Contagious by Association

People influence one another for good or bad simply by being around each other.  Every person we come in contact with is both making and receiving a unique positive or negative impartation.  As we connect with people we are bestowing and conferring on others what is operating in our lives in abundance, and they are bestowing and conferring upon us what is operating in their lives in abundance.

Moses, for example, was told to lay his hands on Joshua so that an impartation of wisdom, authority, and honor could be made into his life.  Similarly, Elisha received a double portion of the anointing when Elijah graced him with his cloak.  Paul indicated that his special grace of divine protection and deliverance was available to his partners in ministry who prayed for him and supported his ministry endeavors.  In other words, we catch what people have, not what they simply say or want us to catch.  We don’t catch the mumps from someone who has the measles.

We all have something to impart, and we all have something that can be imparted into our lives from others.  They key is to be careful who we connect with, associate with, and align with because we all will imbibe or absorb, assimilate, and take in the spirit of our connections and associations, good or bad.  The Bible says, “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17), and “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).  We must be mindful of who we are giving the privilege of speaking into and influencing our lives.

Some people impart love, mercy, graciousness, positivity, and gratitude into our lives.  Others infect us with cynicism, dishonor, negativity, and compromise.  The Scripture plainly teaches we will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16).  Learn to guard your heart from being influenced by people who have little or no good fruit in their lives.  Are they faithful to the local church?  Do they faithfully participate in ministry?  Do they give faithfully?  Do they share their faith and invite people to church?  Do they actively walk in love, practice mercy, and control their tongue?  If not, be careful connecting with them because you will start to manifest what they have been manifesting.  You may just need to quarantine yourself from people like that unless and until they start showing signs of life and positive impartation.

The key is to make sure we are imparting life to others while maintaining diligence over what we are exposed to ourselves.  The reality is that we are all extremely contagious and we infect others with our spirit, our spirituality, our attitude, our thinking, and our behavior.  Let’s make sure our associations result in positive impartation for ourselves and others with the result that we get stronger as believers, grow in maturity, and become more effective as witnesses of Jesus Christ.

Spiritual Kryptonite

imagesSuperman is an iconic and enduring image of strength in our Western culture and around the world.  We know about Metropolis, Clark Kent, the phone booth, Lois Lane, and Superman’s arch nemesis Lex Luther.  We also know there is nothing that could take Superman down, except for one glowing green gem called kryptonite from his home planet of Krypton.  In the presence of kryptonite, the man of steel became mortal, weak, confused, and subject to attack and ultimate defeat. 

Believers and Christian leaders too have a kryptonite from our home planet that works the same, draining us of life, joy, peace, and victory.  Our kryptonite, however, is more of the carbon based variety than some precious element.  The kryptonite our arch enemy uses to defeat us is people.  You see, animals don’t offend us, the oceans, forests, mountain ranges, and skies don’t offend us.  People offend us. 

Sooner or later we all have our own encounters with kryptonite.  Sooner or later we all have our stories of spending years investing in people only to have them turn on us, bending over backwards to make sure a family in need is taken care of only to get mad at you for some unspoken reason, experiencing disappointment in some bold endeavor, trusting a good friend only to find out the friend is one of your biggest critics, making great sacrifices with little to no appreciation, watching church members get in conflict with one another and take it out on the entire church, experiencing a crushing loss in life or ministry, or navigating the sting of a Judas kiss from a coworker or staff member. How we respond to the these kryptonite encounters determines whether we will reach our destiny or fold under the hurt, betrayal, and cynicism.  

I know what that’s like after nearly 30 years of ministry service.  Ministry does not exempt a person from kryptonite.  On the contrary, ministry just gives the minister more exposure to kryptonite – more opportunities to get offended.  One pastor I served slammed his hand in anger against his canoe during and outing breaking his hand and then blaming me for the injury.  Another church leader invited us to serve as his associate pastor, promised that we would soon transition into the lead role at the church, and then weeks later informed the people, after we had moved across the country, that he would have to let us go if the money did not start coming in.  My home church voted me down as their pastor, twice, after a spurious search process that included drawing names out of hat (no, I’m not joking), putting my name back into the hat, realizing the other man wasn’t going to come, and finally submitting my ministry to the church for a vote.  Rejected and dejected, we walked back into the church to face the people with a warning from the loving Holy Spirit: “Be very careful what you say next, for what you say will impact your destiny and their future.”  It’s not what happens to us, but how we respond to it that matters in life and ministry.

