What Does it Mean to Walk with Jesus?

It’s Monday Grace!

You don’t have to go very far back in your ancestry to realize that most people throughout history walked wherever they needed to go. There are great migrations of people that changed history, and almost all of those folks walked. If your ancestors are European, you might be surprised at how often and how far they moved within just a few generations.

Walking was just the normal mode of transportation. Yes, many traveled by boat, but that cost money. Some had horses or donkeys, but not many. In Bible times, people walked. At least three times a year, the Jewish men who lived in Galilee in the time of Jesus were required to attend the feasts in Jerusalem. From Galilee to Jerusalem was roughly 100 miles and took about thirty hours at a good pace. So, two to three days of steady walking. One way. Three times a year.

When Jesus gathered his disciples, the twelve and several others traveled with Him to several places in Israel. There may have been twenty in the group that walked with Jesus, men and women. They ate together, walked together, and spent almost all their time together.

So, these folks who walked with Jesus got to know Him. They saw Him in a variety of circumstances and with a variety of people. We have only a few of the hundreds of stories that could have been told about Jesus connecting with people along the way. We have only snippets of the teaching He must have given to them. John, who walked with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry, wrote:

And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.
John 21:25

In other words, they learned a lot and experienced a lot. Just by spending time with Jesus.

Now, when you walk as a group you don’t always get exclusive attention from the leader. He interacts with the rest of the group. But you can watch and listen. You can learn as much from indirect communication. Just being with Jesus is learning and growing.

So, walking with Jesus is being aware of His constant presence. Seeing Him at work in your life and in the lives of others is learning of Him. When you see things happen that surprise you or bless you or teach you, consider that to be the hand of Jesus in your life. When others tell their stories, listen for the touch of Jesus.

Of course, walking with Jesus is full-time. We don’t say that we walk with Jesus every weekend or that we can’t walk with Him at work. The idea of walking with Him is every day living. At home, at work, at school, at church, on vacation, in the store—it’s all the same. Jesus is there with us.

Nor it is just being convinced of His presence. Believing that Jesus is omnipresent is not the same as walking with Him. I can imagine that there were many who made the trip from Galilee to Jerusalem to attend the feasts. Maybe hundreds walked the path at the same time. Not all of them walked with Jesus, even though Jesus was somewhere present.

No, those who walk with Jesus know they are walking with Him. They listen to Him and watch Him. They look for His activity, His grace.

One more thing: walking with Jesus is more important than the purpose of the trip. In other words, some of those who walked with Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem at feast time didn’t have to go. Women were not required to attend any of the feasts except maybe Passover. But they traveled with Jesus to be with Him. It didn’t matter where He was going, the point was to be with Him.

In the same way, the true purpose of the Christian life is to be with Jesus. That’s our goal at the end, and it’s our goal for today. We can trust Him to lead us into the places He wants us to be. We can trust Him to guide us to do the things He wants us to do. We will miss nothing important in life as we walk with Jesus.

Years ago I heard a saying about a person: “He was so heavenly-minded that he was no earthly good.” No, that’s not possible. Those who walk with Jesus see others around them because He sees others. They learn to love others because He loves others. They serve and care and work and love because Jesus does these things. Jesus is active in our world, and so are those who walk with Him.

Walking with Jesus is how we live the Christian life. It is daily and normal. Together with the Lord who loves us, we walk through life. Never alone.

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Be Content with Yourself

It’s Narcissist Friday!

If you are old enough to remember the television show, “Happy Days,” you will remember Fonzie as he went to comb his hair. He looked in the mirror and saw nothing wrong! Nothing needed to change, nothing could be better.

Most of us don’t look in the mirror with contentment. We look for imperfections and find them. Some of us are ashamed of what we see in the mirror. Even when all the fixing is done, we sigh and walk away defeated. So much change is needed.

We were taught that it was sin to look on ourselves with approval. After all, we are dirty rotten sinners always falling short of God’s expectations. The disdain we see in the eyes of others is just a reflection of the way He looks at us. Or so they said. So, we learned always to find fault with our performance and appearance and reason and more.

And we learned to apologize for our inadequacies. What better way to drive the point deep into our subconscious than to make us apologize for never being good enough? We believed the negative assessment about ourselves. After all, it came from everywhere. The world, the church, our families, our friends, the school, and on and on. We got the message.

These feelings of inferiority, what we see as our failures and weaknesses, give an opening to those who would hurt us. There are people who push us toward those feelings, then pretend to offer something better. Narcissists and other abusers tell us of our inadequacies so they can show us how good they are to allow us into their lives. They cultivate that feeling of inferiority in us. They put us down to lift themselves up. But they offer nothing to us except bondage. When we look to them to make us feel better about ourselves, we give them power over us.

But here’s the real story. It’s in two parts.

First, you are complex beyond understanding. Not even you can handle all the intricacies of you. No definition could describe you in all your aspects. So, if you are looking to find fault with yourself, you will always find it. The short time of your life is not enough to fix everything.

And you don’t even know what should be fixed. Body images change as culture changes. The “perfect” body is redefined almost as fast as clothing fashions. Skills that once lifted people to high ranks are dropped as new technologies come in. All abilities and characteristics are affected by what the culture desires and how the culture moves. Young people lament what older people wish they still had.

Second, the complexity of each person and the differences between people are witness to the amazing creativity of God. To make this even more amazing, God has built growth into our being. Not only are we “wonderfully made,” as the Scripture says, but we are not what we were nor what we will be. We are constantly changing. This means that change is not only possible, but inevitable. God’s creativity in you is dynamic.

Of course, there are things we would like to change in our lives. There are some things we really should change. We can make good changes in us. Stop abusing yourself. Stop yielding to addictive behaviors. Take care of yourself. But understand that this process of growth never ends.

Here’s the lesson: When you look in the mirror, you are seeing someone loved by God, designed by God, blessed by God. You are seeing someone who is wonderfully made and kept. You are seeing someone who is changing constantly. Give thanks for the person you see.

The Serenity Prayer has been an encouragement to so many.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Participate in the change God brings to your life. Allow His creativity to be a blessing for you. Trust in the guiding hand of the loving God.

And when you look in the mirror, be at peace. No one is like you. You are growing and changing and God is in the process. Be content with who you are in Him and where you are on the path. When you are content with yourself, you give no opening to the abusers.

Never tell yourself that you are ugly or stupid or any other negative thing. That’s not true, but it will bring poison to your heart. Instead, speak the truth to yourself in love. Tell that person in the mirror that he/she is loved and valued and welcomed in the heart of God. Give praise to the Lord for what you see. Thank Him for the changes He is making in you. And be content.

 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.
Psalm 139:14

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What Does it Mean that God Gives Grace?

It’s Monday Grace!

Way back in the beginning of this ministry, I wanted to provide a definition of grace. Of course, the term has been a part of the church discussion from ancient times and there are many books written on it. So, I did my own Bible study and read a lot of good theology.


When it all came together, I had a very simple definition that could be stretched to as much detail as I wanted. Here you go:


Grace is what God does. The activity of God is all grace.


If I need to add something to that, I would add two words: for us.


Grace is what God does for us. The activity of God for us.


Sometimes I say it this way:


Grace is the activity of God’s love.


Now, I know this is simple. I’m a simple guy. I think simple is best. No matter how smart you think you are or what vocabulary you have or what level of education or experience you have reached, the gospel message is meant to be simple. Grace is simple.


But it doesn’t seem so simple, does it? It can’t be. How could so many people misunderstand grace if it is so simple? Why would people talk about too much focus on grace if grace is what God does? How could there be so much disagreement about something so straightforward? Who could disagree with the “activity of God’s love”?


Perhaps those who want to depend on their own efforts would find it hard to trust that God’s activity would be enough. Perhaps those who want to add their works or merit to what God does would not think that grace was enough. Perhaps those who look at others with judgment and condemnation would decide that the love of God is not enough.


From the beginning, God wanted His people to know that the activity of His love for them would always be enough. Adam and Eve had everything in the Garden. Everything God wanted them to have was freely given to them. They didn’t have to work for the things they needed. Think about that. They may have worked, but just for the joy and fun of it. Perhaps it was an amazing thing for Adam to plant seeds and watch the process of growth. Perhaps they worked with the animals and learned something of the creativity and compassion of God. Work was not about acceptance or necessity.


Even after they sinned, God provided for them. Things changed, but God still wanted to take care of them. If they continued to walk with Him, He would give them what they needed. He blessed their families. He saved them from the evil around them. He led them to a good land where He would bless them.


All God wanted was for them to look to Him and trust Him. When He brought Israel into the Promised Land, it was all supposed to be good. The land would produce easily for them. Enemies would be quickly subdued. They would have peace and prosperity. All God wanted was for them to let Him be their Lord.


But, the human heart compromised by sin developed its own wisdom and strength. It found ways to serve itself. People learned to trust in themselves, their armies, and their leaders. They even made their own gods, who would serve them the way the people wanted.


When they pushed God away, they also pushed away His grace, His activity on their behalf. They didn’t need it, they thought. They could do better. It was not enough for them. But they could find no peace without it. Apart from God’s grace, they struggled without satisfaction.


When Jesus came, He offered to reestablish our relationship with the Father. In Him, we are reconciled. Our sins are forgiven and we are restored to the place we should have apart from sin. In other words, God’s love acted to call us and save us.


So, when I say that God gives us grace, it includes everything He wants us to have. Knowing our weakness and our flesh, He offers to provide everything we need. Salvation is a gift from Him., an act purely of His grace. All we are asked to do is receive it. God gives us His grace for salvation.


