Truth is Truth

"You, O LORD, will not withhold Your compassion from me; Your lovingkindness and Your truth will continually preserve me." - Psalm 40:11 This is a sometimes monthly column concerning the truth of Christ Jesus and the issues that face our world as published in various newspapers and journals by Pastor Dave Seaford. You can return to the home page of the church by going to:

My Photo
Location: Redway, California, United States

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Devolution of The Culture

We have a problem in our culture that neither Marx nor Darwin can fix or explain. We are devolving socially, spiritually and morally at a rate that is increasing exponentially. Right is wrong, up is down and the relativists are running the show and telling us it really doesn’t matter. Postmodernism is beginning to take its toll and the effects are devastating.
Who would have thought a decade ago we would be faced with lawsuits because some young boy suddenly demanded to be addressed with the personal pronoun “she” or “her”? What young boy would have wanted it? What family would have encouraged it? What psychologist would normalize it? What church would have praised it?
Recently I have been reading a psychologist by the name of Jordan Peterson. Now I am certainly not here to take anything away from Dr. Peterson. I personally think he is brilliant and he clearly has made a name for himself. But in his new book: “12 Rules for Life” he does little more than reveal that this Emperor that we call postmodernism, has no clothes! The genius of what he does is found in his rather unique ability to speak truth to power while cleverly sneaking in that long-lost value of common sense. He begins with statements like; “if you want to change the world, start by cleaning up your own room.” Yea, that makes you smile and recall some things that your mother use to tell you when she was most perturbed with some annoyance that you perpetrated on a regular basis. OK, that is exactly the point.
The value that Peterson puts on truth, both assumes that truth exists and insists that it is not just relevant for our world today but is essential for us to return to sanity. As he says persuasively, we must turn our world “upside right”. I would add that time is of the essence.
In Dr. Peterson’s deeply perspective and prescriptive moments, audiences laugh, finding his comments funny. At first, I found this curious and perplexing, but then someone said to me: “the comics best lines are always rooted in truth we all know instinctively”. Perhaps these comments are not so deeply perspective after all. Perhaps they are just common-sense statements causing a burst of laughter because of our own discomfort. Perhaps that laughter is facilitated simply to cover up the embarrassing truths we have buried in intellectual sophistry.
Anyone that has not just regurgitated the party line, and has thought about many of the postmodern idioms, understands the absurdity of them. The parade marches on, the professors wave their flags, and the students submit to the uniform blur of bellicose and relativistic thought and speech. This speech, when reduced to essays and research papers are met with raves from academia. The media find these things relevant, exciting and cutting edge. The fact remains however, that just because one begins a passion filled argument with a well stated conclusion they desire to reach, does not make it true.
While total gender equality, for example, plays well on liberal university campuses, in coal mines, foxholes and boxing rings, it rarely finds equal resolution. Yes, there are a host of things men just don’t do very well either. Despite gender blurring, we don’t nurse babies well, and even if we could, the first time the tike bit our nipple, we would be finished with that job.
We find Peterson interesting, exciting and compelling simply because he is so radical toward radical thought. In other words: rational. After so many years of relativistic thought, rational thought is nothing less than revolutionary. Maybe this will catch on. Perhaps one day reason will rally, challenge “lack of reason”, and win, simply because that is the most rational, thoughtful and true outcome. Perhaps we will one day realize that when the extremists scream: “there is no truth”, they are asking us to believe that their statement is objectively true?
If there is no truth, there are no conversations worth having. There are no rights, no wrongs and absolutely no morals. Anything goes. Sex, love and rock & roll prevail as anarchy. Squint your eyes just right, turn up the vinyl and you are almost back at Woodstock. We have devolved quite a lot since those days. We have dressed it up a bit, legalized our fears, and normalized immorality. Now we don’t bother with the archaic idea of the truth about such things. Truth is tentative, morality malleable and words, well they are just words. All that matters is that it is relevant. We just have no referent to measure relevant to.  No wonder our children's most common response to any statement is: “whatever”. Nothing matters. There are no standards because we have no referent.
I want to argue that we have succeeded at defying our own common sense. Morality does not exist for us because we don’t want it to exist, even though we know instinctively that it should …and does. The pendulum of the Power of Positive Thinking of the 60’s and 70’s has swung back to its antithesis and found the Power of Postmodern Thought. This truth-less, amoral worldview is even more accepted, innocuous and demoralizing to the human condition. Our thoughts, when we have them, are not disturbed by incongruity nor the regularity of irregularities in our lives. You don’t like having a schedule, don’t wear a watch. No problem. Students are failing math at extremely high rates – take it out of the curriculum. Problem solved.
No wonder, when we discover we cannot actually live this way that we have turned to drugs, alcohol and more and more to suicide. The world does not make sense and we need to escape it occasionally, …or permanently, in our best dreams.
Yes, we need to turn the world upside right! We are drowning in our own vomit. It is time for some common sense. Welcome Dr. Peterson, you are a breath of fresh air!