In each situation, and countless other encounters with kryptonite through the years, I had to make a decision whether to let it poison me or move forward trusting God.  Our failure to perceive what the enemy is actually trying to do with the kryptonite of people is his greatest weapon.  Paul admonished Timothy to stay out of strife with people because strife is the doorway to becoming captive to the devil to do his will (2 Timothy 2:24).  Imagine claiming Christ and yet living your life as a tool for Satan.  If we go through things without letting that kryptonite get inside of us and affect us, the devil cannot have his way with us.

Psalm 55 provides special insight for identifying kryptonite and overcoming its power in your life.  The Psalmist cried out to the Lord for help saying, “My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught.”  When we are distraught we are deeply agitated, upset, unable to think or behave normally, and extremely distracted.  In reality, however, the Psalmist was distraught and close to imploding from the kryptonite because he was thinking about all the things people were saying about him, all the things people were thinking about him, and all the things people were doing to him.  There’s nothing we can do about what people say, think, or do, but we have the power to choose not to think about it. “Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall” (Psalm 55:22).  The key to defeating the kryptonite is to not even touch what THEY are saying, thinking, or doing with your thoughts.

I heard a preacher once tell the story of a jet airliner beginning to make its initial decent.  As it flew below 10,000 feet, the electronic and communication systems began to go haywire. After aborting and pulling back up to 20,000 feet the systems became normal.  After flying back down and pulling up several times with the same results, the co-pilot went below to find out what was happening.  He discovered there were rats chewing on the power conduits.  At the higher altitude the rats couldn’t function, but at lower altitudes the rats would come to and begin chewing on the cords disrupting the systems of the aircraft. 

As believers, God has called us to a SUPER life, but if we choose to live at the lower altitudes of hurt, offense, and bitterness, we will be short-circuited and defeated every time.  We need to habitually live at the higher altitudes where the kryptonite infested rats can’t affect us.  Our spiritual altitude is set by our time in prayer, time in the Word, and practically by what we choose to think about.  “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8, NLT).  Our lives tend to go in the direction of our most dominant thoughts. Whenever you are given an opportunity to get offended with people just tell yourself it’s kryptonite, and then choose to go up even higher where the rats can’t play in your head.

Clergy Lives Matter

IMG_5665Clergy abuse in the Church is well-established and reported, including controlling behavior, manipulative leadership, financial impropriety, and even sexual abuse. But just like other professions (few doctors are drug addicts, few peace officers are racists, and few lawyers are on the take), the overwhelming majority of pastors regardless of faith tradition are dedicated, sincere, honorable, and faithful servants of God tending to the flock God has assigned to their care.

What has not been sufficiently addressed and written about is the systematic abuse of spiritual leaders by some members of the congregations they serve.  The ignorance of the phenomenon where it is unknown, and the blatant disregard for the behavior where it is tolerated are taking an enormous toll on the Church in the United States.  Every four weeks 1500 ordained ministers leave the ministry.  The simple plan of the enemy is to decimate local churches of all denominations and polities by abusing, demoralizing, crippling, and displacing the local shepherds. What is simply amazing is that the devil’s primary tool in this offensive is not secular humanism in society, or persecution from the world, but internal abusive behavior by congregants.  The weapon of choice is the mouth rather than a gun.  The projectiles are words instead of rounds.  The death is an emotional one rather than a physical one.  

The vast majority of church members support, uplift, and encourage their shepherds in their ministry assignments as spiritual leaders.  Unfortunately, too many shepherd abusers are allowed to function in the shadows of the otherwise functional church sapping the leader of energy, vision, hope, joy, and passion.  Perhaps by shining the light on a few of the devices (or types of the personalities or spirits) the enemy uses and employs to abuse spiritual leaders, congregations can become more sensitive to the problem, begin to identify and mark the behavior, and then hold the behavior accountable when it is discerned.

First, the Jezebel in the congregation works to introduce idolatry by seducing the spiritual leader (and not just sexually) so that the leader is manipulated and controlled by the individual.  The Jezebel usually has a hidden or competing vision or agenda for the house.  If seduction, manipulation, and control fail, the individual will often attempt to destroy the leader through false accusations or by creating dissensions in the body.  If the leader yields to the Jezebel, their ministry is compromised.  If they refuse to yield, they incur the intrigue and wrath of Jezebel who wants the head (or the authority) of the leader.  Just like with Elijah, the Jezebel is tireless in the pursuit of it.  

