Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words….”

While it is true that sticks and stones may hurt, Proverbs declares the greater potential danger is found in our words: “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” Solomon speaks of the power of our speech. He reminds us that a timely word brings tremendous peace and a sense of value, while an unkind expression will often fuel a hurricane of emotional and spiritual devastation, many times leaving a shipwrecked relationship in its wake.

The realization of this truth should lead to the conclusion that as Christians we must be mindful of Paul’s exhortation to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Yet sadly, this is all too often not the case. If we were to be honest with ourselves, we would be forced to acknowledge that the critical disposition, or critical spirit is at an epidemic proportion in the church today.

The reality is that it is all too easy to drift away from the biblical command to “encourage one another and build each other up” and find ourselves walking with a critical disposition. Romans asks the question, “Why do you criticize and pass judgment upon your brother? Or why do you look down and despise your brother?” The critical disposition is a familiar trap Satan uses to rob us of our joy and cripple us relationally.

Romans declares that if we continue to walk with a critical disposition that we are worthy of death. Jesus instructed us as His followers to bless those who curse us and to extend forgiveness to those who wrong us, stating in Matthew 6:15 that if we walk in bitterness and unforgiveness that our eternal destiny is in question. It would seem wise then to take a look at the sources of the critical spirit and explore a biblical solution to this vexing problem.

One of the first questions to consider is what is a critical spirit. It can best be described as an ongoing attitude of criticism and fault finding. The fuel for the critical spirit can come from a variety of sources:

  • Lost Grace – previous experiences where we either did not receive forgiveness or have not offered forgiveness will energize the critical spirit. It is a profound truth that “hurt people, hurt people!” Many times the lack of grace in our homes growing up will nurture a critical spirit that manifests itself once we reach adulthood. (Hebrews 12:15)
  • Personal Insecurity – A natural response to feeling devalued is to draw attention to what we perceive as negatives of others. We see ourselves as unworthy, unattractive or inadequate and find that pointing out the weaknesses of others works as an anodyne to keep us from having to deal with our own pain.
  • An Unyielded Mind - The prevalent response in the world around us to the weaknesses of others is it capitalize on the opportunity to criticize, poke fun or otherwise speak negatively about the person. As Christians we are not to act that way and are instructed in Romans 12:2 to not follow the pattern of this world.
  • Immaturity – The immature believer who has not progressed in their own faith remain overly dependent upon the faith in others. The danger of becoming critical of the flaws in those around them as a defense to their own shortcomings is great.
  • Satan - The Devil specializes in capitalizing on unhealthy behavior. He constantly uses any of our weaknesses to influence a complaining or critical disposition in us.

The source of our battle with the critical spirit is many times obvious. Finding a solution can prove much more challenging. Not because the solution is difficult to find, but because of the discipline necessary for the solution to prove effective.

Dr. David H. Fink, a psychiatrist for the veterans administration, wrote an article for Coronet Magazine, entitled, “Release from Nervous Tension” in which he outlined his research into the causes of mental and emotional disturbances. From over 10,000 case studies, he discovered that there was a common trait with all his patients who suffered from severe tension. They were habitual fault-finders, constant critics of people and things around them. Those who were free from tension, were the least critical. His conclusions were that the habit of fault-finding is a prelude or mark of the nervous, or the mentally unbalanced. Those who wish to retain good emotional and mental health, should learn to free themselves from a negative and critical attitude.

We can rightly conclude that it is in our best interest to walk free from a critical spirit, recognizing the damage it does to our earthly relationships, our heavenly relationships, and our own sense of well being. Victory is found in the daily reminder that we are no longer our own, that we were bought with a price. God’s Lordship must include both our hurts and our thoughts. We have to continually push back the patterns of this world and welcome the transformation that results from allowing God to renew our mind. If you find yourself feeling victimized by the words of others, follow the biblical directive to not only forgive them, but to bless them. The freedom that is found in extending the blessing is truly amazing. If an honest examination of your own conversation and attitude reveals a tendency toward the critical spirit determine to remind yourself daily of God's directives and commit to discovering the source of your critical spirit, realizing that it does not originate in the failings of others.

Remember this, the Bible doesn’t promise peace to those who dwell on the faults of others! It says that “the Lord will keep them in perfect peace, whose minds are stayed on Him!” Let’s let the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be found acceptable in God’s sight.

By the way… you look great today!

Saturday, September 4, 2010


The emerald green landscape of the Irish countryside and the breathtaking beauty of the "Giants Causeway" welcomed me to the land of my forefathers this past week. I visited the home of a hero of the faith in John Knox and learned of the tremendous religious conflict that has scarred this amazing region. I walked the pathways of Garvins past and took in the views of those who sacrificed much so I could enjoy the many blessings that are mine today. It was an amazing journey.

I am convinced that each one of us have an inherent affinity for the homeland of our ancestral heritage, and I was blessed with the opportunity to visit Ireland and Scotland, the land my of my family in previous generations. It is good to be home and I am navigating the issue of jet lag fairly well. Travel delays and lost luggage brought some frustration and some well needed reflection. My journey from the United States to Ireland and then Scotland was the reverse of my ancestors. My travel time to Ireland and Scotland was just under one day, their venture a significantly greater story. I wonder...

I wonder what the thoughts of William Garvin were when he voted in the General Assembly of Scotland in favor of the national covenant called the "Kings Confession" Scotland denounced the practices of the Pope and embraced the reformation of the church. I would love a window into the life of John Garvin who moved his family from Dunbarton, Scotland to Armagh, Ireland as part of King James' initiative give more Protestants land in Ireland to bring greater protestant influence to the region. It would be wonderful to know the thoughts of Rev. Samuel Garvin who brought his family to Pennsylvania in 1763 answering the call for the need of a "Covenanter" pastor. I find myself wondering aloud of the many in my family's history whose stories I may never uncover, and am so grateful for this history of my family that has been recorded. Their journey to America and the journey in their faith serves as a solid foundation on which my children can build our family heritage.

The Garvin family story is not unique. The many who have sacrificed in your family history, who sacrificed much and stood bravely in the midst of overwhelming obstacles affords you the opportunity to freely be who you are today. The question and challenge for us is what will future generations say about our journey. Will they speak of character and courage? Will they tell of sacrifice and significance? Will they discover faith and faithfulness?

My renewed commitment today is to honor my family name... not just the name Garvin, but the name of my Heavenly family:

"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:14-20