This morning, we’re continuing our message series entitled, “Toxic.”

By definition, if something is toxic, it is capable of causing serious debilitation or even death. In reality, we all possess toxic materials inside of our lives. We must appropriately deal with them before it’s too late and we find ourselves weak, ineffective, and dying.

Last week, we learned about toxic thoughts, how they can seep in and set the course of our lives unknowingly. Not only did we learn how to recognize them, but also how to replace them as they arise. This week, we’re learning about toxic influences.

Most all of us are aware of the need to guard the gates of our hearts and minds through our senses, especially our eyes and ears. We know that we need to be cautious of the media which we consume. It used to be radio, newspapers, magazines, and TV that we needed to be cautious of.

Now, it’s social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat. Now, information and media is immeasurably accessible via sources such as websites and search engines like Google. Countless hours are spent consuming media from outlets such as YouTube.

Well, I shouldn’t say countless. Billions of dollars are made doing nothing but counting and analyzing our video consumption and advertising. Over 400 hours of video are uploaded every minute. Over 1 billion hours of videos are watched daily. The average mobile device viewing session is over 40 minutes. YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine. Whether an inspiring teaching, video game playthrough, product review, music video, or how-to video, YouTube is where we go.

Our lives are being shaped and molded by complete strangers. We welcome them into our homes and fully trust what they say. They make us laugh, make us cry, stir up resolve within our spirits, teach us how to remove that starter and how to raise our kids. Usually, we welcome some of these YouTubers into our lives for the sole reason that they say things that we agree with. Paul warned Timothy that this day would come.

2 Timothy 4:3
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

In the world in which we currently live, we can sit at the feet of hundreds of teachers any time that we desire. It’s an awesome thing to have such access to the rich sources of knowledge and wisdom out there, but it can also be a dangerous thing if we don’t watch and guard our lives closely.

I’ve spoken to so many parents whose children were exposed to things that they never should have been exposed to in their entire lives all because of an innocent search. As with any good thing, evil is right there to take advantage of and toxically corrupt it as well.

It’s sort of humorous to consider this. People used to be afraid of the government spying on them through their landline phones or television sets. Now, we connect our entire household from our front door deadbolt, light bulbs, thermostat, microwave, refrigerator, laptops, smartphones, TVs, and cars all together and also connect them to the rest of the world.

We now have devices sitting in our homes listening to our every word awaiting our command and learning all about us and we now know full well that the world is intentionally surveilling them as well. We’re OK with paying that price for the benefit of convenience.

The influences in our lives are truly immeasurable! Advertising is no longer merely a sign or banner along a street or in a newspaper. Advertising companies now have our lives profiled to such an incredible degree that they often know us better than we know ourselves. We talk about how cool it would be to have something bizarre like a green, polka-dotted, rabbit shark at the dinner table with our family. Five seconds later, we see an ad for exactly that on Facebook.

Advertising is no longer all about selling a product. More valuable than peddling products is shaping and forming the minds of people. Some commercials now produced have little to nothing to do with their actual product. Often, they instead take a stand in regard to a movement, idea, or cause. In just seconds, they are designed to emotionally grip the heart and radically change the mind.

I recall watching the movie series, “Hunger Games” for the first time and thinking how ridiculous it was that a simple commercial could set the course of people’s lives. To think that a simple media blitz could stir a rebellion in the hearts of a people. To think that capturing just a few seconds of video at the right moment was worth risking lives to possess. Five years later, that is exactly the people that we have become. Our opinions are so easily swayed by simple media propaganda!

Often, we do not realize the influencers in our lives. God created us to be so intimately interconnected to the world around us that almost everything has influence over us. Whether it’s that wagging tail on our dog when we step in the door, that song coming on while we’re pumping gas, or seeing a text message, we are easily and heavily influenced. We can so easily be like a piece of driftwood moved here and there by every wave that comes our way.

In Jesus, however, we can be anchored and not swayed by every influencer that comes our way. We can take a firm stand on His truth, led by His Holy spirit within, and gain self-control over all of these attempted influences. We can shut off the gates of toxic influences in our lives and throw wide open the gates of positive influences in our lives. We can be influencers freely sharing the hope we’ve found Christ into every life and every situation!

Psalm 1
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

If we want to live prosperous lives, we’ll avoid toxic influences in our lives. This is the essence of not walking in step with the wicked or standing in the way that sinners take or sitting in the company of mockers. Doing such things are all allowing toxic influences in our lives as we follow them instead of Jesus. Are we supposed to be walking, standing, or sitting spiritually? Nope! We’re supposed to be RUNNING to race that God has marked out for us with our eyes fixed on Jesus, our forerunner!

This, of course, doesn’t mean that we live in a bubble and avoid all people. Obviously, this isn’t the will of Jesus because He intentionally chose to live His life connected with the wicked, sinners, and mockers. The key in all of this is influence. Are we influencing them or are they influencing us? Jesus was found spending time alone with the Heavenly Father, in synagogues, just with the twelve disciples, with three of His closest friends, with crowds, partying in the house of tax collectors, and dining with the Pharisees. He balanced the influence in His life.

