Monday, October 31, 2005


“So the LORD said to Cain,
’Why are you angry?
And why has your countenance fallen?’

(Genesis 4:5)

People’s hearts (feelings) are not usually put into words. Most of the time they are expressed in subtle ways: body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures. Communication specialist tell us that as much as 85% of human communication is non-verbal.

One of the reasons God gave us bodies is because they offer a brilliant way for us to speak the language of the heart. Genesis 4:5 is merely one example. Dallas Willard makes an acute observation,
The tendencies and feelings that run our life, whether we are aware of it or not, reside in fairly specific parts of our body, and they reveal themselves to others through our body language – in how we “carry” our bodily parts. They not only govern our immediate responses in action, but also are read with great accuracy by observant people around us and then determine how they react to us. We wear our souls “on our sleeve,” even when we ourselves are oblivious to them, and that governs the quality of our relations to others.[i]

Researcher Daniel Stern
calls the ability to read and respond well to someone’s heart attunement. Relationslly intelligent people are geniuses at it. You can see it at work between mothers and infants. The infant picks up a rattle and shakes it and smiles, and the mother gives a little shake of her shoulder. The infant squeals with delight, and the mother gives him a smile and a little squeeze, or matches the pitch of her voice to the baby’s squeal.

The mother is attuned to
– in tune with – what is happening in that little infant’s heart. She is giving a sense of emotional connection to that child, helping him know his feelings are understood. Stern finds that mothers do this about once a minute with their children.[ii]

When this happens well, the child grows up to be able to read his own heart – that is, have self-awareness – and can also tune in to others.

One dangerous aspect of this skill is that generally people who don’t read others well aren’t aware that they don’t. It is like being emotionally tone-deaf. Ever sing next to someone who had a tin ear and a loud voice? If you have one tone-deaf person signing off-key in a room full of people with perfect pitch, who is the one person that doesn’t know someone’s singing off-key?

It is much the same with being relationally tone-deaf. These folks are not aware that they’re doing anything wrong. Thus, why relational intelligence is important. At work, certain people consistently transmit anger, judgmentalism, or discouragement. They may know the technical aspects of their job well. They may be right a lot. They may even get many tasks done. But other people don’t want to be around them. They are stuck at a low level in their vocational lives and don’t know why. They just find themselves feeling left out or isolated. They find that their relationships will hit a wall. Growth and opportunities at work will get cut off at a certain level. People will have a way of distancing themselves after a time. This may be quite painful.
The truth is, they may be doing things that keep people from entering into intimate relationships with them – but they never know! Their isolations is a mystery to them.

The good news is that relational intelligence can be learned. Develop this skill, get it right, and you will have opportunities to influence, comfort, challenge, and love people on a regular basis. You will have friendships characterized by a deep sense of openness and intimacy. You will be sought out by others at work. You will be much more effective as a parent or a friend.

The Carnegie Technological Institute has stated that
90% of all people who fail in their life’s vocation fail
because they cannot get along with people.

Question: “People are sending messages all the time without saying a word, usually with their bodies.” How well do you do at reading people?

Take this week to practice noticing what people are saying to you with their faces, their body language, and the tone of their voices.

[i] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002, 162.
[ii] Daniel Stern: Cited in Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books, 1995, chapter 6.
[iii] Gettin the Church on Target, Lloyd Perry, Moody, 1977.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Come Close

“Please come close and kiss me, my son.”
(Genesis 27:26)

“In the Scriptures, touch played an important part in the bestowal of the family blessing. When Isaac blessed Jacob, an embrace and a kiss were involved.

The Hebrew word for “come close” is very descriptive. It is used for armies drawn together in battle. It is even used to picture the overlapping scales on a crocodile’s skin.[i] It may have been a while since you last saw a battle or a crocodile, but these word pictures still call up in our mind a picture of a very close connection.

Isaac wasn’t asking his son to give him an ‘Aunt Ethel hug.’ (Remember Aunt Ethel – the one who pinched your cheek and then repeatedly patted you on the back when she hugged you like she was bringing up gas?) Free of the current taboos our culture sets on a man embracing his son, Isaac was calling Jacob close to give him a bear hug.

This hug is even more special because Jacob was not four, but at least forty years old; and he was still encouraged to give his dad a hug and a kiss.[ii] As we have seen, our need for meaningful touch does not go away when we enter grad school. And yet, it should be noted that,

‘Even in caring homes, most parents (particularly fathers) will stop touching their children once the children reach the grade school years.’[iii] When they stop touching them, an important part of giving their children the blessing stops as well.[iv]

Smalley and Trent point out some additional qualities and benefits of meaningful touching in their book The Blessing.

Every day, researchers are discovering more and more information about the importance of touch. If we are serious about being a source of blessing to others, we must consider and put into practice these important points.

Some nursing homes and animal shelters can be havens of despair, not places of hope. Residents in both can be isolated and alone. Residents in either can spend hours dreaming and longing for a family or friends; and in many cases, the loneliness in an older person’s heart can be just as confining as the bars that forsaken animals live behind.

Thankfully, some nursing homes and animal shelters seek to meet their residents’ needs. Almost by accident, residents of a nursing home and a local animal shelter were brought together. At first, it was just thought of as a recreational activity for the nursing home patients. Soon, however, more significant results began to surface. Those residents who had a pet to touch and hold not only lived longer than those without, but they also had a significantly more positive attitude about life.[v]

What brought about these physical changes? Studies show that touching can actually lower a person’s blood pressure. Low blood pressure is an important part of staying healthy. But that’s not all. In a recent study at UCLA, it was found that just to maintain emotional and physical health, men and women need eight to ten meaningful touches each day![vi][vii]

q Can you recall a life significant and meaningful experience embracing another?

o What was the setting? What happened?

q What did touch look like in your home growing up?

q What does it look like in your home today?

o What reflections do have about that?

A free-lance reporter from the New York Times was interviewing Marilyn Monroe years ago. She was aware of Marilyn’s past and the fact that during her early years Marilyn had been shuffled from one foster home to another. The reporter asked Marilyn, “Did you ever feel loved by any of the foster families with whom you lived?”

Once,” Marilyn replied, “when I was about seven or eight. The woman I was living with was putting on makeup, and I was watching her. She was in a happy mood, so she reached over and patted my cheeks with her rough puff…For that moment, I felt loved by her.”[i]

Relationships Keep Us Alive

Single men
are jailed more often, earn less, have more illnesses and die at a younger age than married men. Married men with cancer live 20% longer than single men with the same cancer. Women, who often have more close friendships than men, survive longer with the same cancers. Married or not, relationships keep us alive.[ii]

[i] Helen Colton, The Gift of Touch, New York: Seaview/Putnam, 1983, 29.
[ii] Dr. Bernie Siegel, in Homemade, May, 1989.
[i] Job 41:15-17; also see Brown, Driver, and Briggs, 621.
[ii] In Genesis 26:34 we are told that Esau was “forty years old” when he married. Since Jacob was his twin brother, it would naturally follow that he too was at least forty years old at the time of the blessing.
[iii] K. M. Banham, "The Development of Affectionate Behavior in Infancy," Journal of Genetic Psychology,1979, vol. 76: 283-89.
[iv] Ibid. 40-41.
[v] F. B. Dresslar, “The Psychology of Touch,” American Journal of Psychology, vol. 6, 1984, 316.
[vi] UCLA Monthly, Alumni Association News, March-April 1981, 1.
[vii] Ibid., Smalley & Trent, 45-46.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Fire in the Hands

“His hands on them, and blessed them.”
(Mark 10:16)

Touch, in the Greek, literally means, “To fasten to, lay hold of, cling to, handle, kindle a fire, to light.” Every person that Jesus ever touched was healed. And, every person that ever touched Him, experienced healing as well. There were times that Jesus simply “spoke the word” and they were healed, but more often than not we find Him wanting to actually go to the place of the sick or deceased and touch them – up close. For when He laid His hands on people, a fire was kindled, healing was released and the power of Light was demonstrated on earth.

Consider some of the following truths pointed out by various medical experts.

