Even Model Christians Can Struggle in Sexual Purity

Having the proper perspective toward men struggling in the area of sexual purity

A renown evangelical preacher once said that habitual struggles with sexual immorality are, without exception, indicative of spiritual immaturity. Below is the quotation that he made:

“And yes, if a person in the body, who is not disciplined, because they truly show signs and fruit of conversion, but are struggling in a certain area, this area of sexual immorality, then, here’s a few things I think we need to look at. First of all, as we’ve seen in the Book of Acts, no matter what else they know, they’re immature. No matter what else they think they know, they’ve not even reached the first rung of a Christian ethic being applied to their life. They should never be given a ministry in the church while they are struggling with this matter.”

I truly respect this preacher for who he is, what he preaches, what he lives for, and how he lives it out. But in this statement, I have to respectfully disagree.

First, it can be a misdiagnosis; I don’t believe that the Bible makes that kind of a sweeping correlation. Second, it can be damaging; such a belief has led may pastors, ministers, lay-leaders, and counselors to deal with men in their churches struggling in this area in a manner that has been largely unedifying.

When I was first ordained for the gospel ministry, I was asked by my Greek Professor (who I opted to be part of the ordination council) how I would help a young man who was struggling with pornography. The reason why he asked this was because ministering to men in the church will inevitably result in having to exhort young men in this very issue. Generally speaking, young adult men in the church will struggle with sexual purity. It doesn’t take rocket science to deduce this; it only takes a few years of being in the men’s ministry in your local church. It can be true for men of all ages, but it’s particularly volcanic for those hovering in their twenties and thirties. I once told a fellow pastor that biblical counseling for men is euphemistic for the sex and purity talk. I specifically identified young men “in the church” above, as the struggle against sexual purity is not one that solely plagues non-Christians; it plagues all.

I’ve also come to observe over the years that, for men, this particular struggle tends to be unique in the effect it has on men and also the trajectory with which men learn to overcome it. First, it’s unique in the privacy with which it plagues. Christian men simply have a difficult time being fully transparent about the full nature of their struggles with lust regarding, history and habit alike. Second, it’s unique in the shame that men feel regarding continual struggles. While all sin is offensive in the eyes of a holy God, to think that men exhibit equal sentiment toward frustration with co-workers as they do in the weekly stumbling into pornography is simply naive. Third, it’s unique in the nature of progress. Tell a man upon conversion to stop dropping expletive bombshells, and he’ll stop tomorrow. Tell him to stop masturbating, and you’re in for a five-year battle. Fourth, it’s unique in that it takes marriage to fully overcome the struggle (cf 1 Corinthians 7). While it’s true that the Spirit empowers us to overcome the dominating power of all sin (Romans 6), some sinful habits are quite frankly tougher to break than others (Romans 7). And those habits related to sexual purity tend to have the thickest shackles. Be naive about these realities, and you’ll more than likely fail to minister to the young men in your church the way you ought.

The Bible is not silent on how to approach struggling believers – be it with sin or suffering. Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, calls for us to admonish the unruly, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, and be patient with all. What I failed to realize early in ministry was that, for the most part, Christian men struggling with sexual purity aren’t being unruly. Much of the time, they’re faint-hearted. True, there are always those men who hypocritically claim to love Christ and live in gross immorality and vehemently refuse to repent from it (cf 1 Corinthians 5-6) and must be exposed for such. I do agree that at times, the presence of a certain level of sexual immorality can indicate the reality of an unregenerate heart or a very immature one. But in sound, Bible-teaching churches, these are exceptions and not the norm. The majority of the men in these congregations who will admit to struggling with purity of some sort are not living with their girlfriends, are not in adulterous relationships, and are not soliciting prostitutes during the week. Most of them are sitting in the pews absorbing the Sunday sermon, faithfully serving in various ministries, are seeking accountability in small groups, and are looking for books and articles online that speak on the topic of their struggles. The majority of them are at the point of despair, questioning the integrity of their faith as a result of it, timid about doing any kind of church ministry, confused about their standing before God, and are desperate for solutions for success. Discouraged, shamed, humbled, insecure, confused, and desperate men don’t need to be hammered. They need to be encouraged and guided.

