The Brewing of a Toxic Culture

by Joseph Mattera | There is constant bickering and or resistance which then hurts the execution of the vision, which spills over to the rest of the organization—creating a toxic environment

The following 20 signs are based on my observations regarding organizational dysfunction associated with a toxic (poisonous) culture in any organization.

In this article, the word “culture” refers to the prevailing attitude, behavior, and unspoken feeling and or rules that motivate and determine how people respond, react and act in the context of their work.

The following toxic traits fit either a “for profit” or “nonprofit “organization (including nonprofits like a hospital, school or church).

1. The leader is a demanding micromanager.

When the leader of an organization is constantly hovering over staff and other team leaders—not only telling them what to do but exactly how to do it (although this is necessary temporarily when a new person is learning a new job until they prove their competency), it discourages the work environment because the leader’s leadership style demonstrates a lack of trust towards those under him or her.

2. The leader is emotionally abusive and demeaning.

A work environment is absolutely horrible when the boss is constantly putting the staff and other leaders down—never praising them and only speaking to them when he wants to correct them.

3. The leader doesn’t understand or desire to delegate tasks to others.

Often, micromanagers have a hard time delegating work to others because they have a “perfectionist” spirit and think they are the only ones who can get a job done the correct way. Even when they delegate, they don’t trust those they delegate to and are constantly on top of them, thus not giving them room to breathe or grow.

4. The leader and the governing board are always arguing.

I have spoken to numerous pastors or CEOs who say they dread board meetings because of philosophical differences. The result is, there is constant bickering and or resistance which then hurts the execution of the vision, which spills over to the rest of the organization—creating a toxic environment.

5. There is low morale among the staff, employees and participants.

When the staff and team leaders of an organization have low morale, it negatively affects the rest of the participants since it is like a virus that spreads to all.

6. The vision and mission are always changing based on the mood of the leader.

Any church or organization that has a new vision and mission every year has a confused leadership team. Since vision determines the organization’s responsibility and mission determines its authority, when these two are constantly changing, nobody understands what is expected; thus, creating confusion, lack of trust towards the leader and resulting in a toxic culture.

7. A culture of rampant gossip is tolerated.

When an organization cannot keep confidentiality among the leaders and staff, and when backstabbing and gossip is tolerated, the organization is poisonous and unfit to work in until there is a drastic shift away from this behavior.

8. There is a lack of transparency regarding financial decisions.

When any organization—including a church—doesn’t at least annually divulge financial expenditures, values and priorities, it shows a lack of accountability and possible mismanagement. When only the lead pastor and or CEO of an organization (not talking about a “for profit” mom and pop restaurant or small business) know the true financial state and or has access to the monies, it can be an ethical disaster waiting to happen. I’ve known of some cases where not even the trustees of the organization knew what was going on financially.

9. There is an ambiguous accountability structure.

When nobody on staff or in a ministry or job position understands who to report to, it creates a toxic, confusing environment without true accountability.

10. There is a lot of transition in the staff and middle management.

When a “season” of transition becomes years of staff transition, it becomes part of the culture and demonstrates some level of toxicity that chases people away from the work environment. People in healthy work environments usually enjoy going to work (unless they are lazy and unmotivated) and make a long-term commitment to serve.

11. There is no “buy in.”

The key to the success of all organizations is when the staff and participants go from being “employees” to “proprietors;” hence, only when the key players in an organization take ownership and have the attitude of a shareholder does the organization gain momentum.

An organization populated only with mere “employees” is a toxic organization that marginalizes its ability to execute its vision and mission.

12. There is an entitlement mentality among the leaders and staff.

When the leadership and staff of an organization have a “what’s in it for me” mentality—the organization is in big trouble.

This entitlement mentality spreads, then instead of a culture of servant leadership you have a culture of obtaining a title in the organization primarily, so you can enjoy the fringe benefits.

13. There is much activity without measurable goals and profitability.

When an organization has much activity without measurable goals, then it’s difficult to define success and failure. In a church like this, nobody has to exercise their faith in God to accomplish their mission and assignment. Consequently, it is an organization that is on autopilot or like an aimless ship at sea in the night. This causes much frustration and lethargy among the staff, and eventually creates a toxic environment.

14. There is blame-shifting and a lack of taking responsibility.

In any organization that doesn’t have clear lines of communication, leadership structure and accountability, it is easy to have a culture of blame-shifting. Since blame-shifting generates animosity among the staff (and irresponsibility from the ones blaming others) you have a toxic culture that needs to be cleaned up systemically.

15. The participants do the minimum amount of work required.

I have observed in many organizations leaders and staff who just do the minimum work required to keep their position. They clock in and clock out and don’t care to do above and beyond the general job description. This generates a very bad environment if it is not dealt with and results in resentment from other staff members carrying most of the weight.

16. There is a dearth of volunteers.

When it is hard for a nonprofit to garner volunteers, it may demonstrate that there is a disconnect with the vision, the morale is low or the people are not committed to the mission. This lack of motivation creates an apathy, that is toxic for the culture of the entity.

17. The boss regularly ignores the protocols.

Every efficient organization needs to have protocols in place related to communication, accountability, layers of leadership and responsibility so that participants know the when, where and who to report to. When the top leader continually violates these processes put in place he or she acts like they are above the law and become bad role models for other leaders who will also replicate their disregard for protocols and order.

18. The boss regularly bypasses the leadership structure set up.

When the top leader allows people to report directly to him or her—(thus bypassing the delegated leadership structure) it creates confusion, favoritism and disrespect towards those bypassed.

The result is resentment among those bypassed, a sense of entitlement and favoritism among those with direct access to the boss, resulting in a toxic environment that can only be fixed if the senior leader leads the way by ceasing to violate the hierarchical leadership structure.

19. Creativity and innovation are discouraged.

Healthy organizations encourage creative thinking, innovation, a certain level of risk-taking and cutting-edge methodologies to support and advance the mission.

When an organization is more concerned with protecting the status quo, the result is groupthink—a lack of creativity and a uniformity lacking a healthy dose of critical thinking, which eventually leads to the dulling and ineffectiveness of the organization.

20. There is no long-term planning.

The old popular adage “when you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is a proven truism. An organization constantly given to last-minute events (barring an unexpected crisis or emergency) or a lack of long-term planning (every organization should at least execute an annual planning meeting for future events directed towards advancing the assignment) is an organization without a spirit of excellence or proper focus.

The result will be many opportunities to maximize the gifts, talents and resources of the organization will be missed, which will frustrate many and hurt the morale of many.

Dr. Joseph Mattera is an internationally known author, interpreter of culture and activist/theologian whose mission is to influence leaders who influence nations. He is renowned for addressing current events through the lense of Scripture by applying biblical truths and offering cogent defenses to today’s postmodern culture. He leads several organizations, including The United Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (uscal.us). To order one of his books or to subscribe to his weekly newsletter go to josephmattera.org.



Being ECWA Today: ECWA Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ in an Age of Challenge

by Emmanuel Datiyong Akanet | Reclaiming ECWA Believers’ Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ: A Problem of Christian Identity
Download Reclaiming ECWA Believers’ Identity and Sense of Belonging in Christ
I had the privilege of participating in the Lord’s ministry in Nigeria for twenty-eight years before I came to Asbury Theological Seminary in the fall of 2004, and I realize that the Lord enables me to serve better in the areas of teaching, preaching, and writing Christian literature. I served as a teacher and principal in one of my denomination’s Bible schools as well as pastoring several churches at various locations and times.

A mission body known as the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) founded the denomination to which I belong: the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) back then but now known as the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Nigeria. My previous observations and experiences as well as the history of the church shows that early congregations started on a solid foundation, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, with a desire to grow towards maturity in Christ. At the beginning believers were known for what they profess to be believers in Christ otherwise called “Christians.” They were not afraid to share their faith with others in obedience to the Lord’s command to preach the gospel to all nations of the world (Matt. 28: 18-20). They were continuously striving and engaging in Bible studies, evangelistic activities, and constant fellowship in community settings. They collaborated with the missionaries in building and sustaining the body of Christ.

Nevertheless, the time came when missionaries handed over the church leadership to nationals who followed the examples set forth by the founding fathers. The work continued well. Leaders gave their time and resources in selfless service in the Lord’s vineyard, and the congregations trusted them and their leadership. Fifty years after the handover to the nationals, several problems seem to have crept into the life of the church. The spiritual state of believers appears to be declining, and some of the leaders seem to be deviating from the mission of the church which is to glorify God in life and service. Sensing the problem is what prompted me to be devoted in preaching, teaching, and writing.

This report includes a brief history of Nigeria and the church, biblical and theological foundations for the research, a literature review on leaders, leadership tasks, leadership approaches, the qualities, competencies as well as the spirituality required of a leader. The ministry intervention aimed at helping ECWA believers reclaim their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. Assessments confirmed the existence of spiritual decline among ECWA believers and the need for leaders with spiritual vision and direction to lead the church in reclaiming ECWA believers’ identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. The ministry intervention of this research was designed with a need for spiritual and visionary leaders to provide learning environments that would facilitate a learning process in helping ECWA believers reclaim their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another. This need, which has been a burden upon my wife and I, led us into starting a Servant Leadership Ministry to the disable persons, widows/widowers, orphans, senior citizens, and the poor in Madakiya community in which we were brought up and to which we belong.

Ministry Intervention
The distinctly Christian response to any need is a ministry response (i.e., a servant response). Jesus conceived of his own ministry as a response to specific human need. He articulated this construal of his ministry in his explanation of his unconventional behavior of “eating with tax collectors and sinners” (Mark 2:13-17). He responded to questions about this behavior in terms of the link between human need (the “sick” and their need of a “physician“) and his own purpose (why he “came” [Mark 2:17]). Similarly, in his programmatic statement summarizing his whole ministry, he claimed he had come “not to be served but to serve” and to “give [his] life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Therefore, a most fitting response to the perceived need in ECWA is along the lines of the following design, judging from the research.

Encouragement from Greater Africa and a Testimony
The need for trans-formative leaders seems to be of great concern among many ecclesiastical leaders in many African countries. Other Africans are leading awakenings like that proposed in this study. Two ministry initiatives that are taking place in Africa today encourage one to think that a ministry intervention of the sort here proposed has, by God’s grace, a reasonable likelihood of success.

Calembo’s International Leadership Institute of Southern Africa (ILISA)
A premier example of these African ministries is the International Leadership Institute of Southern Africa founded and led by Alfred Calembo. His ministry aims at recruiting and training potential leaders who would also train others in their localities. The ministry appears to be flourishing, apparently meeting well the needs of adult learners and meeting perceived leadership needs. Calembo demonstrates the servant leadership attitude needed to be able to influence leaders in a community. His ministry is administered at the national and international levels. Its main aim is influencing the direction of his denomination by shaping leaders who would go and shape others, too.

The core values of Calembo’s ministry emphasize the importance of visionary leadership, relevant evangelism, stewardship, and leadership multiplication processes that seek and train men and women who, in turn become leaders of leaders who will effectively train others. According to Calembo, the curriculum emphasizes the importance of character and integrity because credible leaders exert greater influence on their followers. His ministry focus is based on:

  • Training and mobilizing leaders of leaders,
  • Evangelization and Church planting,
  • Ministering to HIV/AIDS, widows/orphans and vulnerable children,
  • Community health,
  • Education, and
  • Economic empowerment and emergency food relief

Producing leaders with a vision such as Calembo’s who will lead transformational learning programs like his is the goal of this proposed ministry intervention. Calembo exemplifies the fruit anticipated when ECWA believers find their identity and sense of belonging in Christ and to one another.

Akanet’s Servant Leadership Ministry
My own experience encourages me to think that new awareness of ECWA’s identity in Christ, of belonging to Christ and to one another, can take hold across the denomination from national to local grassroots levels to energize and shape local ministries and Christian witness. Based on my understanding of the gospel, which offers full liberation from the ravages of sin and the call to Christian leadership as a call to serve, my wife and I started a “servant leadership ministry” in the community in which we were raised. This ministry extends God’s grace and love to the disabled, the sick, the less privileged, and to HFV/AIDS victims and other needy persons within the range of our influence. The ministry focuses on the following:

  • To support and encourage young widows struggling with young children ages 1-15;
  • To support and encourage disabled persons and the disadvantaged to be self-supportive and self-reliance;
  • To support and encourage young persons in leadership positions to strive towards excellence, able to balance their lives between family and ministry demands;
  • To encourage and support senior citizens who have no relatives to support and care for them.
  • To help and support the sick who have much difficulty or no means of getting medical care; and,
  • To provide economic empowerment and emergency food relief to the diverse groups as described above.

The ministry is microcosm, done in a neighborhood environment that could be done at regional and national levels. However, the success and positive response to our limited efforts has encouraged me to think similar ministries could be creatively replicated in many local ECWA congregations. The spirit and direction of the holistic ministry could also set the tone and direction for national and regional leadership and would be a harbinger of spiritual renewal in ECWA.

Connect with Emmanuel Datiyong Akanet @datiyongx



Jesus’ Atoning Blood: What It Covers—and What It Doesn’t

by Eddie Hyatt – “My God will humble me among you, and that I shall mourn for many who have sinned already, who have not repented of uncleanness, sexual immorality, and lasciviousness which they have committed” (2 Cor. 12:21).
The atoning death of Jesus Christ is the greatest gift God has given the human race. It offers forgiveness, freedom and peace with God that cannot be attained or achieved from any other source. It is, therefore, necessary that we understand the truth concerning the atonement for many false teachings abound today, which are based on a distortion of this wonderful act of grace.

Since the Jewish “Day of Atonement” begins this past (Friday) at sunset, and Christ is the fulfillment of this Jewish holy day, this seems an appropriate time to examine this truth. After all, we will not preach the gospel unless we have a Biblical understanding of the atonement.

Understanding the Atonement

Yom Kippur, or “Day of Atonement,” is the most holy day of the year on the Jewish calendar. Yom means “day” and Kippur is probably derived from the Hebrew kofer, meaning “ransom.” It falls on two of our calendar days because the Jewish day begins and ends at sunset.

It was on this Day of Atonement that the Old Testament high priest went into the holy of holies, and with animal sacrifices, made sacrificial atonement for the sins of the people of Israel (Leviticus 16). Interestingly, there was to be absolutely no work on this Day. This Day was God’s idea and God’s work, with the high priest being the one carrying out the proceedings.

The Old Testament Day of Atonement was a type and foreshadowing of the atoning death of Jesus Christ, not just for Israel, but for the world. Jesus Himself said in Mark 10:45 that He had come to give His life “a ransom for many.” Paul speaks of the death of Christ as a sacrifice, even referring to Him as “our Passover lam.” (1 Cor. 5:7).

Chapters 9 and 10 of Hebrews liken the death of the Christ to the Day of Atonement. The writer pictures Jesus as both high priest and sacrifice. Contrasting the power of Christ’s offering with the temple offerings that had to be offered year after year, the writer says, “For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy” (Heb. 10:14).

As both fully God and fully human, Christ’s death was vicarious and efficacious for the whole world, making it possible for mankind to be reconciled to God. Just like on Israel’s Day of Atonement, God did not ask or require our help in Christ’s atoning work. We have nothing to add. We can only come to Him and in faith and receive the benefits of the work He has already done.

A Serious Misunderstanding of the Atonement

One serious misunderstanding of the atonement is the idea that its benefits are automatically applied regardless of attitude or behavior. This idea seems to run parallel with the popular teaching that since Christ has paid for my sins, I do not have to confess sins I commit or be watchful concerning sin.

This way of thinking downplays the need for repentance and has been labeled by opponents as “hyper-grace,” but is actually based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the atonement.

The reasoning goes something like this. Jesus paid the penalty for all sins that have ever been, or ever will be, committed. Therefore, any sins I have committed in the past, or am committing now or will commit in the future have already been paid for, and borne away, by Christ. I, therefore, do not have to confess sin or be concerned with sin. There is no longer a sin problem for the human race or for me.