For one thing, over one third of our five million touch receptors are centered in our hands![i] Our hands are so sensitive that some blind people are being taught to read without Braille, by seeing through their fingertips! At Princeton University’s Cutaneous Communication Laboratory, “vibratese” is an experimental procedure where blind people are able to read a printed page by translating the words into vibrations on their fingertips.[ii]

Interestingly enough, the act of laying on hands has become the focus of a great deal of modern-day interest and research. Dr. Dolores Krieger, professor of nursing at New York University, has made numerous studies on the effects of laying on of hands. What was found is that both the toucher and the one being touched receive a physiological benefit.[iii]

Inside our bodies is hemoglobin, the pigment of the red blood cells, which carries oxygen to the tissues. Repeatedly, Dr. Krieger has found that hemoglobin levels in both people’s bloodstreams go up during the act of the laying on of hands. As hemoglobin levels are invigorated, body tissues receive more oxygen. This increase of oxygen energizes a person and can even aid in the regenerative process if he or she is ill.

Hugs and kisses were also a part of the meaningful touching pictured in Scriptures. How would you like to lower your husband or wife’s blood pressure? Protect your grade-school child from being involved in an immoral relationship later in life? Even add up to two years to your own life? (Almost sounds like an insurance commercial, doesn’t it?) Actually, these are all findings in recent studies on the incredible power to bless found in meaningful touching.[iv]

Spend some time in prayer & journaling about this idea of touch and holy intimacy with other people.

Action: Go hug your spouse, child, parent, dog or the person next to you at work.

[i] Harvey Richard Schiffman, Sensation and Perceptions: An Integrated Approach, New York: John Wiley &Sons, 1982, 107.
[ii] Frank A. Geldard, “Body English,” Psychology Today, December 1968, 44.
[iii] Deloros Krieger, “Therapeutic Touch: The Imprimatur of Nursing,” American Journal of Nursing, May 1975, 784.
[iv] Gary Smalley & John Trent, The Blessing, New York: Pocket Books, 1986, 44-45.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Just a Touch

“13-Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14-But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15-"Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." 16-And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them.
(Mark 10:13-16)

The children are brought to Jesus and the disciples quickly rebuke them. Perhaps the disciples, because of the demand upon the Master, created a system to weed out the people without pressing needs. Maybe an internal checklist: “Is this person dead? Are they dieing? Are their demons manifesting?” and so forth, with head colds and needy little kids at the bottom of the list. A group of children, this was far from Code Red and ICU. “Lady! What are you thinking! Can’t you see we’re busy here? This is serious stuff! Don’t you realize He’s the Messiah? We don’t have time today for little kids. There are serious needs here today!” Maybe they didn’t say these exact words. What does the word rebuke mean to you?

Jesus’ response is remarkable.
Rather than applauding the disciples’ efforts in ministry crisis and efficiency, Jesus seems to offer His own rebuke, only not to those who brought the children, but to those who were sending them away – namely the disciples. Jesus said,

"Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15-"Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." 16-And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them.”

Why was it such a big deal for Jesus to touch and bless these children? Does He know something we don’t?

The young desperately crave physical affection. Howard Maxwell of Los Angeles is a man in tune with his times. So when his four-year-old daughter Melinda acquired a fixation for “The Three Little Pigs” and demanded that he read it to her night after night, Mr. Maxwell, very pleased with himself, tape-recorded the story. When Melinda next asked for it, he simply switched on the playback. This worked for a couple of nights, but then one evening Melinda pushed the storybook at her father.

“Now, honey,” he said, “you know how to turn on the recorder.”

Yes,” said Melinda, “but I can’t sit on its lap.”[i]

Alan McGinnis makes an interesting observation,

The young of all mammals snuggle and cuddle against the body of the mother and against the bodies of their siblings. Almost every animal enjoys being stroked or otherwise having its skin pleasurably stimulated. Dogs appear to be insatiable in their appetite for petting, cats will purr for it, and dolphins love to be gently stroked.

During the 19th century more than half of the infants died in their first year of life from a disease called marasmus, a Greek word meaning “wasting away.” As late as the 1920’s, according to Montagu, the death rate for infants under one year of age in various U.S. foundling institutions was close to 100%! Dr. Henry Chapin’s detective work on this alarming phenomenon is a fascinating tale.

A distinguished New York pediatrician, Dr. Chapin noted that the infants were kept in sterile, neat, tidy wards, but were rarely picked up. Chapin brought in women to hold the babies, coo to them, and stroke them, and the mortality rate dropped drastically.

Who was responsible for all those babies who had died unnecessarily? Not the foundling home directors, for they were operating on the best “scientific” information available to them. The real villain was one Emmett Holt Sr., professor of pediatrics at Columbia University. Holt was the author of the booklet The Care and Feeding of Children, which was first published in 1894 and was in its 15th edition in 1935. during its long ascendancy, it was the supreme authority, the Dr. Spock of its time. And it is in this book that the author urged mothers to abolish the cradle and refuse to pick up the baby when it cried, for fear of spoiling it with too much handling. Tender loving care would have been considered “unscientific.”

We now know that small children become irritable and hyperactive without adequate body contact. In various experiments with normal and subnormal youngsters, those who had the most physical contact with parents or attendants learned to walk and talk the earliest and had the highest IQs.[ii]

We can live only in relationships. We need each other. A rather crude and cruel experiment was carried out by Emperor Frederick, who ruled the Roman Empire in the thirteenth century. He wanted to know what man’s original language was: Hebrew, Greek, or Latin?

He decided to isolate a few infants from the sound of the human voice. He reasoned that they would eventually speak the natural tongue of man. Wet nurses who were sworn to absolute silence were obtained, and though it was difficult for them, they abided by the rule. The infants never heard a word—not a sound from a human voice. Within several months they were all dead.[iii]

For many the idea of “touching” another person has come to carry some pretty negative undercurrents.

q Why is this?

q Obviously, touch plays a powerful element in the health of newborns and infants, what role does it play in the health of people older than five?

q What about you personally?

[i] Alan Loy McGinnis, The Friendship Factor, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing, 1979, 87.
[ii] Ibid., 85-86.
[iii] Joe E. Trull

Monday, October 24, 2005

Let them Come

“13-Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. 14-But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15-"Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it." 16-And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them.
(Mark 10:13-16)

As always, when Jesus entered any town or village, it was only a matter of time before crowds of people would begin to press in close. People would come from near and far to get close to Jesus - fathers with dieing daughters, mothers with sick children, demoniacs, lepers, lame, blind, deaf and many others with various afflictions and sickness.

On one particular occasion, it seems that a group of people brought a group of little children to Jesus. Mark points out that they brought them for with hope that Jesus might touch them. We are not told that any of them were particularly sick or in some way deformed.

Apparently, they looked like normal children. For, when the disciples assessed the situation they sensed no urgency of crises. In fact, the disciples went as far as to rebuke those who brought them. Interesting. What did they say? How did they rebuke them? And, why?

What do you think was going on here?

Imagine: You’re a spectator in the crowd on this particular day. Perhaps you’d rather imagine yourself as one of the twelve disciples. Whatever the case, imagine this scene being played out before you. Try to envision it from various parties’ perspective. What do they want? What are they seeking? And finally, why and how did the disciples rebuke those that brought the children to Jesus?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Ties that Bind

“15-Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! 16-Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her?
For "the two," He says, "shall become one flesh."
17-But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.”
(1 Corinthians 6:15-17)

Eddie Smith, in his book Spiritual House Cleaning, shares the following account.

