Grace – what God Does

It’s Monday Grace!

I have studied and taught the idea of grace for a long time. I would consider myself a “grace teacher.” I even have an advanced degree in theology. But defining grace is beyond me. There’s a reason for that.

You see, grace is more than an idea or a concept. It is more than a theological or doctrinal tenet. Grace is directly (and inseparably) related to God. And God is a Person. A person is far more complex, more mysterious, than a theological concept.

Of course, when pushed, I have to come up with some kind of definition of grace. I usually say, “Grace is what God does.” That covers all I need in my life and all you need in yours. Sometimes, if I have more space, I will say, “Grace is what God does for us.” If I want to sound theological, I say, “Grace is the activity of God’s love.

God loves us. He loves us so much that He is active in our lives and in our world. If we learn anything from the Bible, we must learn that God is concerned about the people of His creation. He created things good for us. He was hurt when we turned away from Him. He works to call people back to Himself. He welcomes those who come to Him with an open heart. All of this is grace.

Everything you and I need for “life and godliness” is given to us as a gift in Jesus. Think about that. All that God requires of you, He has given to you. Righteousness, justification, holiness—they all come through Jesus. All are gifts found in our relationship with Him.

That leads some to teach that “grace is a Person.” They are right. Jesus came out of the activity of God’s love for you and me. Jesus is the love of God. The teachings, the miracles, the cross, the resurrection, the eternal reign—all the things Jesus did—came out of the love of God for us. Today, Jesus is with us as our Friend, our Brother, our Savior, and our King. All because of the love God has for us.

It’s all grace, but listen: the point is that it is all for you. God loves you.

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.
2 Peter 1:2-3

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Support Community

It’s Narcissist Friday!

When the narcissistic relationship ends, who stands with you? Some are shocked to find that almost no one believes them, no one stands with them. Others are not so shocked.

From the beginning, the narcissist works to separate the victim from their support community. Quit school to get a job (and leave the friends behind). Move to a different state and leave family behind. Too busy for organizations. Too separate for close friends. The victim often finds that support has disappeared.

Well, at least you have the church. Right? But when the adultery happens, or the abuse, the people of the church stand with him. You go to the pastor for counsel and find that the narcissist has already convinced the pastor to be against you. Not even the church supports you.

Then, when he announces that he doesn’t want you any more, you find yourself alone. Friends have taken his side. Even the kids don’t understand. Even your family seems to blame you. The people in your life have all heard bad things about you from him.

Now what?

Some people feel stuck in the relationship because they have no support outside. The abuse continues because they don’t think they have anywhere to go. But when the narcissist leaves or abandons you, what do you do?

I wish this never happened in real life, but I have heard so many stories on this theme. The narcissist strips away as much support as possible. He/she must control the community. Some have found loneliness and depression after the narcissistic relationship was over.

Here are some thoughts on how to rebuild your support.

  1. Ask the Lord – He will never leave you nor forsake you. That’s what He promises. Yet, He knows you need other people. Ask Him. See who He brings to you.
  2. Expand your horizons – The people God sends might not think like you. Narcissists seem to love legalistic or separatist churches because the community is so small. The distrust is strong. So, you may have learned to distrust people who don’t think like you. Let God bring whoever He wants into your life. You don’t have to give up what you believe to have a friend who doesn’t believe the same things. Be careful, of course. Be wise. But don’t put up walls that don’t need to be there.
  3. Support others – To find a friend, be a friend. That’s what we were told. People who need you may also be able to give you support. The little old lady who lives nearby might need your help with a problem and also be able to pray for you. The young ladies at the gym or the shelter might appreciate your help with the kids or just your words of wisdom. In return, they give respect and welcoming smiles. Support comes from surprising places.
  4. Don’t take it personally – I know that sounds strange. But understand that separating you from supportive people is a well-recognized narcissistic practice. It wasn’t you. People didn’t stand apart because you were bad or unworthy. You still have all the good that friends used to see in you.
  5. Try to repair relationships – Yes, you may have done some dumb things. So many have told me that they were critical of family, mean to friends, superior to neighbors—because that was the culture of the narcissistic relationship. You may have been judgmental or thoughtless or separate. So, apologize. Apologizing isn’t hard when you realize you were wrong. You might find people who have been praying for you and wishing for a chance to be friends again.

And, remember that you are never alone. The Lord loves you. He stands with you. You have not been abandoned by Him.

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Corporate and personal

It’s Monday Grace!

“I know that God loves everyone, but I don’t know that He loves me.”