The Benefits of the Atonement Must Be Appropriated

For many, this theory has an attractive ring to it, but it is at odds with so many passages of Scripture. For example, Simon the sorcerer, who had been baptized in the great Samaritan revival led by Philip, offered Peter and John money in return for the authority to lay hands on people to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Peter’s answer to him was very telling.

Peter said to Simon, “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could purchase the gift of God with this money!” (Acts 8:20). He went on to say, “Repent of your wickedness, and ask God if perhaps the intention of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22).

Simon’s request had revealed the awful condition of his heart. Peter said that Simon, even though he had been baptized, was in a state of perishing and he called on Simon to repent of his wickedness and ask God for forgiveness.

Peter obviously did not see the benefits of the atonement being automatically applied in Simon’s case. He did not take Simon’s sin lightly. There was a need for repentance and contrition of heart on Simon’s part if he was going to experience the blessings and benefits of Christ’s atoning death.

Yes, the forgiveness and blessings of Christ’s atoning death are available to all but must be appropriated by repentance and faith. This is why Paul, when speaking to the Ephesian elders, reminded them how he had testified to both Jews and Greeks, “repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21b).

This is why Paul expressed concern to the Corinthians about un-repented sin in their midst and said he feared that when he would come to them,

“My God will humble me among you, and that I shall mourn for many who have sinned already, who have not repented of uncleanness, sexual immorality, and lasciviousness which they have committed” (2 Cor. 12:21).

No, the atoning merits of Christ’s death are not automatically applied across-the-board. The New Testament is filled with passages about the importance of repentance and faith in appropriating the forgiveness and blessings provided through Christ’s atoning death. This understanding is vital for another Great Awakening in our land.

The Nature of Christ’s Atoning Death

We must realize that the atonement of Jesus Christ was not a commercial transaction in which He paid the aggregate penalty for every single sin that ever was, or ever will be, committed. If this were the case, there would be no mercy or forgiveness on God’s part. God would be like an ice-cold businessman who demands exact payment for every debt and obligation.

If such were the case, the sinner would be in the position of being able to demand his/her salvation from God since the precise debt for any sins they have committed, or ever will commit, has been paid. Salvation would not be a gift from God but something He owes and must give to every person regardless of their attitude, because the precise debt has been paid.

Instead, however, God is presented in Scripture as a merciful and caring being, willing to forgive those who come to Him in reverence and faith. The word “forgive” means “to remit” or “to cancel” or “to write off.” Because of what Christ has done, God is willing to “remit” or “write off” our sins when we put our faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning work through the cross.

We, therefore, should not think of the Atonement in terms of a quantitative payment for every individual sin. We should, instead, think of the atonement in terms of “quality.” It was the quality of the sacrifice—Jesus Christ being God incarnate—that made His sacrifice acceptable in the sight of God and the basis for God to offer amnesty and pardon to a race of rebels, if they will only come to Him in repentance and faith.

The death of Christ on the cross was a public demonstration of God’s love for humanity and a public showing of His willingness to grant forgiveness and new life to those who will come to Him in repentance and faith. It also, however, showed the terribleness of sin and provided satisfaction for the just nature of a holy God who cannot wink at sin.

Let’s Take a Lesson from History

On the Old Testament Day of Atonement, the people were instructed to “afflict their souls.” In other words, they were to examine themselves and repent of wrong and sinful attitudes and behavior. But is such an approach appropriate for a New Testament believer?

In 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 Paul cautions the Corinthian believers about taking communion in an “unworthy manner,” that is, with unconfessed sin in their lives. Communion is a celebration of Christ’s atoning death and sin is not to be treated in a light, trivial manner by those who participate. Paul then instructed, “Let a man [person] examine himself, and so eat .. . In verses 31-32, he says, “But if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged, but when we are judged we are chastened by the Lord that we may not be condemned with the world.

As New Covenant believers with the indwelling Holy Spirit, we judge ourselves by opening our hearts to the Lord and inviting Him to show us anything in our lives that is displeasing to Him. As He brings attitudes and behavior to our attention, we then acknowledge, or confess, our sins before the Lord as we are instructed to do in I John 1:9, a passage and letter written to believers. The results of such repentance and confession can be astounding.

This was the experience of a church, described by Charles Finney, that led to great revival. Through the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, the leaders of this church came to realize that in seeking numbers and recognition from the culture and community leaders, they had compromised their commitment to Christ. They, therefore, formulated a public statement concerning their “backsliding and want of a Christian spirit.”

It was submitted to the congregation for their approval and then read before the congregation. As the confession was being read publicly, the entire congregation stood to its feet with many of its members weeping. Finney said that, from that moment on, the revival went forward in great power, and the opposition, which had been bitter, was silenced.

A Biblical Example of Repentance

Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son to reveal the merciful, forgiving heart of God. However, the parable also reveals the attitude of heart in which the wayward son or daughter must return to the Father.

After coming to the end of himself in the pigpen, the prodigal departed for home with a different attitude. He determined that on arriving home, he would say to the Father, ” “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:18-19).

The prodigal was not perfect. He probably smelled like a pigpen. He probably had pig manure on his shoes and straw in his hair. But he had left the pig pen with a changed attitude and was headed in the right direction, back to the Father’s house. That is a picture of true repentance.

When the Father saw him afar off, He ran and fell on his neck weeping. He then brought him into the house, completely restored him to his place in the family, and initiated a time of rejoicing for his safe return.

Appropriate the Atonement Blessings Today

God rejoices today when erring sinners return to Him in faith and sincerity of heart. If you have never appropriated the wonderful forgiveness and blessings of Christ’s atonement, I urge you to do so today. Come to Him now in faith and sincerity of heart. He will receive you with open arms.

If you are a believer, I urge you to invite the Holy Spirit to search your heart for any attitudes or any compromise with the world that are displeasing to Him. As He brings these sins and weights to our minds and we confess them before Him with contrition of heart, I am convinced that we will see a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon our lives, our churches, our nation and the world.

Dr. Eddie L. Hyatt is an author, Bible teacher and ordained minister with a vision for another Great Spiritual Awakening in America and around the world. His latest book, Pilgrims and Patriots, documents how America was birthed out of prayer and the First Great Awakening. To schedule him to speak at your church, conference or college, send an email to dreddiehyatt@gmail.com and visit his website at eddiehyatt.com.



4 Ways You Can Grow the Gift of Spiritual Discernment

Spend time with God every day (Eph. 2:6-7)

1 Corinthians 12:7-11 (MEV) says, "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for the common good. To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But that one and very same Spirit works all these, dividing to each one individually as He wills."

It is the wonderful Holy Spirit who gives these gifts to empower people to share God's grace. Each spiritual gift is for the "common good," which means that they are for the body of Christ. The chapters that follow this list in 1 Corinthians elaborate on how these spiritual gifts are used within the local body and how each gift is needed for us to grow as a church into Jesus.

Within this list is the "discerning of spirits," and this spiritual gift needs to be understood and practiced as well as the others in our day and age, as culture seems to be influencing and mixing within the church and sermons become more motivational rather than biblical. As a spiritual gift, it cannot be neglected but it can correctly used.

In the context of 1 Corinthians 12, the discerning of spirits is to distinguish what is trying to look like it is from God but is not. One needs to take into consideration that the Corinthians were a Spirit-filled church, but needed correcting in their practice of using spiritual gifts and that not every prophetic utterance or preacher or message in tongues originated in the Holy Spirit. Some people were competing for accolades and were operating in the flesh, while there were others demonically influenced. A process for discerning and judging prophecies and manifestations was needed, which is why Paul set protocols in place (1 Cor. 14:29).

The use of this gift is to be centered in God. Discernment is identified with the Holy Spirit, so it recognizes where He is moving and what He wants to do, flowing out of friendship with Him.

The purpose of this gift is to rightly distinguish the work of the Holy Spirit from other spirits. Being firmly grounded in Scripture, it leads people to be more intimate with the Savior of the world, glorifying Him, canceling evil that is trying to stop God's work or the interference of man's selfish agenda within the church. Discernment is part of making sure the Spirit of God has His way, and is an incredible privilege to be part of.

A discerner identifies the presence of God, but also identifies where His presence needs to manifest. When the discerner is well-versed in Scripture, the powers challenging God will be obvious to them, and they are present to be a conduit for God's power.

The discerning person is to be deeply rooted in Christ, loving Him so much that His love flows out of them toward others. The great "love" chapter of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, is within the same context as this spiritual gifts list that includes "discerning spirits."

Here are four basic points you can apply in your life to grow in this spiritual gift:

1. Spend time with God every day. His presence needs to be cherished and valued, and the fruit of the Spirit is evident. Discerning spirits is to be exciting as one knows their identity in Jesus and operates in love from a position of knowing they are seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6-7). Their posture is one of victory because of what Jesus won at the cross.

2. Read and study the Bible daily. Scripture is God's Word and needs to be read (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Being immersed daily in Scripture makes one more sensitive to the wonderful Holy Spirit. When a person knows the Spirit of truth, they quickly identify the source that is attacking and follow the biblical guidance and locally established procedures to ensure Jesus is glorified.

3. Make everything a place for God's presence. Be intentional in saturating your home and car with worship music, teachings, Scripture and interactions with others (Eph. 5:19-21). This keeps your heart pure as you seek the presence of God. Maintaining worship makes it possible to identify when something wrong tries to interfere and take focus off of God, but the discerning person knows how to continue praising and worshipping God to break the powers trying to interrupt.

4. Be an active member within a local church. Your gift will grow as you maintain relationship with your local church (Heb. 10:24-25). Discerning spirits benefits the local church, ensuring truth is upheld in its message and methods, and protecting the church from any people the enemy will try to use to malign the ministry. A discerner is actively engaged with ministry and knows the process set in place by the leaders, enhancing the move of God.

Jared Laskey is starting Destiny Open Bible Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He lives to see Jesus awaken this generation to the power of His Holy Spirit. You can follow him on twitter @jaredalaskey, or contact him through his website, firebornministries.com. He also co-authored 'Veronica's Hero' found on Amazon here.

 



Writing a Letter of Forgiveness

An adapted excerpt from Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges by Lori Deschene (Bigstuck Photo)

All my romantic relationships have ended quickly and painfully. I often compared the new men in my life to the old ones. From my former boyfriends’ mistakes, I always found a reason to walk away from the current one. I even occasionally returned to old boyfriends in hopes that things would change, but they never did. Over time, the anger of past injustices reappeared many times, and I couldn’t overcome it.

A few years ago, I decided to make a change for myself. I stopped communication with all my exes to rid the poison I thought they brought to my life. At first it was liberating, but soon the old feelings of regret and pain came back. I couldn’t stop being a victim and feeling hurt for what was done to me. I finally understood that the only way to be truly free from anger was through forgiveness.

This year, I started writing letters to each of the men whom I’d loved and then hated for so long. I told them my feelings, good and bad, and apologized for the part I played in ending each relationship. Lastly, I forgave them for the mistakes they made- the mistakes that haunted me for years. I sealed each letter with a wish for their happiness and a kiss. I have never felt more content and free than when I placed those letters in the mail. It gave me the resolution that I needed, to say what my heart felt in its entirety and let go.

As I finished sending the last letter, I knew that my heart was ready to love without the burden of past misfortune. I can finally give myself completely to love without excuses or being a victim.

Reflections from Sara O.

I met my ex-boyfriend while we were both in recovery for alcoholism. We dated for a few months until he relapsed. There were always two voices in the back of my head: one telling me this relationship wasn’t healthy and I needed to walk away, and the other telling me to stick it out. That second voice told me I could lead by example, that if he could see how I was improving my life by being sober, he would do the same.

I kept holding on tighter, afraid he would leave and that I wasn’t good enough. When he did leave, abruptly, I was devastated. I expected him to fill that void that was still inside me, despite all the work I was doing on myself. My codependency flared up in all sorts of unhealthy ways: stalking Facebook, obsessing over what I could have said or done to make him stay, resting all my self-worth on his opinion of me. I was against feeling anger toward him because I felt I deserved to be treated this way.

With time, a network of support, and my higher power, I went back to the basics of my program: one day at a time. Each day was a struggle, redirecting my thoughts from negative/obsessive to reflective/self-loving. Eventually, I acknowledged and felt my anger and could let him go. When I find myself wanting to check on him or obsess, I redirect my thinking to my progress and what I could do with this experience to help others. I choose not to hold on to the negativity of that relationship but the self-awareness and love I’ve cultivated thus far in myself.

Today, I thank him for leaving. What I’ve learned by feeling and releasing my anger and choosing to forgive is that people come in and out of our lives every day, and they all teach us something about ourselves. If we’re open-minded, we can reap the benefits and in turn, help others.

Challenge:

  • On a separate piece of paper, write a letter of forgiveness to someone toward whom you’ve felt bitter and angry (to send or to burn as an act of release).

For reflection:

  • What are some things you’ve wanted to tell this person about their actions and how they affected you?
  • What’s prevented you from sharing these things in the past?
  • If you’d like to maintain a relationship with this person, what, if anything, do you need from them to do that?

How did it go?

  • Was this a cathartic experience for you? Did you decide to send or burn the letter?

Reflections from Stephanie Hauck. From Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges. Copyright © 2015 by Lori Deschene. Reprinted with permission by HarperOne, a division of HarperCollinsPublishers.

 



3 Keys to Raising Spiritually Strong Children

My baby girl got married recently. As I lay awake many nights prior to the ceremony contemplating my role as the father of the bride and beyond, I also did a lot of reflecting.

God is the only one capable of being the perfect father. Much of my time, life and ministry, is spent helping equip churches to help parents—biological or spiritual—to learn from His example and biblical missives as they raise the next generation to be able to stand strong spiritually. And what a battle they must wage against the magnetic pull of Satan's wiles, often disguised as cultural norms!

Because we have worked with millions of children around the world and done the research, we know that a successful formula exists to raise spiritually strong children. In a culture that strives to feed our kids the most nutritious foods, access to the best education, expose them to the most diverse experiences and not deprive them from growing up to be the most well-rounded individuals, I don't understand why parents wouldn't be as meticulous and intentional in their children's spiritual growth and development. The global Attitudes and Behaviors of Youth (ABY) survey clearly showed three main influences that allowed young people to stand strong against the negative influences the world throws at them.

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We call this the "trifecta." Intentionally providing access to and activity in these three areas of your child's life will help them resist negative behaviors and engage in more positive ones instead. Yet each one takes intentionality. FamilyFaith community (church) and the Bible (religious texts).  

Spiritual discipleship of our children is not an option; it's a command. Positive family experiences Do you have to be a pastor to disciple children spiritually? No. God has given us all we need.

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Involvement in a faith community is imperative. It is extremely important for children to be plugged into a faith community, like their church, that helps develop their spiritual training.

Yet the church has a much more limited amount of time with a child—as illustrated below. While a faith community is key, the most important entity in a child's life is a parent—biological or spiritual. A church only has about 40 hours in a given year to directly influence a child. On average, a parent has closer to 3,000 hours in the same year.

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Engagement in religious texts is important too. We believe the only way a life can be transformed is through believing and accepting the Truth found in the Bible. God's Word is more than enough for any situation we face. It is beyond what each of us deserves (Rom. 6:23). God's Word is powerful and alive (Heb. 4:12).

"The primary purpose of reading the Bible is not to know the Bible but to know God." James Merritt

"You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilization to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet." Mahatma Gandhi

"A thorough understanding of the Bible is better than a college education." —Theodore Roosevelt

The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts. —A.W. Tozer

Just as the intentional parent providing access to instruments, training and encouraging practice, we ought to do the same with God's Word. A lot of great resources are available to you as your children grow through different ages and stages of life, here are just a few:

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While Bible reading seems to be trending downward, 62 percent of Americans wish they read their Bible more. People say they're too busy to read the Bible, and yet—people want to read the Bible. As Christians, we are responsible to instill a sense of destiny in our children. We must do everything in our power to invite them to carry on the torch of their spiritual legacy, training them to become faithful Christians. This type of spiritual growth and maturity happens when they become students of the Word, engage in regular Christian fellowship and take part in positive family experiences.

Rob Hoskins is the president of OneHope and chairman of the board at Oral Roberts University (ORU).