Category Archives: Legalism

Better?

 

Children learn the use of comparatives and superlatives quite young, even though they may not know them as parts of speech. Something might be big, but another might be bigger. A comparison will have to be done to discern which is biggest. Big, bigger, biggest. Adjective, comparative, superlative.

For years we participated in a group that had a slogan boldly proclaimed at conferences and in literature.

“Giving the world a ‘new’ approach to life!”

The word “new” was always in quotes, as I remember. That’s because it didn’t really mean new. It meant “better.” At least that’s what we all were to think. People even quoted the slogan incorrectly, saying “Giving the world a better approach to life.” To be fair, I think the official idea was that the approach was not new, but ancient, since it came from the Bible. But the folks in the program—and the world outside—got the message that the way of this group was better.

And it wasn’t just a slogan. It was the theme of the whole ministry. Comparisons to the way of the world or even the rest of the church were constant. Everyone else was doing life wrong. Only the ones in the group were right. Story after story was told about how the ways of others failed and caused heartache. Story after story was told about how the way of the group was successful and wonderful. Money, marital happiness, family harmony, business success, and even national superiority could be attributed to the “better” way.

Now, if you are bold enough to suggest that your way is better, you should prepare for the challenge to be accepted. In other words, if you tell someone you have a better product or way of living, the burden is on you to prove it. The word “better” begs for comparison. That means analysis, observation, scrutiny, and testing. And you should remember that you started the comparisons.

In order to sell a better mousetrap, you have to establish that the old mousetraps have failings. Then you have to show that your mousetrap does not have those failings. And the makers of the others have the right to put your product to the test to see if you really do have something better. Any failing they find will probably be loudly hailed as proof that your mousetrap isn’t really all that much better.

So that brings me back to the Duggars. While I have a great deal of sympathy for the whole situation, particularly for the girls who were victims, I really am neither surprised nor troubled by the media attention given to their recent exposure. Yes, I think it is more than I want to read about or hear about. Yes, I think some people are taking advantage of their vulnerability. Yes, I think Jesus still loves each one of them. But none of us should be surprised at this widespread discussion.

When you challenge the whole world, don’t be surprised when the whole world responds!

The Duggars, faithful to the same group with the same slogan I once participated in, were willing to hold themselves as models for a “better” way of life, and they should be willing to pay the price of inquiry and analysis by those with whom they compared themselves. Bill Gothard, the teacher himself, experienced the same phenomenon. He proclaimed a “better” way, but failed to prove the comparison under examination—even in his own life.

The church is undergoing scrutiny by the eyes of a world no longer intimidated. The flaws of “superior” spirituality are becoming more evident. We have covered our sins and have failed to remove the log from our own eye. We have excused leaders and teachers and supported systems that deny the truth of our own inadequacies.

When spirituality is centered on behavior or performance, we provide for the world and our own people nothing more than a different list of rules than they have. Our list is better, we say. Follow our guidelines and you will avoid the errors and sins that have plagued you. The only problem is that our product does not compare all that well. Our list is just another list.

The Christian faith was never about a list. It was and is about a Person. According to the mystery, the Lord God loved us so much that He took on Himself humanity in the person of Jesus. Jesus, the love of God personified, offered life to those who would come to Him. Those who will admit their need, their inadequacy and failure, can find forgiveness, life, and joy in Him.

Christians are not better people than the rest of the world. Jesus is better. Our hope is not in our good, but in His good. Our forgiveness is not based on our love, but on His love. Our success is not based on our performance, but on His performance. Christians are forgiven, righteous, and hopeful—because of Jesus alone.

What Christians offer to the world is not a better list, but a Savior. The heart of our message depends on our willingness to confess our need. The flesh in us is still pulled to everything the world struggles against. But our hope is not in us or our ways. Our hope is in Jesus.

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The Duggar Thing

 

I have been very hesitant to step into the latest Duggar mess. For those who don’t know, the Duggar family is the very large family featured on television’s “19 kids and counting.” The family is Christian, homeschooled, and followers of Bill Gothard.

Recently the news brought out some facts about the oldest son of the family, things that happened when he was fourteen and fifteen years old. It was obviously handled poorly, and now the whole world seems to be either attacking or defending the family. I won’t go into detail about the crime or about how it was handled. I will only say that I have known some families who have been through this, and that it is very difficult to “handle it well.”

However, when I first learned of this I happened to read the statement made by the boy’s parents. (This young man is now married with his own children. The events occurred 12 years ago.) The parents made the statement, to People magazine, that they were shocked when it happened.

“When Josh was a young teenager, he made some very bad mistakes, and we were shocked. We had tried to teach him right from wrong. That dark and difficult time caused us to seek God like never before.”

In that brief statement is a revelation. In just nine words, the Duggars summarize why legalism does not work to curb sin.

“We had tried to teach him right from wrong.”

When spirituality can be reduced to a list of things that are right placed against a list of things that are wrong, there will be no victory over sin. The desire to make spirituality a lazy process of list-keeping is what has harmed the church’s testimony in the world and the Christian’s ability to live rightly.

