Water Trees

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 The Colonial Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the state of Virginia, and this 23 mile long stretch of road connects the York River in Yorktown, to the James River at Jamestown, with Colonial Williamsburg in between the two of them. All three are called America’s Historic Triangle, and it is a drive that I  often made to shoot  photographs. This photo is a personal favorite of mine that I call the “water tree.”

The Prophet Jeremiah tells us in the seventeenth chapter, that a man is blessed when he puts his hope and his trust in the Lord. “Blessed” is a wonderful word that God uses frequently throughout the entire Bible. It comes from the Greek word “Makarios,” which means happy in the security of knowing that God extends His provision and benefits to all who believe in Him! He compares the man to a tree that is planted by the waters, and has spread its roots out by the river, and He assures us that we will not fear when the heat comes.

      I love the imagery in these verses, because there are many seasons of our life when our soul truly feels like it has dried up from all the intense heat of this corrupt world system we are living in. It is all designed by the enemy of our souls to suck us dry, and leave us in a state of drought. The Lord continues in verses 7 and 8 to tell us that if we send our roots towards the water, we will not fear when, (not “if”), the heat comes. We will always have green leaves and won’t be anxious in the times of drought, but instead we will always produce fruit!

     All of these provisions and promises come from God, who is teaching us through this scripture, that we don’t have to do a thing, except place our trust and our hope in Him. He is the one who loves us and gives His Spirit, our living water. He is the one who brings the necessary nutrition to us through the word of God and through our specialized root system. He gives us the necessary oxygen we need so we don’t become rotted through all the filth of this world. He is also the one who will keep our leaves green and nutritious, so we can bear fruit in every season, and just as this tree, He will keep us until that day when our life is completed on this earth. All of this is the work of God, and He who began a good work in us, will carry it on until the day of completion. We must do our part though and keep ourselves connected to the things He has provided to us for survival in this world.

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The Handwriting on The Wall

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 I remember the night I took a walk up the road to Schooner Head Overlook in Acadia National Park, and saw this sunset cloud over the mountain. As it spread out over the sky it formed a distinct shape, and the first thought I had was how much it looked like God’s fingers stretching out to write a message across the sky, reminding me of a fascinating story in the book of Daniel.

 In the fifth chapter of this book, there is a very interesting story about King Belshazzar having a wild party with thousands of his nobles. In his drunken state of mind he sends his servants to bring in the gold and silver vessels that his predecessor, King Nebuchadnezzar, had stolen from the Jewish temple many years prior to this party. Belshazzar and his guests began to drink wine from the vessels, as they offered blasphemous praise to all of their false gods.

Suddenly the fingers of a mysterious hand appear from nowhere, and begin to write a message on the wall, thereby effectively putting an end to the party. The king is frightened by this phenomenon, and calls for the Chaldean enchanters, astrologers, magicians, and diviners to interpret the message; but when they cannot,  the queen suggests that he call for the prophet Daniel to be brought before him. The king offers Daniel anything he wants to interpret the writing on the wall, but Daniel declines the king’s offer, and then agrees to tell the king the meaning of the message, “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN. Here is what the words mean: MENE: God has numbered the days of your reign, and brought it to an end; TEKEL: You have been weighed on the scales and found defective; PARSIN: Your kingdom has been divided and handed over to the Medes and Persians.”[1] 

The act of desecrating the sacred vessels plundered from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was the downfall of the Babylonian Empire, and our modern “New World Order” with its’ elitist, self-entitled leadership that continues to plunder the foundation of our Constitution will also experience that same shock and fear when they experience the wrath of God against this nation. America’s desecration of its own moral foundation and principles will be our downfall as well if we do not turn from the evil we have committed against God, and return to His ways with humble hearts. It appalls me to see our nation become so weak, as though we are no longer a nation for all people who have the desire to live under God in responsible freedom. America was founded on Christian principles and created as a republic with laws to treat all people equally, regardless of nationality, race or religion; but we are no different today than the people of this story in Daniel and the fall of the Babylonian empire. God will not be mocked by any nation; instead it is His desire for all people to come to the knowledge of salvation and the true freedom that is found in Christ.

 God’s judgment against any nation is never a welcomed visitor, but reality will come to all of us for our rebellion against the Lord of heaven. Pride is always at the root of sin against God.  It hardens the human heart, causing it to rebel against God Almighty the Creator, benefactor, ruler, and protector of everything! Our “New Age” is nothing but an old lie that has been birthed in the pit of hell and repeatedly used to deceive the masses. I know I am not conforming to the politically correct atmosphere of this world when I say these things, but I would rather stand before God any day and answer to Him for my words, than worry about what others think or say about me.

We are not without hope  because God’s light still shines down on those of us who remain steadfast and prayerful for our America!  Without God’s Spirit and principles directing the government by the people, and for the people, we have allowed arrogant and dangerous leadership to crumble our moral foundation. We have brought shame to ourselves for refusing to listen to the Spirit of God at such a critical moment in history. We should be seeking Him and asking His guidance to direct our paths back towards a true democratic society. Instead, we continue to listen to those who are in power, who have defiled the morals and the laws that can only be instituted by GOD! I pray we pay attention, turn back toward our foundation, and learn from the lesson in Daniel before it’s too late.

 

Declaration of Independence (1776)

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  

The Constitution of The United States (1789)

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

First Amendment (1789)

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Abraham Lincoln

Stand with anybody that stands right. Stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.”

 

[1] Daniel 5:23-25 The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001

Earth Talk

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As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I know that God is the creator of everything, and as a good steward of the Earth, I must do my part to care for the environment that I call my home. All of us should treat this planet as a gift from the God who created it all, but many people do not care that they destroy and pollute the very Earth we need to live on. There are also many people who  worship the Earth, as if it were a god instead of a planet. God’s charge to mankind was not to use, worship, poison or exploit our Earth, but to wisely take care of the creation that supports all life, including yours and mine! As inhabitants of the Earth, we can learn from it, and let it instruct and provide us with all that we need for life and health.  Learning to give thanks to GOD for the gifts that our planet shares with us should be our spiritual act of worship to our Creator, and not to the things He has created for us.

     Job was inspired to write in verse 8 that the Earth can instruct us, and in fact, historical records from various civilizations do help us and future generations to be productive and more diligent. Written stories of people groups, countries, or even a person can teach us how and why things happened in the past, how to learn from our mistakes in society, economy, politics, government and business. The natural sciences teach us about the universe, the creation, and the biology of life and death. Our planet holds a wealth of information for those of us who are grateful to God and stand in awe of His wisdom, power and goodness displayed throughout this beautiful and harmonic globe called Earth.

     God has made us with an innate yearning for the world that once was, and the world that is coming, where there will be no more death, pain and suffering, a world that was once called the Garden of Eden. The Bible teaches us that we are not permanent citizens of the Earth, but rather our citizenship is in the place we call Heaven, and one day He will recreate the Earth and make it all new just as He recreates all who trust in His name. This new Earth that the Bible speaks of will no longer be cursed, but will be transformed, redeemed and restored to its original glory! We often think of going to heaven to live with God, but God will actually be leaving heaven to come live with us in the New Earth that He is making for us. Talk about the ultimate witness relocation program! We will be with Jesus, and will be raised from the dead with flawless bodies just as He was resurrected after dying on the cross. God created the universe, the planets, and every living creature, and called them good, even though He knew that one day all of it would need redemption!

     God will complete His original plan for His people to rule over the Earth and the curse will be reversed for all of eternity. As we learn from the Earth and its history, and care for the environment that nurtures all of life, we should be aware of the incredible blessings that God has given to us, and understand that the Earth and all of its inhabitants are a miraculous gift.  Speak to the Earth, watch and learn to respect the cycle of life, and let it instruct you in the ways of the Lord. Stop, look, listen and observe the world you live in, and understand the incredible love of God for mankind and everything else He created. Let the earth teach you wisdom, courage, love, humility and most of all let it teach you about hope. May God and history teach us to move forward and learn from the mistakes we have made in order to establish a better world, and let the Earth teach us to be like Jesus in character and deed! I found this Ute Native American prayer as a summation for this devotional on Earth lessons-

                             Earth, Teach Me…..Native American Quote

Earth teach me quiet ~ as the grasses are still with new light.
Earth teach me suffering ~ as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility ~ as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me caring ~ as mothers nurture their young.
Earth teach me courage ~ as the tree that stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation ~ as the ant that crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom ~ as the eagle that soars in the sky.
Earth teach me acceptance ~ as the leaves that die each fall.
Earth teach me renewal ~ as the seed that rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself ~ as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness ~ as dry fields weep with rain.[1]

[1] “Earth Teach Me Stillness” by Nancy Wood, from Earth Prayers from Around the World: 365 Prayers, Poems and Invocations for Honoring the Earth, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon. Copyright HarperOne, 2009.

Divine “GPS”

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“Divine G.P.S.” ~Isaiah 30:21

     This is a photo that I took from one of the many mountaintop trails in Acadia National Park in Maine. Oftentimes I would hike up the mountain on one trail, look at the directions on the trail signs in the summit’s cairns, and then look at a map and decide which way to descend the mountain. I loved to explore, and wanted to have a change of scenery on my way down, but sometimes that decision would cost me in time, and with extra sore muscles. I can still remember the time I decided to leave Mt. Norumbega’s summit from the western end of this flat topped mountain. I descended the mountain on a trail called the “Goat Trail.” This duly named trail was so steep, that about halfway down I literally had to sit on my rear end and slide down certain sections of sheer granite. It would have been a far better plan on my part to ascend the mountain via the Goat Trail, and then descend on the eastern end of the mountain, coming out much closer to the parking area.

     Many times in life I have come to a crossroad that can be just as confusing as the signpost in this photo. The arrows on the sign are pointing in many different directions, each one beckoning to me, and tempting me to travel down unknown paths. Often I joke with my friends and tell them how I wish that the Lord would just write down His directions for me on a sticky note and press it to my forehead. If knowing God’s direction for my life was specifically mapped out for me, then how would I ever be able to grow in the love and the knowledge of Jesus Christ through the searching of the scriptures?

     God’s directions for our lives are very clear when it comes to certain commands such as “Do not lie,” or “Love your enemies,” but when it comes to daily direction for my life, the scriptures are not always quite so specific in certain situations. There are no specific instructions on relocating to a different state, accepting a new job, buying a car, or changing the direction in church ministry. This is why it is so critical to know the entire counsel of God’s Word, and live our lives according to His principles.

     If I have fully surrendered to the Lord’s personal desires for my life, I will hear His voice prompting me from behind when I am making daily choices. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who is never far from His sheep. When I need to make choices, I can rely on Him to stop me from straying from His paths for my life, and I can trust Him to lead me down His paths of righteousness. He is my guiding light, and will lead me in the right direction one step at a time when my desires are in alignment with His desires. If my decisions line up with what God’s word has already told me, and I am walking closely with the Lord, He will place His desires in my heart and point me in the right direction.

     God’s wisdom is available to all of us who ask for it by faith, so it is critical to spend time every day focused in prayer and in fasting. As you present your requests to God, you can write down the sense of direction you hear from the voice behind you. Often, I will make a list of the pros and the cons of a decision I need to make, and it helps me to filter out the choices for my life. It is also wise to seek counsel from mature Christians who can often give me a whole new perspective in the matter. Even though their opinions may conflict with my choices, it is still important to hear what other Christians think about it. Ultimately, we all need God’s clarity, so we should not let someone else make our decisions for us. God will use circumstances and events in our lives to guide us in our decision-making. He is God and He can do anything, including opening and blocking any opportunities that may be the wrong direction for us. If you believe that His Spirit directs your reasoning and your thinking, then any decisions you make will be His will for your life.

     Sometimes it’s just a matter of sitting back and waiting for God’s timing, because He is always in control, and nothing we do surprises Him. The Proverbs are an awesome tool for helping us choose the right direction for life, and 16:9 tells us that “a man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”[1]

     This tells me that while my decisions really do matter to God, He is still on His throne, and despite anything that I decide, I cannot mess up His eternal plans for my life, even when I choose the wrong path to take as I hike through this journey on Earth called life.

[1] Proverbs 16:9. New King James Version  (NKJV) Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

    

         

 

 

[1] Proverbs 16:9. New King James Version  (NKJV)

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

A Fresh Start for the New Year!

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Who doesn’t want a brand new start for their life, especially if the previous year was a difficult one, and you are resolved to make this New Year much better for yourself? All of us make promises to do better at something we want to change or improve, whether it’s relational, physical, or spiritual. Now you may be wondering, “What’s up with the funny-looking worm photo?”

 I took this photo one day when I was out in my yard and noticed that my dog Bailey was pushing something around with his nose. When I went to investigate, I found him playing with this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar. The first thing I noticed about this unique caterpillar was the two spots on its back end, which look just like eyes were painted on it. The different colors and markings on its body are designed by God to detract birds from eating it. This defense mechanism is called mimicry, which is defined as the act or art of copying or imitating the appearance of something else. In biology it is defined as the close external resemblance of one organism to another for concealment and protection from predators.

 Many years ago as I going through a difficult time of my life, I began seeking the truth concerning the existence of God. I already had many misguided views ingrained in my mind concerning Christianity at the age of 32, and I laugh now when I think about some of the ridiculous things I used to believe before the Holy Spirit did His regenerative work inside my heart and changed my way of thinking!

Maybe you can relate to some of the things I thought would happen if I were to become one of those “born-again Christians.” For some strange reason, I thought I would have to start wearing long dresses and exchange my beloved rock and roll for gospel music. I protested at the thought of having to give all of my money to the church or wearing my hair up in a bun. I thought that if I cursed, smoked, or drank alcohol ever again, I would surely be kicked out of my place in heaven. In my deceived state of mind, I truly believed a lot of the things that the world defines as Christianity, but the truth is that Christ doesn’t require anything from us, other than to have faith in Him and a fervent desire to be changed. He sets us free from all those lies and misconceptions, and teaches us who God truly is.

The worldview of Christianity says that born-again Christians are judgmental Bible thumpers, fundamentalists, narrow-minded bigots, ignorant conservatives, and members of a cult. Unfortunately, there are far too many examples of this “mimicry” of true Christianity in the media, inside of mega-churches, and on television programs where some preachers and evangelists are busy condemning people for their sins, while begging them for money for their own private gain. They make ridiculous prophetic pronouncements, claim themselves to be healers, and then tell you that damnation and hell are your lot in life. All of this causes  people to want to run in the opposite direction of such mockery of the truth. I would even venture to say that when such poor examples are displayed before the world,  it’s not surprising that people despise this mockery of  true Christianity and associate all Christians with this money-making business. 

This verse I chose from 2 Corinthians 5:17 assures us that anyone who belongs to Christ becomes a completely new person and their old life passes away. True regeneration of the human spirit and renewal of the mind can only be done through the work of the Holy Spirit. When we make a decision to invite Jesus Christ to live in our hearts, and ask for His free gift of salvation, we are spiritually born from above and restored to a right relationship with God. The result of this is a radical change in the inner person, and over time, a changed life in our behavior. This supernatural union with the Lord leaves no cause for doubting, no imitations, no superficial resemblances or the appearance of any deceptive behaviors. This truth that sets us free is the same truth that will protect us from all the mimicry of a false Christianity in this world, and from all the “lies” that we fall for when it comes to believing in God. I always tell people to do what I did so many years ago when I was spiritually hungry and unsatisfied with the many other  “ways”  to find God. Ask Jesus to show you the truth and I promise He will, because He came to earth for this very reason. If you are not satisfied with Jesus Christ, then you can always go back to your old ways, because He will never force His will on anyone! What an amazing God who is so merciful and kind towards humanity! I have never once regretted asking Him to come into my heart, and neither will you!

A Time to Mourn

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A Time to Mourn ~John 11:35

How do you say goodbye to someone you have known and loved your entire life, especially when that someone is your precious parent? All of this past week I have been texting and phoning back and forth with one of my dearest friends during her mom’s illness, and today she has lost her beloved mother to the last enemy, which is death. How do you help comfort your friend who is a thousand miles away from you, especially when you know there are not even adequate words? Sometimes the only and the best thing you can do, is pray for them and cry out to God  on their behalf from the depths of your heart. Going through the process of being in another state far from your parents when their health is failing, is a torturous thing. What she has experienced is nearly the exact same thing that I went through during the illness of my own father. As I watched my friend walk through this dark valley, I was truly one in spirit with her, but sometimes words are just not enough, and sometimes tears are the only answer.

The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, which says “Jesus wept.” Two small words that have the ability to bring us more comfort than many words possibly could during the loss of our loved ones. These two words are so powerful and comforting, because they help us recognize the humanity and compassion of God through the incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ. Biblical scholars may love to debate why Jesus wept, but for all of us who grieve, none of it matters. When you read those words, you recognize that Jesus experienced every human emotion that we go through on earth, and you learn to cling to Him even more when you are going through the dying phase of life on earth. When you are heartbroken, or in pain, or depressed, or distressed, and the tears begin to flow, you know that He is near to you. It’s as if those salty tears falling are a vehicle of washing away all the sadness from your body.

I remember towards the end of my father’s illness that I had to leave to go back to my job, and I knew that I might not see him again. It was tearing me up, but as I said my goodbyes, he whispered in my ear, “This is NOT life honey and it’s no way to live.”  His body was worn down, and he knew that he wanted to go home to be with the Lord.

Even as I drove away that day, all I could think was “No God, No, please don’t take him yet. It’s too soon and we all need him.” I truly “wrestled” with God over the entire hospital fiasco and then with hospice at the end of dad’s life. I am so grateful that God won the wrestling match, (as He always does), because He showed me that He had a much better life waiting for my father, and it was selfish of me to want to keep him here when he was suffering so much. I shared a letter that I wrote at my dad’s memorial service, and below is an excerpt from it.

 Dear Dad, I’m going to miss you so much, but I have to tell you that if I had the power to bring you back to us this very moment I wouldn’t do it, because that would mean taking you out of the glorious perfection of heaven, and away from the presence of God. Bringing you back to all the pain and heartache of this world WOULD NOT be the kind of true and unselfish love that God has been teaching me over the years. God has given you HIS perfect will now, and it is the exact same will that He desires for each and every person He has created. Death is our spiritual healing and the beginning of everlasting life with Him.

 All of us are going to struggle with this one day if we haven’t already walked through it. 100% of us must face death, so I want to share how my friend’s mom and my father were able to die peacefully and joyfully, excited and prepared to meet their God.  It’s really very simple. Jesus said in John 14:19, “Because I live, you will live also.” My friend’s mom and my dad believed this, and it gave them the assurance they needed to let go of their lives on earth and prepare to live again in heaven.

 My prayer for all of you who read this is the same prayer that was answered for my dad at the end of his life. Recognize that we all have sinned against God and need to be saved, not just so we can live forever in heaven, but so that we can live our lives with joy and hope right now, and then for all of eternity. We all need a Savior, and Jesus Christ was sent to us from God for this very reason. He took the punishment for all of us when He died at Calvary, and His only requirement is that we believe this, ask for His forgiveness, and receive His free gift of salvation. He loves all of us so very much, and asks us to trust His great and precious promises in the Bible, so that we may be with Him forever. To do this would honor my friend’s mother and my father’s memory more than anything you could ever accomplish by your own efforts here on earth!