Not long ago, a lady who had suffered bondage and sickness for years asked me to bring a team to pray through her house. As I passed her desk the Lord seemed to give me an impression. “I believe this lower drawer is filled with some sort of defilement.” She opened the drawer and pulled out a box filled with love letters. With great emotion she explained these were letters from a prisoner with whom she had become pen pals years before. He had written passionately about his deep feelings for her. Later she learned that it was all a lie. He was cultivating a phony relationship with her in order to procure his release from prison. He never had any romantic intentions. I asked, “Why do you still keep these letters filled with lies?” Tearfully, she stated that sometimes on lonely nights she would pull out the box, curl up by the fire, and read through the letters to “re-feel” her faded dreams. I explained that she had allowed a strong hold of lies to be built in her mind. The letters were symbolic of the enemy’s successful campaign. Finally, she began to get angry at the deception she had embraced. As she burned the letters, freedom and healing came.[1]

A soul tie is the knitting together of two souls that can either bring tremendous blessings in a Godly relationship or tremendous destruction when made with the wrong persons.
A soul tie in the Bible can be described not only by the word knit, but also by the word cleave, which means to bring close together, follow close after, be attached to someone, or adhere to one another as with glue.

Just, as the sexual union of marriage ties two souls as one, so do acts of fornication or adultery with another person outside of the marriage. Your soul becomes mysteriously knit and tied to the other person also. They cleaved together just as in marriage. Under the influence of the power of these ties, one soon becomes controlled by forces of darkness. Like the snake it’s easy to pick up, hard to let go of.

It should be noted, that there are a number of ways to develop soul ties with an individual. It’s not always only the act of sexual involvement that open the door to soul ties. Flirting, mental and emotional fantasy can also open the venues for these ties to begin to bind. Any relationship that is founded in manipulation, control, selfish desire and ambition, even fear and envy will no doubt be tied by forces greater than the human personalities involved. There will be soul ties, and soul ties always open doors in the spirit for demonic attachments. Don’t be mistaken, these doors will open and demonic attachments will be established whether the person(s) is a Christian or not. Additionally, soul ties can be developed with places and things, such as images, pornography, certain chat rooms, and so forth.

God designed the universe to function with natural and spiritual laws that bring freedom when obeyed, but bondage and destruction when broken and violated. Just as two souls can be knit or made to cleave together in a covenant relationship, they can also be tied or knit together to form bondage and enslavement. Sexual union was ordained by God to make two marriage partners one flesh before God, but promiscuous premarital and extramarital affairs can mysteriously tie one’s soul to many partners. We seem to misunderstand the seriousness in these soul ties. It is because of lack of knowledge that we perish. Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 6: 16, 18.

Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh." But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.

If you are in a sexual relationship right now outside of marriage it’s time to stop. Regardless of all the justifiable reasons, now is the time to sever the tie. Your life will become so entangled that you won’t even know what is going on. And, as the monkey, you will remain in the gourd.
Remember Joshua’s dilemma? Achan had violated the spiritual laws established by God. As a result, the children of Israel were living in defeat. God Spoke to Joshua and instructed him what he should do.

13-"Get up, sanctify the people, and say, 'Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, because thus says the LORD God of Israel: "There is an accursed thing in your midst, O Israel; you cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the accursed thing from among you." 14-'In the morning therefore you shall be brought according to your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the LORD takes shall come according to families; and the family which the LORD takes shall come by households; and the household which the LORD takes shall come man by man. 15-'Then it shall be that he who is taken with the accursed thing shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the LORD, and because he has done a disgraceful thing in Israel.'" …22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver under it.
(Joshua 7:13-15,22)

Here are the steps God gave Joshua to take:

1. They sanctified themselves.
2. They presented themselves tribe by tribe, clan by clan, and man by man before the Lord
for His inspection.

“23-Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me,
and know my thoughts: 24-And see if there be any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

(Psalm 139:23-24)

3. They inquired of the Lord and located the offending items.
4. There was no hesitance whatsoever on the part of Joshua to rid themselves of those things.

In verse 22, we read, “So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent.”

You might be asking, “Isn’t this an Old Testament thing? What does it have to do with me today?” Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:11-12,

11-Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12-Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”

Action Prayer: Scripture refers to our body as a temple and a tent (or house). Take a few moments in prayer. Get a mental picture of the house (apartment, etc) that you live in. As each physical room symbolically representing an internal room in your life and heart, ask God to begin to show you what’s going on in your house. Slowly, in prayer, begin to see yourself walking through your physical house. As you do so, God may begin to show you things about your spiritual, emotional and mental life that need some attending to. After you and Jesus are done walking through it may be appropriate for you to journal, repent, pray, go get something and throw it away or even send an email announcing the end of an unholy relationship.

Additional Reading

A Haunted Hotel

One evening in 1990, I received a call from the chief of security at one of Houston’s major hotels. The chief was a retired, muscular, twenty-year veteran Houston police officer. He told me this amazing story.

“Two weeks ago there was a Haitian voodoo conference held at our hotel. The group was comprised of a hundred or so men and women all dressed in white. They rented several rooms at the hotel and used our main ballroom to conduct their ceremonies. They stationed their own ‘security guards’ outside the ballroom. These tall, muscular men wouldn’t allow anyone, including my officers and me, into the proceedings.

One of my officers happened into the ballroom through the dining room service doors one night. He said the room was dark except for candle light. In the midst of the room sat a man chained in a chair. The ‘worshippers’ were in a trance and a bloody ceremony was taking place. He said he was so afraid, he slammed the door, ran downstairs, jumped into his car, and went home.

Since that time,” the security chief went on to say, “ the hotel has had unusual problems. We have been experiencing an abnormal number of thefts from the rooms. We’ve had fist fights among the employees, unexplainable car accidents in front of the hotel, and workers calling in sick in record numbers. The hotel organization is in shambles. Furthermore, all of the employees are afraid to enter the fifth floor ballroom where the voodoo ceremonies took place. I am terrified of it.”

He continued, “Tonight, I drove home from work around the 610 Loop and out Highway 290. I was so frightened that I might have a wreck, I drove on the shoulder of the road at 15 miles per hour. When I arrived at my house, I decided I needed some exercise to relieve my stress. I began jogging my usual neighborhood route. Every time a car would come up behind me, I would grimace and tense. In my imagination I could almost feel a bullet sear its way through my body. I just knew I was going to be shot. My wife said you might be able to help me.”

I asked, “How long does it take to get to the hotel?” “Thirty minutes,” he replied. I said, “Great, I’ll meet you there in thirty minutes.” He was shocked. He never dreamed that we’d deal with it so quickly.

An intercessor friend agreed to accompany me. Upon arrival at the hotel we met the nervous security chief in the lobby, and took the elevator to the fifth floor where the ballroom was located. The chief began to shy away from the elevator doors as they opened. My intercessor friend and I walked over to the entrance of the ballroom. Standing at a distance, the security chief threw us the keys. We opened the door and walked into the dark room. The light switches were 100 feet away on the back wall. With the nervous security chief waiting the in the hall, we walked the length of the long, dark room. The atmosphere in the room was oppressive. It was as if the room was filled with angry hornets swirling around us. The air was “electric” as waves of “spiritual energy” pushed past us and swept over us. The enemy was desperately trying to frighten us away. We began praying quietly, yet confidently. We repented to God for what had happened in that room just days before and asked Him to remove the defilement. Authoritatively, we told the spirits to leave. It was as if the tide of spiritual darkness rolled out. The evil spirits departed, and the room soon felt clean and pure. The security chief expressing gratitude and relief, felt safe enough to enter.

A week later, the chief called to thank us and to report that the thefts, the fights, the accidents, and the sicknesses were gone. He said, “Inexplicably, the morning after you prayed through the ballroom, a Bible study was formed in the employee lounge. It continues to this day.”

Increasing numbers of Christians today are taking a second look at the spiritual environment in their homes. They want their home, as well as their lives, to reflect the presence of Christ. However, too often it doesn’t.

There are two things that contribute to the atmosphere in a home. One is the behavior of the family members. The other is the predominate spiritual presence. Bad attitudes and bad behavior will definitely have an adverse affect on the atmosphere of our homes.

“Sinichi Suzuki, world-renowned music educator, wrote about the importance of early environment on children, drawing from nature:

‘The first month of a nightingale’s life determines its fate. I had always thought that a nightingale’s incomparable song was instinctive and inherited. But it is not so.
Nightingales to be used as pets are taken as fledglings from nests of wild birds in the spring. As soon as they lose their fear and accept food, a “master bird” is borrowed that daily sings its lovely song, and the infant bird listens for a period of about a month. In this way the little wild bird is trained by the master bird.
If it has a good teacher, the infant bird will learn from experience to produce as beautiful tones as its teacher. But if an infant bird is brought to such a teacher after being raised by wild nightingales, there is always failure, as long experience has shown.’

