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.

Lifeguard on Duty

imagesI’ll never forget the one and only time I rescued someone from drowning.  While attending the YMCA National Swimming Championships in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, our swim club spent some time at the beach body surfing in some unusually large waves.  A series of thunderstorms had rolled through the area making the waves and undertow treacherous even for experienced competitive swimmers.  Out about one hundred yards, I spotted an elderly woman in distress going under the surf repeatedly. I simply grabbed her, reassured her, and told her I would take her in.  Despite the fact we were both pushed under the waves several times on the way back to shore, the woman simply trusted that I would bring her in safely.  Back on the beach, the head lifeguard thanked me and offered me, as a fourteen-year old, a job on the spot.  I said I’m not certified.  He said, “I’ll certify you.”  I told him I didn’t think my parents in Illinois would go for me moving to Ft. Lauderdale and we left it at that.

The Red Cross is responsible for Lifeguard and Water Safety Instructor (WSI) training throughout the United States.  The students are instructed in water safety, stroke mechanics, and survival and rescue techniques.  During my mom’s WSI training physical exam, she was expected to perform a mock rescue of a swimmer in distress.  A fellow WSI trainee named Curt was her pretend victim.  The victim is told to act frightened and initially uncooperative as the trainee seeks to calm the victim and then bring him safely to the pool’s edge.  Minutes into the “rescue,” Curt continued to be uncooperative and combative.  Mom gently exhorted Curt to relax and trust her.  He decided to make things difficult for her by continuing to thrash about in the water making a rescue nearly impossible and her failure inevitable.  WSI students are taught to release and even submerge the victim to prevent two tragedies from occurring in the water.  Mom, having run out of patience with Curt, simply took her hand, reached under his arm pit, and pulled as much armpit hair as she could grasp.  Instantly Curt was calm and compliant for the rest of the rescue.  I remember other students actually cheering for her.

I often see the same tendencies in people when it comes to God’s desire to rescue them from sin and destruction.  There’s just something about us that wants to make things difficult for Him or to try to help Him out (save ourselves).  But we are incapable of saving ourselves, and whenever we try, we end up making things even worse.  No, the Lord will not pull your armpit hair out to get you to cooperate, but He will not make you accept his help, deliverance, and restoration if you do not want it.  Let me encourage you today to listen to the calming voice of the Holy Spirit, relax, and let the Lord bring you back to safety.  He is truly our lifeguard.  Trust Him.  He’s on duty, and He will not fail to rescue you when you call out to Him.