Gossip Veiled in Prayers

Pushingyourselfto thelimit isworth it.

If you have been a reader of mine for any length of time, today’s blog post is going to seem a bit harsh.  Generally speaking I don’t come at a topic full throttle.  My friend Aimee uses the term “velvet hammer” to describe a gentle approach to a hard truth.  I tend to lean toward yielding a velvet hammer.  I believe coming at a topic full throttle puts people on the defensive, and people who are on the defensive can very rarely hear truth… they are in fight or flight mode.  I do my best to lay things out in a way that prompts others to think for themselves, putting them in a position of willing to listen, and then letting God do the rest. 

However, there is a topic I’ve been wanting to write on for quite some time.  I’m not sure that I can bring out the velvet hammer on this one.  I also want to put the cards out on the table that I’m as much talking to myself as others.  I know I have in the past been guilty of this (even if I didn’t realize it at the time) and now that I’m aware of it… it sticks out like a sore thumb.  I catch myself.  And, I catch others.  To the point in which I will call them on it before they finish speaking.

We, as women, tend to be the worst at it… veiling gossip as a prayer request.  We, as women, also seem to be the most oblivious to it.  I think I know why.

First we have to set the parameters on gossip.  Many people assume that gossip is full of slander and lies.  Gossip can be 100% truth.  The definition of gossip is: casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people.   Casual.  Unconstrained. 

Second, we have to look at the fuzzy lines between GOSSIP, VENTING, and PRAYER REQUESTS.  

Gossip is about other people, and purposeful gossiping is about changing the way others see a particular person.  It can be an outright attack on their character in order to bring them down, or it can be a little more subtle with the intention of raising ourselves above.  Sometimes gossip makes us feel important because we have information that others do not have.  And, sometimes gossip is just a way to stay relevant to the conversation.  It gives us something to add when there is a lull in the conversation or we feel left out.  The one thing that is clear is that whatever we are speaking is about other people.  Gossip is also opposite to the Fruit of the Spirit of “self control”.  Note the definition used the word “unconstrained”, which means it has no boundaries.

An example of gossip:  “Did you hear that Margie’s husband is having an affair?  I can’t believe it!  She always seemed like everything was great in her life.”

Venting, is sometimes a good thing that can go really poorly.  Venting is where we are under so much weight from life that we are going to just explode unless we can talk about it with others.  The problem with venting is that it can very much turn into gossip, if we are not careful.  How does this happen?  One of two ways.  First, it can happen because we are trying to provide context for what happened or who hurt us in order to make the person we are confiding in understand why we are upset. 

Second, we are sharing information in order to justify why we are upset.  Venting becomes a mixture of reporting on another person and explaining how it affected us.  Venting can also become unconstrained, because it can be like turning on a faucet and the knob breaking off.  Once you get going, you almost can’t stop.  Before you know it you are accounting for all of the wrongs this person ever committed against you, or all the terrible things that have happened to you over the course of your life that have culminated to this one moment.  Unconstrained. 

An example of venting:  “I am so angry with my Mother in Law.  She’s never been nice to me. <insert 16 years worth of laundry list of wrongs>.  I finally had enough and I snapped at her by saying…. “

Venting can be coupled with a prayer request by starting off the vent with a prayer request.  Which is why we need to understand the difference between gossiping and a prayer request.

A genuine Prayer Request should be as simple as seeking our sisters and brothers to Christ to go before throne with us over an issue/person.  Prayer requests can also slip into the realm of gossip.  First, we can use a prayer request as a way to share information about a person that is out right gossip but sounds like a prayer request:

At small group, prayer request time:  “I think we should pray for Margie, she just found about her husband has been cheating on her.”

Second, we can set up the prayer request by providing context in order to justify the urgency or importance of the prayer request.  

Example:   “We need to pray for my neighbor’s son’s friend Christopher.  He has been in and out of trouble his whole life.  He’s been in jail.  Gone through rehab multiple times and failed. <insert sordid details> Now, his girlfriend who is also a drug user, is pregnant…”

In even our best of intentions, we are thinking that others will not take our prayer request seriously enough unless we describe all the gnarly details.  Then, we hope, they will see how dire the situations is and how much those prayers are needed.  Yet, they don’t realize they are actively gossiping.

Gossiping is a messy thing, and when you gossip about others (even in a prayer request) we become known as untrustworthy.  We learn who not to trust with our important stuff because of who we hear sharing news that they shouldn’t be.

Recently, I received a phone call from someone alerting me to a tragic scenario & a family in need of prayer.  I had not heard, because I really wasn’t in contact with that family any longer.  When I explained this to the woman, she still continued to speak out the horrifying details of what happened.  I went so far as to say to her “I really don’t need to know that information, and I don’t want to know that information”.  That didn’t stop her from continuing her train of thought… it didn’t stop her gossiping.  I had to call a spade, a spade.  That is always an awkward conversation.

James 1:26 is about as straight forward as it gets.  If you think you are a godly person, and you gossip in the guise of a prayer request, your religion is worthless.  You are not guarding your words, you are not reigning in your tongue.  You are sinning. 

So how do we do better?

In the first example, we just need to stop.  Just because we KNOW information doesn’t give us the right to SHARE information.  I use the following question as my guiding principle…

Have I been given permission by the person to share this information?  If I have not been given permission to speak about a situation by those whom are directly involved (not just one person, but all involved) then I need to keep my mouth shut.  It is not my story to tell, it is not my place to speak about it… even if it is 100% true.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say especially if it is true.  Without their permission to speak about it, it is gossip.  There is no debate our exception.  If you do not have expressed permission to share, you are gossiping. Period.  End of story.

