Bitter to Better


Imagine what would happen if I picked fresh fruit from a lemon tree, squeezed the lemon juice into a glass and took a big gulp. Oh-oh! My face would probably pucker. The lemony liquid would be so sour that I would have a bitter taste in my mouth. Quickly, I would add a big spoonful of sugar. Hoping for a more refreshing taste, I would take another sip. From sour to sweet. From bitter to better.

The process “from bitter to better” results in the pleasant drink of lemonade. The opposite happens for a woman in scripture. The process “from better to bitter” occurs for Naomi in the book of Ruth.

We first learn about Naomi when she and her family move from Bethlehem to Moab. While living there, her sons married Moabite women. Over time, Naomi’s husband and two sons died. Then she returned to Bethlehem with her daughter-in-law Ruth. She had no money and no male relative to provide for her. When she arrived, she requested to be called Mara. While Naomi meant pleasant, Mara meant bitter. Ruth 1:20-21 says, She said to them, ‘Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?’”

Subsequently, Ruth married a kinsman-redeemer named Boaz. According to Old Testament law, a kinsman-redeemer was a male relative who had the privilege or responsibility to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need. Boaz was a kinsman who redeemed, or vindicated, the family of Naomi by marrying Ruth. He redeemed the family of the deceased Abimelech, Kilion and Mahlon.

Ruth had a son, Obed. According to custom, Naomi became the nurse of this baby boy. The women of the community exclaimed that Naomi was blessed. Ruth 4:14 says, “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel!”

Naomi had a grandson. She had a family heritage. Obed is listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:5. Any bitterness Naomi once experienced was turned into joy.

Naomi went from better to bitter – and back to better. God knew Naomi had encountered a hard life and understood why she felt like Mara. However, He added sweetness to her bitterness. He revealed a kinsman-redeemer named Boaz.

God knows we will encounter difficulties that may cause us to become bitter. God provides us with a kinsman-redeemer named Jesus. Colossians 1:13-14 says, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. With the help of Jesus, we can become better rather than bitter.

Romans 8:5-6 says, “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” There are numerous reasons why we may feel bitter. Unforgiveness can ferment within one’s heart resulting in a bitter feeling. Discouragement can settle into bitterness. Telling a lie can leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth. If we focus upon a fleshly attitude, we will become bitter. If we concentrate on the Spirit, we will become better. We become pleasant as the name Naomi implies.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.“All things” means everything. With God’s help, we can learn from our mistakes and become better rather than bitter. Romans 8:29 goes on to say that God uses everything that happens to conform us into the image of His Son. Jesus was never bitter while living on earth.

With God’s help, there is no good reason for us to be bitter. Romans 8:31-35 says, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

With God’s help, we can be better. Romans 8:37-29 tells us, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Why be bitter? We can be better when the Holy Spirit is our helper.

Although Naomi had been bitter, she changed for the better when Boaz became the kinsman-redeemer of her family. From bitter to better – from Mara to Naomi. Jesus is our savior, our kinsman-redeemer, who changes us from bitter to better. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law.” Ephesians 1:7 says, “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” (my emphasis)

II Corinthians 5:17 say, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!The new is better – no longer bitter.

Naomi’s story reveals the changes in her personality from pleasant to bitter to better caused by her circumstances. It is interesting to note that the people of Bethlehem never followed Naomi’s request to call her Mara. She is always known as Naomi throughout the book. To the people of her heritage, she was always considered pleasant. They saw her as God saw her. I am glad God intervened in her life allowing her to become the woman He wanted her to be.

We have all heard the proverbial quote, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Naomi was given a bitter lemon. With God’s help, the sweetness of a kinsman-redeemer became part of her life. In her old age, she drank lemonade.

My Reader, what is happening for you today? Do you feel bitter? Do you want to feel better? Psalm 119: 103 says, “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Through His Word, God adds sugar to our bitter lemons. When we say yes to God, the Holy Spirit reveals His will through His Word making the bitter circumstances of our lives sweet. Drink the sweetness of His Word! Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” Be refreshed with a glass of spiritual lemonade.

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Mercy Drops

I woke up this morning having an old-fashioned hymn fest with the Lord. The first song in my heart was There Shall Be Showers of Blessing  by Daniel W. Whittle. The words of the chorus are:

Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need;
Mercy drops ‘round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.

Our summer has been very dry and we need rain. We want rain showers – not just a few sprinkles. However, when we get only a few raindrops, I visualize the blades of grass lifting their thirsty heads and licking each little moisture droplet possible.

We have a similar spiritual desire. We want all the big blessings that the Lord can provide. This is not wrong, but we also need to be thankful for the mercy He drops into our lives. Don’t wait for the big spiritual rains. Receive the mercy drops with thanksgiving. In time, droplets become showers. A rain often begins with a few sprinkles that evolve into more abundant showers. Let us drink deeply the mercy drops the Lord extends. Great things have small beginnings.

My thankfulness for the mercy drops, brought another hymn to mind, The Steadfast Love of the Lord Never Ceases by Edith McNeill. The refrain proclaims:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
Your mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning,
new every morning:
great is your faithfulness, O Lord,
great is your faithfulness!

I love this promise! God’s mercy drops will never cease to rain down on our lives. No wonder I woke up singing about His mercy! Our God is faithful to provide what we need to accomplish His plans and purposes for us each day.

Although nature’s cycles of rain and drought come and go, we can always depend upon God to provide the spiritual moisture we need to grow in Him. Sometimes His provision comes in droplets of mercy and other times our souls are flooded with abundant blessings.

Receive the following mercy drops found in God’s Word.

