Do not bear false witness

It’s Monday Grace!

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16, NKJV)

How do you feel when someone lies about you? Most of us have experienced this in one form or another. When you are accused of doing something you didn’t do? When others are told that you said something you didn’t say? What are the feelings that go through your heart? Fear, betrayal, anger? I think most people feel a pointed sense of loss, like they have become something less than they were just because of the lie.

When I teach about narcissism, I say that the primary offense of the narcissist is the depersonalization of others. That simply means that the narcissist fails to see or to treat others as real people. In a sense, the narcissist takes away the life, the identity, of others. They do this by stealing credit for accomplishments, by constant criticism, and by lying.

Perhaps it is obvious that murder is a form of depersonalization. It reduces the victim from a person to a body. The person dies. It may not be as obvious that adultery does much the same thing. The adulterer takes away the reality, the personhood, of his or her spouse and the spouse of the other. Again, the one who steals reduces the owner of the property to something less than a person so that the theft can be justified or rationalized.

When someone speaks falsely about another person, the same thing happens.

So, to “bear false witness” against another person is a way of taking that person’s life. It renders the reality of that person to nothing for the purpose of the liar’s gain. The truth of who the victim is doesn’t matter to the person who “bears false witness.”

Under grace, other people are important as persons. Why? Because they are persons in the eyes of the Lord. The Christian faith has always been about a personal relationship between an individual and the Lord. Even in traditions where the community provides identity for the people, the individual is still expected to affirm faith. In other words, in Christian denominations where joining the church is seen as the path of salvation, the individual is still seen as important and a person. God knows us as persons and calls us to love each other as He loves us.

Sometimes, when people look at this commandment, they say that this means we are not to lie. That’s true, of course, but that isn’t what this commandment is about. The admonition against lying is also in Scripture, but this is about treating others as important. That’s why Jesus could summarize this and other commands as: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If you see yourself as a person, you must see others in the same way.

The heart of God is for our good. When we use each other and hurt each other, we come against His heart. His love for others is part of His love for each of us. There are no comparisons, no divisions, no hierarchy, and no second-class citizens among the people of God. We are all, each of us, dependent on His love and grace.

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It’s Narcissist Friday!

Over forty years ago, my wife and I stood on a corner near downtown Chicago as we walked back to our motel. The people around us were talking, but we couldn’t understand what they were saying. They were speaking English; we could tell that much. But the communication between them was not intelligible to us. Yes, their skin was a different color from ours, but the only thing we noticed and talked about was how we couldn’t understand them.

Language patterns, vocabulary, and pronunciation are all affected by culture. You speak like the people you grew up with. Television has standardized much of American speech, but regional dialects still remain. Just the meanings of certain words can reveal differences in cultures.

But that isn’t all. Thinking can be different between cultures. Values, reasoning processes, traditions are all part of culture. When we travel, we should learn the actions and words that are offensive to the culture we are entering. Not being ready for those differences can cause serious problems.

Unfortunately, much of the discomfort we experience with a culture other than our own is now considered racist. In my experience, and through talking with many people, I have come to think that many of the separatist and racist feelings out there are simply anxieties from the cultural differences rather than the skin color differences. We are often uncomfortable among those who are “not like us.”

I understand that we are not supposed to notice cultural differences. We are supposed to think that all people are the same. That simply isn’t true. We are equal but not the same. There is a great variety of behaviors and values within the United States. I don’t know if the founding fathers really understood or wanted a great “melting pot” of people, but it is certainly what we have become. We have brought words, food, celebrations, and much more into our daily lives that have come from other cultures. Even in a day when there is more anxiety over these differences, our nation celebrates the “many in one.”

Some of my correspondence over the years has come from people who married a person from outside their culture. It was exciting to get to know someone so different. Sympathy and love are easy to confuse when those who are different from us share their stories. Socializing and dating an “outsider” tends to make others uncomfortable. That discomfort is seen as morally wrong, and empathy draws hearts together.

Now, I have no problem with cross-cultural relationships, even marriage. I don’t have a problem with interracial marriages. Many are happy and fulfilling, even exciting. But anyone entering into such a relationship should go into it with their eyes open. Do your research. Watch and listen. Learn and understand the differences. Don’t let your sympathy or empathy or even affection draw you into something you won’t want later.

As I write this, I feel myself walking farther out on that thin branch. I recently heard of a young lady who married a Muslim man. This was not her first marriage, but he was different and exciting. She was used to being criticized by family and friends for her choices, so she ignored warnings and concerns. Now, she wears a burqa and is not allowed to speak with her family and friends. Rather than celebrating a new culture and all the things she can learn, she lives in fear.

I’ve had letters from spouses who complained about their in-laws being narcissists, when the criticisms and rejection actually came from cultural judgments on both sides. In some cultures, the patriarch has final authority over his children and wife no matter how old they are. You should know that before you marry into the family. In some cultures, borrowing money or talking with your mouth full or carrying a gun or whatever are normal things. You should know that. You should watch and listen.

The old saying is that opposites attract, but attraction may draw people together without holding them together. And anyone who has had a relationship with a narcissist or an abuser knows that attraction is not the same as mutual love.

Relationships with people who have different values and ideas, coming from different cultures, need careful consideration and study. Frankly, you should look carefully at any culture different from your own. If you grew up poor and find yourself in a relationship with a wealthy person, understand the differences. If you come from a secular family and are interested in someone from a conservative Christian background, you should learn as much as you can. Whether it is nationality or language or religion or class or education or whatever, you owe it to yourself to be careful.


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Do not steal

It’s Monday Grace!

You shall not steal. Exodus 20:15


“A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus said that. He said it about coveting, which we will look at in a couple of weeks. Life is bound up in our relationship with Jesus. Some comparatively small amount of life is found in the other relationships of our life. Our possessions provide no life to us.

So, what would be so wrong with stealing something that belongs to someone else? After all, they shouldn’t hold onto it so tightly, should they? Well, don’t be so quick to rationalize something God considers evil.

Paul would like us to understand that we are not truly independent creatures. Before Christ, we were under the authority and power of sin. Sin was our master. Now, in Christ, we have a new Master. We were “bought with a price,” “redeemed,” and set free to be “slaves of righteousness.” We are no longer under an evil and unloving master, but we are under a gracious and loving Lord.

And it is our Master who gives us our possessions for His glory. The world and the flesh move us to forget that all we have belongs to the Lord. We are, as the Scriptures so often teach, stewards of what He has given. Nothing is ours. It all belongs to Him.

So, yes, when something is taken away it is good for us to remember that it belonged to the Lord. Just as we belong to Him, all that we have belongs to Him. Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

But you should not be the one to steal what God has given. Jean Valjean, the protagonist of Les Miserables, was plagued by the fact that he stole from a church. But that is nothing more than stealing from God’s people. The Bishop’s candlesticks were not more holy than your neighbor’s car or his shovel. If the Lord has given it, you are not to take it.

This is true even for those who don’t know the Lord. Their possessions also come from Him, like the rain falls even on the unjust. The Master, even when unacknowledged and unloved, gives for His own glory.

How does this connect with grace? It is God’s grace that provides everything we need “for life and godliness.” Did you catch that “for life” part? Whatever you need for daily life, God provided. No one else has the right to take it. Grace is the activity of God’s love in our lives, not just for salvation and Heaven, but also for daily living. And, yes, there are things that are needed for daily living. Things God has given.

It may be easy for us to think of this as a minor concern. I suspect that’s why society considers laws against theft to be important. If we cannot see that the Lord has given possessions for His purpose, then we need to be restricted by societal laws. The fact that it is in the Ten Commandments suggests that God considers stealing an offense against Him.

Your neighbors and family and all the other residents of this planet either belong to the Lord or are called by the Lord to come to Him. Believers or the lost God loves. What God has given to them is in their care for His glory. It is not yours to take.

