Restoring Guidance

It’s Monday Grace!

“The legalist never gets lost because everyone tells him where to go.”

One of the more common concerns for those who leave a legalistic or performance-based church is how to get the guidance needed for daily living. Our lives are filled with questions and choices. What job should I seek? Who should I marry? What should we name our children, and how should we raise them? What doctrines should I believe? The legalist church, of course, has all the answers. If the specific answer is not easily provided, the questioner will be told to search the Scriptures for answers.

The young man went to the pastor to find out who he should marry. The preacher told him to look in his Bible. So, the young man went home and, in frustration, tossed his Bible on his bed. When he looked down at the Bible, he read, “And you will have joy and gladness,” from Luke 1:14. There was a girl named Joy in his church, so the young man knew he had a word from the Lord. The next Sunday, he went over to Joy’s father and told him that the Lord had told him to marry Joy. The father liked the young man and went to Joy with the news. In a few months, the two young people were married.

Now, I know that story will trigger some of you (and maybe it should), but that’s just the kind of story we used to hear from the legalist church and organization. God gave the perfect direction. The same kind of direction would be given to those who needed to find a job or buy a house. It would even work for choosing the color of car you buy or the style of suit or dress you wear.

Maybe you can write the rest of the story for that young couple. Sometimes those situations worked. I am not going to limit the way God can speak to a young couple. But I also know that the neat and tidy answers legalists seek are often manufactured by the hearts of those who seek them. In other words, the flesh offers a solution to the problem and legalism puts a spiritual twist on it.

Sometimes it isn’t even your flesh, but the teacher’s flesh. If your pastor or parent or teacher is deeply committed to certain perspectives, he/she will probably expect those things to apply to you. For example, one teacher heard a police officer say that many young people who get into trouble drive red cars. So, he associated red cars with rebellion. Therefore, no believer should buy a red car. Yes, it sometimes is just that ridiculous.

But what do you do when you don’t have the legalist preacher or system to tell you how to think and act? Where do you get your guidance? How do you make those big and small decisions under grace? Without the handy proof texts and the special wisdom of the teacher and his/her followers, where do you get your answers?

“I know, Pastor, you’ll just say to follow Jesus.”

Yup, Johnny One-Note here.

Believe two things. First, Jesus is a real person. Second, so are you.

What that means is that you can go to Jesus with your questions and trust that He will guide you. Because He is not a machine or a system, He may lead you in different ways. Ask your question and trust that He will give you the answer when you are ready to receive it.

It also means that your answer can be different from the answer He gives others. One of the serious flaws in legalism is the idea that everyone should do the same thing or go through the same process. But God sees each of us as individuals and deals with us as individuals. You are a real person, and your needs and thought processes are different from others. Legalism wants to push people into the same molds. God doesn’t do that.

So, what does guidance look like under grace? I think it looks a lot like asking and listening. When you come to Jesus with your question, yield the answer to Him. Don’t have an investment in a certain answer or, at least, be willing to give up that investment. He knows the longing or the fear or the need in your heart. Trust Him to give the best answer, even if it is one you didn’t think you would like or one you hadn’t thought of. He is a real person who loves you. And He is wiser than you. Trust Him.

I think a believer can begin to live this way. We can yield our lives to Jesus in such a way that we walk without worry or frustration. If something pops up for you to buy or an opportunity for a connection arises, you can look to Jesus and trust that He will lead you in real time. In other words, you might find that decision-making becomes much easier when you no longer have to invest yourself or try to perform to a certain spiritual level.

And, when you have to wait for an answer, it might come through the Bible or through another person or even through your own heart. Under grace we can learn to trust our hearts as we yield to Him. It isn’t wrong to seek an answer in the Bible, as long as you don’t twist the words to apply to your situation or desires. It isn’t wrong to ask for wisdom from someone else, particularly if that person is walking with Jesus. Nor is it wrong to lift your question to Jesus and listen for His voice in your heart.

I suppose I have to say that, of course, you shouldn’t ask permission or guidance for something you know is sin. Sin is still out there, and it still hurts people. Should I walk over and beat my neighbor’s barking dog? You know, I really don’t have to ask Jesus that question. And, in fact, there are many questions that I don’t have to ask. I already know the answer. If you already know the answer, you already have your guidance.

I believe grace is practical at fundamental levels. If our lives consist of walking with Jesus, then everything becomes part of that walk. The more we walk with Him and listen to Him, the more our lives will be filled with His wisdom and blessings.

********

It’s ready!  Listed on Amazon!

Those who read here know that I believe the greatest expression of God’s grace is found in Jesus.  So, when Jesus taught the people, what do you suppose He wanted them to understand?  He wanted them to know the power and the desire of the love of God for them.  His message was not about what they should do for God, but what God had done and was willing to do for them.  His offer of salvation and Heaven could be summarized in two words: “Follow Me!”