In the second example, about venting, I’m learning that for it to be a true release… I do not need to share every gory detail.  In fact, the story should be less about the person and the situation and more about ME and how I am handling it.  I can speak in generalities (we don’t ever seem to agree, we rub each other the wrong way, etc.) without giving the laundry list of every slight.  But I need to focus more on how I am responding.  Even if the person hurt me and is totally wrong, I can be just as wrong in how I responded.  I use the following question as my guiding principle with venting…

Am I trying to find a solution or relief, or am I trying to justify my own feelings and behavior?  If I am venting with the intention of gaining people on my side by listing all the dirty details, I am gossiping.  If I am setting a general context, then focusing more on my own response and my desire to have a better relationship or better circumstance… I’m looking for restoration and reconciliation.  It also means, even thought I am venting, I have a willingness to hear that I am wrong and what I could do to make the situation better.

In the third example, it is much simpler.  I simply make a prayers request like, “Please pray for my friend Margie.”  Guess what?  God already knows what Margie is going through.  God doesn’t need me to inform Him of the details.  And, those who are praying with you, they don’t need to know the details in order to pray.   I’ve learned over the years that we never know who is in the room with us that may know the people we are praying about.  We may be speaking details related to a situation that is not public knowledge and unknowingly shared information to someone who was not to know or who may go back to our friend/family member about what we have shared.  For prayer requests, I use the following three questions as my guiding principle…

Have I asked permission to share this prayer request with my group?  Have I asked the person how much information I can share in the request?  Does this group of prayer warriors need to know the details in order to pray?  If the answer to any of these questions is no… then that is a prayer request that I need to either keep to myself, or keep in the most general terms.  This is why I am a HUGE fan of the “raise your hand if you have any unspoken requests” time in prayer groups.   It is the opportunity to corporately lift up what is on your heart without sharing the details with others.

I do believe in some situations the prayer requests are genuine, and that the heart behind sharing so many details is to establish the urgency of praying.  It isn’t uncommon to say we will pray for something and ultimately forget.  By creating urgency, we hope that it will cause the person to take the request seriously & not forget… perhaps even stop in the moment to pray about it, or keep praying about over a length of time.

However, if we do not have permission… we are gossiping.   We are not reigning in our tongue.  We are sharing information without constraint and without consideration.

It really is as simple as filtering your words through that first question… Have I asked permission to share this with others?

If you don’t have permission…

If you didn’t ask for permission…

Don’t say a word.  Stop gossiping.

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A thought on Gossip disguised as Prayer.

MBA

I think we have all experienced, at one time or another, a person who uses the prayer request time during small group to openly gossip.  Or, you get stopped in the church lobby by someone who has an urgent prayer request for you… and you know that their intentions are less than honorable.  I think gossip disguised as prayer is something that becomes more obvious, especially as you mature in your faith.

However, I’ve noticed another form of gossip and it’s absolutely unintentional.  I recognized it, even spoke to the person about it, and yet at the same times I was bothered by how it happened in the first place.  Only recently was I able to put my finger on exactly what the underlying issue is.

It was many months ago, when I was sitting in a meeting.  A woman came into the meeting, she was clearly upset.  She asked those of us in the meeting if we could pray for her neighbor.   As she left her home to get to the meeting, she became aware of a serious situation unfolding.  Knowing the neighbor’s background, this dear woman knew that prayer was something that was needed.  We were happy to pray for her neighbor.

However, it was how it all unfolded that made me uncomfortable.  As she explained the prayer request, she also went into a long description of the woman’s history, past issues she had witnessed, her concerns for the woman, etc.  I was uncomfortable because I knew that I didn’t need all of this information in order to pray for this woman. God already knew her details.  I couldn’t help but wonder, “What if someone in this room knows the woman?  What if they recognize her in the details?  What if they got a call on their way in about this situation, and here is someone putting it all out on the table?”   I also questioned whether or not this woman had permission to share these details with complete strangers.

After the meeting, my heart weighed heavy.  I recognized that I was in a situation that was a well intentioned, sincere, prayer request.  At the same time, it had the familiarity of sitting and listening to gossip.  I knew that our colleague was NOT the gossiping type, there was no question of her integrity in this matter.  It was clear to me that she had no idea what she had just done was really inappropriate.

I spoke with her directly, and then I shared a memo to our team about prayer requests in the future.  I made sure that I hit all the major points, starting with making sure we have permission to share details and clarity on which details can be shared and which cannot.  I stated that if you didn’t have permission to share, prayer requests for that person should be done in name only and leave the details to the Lord.  I reminded our team that it is a small community, and you never know who may actually know the person you are speaking about.  It may not be our place to share the dirty laundry they are struggling with.  I even pointed out that giving out too much information was akin to gossip and we must be careful.

We’ve never had a situation since.  However, I’ve not been able to let the situation go.  I really wanted to understand HOW that happened in the first place.  How did she not realize she was giving too much information & teetering on the edge of gossip?  Why did she not even consider that someone in the room may know this person?  What kept her from taking into consideration that she should ask for permission to share the details?  And, truthfully why did she even feel it was necessary to give all of this information in the first place.  These questions stuck with me for quite some time.  Today, I figured it out.

I was speaking with a friend about the difference between men and women.  My husband once came home with a handful of cash.  His boss’ wife was in the hospital, they took up a collection and wanted to send flowers.  He handed me the cash and asked if I could handle it, he gave me her name and the hospital she was at.  I began to ask questions.  What was the procedure?  When was she admitted?  How long would she be there for?  My husband thought I was being nosy asking for so many details.  However, that wasn’t the case at all.  I needed to know the details to determine if I needed to spend extra on next day delivery while she was still in the hospital, or could put the money into a nicer arrangement that could be delivered a day or two later.  Was she in a room/ward where should could have flowers or would a balloon arrangement be more appropriate.

