry won’t be so prominent in our view, and will simply be folded in to the background as our life begins to feel normal again.

–Pastor Phillip

God’s justice will prevail

God’s Hope for Your Heart from Psalm 64

GOD’S JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL

Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers,
who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows…
But God shoots His arrow at them; they are wounded suddenly.
They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them…
(Psalm 64:3-4, 7-8a)

Have you ever had someone speak lies about you?  How about speak truths about you that should never have been shared with more than a few?

Have you ever felt like people are working against you, plotting to harm you, or even just not respecting you the way you wish they would?

Here’s a comforting reminder: we reap what we sow.

That person who continues to spread false accusations?  The day will come when their lies will catch up with them.

That person who betrayed a confidence and spread things around they shouldn’t have?  The day will come when they experience the same thing.

Those people who’ve been working against you through gossip and scheming and disrespect?  The kind of toxic atmosphere they have created will one day come back upon them.

We reap what we sow.

Here’s the thing.  As followers of Jesus, we are called to pray for our enemies and do good for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).  Yet, that doesn’t mean that we are giving a “free pass” for evil, or asking God to let them escape the consequences of their actions.  In fact, sometimes the most loving thing to do for someone is make sure that their consequences catch up with them, because that may be the only way they’ll ever learn.

The reality is that although God is love, He is also just, and He explicitly says in His Word that He will not be mocked, and that whatever a person sows, they will reap (Galatians 6:7).

That means that when you are slandered, spoken ill of and betrayed, you can continue to act in a Christ-like way without taking things into your own hands.  How?  Because of the hope of this truth: God’s justice will prevail.

-Pastor Phillip


AUDIO VERSION
[click here for today’s. | click here to subscribe via iTunes.]


 

God builds brokenness into praise

God’s Hope for Your Heart from Psalm 51

GOD BUILDS BROKENNESS INTO PRAISE

For You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
Do good to Zion in Your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem;
Then will You delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on Your altar.  (Psalm 51:16-19)

God isn’t looking for showy sacrifices; He’s looking for humble hearts.

The outward forms of religion do nothing to purge the inner stain of sin.  Only repentance does that, and true repentance always includes brokenness.  It may not be the weeping repentance of a downcast heart, but those who are truly seeking God’s forgiveness must always know the brokenness of their life without Him.

However, God doesn’t want His children to STAY broken!

Yes, brokenness is the doorway to healing, but God loves to restore through the process of repentance because He loves His children.  Our Father is the Master Builder.  He creates new life out of dead hearts and restores broken things to better than they were before.

So, whatever pain or problem you’re experiencing right now, may you take heart and find hope in this truth: God builds brokenness into praise.

-Pastor Phillip


AUDIO VERSION (Click here to subscribe to the daily podcast on iTunes.)


 

God will be your voice when you have none

God’s Hope for Your Heart from Psalm 38

GOD WILL BE YOUR VOICE WHEN YOU HAVE NONE

I have become like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth are no rebukes.  But for You, O Lord, do I wait; it is You, O Lord my God, who will answer.  (Psalm 38:14-15)

Sometimes life can leave you speechless with sorrow.

Maybe the pain comes from unjust persecution.  Maybe it’s a consequence of your sin.  Maybe it’s divine discipline or simply the result of living in a broken world, but sooner or later you will get to that point when you don’t even have any strength left to protest.

And that’s where your God will step in.

He is a faithful Father who loves to come to the aid of His children!  He is a gracious provider who loves to look after His people!

So, when you find yourself in that place of stunned silence or speechless suffering, may you find courage in the hope of this truth: God will be your voice when you have none.

-Pastor Phillip


AUDIO VERSION (Click here to subscribe to the daily podcast on iTunes.)


 

Bitterness will kill your soul

Scripture Notes on Revelation 8

The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter. (Revelation 8:10-11)

The imagery of Revelation is powerful and complex, and also multilayered in its application.  Is this a passage about a cataclysmic event that will take place at the time of the end?  Yes.  But can we also find in it a principal for how we live our lives now? Absolutely.

Jesus said that all who come and receive His life will find within them “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)  So, what happens when that spring becomes sour?  What happens when our inner life becomes poisoned with bitterness, unforgiveness, and all their friends?

We die inside.

If Jesus wants to give us water of life, then the enemy of our souls wants to deceive us into letting that source grow bitter.  Don’t give in to him!  Don’t give ground to it!

No matter what steps you need to take or how hard it seems to be, look to Christ and draw on His strength to help you forgive.  Let go of your bitterness and give it to Jesus.  Let go of your hurt and give it to God.  Release them today and receive the fresh water of life instead, because if you don’t, you can be sure of this.

Bitterness will kill your soul.

-Pastor Phillip