An Important Question

It’s Monday Grace!

“But can a person(s) be truly born again when their actions are SO incompatible over SO long-decades and decades-with having a regenerate heart?”

Wow!  That’s a great question!  So relevant for most of our lives. This is the central question in “Z’s” recent comment. I thought it was worth answering in a post because many of us have wondered the same thing. Especially those who have been abused by people claiming to be part of the Church.

It is possible for a believer to commit any sin, I think.  Once we look back to the flesh, with all its temptations and compromises, we find ourselves back to many of the same feelings we had before.  When those feelings come on us, and we fail to look to the Spirit, we may fall as we would have before.  I think we have the story of Peter’s denial to show us this.  He truly loved Jesus and was dedicated to Him, yet Peter denied Jesus with crude oaths. 

So, is it possible for someone to be a real believer while continuing to be cruel and abusive?  I suppose.  But I think that believer would be under constant and serious conviction from the Spirit.  (That may explain the continual anger, of course, but I can’t imagine that it would last decades. Abusers are usually angry people.)

It is far more likely that the person has never been a believer and has been acting consistently with his or her true heart.  For so long, the church has allowed, even taught, such cheap grace that the unbeliever can be welcomed without a relationship with the Savior and without any significant change in behavior.  Performance spirituality welcomes those who are willing to “pay the price” the church suggests.  Give money and time, don’t rock the boat too much, and you can stay in the local church without ever joining the heavenly Church. 

Churches every Sunday are attended by unbelievers who do not seek the gospel or the Lord because they think they already have their “deal” with Him.  When I was first in the ministry, I met a man who told me that he “and the man upstairs” had “an understanding.”  That understanding, according to him, was that he would do his part and the Lord would do His part.  They would leave each other alone otherwise.  While I have never heard it put quite like that since, I have certainly met many people who trusted in their “understanding” with the Lord. 

But there is still this thing called “repentance.”  While I do not think repentance comes because of changed behavior, I do think that repentance causes changed behavior.  It is a new way of thinking, and that new way of thinking should result in a new way of behaving.  A Christian might forget or disobey, but the new ways will grow dominant over time.

Someone who continues to act in the same way as they did without Christ probably doesn’t have Christ, especially if that old way continues over a long period of time.  Just because he or she goes to church and claims to be a Christian doesn’t mean Christ has become his or her life. 

Interestingly, the way to handle these people is given to us in Scripture as being the same for unbelievers and pretend believers.  I don’t think Scripture has any real concept of what we have come to call “backslidden” or “carnal” Christians.  There are Christians who might slip back to carnal ways until the Spirit reminds them of who they are.  There are also phonies in the church who use the same vocabulary and claim the same position as real believers.  I don’t see any in-between group.

How does the Scripture tell us to treat unbelievers?  With love and hope.  We are to share the good news about Jesus.  We are not to entrust ourselves to them or listen to their views on Christian life and doctrine.  Pray for them to come to Jesus.  Present the hope and love you have in Jesus but remember that they are not your real family. 

And how should we treat unrepentant and hurtful pretend believers?  By considering them as unbelievers.  Matthew 18 has become unpopular in the church today because people have misused it in so many ways, but it broaches this subject.  When someone sins against you and is unrepentant even in the face of third-party admonition, then you are supposed to treat that person as an unbeliever.

 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
Matthew 18:17

The Jews listening to Jesus that day would have understood this to be the separation they experienced from the “heathen and tax collector.”  It meant that person was not of the faith, not of the family.  It did not mean to shun the person or to do evil to him.  In fact, just the opposite.  Jesus constantly taught the people to reach out to the lost and outcast. 

A similar perspective is found in 1 Timothy 5:8:

 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:8

This man is acting even worse than an unbeliever.  How should he be treated?  As a lost sinner!  He needs Jesus.  Pray for him, call him to repentance, share the gospel. 

Again, we are to love unbelievers, but not to trust them.  We are to pray for them, but not to look to them for spiritual guidance.  We are to welcome them into discussion, but not as brothers and sisters.  We are not to look to them as examples or follow their ideas. 

And what if, by some strange set of compromises and compulsions, this cruel person is a real believer?  Then what?  Treat that person as an unbeliever anyway. 

Now, this might seem strange and challenging.  If someone is acting like an unbeliever, satisfying the flesh and doing evil, then that person needs Jesus.  Maybe he or she is saved, but at that moment Jesus is not the focus of the heart.  Instead, the old way is trying to pull them back, and you can help by reminding them of the consequences of sin.  Believers might not lose heaven or salvation by sinning, but they can certainly suffer earthly consequences. 

Paul often had to remind his readers of the pain and suffering they left behind when they came to Jesus.

21  What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22  But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. 23  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:21-23

The answer is always Jesus.  He is the strength and victory of the believer.  He is the hope of the lost.  He is the redemption of those who try to do it themselves. 

Summary:  While it is possible that such cruel people might be believers, it is unlikely, and the Scripture encourages us to treat them as unbelievers in either case.  Let God worry about whether these people will be saved.  You should neither trust them nor consider them as part of your Christian family.

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For My Grandchildren

It’s Narcissist Friday!

I confess that I am concerned about the state of our world, and I wonder what kind of future our grandchildren will have. Yes, every generation probably had the same concerns. Maybe the politics and the morality have always been this way. Maybe God will give our grandkids the grace to handle their struggles just as He has given us the grace to handle ours. But what’s the value of getting older if you can’t pass on some of the things you have learned?

Most of us have learned a lot of lessons that came out of that school of “hard knocks.” In other words, we learned what hurt us by going through the hurt. Along the way, we picked up some ideas, some boundaries, that might help us and others. If we can just remember them!

My original thought was to write a series of posts on how to build an organization that would not interest narcissists or how to find such an organization. But I realized that organizations are built of the things we carry into them. Also, organizations often act with narcissistic characteristics simply because of what they are.

With that in mind, I have decided to share a series of simple thoughts on how to build our own lives in such a way that narcissists have no desire to get to us. If narcissists are predators and opportunists, then perhaps we can look at the things that open us to their abuse and create boundaries to protect ourselves.

Most of us are already scarred and broken from the damage our narcissists did. We would love the opportunity to go back and become young again with the knowledge and insights we now have. We can learn things to protect ourselves from future abuse, but we don’t get to go back and undo the damage. Yes, the pain of the past does give guidance and blessing to the future. We should be thankful for the struggles we have been through, I suppose. But I would like to pass on the things I have learned through my pain so that those I love don’t have to experience it for themselves.

I have taught my sons from their youngest years a simple saying: A wise man learns from the mistakes of others. You don’t have to make the same mistakes yourself. You can believe the pain of others and evaluate what they did.

So, what would I tell my grandchildren to help them stay safe from narcissists and other abusers? Of course, I would tell them about Jesus. I would tell them that God loves them and that they can trust Him. I believe the things of the faith give hope and strength to the heart, grace for the heart, if you will. But there are some other things I would tell them about themselves and their needs.

Think of these upcoming posts as two-pronged. They will be written to my grandchildren to help them prepare for life and relationships. They will also be written for all of us, to bolster the truths that will allow us to establish boundaries and avoid the weaknesses that open us to abuse. I want my grandchildren to be immune, even toxic, to narcissists. I want narcissists to leave them alone because they are too strong, too prepared. That’s what I want for all my readers.

From “Never Give 100%” to “You Are Beautiful” to “Compete Only With Yourself,” I think you will find these posts to be encouraging and strengthening. Each of them will be easily applied to narcissistic relationships as well as general daily life. Some of the advice may be contrarian, but my intent is that the posts will build freedom and confidence.

I would appreciate your prayers as these come together.

 Tell your children about it, let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.
Joel 1:3

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What Does It Mean: to trust in performance?

It’s Monday Grace!

“If you do well, will you not be accepted?” That’s what the Lord asked Cain, way back in Genesis 4. You remember the story. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted while Cain’s was not. Cain was angry. The Lord warned him about his anger and said that sin was very close for him. Sin would control him if he were not careful. And God was right. Cain killed his brother and has been known throughout human history as the first murderer.

Those words have presented a puzzle to most of us who teach grace. Is the Lord actually suggesting that preference will be given for doing well? Is God keeping track of those who are the most committed and successful? Is it about performance after all?

Almost since the beginning, the people of God have worked hard to be accepted by Him. They adopted the Law as the measure of their success. The more they kept the rituals and rules of the Law, the more they expected God to be pleased with them. If they broke the rules or missed the rituals, they expected to be punished and considered unworthy.

So, today that’s what much of the church teaches. Performance is the measure by which God will find us worthy of salvation and favor, they suggest. Even many of those who preach Christ still insinuate that “real Christians” are measured by their performance.

Now, you know the list. How much you give, how hard you work, how nice you are, how often you participate, and on and on. No two lists are the same, but you can just keep adding things to the one you have. That’s performance.

But if performance is the real measure of the believer, then why do we need Jesus? The witness of the Bible is very clear: we need Jesus. If we could be good enough on our own, by our own performance, then it would be up to us. The sacrifice of Jesus would be unnecessary.

There is another perspective on the performance message. Perhaps we do need Jesus, they say. His sacrifice on the cross was important, they say. But your part is important too. Jesus did His part; now, you must do your part. The better you do your part, they say, the more effective Jesus’ part will be. If you don’t perform well, then maybe His part won’t be enough for you.

If you have been in the church very long, you have probably heard that message. Sometimes it is hidden. Do this, stay away from that, be a good Christian. No one ever says what happens to a bad Christian, but those folks should be afraid. Of what? Well, God will sort them out. Performance might not get you saved, but it may make you “really” saved or keep you saved.

Let’s look back on Cain. God was teaching them about the effect of sin and how sin would be handled. Sin kills. Blood sacrifice would cover sin. That was the system the Jews lived with for thousands of years, until Jesus came to be the final and forever sacrifice. Until the Lord’s own blood would be enough for all people.

Cain was not punished, not rejected, for his offering. His offering was rejected. God was teaching them something. In fact, the question about doing well was not a reference to the offering but to the anger in Cain’s heart. God was saying that Cain would be just as accepted as he had been, unless he followed his anger into trouble. Now he had a choice. And, in his frustration, Cain chose poorly.

Cain’s failure was not in his performance, but in his heart. Trying harder would not have made him more accepted. Bringing a better offering was not the point.

Neither is going to church, tithing, or being nice. These things are not bad, but they are not the answer. No one will be saved by them, nor will anyone stay saved because of them. Performance looks right, and thousands of years of poor teaching has made it seem right, but the heart is the point. And your heart is corrupt apart from Jesus.

The Pharisees showed us that performance of the Law was not enough. Paul showed us that excellence in study and application of Scripture was not enough. Kind people, diligent people, sacrificing people have learned that performance never makes us accepted. It is never enough because our relationship with God is a matter of the heart.

So, we are not saved by our works/performance. We are not kept saved by our works/performance. We do not become more saved by our works/performance. You and I are saved and accepted through Jesus alone. Whatever service and sacrifice we give to Him we lay at His feet in gratitude for what He has done.

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The Dragon

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Over the past few months, I have been connecting narcissism with a greater evil through the idea of dragons. The Scripture calls the devil the “great dragon.” Satan is the personification of evil. Doctrinally, it is important to remember that Satan is not the author of evil. Rather, he is the great narcissist, the one whose ambition and need for affirmation lead him to abuse and destroy the people of God.

There is much about the evil one that we do not understand. The source of his rage, the extent of his power, the end of his influence—these are things that are not clear to us in Scripture. Perhaps that mystery makes him even more frightening.

What we do know is that he hates the Lord and the things of the Lord. He hates us, apparently because the Lord loves us. He seeks to destroy us in some attempt to challenge and dishonor God.

And we also know that the evil that dwells in the heart of the devil looks a lot like the evil that dwells in the hearts of humans who seek only their own benefit and are willing to use others to achieve it. It is not that these people are directly connected to the devil, but that they exhibit the same characteristics. They partake of the same evil.

For example: We have talked about how narcissists are predators, seeking people they can use to build themselves up. The devil, according to the Bible, “prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” We have talked about how narcissists so joyfully become tormentors. Jesus told Peter that Satan had asked God for him “that he might sift you like wheat.” We have talked about how easily and willingly narcissists lie. Jesus called the devil “a liar and the father of lies.” We have talked about how deceptively attractive narcissists can be, especially when we first meet them. Jesus said that Satan disguises himself “as an angel of light.” I could go on with many such examples.

Evil is evil. When the heart is turned inward, it is turned against the Lord and against others. When a person (whether a regular human or some strange celestial being) begins to lift himself (or herself) up in a way that puts others down, that person is engaging in evil. The idea of evil may not be politically correct these days, and we may not like to talk about it, but we know it when it hurts us.

Of course, evil is far easier to recognize in others. But the fact that we can see it in others suggests that we have to accept its reality. There is such a thing as evil, and it hurts people. When we do evil things, we hurt others. When others do evil things, they might hurt us or people we care about. When anyone serves only themselves, evil is locked into their hearts. Genesis gives us the story of the flood, and we are told that the wickedness of humanity was great and that “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” I take that to mean that the people were blind to anything but themselves, narcissistic if you will.

In the past, I have been challenged when I refer to narcissists as evil. I understand. So, I try to limit what I say to the idea that narcissism is evil, and some people allow themselves to be defined by it. When many of us were young, we were taught to be nice and not say mean things about others. No matter what the others did to us, we were supposed to be nice. Now, after living many years, we understand that someone should have told us that evil was out there, and some people would use it to hurt us. For some, the people who taught them about life were the same people who used evil to hurt them.

Getting out of a narcissistic relationship does not mean all evil will disappear from our path. There are others who share in the same evils we have escaped. It is wise to be prepared as we walk the new path. That’s what we have been considering for the last few months.

And we must always remember that evil has limitations. It can be overcome, by good according to the Scriptures. So, do good. Love, kindness, generosity—these things overcome evil. The day will come when evil will be washed away from our hearts and from our world. The promise is that good will flow and good alone. There is hope.

That hope, as always, is in Jesus. He is the One who walks with us day by day through all our struggles. We find our peace and our hope in Him.

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

The dragon has already been defeated.

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What Does It Mean To Die To Self

It’s Monday Grace!

For years I said that the church was very good at forcing square pegs into round holes. People were asked to do jobs that they neither wanted to do nor were good at. However, church program leaders believed these jobs were important, so important that it didn’t matter who did them. Warm bodies were enough.

Now, to be honest, I do believe God calls unlikely people to certain jobs. The Scriptures are full of stories where untrained and relatively incompetent people were called to lead or serve in important positions. But that was because the One who called would enable them. His strength, wisdom, and authority would be the resources they needed for the work.

But the woman who sat in the nursery even though she was uncomfortable with children probably did little to bless the kids. Same with the man chosen to be the treasurer who couldn’t even keep his personal accounts straight. These people were expected to set aside what they knew about themselves just to make sure the church was served.

Frankly, I suspect that desire for church leadership to manipulate people is partly behind this idea of “dying to self.” I have actually heard people say that they knew they should not desire the things that make them happy, but they should seek the things that make them suffer. The more they suffered, they said, the more they knew they were in the will of God. So, doing a service they found uncomfortable or giving up an activity they enjoyed were marks of this “dying to self.”

Of course, the Bible never uses those words. There is no call in Scripture for us to “die to self.” By almost any definition of “self,” my existence would end when my self died. There would be no definition of “I” if my self were to die. While the Eastern mystical religions/philosophies might teach the absorption and loss of self into some greater consciousness, that is not the teaching of the Christian faith.

So, where did this come from? Why did people begin talking about dying to self? Well, my best guess is that it is connected to a re-definition of the “self-life” early New Covenant or grace teachers proclaimed. They contrasted the self-life with the God-life. What they meant, in words we use now, is the contrast between living by the flesh versus by the Spirit. Dying to the self-life meant to turn your back on the old way of responding to the pressures of daily life in favor of seeking the guidance and enabling of the Spirit.

But that is not dying to self as understood today by so many. The loss of the person God created as me is never expected in the Christian gospel. Instead, I am called to regain the whole person God created, to become who I truly am, in Christ. The flesh never defined me, it only became my default mode. Sin corrupted me, as it did everything else, but it never killed what God made.

Let’s be clear. We are called to die to sin. We are called to die to the Law. We are called to die to this world. And all of those happened when we came to Jesus in faith and joined Him in His death on the cross. In other words, you and I have already died. The old person we thought we were is dead. The flesh is dying. It’s influence is lessening every day. Our place in this world will die. We are new creations in Jesus. But we are still our selves.

Paul said, “I die daily,” in 1 Corinthians 15:31. That does not mean that he went through some mystical process of dying to himself. It means, if you read the context, that he faced death every day. People wanted to kill him. But he could face that because he had already died to this world, and he was ready to be with Jesus. His “dying” was not something he worked on in his life, it was a fact of his identity with Jesus.

Did you catch that? You can’t die to self. In fact, you can’t die to anything now. You have already died to sin and the law and this world. The old is gone (2 Cor 5:17) and the new has already come. You were crucified with Christ—past tense—and the life in you is His. You don’t need to go to the cross repeatedly to accomplish what He has already accomplished for you. Pick up your cross, yes, but do it to proclaim to the world that you are already dead and have new life in Jesus.

Those who are in Christ will never die again. We are alive forever because of Him. We are fully identified with Him. We can never be separated from Him.

So, be who you are! Be that person God created in Jesus. Be the way God created you to be. If God calls you to move past what you think you can do, relax and trust Him. But don’t let others manipulate you by telling you that you should die to your self and do what they want. Jesus gives the definition, the identification, to your life now.

God loves you as you are because He has made you as you are. Let sin and compromise fall away. Those things are no longer connected to you, they lie about you. The cross of Jesus took away all that was attached to sin and this world, and now you are a new person in Jesus.

Somehow, in the amazing grace of God, you and I are who we have always been, yet we are brand new creations in Jesus. I don’t fully understand how that can be, but I claim it as the gospel of Jesus Christ. More and more, we are becoming who we are.

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What’s So Good About It?

It’s Not Narcissist Friday!

Okay, let’s be honest. In the fall, as you look forward to that day when retailers drop their prices in a crazy hope that we will all flock to their stores and spend our money, do you ever slip and call that day, “Good Friday”? It’s Black Friday, of course, because retailers hope to slip out of the red and into the black (profit) column for the year. A serious percentage of income is brought to the stores that day.

Maybe it’s because I have spent so long in the church. I slip every once in a while and refer to that day as Good Friday. Maybe I think of it positively. Not as positively as I used to, I suppose. Now I try to avoid that craziness. I do still read the ads and hope for good deals.

But it’s not Good Friday.

Yet, many people seem to think of the Friday before Easter as something less than good. After all, that’s the day Jesus suffered on the cross. The pain must have been excruciating. The rejection must have broken His heart. Just seeing the pain of His mother and friends must have been terrible. And finally, after great suffering, He died. For those who watched, it was the end. The end of an amazing ministry. The end of true healing. The end of authoritative teaching. The end of wisdom and love and joy.

How could we call that day “good”?

Easter. Resurrection Day. That’s good! That’s the day of joy. That’s the day of celebration. Jesus was alive, and everyone was happy again. That was the good day.

Well, I suppose I can tie this back to narcissism after all. I suspect that the good of the Friday before Easter is something no narcissist and few legalists could understand. You see, the joy of that day was His! Jesus looked forward to that day with joy. The good of that day was in His heart.

How could Jesus view that day with joy? How could He look to it as good? He knew what He would suffer. He struggled as He thought of the pain. But He looked past the suffering to the purpose. When He saw the goal, He rejoiced.

The purpose of the cross was you! Jesus looked past the rejection and pain to see you, and you gave Him joy. Because of you, that day would be a good day always for Him.

…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2

“For the joy that was set before Him.” That was you!

When Jesus spoke of the kingdom, He saw it in you. And it gave Him joy.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Matthew 13:44

The narcissist could never understand how anyone could suffer with joy. The legalist would have us look at the cross with shame. But Jesus wants us to know that His day of pain was a good day because it brought us to Him.

So, yes, it is Good Friday! Not a day to focus on the suffering, but on the joy in the Savior’s heart as He spent it all for you and me.

We are invited to look past His pain to see His joy.

Amazing!

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What Does It Mean: to Repent?

It’s Monday Grace!

When Bill moved into his new home, he sat down with a map and charted the best drive to work. He reasoned that this route would be both fastest and easiest. Then he drove that route for several years. There were some lights that took too long to change and both heavy traffic and reduced speeds near the school, but this was still the best drive, according to Bill.

When someone asked Bill why he didn’t use the new road, he replied that his way was just right. He had studied it and chosen it and accepted it as best. He didn’t need the new road.

But one day, Bill tried the new road. To his surprise, it was faster and easier. No more school zone. No more slow lights. He shaved several minutes and a couple miles off his twice-daily drive. It wasn’t long before Bill started telling others about the new road.

Now, that’s an illustration of repentance. To repent means to change your mind, your thinking.

Repentance might happen in a moment. A sudden realization that your path was the wrong one and both the desire and will to use a better path. You may have had your own “Damascus Road” experience, where you were “hit upside the head” with the truth.

Repentance can happen over time. A slow dawning of the truth that you have heard over and over, accepting finally that your resistance has been a mistake. Maybe you were raised in a Christian home or environment and eventually embraced the faith others proclaimed as your own.

Repentance is personal. It involves your own thinking and choosing. It cannot be forced or demanded. It can’t come from the outside. The old saying is: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” No one can make you repent.

But let me share what repentance is not. It is not an abrupt change from sinning to doing only right. It is not sinlessness in thought or action. It is not a simple change of behavior.

Yes, someone might experience a sudden release from a bad habit or a sinful desire. I have known people who suddenly stopped smoking or cursing. Some have given up adulteries or theft or lies. Those things might happen. But the abrupt ceasing of all sin should not be expected, even if it is desired.

Nor is repentance the sudden addition of actions or attitudes that some consider positive. Again, I have known people who started going to church when they hadn’t been in church for a long time. Some have chosen to embrace gratitude rather than complaining. Those are not bad things, but they are not the definition of repentance. Repentance is a new way of thinking, something in the heart.

In other words, repentance is so much more than just a change of lifestyle. All kinds of choices can initiate lifestyle changes. Repentance is the realization of the failure of the old way and an embrace of something new.

And repentance takes faith. Faith needs an object. When we stop what we have been doing to see that Jesus offers something better, when we push away the old way and reach out to Him for life and peace and everything we need, that’s repentance.

So, there are those who make changes in their lives without repenting. There are also those who repent and still struggle with sin. The difference is not behavior. The difference is mindset. As long as my mind is set on what I can accomplish, even if I move from bad things to good things, I have not repented. But if my mind is set on Jesus as my hope, even if my behavior still seems to need a lot of change, I have repented.

No matter what the preacher shouts from the pulpit or the gospel tract shares in the story, repentance is not about you fixing yourself. No matter how hard you try and how successful you are, it will not be the answer you need.

We are called to follow Jesus. Not to fix ourselves. Just to follow Jesus. A new path. A new way of thinking. And a new life. All from Him.

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The Lone Warrior

It’s Narcissist Friday!

You have knowledge. You have weapons. You certainly have experience. Now you can fight the dragon. The weak spot in your life, at least since you met the dragon, has been trusting other people. Just when you think they will fight for you, they run off to hide or betray you to the dragon. So, you don’t need them. You will stand alone.

As I have said before, one of the primary losses to come out of narcissistic relationships is trust. When you have been betrayed and used, trusting people is hard. This is especially true when you didn’t see it coming. When the narcissist was your friend, or family member, or lover.

King David felt this betrayal and put it in words we all understand:

Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
Psalm 41:9

The pain is deep because it contains a certain self-incrimination. You feel like you should have known the truth. You should have been smarter. You should have read the clues.

Combining the anger, the insecurity, and the inability to trust yourself can lead to an isolation that pushes everyone else away. We tell ourselves that we don’t need others. We can’t trust them anyway. Friends and family have hurt us, so we have to go forward alone.

You come home at night to an empty house. You don’t answer the phone or your emails. Your living room and bed are enough. Even the television is filled with deceit. A good book is your best friend. You convince yourself that being alone is safe.

So, you become the Lone Warrior. You speak up against evil, stand against abuse, but never allow yourself to connect with the people you try to support. You never let them see the real you, the one that hurts and struggles. And, as you ride away after helping, they look at each other and ask, “Who was that masked person?”

This also is normal. You might not crawl into a cave, but you built a cave around yourself. You have been beat up, betrayed, and manipulated. Not again. It hurts too much. Your feelings and your response are normal.

But there are dangers here. The Lone Warrior is vulnerable. Partly because you are not as strong as you think. Partly because you are not as wise as you think. The dragon’s whispers still bounce around inside your head. The fear is still there.

Anger gives us strength. I have written about that before. It is designed to enable us to push beyond our limitations. But the strength that anger provides comes from within us. In other words, the energy is taken from other places in our lives. The extra power or strength we get from anger is stolen from our compassion, our wisdom, and our morality. The thing that enables us to move past our boundaries also enables us to ignore the pain we cause others and the cost to our own integrity and future.

You know what I mean. How many times have you said something or done something in anger that hurt someone more than you intended or burned a bridge you didn’t want to burn. You punched the wall in your anger, doing more damage to it than you thought possible, but you hurt your hand and now you have a hole in your wall. Anger steals energy from a better you.