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Your Parents

It’s Narcissist Friday!

I have done a lot of weddings over the years. One thing I try to do is talk with couples about their parents. I say, “You will either do what your parents did, or you will consciously do something different.”

Your parents’ marriage is fair game. You lived in it. You have the right to think about how they interacted, how they treated you, and how they survived or didn’t survive. You should probably avoid judging them because it is truly difficult to fully understand the relationships of others. Each of them brought their own family backgrounds and temperaments into the relationship. But you can certainly think critically about how that relationship worked.

And what did you learn? I would suggest that you learned two things: the game and the pattern.

Every family plays a game. Certain things can be said. Certain things can be done. Other things can never be spoken or done. You can’t criticize Aunt Jo for her oddities. You can criticize Uncle Don. You never tell about that thing that happened, but you can tell many other secrets. Adults can say things children can’t, and children can get by with things adults couldn’t. There are rules to the game, but you never hear them. You grew up knowing them.

If you don’t think there is a game being played, just wait until someone comes along who doesn’t play. Some new in-law, probably. That “innocent” daughter-in-law who speaks her mind about something finds out the hard way that she said the wrong thing. It was like she stepped in something offensive. Or when someone finally breaks and blurts out the truth or the story. Watch as the rest suffer in shock. Sometimes they will all act as though they didn’t hear.

So, why is the game played that way? You should think it through. Maybe something was embarrassing to Grandma, and she became angry every time it came up. So, no one talked about it. Now, fifty years later, we still don’t talk about it. Are you going to handle embarrassing things the same way?

The second thing is the pattern. There are patterns of behavior in families just like there are patterns of body features. Both genetic and environmental factors trickle through the members of a family. The old idea is that people choose partners who exhibit something they like in their opposite gender parent. The song said, “I want a girl just like the girl who married dear old Dad.”

Of course, the pattern can be seen in its opposites. Sometimes a young lady will choose an exciting, even dangerous, young man just because she thinks of her father as boring or controlling. And, later in the relationship, when she begins to want the things she saw in her father, perhaps his careful planning or consistency, her young man is not as desirable.

Can you look at your parents’ relationships and see patterns of behavior or thinking that might be affecting your opinions? Maybe you are the same, or maybe you have chosen an opposite. If you made a choice, why and how did you make it? Because you were angry or hurt? All of this can be looked at critically.

Zig Ziglar used to tell the story of a young wife who carefully cut off the end of a ham as she fixed the Easter meal. When her husband asked her why she did that, she simply said that her mother always did it. That got her thinking, though. She called her mother and asked why she had done that over the years. Her mother said that Grandma had always done it. So, the young wife called Grandma and asked her why she cut the end off her ham. Grandma said it was because her roasting pan was too short!

Not all patterns are good or best. You are free to investigate and learn, using your parents’ and grandparents’ marriages. Again, don’t judge them or criticize them. They made their own choices. But now you can make yours.

Sometimes the control or manipulation of the narcissist comes simply because we thought a certain way was right, when we never really thought it through. Abusers understand the game and use it to their advantage. You would do well to understand these things for yourself. That may allow you to see the tools they are using against you.

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He is Risen Indeed!


A Blessed Easter to everyone!



This will date me, but I hope you enjoy it as much as I do…

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Great Friday!

 The most holy of days.  The Eastern church looks at the Incarnation with almost the same respect as we give the events of this day.  They say that the Son’s condescension in becoming human was as sacrificial as His death on the cross.  They may be right, I don’t know.  All I know is that the events we celebrate on this day are ours.

The rest of the world joins us in celebration on Easter.  They don’t know what the big deal is all about, what the resurrection means.  So, they celebrate bunnies and candy. The Day of Resurrection is nearly overwhelmed in the Easter celebrations.

But this day is ours.  No one understands what the sacrifice of Jesus means to us except those who are with us. 

He loves you!  Knowing what you have done and what you will do, He went to the cross for you.  He accepts you and values you and desires a relationship with you so passionately that He considered the cross pure joy because He would meet you there. 

No wonder they call this day, “GOOD!”


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Do not commit adultery

It’s Monday Grace!

You shall not commit adultery. Exodus 20:14

Years ago I named this ministry “Grace for the Heart.” It seemed to me that most of the church had forgotten that the heart was the center of pain and struggle, and the heart was the focus of God’s ministry to us. When Jesus came, He came for your heart. Right doctrine and wise thinking aside, unless the heart is touched there is no real faith. The heart is where God connects with His people.

If you ask people why God tells us not to commit adultery, most will say that it is simply wrong. What is so often forgotten is that adultery breaks hearts. The betrayed spouse, the abandoned spouse, the children of both sides of the relationship, the friends and family—so many hearts. And hearts are precious to the Lord.

It is not an accident that the second half of the Ten Commandments begins with “Thou shalt not kill.” To take a person’s life is to stand against the Lord. But the same is true of “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” To break the heart of your spouse or children or someone else’s spouse and children is an offense against the heart of God.

I have counseled with many people who have been betrayed by their spouses. Even though I have seen that pain so many times, I have never felt it and cannot truly imagine it. I have seen the effects of that pain, however. Anger, grief, sickness, loneliness, betrayal, fear, confusion, self-doubt, self-rejection, and on and on. The consequence of adultery is worthy of God’s personal attention.

Some have told me that they would rather have had their spouse kill them than betray them with another intimate relationship. The pain and loss are that great. Yes, there is an after. Life can go on. But a broken heart takes a great deal of time and effort to repair. Even then, the memory of the pain and the scar it produced still touches the heart from time to time. Few people who have not experienced it can understand.

I often ask groups I teach why God hates sin. They come up with all kinds of ideas of God’s holiness and sin’s inconsistency with the Person of God. Some say that God cannot look on sin, cannot be with those who sin. Of course, that isn’t quite right. God, in His power and love, overcame sin. He walks with us when we do things that are sinful, waiting for the return of our focus on Him. He forgives us generously and consistently.

But God hates sin because sin hurts the people He loves. He loves you, and He hates what sin does to you. He loves your family, and He hates what adultery does to families. He loves your spouse, and He hates the pain of a broken heart.

So, is this command for us today, even for those who are saved? Of course! Adultery, as severe as it is, is still simply a behavior. Your behavior is not what saves you, nor is it what would keep you from being saved. Adultery in your past cannot stand against the love of God. Adultery today still cannot stand against the love of God for you. But it is certainly not the will of God for His people. It causes too much pain.

Yes, I know there are “reasons” for adultery, excuses and motives. There can be loneliness in a relationship. There can be unfulfilled desires. And the flesh and the evil one conspire to bring great temptation. Many have struggled with these things without committing adultery. Go to Jesus for strength and focus.

To damage the heart of another person is an offense against the God of love and grace. Those who belong to Jesus will understand this and take the command to heart. This is not about breaking a rule or losing your salvation. It is about the heart of someone God loves. Don’t risk it.


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101 Red Flags

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Have you ever been driving along and wondered why those cones were on the road? Or walking and wondered about the yellow stripe on the sidewalk? I remember driving in Wisconsin, a state in which I have never lived. When the sign said “Bump,” I learned to take it seriously. The bump was right there and serious. The sign on the park bench that says, “Wet Paint,” shouldn’t be ignored. Nor should the “Beware of Dog” sign in the neighbor’s yard.

We can lump all these signs in a group called, “Red Flags.” Frankly, you should be watching for red flags in any relationship, especially before you make a commitment or enter into an intimate place of the relationship. In fact, you could pray for God to show you any red flags.

Besides the warnings of family or friends, there are behaviors and attitudes you can observe that will bring caution. Paying attention might save you from a lot of pain.

When I was first in ministry, I interviewed at a certain church. The leaders of the denomination warned me about the church, but I was willing to ignore them. Everything in the interview process went well except for a comment almost at the end. One of the main leaders of the congregation looked at me and said, “You are our last hope.” Really? Things are that bad? Honestly, I didn’t walk away from that group. I ran.

When you are being praised and previous spouses or friends (or pastors) are being condemned, you should realize that something isn’t right. Narcissists and abusers are filled with praise and support at the beginning of a relationship, but usually beyond critical at the end. That praise may well be bait to lower your defenses and open you to manipulation.

I actually learned that in ministry as well. When a congregation is willing to speak ill of their former pastor or pastors, they will be willing to speak in the same way about you. The only difference is time. When the honeymoon ends, things begin to change. How does he speak of former relationships? How does she describe other friends? Bad words about others suggest future bad words about you.

See what happens when you choose to do something different from what he suggests. When he says that he likes the blue outfit and wants you to wear that on a date, see how he responds when you wear the red one. Does he get angry? What does she do when you choose a restaurant that isn’t as fancy as the one she was pushing for? What does he say when you praise someone other than him? Does he find a way to put that person down? You can learn a lot by going against the grain just a little.

Of course, not all relationships are meant to lead to marriage or intimacy. We have to be careful of friendships. We have to be careful as we join a work group. We certainly have to be careful as we join a church. There are red flags that can help us sort out the potential in relationships of any kind.

Early in my ministry, I learned the phrase, “Beware of those who meet you at the train.” I found that many of those who are quick to be your friends have ulterior motives. If a battle is being fought in the group, one you don’t see yet, some people will work quickly to get you on their side. If someone wants to use you for something, they often come early with open arms to welcome you. Another red flag.

Churches that promote uniformity. Organizations with one power figure in charge. Friends who are needy and willing to use you. There are many red flags that seem innocuous. They are still there for you to see.

I know I titled this as “101 Red Flags.” I think it would be easy to come up with over a hundred things to watch out for in the various relationships available to us. But, rather than have me give a list, why don’t you begin your own? You don’t even have to write them down. You just have to watch for them in the lives of other people. Ask questions. How did that group suck you in? How did you miss the character of the narcissist?

The flags are just warnings. If he likes one outfit more than another, that might be just fine. But if he becomes angry because you didn’t do what he suggested, that’s something different. If she needs help with something, that’s okay. If she often needs help and gives excuses for helping you, that’s not okay. You have to sort these things out. Just don’t ignore them.

So, pray for red flags. When the relationship seems overwhelmingly good, you should be watching even more closely. Believe that you could miss something important. Just like when you realize you are tired while driving. Force yourself to watch and move ahead more carefully.

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Do not kill

It’s Monday Grace!

You shall not murder. Exodus 20:13 (NKJV)

I have always chuckled at an answer Billy Graham’s wife gave an interviewer once. When asked if she had ever considered divorce, she said, “Divorce, no. Murder, but never divorce.”

The basic morality of the sixth commandment seems so obvious that almost no one would suggest we shouldn’t follow it. We cannot imagine a civilized society without it. If people could just eliminate those who annoyed them or stood in their way, without consequence, the world would be a very dangerous (and unpopulated) place.

So, if there is any commandment that is still for the believer this must be it, right? Who would deny that? Well, either the teachers who say the Ten Commandments are not for us have never actually read the list, or they are trying to say something quite different. I suspect that all of them are trying to teach that we are no longer under law. They are just using the wrong words.

We who are beginning to understand grace can look at these commands, even this one, to see the heart of God. So, let’s think it through.

The fact that salvation comes through love, rather than works, must move us to understand that other people are as important to the Lord as we are. There can be no comparisons, no superiority, when we are all dependent on His love. There are no inferior people.

When I teach about narcissism, I have to say that the narcissist can manipulate and abuse, even destroy, another person because he does not see that person as real. He sees others as things for him to use or enjoy or eliminate. This ability comes out of a depersonalization that is the core of narcissism. Other people are not persons to the narcissist.

