The Root of Bitterness

14Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. Hebrews 12:14–15 [emphasis added]

Allow this passage to be a mirror into your heart, into the reality of your life…Does this describe what you are or what you are not?

If you have ever encountered raw and unbridled bitterness you know it is not a pleasant thing but rather a destroyer souls. If you have ever suffered from bitterness yourself but overcame this you also know how horrible bitterness is as a destroyer of your own soul.

Where does bitterness come from? The root of all sins is pride, the desire to be like God (Gen 3:5). As a fruit of pride the Bible says that bitterness is the mark of the world and of an unbeliever. Bitter is a sin! This word is only used 4 times in the NT though words similar to it are used many times more. We find it in Romans 3:14 where Paul says “no one is righteous, no not one.” Bitterness is then a mark of the unrighteous. We see it again in Ephesians 4 when Paul is contrasting the old and new life in Christ. Ephesians 4:29–32 says [emphasis added]:

29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Bitterness is a sin and leads to more sins (like irritability, anger, murder, strife, dissensions, slander, gossip, etc). Though not explicitly mentioned its cousins can be found in the vile list of the fruit of the world in Galatians 5:19, which is followed on by the stern warning, those who do [in the case of professing Christians, persist in doing] such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. The list of the fruit of the Spirit that follows is another helpful mirror and is foreign to any bitterness. Which list best describes you?

James asks, What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel (James 4:1–2). When we do not get the way of our pride with God or others one result is we can become bitter.

The Bible calls all people to repent of this (and all) sin and seek the Spirit’s help to be transformed. Still, even Christians can succumb to the sin of bitterness (as the above mentioned passages make clear) either as one off’s or as a besetting sin. If a professing Christian persists in this sin it is clear they are not in Christ (Heb). To anyone who truly loves Christ this is a sobering thought that should cause us to put away (Eph) bitterness.

Romans 12:18 says, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. In all honesty, have we done our part to be at peace with others? Are we at peace with God? If we are not we are not at peace and we’ll rob not only ourselves but others of peace. Use Scripture as the lens to examine and address the root of your bitterness. Are you mad at someone or God? Are you content with your circumstances? Do you need to speak with someone to settle a score (Jas 3:17)? Are you harbouring a grudge? Do you need to forgive someone? Do you need to ask for forgiveness? Are you taking your concerns to the Lord in prayer? Are you following Matthew 18 regarding concerns with a brother or sister (if not you will become bitter)?

Bitterness is an invasive root. Ask Jesus to help you eradicate it from your life.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

An oft misunderstood funeral passage

*Taken from a recent funeral address.

John 14:1-6

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Our second reading is a very common reading at funerals; sadly it is commonly misunderstood. Permit me to put it in context for us and draw our attention to the personal hope it offers us today.

Jesus’ followers were scared; Jesus was speaking of leaving them (ch.13) & returning to heaven (that is the context). It is near the end of His earthly ministry right before His death, resurrection, & ascension to heaven where He reigns and whence He will return to judge the living and the dead (Apostle Creed).

BUT they were on the other side of the cross, they didn’t have the blessing of hindsight as we do. So this talk deeply troubled His followers. Jesus was their friend, their teacher, it upset them that he was speaking of leaving; just as no doubt we are troubled and saddened at [name]’s departure. So Jesus said to them, Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me (v. 1).

Jesus IS God, God the Son. If we believe in He whom the Father sent, we believe in the Father. If we don’t believe in Jesus we don’t believe in God, just like Judas. But if we trust in Jesus as the Lord and the Saviour like Thomas and the other disciples did, a place will be made for us in God’s kingdom, which is what is meant by the metaphor of the Father’s house. That is the ultimate reason Jesus came, to prepare—to die and rise again, defeating sin & death—so all those who’d trust in Him for salvation and follow Him would be assured of a way to heaven, Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (v.6), an assurance [name] found before He died, and Good News of assurance & peace that Jesus offers to all who fear death & mourn [name]’s departure today.

A psychiatrist recently said that if guilt and inner turmoil were taken away, 2/3 of the patients in her hospital could go home!

Some great wisdom, because forgiveness and peace with God is what we are ALL looking for & what we ALL need…. Indeed, as that early Christian Augustine put it, our hearts will go on being restless until they find their rest in Him [Jesus Christ].

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

God-confidence

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I the LORD your God, am with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

Whilst it is good to believe in yourself to the extent of not being falsely modest of the natural gifts you have (remembering with gratitude these are from God!), and whilst it is good to challenge oneself to sharpen and hone those gifts, ultimately the self-confidence promoted in society today is misguided because it roots its confidence, strength, trust and hope in SELF—Just do it! (Nike slogan). It teaches that believing in your own actual or potential strengths will save you. It doesn’t recognise that we are finite and limited beings who can’t do everything and anything, nor does it take into consideration the effects of sin on our lives which impairs what we could do. Ultimately, it fails to use those God given gifts for God’s own glory and instead risks self-glorification.