Friday, September 29, 2017

To Win the Argument OR To Engage the Soul

I had an interesting conversation yesterday. Two members of our church asked that I make a trip out to visit a man that is "hurting and confused". This is not necessarily an unusual request in our ministry and so I agreed without much thought or frankly preparation for the work at hand. Yes, I did ask appropriate questions about the "hurting and confused" issues, and did get some answers more related to emotion than theology and this too is not unusual. Many if not most people these days frame much of what they believe around emotional responses to difficult issues in their lives. Many cults and false religions have largely based their growth and success on this reality.

After a long drive crossing rivers into the woods of Northern California, I faced a most interesting conversation because, while it was likely rooted in a truly devastating situation in this man's life, it was also framed around what I believe is this man search for an authority he thinks he can follow safely. While this is my opinion now I could not have formed this opinion until the conversation unfolded. It is also important to remember that I had little framework for this exchange and had no idea what to expect before we were chest deep.

What I got was a grilling to (in my estimation) disqualify me as an authority of the scriptures. This man set up this exchange by expressing anger to me about others he had engaged in the past. If they disagreed with him, he grew angry and refused to accept that they had anything to contribute.

He then asked me: "Why was Aaron given to Moses by God?" All kinds of things ran through my mind? Was he asking literally, theologically or philosophically? Did he have the initial conversation Moses had with God about his stuttering problem in mind, or the issue with the golden calf? Or was it least 50 other things that ran through my mind? So I asked him for clarification by asking him: "What do you think the purpose was"? ...He refused to answer and became a little aggressive in demanding an answer from me. When I further sought clarification he said because Moses could not speak for himself. After which he immediately asked how many children Aaron had. Since I did not recall the Bible addressing the number of children Aaron had (only the number of sons, which was also likely not to be a complete genealogy (Number 3:2) since this text was focusing on the sons that Aaron ordained as priests...and not the total number of "children") I said I did not know how may total children Aaron had, and he immediately said 4 based on the Numbers passage, and played me an audio of that passage. Quickly he followed up by asking what two of the sons did? That is a rather open question that certainly had no context, but I assumed he was thinking of the event where two of Aaron's sons as burned "strange fire" before God. As I started by saying that they had done what they ought not have done and were instructed not to do..., I was cut off and he finished the story line.

I then asked this man who actually spoke to Pharaoh when Aaron and Moses did go to him. Given that this man had memorized so many details and that this was a rather common knowledge question, I thought this would open up the conversation to more important issues than factoids and statistics. When the man angrily answered wrong, I just shrugged my shoulders a bit before he rattled off 5 or 6 more questions, which I was also not given an opportunity to answer.

So the question I continue to ask myself relates to the 1 Peter 3:16 mandate to engage people like with with "gentleness and respect". My thought in this particular situation was that my opportunities to engage this person again in the future and possibly talk to him about really important issues for him was more important than winning the debate, or interrupting him to demand finishing my answers to his questions. Bottom line is that his questions, while not difficult once one knew what his actual question was, were actually less important than eventually getting this man answers that will make a difference in his life. His questions were only designed to measure someone's basic knowledge of the Bible in a sort of "Gameshow" format. The answers I desperately want him to know regard the knowledge of who God is and how he can have a loving relationship with He and His children.

Time will tell if I made the right choices. Now I ask for your prayers with regards to this man and for me should I have another opportunity to interact with him!

Gentleness and Respect... while giving an answer to anyone who asks the reason for the hope that is in you! What a mandate. What a challenge!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Personal Values Replace Truth as the Necessary Standard of Faith & Life

It is now necessary to reach lower in order to share the Christian faith effectively. Cultures and societies around the world continue to devolve, spiraling through a pluralistic – post-modern reality, and consequently philosophical tolerance has become an acceptable substitute for truth as a standard for determining one’s values. Simultaneously tolerance for a wide array of individual values, regardless of their origin or basis in truth, has become the plum line for civility and for the most part this lack of standards has become its own standard. This state of disintegration of standards goes well beyond the post-modernism of the early to mid-20th century, and has now become what I am calling post/post-modern.  Post/post could be described as a world where the only civil discourse must be based on the most extreme definitions of tolerance, where any allusions to absolute truth are either questionable or plainly dismissed as fiction. The relativism that infiltrated every subject taught in our primary schools in the 1050’s and 1960’s has come to full bloom. I am suggesting here that this is not just the case in the secular philosophical academia any longer. Those primary school students are now our senior citizens and among that generation these attitudes prevail. It has become the acceptable condition of the workplace, our churches and on the streets from Calcutta to California. 

As a pastor, Christian apologist and street evangelist who has served in many cross-cultural situations around the world, it is plain to me that most of us are not just being propelled toward this worldview, but that we are living in it currently. While Christians holding themselves out as evangelicals would never embrace this confession openly nor perhaps express it publically as a way of life, the choices many of us make reveal this “post/post” world is where we live, where we work and unfortunately, where we are most comfortable.

Lest we think these issues have no real world implications, consider that recently there was a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. The neighbors to those that carried out the attack said that they knew something sinister was going on in the house and garage where the attackers lived, but would not tell anyone, for fear of “someone thinking they were profiling”. I would simply suggest that when, as a people, we fear telling what we know could save our own lives because we do not want to be seen as “intolerant”, it might be concluded that the consequences of speaking the truth is feared more than the possibility of death by tolerance.

That said, the tools we have used as Christian apologists for a number of years that presume people believe in truth, that anything is knowable, or that there is one true reality, may now need to be re-adjusted in order to once again begin where people now actually live. In 19___ Dr. Norman Geisler adjusted his now famous10 points that show Christianity to be true to 12 points. He said at the time that this had to be done because the culture had digressed so far that we could no longer presume that people believed that truth about reality was knowable. Today (2016) it seems that even the phrases: “absolute truth”, “one reality” and “knowable truths about realities” are questioned if not totally dismissed as naïve concepts. 

In the 1960’s there was a small sub-culture that said they believed in “sex, love, and rock & roll.” Everything else in their lives became subservient to these values. These self-proclaimed “hippies” were held together from Woodstock and beyond by this common value system (ie: sex, love and rock & roll). This movement, based on these values, grew and has had a major impact on our society and on every modern culture. This is just one example of how one small group’s values has replaced the necessity for truth’s existence. Sex, love and rock & roll were the core value and everything else in life adjusted to fit that paradigm. When this kind of replacement morality takes hold tolerance is king and any self- proclaimed value could become the core upon which any individual person can justify any lifestyle without fear of being chastened or ridiculed in a healthy tolerant society. One can become a “Jewish/Buddhist”, a “Christian/Anarchist”, or the “only member of the ‘Mother-God’ Society” without much concern of being questioned. In fact those that have such singular beliefs are often considered intellectuals, brilliant or just free thinkers. In a “post/post” world even the idea of polar positions or antithetical thoughts are primitive, constraining and un-necessary walls that separate otherwise loving people. 

It is with this understanding that we now suggest the following preamble to the long held 12 points:

1. If truth exists, it has value

2. Not all values are equally valuable

3. Truth exists

4. Values predicated on truth about reality are by definition more valuable than those rooted in personal preference, tradition or any presupposition alone

Truth about reality is knowable… (the beginning of the 12 points).

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Christmas AGAIN &%^$@*!?

OK, so there are some Christmas' that are better than others and to some of us it seems the "better" ones are fewer than the "not so good ones". I have to fight the crowds, buy the presents and what do you get for your 94 year old grandmother that never leaves her house? I've got to clean the house, prepare for guests and not burn the stuffing all at the same time... and this is suppose to be great, joyful and celebratory? How can we ever get back to the sanity and sanctity of Christmas?

