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What does it mean to have a Comforter?

It’s Monday Grace!

Which is better: a map or a personal guide? Which is better: a book or a mentor? Which is better: a first aid kit or a paramedic? I suppose I am treading on thin ice with those who have had special challenges in personal relationships, but most of us would say that people are better at helping us than things. I know I would rather have a friend who prays than a prayer book.

We were made to live in relationships. That’s why relationship abuse hurts so much. It damages our trust and closes doors in us to receive good from others. I understand.

Perhaps the most important part of the grace message is the profound application of the truth that Jesus is real and active in our lives. We are not alone. We are not left with a book, even if that book is the Bible. We are not simply listed on the membership rolls of a church, we are connected with Him life to life.

Those who read here know that I believe and value the Bible. But even the Bible is only important because of the Person behind it. We are called to trust that the Spirit guides our reading and understanding of the Bible. It is not just a book filled with rules and standards and examples of those who did poorly. It is an active and personal connection with the Lord through the Holy Spirit.

So, as I was reading the other day, I came across this verse:

Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun: and look! The tears of the oppressed, but they have no comforter– On the side of their oppressors there is power, but they have no comforter.
Ecclesiastes 4:1

Oppression, cruelty, these are real and sadly common parts of life. Most of us have suffered under abusers or manipulators. We understand something of struggling under the oppression of those who hate us or care little about us. The intensity of the struggle certainly differs. There are those who have suffered far more than I have. But the feelings are much the same.

The verse I discovered in Ecclesiastes points out a vital difference between sufferers. There are those who do not have a comforter. The way this reads is that the writer is shocked and grieved that these oppressed people had no comforter. This was a great evil.

No one to sit with them and pray for them. No one to walk the difficult path with them. No one to listen to their words or salve their wounds or condemn the injustice. To have no comforter is to truly suffer.

Some of those who are reading this understand. There was a time when you had no one. No one understood. No one cared. No one helped. At least that’s what it felt like. To be alone in suffering is to be truly alone.

Jesus knew that the days ahead would be challenging for those who followed Him. He knew they would face oppression from a variety of sources. So, when He connected them with the Holy Spirit (a real Person, by the way), He said He was giving them a Comforter. Unfortunately, most modern versions dropped the term, “Comforter,” in favor of something like “Helper.” That’s good, but it misses the point. In Greek, “paraclete” means “the one who comes alongside.” He didn’t just come to help, but to comfort.

So, when the disciples and others faced oppression and suffering, they had a Comforter. The Holy Spirit of God was with them, personally present. They were not alone. The theological mystery might have been difficult, but they understood that Jesus was with them in the Person of the Spirit.

To have a Comforter means there is One who sees our tears, hears our complaints, and knows our hearts. One who loves us and accepts us, even when others turn away. Even when our feelings are unreasonable, He remains with us. He does help us, but His presence makes the difference.

When I was first in ministry, I went regularly to the nursing home to spend time with the folks who were trapped by age and infirmity in wheelchairs and beds and a small community served by underpaid workers. While the primary place I went to was good and the caregivers did care, those who lived there were usually alone.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised when I asked what they wanted to sing. Almost every time the answer was the same: “What A Friend!” I think I understand that better now.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Thank you, Joseph Scriven, for writing this reminder that our Comforter is real and present with us!


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Not Better, Not Worse

It’s Narcissist Friday!

If I could kill any demon or evil spirit among the people of God, it would be comparisons. There must be a special evil that moves believers to compare themselves with each other.

Comparisons are never a right part of the family of God. None of us is better than another. None of us is less than another. All are completely dependent on Jesus.

It is the flesh that wants to compare. Our desire is to know ourselves. Apart from the Lord, we have only other people to help us see ourselves. We use other people as our mirror to tell us about ourselves. At the same time, the flesh is heavily invested in making us feel good. So, when we look at others, our flesh wants to see their weaknesses and inferiority. That makes us feel better.

But there is a curious thing about the flesh. Apart from the Lord, we cannot see ourselves as complete and good. When we look at others, we also see how they are better than us. If we think they have something more or are desired more, we envy them. We make ourselves feel worse.

Now, a lot depends on our upbringing, the environment in which we grew up. If you were raised with criticism, you probably see more negative in yourself when you look at others. If you were raised with praise, you may see positive in yourself when you look at others. Neither are good.

Comparisons always hurt you. They will never accomplish what you want. Here’s why:

First, comparisons are never of the Lord. They are a thing of the flesh. If you feed the flesh, live according to the desires of the flesh, you will not enjoy the Spirit’s blessing. In other words, you will miss what you should experience in the Christian life. Comparisons kill joy, peace, and security. The freedom you should have in Christ is sacrificed to the comparisons.

Second, you always lose when you begin to compare. Perhaps it seems obvious that you lose when you compare yourself negatively against others. But you also lose when you compare yourself positively. When you think of yourself as better than someone else, you close the door to the growth and change the Lord wants for you. Jesus had an important comment for those who judge others.

For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
Matthew 7:2

Think about that. As you compare yourself favorably against others, others are comparing themselves favorably against you. That sets up a competition, a division, between you and others. You know this intuitively, so you begin to fix yourself, make yourself more desirable, superior. Again, your joy slips away. As you judge, you know you are being judged.

This is why the narcissist, who wants so badly to see himself as superior, must always struggle against comparisons. A great deal of narcissistic anger comes out of this constant battle in the mind and flesh. While looking down on others, the narcissist knows others are judging him. So, he lies and cheats and manipulates and abuses in order to look better to himself. As I have written before, the narcissist will cheat at solitaire just to feel better about himself. But he knows it is a lie, and it never satisfies.

Finally, the comparison competition never ends. There is no limit to the things that can be compared. You know this. The person who seems to have the best of everything still knows that others are better in some way. Comparisons are a consuming pastime.

So, let it all go. Learn to see yourself and accept yourself in relationship with the Lord who loves you. You don’t need to use others to discover yourself. You can find both welcome and freedom as you come to Him.

I have seen comparisons make people very unhappy. Please don’t let that happen in your life.


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What does it mean to hear God’s voice?

It’s Monday Grace!

I remember a story of two men walking in the city. One man noticed a bird singing and commented on it. The other asked how he could possibly hear the sound of a bird over the traffic and noise of the city. The first man said that we hear what we listen for. To prove his point, he took some coins from his pocket and threw them on the sidewalk. Not only did his friend hear the sound, but several others in the area turned to it.

We hear what we listen for. Now, I want to be careful. These posts are never meant to be condemning or even particularly critical. Yet, some are so used to negative preaching that they quickly accept condemnation or put up walls against it. The fact that we hear what we listen for is meant to remind us that God is speaking and we should seek to hear His voice.

If I asked you how often you hear God’s voice, most would say that they never have. But, if I asked whether God has spoken to you, I would get a different response. My own response would be similar. Rarely have I heard the voice of God, never in the booming thunder we would expect. Yet, God has often spoken to me. Acknowledging that difference is important.

Some of us were taught an automatic answer: God speaks to me in His word. In other words, I read the Bible and I try to do what it says. It is true, of course. God does speak to us through His word. That’s why He gave it to us, as a message of His love for us. But that isn’t the only way God speaks to us, is it? It may be the only way some preachers ever teach, but they are not right. God does speak to our hearts through His Spirit in us. And we can learn to listen.

I like the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. He has been successful in his battle against evil, but he is worn and discouraged. Everyone he knows is on the side of evil. At least that’s how he felt. And some of those folks wanted to kill him. In hiding, deep in a cave, Elijah longed for a word from the Lord.

Outside the cave, the wind blew so strong that it dislodged rocks from the mountain. But there was no word for Elijah in the wind. An earthquake rumbled and shook the ground, but there was still no word. Then a fire roared past the entrance to the cave, but Elijah did not hear the voice of God. Finally, the text says, there was a “still small voice.” A whisper, easily missed unless Elijah was listening.

