It is the time of year when bitterweeds and goldenrods seem to be at their glorious peak. I passed by a field the other day and it looked like someone had planted bitterweeds all across their pasture. I seriously doubt that they had, but they sure had a crop. If it was a cash crop, they would be sitting pretty. The problem is there’s not a need for bitterness or bitterweeds. I remember as a youngster hearing people talk about the bitterweeds and their efforts to keep the cows away from the bitterweeds, because it made for bitter milk. If you’ve never taken a big gulp of milk tainted with that bitterness, you have missed one of life’s treats and for that you can be thankful.

As a youngster I remember my parents bought milk from a family in our church that had several cows and sold milk to the neighbors. I do not remember it ever being anything but good until one morning we sat down to breakfast and almost simultaneously several of us took a gulp of milk only to respond with a gag. What in the world was wrong with the milk? Well, the milk was bitter because the cow had only passed on what she had taken in. The people from whom we had gotten the milk were so apologetic for they had discovered the same thing as they drank their own milk. Furthermore, they had already done an investigation and found the source of the tainted, bitter milk. One cow had gotten out of the pasture into a neighbor’s pasture that was filled with bitterweeds. Apparently, she had eaten her fill and when they milked their other few cows all of it went into the same vat which ruined all the milk for everyone. It was the only time I ever tasted any milk laced with bitterweeds, but amazingly until this day I remember the taste. Occasionally when I drink some milk, before I gulp it down I think about that moment and I take a sip before I take a gulp.

I do not know if they have bitterweeds in the Holy Land, but I know this — the writers of Scripture and the Lord himself knew a great deal about bitterness. Water that was bitter. People that were bitter. It’s found everywhere. In the midst of Job’s difficulties, he said, “My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul” (Job 10:1). Like Job, you may feel like doing the same thing.

The writer of Proverbs describes the difficulties that parents have in raising children, and in speaking of a difficult son said, “A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her that bare him” (Prov. 17:25). Children are a blessing but at times they, like we when we were kids, can be of bitterness to the parents.

The Apostle Paul writes to all of us and says, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph. 4:31).  Obviously, in the Christian’s life and the church as a whole, bitterness is a destructive and harmful thing. It is in that significant passage of Hebrews 12:15 that the Scripture says, “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” It seems that bitterweeds can speak volumes to those of us who know the Lord and seek to serve in His Kingdom. Three significant things come out of the bitter milk that I once drank.

One, it is larger than just the one who got bitter. It was one cow that got in the wrong pasture but all of the cows who were giving good milk were tainted by the one, for it was all in the same vat. Isn’t it amazing how in a congregation of 100 or 1,000, one or two or three people can develop such a bitterness of spirit that everyone is affected, hurt, and can taste the bitterness in their own souls? The fact is sour people, sour people. Generally speaking, the sourness just gets spread in an ever-enlarging circle. A dear, old, wise pastor friend of mine years ago was talking about a church that was having some difficulties and he said, “Jim, you need to remember this.  The more you stir a stink, the stinkener it gets.” Well, I thought that was kind of country and corn pone but it was absolutely true. There are some people who, rather than providing hope and health and nourishment and strength of sweet milk, seem to always offer up the newest taste of bitterness. That is not of God.

The second thing that I would note about the bitterweed experience is that it lingers. Decades have gone by. Gallons of milk have been consumed but I still remember, think about, and wonder whether the next taste of milk is going to be bitter. I’ve known of people who have gone through a bitter experience in life and never gotten over it. I’ve known of people in church who tasted the bitterness of wrong decisions or wrong actions or wrong treatment, only to face decades of living with the bitterness. They may even withdraw from fellowship and participation, even stop attending worship services, because the bitterness they tasted many years ago has been allowed to control their lives into the present. It lingers for a long time.

The third thing I would suggest to you is that it can be lifted, taken away, cleansed, cured, and removed. The cow that caused all the problems with the bitterweed was kept in a good pasture with lush green grass until all the process of passing on the bitterness was gone. In the meantime, the other cows could go on producing healthy, wholesome milk, and later the offending cow was able to rejoin the herd.

Please do not interpret this narrative to suggest that I’m calling you or me an old cow or an old bull. The truth is that probably all of us have known bitterness in our lives. It may have come to us from others or we may have been the one who was distributing it. Either way or in any way, it doesn’t need to be a part of our lives. It is true from a spiritual standpoint that it is extremely difficult to be a blessing while you live in the bitterness mode. In fact, it is hard to even be blessed by God if you’re not willing to allow Him to deal with the bitterness in you and remove it.

You do not need to be bitter. You need to let God bring you into blessings. You do not need to spread bitterness because as you do, you will eventually become the recipient of your own bitterness. Turn from it. Look to God. Leave it with Him. Look forward to opportunities, ways, and godly direction so that you can be a blessing.

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Jim Futral
Executive Director-Treasurer