Psalm 120 – Gaslighting Trouble

Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer in the 1944 film, “Gaslight”

I’m in trouble. I cry to God,
    desperate for an answer:
“Deliver me from the liars, God!
    They smile so sweetly but lie through their teeth.”

Do you know what’s next, can you see what’s coming,
    all you bold-faced liars?
Pointed arrows and burning coals
    will be your reward.

I’m doomed to live in Meshech,
    cursed with a home in Kedar,
My whole life lived camping
    among quarreling neighbors.
I’m all for peace, but the minute
    I tell them so, they go to war! (The Message)

I wish we lived in a world where people always speak and live the truth in love, without lying, pretense, or posturing. But we don’t. Not everyone embraces a life of encouraging others through truthful affirmation and selfless acts of service.

In reading today’s psalm, I immediately think of all the patients I’ve seen as a chaplain on my behavioral health unit who have been gaslighted.

“Gaslighting” is a recent term, yet the concept is as old as Satan’s interaction with Adam and Eve in the Garden. The word comes from the 1944 movie, “Gaslight,” starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. In the attempt to drive his wife insane, the husband rigs the gaslights of the house so they will flicker at night. Whenever his wife comments on it, her husband flat-out lies and says the lights are not flickering at all. I’ll let you watch the film yourself to see what happens.

A person who “gaslights” uses psychological manipulation to gain and assert control over someone or some group. Gaslighters actively undermine others, using their words against them, plotting nefarious plans for them behind their backs, lying without so much of a blink of an eye, and turning family or friends against someone – all with the insidious agenda of increasing their power over that person and solidifying their dependence from the victim.

All of this gaslighting behavior is done with a smile, said with syrupy words to hook you, rather than help you. That, of course, makes it hard to spot – which is why it is so devilish. If the gaslighter can get you to doubt yourself, your abilities, or your perception of reality, then they can worm themselves into your life and plant their thoughts inside you.

Gaslighters don’t want peace. They want conflict. People at war give them an opportunity to gain more influence and power. Plus, they just plain like to watch others fight amongst themselves. It gives them a sense of control.

Today’s psalm is part of the psalms of ascent – songs used by the community as they walk their pilgrimage to Jerusalem and up the temple mount. The people collectively lament the gaslighting activity of those who oppose and hate them. And they turn to God, who abhors gaslighters, seeking solace and safety from their evil ways.

The gaslighter’s end is certain. They will have to contend with the God who will not be manipulated by anyone. Although it is not our job to punish sinners, it very much is our responsibility to see and avoid gaslighting as much as possible, as well as, God forbid, becoming a gaslighter ourselves. To that end, take note of some of the manipulative marks of gaslighters and patterns of gaslighting:

  • Pitting people against one another. This is done a variety of ways through gossip masked as trying to help, subtle slander, and carefully placed lies.
  • Avoiding responsibility. The gaslighter never owns their words and actions but are experts at blaming others for whatever goes awry.
  • Creating fights and conflicts. Gaslighters chronically avoid the dirty work. They get others riled-up at each other, then sit back and look for an opportunity to seize control over the warring parties.
  • Sucking-up to others. Flattery is a well-worn tool of gaslighters. They are masters at buttering-up people to get what they want.
  • Comparing people. This is just another way of driving a wedge between people. “Why can’t you be like ___?”
  • Mistreating the weak and powerless. The weak have no value for the gaslighter because the powerless have nothing to offer them. So, oppression becomes a means of getting the weak out of the way, like they’re some pesky insect to get rid of.
  • Bragging about accomplishments and stealing other’s. Gaslighters will always take the credit for an accomplishment and then boast about it, all the while badgering the victim.
  • Not keeping promises. Usually there’s a bait and switch where the gaslighter will promise something, then switch the rules or tell a bold-faced lie that they never promised that.

There is much more gaslighting behavior, but you get the drift. The best way to deal with a gaslighter? Get as far away from them as you can, find genuine supportive relationships, and leave them to God.

Today’s psalm can be your prayer to the Lord, offering a heartfelt plea to the Divine Being who does the opposite of gaslighting: strengthening you, giving you power, listening to your voice, and loving you with complete altruistic motives.