There are so many reasons this is true. First, evil has a draw upon the human heart. Putting something on a list and calling it wrong simply does not make it easier to avoid. In fact, there seems to be more of a draw once we identify something as wrong. We want to know why it is wrong. We want to understand the wrongness of it. We want to experience it so that we know what to stay away from. Even those who belong to Jesus are still drawn to evil by the flesh. The old ways are strong habits. If we have learned anything through our lives and by observing others, we should have learned that people find ways to do and to justify evil actions.

Second, no one knows who gets to write the lists. Most churches and teachers will claim that their lists come from the Bible—even when those lists contradict each other. Yes, the Bible does warn us against certain actions and attitudes, but some of the lists presented to us are far more detailed than anything the Bible teaches. The detailed rules of the Pharisees are nothing compared to the judgmental systems of some churches today. In fact, most lists are not published at all. People learn right and wrong by the acceptance or rejection of those around them. Sometimes people don’t learn that something is wrong until after they do it.

Third, the list of wrong things gets a lot more attention than the list of right things. We tell young men what they cannot do, but rarely tell them how they ought to handle the desires and stresses that come their way. We have long lists of sins, particularly in some areas, with almost no indication of what is right. One blogger recently wrote about the Duggar thing and suggested two boxes, one with wrong sexual practices and one with right. The one with the wrong practices was full while the one with right practices had only one, “Marriage.” But there are more than two boxes, because the listmakers will tell us all kinds of things that are wrong in the marriage relationship as well. It wouldn’t seem far out of line to say that almost all of our attention has been given to the things that are considered wrong. So much so that some young people have reported that the only sexuality they knew anything about was what they were supposed to avoid.

Fourth, there are no lists like this in the Bible. What? How can I say that? What about the Ten Commandments? If you read the Ten Commandments and understand the many rules given to the community of the people of God in the Old Testament, you will see what Jesus saw. There are only two rules. Love the Lord and love others. Jesus summarized “all the law and the prophets” under those two rules.

And Jesus said something else we should remember:

“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

We have called this the “Golden Rule.” It summarizes our relationship with others in a very simple and straight-forward way. We could call it respect or even love.

The legalist tries to live with a long list of things to avoid and strives to keep his own actions away from that list. But maybe that isn’t necessary at all. Maybe if we learned to respect others and to care for them, to treat them the way we would like to be treated, we would find that the lists are not all that necessary. Maybe if we taught our children, from the earliest ages, that others have value and a right to be respected, that no one should be abusers or abused, and that those who are weak should be protected by those who are strong—maybe the sins we say they should avoid just wouldn’t enter their hearts and minds.

You see, lists will never help us do right. Rules and punishments can only force certain behavior, not change our hearts. Legalism is about rules, learning right from wrong. Grace, or the gospel of Jesus, is about relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with others. The only thing that makes a difference is relationship. Loving one another is the answer.

Love God and love others. Those are the only rules we need.

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Remember the Covert

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

I have been reading some of the more popular writing on narcissism these days, just to see what’s out there. One of the things I notice is that most of the writing is done to expose the overt narcissist. They like to talk about the overbearing boss, the critical mother, the abusive husband; but they usually share characteristics almost anyone would reject. What people often miss are the characteristics of the covert narcissist.

Covert narcissists would rarely be called abusers, but they can push people to suicide. Covert narcissists are not loud and arrogant, but tend to be much more manipulative and subtly cruel. They don’t call people stupid or lazy, at least not to their faces; but covert narcissists will make you feel stupid or lazy and leave you wondering why. Covert narcissists are the real crazy-makers.

Four years ago, shortly after I started Narcissist Fridays, I wrote this about covert narcissists:

The covert narcissist still wants to be in control but does so by “helping.” Sometimes these folks offer to help with projects. The only problem is that they end up taking over. They work, or at least they motivate you to work harder, and they get things done. But you feel stupid in the process. When the project is done, it cost more than you had planned, and it doesn’t look quite the way you had wanted it to. But your “helper” assures you that this will be much better. Your way just wasn’t good enough.
This is the mother-in-law who comes to visit with her rubber gloves and cleaning supplies. You find yourself angry and wishing she hadn’t come at all, when you are supposed to be grateful. In the church, these people serve on committees and take jobs no one else will take. It will be very clear that they are making a sacrifice to help you, and you will be expected to praise them and honor them. Never mind that they can’t seem to stay in budget or they alienate everyone else on the committee. Never mind that the Missions Committee is now somehow responsible for setting the pastor’s salary and deciding what color to paint the outside of the church.

These are the narcissists who don’t seem to fit the mold. They are “nice” people, people who seem to be cooperative and helpful. Their criticisms are just helpful advice. Their manipulations are just trying to encourage you. Their generosity is just trying to make things better for everyone.

You probably won’t find many covert narcissists in jail. Nor will your friends understand the problem you have with them until they experience it for themselves. They will hold leadership positions in any organization—not the top, you understand—and they will mold the organization to their own liking. Very few will notice or be hurt or offended.

