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


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.

What happens to children when they die?

What happens to children when they die?Baby

This question was asked in this summer’s People’s Choice summer series and because of space in that series and also because it may be more clearly delivered in type, I address it in this blog.

This is not a question unique to today (though emotionalism and universalism perhaps make it more difficult to address). Infants died in Bible times, pre-modern Britain, and indeed still today. Although infant mortality has decreased, still children die, particularly the unborn (miscarriage, abortion[1], the disposal of embryos in fertility treatments, etc).[2] So long as there are children and so long as there is sin and death this question will be relevant.

Before I begin to give a basic and introductory response, I want to emphasise that I do not embark on seeking to answer this question as if from a distance. My wife and I lost a child through miscarriage and we have had close friends and family members suffer the loss of both unborn and newborn children. Something else that I must stress before I proceed is that this question is often approached through emotionalism. While our affections have a role to play we must submit ourselves to Scripture, conceding that our ways are not God’s ways (Isa 55:8–9). Generally when we are uncomfortable about something in the Bible God is correct and we are wrong. If you proceed in reading this blog please pause, pray and be open to reason [or reasoning] (James 3:17). Christianity is like a train and the order of that train is important. First must come the locomotive, then the car and finally the caboose. Put another way, first must come fact (or the promises and truths of God), then faith (or belief in those) and then feeling. Get the order wrong and the train soon runs off the track. Get the order right and it runs smoothly along.

The question centres around salvation and namely, if the Bible teaches human depravity and the need of salvation (which it clearly does), what about children? It also touches upon our beliefs about what the character of God should be in relation to this question, either leaning toward His love (how could a loving God allow…) or His justice (God is soft on sin if…).

Numerous passages and verses in the Bible teach human depravity, but three are perhaps most pertinent to this subject.[3]

The first is Psalm 51:5 where the Spirit says through David: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. This verse teaches that not only from birth but from conception we are sinners.

The second is Ro 5:12, which addresses why we are born sinners. Here the Spirit says through Paul: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. This means that because the head of the human race—Adam—sinned, all humans are born sinners (original sin). Not only are we born guilty sinners by nature but we also co-opt into sin through sinful choices throughout our lives.

Thirdly, and perhaps the most challenging, come passages like Deut 20:16–18 and 1 Sam 15:2–3 where the Spirit says the following about the destruction of the Canaanites:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

We must remember that these last passages speak of judgement because of societal sin of a great magnitude (with simply a different means than say Sodom and Gomorrah) and not genocide. Traditionally this total judgment has been understood by Christians as a real event backed up by archaeology, but also as a picture of hell.

If children had no sin, children wouldn’t die. As death is a result of sin generally, children as well as adults tragically die.

In light of these three passages, we return to the question.

There have been at least 7 ways that Christendom has sought to answer this question.

  1. All children go to heaven (universalism: that God ultimately accepts everyone because He is “love”).
    1. This has been the death knell of ‘liberal Christianity.’ The basic teaching of the Bible is that sinners are saved through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Jesus’ death did not save everyone but only made that salvation possible. Jesus died to save those who would believe in Him, He died to save His own (Jn 10:14). The Bible clearly teaches that notall humans are saved.
  2. No children go to heaven.
    1. Based on the above passages and that children cannot believe some do not think any children go to heaven.
  3. Christened children go to heaven (Roman Catholicism).
    1. Roman Catholics believe one is saved by faith+sacraments+works. One of the sacraments is to christen children. In a sacrament the church is seen as having the authority to dispense God’s grace on earth. As such those children who are baptised are saved, hence why Roman Catholics are so quick to want to baptise their children. The clear teaching of the Bible that we are saved by faith and not by works (whether personal or ecclesial [by the church]) discounts this view.
  4. Children who die before the “age of accountability” go to heaven.
    1. Another popular view that seeks to balance accountability for sin and the need for faith in salvation is this one: that children are only subject to the penalty of hell if they reject Christ after some arbitrary or subjective “age of accountability.” If they haven’t reached that age they go to heaven. But what is this age? Is it 4, 6, 8, 12, 20, 40, 80? The Bible doesn’t say, because it doesn’t exist. Anyone who has worked with children knows that children wilfully choose sin from a very early age and should be held accountable much earlier than 18!
  5. In His mercy God applies the meritorious work of Christ to children because He is a God of grace.
    1. In this view children do not exercise normal faith in Christ that is needed by those who can choose, but rather He has mercy upon whom I have mercy (Ro 9:15). While it is true that God has mercy upon whomever He will (in this passage as it relates to election), the consistent teaching of Scripture associates receiving this mercy in faith. The strength of this view is it fights universalism by appealing to the need for the work of Christ. The downside is that nowhere in the Bible is this clearly stated.
  6. Only elect children go to heaven (or children of the elect are saved).
    1. This was the view held by the founders of our chapel. Article 10.3 of our founding confession said this: “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit,[12] who works when, and where, and how He pleases:[13] so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.[14]” (The Scriptural proofs for some of these show that even the most robust theologians need to bend Scripture to address this question). In this view infants who are elect are saved without faith shown on earth[4] according to the mercy of God. A similar view believes children of believing (elect) parents are saved on account of the faith of their parents. This view would account for why not all children (like those of the Amalekites) are saved and why some possibly are, but no one could know who an elect child was or was not, because the elect are normally only justified through faith on earth.
  7. This is a mystery best left to the Lord (my personal view).
    1. I do not stay awake at night wondering about the eternal state of my unborn child. Why? Because I entrust its soul to an all wise, good and sovereign God and accept His will, whatever it may be. While point 6 comes closest to sounding reasonable, I believe that because the Bible does not even remotely touch upon this subject clearly, it therefore must not be a subject God wants us to concern ourselves with, otherwise He would have told us.