The good news is that you are not alone. The panic began on the first Christmas as the angel appeared to the shepherds in the fields keeping watch over their flocks in the night. The difference is that their panic was over what they did not know and many of us as Christians are panicking in spite of what we know! We are focused on the wrong things and giving priority to the wrong preparations.

Perhaps it would be better this year to clean less and prepare more to share the gospel with those you truly love and care for. Perhaps it would be a better use of time to set the timer on the stuffing and sit in prayer for those loved ones while the stuffing bakes. Perhaps the quiet work of studying the Scriptures and rejoicing over the fact that the Messiah has come and atoned for your sins and desires a personal relationship with you, would be a more productive preparation for the relatives coming than washing the dog would be.

May I suggest a reading before your Christmas meal this year of Luke 2 and Luke 23. Chapter 2 is His coming. Chapter 23 is why He came. The manger ought never to be viewed outside of the shadow of the Cross! If you know Jesus, you are blessed this year to have a Savior that came humbly and willingly, and that loves you and is with you even now. IF you do not know Jesus the good news is that you can know Him right now, right where you are sitting. Take that dusty Bible off the shelf and and turn to the book of Romans (it is about 80% of the way into the Bible). When you get there go to Chapter 3, verse 23. There you will find that you are not alone in needing a Savior. We are all sinners. Then turn to Chapter 6, verse 23 and there you will see that we are doomed without finding that Savior (The wages of sin is death), BUT "the free gift of God is salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans chapter 10 verse 9 tells us HOW to receive this salvation and HOW we can walk in this life without the panic of a secular Christ-less and Panic filled Season!

There really is good news and you should share it this Christmas. You can begin that reality by setting your mind and heart on the person of Christ and the Good News of Salvation!

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Truth About Truth

A number of years ago I wrote an article for several newspapers intitled: "Truth is Truth". Many people's response was "Dahhhhh". Others however found the title provocative and controversial. Not surprizingly to me at the time was that well over 50% of those that commented considered the title an outright lie. Why would they say that? Because they are Relativists. They believe that all truth is relative and that absolute truth does not exist. I asked one of these people if their statement that they believed "Truth is Truth" to be a lie was true. They looked at me so funny, because if their statement that "'Truth is Truth' is a lie and that no absolute truth exists" is true, then their claim is self-defeating, meaning that they have made a statement about all truth being a lie, that they claim is true! Shocking? No, actually this is the state of most people like ourselves that have grown up in a Post-Christian, relativistic culture. 
So why am I bringing this up in a church newsletter? Well, because this relativistic worldview is dictating how many church leaders and pastors are interpreting Scripture. If there is not truth, then the Bible, by definition, cannot be true and all of it is subject to the whims of any interpreter, preacher or Christian in (or out of) the pews. This is a very dangerous and frightening reality that we must address as Christ followers. In John 14:6 Jesus said: "I Am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me." This is at the very core of the gospel message and if this statement cannot be said to be definitively true, then the whole of the Christian faith is in trouble. For that matter, so are all people that ever come to a street light, or for that matter anyone contemplating their doctor's latest diagnosis and treatment schedule. If truth does not exist, we have no foundation for living, making decisions or even going to the bathroom when we feel the call.
I have not written a Truth is Truth article in awhile, so this is my return to the blogosphere and to putting out a Newsletter at the same time. While no major paper will likely ever pick this up again, I am quite content to put out some of my thoughts in writting for all of you that might care to take it in.
The fact is that every Christian should be very concerned about this trend in our culture that has crept in quietly and slowly over the last 60 or 70 years. We should all learn to recognize and call out self-defeating statements and gently and respectfully show people the absurdity of all relativists truth claims. This is partially the work of Christian Apologetics, and this is one of the reasons, my prayer is that all of you get onboard the ministry train that is pulling into the FBCRedway station. Our Christian witness and calling depends on it. All Aboard! 
Vox Veritas Vita,
Pastor Dave Seaford

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Human Happiness and the Humble Heart

We error incredibly as Christians when we assume happiness and joy are synonymous. No doubt you have heard sermons on the subject and perhaps you can even make some verbal distinctions between the two. But if I were to ask you for a clear pathway to joy as opposed to happiness could you give a concise biblical teaching on the subject? Further could you objectively put your own life to the self tests prescribed by the apostle John and be pleased with the results?