So what is it with the tendency amongst pastors, disciplers, and counselors to hammer the young men of the church for struggling with these things? The hammering happens from the pulpit, in books, and in one-to-one counseling sessions. Don’t get me wrong; sexual impurity is a serious sin that has serious consequences against which a man ought to vehemently guard himself. And yes, absolutely, we ought to preach against it, especially in our day and age where immorality of all breeds is not only tolerated but embraced. But I do believe that we inappropriately employ the hammer when we lead faint-hearted men to think that their struggles are wholly indicative either of the integrity of their faith or the genuineness of their growth. We also cause unnecessary damage by leading them to believe that their struggles with purity will forever prevent their future from marriage from reaching the fulfillment that God designed marriage to have. I myself have erred in the past in saying such things. I’ve heard others do so as well. And it hurts more than helps.

It hurts more than helps, because it fails to unveil the reality that, at times and to some degree, even model Christians can struggle with some form of sexual impurity.

Need proof? Look at the Scripture. Specifically, look at the Thessalonians.

The theme of 1 Thessalonians is “The Model Church.” Why? Because the Thessalonian church was indeed a model church. They were, as Paul said, an example to all the believers in the region (1:7). Unlike the Galatians who flirted with false gospels and the Corinthians who swam in carnality at which even Gentiles gawked, the virtuous character of the Thessalonian Christians made them deservedly reputable amongst the early church community. These were Christians marked with genuine faith, hope, and love (1:3), who had genuinely repented from idolatry to serve the living and true God (1:9), who had sincerely received the word of God and in whom the Word of God was truly performing its work (2:13), whose character and devotion to Christ had proven itself under the pressure of suffering and persecution (2:14), and who consistently practiced love to one another and to those around them (4:9-10). The Thessalonians were, in every respect, an exemplary church made up of exemplary Christians. Hence, the main exhortation from Paul to them was not harsh admonition, but to excel still more in all that they were doing (4:1, 10).

One of the ways they would excel beyond the character that they had already attained was to abstain from sexual immorality (4:3). Apparently, even this kind of a faith-filled, love-abounding, and hope-anchored model church still struggled with the oh-so-common problem of lust. They weren’t at the level that the Corinthians were (cf 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 6:12-20), but the struggle was still there.

Alongside the accountability and the plethora of Christian literature written on the topic, having a proper perspective toward a Christian man’s struggle against sexual immorality. Pastors, leaders, disciplers, and counselors of men ought to be cautious about judging the maturity of a man based on the presence of struggles in the area of sexual purity. The truth is that some of the most quality men I’ve ministered to and alongside have struggled with it. We have to be careful with putting the same blanket over all kinds of sexual sin. Obviously, not all sexual sin is created equal in terms of its natural consequences. All sins are created equal in terms of its unrighteousness and the need for Christ’s atoning sacrifice that it warrants for the one who commits it. But a man who refuses to leave an adulterous relationship will be disciplined by the church; a man who is caught viewing a pornographic website won’t.

Equally vital to having a proper perspective is knowing how to give the proper encouragement and hope to the young men struggling with purity. Enough of this “once you view a pornographic image, it’ll be seared in your mind forever and will forever haunt you even in your marriage” talk. You may not be wrong in saying it, but you end up sending the wrong message. The truth is, many of the men who struggled with purity in their single years end up not only overcoming it, but today are themselves exemplary husbands, fathers, and church leaders. God, after all, is able to fully sanctify a man (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and work all things from his past to conform him to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29).

So give young men hope. Give them hope that, even in their struggles, their faith may very well be real and growing. Give them hope that, in spite of the repeated stumbling, sanctity awaits.

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Dealing with the Diotrophic Disease

“I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say.”

