Monday, November 23, 2015

I'm offended | Part III: Truth

This morning I found myself thinking negatively about a person that I care about. I caught myself right in the thought and said:
"Why am I thinking about this person like that? The accusations I am building up in my mind about them is uncharacteristic of who they are..." 
In other words, I am building up lies about this person in my head; building on assumptions, not truth. It made me reflect on how vicious those flaming arrows to our mind can be without the armor of God.
I need to get better at taking thoughts captive and lining them up with God's truth. Our thoughts tend to snowball. Our friend could be having a terrible day and/or season, and we are so wrapped up in ourselves, and in defense mode, that we cannot see their struggle (the truth and root to their actions and reactions ---or lack thereof) because we are too self absorbed. This disposition makes it easy for others to become an enemy in our mind, and easy for us to become offended.
Our true enemy, the devil, is described as the "father of lies," in God's word. In Ephesians chapter 6, the armor of God is described to us, but so is the characteristics of the devil:
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
The devil is attacking us, not with just any arrows, but flaming ones. Ones that if they hit their target, will not only pierce and wound, but will consume with fire.
What thoughts have been consuming you lately?
Before actions can become actions, they were first a thought. If the enemy can control your thoughts, he can control your actions/reactions/responses. When we are hurt, we are vulnerable; like any wound, the sooner the wound can get the attention and care it needs to heal, the better. An exposed wound can lead to infection and, in an extreme case, death. Getting an emotional and mental wound immediate care, however, can be tricky because unlike a physical wound, we can't see it and may not recognize it until the wound begins producing fruit. This fruit can look like:
Talking behind someone's back trying to "figure out" the meaning of what they did/said
Purposely avoiding someone because they didn't rub you the right way
Purposely leaving someone out of a group activity
Playing a scenario over and over in your mind, trying to figure out how you should have reacted differently
Thinking negatively about a friend because of something they said/did
When we become consumed by a thought pattern and are not used to holding our thoughts accountable, we can become completely consumed by the thoughts. Very quickly our thought process can snowball into extreme negativity and blatant lies if we allow it. Before we know it, our mind is a blazing fire of thoughts that could be based purely on assumptions that lack truth.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5
By way of our last blog post on forgiveness, we have begun the process of forgiveness toward the person who has offended us. This process will get our hearts back in the right place, vulnerable and soft so that we can receive the truth, God's truth. At this point, it would be wise to recognize and expose any lies in your thought-process against the individual who hurt you.

Did you make extreme and unfair judgments against the individual? For example: "They lied about this, they probably have never told me the truth at all about anything. They are a liar." "They are a cheater. They never deserve love again from anyone."
At the time, such thoughts can feel validating, but little do we realize, they are changing us, consuming us and leading us into a danger zone of unChrist-like behavior.
Did you respond/react in a way to self-preserve your dignity? Were you vengeful? For example: "They lied to me, so I'm going to lie to them back. They don't deserve the truth." or deciding to gossip and tell everyone about what the person did to create a coalition against them.
Thoughts can turn into actions rather quickly. While reflecting on your own offense, take the time in your personal prayer life to reflect on your situation and expose any lies that you may have fed into because you were hurt and vulnerable. It is important to sit with this, because in the future, we want to be in a more proactive place --- demolishing thoughts as they happen and before they turn into an offense.
Once you can start identifying the lies you believed and acted/reacted/responded to, we can now replace the thoughts with truth.
Instead of, "They don't deserve the truth," after someone lied to you, a more healthy truth could be: "This person lost my trust. I will not retaliate by lying to them like they did to me, but I will create a boundary between us so that I can have space to heal and move forward. This may mean I don't talk to them for a while until I can face them with a clearer mind and more stable emotions."
Going through this exercise is part of the process that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 10:5. We only become better at taking our thoughts captive when we identify our unhealthy thought patterns, becoming self aware and turning our thoughts toward truth. In psychology, this exercise is called Cognitive Dissonance Behavioral Therapy. This is a critical step in overcoming an offense, because it is a way to take personal responsibility for the offense, and not blaming it completely on the other party. This will also help us to completely forgive others. 
The greatest truth we can identify in our circumstances is identifying who the real enemy is. Our local church has a mantra that goes something like this:
My mother is not my enemy. My father is not my enemy. My sister is not my enemy. My brother is not my enemy. My friend is not my enemy. My family member is not my enemy. My acquaintance is not my enemy. God is not my enemy. The devil is my enemy.
Our enemy, the devil, seeks to kill, steal and destroy. He is seeking someone to devour and the best way he can do that is by dividing and conquering. He can overcome a believer by stripping them of community and getting them alone (lonely, vulnerable and offended). If he can cause discord between people, he can touch your emotions, he can touch your thoughts and ultimately he can touch your actions.

Your real enemy isn't the person who offended you. Your real enemy is the devil. He is behind it all, and it is important as believers that we recognize him and expose his plan. Is this to say we completely let our offenders off the hook. Absolutely not. There is a huge difference, however, between revenge and accountability. Revenge is the fruit of offense. Accountability is a fruit of love. Let's move forward in love so that we can find complete healing in Christ.

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