The Sermon on the Mount is an amazing message of God’s practical grace for the lives of His people.  It presents an offer, a free gift, of everything God wants His people to have.  It all is found in Jesus.

This is a big book, over 450 pages, all for the purpose of showing that the Sermon on the Mount was a message of love.  Rather than a list of new rules given by Jesus, the Sermon reveals the heart of God. 

This is not a Bible commentary.  It is written in the same conversational style you know from this blog.  The theology may be deep, but the reading is straightforward and simple.  I believe you will enjoy this book!

Listen: get the ebook if you have a Kindle.  It’s only $10.  My guess is that this is the best $10 book you will get for your Kindle.  If you don’t have a Kindle, you should be able to read it on any computer or tablet or even phone with the Kindle app.  And, if it doesn’t work for you, just send it back!

The book is a chunk, but the print is clear and large enough to enjoy.  The cover photo is one I took from a boat on the Sea of Galilee to show the approximate place the Sermon was delivered. 

And let me know what you think!  Leave a review for others.  Reviews are important for Amazon sales.  Send me a note with your thoughts or questions.  You know how to reach me. 

While you are on Amazon, type in my name to see the other books I have listed.  You might be surprised!

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Dragon Oppression

It’s Narcissist Friday!

The new land seems so bright and positive and filled with potential. But there is a nagging doubt in the back of your mind. In fact, it’s more than doubt. There is a hint of despair. None of this is real. You don’t deserve to be happy or successful. Something bad will come along to ruin everything. You feel like something is wrong inside you.

The Peanuts gang had poor Pigpen, who seemed to attract all the dirt to himself. The Pooh gang had Eeyore, who never expected anything good in life. They feel like kindred spirits as you walk in this new land. You should be happy, but…

Anyone who has come out of a narcissistic relationship should be aware of depression. It’s real, and it can be heavy. Like dark clouds that surround you on a sunny day, depression does not reflect what is happening in your life. You watch others having a great time, but you just can’t feel it. You know your situation has changed for the better, but the negative just hangs around. Depression is real.

There may be many kinds of depression, but it helps us just to look at two categories. The first is chemical and physical. If you lay awake at night, gain a lot of weight, or feel like you would be better off dead, PLEASE GO TO YOUR DOCTOR. If your doctor tells you not to worry and that you are fine, go to a different doctor. Many physical problems can manifest in depression, such as thyroid, diabetes, or lupus. These can be treated. Depression itself can have hormonal or other physical causes for which there are medications to help. If no one is telling you to get some medical advice, but you feel terrible, find a good doctor. If people are telling you to get some medical advice, find a good doctor. Find one who takes you seriously. Certainly not all depression is chemical or physical, but some is, and you owe it to yourself to look into it.

The second kind of depression experienced after a narcissistic relationship I will call “dragon oppression.” It’s a combination of self-doubt, confusion, and exhaustion. Add to that some fear, some regret, and some shame. An overwhelming sense of loss. A sadness that sits on your chest.

All of these feelings are normal after such a draining relationship. The dragon’s oppression is revealed when you begin to think there is something wrong with you. That’s what the dragon has told you, maybe all your life. No one knows why Eeyore is so gloomy or why Pigpen seems to attract dirt. They just do. It’s their nature. That’s a lie from the dragon.

Just because you have suffered does not mean there is something wrong with you. An abuser used you. You were betrayed and deceived. You were manipulated and controlled. How are you supposed to feel? And, frankly, anyone would find what you went through to be exhausting.

In my experience a good amount of depression (with a small “d”) comes out of simple exhaustion. Few people realize what the victim of a narcissist has suffered for so long. The explosion (or whimper) at the end of the relationship is just the breaking point. Some have battled for many years. You have a right to be tired.

But the dragon says it is your fault. You are stupid. You are ugly. You are foolish. You are bad. You may have heard this all your life. And you may have believed it all your life. And the dragon used it to manipulate you and hurt you.

Tell yourself the truth. Tell yourself that the dragon is a liar. Your confusion is his fault. Your sadness is normal after your loss. Your weakness and exhaustion are to be expected after what you went through. Don’t believe the clouds you see, look for the sunshine.

I take depression seriously. It is not simply a matter of using better self-talk, but do it anyway. It will be a step out of the gloom. Find someone you can trust to listen and care. Be careful of people who dismiss depression or suggest that you just need to “buck up.” Ask Jesus to help you find that person and protect you in the process. Then believe good about yourself. You can start again. You are worthy of success. You can have a great future. These things are not only true, they are words from the Lord.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jer. 29:11

The dragon wins by lying. He has no more power over you. Once you call him a liar and refuse to agree with his words, no matter how long ago you started hearing them or how deeply they are implanted in your wounds, his voice will weaken and the oppression will begin to lift. Trust in the amazing love Jesus has for you and find your joy in Him.

********

It’s ready!  Listed on Amazon!

Those who read here know that I believe the greatest expression of God’s grace is found in Jesus.  So, when Jesus taught the people, what do you suppose He wanted them to understand?  He wanted them to know the power and the desire of the love of God for them.  His message was not about what they should do for God, but what God had done and was willing to do for them.  His offer of salvation and Heaven could be summarized in two words: “Follow Me!”

The Sermon on the Mount is an amazing message of God’s practical grace for the lives of His people.  It presents an offer, a free gift, of everything God wants His people to have.  It all is found in Jesus.

This is a big book, over 450 pages, all for the purpose of showing that the Sermon on the Mount was a message of love.  Rather than a list of new rules given by Jesus, the Sermon reveals the heart of God. 

This is not a Bible commentary.  It is written in the same conversational style you know from this blog.  The theology may be deep, but the reading is straightforward and simple.  I believe you will enjoy this book!

Listen: get the ebook if you have a Kindle.  It’s only $10.  My guess is that this is the best $10 book you will get for your Kindle.  If you don’t have a Kindle, you should be able to read it on any computer or tablet or even phone with the Kindle app.  And, if it doesn’t work for you, just send it back!

The book is a chunk, but the print is clear and large enough to enjoy.  The cover photo is one I took from a boat on the Sea of Galilee several years ago to show the approximate place the Sermon was delivered. 

And let me know what you think!  Leave a review for others.  Reviews are important for Amazon sales.  Send me a note with your thoughts or questions.  You know how to reach me. 

While you are on Amazon, type in my name to see the other books I have listed.  You might be surprised!

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Restoring Freedom Pt 2

It’s Monday Grace!

Have you ever felt free in your relationship with Jesus?

Jesus said that He came to set us free. In John 8, Jesus spoke to the crowd and told them that the truth would set them free. In fact, they would experience the ultimate freedom.

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.
John 8:36

They didn’t understand. They had never been slaves, they said. But they were in bondage.

They were in bondage to sin, of course. Before the cross, sin held power over the Jews and the Gentiles, just as it does over the lost today. It was the power of the cross that set people free from sin.

They were also in bondage to the law and teaching of the Pharisees. The rules bound them to performance but offered no hope, no freedom. The best they could hope for was that God would not be angry with them if they did their best. That gave the Pharisees the opening to tell them what their best would look like.

Legalism is a system of bondage. Do this. Don’t do that. Keep the rules. And just in case someone actually does well in keeping the rules, the legalists will make up more or hide some so that you continue to fail. Under legalism, under the law, you will never know freedom.

Probably the most consistent charge against the teaching of grace is that it opens the door to sin. The legalist says that our message tells people they are free to sin. The legalist wants to bind people against sin. If they have enough rules, enough chains, they will stop sinning. That’s what the legalist thinks.

But when have rules stopped people from sinning? Think about that. Rules don’t stop anyone from doing something wrong. From murder to adultery to shoplifting to cursing, rules do nothing to stop sin.

What stops people from sinning? Consequences and knowledge. If you obey the speed limit signs, it is probably not because of the sign. It’s because of the fear of getting a speeding ticket. Some people accept some speed limit signs as warnings of real danger. The sign in the school zone is to protect kids. But even that is about consequences. I don’t want a child to suffer or die because of my need for speed. There are consequences for breaking the rules.

Now, I am free to sin, and so are you. Whether we are under law or grace, we are the ones who choose how fast we drive or whether we steal. There is a great deal of sin among the legalists. There is also sin among the grace folks. We are all free to sin. No lightning strikes the sinner. No angel steps in to force us away from sin. You and I sin freely.

So, what did Jesus accomplish for us in regards to sin? Two things. First, Jesus took away the eternal consequences for sin. Sin no longer separates us from the Lord who loves us. Sin cannot overcome what Jesus did for us. Sin, either in the past or tomorrow, cannot define our future. Heaven is ours, forgiveness has been applied, and we are free from the stain that marked us. We have been washed clean.

The second thing is just as amazing. Jesus took away the power of sin over us. Not only did sin mark us as belonging to evil, it somehow controlled our thinking. We had no alternative. We grew up with sinful parents, in a sinful culture, and as sinners. We were part of the darkness. But Jesus set us free. He broke the chains of sin by the power of the cross!

What that means is that we don’t have to sin. Think about that. Because the Spirit is in me, my thinking is changing. I don’t have to sin. And my heart has been changed. I no longer want sin like I used to. The draw of sin is less. It still pulls at my flesh, but I don’t have to obey my flesh. I understand sin, even my sin, more. That’s new, and it’s from Jesus.