~3 John 1:9 

Men, beware of the lust for leadership. 
I’m not speaking of our God-given and biblically-prescribed responsibility as men to lead our families and the church. Rather, I’m speaking of a man’s natural thirst for prominence, prestige, pre-eminence, and power. Men, beware of the lust for leadership. 
It’s been said before that the problem with the church is that its men won’t lead. I’ve listened to ministers and preachers – myself included – almost aggressively challenge the men of their congregations to “step it up.” It’s no surprise then that men’s seminars can sound like locker room pep talks. And while I’m fully for a minister’s summoning men to step up and lead, over the years I’ve realized that the problem underlying the lack of biblical leadership amongst the men of the church is not a lack of desire for leadership. Rather, it’s a misguided passion for ungodly leadership. I’ll call it the Diotrophic disease. 
It’s no mystery that men of the church have problems with biblically leading. But I’ve discerned both biblically and experientially that men don’t have a problem with wanting to be leaders. Or should I say, males don’t have a problem with leadership. Watch little boys in the school playground if you’re not convinced. Time and time again, I’ve had young men approach me saying that they want to be discipled so that they can “become better leaders.” If what the church needs is for men who have a passion for leadership, there wouldn’t be a problem – at least not in the local churches in which I’ve served. 
The problem is not that men aren’t passionate about leading. It’s that men aren’t humbling themselves to serve. 
The words from the journals of Jim Elliot, the renown martyred missionary to the Aucas, are worth considering: 
“There is not one word in the New Testament about this ‘training for leadership.’ There, all the training is for being a servant to everyone you meet. Training is to learn to follow, not to lead…Jesus said, ‘He that is first shall be last.’ It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master. That is the sort of training that we need, to be as He is…” (Shadow of the Almighty, 124-5)
He has a point. It’s not to say that we should never have leadership training seminars; I myself have both led and participated in them. What is perplexing, however, is when the young men who tell me that they have a desire to become small group leaders, mentors and counselors, Bible study teachers, and even elders are the same men who during church functions stand around with arms-folded like pretty statues while the elderly ladies are faithfully folding chairs and emptying trash bins right in front of them, not to mention their elderly husbands breaking their backs while folding up the tables. It’s appalling and embarrassing, that so many of the young men who have expressed a passion for leadership will, at the same time, deem themselves over-qualified to mow lawns and wait on tables at restaurants. But again, it speaks to the reality that the problem with men is not a lack of desire for leadership, but that they have an ungodly thirst for leadership that causes them to neglect Christ’s call to servanthood. It’s the Diotrophic disease. 
I’m calling it the Diotrophic disease because Diotrophes had it, as the apostle John warns his good friend Gaius in 3 John 9. Diotrophes, explains John, is one who “loves to be first.” It’s the Greek compound word philoproteauo. Philo– to love or desire. Proteau– to lead. A love for leadership. It was a vice, not a virtue, that produced the the controlling and domineering behavior that characterized him, of which the Holy Spirit warns the church through this letter. The church doesn’t need more men of Diotrophes’ mold. 

I agree that there is a famine in the church for men who truly lead. But it’s a famine regarding a particular brand of leadership – namely, biblical leadership as Christ described in the gospels. Consider His words specifically in Luke 22:25-27, addressed to prominence-hungry apostles:

“And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”

Biblical leadership is humble servanthood. It is not a fight for prominence, but rather a commitment to relinquish it. To lead as Christ calls is not to love to be first; it is to commit to being last. It is to learn to carry out tasks that the world normally associates with the least esteemed. A man will never learn to lead like Christ until he mortifies the Diotrophic disease in him. To train a man to lead biblically is to train him to see himself as the least of men. For Christ Himself did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself to the point of taking the form of a slave. If the Son of God humbled himself to wash feet and carry His cross for the welfare of others, so should the men who follow in His footsteps. 

And when you have a church full of men who are committed to foot-washing and cross-carrying, you have a church with men who can – and will – lead.   


