“When wood reaches 572º, it gives off a gas which reacts with oxygen to make a flame. The flame will heat the remaining wood, making the fire grow stronger. This will happen even on cold days. The temperature at which something ignites is called its flash point… There are different causes for ‘wild fires’ of course. Sometimes it is because of storms and lightning may strike, causing a fire to begin. Sometimes (unfortunately), the cause is human, whether by accident, or on purpose. The death and destruction which follows is awful, and recovery is slow for those who lose everything. Of course some fires are started and controlled into order to minimize the danger of these wild fires.
When looking at Thomas M. Bonnicksen’s article dated September 25. 2004, entitled, “What storms teach about wildfires”, it started me thinking about what we could learn about ‘storms’ and ‘wildfires’ in the home.
Sometimes families experience ‘storms’ and ‘wildfires’, which are very destructive. Everyone in the end suffers, because no one seems to know how to ‘prepare for’ or ‘avoid’ the ‘storms’, and even fewer know how to ‘put out the fires’. Mom used to tell us, “Come in the house, there’s a storm coming!” “Don’t play with fire… you may get burned!” Kids learn to avoid things like this, but unfortunately, we learn by experience. Why do we insist on ‘touching’ it anyway?!
Some points about dealing with family ‘storms’ and ‘wild fires’. 1.) Learn to forgive each other. You aren’t perfect and neither is your spouse. 2.) Learn to say, “I love you just the way you are”. Acceptance – is a key to a happy home. 3.) Learn to set and keep ‘boundaries’ to protect your family. It is YOUR home, and ex’s, in-laws, should not be allowed to interfere, and “third parties” should NEVER be allowed anywhere close to your relationship. Solomon says, “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well” (Proverbs 5:13). Affairs are out of bounds! Wise up, unless you love getting ‘burned’. 4.) When ‘storms’ (problems) come… draw close to each other. Support and protect each other. 5.) Deal with things before they get out of control. My uncle wanted to do some burning on his property behind ours. All went well until the fire got out of control. Before long we were all out trying to put the fire out. Then the fire department came! Advice: Don’t start what you can’t finish, (or put out).
Flash-points’ are different with each person. All it takes is a word, or a certain look, or maybe even a memory. The ‘fire’ flares up and the fight is on. Some ‘fights’ JUST AIN’T WORTH IT. 6. Learn that the past is the past, and cannot be changed. Why spend time ‘digging it up’ again. 7. Learn to speak gently, Solomon says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool GUSHES folly. The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good. The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:1-3).
‘Fires’ are best ‘put out’ with ‘water’ not ‘gasoline’.
I am now 63 years old. I have been a minister, a ‘burger flipper’, a janitor, ‘Q-Tip’ maker, an air craft repairman, an insurance salesman, and now a writer. These and other things people do are good, but don’t go far enough. There is more to life than ‘doing’.
I am a husband, a father, a grandfather, a son, a friend. These are more important than things I do, for they speak of relationships and love. Still, there is more to life than relationships with friends and loved ones. Even these don’t go far enough.
I am a Christian, an (imperfect but grateful) possession of Jesus. This gets to the heart of our question, “What on earth am I here for?” Because it deals with my purpose.
As a Christian, I believe that God is Creator, and that “in the beginning GOD actually did what the Bible says He did. Mankind was made in His image, far different from monkeys. I believe there was a ‘big bang’ but this was when God ‘spoke’ and things ‘happened’ (Genesis 1 and 2). Faith and trust in God gives me reason and purpose for living. To take away God, is the same as taking away the stars from the sky, which are used by ships to find their way.
As a Christian, my life is not based on ‘doing’ or ‘having’ or ‘relating to others’, it is based on my relating to God through Jesus Christ, and in Him, all these other things find their meaning and proper place. In Him I find my genuine reason for being here.
