Category Archives: heart

Why oh why?

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

 

You sit in your chair staring at the television. It’s off. The room is dark because you don’t want to be in the light right now. No one is around and you are grateful. Your mind and heart are numb, yet racing with thought. Numb thought. That’s about right.

What you did was wrong. It was a foolish decision. Yet, you did it knowingly and willingly. You didn’t stop at the warnings, you just did it. And it felt good. Or did it? There was something in it that felt good, but that numbness was there as well. The laughter and happiness were tempered by the knowledge that regret was coming. You knew you would pay a price.

And maybe this wasn’t the first time. It’s like something builds in you and needs to be released. The release brings pleasure, but also pain. The problem seems to be that the pain is future while the pleasure is present. As long as the pleasure comes first, you long for it. The pain, which seems so real as you sit in your chair staring at the TV, is far enough away to be ignored.

Pastor Jones preaches in favor of marriage and family, but visits the adult bookstore when he goes to the big city. He lives in fear that someone will see him and hates himself later, but rarely misses the stop. Mrs. Smith has a bottle hidden away and seeks comfort in its contents. The last bottle, like the ones before it, was poured down the drain in shame and guilt. But there’s always another. Another few dollars from the register at work, another few “extra” hours on the time card, just one more night together, just a little lie: these seem to take the pressure away—for a while.

Why do we do what we don’t want to do? Why do we keep making these bad decisions? What in the world is going on?

Well, the problem may be old, but the answer isn’t easy. It has to do with how we believe we are accepted or loved. The old saying is that everybody needs to be somebody to somebody. We need affirmation and, to get it, we will do just about anything.

Almost all of us grew up with affirmation that came on the basis of some kind of points. We earned points by doing the right things. We lost points when we did the wrong things. Our culture, whether from the church or family or community, sought to mold us by a system of rewards and punishments. And, for the most part, it appeared to work. We are affirmed when we do well and shamed when we do not.

But inside, where our thoughts and desires live, affirmation comes from feeling important or valued. We want to feel good about ourselves. Yes, that might mean that we want to feel righteous, but it also means we want to feel strong or desirable or rich. We aren’t usually content with feeling acceptable to the community, we want to feel like we are “somebody.” The community affirms us when we conform, when we are not independent and creative. Our hearts affirm us when we express our uniqueness and value.

Most of the vices in life minister to our need to feel special. Alcohol, overspending, porn, drugs, lying, theft—all are there because they promise to meet that need. They may do it through fantasy, but even fantasy feels good for a while. They all have consequences, but the feeling is sometimes worth the price. The vices calls to the needs of our hearts.

Keeping the rules and cultural standards may satisfy the community, but that doesn’t satisfy the heart. The points we gain from “doing right” are not enough. We seem to need more. Points come from the other side as well. The fantasies give us points that feel good. It even makes us feel strong and independent to break the rules. Those points count. They don’t satisfy either, but they seem to give us something.

Once the cycle begins, and it begins early, we go from breaking the rules and scoring the points that make us feel good to keeping the rules and trying to overcome the negatives with points from the good side. So Pastor Jones preaches about faithfulness in marriage, then visits the porn shop, then preaches a stronger message about marriage the next week. He isn’t being simply insincere. He is struggling with these feelings of acceptance. He thinks he can overcome the negative points with more positive ones.

But the more we try to overcome the negatives with positives, the more we feel phony and the less any of the points help us feel good about ourselves. Our goal is to feel good, but those feelings diminish the longer the process goes. The cycle becomes more and more frantic until something happens to break it. It will begin all over again unless we find a way to get away from points altogether. As with any addiction, we have to find a way to break free.

There is a way, but it is contrary to most of what you have been taught and most of what you feel. That way is to accept the love and affirmation of the One who made you. He does love you. It doesn’t matter what you have done. He welcomes you. He values you. He wants you to know that no system of points, either in your culture or your heart, will ever be enough to satisfy your need. His love will be enough.

