A long time ago, I started a series called ‘You’re too Blessed to be Bitter’ and then I got sick. And then I started feeling better. And then I got sick again. And now I’m back. And I’m glad to be here.
I used to be really good at not getting sick, and then I had a kid. They're little petri dishes.
I was talking to David Goldman and he asked me ‘Are you gonna continue with your series? What was it about again?’ And I through about it and I told him ‘I can’t remember. But I remember it was important.’
And so I’m sure you’re like the two of us and it’s hard to remember a sermon you heard on November 28th.
So I’m not gonna reproach my message that you probably forgot, but I am gonna do a review and then get into some new content and then I’ll conclude the series next week.
So the series is called ‘You’re too Blessed to be Bitter’. And it came from an observation that I made in counseling with people and with couples.
And we talked about how lots of different professions - meteorologists, stock pickers, psychologists - that largely revolve around recognizing patterns.
And as a pastor who does pastoral counseling, over the last number of years I started to recognize a pattern.
And the pattern is this: People who do not deal with issues of bitterness and resentment tend to have unhappy lives and unsuccessful relationships.
And we spent some time on what I believe are 2 particularly deadly forms of unforgiveness - Bitterness and Resentment.
And just to review
We talked about bitterness and used the example of something that’s bitter tasting. And when you taste something bitter, it has a way of lingering in your mouth, and it changes how you taste the next thing. Think about drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth.
And so people who allow bitterness in their hearts are people who have allowed the bitter taste of the past, to affect how they experience the present.
Job in the Bible after having suffered tremendous loss said:
“I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. (Job 7:11)
So if I was to say to you “You’re a bitter person.” What I mean is that you have allowed negative experiences in the past to negatively effect your present.
And it’s often times general, you become a bitter person in general.
Resentment is more specific. Bitterness is general, resentment is specific.
Wax And the illustration I use for resentment is wax. I wonder if you’ve ever seen a candle plate where lots of candles have been burned, you might have seen this layer of wax that develops on the plate. And it’s not from 1 candle, it’s from lots of candles over time. A thin layer or wax that isn’t cleaned up, followed by another layer of wax that isn’t cleaned up, followed by another layer of wax that isn’t cleaned up and before you know it, it’s this huge mass of wax that has built up over time.
That’s the human heart. After years and years of partial forgiveness.
Let’s take a marriage for example. A married couple fights about something. And they forgive, mostly. Let’s be generous and say they forgive 99%. So it’s no longer an issue that deserves a discussion, everything goes back to normal, so far as anyone can tell. But there’s still a thin layer of wax there. Just a 1% grudge. Now let’s say that happens 5 times a year, for 10 years. And complete and total 100% forgiveness never happens, just 99% forgiveness. Now over time that thin layer of wax gets another layer of wax on it, and then another and then another.
And so what happens is that the love that the couple used to have is covered up by years and years and years of partial forgiveness.
That’s something I want to warn you about. That divorce is rarely about a single issue.
It’s almost always an issue of partial forgiveness, compounded over the years and then there’s a final issue (the final straw) that becomes the catalyst for the divorce but it’s rarely just that single issue that does it.
It’s like turning the thermostat down 1 degree. You don’t notice it. Until you do it once a week for 25 weeks and then it’s freezing in here. This is what happens in relationships.
Not because of one event, but because of gradual resentment that builds up over time. And once you recognize it, like not in your head but it’s something that God reveals to you in your heart, you see it everywhere.
That resentment builds up over time so then it stops being an even playing field. So one person is fighting an uphill battle.
So reactions are stronger than they would otherwise be. So when you face an issue, that should be a 2 out of 10 in size, you treat it like a 7, because you’re resentful.
And it was pretty good. If you missed it or need a review you can see it online of course.
And I believe bitterness and resentment are 2 of the most powerful tools that the devil uses to wreck havoc in the life of the Christian.
This week we’re going to talk about how our understanding of God and the roles that he plays in the life of the Christian can aid you in overcoming bitterness and resentment and living a life of freedom.
Title: Paying and Collecting Debts
If you’re anything like me, one of my least favorite parts of the 4th of July is 4th of July middle of the night fireworks. We live next to a public park so fireworks are always absolutely nuts for us.
I remember a few years ago, I don’t know if the fireworks place had a clearance sale or what but the amount of illegal fireworks next to our house was just unbelievable. It felt like we were next to the Isotopes.