Second, the Absalom, which means ironically “father of peace,” seeks to steal the hearts of the follower away from the God ordained leader.  As in the day of David, often the Absalom is usually close to the minister or someone the spiritual leader has given a platform for ministry.  Taking advantage of the platform, the Absalom stands at the social gates of the local church sowing seeds that suggest the leader does not care about the people or have time for the people.  The Absalom intentionally becomes the unofficial complaint desk for the congregation, and has no ethical problem counseling church members without the knowledge or support of the pastor, abusing the visibility, access, and trust given to them by the leader.  The result is the separation of the hearts of people from their spiritual covering and the compromise of their spiritual destiny.  The Absalom selfishly fails to consider the true welfare of the people, concerned only with the advancement of an illegitimate kingdom.

Third, the most common abuser, the Demas, receives a significant investment in time, ministry, and personal development from the spiritual leader.  Often, the Demas has experienced major breakthroughs, including salvation and even deliverance and restoration from life-controlling problems, life-destroying tendencies, and life-wrecking experiences.  Just like with Paul, Demas just one day disappears from the scene.  The biblical Demas left because of his love for the world (carnality).  Church folks leave churches today for a variety of reasons, some valid and some ridiculous. Nonetheless, the thing that marks every Demas is that he or she deserts, forsakes, and abandons the ministry, and does so without even a word to the pastor, despite the substantial ministry, love, and benefit the individual received through their ministry.  Most church members wouldn’t even think of leaving a job without giving a two-week notice.  But the Demas just vanishes with no word or explanation (except to other people), and no consideration for the damage that is done to the local church and the local church minister.  Surely the local church shepherd deserves at least as much consideration as a church member would give to Burger King.

Ministers are fully aware of the high calling they receive, the charge to speak the truth in love, the challenges of serving God’s people, the warfare that accompanies the responsibility of watching over their souls, and the need for proper self-care.  The problem is the abuse of clergy over time has a cumulative and debilitating effect, the results of which may not manifest for years or decades.  While it is the responsibility of the minister to remain faithful to the flock and maintain a strong and vital spiritual life to sustain them internally during the marathon course of their ministry, it is also the responsibility of the flock to value clergy lives by upholding them in prayer, supporting them with faithfulness, strengthening them with words of encouragement, and confronting and holding accountable the abusive personalities like the Jezebel, the Absalom, the Demas, and others as they manifest.  These simple efforts can dramatically increase the tenure of local pastors and increase the health of the churches they serve.

Hamburger Meat

wifeI don’t often post the material of other writers or bloggers but this particular lady nails a concept I’ve counseled many couples about through the years…I think this applies to both men and women… – Pastor Art

Woman Realizes That She’s Been Accidentally Abusing Her Husband This Whole Time… Wow.

My “Aha Moment” happened because of a package of hamburger meat. I asked my husband to stop by the store to pick up a few things for dinner, and when he got home, he plopped the bag on the counter. I started pulling things out of the bag, and realized he’d gotten the 70/30 hamburger meat – which means it’s 70% lean and 30% fat.

I asked, “What’s this?”

“Hamburger meat,” he replied, slightly confused.

“You didn’t get the right kind,” I said.

“I didn’t?” He replied with his brow furrowed. ” Was there some other brand you wanted or something?”

“No. You’re missing the point, ” I said. “You got the 70/30. I always get at least the 80/20.”

He laughed. “Oh. That’s all? I thought I’d really messed up or something.”

That’s how it started. I launched into him. I berated him for not being smarter. Why would he not get the more healthy option? Did he even read the labels? Why can’t I trust him? Do I need to spell out every little thing for him in minute detail so he gets it right? Also, and the thing I was probably most offended by, why wasn’t he more observant? How could he not have noticed over the years what I always get? Does he not pay attention to anything I do?

As he sat there, bearing the brunt of my righteous indignation and muttering responses like, “I never noticed,” “I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” and “I’ll get it right next time,” I saw his face gradually take on an expression that I’d seen on him a lot in recent years. It was a combination of resignation and demoralization. He looked eerily like our son does when he gets chastised. That’s when it hit me. “Why am I doing this? I’m not his mom.”

I suddenly felt terrible. And embarrassed for myself. He was right. It really wasn’t anything to get bent out of shape over. And there I was doing just that. Over a silly package of hamburger meat that he dutifully picked up from the grocery store just like I asked. If I had specific requirements, I should have been clearer. I didn’t know how to gracefully extract myself from the conversation without coming across like I have some kind of split personality, so I just mumbled something like, “Yeah. I guess we’ll make do with this. I’m going to start dinner.”

He seemed relieved it was over and he left the kitchen.

