Rethink: The Power of Words

In this series, we will take a closer look at sayings and doctrines that are common place in streams of the church and talk about the truth and error of these sayings and doctrines.

The issue.

I’ve noticed a troubling trend among some charismatic Christians. There has been more and more talk about the power of our words and how they affect our situations. Usually it occurs in sermons where the people are encouraged to speak positive words into the air about their lives and situations. They are also told that much of what ails them (whether physically, financially, emotionally, etc) is coming from the negative words that they are speaking over their lives. The preacher will say “The reason you are sick is because you keep claiming you are sick instead of saying that you’re healed” or “Wake up and speak to the airways that you are blessed and all your bills will be paid.”

Why does this matter?

The verse used most often when people talk about the power of words is:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:21 ESV)

Many have taken this scripture and used it exclusively to make a theology that states our circumstances are created by what our mouth speaks. The problem is that the Bible never mentions this. The closest we get to the power of words again is in the book of  James.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:1-12 ESV)

James talks about our words as righteousness or sin, not life-altering positive or negative powers.

Now the Bible does mention people speaking to themselves and stirring themselves up to hope and believe. David is a great example of this.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. (Psalm 42:5-6 ESV)

Did you catch what David did though? Yes he talked to himself, but He used memories of what God had done to change his mood.

Still, changing moods (going from anxiousness to hope, or sorrow to joy) is one thing. Believing your words can change your physical circumstances or can bring in extra finances is another. In fact, it’s unbiblical.

I stumbled on this tweet the other day and thought it summed up this point well. Nowhere in scripture is a person reprimanded for a sickness simply for “not speaking healing over their life”. What most people forget about healing is that we don’t heal anyone. God does and He needs nothing to do it. While faith is usually present where there is healing, it is still something that God does according to His sovereign will. Our words have little if nothing to do with it.

My biggest problem with the power of words thinking is that it is rooted is a few horrible things. First, it is rooted in Word of Faith theology that claims that we have whatever we ask and so if something is not what we like, we have the power to change it. This is prosperity gospel at its core and goes against the sovereign nature of God, the depravity of man, and God’s way of bringing maturity through suffering.

UnknownPower of words thinking also has deep roots into the same philosophy as the book “The Secret.” Here is a quote from this book:

“As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the universe and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency. Everything sent out returns to the source. And that source is you.”

Christianity Today has a great review of it.

This book and its thinking as been held high by people like Oprah and sadly the same kind of thinking has kept into many Christian’s theology.

Now I believe in faith. I believe in healing and I also believe in reminding ourselves that God is faithful to provide and that He wants to heal (and purchased our healing). I also admit that,particularly with emotional states, there is scientific data regarding the placebo effect, that what we believe can help us feel better, especially for issues and pains that are mainly mental. Most of what I’m speaking against though falls under “hyper-faith”, the belief that anything we see as negative is not God’s will and therefore can be changed if we have enough faith and do the right things (ex. if we pray enough, give enough, serve enough, obey enough, etc).

But remember what Jesus said:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 ESV)

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matthew 6:25-27 ESV)

Little branches, I encourage all of us when I say: stop being anxious. Stop worrying whether your bills will get paid because you didn’t speak enough positive words over your life. Stop feeling the shame about your child because you did declare “you’re an overcomer” over their life everyday. Our anxiousness, worry, and negative words can only produce one thing: sin. Quit reading books that focus on the power of what we can do for ourselves through our words. Let us stop all the self-talk and using the power of suggestion on ourselves and start looking to our Father who knows what we need and is good to give them as they line up with His will.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19 ESV)

Rethink: Serving & Burnout

In this series, we will take a closer look at sayings and doctrines that are common place in streams of the church and talk about the truth and error of these sayings and doctrines.

The issue.

I have been serving in my local church for roughly fifteen years straight, most of the time in the same two ministries that I originally started with (youth and worship). There have been many mountains and valleys in those fifteen years. There have been times where I’ve been full of vision and passion and there have been times where I’ve been full of bitterness and complaining. During these fifteen years, the subject of serving and burnout have consistently come up, both from me and from others that I have served with.

The argument that I’ve heard and have said typically goes like this: burnout happens to servants either because (1) the volunteers can’t say no to leaders who are asking for help and therefore are over-worked or (2) the church is abusive to its volunteer workers. In the last fifteen years, I have argued both sides. But it wasn’t till recently that I realized a consistent truth in all my years of serving (easy or hard). Here is that truth:

The only constant was me. I’ve had different leaders and served in different roles/functions, but I was stll getting burnt-out. I started looking back on my burnt-out times and realizing that I was always expecting something (that I didn’t get) from my leadership during those times.

Why does this matter?

The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that there is a problem, but the second step is to find out where the root of the problem is. If we think the root of the problem is the church (either by them asking for too much, or by them being abusive in the way they handle their volunteers), then all that grows is offense and bitterness. If someone stays at a church that they’re serving at with that attitude, they end up defiling many (Hebrews 12:15). Even if that person decides that the solution is to leave and go to another church, they will (eventually) have the same issue there as well. Why? Because the issue is with the heart, not with the leaders.

Another solution burnt-out servants may look at is serving less. If you think the root of the problem is that you serve too much (and can’t say “no” when leaders ask for help) then the practical solution would be to serve less. Sadly, I have watched this thinking lead people to stop serving altogether, and (in my personal experience) those who don’t serve the church in some fashion rarely keep their passion (particularly generosity) for the Lord. Jesus designed the Christian life to model His earthly life, where we serve more and more to our own death (of our sinful flesh and selfishness). This is what Paul allude to in Phillipians 2:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:1-8 ESV)

In the passage above, Paul combines service with humility and selflessness. In my own experience, the times I’ve been burnt-out are the same times that I feel I should be getting something I didn’t have, whether it be a position, more influence, a reply, a gift, a “thank you”, etc. This is the definition of “selfish ambition” that Paul talks about: what we deserve and our rights. People who decide to stop serving (or start serving way less) are many times looking “only to his own interests” and not “to the interests of others.” That’s not to say that there isn’t wisdom we should have regarding serving. Our families should come first before the ministry. If we’re serving the church and not seeing our wives and children, then something is off and we should serve less at church so that we can serve more at home. Yet overall, it’s not less service, it’s more. Serve at church. Serve at home. Serve at our job. Serve, serve, serve.

So what is our solution if the problem with burnout is us and not leaders or the church? Paul says it’s humility. Jesus gives us some really good words we ought to remember as we serve:

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-11 ESV)

I think the #1 cause of burnout revolves around that we think more highly of ourselves then we ought (Romans 12:3). When we serve, many times we can think of ourselves as worthy servants. Yet Jesus is clear. There is no worthy servants except one, Jesus, and He came to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:28). Most of our burnout issues come from our desire to be served. We need to remember who we are serving and who our model for serving is.

It’s Jesus, meek and lowly. In reality, He’s doing all the work, so why should we get any of the praise for it?

Rethink: Apologetics

In this series, we will take a closer look at sayings and things that are common place in streams of the church and talk about the truth and error of these sayings and things.

The issue

There is a group in the world called “The New Atheists.” They are made up of very scientific people who toil night and day to disprove the existence of God and the need of the church. Due to this, the call for apologetics has increased greatly. The movement to know the roots, history, and theology of the Bible is gaining speed. Many times this knowledge is used to debate these atheists or to argue God’s existence with someone on an intellectual plane. The main (if not only) verse I’ve heard quoted from the Bible to argue the need for apologetics is this one:

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

This verse seems to imply that the gospel and the truth need an intellectual defense from people who would question the need and existence of God. The problem comes when we look at the context of this verse.

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:14-17)

The context of this main apologetics-themed verse is in the context of suffering. Peter is saying don’t fear those who will inflict suffering on us, but rather be prepared to answer them when they ask us “why are you suffering for this?” or “is your God worth all this pain?”. In context, Peter is saying “be ready to glorify God when people ask why you’re so willing to suffer for Him.” He says to always be prepared for this and make sure that answer is gentle and respectful. No where in this verse does it say find atheists and debate them intellectually. In fact, Paul attempted this at Mars Hill in Athens in Acts 17. I’ve heard it quoted as Paul’s greatest sermon, but we don’t remember the outcome/result of such an intellectual debate:

So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. (Acts 17:33-34)

No massive revival. No church planted. A few souls saved. A city left unturned by the gospel. It’s no wonder that Paul would write later to the Corinthian church:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

He would say earlier:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17)

Why does this matter?

I want to make it clear: I am not arguing whether apologetics should exist. I believe it is well needed. I’m arguing the reason that they should exist for. I take issue with the debating and arguing with unbelievers. The fruit is little if any. Many times, at best, it may help someone who was teetering between agnosticism and Christianity decide to investigate the Bible more. The Bible is clear: only the gospel, preached in weakness, can turn an atheist into a saint. In fact, the problem isn’t that people don’t know the truth. It’s that they deny and/or suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19).

So while I find little need for apologetics to oppose the new atheists, I do find a better purpose for it: to strengthen and equip the church. The great fruit I see coming out of apologetics is that Christians start diving into the Word of God and knowing Christ more. Gone are the days of “Everyday a Friday”. They have a hunger for truth and something more than an inch deep. I love it when apologetics and discipleship are working hand in hand, growing and teaching believers the truth and equipping them so that they can guard themselves from error.

In reality, the truth does not need to be defended from those who don’t believe it, but rather from those who try to twist it into something more (but in reality, less) believable. There is little (if any) language from the apostles telling us to defend an “attack of the Bible” from atheists. Rather, the apostles tell us time and time again to dive into truth and be watching out for people preaching a false gospel.

So in summary, my aim is not to attack people currently in the apologetic ministry. I am blessed to have several friends in apologetics who have built and strengthened my life by what they teach. Rather, my aim is to change our view on what apologetics is and what it is meant for. It is primarily used for the building up of the body in the knowledge of God, not to debate atheistic unbelievers.