The message of the Gospel of Jesus is a message of love and acceptance. I know that preachers have made it sound otherwise, but they are as bound up in their system as you have been in yours. The message of the cross is one of sacrificial love for those who neither deserved nor understood it. It allows all of us to get off the point system and accept our acceptance.

Think about what you will give up when you leave the point system behind. No more spiritual comparisons. If there is no need for gaining spiritual points, then no one can be better than another. No more sleepless nights worrying about regrets. You are accepted by the Lord regardless of your past and your mistakes. No more fear of judgment. The One who judges you loves you and has given all to have you with Him. No more fear of failure. Results and accomplishments are in the hands of the Lord who loves you. On and on. The things you give up by leaving the points behind are the things that have hurt you so much.

I understand that this post is long and may seem convoluted. Let me summarize by saying that we tend to gravitate to that which promises to make us feel good—and those feelings come from both sides of the moral system. There is a better way. When you get up in the morning, remind yourself that the Lord loves you. Let yourself feel accepted and valued by Him. Throughout the day, seek His presence and remember His love. At the end of the day, thank Him for loving you. Then accept the rest He gives. Is it that simple? Yes, I believe it is.

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Filed under grace, Grace definition, heart, Narcissism, Relationship

Fight with a narcissist? Yeah, right!

It’s Narcissist Friday!    

 

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)

 

 

In my recent post on living with a narcissist, I suggested that you must be prepared to fight.  What I meant was that the conflict doesn’t seem to end.  It isn’t “knock-down, drag-out” fighting as much as it is a constant barrage of intimidation.

In fact, very few narcissists are up to a real fight.  They will tell you that they don’t fight.  You just don’t understand.  And, when you think about the last fight, you were probably cowering in some defensive position wishing they would just stop.  But they weren’t fighting.  He or she was just trying to tell you something.

Those who are in relationships with narcissistic people already know what I mean here.  You have faced this conflict, perhaps for years.  You measure your success by the extent of your loss.  If you only lost a little of the argument or the agreement, you feel like you won.  But you still lost.  You always lose.

You see, narcissists invest much more in winning than most people do.  They must win.  To lose, in almost any way, suggests that they are somehow less than they want to be.  If you grew up in normal relationships and with a normal understanding of who you are, you understand that you win some and you lose some.  The narcissist didn’t learn this.  When they lose, it’s because someone cheated or those who determined the winner were flawed.  Some outside circumstance intervened.  Here’s a common exchange:

You: I think Ankara is the capital of Turkey.

Narcissist: No, it’s Istanbul.

You:  Istanbul is larger, but I don’t think it is the capital.

Narcissist:  Yes it is.

You:  Well, I’ll look it up.

Narcissist:  Waste of time.

You:  Look, the encyclopedia says Ankara is the capital.

Narcissist:  Let me see that.  This thing is wrong.  We should have gotten rid of these years ago.

(At this point you wish you hadn’t said anything.)

Narcissist:  Well, I was right.  It says here that Ankara used to be called Angora.

You:  But you said it was Istanbul.

Narcissist:  No, I said Angora.  You just used the modern name and that threw me off. 

Now, notice what happened.  When you first opened your mouth you were assumed wrong.  The source, because it supported you, must also be wrong.  But when the narcissist realized that you were right, the argument changed.  Suddenly he didn’t say what you thought he said.  He is willing to lie or able to deceive himself into thinking that he meant the right thing after all.  If you challenge him, you are now starting another argument.  What seemed to be his error in the beginning was your fault and it will be your fault if you persist in the new argument.

The husband or wife of a narcissist goes through conversations like this several times a day.  But most of them center on more personal things.  Your opinions, your personal habits, your appearance, your role in the family, your discipline of the children—anything about you is fair game.  You are on the defensive—always.  If you dare to say something about him or her, then the real conflict begins.  Not only will it be necessary to prove you wrong, you must admit your error and repent.

