Thursday, August 01, 2013
The Vision (8/1/13): Putting away bitterness
When Llewellyn and I moved to Virginia in 1992 after serving a two year term as missionaries in Hungary we had little more than a pair of suitcases and a few things we had stored with Llewellyn’s parents. We had sold or given away most of the meager furnishing from our seminary apartment to lighten our load before moving to Budapest. As we moved into the parsonage of the church that had called me to be their pastor, the folk who came to help us looked incredulous that there really wasn’t that much to help with.
One of the first things we realized we needed was a table and some chairs (lest we sit and eat on the floor), so we went to a local unfinished furniture store and bought an oak table with four matching chairs which we promptly brought home and finished. As I write this article my computer is lying on that same table, which also now doubles as my study desk. It is hard to tell just how many meals our family has shared around this table and how many friends, family, and guests have joined us here (not to mention how many bog posts, articles, and sermons have been composed here). We had to go out and buy three more chairs as our family grew from the two of us to add five children.
The table definitely has picked up some nicks and scratches over the last twenty plus years (nothing a good table cloth won’t hide). Most telling is a deep black stain, sunk into the grain of the wood, with a wide crack on the same stained side. How did that get there? One summer about five years after we got the table, we were preparing to leave for a two week vacation to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming with Llewellyn’s family (it was a great trip). Just before we left, a neighbor brought us a bag of tomatoes from his garden. The church we served was in a rural setting, and we had no lack of vegetables from the members’ gardens. The joke was that when you went into church you needed to lock your doors lest when you returned the seats be filled with corn, squash, and beans. Anyhow, we ended up leaving for our vacation and leaving that plastic bag of tomatoes sitting on the oak table.
The moment we opened our door two weeks later, we knew (smelled) that something was wrong. The acidic tomatoes had rotted, leaked, cracked, and permanently stained the table. Our younger children probably now think this is the way all kitchen tables are supposed to be.
As I sit at that table this evening looking at that stain, I am reminded of what the apostle Paul said in Ephesians 4:31-32: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” If we allow bitterness to remain in our hearts, it will act like that bag of tomatoes. It will fester, rot, ooze, crack, spoil, and stain. This is why Paul told the Ephesians to put away all bitterness and instead to respond with kindness and forgiveness. Do you have bitterness in your heart? Has it been there for years or is it of recent origin? Does it relate to broken relationships, unrealized hopes and expectations, disappointments, disability, unkind treatment? May the Lord grant us the grace to put bitterness away and to live wholesome, healthy, and godly lives for Christ.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle