Dragon Bait

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Oh my. In a month it will be 58 years. January 1963. That’s when a group called, “Peter, Paul, and Mary” released the recording of “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” (And, yes, Peter Yarrow still gets royalty payments when the song is played.)

From almost the beginning, the song came under fire. They said it was glorifying drugs. “Puff,” they said, was a reference to smoking marijuana. “Jackie Paper” was a reference to the papers people used to roll their joints. “Honalee” was supposed to be a stand-in for hash. And even “dragon” was thought to be “dragging” or inhaling smoke. These ideas were widely accepted, even though the group always denied them.

Now, I don’t know whether the words were about drugs or not. I suspect that the group would have denied the allegations even if they were true. The mid-60s were wild, but not politically correct.

It does serve our purposes, though, to use this as an illustration. Dragons have always been terrible and frightening, but not Puff. Dragons have always hated humans, but not Puff. Dragons use and leave people behind, but not Puff. Puff is fluffy and fun, soft and friendly. Puff is the one that is used and left behind by the boy. Puff waits hopefully for the boy to return because he loves the boy. Puff is good.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a way to change how you see the dragon? No, you can’t change the dragon. You can only change how you see the dragon. In other words, the cruelty would not seem as bad. The daily life would be bearable. The trouble would fade away. The change would be in you.

I have often said that the narcissist superpower is the ability to manipulate what others think of them. They seem so nice and attentive and kind in the beginning or from a distance. Only later do you learn the truth. But what if you are fully aware of the dragon’s cruel nature? Won’t you be more on guard, more careful? So the dragon must use another tactic.

The dragon still exists in the new land. The manipulations and abuses can still happen. But you are more aware. You have experience, and you have learned some things. So the dragon has to offer something new. Some kind of bait that will soften your resolve and entrap you in a different way.

The bait is an escape, a dulling of the pain, a forgetfulness. It might be a drug or alcohol or gambling or eating or whatever makes you feel better. Whenever you think about the dragon, you move toward your coping mechanism, the dragon bait that is luring you into a trap. The dragon is patient, waiting for you to soften enough to become useful again.

Frankly, when I see FB posts about how stressed “mommies” need vodka or wine, I worry. I am not a prude nor a teetotaler. I don’t mind if someone has a drink. I really don’t judge. I might even have behaviors that come close to addiction myself. But I do know how these things work. In fact, they are false. They only seem to work. They reduce the pain for a while, but increase the shame and inability for longer. And the dragon wins again.

The trap may be more subtle. It might even make you feel stronger. But it is still a trap. When a substance or a behavior becomes the thing that makes your life livable, beware. When you find yourself thinking about the escape, longing for the time when you can let it soothe your soul, beware.

The Bible has a wise view of wine that applies to other addictive substances and behaviors. It acknowledges that wine brings gladness to the heart and doesn’t tell people to stay away from it. But it also acknowledges that wine can bring the dragon’s bite to us.

Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper.
Proverbs 23:31-32

Interesting that the reference here is to the serpent, the old name for the dragon. The same serpent bite is there for those who indulge in over-eating or gambling or buying stuff. The substance or behavior lures you, like a good bait will, and then brings consequences you don’t want, like the dragon.

So, my plea is that you be careful. Don’t excuse harmful behavior because it makes you feel better in the moment. Don’t let the dragon win again.

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Restoring Friendship

It’s Monday Grace!

It sure is easy to lose friends these days. I have lost close friends because I supported one presidential candidate over the other. I’m not talking about Facebook friends, but real friends whom I have known for years. I suppose I should be used to it. After all, I have worked in the church for over 40 years.

We have found that church friends are almost the least faithful. Not only do they seem to end quickly and decisively, they end for strange reasons. It is rare for someone to leave a church, for example, and remain friends with people who stay in the church. They say they will remain friends after a move, but you never hear from them. You share your heart, trust them with your secrets, but suddenly they are distant.