If you think this is too strong, you are blessed.  You have never been there.  But as you read the accounts of those who have suffered under narcissists, whether in the literature or on websites and blogs, you will see a great amount of anger.  This is the anger of those who have been pushed down for a long time and finally have the opportunity to express their pain.  If you work with a victim of a narcissist, perhaps as a counselor, you will probably observe someone who acts confused, downtrodden, discouraged, and very tired.  This is someone who has been in a long and losing battle.

Setting new boundaries, finding new support, limiting the effect of the narcissist—these things will serve the victim very well, but will threaten the narcissist.  Be prepared for the conflict to increase.

Interestingly, the legalist system brings out the same anger.  Those who are constantly criticized, never able to measure up to some invisible standard, become afraid and confused.  If they are able to break away, they express strong anger toward those who manipulated and abused them.  Legalism is a narcissistic system.  Its leaders are often narcissists who have found a way to look good by pushing others down.

Comments?

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What makes a narcissist?

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

(I am aware that this blog continually attracts new readers.  With somewhere around two hundred posts on narcissism and narcissistic relationships, it can be challenging for anyone to really use this material.  The search function works very well, if you know what to ask for.  Otherwise, we will all have to wait as the blog posts are sorted and categorized in preparation for a new (and exciting!) website.  So for the next few weeks, I want to dig back into the archives to pull out some of the posts that seemed most helpful over the last few years.  Please feel free to comment.)

 

The answer to this is worth far more than the proverbial $64,000.  There is a general consensus, however, that the narcissist was made very young, through some trauma or series of traumas.  Abandonment or threatened abandonment by parents is a common theme.

I recently heard two stories of 4-year-olds who were sent out by parents to steal.  If they didn’t get what they were sent out for, they were not allowed back in the house.  Imagine what that would do…

One young lady I worked with was rejected by her mother from the earliest age.  In fact, she was told repeatedly, “I should have aborted you!”  She was never allowed to relax as a child, but was either coddled and pampered or abused and rejected.  Her mother would dress her up in expensive clothes and give her expensive hair treatments and parade her around like a doll.  Everyone would make much of her looks.  But the rest of the time she was considered a burden.  In other words, her mother was narcissistic.

What kind of confusion would it cause a child to be rejected for being a child, for wanting to play and laugh and wiggle; but to be praised for acting like an adult, when she was only four?

Through all of this, she learned one lesson from her mother:  she would be loved when she was not herself and hated when she was herself.  If she acted like her heart wanted to act, she would be rejected and abused.  If she acted like her mom wanted her to act, no matter how unnatural it was, she would be loved.

This appears to be a message learned by many who grow up to be narcissists.  They know in their hearts that they will be rejected if they relax or if they fail, or if they just are who they are.  In order to be accepted, they must create an image that is acceptable, even superior.  Control is the ultimate goal—control of what others think of them.  You are welcomed or pushed away based on what they think you will think of them.  When the narcissist looks in the mirror, it isn’t because she loves herself; it is to reassure herself that you ought to think highly of her.

So, yes, the narcissist is in pain and lives in fear.  That doesn’t excuse his cruelty, even if it explains it.  And not everyone who suffers such rejection ends up narcissistic.  For some, however, narcissism is the means they use to avoid and deny the pain.

But this is why it is so difficult to help a narcissist.  To go back to that time of fundamental rejection, to admit the vulnerability, is unthinkable.  Is it possible?  I do believe that the Lord can take us back into those most difficult times and lead us through them to wholeness.  There is such love and acceptance in the real gospel.  I do believe that there is hope in Jesus even for narcissists.  Someday I hope to see such a thing.

Thoughts?

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Relationship pt 3

So, does God accept us? Does God accept Jesus? Of course He does and, in Christ, we are accepted. Our acceptance is a gift, the life of Jesus flowing within us. You see, because of Jesus – Who is the Person of God’s love and grace – we have been restored to a full and free relationship with God. We walk and talk with Jesus as people who are fully loved by the One who is our Strength, our Victory, our Righteousness, our Future, and our eternal Friend.