There are two things, however, that the Bible does clearly teach: 1) personal comfort grounded in the promises of God (vs. speculation) for those who mourn the loss of a child, and 2) the personal need to respond to the Gospel.

  1. For those who have suffered the loss of a child comfort is available in the face of such loss but it does not come from speculating about your child’s salvation but hoping in the promises of God such as, Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted (Matt 5:4).
  2. The Lord commands all people everywhere to repent… (Acts 17:30).

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] In 2015 there were 185,824 in England and Wales (

[2] I believe it is possible to differentiate between the immorality of abortion for instance and issues of infant salvation.

[3] Jesus saying, “let the little come to me” has as little to do with salvation as it does baptism, rather Jesus is breaking down barriers in the apostles hearts, because the Gospel was not meant for “us” (the disciples or the Jews) but for them (Jews and Gentiles and all who believe).

[4] This is very similar to forms of universalism where it is believed people will get a second chance before entering heaven to believe (but see Heb 9:27).

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

Two types of Christians I really respect…part II

A couple weeks ago I posted a blog with this title and now answer the second half of it, another type of Christian I have immense respect for, and for whom we should all unite our prayers.

The unequally yoked after marriage

The Bible envisions the possibility of one person in a marriage becoming a believer, what then?

1 Cor 7:12–16 says (emphasis added):

12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy[1] because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean,[2] but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved.[3] God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

Jesus teaching had not handled the situation of one spouse becoming a believer but Paul here (with inspired authority) applies Jesus’ teaching to this new situation.

I know of a number of women who have come to faith later in life (or “returned to the Lord”) who now find themselves in this tricky situation and the tension that introducing heavenly values into what had been a marriage of worldly standards can produce in a marriage. In spite of these trials the spouse should seek to be gracious so they might be won by their conduct (1 Pet 3:1, though this is given to wives the principle would extend to a husband).

I am also aware of many women whose husbands left them after they became a Christian. One such woman was married for 11 years when she became a Christian and had 3 children. Two years later the husband had enough of her new found faith and gave the ultimatum that it was either himself or Jesus. She choose Jesus and he divorced her.

For women (and men) who find themselves in such situations, let us unite our prayers, asking that the Lord would sustain them in any trial related to their faith but ultimately that the unbelieving spouse might be won over by their good conduct.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

[1] Open to Christian influence. This should not be read as “saved.”

[2] Similarly, this should be taken to mean under sound moral and spiritual influence from the believing parent and not “saved.”

[3] Not compelled to seek reconciliation.

Father Knows

It is no secret that our Canadian residence has been for sale for 20 months, 14 of which we have lived in the U.K. This has frustrated our best laid plans and desire to be good stewards of what God has given to us and has increasingly become a great burden. We have patiently waited on the Lord. Indeed, of all the trials I have ever faced this has been perhaps the most unique and difficult to endure. Last week, it appeared that God had finally arranged the sale of our house. The offer had been accepted, the conditions in the conditional period had been met, and then on the day [Monday] the buyers were to sign the deal that would have seen us all move towards the closing date (and them suffer a penalty if they chose to back out)— you guessed it—they backed out. No sale, and no going back to visit family as we had hoped to be able to do from the finances of the sale. That happened the day after I preached a People’s Choice question on suffering. Suffering manifests itself in many different ways. For Rebekah and I, this news caused our hearts to sink, gravely. It was a hard moment to trust in providence when it seemed that providence continually seemed to be against us. In our daily reading of the Psalms we read a passage that summed up how we felt:

O Lord, all my longing is before you;

                               my sighing is not hidden from you.

               My heart throbs; my strength fails me,

                               and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.

(Psalm 38:9-10 ESV)

One of the reasons for sharing this is to demonstrate that pastors and their wives are human like the sheep they shepherd. They are not impervious to the trials, temptations and burdens that can and do beset us in our fallen world. What good would it be for me to proclaim James 1:2-4 from the pulpit if in my own walk I could not demonstrate that had been and was currently my experience?

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

(James 1:2-4 ESV)

And so even when such faith was difficult in the present, as with the Psalmist, by God’s grace, we read on in that same Psalm:

But for you, O LORD, do I wait;

                               it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.

(Psalm 38:15 ESV)

Who else but to the Lord could we turn, even when the Lord’s providence to us, in our limited wisdom, we could not even apprehend let alone comprehend. And so we waited. Then on Thursday the Lord sent us the most miraculous encouragement. He did not sell our house, but another bill, one of those administrative bills where you are over charged for something and cannot see how, despite your best attempts to appeal, you’ll get out of, was waived in a postal update we received upon returning from a three day camping trip. God was in control and was reminding us of it.

Our Father knows. We do not but He knows.

And so like the Psalmist we wait on the Lord for His deliverance out of the burdensome situation praying,

Do not forsake me, O LORD!

                               O my God, be not far from me!

               Make haste to help me,

                               O Lord, my salvation!

(Psalm 38:21-22 ESV)

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris