“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy: without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. Hebrews 12:14-15

Where is Bitter Root? Have you ever been there? Bitter Root, if you call it a town, is not found in any one particular place on a topographical map, but on the map which traverses the spiritual world, half of reality, it is a prolific place spreading as fast as a deadly infectious disease; the towns of Bitter Root are simply everywhere. They are in every race, tribe, language and nation; maybe even within your own home. Bitter Root is indigenous to the human species and finds its soil in individual and collective hearts with the purpose of causing and sustaining trouble. It disrupts families, destroys relationships, organizes lawlessness, exacts revenge, undermines justice, and spreads discontent. Bitter root is active in Ferguson, pitting race against race. On an international scale it foments wars and rumors of wars, oppression, revenge, and persecution.
There is only one antidote which roots out bitterness from the human heart; the One who alone destroys barriers and breaks down the dividing wall of hostilities in his own body, reconciling bitter enemies to God through the cross (Ephesians 2:14-15). It is what Ferguson needs to live together with a peace which lasts; specifically, the peace of Christ. When bitterness reigns truth is ignored and opinion is crowned as license to do or say or think whatever the human heart devises. Harmony becomes impossible. Everyone does what is right in their own eyes, feelings, and instincts (Judges 21:25).
The seeds of bitter root are fertile in all hearts; no one is immune. Ingratitude is an enabling fertilizer for the bitterness root and too often continues even when the current cause of bitterness is resolved. This was true of nine of the ten lepers Jesus healed (Luke 17) as seen in last week’s SFTD. Bitterness from living a leprous life may not have gripped the heart of this one thankful leper who immediately came back and fell humbly at Jesus’ feet. However, ingratitude, the sister-root of bitterness, continued to shape the nine lepers’ response to Jesus, who was the unacknowledged cause of their healing. Their bitterness while lepers had strengthened their pride rather than inducing humility in their character. The story of Ferguson is one of bitterness and pride, and precious little humility; though there is always a spark of hope when those who have the Holy Spirit are sprinkled in the midst.
Today is Thanksgiving. Allowing and feeding a bitter root within your heart will breed ingratitude and thoughtlessness toward God, this God who is responsible for EVERY good thing in your life (James 1:17). If the percentages of the lepers are a meaningful truth, 90% today will be thoughtless of the Lord of Life and of the gracious, magnificent God who has showered His people with benefits; even in the midst of valleys and the slough of despond. Will you be among the 10%, like the one healed leper who returned and fell at the Lord’s feet with an abundance of praise for all Jesus had accomplished in and for him? Humble and worthy gratitude to your Father in heaven always weeds out bitterness, even when you do not know it is there. Unacknowledged bitter root is oftentimes the worst. It uses the camouflage of pride to remain in place. But you can put it out of its misery with a renewed heart of humility overflowing with thanksgiving to God, which doesn’t end after one day of celebration. Gratitude to God is expressed in the very manner in which you treat your fellows, brothers and sisters in Christ, every day, even as you pointedly praise Him for all His mercies to you.

“Ten thousand thousand precious gifts my daily thanks employ; nor is the least a cheerful heart that tastes those gifts with joy.
(4th verse of Joseph Addison’s hymn, “When All Your Mercies, O My God, 1712)

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