What about everything else? Does God give us the grace to follow Him? Does He give us the grace to obey, to avoid sin, to look to the Spirit rather than the flesh? Think about it. We can’t do those things on our own, in our own strength and wisdom. So, God gives us everything we need, everything He wants us to have. Victory over sin, freedom from evil, new life and new joy—He gives us what He wants us to have.


Now, what about other things, the things we need in this life? That’s harder, but only because we are so used to striving for those things. Money, health, relationships, position, whatever it is that causes our concerns. We are told that we need to work harder. God will only help us up to a point, they say. But what if God’s grace is sufficient in everything, even the temporary things of this life?


I believe God gives grace for all our needs. He gave the most practical things in the Garden. He promised to provide for daily life in the Promised Land. In Heaven all our blessings will come from His hand. And He wants us to look to Him for everything today.


Even the trust. If you have trouble trusting Him, ask Him for the trust. If you have trouble believing Him, ask Him for the faith. Look to Him for everything. Then watch to see what He does.


So, when we say that God gives grace, we mean that God is active in our lives giving us whatever we need. Whatever He wants us to have, He gives us. That’s good news!

 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

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Love Yourself

It’s Narcissist Friday!

“Narcissist love themselves. Don’t be like them.”

We get that message from people who understand neither narcissism nor the Good News. They say that narcissists love themselves too much, so much that they can’t see others. They also say that the Bible teaches us not to love ourselves. That would be the sin of pride, they say. Humility is putting others first, they say.

Well, that’s a lot to unpack. First, let’s talk about the narcissist. The narcissist works hard to get you to love him. Why? Because he doesn’t love himself. Only when you love him (which means to serve and honor him) will he begin to feel something like love. Even then, he doesn’t believe it and can’t receive it. That’s why he has to work so hard.

Think of it this way. We were made to live in community with others. Others have a strong influence in our lives. We learn about ourselves as we interact with others. What others like, we want to like. What others dislike, we want to dislike. We want to fit in with the group, because we get our identity from the group.

If others don’t love you, it is easy to you to accept that you are unlovable. You can’t even love yourself if you are unlovable. The more you are pushed away by others, the more you accept their judgment against you. This is how the narcissist grew up. They focused on the unlove, the rejection and criticism and abandonment, from others and believed themselves to be unworthy of love. Instead of slinking under a rock in depression, the narcissist learned that he could get something like love from attention and loyalty. When others looked up to him, praised him, it felt like love. Believing himself to be unlovable, the narcissist learned to cultivate the adoration of the people around him. Those who would not adore him, or who came to know him too well, he would find ways to control so they would serve and honor him anyway.

And who would the narcissist find to give him what he wants? People who needed love. People who also thought of themselves as unlovable. The narcissist learned to shower attention and kindness on someone who needed to feel loved but expected that investment to be repaid through adoration and service. Many victims of narcissistic abuse have also suffered from rejection and criticism. They try harder to be accepted and sometimes compromise normal boundaries to gain good feeling about themselves.

So, I would have you love yourself. Yes, it is good for you to love yourself. The Bible never tells you to hate yourself. In fact, the people of the Lord should accept the fact that they are lovable simply because He loves them.

When Jesus taught the two great commandments, the first was to love God. It is easy to love God when you accept that He loves you. The second commandment, Jesus said, is like the first.

And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Matthew 22:39

Notice that it does not say that you are to love others “instead” of yourself. Nor does it say that you are to love others “more” than yourself. It says we are to love others in the same way we love ourselves. You can’t love others if you don’t love yourself.

When you believe that God loves you, that He loves you so much He was willing to sacrifice and suffer for a relationship with you, then you must see yourself as lovable. When you realize (and this comes as your relationship with Jesus grows) that God loves others, then you can see others as lovable. In other words, only when you accept that God’s love is the defining love can you relax and see that you and others are to be loved.

So, love yourself. Accept that you are lovable. No matter what message you get from others (who are also struggling with this), know that you are loved and therefore lovable. Then, look at yourself with love. Value yourself. Don’t let others use you or abuse you. Love yourself enough to push away those who see you only as a way to make themselves feel good. Love yourself enough to speak up or to walk away when others use you or abuse you. Love yourself enough to look to good things for yourself. And good relationships.

You should be with people who lift you up. You should minister to people who need lifting up. You should not welcome into your life people who push you down in order to lift themselves up. You are worth more than that. You are greatly loved by the One whose love defines love.

Don’t call yourself bad names. Don’t think evil of yourself. Treat yourself like someone you deeply love. Don’t accept the unlove that comes from others. Say to yourself things you would want to say to someone you love.

Read 1 John 4 7-21. Yes, it calls you to love others, but it also shows you how God loves you. You can only love others when you believe that you are also loved. Love yourself.

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1 John 4:7-11

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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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