Details are important to women.   Details help us to see the bigger picture, and understand the full scope of the circumstances.  We see the details as important particularly in areas where we have more experience, so that we can respond appropriately.  When we pray, being able to pray in detail can make us feel more productive and involved than a general prayer.

Recently, a friend reached out for help.  A pretty terrible situation fell upon one of her family members.  She needed prayer and she really needed actually help of donations of funds or physical items.  In honesty, her first few sentences were more than enough.  Anyone with a heart would have felt bad for the family and would help anyway that could.  However, as she explained the need, she gave a LOT of backstory.  It was as if she was trying to justify her request for immediate prayer and immediate help.  His current situation was bad enough, but she felt by sharing more of his history we could see that it’s been one thing after another.  She felt this information either helped to justify her plea for help or would illicit more response from us due to the urgency and severity of the circumstance.

The more details we give, the more we can connect with people on a mental and emotional level.  The more details we have, the more real something is.  The more details we have, the more urgent a need is.  The more details we have, the more we can justify our actions or help others to justify responding to our need.  When we express details ahead of a prayer request, we are attempting to get an emotional reaction to the request.  It is a way of indicating that this prayer is necessary, urgent, and needs to be taken seriously.  It can also be our way of justifying the request, especially if we are going interrupt something else happening to make the request.

As I think about my colleague, I realized this was the case for her.  From her perspective, it was highly unlikely that we would know this woman.  She wanted to interrupt our meeting to pray for her neighbor, and therefore felt as if she had to justify that interruption.  Her heart was so broken for this woman, that she wanted to make sure we understood the urgency and severity of her request.  She was using the details so that we would view the request with the same importance she did.

This heartfelt desire for compassion and urgency in praying is why my colleague was incapable of thinking rationally about how she was going about her petition for prayer.  It was her concern for this woman that kept her from seeing with clarity that she might be gossiping. Her intentions were noble and wonderful.  When I spoke with her about my perspective, and how uncomfortable it made me… she was apologetic.  In hindsight she could see what she didn’t see in the moment.

So, I ask this of you.  Before you accuse someone of gossip disguised in prayer, consider what you know about the person.  It could simply be a matter of their heart overthrowing their reason, because they love and hurt so much for the world and those who live in it.

Also, make sure you ask yourself before sharing any prayer request:

  • Do I have permission to share?
  • How much do I have permission to share?
  • Am I sharing these details because they are important or to justify my request?

So… I saw Bad Moms, and I laughed.

In case you don’t have any clue what movie I am talking about, here is a promo shot:

badmoms.jpg

First, I’d like to admit right out of the gate I didn’t walk into this movie with naive expectations.  The trailers gave a pretty good indication that there would be some inappropriate humor.  Second, I am not planning on giving away any spoilers.  There were definitely some parts I thought the movie could have lived without, not only for the story line but even in the presentation.  Sometimes it could go too far.  Third, there were some parts of this that were REALLY unrealistic when you are talking about any group of moms.  Lastly, there were also a LOT of truths.

Overall, I laughed and I laughed hard.  At one point I laughed so hard (as I was taking a sip from my straw) that I pushed air through the straw, which caused a small tidal wave in my cup, and that resulted in my drink landing in my eyes.  Which just caused a whole other fit of laughter for myself and those sitting around me.  I laughed until I cried and my stomach hurt.  Yet, there were some moments that I nodded in solidarity.  There were moments that were uncomfortable.  And, yes… as I said before totally unnecessary.

What I want to write about (and I’m up for conversation too) is WHY a movie like this not only resonated with moms but was drawing us in like moths to a flame.

My first thought is probably the most obvious, there is an enormous amount of pressure on moms to be it all, do it all, and do so perfectly.  Whether it is the perfect birthday party, bento box lunches, or simply making it to every school and sport activity… we feel the pressure.  We notice so much of what is around us, like the mom who has the perfect hair and make up in the parent pick up line… when we were struggling to get out of the house with a bra under our pajama shirt.  We see the kids with the perfectly styled hair, accessories, and sparkling white sneakers…. and we just spent the last 40 minutes looking for eyeglasses or a belt.  Other moms dropping their kids off early, and we are 10 minutes late because we had to go back home and pick up the flute that was left behind… or because our darling child took 15 minutes to brush her teeth.

How do these moms do it?  We cast shade in their direction, but really we are asking ourselves… why can’t I do it?

I think there are a number of moms who have run the scenario through their head of just saying no.  No to the requests by the husband, kids, school, coaches, etc.  An opportunity to just walk away from the pressure and enjoy life again.  To make the choice of not being the perfect mom anymore, and instead be the bad mom.

This brings me to my second thought, as you watch the trailers you see a group of women having fun. We are not talking bunko party fundraiser fun, but the kind of fun we had as teenagers  and young single adults.  The fun we had when we didn’t care what others thought, where it was ok to be silly, and there was an expected freedom in the general knowledge we were going to make mistakes and bad choices.  It takes us back to a time when we didn’t have to be an adult, and could just let loose and be free.

With motherhood came some sort of unwritten code of conduct, that we couldn’t be silly anymore.  We began to take everything too seriously, including ourselves.  Let’s face it, books and the advice of television “experts” reinforced this.  Reminding us over and over again that it was time to grow up, put away childish things, and get our heads out of the clouds.  As we did this, many of us sent fun sailing away for good.  We stopped smiling, we stopped laughing, and we stopped being silly.