Have you ever considered the rollercoaster ride of highs and lows found in every person’s life? The deviant theology of the Word of Faith movement has taken advantage of these emotional fluctuations and created a powerful following, who long for that “Jesus high” that does not fail. Yet, inevitably the formulas of words prescribed disappoint. In those moments of despair the chant from these Word of Faith teachers has become predictable: “the Faith did not fail you, only your personal faith failed.”

The people that have been sold the Word of Faith bill of goods are often disillusioned, more often hurt and more often than not look for relief in all the wrong places. As a result depression is easy and the seeds of bitterness, anger and defeat are commonly the unsought fruit.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, the British novelist said:

“No man chooses evil because it is evil. He only mistakes it for happiness, which is the good he seeks.”

I believe for the most part she is correct. Other than those suffering with certain kinds of mental disorders and those that have allowed themselves to be subject to demonic works, the desire of most people is not to pursue evil for evil’s sake. While I do not believe in the natural goodness of the human heart (“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” Jer. 17:9), neither do I believe that most people have evil as their stated goal and purpose in life. Evil is much more deceptive than that. People often find themselves doing evil things as a result of 1) pursuing a good end at any cost, or 2) pursuing happiness and finding evil the shortest distance between where they are and the feelings they long for. In this effort they either conveniently ignore the evil or justify it in their minds as a “necessary evil”.

One can even set out in the work of Christian ministry teaching the truths of God’s word with accuracy but find his own actions and personal words defy the very teachings he professes. 1st John calls this person a “liar”. This is perhaps the saddest and most hurtful of all evil. False teachers can eventually be exposed and left to defend themselves in the emptiness of perverse relativism. But, the one who teaches with accuracy and then allows his life to defy his own teachings, finds only cleaver sophistry his ally in defending his divergence. His words eventually ware then, and in their wake we find hurt and destruction. Sadly those hurt often hurt others… and the beat goes on, all in the name of Jesus.

Believers seeking the easiest way to defeat evil were likely the plague that, somewhere between Paul’s commendation of them, and John’s condemnation of them in Revelation 2, caused the Church at Ephesus to fall far short of God’s approval. They stood up against false teacher and did so with persistence and patience. In pursuit of good works, like the Ephesians, we can find it easy to accept the adage that the ends justify the means. We often forget that the results are the Holy Spirit’s work, and that the means we chose are the reflection of our true submission to God’s Word and His Holy Spirit in our lives. Often our efforts to defeat evil are really nothing more than a pursuit of happiness and the means we choose become secondary, if considered at all. In the end, like the church at Ephesus, if we are not attentive we will find that in our good work we have lost our first love.

Where the humble heart finds joy, the hardened heart mistakes evil for the good he seeks. As we work our way through 1st John, we will find those that walk in this darkness (whether false teachers or teachers of truth whose lives defy their words), consistently end in places of evil. Finding themselves there unexpectedly, they will either repent (turn and go the other way) or in a knee jerk reaction, dig in for the fight. Those walking in the light may be hurt by their own actions and embarrassed but are repentant. Those walking in darkness, cover their sins in the cloak of night and find it easier and easier to justify who they are and what they are doing… usually in the name of Jesus.

1st John teaches us to test our own lives against true north. It provides us an acid test of the genuine Christian Faith. It may not be easy to subject ourselves to this standard, but it will result in joy that is lasting where all pursuits to find human happiness fail.

Can I Really Forgive?

Perhaps as much as any sermon series I have ever preached, this subject of Forgiveness has generated questions. The title of this article is the question that seems to be hiding beneath most of the others. The question is actually a good one. We have been conditioned to believe that forgiving and forgetting go hand-in-hand and if we continue to remember anything concerning the offense we have somehow failed at the attempt to forgive. Here, in a nutshell, is the key for us to think about: it is not that we won’t remember; it is rather that we won’t remember it againstthem. Of course you will remember the event. God does not forget our sins in that sense either. He simply does not remember them against us.

