Tag Archives: bitterness

creepy looking person


I once lived on a busy four-lane road with a house number of 662. We had a driveway adjacent to the family next door. The property line ran through a thin strip of gravel between the oil-spotted asphalt strips.

We and the Nabes were both families with young children, our three just enough old enough to disdain playing with their two. We were all friendly enough, and had common superficial interests. We had warm random chats outside when our paths crossed, and the weather permitted. And that was it.

The Nabes were heart-on-the-sleeve Christians. We weren’t Christians at all. In fact by lifestyle and philosophical temperament I would today regard us as anti-Christians. We not only didn’t go in for that Jesus stuff, we actively dissuaded others from doing so. A generic ‘big G’ God might be okay, but that Jesus character, well he was just sketchy.

They were the Flanderses to our Simpsons. We weren’t interested in their Neducation.

As time went by, the Nabes would take their opportunities to evangelize, softly and gently. They invited us to church events and we always made a polite excuse. I know now that, while I wasn’t afraid of them, I lived in fear of what I thought they represented: powerless surrender.

We couldn’t go there; we wouldn’t go there. Self-sufficiency and independence were too precious.

Despite my self-enforced anathema of All Things Christian, I often wondered about what the Bible said: about me, about life, about history, and especially, about death and eternity. About the end times. Like many people of my generation I came of age reading The Late Great Planet Earth and the various speculations about something called The Rapture. And, about 666: the Number of the Beast.

This is how it all played out in my Hollywood mind:

  • Life goes on and the world spins into darkness (as it was even then, 45 years ago)
  • Eventually things get so bad, Jesus returns
  • The faithful Exit, Stage Left and watch the final act from private box seats
  • The unfaithful stay on as the Beast takes center stage
  • I’m doomed

Against this backdrop, I imagined there was an invisible place between our property (662) and the Nabes’ property (668) where 666 took up residence.

‘Here is a call for wisdom: Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast. It is the number of a man. His number is six hundred and sixty-six.’ 1

The beast is a divider. The beast is the destroyer. The beast ruins relationship. He is the great seducer and the one who blinds people to God’s goodness.

The beast is attractive to those of us with darkened hearts 2 because his power and influence can be grasped immediately. His works are obvious and there is craven safety in his grasp. He gives us a thrill.

Yet, in long speculation about the dark place that could exist between us and the Nabes, the truth was finally revealed. His number was mine.

Where darkness exists, it’s not between me and others, it’s simply within my own heart. That’s where unforgiveness and bitterness lurk.

The Bible says a darkened heart is confused.2 And yet the darkness and futility of the human heart didn’t dissuade God from having mercy on creatures like me who routinely spat on Him.3 Instead, He sacrificed the love of His own heart, his son, Jesus Christ. The Lord brought light to my heart, but I can still step back into darkness if I wish. It’s still a free-will universe.

If I do, the beast comes on the scene: he brings division, unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred; anything that can separate me from my Nabes. That’s the danger for all of us today.

Many years have passed and I did eventually hear the call of the sacrificed Christ. Now I’m one of the Nabes. The line between you and me is no longer visible from my side. Would you like to come in for a coffee?

1. Revelation 13:18
2. Romans 1:21 (NLT) – ‘Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.’
3. Genesis 8:21a – ‘The Lord smelled a soothing aroma; and the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…”

US Ballot

Love Your Enemies

(A six -minute read)

It was a couple days after the US election. A lot of us were grumbling (always about ‘the other side’ of course). I had a spirited (but respectful) back-and-forth with a friend who is a self-professed Donald Trump hater. He bristled at my idea that he pray for him.

He said, ‘I’ll join you in prayer for millions of traumatized Americans to help us all heal, but Trump is not on the list.’

I suggested to him that if I hate Donald Trump (or any other person for that matter), the hatred is of less consequence than the fact I am willing to allow myself to hate.

When I amass hatreds and resentments and harbor unforgiveness, I only hurt myself. Here’s what I told my friend:

One of the main things Jesus talked about during his time here on earth was how we rid ourselves of unforgiveness and bitterness – things that block us off from receiving God’s grace and peace. Only by doing that can we fully receive God’s forgiveness for our own shortcomings.

Has Donald Trump lied as my friend suggested? Of course he has! So have I! So have you! But there’s grace for that. When we catch ourselves doing it, we turn back to Jesus, say ‘sorry’ and know that we’re forgiven. Then we move on and try again. We don’t prove ourselves through our own actions. We let the Lord guide and correct us. Over time we get better.

As to praying for those we may despise, God was very clear on this. In the Old Testament the rule was ‘If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.’ In the New Testament Jesus said, ‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.’

The instruction is pretty clear. Pray for your enemies, don’t hate them. And that last bit, about the rain falling both on the righteous (those who love God) and the unrighteous (those who don’t) is a way of pointing out that God loves your enemies as much as He loves you. He wants Donald Trump to follow Him as much as he wants you or me. He plays no favorites. Let’s not forget that to some out there, you and I may be seen as the enemy!

You’ll find a longer discussion of forgiveness between Jesus and the disciples in Matthew 18. Peter asks Jesus how many times he has to forgive someone – seven times? Jesus says ’70 times seven’ (or 77 times, depending on your translation). The point is that Jesus is exaggerating for effect, to say we should always be ready to forgive. Why is this? Three reasons:

1. Because it releases the person who harmed us from any curse laid upon them for their sin.

2. In a practical way, it releases us from bitterness and resentment. It gives us freedom.

3. It sets things right in the spiritual realm.

Think about the Lord’s Prayer, where it says ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ You can’t have one without the other.

That idea of setting things right spiritually may seem murky. Here’s a practical example. If someone robs me and takes my wallet, I’ll certainly file a police report. I want my wallet back and I want justice to be done. But I also pray for the thief and forgive him.

Here’s why: If the thief is caught and I get my wallet back that’s worldly justice and that’s good. But the thief, even if punished, is still a thief. His heart is not transformed. Only God can transform his heart and change him from being a thief. My prayer helps with that.

It’s the same thing that happened all those years ago when I prayed to God to transform my own heart, and he delivered me from a life of drunkenness. Before, I was one way; I was a new way afterwards. It was night and day. So who am I to deny this gift to anyone else?

If I don’t forgive the thief, whoever I perceive him to be, then my lack of forgiveness works against God’s ability to transform the thief’s heart. Prayer has power. We are born into a spiritual battle and live in one all our lives. If we pretend otherwise we are deluding ourselves.

Prayer is one of the most effective weapons we wield on this spiritual battlefield – not to bring down others, but to protect them and ourselves. Also, to release us from the burden of resentment and bitterness we take on as we we attempt to judge others.

Only God knows all the facts and only he knows what is in our hearts: yours, mine and Donald Trump’s for that matter. I’m content to leave any and all judgments up to Him – He’s designed for it. I’m not.

Since this began on a political note, I’ll close on one: In politics, someone wins, someone loses and then life goes on. God remains in charge. ‘He removes kings and sets up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who know understanding.’

And that’s a very reassuring piece of knowledge.

Photo by Salar Farji via Wikimedia Commons