And then I sat there and thought long and hard about what I’d just done. And what I’d been doing to him for years, probably. The “hamburger meat moment,” as I’ve come to call it, certainly wasn’t the first time I scolded him for not doing something the way I thought it should be done. He was always putting something away in the wrong place. Or leaving something out. Or neglecting to do something altogether. And I was always right there to point it out to him.

Why do I do that? How does it benefit me to constantly belittle my husband? The man that I’ve taken as my partner in life. The father of my children. The guy I want to have by my side as I grow old. Why do I do what women are so often accused of, and try to change the way he does every little thing? Do I feel like I’m accomplishing something? Clearly not if I feel I have to keep doing it. Why do I think it’s reasonable to expect him to remember everything I want and do it just that way? The instances in which he does something differently, does it mean he’s wrong? When did “my way” become “the only way?” When did it become okay to constantly correct him and lecture him and point out every little thing I didn’t like as if he were making some kind of mistake?

And how does it benefit him? Does it make him think, “Wow! I’m sure glad she was there to set me straight?” I highly doubt it. He probably feels like I’m harping on him for no reason whatsoever. And it I’m pretty sure it makes him think his best approach in regards to me is to either stop doing things around the house, or avoid me altogether.

Two cases in point. #1. I recently found a shard of glass on the kitchen floor. I asked him what happened. He said he broke a glass the night before. When I asked why he didn’t tell me, he said, “I just cleaned it up and threw it away because I didn’t want you to have a conniption fit over it.” #2. I was taking out the trash and found a pair of blue tube socks in the bin outside. I asked him what happened and why he’d thrown them away. He said, “They accidentally got in the wash with my jeans. Every time I put in laundry, you feel the need to remind me not to mix colors and whites. I didn’t want you to see them and reinforce your obvious belief that I don’t know how to wash clothes after 35 years.”

So it got to the point where he felt it was a better idea — or just plain easier — to cover things up than admit he made a human error. What kind of environment have I created where he feels he’s not allowed to make mistakes?

And let’s look at these “offenses”: A broken glass. A pair of blue tube socks. Both common mistakes that anyone could have made. But he was right. Regarding the glass, I not only pointed out his clumsiness for breaking it, but also due to the shard I found, his sad attempt at cleaning it up. As for the socks, even though he’d clearly stated it was an accident, I gave him a verbal lesson about making sure he pays more attention when he’s sorting clothes. Whenever any issues like this arise, he’ll sit there and take it for a little bit, but always responds in the end with something like, “I guess it just doesn’t matter that much to me.”

I know now that what he means is, “this thing that has you so upset is a small detail, or a matter of opinion, or a preference, and I don’t see why you’re making it such a big deal.” But from my end I came to interpret it over time that he didn’t care about my happiness or trying to do things the way I think they should be done. I came to view it like “this guy just doesn’t get it.” I am clearly the brains of this operation.

I started thinking about what I’d observed with my friends’ relationships, and things my girlfriends would complain about regarding their husbands, and I realized that I wasn’t alone. Somehow, too many women have fallen into the belief that Wife Always Knows Best. There’s even a phrase to reinforce it: “Happy wife, happy life.” That doesn’t leave a lot of room for his opinions, does it?

It’s an easy stereotype to buy into. Look at the media. Movies, TV, advertisements – they’re all filled with images of hapless husbands and clever wives. He can’t cook. He can’t take care of the kids. If you send him out to get three things, he’ll come back with two — and they’ll both be wrong. We see it again and again.

What this constant nagging and harping does is send a message to our husbands that says “we don’t respect you. We don’t think you’re smart enough to do things right. We expect you to mess up. And when you do, you’ll be called out on it swiftly and without reservation.” Given this kind of negative reinforcement over time, he feels like nothing he can do is right (in your eyes). If he’s confident with himself and who he is, he’ll come to resent you. If he’s at all unsure about himself, he’ll start to believe you, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Neither one is a desirable, beneficial outcome to you, him or the marriage.

Did my husband do the same to me? Just as I’m sure there are untold numbers of women who don’t ever do this kind of thing to their husbands, I’m sure there are men who do it to their wives too. But I don’t think of it as a typical male characteristic. As I sat and thought about it, I realized my husband didn’t display the same behavior toward me. I even thought about some of the times I really did make mistakes. The time I backed into the gate and scratched the car? He never said a word about it. The time I was making dinner, got distracted by a call from my mom, and burned it to cinders? He just said, “We can just order a pizza.” The time I tried to put the new patio furniture together and left his good tools out in the rain? “Accidents happen,” was his only response.

I shuddered to think what I would have said had the shoe been on the other foot and he’d made those mistakes.