The movie Bad Moms called out to that free spirit inside of us, that desperately wanted to laugh… and laugh hard.  So, it pulls out all the stops.  The women let loose in a way we couldn’t, and we live vicariously through them.  They say the things that roll through our minds & do the things we secretly wished we could.  (Ok, maybe not all of the things they say and do, but you get the point).

I also believe this appeals to Christian women so deeply because of the bar that is set for our expected behavior.  If other moms are feeling the pressure to be perfect in their every day life, Christian moms understand the additional expectations put on the Christian mom.  To have perfect children that love Jesus, quote the bible, volunteer with the elderly, and gladly donate all their birthday money to the missions fund.  To be women who are serious about the study of the Lord, leading small groups, inviting women over to mentor and pray together, to dress in simple clothes, and be ever diligent in our choices of entertainment.  There is a pressure that all of our time should be so seriously focused on Christ, that we can’t let loose and laugh until our sides hurt.

Confession… I saw the movie on opening night.  It’s taken me almost a month to admit I saw it, because frankly… I expected to be judged for it.  I was worried about what my church friends, my readers that look to me for wisdom, the women or leaders who are reading through my blog trying to decide if I would be the right speaker for their next women’s event… what would these people think of me?

I learned something from the movie though… my eyes were opened to how long it had been since I had laughed so much and so hard.  I realized how seriously I take myself and made the decision not to.  I embraced that silliness is okay and even healthy for my kids to see.  I made the decision that I wanted to laugh more, but with those whom I am the closest to… not a theater full of strangers.  I want that girl posse who has my back, in the most biblical way possible… and who will be silly with me.  Women who know how to laugh, smile, and stop trying to be something that is impossible to attain… perfect.

All of those parts of the movie that I thought were unnecessary, they don’t have to be part of my life.  But the good stuff… I welcome it.  We are all GOOD MOMS despite our imperfections and the times we muck things up… because we are LOVING MOMS.  In the end that is what matters.  The Lord didn’t call us to a life of misery, but of fulfillment and joy as mothers… and laughter.  So much laughter.

When the Church Hurts

brokenangel

Sometimes, we forget that the church is full of broken people.  We forget that they are sinners, just like us.  We forget that they are imperfect, prone to wander, and any other negative adjective that we could apply.  However, we do remember these things about ourselves.  And, in doing so we place some unrealistic expectations on other people.

  • We expect others to be perfect Christians.
  • We expect others to forgive us when we are not.

A season ago, I found myself in a predicament.  I consider myself an observant person.  I can usually read people well, and I really REALLY try to avoid drama.  Yet some how, there I was.  Knee deep in gossip.  What is worse, is that in my attempts to try to fix the situation… I was drowning myself.

My first mistake was that I didn’t recognize gossip for what it actually was.  What I thought I was hearing were concerns, and that I was being asked to step up and help facilitate change to happen.  Instead, what I allowed to happen was an engagement in gossip with no actual problem solving.

We need to be hyper aware that not all conversation is positive.   Even things like prayer requests can be a cover for passing on juicy gossip.  Criticism of the church, Pastor, or ministries in the church are not always constructive.  Quite often others will feed us their “issues” because they are not brave enough to say it directly to the person in charge.  Instead of being thrown under the bus, we then walk out in front of it willingly. 

My second mistake was assuming that they were coming to me because I was a person they trusted, and could help fix the problem.  I ended up woven into a web of conversations, and stepping up into role that I never should have.  It was not my place to solve their issues.

In a flurry of panic, the last thing we need to do is try to solve everything ourselves.  Especially if we are not the person who is immediately involved.  We can not become an open ear to everyone’s complaints about someone else or the way they are leading.  Instead of taking it all in, and then stepping up as a representative of the group… we should be pointing each individual voice in the right direction.  As my husband reminded me:  “If it was so important to them … they wouldn’t have called you. They would have gone right to the source.”  Clearly, it wasn’t that important.

My third mistake was the assumption that, because I was serving in ministry, that those I was serving with would be honest and upfront.  After a pretty tense incident, conversations began.  Trying to diffuse the situation myself, and find a possible solution, I engaged in the conversation and tried to pull everyone together.   Ultimately, when pressed on what happened, I was the only person who didn’t back-peddle.  This lead to a crack in my relationship with another leader, a distrust toward those I was serving with, a hit to my credibility and reputation, and influenced my attitude toward the church I was attending.

When we assume that others will be as honest and forthcoming as we would be, we are just going to set ourselves up for disappointment.  Why?  Self preservation is human nature.  What happened when Adam and Eve at the apple?  Adam blamed Eve.  Eve blamed the Serpent.  When push comes to shove, people will protect their own self interest, even at the cost of their relationship with you or risking your reputation.  Just because we are serving in a church together, we shouldn’t assume these things will never happen. 

My fourth mistake came in the form of promises that I made.  As each person approached me, conversations began with something along the lines of: “This is just between us…”   I thought I responded correctly, by giving a caveat that I would only step up if each person was willing to speak their mind openly the next time we met.  With their agreement to those terms, I felt that the promise was safe to make… because, at the right time it would all come out.    I was very, very, very wrong.  In fact, that right time never presented itself.  Now I was in between a rock and a hard place. I had opened my mouth, but I was left standing alone.

In this situation, I was left with two choices and I didn’t like either of them.  I could choose to keep my promise, and let my own reputation fall to ruin.  Or, I could break the promises I made and throw each person under the bus.  This was a no win situation, especially at the time because the question meant preserving myself or my relationships.  How could I be angry with them for throwing me under the bus, and then turn around and do the same thing?  Yet, on the other hand, if I kept that promise… I was allowing myself to go down in flames and potentially ruining any future ministry service. 