Our freedom does not come from the ability to sin without eternal consequences. The temporal consequences of sin are still just as real. Our freedom is in the wisdom and love of the Lord who walks with us. We are free when we belong to Him. It isn’t just the consequences and our thinking that have changed. We have changed.

You see, freedom isn’t about what we do. It’s about who we are. I am separate forever from the bondage of sin. That’s who I am now because of Jesus. There may be earthly consequences for my sin (that’s why the Spirit warns me against it) but I will never again be defined by it. Nor do I have to do it. I have the power from my Lord to say no to sin. I have a new mind and heart. My flesh, which is forever of this world, is still drawn by the old habits and values, but the Spirit in me offers new motivation and promise.

To answer the legalist: Are we free to sin under grace? Of course, just like we were under law. But now, in Jesus and under grace, we are free from the definition and control of sin. That’s new, and that’s real freedom.

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Dragon Hunters Society

It’s Narcissist Friday!

You have been on your new journey for a while. Along the way you have met both friends and users. You have learned to be careful. But the call of a support group is strong. When you learn of the Dragon Hunters Society, you are cautious, but excited. The thought of connecting with those who hunt the dragons taps into your heart needs.

I started writing about narcissism over ten years ago. At that time, people were learning the concept. There were several good books explaining it, and the subject was not new, but the term was not popular. In the last ten years the discussion of narcissism has exploded. Two noticeable things have happened. First, as the subject of narcissism has popularized, it has also become mostly benign. By that I mean it has lost its punch. Everyone is a narcissist, they say. Narcissism can be good, they say. The discussion has gone from the personal abuse of the victim to the role of the narcissist in society. In other words, the victim is increasingly forgotten.

The second thing that has happened is that victims have unionized. The internet has allowed victims to find comrades and leaders who offer much needed support. Larger communities even have in-person groups.

Now, before I go further, I want to make it clear that a great many people have found real help and encouragement from some of these groups. There are some that are practical, honest, and sincerely caring. Don’t be afraid to check them out. Just be careful.

You see, there are group dynamics that go beyond friendship and support. Groups can be places for leaders to shine. As they write and counsel, they become celebrities of a sort. They develop a spotlight that others want. I have watched as these support groups divide because of leadership struggles. Sometimes there is money involved, but popularity and control are more likely to be the desired benefits for leaders. (And who can you think of that desires popularity and control?)

Sadly, groups that provide visibility and popularity can draw leaders and members who are phony. They may be there for the thrill of the “likes,” as Facebook has taught us. Some groups have opened the door to even more abuse for those who seek comfort. The internet may offer distance and safety, but there have been support groups that allow dating connections between members and give advice that does not help. In-person groups have always had the risk of leaders who abuse their positions. Sometimes (too often) leaders bring only their narrow opinions and don’t listen to others. They become part of the problem. Joining a group without clear boundaries and cautions can be dangerous, and the group should support your boundaries and honor your cautions.

Lately, some of the groups have become political platforms for the leaders. Again, I understand. But the problems of transference and scorching slip so easily into politics. Those who associate one political position or party with the old life sometimes are so antagonistic that they want to “guide” others who just want to be loved. Leaders have power over the thinking of their followers and must be careful not to misuse it.

Groups have a tendency to slip to the lower characteristics of members and leaders. I have been concerned about the bitterness and anger that has become almost the identity of some of the groups. Yes, anger is part of the narcissistic experience. We all understand that and accept it. But a group should seek to help people overcome bitterness. Leaders should have (for the most part) dealt with their own anger. Otherwise, the dangers of hatred and anger continue to be stirred up in hearts that need to heal.

Those words make me nervous. I can hear the objections. I understand and accept the objections. But I have seen women write comments about their desire to forgive their narcissist only to have group members berate them and accuse them of stupidity. When leaders allow anger to rule the group, that group is no longer beneficial. (And watch what happens when a man comments. No matter what abuse he has suffered, he is often made to feel that he was the problem.) And a group that becomes political on one side of the aisle is really no different than the church or organization that became political on the other side.

I know groups that don’t have these problems. Some leaders are honest when they encounter their own triggers and are quick to admit that in the group. Some have no desire except to help and encourage. So, please don’t think that I am trying to disparage all of these groups. I am simply saying to be careful.

Hunting dragons is not a positive vocation. Seeking the narcissists and abusers under every rock should not be anyone’s goal. Instead, the support of a good group should help victims learn ways to find identity, establish boundaries, and enjoy life again. In other words, move past the dragons.

Life is not about dragons. If your life becomes consumed with hunting or defeating dragons, the dragon wins again.

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Restoring Freedom Pt 1

It’s Monday Grace!

Get ready for a rant!