Eternal Father, you created us in your own image and likeness, but sin has warped the minds of humanity so that there is much injustice and much carelessness of the rights of other people in this fallen world. I pray you will right every wrong and vindicate those being treated unjustly. Keep us, your people, from trying to take matters into our own hands for vengeance. Give justice and peace to all those who have been cruelly and unfairly treated. May the injustice they have endured be the means to draw them into the saving arms of your grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Psalm 56 – In God We Trust

Have pity, God Most High!
    My enemies chase me all day.
Many of them are pursuing
    and attacking me,
    but even when I am afraid,
    I keep on trusting you.
I praise your promises!
I trust you and am not afraid.
    No one can harm me.

Enemies spend the whole day
    finding fault with me;
    all they think about
    is how to do me harm.
They attack from ambush,
    watching my every step
    and hoping to kill me.
They won’t get away
    with these crimes, God,
    because when you get angry,
    you destroy people.

You have kept record
    of my days of wandering.
You have stored my tears
in your bottle
    and counted each of them.

When I pray, Lord God,
    my enemies will retreat,
    because I know for certain
    that you are with me.
I praise your promises!
I trust you and am not afraid.
    No one can harm me.

I will keep my promises
to you, my God,
    and bring you gifts.
You protected me from death
    and kept me from stumbling,
so that I would please you
    and follow the light
    that leads to life. (Contemporary English Version)

We all have enemies and opposition of both body and soul. It’s just part of the human condition on this fallen planet to experience forces oppressing us.

David’s enemies were real flesh and blood people. The Philistines and the Israelites were always at odds with each other. Wars and battles continually broke out amongst them. Dealing with enemies was, and always has been, a constant reality of the Jewish people.

As for us Gentiles, we may or may not have a person seeking to take our life. Yet, no matter who we are, we all deal with our own visible and invisible enemies which wage war against our souls.

The psalmist expresses a way of coping with the intense stress of opposition: Trust in God.

Yes, the bedrock issue whenever we face our demons within and without is trust. In whom or what will we put our trust?

If we have a philosophy of watching out for number one, then we merely look to ourselves and our own independence. Yet, since humanity is hard-wired for community, radical autonomy hits its limit rather quickly. Thus, we are left vulnerable to our enemies with no means of security.

If we put our trust in education, then we will focus efforts on mental solutions, coming up with ideas to deal with our enemies. However, since our very personhood is much more than a brain, this too shall eventually meet its limits with our stressful situation.

If we possess a strong Protestant work ethic, we may put all our energy into working harder, better, and faster to overcome our enemies. But subscribing to a philosophy of outworking everyone fails when our bodies break trying to keep ahead of the stress.

We must account for the transcendent, for that which is over and above all. We must trust in the Lord.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    don’t rely on your own intelligence.
Know him in all your paths,
    and he will keep your ways straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6, CEB

To trust means to live consistent with the reality that we are in the Lord’s hands. Our ultimate protection is divine, not human. Not realizing we are in the grip of the Almighty only causes fear, anxiety, and the frenetic search to get out from under our enemy’s oppression.

When all is said and done, our hard circumstances point us to the hard realization that we are not in control of the universe – and not even the people standing right in front of us. Attempting to control others is called manipulation. And, I might add, is something that never ends well. We are only in control of ourselves, and even then, if our primary enemy is within, we can rarely even manage our own lives.

Deciding about whom or what we will trust is the existential basis of living. Hardship, stress, and fear in the teeth of enemy opposition calls for trust. Without faith, we will be swallowed alive.

Faith and trust is not only personal; it’s communal. The entire community of believers are to affirm together that God is with us, and that in Jesus Christ, there is no fear; there is security.

If God is for us, no one can stand against us. And God is with us. He even let his own Son suffer for us. God gave his Son for all of us. So now with Jesus, God will surely give us all things. Who can accuse the people God has chosen? No one! God is the one who makes them right. Who can say that God’s people are guilty? No one! Christ Jesus died for us, but that is not all. He was also raised from death. And now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us. Can anything separate us from Christ’s love? Can trouble or problems or persecution separate us from his love? If we have no food or clothes or face danger or even death, will that separate us from his love? As the Scriptures say,

“For you we are in danger of death all the time.
    People think we are worth no more than sheep to be killed.”

But in all these troubles we have complete victory through God, who has shown his love for us. Yes, I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not death, life, angels, or ruling spirits. I am sure that nothing now, nothing in the future, no powers, nothing above us or nothing below us—nothing in the whole created world—will ever be able to separate us from the love God has shown us in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39, ERV)

There is a way through the thicket of hate from others. It is to trust in the Lord with all our heart, to have the unshakable faith that the Lord is with us, to know we are ultimately in God’s gracious hands.

