Battling Anger and Bitterness

For many years I battled anger and bitterness over situations in my life. I wrestled with God over whether things were “fair” or not. I frequently wanted to complain. I wanted to see God get even with people on my behalf (Piously I knew that vengeance belong to the Lord) and I even dwelt on ways that God might accomplish my vengeance. I harbored much displaced anger; lashing out at those I loved the most. God convicted me of my sin through two verses in Ephesians. The verses are Ephesians 4:31-32. As I was teaching my little ones verse 32, “Be ye kind” I felt the need to look up the verse in context. As I read these verses I realized that I was incapable of being kind without throwing out all the bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking and malice that welled up in my heart and spewed out of my mouth and through my actions. Not only must I put these terrible things away but I must actively replace them with good things: kindness, empathy, forgiveness. The last part of the verse was an indictment to me. My motivation for doing these things is not so I will be happy but because Christ bore the ultimate unfairness so that God could forgive my wicked soul. How could I hold myself to be better than God and declare my right to be unforgiving and decide what is fair and what is not? At the time, I did not feel like repenting over my sin. In a heart to heart conversation with God I told Him how I felt and that I knew it offended Him. I also related to Him that I didn’t know how to repent over this issue and was incapable of doing so.

I learned that this was the place I needed to be. Repentance isn’t just feeling bad about the wrong in my heart. It is agreeing with God about my condition and understanding I am powerless to change myself. Through repentance God has taken my anger issues and has controlled them for me. Only when I allow myself to be caught up in the situation and not the Savior do I have issues with anger any more. This change of disposition did not happen over night. Each time I felt anger growing the Holy Spirit would speak to me through the scripture. Asking for forgiveness and a new thought pattern has to be immediate. I still practice quoting these verses on a regular basis and teach them to my children at school. They have changed my life and the lives of my children. “Great is Thy faithfulness!”

A Gift Given is a Gift Received

Just this evening I was having a conversation with a friend. For some reason I mentioned that when I was a child my mother would sometimes take me to the homes of her elderly friends and relatives, some relatives more distantly related than others. One thing that seemed a consistent theme with these country folks was the idea that since we were kind enough to come visit them they wanted to give us something in return.
Most of these folks would be considered poor and “backwoods” by today’s standards. Several still lived in the homes they had owned for many, many years never giving a thought to the idea they were missing out by not remodeling. Some of their homes smelled sharply of coal soot and others of mellow hardwood smoke from the heating stoves they used in the winter. The items offered as keepsakes might have been just a pretty dollar store dish, a homemade doily, a bag of garden produce or a houseplant. Nothing large was offered as most of what they owned of any consequence was necessary for their own existence.
I was about 10 years old when we visited with Miss Ella, an elderly friend who later lived to be 103. During this visit I received a cactus plant and a tour of her antebellum family home. She even had a little clay jug her grandfather used to carry milk to school before the War Between the States broke out. On a trip to see my Great Aunt Bess I was given an old (now antique) plaster of Paris pig figurine that was once a prize received at a county fair. Bess was the older half-sister to my grandmother and was oddly superstitious concerning things like black cats, broken mirrors and how to ward off “bad luck”. My Uncle Gene was an alcoholic and had virtually nothing of his own. He would save fascinating rocks and fossils he would find as he plowed Grandma’s garden. He would put them up for months at a time just so he could give them to me because he knew I enjoyed them. My Aunt Billie has given me assorted handmade treasures over the years and always sent me home with something when I came to spend time with her daughter. When I was a young adult I went to visit my Great Aunt Della who had moved to New Mexico. She blessed me with a creamer that has a hand painted dessert scene. A friend had painted it and given it to her. Della wished to share the joy of giving. Oh, lest I forget, my Great Aunt Bess (the same one who gave me the pig) once came around the little stucco house where she rented a couple of rooms carrying a tiny white rooster she called “Toppy”. She insisted that I take him because she lived in town and said “I’s afraid a dog will get him and if I give him to my young’uns they’d eat him!” Of course Mom allowed me to take him home to become one of our flock.
I will never forget the meals that were always offered and almost always accepted. We did not want to appear “too good” to eat what had been prepared. One Sunday we went to visit one of Mom’s cousins and his wife. Before we could mention that we had just stopped by for a brief “hello”, Bonnie was in the backyard, already had the hen killed and plucked to put on a pot of dumplings. I remember the smell of fresh killed chicken, the thick layer of bright yellow fat that covered the whole top of the pot of broth and the fluffy, tender drop dumplings that melted in our mouths. In the homes of other folks meals were garden vegetables and meat from the smoke house. Sometimes it was beans and cornbread and maybe turnip greens. Every meal was as wholesome as the atmosphere it was prepared in. Thankfulness abounded.
These experiences and many others beginning in my childhood have taught me several valuable life principles. I feel the most important lesson has been that giving is a blessing. The reaction toward our gift tells us much about the person to whom the gift is offered. This reaction whether of grace or awkwardness reveals who is comfortable with us and who treasures what they are given. We have all heard “It is more blessed to give than it is to receive”. Since people get blessed by giving something away, I have also learned not to deny others that blessing. If something is offered to me out of love I have no right to deny the giver the blessing of seeing me receive that token with thanksgiving. Remembering the delight in the eyes of these humble folks is still a strong and endearing part of the memories I have of them. Birthdays and Christmas were simple times with simple gifts. The joy of having visitors who make a special trip to see you was a time for celebration.
Through the kindness of these wonderful people I have learned never to give away things that are not valuable to me. A heart of love gives the best one has. It picks the apples off the tree to give away, not the windfall and the wormy. It gives the item of affection to the object of one’s love. A heart of love looks around and sees through the eyes of others so one can give gifts of lasting value. I have realized that what these folks knew about giving was once a thing of common knowledge. The culture we are immersed in today has lost this emphasis on selflessness and thanksgiving. Our focus is skewed. Our everyday joy is, for the most part, a thing of the past. We have forgotten that a Heart of Love gave Heaven’s best. A Heart of Love gave the object of His affection. A Heart of Love gave the Gift of eternal value. With a heart of love one must receive this Gift with humility and thanksgiving. We must share this Gift with others to be blessed and be a blessing. Have a Blessed Thanksgiving….

