Friday, September 25, 2009

Character in a Tech-Overloaded World

By Lindy Keffer

We live in a culture saturated by technology. The information, promotions, opportunities and noise it creates seem to fill in the cracks of our already-busy lives so that every waking moment is occupied. In the midst of the hubbub, teachable moments for developing character are often lost. But parents who are intentional about finding those moments can succeed at raising kids with moral fiber — and at creating small pockets of sanity in a tech-overloaded world.

Beating the Stuff Monster
You may remember what life was like without digital cameras, iPods, tiny cell phones, video game consoles, high definition TVs and laptops, but your kids don't. So it's easy for them to adopt the mentality that they need the newest techno devices on the market. That's expensive. And in the rush to get their hands on the newest and best items, giving is often the last thing on kids' minds — unless you help them to remember.

It's important to start early — as soon as kids have an allowance or other income — and set standards that emphasize the importance of generosity. For example, one family required their young teens to save double the amount needed for any major purchase. The extra money was to go into savings, but families interested in raising generous kids could just as easily split it between savings and giving.

Another approach is the envelope system recommended by Christian financial counselors. The idea here is to reserve a certain percentage of earnings for giving and to limit the percentage that can be spent on stuff.

Either of these strategies slows down the accumulation of new gadgets. At the same time, setting aside cash specifically for giving helps kids to prioritize generosity. After the money is saved, make sure to give youngsters some ownership in deciding where it goes. Encourage them to give to your church, but allow them some freedom to meet other needs they feel strongly about. They might support a child through a sponsorship organization or anonymously buy school supplies for a classmate who can't afford them. When giving is personal, it's easier for children to see that they're making a difference. In turn, they're more likely to make generosity a way of life.

Entertain Me! … Or Maybe Not
A 2006 Yahoo online poll reported that the average U.S. family owns 12 tech devices, including three TVs, two computers, and seven other gadgets such as MP3 players, video game consoles and mobile phones. Poll respondents said their overlapping use of all these devices adds up to about 43 hours during each 24-hour day. Sound like your house?

Unless we make a deliberate effort to unplug, we can literally be entertained all day long. That doesn't leave much room for important spiritual pursuits like praying (1 Thes. 5:17), meditating on God's Word (Josh. 1:8, Ps. 1:2) and examining ourselves (Lam. 3:40, 1 Cor. 11:28 and 2 Cor. 13:5). It's not that technology is bad, but its constant presence can distract us from important exercises that make our spirits strong.

Whatever our normal tech-drenched state is, let's call its opposite contentment. It's the ability to be still (Ps. 37:7, Ps. 46:10, Zech. 2:13) — to be alone with our thoughts and be at peace (Prov. 14:30; Is. 26:3, Jn. 14:27, 2 Tim. 1:7). Getting there in today's culture takes some work, but it's possible. We can start with the biblical discipline of fasting — but instead of fasting from food, we can fast from technology. Pick a week and turn off the TV. Stay off the Internet for a day. Once in a while, leave the radio off when you get in the car. Create some space in your life — and your kids' lives — that's free from electronic input.

Another practical option is to teach kids to be comfortable with silence and solitude. In later years, these can become rich spiritual disciplines, but with little ones the goal is to help them get comfortable with noiseless time in their lives. Start by declaring a tech-free hour each afternoon or evening. Books are definitely allowed in this quiet zone, as are walks outside and time spent on hobbies. A gadget-free hour probably isn't practical every day, but honoring this quiet time often can create in kids a lasting appreciation for a bit of peace and quiet.

Love the Ones You're With
It's funny: Our techno-gadgetry allows us to stay in contact with so many different friends that we're often guilty of ignoring the people in the room with us in favor of those we're talking to online or on the cell phone. Furthermore, we sometimes interact long-distance in ways that we wouldn't up close, and intimacy is lost. It takes some intentionality to ensure that real, high-touch bonds get maintained in an age of cyber-communication.

Priority number one is to create time for your family to focus on each other, without the distractions of technology. That might mean no text messaging at the dinner table. (Even better: no electronics at the dinner table.) Take time to look each other in the eye and catch up on everyone's day.

Second, talk with your teens about how they communicate with their online friends. Are they being honest, or are they trying to look like someone they're not? Treating others with honor means shooting straight about your identity.

Finally, kindness toward others also means not taking advantage of them just because you have the tech-skills to do so. Anastasia Goodstein, author of the book Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens Are Really Doing Online, says that the Internet has made it possible for anyone to become a bully. And many are doing so: One third of kids say they've been victims of online bullying; 16 percent say they've done some bullying of their own. Clearly that's not kindness, but since it's becoming common practice, you may need to give your teen some encouragement to be uncommon.

Logging Off
It goes without saying that children are most likely to pick-up on these character-building practices if they see you doing them yourself. Make yours a home where character is the core and technology is an accessory — not vice-versa.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

God's Design for Marriage

By Carol Heffernan

It's easy to think that only "other people" get divorced. That your own marriage is somehow immune to heartache, infidelity and fights over who gets the house, the car, the dog. After all, how many of us would walk down the aisle if we believed our relationships would end up in divorce court?

Truth is, no relationship comes with a lifetime guarantee. Even men and women who grew up in stable homes, who attend church and consider themselves Christians, who promise "until death do us part," can have it all fall apart.

As Christians, we know that applying biblical principles to marriage will give us a stronger foundation than those of our unbelieving friends and neighbors. We know this, but what are we doing about it? In other words, what makes a marriage "Christian"?

According to author Gary Thomas, we're not asking the right questions. What if your relationship isn't as much about you and your spouse as it is about you and God?

Instead of asking why we have struggles in the first place, the more important issue is how we deal with them.

In Sacred Marriage, Thomas has not written your typical "how to have a happier relationship" book. Rather, he asks: How can we use the challenges, joys, struggles and celebrations of marriage to draw closer to God? What if God designed marriage to make us both happy and holy?

Viewing Marriage Realistically

"We have to stop asking of marriage what God never designed it to give — perfect happiness, conflict-free living, and idolatrous obsession," Thomas explains.

Instead, he says, we can appreciate what God designed marriage to provide: partnership, spiritual intimacy and the ability to pursue God — together. So, what does Thomas think is the most common misconception Christians have about marriage?

"Finding a 'soul mate' — someone who will complete us," he says. "The problem with looking to another human to complete us is that, spiritually speaking, it's idolatry. We are to find our fulfillment and purpose in God . . . and if we expect our spouse to be 'God' to us, he or she will fail every day. No person can live up to such expectations."

Everyone has bad days, yells at his or her spouse, or is downright selfish. Despite these imperfections, God created the husband and wife to steer each other in His direction.

Thomas offers an example: "When my wife forgives me . . . and accepts me, I learn to receive God's forgiveness and acceptance as well. In that moment, she is modeling God to me, revealing God's mercy to me, and helping me to see with my own eyes a very real spiritual reality."

While it's easy to see why God designed an other-centered union for a me-centered world, living that way is a challenge. So when bills pile up, communication breaks down and you're just plain irritated with your husband or wife, Thomas offers these reminders to help ease the tension:

1. God created marriage as a loyal partnership between one man and one woman

2. Marriage is the firmest foundation for building a family

3. God designed sexual expression to help married couples build intimacy

4. Marriage mirrors God's covenant relationship with His people

We see this last parallel throughout the Bible. For instance, Jesus refers to Himself as the "bridegroom" and to the kingdom of heaven as a "wedding banquet."

These points demonstrate that God's purposes for marriage extend far beyond personal happiness. Thomas is quick to clarify that God isn't against happiness per se, but that marriage promotes even higher values.

"God did not create marriage just to give us a pleasant means of repopulating the world and providing a steady societal institution to raise children. He planted marriage among humans as yet another signpost pointing to His own eternal, spiritual existence."

Serving Our Spouse

He spends the entire evening at the office — again. She spends money without entering it in the checkbook. He goes golfing instead of spending time with the kids. From irritating habits to weighty issues that seem impossible to resolve, loving one's spouse through the tough times isn't easy. But the same struggles that drive us apart also shed light on what we value in marriage.

"If happiness is our primary goal, we'll get a divorce as soon as happiness seems to wane," Thomas says. "If receiving love is our primary goal, we'll dump our spouse as soon as they seem to be less attentive. But if we marry for the glory of God, to model His love and commitment to our children, and to reveal His witness to the world, divorce makes no sense."

Couples who've survived a potentially marriage-ending situation, such as infidelity or a life-threatening disease, may continue to battle years of built-up resentment, anger or bitterness. So, what are some ways to strengthen a floundering relationship — or even encourage a healthy one? Thomas offers these practical tips:

1. Focus on your spouse's strengths rather than their weaknesses

2. Encourage rather than criticize

3. Pray for your spouse instead of gossiping about them

4. Learn and live what Christ teaches about relating to and loving others

Young couples in particular can benefit from this advice. After all, many newlyweds aren't adequately prepared to make the transition from seeing one another several times a week to suddenly sharing everything. Odds are, annoying habits and less-than-appealing behaviors will surface. Yet as Christians, we are called to respect everyone — including our spouse.

Thomas adds, "The image I use in Sacred Marriage is that we need to learn how to 'fall forward.' That is, when we are frustrated or angry, instead of pulling back, we must still pursue our partner under God's mercy and grace."

Lastly, Thomas suggests praying this helpful prayer: Lord, how can I love my spouse today like (s)he's never been loved and never will be loved?

"I can't tell you how many times God has given me very practical advice — from taking over some driving trips to doing a few loads of laundry," Thomas says. "It's one prayer that I find gets answered just about every time."

While other marriage books may leave us feeling overwhelmed, spotlighting our shortcomings and providing pages of "relationship homework," Sacred Marriage makes it clear that any couple can have a successful, happy and holy marriage.

With a Christ-centered relationship, an other-centered attitude and an unwavering commitment to making it work, your marriage can flourish — just as God designed.

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Copyright © 2002, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Don't Let the Past Paralyze You

By Brendan Kunneman

So many people allow negative experiences and broken dreams to stop them. Yet God has the power to propel you beyond your disappointments.

Have you ever heard the statement, “Experience is the best teacher”? It’s true. The problem is that experience can teach you the wrong things as well as the right ones.

A person who is severely bitten by a dog, for example, generally has a lifelong dislike—and often fear—of dogs. People can have all sorts of fears and phobias because of one bad dream, accident or tragic event in their lives.

When we experience a major trauma or disappointment or live under a particular negative circumstance for a long time, we tend to become hindered in some area of our lives. We find ourselves changing the truth of the Bible, God’s Word, and His ways to match up with our personal experiences. We come under a spirit of captivity because our culture or experience has taught us something that is completely different from the ways of the Spirit of God.

Once a spirit of captivity has taken root in your life, you will start to lose your sense of purpose—perhaps not your entire life’s purpose, but some aspect of it. You may be bound by a fear of flying, for example, or by a pattern of persistent anger and abuse.

Though you love God with all your heart, your past may have been so dysfunctional and full of hurt that now you cannot seem to break out of horrible habits developed long ago. Even after evil spirits are cast out of you, your mind must be renewed. In other words, you have to learn a new way of living that is according to God’s ways.

For example, if your pattern growing up was that your father could never seem to keep a good job or provide a stable income, then without your realizing it, those years in “Babylon” can lead to similar inconsistency in you. You find yourself going through the years not being able to get ahead in life and thus feeling like a failure without any solid goals.

This is how a spirit of captivity tries to destroy your purpose. You have learned something that is not in line with godliness. The demons may have come and gone, but they have left a permanent imprint on you.

Romans 12:1-2 gives us insight into this revelation and provides some hands-on ways we can change wrong mindsets: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (NKJV).

First, Paul pleads with us to keep our flesh pure. Whatever your flesh has been used to doing, you must take charge and tell it, “No.” You could be engaging in a serious addiction or a bad habit of gossip. You might have an excessive need for attention or bad spending habits.

Verse 2 offers further help. It tells us not to be conformed to the world. That means you decide not to play the world’s game. You realize that God has a different pattern and that you need to learn how to live by it. That is what it means to be transformed.

Your mind must change what it has felt secure believing and gravitating toward. The New Living Translation says it this way: “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (v. 2, emphasis added). You must go through a process of renewing your mind and relearn how to live after you have been captive to something.

You may need to attend the “school of the Spirit” for a season, learning new mindsets in one area or another because your mind must be rehabilitated. If all you ever knew growing up was drug and alcohol abuse, when you come out of that abusive lifestyle you are required to form a new pattern. Then the next time you are pressed with a trial or the devil beats you down, you won’t revert back into the captivity of addiction.

Instead, you will be armed with a new and tested source of dependency—God’s will and His ways. Your mind has new “experiences” that it can refer to that have replaced your previous ones. These become dependable weapons during times when your life gets tampered with by the devil.

If you allow Him to, the Lord will deliver you from any type of past culture this spirit of captivity has imparted to you. That is what Jesus came for—to set you free—and He is an expert at doing it.

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Brenda Kunneman is co-founder of One Voice Ministries and co-pastor, with her husband, Hank, of Lord of Hosts Church in Omaha, Nebraska. She ministers in conferences and churches and is the author of several books, including When Your Life Has Been Tampered With (Charisma House).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Facebook - A Potential Pitfall for the Married

This article (Facebook Users Re-ignite Old Romances) illustrates one of the dangers of being on Facebook. For those of you who are married, Facebook is a potential pitfall.


By Peter Arkle

Elise Garber married the first boy she ever kissed. She met him at an Outward Bound--style summer-camp program when she was 15, she "sort of dated" him for the summer, and then, like most teenage romances, it ended. Twenty-two years later, they met again on Facebook.

"I don't know why I looked him up," says the 37-year-old former advertising-agency executive in Chicago. Garber was showing a co-worker how Facebook works, and to demonstrate the search function--a feature that allows users to search for the names of people they know--she entered Harlan Robins, the name of the first boy she kissed. At the prodding of her co-worker, Garber sent Robins a message. And then she waited. Would he respond? Would he accept her friend request? Was it weird to contact an old summer-camp boyfriend?

As Facebook users have begun to skew older--the website is now as popular with 30-, 40- and 50-somethings as with the college students who pioneered it--they have found ways to reconnect with one another. And who better to get in touch with than an old flame? "Facebook makes it easier for you to take that first step of finding someone again," explains Rainer Romero-Canyas, a psychology research scientist at Columbia University. "It has finally provided a way for people to reach out to someone without fear of rejection." The Boston Phoenix even coined a term, retrosexuals, for people who are taking the plunge into recycled love.

"It was like opening a time capsule," says Drew Peterson, a 34-year-old former IT worker from Long Island, New York. Peterson's retrosexual experience occurred a few years ago when he found his high school girlfriend on MySpace--"You know, before it became the cyberghetto of the Internet." The two dated during junior and senior year of high school; the last time the two saw each other was on the day they graduated. Sixteen years later, they exchanged MySpace messages, and then Peterson flew from New York to San Francisco to see what had become of the woman who had once captured his teenage heart. "I knew it wasn't going to turn out like some Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy," Peterson says. "I just wanted to see her again." The pair still got along, although this time just as friends.

Most retrosexual experiences seem to spring from an intense, almost uncontrollable mixture of nostalgia and interest. "You get a thrill out of finding an old girlfriend just to see if she still likes you," says W. Keith Campbell, a University of Georgia psychology professor and co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic. "You're curious to see what she looks like, and it's easy to fantasize about alternative courses your life might have taken." It's the same feeling that compels people to attend high school reunions. In a way, these meet-ups are the same thing, especially for people like Los Angeles film developer Jillian Stein, 30, who traveled to her hometown of Tampa, Fla., and had three Facebook- and MySpace-inspired reunions within 72 hours.

She met up with her 12th-grade boyfriend, who is happily married and wanted her to meet his kid. Then she reconnected with her first crush, "the embarrassing kind where I couldn't even talk to him, I liked him so much." He had liked her too; they confessed their old crushes on each other through MySpace and arranged to meet in person the next time Stein was in town. But when she met him at a bar, she was immediately disappointed. He had gained weight, worked in a dead-end job and had already been engaged three times. "I was like, um, no," she says.

The third meeting--with a boy whom Stein would occasionally meet after high school for what she describes as a "behind-the-bleachers sort of thing"--went differently. He found Stein on Facebook, and they began talking. Stein added him to her list of people to see. They met for dinner, but "it was beyond awkward," and their conversation felt forced. So they left and went to a pool hall.

Several hours and drinks later, the former flings were kissing. Then Stein went home with him. In the morning, she made the drive of shame back home to her parents' house. "Here I was, almost 30, and my mom was so pissed at me," Stein says. She felt as if she were back in high school.

Stein doesn't know what inspired her to do something like that. They knew each other. They had talked extensively through Facebook, and their fling felt like more than a one-night stand. But it was definitely less than a real relationship. They had a history, a rapport. They weren't just hooking up; they were doing something they had always wanted to do but had been too young to try. "It was fun," says Stein. "I got this really great closure, and it felt safe in a weird way."

And what about Elise Garber and her first kiss, Harlan Robins? For them, life really did resemble a romantic comedy. Robins remembered his summer-camp girlfriend and replied to her Facebook message. They agreed to meet for drinks the next time he was in Chicago. When they saw each other, something clicked. They talked into the night, went out the next day, then decided to give their long-distance retrosexual romance a try. Surprisingly, it worked. Garber quit her advertising job and moved to Seattle to be with him. On Sept. 6, they married. "And to think," says Garber, "I worried that we'd spend the whole evening talking about summer camp."

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Blocking the Flow of the Holy Ghost

By J Lee Grady

We often pray for more of the Holy Spirit's anointing. But if God gives you His power, will you actually use it?

A few years ago the Lord challenged me about my level of spiritual hunger. He showed me that even though I had stood in many prayer lines and repeatedly sung the words, "Lord, I want more of You," I wasn't as passionate for Him as I thought I was.

In 1999 my church sponsored a conference on the Holy Spirit. At the close of one service I was lying on the floor near the altar asking God for another touch of His power. Several other people were kneeling at the communion rail and praying quietly for each other.

Suddenly I began to have a vision. In my mind I could see a large pipeline, at least eight feet in diameter. I was looking at it from the inside, and I could see a shallow stream of golden liquid flowing at the bottom. The oil in the giant pipe was only a few inches deep.

I began a conversation with the Lord.

"What are You showing me?" I asked.

"This is the flow of the Holy Spirit in your life," He answered.

It was not an encouraging picture; it was pitiful! The capacity of the pipeline was huge—enough to convey tons of oil. Yet only a trickle was evident.

Then I noticed something else: Several large valves were lined up along the sides of the pipeline, and each of them was shut.

I wanted to ask the Lord why there was so little oil in my life. Instead I asked: "What are those valves, and why are they closed?"

His answer stunned me. "Those represent the times when you said no. Why should I increase the level of anointing if you aren't available to use it?"

The words stung. When had I said no to God? I was overcome with emotion and began to repent. I recalled different excuses I had made and limitations I had placed on how He could use me.

I had told Him that I didn't want to be in front of crowds because I wasn't a good speaker. I had told Him that if I couldn't preach like T.D. Jakes does, then I didn't want to speak at all. I had told Him that I didn't want to address certain issues or go certain places. I had placed so many cumbersome conditions on my obedience.

After a while I began to see something else in my spirit. It was a huge crowd of African men, assembled as if they were in a large arena. And I saw myself preaching to them.

Nobody had ever asked me to minister in Africa, but I knew at that moment I needed to surrender my will. All I could think to say was the prayer of Isaiah: "Here am I, Lord, send me." (Isa. 6:8). I told God I would go anywhere and say anything He asked. I laid my insecurities, fears and inhibitions on the altar.

Three years later I stood at a pulpit inside a sports arena in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. As I addressed a crowd of 8,000 pastors who had assembled there for a training conference, I remembered seeing their faces in that vision. And I realized that God had opened a new valve in my life that day in 1999. Because I had said yes, He had increased the flow of His oil so that it could reach thousands.

Many of us have a habit of asking for more of God's power and anointing. But what do we use it for? He doesn't send it just to make us feel good.

We love to go to the altar for a touch from God. We love the goose bumps, the shaking, the emotion of the moment. We love to fall on the floor and experience one filling after another. But I am afraid some of us are soaking up the anointing but not giving it away. Our charismatic experience has become inward and selfish. We get up off the floor and live like we want to.

Pentecost is not a party. If we truly want to be empowered we must offer God an unqualified yes. We must crucify every no. We must become a conduit to reach others; not a reservoir with no outlet.

Search your own heart today and see if there are any closed valves in your pipeline. As you surrender them, the locked channels will open and His oil will flow out to a world that craves to know He is real.


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J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma. You can find him on Twitter at LeeGrady. He will be speaking at the Embrace '09 Women's Conference in Blackshear, Georgia, Aug. 14-15. For information go to and click on Embrace '09.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

There Will Be A Day - A Song by Jeremy Camp

The following are the lyrics of the song, "There will be a day" by Jeremy Camp. I listened to it again this morning, as I drove to work, and it ministered to me greatly, as always, and I thought I'd share it with you all.

This is for that brother or sister out there hurting and going through the "valley of the shadow of death" and stuff. Just know that the day indeed is coming when you'll be restored and the hurt and the pain will cease. But until that day, hold on to the LOVER of your soul always.

I try to hold on to this world with everything I have
But I feel the weight of what it brings, and the hurt that tries to grab
The many trials that seem to never end, His word declares this truth,
That we will enter in this rest with wonders anew

But I hold on to this hope and the promise that He brings
That there will be a place with no more suffering

There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears
There will be a day when the burdens of this place, will be no more, we'll see Jesus face to face
But until that day, we'll hold on to you always

I know the journey seems so long
You feel you’re walking on your own
But there has never been a step
Where you’ve walked out all alone

Troubled soul don’t lose your heart
Cause joy and peace he brings
And the beauty that’s in store
Outweighs the hurt of life’s sting

But I hold on to this hope and the promise that He brings
That there will be a place with no more suffering

I can’t wait until that day where the very one I’ve lived for always will wipe away the sorrow that I’ve faced
To touch the scars that rescued me from a life of shame and misery this is why this is why I sing

There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears
There will be a day when the burdens of this place, will be no more, we'll see Jesus face to face

There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears
There will be a day when the burdens of this place, will be no more, we'll see Jesus face to face

There will be a day, he will wipe away the tears,
He will wipe away the tears,
He will wipe away the tears,
There will be a day.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Origins of False Guilt

By Paul Coughlin

I know a man who brought his children to church every week even when they were ill. He would wake them from their deep slumber, the very medicine they needed to receive healing, and bring them to church with a fever, runny nose and tears. That man was me.