I am upset. Actually, I am upset with what I am seeing in myself. I have seen it so often in others and hated it. Now I see it in me, and I still hate it.

Where I live, all businesses are required to ask their customers to wear masks. All government offices, all gathering places, all businesses. Pretty much everywhere. So far we don’t have to wear them outside, but some communities are even requiring that.

Never mind the wide discussion surrounding effectiveness, either for myself or for others around me. Never mind what I think about the masks. Never mind how uncomfortable they are. Never mind the concerns about lack of oxygen or trapping exhaled toxins so they can be inhaled again. All that matters is that there is a rule.

Now, that doesn’t upset me. It concerns me, and I have my opinions on whether the requirement is a good idea. But, I can obey a rule—even one I don’t like. I don’t have a job where I have to wear a mask throughout the day, like so many people do. Basically, in this whole masking scene, I have it pretty easy.

No, what upsets me is what I feel when I see someone who isn’t wearing a mask. I find myself offended. I want to chastise that person. I want to report them to someone. Scold them; punish them; force them to follow the rule. And, frankly, I hate that feeling in me.

You see, I all too easily slip into the role of a moralist. I want others to do what I have to do, even though I don’t really want to do it. If I have to follow the rule, so should others. Right?

A moralist is a legalist without the religion. Outside the church, people who expect others to obey rules and feel anger when they don’t are called moralists. Inside the church, those who think that following the rules should be required of everyone who expects to be considered saved or spiritual are called legalists.

And I find those moralist feelings in myself when I go to the grocery or the post office. People who don’t wear masks offend me.

Oh, I know the arguments. I know why we are supposed to wear the masks. They are to protect others. Others may be more susceptible and more at risk from the virus. Even if my mask does nothing to protect me, it might offer a small protection for you if I have the virus. I understand that. And that goes through my mind when I see young people who care nothing about my health when they refuse to wear a mask.

The legalist always has reasons for his rules. He can argue about the effect of breaking the rules, even if he secretly wants to break them himself. He can tell you why you should be following the rules, and it doesn’t matter if he agrees with the reasoning. As long as he is stuck with this obedience, you should be.

For many years I worked with legalists who were angry. They judged others and wanted punishment for those who failed to live up to their standards. At the same time, they complained about the burden of the rules. They believed they should get some special blessing for their suffering. They expected to be honored for the obedience they didn’t even want to do. They often told me how good they were, especially when compared to others. But they were always angry.

I didn’t expect to feel that way myself, but the anger is right there on the surface. It is easy to judge those who don’t keep a rule you hate having to keep. The masks are uncomfortable, and I am not very convinced of their helpfulness. I don’t want to wear a mask in the grocery, but, if I have to, I expect you to wear one.

So, under grace, how do I handle this? First, I reject the anger and judgment that goes through my heart. I understand it as a manifestation of my flesh. Call it jealousy or superiority or whatever. And I don’t want to follow even the feelings of my flesh. So I pray against those feelings.

Second, I wear the mask for right reasons. Those in authority have made it a health rule. If there is a small chance that wearing a mask will help someone who is more vulnerable than I am, I can do that. And, those poor store clerks have enough to deal with. They shouldn’t have to argue with people about wearing a mask. If I don’t feel like wearing the mask, I just won’t go into their store. But if I go into the store, I won’t cause them grief. I’ll wear my mask.

Third, I will attempt to understand the changes in our culture. Wearing a mask on an airplane doesn’t seem like a bad idea after you have sat next to a sick person. In some countries it is considered rude and uncaring not to wear a mask when you have even the beginning of a cold or respiratory issue. We see so many people through our days. Maybe things are changing.

Finally, I will not judge those who don’t wear masks. Instead, I will set my mind on Jesus and follow Him. He is my Master and Guide. What others do is not my concern. I trust that He will keep me safe. I trust that others have their own relationships with Him (or not). Their morality has little or nothing to do with me.

And, as I walk with Jesus, I will walk in peace. I will not allow the actions or attitudes of others to take away that peace. I am not going to pray for the offenders as though they were stupid or wicked or broken. I am just going to keep on my path and enjoy my walk with my Lord. I restore my freedom when I set others free from my judgment.

You see, grace allows me to look at the feelings of my own heart and understand them. I recognize what I am feeling and why. If I don’t like what I see in me, I know where to go. To Jesus. I am not in charge of others, nor do I set the rules. I just want to follow Jesus.

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Dragon Whispers

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Escaping from the dragon can be an exhausting ordeal. You enter the new territory drained, confused, and upset. Everything in your life seemed to revolve around the dragon. Now, you have a chance to breath again.

Shortly into your new journey, you meet someone walking your path. Almost immediately, you are impressed with his gentleness and kindness. He offers to help you as you learn about the new land. He listens to your story and sympathizes with your suffering. He says just the right things to make you feel good about yourself again. He also has suffered. It is good to have someone to walk with.

