We hate it when members of our flock whine yet often excuse it in ourselves. But God does not take ministerial murmuring lightly.

Miriam's pulse rate was soaring. So would yours or mine. Accountability was one thing, but having the Almighty personally deliver a lecture and a spanking was quite another.

One minute Miriam was exercising her "family license" by criticizing her adult little brother, Moses. The next minute her olive skin oozed pasty white with leprosy (see Num. 12).

Miriam believed her complaint against Moses was a legitimate concern. After all, her inner circle had been invaded by a Cushite, of all things. Feeling nudged off her perch, Miriam saw Moses' wife as an outlaw, not a sister-in-law.

Not even her love for her brother could stop her tongue. Her mouth sought to do what Pharaoh could not: bring Moses down. With the aid of younger brother Aaron, the sibling sewers erupted. Then suddenly both of her brothers, Moses and Aaron, looked on in horror as the God who destroyed Egypt now took on their sister.

But the negativity eating its way like cancer through Israel's camp was not initiated by Miriam's destructive words. It began just days earlier.

Numbers 11:1 tells us: "Now, when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; for the Lord heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the Lord burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp" (NKJV).

Moses prayed, and the fire died out. But the problem of complaining wasn't over. Verse 4 tells us: "The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, 'If only we had meat to eat!'" (NIV).

Notice that the critical spirit in Israel began at the outskirts, or edges, of the camp. The primary instigators were called "rabble"--an interesting term. They were those who had tagged along for the Exodus, not because they loved God, but because of their hatred for Pharaoh.

They were not committed to Jehovah or to His people; they only wanted to be free from Egypt. Because this was their motive, they lived at the edges of the camp. They only wanted to usurp the benefits of whomever had parted the Red Sea.

So much of life is aimed at peripheral trivialities. But the negative edges are where the enemy begins his work in our lives. And those edges will chew away at your inner kingdom life, if you let them.

Ministers can be the worst offenders. Sometimes we are as bad as the Old Testament rabble. We critique the sermon or the suit. The church board. Or our neighbor's lawn habits. All the frayed edges of life that we do not think touch God.

God holds us accountable for our personal "edges," where the trivial things of life exist. This is the most common way Satan begins the deterioration process in people's lives--by getting them comfortable with negativity concerning unimportant matters in life.

The next stage of Satan's corruption is found in Miriam's actions. On the heels of the fallen edge, the core relationships within Israel's leadership soured. The same holds true today. For some reason many, like Miriam, feel freedom to criticize those closest to them. But the Holy Spirit holds us accountable, as He did Miriam, for those things said against those we love and those who lead.

God wants our edges clean, but He also demands that we succeed at the core relationships in our lives. Miriam was stricken with leprosy, all because she allowed herself to become negative with comfortable relationships.

Pastor, may I plead with you to "lay hold of your edge" and challenge all of us in ministry to reject that deceptive liberty that tempts us to speak critically of those closest to us. We must place Christ's lordship above all core relationships and keep our words pure.

Leprosy is no fun event. *

"THE HOLY Spirit holds us accountable for those things said against those we love and those who lead."

Scott Hagan recently moved from California to Michigan to accept a new ministry assignment as senior pastor of Grand Rapids First Assembly of God. He and his wife, Karen, have four children.

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