So is he just a better person than me? Why doesn’t he bite my head off when I don’t do things the way he likes? I’d be a fool to think it doesn’t happen. And yet I don’t remember him ever calling me out on it. It doesn’t seem he’s as intent as changing the way I do things. But why?

Maybe I should take what’s he always said at face value. The fact that these little things “really don’t matter that much to him” is not a sign that he’s lazy, or that he’s incapable of learning, or that he just doesn’t give a d#%! about what I want. Maybe to him, the small details are not that important in his mind — and justifiably so. They’re not the kinds of things to start fights over. They’re not the kinds of things he needs to change about me. It certainly doesn’t make him dumb or inept. He’s just not as concerned with some of the minutia as I am. And it’s why he doesn’t freak out when he’s on the other side of the fence.

The bottom line in all this is that I chose this man as my partner. He’s not my servant. He’s not my employee. He’s not my child. I didn’t think he was stupid when I married him – otherwise I wouldn’t have. He doesn’t need to be reprimanded by me because I don’t like the way he does some things.

When I got to that point mentally, it then made me start thinking about all the good things about him. He’s intelligent. He’s a good person. He’s devoted. He’s awesome with the kids. And he does always help around the house. (Just not always to my liking!) Even more, not only does he refrain from giving me grief when I make mistakes or do things differently than him, he’s always been very agreeable to my way of doing things. And for the most part, if he notices I prefer to do something a certain way, he tries to remember it in the future. Instead of focusing on those wonderful things, I just harped on the negative. And again, I know I’m not alone in this.

If we keep attempting to make our husbands feel small, or foolish, or inept because they occasionally mess up (and I use that term to also mean “do things differently than us”), then eventually they’re going to stop trying to do things. Or worse yet, they’ll actually come to believe those labels are true.

In my case it’s my husband of 12+ years I’m talking about. The same man who thanklessly changed my car tire in the rain. The guy who taught our kids to ride bikes. The person who stayed with me at the hospital all night when my mom was sick. The man who has always worked hard to make a decent living and support his family.

He knows how to change the oil in the car. He can re-install my computer’s operating system. He lifts things for me that are too heavy and opens stuck jar lids. He shovels the sidewalk. He can put up a ceiling fan. He fixes the toilet when it won’t stop running. I can’t (or don’t) do any of those things. And yet I give him grief about a dish out of place. He’s a good man who does a lot for me, and doesn’t deserve to be harassed over little things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

Since my revelation, I try to catch myself when I start to nag. I’m not always 100% consistent, but I know I’ve gotten a lot better. And I’ve seen that one little change make a big improvement in our relationship. Things seem more relaxed. We seem to be getting along better. It think we’re both starting to see each other more as trusted partners, not adversarial opponents at odds with each other in our day-to-day existence. I’ve even come to accept that sometimes his way of doing things may be better!

It takes two to make a partnership. No one is always right and no one is always wrong. And you’re not always going to see eye-to-eye on every little thing. It doesn’t make you smarter, or superior, or more right to point out every little thing he does that’s not to your liking. Ladies, remember, it’s just hamburger meat.

Oxygen for the Soul

oxygen-barA few years ago, my wife and I decided to head south to Florida for a few days of rest in the sun.  After dealing with some particularly difficult ministry issues (which is minister code for dealing with difficult people), a very long drive, and haggling over our reservations, I decided to hang out by a beach resort watering hole for a Coke (yes, a Coke, not a rum and coke).  As I sat there waiting for the drink, the bartender, apparently discerning my ragged demeanor, looked at me and said, “Are you doing alright?”  Like most people, and without candor, I replied, “Fine, I’m just fine.” I appreciated his inquiry, but I was dumbfounded.  I remember thinking to myself, “You had to travel hundreds and hundreds of miles and sit at an oceanside bar and grill just to get someone to ask you how you are doing.”  Of all the people in the world, a total stranger (a bartender) had to ask me how I was doing.

Far from turning the episode into a pity party, I was, rather, challenged by the thought of the thousands and thousands of people we come across in our lives each year that are never asked that question as well.  How could something so simple matter so much? People all around us are going through difficult situations, challenges, setbacks, and disappointments.  George M. Adams famously said, “Encouragement is oxygen for the soul.”  This amazing truth explains, like oxygen, people need positive input from others because it is a vital (life-giving and life-sustaining) need.  The well-timed, sincere, and compassionate inquiry into the lives of others can have a powerful and positive impact on them during the darker seasons of life.  “Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time” (Proverbs 15:23, NLT).

