First Baptist Church in Woodruff, South Carolina, where I serve as pastor, has a long and very interesting history.  Tariff Acts were passed in 1828 & 1832 that adversely affected the economy of the southern states.  Under the leadership of John C. Calhoun, South Carolina voted to “nullify” the federal tariffs.  President Andrew Jackson threatened to send federal troops to SC to enforce their collection.  In Woodruff, loyalties in our church were split between the federal government and the state government.

  1. B. Woodruff describes “a terrible convulsion that shook the church to its very center, and came very near breaking it into atoms. The difficulty grew and increased until the church was literally torn into two distinct factions.  Hard sayings were indulged, bitter feelings ensued, and the future of the church was exceedingly dark.”

After numerous attempts at resolution, the Bethel Association asked the church to hold a day of fasting and prayer to “lay aside all party spirit and hardness, to forgive one another and unite as a band of Christians in the spirit of meekness.”  The day ended with the members forming a line in front of the church.  While hymns were sung, they went up and down the line giving each other expressions of forgiveness, fellowship and love.  It became “a time of general joy.”

  1. B. Woodruff ends his account by stating, “This was the settlement of this mighty difficulty, but like the ocean after being swept by some grand storm continues to lash and foam and fret long after the storm has died away, so the angry passions that had been raised in this tumultuous strife yielded slowly but steadily to the pressure of brotherly love which was re-occupying the hearts of those Christians. Satan was vanquished, but he retired muttering and sullen from a position he once thought was impregnable.”

It is natural to nurse hurts, flame the fires of bitterness, keep track of any offense or slight, hold grudges, keep wounds open and occasionally throw in some salt.  But we do ourselves great harm when we chose to live that way.

There is a better way to live.  It involves swallowing our pride – regardless of who is right and who is wrong, humbling ourselves, extending mercy and forgiveness, and receiving the healing that comes through the Lord.  Christians are commanded to: go the extra mile (Matthew 5:41); settle disagreements and disputes quickly (Matthew 5:23-25); be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9); love and pray for those who mistreat us (Matthew 5:44); forgive (Matthew 6:14-15); speak “only what is helpful for building others up” (Ephesians 4:29) and entrust themselves (their injuries and hurts) to God who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21-23.)  Christians are people who know what it is to be forgiven –  for they have experienced God’s incredible grace and mercy.  And they are people who know how to forgive – because you can’t really experience God’s forgiveness without it changing your heart.  Jesus said, “He who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47.)

From our earliest years, we learn, often the hard way, the right things to say and the right things to do.  We learn what is acceptable, what will allow us to fit into our families, have friends and keep our jobs.  We learn how to monitor our words and behavior.  Whatever your job, there are some things you just won’t do.  Not because you don’t want to, but because of the consequences.  But sometimes we surprise ourselves and we say something or do something we thought was uncharacteristic.  Where did that come from?  It comes from our heart.  Jesus teaches us “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34.)  We may learn to monitor our words and actions but we often let things like anger, hurt, jealousy, pride, resentment and selfishness get lodged in our heart.  We let things that happened years ago control us for they have been allowed to grow in the darkness.  Solomon writes, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23.)  Your heart affects everything.

Jesus, the Great Physician, can change our hearts.  His grace can work in us from the inside out.  He can take what is broken and use it for our good and for the good of others.  He can address not just the symptoms but the root causes.  Because of His great love for us we can become people who genuinely love others and reflect that love not just in our choice of words and actions but also in our hearts.  “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26.)