If you have ever been through a church split, you have lost friends. If you have ever disagreed with leadership, you have probably lost friends. If you have ever suffered a personal failure, one that made you look spiritually inferior, you have probably lost church friends. If you have ever been attacked by someone in church, accused and lied about, you have probably lost friends.

Now, we have to understand that most friendships are based on shared space and experience. In other words, most of our friends are not people we sought out for a connection. When we were in school, they were in our class or rode on our bus. They might have been neighbors. Work friendships are based on the shared experiences at work. The same thing happens in church. That’s okay, we understand that.

It isn’t the fact that we meet friends in new places, or the fact that we often base friendships on shared life circumstances, or that we accept a more shallow type of friendship in situations that are temporary. All of these are normal in most of our lives. The thing that bothers us is the sudden and often brutal separation that happens in church relationships.

Why do they have to reject us with such passion? Why do they have to be so mean? Our friends became judgmental and superior. Even our kids suffered from cutting words and exclusion. Why? I am speaking in a general sense because I know many have experienced this, but I am also speaking very personally here. Our family has suffered from these fickle friendships too often. We know the pain.

The flesh is a part of all human relationships. The flesh is the life system we learned as we grew up in this world apart from Christ. Without the Spirit to guide us, the world and our experience taught us how to survive and prosper. Part of that meant to look out for ourselves first. Friends were useful in making our days pleasant or profitable but if that changed, we could drop those friends and find others. Like the other tools in life, friends were useful.

When we became believers, trusted Jesus as Savior, the Spirit came into our lives and offered a new way of thinking, a contrast to the flesh. Instead of seeking only our own good, we are being taught to think of others with love and compassion. But we still think in fleshly patterns as the Spirit does His work in us. We still might see others as threats or obstacles. We might hold even Christian relationships loosely.

I will not say that the friends who betrayed us are not believers. Some of them have caused me to ask that question, I admit. But their relationship with the Lord is not something for me to judge. All I know is that they hurt me.

Sadly, I also know that I have hurt others, people who considered me a friend. I did not fulfill their expectations of me. I made decisions that separated them from me. Some of them were hurt and blamed me. I can apologize, but I cannot change what happened. Nor will I be the one to offer them healing.

The flesh remains in all of us and, in each of us, it seeks its own good and protects itself. The flesh is the continuation of the evil ways of our past. It can be changed, but it will take more than a lifetime.

But let me share a word about the future. We are told that all of those who belong to Jesus will be in Heaven. Even those who were cruel and hurt us. It will not be their actions that determine whether they will be saved, but their relationship with Jesus. So, I know there will be people I have not enjoyed here who will be with me there forever. Just how will that work?

The good news is that the flesh will be entirely gone in that day. No more sin. No more crying. No more pain. Those things which led them to hurt me will be gone. Those things which led me to hurt others will be gone. We will be friends forever.

I believe that, even though I can hardly imagine it. I believe that all wounds, all divisions, all our personal wars will be healed. I believe that we will know and love each other in Heaven.

And I look forward to that day of restoration!

********

It’s ready!  Listed on Amazon!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dragon Cages

It’s Narcissist Friday!

The new land offers rest. During your fight with the dragon, the danger seemed to be everywhere. Now, you are tired, so tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of having to jump at every sound and word. Tired of chasing and hiding and crying and flinching and arguing and apologizing and all the rest.

And when the offer comes to trade freedom for comfort, that comfort looks so good. It feels good to let someone else make the decisions, reason through the questions, and run interference with the world. Because the cage has a warm bed and three meals a day, it doesn’t feel so bad.

Every once in a while I get an email from someone who is a caregiver for a narcissist. It is hard to imagine a more difficult position! Because narcissists usually try to attach to someone who is kind and empathic, these caregivers can be quite conflicted. On one hand, they see the struggle the hurting person is going through, and they want to have compassion. On the other hand, in a far more secret place of the heart, they look forward to the day the narcissist either dies or has to go somewhere else. There is no judgment here. The rest of us can only imagine the daily pain.