The covert narcissists make the overt narcissists look like bumbling clods. Very little can be traced back to them. Whereas the overt will lie and cheat blatantly, the covert will get others to lie and cheat for her. Whereas the overt will call someone names, the covert will just make you feel like the names he is calling you in his heart. The covert will apologize to you, praise you, speak words of encouragement to you, and put herself down—all to get you to do what she wants. Covert narcissists have learned to be subtle and patient.

I suspect covert narcissism and legalism are two sides of the same coin in the church. Some legalists are confrontational and argumentative. Some accuse others to their faces and speak loud words of condemnation. Others, who are far more dangerous, just sigh sadly and say they will continue to pray. They ask questions like: “Do you think that’s wise?” They remember sad stories of people who did the same things you are doing, and they hope you don’t end up the same way. This is not covert legalism as much as it is covert narcissism, manipulation at its best.

Coverts are the experts at gaslighting and projection. They twist your words, remember things differently, and accuse—all while smiling and pretending to be your biggest supporters. And those words of apology you wish you could hear from the overt narcissist? The covert says them with a sad and believable face. You probably won’t even realize that you have been duped.

Now, someone is thinking that this describes the “other side” of the narcissist they know. This is what others see as you see the overt narcissist. You experience the cruelty, while they see someone who is kind and helpful and thoughtful. Or you have seen the change, the Jekyll and Hyde phenomenon. The person who was kind and helpful and thoughtful suddenly becomes the abuser; and then might just as quickly change back with apologies and penance. Of course, this may be an indication of another problem (bi-polar or borderline or something else), but it can also be the eruption of the covert narcissist.

It seems to me that the covert is far more powerful and capable than the overt. The covert must work much harder to get the results, but can often do so undetected for years. But that work still comes with a price. Just ask the kids of the randomly exploding mom. They have seen the truth that no one else has seen.

The world is learning about narcissism. The incredible lack of empathy and the willingness to use or abuse others to fulfill personal goals is being noticed. But the covert narcissists are staying out of the spotlight. They are not seen as cruel or abusive or negative in any way. They are seen as helpful.

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Saboteurs

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

One of the things I noticed when I began to examine legalism among believers was how some would try to stifle the new joy of those who discovered grace. They became saboteurs, planting words of discouragement and challenge, whenever someone began to believe they were already loved by God apart from their performance. They would point out verses from Scripture, remind people of past sins, and generally try to plant seeds of doubt. And often these were the last people you would expect sabotage to come from.

Then, as I studied and counseled in the area of narcissism, I found the same thing. When you begin to see yourself separate from your abuser and are moving toward the decision to leave the relationship, there will be people who will seem to work against you. It is almost a universal phenomenon. It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of narcissistic relationship you are in.

Some of the saboteurs will surprise you. You might expect that the narcissist’s sycophants will try to make you stay in the relationship and chide you for thinking anything less of the narcissist. But what you don’t expect are the ones who have listened to you, empathized with you, and commiserated with you. These are the folks you thought would be cheering you forward. You might even have expected them to go with you, if it is that kind of relationship. But suddenly they are dragging their feet, compromising, even breaking agreements. And these are the people who seemed to support you!

Anna’s mom always has to have a big Christmas dinner and Anna and her sisters are responsible to bring the food. But Anna lives 150 miles away and her food never seems to make the trip well. Her sisters agree that this year they should all go out to eat. The local restaurant has great food and doesn’t require reservations. All three girls agree. Mom is not happy and decides to make the food herself. Joan, the oldest sister, is helping her. The others are invited, even if they didn’t bring anything. But, of course, they will be made to feel guilty.

Bob has had it with the leader of his team at work. So have the other members. They all decide to confront the leader at the next meeting. Bob begins by sharing his concerns. When he turns to the others, however, none of them will add anything. One of them even suggests that Bob is going too far, that the problems really aren’t that big.

Judy has been married to Mike for twenty-three years. All that time she has suffered. He is a brute: very critical, loud, demanding, and unfaithful. Her neighbor, Frieda, has been a wonderful sounding-board for the past few years. But now that Judy is beginning to stand up for herself and is thinking about leaving Mike, Frieda seems dedicated to discouraging her. She quotes Bible verses about God hating divorce. She lays guilt trips on Judy. She has even threatened to tell Mike Judy’s plans.

Frank and his family have been abused by the leadership of their church. Frank has been threatened with church discipline by the narcissist pastor simply because Frank disagreed with the pastor at a board meeting. Several people have come to Frank with similar concerns. Frank has tried to talk with the pastor and with the other leaders, but no one will listen. Finally, he decides to leave the church. When he does, he finds that none of the others who came to him for support are willing to leave. In fact, some of the things he said to them in private have been shared throughout the church. Now it looks like the pastor was justified in trying to stifle Frank. Now Frank is seen as a troublemaker.