What does that look like? I suspect that it looks a lot like it must have looked in the Garden of Eden. Picture Adam waking in the morning. Had he been afraid during the night? Did he chastise himself about the things he didn’t get done the day before? Did he determine to work harder in the new day? We know that he had work to do. Did Adam worry about the produce of the Garden? I don’t think so. Instead, his life was very good. No worries! No fear! No rejection!

Suppose that we could get up in the morning with the full knowledge of the love of God and the awareness that He will be present with us through the day. How easy would it be to talk with Him? We do our work with the joy of participating with Him and there is no concern that we may not measure up or that we may fail. What if we could just ask Him what to do and then do it? We go to sleep at night without anxiety for the future, for the things left undone, for the errors of the day. We can give the things of the day to Him, thank Him for being with us, and trust Him for tomorrow.

One of the things Jesus said about us is that we would hear and recognize His voice. Yet, most believers would say that they struggle with this. They don’t know the voice of their Lord and they wonder what they should do next. This is a serious topic and broad, but let me simply say that the Lord wants you to know His voice and He loves hearing yours as you relate to Him.

You can talk with Jesus – anytime, anywhere! There is no barrier between the two of you. You can tell Him your concerns and listen for His response. You can ask for His leading and trust that He will lead. You can thank Him for His kindness and know that He appreciates your acknowledgement. And you can praise Him just for Who He is.

But that isn’t all of it. He responds! Remember that He wants to lead you and He wants you to hear Him. It may not be audible, but it is still real. If you are not used to hearing Him, it may take some time, but trust that He does speak to you. Sometimes you can look back to see how He spoke/led in the past. Sometimes you can just wait until you have a sense that He has told you what to do. Other times you just yield your will to Him and then do what you think is right. If it isn’t right, He will show you or turn you to another direction. Trust Him!

That still isn’t all of it. He doesn’t only respond. Sometimes He initiates the conversation. Listen for His voice. You have probably heard Him from time to time. He prompts you to talk with someone or to do something. When you do it, you are amazed at the results. He led you to just what the other person needed.

Let me give a specific example. Suppose you feel led to share the gospel with someone. You may be scared to do it, but you know that it is the right thing to do because you believe that the Lord is leading. You share and the person is ready to hear and receive. The Lord has prepared the way and you have heard His voice.

But let’s suppose that you prepare and pray and fuss and then the person walks away from you without accepting the Lord. What happened? Most of us are tempted to think that we did something wrong, that if we had done a better job that person might have been saved. We fill our lives with guilt from failure and poor results. But perhaps the plan of God was simply to have that person hear the gospel. That person might go away and, at some later time, accept His love on the basis of the seed you were able to plant. Would that make you feel differently?

God rarely shares the full story of His plan with us. He just asks us to walk with Him. He gave you the words to say and somewhere, in the midst of your rambling, you said them. The person heard them and that little part of God’s plan was accomplished. It wasn’t about you. You were just along while God was working.

Now, if you could walk into that with the understanding that this is the work of God and you can trust Him for whatever results will come, and if you could walk away thanking Him for the opportunity to share in His work, you wouldn’t have to feel guilty or ashamed because of your poor speech or presentation. Of course you want the person to become a believer, but God wants that more than you do.

Can you trust that God loves others more than you do? That He wants them to benefit from His work? If you can, you can learn to rest and enjoy what He does in them. You do whatever He asks you to do and you leave the rest to Him. Even in these most important things, we can find rest because of our relationship with Jesus.

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Rejecting the Jesus they never knew…

 

I’ve been reading a lot over at recoveringgrace.org these days.  This is a group of young people who have come out of the teachings and influence of Bill Gothard.  They represent a great deal of pain and confusion because of the legalist teachings.  Many of them have found the way to the grace of God in Jesus and enjoy their walk with Him.  Others, however, have given up on religion completely.

It breaks my heart to hear someone say he has rejected Jesus because of legalism.  I want to scream: “Jesus was never a part of legalism.  You can’t reject the true faith of Christ if you have never known it.”  In some ways the first motivation of this ministry (Grace for the Heart) was to reach out to those who have either rejected or are afraid of Jesus because of what has been done to them by Christians.

But it makes sense, doesn’t it?  If Jesus is presented as someone who expects rules and standards in order to love, then what happens when you can’t reach those standards or keep those rules?  And if He is always angry with me because I can’t measure up, then I would naturally want to distance myself from Him.  If the phrase “sinners in the hands of an angry God” refers to Christians, then who would want to be a Christian?

There’s more.  According to performance spirituality, we are supposed to work for our salvation, either to earn it or to keep it.  But if I could do that, why would I need a Savior at all?  It seems very reasonable to reject Jesus if I just have to do it all myself anyway.  And, if I reject Jesus, what is left?  Even the legalist system says He is most important.  I might as well come up with some “basic principles” of my own.  My morality.  Developed by me and for me.   Do it myself.

I also understand that the name of the Lord was taken in vain by churches, preachers, parents, and others.  They used His name to condemn many things, even things He never condemned.  They used His name to push and pull and intimidate.  They used His name to hurt and abuse.  And, when they had made Him an enemy of our hearts, they told us He loved us.

BUT IT WAS ALL A LIE!

(Capitalized and ended with an exclamation point.  I was tempted to underline it also.  Maybe italics?)

That was never the message of the Lord.  It was never about how well we could perform.  The gospel accepts our failure as normal and natural, then offers real deliverance in the person of Jesus, someone who came to get us because He loves us.  Performance was never the issue.

Jesus is about God’s love for you and me.  Some preachers shout about His condemnation, but He says there is no condemnation.  Some teach about His anger over our sin, but He says our sins have been washed away.  Some tell us we should prepare for His wrath, but He tells us He has prepared a wonderful and good place for us.  Some tell us of His disappointment with us, but He tells us of the joy of His heart as He thinks of us.

The message of legalism and performance, anger and hatred, was never the message of Jesus.  The god of legalism is not the God of love, not the God of the Bible.  It has all been a lie.

I pray for those who push away the truth because they have only heard the lie.

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God’s Input

Grace 101

 

It appears to me that the Lord gave us two important venues for input, the head and the heart.  They are different, but both are important.  Some would use the terms, mind and spirit.  What I mean is that there are things God wants us to know that are absorbed through reasoning or understanding and there are things He wants us to know through feeling or intuition.

Because of our different backgrounds and demeanors, we often lean toward one or the other of these two ways of learning spiritual truth.  Some people seemed geared toward gathering information for the mind.  They read and study and discuss.  Others seemed geared toward emotions and sensations.  They try to feel whether something is true or good.  And, even though both of these are affirmed by Scripture, one group believes its way is the only right way, while the other looks down on those who learn differently.

For example, God gave us the Bible to teach us important things and to encourage us in our walk.  He also sent the Spirit to speak into our hearts.  They are not the same, but they are both important.  Unfortunately, some groups completely dismiss anything to do with the Spirit, or relegate the Spirit’s influence to something mysterious and dangerous.  For them, it is the Bible only.

Other groups almost forget that there is a Bible.  I am hearing more people say that the Bible is dull and has some difficult things and we don’t need it because we have the Spirit.  For them it is the Spirit only.

But we forget that there are many spirits and some desire to deceive us.  How is the heart able to choose which voice it welcomes?  That’s one of the important functions of the Bible’s message to the mind.  And the Bible becomes either a confusing mess or a tool for abuse in the hands of those not guided by the Spirit.

Here’s what I mean.  The Bible is truly a love letter from God to us.  It tells us how He designed us, what dangers confront us, and how to find our help in Him.  It shows us examples and illustrations of what God wants us to know.  But apart from the heart ministry of the Spirit, we find it very hard to see the love of God in the Bible.  Love is communicated to the heart.  If we push away the work of the Spirit, we will see only the judgment and anger of God when we read.

Sadly, that’s how the evil one has compromised the Scriptures in the lives of so many of God’s people.  Because the Bible was misused and the love of God was missing, they learned to see it as something negative.  It brought condemnation and fear and guilt and all kinds of what my kids used to call “bad thinks.”  So these folks try to live on what the Lord speaks into their hearts.

But then they have another problem.  How do they know whose voice they are hearing in their hearts?  The evil one whispers his lies.  Their own flesh provides its version of wisdom.  How can they discern the voice of the Lord?  Well, apart from the wisdom of the Bible, it is very difficult.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  If I had to choose one of the two, I would always choose to be led by the Spirit.  Always.  Give me the personal relationship, the One I can talk with and listen for.  But I don’t have to choose.  I can listen to the Spirit and read the Scripture and each helps me see the truth and learn the wisdom of the other.  My faith grows through my mind and my heart.

Just because the evil one has misused the Scripture by twisting it in the hands of those who will not listen to the Spirit does not mean that the Scripture is bad for us.  God meant it for our good.  His love is seen throughout the text.  The problem is in the grid some use to present it and the grid in which we learned to see it.  I have written several posts on this idea of the grid and you can find them beginning here.

Read the Bible, but pray first.  Ask the Spirit to show you the love of God.  Ask Him to push aside the old legalism, the source of shame and fear.  Ask the Spirit to lead you into the truth you need.  You will be surprised at the wonders you find.

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The Gift of Gifts

 

Grace 101

At our house on Christmas morning, the potential for chaos has always hung over our heads.  With ten people opening gifts, and we love gifts, we have to maintain a sense of order.  One simple rule is that you have to be sure the gift is for you before you open it.  In those rare times when the rule has accidentally been broken, someone is disappointed.

So how do you know this gift is for you?  Well, in our situation, the whole thing hinges on who the gift is from.  You and I have received this amazing gift because of the relationship we have with Jesus.  When you came to the Lord for salvation and expressed your need and the tiny spark of faith the Spirit had brought to life in your heart, God came to you and loved you in the Person of Jesus Christ.  At that moment, Jesus gave you His life.  Your old life died and His life rose in you.

I realize there is a lot of theology in that simple paragraph.  The point is that whatever God wants to give you comes because you are in Christ and Christ is in you.  The gift is yours only through Jesus and the gift is yours because of Jesus.  Call it “union” or “the exchange” or the “higher life” or whatever you want, but the life in you is His.

In fact, the real gift is Jesus Himself!  We who were enemies have now been reconciled (Col 1:21).  We who were lost have been found (Luke 15:32).  We who were dead have been given life (Col 2:13).  All of this has come to us packaged in a Person!

God’s grace, which is the substance of His giving to us, is manifested perfectly and completely in Jesus.  Jesus is God Himself, come to us in human flesh, to be our life and fill us forever with His love.  That’s what God has given us!

So the package we are going to unpack is filled with the blessings that are ours because of the relationship we have with Jesus.  In all honesty, I can’t imagine that we will ever begin to see or to understand much more than the things that lie on top of the box.  Eternity will be occupied with discovering the riches we have in Christ (Eph 2:7).

But what we find will be enough for us to be filled with wonder at His power and His love.

And remember: these are gifts, not things you and I earn.  These are the things that came to us when Christ came to us.  They are ours by inheritance, by marriage, by union, by blood.  The Scripture uses all kinds of great illustrations of the relationship we have with God in Jesus.  But my point is that these gifts are ours as gifts.  We didn’t earn them or deserve them, just like we didn’t earn or deserve our relationship with Jesus.  He came to us because He loved us—and He came bearing gifts!

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Tax Day

 

I was born a citizen of the United States.  My parents and grand-parents and back several generations were also citizens.  Yet, if I want to stay out of jail, I had better get my taxes sent in.  Sometimes it feels like I have to pay to live here, even though this is my home.

Now, I understand the argument in favor of taxes.  There are services I expect to receive and those services cost money.  The taxes I pay, all political griping to the contrary, are simply participatory.  Because I participate in the benefits, I participate in the cost.  The idea seems reasonable.  Of course, if everyone were free to contribute whatever they wanted, the government wouldn’t have enough to cover the costs of the programs we expect.  So taxes are basically forced financial participation.