O God, the Creator of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you in Jesus Christ; in whose Name we pray. Amen.

Why Is Our Ministry Important?

Welcome, friends! Luke 4:14-30 is the account of Jesus reading the words of Isaiah the prophet to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and release for prisoners. How Christ used those words caused a huge commotion, and still does. Let’s find out together what happened. Click the videos below and let us consider Jesus….

Pastor Tim Ehrhardt, Luke 4:14-30

Gracious God, you bring glad tidings to the poor, heal the brokenhearted and free prisoners from jails. Please come to us and send us out, as forgiven people, to the poor, the brokenhearted, and the imprisoned. Amen.

Psalm 37:12-22 – Get Some Perspective

Merciless people make plots
against good people
    and snarl like animals,
but the Lord laughs and knows
    their time is coming soon.
The wicked kill with swords
and shoot arrows
to murder
    the poor and the needy
    and all who do right.
But they will be killed
    by their own swords,
    and their arrows
    will be broken.

It is better to live right
and be poor
    than to be sinful and rich.
The wicked will lose all
    of their power,
but the Lord gives strength
    to everyone who is good.

Those who obey the Lord
    are daily in his care,
    and what he has given them
    will be theirs forever.
They won’t be in trouble
    when times are bad,
    and they will have plenty
    when food is scarce.

Wicked people are enemies
    of the Lord
    and will vanish like smoke
    from a field on fire.

An evil person borrows
    and never pays back;
    a good person is generous
    and never stops giving.
Everyone the Lord blesses
    will receive the land;
    everyone the Lord curses
    will be destroyed.
(Contemporary English Version)

The angle from which we view things is really important.

Perspective is everything. 

Whenever some ornery cuss swears at us, or a group of people think the worst of us, or an organization takes advantage of us, we might feel like crumbling underneath the weight of stress.

Throw into the mix the state of world affairs: pandemic, natural disasters, war, poverty, human trafficking, and a legion of unjust victimization and oppression around the globe.

And add our own personal issues, whatever they are, of dealing with mental and physical health, and/or difficult relationships with family, co-workers, or neighbors.

Put it all together and it would be rather easy to believe evil is winning. Can we even begin to make a dent in the wickedness of injustice, abuse, and maltreatment?

When we infuse God to the menacing challenges of our world, it changes everything.

Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
    The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the creator of the ends of the earth.
    He doesn’t grow tired or weary.
His understanding is beyond human reach.

Isaiah 40:28, CEB

The vantage of the psalmist is that all this immense malevolent plotting which exists cannot even begin to stand up to the even larger sovereign and benevolent God. 

It’s almost as if the Lord looks down from heaven at wicked people and says, “Well, now, isn’t that something, those tiny little yippee dogs thinking they can take on the big dog!” Truth is, the Lord laughs at the wicked, for God sees that their day is coming – and it won’t be pretty for them. 

Or we might picture some puny bugs on the ground making nefarious plans, completely oblivious to the hugeness of God that towers over them. They are about to be squished but are too busy going about their pathetic business to look up and see what is coming. The bugs are totally powerless in the face of such an awesome presence.

So cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hardheaded. God, your God, is the God of all gods, he’s the Master of all masters, a God immense and powerful and awesome. He doesn’t play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:17-18, MSG)

We humans who try our best to be good, do right, and live a spiritual life can become much too discouraged, far too easily. 

The remedy to the malady of such disillusionment is to be filled with a robust theology which wisely discerns God as far above all our problems and situations. 

“I am the Lord, the God of all people. Nothing is too difficult for me.”

Jeremiah 32:27, GNT

No matter how ominous the machinations of malicious corruption array against us, the spiritual believer is assured that God is in control, and, in the end, the wicked will get their comeuppance. 

And if we will have the spiritual eyes to see, that fearsome lion who scares the baloney out of us with his loud roar, is really an old toothless cat with no bite. Malicious and malevolent people typically make all kinds of noise and talk a big line, but all they really have is their belligerent bullying and ballyhoo.

No earthly power, no clever person, no loudmouth tormentor, and no human organization can ever go toe to toe with the gargantuan God we serve. 

Put all your circumstances beside this God and see if it changes your perspective.

Mighty God, you bless those who are dedicated to you, and you put down those who rage against you.  Fortify my spirit and let me see just the train of your robe, and I will glimpse the large grandeur of your glory.  Let me know Jesus Christ risen and ascended far above all principalities and powers of this earth.  Amen.