This is a far cry from what Jesus taught in the Gospel, to abide in Him…for apart from Him you can do nothing (John 15:5b). It is the complete opposite of the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5–8 that tells us to trust in God rather than in a reliance on self. It is far better to trust in God and find our confidence in His promises, including His promise to be with us always when we trust in and follow Jesus. We must remember that whilst we have value as persons created in God’s image, in the grand scheme of things we are a mere vapour as Ecclesiastes tells us. When we use our gifts to honour God there is meaning. When we seek his help he blesses and multiplies our gifts. When we trust Him we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil 4:13). We can do the impossible with God (Lk 18:27). Salvation, meaning, bounty, infinite power, peace; trust in self cannot produce these things. It is no wonder that our society that champions self-confidence is still chasing after the wind, leaving only despair in its wake.

God-confidence over self-confidence is the essence of what Joshua learned. God told him before he assumed his duties as Moses successor, “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I the LORD your God, am with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9). Insofar as he trusted the Lord the Israelites were victorious (like at Jericho), but when they trusted in themselves they were defeated (like at Ai). In light of this may we have God-confidence as we trust in the One who is unfailing and in His promises which are ever true. You may want to learn this song, which the Lord inspired and which I taught to the village school to help us learn about God-confidence as we focused on our termly Christian value of courage. May it draw to mind this promise and may the Spirit enable you to remember it when you are facing discouragement. To listen click here. Jos 1.9

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

 

 

DV and the New Year

Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)

There was once a farmer who was herding his flock through a rustic village. The shopkeeper asked the farmer what he was doing. The farmer said, “taking my sheep to market, they’re going to fetch a handsome sum!” The shopkeeper, a Christian man, replied, “God willing!” Not long after the shopkeeper was surprised when the farmer passed back through the village. He wondered at his dress, he was all dirty, bruised and his clothes were all torn. The shopkeeper asked the farmer what had happened. The farmer muttered under his breathe, “I was robbed by sheep rustlers.” The shopkeeper inquired further, “what are you going to do now?” To this the farmer snarked, “go home!” The shopkeeper replied, “…God willing…!”

Whilst we may not say this in every breathe or include DV (Latin, Deo volente, for God willing) in every email, the wisdom of this verse is striking for a New Year. Are we entering this calendar year resolving that my WILL will be done, or rather praying, “Father…thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. —Psalm 143:8b

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

The Discipline of the Lord

It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. (Psalm 119:71)

We live in an age that views discipline of almost any form as a dirty word, as morally reprehensible.[1] As a result, whether it be corporal punishment,[2] holding children back a grade, remaining firm in our threats of punishment (and not continuing to say, “Don’t do that or…” and then doing nothing), all the way to the lax laws of many of our Western lands for all ages; is it any wonder that the fruit is not goodness for us but our distress?

I recently was told the distressing first hand story of a young child who half-jokingly threatened to urinate on his mother’s leg. She put him off three times saying, “don’t be silly.” Finally, he did it, and she did nothing about it! Complete liberty with no restraint is the perfect formula concocted by Satan for pride to ferment and flourish. How much of society’s woes result from a lack of restraint, a lack of discipline, an indulgence in the self?

But discipline, and its benefits, are not merely social but spiritual and God given. The Psalmist tells us discipline is a positive thing when the Lord disciplines us through various and challenging forms of His providence.

Hebrews 12:5–6 says:

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. (Heb 12:5–6, c.f. Prov 3:11–12).

This uses the language of t[3]he discipline of children (instruction, training and correction), in the context of spiritual perseverance, as an analogy to teach us to respect and to submit to the will of God in the adversities that we face. Such discipline is a precious mercy for through it we learn to hate sin and be instructed in His way, a way that leads to life and not death.

A friend of mine recently shared with me a quote:

Sin is never so bitter, and holiness is never so sweet, as when our troubles are greatest and our dangers highest.  By afflictions the Lord teaches his people to sit loose from this world, and to make sure the great things of that other world.  By affliction God shews his people the vanity, vexation, emptiness, weakness, and nothingness of the creatures, and the choiceness, preciousness, and sweetness of communion with himself, and of interest in himself.  – Thomas Brooks (Puritan author, 1608–80).

So if you are facing chastisement today in any way, do not reject it as the world does, but submit to it under the Lord’s strength and be blessed and be changed.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] This probably arose from abuses of discipline, namely divorcing it from being done lovingly and to a loving end.

[2] Only one tool for parenting, not in any way the tool (ex. Prov 13:24, 23:13-14).