And I had to work the next morning so we went to bed and just did our best to ignore them. Well around 3:30am, some group of people decided to go to the park and start shooting off the loudest fireworks I’ve ever heard in my entire life. It was incessant. And I remember laying there in bed, knowing I had to wake up in 3 hours, and the rage that was in me was just unbelievable. I was just gritting my teeth and thinking horrible thoughts about these people. I just remember thinking these little freaking millennials out there, they don’t have a job, they don’t have responsibilities.
And so I had an idea. My idea was that the following day I was gonna go buy a bunch of illegal fireworks and shoot them off at 8am, which is probably the middle of the night for them when grownups are heading off the work, and see how they like it! I didn’t of course.
But I thought about that inclination. That for some reason, when I felt wronged, what would make me feel better is for them to be wronged too. That balancing the scales would somehow make me feel better. It’s not like me buying more fireworks would take away the fact they they kept me awake. But to pay them back, that would make me feel better.
We don’t need to teach people about getting even. Everybody has that built into their humanity.
You punch somebody, you deserve to get punched back.
And believe it or not, I don’t believe that’s all bad. Our desire for justice. That people who do good deserve to be rewarded and people who do bad deserve to be punished. Believe it or not, I don’t think that’s wrong.
The issue though, for the Christian, is when we become people who feel responsible for balancing the scales. Because scripture clearly teaches that the only one who can effectively balance the scales is God.
And there’s 2 things that we read in scripture about God’s place in the life of the Christian that really illustrate this point. And these are your fill-ins, they’re really simple.
So what does ‘vindication’ mean? Vindication is to prove something as right.
So let’s say I said that Santa Fe was a city in Albuquerque. And you said it wasn’t. And let’s say we pulled out a map and found out that Santa Fe was, in fact, a city in New Mexico. Well I would be vindicated. I would be proven right.
So when we say ‘God is your vindicator’, we mean that God is the one that will prove you to be right. Provided that you are in fact right. God is always on the side of truth. So he’s not gonna prove you to be right when you’re wrong.
But when you’re mistreated, when you’re wrongly accused, when you’re slandered, God says that he will be your vindicator. He will be the one that proves you right.
The perfect example of this is Jesus.
Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. (Matthew 27:11)
When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. (Matthew 27:12)
Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” (Matthew 27:13)
But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor. (Matthew 27:14)
So what’s happening here? Well, Peter explains:
When they hurled their insults at him (talking about Jesus), he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)
He was constantly being accused of things he didn’t do. And he never feels the need to defend himself. He just takes it. And that’s not because Jesus a coward. He most certainly wasn’t. It was because He knew that God would take care of him. He knew that God would balance it out in the end.
Me in Ministry - I don’t know if you know this or not, but in my age group, church is not particularly popular. And as someone who has dedicated their life to working in and leading a church, I have encountered my fair share of criticism. Both to my face, but also behind my back. For doing what I do. And when I was early in ministry, I felt the need to defend myself “Oh, you don’t like my career path? What you’re doing is so great? Last time I checked you live in your moms basement.” But now, I don’t worry about it.
God will always balance the scales. And following God will prove to the be the best way to live your life.
And someone in here needs to hear this: They may be laughing at you for following God, but they won’t be laughing long. Because God will vindicate you. The comparison will be the condition or their life and the condition of yours. You don’t need to prove yourself right. God will do that for you.
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. (Romans 12:19)
So Paul is saying that vengeance, balancing the scales of justice, is God’s, not yours. We don’t have the ability to balance the scales of justice. When we try to, we end up just messing things up.
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.” (Romans 12:20)
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
God is saying, “You love them. You make them a meal. And I’LL balance the scales.”
And I think someone in this room really needs to hear that. Because you feel wronged. And because of that, this desire on the inside of you is very strong to see the scales balanced. And you’re not sure what do to with that. Because again, your desire for justice is not a bad thing.
And so what you need to get deep on the inside of you is that God will be the one to balance them. It might not be on your timeframe of “It needs to happen now!” - But God will be your defender. God will be your vindicator.
No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:17)
So God is saying that every tongue that rises up against you will be refuted. Will be silenced.
But notice how he says that will happen. He says “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord” so he’s talking about you and he says “This is their vindication (now watch this) FROM ME.
You can either be vindictive, or God can be your vindicator. But if you want God to be your vindicator, then you have to give up being vindictive.
Notice the verse we read said “LEAVE ROOM for God’s Wrath.” What does that mean? How do you NOT leave room? By filling it yourself.