Live Not for the Resume

Fighting against the desire to publicize one’s works and credentials
“…do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing…” ~Matthew 6:3-4

 From the time I hit middle school, the American culture in which I was immersed began training me to build my resume. As a 14-year old, I was required to submit a resume for my high school applications. As an 18-year old, I again had to submit one for my college applications. And as a 22 year old, I once again had to submit one for my employment applications. For the record, I’m not against resumes, but I am saddened about how, in the past, I began to live for them. Somewhere during each of those four-year increments, I began to do more than submit the resumes; I began to purposefully and methodically build them. I began to take up certain endeavors in anticipation of displaying them on the resume. I began to vigilantly keep track of my accomplishments and milestones in order to beef up the already-existing resume. And after some time, I began submitting those resumes outside of the medium of the 8-by-11 handout – through the means of verbal boasting of abilities and achievements. I found myself in utter violation of Christ’s words in Matthew 6:3-4: “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” I’m glad that the Spirit revealed this to me in my twenties and not in my fifties; I’ve since made every effort to mortify that terribly prideful habit. 

 By the way, I’m not against the 8-by-11 resumes. I have one tucked away somewhere in my laptop hard drive that I can send out electronically per request from an employer. They’re, at the very least, a necessary evil; at best, they can be helpful. Matthew 6:3-4 isn’t an exhortation to get rid of them. It’s not a call to spiritual or occupational amnesia. In that very same Sermon on the Mount, Christ also commands to cut off one’s right hand should it cause one to sin – implying some necessary level of awareness of what you’re doing. Paul commands Timothy to pay close attention to both himself and his teaching (1 Timothy 4:16). Christ, in this particular passage, isn’t abolishing or nullifying the responsibility for Christians to give an accurate and truthful account of their words and deeds. Christ is not advocating the quality of spiritual forgetfulness. 

 What Christ is addressing here is a certain type of sanctified spiritual focus. The command to not let one’s left hand know what one’s right hand is doing is figurative language which Christ employed to exhort His followers to forsake the hypocrisy of putting their own deeds in the spotlight so that they can be honored and esteemed by men (Matthew 6:1-2). Resumes, by nature, are self-displaying. It’s one thing to submit them by necessity; it’s another thing to live for them due to social or spiritual insecurity. Good works were not meant for self-display. Our deeds were never meant to be artifacts in Christian museums. Even Christ, the Son of God Himself, astoundingly commanded numerous times for His miraculous deeds and healing not to be publicized. He didn’t live to build His resume, and neither should we as His followers. 

 Christ’s followers are to fervently minister to others, but also not focus on how much they’re doing for others. To not let one’s left know the deeds of one’s right is to find satisfaction in God’s awareness of our deeds without aiming for others to see, acknowledge, and esteem them. It is to live and minister in such a way that isn’t for the building or submitting of that resume, but to engage in good deeds out of an all-consuming love for God and a self-sacrificing love for others. 

People who are obsessed with titles are resume builders. People who can’t stop talking about themselves are resume builders. People who crave for the publicity of their credentials are resume builders. People who want everyone to know how much they’re doing are resume builders. Don’t they realize that not even all of Christ’s deeds were listed in the inspired accounts of Scripture (John 20:30). Let your eyes, then, be focused on the glory of God who employed you and the good of the people around you. Indeed, you may very well find yourself having a difficult time recounting all of the good deeds in which you engaged over the course of the week. And that’s okay. For while you may have trouble remembering, your Father in heaven who sees what you have done in secret will reward you. 

 Live not to build the resume; live to build God’s people. Live not to display the resume; live to display God’s glory. 

Exposing Your Teeth to the Dentist

Honesty in the Discipleship Relationship 

“For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds  ay be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:20-21)

You can’t say “yes” to every young man who requests to be discipled or mentored by you. Partly, it’s because you’re not omnipresent. But more importantly, not everyone can be effectively discipled.

I fully recognize that at times, some one-on-one mentoring relationships haven’t been successful or fruitful simply because I wasn’t the right guy to work with a particular personality (see a previous entry I wrote called “Chemistry – Does it Matter?”). This I concede, and I’m more than happy to see a young man who may have previously driven me up the wall suddenly flourishing in his walk with Christ under the mentoring ministry and guidance of another. But this aside, I’ve also learned that certain young men just can’t be effectively discipled (at least, during particular points in their life) because they’re resistant to exhibiting this particular virtue known as honest transparency.

You’re not called to be transparent with every person. But you need to be so to the one from whom you’re seeking discipleship. If a man isn’t honest with where he is, what he wants, and where he’s struggling, I’ve simply learned not to proceed with the discipleship process or to cease a previously commenced one. For while honesty is not the sole virtue needed for growth in a Christian, it’s a non-negotiable one. Christ, instructing nicodemus about the nature of a true disciple, says, “For everyone who does evil hates the Light and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:20-21). The implication is this: a man who isn’t transparently honest about himself, his motives, his struggles, his deeds, and his ambitions is by definition one who loves his sin and refuses to expose them lest he be compelled to unhinge himself from them. He is the man who walks into the dentist’s office and refuses to open his mouth for the inspection portion of the treatment. Such a man simply can’t be treated, no matter how skilled and experienced the dentist.

Conversely, the investment or hours and weeks – and sometimes years –  into the man who exhibits such honest transparency comes with the great reward of watching the fledgling transform into a full-flighted eagle. Such men almost assuredly surmount previously insurmountable obstacles, in the same way that man who cried “Help me with my unbelief!” eventually learned to believe. Discipling the honest man, without a doubt, brings about some of the greatest blessings in ministry.

After all, it is the one who learns to expose his teeth to the dentist whose teeth will eventually be treated.

The Wisdom in Studying Animals

Sheep pictureSometimes, wisdom for the afflicted saints is to go to the zoo.

How’s that for some reformed biblical counsel.

And I’m not joking, just in case you’re wondering. Sometimes, the best counsel for those struggling to endure some severe trials really is to take some time to learn about animals.

You won’t find from the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors’ recommended resources list, I guarantee. But I assure you that my thesis above is consistent with biblical wisdom, because I discovered it from a wisdom book of the Bible. Specifically, I unearthed it from the book of Job. Specifically, from Job 38:9-39:30.

Job, lest you didn’t notice, is world history’s only saint for whose afflictions the Holy Spirit dedicated an entire book of Scripture. Yes, all forty-two chapters of it. The persecution Job experience was the result of a conversation of cosmic proportions, as God Himself nominated Job as the candidate whose conduct would disprove Satan’s blasphemous claim that even the most righteous and God-fearing of men would curse God under the pressure of severe suffering. For over thirty chapters, Job wrestles – dialoguing with his friends, vindicating himself, and interrogating God. He fluctuates between trusting God and attempting to prosecute God. Finally, in the thirty-eighth chapter, out of the whirlwind of foolish counsel from well-meaning but ignorant friends, God speaks. Finally, an answer from heaven. Finally, an explanation for the chaos. Finally, the prospect of an insight into the angelic realm and the hidden counsel of the Almighty.

But God doesn’t tell Job about the cosmic conversation. God never revealed to Job how his suffering would spit in the face of Satan’s claim and demonstrate before all of the heavenly hosts that genuine worship of God can persevere through the most grieving of circumstances. He never explained to Job that his life would serve as an example of faith to encourage the church amidst her later persecution (James 5:11-14).

Instead, in the lengthiest interrogation ever recorded from the Almighty to finite man, God says…

“Can you hunt prey for the lion…” (38:39-40)

“Who prepares for the raven its nourishment…(39:41)

“Do you know the time the mountain goats give birth?” (39:1a)

“Do you observe the calving of the deer…” (39:1b-4)

“Who sent out the wild donkey free…” (39:5-8)

“Will the wild ox consent to serve you…” (39:9-12)

“The ostriches’ wings flap joyously…” (39:13-18)

“Do you give the horse his might…” (39:19-25)

“Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars…” (39:26)

“Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up…” (39:27-30)

Lion. Raven. Mountain Goat. Deer. Donkey. Ox. Ostrich. Horse. Hawk. Eagle – not exactly the ten-point outline that your average ACBC counselor would use to help a man who had lost his possessions, children, and health, and whose wife just told him to curse God and die. But yes, in one of the greatest divine bequeathing of wisdom from Creator to creation, God tells Job to consider the animals.

Job’s response after all of that and more? “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted…I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (42:1-6). Needless to say, God knew what He was doing, and Job got the point.