I actually heard those words a few years ago from a pastor. That might seem a little strange to you, but it is a real problem in the church. God loves everyone, but does He even know about me?

For most of the church, connection with God is corporate. That means they belong to a church in order to be acceptable to God. Around the world, there are millions of people connected to God through their church only. Now, they might believe. They accept the message of the Bible as true, for the most part. But they don’t know God as a person. They know the story of Jesus, but they don’t know Jesus.

I don’t judge the corporate faith of the majority of the world’s Christians. In fact, that connection is real to them. It is the definition of their faith. I don’t judge whether or not they are saved. But they are missing something wonderful. They are missing the Person of Jesus.

Does God love everyone? Yes! He even loves those who hate Him. He loves all the people in the churches everywhere and all the people who aren’t in church. His love isn’t the question. The question is, “Does God love me?”

God is great enough to see the whole of His church with love. He refers to the Church as His “bride.” But He is so great that He knows you personally. He knows your name, your struggle, your worries. He knows what you have done. And He loves you—just plain old you.

I think it is great that the Church is so large. So many people across the world and across history. But I think it is even greater that Jesus loves me.

I am convinced that one reason Jesus came in the flesh was to communicate the heart of God toward individuals. Notice how often Jesus interacts with just one person. The leper, the adulteress, the demon-possessed man, the woman at the well. He looked them in the eye, touched them with His hands, to show them that God loved them. He spoke to the crowds, but His words were heard by individuals. And they believed that God loved them.

Yes, God knows you and loves you. Jesus is His proof.

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Trust

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

How long have we known that little rhyme? If you haven’t heard the rhyme, you certainly understand the message. The people that trick us use our trust against us. That’s their shame. But when we let them trick us again, when we know their character, that’s our shame.

No wonder victims of narcissists feel so much shame. Narcissists trick us over and over and over. They promise and don’t deliver, they entice and then abuse, they weasel into our hearts and hurt us. That’s just what they do, again and again. After a while, we should know better.

Well, after a while, we begin to learn. But it is hard to trust some people and not others. Instead, we begin not to trust anyone. We begin to doubt the motives and the kindness of all the people around us.

This loss of trust is a mark of the abused. Some just wait for the evil to happen. People are kind, at first, then they bite. Better to prepare yourself for the pain than to open yourself to disappointment again.

After the narcissistic relationship, it is normal to distrust others. Especially if you have been part of a narcissistic organization or family. You know how kindness is used to get inside your life. The generosity and love people share always come with ulterior motives, you think. Believe me, distrust is normal.

And how in the world do you rebuild trust? Well, first, you don’t want to rebuild your naivete. The narcissist taught you to be careful. Some people go from one narcissistic relationship to another and to another, as though they learned nothing. Innocence is precious, and naive trust seems innocent, but you don’t want to be hurt over and over. You might as well learn from life’s hard lessons.

While we are called to be kind and loving toward people, I don’t see where we are called to trust them. Instead, we extend our friendship and open our hearts with a certain caution. Proverbs 4:23 tells us to protect our hearts (keep, guard). We shouldn’t open ourselves to others easily. Teach that to your children. Trust is a gift to give, but not something to spend foolishly.

Is that harsh? I don’t think so. There are predators of all kinds in this world. We used to trust people on the television. We used to trust the people who called us on the telephone. We used to trust all kinds of people. Now the abusers are taking advantage of that trust. It is time to be wise.

At the same time, you and I can love others. We can be kind and compassionate, understanding and patient, without opening ourselves quickly to abuse. We can enter relationships without pushing people away or making them jump through hoops. We can extend a hand of trust without yielding a heart of trust.

So, will you ever be able to trust again? Yes. Some people will convince you of their right motives. That will feel good. You will find good people in your circles, people who respect you as a person and don’t want to use you. People who need who you are as much as you need who they are.

And, yes, you will probably get hurt again. Relationships are tough. Even the best people let us down sometimes, just as we let them down sometimes.

But listen: the next person who weasels into your life to use you should at least have to work a lot harder! Maybe they will see your strength and feel your boundaries and give up before they get what they want.

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God loves you!

It’s Monday Grace!

A friend of mine has dedicated himself and his ministry to telling people how much God loves them. He calls himself, “Johnny-one-note.” “It’s about Jesus,” he says, “all the time!”

God loves you. I have met pastors who don’t believe that for themselves. I have known people who say that Jesus loves them, but God does not. I have known lots of skeptics who dismiss the message of God’s love with reminders of how much He hates sin. But the truth is that God loves you, no matter what you think or others say.

If you have a message that is so critical to daily living, one that few people understand or have heard, you just have to tell it. Maybe over and over and over.