The illustration of the nightingales reminds me that many children’s problems could be solved if they just had parents who were “good singers” – parents who take responsibility for the mood or emotional tone of the home – parents who understand that their children are absorbing the emotional atmosphere and learning to respond to life as their moms and dads did.”

WE must take the responsibility for our sin and its effect upon our spouses and our children. We shouldn’t blame the devil for what WE choose to do. Bad attitudes, as well as bad actions attract the demonic. The continual presence of the enemy in our homes will pollute the atmosphere, as well.[2]

[1] Eddie Smith, Spiritual House cleaning, Houston: Spirit Truth, 1997, 26.
[2] Eddie Smith, Spiritual House cleaning, Houston: Spirit Truth, 1997, 5-9.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Secret of the Snake

"Take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them.”
(Deuteronomy 12:30)

"Gary Richmond used to work at a zoo that had a thirteen-foot-long king cobra. It’s venom glands contained enough poison to kill a thousand adults. The cobra had a scar that made him look like the embodiment of evil, but worse, it meant that when the snake shed his skin, the eye cap did not come off. It had to be removed by hand. And, unfortunately, snakes don’t have hands.

This required a team of five people: two keepers, the zoo’s curator, a veterinarian, and Gary – whose job was to furnish the scalpel and sponge to the vet. The cobra slithered from it’s den, spread it’s cape, raised itself up to full stature, and looked at the five intruders, deciding on his first victim. He chose the curator. With lighting speed the keepers threw their nets around the writhing snake, the curator grasped it behind the venom glands, and the vet said, ‘Let’s get this over.’ His hands were trembling; beads of sweat were dripping off everyone’s forehead but the snake’s.

The vet asked if Gary had any cuts on his hands.


He told Gary to wad up paper towels and stuff them in the cobra’s mouth.


The cobra bit and chewed until the towels were yellow and dripping with venom.

As the team worked, the curator explained that every year several full-grown elephants die from king cobra bites. A man could never survive a bite with a full load of venom. This is why he was having Gary drain the snake’s venom sacs. The curator’s hands were sweating, and his muscles were weakening; his fingers were starting to cramp – which could not have been good news to anyone except maybe the snake.

The curator wasn’t sure they could move quickly enough when it was time for the release. Then he explained what we might call the secret of the snake: More people are bitten trying to let go of snakes than when they grab them.
Easy to grab, hard to let go.

This is true of everything that can destroy human character: deceit, bitterness, pornography, greed, debt, and workaholism. This is the power of addiction, and sin is, among other things, addictive. These sins are serpents that will quickly weaken the human spirit.

It is a fatal tendency of human beings to think we can handle the snake on our own. This has been going on since the Garden of Eden. When the serpent tempted Eve, what she did not do is significant. She did not talk about the temptation with Adam. She did not discuss it with God. One of the first signs that we’re in trouble with a temptation is that we don’t reveal it to anybody else. We keep the snake a secret because at some level we want to retain the option of grabbing it. We keep temptation a secret because we want the option of giving in to it undiscovered.”[1]

q Are there any snakes you’re holding on to?

q It was stated above, “We keep the snake a secret because at some level we want to retain the option of grabbing it. We keep temptation a secret because we want the option of giving in to it undiscovered.” Are there any thoughts and/or feelings that you’ve been entertaining, that you’ve yet to share with someone else for the very reason stated in the quote above?

“It is easier to stay out than to get out."
Mark Twain

Pray: Spend some time praying and journaling about potential snakes that may be lingering in or around the lobby of your soul.

“Temptation is the fire that brings up the scum of the heart."
William Shakespeare

“God is better served in resisting a temptation to evil
than in many formal prayers.”

Iron Eyes Cody is a native American actor who once did a TV spot for the Keep America Beautiful campaign. He was an Indian drifting alone in a canoe. As he saw how our waters are being polluted, a single tear rolled down his cheek, telling the whole story. This powerful public service commercial still shows up on TV screens after 17 years. In 1988 Cody repeated an old Indian legend in Guideposts magazine. Here it is:

Many years ago, Indian youths would go away in solitude to prepare for manhood. One such youth hiked into a beautiful valley, green with trees, bright with flowers. There he fasted. But on the third day, as he looked up at the surrounding mountains, he noticed one tall rugged peak, capped with dazzling snow. I will test myself against that mountain, he thought. He put on his buffalo-hide shirt, threw his blanket over his shoulders and set off to climb the peak. When he reached the top he stood on the rim of the world. He could see forever, and his heart swelled with pride. Then he heard a rustle at his feet, and looking down, he saw a snake. Before he could move, the snake spoke. “I am about to die,” said the snake. “It is too cold for me up here and I am freezing. There is no food and I am starving. Put me under your shirt and take me down to the valley.” “No,” said the youth. “I am forewarned. I know your kind. You are a rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you will bite, and your bite will kill me.” “Not so,” said the snake. “I will treat you differently. If you do this for me, you will be special. I will not harm you.” The youth resisted awhile, but this was a very persuasive snake with beautiful markings. At last the youth tucked it under his shirt and carried it down to the valley. There he laid it gently on the grass, when suddenly the snake coiled, rattled, and leapt, biting him on the leg. “But you promised...” cried the youth. “You knew what I was when you picked me up.” said the snake as it slithered away.”[2]

From Witch Doctor to Unitarian Pastor

A lady called concerning her eight year old daughter. She had sought help from a Christian psychiatric hospital and they had referred her to me. Now divorced she and her daughter lived alone in an apartment. Her former husband, the girl’s father, was a Unitarian pastor. Prior to that, he had been an African witch doctor in a tribe known as “The Leopard People.” The mother had studied metaphysical religion and had also been ordained as a pastor in the Unity Church. She had read extensively concerning the occult, but now testified of having recently been born again.

When our deliverance team arrived, she explained that her daughter was being harassed in her sleep by demonic forces. She was having nightmares, and would wake up in the night seeing “ghosts”. The “ghosts” were demons appearing in the aboriginal forms of an old African man and woman. She would sometimes wake in the morning with humanlike bite marks in the middle of her back. One night a plague of flies filled the girl’s room. She awakened her mother several times that night complaining of flies biting her. Her mother turned on the light and searched the room but could not find flies anywhere. The next morning, when her mother opened the window shades, she found piles of dead flies on her daughter’s window sill.

At first, the mother seemed desperate. As we prayed through the apartment for wisdom and discernment, we waited for the Holy Spirit’s direction. The spiritually attuned intercessors with me felt ill at ease in certain rooms. There was a definite “spiritual discomfort.” At times, “words of knowledge” (1 Corinthians 12:8) came to the team members. We found occult art work and a large library of occult books.

We explained to the lady that the books and the art work were like “bait.” They were attracting the demonic spirits that were harassing her and her child. The books were also symbols of contracts she had made with the enemy. These things communicated to the spirits that they were welcome and had legal permission to stay. Such items and artifacts my mean little to you and much to the enemy.[3]

[1] John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal, 176-178. Referencing: Gary Richmond, A View from the Zoo Series. Nashville: W Publishing Group.
[2] Bits and Pieces, June, 1990, pp. 5-7.
[3] Eddie Smith, Spiritual House cleaning, Houston: Spirit Truth, 1997, 16.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Monkey Business

“13-Get up, sanctify the people, and say, ‘Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, because thus says the Lord God of Israel: “There is an accursed thing in your midst, O Israel; you cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the accursed thing from among you.”
(Joshua 7:13)

There are some hunters in Africa that can trap a monkey with just a gourd and some fruit & nuts. The hunter simply goes into the jungle and ties the gourd to the ground. You know what a gourd is don't you? It's a hollowed out shell, shaped like a fat wine bottle. It's got a fat body with a skinny neck and it's hollow inside. Well, the hunter simply drops some fruit and nuts inside the gourd and leaves it overnight.The monkey comes up to the gourd, smelling the fruit and nuts, and reaches his little arm in the gourd and grabs the tasty treat. When he grabs the fruit and nuts, his fist will no longer fit out of the gourd. The monkey pulls and pulls, but he can't get away. He will stay overnight stuck to the gourd, unwilling to let go of his prize.
In the morning the hunter returns to see the little monkey with his arm in the gourd. As the hunter approaches, the monkey screams and pulls his arm with all his might, actually starting to pull some of the fur and skin off his hand ... but he won't let go.
The hunter easily captures the monkey and throws the monkey in the bag.