Perhaps we are all just too busy to stop and consider how others around us are doing. Perhaps we just assume that the people around us are doing just fine.  As the bartender had the presence of mind to ask, let me challenge you to be mindful of others and look for ways to send some oxygen their way.  Become a walking oxygen bar dispensing life-giving encouragement everywhere you go.  You never know who you will encourage and inspire by your kindness.

 

Silence the Hag

During a recent prayer meeting, one of our staff members told of a dream she had where this old, hideous, hag of a woman repeatedly appeared to harass, accuse, put down, discourage and nag her. I asked her, “do you know who the hag is?.” She replied, “yes, it’s me.” In the dream, the image of the hag revealed its true nature as the individual who had formed a habit of negative thinking and speaking. She had become her own worst enemy and the Lord was trying to encourage her to replace that negativity with the Word of God.

A brief review of the Word of God reveals a God that does the impossible. The Bible boldly declares that nothing is too hard for the Lord. As Christians we are told that all things are possible to those that believe. The Lord has no limits and the force that breaks through all barriers and limits is the force of faith. We, not God, are guilty of erecting fences around our lives and creating boundaries, containment, and limitations. We limit God in our lives with our negative thinking and our negative Words. We must remember that our lives will always go in the direction of our most dominant meditation and confession.

For many of us, it’s well past time to silence and remove this negative and destructive influence from our lives and make the switch becoming possibility thinkers and Word talkers. It’s tough when it seems like everything is against us to stay positive and resist the urge to just “tell it like it is.” But we must remember that Jesus never told us to talk about the mountain – he commanded us to speak to the mountain. Talking about the mountain makes God look smaller and the problem bigger. Talking about the promise and Word makes God look bigger and the problem look insignificant.

So, how can we learn to “silence the hag?” For some of us, the first step is to reduce the number of words we speak daily because we have a habit of negativity and that is not going to disappear over night. I like what one leader in our church said regarding a fast she believed God was calling her to begin – fasting negative words and thoughts. Can you imagine the impact of literally making a quality decision to fast and refuse to think negative thoughts or speak negative words? The impact on our lives would be almost immediate. If we don’t think we can fast negative thoughts and words, we might need to invest in a roll of duct tape.

The second step is to realize that we cannot fight a thought with another thought. We will always lose that battle and prolong our frustration and defeat. No, we defeat a thought by opening up our mouths and speaking the Word. As human beings made in His image, the Lord wired us in such a way that the mouth is the seat of our authority. When we speak Bible words when we are under pressure mentally, the mind will pause to see what the mouth is saying. Over time as we apply this principle, we will begin to see our thoughts as well as our Words change for the better. People might just start to enjoy having us around more often.

The final step is to absolutely fill our hearts with the Word of God. Matthew 12:34 reminds us that our mouths speak as a consequence of the overflowing of the heart and we determine what we put into our hearts by what we take in our eyes and ears, and by what we say. What goes into the heart through the eyes, ears, and mouth ultimately spills out in the form of words that indicate what we truly believe. Change the content of our hearts and we will change the content, nature, and quality of our words.

Let me encourage you today to realize that it is your responsibility to police your own thought life and compare what you are thinking to the Word of God. When you see your heart and mouth going down the wrong road, immediately jerk the slack out of your life by choosing to think the thoughts of God and speak the Word of God. It won’t be long before you forever silence that hag in your own life.

The Spirit of Cursing

Many people today in the body of Christ have come to the realization through revelation of the Word of God that the Lord cares about every area of our lives. Consistent with John’s desire that we prosper and be in health even as our soul prospers (3 John 2), faith has begun to rise up in the hearts of believers to take the limits off of God and what He can do in our lives. Truly He desires to empower his people spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, relationally, and financially. The key, according to John, is that we first prosper spiritually.

The message of the abundant life in Christ is exciting and hope building, but as in every benefit that God desires to give to His people, there are conditions that must be honored. The prosperous soul requires that we yield to the Lord body, soul, and spirit. It also requires that rogue parts of our lives come under His dominion and Lordship. One of the most significant limiting factors in the life of the believer is the failure to submit the mouth over to the Lord.