These kinds of basic misunderstandings concerning biblical forgiveness reinforce the reality that we have a ton of work to do just to get to a place we are ready (emotionally, mentally, spiritually and psychologically) to begin the process of forgiveness with any real anticipation of living in a forgiving spirit. This will not be a short or painless journey, should you choose to take the challenge.

You will note that forgiveness was just referred to as a “process.” For the most part, the people I have spoken with about this subject over the years have viewed forgiveness as an event in time… something we do and then move on. They see it as a time when they said to someone (or thought to themselves): “I forgive you.” The first question to address here should be; is this confession (speaking good words) sufficient to getting the job done? And how do I know when the job is really accomplished?

Some have suggested by their questions recently, that in positing this “first question,” I have actually gotten ahead of myself. They ask questions like: “Is it not true that only God can forgive sins?” and “What about the imprecatory Psalms (those Psalms where King David and others are praying for the destruction of their enemies)… is this type of prayer no longer appropriate on this side of the cross?” Or “Can I pleasestill pray these kinds of prayers without guilt?” What about correcting (or even punishing) our children, if we forgive them, does this not presume they will avoid punishment? So, perhaps as we lay the foundations for this study we will attack these kinds of subjects earlier than I had planned. We won’t get to all the answers in this article as space will not allow for even all the questions heard so far, but we will attempt to plant a few of the seeds of answers in the rich soil of the scriptures. As we attempt to surround these difficult issues with practical suggestions (if not exacting answers), it is my prayer that you will have the courage to make this personal. Not just personal as you ruminate on all those that have offended or sinned against you, but even more personal than that. So personal that you determine to both seek forgiveness and seek in your heart and mind to forgive others their most egregious sins against you.

Be reminded that there are only two places to live in this journey, they are: bitternessor forgiveness. One of the most profound realities I have faced on this journey is how trivial some of the offenses are that have resulted in the most exaggerated forms of bitterness. But whether these offenses are trivial in my eyes or not is irrelevant. The nature of unforgiveness and the bitterness (dirt) required to grow unforgiveness is the first reality that must be faced in the process itself. To partially answer one of the questions above: God commands us to forgive and we cannot do this living in bitterness. Some people think they can compartmentalize their bitterness and only experience it when they choose to think about a particular person or event; and all the rest of the time live in peace and joy with God and their fellow man. God’s word seems to strongly indicate that this deception only keeps us burdened, blind & emboldened in our bitterness. Some of us have even come to think of that bitterness as a “Right” to be clung to. These poor souls actually enjoy the process of belittling, berating, and brutalizing the offender (in their minds and hearts, if not by their words and deeds). One of the questions asked recently was: “If it is not right to be bitter, why do I find it so therapeutic?” Isn’t this the way of the world and the way the enemy works? More often than not the excuse that it feels good only leads to more abusive thoughts and actions. To rewrite a popular song from the past, we often get to the place practically (if not theologically) that reasons: “If destroying you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” When we arrive at this demonic “X” on this worldly treasure map, we love using anything (in or out of context) that justifies our actions and if we cannot find those, it really does not matter. Our justification then becomes; “but what they did is just not right” or “it is not fair.” From there it is only a short trip to pronouncing judgment based on nothing more than opinions or a twisted interpretation of words or events. Some have even come to see this particularly heinous form of bitterness as their “ministry.” When bitterness has grown to this point it, is easy for the offended to judge, by presumption, the motives of the offender. After all, if we can just judge the motive of the offender evil enough, nothing we can do to them seems too bad. It should be pointed out that this journey into bitterness is easy. It is all downhill. It is also interesting that bitterness creates quite an adrenaline rush, endorphins are set off and in a very physical way a chemical high is created that most of us can easily come to embrace and enjoy. Some sociological professionals recently have even suggested that it is addictive to both individuals and cultural environments. Thus, it can be rightly said that bitterness within the framework of fallenness is not only addictive, but also contagious.