We all know that the monkey could’ve let go, thus ensuring freedom. Yet, as long as the monkey holds tightly to that which had captured his attention, bondage is unavoidable and freedom will forever be out of reach. Regardless of how desirous the monkey is to be free, he will remain bound. Despite how hard it may twist, jerk and scream, until the monkey is willing to let go, he will always remain vulnerable prey to the powers that be.

The children of Israel found themselves in a similar situation. For some odd reason, they could not stand against their enemies. They should have overcome the city of Ai with ease, instead they were struck down and fled from before the men of Ai. Joshua is perplexed to the cause of their defeat and begins to consult the Almighty.

God’s response is insightful.
He fundamentally said, “You cannot stand before your enemies because you’re holding on to something else. You will not be able to overcome them until you let go.” Just as the monkey held onto the grain and fruit, remain bound and powerless to flee, so the children of Israel, holding on to the accursed would remain powerless to overcome their enemies.

Joshua tried praying, tearing his clothes in lamentations, but to no avail. There was a elementary kingdom principle and spiritual law at work in the realm of the unseen that was directly affecting the outcomes on earth.

There can be no deliverance from any bondage, as long as the principles and laws that permitted the bondage in the first place are still being violated. Here in Joshua chapter seven, we have an account of this very principle at work.

Don’t be mistaken, when we hold on to people, relationships even things that are counterproductive to our spiritual health and holiness, we to will nullify the power of deliverance in our lives. And, the consequences are no less lethal than they were for the children of Israel as they faced Ai. Furthermore, we must understand that at that point, we too are open to being spiritually, emotionally, mentally, even physically struck down.

"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity,
stability and beauty of the biotic community.
It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

(Aldo Leopold, American ecologist, 1887-1948)

"There will always be a part, and always a very large part of every community, that have no care but for themselves, and whose care for themselves reaches little further than impatience of immediate pain, and eagerness for the nearest good"
Samuel Johnson English Poet, Critic and Writer. 1709-1784

q Can you see a time in your life where these principles and laws of freedom and bondage were at work in your life?

q Is there an issue that you’ve been struggling with for a while, unable to overcome?

If so, could it be that you’re holding on to something that is inhibiting your freedom?

q Are there certain areas in your life where you are you more susceptible to sticking your hand in the gourd? (Sometimes these areas may not be physical sin. They could be ways of thinking and feeling.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Get up!

“1-But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of the LORD burned against the children of Israel. 2-Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth Aven, on the east side of Bethel, and spoke to them, saying, "Go up and spy out the country." So the men went up and spied out Ai.
3-And they returned to Joshua and said to him, "Do not let all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai are few." 4-So about three thousand men went up there from the people, but they fled before the men of Ai. 5-And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six men, for they chased them from before the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent; therefore the hearts of the people melted and became like water.

(Joshua 7:1-5)

The children of Israel
had just utterly destroyed Jericho and all its inhabitants. An immensely fortified city with its forty foot high by forty foot wide surrounding walls dropped into the ground like a pancake and fell flat creating perhaps the first paved sidewalk or walking trek around the outskirts of the city. Scripture says, “the LORD was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout all the country.”[i]

With this acclaimed fame and power, Joshua began to plot his next military campaign of advancement into the newly acquired Promise Land. Joshua sent a pre-war assessment team to help strategize for their upcoming acquisition. The team came back from examining the city of Ai, with high spirits and overwhelming assurance of victory. Because the people of Ai were few, they estimated that it would only take two or three thousand men to capture and overcome Ai.

Israel, by all calculations was set for a victory. However, before they even made it to the gates of the city, thirty-six men were struck down. The hearts of the Israelites began to melt and they ran for their lives.

When the news of defeat reaches Joshua, he is heart stricken. Scripture says,

6-Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. 7-And Joshua said, "Alas, Lord GOD, why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all-to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? Oh, that we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of the Jordan! 8-"O Lord, what shall I say when Israel turns its back before its enemies? 9-"For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear it, and surround us, and cut off our name from the earth.
Then what will You do for Your great name?"
(Joshua 7:6-9)

Even Joshua’s perspective seems to have all of the sudden become vexed, he is disoriented and disillusioned. This is Joshua, the commander of the children of Israel. He even laments that they would have been better off having never attempted to enter into the Promise Land. It’s amazing how fast discouraging instances can inflict the human-heart with pessimism, defeat, doubt and despair. Joshua’s perspective is warped and his pity-prayers are directed down the wrong track. God simply responds,

“Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face?”
(Joshua 7:10)

“Get up!" God in essence said, “Get up! And stop the pity-party. Enough pouting already, you’re looking at this thing all wrong.” He continues with clarification,

"Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff.”
(Joshua 7:11)

This passage gives us powerful insight into God’s perspective on a community. Verse one tells us, “the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things.” So the question becomes, who sinned, the children of Israel or Achan the son of Carmi? The answer: “yes.” “Yes,” the children of Israel sinned, and “yes” Achan the son of Carmi sinned.

Achan was one man
who sinned, yet from God’s perspective it was the children of Israel who had sinned. Achan is the only one who took some of the spoils of Jericho for himself, yet God’s appraisal in verse eleven says, “Israel has sinned, and they have transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff.” Five times in this verse God refers to Israel in the plural form. It was only one person who stashed the goods, but from God’s perspective it was all of them who had stolen and deceived; and put it among their own stuff.

Though God would later point out Achan as an individual with his personalized consequences, all of Israel was guilty and suffered defeat at Ai because of him. They were simply many members of one body. (If you would like to read the rest of the story including Achans stony ending, it can be found in Joshua 7:14-26)

A group of people is traveling in a boat. It’s crowded, so everyone finds his or her place. Some are in the bow; some are in the stern. It’s a crowded ship. The boat sets out and not too long into the journey, one of the passengers pulls a drill out of his bag and starts to drill a hole in the bottom of the boat. The other passengers turn to him in anger and disbelief. "What are you doing?", they demand. "You’ll sink the ship and we’ll all drown!" The man turns to them and says, "I paid for my ticket and you paid for yours. My ticket covers this seat and the floor beneath it. I can do what I want with it!"
Found in the classical rabbinic Midrash

q What does this passage communicate about God’s perspective of a community of people?

q What do you think about the truth that we are all members of one another?

q As we saw yesterday, this is a counter-cultural concept, especially for people in the Western Hemisphere. What are the implications of a group of people being seen as one? What are the challenges that come along with that reality? (Hint: consult Joshua chapter seven again)

q Does our opinion and preference for isolation, individualism, independence and personal faith change, alter or nullify God’s perspective of us being members of one another?

q Do you wish it did?

q Do we often live as if our opinion and preference for isolation, individualism, independence and personal faith change, alter or nullify God’s perspective of us being members of one another?

“A healthy social life is found only,
when in the mirror of each soul the whole community finds its reflection,
and when in the whole community the virtue of each one is living"
Rudolf Steiner

[i] Joshua 6:27.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Bigger Than Me

“ But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.”
(1 Corinthians 12:20)

God has a extraordinary view of humans. At the dawn of creation, community was on the forefront on His mind. Community was to exist between the human and the Divine. Community was to exist between husband and wife, and it was to permeate all of the human race. God Himself, is a community of One and designed us in His image. Sin has marred aspects of that image and in many places shattered realities of community. As we have seen, we live in an isolated society. Not only are we told to live with the dog eat dog mentality, each dog is now entitled to his own house with a barricade garage, back deck and a privacy fence. Interactions are often reduced to minimal and superficial proportions.