I was hurt.  Truly hurt.  Deeply hurt.  Hurt that I would be accused after having a flawless record of leadership.  Hurt that I wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt.  Hurt by those who I considered friends.  It was going to have a huge impact on me over the next year, but it was also going to usher in some truths and lessons I needed to learn.

Now, I have a keener eye for gossip and the many forms it comes in.  I’ve learned how to deal with “talk and chatter” as it comes my way.  I’ve learned to never put myself in that position again, making a promise that would back me into a corner.  I’ve learned more about the need for boundaries and avoiding assumptions.

In totality, when I reflect back on that season, the biggest mark on my heart came from the assumptions I made.  If we are being honest with ourselves, this type of scenario isn’t uncommon.  It happens in school yards to corporate break rooms.  My biggest assumption was in the notion that this wouldn’t happen in the church, not among my family of believers.   Not among those whom I called friend, and served with loyally.  I was holding a group of people to a higher standard, because they called themselves Christians and we served in the church together.

My heart was broken over the situation, and it took me a long time to forgive.  To forgive those who I felt betrayed me, to forgive myself for allowing it to happen, and even to forgive those who doubted me.  But, I have forgiven.  All of us.  As the Lord walked me through this fire, and refined me… my eyes were open.   I could understand where each party was coming from and why they responded as they did, right or wrong.  Including myself.  I was able to recognize my part, finally, and ask for forgiveness.  I’ve grown from it, and become a better leader for it.

But, I was hurt.  I felt hurt by the church, and those I served with.  What you learn in these types of situations is the imperfection of the body.  Just like in the scriptures, no matter how close we are to God and how much knowledge we have about His Word… we are still human.  Just as much as others in the church failed me, I failed myself.  Just as much as I need forgiveness and grace, when I mess up… so do they.

Our churches are full of people who are in various stages of their walk, and our flesh still gets the better of us.   If Christ could die for the sins of man, why wouldn’t I forgive my sisters in Christ for being nothing more than a flawed human being.  If I want forgiveness for all the times I mess up, I set the example when I forgive.  This doesn’t mean I neglect the lessons I have learned, that I forgo healthy boundaries, etc.  Not at all, we are warned about wolves dressed as sheep.  But not every offense is from a wolf, sometimes it comes from the sheep who is a bit smudged. Sometimes, sheep bite.

When the church, or members of the body, hurt us… it is tempting to run.  We want to leave and find a better place.  We may run to a brand new church or away from the church altogether.  Let me assure you, where ever you decide to run… imperfect people are there.   They are in every church, every office building, every community center, and every home.

Let’s not assume to the worst of people, but we should be cautious to not expect perfection out of them either.  Be quick to forgive, and forgive as you would hope to be forgiven.  And, ultimately, learn to forgive those who have not asked your forgiveness.

When I reflect back on that season, to date, not one has ever apologized.  I went through all of the emotions.  I wanted to get in their face and call them to the carpet for their part.  That was when I was angry.  I wanted to look them square in the face and simply state that I was disappointed and let down.  That was when I was hurt.  I wanted to go to say that I could never trust any of them again.  That was when I was grieving.  But, I didn’t.  I simply waited.  Surely, over time, at least some would feel bad for what happened.  There would either be an admission of guilt to leadership or at the very least an apology to me.  That was when I was patient.  But, nothing ever happened… no apology or admission ever came.  So, I lingered.  I had to be willing to forgive those who didn’t believe they needed forgiveness or who were too ashamed to ask for it.

There I found freedom.  There I found peace.  It was there I could let go, more forward and reconcile my relationship to the church.

As I took a break from this post, to give it fresh eyes, I popped over to facebook.  Another writer (more well known than myself) was also writing on forgiveness today. In her piece On Forgiveness and Freedom , Jen Hatmaker quoted from a book:

In Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend wrote: “When you refuse to forgive someone, you still want something from that person, and even if it is revenge that you want, it keeps you tied to him forever. . . . [Forgiveness] ends your suffering, because it ends the wish for repayment that is never forthcoming and that makes your heart sick because your hope is deferred (Prov. 13:12). . .Cut it loose, and you will be free.”

The moment I finally had enough of clinging and lingering in my expectation of an apology, and forgave… it was done.  I do not believe a single person involved intentionally set out to hurt me, I don’t believe they could have known the ripple effect their choices would make.  Christ asked for God to forgive those who persecuted him, stating “they know not what they do”.   This is what I choose to believe about my experience with hurt in the church, I choose to see the best in them, letting go of my hurt by forgiving them, and then by setting my sights on the road ahead vs. the path behind me.

 

#Write31Days – Post 23 – False Teachers

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A few weeks ago, during our small group, a woman asked me how to identify a false teacher.  Specifically, her concerns were based in the fact that she, herself, was still currently learning the scripture.  The Bible tells us to test false teachers and prophets against God’s Word, but if you are currently not well versed in the scriptures… how do you begin?   I am going to share here, the advice I gave to her.  I hope that it is helpful.