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and abundant in mercy.
Psalm 103:8 NKJV

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed.
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
I Peter 1:3

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence
, so that we may receive mercy and find grace
to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

His mercy extends to those who fear Him,
from generation to generation.
Luke 1:50

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Matthew 5:6 NKJV

O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good;
for His mercy endures for ever.
Psalm 136:1

Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.
Jude 1:2

Water Experiences


It is summertime and many are enjoying water time. This may include swimming, boating or just relaxing on the beach.

Water had great significance for the Israelites. However, their experiences involved more than recreation and relaxation. The Red Sea and the Jordan River are two bodies of water where they encountered miracles.

The Red Sea

In Exodus 14 we read about the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea. When Moses raised his staff and stretched out his hand, the water was divided by a strong wind. The land dried and the Israelites didn’t even get their feet muddy as they walked across the water-bed. There were Egyptians following them. These men drowned in the waters when Moses again stretched out his hand. It was impossible for the Egyptians to swim across the sea.

The miracle at the Red Sea was God’s final act in delivering His people from Egyptian slavery. The exodus from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea was the greatest Old Testament act of salvation. It showed God’s saving power.

Historical records document the Israelites’ exit from Egypt. However, their departure also has prophetic significance. Physically, the escape freed God’s people from Egyptian slavery. It also points to the greater spiritual truth of God redeeming His people from slavery to sin through His Son, Jesus. John 8:34, 36 says, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Passing through the Red Sea is symbolic of the believer’s identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I Corinthians 10:1-4 says, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”

In When Heaven Invades Earth, Bill Johnson reiterates that the people of Israel going through the Red Sea was the baptism of Moses. He then relates our water baptism after conversion to  the Israelites’ experience. For everyone involved, going through the waters is a departure from sin.

The Jordan River

Forty years later, the Israelites find themselves at the edge of another body of water. Once again, it is not a relaxing day at the beach. Joshua 3-4 tells the story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River. They walked, not swam, from shore to shore. Like at the Red Sea, God parted the waters of the Jordan River. This crossing was the momentous occasion that concluded the Israelites’ wilderness period. It was the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Bill Johnson describes the crossing of the Jordan River as a new baptism. While the baptism at the Red Sea symbolized a departure from sin, the baptism at the Jordan River was a baptism into a new way of living. For the Israelites, this meant they would fight battles differently. Previously, they physically fought and won battles. Now, God would fight for them. II Chronicles 20:15 says, “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.’” Zechariah 4:6 says, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.

Bill Johnson compares the Israelites’ baptism in the Jordan River to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He writes, “The baptism in the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of the Old Testament picture of entering the Promised Land.” He goes on to say, “Suppose the children of Israel had chosen to cross the Jordan but became content to live on the banks of the river. They would have missed the purpose for crossing the river in the first place. There were nations to destroy and cities to possess. Contentment short of God’s purposes would mean learning to live with the enemy. That is what it is like when a believer is baptized in the Holy Spirit but never goes beyond speaking in tongues….There is power that has been given to us that we might dispossess the strongholds of hell and take possession for the glory of God.”

When we receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we begin a new way of living. In Matthew 19:26 NLT Jesus says, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Then He goes on to say in John 15:26 NAS, But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” We see this promise fulfilled when Paul says in Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

The Red Sea and the Jordan River

Joshua 4:23-24 connects the two water events of the Red Sea and the Jordan River. For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the LORD your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, so that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”

The Old Testament prepares the way for the New Testament. So, I wonder if John the Baptist thought about the Israelites crossing these two bodies of water when he spoke of two baptisms. Matthew 3:11 says. “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This is what occurred on Pentecost. Acts 2:2-4 says, “And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.”

The people of Israel crossed the Red Sea – a story of salvation. They crossed the Jordan River – a story of Spirit-filled living. As believers, we can be water baptized – our story of salvation. We can receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit – our story of Spirit-filled living. God worked miracles for the Israelites and He still is our miracle-working God.

The people of Israel did not have to get wet when they arrived at the water’s edge. God rolled back the waters so they could walk on dry ground. May their experiences remind us of what God wants to do for us. He does not want us to drown in disappointment and despair. Let us remember that water offers us more than summertime rest and relaxation. Be refreshed spiritually and physically.

Resources:
https://www.gotquestions.org/parting-Red-Sea.html
https://www.gotquestions.org/Jordan-crossing.html
When Heaven Invades Earth by Bill Johnson

 

Singing about America’s Independence

The United States of America!
Independence Day – Fourth of July

This is the day that we, as Americans, celebrate the birth of our nation. Please
join me in reflecting upon the words of the first verse of the patriotic song,
My Country ‘Tis of Thee by Samuel Francis Smith. It is also known as America.
Additional comments are taken from various historical writings and records.

My country, ’tis of thee,
(“one nation under God…” from our Pledge of Allegiance)

Sweet land of liberty,
(“…with liberty and justice for all.” from our Pledge of Allegiance)

Of thee I sing;
(While singing this patriotic song, let us also sing praises to God
as stated in Psalm 117:1 NLT, “
Praise the LORD, all you nations.
Praise him, all you people of the earth
.”)

Land where my fathers died,
(“We have come to dedicate a portion of that field,
as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that
that nation might live
.” from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address)

Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
(According to Wikipedia, a pilgrim is a traveler who comes from
afar and
is on a journey to a holy place. In American history,
the Pilgrims were early European settlers of the Plymouth Colony.)

From ev’ry mountainside
(This refers to all the landscape of our nation including the
Allegheny Mountains of the east and the Rocky Mountains of the west,)
Let freedom ring!
(Lincoln’s concluding remarks of the Gettysburg Address state,
“… that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died
in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth
of freedom — and that government of the people,
by the
people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth
.”
The freedoms of religion, speech and press are specifically
stated in the
Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments
to the United States Constitution.
)

(Click on images to find the credit for appropriate images. Other images provided by Pixabay.)