I AM

Written by Susan Richardson
I AM …. I AM

The events surrounding the betrayal of Christ lead us to what could be considered the most blatant and powerful revelation of Christ’s deity. His claim of being the Great I AM of the Old Testament is majestically reaffirmed in John 18 as we will see.
After the Passover meal was finished and Judas had left the group. Jesus and His disciples went out and crossed the brook Cedron traveling into the Garden of Gethsemane. While in the garden Jesus was overwhelmed with the necessity to pray. He pleaded with his disciples to watch and pray with Him but the scripture says they slept for sorrow. Here He pleads with The Father to allow “this cup” to pass from Him, yet He also asks that His Father’s will be done. During His prayer an angel comes down to minister to and strengthen him. Luke 22:44 tells us “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” When He arose from prayer He found His disciples asleep. In Matthew 26:46 He says, “Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.”
Judas knew well the place where our Lord often spent the night out of doors. Under the authority of the chief priests, Judas has with him a detachment of Roman soldiers and a large company of the temple police. Even though there was a full moon, they carried besides their weapons, lanterns and torches, if necessary to seek the prisoner among the darker places of the garden. There were possibly several hundred men as related in Matthew 26:46. The mob was ready to seize Jesus and lead Him away. Jesus knowing all things about the situation asks, “Whom do you seek?” They said “We seek Jesus of Nazareth”. According to Gaebelein (1936) many of the company did not know Him by sight. Gaebelein (1936) also states that the kiss of Judas must have been given after the Lord had answered their question. The next moment brings His answer, “I AM.” This is the same statement He had made in chapter 8:8 when He had told the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I am.” This time instead of picking up stones to stone Jesus, at His word, they all fell backward at the asserting of His deity . At this miracle, not one Roman soldier or Jewish officer could stand. It was His own omnipotent power which He displayed once more. This incident not only shows that Jesus is the Son of God but that His arrest and crucifixion were undertaken voluntarily. Unfortunately, both Matthew Henry (1961) and Tenney (1988) seem to miss this reference in their commentaries. Neither men take note that Christ does not say “I am He” as it reads in the King James Version but literally “I AM”. They also seem to miss the fact that Christ by the power of His Word caused the mob to fall backward. Both Henry and Tenney ascribe the falling back of the mob to fear, not to a miraculous act of a Holy God.
A second time, probably after everyone had regained their footing, Jesus asks again, “Whom seek ye?” When He spoke the second “I AM” they did not fall to the ground. There was no second exhibition of His power, but He manifested His Grace. “Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he; if therefore ye seek Me, let these go their way.” He willingly let Himself be bound on the condition that His own should be free.
The “I AM” statement was a very familiar one in the Jewish mind. In Exodus Moses enquires as to the name of God. This revelation is related in Exodus 3:13-15. “And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, what is his name? What shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.”
The etymology of the name “I AM” is from Strong’s H1961 which is also translated Jehovah in the following passages from the King James Version (1982):
Exodus 6:3 And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them.
Psalm 83:18 That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.
Isaiah 12:2 Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.
Isaiah 26:4 Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength.
The meaning of “I AM” or Jehovah is “the self existent One”. Each time Jesus called Himself I AM He was clearly presenting Himself as the I AM God that spoke to Moses in the wilderness, the Jehovah of the Psalmist and the Lord Jehovah of the prophet Isaiah.
In summary, each time Jesus referred to Himself as “I AM” He was drawing to remembrance, in the minds of those around Him, the Jehovah God of the Old Testament, the I AM that spoke to Moses. Each time Christ asserted His deity He gave the unbelievers a chance to take Him as their Messiah. Each time they refused. In Christ’s longsuffering He finally manifests His power through the name “I AM” at the time of His arrest. After this, no more miracles would He do until His resurrection from the dead. No longer was there a chance for the Jews to accept their Messiah and usher in the Kingdom. Christ’s hour had come. He would now become the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth. The Holy One of Israel would give His life as a ransom for many. In the words of the Prophet, “He (Jehovah) also is become my salvation”.