That’s just one draining narcissistic relationship. Perhaps one of the worst, but all of them are wearing. When the narcissistic relationship is finally over, however it ends, many victims are exhausted and hurting. Some have picked up very real health issues along the way, directly or indirectly from the stress of the relationship. Their primary need is rest.

Several times I have heard stories of kind and generous people who offer support for victims of narcissistic and abusive relationships but tie strings to their kindness. Even those who are ready to avoid or battle the dragon in the form of another narcissistic lover or friend may find themselves deceived by those who “just want to help.”

As in almost all adult narcissistic relationships, the beginning is wonderful. Not just good, but wonderful. The people are so friendly, so welcoming, so charming. They listen; they care; they truly want to help. Most of them offer practical help. A truck for moving, a place to stay, money for rent or food, child care, clothing, and on and on. Many people come out of narcissistic relationships with real needs.

There are people and organizations who will help with those needs. Some of them are willing to help a lot. Some of them honestly care. But some help you to help themselves.

Not all narcissists are loud and cruel and abusive. At least not at first. Some see helping you as a way to further their own goals. Sometimes you are a number to add to their “kindness count.” When they help you, they tell others and use your story to raise more money. You are important to them, but not in the way you think. You make them look good. They will care for your needs as long as you do what they need.

This is true for both organizations and for individuals. I have known “helpers” who generously take on victims as projects. They see these victims as a way to show their own superior spirituality. They give real help, but insert their own teachings or expectations. They have an agenda, and you are helping them achieve it.

Now, I am not talking about the helper husband who expects special favors from the single woman he and his wife have allowed to stay in their guest room. That type of re-victimization does happen, but is not subtle. No, I am thinking more of the couple who expect their guest to become part of their church and submit to hovering oversight. Those who want to control someone under the pretense of caring.

When you give up your freedom for the sake of protection and comfort, you might find yourself in a cage of expectations. You might discover that the generous provision that seemed to come so freely has strings to a type of submission you never expected.

So, how do you protect yourself from this? How do you avoid these subtle representatives of the dragon, especially when you really do need help?

First, I have to say that you might not be able to avoid them. These relationships are predatory. You are vulnerable, and they need you that way. They look for victims, and you look for help. If you get tricked into this kind of relationship, don’t blame yourself.

On the other hand, there are some things you can do. First, recognize that you have needs that open you to being used. That should put you on your guard. Knowing that the predators are out there should make you more careful. And, watch for red flags. Don’t be afraid to ask why someone is willing to help you. Ask if there are strings attached. You might be surprised at how bold some of the narcissistic helpers are. Some will tell you up front that they will expect you to be grateful or to let them manage your life. Certainly, if you see expectations tied to the help, you should watch for an exit.

In general, narcissists want information. In the early days of almost all narcissistic intimate relationships, the abuser appears to be a great listener. If you find that a helper wants information, especially personal information, be alert. I have found that many “Christian helpers” have a great desire to hear the sordid details of abuse. If their questions lead you into uncomfortable areas or if you notice that they become angry when you stop sharing, you might be with these wrong helpers. If an organization needs a lot of information about you, don’t hesitate to ask why or to deny the requests. Do they need your phone number or address or age or the name of your ex? Why? Are you comfortable with them having that information?

Watch for the signs of narcissism that you have learned. These helpers might want to separate you from other support. They might find subtle ways to make you feel like the abuse was your fault. You may experience gaslighting, projection, lying, and other things that you saw in the narcissistic relationship you left.

One more thing. If you are in what we could call “a manipulative helping relationship,” it’s okay to get out. The conflict you feel between your obligation to be thankful and your need to get out from under the control is exactly what has been planted to keep you in line. If you can’t leave, you are not free. Say thanks for all the help and mean it. Then leave.

Even when you are tired and hurting, you have to be in control. Giving up that control for comfort is not the answer. My advice is to always enter this kind of relationship with an exit strategy. You don’t have to be unkind or cold, but you have to stay alert. If someone offers you a place to stay, continue to watch for another place. If someone offers you a job, keep looking for another job. Having a way out will help you feel free and give you options the abusers would not want you to have.