Until you discover that he is very much like the dragon you thought you left behind.

Through this short series of posts I often use the terms “dragon” and “narcissist” almost interchangeably. Dealing with a narcissist feels like fighting a dragon. You never knew when he/she was going to strike next. Sometimes the attacks were intense and personal. His/her presence loomed over almost every part of your life. It was easy to be confused and afraid.

But after you leave the narcissist, the dragon remains. The dragon doesn’t die or even sleep. You know this. There are dangers in this new life you are entering. Even though you feel used up, weary from the battle, you cannot afford to let your guard down.

But you want to. You want to trust someone. You want a friend. You want someone who will support you, listen to you, walk with you. So, when the new charmer comes to you, the praise and kindness feels good. You want to rest in the relationship.

When it happens to you again, you blame yourself for being gullible. You shame yourself for being stupid. How could you be deceived again?

To be gullible is to desire truth from a relationship. In other words, you want to trust the person. You accept the lie in order to continue or enhance the relationship. To question a person’s honesty is to doubt the person and threaten the relationship. Because you are naturally kind and welcoming, you expect that others are truthful.

But the dragon whispers sweet talk, words designed to touch your heart. The dragon knows that you are vulnerable. He knows what you want to see and hear.

It may not be another lover. Perhaps it is a friend, someone who senses your need to be valued. Maybe it will be a person with a “ministry” to help people like you. Sometimes the next narcissist you meet will not be overt, but a needy user we refer to as “covert.” That person will seem loving and helpful, but you will find yourself used again. The dragon whispers the right things to open your heart to the abuse again.

In our culture, people think of gullibility as being stupid. Fool me once, etc. But the only people who say that are those who don’t know the dragon. They may not have grown up in a family like yours or lived a marriage like yours. They don’t understand. Or they are already so bound to the dragon that they speak his whispers.

Listen: it isn’t your mind and thinking that has opened you again. It’s your heart. And that’s not a bad thing. You want to trust people. You want a good relationship. That’s who you are. It isn’t bad, but it explains why you get hurt.

So, pray for wisdom. Pray that your relationship with Jesus would be so fulfilling that you are not attracted to the dragon’s whispers. Pray that your heart needs are met by Jesus Himself. Then, when your mind and heart are clear, let Him lead you into a good relationship again.

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Restoring the Joy

It’s Monday Grace!

I remember a teacher who said that the real goal of the Christian should not be happiness but joy. Joy, he said, came to the believer despite the things going on in the world. There’s something to that, of course, but this teacher then proceeded to wipe away most of the happiness of the Christian life. People under this teaching often said things like, “I know it is God’s will for me if it makes me miserable.” “If I am unhappy in this life, I know I will be joyful in the next.” One man spoke truth from the heart when he said, “Every time I go to one of these conferences, I come away feeling worse.”

The idea of this teaching is that happiness is tied to the moment, to the circumstances. “Happenstance,” the teacher said, “is temporary. Joy is forever.” Suffering today leads to more joy tomorrow. He suggested that suffering was the primary condition of the Christian life. Unhappiness. Then, joy later.

Joy without happiness is like clouds without rain. What’s the point?

Oh, I know that joy can be something deeper than our circumstances. In the midst of trouble, even chronic and worrisome trouble, there can be joy in our hearts. To know the love of Jesus is to know joy.

But our joy is the source of our happiness. Even if happiness is tied to our circumstances (which it does not need to be) we can reach back to the joy in our hearts and find happiness again. We overcome the suffering when we remember our joy.

And someone says, “That’s nice. Not very realistic, but nice. I wish it were true.”

But you and I have seen the truth of this. We have known many people who have gone through very tough times, times that would challenge anyone’s happiness, and we have heard their words of joy and seen the smiles on their faces. They fight cancer, knowing that their battle may be futile, trudging through the indignities and pains of treatments, and they are gracious and positive and thankful to the people around them. They not only find happiness for themselves, but they have enough to share with others.

This is the legacy of grace. When I know that I have nothing to do to measure up to God’s standards, that Jesus has done it all, I can relax. The pain of the moment cannot deny or destroy the truth. I am deeply loved, fully accepted, and greatly blessed by Jesus.

I often tell my congregation that we have it made. Whatever happens in this cruel world, there is good for us in Jesus. This world is not our home. The things we gather and protect will all be left behind. The broken relationships with other believers will all be healed. Nothing, not even our own stupidity, can snatch us out of the hand of the Lord who loves us. And that makes all of us smile.

Let Jesus restore the joy of your heart with His grace. And let the joy of your heart restore your happiness in challenging times. The Christian life is not one of suffering (even though we may suffer), it is a life of joy.