In that whisper, that gossamer thread of sound, God spoke to Elijah. Others might have heard the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but only Elijah heard the intimate breath of God. And God told Elijah what he needed to hear.

Let’s face it, this world is noisy. Our world demands our attention. But God is not demanding or frightened or cruel. He does not need to shout. Instead, He gently calls our attention to Himself and speaks with love.

Yes, we can hear His voice from many sources. His word does speak His will for us. So do other believers at times. And sometimes, the patient nudging of the Spirit in our hearts is enough for us to know what He wants to tell us.

No, there is not one way for all. Your relationship with the Lord is personal, even unique. Step away from the expectations and the turmoil to find a time when you can listen. Tell Him that you want to hear His will. Be prepared to do what He says. Believe that He is near, that He loves you, and that He wants to lead you. Submit yourself to Him and trust Him. Then you will find Him leading you, even if you don’t remember hearing His voice.

The key is listening.

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
Psalm 34:17-19

But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
John 10:2-4

Ask God to help you hear His voice. Then listen.

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Work for Yourself

It’s Narcissist Friday!

They call it the “Great Resignation.” People are leaving their jobs at an overwhelming rate. One article claims that this past summer (2021) 95% of workers considered changing jobs. Many of these are serious career changes.

Perhaps it’s the pandemic. Perhaps it’s the economy. Perhaps people are just fed up with being used.

We rarely talk about the narcissistic culture. Businesses complain about employees who are unfaithful, unreliable, and unmotivated. Yet, employees may not be the problem. Most businesses today consider employees expendable commodities.

It is tough to be an employee in retail these days. Most are paid the least the company can get by with. New employees are hired at a higher rate than those who have been working a while. Schedules have little regularity, and bosses have little concern for the personal needs of workers. In fact, bosses and shareholders see employees as less than people, Employees represent problems and challenges for the system, even though they are the front line workers.

I have come to understand that one of the primary places to see narcissism is at work. It isn’t just retail. Consider the medical field. Almost any organized profession is led by people who care little about those under them. Employees are seen as tools to be used. When they wear out, the company just gets new ones.

A close friend used to have a line at the bottom of his emails that said:

“The floggings will continue until morale improves.”

Sadly, many managers have adopted that philosophy. Rather than truly manage, they criticize and abuse and manipulate to get what they want. Even though the “carrot and the stick” approach to managing people has been shown to be ineffective, especially today, they continue to use rewards and punishments as their primary motivators. Anything else would require them to see employees as people.

This is institutionalized narcissism. Workers are seen as assets to be used and discarded. Employees are problems unless they contribute to the advancement of the bosses. No one cares how sick you are or how sad or how discouraged. Just don’t let it affect your work.

No wonder employees are leaving. No wonder they are being drawn to the honeymoon period of a new job. They buy into the promises and praises until the new job becomes just like the old one. Then they quit and start all over again.

“But I have to have a job! What am I supposed to do?”

There is an answer. You work for yourself—always. The old motivational speakers had it right. You and I can’t work for the good of the company and expect the company to be loyal and supportive. Nor can we work for the boss to make him/her look good. We have to work for ourselves.

At work, three aspects of your life should come into play: ambition, integrity, and compassion. Narcissists have ambition, usually lots of it. But they don’t have the others. They don’t care if they take credit for what you did or steal your clients or lie about your achievements. As long as they look good in the end, they don’t care about you. You, on the other hand, care about others and about yourself.

Yes, you should want to advance yourself. You should want the best pay you can get. You should get all the training you can, especially at the expense of your employer. You should seriously consider every opportunity for advancement. Ambition is not evil. In fact, it is part of growing.

At the same time, you must do your work with integrity. Integrity is your harmony within yourself. Be who you are. A narcissist will cheat while playing Solitaire. You understand that cheating and lying to get ahead never satisfies your heart.