References
Gaebelein, A. C. (1936). Thwe Gospel of John. Wheaton: Van Kampen Press.
Henry, M. (1961). Matthew Henry’s Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Corp.
Holy Bible. (1982). Iowa Falls: B.B.Kirkbride.
Strong, J. Strongs Concordance. Mc Lean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing Company.
Tenney, M. C. (1988). John:The Gospel of Belief. Grand Rapids: Wm.B.Eerdmans.
Towns, E. (1990). The Gospel of John: Believe and Live. Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Co.

A Story of Hope

Written by Susan Richardson

As children we all loved “Once upon a time” stories. We loved kings and queens, knights and princesses. We especially loved good triumphing over evil and “happily ever after” endings. As adults, we learned that life does not follow that same pattern. Little girls do not become princesses and little boys do not become knights in shining armor. Many times in our lives evil and sorrow seem to overwhelm us and we feel there will never be a happy ending. I am sure many of my friends have felt this way. These friends endured Nazi Germany and then the Communist dictatorship in Europe. I have never suffered what they did yet, many times; I have the same feelings of hopelessness and despair. I have never been captured or deceived into fighting a war for someone I would later come to despise. Yet I have learned, even when I am captured by heartache and cannot feel God, He is there. When we lack purpose He is ready to point us toward great adventures while pursuing His Holy calling. He wants us to us to know that when we are surrounded, drowning in darkness we can look up. He knows why we are here. He wants us to be still and trust Him to show us. Just say, “I know you have placed me in my situation to be a blessing at such a time as this. If I don’t get a miracle, I will be one!”
The Bible does tell us about a certain disadvantaged little girl who was not born a princess but became queen by winning a beauty pageant. Not only was this girl not a princess, she was an orphan too. On top of all this hardship, her people were in captivity serving a foreign king. This young lady’s story is found in the Book of Esther. Esther is the only book in the Bible where God is not mentioned. Not one time does His name appear but His work is evident. To summarize the story, Esther was raised by her uncle and is chosen to be queen. She must save her Hebrew community from an evil man named Haman who wants to kill them. Esther feels hopeless and terrified at this responsibility. Evil has surrounded her. Her uncle Mordecai gave her a choice concerning whether she would plead her case before the king or not. Mordecai had faith that God would keep His promise to the Jewish people whether by her or by some other means. He warned her that if she does not choose to fulfill her calling she brings judgment on herself and her family. In Esther 4:14 Mordecai stated:

“For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Esther did have a difficult time trusting God and deciding to do the right thing. She was scared. She did her best and God honored her and spared her people. Her struggle even continues to be celebrated each year during the Jewish holiday of Purim. God is the only One who can (and does!) promise us the “happily ever after”.
Our question is; will we be brave and do what is right in difficult situations? God always gives us hope. Are we able to say with Job, “But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)”? Job lost it all, yet he worshiped God. We may go through the fire but we shall come out like gold if we put our faith in Christ and His death on the cross. “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1Peter 1:7)