It is interesting that people who are so willing to accept citizenship in Heaven as a free gift are also willing to accept participatory costs in maintaining that citizenship.  In other words, you have to do a certain amount of good works and stay away from a certain amount of bad things if you really want to stay in the system.   Some say you can actually lose your citizenship in the Kingdom of Christ if you don’t do what you are supposed to do.  Others won’t go that far, but infer that there will be some kind of punishment if you don’t participate in the work of the Kingdom.

So, how do you like paying taxes?  Most of us do so a little grudgingly.  In fact, taxes are nerve-racking, intrusive, demanding, and costly.  A lot like religion.  It has certainly been my observation that few “religious” people are happy.  They are so bound up in trying to meet the requirements that they feel burdened and discouraged.   They reach the end of their lives hoping they have done enough, much like we hope things are right when we mail our tax forms.

I know that the Bible speaks of citizenship in Heaven and life in the Kingdom of God.  But there is another metaphor that is actually more important and helpful.  We are part of a family!

I don’t pay taxes to be in my family.  My family exists because of blood and love.  We need each other.  We participate for the good of the family.  If someone in the family doesn’t participate, we care and try to encourage, but the rest of us go on and keep the door open.  A brother or sister doesn’t stop being a brother or sister.

We are taught to call God our Father.  Jesus is our brother.  We are brothers and sisters in Him.  His life is our life.  We share with each other and love each other because we are family.  Sometimes we fuss at each other, but we are still family.

And no taxes/good works are necessary in order for us to remain part of the family.  We don’t have dues or membership fees or “godly expectations.”  We have each other in Jesus.

On Tax Day I give thanks that my part in Christ has been secured forever by His work and His payment!

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Hyper-love?

 

It is interesting that those who accuse us of a doctrine of “hyper-grace” don’t also accuse us of “hyper-love.”  After all, the whole understanding of the gospel is about the love of God.  Grace is simply the means God uses to act on His love.

But, of course, we are accused of going “over the top” about love, aren’t we?  I was recently in a discussion with someone who wanted me to admit that there are limits to God’s love.  When I wanted him to delineate those limits, he couldn’t.  He just wanted to be sure that I left room for God’s anger, wrath, and hatred.  Those things were important to him and I wasn’t talking about them enough.

Now, let me say at the outset that I see the anger of God in the Bible.  I see His wrath and even hatred.  But it isn’t pointed at individuals.  It is pointed at sin.

There’s a great story in 2 Chronicles 33 and 2 Kings 21about a man named Manasseh.  This man was king in Jerusalem after Hezekiah, his father, died.  He was very bad.  He led the people away from the Lord in ways others had not.  He even sacrificed his own children in the fire.  He shed innocent blood throughout Judah.  Eventually, the Lord sent the Assyrians to capture Manasseh and take him into captivity.

And God said He was angry.  In 2 Kings 21, God says that Manasseh had provoked Him to anger.  The Lord tried to reach out to Manasseh, but he wouldn’t listen.  So, with hooks in his nose, Manasseh went into bondage.

Now, how would it have helped for the prophets of God to come to Manasseh, while he was in bondage, to tell him how much God hated him?  Suppose they had told Manasseh of the wrath of God against him and the anger God felt as He looked at Manasseh.  Would that have helped?  Or would that have driven Manasseh farther away?

Instead, when Manasseh was suffering and broken, when his sins had brought him to the lowest place of his life, he cried out to the Lord.  For some reason, he thought God might hear him and forgive.  And that’s exactly what God did!  He not only forgave Manasseh, but He brought him back to Jerusalem and set him up again as king of Judah.  Amazing Love!

You see, that little story, hidden in the back rooms of Scripture, is not a story of the anger of God, but a story of the love of God.  It was love that moved the heart of God to send Manasseh into captivity.  It was love that moved the heart of God to forgive and restore Manasseh.  This was likely the most cruel and evil king who ever sat on Jerusalem’s throne, yet God loved him.  He abused and killed the people, even his own children, yet God loved him.  The love of God is greater than any sin and reaches out to any sinner.

Is that a love that’s too big?  Should we tone it down a little to make sure there’s room for hate and anger?  I don’t think so.  This is the love of God and it is as big as He is.

Maybe we should accept the term, “hyper-grace.”  If grace is the working out of the love of God for us, then it would have to be over the top, bigger than anything.  If grace proceeds from the love of God, then nothing can even pretend to balance it, counter it, or soften it.

Maybe hyper-grace is the natural result of hyper-love.

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The Master of the Call

The gospel of pragmatism has caused the fall of many Bible teachers, from television evangelists to pastors, even seminary and denominational leaders.  The continual focus on the call, the goal, causes a blindness to foolish decisions, to deceptive marketing, even to sinful behavior.  Churches and ministries overlook immorality or try to deal with it inside the organization.  They fear that the negative publicity would “hurt the ministry.”  Mishandled funds, mistreated people, misled followers—all must be kept “off the record.”

So what is really wrong with this?  It sounds right to be dedicated to a call.  God gives a special call to a person and that person should bind himself to it, right?  Wrong!  No disciple of Jesus is bound to a call.  We are bound to our Lord.  He is the focus of our hearts, not the call He has given us.  In fact, a case could easily be made from Scripture that the call of God would happen almost naturally for the person who follows the Lord.  The call is never the important part; the relationship is what is important.

When God told Moses that he would lead the people out of Egypt, Moses only had to do the next thing God told him.  Moses was not responsible for the success of the mission.  Moses does not get scolded for the people’s unbelief.  God was going to do this and He was going to use Moses.  When God sent Abraham to settle the new land, it was the same thing.  When David conquered the Philistines, Solomon built the Temple, and Nehemiah led the people back to the land—God made sure of the success.  It was God’s project.

We are often puzzled by the call of God to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on the altar.  But think about that in the context of this gospel of pragmatism.  Abraham had already shown himself to be the pragmatist, trying to accomplish the call of God in his flesh, by the birth of Ishmael.  But Isaac was the child that would begin a special people who would number more than the stars.  Isaac was the call, the goal.  Yet, Abraham had learned to look to God first.  He had made mistakes.  When God told him to sacrifice Isaac, it was the end of the call.  But Abraham had his eyes on the Lord, not the call.

Ask the leader of the movement what he would do if God told him to stop.  Ask the pastor what he would do if God told him not to build the new building.  And when an obstacle is discovered, immorality in leadership or embezzlement or something like that, and the leadership of the organization wants to cover it up to protect the ministry, ask why the ministry must keep going.  If they answer that God would never end the ministry or change the goal, they probably are no longer looking to Him.

Too often we have heard of church and ministry leaders who overlooked too much, who compromised too much, in serving their goal.  The precious ministry they protected with lies and cheating and stealing and covering up still died.  By taking their eyes off the One who called them, they opened themselves to error and sin and destroyed the very thing they believed they must protect.

 

When a believer receives a call and focuses on the goal, rather than the Lord, the implementation of the call is left to the flesh.  The person’s background and values interpret the call.  All kinds of personal preferences can become “principles” when the flesh interprets the call.

And the more the flesh is involved in the call, the more the person’s own sense of value will be tied to it.  Because the call is seen as his own and the interpretation of it is his and the energy in it is his, he cannot see a difference between the goal and himself.  No one else will be good enough to lead it.  Those who challenge the goal, challenge the man.

Finally, when the goal becomes a monument or affirmation of the man, he will protect it at great cost.  It must not die or even suffer loss.  He may do things for the sake of the ministry that are against his own principles and hurt people he truly cares about.  But he will see no choice.  And when it collapses, so will he.

 

The goal for any believer is to walk with the Lord.  When the Lord places a particular call on the heart of a person, the Lord Himself will accomplish it.  The person who is called is, in a sense, along for the ride.  The call is not the Lord.  The Lord is the master of the call.

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