******

It’s ready!  Listed on Amazon!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Restoring Trust

It’s Monday Grace!

Who can I ever trust?

Betrayal cuts deeper than most wounds. It comes to us in many forms and from various sources. But, when an enemy tricks us or betrays us, we almost expect it. When it comes from someone we have trusted or loved, it rattles our sense of identity and peace.

What must a person think of me to lie to me? How low and worthless am I in his eyes? How can he sacrifice me to make himself comfortable? When he works to turn my friends against me, does he understand my pain and grief? Is he so cruel, or am I so meaningless in his eyes?

Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
Psalm 41:9

If you can’t trust your friend, or church, or family, or spouse, who can you trust? And it is difficult to estimate the cost of the loss of that trust. It changes us. It shakes our foundations.

Not only do we lose the ability to trust friends or other loved ones, but we lose something of our ability to trust ourselves. How could I ever have been so gullible, so blind, as to trust that person? How could I not have seen the duplicity or lack of commitment? Was I so needy, so weak, so foolish?

And the church? Christians who turn their backs in my time of need? Leaders who blame me for the things others have done? Doctrine that makes everything my fault and gives me no hope for peace or success? Where do I go if the church has betrayed me?

“And, again, Pastor Dave, you will just say that I should look to Jesus.”

And, again, you would be right!

Let me give a rule of thumb for human relationships: Never judge the Lord by His people. It just isn’t fair to Him. Our flesh will continue to be active as long as we are in this world. We may be learning to live by the Spirit, but it is a process of growth. This is what Paul meant when he said in Romans 7 that he did things he didn’t want to do and failed to do what he really wanted. The flesh still called for attention and still contributed to his decisions. The day was coming when Paul would be free from this body and this flesh, but it was not yet.

So, even Paul would agree that the Lord cannot be judged by His people. And, of course, there are many in the church and in our lives who are not His people. Jesus cannot be judged by those who remain in their sins. Nor can He be judged by those who continue to struggle with the flesh. Because Jesus is God, He stands alone in His perfection and alone in His faithfulness..

Now, to be fair, I know there are some people who think that God betrayed them. I would submit that they have not known Him truly. If all you know about the Lord is what the legalist church has taught or the unfaithful believers have presented, then you have not known the Lord.

When I began to look at Jesus through the eyes of the Spirit and grace, I began to understand the truth about His love for me. From the beginning, He loved me. From the moment of creation, His plan was for me to be with Him forever. You too! He loves you. Sin might have damaged this world and hurt our ability (and willingness) to love God, but it never changed His ability to love us. He made a way for us to be reconciled with Him—through Jesus. He paid the price of that reconciliation. He initiated our redemption, paid for it, and called us until we finally responded. He loves us!

This is the Lord I began to see. And I found that I could relax in His presence. I love to think of Him and continue to be amazed that He thinks of me. And I am learning that I can trust Him.

Trust is not an easy gift to give when someone has broken it. Betrayal, especially when it has happened repeatedly, moves us to hold back trust in the secret place of our hearts. We wall ourselves up against anyone who could reach into that secret place. But Jesus is already there. He knows. He understands.

Take First Corinthians 13 and substitute “Jesus” every time you see the word “love.” If God is love, and His love is made flesh for us in Jesus, then we can do this without twisting the meaning of the text. When you believe that He loves you, you begin to see that you can trust Him. He is patient and kind and endures through all things with you. He does not think evil of you. And Jesus will never fail.

Before you ever expect yourself to trust others again, learn to trust Jesus. Then, as you trust Him, He will guide you in your relationships and protect you from the pain you have known. In fact, as you trust Him, you will find that you don’t need to trust others nearly as much. You will understand their struggles and their compromises. You will see them through His eyes.

********

It’s ready!  Listed on Amazon!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dragons, Dragons, Everywhere

It’s Narcissist Friday!

(If you don’t read anything else, read the last two paragraphs.)