So what was God’s point? Why consider the animals as a Christian during trying times? First, it gives you further insight into God’s glorious and unmatched creative power. But more poignantly, it parks you to the realization that there is so much that is happening in the universe that has absolutely nothing to do with you.

It’s an atomic bomb to the world of the myopic. The cheetah’s ability to sprint at 60 mph, the orca’s ability to learn new hunting tactics, the eagle’s ability to soar for 4000 miles without stopping for food, the mongoose’s ability to outmaneuver and kill a cobra, are all works of the Almighty that exist in their magnificence apart from anything that has to do with you or me. As a Christian, that you matter does not equate to being the center. Those who are suffering would be wise to humbly remember that there is still much in this world that God is doing that has little or no relevance to their problems. And that isn’t to diminish their pains, but simply to de-centralize them. Studying animals, their behavior, and their amazing abilities from a biblical perspectives ultimately serves to remind you and me that we are single leaves in a massive forest – that all things exist for the glory of the God who is remains absolutely sovereign over all of the universe’s affairs as its sole Creator and Sustainer.

How’s that for some reformed biblical counsel.

Discerning the Snake in the Back Yard

snake

Identifying manipulative individuals in your life.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made…

~Genesis 3:1

I have learned never to associate with a manipulative person.

For the record, you cannot expect anyone – including yourself – to be perfect on this side of eternity.  I’ve learned that I can bear with people who struggle with impatience, anxiety, depression, narrow-mindedness, foul-language, over-sensitivity, and just plain immaturity.  But the characteristically manipulative person, I have learned to avoid like the plague. 

The reason is simple: manipulation is the primary tactic from the playbook of Satan.

It is in Genesis 3:1 where the Bible first unveils the reality of Satan and his existence.  And the choice word used to describe this most evil of God’s enemies is “crafty.”  Dangerous?  Powerful?  Ferocious?  All of the above are true about the devil, but crafty before anything else.  Craft, at least in this connotative sense, refers to the ability to somehow subdue a more powerful and capable adversary using cunning and tactful strategy.  It involves being able to steer others into volitionally doing things that they would otherwise not want to do.  To be a devilish person is to be a crafty person.  And to be a crafty person is to be a manipulative character.

For the record, Christians will struggle with just about every type of sin.  But I’ve been hard-pressed to find a genuine follower of Jesus Christ who, had you asked his closest friends to describe him in one word, would be labeled as manipulative.  For how can one who is born of the Spirit of God be of a nature that is consistent with the very nature of Satan himself? 

For a while, the picture I had of such people was nebulous at best.  It was only after this past Sunday, after teaching a Sunday School lesson on Genesis 3:1-12 on the Fall of Man, that the picture took a concrete form. 

The following are signs of a manipulative person based off of the profile of Satan himself as revealed in Genesis 3.  Granted, each of us may struggle with a few of these at any given situation.  But it is the presence person who displays the majority of or all of these signs who calls for the red flag to be raised. 

Sign #1: The manipulative person goes out of his way to look harmless

Remember that 1 Peter 5:8 describes Satan as a roaring lion.  Revelation 12 describes him as a dragon.  Satan is a powerful, though fallen, angelic being who leads a legion of other demons against God’s people.  Yet, to the woman in the garden, he appeared as a serpent.  Pre-fall serpents weren’t poisonous fork-tongued slitherers that spook the daylight out of women and children.  They were harmless crawling critters living under man’s dominion.  And it was in the form of this creature that Satan, the prince of the demonic armies, took when he approached Eve to tempt her. 

Manipulative people will go out of their way, both in dressage and in demeanor, to appear harmless.  In my personal experience, the most manipulative people I knew not only worked to look harmless, but also worked to look helpless – often adopting the appearance of being physically sick or ailed – particularly during those times when they’re requests or demands have been met with resistance or when they’re anticipating a confrontation from someone they have wronged.

Sign #2: The manipulative person tends to approach the people closest to the individual he is attempting to control

This deserves all eyes and ears: In the garden, Satan was after Adam.  He knew that it was Adam who had been given the commandment from God not to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge.  He knew that it was Adam who represented the human race.  He knew that it was Adam who needed to transgress in order for sin to make its way into humanity and for the curse to enter the world.  And yet, not once in this passage does Satan speak to Adam.  In fact, Adam himself never recounts Satan’s speaking to him when confronted by God later.  Satan, in his craftiness, spoke to Eve and her only.  In doing so, he got to Adam, albeit indirectly.