We hear catch phrases like, “It’s my business,” “my faith is personal,” “as long as what I do doesn’t hurt someone else.” All of these statements are mere epitaphs declaring our independence and freedom, not to mention the massive undercurrents of selfishness, endeavoring to do what we want to do, when we want to do it, how we want to do it, with no feedback from those passing by. But this is the world we live in, a world of people, each wanting it their way. Why else would companies like Burger King boast by saying, “We do it your way.”

The idea of one person wanting what he/she wants without any thought or consciousness to those around him/her is a concept far from the heart and intent of God. Though, we are designed uniquely as individuals, each with a distinct calling, gifting(s), purpose and passions. Each of these were designed to function together within a community of Christ followers. The Apostle Paul, understanding this well declared, “for we are member one of another”

“we are members of one another.”
(Ephesians 4:25)

The word member in the Greek refers to the “different limbs of the human body.” Each of
these limbs is “a member of the human body.”

Arms on a human body
are called limbs and members of the body. Paul says, that just as an arm is intimately united as a member in the community of the body, so believers in Christ, are just as intimately connected, related and apart of one another.

To expound further, members also spoke “of bodies given up to criminal intercourse, because they are as it were members belonging to the harlot’s body.”[i]

In other words, if a harlot was convicted of harlotry she and her body were considered unclean, worthy only to be stoned. Moreover, they looked at those whom she had had intercourse with to be just as unclean and worthy to be stoned. They were considered members one of another.

Regardless of the volume of societal billboards and commercials exhorting us to obey our (individual) thirsts, we must understand that all of creation was designed to be bigger than the me. We were designed for community. When God looks upon the human race, especially Christ followers, He doesn’t see them as individuals, but as one bride. When God looks at a local congregation, He sees one church, as if it were one person.

q What are some ways our culture idolizes individuality?

q Can you think of some ads/commercials that further the idea of “do what you want” or “do what feels good” philosophy?

q How have these undercurrents of meism affected the many people interacting, even at church?

q How has the desire to get service “my way” influenced how Americans shop for a church?

If the source of America’s social disintegration is to be pinpointed so that it might be remedied, honesty compels us not to neglect this issue (selfishness)...Self-centeredness and its related vices—crime, illegitimacy, child neglect—are exploding in America because, after centuries of Western philosophy devoted to the purpose, Americans are glorifying extreme individualism beyond healthy limits, and beyond anything ever experienced by another national culture.[ii]Andrew Peyton Thomas, Wall Street Journal

[i] New Testament Greek Lexicon, (mel’-os – 3196).
[ii] Andrew Peyton Thomas, in the Wall Street Journal, August 9, 1995

Friday, October 14, 2005


"Let not mercy and truth forsake you;
Bind them around your neck,
Write them on the tablet of your heart.”
(Proverbs 3:3)

“Buy the truth, and do not sell it,
Also wisdom and instruction and understanding.”
(Proverbs 23:23)

We need Truth-Tellers because our capacity to live in denial is astounding. Self-deception, writes Neil Plantinga, is a mysterious process where we pull the wool over our own eyes.

We deny, suppress, or minimize what we know to be true. We assert, adorn, and elevate what we know to be false. We prettify ugly realities and sell ourselves the prettified versions. Thus a liar might transform “I tell a lot of lies to shore up my pride” to “Occasionally, I finesse the truth in order to spare other people’s feelings.”[i]

Lying seems to be a way of life for many people. We lie at the drop of a hat. The book The Day America Told the Truth says that 91 percent of those surveyed lie routinely about matters they consider trivial, and 36 percent lie about important matters; 86 percent lie regularly to parents, 75 percent to friends, 73 percent to siblings, and 69 percent to spouses.[ii]

As reported in USA Today, Jerald Jellison said, "Each of us fibs at least 50 times a day." He explained that we lie about our age, our income, or our accomplishments. And we use lies to escape embarrassment. A common reason for "little white lies," we're told, is to protect someone else's feelings. Yet in so doing, we are really protecting ourselves. According to Jellison, here are some of our most commonly used fibs: "I wasn't feeling well." "I didn't want to hurt your feelings." "The check is in the mail." " I was just kidding." "I was only trying to help."

“A whole field in social psychology,” writes John Ortberg. “The study of what is called ‘cognitive dissonance’ – is based on our nearly endless ability to justify what we do or say so that it is consistent with our self-concept.” He continues,

We are all like the man on a diet who drove past the bakery and said he would only stop for doughnuts if there was an available parking space in front of it, clearly indicating that it was God’s will that he should eat a doughnut. Sure enough, his sixth time around the block, a parking space opened up.

Many of us have never invited someone else to be a Truth-Teller in our lives for the same reason we don’t get on a scale: We are afraid of what we might find out. What if the truth about me is too painful for me to bear? When I think about our longing for and fear of truth, I am reminded of two statements. One of them comes from actor Jack Nicholson in a film called A Few Good Men. Tom Cruise plays a lawyer cross-examining Nicholson’s character. Cruise pleads, “All I want is the truth.” To which Nicholson replies in his inimitable snarl, “You can’t handle the truth.”

Jesus had a fundamentally different take on the subject. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”[iii]

You have to decide whom to believe: Jesus or Jack Nicholson.

Dietrick Bonhoeffer’s words in this regard are simply too good not to be quoted in full.

One who because of sensitivity and vanity rejects the serious words of another Christian cannot speak the truth in humility to others. Such a person is afraid of being rejected and feeling hurt by another’s words. Sensitive, irritable people will always become flatterers, and very soon they will come to despise and slander other Christians in their community… when another Christian falls into obvious sin, an admonition is imperative, because God’s Word demands it. The practice of discipline in the community of faith begins with friends who are close to one another. Words of admonition and reproach must be risked.[iv]

We need Truth-Tellers who will help us grow in our acceptance of reality. But we also need them because they serve as anchors; they help hold us accountable to the commitments we make.

People need to make decisions about their spiritual life. William Paulson writes, “it is unlikely that we will deepen our relationship with God in a casual or haphazard way.”[v]

There is a big difference between deciding and preferring. For instance, have you ever tried journaling? Have you ever felt guilty that you didn’t fill it out often enough? (My own advice is to keep two journals; if you write one day and then there’s a gap of months or years before the next entry, just write, See other journal.)

People need to make decisions:

_What are my commitments about prayer?
_ What are my commitments about Scripture?
­_ What are my commitments about stewardship?
_ What are my commitments about speaking the truth in love?

We all need to make decisions about what values we want to honor, what spiritual practices we need to engage in, what kind of friends and neighbors and sons and daughters and husbands and wives we will be. But the decisions alone are not enough. We need to go public with them. We need accountability. We also need someone who will ask us, “How’s it going? Is your way of life working? Do some things need to change? What are you struggling with in regard to sin or temptation?

We need others to help us live up to our best intentions and deepest values. Just as mountaineers rope together for a climb and athletes work out with trainers and coaches, so it is in every area of life. Organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers are carefully structured around this one constant truth. They know that for people to think that they can live up to their best intentions on their own is a recipe for disaster. These groups are made up of people who have faced up to the fact that they’re not normal and are committed to help one another live one day at a time. David Watson says, “Anything that is subject to human limitation or error requires the collegial presence of another person to ensure responsibility. It is a fact of life.”[vi]

Watson writes that in the movement associated with John Wesley, people met together in little communities to help hold each other accountable for their deepest values and most important decisions. Wesley had a beautiful phrase for this; he called it “watching over one another in love.”[vii]

Before someone entered into this community, they would be asked a series of questions to see if they were serious about living in mutual accountability.

· Does any sin, inward or outward, have dominion over you?
· Do you desire to be told of your faults?
· Do you desire to be told of all your faults – and that plain and clear? (By this point, most of us are laughing at the idea of people putting up with such pointed questions.)
· Consider! Do you desire that we should tell you whatsoever we hear concerning you?
· Do you desire that in doing this we should come as close as possible, that we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom?
· Is it your desire and design to be on this and all other occasions entirely open, so as to speak everything that is in your heart, without exception, without disguise, and without reserve?

Can you imagine people in your family or your circle of friends answering yes to such questions? In Wesley’s day they did – by the thousands. They did so simply because they knew they could never grow into the people they wanted to be without help.

Over time, however, the commitment to truth-telling got lost. Watson writes that when these small groups shifted their focus from mutual accountability to vague sharing, most of the power of these little communities was lost. Eventually they began to die out. People tend to drift away from truth-telling. As Scott Peck puts is,

A life of total dedication to truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged…but the tendency to avoid challenge is so omnipresent in human beings that it can properly be considered a characteristic of human nature.[viii]

q Have you ever solicited someone to be a Truth-Teller?

q Is there currently a Truth-Teller in your life? (if so, what does that look like?)

q Why are people (perhaps yourself) often apprehensive to opening up their lives to this type of thing?

q What were some of your responses as you were reading the list of questions John Wesley’s communities asked one another?

Prayer: Ask God to show you someone that could be a potential Truth-Teller in your life.

Act One: Commit to meeting with a Truth-Teller consistently.
Act Two: When you get together, in the midst of whatever else you do, intentionally ask four simple questions.:
1. How’s your relationship with God?
2. How’s your relationship with your spouse?
3. How’s your relationship with your vocation?
4. How’s your relationships with other people, especially the people you work with frequently and closely?

Tid-bits - Week Two …

When regard for truth has been broken down
or even slightly weakened,
all things will remain doubtful.

One never errs more safely than
when one errs by too much loving the truth.

No man has a good enough memory
to make a successful liar.

Abraham Lincoln

Those who think it's permissible to tell white lies soon become color-blind.
Austin O'Malley

Tid-bits Con’t…
A store manager hear his clerk tell a customer, "No, ma'am, we haven't had any for a while, and it doesn't look as if we'll be getting any soon."
Horrified, the manager came running over to the customer and said, "Of course we'll have some soon. We placed an order last week."
Then the manager drew the clerk aside. "Never," he snarled, "Never, never, never say we're out of anything--say we've got it on order and it's coming. Now, what was it she wanted?"
"Rain," said the clerk.[ix]

A manager was asked by his laziest employee for a recommendation for another job. The manager thought hard all night for something that would be honest without hurting the young man's chances. He finally wrote: "You will be lucky if you can get him to work for you."[x]

Tid-bits Con’t…
Driving through Texas, a New Yorker collided with a truck carrying a horse. A few months later he tried to collect damages for his injuries. "How can you now claim to have all these injuries?" asked the insurance company's lawyer. "According to the police report, at the time you said you were not hurt." "It's like this," said the New Yorker. "I was lying in the road in a lot of pain, and I heard someone say the horse had a broken leg. The next thing I know the sheriff pulled out his gun and shot the horse. Then he turned to me and said, "Are you okay?"

A lie travels around the world
while truth is putting on her boots.
Charles Spurgeon

[i] Neil Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995, 105.
[ii] Daily Bread, August 28, 1992.
[iii] John 8:32.
[iv] Ibid. Dietrick Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 105, emphasis added.
[v] William Paulson: quoted in Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 1995, 137.
[vi] David Watson, Covenant Discipleship. Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1996, 17.
[vii] Ibid., 55-56.
[viii] M. Scot Peck, The Road Less Traveled. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978,52-53.
[ix] James Dent, in Charleston, W.VA. Gazette.
[x] Greg Wetmore, Reader’s Digest.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Truth in Love

“Speaking the truth in love,
may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.”

(Ephesians 4:15)

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin comments: Over the past decade, whenever I have lectured throughout the country on the powerful, and often negative, impact of words, I have asked audiences if they can go for twenty-four hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, anybody. Invariably, a minority of listeners raise their hands signifying yes, some laugh, and quite a large number call out, no! I respond by saying, "Those who can't answer yes must recognize that you have a serious problem. If you cannot go for twenty-four hours without smoking, you are addicted to nicotine. If you cannot go twenty-four hours without a drink, you're most likely an alcoholic. Similarly, if you cannot go for twenty-four hours without saying unkind words about others, then you have lost control over your tongue."[i]

“He who guards his lips guards his life,
but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”
(Proverbs 13:3 NIV)
Ephesians 4:15 is loaded with power. The first part of it uses the word “speaking.” Speaking and words have tremendous power. We are told on countless occasions throughout Scripture that our words have the power of life and of death, of blessing and of cursing. The can infuse one with strength or defeat. We have all experienced each of these in one form or another. Unfortunately, many of us, have experienced the destructive aspects of word far more than we have the life-infusing power of them.

Our culture and experiences have trained us well to find faults and be self-proclaimed expert critics. “As much as 77% of everything we think is negative and counterproductive and works against us,” reported Shad Helmstetter. “People who grow up in an average household hear “No” or are told what they can’t do more than 148,000 times by the time they reach age 18.” The end result is unintentional negative programming. Words have tremendous power.

The second component Paul uses is the idea of “truth.” Truth is another powerful element. Truth appropriately used, is one of the most constructive elements in the universe. Truth misused, like words, is one of the most destructive. Paul understands this very well. Thus, as a master wordsmith, he begins to pull the two elements together in the context of how healthy communities of people relate to one-another.

There are many people who can speak out. And there are many who know how to throw around stuff that’s true. But, few are those who can do both together in unison and in love. Paul says, to speak the truth in love. To do less is more than unbeneficial – it’s destructive, even deadly.

Calvin Miller recalls a woman in his former church who became angry because he wouldn’t let her son sing more solos in church. She jotted down in a notebook every instance in her contact with Miller in which he did things “that were not in the spirit of Christ.” Several months later she showed him all he had done that was offensive to her. Miller says, “What amazed me was that her list was mostly true. She didn’t say anything that was untrue, but what she said was unkind.”

Speaking the truth without love can serve the cause of evil, whether preaching or teaching God’s Word, rebuking a believer, or disciplining our children. Truth can be devastating. When clothed in love, however, it eliminates error, builds trust, and promotes the good of others. Calvin Miller states,

Malicious truth gloats like a conqueror.

Loving truth mourns that it must confront and show a brother his error.

Malicious truth struts at its power.

Loving truth weeps to find that the correction it inspires may for a while cause great pain.

Malicious truth cries ‘Checkmate, you are beaten!’

Loving truth whispers, ‘I correct you with the same pain you feel. But when the pain is over, we shall rejoice that honesty and love have been served.’”[ii]

Furthermore, it should also be noted that not speaking the truth in love is also unbeneficial and destructive. For many of us, the way we deal with anger and frustration with others is simply to not say anything to them. Days go by, weeks go by, months, even years, all the while, we remain silent – we never speak the truth to them and the life we’re living, no matter how courteous we may be towards them, is anything but love. Our silence in regards to speaking truth, is in effect, discharging false peace, disunity and often times even subversive hate. Can you spell E-L-E-P-H-A-N-T.

“To allow or contribute to disunity in this fellowship
is to be fundamentally at odds with the purpose of God in human history.
It may be common in our world,
but it is not normal in God’s eyes.”
(John Ortberg)

The Apostle Paul says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3). Paul doesn’t instruct us to create unity. This is not a mere human project, but a mandate from Heaven. Unity and community is a divine reality that has existed even long before the dawn of creation. God, Himself, is a community of One – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Paul is only reinforcing that mandate with a great sense of urgency. Markus Barth writes that the sense of this command is, “Yours is the initiative! Do it now! Pay any price! Spare no pain! You are to do it! I mean it!”[iii]

We are commanded to speak to those who are apart of our community. We are to let that which we speak be truth. And we are always be sure that it is saturated in love. In Christian communities there is often a tolerated divorce between speaking the truth and love. Speaking the truth to one another and it being done so in love were never meant to be separated, but in eternal-divine matrimonial union – the two were to ever be one. To be effective elephant hunters, we must kill the elephant that spews or swallows, explodes or implodes, say all or says nothing. There is a time for speaking and a time for silence, but whichever the time it is – it is always the time for it to be done so in love.