The older I get, the more clearly I see that without Jesus, all I have is unanswered questions. Solomon, ‘did it all’ and ‘had it all’. He went after ”pleasure”, but this proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” he said, “is madness.” He tried cheering himself with wine, (sound familiar?) He wanted to see what was good for people to do … during the few days of their lives. He undertook great projects: built great houses, planted vineyards, gardens and parks, with all kinds of fruit trees… He made reservoirs to water groves of trees. He had male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born into his house. He owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem. He amassed silver and gold and treasures of kings and provinces. He had male and female singers, and a harem as well—all the delights of a man’s heart. He became greater than anyone in Jerusalem who had ever live. He denied himself nothing … He refused his heart no pleasure. His heart took delight in all his labor, and this was the reward for all his work. Yet when he surveyed all that his hands had done and what he had worked to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11).
The question, “What on earth am I here for?” is not answered in how many things one has, nor by friends or family, as vital as they are. The real meaning of life, and the beginning of wisdom is found in these simple words, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
We have mentioned two things about forgiveness that are essential in understanding this whole process of dealing with Bitterness. We MUST understand how important it is to forgive, so we can begin to heal. We also MUST realize it is not easy, and takes time for healing. (If you are the one who caused the problem, you have to be patient with the victim. There are no magic words to speed the process of healing. Tears help, to the extent that they will express sorrow for the past and sincerity and desire of the heart for a new beginning.) Here are the last two points to be understood about forgiveness.
3. FORGIVENESS IS SPIRITUAL AND TAKES PLACE IN THE HEART. Jesus said, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them” (Matthew 15:18-20). Jesus is always concerned more with the ‘heart’ of a person. You can dress in the very best clothing, and wear expensive and impressive jewelry. but it won’t take care of the heart! Mom used to tell us, “Shake hands, or hug each other and make up.” Well, we did, but inside we didn’t! Inside we still felt bad, still wanted to ‘duke it out’.
Forgiveness is spiritual, and unless it takes place in the heart, it is fake. Insincere forgiveness will not lead to healing, but to more resentment and hate. When you give the gift of forgiveness hypocritically, you free the other person and at the same time, you remain shackled. The offender is done, free, grateful, and on his way. You… are not. Do not take this lightly, if you give the gift, give it from the heart, because it is a ‘heart thing’.
4. THE UNFORGIVEN PERSON IS HELPLESS. Why did Jesus say to the unforgiving servant that he was a “wicked servant”? Because forgiveness was GIVEN to him, not earned, deserved! Yet when it came to giving this gift to his fellow servant, he refused! Sometimes we say “I just cannot forgive!” Be honest, it’s not that we CANNOT… what we are thinking is WE WILL NOT forgive! It hurts too much, we say. Yet we fail to remember how much PAIN WE INFLICTED ON THE HEART OF GOD WHEN WE SIN AGAINST HIM.
The person who is in the wrong, can do absolutely nothing to get forgiveness, but ask. He/she cannot earn it or buy it from you. If it is not a free gift of the heart, it does not work. We used to play “Heavy, heavy, hangs over your head”, but dealing with bitterness, isn’t a game. Often, we want revenge! We want them to suffer! We want them to hurt! All the while not realizing we are doing more damage to ourselves. Of course it is natural to want to hurt someone who has hurt us or our family. “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”, “brother you’re gonna get your ‘come-up-ins’.” Yet in the end, bitterness makes no exceptions, it will destroy the heart where it lives.
Bitterness will make your life go ‘from bad to worse’, never from ‘bad to better’! It gives a ‘foothold’ for Satan to operate from, and gain control over your life. Nothing but misery, restless sleep, mind numbing medication, lays ahead for the bitter person. Yet it does not have to be that way. There is an answer… But there are some important facts about this ‘doorway to healing’ that we must know:
1. THE UNFORGIVER IS UNFORGIVEN. Often we say, “What goes around, comes around.” Yet we fail to understand that this applies to ourselves as well in this area. The Bible teaches this principle. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. ’ For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:12-15).
In the parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus says “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:32-35).
The apostle Paul writes, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:30-32). Christians have been forgiven, and this ‘grace’ must be given to others as well. We forget that we did not deserve to be forgiven by God. Get baptized all you want, you still don’t deserve nor earn forgiveness. Forgiveness is a matter of grace (un-merited favor). Forgiveness is a gift to be given.
2. NOTHING TAKES THE PLACE OF FORGIVENESS. Just saying, “Let’s forget it” doesn’t work, because we can’t forget it. Moving to another State won’t help, because you can’t run from, hurts, and pains. (Besides, there’s always, “Facebook”.) Getting re-baptized won’t do it. You can’t donate your way out’ of bitterness. Constantly re-hashing the past, will never help. Forgiveness is the ‘door’ through which one MUST pass, if healing is to begin. No one can say exactly WHEN, God will turn his back on the unforgiving person, but eventually He will. Paul’s instructions are clear, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19-21).
Forgiveness is not optional in scripture. If true healing is to begin, forgiveness must take place. Nothing can substitute for real forgiveness.
“The Doorway To Healing”
Many doctors admit that both our physical and mental health suffers from long held bitterness. It also affects relationships, interferes with your work, our sleep. Ultimately bitterness “will kill you”. “I WILL NEVER FORGIVE!” are words that come from a heart truly in danger. Because this attitude gives Satan a ‘foothold’ in life, that can be devastating. It is not easy to deal with, there are no quick fixes, no special medicine… but there is a ‘door’ which leads to healing. Many have missed this, and over-simplified the process of healing by saying, “Just forgive!” However, this is not the answer!
Actually dad used to approach this subject this way. One Sunday afternoon he was approached by a middle aged woman took him by the hand and said, “You’re not preaching this right!” They sat together in a private area of the building and he said, “If I am not teaching this principle right, then please help me!” Her response opened his eyes to a more accurate understanding of the word and the action of forgiveness, and changed his lesson on this subject from then on…
“Forgiveness is not the answer”, she said. “It is only the door through which one must pass”. Forgiveness does not heal, nor mollify the wound. It is not the simple snap of the fingers, or the simple solutions of hurt. Forgiveness is a door through which each one of us must pass which ALLOWS THE HEALING TO BEGIN AND THE WOUND TO BE CLOSED. Unless we pass this door, no healing can even begin to occur, no love or friendship can be restored. Forgiveness is not the power – it is the key that opens the door to the power.”
They talked a good while and her simple words changed dad’s thinking. He said, “No more would I tolerate the snap judgment of “Forgive and forget it”, “or don’t let it bother you”, or “just put it out of your mind”.
Don’t try to ‘just forget it’ – deal with it, learn from it. Bitterness is nothing more than life that has not been dealt with nor ‘released’. We eat our daily bread and the body is revived and continues to grow and live. Our mind is somewhat different than our physical body. Things enter our mind though our eyes and ears and feelings that cannot be digested. A wise old sage one said, “There are only two great truths in living life successfully. Know what to hold on to and what to release.”
Life finds no release unless you pass through the door of forgiveness first. If I cut my arm, it may take weeks or months for healing. The same is true with the mind. Some things can be forgiven with ease and comfort for the act was unintentional. Other wounds may take months and years to heal.”
We are dealing with something which takes FORGIVENESS PLUS TIME, not just TIME or DISTANCE. “Just forgive!” Sounds Biblical, while ‘time only’, makes the problem (wound) just get worse. DISTANCE (out of sight, out of mind) doesn’t heal the heart. Like cancer, if undetected, over time, gets much worse.
Healing can begin with forgiveness, and over time, get better.
“Acknowledging the Danger”
Cornelia “Corrie” ten Boom, survived the holocaust of World War Two. She witnessed many atrocities against her people (Jews) as well as her own family. Her sister has been raped and killed by a German officer who was a prison guard where they were. The war ended, Corrie” began a ministry, writing and sharing her story. While speaking one Sunday, she saw the guard who had taken so much pleasure in their pain sitting in the audience. She immediately recognized him and the feelings and memories immediately came back. Denial of the problem would not help. She could not ignore him nor her feelings. He came up to meet her, and with tears and deep remorse, he began to beg for her forgiveness. As the story goes, she forgave him. He still had to live with the memories, and sounds of screams from his victims… They had both done all they could do.