It’s so easy to curse or just let words fly from our mouths without realizing that we are called to be a blessing. To curse means to say something bad about. To bless means to say something good about. The Psalmist noted the habitual destructive misuse of the mouth is actually an indication that the individual is walking in a “spirit of cursing” declaring that “He loved to pronounce a curse – may it come on him; he found not pleasure in blessing – may it be far from him. He wore cursing like a garment” (Psalm 109:17-18). The spirit of cursing, rather than the spirit of faith, joy, and love, begins to be the dominate spirit or deportment about this individual. The problem of course is the one predisposed to cursing others finds that the same curse seeps into his or her own life – “it entered into his body like water, into his bones like oil.” We truly do reap what we sow and if we don’t want to reap the curse in any manifestation we must careful to use our tongues to bless others rather than curse them. If we curse we will be cursed. If we bless we will be blessed.

The enemy’s goal is that our hearts become wounded as a result of being cursed. The psalmist said, “my heart is wounded within me” (Psalm 109:22). There are many ways to curse someone (not cuss at them) such as negativity, criticism, lies, slander, deception, or gossip, but the purpose is the same – to worm its way into the consciousness and the heart of the believer to compromise their spiritual health.  If you find yourself on the receiving end of evil communication, don’t allow that to get into your spirit. Take seriously the counsel of the Psalmist when you are under attack and focus immediately on two spiritual disciplines to counter and prevent the curse from taking root in your heart. First, take the situation immediately to the Lord in prayer: “In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer” (Psalm 109:4). In prayer the Holy Spirit will work to keep your heart tender and forgiving. Second, return immediately to the Word of God so that you can maintain an inner image of what the Word says about you rather than one produced by the destructive communication. Psalm 119:69 declares, “Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep you precepts with all my heart.” You can’t help what people do or say but you can determine your own reaction and that reaction should include a speedy return to the Word of God.

The good news is that no one can curse you when God has blessed you unless you allow that to enter into your heart. Get into the habit of casting destructive words down to the ground and commanding them to die and bear no fruit in your life. Take authority of words meant for your hurt, wounding, and destruction. Meditate on the powerful words of promise and hope from Psalm 109:28 that remind us all that the blessing of Abraham has been restored to us and cannot be compromised just because of a negative, critical, or biting comment: “They may curse, but you will bless…”

Sticks and Stones

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit (Proverbs 18:21, NIV).

No doubt you have probably heard someone in authority tell you after someone said something mean to you, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.” It turns out that this represents some of the dumbest and misguided counsel we could ever receive (or give). It is flawed from a Scriptural standpoint and, as it turns out, is also negated by scientific study.

According to a recent study by German psychologists at Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, subjects were asked to read pain-related words while imagining situations that corresponded to each word and while scanning their brains using MRI technology. They were asked to repeat the procedure while being distracted by a brain-teaser. What did they find (yes they had brains)? The scientists discovered that the pain matrix in the brain (where the brain stores memories of past painful experiences) was activated by pain words in both instances, distracted or not. The study’s author, Maria Richter, noted that, “In both cases, we could observe a clear activation of the pain matrix in the brain by pain-associated words.”

We understand from the Word of God that words are powerful – they can impart life or death. Once again we see science backing up the integrity of the Word of God. Words are like vehicles or containers bringing things that hurt or things that heal into our hearts. The fact is, words, not just sticks and stones, can do major long-lasting emotional damage to people. True, words do not cause bone fractures or contusions like sticks and stones can, but they do cause soul fractures that can often take much more time to heal than our bones. Let’s all think about that the next time we open our mouths. Let’s consider the wise words of Solomon: “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24, NIV).

Too Many Words

“When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19, NIV).

It’s interesting to realize that there are over 85 references to the tongue, lips, and mouth in the Book of Proverbs. It seems that the inspired writings of Solomon and others are zeroing in on a major stumbling block in the lives of God’s people. The message of the whole could very well be summed up in the idea that the more we talk, the more we are prone to get into trouble (Proverbs 10:19). Obviously, a talking fast would be of great benefit to us all.

The time to consider your words is before you speak, not after you have allowed them to fly in a fit of frustration, anger, or intrigue. We all know the thud of regret when we realize that something less than Christlike speech has come out of our mouths in content or tone. It is better to put down your bow and arrow than to release the arrow into the air and only then give thought as to its target and impact. Like arrows spent, our words, once released, cannot be recalled so we must be more mindful of their use.

James taught that the path to mature Christian living is the domination and control of the tongue. A man who has learned to bridle the tongue (the hardest thing in the world to do) can find success in every area of Christian living (James 3). He also taught that man could not tame the tongue through natural power. This means we must employ our God-given arsenal in curbing this “restless evil.”