It needs to be stated here that psychologically, biblically and scientifically, it has been determined that bitterness is notcaused by the offense or the offender. Before you go any further in this article please read that very bold statement again. It is a shocking, and, for some, a disturbing truth. So, if neither the offender nor the offense causes bitterness, what does? Gary DeLashmutt says that bitterness is “prolonged retributive anger toward another person because of an offense committed.” While that seems to contradict what was just stated consider this truth: There is only one part of any relationship that you currently have that you can control. Guess what part that is. Of course it is your actions or (in this case) your reactions. It is not the offense or the offender that has “caused” your bitterness; it is your reaction to the offense or offender.

“But I just can’t help it, that guy just ticks me off.” Well if that is the case we, as Christians, serve a disturbingly abusive God, because He commandsthat we forgive exactly that person. Sometimes it is precisely God’s commands that are set-aside in His Name, in order to more comfortably do Hisministry. Setting this command aside is destructive to His work: so forgiveness becomes the precursor to any genuine work that is His.

We should set high standards in dealing with God or talking about God or doing ministry, but our personal lofty and admirable objectives, imposed on others, can result in us living as angry participants in never ending religious wars that bring no glory to God. The destructive nature of these major wars hosted on the battlefields of minor issues, kills more than it ever heals. When will we heed the call of Augustine? “In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, love.”

Recently it was my privilege to be one of the 150 or so original signers of the Manhattan Declaration. Most would be shocked at the amount of email I received from around the world from “Christians” calling me a heretic, or worse! While some of those emails were civil and reasoned, a healthy number were breathing strong hints of retaliation. I will not repeat some of the language used in that correspondence but suffice it to say that it would not take anyone who was reading them long to understand the unquestionable bitterness that was being manifested simply because Roman Catholics and Evangelicals came together around common causes. These people have made their anger at the Roman Church not only an “essential” but thepredominate focus of their work.

Some bitterness, like that just described, is easy to see. Some, however (probably the most dangerous kind), are those bitters steeped in the cup of “what just seems right,”or that are hidden behind holy causes, or are bred in the high standards of men for excellent purposes. How do we recognize this kind in others and ourselves and what do we do about it if we begin to glimpse it?

Here are a few symptoms of bitterness. Remember as you look at this relatively short list, that all of us are susceptible to bitterness and that bitterness is a clear indicator of unforgiveness. Symptoms seem to fall into two basic categories:

.Justifying your retributive anger: Ruminating and/or exaggerating the offense; thinking about the negative effects of the offense; finding others to join you in what has been made a sport.

.Expressing retributive anger: Finding pleasure in any misfortune of the offenders (most particularly, any misfortune to which the embittered one has contributed). This pleasure is only slightly behind that of withdrawing from any relationships with the offender while helpingothers to do the same. Rehearsing to one’s self what it would be like to say or do this or that to the offender. The person rooted in bitterness additionally finds themselves in disproportionate anger over unrelated issues: plotting and/or even taking revenge (either overtly or covertly), gossiping and/or slandering the offender.

Angerand Bitternessare empowering emotions. They feel good short-term, can become self-perpetuating, but don’t ware well long term. They will exact their revenge on the one that embraces them and in the end become inevitably draining to one’s emotional reserves, thus setting up an emotional free fall. The adrenaline and endorphins do their job in the chosen hatred of the moment, but like alcohol or drug addiction there is a very dark reality on the other side of the high. Somehow after a time, a bitterness fix is needed just to feel the day is normal. Long-term bitterness poisons one’s personality with negativity (self-pity; cynicism; tone of voice; facial expressions) that has the effect of repulsing people – which of course gives the embittered person that many more people to be bitter toward. Psychologists now tell us that often the end resultof a prolonged spiral downward, deeper and deeper into this kind of bitter state is either: a particular type of psychosis or paranoia.

Spiritually, the consequences are most devastating. Practicing this kind of disobedience moves us away from any healthy relationship with God. While it is true that nothing (including bitterness) can take the Christian out of God’s ultimate care. Eph 4:30 warns us to “. . . grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” Here are the instructions to avoid this divisive nature becoming part of yours: v. 31 & 32 “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

In the months ahead, in the series on Forgiveness, we will answer many of the questions posed at the first of this article. Some of us will choose to do the right and the difficult thing rather than the humanly natural thing. Consequently, the road will be a bit more difficult as we learn to respond in the nature and by the grace of our heavenly Father. I pray you will join me in the journey.