Forgiveness does not just help the offender, IT ESPECIALLY HELPS THE VICTIM. To be able to go on with life, unchained, unburdened, and able to release the poison of the past, and begin healing.
Corrie understood that bitterness and hate could destroy her by giving the devil a ‘foothold’. Bitterness is the sour brackish stagnant water of ‘life gone bad’. It gradually becomes the ‘center’ of a person’s life and attitude – the controlling factor in dealing with life. It eventually will affect all other aspects of life, and relationships. Every conversation will trail back to the hurt and pain, being constantly relived.
Pills or alcohol simply serve to dull the problem for a period of time. It is visible in outward actions, words, and expressions, and is always felt in the heart.
We will not trivialize this problem, because it is trivial. This IS a big deal! The suggestions made in this series are offered to help in the struggle of many to deal with ‘the past’.
Paul says, “get rid of all bitterness”, this includes the ‘blood-kin’ of bitterness, “rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of (hate)”. The critical question is, how? So we begin our re-study of an old problem, ‘born’ in the heart of Satan,
TIME alone will not heal, it will take time PLUS something else. When we lived in Ireland, we had coal fire in the fire place for heating the room. We would build a fire and then in the evening, dad would put bits of coal and coal dust on the fire. This seemed to smother the fire, but it didn’t. During the night, this formed a ‘shell’ which held in the fire and the heat. In the morning, we would just poke it and the red hot coals would appear. All we had to do is add more coal. It saved time on a cold morning. We continue this for several days before cleaning it out and beginning again. This simply illustrates what happens when we try and ignore bitterness and even worse deny or justify our problems, which lie hidden until ‘poked’ and the ‘fires’ again flame up and we re-live it all again. Bitterness doesn’t go away on its own, you have to realize you have a problem and take definitive action.
Time alone won’t do it. We must accept that we have a problem, and seek a real answer to heal. Next time we will begin to look at the “door way” to healing….
“Is Not Easy”
We begin our study by looking at what Paul says in Ephesians 4:27-32. “and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”
Over the years, my life and teaching on this subject have changed. Recently we were looking through dad’s papers. My wife was helping, and she found an article of dad’s which really changed my thinking.
As we get into this series, there are three things I need to mention:
1.) People and life are complex, and when problems come in the form of other people, whether strangers, friends or loved ones… then the answers just are not that simple.
2.) There is a real danger in being too simplistic, when dealing with other people’s problems, which I have not experienced. (I used to think that I had all the answers. Well, over time, I have learned I have more questions than I do answers.) The old adage “You don’t know how I feel!” is true in many cases ‘cause I don’t, so I won’t pretend to neither ‘know it all’ nor to ‘understand all the feelings’. However, I believe when Bible solutions are applied, that people can find the healing they are seeking.
3.) Paul and other writers, may seem to be ‘simplistic’ in their approach to dealing with people’s problems, but they are not. In the passages above, Paul issues warnings about certain things, and the God inspired corrective actions to take. (Who knows, maybe our solutions do not really need thousands of pages to be written, for us to find an answer. Maybe “our Father (really) knows best”!
Paul gives us the reason why certain things, along with bitterness, are dangerous. He says, “And do not give the devil a foothold”. A ‘foothold’, gives the mountain climber something to keep from falling, while moving up the mountain. A ‘foothold’ gives the soldier a place to stand and fight and move forward. To give the devil a foothold, means he has been given a place to BEGIN his work, a place which he has captured, and can operate from in order to ‘take the rest’ of the ‘heart and life’. No Christian should want this, and all should want to do everything in their power to avoid it.
Winning over bitterness is not easy, but it is an attitude which if left alone, will certainly “kill” the Christian. The worldly may not care about it, may enjoy holding grudges and ‘getting even’, but the one who seeks to please Christ and be a ‘Christ-like-one’ is not going to be satisfied, till the ‘fire of bitterness’ is out(!) and the heart is healed.