So we’re not in the wrath business. We’re not in the vengeance business. It’s above our pay grade. So we just love, we just forgive and we leave all the scale balancing to God.
God is the one who balances out the scales of justice, we have no ability to do that.
People who live contrary to the will of God will reap the results of that. The way of the world leads to death. You don’t need to help it along.
“compensation or reward given for loss or harm suffered or effort made.”
So let’s say you owned a McDonalds. And let’s say when I was in McDonalds I was burned by your coffee that was too hot. Well I might receive 3 million dollars in recompense.
Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours. (Isaiah 61:7)
“For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them. (Isaiah 61:8)
So this is an amazing promise. God is saying that when his people suffer harm, and are disgraced, that he will reward them for that.
And for the last week or so I’ve been thinking about that. And I’ve been asking God to show me how this works. Because if this scripture is true, and I believe it is. And if I’m reading it right and I believe I am. Then this can fundamentally change how you experience hardship. And as I was praying yesterday I believe God showed me that he wants to say to somebody in here: That he’s sorry that horrible thing happened to you, and he’s gonna pay you back for that. Might be in this life, might be in the next, but he’s gonna pay you back for that. Amen.
“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. (Isaiah 54:4)
For people who have experienced hardship and trauma, and pain, God says you’ve not even gonna remember it. Because he’s gonna pay you back. You’ll remember it happened of course, but you won’t even remember the pain. You won’t even remember the sorrow. He’s your recompense.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
So see, God rewards us for living his way. The world won’t always reward you, your family won’t always reward you, your friends won’t always reward you, but God will reward you for living his way.
And I believe, just like God rewards people for living God’s way, the devil rewards people for living the devil’s way. And you don’t want his rewards - Pain, sorrow, death.
You don’t want that. You want the reward that comes from living God’s way.
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)
As we close I want to read a few verses from one of Jesus’s parables. Parables are fictitious stories that Jesus tells to teach us the way of his kingdom.
And if you’re not familiar with this parable, it’s a parable on forgiveness. That we’ve received forgiveness and so we should offer forgiveness to others. It’s a story of man who was forgiven a huge debt, but was unwilling to forgive someone else of even a small debt. But there’s just a tiny little phrase that I want to highlight here.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. (Matthew 18:23)
As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. (Matthew 18:24)
Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. (Matthew 18:25)
Here’s what I want to point out. That when Jesus talks about forgiveness, he uses the illustration of someone owing a debt (and here’s what I want you to notice) that they cannot pay.
They can’t pay it back. Even if they wanted to, they can't. The one who wounded you can’t fix you. Even if they wanted to. Because they can’t take back what they did. So when someone has hurt you, wounded you, that’s a debt they can’t pay.
That’s why we settle for things like “They hurt me, so I’m gonna hurt them back.” - But that doesn’t pay you back.
Just like in the parable, the only one capable of paying the debt is the master. Only God can pay you back for the wrongs you have suffered.
And so we all need to stop trying to be debt collectors, because we’re trying to collect debts from people who are incapable of paying them.
Instead, we forgive in our hearts, we believe God balances out the scales, and we do the hard work of ridding ourselves of bitterness, resentment, and hatred.
You know, some people don’t like when I preach, that’s fine. Some people do. And that’s great too. But something that I’ll hear occasionally from people is they’ll say “I love your preaching because you have such a pure heart."
Now I’m not sure if that’s always true. The things that I reveal about myself up here are the things that I choose to reveal about myself. Seeing me as a preacher is not getting a full picture of me. So I’m not as pure hearted as some people think.
But I can honestly say this: Being pure hearted is what I try really hard to be. Especially in the context of my heart towards people.
I want to walk the world having nothing against anybody.
And I’ve made great progress in that. That I can honestly say that there is no one in the world that if I saw them at the grocery store I’d say “Oh crap” and walk the other way. There is no one like that for me.
There’s plenty of people who would do that if they saw me. I can’t control that. But I can honestly say before God that I have no major animosity towards anyone. And I’m not saying that to brag. I’m saying that to tell you that it’s possible. It’s possible to love everybody. And just leave to retribution, leave the scale balancing up to God.
I just do my absolute best to love and support people, and when they treat me wrong, I do my best to just shake it off, water off a ducks back, believing that God is my vindicator and God is my Recompense.
So I try to forgive quick. Love quick. Believing that God will reward me.
And as we close…
Forgiveness really is the center of the Christian faith. Receiving the forgiveness that God offers to us.