 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

Matthew 7:15

  1.   Begin in prayer.  Whenever I am presented with an opportunity to hear from a new speaker, read a new book, or perhaps even attend another church as a guest… I start in prayer.  I need the Holy Spirit to be that discerning voice, that physical presence in my body, that will help me.  It is that voice you get in your head, when something just doesn’t sound right.  That knot in the pit of your stomach when you are just not comfortable in your seat.  The voice that says do not listen, flee.  I pray that God will move me away from false teachers.
  2.  Do some research.  Thankfully the internet usually abounds with information on any sort of public figure.  Most churches, organizations, and conferences have websites that will clue you into their statement of faith, allow you to see past sermons or snippets from events, etc.  I want to know who this person is, what is their background, what do they believe in, and who is in their circle of influence, who do they consider a mentor or friend.  You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.
  3. Remember context matters.  In your research phase, you may come across blogs and articles that speak against ANY given author, speaker, or well known Pastor.  What I would challenge you to do, is to not take their word as gospel truth.  If they post a 15 second sound clip, do not take that at face value.  Instead, take the extra time and see if you can find those quotes, video clips, etc in full context.  Many things can be taken out of context, the Bible often is.  We need the full context of the statement (including who their audience was, and WHEN this was spoken) in order to make an educated decision.  If I can’t find the quote/video in full context, I disregard it.
  4. Time changes people.  I am so thankful I am not the person I was 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and even 5 years ago.  I have grown a lot in my knowledge of the scriptures.  Therefore, I will generally disregard any old quotes, writings, videos as evidence against a speaker.  To be specific, I won’t usually consider anything that is over 10 years old…. UNLESS the speaker hasn’t changed their position.  If this is the same platform being recycled every few years, then certainly it is important.  But, I recently heard a woman call a current author a “false teacher” over a comment she made over 13 years ago… when the author was barely in her twenties.  She has grown a lot since then, and that is evident in her more recent work.  Therefore I am more interested in who the person is NOW, what to they believe today versus what their inexperienced youthful self saw as truth.
  5. Cautiously ask others.   I used the word cautiously here, because we are looking at personal opinion.  Personal opinion can quickly become gossip, it isn’t always factual, and even facts that are spoken may be inaccurate.  To proceed cautiously I would suggest not asking everyone (like a general “what do you think of this person” post on social media.  That will create a STORM.  Instead look to key people whom you respect, and ask their thoughts.  This could be your Pastor, his wife, bible study leaders, etc.   It is ok if they say something along the lines of “he doesn’t sit well with me, but I can’t tell you why”.  That’s their discernment at work (see #1).  However, if they start giving you “facts”, take the time and do the research (see #2) to ensure accuracy.
  6. Keep Studying.  No matter what, keep studying the Word for yourself.  The more acquainted you become with the scriptures, the sooner you begin raising red flags at false teachers/prophets.   In the beginning, it may simply come from your greater knowledge of God’s character over knowledge of the scriptures verbatim.  If a false teacher says something that just doesn’t fall in line with the nature of God, it will stand out…. even if you can’t put your finger on the exact scripture reference at the moment.  Over time, you will become more familiar with the scriptures themselves and improve your ability to recognize scriptures that are twisted or taken out of context.

These six tips are great ways to help you begin to identify false teachers, while you are becoming a better student of the Word.  The more you know the Word, the more you know God… and the easier it is to identify those who are misusing, misrepresenting, and misquoting the Scripture.

The following are some scriptures that clue us into ways we can identify false teachers and prophets:  (bold emphasis is mine)

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. – Ephesians 5:11        False teachers/prophets are going to make claims, but their claims will not come true.  They will claim healing, but there will be none.  They will give the illusion of miracles, but they will not be real.  They will prophesy, but the prophesies won’t come true.   

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.- Romans 16:17    These are people who are trouble makers, pot stirrers, always looking for a fight and to cause trouble.  They are creating divisions in the church, and spinning scripture out of context further causing division among the body of believers.

For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.  – Romans 16:18     They are smooth talkers, who say the things we want to hear.  It sounds nice, it sounds appealing, and it may even sound like truth.  But they are not trying to serve you, or God… but only themselves.  Everything they do is for their own gain.  More money, more prestige, more celebrity, more power.  They may also speak with authority and their words may seem credible, but their intentions are to build themselves up over man… not pointing man to God.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.  – 2 Timothy 4:3   These teachers will tell us what we want to hear in a way that sounds like truth, and even those who love God will fall for it… if they do not know His word for themselves.  It will sound like truth, because it will distort scripture to support their claims.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. – 2 Peter 2:1     False teachers and prophets are sneaky, and actively sneaking their way into the lives of believers.  They won’t always stand out and boldly proclaim things contrary to the scriptures. Some will slither in to our churches, sitting next to us in pews.  And like the serpent was able to get Eve to question what God really said about eating the forbidden fruit… they will make us question what the bible means in scripture passages.  They will claim to be our sisters and brothers in Christ, but will be wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15)

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. – 1 John 4:1-3  There will be false teachers and prophets that are more obvious, speaking directly against God, speak of God without Jesus Christ, or speak of God in a way that contradicts what the scripture reveal of Him.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.- Colossians 2:8  False teachers and prophets will use human thinking, logic, theories and empty evidences as an explanation in an attempt to discredit God or to change how we think of God.

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.   2 Corinthians 11:13-15   False teachers will also disguise themselves as leaders, not just fellow believers.  They will call themselves apostles, disciples, pastors, bishops, reverends, priests, etc.  They will use terms we are familiar with to create a credibility.  However the Word tells us that we will see through their claims by their deeds, how they behave and what actions they take.

And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. – 2 Peter 2:2   Multiple times in the scriptures we are warned that false teachers are going to be attractive to people.  They may be good looking, seem to have their lives all together, the words that flow out of their mouths will be appealing.  They will have charm, charisma, and an attractive personality.  They will seem to be financially blessed, free of difficulties in their lives, everything appears to always go in their favor.

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

  – 1 Timothy 3:6-5

There are many, many more, scriptures that talk about the false teachers and prophets found in the Old Testament through the New Testament.    These are just a small sampling of those scriptures.  This is also not a discount to those who have received Spiritual Gifts!  Rather it is a call to all believers to be students of the word, to have a solid foundation in sound doctrine, and an intentional prayer life that keeps their focus on WHO GOD REALLY IS, WHAT HIS WORD REALLY SAYS, AND HOW GOD CONSISTENTLY ACTS.

About a year ago, I read an article written by a Christian woman on a piece of scripture that was entirely off the mark.  She ended it with an invitation to challenge her interpretation of the scripture, but only if you could support your argument with the Bible.  I responded to the article, siting multiple resources on the historical context of it.  I also included Bible verses that discounted her interpretation.  Her reply???  I don’t have enough time to address all of this individually.  I disagree with you and she listed a few quick retorts.  Then do you know what she did?  She blocked me from responding.

I followed her rules.  I had more biblical evidence than she did.  She was unwilling to even check if my evidence was accurate.  And she closed down the conversation.

What did that tell me?  False teacher.

2 Pet2:1 – false prophets among the people, false teachers among you. —– She labeled herself a Christian.

2 Tim4:3 – they will not endure sound doctrine. —– She was unwilling to consider BIBLICAL evidence.

Rom 16:17 – cause division, create obstacles to sound doctrine.  —– Her argument took scripture out of context, and was pitting Christians vs. Christians.  You were only right if you supported her “interpretation”.

Ephesians 5:11 – take no part in fruitless work, but expose it.  —– When she was rebuked using scripture, she disabled me from continuing to expose her. 

1 Tim3:6-5 – teaching a different doctrine that didn’t agree with the words of Christ.   —– She was conceited in her belief that she was right. She was creating controversy and friction among God’s people.   She was absolutely unteachable, and her deeds exposed her.  (2 Cor 11:15)

#Write31Days – Post 7 – Dishonorable Agreement

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Have you ever found yourself arguing with your husband about something, and you feel like you are just going around in circles?  Or, perhaps, you feel like your opinions and feelings on the subject are being sucked to the bottom like a whirlpool in the ocean?  Have you spent years battling over the same subject, that now you don’t even bother to bring it up?  You may have even moved into the position of:  “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”

I totally get it.  I really, truthfully do.  On certain subjects my husband and I could not have opinions that are further apart.  In fact, depending on the actual subject at hand, either one of us can be a dominating force.  It has taken us YEARS to find that place of compromise, or at least to feel as if we are both being heard.

I am also the type of person who will want to continue to hash out the discussion until I totally understand his decision.  If it doesn’t make sense to me, a simple “I said no” isn’t going to fly.  It’s not even that I am challenging his decision, but more that I want to understand the WHY behind it.  In some instances I am also looking to grasp the permanence of his decision.  It this a “no, forever” or a “no, not right now” response?

Recently, in a discussion group, a woman posed the question:

“How do I honor my husband when I don’t agree with him?”

You can honor your husband, and still disagree with him.  The honor lies in HOW you disagree with him.    Just as you can dishonor your husband when you agree with his decision, because HOW you are in agreement make a difference.

  • Don’t mumble under your breath, that’s dishonorable.
  • Ask if there is any room for compromise, that’s honorable.
  • Don’t give him the silent treatment, that’s dishonorable.
  • Ask if you can revisit the topic in a few months, that’s honorable.
  • Don’t withhold affection from him, that’s dishonorable.
  • Try to see his perspective and understand his reasoning, that’s honorable.
  • Don’t assume you know what he is thinking, that’s dishonorable.
  • Ask for an explanation, and have a willingness to accept it, that’s honorable.

When we can be honorable toward our husband, even when we disagree, we are keeping the lines of communication open.

You want to buy a new potting bench for the patio, so you ask your husband.  He says no.  You ask why, and he responds that there isn’t room in the budget which is already being stretched tight.  Instead of pouting, you can ask questions like…

Can we afford a used one?  If so, what is my maximum budget?  —  Could we build one for less?  Would you help me? — If I sold off a few of my own things, would you be ok with me spending that money to buy it?  — Can we discuss it again after we get our tax return?

By asking these questions you are actually honoring your husband, despite disagreeing or being unhappy with his decision.   You are attempting to understand the situation a bit more, looking for compromise, and with a better attitude.

However, if you walk away from the discussion angry… pouting around the house, giving him the silent treatment for days or weeks, withholding affection until you get your way, calling up a friend or family member and berating your spouse, disrespecting him in front of the kids by blaming him for why they can’t have/do something, etc… you are not honoring your husband in the least.

This is not to say that we can’t be disappointed, not at all.  It’s ok to be disappointed or sad about his decision; it is not ok to punish him for it or to carry anger and bitterness towards him over it.  It’s not ok to manipulate him into getting your own way, or call others onto your team to pressure him to fold.

We also need to be aware of the bigger picture, to have a full understanding of his decisions or opinions.  He may have information you don’t, the timing of the conversation may be wrong, he could have simply had a bad day, or any number of other factors.

Look for solutions, look for compromise, or look to God to help you be content with the decision you don’t agree with.

Honorable Disagreement.  Dishonorable Agreement.

It’s your decision, your choice on how you respond.

On the big things… the life impacting decisions… I hold firm that if God wants us to move in that direction both spouses will share that same conviction, calling, or direction.  If there is disagreement, it is because the “call” is something one of you is feeling in the flesh, or it just isn’t time to take that step yet.

If you are having a hard time being honorable in disagreement, start in prayer.  Take a step back, and pray over it.  When you have tempered yourself, have a discussion to understand his perspective.  Then, before you respond, take some time to think his response through.  Do some research, come up with an alternative solution, develop a plan of action, and then make some time to talk about it again.

KEEP IT SHUT – You can’t stick your foot in your mouth, if you keep it shut.

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Confession time: I am a chronic “foot in mouther”.  Sometimes, more than I’d care to admit, I smack myself in the head for the words that seemingly fall out of my mouth.  It’s not that I am saying something offensive or distasteful; I just seem to have a tendency to just let the thoughts swirling in my head fall right out of my mouth.  Occasionally, they are thoughts that would have been better of kept in the vault, or at least said in different circumstances.  I’ve also been known to NOT speak up when I should.

Do you relate?  Do you sound like me, or do you know someone who does?

The struggle is very real, for people like me.  The bible says to speak truth in love, but it also tells us to tame our tongues.  How do we find that balance, of knowing when to speak and when not to?  And, when it is time to speak up… how do we say it in a way that is appropriate?

As a child, I was taught to speak the truth.  When people would ask my opinions of things, I didn’t hold back.

It was in middle school, when my friend asked me if I liked her new hair cut, that I would tell her that it made her look like a stalk of blonde broccoli.

In high school, I told the boy who had just met my mother EXACTLY what she thought of him.

In college, when a friend lamented about people were talking about her behind her back, I politely told her that she was providing them with plenty of ammunition and should rethink her decisions.

Over time, I learned to soften the blow on the superficial things.

“I really like the other shirt better.”

“That is an interesting color, what made you pick it?”

But, I still manage to “insert foot in mouth”.  Some times, I open my mouth on subjects where I have no reason to even be involved.

When serving on a ministry team, we were preparing for an event, and I got caught in a triangle.  One of the Pastors didn’t necessarily agree with how the event was being planned.  He came to me to ask my opinion, which I gave.  Yet, I wasn’t on that committee.  I ended up getting a phone call from the coordinator, totally caught off guard, who was very upset.   This was a situation where I really should have kept my opinions to myself, it wasn’t my job.  I wasn’t on the committee.   At the same time, what I should have done was directed him to share his concerns with her directly.  After all, as the Pastor overseeing the ministry, he certainly had the authority to speak to her on the issue & make changes to the event if he felt it was necessary.  It was his job, just not my place to be involved.  She was very upset with me for getting involved, and rightfully so.  And, to be entirely honest, it has affected our relationship when working together on ministry projects.

Other times, I neglect to speak up when I should.

There was as situation with a close friend, where her behavior was out of line.  Instead of calling her out on it gently, when it started, I stayed quiet.  I knew she was a fragile person, and I thought I could just stuff my feelings.  It was easier to be a peacemaker, right?  WRONG.  Instead, because I didn’t speak up in the beginning… I stuffed… and stuffed…. and stuffed.  Then I blew up.  It was more than I could take, and something had to be said.  Unfortunately, by blowing up like I did, there was more damage done than if I had spoken up from the very beginning.

We need discernment about the things we say:  what to say, when to say it, and how to say it.  We also need discernment to tame our tongues. The only way we get this discernment is by seeking God’s wisdom.  The scriptures tell us exactly how to speak in love, when to tame our tongues, and the scriptures we can use to filter our thoughts through.

I recently received a copy of Keep It Shut by Karen Ehman from Family Christian.  Let’s be real, I needed this book in my life.  And, interestingly enough, I’m not alone.  This is a problem we will all face at one time or another, some of us more frequently than we should.  HA.  Even when we learn to tame our tongue, it can still happen… we say that thing, we simply can’t take back.

Things we say to our kids.   Our husbands.  Our coworkers and friends.  Those we serve with in ministry.  Even complete strangers.

Keep It Shut is a book that focuses on what to say, how to say it and when to say nothing at all.   It is a funny book, that is really open and honest about those things that plague us in our every day lives.  I also appreciate that Karen Ehman doesn’t lump everyone in to a single category, but recognizes that different people will require different approaches.   Keep It Shut also address our digital tongue, which has the potential to do even more damage.

Digital tongue is how we speak through email, text messages, and social media.   These dialogues can be harder to decode emotion and intention because you can’t see the people you are speaking to.  You may not even realize how offensive your statements sound, because in your head they seem innocent enough.  Or, as a reader, you may not realize a person is telling a joke or sincere.

The digital tongue is something still fairly new, but has become a primary way to communicate with people.  We have to learn to use it correctly, and to remember that nothing replaces real life conversations… where sound communicates more than the written word.

Keep It Shut doesn’t neglect to hit the topics that may sting a bit, like gossiping (especially under the guise of a prayer request) or when we speak in hate as a response to being hurt.  There is a biblical approach to the advice and guidance from the book, that helps us not only keep control over our words but understanding why it is important to do so.   Complete with examples from the scriptures of people who were put into positions where their words had great power over the outcome of their life and others.

Just as any good book should, Keep It Shut concludes with a reminder that we can use our words in good, positive, God honoring ways and leaves us with some tips and verses we can reference in the future.  I really like the last pages of the book that have speaking prompts that you can copy or print out & place in visible areas as reminders.  These can be placed next to your computer or home phone, or even create a cute background photo for your phone that you’ll see before answering every call or text.

Here are a few great quotes from the book, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

“Before I engage my lips, I must know with absolute certainty that what I am saying is true.  If I know for sure that something is not the truth, I need to be quiet.  If I have a strong hunch that something is not the truth, I need to be quiet.  If I have even the slightest doubt that something might not be true, I need to be quiet.  But just because something is true does not mean I always need to say it.  Motives and manners matter.”

“Do your words online add value to the conversation at hand?”

“My daughter simply vocalized a truth she noticed in my life:  I tend to lose my cool with my family, but somehow manage to keep calm when I interact with others.”

“Do I open my mouth with wisdom, or do I just open my mouth, spewing out whatever is bubbling up in my angry heart?”

 

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