 My friend will sorrow over the loss of her mother, but she does not sorrow without the hope of one day being reunited with her mom. This is true hope when you go through the dying time of life. God’s ways and timing are always perfect and I KNOW that what happened with my friend and her mother was His will, just as it was with my family when my father died. The Lord was so faithful to all of us every step of the way; not once did He leave us in our time of need. He provided, comforted, protected, sympathized, and delivered us through the trial. When the grieving brings us to our knees, He will remain with us and He will weep with us. Jesus Christ is the most faithful friend you can ever have and He has walked through this ordeal with my friend and her family every step of the way, and both of us are so very grateful to Him for all of His great and precious promises. He is the anchor that will hold us until the day when we are reunited with our parents, never again to be parted from one another. Blessed Assurance and peace that surpasses all understanding is my offering to you, my forever friend. I love you and truly am with you in Spirit!

 

Roots That Run Deep

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I have been through many experiences in my lifetime that have had the potential to shut me down completely, and not just in a physical sense, but very much in a spiritual and emotional way. Often, I would write in my journal to help me cope with all the losses, and this is one of the poems I wrote when I knew that my marriage would end in a divorce.

        Lamenting

Often I shout out indignation,

At the neglect of his obligations.

My flesh cries, “Vengeance, it must be mine,”

But His Spirit says, “Take the plank from your eye.”

 

Forgiveness and mercy become my deep sorrow;

The despair of today may be vanished tomorrow.

For now I must sort out my contrary thinking,

Judgment’s not mine, when he’s been drinking.

 

For deep inside the chambers of my heart,

God’s Spirit resides to set me apart.

He teaches me that we are all children of the King

And I must never be the one to do the punishing.

 

Today is one moment in the spectrum of time

If I will not let go and let love rule my mind,

Then I’ll pay the price in guilt and in shame.

If bitter roots grow, I’ll have no one to blame.

 

When I took this photo while hiking a trail in Acadia National Park, it made me think of this scripture from Hebrews 12:15, which says, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.” I thought about how easy it is to succumb to our own bitterness in this world filled with pain, disappointment, heartache and sorrow. The roots of the tree are growing horizontally across the surface of the soil, trying to grab hold of something solid.

People are just like this root system when they become bitter about something. Their lives become very tangled and twisted, and the roots of anger, unforgiveness, and hatred grow rapidly under the surface where others cannot see. The root grows deeper when people  cannot let go of the pain, nor can they  forget it. The painful scenarios  play over and over again throughout their thoughts. Eventually the root will defile them and cause others around them to no longer enjoy their presence. These roots grow long and become deeply ingrained into their character, and they become attached to the heart where only God can see and heal

Sometimes we don’t even realize that we have a bitter root inside of us. Recently, I bumped into a person who once treated me very unethically. I truly thought I had already forgiven this person and had released the anger and pain their actions had caused me, but when I saw the person, I immediately knew I still had bitterness inside of me because it rose up from within me swiftly and brought all the bad memories to the surface. I wanted to get away as fast as I could because I knew that I had never truly let go of that pain. Roots can run very deep down inside of us, and they can really “trip us up” and cause our relationship with the Lord to become affected. When you hike a trail like this, you need to be very careful of your footing. One wrong step and you can fall down and break a bone very quickly.

Whether it’s a failed marriage, declining health, job loss, a traumatic experience from your past, or even the death of a loved one, we are all vulnerable to bitterness. It’s similar to biting into something that has a bitter, acrid, and unpleasant flavor; the taste of it is hard to get out of your mouth. So, the same is true for an unpleasant and painful experience; sometimes it is very hard to get it out of your mind, so we bottle up the emotions and feelings deep inside where no other can see. This is when the enemy of our soul can really gain access into your life, and drive you away from God. Sometimes the bitter root inside of us blames God for the actions of other people, or our own misunderstanding of His character and His love for us.

So we have a choice to make. We can either allow ourselves to become bitter, which will defile our life and others around us, or we can allow God to heal us and help us to become healthy, joyful people who learn to forgive and love others despite what they have done. Thankfully, in my experience, God’s perfect love rooted out all the painful roots that could have poisoned me forever! Praise God from whom all blessings flow! I am forever grateful to Him!