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Dragon Desire

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Another part of the story of dragons is that they hoard gold. They love gold, but have no use for it other than to know they have it. The old image is that of the dragon sleeping on his great pile of gold. The dragon is jealous for all gold.

We have established by now that the dragon whispers lies and temptations into our hearts. In some ways, the narcissist is the dragon. Or, as I have sometimes said, the narcissist works for the dragon. The dragon and the narcissist are tied together. But the dragon also operates without your specific narcissist. In fact, the dragon tries to manipulate your thinking after the narcissistic relationship. The dragon is bigger than the narcissist and even more subtle.

No matter how the relationship ended, it hurts to see your ex with someone else. It is normal for a flare of jealousy to rise in your heart. They seem so happy together. He is doing things for her that he either never did for you or forgot a long time ago. She is enjoying what should be yours.

Even if you left the narcissist, it hurts to see him/her with someone else. In fact, even if there is no one else yet, it is upsetting to see him/her happy. It is not uncommon for the narcissist to connect with old friends, building on those relationships without you. Sometimes the narcissist connects with members of your family, apparently forgetting all the bad things he said about them before. So, the narcissist goes merrily on his way enjoying life, while you struggle with your emotions and with life in general.

And you are jealous. Yes, you are angry. It does seem unfair. But you are also jealous of the attention others are getting and the relationships that seem to have joy when you have pain. You even find it hard to be with others who are happy in their own relationships.

Now, I am “color challenged,” so I don’t really know much about this, but I understand that there is such a color as “Dragon Green.” Apparently the 2014 Chevrolet Sonic could come in that color. We often talk about “green-eyed envy” as a synonym for jealousy. When you are “green with envy,” you are in dragon territory.

Jealousy begins as a sense of injustice. You were wronged. You were passed over. You were hurt. It wasn’t right. But then jealousy twists toward desire. There is something you can’t have. Others have it, but you do not. You feel cheated somehow, like you should be able to have it. After all, those who have it are not better than you. The more you think about what you do not have, the more you want it. The more you want it, the more you will compromise to get it.

The narcissist begins the relationship with intense affection and involvement. He wants you to need him. When he is successful, he becomes critical and hurtful. You cannot leave because you are convinced that you need him. But then he leaves. You are angry, but you want him back. You blame the one he is with. She seduced him. She has taken what is yours. You forget all the pain you suffered in the relationship in your desire to get him back.

That might sound unbelievable to some readers, but others will know it as truth. That’s why they went back. That’s why they forgave all the cruelty. Their jealousy canceled all their cautions. They accepted the lies, ignored the betrayal, and pushed away the warnings of others.

Then it started all over again. Only this time it was worse.

When I hear someone say how angry they are about their narcissist’s new relationship, I know what’s happening. The dragon is using jealousy to twist the thinking of the victim. The narcissist might be doing it with the intention of getting the victim back. He doesn’t care about the new relationship. In fact, he might try to keep both. I have heard many stories of narcissists who return to the first victim for “a little love” while never intending to separate from the second victim.

Let him go. Let him be his version of happy. Be glad you are out. Moving on does not mean forgetting. It means remembering the pain so that you can avoid it in the future. Don’t let the dragon use jealousy to trap you again.

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Restoring Service

It’s Monday Grace!

I remember a story of a woman with a demanding and cruel husband. He made her life miserable with his expectations and criticisms. Each morning he would leave her a list of things he expected her to get done during the day. The list was designed so that she would have almost no free time.

Finally, her husband died and, after an appropriate time, the woman remarried. Her new husband loved her and treated her with kindness and respect. One day, while doing some sorting, the woman came across one of her first husband’s lists. It shocked her to realize that she was doing the same things for her new husband. Now she was doing them out of love, rather than duty or fear.

We hear a lot about all the money the church collects, but the truth is that most smaller churches struggle all the time. They can’t pay workers or even buy things to make life easier. They depend on volunteers for almost everything. And many of those volunteers carry heavy loads. With all the pressures to have multiple programs, growing buildings, and generous missions, these smaller churches often ask a lot from their people.

Now, if these churches lean toward legalism, as most do, the themes of duty and responsibility will be used as motivation. In other words, good Christians should be working in the church. Working outside the church is nice, but the real work of the Lord is done within, they say. Those who do not work, who don’t “serve” the Lord through the church, are just not as good as the others. And those who do work, even those who carry several loads, are only doing their Christian “duty.”

In this context, for so many people, the idea of Christian service became linked to manipulation and shame. People who should never have taught Sunday School, for example, were pushed to fill a slot and often did a terrible job. In fact, people were talked into or manipulated into lots of jobs. And they neither did well in the job nor enjoyed their service.

So, service became a bad word. Right up there with duty and responsibility. It was an unwelcome chore. In fact, it became a negative for many people. There could never be enough service to earn God’s acceptance or to satisfy the church’s desires. But most people knew that service wasn’t really about being acceptable to God. It was about being manipulated into doing work others decided was important.

Grace means following Jesus, not being led by the shame and manipulation of the church or church leaders or anyone else. And following Jesus is good. Those who love Jesus and accept His love for them live in a relationship where they want to do what He leads them to do.

You see, the work for our salvation has already been done. We don’t need to serve in order to measure up to salvation standards. Jesus did it all. Yet, the work of the gospel message is ongoing. There are people who have never heard the truth, never known of this love that means so much to us. And Jesus is actively pursuing them. As He works, He invites us to participate, to work beside Him. The labor and energy will come from Him. The results are in His hands. But the pleasure of His company is all ours.

When God’s people serve, it isn’t work! It isn’t a drag or a duty. It is sharing in the activity of our Lord. And we don’t have to worry about doing enough or even doing the right things. We just listen to Him and do what He says. When He moves in your heart to help someone with a need, He is allowing you to participate with Him in caring for that person. You shovel snow from the neighbor’s drive and sidewalk just because you want to bless your neighbor. No big deal, you think. But that’s service.

Service with the Lord is not discouraging, even though things might not turn out the way you hoped. Serving with the Lord is not draining, even though it might be hard work. Serving with the Lord is not complicated and hard to understand, even though it might be of great importance.

And notice that I wrote “serving with the Lord”? My advice, from now on, is that we never think of service as anything other than serving with the Lord. It isn’t doing something for Him, but with Him. His initiative, His energy, His resources, His results. He leads, and we follow.

As you walk with Jesus, look behind you to see what you have done with Him. You might be surprised.

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The Flame

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Dragons hate humans. According to most stories, humans have hunted them, misused them, stolen their gold, and chased them into caves and other hiding places. Usually, the story has a single dragon, the last of the species, with a tragic story and a “burning” anger.

Now, that might sound familiar. Narcissists see themselves as alone, misused, and misunderstood. Everyone is out to get what is rightfully theirs. They see their situation as defensive, simply working to get the troubling inferiors in line or out of the way.

Of course, the primary weapon of the dragon is almost always the same: the mouth that breathes fire. That fire burns houses, farms, trees, and families. It comes from the belly, and destroys whatever it touches.

And, again, we are reminded of the narcissist. The narcissist’s anger may smolder in the belly for a while, but when it erupts anyone and everything is burned. It may be violent and abusive actions: hitting, pushing, or worse. Or it may remain in words, cutting and criticizing until the victim is subdued. But it is destructive.

If you grew up in a narcissistic family, you may have learned how to use anger to manipulate people. You may not have learned how to control that anger, especially the smoldering passion in your heart. If you have been in a long-term narcissistic relationship, you may have picked up characteristics of anger from your narcissist. Often, anger works. It is intimidating to most people, and it feels good to have a release.

There’s more. You might have discovered your own anger. After years of narcissistic abuse, anger is a natural response. When you finally realize that this person loves no one, is not grateful for your sacrifice and love, and sees you as a tool to serve him/her, the long confusion and stress can solidify into serious anger. The rage that flames after you see what was done to you is normal.

I write fairly often about anger because I see it as a danger for most people. Those who read here know that I believe anger is normal and has a good place in our lives. I also believe it is a powerful force that is hard to control. It might take anger to get out of the abusive relationship. It might take anger to assert yourself and your needs when you finally step away. But after the narcissistic relationship, anger may cost you more than you expect.

You see, dragons have special features to handle the heat of their anger, and so do narcissists. Dragons have tough hide that cannot be burned. Narcissists have the ability to push away criticisms, project faults and weaknesses on others, and never believe any negative about themselves. Dragons don’t care about what burns around them. They have no sympathy for families, children, or nature. Narcissists, by definition, have no empathy. They can use your secrets to destroy you without a care. They can destroy a reputation, steal clients, and lie without hesitation.

But you. You probably don’t have these abilities. When your anger hurts someone, you have to withdraw or toughen yourself to cope. There is a gentleness in you that cares about others. That’s why the narcissist chose you. Anger can eat at your heart. Anger can damage good relationships in your life. Anger can hurt you.

Yes, I believe that anger is normal, but I do not believe the dragon’s definition and use of anger is right. Anger might move us to do the right thing, but it can also move us to do the wrong thing. The narcissist can handle anger because he/she doesn’t care. You care.

If you are angry, if the pain burns in your heart, go to Jesus. Let Him wash it away. Let Him comfort you and encourage you. He is gentle and doesn’t want you to hurt yourself or others. Let His peace fill your heart so that the anger has no place. Trust that He will deal with the narcissist. Trust that He will give you what you need. Trust in His love.

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