[3] Prov 12:1, 13:18.

Harvest

…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen— Romans 1:25

Harvestime is a wonderful time of year when we can give thanks for what we have, not only the “harvested” crops and autumn colours, but everything else the Lord has blessed us with according to His common grace (family, jobs, homes, etc). Yet, that is not quite what Harvest is actually about, it goes one step further…

Harvest is about giving praise to God who created all things and giving thanks to Him for what He has so graciously given us, even though as sinners we don’t deserve even the beauties and blessings of this tainted, fallen creation.

There is a danger at Harvest, and all the yearlong, to exchange this truth about God and focus instead on “stuff,” created things; to worship and to serve what God has made rather than the God who made them! In fact, this danger is nothing other than idolatry. We live in a world rife with this sin and would do well to heed to words of John to beware the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions (1 John 2:15–17)—the things of the world that are passing away— and rather to love God.

And so this Harvestime, let us bless our Creator, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and thank Him for the blessings He has poured out and not get it the other way around.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

ISingPop Ministry

Hands

By Chris W. Crocker

Presented at the St.Andew’s CE School ISingPop concert at St. Andrew’s Church on September 28, AD 2017, a community event sponsored by St. Andrew’s Church and Cromhall Chapel. This 360 degree reflection of the Christian faith followed the song See Those Hands.

The Lord be with you!

Hands up if you think the students of St. Andrew’s School are doing a fab job this evening! Let’s give them—and ISingPop— a big hand for all their hard work (clap [draw attention to hand actions with each subsequent reference]).

Take a look at your hands for a moment. Our hands have done a lot of things we are proud of, and if we’re honest also a lot of things we’re probably not. But our hands are amazing aren’t they! The Bible says they were created by Jesus, just as a potters’ hands shape the clay. Did you know the finger prints on your hands are unique to your DNA. No one else in the world has hands like yours, you are special!

But while we were designed to bless Jesus our creator in worship with our hands (lift them up) and live in a relationship with Him, instead we choose to go our own way and curse Jesus with our hands, we sinned.

BUT God the Father, with loving, gracious, merciful and just hands, sent His one and only Son, Jesus into the world He created so whoever would believe in Him might not perish but have everlasting life (Jn 3:16).

So, Jesus was born of the virgin Mary—that first Christmas—and she held the Rescuer with her hands as she pondered these things in her heart. As Jesus got older, He grew up with His hands in wood, working in the family business as a carpenter.

But there came a day when it was time for Jesus to set His hands to the work His heavenly Father had sent Him for. And as He began that work, and was baptised at the hand of John the Baptist, God the Father stretched out His hand from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

During His 3 year ministry, Jesus laid His hands on people and healed them of illness, stretched out His hands and fed people, calmed the storm, taught them, all to prove who He was, but most importantly to make a way back to God, which He did in the strangest way.

Jesus suffered abuse at the hands of the Roman soldiers, crowds and religious leaders. Finally the soldiers took nails and a hammer in their hands and nailed Jesus’ hands to the Cross. He hung on that cross by His hands and died. And to make sure He was really, really dead, a soldier picked up his spear in his hand, and thrust it into Jesus side. He died the death that all those who’d believe deserved to die.

BUT that isn’t the end of the story, because three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, proving that He was God’s Son, showing He had power over sin and death in His hands.

People don’t come back to life from the dead though, we’ve got a handle on that, and they knew that back then too!

Yet, 100s of people saw the risen Jesus—this miracle—including His disciples, all but one, Thomas. Thomas said, “Unless I see His hands,… and place my hand in His side, I will never [ever, ever] believe.” (John 20:25).

But a week later Jesus appeared to Thomas and said to him, Thomas “put your fingers here, and see my hands; put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe!” (John 20:27) and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who will give you” life and life to the full” (John 10:10).

For the Bible says there is coming a day when Jesus will return, not as a baby or a suffering Saviour, but as a great and mighty King and Judge with justice in His hand. What will be the deciding factor?

Not by the “good works” done by our hands but whether we’ve put up our hand and said, “Yes, Jesus, I believe,” put up our hand and said, “Jesus I’m sorry for my sin,” praising Him with our hands and serving Him with our lives.

This is the message of the Lord to us this evening. Thanks be to God!

Faith + Hope

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

So begins the ‘hall of fame’ list of faith in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Given the dark days in which we live—rife with evil, moral decay and unbelief—days in which humanly speaking I resign myself to believe our civilisation is doomed, what is faith, what is hope?

Most people today are hopeless, their lives uncertain, because they have a presumptuous ‘faith’ (trusting in themselves, others or in ungrounded optimism & wishful thinking [a ‘faith in faith’ mentality]) that ‘hopes’ in uncertainties (selfish desires, earthly shifting sands, fallible people). It is a trust in a hope of a feeling of expectation that something good might happen. When this leads to shattered hopes and broken faith—as it almost always does—people invariably despair; over time they give up.