The new land may be beautiful in the eyes of some, filled with opportunity and new life, but you find yourself wondering what is hiding behind each tree and rock. You meet people, but they say things that make you wonder. You fear new relationships. You see evidence of the dragon all around you. You hear his voice, see his people, feel his presence.

Few people understand the intensity of a narcissistic relationship. Even what we might consider a “minor” relationship with a narcissist can be overwhelming and devastating. A friend, a co-worker, even a neighbor can disrupt your life with such violence that you wonder how you will ever recover. The power of a narcissistic marriage or family threatens to destroy your identity.

So we talk about reactions like PTSD. I need to say that I am not “that kind of doctor,” not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, nor do I consider myself a professional counselor or therapist. I am not an expert on PTSD, but I understand it as a layperson.

Basically, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the subconscious or unintentional response to the memory of an intense negative event. PTSD is the echo of the event that bounces back to the victim at various times in various places and from various people.

Those who suffer from PTSD may experience sudden or inexplicable fear, depression, flashback memories, nightmares, and even paranoia. They may not realize that the negative changes in their lives are the result of the trauma they experienced.

Because adult narcissistic relationships are usually entered into by choice and often extend over long periods of time, many victims don’t think of PTSD as something they are suffering. We usually think of a single traumatic event as the cause of PTSD, rather than long-term emotional abuse. But the repeated confusion, criticism, scorn, and emotional/mental injury create a sensitivity much like that suffered by victims of violent attack.

The result is that those who suffer don’t even want to go out. They can’t watch television. They push away friends and family. The memory of the pain and terror are still so strong that they no longer live in the reality others experience. For them, there are dragons everywhere. And they never know when one will attack again.

I have to be careful. I so often say that these feelings are normal. They are, but they are not good. What you experienced in the relationship was not normal. Your response to it is the same response many have experienced. But you don’t want to live there.

In other words, don’t beat yourself up further because you are afraid of finding a dragon again. Some people just seem to adjust their lives for success after the narcissist. Most do not. Most struggle for a long time. Maybe years. And it takes longer if you don’t get help.

There are ways to work through the trauma you experienced. There are people who can help you reestablish your health and set a new track for your life. Don’t be afraid of admitting your need and finding some help.

As I have said here many times, if you finally get the strength to talk with a counselor, make sure that it is someone who listens to you and believes your story. Sometimes you don’t know that until you sit in the chair and talk. If the counselor demeans you or scolds you or tells you that your experience wasn’t “that bad,” get another counselor. You want help, not more abuse. That probably means that you stay away from pastors or church people in general. (You don’t know how much it grieves me to say that.) It might mean that you will have to spend some money. PTSD is an accepted malady that most insurance companies will cover, especially if you are unable to work or function normally in society. Your mental and emotional health is important, and PTSD is real.

Are there dragons everywhere? Do you have good reason to be afraid? Well, there are others who will hurt you, but they are not everywhere. Not everyone is a hidden threat. So, you need to be cautious, but you should find ways to overcome the crippling fear. Establish boundaries for your life. Those who try to push past your boundaries deserve extra caution at the minimum. And develop a list of red flags. If you see certain things – controlling personalities, disregard for your opinions, overuse of praise or affirmation, cautions from others – then use the experience you have gained to keep yourself safe.

Please be willing to find some help. But even more, go to Jesus. Learn of His love for you. He will not deceive you or misuse you. The healing He offers is true healing of the heart, healing that will allow you to find peace and joy in your new life.

********

It’s ready!  Listed on Amazon!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Restoring Guidance

It’s Monday Grace!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yup, Johnny One-Note here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

********

It’s ready!  Listed on Amazon!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dragon Oppression

It’s Narcissist Friday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

********

It’s ready!  Listed on Amazon!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Restoring Freedom Pt 2

It’s Monday Grace!

Have you ever felt free in your relationship with Jesus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dragon Hunters Society

It’s Narcissist Friday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Restoring Freedom Pt 1

It’s Monday Grace!

Get ready for a rant!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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