Finally, have compassion. On customers, on co-workers, on those under and above you. Be kind because that’s who you are. Sympathize and smile and support and help. It does come back to you, but that should not be your motivation. You should have compassion because others matter to you.

And then, work for yourself. If you are stuck with a cruel boss or an abusive company, take care of yourself. They will not take care of you. Change jobs without feeling disloyal. You really can’t feel bad for abandoning a system that doesn’t even know you are there. Nor should you give your life for a company that doesn’t care about you.

What has replaced the “carrot and the stick”? Ownership and autonomy. The company that helps its employees better themselves, that respects and trusts their workers, will prosper. But if that is not your organization, at least let it be what you do for yourself.

Begin to look at your job as a process of bettering yourself. Go to work with the idea that you will find things to enjoy and you will help others enjoy their days. This is your job, not the company’s job that you do. Anyone who connects with your job connects with you. Let that make a difference—to them and to you.

I realize this isn’t easy. It has become easy for people to complain about work and blame the company for ruining their lives. It will take a purposeful change of perspective to begin to find good for yourself in your work day, but do it.

Work for yourself, even if someone else sends you a paycheck.


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What does it mean to be a Christian?

It’s Monday Grace!

Fairly often I am asked whether so-and-so, with all his/her compromises or abuses, could be a “real” Christian. A real Christian would have to be defined by the standards of the one asking the question, I suppose. One dear lady asked me if a woman who cut her hair could be a real Christian. A mother asked about a son who wandered away from the Lord. Someone asked me if a real Christian could vote Democrat. One friend thinks real Christians should follow the Old Testament laws on eating and cleansing. And I regularly get questions about people who show narcissistic tendencies. How could they be real Christians?

I picked up a book from the free shelf at the library the other day just because of the title. Yes, I know titles are hooks, but this was so good I had to grab it. Someday, I might even read it. The title that caught my eye was, “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?”

Many people would like a checklist of some kind, something that would help them know if they are or if someone else is a real Christian. But the Bible doesn’t have a list like that. I know many churches do. I also know that many churches have lists that change. Just when you think you have all the boxes checked, another box appears. “Real Christians do this or don’t do that.”

So, when I am asked a question like this, I have to say that I don’t know the answer. All I know is that being a Christian is not a matter of checking off boxes of behavior or beliefs. It isn’t that our behavior or doctrine doesn’t matter. It’s just that those things do not determine our salvation.

Yes, there will be Democrats in Heaven and Republicans and plenty more with lesser known political ideas. There will be people who cut their hair, watched television, and smoked. There will be people who listened to music you thought was sinful and read books you would never read. There will be people there who didn’t even belong to a church. There will be mean people and foolish people and liberals and fundamentalists and probably even some agnostics.

And some who checked off all the boxes of behavior may not be in Heaven. Some who fought for family or American values will miss out. Some who were elders or preachers or Bible-quoting grandmas. Some who took great care to vote correctly and live correctly will not be there.

Because these things are not the way to be saved.

You see, the way to be saved is to come to Jesus. Christianity is a relationship with a Person, not a list of things to do or ways to think. None of us will get everything right in this life, and some of us will get a whole lot of things wrong. But those who come to Jesus to place their hope in Him will be saved.

I have guided people in praying to ask Jesus to accept their life, but I don’t think the prayer was magic. There are no special words that must be said. But there is a special Person who saves us. There is no right church or denomination or ideology that will get us to Heaven, but there is a right Person who will walk with us.

To be a Christian is to come to Jesus. To live the Christian life is to walk with Jesus. And our walk will almost certainly look like the wanderings of active children, off and on the path, distracted by the pretty things of this world and forgetting the One we are supposed to be following. Your walk might cause others to judge or to condemn, but the One you walk with is what’s important.

No, I can’t answer that question. I don’t know who is and who isn’t a “real” Christian. I suspect that many of those we think are not actually are. And I am convinced that many of those who think they are actually are not.

It’s about Jesus!

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Don’t demand forgiveness

It’s Narcissist Friday!

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

Have you ever been manipulated into saying or doing something you felt was wrong? How often have people used “spiritual” means to do that manipulation? Subtle twists of wording can turn a good thing into a weapon. Here’s an example:

“I am sorry. Do you forgive me?”

You may wonder what’s wrong with that. In fact, many of us were taught to apologize that way. It is so common, especially among people from the church. We make a simple apology then expect the other person to forgive. Well, I am calling that manipulation.

Think about it like this. Someone hurts you. You have experienced shame or loss, perhaps embarrassment, because of what they did. They get the message that you are upset, so they say, “I’m sorry.” Then they quickly turn the tables to you. You were the one who was hurt. Now, you are supposed to release them from the offense. If you don’t, or if you don’t want to, you have become the offender. Now, that person is hurt. Their offense is somehow instantly forgotten, and you are now in the wrong.

I have watched this. I have experienced this. I have seen “counselors” use this as a way to rebuild a relationship. I have heard parents demand forgiveness from their children, pastors demand forgiveness from their parishioners, and spouses demand forgiveness from the ones they are supposed to love. “Billy, he said he is sorry, so you had better forgive him!”

Notice how weak the apology is? You have probably heard this kind of apology. Did it help? Did it seem real? Did it communicate an honest regret for the action or words? Did you feel like your pain was understood and accepted? No, probably not.

Instead, the pain you suffered was marginalized. The real issue became your willingness to forgive and treat the other person as though nothing happened. Blame the victim. Shift the focus. But done with “spiritual superiority.”

No. The offender has no right to demand forgiveness from the victim. And, listen, if you don’t see the one you hurt as a victim of your offense, then you aren’t ready to apologize. The words, “I’m sorry,” just add another layer to the offense if they are not sincere.

Even if you are sorry, you can’t bind your victim with your desire for forgiveness and reconciliation. That belongs to them. If you see that you have hurt someone, identify the offense and apologize sincerely. Then step back. Don’t demand or expect anything. You can hope. You can pray for that person you hurt. But you can’t lay another burden on them. Let God bring healing in His own way and time.

This is a common technique of abusers. To cause hurt and then give a meaningless apology and expect forgiveness. They want the door to be open to hurting again. The victim is abused by the first offense and by the expectation.

Your goal, as you apologize, should never be to move the other person to do anything. Again, their response belongs to them. Your goal is to reveal your own heart, to humbly identify with the pain you caused, and take responsibility for it. Anything more just reveals that you are more concerned with yourself than with the person you hurt.

And, believe me, it never works anyway. Someone who is forced into speaking a word of forgiveness has not forgiven. They may be giving up the right to judgment or repayment, but they have not forgiven. They have been quieted, and that’s a goal worthy only of an abuser.

I do know how popular this kind of “apology” has become in the church. It seems right—sort of. There’s something about it that sounds spiritual. But it is still manipulative and unfair. Don’t do it.


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What does it mean to fear the Lord?

It’s Monday Grace!

“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

That’s a famous sermon title preached with great effectiveness by Jonathan Edwards on July 8, 1741. In the sermon, Edwards said that the only reason sinners are not dropped into hell is because of the patience of God. Their actions and attitudes deserve hell, and they are objects of God’s wrath. They are already condemned. Edwards went on to describe the sinner dangling over the fiery pit of hell.

Now, this sermon, as politically incorrect as it might be today, was a call to conversion. And it worked. Even as the sermon was delivered, people were moaning and crying out to be saved. There is little doubt that God used this intense message to bring people to Him.

But why would preachers use that theme in church today? Very few “evangelical” churches are filled with unsaved people. What would you guess is the percentage of those who would admit they are unsaved in your local church? It would be very small.

Yet, some preachers really like this kind of sermon for Sunday morning. They stand up in front of their already saved congregation to “put the fear of God in them.” And their people leave in doubt and discouragement.

I remember a man telling me that he left my church (just before I arrived as pastor) because he knew he needed to feel afraid as he left church, and he wasn’t getting that. He went to another church where the preacher focused on the fear of God.

What does it mean to fear the Lord? It is a Scriptural phrase and concept, of course. The beginning of wisdom, we are told, is the fear of the Lord. So, according to the preachers, the ones who fear God the most are the most wise. They hammer the point so much that the people who hear them live in fear of connecting with God.

Is that the proper goal for a pastor with his people? (Perhaps it is if he wants them to depend on him rather than the Lord. But that’s another discussion.)

No, a pastor should be leading the people to a real and active relationship with the Lord who loves them. God’s primary emotion toward His people is love, not anger or wrath. He draws them with love, warns them because of love, and comforts them in love.

Fear is meant to protect us and draw us to safety. Fear comes to us when we are in danger. That’s what it is for. Apart from the Lord there is danger. Hell is real. Consequences for sin are real. But those who have come to Jesus for safety (forgiveness and reconciliation) have no more reason to be afraid.

It is not by accident that the phrase “do not be afraid” is used so often in the Scriptures. God’s call to those He loves is always “do not be afraid.” Why? Because He wants us to know His heart. He is not angry with us. Those who come to God through Jesus have found the way of salvation and peace.

So, what does the Bible mean when it says people should “fear the Lord?” It means they should recognize the reality of God and how much they need Him. It means they should listen to His call and come to Him, take Him seriously. It means they are in danger apart from Him.

It is natural to run and hide from the things we fear. Is that what we want people to do when they think of the Lord? Is that what we want the people in churches to do? No! They should draw near to Him because of His love. But why would they draw near if they have been taught to be afraid?

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Just the beginning. Not the whole of wisdom. Yes, God is God, great and mighty. Yes, there is much to fear apart from Him. Once a person understands that and yields to the Lord, they find nothing to fear. In Him we find rest and peace. In Him we find welcome and love.


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Say you are sorry

It’s Narcissist Friday!

(For my grandchildren, continued)

Ever notice how hard it is for the narcissist or other abuser to say he/she is sorry? We have all heard some very poor apologies.

I’m sorry, but it was your fault.

I’m sorry, but I had no choice.

I’m sorry you took it that way.

I’m sorry someone else did that.

Almost anything besides, I’m sorry for how I hurt you. It was wrong.

Abusers think apologies make them weak. It puts them in an inferior position in the relationship. This is especially true when they need to make a public apology. So, you will hear excuses in the guise of an apology or even accusations as part of the pretense.

Yes, I suppose it does take a strong person to apologize. But that strength comes from acknowledging the truth—and the truth sets you free. To be free is to be strong.

When you hurt another person, and we all do from time to time, think about what you did from their point of view. Think of how your action may have felt to them. Were you critical? Were you cruel? Did you disrespect them? Did you take something from them? Admit what you did from the other person’s perspective. Then, show that person you understand by how you apologize.

If you wrap blame in your apology, or excuses, you show that you neither understand nor care about what you did. Instead, say the words you would want them to say if they had done it to you. You might get it wrong, of course. Then you have to listen more carefully to what they say. That’s a good thing.

To be humble is to be strong. The abuser who cannot apologize, who cannot afford to look foolish or weak, is not strong. In fact, the one who can’t apologize is the weak person. To face your own sin or error is strength.

I learned this many years ago and found it to be both freeing and powerful. An appropriate apology, after listening to the hurt or accusation of someone else, cuts right to the heart of the conflict. It can heal a relationship, and that’s strength.

But listen: don’t lie as you apologize. You don’t have to admit to something you didn’t do or think. You can admit your real motivations without compromising yourself. If you didn’t mean to hurt someone, you can say that even as you acknowledge that you did hurt them. And, if you meant to hurt them, say that. Tell the truth. They will know when you are lying anyway.

