Archive for Biography Sketches

How to Go From Pleasant to Bitter In A Decade

We all want to age gracefully, but that doesn’t just happen. In fact, in a decades time, we can go from sweet to bitter or vice versa. And although beauty is only skin deep, bitterness of soul goes straight to the bone and can poison you and everyone around you. Let me explain.

In times of trial, it’s easy to want to escape and get away from our problem. We want to make the emotional or physical pain stop. We can have many different reactions to trials:

  • We can play the Spartan and simply endure the trial–teeth gritted, keep a stiff upper lip– we grow bitter from focusing on the hardship. We end up being self-driven instead of Spirit-led.
  • We can try to escape the trial running for relief to friends, emotional outbursts, finding comforters in sleep, food, drink, spending, overindulgence or other “saviors.”
  • When we embrace the trial, we grow in grace because we know the Sender of the trial and His good intentions for us. We humbly accept good and bad from the hand of God. We know God is leading us THROUGH a trial and He’s promised to be with us.

Trials are always a wake up call and they are a good thing. It’s a mercy when we realize how much we crave self-rule in our own lives and how much we resist God’s rule when we are in the midst of something unthinkable, unplanned and unwanted. ruth I’m studying Ruth right now and it has been eye opening and refreshing. I was struck by this quote from Warren Wiersbe and have been mulling it over for days: “They exchanged famine in the land for three funerals.”

Famine is a pretty desperate situation, yet, God sent the famine as judgement for the sin of the people of Israel. (Lev. 26:14-20) He had a good purpose for the famine. However, Elimaleck, Naomi’s husband, decided that the best course of action was to leave the covenant community and go for help in the land of their enemies, the Moabites.

Matthew Henry: “It is an evidence of a discontented, distrustful, unstable spirit, to be weary of the place in which God hath set us, and to be for leaving it immediately whenever we meet with any uneasiness or inconvenience in it. It is folly to think of escaping that cross which, being laid in our way, we ought to take up. It is our wisdom to make the best of that which is, for it is seldom that changing our place is mending it.”

In a sense, they left their covenant God because they believed they needed bread and had to find it for themselves when in fact In God we live and move and have our being. (Acts. 17:28) This life–bread, food, water–the physical life– seemed so big when what they were used to was lacking.

Once in Moab, they assimilated. So much so that they let their sons marry two women of the Moabites, a practice forbidden by God. (Deut. 7:3, 23:3, 4)

Then all three men in the family died. Naomi found herself husbandless, sonless, and stuck with two Moabite women and no resources. She hears that there’s bread in Israel and decides to go back. “She was still primarily interested in food, not in fellowship with God.” says Wiersbe.

What she does next is strange and shows how far out of bounds her thinking was: She encourages her daughters-in-law to go back to their old gods and people. Oh, she prays for them and wishes them many children, but she cared so little about their souls that she encouraged them to return to false, forbidden gods. Instead of taking comfort in the God of all comfort, she’s so consumed by her own grief that her thinking is seriously off. “God has dealt bitterly with me!” was her testimony, when really God was doing something amazing and redemptive by putting her family in the lineage of Christ.

And we do that as well, when we’re not thinking right thoughts about our God or when we experience a “famine” or sorts in our own lives. When friends are sparse, money’s gone, health fades, children rebel, husband’s leave, we “charge God foolishly,” and accusations fly.

We complain that life hasn’t been fair, that God’s shortchanged us somehow. We emote that we deserved better, that people should recognize and appreciate us, that life should have worked this way instead of that way. We demote God from His place of prominence and praise on the throne of our heart. Our words condemn a perfect God, and malign His intents. Our sin proclaims that He’s not worth following. Hey, if it makes you happy, go back to your old gods as well, Ruth and  Orpah. You’ll be better off than where you are now. Really. God’s dealt so bitterly with me, you should try your luck with another god. 

Not the behavior of a woman who is fully in love with her own God.

How did Naomi, {whose name meant pleasant and sweetness} go from a sweet spirit to a sour spirit in less than a decade? What would make her announce “Just call me Mara! (bitter)” I jotted down a few ideas:

  • She focused on her trials.
  • She let her feelings rule.
  • She looked for help in places God forbid.
  • She ignored God’s clear commands.
  • She valued physical gain over spiritual gain.
  • She failed to go to God for comfort.
  • She blamed God instead of confessing their sin.

I’m wondering if she also tried to send Ruth and Orpah packing because she didn’t want the “evidence” of their sinful life back in Moab to be seen when she returned to Israel. Sometimes hiding sin is easier than confessing it and finding grace. Yet the Lord encourages us to “return to the Lord” and find mercy. It’s helpful when we are in times of trouble, to soul-search.

  • Am I wiling to trust God in my famine?
  • Am I content and thankful right now?
  • Do I believe God’s in control?
  • Where am I seeking comfort?
  • Am I doing what God has forbidden?
  • What do I love more than obedience to the word?
  • Is my life showing the fruit of the Spirit in this moment? If not, why?
  • Have I confessed my sin? Am I right with God and others? If not, why haven’t I?