Approval Junkie

My spiritual training then consisted of a graceless and temperamental God who demanded tremendous obedience to many rules, unwavering church attendance being one. If I failed to keep the growing list of rules, His heavy hand would be taken from my life and His untold blessings would be replaced by judgment and condemnation. To this day, I cannot remember receiving knowledge that was useful for my soul during the sermons of those fretful years (fear has a way of doing that), but I still felt I had to be there regardless. I submitted to this treatment because I was an approval junkie.

I, like many other earnest people of faith, spent the first half of my church life trying to avoid displeasing my pastor instead of pleasing God. Those wacky years are past me now, but they help to explain where false guilt comes from: a faulty understanding of one's relationship to others, God and himself.

Spiritually, this faulty understanding stems from the belief that Christians are charged with making others happy, and if they don't they have failed somehow. Many Christians are trained to over-yes and under-no to other people's demands. This error is astonishing in light of Jesus' actual behavior and teaching. For example, Jesus rarely answered a question directly, especially if it were entrapping. And in his warning about casting pearls before swine, he told us to not give to others our precious resources when others are known to squander them and then attack us later.

'Over-Yes' and 'Under-No'

For example, I had a pastor tell me to write a letter of apology to someone for harming our relationship. This person had repeatedly lied and stolen from me, and so I quietly pulled away from the relationship. My pastor convinced me that I was wrong to do so, that my behavior was "un-Christ like." So I wrote the letter in which I pleaded guilty to behavior I didn't commit and worked double-time to drown myself with feelings of remorse. He convinced me that God wanted me to. I over-yes to guilt and under-no to healthy and wise boundaries.

What is so ironic about such spiritual training is that hyper guilty people are among the weakest Christians. They rarely do anything very helpful or meaningful and instead make mountains out of moral and theological molehills. Their idol is approval, which comes via conformity. They read their Bibles, not because they want to conform to the real character of Christ, but because that's what the rules state and so they do it. They rank among the least passionate and courageous. Their hearts are far away from God.

Most Powerful People in Your Life

Hypercritical upbringings create a hyperactive conscience as well. When you grow up believing that your most every move is not good enough, and you are forced to constantly confess your unworthiness to a parent or parents, the most powerful people in your life then, you will eventually feel guilty for most everything you do—even for behavior that is morally neutral. You feel that you are wrong and must apologize for your very existence. False guilt becomes your constant companion, your most dangerous childhood playmate.

I had a hypercritical mother, and eventually I felt guilty not because I was a sinner but because I felt I was somehow defective, as if I were born with a kind of soul-stain that others did not. I felt like a child of a lesser god. She was abusive, temperamental and at times very hard on me, and so I learned to be hard on myself. Her love was highly conditional and I was told in numerous ways that I was unworthy of her love because I "was such an evil child." She was unforgiving and so I learned how to be unforgiving to myself as well. I had no right or path toward innocence or forgiveness. I wasn't allowed to be guiltless.

False guilt comes from a guilt-ridden conscience, which means that a person is incapable of self-acceptance and does not really believe that they are accepted by God either. Their efforts are never really good enough in their own eyes and so for them the goal is just always out of reach: They follow the rules for the rules will lead to acceptance. But there is always another rule to follow, another manner to master. There is no finish line, just one sweaty plateau after another to climb. Eventually, beginning in their 30s and early 40s, people just give up, exhausted and usually resentful. Religion is a guilt-ridden burden to them, not a blessing.

Familiar Malaise

You can see how my upbringing made my legalistic spiritual training so damaging. I thought I was running into the arms of a God whose love, grace and acceptance could not be separated from me. But the acceptance I did experience was momentary. Soon I sank into that familiar malaise of false guilt from the pulpits of earnest but misguided men. It was a frying-pan-into-the-fire experience.

This is why the question of ownership of your life is so essential. If we give ownership of our lives to our pastor or our parents as adults, then we inevitably will live for their approval. But if God is the one who owns our lives, and who then gives this ownership back to us along with his loving guidance, then we will live to please him and in doing so save ourselves from false guilt in its various forms.


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Copyright 2008 Paul Coughlin. Used with permission. All rights reserved.