And don’t grovel. That’s what the abuser wants you to do. That’s what he/she would hate to do. There is a difference between humility and self-degradation. The abuser sees them as the same thing, but you know better. Making a mistake, even committing a sin, does not make you less of a person. Admitting the truth reveals your understanding and acceptance of yourself in this world. That’s strength.

Live in humility and in truth. Remember that your actions and words can hurt others. Take responsibility for what you did or said without feeling weak and yielding yourself to more abuse. Everyone hurts others. Confessing that you do is simply admitting the truth. We lean toward selfishness, perhaps even cruelty. Admitting that allows you to rise above those things.

The ability to apologize is a power that reveals your heart to others and brings healing.


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What does it mean to follow Jesus?

It’s Monday Grace!

I have to tell you how much I love to answer this question! To follow Jesus is the definition of the Christian life. It is the whole work of the Christian. It is the joy of our relationship with Him.

Several years ago I had a man tell me that the message of grace was dangerous. He said, as so many have, that people will hear about the love of God and just go out to sin more. Then, before I could answer, he said:

“Oh, I know, you’ll just say to follow Jesus. But I tell you that people who just follow Jesus are going to be led right into sin!”

Yes, that’s as close to a direct quote as I can remember, and the exchange is still burned into my memory. It seemed very strange at the time and, frankly, it still seems like a strange thing to say. It’s hard to imagine following Jesus into sin.

Of course, he meant they would just do what they wanted, especially if they disregarded the Scriptures and the law. He had no concept of Jesus as a Person, no understanding of a real relationship with that real Person. The man who said that to me knew the law and only the law.

But Jesus is a real Person. His invitation for us to follow Him is real, just as real as it was for the first disciples. Because He is real, following Him is possible.

Navigating our busy lives is sometimes like trying to walk through a minefield. You want to get from one place to another, but there is a minefield in between. No map. No markings. No path. Do you dare to guess where to step?

As you wonder what to do, you see a man halfway through the minefield coming toward you. He seems to know just where to step. When he reaches you, you explain that you want to get to the other side. He nods and smiles and says, “Follow me.” As he turns to walk back through the minefield, what do you do? Do you demand a map? Do you ask him to show you a path? No, you follow. Step by step, you go where he goes. He doesn’t explain where he is going or why. He just calmly walks on a path known only to him. As you follow, you are safe.

Jesus doesn’t have to explain things to us. He just asks us to follow Him. I know that some people will suggest that the Bible was given as a map to get us through life. But that was not and is not the purpose of the Bible. The Bible was written to show us Who to follow. Yes, there are some guidelines for us there, but we understand that many of the things we question in life are not clear in the Bible. We need a Person.

So, what does this look like? It might look like prayer, but that constant prayer Paul talked about when he said, “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thes. 5:17) Ask Him to lead you. Tell Him your concerns. Ask Him your questions. Then listen and trust. Trust that He has heard you. Trust that He will give you the information you need to do the right thing. Trust that you will do the right thing because He is leading you.

I think the key is believing that He is real and He cares. If you want a system to guide you, whether from the Bible or from the church, you will never find the personal help you need. If you believe that He hears you and will act out of His love for you, then you can also believe that He is actively guiding you. It doesn’t matter if you don’t hear His voice or even see clearly where you are going. All that matters is that your heart is fixed on Him and you want to follow Him. He will take care of the rest.

And, remember, He doesn’t talk very much. He just walks through your life with His wisdom and love. You may not get many answers. The path ahead may continue to be unknown to you. But as you look to Him and trust Him, He will lead you through to the other side.


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People Are Complicated

It’s Narcissist Friday!

It took a long time for me to understand that normal people can hold conflicting, even contradictory, emotions and perspectives. We see this all the time, but it doesn’t make much sense. We want to categorize people, to be able to predict their actions and attitudes. We want to understand them.

But people are complicated.

The loving grandfather who visits abusive porn sites. The pastor who betrays confidences or makes inappropriate advances. The attorney who embezzles funds. The marriage counselor who has an affair with a client. The sweet grandmother who hates people of a different race. The close friend who cheats with your spouse. We wonder how these people can live with such contrasting behaviors and wonder which is real. Often, both sides of the contradiction are real, but the person is somehow content with the conflict.

These are extreme cases, you say. But they are not less real for being extreme. Most people are able to maintain what you and I would consider conflicting perspectives, especially about political or lifestyle issues. People who would never steal will cheat on their taxes. People who would never disobey the law will flout speed limits. I once visited a lady in the hospital who was kind and loving to everyone but threw her garbage on the floor while saying that others would clean it up. Her garbage bag was attached to her table within easy reach. It didn’t bother her at all to make an orderly’s job more difficult.

How can we truly connect with others when they hold such inconsistencies? How can we trust them, any of them? Unless you know all about them, there is a risk of meeting some kind of alter ego at an unexpected time. You know what I mean. Having dinner with gracious Christian friends when one of your hosts begins to rail against people with disabilities or financial struggles. Did he think that about you when he offered to help you out?

It is tempting to dismiss these things as split personalities or some other kind of disorder, but it is true for all of us. No one is perfectly consistent, and few of us are truly predictable. In many small ways, we hold conflict within us.

There are people who hold certain values but vote for people who oppose those values. There are people who truly believe one thing is important, but do another thing. There are people who say they hate certain things, but then do those things themselves. And some of them are people close to you.

It might be financial decisions, political opinions, or religious doctrines. Most people simply don’t worry about logical contradictions or inconsistencies. They have enough difficulty moving through their complicated lives without worrying about those things.

As much as these things disturb us, they are quite normal. People are complicated. We are not logic-based machines. We think out of a mess of emotions, past events, and opinions from others. Be careful how you judge and what you expect.

You see, narcissists and other abusers love to “discover” these inconsistencies. They will trumpet the negative things they find, even if those things are in the past. They remember past sins and compromises so they can use those things to humiliate and manipulate.

You, on the other hand, have to be able to value others in spite of their inconsistencies. For example, when the narcissist points out the bigotry of your father, he doesn’t want to hear about the love your father actually shows to everyone. Nor does he want to hear an excuse you might have for your father’s inappropriate opinions. That bigotry is supposed to invalidate everything your father says, no matter how wise or loving your father is otherwise.

We do understand the challenge this represents to you in the middle. But, again, people are complicated. If that bigotry defines your father, if he is a man filled with hate for certain people, then you have to see that and admit it. If his bigotry comes out of ignorance or a continuing struggle from his past, you may be able to help him through it. But, in that case, it does not define him. It is wrong and hurtful, but your father is more than that and can move past it.

If we are not able to accept the inconsistencies of our friends or family, we will find ourselves very much alone. The abusers want us to be alone. They want us to themselves. When we are alone, we are weak.

Love means that we accept those who are broken and inconsistent. We should be careful not to entrust ourselves to them, but we can still love them. The narcissist knows nothing of this love and wants nothing of it.

So, someone might ask, what about the narcissist himself/herself? Isn’t that just an inconsistency? That’s possible, I suppose. There are people who become quite self-centered and protective when under stress. That might be inconsistent with their normal character. But narcissism and abuse usually come from a more consistent place. It takes a while for the victim to understand that the kind and generous behavior was the inconsistency.

Like the friendly and gracious child-molester, the narcissist knows that he/she must hide the dark side in most relationships. This is why people are so surprised when they learn the truth. But what they learn is that the person is normally cruel and dark and the positive presentation has been phony or, at least, inconsistent.

And what about those times when you see inconsistency in yourself? When you have a genuine desire, almost a natural bent, to love others, but find yourself hating someone? It is right to acknowledge that as an inconsistency in yourself and take it to the Lord. When those things are revealed in us, we should be willing to work toward change and welcome the Lord’s activity.

Yes, people are complicated. And so are you. It is this life.

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