In each of these situations there is a sense of betrayal and sabotage. People who were trusted as support failed to be that support when it was needed. Why?

I know that it is tempting to decide never to trust anyone again. When people fail you or betray you, the emotional damage is deep and long-lasting. But let me help you focus those feelings and give some general rules-of-thumb that might help in the future.

1. Never trust anyone who is in a relationship with your narcissist. I know that’s blunt, but I think you can see the sense of it. The narcissist who has his/her hooks in you has his/her hooks in others. The only problem is that you don’t know where they are hooked or how deeply. Maybe Anna’s mother was able to threaten Joan or manipulate her in some way that moved her to betray her sisters. Maybe Bob’s co-workers are more compromised than Bob knows. They like his strength, but they can’t support him. They will cheer him on, but stand behind him. The narcissist whose control has oppressed you is oppressing almost everyone with whom he has a relationship. Don’t expect help from them.

2. Hesitate to trust anyone who struggles in their own narcissistic relationship. Judy’s neighbor really does understand because of her relationship with her own husband. She knows what Judy has gone through. It has been nice for Frieda to talk with someone who feels the same pain; but, when Judy wants to leave, who will be there for Frieda? And, if Judy leaves Mike, Frieda will be faced with a choice about staying with her husband. She is not willing to go through the drama and pain it will take to leave, and she doesn’t want to feel even weaker than she already feels. Pulling Judy back is the only thing she can do. If Judy fails and is stuck, Frieda won’t feel so bad about herself.

3. Never trust the people who only watch the soap opera. There are people who will agree and challenge and support you just so they can watch your drama. They claim to share your feelings and they may even get a strange parasitic thrill from being in the middle, but they are not truly supportive. Remember the people watching The Truman Show? They cried with Truman, they got angry on Truman’s behalf, they cheered for Truman; but, when it was all over, they simply turned the channel to see what else was on. The people in Frank’s church were excited to share in his determination and strength. They loved his ability and willingness to stand up for what he believed. But they were there for the emotions they could experience from the drama. Not to support Frank and his family.

It isn’t the people who disagree with you who hurt you. It isn’t even the people who just can’t seem to understand your struggle. It’s the ones who are with you in that struggle, to whom you look for support. The only ones who can sabotage the ship are ones who are on it with you. And when they try, it hurts.

Before I end this, let me make two notes. First, deciding to stay in the relationship is a valid decision and may not be an indication of weakness. There will be those who will even try to sabotage that decision. Second, deciding not to trust someone is different from deciding not to love them or be kind to them. You can be gracious without trusting.

One of my heroes, Davy Crockett, is credited with saying, “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.” When you are strong enough to make a decision, make the right one and trust your decision. For me, that means to pray and look to Jesus. When He leads me in a certain direction, even when others disagree or betray, I know it is still the right direction. No one can really sabotage you if you just move in the direction of what you believe is right. They can try. They can hurt you. But they can’t stop you.

And once you see them for what they are, you are free.

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Everyone’s Guilty?

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

We have been taught to feel guilty. We have been told that we are bad people and we do bad things. We accept guilt and shame as we do old friends. They are familiar and comfortable to us. This is one of the reasons I put out this blog, to show that so much of the condemnation Christians carry around does not come from the heart of God.

For narcissists and legalists, guilt and shame are effective tools to keep others quiet and in line. The condemnation we bring with us into the relationship or the church gives them the opening they need to begin to manipulate us. They build on the foundation we already have and further weaken us by their insinuations and accusations. The best follower is a quiet one, one who won’t challenge the teacher. Guilt, intimidation, uncertainty—these are all tools in the narcissist’s toolbox.

So we had some fun last week (wonderful comments, btw!) and along comes a reminder that we are all guilty of these things, that we are not better than others. Now, please understand, I am not scolding or judging whoever made the comments. I just want to point out why that happens. And I want to show why it is an error.

Let’s start by establishing the fact that we simply do not do what some people do. When you hear about a murder or a rape, do you stop to remind yourself that you are a sinner also? Probably not. You want the person to be caught and brought to justice. You have no hesitation in thinking that the perpetrator is accountable—and that he is different from you. You could be with children all day and not molest any of them. You could look at a pretty girl in a secluded place and not attempt to rape her. You could probably be in charge of a friend’s finances and not steal anything. Many of you have told your stories here and I know that you have lived in relationship with some of the most difficult people in the world—and you have not committed murder. The truth is that there is a difference between you and many others.

Now, just what is that difference? You see, most of us were taught in church that all sin is the same and that any of us could do anything. I agree with that to a point. I believe any of us could commit any sin—but we don’t. I believe all sin is the same when the need for a Savior is proclaimed—but not all sin is the same in the practice of daily life. Some sin hurts others more seriously than other sin. Some is more cruel, more insidious, and, perhaps, more evil. Yes, there is sin on all our accounts and we all need the Savior’s love, but there are distinctions that are real and important. Otherwise, we can’t ever judge any cruel act.

When Jesus said that lust was the same as adultery and depersonalization was the same as murder, He meant that guilt was guilt in the eyes of God, and all sin creates a need for forgiveness and salvation. He was chastising the self-righteous leaders for judging some people as less valuable in the eyes of God. The sins of the leaders, while acceptable within the community perhaps, were still not acceptable to God. Jesus is not saying that the person who calls his brother a fool should be treated like a murderer. He is simply saying that we all sin.

We all agree that there are things on the list from last week that could apply to our behavior and attitudes at times. There is no question that I can be argumentative and critical and belligerent sometimes (I will spare you the rest of me that’s on that list). But that doesn’t make me a narcissist. When we list adjectives like that, we are just describing characteristics. For example, I could say that an apple is red, round, hard, sweet, edible, and falls from a tree. That doesn’t mean that every red thing is an apple. Nor does it mean that every hard thing that falls from a tree is an apple. These are just a list of an apple’s attributes. If all of them are true, I will begin to think of an apple, of course. And if many or all of the things on our lists from last week are true of a certain person, I will begin to wonder if that person is a narcissist.

There is another notable difference between most of us and the narcissist. When I do these things and I realize that I have done them, I experience regret. Not just regret for getting caught, but genuine regret for hurting someone and for being less than I could be. I often remember those things long after I did them because I wish I had never done them. Now, I believe there is no guilt on my account with God for those things because of what Jesus did for me and I have, when appropriate, apologized to the person, but I still remember and feel bad. I know I am not guilty, but I still beat myself with those things. Almost everyone reading this will understand… except for the narcissist.

You see, the narcissist only regrets getting caught or burning a useful bridge, he/she does not regret saying what was said. If he called you a name that cut deep, he has probably forgotten it, or he did it purposely to manipulate you in some way. For example, narcissists attack when they feel threatened. That’s when they use your secrets against you. Do they regret doing it? Of course not, no more than they would regret picking up a stick to chase away a threatening dog. You are not a person and your secrets are tools to be used.

But you don’t think that way and it is just fine for you to acknowledge that. You are different from the narcissist. Many have noted the existence of a kind of narcissistic spectrum. This concept may or may not be helpful. If we say that anyone on the spectrum is a narcissist, then it isn’t helpful. If we say that there is a point at which this behavior defines a person, that the person consistently acts in these negative ways, and is therefore a narcissist; then the spectrum is being used correctly. Not all vain people are narcissists, but vain people who also use others and have no empathy and regularly say and do inappropriate things might be.

My point is that the guilt we bring into these relationships is a weapon they will use against us. The narcissist and the legalist will heap more guilt on you and use that guilt to beat you into submission. The moment you try to defend yourself, they will pounce and accuse you of the same thing. They will gaslight you into thinking that it is really all your problem as they project their own behavior on you. As long as you let them present the axioms, set the agenda, provide the criteria—you will lose.

So, don’t bring the guilt for them to use. No, you are not perfect. No one is. Yes, you sometimes do wrong things. We all do. But you are not like the narcissist. And listen: you can disagree. When the narcissist begins to say that you are the one with the problem and that you do the same thing you are accusing him/her of doing, you can stop and say no.

“No, I am not like you.” If you can’t say it, at least let yourself think it.

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Telling Yourself the Truth

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

Thirty years ago I picked up a great little book by William Backus and Marie Chapian that talked about what they called “Misbelief Therapy.” The idea was that when we speak lies to ourselves, either lies we have heard from others or lies we have determined in our own hearts, we suffer needlessly. The truth will set us free, according to the Scripture. For too many, it is the lie that binds us. More recently, Joseph Prince, a very popular preacher from Singapore, has taught on the “power of right believing.” It is the evil one who lies and has built lies into our world and our lives. The truth will set us free.

These days I receive many emails with painful stories and cries for help and encouragement. Most often, the victim of the narcissist has accepted so many lies that he/she is almost overwhelmed with confusion and grief. I find the same thing with believers who have been abused by legalism. Their ideas of who they are and what they can do are greatly affected by the lies they have been told. But the truth can set us free.

So it seemed important for me to try to put some of these things together for today’s post. Read them out loud to yourself. Maybe you would add some to the list. Let the truth destroy the lies you have learned and lived with.

I will say that this is an overtly Christian blog. All are welcome and I care deeply for those of you who do not share my faith, but I cannot avoid speaking out of what I have learned to be true and according to the perspective I have lived. I encourage everyone to read through these statements and find strength and truth.

 

The narcissist does not define you. You might feel like you have lost yourself, that you have become another person, but this relationship does not determine who you are. It doesn’t matter if you are married to the narcissist or if you are the child of a narcissist. You are still an individual, still a person.

You do not need the narcissist. Because your identity does not come from the narcissist, you do not need that person in your life. You may choose to allow that person in your life, but you don’t need him/her. You are a real and valuable person apart from the narcissist.

You do not need to change your situation in order to become you again. Nor do you need to stay in your situation to be yourself. You can and should be who you are where you are, no matter what is happening around you. You may need to make a change in order to be safe or to protect your children, but that change will not change you.

You are not defined by what you do. Apart from what you do, you are still you. Your value is not limited to what you contribute to others. Rejection does not reflect your value, nor does criticism. Failure is a normal part of human life. Everyone fails—no one is a failure.

Narcissism is evil. It hurts others for its own purposes. You do not deserve to be hurt or used or abused. You are not the cause of the narcissism and it is not right for you to be a victim. Sometimes we are called to endure evil, but we are never called to think that evil is good. You are free, even right, to say that narcissistic abuse is wrong and should end.

You will not fix your narcissist. Even if you believe he/she can be helped, you are not the one to do it. You have been used by the narcissist and you are not in the position to help, no matter how much you have read or understand—no matter how much you still care.

You will not save the narcissist. Yes, the narcissist needs Jesus, needs forgiveness and peace, but you cannot make that happen. No actions, no words, no beliefs will force your narcissist to come to Jesus. That simply is not your job. Nor is your presence required for that to happen.

You are greatly valued and greatly loved. Nothing your narcissist says or does can change that. God knows you and loves you. He sees your struggle and He calls you to His arms. He is with you always. In the midst of your pain, there is peace—even joy—for you in His presence.

In Jesus you are already free, already victorious, already strong, already good, already forgiven, already alive. All that He has for you is found in your relationship with Him. Look to Him before you look to the narcissist, or the pain, or the rejection, or the situation. In Him you will find acceptance, love, and peace. He is the One who tells you who you are, because He is the One who made you and molded you. He is the One who sees you as valuable, precious, and good.

 
When the lies oppress you, tell yourself the truth. Read this list over and believe these things. No matter what your situation, you are too valuable, too precious, to be depersonalized by the narcissist. If you can’t accept these things, find someone who believes them about you and let that person tell them to you over and over. Find a good counselor or a good friend who cares.

You need the truth. There you will find freedom.

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Not Nice

It’s Narcissist Friday!  

 

I wonder when America chose being nice as its highest value. Was it just since movies and television? We have several old photos of ancestors, and one common thread, no matter what branch of the family, is that they are not smiling. You get the impression that they were not nice people. Today, everybody puts on phony smiles so they can pretend to be nice, but maybe being nice wasn’t such a high value back then.

Sometime someone decided that we should all be nice. We were told to be nice to our siblings and praised for being nice children. No matter what someone was doing, we could get them in trouble by accusing them of not being nice. We wore nice clothes, drew nice pictures, acted nice on the playground, and said our prayers like nice little boys and girls. And, somehow, that was supposed to be more spiritual.

But being nice also meant not telling the whole truth much of the time. Just keep your opinions to yourself. It meant not dealing with abuses done by those who weren’t so nice. It meant not bringing up those abuses, even to those who could do something about them. Our goal was not to be honest or forthright or strong, just to be nice.

Nice people became prey for the predators, food for the hungry users and abusers. Churches still do nothing about abuses because the leaders are bound to portraying themselves as nice. Church discipline isn’t nice. Confronting people with their sins isn’t nice. And, since we are all so willing to suffer to be seen as nice, leaders are willing to let people suffer. We just want a nice church.

Years ago I found a coffee cup with a grumpy character on it and the words, “No More Mr. Nice Guy!” I had it on my desk one day when someone who disagreed with me saw it and said, “What do you mean, ‘no more’?” In other words, she thought I had stopped being nice when I disagreed with her on something. And maybe I was never all that nice.

You see, I believe the church should confront the abuser and cannot let the abused feel alone and abandoned. I have had to do it several times and I hated it every time. It wasn’t nice and some of the people thought I wasn’t nice. People left our church because we stood up for those who were being hurt and confronted the ones who were judgmental and unkind. My only regret was in not doing it earlier in several cases.

The word, “nice,” has an interesting history. It comes to us from Latin, through Old French and Middle English, and means—are you ready?—stupid! It suggested a simpleton who didn’t know when someone was being cruel or antagonistic. We can imagine someone with a silly grin on his face as people taunt him. To be nice was to misunderstand what was going on.

Well, isn’t that about right? In our desire to be nice, we allow the narcissists and abusers to control churches and governments and families. We stand there with stupid grins on our faces while they say whatever they want no matter how much it hurts us. (I’m sorry, I know that hits close to home.) We let them get by with their nastiness time after time. And, all the while, they think of us as stupid.

Someone might say, “Well, doesn’t the Bible tell us to be nice?” Nope! Not once. It tells us to be patient and compassionate and kind and loving and generous and even willing to suffer, but not to be nice. I don’t think Jesus was nice. I think He was gracious and giving and happy, but few people would refer to Him as nice. And no one would refer to the Father as nice. Loving, yes. Nice, no.

There are times when we ought to call others on their behavior. There are times when we should speak up and challenge unkind statements or actions. Church and organization leaders and government officials should stop worrying about what others will think and just do the right thing. If to be nice means that we stand by while others are hurt, then being nice is not being good. If being nice means allowing yourself to be used, then being nice is not smart.

Now, I believe there are times to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. Jesus knew what He was saying. There are also times to call the Pharisees around us “whitewashed tombs” or to point out their hypocrisy. You can choose to let others use you and you can choose when it should stop. You don’t have to be nice.

Narcissists and others depend on a culture of nice to stop any opposition against their abuses. Maybe, in your situation, it’s time to take some of that nice out of your culture. Pray and trust the Lord. Don’t do this lightly. There are risks. Keep yourself safe. Prepare for consequences. Just know that being a doormat is not more spiritual. If you choose to let it continue, that’s fine. But you don’t have to.

So, for the sake of irony, maybe it’s time to stand up to the narcissist and say, “You are not nice!”

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Filed under Legalism, Narcissism

What must I do? – pt 3

 

I have often made the point that good works proceed out of our relationship with Jesus, rather than produce our relationship with Him. We are not saved by good works, according to the Scriptures, nor do we stay saved by good works. Instead, we are saved “unto good works,” as Ephesians says. When we are saved, we become capable of good works, restored to be the people we should be.

 

Scripture expects the people of God to do good. Because He does good and He is the active life in us as we yield to Him, the Lord’s goodness is seen in us. He uses us to reach out to others in love. Sometimes our actions, as we listen to His leading, are the answer to someone else’s prayers. What a blessing that is to us!

 

I believe that the normal Christian life will produce good. It is in the nature of the believer to do good. Our Lord is always doing good and He is active in us.

 

But there are some who twist even this truth. They say that certain things must come out of a believer’s life. If those things don’t happen or can’t be seen, then the person must not be a believer, they say. Not only are the rules evidence of salvation, they are necessary evidence.

 

So you might hear something like this: “I just don’t know about someone who says he is a believer but never gives to the church.” Or, “How can someone be a Christian and not tell others about Jesus?” These people will quickly say that tithing doesn’t produce salvation. They know that sharing the gospel with the lost is not a pre-requisite for being saved. But they seem to say that these things are necessary “post-requisites.”

 

It is customary for “post-salvation legalists” to cite passages about bearing fruit. They pull out Jesus’ words (which are really about the false prophets) in Matthew 7:20:

 

Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

 

But the Scripture is very clear about where the fruits of righteousness come from in our lives. The simple truth is that Jesus does His own work.

 

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10  that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11  being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11 (NKJV)

Any fruit that comes out of us is from His life in us. So do we have the right to tell Jesus what fruit He should produce? Can we give Him a list of expectations with the insinuation that we will judge His presence in a person by whether or not those expectations are kept? Who are we to judge the people of God who are led by the heart and mind of God?

 

Churches, teachers, and individuals often place their own expectations on other believers. Usually portions of Old Testament law are woven into the list. Tithing, not eating certain kinds of meat, obeying parents—these and others. And often they are reflections of cultural morality: avoiding certain movies or drinks or styles of dress. Sometimes they are blatant church-serving expectations: giving to the building fund, serving in the Sunday School, or church attendance. They can’t say anyone is saved by doing these things or that anyone who didn’t do them could lose their salvation, so they say that these will arise naturally and necessarily out of anyone who is saved.

 

But it is the same old story, isn’t it? Salvation is still judged by the work of the individual, rather than by the work of Jesus. If all we can do is receive what Jesus has done for us, then who can judge our salvation on the basis of our works? The only righteous Judge is Jesus—and He is the One who saves us on the simple basis of His love.

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Filed under grace, Legalism

What must I do? – pt 2

Am I still saved?

If we are saved by the gift of God in Jesus and simply have to believe/receive the gift in order for it to be fully ours, then what do we have to do in order to stay saved?

Many religious groups and teachers understand that the gospel is simple, that faith is what enables a person to receive the gift of salvation and that no works or rituals are required. They don’t argue that point. They know they would bring the charge of “salvation by works” on themselves. But they change the focus by suggesting that those who are saved can stay saved by adhering to a certain set of standards. In fact, some go so far as to suggest that those who don’t behave or live a certain way will lose their salvation.

Another facet of this is the claim that you have to do certain things in order to be “really saved.” No one knows how “really saved” is different from regular saved, but that isn’t discussed. So a person might say that he believes in the saving power of Jesus and has accepted the work of Jesus for himself; but, if he doesn’t live according to the rules and standards, he isn’t “really saved.”

While there is nothing in the Bible that teaches these things, many believers live under the fear and shame of doubt concerning their salvation because they know they don’t measure up. They continue to struggle against sin and they find the rules and standards difficult. When they fail, the legalistic church or friend or family member is there to challenge their salvation—on the basis of their works.

Think about that. If certain works are required to keep the salvation Jesus died for or are required to be somehow “really saved,” then how is that different from the old gospel of works? If salvation is still based on what we do under certain requirements, then we still save ourselves by our own goodness, don’t we?

Perhaps I know that I will never get rich based on my financial skills. So someone gives me riches at his own expense. They are a gift, based on no effort of my own. Now, what would lead me to believe that I could keep those riches or make them grow on the basis of my financial skills? The same lack that would make it impossible for me to become rich would make it as difficult for me to stay rich. (Just ask the lottery winners!)  The only way I could stay rich is if I were to be given so much that my lack of skill could not use it up, or if my benefactor were to continue to pour out riches to me in spite of my ineptness.

I think this is what Jesus has done for those who belong to Him. He pours out on us more than we can lose or ruin and He keeps giving us more. He is the One who saves us and who keeps us saved. He is the One who makes sure we are “Really saved.”

He calls, He gives, He keeps. The Author and Finisher of our faith.

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Filed under Legalism, Relationship, Theology and mystery

Willful Sin

Legalism depends on loopholes. Without loopholes, no one could stand the fear and oppression of the law. The Jewish teachers of Jesus’ time were masters of loopholes and Jesus challenged them on it. Because they compromised the law with their additions and loopholes, Jesus said that they didn’t keep the law at all. This in spite of the fact that they claimed to uphold the law in all things.

I have recently been in a somewhat challenging conversation where the person claims that he/she never sins “willingly.” That’s an interesting statement. In my mind, there is no other way to sin.

Oh, I know that it is possible to transgress the law accidentally. The Old Testament has some teaching about this and provisions for it. But for a Christian to claim that he never sins willingly seems very strange.

Frankly, this smells dishonest. You and I sin and we sin willingly. That means that we choose to sin. No one makes us do it. There is no evil force within us controlling our actions. Sin continues to have its appeal to our flesh and we continue to choose it. As we learn to walk according to the Spirit, we don’t need to sin and we will sin less. Yet, when we do sin, we do it because we choose to do it.

Those who have to live with people who think they never sin willingly must struggle. He is angry and lashes out in his anger, but he is not responsible because he really didn’t want to do it. She mistreats others, but you shouldn’t get upset because she doesn’t choose to do those things. Maybe it was the devil or maybe a sin nature or maybe some schizophrenic facet of themselves, but they can’t be held accountable because they did these terrible things under duress.

As long as I am being catty, I also notice that they rarely give others the same loophole. Their sin is only involuntary but they rail against others whose sin is always a choice. Mr. Churchleader accidently lusts after a young lady at church who purposely wears provocative clothes. She is culpable, but he is not. Nice.

But not honest. Why not just admit that sin is a choice? If it were not a choice, would God hold us accountable?

Here’s the rub: those who admit to sinning on purpose have to deal with Hebrews 10:26,

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins

Ouch! Whatever that means, it can’t be good. So, if I admit that I choose sin, then I no longer have access to the price Jesus paid for my sins. Some of these poor folks believe that. They can lose their salvation simply by a bad choice. (And I get challenged when I suggest that legalists live in fear!)

Obviously, this is a difficult verse. But every difficult verse of Scripture has a context. I have said many times that we must always proceed from what we know into what we don’t know. We know that God loves us. We know that we are broken creatures without Him, incapable of living right. We know that we need a Savior. We know that the Savior has done all that we need for life and godliness.

This verse has a context. Just a few verses before, we read this:

For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10:14
Notice the past tense. He “has perfected” us by the one offering on the cross. Notice the passive voice. We “are being sanctified.” This is something He has done for us and is doing in us. The Lord does all of this in us and for us.

I just read where someone said that the law was given for sanctification. The writer agrees that we are justified by grace, but believes that we are sanctified by the law. So we are given salvation as a gift, but we have to work to be sanctified. The only problem with that is that there is no salvation without sanctification. To be sanctified means to be set apart by and for the Lord. Who could be saved without belonging to the Lord?

This passage from Hebrews that is so often quoted to keep believers under the law does not refer to individual sins we do as we walk through a difficult life. It refers to those who have been part of the fellowship and have rejected Christ. Hebrews mentions this several times. There were those who were part of the church, part of the fellowship and informed about the truth, who were still not in Christ. They walked away, for whatever reasons, and left behind their only hope. Because there is no other offering for sin, those who walk away from Jesus lose what they thought they had.

But that isn’t about you and me. We hate sin and its consequences. We wish our transformation was faster. Yet, there are times when we choose to do that which used to feel good and still offers the false hope of satisfaction or pleasure.

Those who belong to Jesus are under grace—even when we sin. And we do sin willingly. The choice before us, every moment, is to walk according to the flesh or walk according to the Spirit. One way is full of trouble, the other is full of joy. But the Christian who walks according to the flesh can and will see the limitations of the flesh, the futility of doing things the way he/she did before coming to Jesus, and will be drawn to the Spirit. There is growth and progress, but there is not rejection.

The bottom line: I choose the sin I commit and I am deeply grateful for a Savior whose love is greater than my wandering heart. I am not proud of my choice, nor do I flaunt it. I simply admit the truth. And the whole truth is that I completely depend on Jesus. Apart from Him, there is no hope.

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Filed under Freedom, grace, Legalism, Relationship, Theology and mystery