One of the marks of a manipulative person is the refusal to directly approach or confront the person with whom they desire to deal or address.  There have been several instances in my life where a particular individual wanted to get me to do (or not do) something concerning a particular issue, but I would never be directly approached or confronted.  Instead, I would later find out that the particular individual had approached my wife, my close friends, my pastor, my boss, my siblings, or others who were close to me with regards to the issue.  Manipulative individuals seek to control individuals by influencing the relational network around those individuals, often before dealing with the individuals themselves. 

Sign #3: The manipulative person indirectly questions the credibility of the individual they are attempting to sabotage

Not only was Satan indirect in approaching Eve rather than Adam, but he was indirect in the way he initially attacked the credibility of God before her.  Rather than forthrightly refuting what God said (which for the record, would have been equally wicked), Satan lured Eve with a question: “Indeed, did God say…?”  Satan not only interrogated Eve regarding what God said, but inserted some purposeful exaggeration: “Did God really say that you cannot eat from the fruit of any tree?”  Reality: God commanded Adam to refrain from the fruit of one tree.

Manipulative individuals will often attack people by questioning their credibility to those around them by some well-placed swipes of exaggeration.  A parent trying to manipulate her child’s teacher might approach the school principal and say,

“Is it true that Ms. Smith gave all of the 6th grade students a 60-page reading assignment to be completed the next day??  Isn’t that a little much?” (Asks the parent of a child…to the school principal)

“Is it true that Pastor Brian doesn’t want any children in our Sunday Service?  Isn’t that a bit unfair to young families?”  (Asks a disgruntled church member…to Pastor Dougie)

The answers are “no,”…but the foot is in the door.

Sign #4: The manipulative person makes false threats, consequences, or promises rather than making their desires or requests known

Satan was the originator of the false-promise play.  “You certainly will not die!” he claimed, should she partake of the fruit – a direct contradiction to what God Himself had promised.  What had kept Adam and Eve from eating the fruit was the very real promise that death would result from doing so; and it was the consequence, rather than the command, that Satan directly attacked.

Over the years, I’ve learned to discern the brand of counsel forked from snakes:

“You’re free to become a Christian or whatever religion you want; just know that your mother will be extremely hurt,”

“You’re free to leave this ministry, but if you do so the entire young adults group may die.”

“You don’t have to put your kids into our program; just know that the program will die if you don’t.” 

“You’re free to go to whatever church you want; just know that if you go down that route, I’m afraid that you won’t be able to pursue the ministry position that you’re really built for.” 

“You don’t have to visit us for Christmas if you don’t want to.  Just be prepared for your father to not to take it well, especially because of how sick he is.”

Manipulative characters often dress in the halloween costume of open-mindedness, but carefully present false consequences that sound oh so veritable, so as to bend a person to believe that there only one viable option.  It’s craft at its best, and it’s straight from the serpent.

Sign #5: A manipulative person uses your identity to make false connections and implications

“You will be like God,” Satan promised the woman.  It was more than tempting her with an ego-booster, but rather purposefully linking his course of action to her identity and design.  It was the perfect launching pad to disobedience.  Man was, indeed, made according to God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27).  When Eve heard Satan’s false promise, she was reminded of something that was inherently true about her identity as a human being.  The paraphrased translation: “Because you were made to be like God, you need to eat this fruit- it’s part of you who are!”

Manipulative individuals often pitch their tents on the soil of your identity – or at least something that’s very important to it.  Salesmen do it to me all the time, although I give them grace as they’re often forced to by their training and their bosses. But I’ve known individuals who would often employ the “If you want to succeed in pastoral ministry, you have to do such and such” liners – only for me to realize later that what it is that I was being asked to do was not only unnecessary, but categorically inconsistent with faithful pastoral ministry and Christian living!  I’ve had others who used more pathos than ethos: “if you really loved your mother, you wouldn’t be in communication with your father or his side of the family” (my parents are divorced). 