Biblical faith and hope are not so vague, but are described as an “assurance” and a “conviction.” Faith is a trust in a promise made by a faithful God. He is the object of our faith, His promises the basis of our hope. Therefore, whatever He has promised we can trust and as we actively wait for it we hope. In fact, our trust is so firm and our hoping so active, it is as if what is invisible is visible before our very eyes (see: Ro 8:24–5; 2 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:8).

Hebrews is speaking about Jesus and His return, but He seems to tarry; we’ve also been promised eternal life, but can feel so dead; we’re promised a happy resurrection, but our bodies know corruption; we are made just, as yet sin dwells in us; we hear the call to rejoice, but are in the midst of miseries; we have the promise of good gifts, but still we hunger and thirst.

What would become of us if we were not supported by true hope and faith, the ministry of Christ’s Spirit and the Word, along with the example of a cloud of witnesses, who together enable us to triumph over the world and endure to the finish line, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (12:2).

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Taking Root and Bearing Fruit

TakeRootThe story of King Hezekiah’s besiegement in Jerusalem by King Sennacherib of Assyria is perhaps one of the most famous stories in the Old Testament. It is found smack dab in the middle of Isaiah and is the only narrative in the book (a textual indicator if ever there was one). An almost identical account is also found in 2 Kings 19:30.

Sennacherib mocked the living God (pride) and in light of this Hezekiah prayed (humility). Isaiah’s prophetic response mirrors this: the demise of Sennacherib foretold (Isa 37:21–29) and a promise of hope for Hezekiah (vv. 30–2). God opposed the proud but gave grace to the humble. Three agricultural signs would confirm to Hezekiah that his deliverance was not by chance but according to God’s purposes. A far greater promise was spiritual in nature, that God would preserve a remnant for His glory. The remnant would come through the storm, first take root downward and then bear fruit upward.

The Lord gave me this verse at the end of June when I was reflecting on being at the chapel for 2.5 years (and looking in my sermon folder to see 5 calendar years in which there are now sermon folders for). I felt Satan “tempt me to despair” because in that time, while lots of great things have happened in our fellowship, we’ve not seen any conversions or baptisms. While numeric growth is not the only way to measure growth we certainly wouldn’t mind it! Then I came across Isa 37:1 and I felt as if this perfectly summarised the chapel: a) we have been a faithful remnant that has remained biblically faithful to the Lord when many churches have become synagogues of Satan (Rev 2:9), b) that over the last 2.5 years we have seen modest numeric growth but we have been maturing spiritually (Bible study, prayer meetings, retreats, leadership, fellowship events, preaching, internal health) and have been able to undertake a number of physical upgrades (technology, insulation, windows, website, etc), and c) that we stand on the cusp of the Lord doing great things in our midst (Tots ministry, relationship with the school and community, Cromhall’s 5 Most Wanted, outreach events, sign, etc). Key to bearing this fruit is prayer and humility.

So may we take courage from Isa 37:11, continue to be faithful, continue to become rooted in Christ, and expect that the zeal of the Lord will do still greater things as we wait on Him.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

As far as the east is from the west

The book of Psalms is a wonderful book. Reading from it recently I came across this passage (Ps 103:6–19):

The Lord works righteousness     and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses,     his acts to the people of Israel. The Lord is merciful and gracious,     slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide,     nor will he keep his anger for ever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,     nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,     so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west,     so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children,     so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame;     he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass;     he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,     and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,     and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant     and remember to do his commandments. 19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,     and his kingdom rules over all.

Verses 11 and 12 are significant.

v. 11- The atmosphere of the earth is 300 miles thick (though most is within 10 miles). God’s steadfast love is even greater than this!

v. 12- The circumference of the earth is 24,901 miles. However, there is no actual distance between the east and the west, they never meet! God’s ability to forgive is immense.

Contrary to much popular belief, however, that teaches God’s love, and especially His forgiveness is given to all indiscriminately, that is not what the Psalm says. Notice the end of v. 11 (and 12, 17) that says “on those who fear Him.” On those who know the greatness of the Lord (v. 19) and truly acknowledge their sin before Him (v. 10) and stand in reverence and awe before such a God, pleading not their own cause as if they were innocent but trusting in the blood of the New Covenant (Jesus) (v. 18) alone to save them, to that person—the humble believer—the Lord will show the steadfast love and forgiveness the Psalm describes.

The Gospel message is inclusive (available for all) but forgiveness belongs exclusively to those who trust in Jesus (Acts 4:12). Have you placed your trust in Him?

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris