The Poison of Bitterness

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him. John 12:9-11

It's difficult for me to imagine the hatred that the Jewish leaders had not only for Jesus but for Lazarus. Say what you want about Jesus healing a man, but Lazarus' only crime was that he was raised from the dead. He is one of only a few people who have ever been dead and raised to life, and now the leaders want to kill him? What was the logic in their thinking? Did they think that the "movement" would cease because they killed a follower?

But if we aren't careful, we too could be filled with the same kind of hatred. When we let a little bitterness set in, it can do one of two things in us: die or grow. Obviously we need to make sure it dies, because if not, it eats away at our very soul.

As an amplified example, there are teachers of hate in the Middle East who chant "Death to America," "Death to Israel," "Death to the West." If Israel, America, and the West ceased to exist, would their hatred be eliminated? In other words, would they be satisfied? Probably not. They would have to move on to another object of their hatred. The Jewish leaders wanted to strike out at Jesus and his followers.

Let's examine our own thoughts and actions to see if we are harboring any unresolved bitterness. Someone once said, "Bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die."

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A Simple Message

That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." Romans 10:9-10

I would be remiss if I didn't conclude 20+ devotionals on the topic of faith without a means to a clear call to accept what I've written. The Good News or the "Gospel" is contained in the verses above. There's no trickery to it. It's a fairly simple salvation message. It's not rocket science or brain surgery, and yet it's deceptively simple. Of course there's the theology behind the verses that is powerful and wonderful and yet very simple: God reached out to man through his Son Jesus. The Son of God became a man: fully God, fully man. He died, was buried, rose on the third day, and ascended to the Throne of God.

If you are reading this and you don't know at all what I'm talking about, I'd love to correspond with you about it. No pressure, nothing to sell, no gimmicks, no trickery, just a good ol' fashioned heart to heart (via email).

Don't let the simplicity of the words fool you.

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In Your Struggle

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." Hebrews 12:4-5

In the context of the previous chapter and the first three verses of this chapter, we see that we are able to resist our struggles against sin. In the vernacular. this could be translated, "you have all the power in the world to help you when you're struggling. You have the saints before you cheering you on, so stop complaining that you can't live this Christian life to the fullest. You probably haven't resisted enough, so keep resisting. Further, many have sacrificed their lives for you (shed their blood), so yes, you can struggle and resist temptations and sin."

What is that one area of temptation or sin that the previous verse talked about, the sin that so easily entangles? How are you resisting that?

1 Corinthians 10:13 states, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."

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Consider Him

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:2-3

Finishing up a series on faith would not be complete without these verses. The men and women of the Old Testament had their eyes fixed on Jesus, the Messiah. He wasn't alive then but they were looking ahead at what would be. We have hindsight to help us figure it all out. We also have the recorded Word of God.

Brothers and sisters, Consider him.

Consider him when you're discouraged; consider him when you're full of delight.
Consider him when you're ready to quit; consider him as you encourage others in this walk.
Consider him when you are mistreated; consider him when others talk badly of you.
Consider him before you speak harshly with your spouse; consider him when you're about to read the riot act with misbehaving children.
Consider him as you lay your head to rest at night; consider him before you feet hit the floor in the morning.

Yes, consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Consider him.

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Run with Perseverance

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1-2

The Christian life has been compared to a marathon (I've also heard it compared to a sprint). Finishing well is important. Getting there in one piece is important as well. Perhaps you've seen those long races where someone is delirious and dehydrated, but he are so close to the finish that stopping him is not an option nor is letting him finish. It's a painful sight. Sometimes we're like that runner. We see our destination but the 26 miles it takes to get there is tough. There are long climbs, unpredictable weather conditions and just the mental fatigue of running such a long race.

What's hindering you in this thing we call a faith walk? What's preventing you from going deeper, from pressing in, from seeking God more fully? What is the sin that so easily entangles? What's causing you to stumble time and time again? What steps are you taking to overcome it? There are people you know who can help because they care. Go to them.

As I mentioned yesterday, hang in there. The road is tough. It is long. But it's worth it. It is well worth it.

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The Great Cloud of Witnesses

Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses… Hebrews 12:1

Finally. At the end of the Hall of Faith comes the fun part. It's the "so what" about what we've just read. So what about all of those who have gone before us in faith: Abraham, David, Samuel, Rahab, Japheth, the prophets and those unnamed millions who've risked it all for the Gospel? What about them? The very next verse says it all: "a great cloud of witnesses." I get the picture of those great men and women of God cheering us on, hoping we'll carry the torch that they left behind, drawing us to the Finish Line. They've left a great legacy for us to follow, and it's up to us to actually follow.

In this world, you are not alone. Sometimes you may think you are, but you aren't. Many of those men and women of faith felt that loneliness and despair. They felt isolated and cut off from good, caring people. They may have been surrounded by the evil of their day, but they had a hope that was greater and more powerful than the troubles and darkness they were facing.

I've been there; you've been there; we've all been before. It's not new. It wasn't new to them; it's not new to us.

And, Brothers and Sisters, we can overcome. Hang in there. The best is yet to come. The dark times you are facing will fade away. Keep the faith. Keep trusting the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Keep seeking the God who saves and delivers.

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Let’s Ask the Question

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40

Up to four thousand years have passed since many of these men and women have slipped into eternity, many of them violently so. While they were living, they only got a glimpse at "what was promised," namely eternity. They knew the truth, lived the truth, and died bringing forth the truth. As the previous verse stated, the world truly wasn't worthy of them.

Are we then to seek to become like them, i.e., to be martyred and persecuted for our faith? I daresay none (or a rare, misguided few) sought martyrdom or persecution. They accepted it but didn't seek it. Based on my readings, I have seen that the church in China believes the church in America to be pampered, and unwilling and unprepared to be persecuted or martyred if push came to shove. I can't refute that idea outright because there's enough truth in it to be painful.

And yet, the time may come when we in the West are called to put our lives on the line for the Gospel of Christ. Are we ready? A more important question might be, are we willing? Could we do it if necessary? I can't answer that for you, and you cannot answer it for me.

But we still need to ask the question.

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The Well-Known Unnamed

Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Hebrews 11:35-38

This is the second half to the previous few verses about unnamed but very important Believers. How are they important? First, they provide us with an example of what could happen to you when you follow Christ. Essentially, it's what the other part of the world is facing. As I've said numerous times in this space, Western Christians don't get a real clear snapshot of what is happening around the world. Fortunately, the internet is changing all of that.

And secondly, they are to be commended for going through what they've gone through. "The world was not worthy of them." That is one of the most powerful statements in the Bible. I've known a few-not many-of those kinds of Believers. People with enormous talents who spend the best years of their lives serving others in some capacity.

Many of our Brothers and Sisters around the world are enduring intense persecution. That's no secret if you've been reading this devotional long. You'll never know their names or exactly what they're going through, but God does. You'll probably never see their faces, and if you do, they'll be bruised and beaten. But God is using those men, women, and children to build the Church of Jesus Christ throughout the world.

Continue to pray for those the world is not worthy of. Again, choose one of the nations from yesterday's devotional and pray like you've never done before for that land. Choose a city and pray for that city. Pray for the pastors of those cities who are charged with overseeing their flocks. Commit to praying a little each day for those pastors.

Voice of the Martyrs

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