This may be hard to read: In the process of avoiding the dragon by pushing everyone else away, don’t become the dragon for someone else. The narcissist hurts others because he/she will not accept the responsibilities that come with real relationships. Better to think of other people as objects, not persons with feelings and value. If your isolation comes at that price, it isn’t worth it.

We were not made to live in isolation. Yes, it may be necessary for a time of healing. But it can never be a goal. We are healthiest when we live in healthy relationships. And, of course, that’s the rub. How can you have healthy relationships where people never hurt you? After a few betrayals, it becomes easy to believe that there are no reliably healthy relationships.

I wish I had some easy formula to offer that would protect you from other people and let you find good and supportive friends. The answer, I think, is first to look to the Lord who loves you. Trust Him first. Then ask Him to bring the right people into your life.

We are not talking about intimate relationships. Just a kind person who cares. It may be someone you already know, someone you have pushed away. It is probably someone of your gender. It might be someone whose story is similar to yours. Or it might be someone who has a very different story filled with very different pain. You might discover that you can help each other out of what you each have left.

The point is that you should resist the Lone Warrior role. Yes, you can do it, at least for a while. No one doubts your strength, no one who matters. You are capable. You can take care of yourself. But, as soon as you are able, open your heart just a little to someone who is kind.

Now, I have to say this: be careful. You already know there are users and abusers out there. You are free to step back when you start to see the red flags. You are free to disagree, to say no, to set boundaries. In fact, you should do that with everyone. Just don’t let your caution be the only influence.

Try some new things. Go to new places. Push yourself to stretch your comfort zones. Still be careful. If you have someone to talk things over with, someone truly supportive, listen to their wisdom. Pray, then step out in your faith.

Know that you are not alone. There are others all around you. Hurting people, survivors, are everywhere. And they are waking up. They are shining the light on abuse and manipulation. The narcissistic vermin are being exposed. The truth is increasingly revealed.

There are those who walk the path you are on. They may not have experienced your pain, but they do understand pain. And they need a friend. Just like you need a friend.

Look to Jesus, who loves you consistently and fully, and begin to open your heart to others. You are not alone.

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What Does It Mean: That I Have Sinned?

It’s Monday Grace!

Someone pointed out years ago that the word “sin” means to “miss the mark.” I have heard teachers use that concept and use archery as the illustration. They said that sinning is like missing the bullseye on the target.

Well, there are several things wrong with that, such as equating mistakes with sin, but the primary failure of the illustration is the idea that sin happens at the completion of an action. In other words, it is only sin when you actually do the thing. Jesus challenged that in Matthew 5, using the illustration of lust. He said that it isn’t just lust when a man commits an act of abuse or infidelity, but it is lust when the idea is conceived in his heart.

When does the archer miss the mark or bullseye? At what point does the miss occur? The arrow flies according to the course set for it in the beginning. The error happens when the archer releases the arrow. If he is lined up correctly, taking into consideration the various conditions, the arrow will hit the mark. If that is not the case—before the arrow is released—the arrow will miss the mark.

In the same way, sin was a part of our lives before we did anything. The error came from who and what we were. A wise teacher asked me several years ago if I sinned because I was a sinner or if I was a sinner because I sinned. It’s a good question! The answer is that I sinned because I was a sinner. I was a sinner before I sinned. The brokenness was in me before I ever gave evidence to its reality.

When I say that I have sinned, I mean that I lived according to my nature, my identity. I lived out of my flesh, the way I learned to cope apart from Jesus. Now, because of Jesus, my identity is new and His life is in me. My old nature is gone, but my memory remains. My flesh continues as long as I am in this world, and too often I draw from that memory or pattern of living as I make decisions today. I sin, but I am no longer identified as a sinner. Jesus has recreated me!

Saying that I have sinned is a confession that I have lived apart from the Lord, and I have acted out of my identity apart from Him. Before I knew Jesus, my sin was my way of trying to satisfy the desires of a broken person. I hurt others and disobeyed God because I was more concerned about myself. Every sin in my life was a testimony that I needed Jesus.

Now that I know Jesus, and He has saved me, my sin is still a reminder. It reminds me that I have been recreated and am no longer what I was. It is evidence that the old way still influences me through my memory and life patterns. But it is not evidence of my identity. In fact, sin today is contrary to my identity. That’s why I feel my sin so much more, why it grieves me.