Consider these powerful tools for controlling the tongue:

Speak the Word

It is impossible to speak the Word of God and things that are ungodly, inappropriate, non-edifying, or just plain unprofitable at the same time. The Scripture teaches the key to constantly speaking the Word is the filling of the heart with the Word of God (Matthew 12:33) for “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (or as I like to say, if you open your mouth your heart will fall out). Deliberately and consciously speaking the exhortations, promises, and commands of Scripture throughout the day will serve as a bridle curbing the propensity to use the mouth destructively.

Speak Praises to God

Praise is not the hidden adoration of God in the heart. Praise is vocal adoration – that is we declare in our native tongue the glory and majesty of God. James pointed out that it is unnatural to bless the Lord while we curse men made in his image. By concentrating on praising God on purpose, we position ourselves to let the high praises of God be in our mouths and a two-edged sword in our hands (Psalm 149:6). As we sow seeds of praise we develop the habit of blessing rather than cursing.

Pray in the Spirit

The Spirit-filled believer is blessed with an extremely potent weapon – the ability to speak in a heavenly language or tongues. Nothing causes religious dander to rise faster than just the mere mention of tongues but that is because of Satan’s total hatred of the spiritual practice. He attacks with venom those disciplines and weapons that are most damaging to him. When the believer speaks in tongues he or she is praying the perfect will of God without the limitations of the filter of the mind tainting the prayer with doubt, fear, or unbelief. It’s an amazing thing to realize that every syllable uttered in tongues comes to pass. No wonder the enemy of our souls loves to marginalize those that practice the gift as crazy while he tries to convince Bible believers that the practice has passed away. Go ahead and pray every day in the Spirit and you will effectively control the tongue, edify yourself, and drive the Devil nuts!

Since duct tape, zippers, crazy glue, are not really practical deterrents to destructive speech, let’s decide every day to employ the spiritual tools at our disposal like speaking the Word, praising God, and praying in the Spirit. You will sleep much better at night knowing that today you did not launch any stray and unaccounted for arrows with your mouth.

Cyber Smack – Part 3

pas·sive-ag·gres·sive (pās’ĭv-ə-grěs’ĭv)
adj.  being, marked by, or displaying behavior characterized by expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive way (as through procrastination, stubbornness, and unwillingness to communicate)

You’ve probably encountered passive-aggressive communication in some area of your life. Deep down, the individual is upset but chooses to express that sentiment in less than clear and direct methods of communication. Passive-aggressive communication is often masked by congeniality on the surface while someone is being targeted or “sniped” at in a way that only the targeted individual would perceive (and anyone else with spiritual discernment). This can be accomplished face to face, in a small group meeting, in a family, on the job, or through modern technology such as email, Twitter, blogs, and Facebook. In fact, modern technology lends itself particularly well for this type of communication because it adds a wall of inaccessibility and sometimes anonymity.

If you are not normally paranoid but you get the distinct impression that someone is trying to get their contempt across to you (even though they are not speaking directly to you) you are probably dealing with a passive-aggressive communicator (no, you are not nuts…people really do function this way and you should praise God you don’t live with a person like this…unless you do). In reality, it’s a form of “cyber smack” and it is inconsistent with the good speech standard we read about in Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome communication talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (NIV). I have a simple paraphrase of this verse I coined early on in my ministry” “Build up or shut up.”

Seriously, though, passive-aggressive communication reflects poorly on us as believers and it is equally unprofitable. Consider today several reasons why you should avoid communicating this way:

Passive-Aggressive Communication is Ineffective

If the point is to express oneself or deal with an issue, passive-aggressive communication is a waste of time. Sometimes, the intended audience is so pure-hearted that they would never imagine someone would be coming at them in this manner. This kind of communication never brings resolution and restoration but it often just pours more fuel on the fire for the individual that knows full well that they are the target.

Passive-Aggressive Communication is Incomplete

Another problem with passive-aggressive communication is that it is almost always incomplete. Rarely does an individual in the habit of employing this type of communication have or express all the facts. The goal of the phone call, letter, “sharing”, email, or post is to score a point without looking bad in the process rather than being transparent, honest, and truthful.

Passive-Aggressive Communication is Immature

The biggest problem with passive-aggressive communication is that it is patently immature and the individual that communicates this way is plainly viewed that way by the recipient of the snipe and those that observe the communication. In fact, it reminds me of those exciting years in school known as junior high or middle school (depending on where you went to school). Children this age become masters of the thinly veiled slam and indirect put down. The problem is that most of us left junior high many years ago. We need to make sure that junior high has left us.

Focus on speaking the truth in love and doing so in a direct manner with no agenda of gathering sympathizers, winning supporters, or looking good in the process. People will respect and receive an “open rebuke” more than a dysfunctional, passive-aggressive cyber smack.