“You must live with people to know their problems,
and live with God in order to solve them.”
Peter T. Forsyth

Honest Conversations

q Do you tend to speak out or remain silent in times of relational conflict, frustration, etc.

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

q How would you rate yourself on speaking the truth in love?

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Low on the love…………....half full….………………over flowing

q Growing up, was your family more expressive, with everything openly on the table – with anything a possible subject for discussion? Or, was your family more closed, reserved, with some subjects that just, for whatever reason never made it to the conversation? (How so…?)

q What are the practical implications of Ephesians 4:15?

q And, are there any current situations where this verse needs to be applied?

“Truth carries with it confrontation.
Truth demands confrontations: loving confrontation,
but confrontation nevertheless.
If our reflex action is always accommodation
regardless of the centrality of the truth involved,
there is something wrong.”

Francis Scheffer
The Great Evangelical Disaster

[i] Rabbi Josepb Telushkin. Shared in a presentation was delivered during the September 1995 Center for Constructive Alternatives seminar, "Fiction and Faith. "
[ii] Calvin Miller, Moody Monthly, “To Be Perfectly Honest”, March, 1987.
[iii] Markus Barth, Ephesians 4-6, Anchor Bible, vol 34A (New York: Doubleday, 1974), 67.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Porcupine’s Dilemma

“A man who has friends must himself be friendly,
But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

(Proverbs 18:24)

Wildlife is an amazing thing. The writer of Proverbs once said, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.”[i] The writer of Proverbs also referred to eagles, serpents and ships. He was continually looking with an intent to gain wisdom from the world around him – the world of nature and wildlife. Today, we too, shall look at the world of nature and explore insights gained from the age old porcupine. John Ortberg, in his book Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them, points out ‘The Porcupine’s Dilemma’. He says:

“The North American Common Porcupine is a member of the rodent family that has 30,000 quills attached to it’s body. The porcupine is not generally regarded as a lovable animal. Each quill can be driven into an enemy, and the enemy’s body heat will cause the microscopic barb to expand and become more firmly embedded. The wounds can fester; the more dangerous ones, affecting vital organs, can be fatal.

The porcupine is not generally regarded as a lovable animal. The Latin name, erethizon dorsatum, means ‘the irritable back,”[ii] and they all have one. Books and movies celebrate almost every conceivable animal – not just dogs and cats and horses, but also pigs (Babe; Arnold Ziffel from the old TV show Green Acres), spiders (Charlotte’s Web), dolphins (Flipper), bears (Gentle Ben), and killer whales (Free Willy). Even skunks have Pepe Le Pew. I don’t know of any famous porcupines. I don’t know any child who has one for a pet.

As a general rule, porcupines have two methods for handling relationships: withdrawal and attack. They either head for a tree or stick out their quills. They are generally solitary animals. Wolves run in packs, sheep huddle in flocks; we speak of herds of elephants and gaggles of geese and even a murder of crows, but there is no special name for a group of porcupines. They travel alone.

Porcupines don’t always want to be alone. In the late autumn, a young porcupine’s thoughts turn to love. But love turns out to be a risky business when you’re a porcupine. Females are open to dinner and movie only once a year; the window of opportunity closes quickly. And a girl porcupine’s “no” is the most widely respected turndown in all the animal kingdom. Fear and anger make them dangerous little creatures to be around.

This is the Porcupine’s Dilemma: How do you get close without getting hurt?”

This is our dilemma, too. Every one of us carries our own little arsenal. Our barbs have names like rejection, condemnation, resentment, arrogance, selfishness, envy, contempt. Some people hid them better than others, but get close enough and you will find out they’re there. They burrow under the skin of our enemies; they can wound and fester and even kill. We, too, learn to survive through a combination of withdrawal and attack. We, too, find ourselves hurting (and being hurt by) those we long to be closest to.

Yet we, too, want to get close. We meet neighbors, go on dates, join churches, form friendships, get married, have children. We try to figure out how to get close without getting hurt. We wonder if there isn’t a softer, less-barbed creature out there – a mink or an otter perhaps.

And of course, we can usually think of a number of particularly prickly porcupines in our lives. But the problem is not just them. I’m somebody’s porcupine. So are you.

Conflict in the Middle East is boiling. It is striking to me that in the newspapers this morning two words from that region are becoming familiar to the West. These words express the only two ways that many of the people involved currently see for dealing with each other. The first is an Arabic word: jihad, attack. This is a story from survivor of the 1990’s war in Yugoslavia, as told by Miroslav Volf:

I am a Muslim, and I am thirty-five years old. To my second son, I gave the name “Jihad.” So he would not forget the testament of his mother – revenge. The first time I put my baby at my breast, I told him, “May this mild choke you if you forget.” So be it. The Serbs taught me to hate…My student, Zoran, the only son of my neighbor, urinated into my mouth. As the bearded hooligans standing around laughed, he told me: “You are good for nothing else, you stinking Muslim woman”… Jihad – war. This is the only way.[iii]

What we see drive-by shootings and suicide bombings is only the ultimate outworking of anger that is in all of our hearts. We get hurt, and we want to hurt back. Little jihads get fought every day between people who work together in the same office, between people who lead small groups in the same church; between husband and wife, between parent and child. Jihads go back as far as Cain and Abel: “While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”[iv]

The second word is a Hebrew word, hafrada. Hafrada is a word for separation and withdrawal. A newspaper account explains the policy: “Wall of the West Bank. Keep all but a few Palestinians out of Israel. Shut off most… dealings with the other side. And enforce it all with overwhelming military might.”[v]

We know about walls, too. The Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain are expressions of the same impulse that causes all of us to withdraw and withhold ourselves. Sometimes that wall is a newspaper at a breakfast table that expresses an emotional distance that cannot be bridged. At other times, it may be the TV remote, a book or headphones. Separation is as old as Adam and Eve: “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid,…so I hid.”[vi]

Jihad and hafrada. Attack and withdrawal. It is an ironic thing that the Middle East – home of many of the world’s great religions – should bequeath these two words to the art of human relationships.

But these are not just problems faced by strife-torn populations in a distant part of the world. Dallas Willard writes that assault and withdrawal are the two essential forms of relational sin. We assault others when we act against what is good for them. This is true even if it happens with their consent – to give a whiskey to an alcoholic, for example. We withdraw from someone when we regard their well-being as a matter of indifference to us. Attack and withdrawal are practiced by every human being on earth, and they damage every marriage and family and workplace and church.[vii]

At the root, they are the two expressions of the one great sin, which is a lack of love, the violation of the one great commandment. All of our relational mismanagement is really a variation on these two tendencies of the fallen human heart. When we feel threatened, we want to hurt others or hide from them. We, too, heard for a tree or stick out our quills.[viii]

q Are you more prone to Jihad or hafrada (attack or withdrawal)? (if your not sure, ask your spouse or a close friend.)

q How does attacking or withdrawal manifest itself?

q Can you identify where you acquired this? (i.e. mother, father, etc)

"People of the world don’t look at themselves,
and so they blame one another.”

Mevlana Rumi

"The greatest conflicts are not between two people
but between one person and himself."
Garth Brooks

"Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional."
Max Lucado

"To observe people in conflict is a necessary part of a child's education.
It helps him to understand and accept his own occasional hostilities
and to realize that differing opinions need not imply an absence of love."

Milton R. Sapirstein

[i] Proverbs 6:6.
[ii] “Irritable back”” See entry on porcupines in J.O. Whitaker, National Audubon Society Field Guid to North American Mannals. New York: Alfred E. Knopf, 1996.
[iii] Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996, 111.
[iv] Genesis 4:8.
[v] Newspaper account: Chicago Tribune, Sunday, 28 April 2002, section 1,1.
[vi] Genesis 3:10.
[vii] Ibid. Dallas Willard, Reonovation of the Heart, 182.
[viii] Ibid. John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal, 21-24.