So, yes, we still sin insofar as we still do the things that the Lord warned us about. Our flesh still looks to the old ways as we make decisions. It is important for each of us to look to the Spirit for guidance, rather than to our flesh. It is possible for us to choose a different course, a different action.

And the trajectory of my life and yours is no longer what it was apart from Jesus. The newness of life in us, our identification with Him, means that we will hit exactly the mark He has set for us. Sin no longer defines us, no longer determines our future. Things have changed because of Jesus.

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Dragon Obsession

It’s Narcissist Friday!

After your battle with the dragon, you still feel the pain. The tiny tips of the dragon’s claws are like the sharpest needles, and some of them broke off under your skin. Now their poison continues to bring pain and weakness. But it also draws you to the dragon. It’s like there is a link between you that you cannot sever.

It still hurts. It still hurts a lot. What the narcissist did was so wrong. None of it makes sense. So, you have studied narcissism, and you have watched. You want to know everything about your abuser. Some of it is so that you can avoid him in the future. Some of it is a desire for revenge. Some is the strange fascination that comes with an incomplete story.

When the narcissist hurts people, it so often doesn’t make any sense. There are feelings of confusion and loss tied up with the anger and pain. You have so many unanswered questions, questions that threaten your identity and peace. Was there something wrong with you? What really happened? Was it never real? The friendship, the love, the fun—was it all a lie? If so, why? What was the purpose, and why would someone do that? Betrayal does more than cause pain. It undermines our confidence.

And there’s something else we need to admit. The things that tied you to the narcissist in the first place, the charm and attraction, are hard to replace. Narcissists often radiate an exotic presence that makes others seem tame, almost boring, in comparison. Most narcissists are charismatic and desirable. They have a certain magnetism that others lack. The feelings you had with the narcissist, when things were “good,” are hard to imagine with anyone else.

So, you may be drawn back to the abuser. You want to know what he’s doing. You might say that you are concerned for your safety or the safety of others, but that doesn’t really explain why you visit his Facebook page or talk with his friends. Nor does it explain why you are so angry that he/she has moved on.

I have heard stories of victims who stalk their narcissists. A grim obsession holds them so they scour social media for mentions of the one who hurt them. They want to know who he is with, what job she has, and where he lives. Some have found themselves driving by her house or his job, perhaps hoping to catch a glimpse. They might try to move on, but end up comparing other potential friends or heart connections against the narcissist.

It’s anger and fascination and pain wrapped into one. The relationship, the drama, is unresolved. No justice has wrapped things up. No last word or final act has brought closure. The raw wound still hurts.

And some of the memories are so good. Victims hate to admit it even to themselves, but the narcissist was exciting and stimulating. Maybe that was thirty years ago, but nothing has come along to replace those feelings.

It is not unusual to find yourself almost obsessed with your narcissist. The hooks narcissists use to insert themselves into our lives connect with sensitive areas. The sensations of pain and pleasure are not often far apart. The narcissist made it seem like he/she wanted to and was able to meet the needs of your heart.

So, here’s my advice:

Throw some cold water on your face and understand what is happening.

This is part of the narcissistic relationship, this connection that makes your heart feel like a yo-yo. No one should be surprised by this when they have learned about narcissism. Nor should it continue. It is not good for you.

Listen: the narcissist knows those hooks are still there. He would love to know that you visit his Facebook page to check on his relationships. He probably already does know that you have asked his friends about him. She may well have seen your car drive by her house. And she/he loves the idea that you are still connected.

When the narcissist makes arrangements to see you again, he expects that something in you will welcome him. She believes that you need her. The plan was to tie your identity, your sense of self, into the narcissist so that you will never challenge, never abandon, never fight back. You are supposed to want the narcissist for the rest of your life.

So, volunteer to be your friend’s “ice bucket” victim. Shock yourself back to reality. If you want to leave the narcissist behind, do it. Don’t stalk him. Don’t visit her Facebook or Instagram or whatever. Walk away and stay away.

Fill your life with something else. Just like any addiction, the thrills provided will be hard to find anywhere else. But life is more than thrills and excitement and stimulation. There is also happiness and love, which will bring fulfillment never found in the addiction. There is a good life after the addiction.

Talk with Jesus. Ask Him to fill the emptiness that pulls you back to the one who hurt you. Ask Him to fill you with His love. Ask Him to remove the hooks, the needles that got under your skin. Ask Him to help you move on.

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