I sat at coffee with a man a few years ago. His life had been so full of pain. He had built a business and a family only to have his wife leave for another man and take their assets with her. Then he built another business and found another wife, but the same thing happened. I didn’t question the blame, I just respected the pain. Now, he was a broken alcoholic filled with depression and disease.

All that time, he had been in churches. All that time he had sought the Lord. But he looked at me that day and said something I will never forget. He said, “I have been in churches all my life, but this is the first time I have heard that God loves me.” Those words broke my heart and thrilled my soul at the same time. The simple and consistent message had healed another broken soul.

Mike died a short time later. He died at peace with the Lord who loved him.

Life is too short to have two messages. Too many have not heard the one.

Besides, no message compares.

To get through this week, remember that God loves you. Very much.

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Energy

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Blah. Just blah. Watch another mindless television show. Drink another glass of wine. Eat.

Get up. Go to work. Go home. Watch TV. Go to bed. Start it all again in the morning.

After the narcissistic relationship has ended, you ask yourself whatever happened to your energy. You feel sick, but not ill. Beat up, but not bruised. Emptied out, but not gone. You are alive, but you can’t remember why.

Well, let’s be honest. You have been beat up. For a long time. Narcissistic relationships are abusive. You probably haven’t had energy for a long time. You just realized that after it was over.

Think about it. The narcissist needs to drain your energy. First, he/she wants to use it. Narcissists do their “best work” while riding on the backs of others. Second, your energy/work makes the narcissist look good. Every narcissist you know wants to be surrounded by hard-working and faithful people. Finally, you can’t be allowed to have enough energy to stand up to the narcissist. Keeping you drained from stresses, crises, criticisms, and hard work will keep you from disagreeing or fighting against the narcissist.

So, now what?

So, now you begin to build yourself up again. First, you admit to yourself that you are tired, and you accept that being tired is okay. It is normal. Any stressful relationship is draining. Narcissistic relationships are often devastating. You have probably lost friends, family, money, health, and more. No wonder you are exhausted. It’s okay.

Then, you find the way to restore your health. Walk. Lose some weight. Get your thyroid checked. (Seriously.) Go to a gym and meet some new friends. Get rid of the alcohol. Throw away the garbage food. Don’t beat yourself up, just value yourself enough to make some small changes.

Read a good book. A novel with a happy ending. A spiritual book that reminds you of the Lord who loves you. A self-help book that guides you to some new habits. A hobby book to encourage you to try something new and fun.

Turn off the television. Stop listening to the news. Those folks are just more narcissists trying to drain your energy by getting you upset. The world doesn’t need you to worry about it. You have more important things right now.

Be with friends and family who make you laugh, who remind you of good times, who join with you in new good times. Go to church; go to the gym; join the hobby club. Be with others. Just walk away from people who try to bring you down. They are not the ones you need.

Most of this is just common sense, things you have to give yourself permission to do. Do them. You will find your energy coming back and, with it, all kinds of good things.

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The Good News

It’s Monday Grace!

If you go to many churches today, you will hear that God is disappointed in you, there is a price to pay for your sin, you are in danger of losing your salvation, and you really should shape up. In other churches you might hear that it doesn’t matter what you believe, everyone is going to be saved no matter what they have done, and you can just live however you want.

How are either of these messages good news?

There is little to bring encouragement to our day if we think that God is angry and vengeful toward us. At the same time, there is no joy in thinking that He really doesn’t care. We know intuitively that sin has a price. We believe that behavior matters, that there is a need for justice. But, when we look at our own behavior, we wonder how we could ever be good enough.

So, which is it? Are we never going to be good enough, or does God not care about sin?

Fortunately, there is real good news.

God does care about sin. Sin hurts people. Sin isn’t just about doing something wrong. It’s about doing something hurtful. Adulterers hurt their families. Liars, cheaters, and thieves all hurt others. Abusers hurt the people under their control. We know these things. God hates sin because He loves people.

The Good News is that God has reached into our world, into our lives of faith, to deal with sin. There is a lot of mystery in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, but the simple fact is that Jesus died to deal with our sin. As we trust Him, He washes us clean.

You see, the good news is that God’s love is greater than our sin. He does care about sin, but He cares more about you and me. Sin is a big deal, but you are the one He loves. All He wants is to protect you from sin’s pain.

If you find it hard to forget something you have done, remind yourself that the whole point of the gospel is that sin cannot keep God’s love from you. The story of the Man who went to the cross is about God’s love for you. His victory over death and sin is the good news.

Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
Psalm 96:2

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