Monday, August 25, 2008

Bitter Root Roundup

To look at me now, you would probably never guess that there was a time in my personal history when I was steadfastly opposed to consuming most types of food, especially vegetables that were good for me. Alas, I have now arrived at a season of life where I am a friend to almost every type of edible thing, although they are not so friendly to me! This includes gaining an affinity to brussel sprouts, broccoli, and turnips. I have not always liked turnips. As a young boy I was encouraged (that's code word for commanded) to eat them. I could endure the green leafy part but the turnip roots were another thing entirely. Although I was informed about their high vitamin content I was not enthused about them at all. They tasted very bitter to me. I did not believe that I needed to have turnip roots in my diet and the quality of my growth would not suffer if I separated myself from them. Turnips were a bitter root experience for me. It wouldn't be the last time I would find that a bitter root was something I would strive to avoid.

Unwanted plants can spring up in a cultivated garden and often the only way to keep them from overwhelming and crowding out the good things are to pull them up by the roots. But something called Roundup works pretty as well. It's the brand name of a herbicide that is pretty effective. Spray it on weeds and for a couple of days afterward, you may think it has had no effect. But suddenly, the plant will begin to wilt and become discolored as it dies. It won't matter what you feed the plant after an application of roundup. It will not be revived. Death has gone all the way down to the root.
Spiritually speaking, the writer of the Book of Hebrews had some wise counsel about bitter roots. I believe the advice was given to religious people and is relevant for us in our day as well. Early Christians were advised that they were to be on guard for a certain kind of growth in their midst would only yield big trouble. A growing root of bitterness would spoil the growth of many.

Have you ever been blessed by God in the things that you do? There is nothing quite like it. In those times it seems that everywhere you look spiritual fruit seems to be growing. Then suddenly, much like the dramatic death of weeds after a shot of roundup, the fruit begins to wither in your life. In times like these, you begin to wonder what's wrong. You begin to review your relationships and your life before God to discover that somewhere along the way, you have begun to harbor feelings of unforgiveness in your heart. The unforgiveness begins to feed a root of bitterness. Things begin to wither and die. Ever been through that kind of trial? Ever wonder where the fruit has gone?

A clear understanding of the grace of God does not provide environments for bitterness to grow. Once we know that grace is not earned, we understand that we are not entitled to it either. When we are more aware of God's grace in our life, we are more willing to extend that to others. Applications of grace retards the growth of bitterness. Keeping grace growing helps to crowd out roots of bitterness. Bitterness needs room in the heart to grow. It flourishes in graceless hearts. Bitterness will spring up when envy, jealousy, and resentment exist. Roots of bitterness grow in graceless gardens. A life lived apart from the grace of God will yield bitterness. Bitter lives beget bitter lives. Bitter roots grow bitter fruit.

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; (Hebrews 12:14-15)

We must actively see to it that bitter roots are spotted and removed. A shot of spiritual roundup can go to the root. A generous and repetitive application of forgiveness and grace is a death sentence to bitter roots and bitter fruit. Interesting that the glory of God was once seen in a fruitful garden and the desire to want something more than He had provided resulted in this broken and bitter world. But God is intent on restoration. God is glorified when we forgive those who have wounded us. God is glorified when bitterness is identified and we agree with Him that this attitude dishonors Him. God is glorified when we ask forgiveness for being resentful, angry, and envious and allow the Spirit of God to have His way in renewing our lives.
Always monitor your spiritual garden for the bitter root. There is no substitute for pulling the weed up. Roundup is good, but sometimes we need to get our hands around the weed of bitterness. Pull it up. Bring it to God. Ask His forgiveness of the unforgiving attitude.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Birds and The Bees

I've watched an ongoing conflict take place lately around the hummingbird feeder. The lament in the past few months about the absence of an abundance of honey bees in various parts of the world has a new meaning for me. I think I've found what the world's looking for. These missing bees are congregating around the hummingbird feeder. At least a large number of them. And it's driving the hummingbirds crazy. For a couple of years now, the population of hummingbirds in my back yard seems to have flourished. But this year there has been more bees than birds. I don't know how to get rid of them. The honey bees have responded to the colored sweetened water like it was the nectar that they so desperately love. And they usually cover the openings to such an extent that the hummingbirds have no place to feed. But there has also been another phenomenon to observe. Sometimes it only takes one bee around the feeder to disrupt the hummingbird's plan. The hummingbird seems to be ill at ease while the bee is close by. The bee's mere presence is often enough to make the hummingbird leave empty and disappointed.

When I was young, it was a popular thing to tell children about "the birds and the bees". The information that was communicated had nothing to do with feathered friends or buzzing bees but was indeed about nature. It was about the nature of human sexuality. Often when the session was completed, the children left with more unanswered questions and the adults left with a sense of incomplete and frustrated instruction. We never seemed to do an adequate job of sex education. The homes began to hush about it. And the church began to push the mute button. It was something we just didn't talk about until it was too late. So we left it to the cultural institutions. The schools began to teach it. And the streets began to instruct us. I wish I could turn back the clock a generation or two just to get this insight out for all to see. So here's my latest leftover thought:

The hummingbirds and the bees are attracted to the colored sugar water which appears to be nectar. Nectar is something good for both of them and was created naturally for the good of the rest of creation. So the birds and the bees are in conflict over something that is not what it seems. They would be better off searching for the real thing around real flowers but the feeder makes it too easy for them and it is so alluring. It seems we humans have intervened once more with our own design and haven't thought it through so well. So it is with society's teaching about sexual things. The media, our prominent cultural institution, does a pretty good job of promoting that which is not the real thing when it comes to the allure and accessibility and satisfaction of our sexual desires. In contrast, the Creator God has designed in His mind and written in His plan the good and right way to enjoy a sexual relationship between two human beings. The boundaries of marriage between a man and a woman is His naturally designed place to partake of this God-given pleasure. When our society turns from a trustworthy plan and design in favor of something that looks good and seems right to the mind of man, there is emptiness, disappointment, and death at the end of this direction. We have made our own design the way we think things ought to be. And we suffer as a people because of it. I think I understand the anxiety of the hummingbird as he shares the space at the feeder with the lone honey bee. Even though the tiny hummingbird dwarfs the bee, the bird knows that the bee has a stinger. That stinger could be death to him. Our so-called freedom to experience and experiment with sexual relationships comes with a price we are not prepared to pay. Our sexual freedom, the prize of my generation's sexual revolution, has deceived us. It is not what it seemed. It is no prize at all. It's a penalty and the price for our ignorance and rebellion. We are only as free as God makes us. Free love is when God sets us free to love His way.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)