Misunderstandings and Misperceptions

I’m often appalled at how few people seem to understand that information about another person may have a very short shelf life, and may be distorted and exaggerated when it comes from other people.

Here’s why information which may have been gleaned from offhand remarks and incidents from long ago may be extremely distorted and exaggerated when it is unearthed and used to paint a picture of that person to another person:

  • The intended meaning of the remark or situation may be entirely different than what was concluded by the person who may be passing on the information.

  • The whole situation or remark may have been intentionally distorted or exagggerated by the person passing on the information. Anyone who admits to envious or malicious feelings toward a person or to strong disagreements with that person cannot be considered to be a reliable source about that person.

  • The situation may have changed substantially, even dramatically. A person may have been having a very temporary setback or hard time. So by the time the situation is passed on through the rumor mill it may have long since been resolved.

  • The person may have changed substantially or dramatically. This can happen over a short time or over a long time. That person may no longer believe or even remember what he or she said at another time, or that person may have actually made right that old quarrel or disagreement to the best of his or her ability. So those that unearth and pass on things that ‘he or she said to me’ may in fact be passing on things which are no longer true or relevant.

  • Talkative people often have a long memory for the negative things about other people, but rarely as long a memory for the positive things about someone else. A person who talks a great deal about someone who is absent is actually often disclosing a proud, self seeking, self glorifying and deceptive character in himself or herself — even if that person says everything with the air of the utmost confidence and affected sophistication.

People have often been wrong about me personally. Here are some of the things that have been said about me in the past which are totally untrue. I offer these simply to show how easily and terribly wrong people can be with things that they pass on about others with the air of the utmost confidence.

  • That I was married previously or even several times. Sorry, I’ve never been married.

  • That I’m a martial arts expert. No idea where that one came from.

  • That I’m from New York City, from a Jewish background. Sorry, I was born and raised in Ohio, and was raised in a liberal Protestant church.

  • That I spent some time in the military. Sorry, never drafted, never volunteered, never served.

  • That I have a Master’s degree in Greek. Sorry, my Bachelor’s is in Classics, and I’m not qualified to teach Greek or any other subject in an academic setting.

The Bible and the Occult

Rarely in modern churches have I ever heard anything in either the preaching or teaching ministry about what the Bible says about the occult. I think that this is partially due to many pastors coming from Christian homes where they never had any contact with occult practices. Yet many believers who attend churches remain in bondage to past occult sins, many professed believers continue in occult practices, and many professed believers may become involved in occult practices due to ignorance of the danger. I would myself consider it appropriate for a pastor to preach on Deuteronomy 18:9-11 at every church where he serves. Here is a short summary of the Biblical teaching, and links to further resources.

God forbids the use of the occult.

Deuteronomy 18:9-11: "When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you."

"But . . . those who practice magic arts . . . — their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." — Revelation 21:8

What is forbidden:

  • Human sacrifice (practiced by some Satanic cults)
  • Divination (fortunetelling by cards, pendulum, etc.) sorcery, witchcraft, casting spells ("white" or "black" magic of any kind)
  • Interpretation of omens (astrology, tea leaf reading, crystal gazing, palm reading, etc.)
  • Mediumism or spiritism of any kind, to consult the "dead" (seances, channeling, the Ouija board)

The demonic connection.

Acts 16:16-18: "Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave gir who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.’ She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit,’In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her.’ At that moment the spirit left her."

  • The way that this girl did her fortunetelling was by insight given through a demon.
  • The demon responded to the authority of the name of Jesus (Luke 10:19)
  • Satan will attempt to make the occult appear appealing and useful so that it will become a snare to the dabbler and practitioner(II Corinthians 11:14: " . . . Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light").
  • Though all without Christ have some deceit upon their minds to seek to keep them from the gospel, occult practice tends to deepen such blindness and resistance to the gospel of Christ (II Corinthians 4:4: "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.")

The response of the believer in Christ

Confession and renunciation, where there has been the commission of occult sins, and avoidance of all occult sins.

Acts 19:18-19: "Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas."

  • There should be open confession to God of all occult sins and complete renunciation of all such practices and influences (I John 1:9).
  • Whatever occult objects a person has should be destroyed without regard to its monetary value because of the spiritual danger involved.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Further Resources:

Corrie ten Boom, Defeated Enemies.

Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Occult.

Kurt E. Koch, Occult Bondage and Deliverance.

Kurt E. Koch, Occult ABC.

C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.

Jessie Penn-Lewis and Evan Roberts, War on the Saints

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Recommendations, References, Evaluations and Slander

In the workplace environment and in denominational circles Christians often need to report on the workplace performance of others. This can be a Christian manager reporting on the performance of an employee, a Christian employee reporting on the performance of a colleague on a team project, or a denominational official reporting on the performance of a pastor whose church was in his district. Often, when someone is seeking employment, that person may request a reference or a recommendation from someone else who is a believer. So, what are the standards of what a believer is to say or write about the other person?
The scriptural standard for believers is to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). This would at least mean refraining from any kind of slander: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men . . . ” (Titus 3:1-2).
 I’ve often found that many Christians in the workplace fall into the ways of self promotion (how can I make myself look good?) and backstabbing (how can I hold back, defeat or demean someone I see as a rival?) when it comes to giving references, recommendations and evaluations. They may treat this responsibility as a way to make themselves look good at someone else’s expense or a way to hold back, demean or harm someone that they feel is a rival or whom they dislike. And it’s entirely possible, based upon my previous experience with Christians and Christian organizations, that many personnel files contain information which is slander in the scriptural meaning of the term, and perhaps even in the legal sense.
Here are some suggestions on how to approach giving an evaluation, reference or recommendation:
  • Make sure that whatever is shared in a reference, evaluation or recommendation is the truth, without exaggeration or minimization. This means at the least not presenting isolated incidents as long term problems or offhand or intentionally humorous remarks as deeply held convictions or intentions.
  • Make sure, if you are in a managerial or supervisory position, that clear, realistic and workable expectations are being set forth in any kind of performance plans or tasks given to the employee. Be sure, in addition, to build the kind of working relationship with the employee where further questions to clarify the expectations or to share obstacles to a task being completed are open to a professional and charitable discussion.
  • Make sure that any extenuating circumstances are taken into account if a task cannot be completed. For instance, projects are cancelled and postponed due to no fault of the employee. In fact, it’s entirely possible that a person can put in exemplary performance on a project which ends up failing or being cancelled. In this case that performance needs to be recognized despite the ultimate outcome of the project.
  • Make sure that anything done beyond the original performance plans or tasks is included, and suitably recognized and rewarded. If a person puts in an exemplary performance, make sure that that is recognized. Turnover of the best people often comes when they and their colleagues recognize that they are going above and beyond everyone else, but their contributions are not being suitably recognized and rewarded. (Or even worse, that others of more mediocre performance are being recognized and rewarded ahead of them.) Build the kind of positive professional relationship with the best performers so that the rewards and recognition will be suitable for them.
  • Make sure that whatever is shared is timely and relevant to the information needed by the audience of the reference, recommendation, or evaluation. What is needed is usually to determine whether a person is qualified professionally and personally for a current or future position. Keep personal likes, dislikes and disagreements out of the picture as much as possible. If the information is some years out of date, it’s reasonable to say that one’s acquaintance with that person was within a certain time period.
  • Be willing to forgo giving a reference, evaluation or recommendation. This should most likely happen if it is not a duty of one’s current position or if one does not have sufficient or accurate information to give an accurate account of the other person’s performance and qualifications.
  • Make sure that the information which is given is first hand. Do not pass on second hand information, especially if there is any evidence or likelihood that the source is maliciously inclined or duplicitious. Slander which originated with another defiles the heart and life of the person who passes it on.
  • Treat any area in which your estimation is that the person lacks qualification at the least as an area of potential improvement, not as a permanent weakness or disqualification. People can, when given the chance, often make up for their weaknesses in the future. No believer is the final authority on what another person can or cannot achieve in this lifetime.
  • Share any areas of potential improvement with that person before a reference, recommendation or evaluation is passed on to others. Generally, human resources departments continually advise managers and supervisors that nothing on a performance review should come as a surprise. Nothing that is shared should blindside the subject of the reference, recommendation or evaluation. Moreover, anyone in a supervisory position should be addressing these areas of potential improvement before a performance review.
  • Do not share what is in evaluations, references and recommendations in any personnel files with others, especially as a matter of casual conversation. Certainly no one who does not need the information in these files should ever hear what is in them as a matter of office gossip or denominational politics. Certainly it is unethical and probably slanderous and libelous that anything in these files that should not be shared casually with others.
  • Confirm the whole story about strengths and weaknesses of a person when making use of the references, recommendations and evaluations in a file. They should be a guide to conversations, rather than a substitute, when they are part of the basis of an evaluation of a person’s job performance or qualifications. If the person overcame a weakness or an initial mistake while learning something, the positive result should be there rather than just the mistake or weakness. References, recommendations and evaluations should certainly not be a list of everything that anyone has found wrong with something else and all the ways in which others think that they need to shape up. Any document which appears to be like that, especially when contradicted by positive reports, should immediately be suspected as being slanderous and libelous.
  • Anyone who has given a dishonest and malicious reference, recommendation or evaluation needs to offer a retraction and correction as a matter of genuine repentance and restitution toward that person’s personal and professional reputation. I believe that one mark that revival truly has hit the lives of people and leaders in our churches will be that letters of confession, retraction and correction will begin to appear in the personnel files of many denominations and Christian organizations.
  • Denominations and Christian organizations need to make it a matter of discipline and possible termination when they discover that dishonest and malicious references, recommendations and evaluations have been made. At the minimum a letter of confession, retraction and correction needs to be provided. A letter of reprimand could be added to the file of the person who previously provided the dishonest and malicious communication. If this has been a persistent pattern or egregious and aggravated in the depth of dishonesty and malice, termination and revocation of ministry credentials should definitely be under consideration as part of the disciplinary process.

I am of the opinion that Christian organizations should, as much as possible, have any personnel files as open as possible to the people who are the subjects of these files. I fear that a number may contain anonymous letters, letters expressing ‘concerns’ and skewed, possibly malicious, evaluations about many Christian leaders and employees. Some of these may be holding them back from many good opportunities and places of ministry which God has for them. Moreover, the leaders of Christian organizations and denominations need constantly to rebuke the practice of anonymous and backstabbing letters and dishonest evaluations as contrary to Galatians 6:1 and Matthew 18:15-17 as well as Titus 3:1-2. Unfortunately, in these cases, it’s very difficult for a believer to defend himself against slander which comes in this way, but it’s only fair that there should be some way that the believer should have the opportunity to set the record straight.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.