The key to success and a prosperous life is the balance of influence. We’re called to be a people who influence the world with the Kingdom of Heaven, but who do not allow ourselves to be influenced by the world. We influence toxic atmospheres with the healing antidote from God’s presence within us. We step out of those toxic atmospheres once the influence reverts and we begin to become contaminated and infected by those toxins ourselves. We get ourselves back into God’s presence to be filled up and then to go back out into the world. Paul wrote it this way:

Galatians 6:1-5
1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. 4 Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, 5 for each one should carry their own load.

Balance. What good is a person on a mission to set people free if they become bound themselves? Now, I have a confession to make this morning. I desperately wanted to provide 3-4 tips on how to recognize toxic influences in our lives. Just 3-4 tips on how to recognize when the shift takes place between heaven influencing through us to heal toxicity and toxicity influencing into us corrupting us. However, God just wasn’t providing them.

God’s design and idea instead is this: the church. The way that He planned for this recognition to take place is right here sitting all around us. We need each other and there simply are no other shortcuts. We commit to gather together on a regular basis to seek after God, to be cleansed and to be filled up together. Then, we go out together into the world with the hope and light of Jesus.

The church. We need to find a brother or sister in Christ who knows us well enough and loves us strongly enough to confront us when this influence shift takes place. Someone who can recognize when we’re no longer restoring a person caught in sin, but when we’re beginning to be tempted by that same sin. Someone who can notice the slight changes in our mood, attitude, behavior, and speech indicating that a toxic influence is present in our lives.

This is why in the very same context of Galatians 6, we are reminded of this balance of fulfilling the entire law of Christ by carrying each other’s burdens and also the need for each one of us to carry our own loads. This is why in the very same context, we are reminded how easily we can toxically deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re something that we’re not. A test must take place and that test can only take place outside of ourselves. It is a simple reality that a deceived person cannot detect deceit in themselves. If they could, they obviously were never deceived in the first place!

It is important that we have people who can speak into our lives and caution us when they notice that we begin to change due to toxic influences. They can warn us when they notice that we change in a negative way when we listen to that music or watch that TV show or start hanging out around that person or read that book. They are closely connected with us so that they can help us to identify toxic influences in our lives and walk with us through the process of freeing us from them and keeping us free from them.

This is what it means to carry each other’s burdens and how we fulfill the law of Christ. The Greek word translated to burden here is baros (bä’-ros). This word carries the idea of something pressing heavily on us and making a high demand on our resources either physically or spiritually. It is like a boulder that is simply too heavy for us to carry alone. It is like our house catching fire and destroying all that we own and having no insurance. Toxic influences are these, they cause serious debilitation or even death in our lives if we try to manage them on our own.

This is what it means that each one should carry their own load. The Greek word translated into load here is phortion (phortion). This word carries the idea of something carried. It is like a small pebble, something that is easy for us to carry alone. It is like paying our water bill each month. These are part of God’s plan for us and He will give us what we need to manage them. In fact, it was this same Greek word that Jesus used when He promised for His yoke to be easy and His burden to be light as we find rest in Him.

Paul specifically called this out as a toxic influence in our lives when we confuse the two. We need to know the difference between a burden and a load. We need to know the difference between helping someone who is burdened by something they were never supposed to bear alone and carrying someone’s purse that they can and should be carrying themselves. God will empower and enable us to carry burdens for others, but we’ll wear ourselves out in our own strength choosing to carry someone’s load for them.

Toxic influences can be anything, anywhere. Also, just because something is a toxic influence for one person doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a toxic influence for another. If we intentionally listen to the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit, He’ll let us know right away when we’re exposing ourselves to good influences as well as toxic ones. In time, being exposed to an influence will eventually reveal whether it is toxic or healthy. If it causes the fruits of the Spirit to grow in our lives, it’s a good influence. If it causes the fruits of the flesh to grow in our lives, it’s a toxic influence.

If it leads me closer to Jesus and better enables me to reach people with His love, then it is a good influence. If it leads me away from Jesus and hinders my ability to reach people with His love, then it is a toxic influence. If it causes me to crave the things of God, then it is a good influence. If it causes me to crave the things of this world, then it is a toxic influence.

The cure and antidote to toxic influences are simple. First, we need to distance ourselves from the toxic influence enough that we become back in balance with which direction the influence is occurring. We don’t necessarily need to cut off that influence altogether unless it truly is that toxic to us.

Secondly, we need to introduce ourselves to more good influences. We need to fill up our lives with the Presence of God and Godly people who will build us up, encourage us, carry our burdens, and confront us when necessary. Good influences can be anything from getting together for lunch with someone, joining a sports team, listening to different music, setting apart time to connect with God, laughing more often, volunteering to serve, or reading a new book. Paul’s reminder was this:

Hebrews 10:23-25
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

We need each other! Together, we can slow down and even stop the toxic influences in our lives and begin to instead influence them as we remain filled with the Holy Spirit and connected with His body, the church.

We’ll cover this topic more in-depth next week as we learn all about toxic relationships.