In fact, Psalms says “a fool believes in their heart there is no god.” Why would we want to debate with fools? In fact, Proverbs 26:4 says:

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.

That verse should keep all of us careful who we decide to debate anything with. Let’s not worry too much about those who hate God and hate us. When they cause us to suffer, our love and devotion for God will say more than 1,000 worthless debates.

Rethink: The Jezebel Spirit

In this series, we will take a closer look at sayings and things that are common place in streams of the church and talk about the truth and error of these sayings and things. 

The issue

I have grown up my whole life in the Charismatic/Pentecostal stream of Christianity. I admire Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and others but I was never immersed in their culture or beliefs like I was with the Charismatic/Pentecostal stream.

If you go into a Family Christian Bookstore, they have a section called “Charismatic Interest”. When you look at the book titles and subjects, you will notice (rightly) that Charismatic/Pentecostal stream have had a focused interest on the supernatural, particularly on spiritual warfare and angels/demons. There are some good and true things in these books and there are some unfortunate errors.

One of the more popular claims is that people have (and are being controlled by) a spirit of Jezebel. Now I believe in evil spirits influencing decisions and lives, spirits like greed, lust, deception, etc. But Jezebel was a person. Most of the “Jezebel spirit” thinking tends to imply that Jezebel was a real person and this spirit took on her character traits after she died. We find Jezebel’s story in throughout 1 & 2 Kings. She was the main antagonist to Elijah’s ministry. Finally she was put to death.

So where in the Bible does it talk about this dead evil woman’s spirit being at work in the local church? The only verse quoted in answer to this question is Revelation 2:20-23. Here is what that portion of scripture (in context) says:

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: “The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come.” (Revelation 2:18-25 ESV)

Most Charismatic writers link this Jezebel to the one in the Old Testament. But there is a problem. The Old Testament Jezebel never called herself a prophetess. In fact, she was quite against them. She was more known for killing the people of God than deceiving the people into sexual immorality and eating wrong food.

I love what John Bevere says in his book on prophecy “Thus Saith The Lord“. He read this passage and immediately started turning to 1 & 2 Kings to research this Jezebel that Jesus was (supposedly) talking about in Revelation 2. As he was turning in his Bible, the Lord asked him “would you look for Joseph, the father of Jesus, in the book of Genesis (where Joseph, the son of Jacob, is found)?” This showed him, and should show us, that these two Jezebels are two different people — one being a evil queen, and one being a false prophetess in the church.

Why does this matter?

While there are multiple benefits for seeing rightly on this issue, I bring it up for one main reason: it is easier to say people are being controlled by evil spirits than to say the truth, that they are simply being led away by their own sin. Here is what James says:

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:13-15 ESV)

James says that we aren’t being tempted and moved to sin by God, a point that all Christians agree with. But neither does James say we are tempted and controlled by the devil. Rather, he says we are temped when we are lured/enticed by our own desires. It’s not evil spirits that are the problem, we are.

When we mention a “Jezebel spirit”, we are typically giving a blanket name to a person who is incredibly selfish, controlling, domineering, manipulative, and overly-ambitious. There are a few problems though that occur because of this:

  1. We tend to see the person involved as a evil spirit.
    Instead of seeing someone as deceived and led astray in their own sin, we may see them as an evil force unable to be redeemed. If we see someone as bound in their own hunger to be exalted, it produces a cry of mercy in us that asks God to intervene and rescue them from themselves. Rather, if we view them as an evil spirit, our prayers may align more with judgment and asking God to uproot them. Matthew 5:7 encourages us to always default to being merciful and seeing people with merciful eyes, cause however we deal with them, we will get dealt with accordingly.
  2. We fail to see the same sins in us.
    If we think that people who are selfish are being controlled by a spirit rather than by their own evil desires, rarely will we look at ourselves to see if we are struggling with the same thing. Since James says these evil traits come from our own evilness, looking at the issue this way helps us search our own lives for the same desires.
  3. We tend to look for a deliverer instead of a savior.
    Jesus heals, delivers, restores, but most importantly, He saves and forgives. Many times we attribute a war-like attitude to deliverance. We want to wage war on the person (or “spirit”) struggling and causing problems in the church. More than deliverance, people manifesting these type of character traits (selfishness, control, domineering, manipulation, and overly-ambitious) need a savior. The gospel will set these people free just like it sets us free of other (yet alike) issues. We don’t do anything to deserve it or earn it. All that is required is that we ask for it and draw near to God.

So in summary, Christians in our churches are not bound by evil spirits that are causing them to distress your local church. Rather, they are sinners, like you and me, who need a Savior. They need people who will pray mercifully for them in secret. We don’t tell them that they are being controlled by an external force, but rather by an internal one: their own evil desires. This causes them to become poor in spirit and long for God to save them from their sinful ways. (Matthew 5:3-8)