Ruth is a redemptive book. It’s such a wonderful story of a loving daughter-in-law who chose to saddle herself to a bitter woman because she loved that woman and her God. And God honored Ruth, allowing her to be in the Messianic line. God was not dealing bitterly. He meant it all for good. And I’m trying to remember that today. My choices have consequences. My attitudes affect and teach others. My thoughts about God can center me or send me into despair. And whatever my thought life tells me, God’s Word is always accurate and His promises are true, whether I believe them or not.

What You Can Learn from Sarah Edwards

I love observing older women and learning how to act  from them (and how not to act!). I was recently chatting with another pastor’s wife and was thanking her for being such a good example to me. Her life is characterized by a walk that fears God: humility, kindness, goodness and a life free from evil speaking and malice of any sort.

Actions always speak louder than words.  Palladius, an early church historian , wrote to a friend these words:

Words and syllables do not constitute teaching, for some teachers possess great words but live disreputable in the extreme.”

Sadly, many Christians know and profess all the right things, but live devilish lives.

So today, I want to share with you a glimpse into the character of Sarah Edwards,(1709-1758) wife of Jonathan Edwards. Her husband is the well-known preacher of the  Great Awakening and is famous for his sermon, “Sinner In The Hands of an Angry God.”

These are excerpts taken from the book Memoirs of Jonathan Edwards: 

On being a suitable helper to her husband:

She proved, also, an invaluable [support] to Mr. Edwards, in the duties of his profession, not only by her excellent example, but by her active efforts in doing good.

“She was,” says Dr. Hopkins, “eminent for her piety…religious conversation was her delight; and, as far as propriety permitted, she promoted it in all companies. Her religious conversation showed at once her clear comprehension of spiritual and divine things, and the deep impression which they had made upon her mind.”

It was not merely conversation about religion—about its truths, or duties, or its actual state—its doctrines or triumphs—or the character and conduct of its friends and ministers: it was religion itself;—that supreme love to God, to his kingdom and his glory, which, abounding in the heart, flows forth spontaneously, in the daily conversation and the daily life.

Her thought life:

Her mind appeared to attend to spiritual and divine things constantly, on all occasions, and in every condition and business of life. Secret prayer was her uniform practice, and appeared to be the source of daily enjoyment.

Her words:

“She made it her rule to speak well of all, so far as she could with truth and justice to herself and others. She was not wont to dwell with delight on the imperfections and failings of any; and when she heard persons speaking ill of others, she would say what she thought she could with truth and justice in their excuse, or divert the obloquy, by mentioning those things that were commend-able in them. Thus she was tender of every one’s character, even of those who injured and spoke evil of her; and carefully guarded against the too common vice of evil speaking and backbiting.”

Treatment of those who mistreated her:

She could bear injuries and reproach with great calmness, without any disposition to render evil for evil; but, on the contrary, was ready to pity and forgive those who appeared to be her enemies.”

How she dealt with her children:

She had an excellent way of governing her children: she knew how to make them regard and obey her cheerfully, without loud angry words, much less, heavy blows. She seldom punished them; and in speaking to them used gentle and pleasant words.

 If any correction was necessary, she did not administer it in a passion; and when she had occasion to reprove and rebuke, she would do it in few words and with all calmness and gentleness of mind.

In her directions and reproofs in matters of importance, she would address herself to the reason of her children, that they might not only know her inclination and will, but at the same time be convinced of the reasonableness of it. She had need to speak but once; she was cheerfully obeyed; murmuring and answering again were not known among them.

Her system of discipline was begun at a very early age, and it was her rule to resist the first, as well as every subsequent, exhibition of temper or disobedience in the child, however young, until its will was brought into submission to the will of its parents; wisely reflecting, that until a child will obey his parents, he can never be brought to obey God.

Letter to her daughter three days after the death of her husband, Jonathan, showing her trust in God.

“My very dear child,

What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives: and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be.

Your ever affectionate mother,

SARAH EDWARDS”

Sarah’s marriage was anything but perfect. Her husband had severe bouts of depression, and they lived in a time of civil unrest and spiritual warfare. Although they had their “highs” in life, they survived their “lows” by anchoring their soul on the only ONE who never changes, and who is always faithful. Sarah kept her home pleasant. She was known to walk through town singing and humming quietly to herself and had the testimony of being a joyful Christian. Adjectives used for her in the memoirs included: joyful, pious, godly, holy, appropriate, kind.

I am thankful that I can read her testimony ALL these years later and still be blessed by her good life. That tells me that MY life and my testimony, if lived in a way that pleases God, can also be an encouragement for women who follow after me.

But lives lived like Sarah’s do not just happen. They require a desire for the Holy One. They are focused and  God-fearing. Not easily distracted.

 May God give us the grace to follow Him as we should.