But narcissism is not of the Lord. The Lord sees each of us. He loves each of us. The most unworthy sinner is loved just as much as the greatest saint. No matter how much I dislike someone, that person is still loved and desired by the Lord. No matter how firmly that person stands against the Lord, they are loved to the end.

And the point of this commandment is that you and I don’t get to decide when that end should be. Only God knows that.

The intent of the command is to remind us that each person belongs—as a person—to the Lord. Other people do not belong to us. The king has a responsibility to care for his people because they belong to the Lord. The slave master is under the authority of God and can never really own the ones in his care. It is this sentiment from the heart of God that led people to overthrow evil rulers and end the evil of slavery.

But some wonder about capital punishment or war or self-defense. The commandment is clearly about murder, but any study of how justice or defense is administered will also reveal the heart of God. All of these should be difficult for the believer. None of them should be taken lightly. The responsibility for ending the life of any person must be done under the authority and through the leading of the Lord—the only One who knows when the end should be. I find even the discussion of this uncomfortable, and I think it is supposed to be.

Jesus valued me enough to go to the cross to provide everything I could not do for myself, and that was everything I needed for life and godliness. If I understand grace, I understand that He values others in the same way. It is not about one person being superior or more deserving. It is about the greatness of God’s love.

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Listen to the Warnings

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Sadly, we live in a day when some people can stand by and watch as others hurt themselves. We just hate to get involved. Someone is stopped on the side of the road, and we drive quickly by. We have our own problems to deal with. Besides, how do we know whether getting involved might be dangerous? Or maybe our offer of help would be unwelcome.

So, when someone takes the time and risks the rejection to warn you about a relationship, you should probably listen. You may decide not to heed their warning, but you should listen.

I am amazed at how many victims of narcissism have told me that people warned them. People who loved them, people who had previous relationships with the narcissists, people who saw the signs. The deception of the narcissist is so strong, so complete, that the victim feels right to ignore the warnings… until it is too late. Then they realize they should have listened.

Part of entering new relationships is to listen for warnings. There are red flags (we will look at some in the next post), but there are also people who have experience we may not have. They might help you see things you haven’t seen before.

“But they were mean as they said it.” “But she wouldn’t listen to my side.” “But he is always negative.” Remember that your goal is to get information, not to debate or even agree. You may not like the person who gives the warning. You might not like the way the warning was given. Still, you owe it to yourself to consider the information. If someone truly knows something you do not about the person with whom you are considering a relationship, perhaps you should hear it before you make any lasting commitment.

“But my mother was told not to marry my father, that he was a bum and no good. She ignored that warning, and they have been happily married for many years.” Great! Perhaps your mother considered what she heard and weighed it against what she saw. Perhaps she decided that the motives of those others were only to hurt her or him. Or maybe she sees now that they were right and decided long ago to be satisfied and positive anyway. Ask her! And ask her what she would think about you doing the same thing.

About this time some are thinking that this is a post primarily for young people. Not so. The desire for acceptance and affirmation doesn’t go away. Many middle-aged and older people find themselves wanting a significant other in their lives. And many fail to listen to warnings. In fact, many who have experienced pain and abuse in a relationship still fail to listen to warnings about the next one. We are all susceptible to the “rose-colored glasses” that make us defensive when we hear warnings.

I have known people who burned bridges with supportive people because they didn’t want to hear the warnings. They were like the children who close their eyes, put their hands over their ears, and make noises so they don’t have to listen. Then, when everything crashes, they wish they could apologize and restore the friendships. (By the way, that’s worth a try. That friend or family member might love to have you in their life again.)

Force yourself to listen before you get too deep into a relationship. What do her friends say? Have you met his former wife or girlfriend? What do your kids think? You don’t have to accept everything, but you should listen and consider what they say. Again, you owe that to yourself.

And listen to the warnings of your own heart. The Lord speaks softly to us because He wants us to listen. He usually will not stop us from hurting ourselves if we are bent on doing so, but He will give us warnings. What is He saying to you? Distinguish between the longing and rationalizing of your own heart and the voice of the Lord. He knows, and He loves you.


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