Sign #6: The manipulative person will claim to know a hidden truth about a person they are trying to undermine.

The serpent was audacious as well as crafty: “God knows that…”. He deceived Eve into believing that God withheld a crucial truth from her that would have been otherwise good for her to know.  And what he claimed God knew was contrary to what God said.  Eve was duped into believing that the crawling serpent knew something about God that was purposefully but unfairly withheld from her and her husband.  No wonder the fruit looked so delectable afterwards.   

Manipulative characters carry around crystal balls and get you believe that they work:

“I know a lot of people say positive things about you about you, but really this is what they’re thinking.  I’m trying to help you because this is what I know people are thinking about you.” 

I once heard a preaching professor tell one of his students, “This is what I know the people in your congregation are really thinking about you, even though they might say that they are encouraged by you.” 

Manipulative characters claim to be mind-readers.  Nothing makes me want to tune someone out than the words, “A lot of people are saying…” or “I think this is what they’re thinking…”

Our Lord calls us to be shrewd as serpents while being innocent as doves.  As Christians, we are not called to show partiality or discrimination in terms of whom we love, but we are called to exhibit discernment regarding those with whom we choose associate.  That includes knowing when the snake is in your backyard.

Soar with the Eagles, Don’t Cluck with the Chickens

Expounding an parabolic illustration from a Sunday School lesson I taught last April on Christ’s call to love our enemies.
Eagles soar.  They’re effortless and effervescent.  We pay money to watch them.  Chickens, on the other hand, cluck.  They’re flightless and frivolous.  We pay money to eat them.
I’d rather be an eagle than a chicken.  But at times, we’re tempted to cluck like chickens when we’re surrounded by them.  It’s what we feel instinctively in the presence of unwarranted persecution.
At some point in our lives, you’re bound to encounter a chicken.  It may be because of animosity arisen toward your racial makeup, jealousy directed toward your achievements, or hatred aimed at your gospel faith.  But every man who desires to live a godly life ought to anticipate the encountering of the unwarranted adversity from an adversary.   Unless you opt to deprive yourself of your much-needed vitamin-D, you will run into them.  Should you pursue righteousness, they will be few and far between.  But they will come.  And when they do, they’ll be particularly persistent with the pecking.  I’ve realized that unrelenting persecution many times stems from unjustified hatred or disdain.  These persecutors – they’re the chickens.  They cluck.  They hurl quick-witted insults.  They poke their heads into your business for the sake of criticism.  Like chickens, they spend the majority of their time stomping around in the dust of gossip, slander, and engagement in petty conflicts and controversies.  Assuredly, they’re not righteous in their clucking.  Spiritual chickens cluck because they’re attempting to cover up their major deficiency: they can’t fly, and they know it.
Tell me, then, how tempting it is to cluck back at them…especially when all of the other chickens they bring with them surround you and won’t quit clucking.
Believers are eagles.  Perhaps, pre-salvation, they were flightless like their enemies.  But upon undeserved regeneration, they were born again as aerials – designed to fly, suited to soar, adapted to navigate and ponder the higher heavens uninhabited by the chickens.  Christ’s followers were set apart not for the dust but for the skies, the greater ministry of the gospel and the character fitting to it.  You, fellow Christian, were set apart to maneuver the empyrean with other eagles, not to roll around the earth with fat flightless fowls.
Eagles must always consider the words of Romans 12:17-21: 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Unwarranted adversaries are given leverage by the victim’s reactive retaliation.  But if you, though never compromising integrity,  refuse to retaliate but respond with a blessing instead, it is equivalent to respond to the clucking chicken by soaring with your wings.  When you do this, you heap the shaming coals upon his head.  Through your righteous grace, you cause your enemy to realize his own shame.  It is then that he realizes that he clucks but can’t soar.  It is then, when he sees the believer he persecuted in full flight in the firmament, that he is confronted with the fact of his flightlessness.  And, as the passage above says, he feels shame.  For the rest of the beasts of the field, as they observing your soaring and his clucking, will recognize that you are an eagle and he is a chicken.