Tag Archives: definition of grace

Something New

It’s Narcissist Friday!     

A new year! I have to admit that I am a sucker for new things. I like beginnings. I like to think that, with a little tweaking, things can be different. A new year offers a starting point for change.

At the same time, I am not one for big resolutions. Maybe I am too old for all that. I have a few things in mind that I would like to do this year, some good things; but I have learned that setting myself up to feel guilty is dumb. Instead, I will try to make small changes that will help these goals to be accomplished and celebrate whatever successful steps I make.

Can life be different? Yes! But the change has to start. If you do the same things tomorrow as you did today, don’t be surprised if tomorrow looks just like today. If you do the same things next year as you did last year, next year will be the same as last year. Change has to start somewhere.

So why not today? Changes in relationships seem so hard, so overwhelming. I can almost hear people shouting at their computers, saying: “Don’t you think I would change things if I could?” Yes, I think you would. But I also think you probably need a little encouragement to take the first steps. And, perhaps, permission to take very small steps in the beginning.

You see, we tend to think of change as something like getting a new job, a huge endeavor. Sometimes people just quit their old jobs and start the search for something new. Sometimes, they take much smaller steps. Maybe just beginning to think about your skills and what other company or vocation could use what you can do. Maybe taking an online class to introduce yourself to some new software, or some old software everyone seems to be using. Maybe talking with friends (who are not in a position to jeopardize your current work) about what’s out there. Begin somewhere.

Relationships tend to develop over long periods of time. If you were raised with a narcissist, you were probably well into your adult years before you began to see that something was wrong—and realize it wasn’t you. If you married a narcissist, you probably found out that something was wrong in a fairly short time, but you were convinced that things would get better. In other narcissistic relationships, the same thing holds true: it takes a while to figure things out. So the big change almost has to happen in small steps. Just understanding the problem begins the process.

I can’t tell you what the change should look like. Some choose to stay in these painful relationships. Some choose to leave. Some go no-contact. Others set firm boundaries and stay in contact. Some learn everything they can about beating the narcissist in his/her own game. Ask the Lord what you should do, then do what He says. Just move forward. Toward health and peace. Somehow. Starting today.

Here are some beginning steps. They don’t lead to anything in particular, but could lead directly to the change you need. This is not a particularly profound list, just common sense. Think of these items as permission slips for moving forward.

  • Begin a daily prayer for the change, asking the Lord for guidance and protection.
  • Begin a daily (or regular) journal.
  • Find someone who will listen and understand.
  • Find a good counselor.
  • Set aside some money just for you.
  • Take a class.
  • Eat a little better and exercise a little more.
  • Find a place to where you can slip away just to clear your head.
  • Read something you enjoy. Admit that you enjoyed it.
  • Write down your story.

You see, these are just ideas for first steps. Some of them might take a little preparation. Even preparing to take a step is movement. You can add to this list, I am sure.

It’s a new year. An opportunity for a decision. A decision to move toward change. You may not know what that change will be yet, but you can begin to move. No guilt. No shame. Not even much fear. Just a small step in the right direction. That’s how every great journey begins.

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New Teachers, Same Old Lie

(I will be traveling and internet will be less available for the next couple of weeks. Please enjoy these posts from the archives. It’s Narcissist Friday posts will continue with new posts during this time. Thanks for being here!)

 

 

I have tried to avoid speaking about specific teachers or ministry groups on my website because I really want people to think about the whole concept of performance spirituality and I know that some become very closed when anything negative about their favorite teacher or group is presented.  There are many of these, of course, and there have been since the time of the Pharisees.  It’s the way of thinking that’s wrong and hurts people.  When they focus on “standards” or performance, they blind people to the truth and the joy of God’s love.

It was that “focus on standards” which blinded the Pharisees when Jesus came.  He was the God they claimed to worship with all of their standards, but they missed Him because their focus was wrong.

I could certainly begin a list of these teachers and organizations.  Some of them are churches.  Some are parachurch ministries.  Some are homeschooling support groups.  By preaching “standards” and teaching the people to feel superior to others but never quite acceptable to God, I think they do serious damage in many lives.  But I can’t really blame the teachers, for the most part.  They are usually just as deceived as those they teach.  The problem is the lie, the same old lie told in the Garden.  Satan promised Eve that she would be “like God” and could make decisions for herself instead of just walking with the Lord and trusting Him.  In the same way, these teachers and groups tell folks that high standards and right living will somehow make them good.  They don’t promise salvation, but they insinuate that those who are “really saved” will do these things.  Those who don’t live this way, by these standards, are inferior in some way.  And, as they focus on the standards, they don’t really seem to need the Lord.

This kind of thinking is not only wrong according to Scripture, but is damaging to individuals, families, and churches.  I have heard from so many people about how their church split because of some leader’s teachings.  One young man tells how his family is broken up because some accept a certain group’s leader and others don’t.  A young wife wrote me and told me that she “lost Jesus at church” because of all the competition, criticism and judgment.

On the other hand, I get email after email telling me how people have found peace in just trusting Jesus.  I even get notes from pastors.  One recently wrote to tell me that he believes he can go on in ministry because what he found on our website brought him back to trusting in Jesus rather than in the performance standards of ministry.  That’s good stuff to me!

 

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Performance Spirituality

(I will be traveling and internet will be less available for the next couple of weeks. Please enjoy these posts from the archives. It’s Narcissist Friday posts will continue with new posts during this time. Thanks for being here!)

 

 

“Performance Spirituality” is the idea that spirituality is obtained and maintained by the performance of good works and the avoidance of sin. From time to time you will hear people refer to the kind of activity a “real Christian” will avoid. No real Christian, for example, could get a divorce. No real Christian could look at porn. No real Christian could steal, or skip church to go to a football game, or smoke. A real Christian will love going to church. A real Christian will tithe and be kind and memorize Bible verses.

You get the idea. There’s a book out there with the title, Lists to Live By. I don’t know that the book is about this, and I don’t mean to bad-mouth the book, but the title certainly serves the idea of performance spirituality. All you have to do to be spiritual is to do the right things and avoid the wrong things. Live by the lists.  Just like the Pharisees.

But we teach that spirituality is found only in a relationship with Jesus, not in a certain kind or amount of performance. Believers are made spiritual, reborn to new and spiritual life, when Jesus enters into them and gives them His life. We are spiritual because He is spiritual – and for no other reason. Those who were dead in their sins are made alive as Jesus is alive in them.

In that way, we understand that no person is more spiritual than another. All are spiritual only because of Jesus. The ramifications of this are important. If you are going through life comparing yourself with others and finding them to be more or less spiritual than you, perhaps you are operating under a wrong assumption. Instead, look to Jesus alone. He leads the others and He leads you. Trust Him.

 

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The Lebensauger

It’s Narcissist Friday!   

 

Narcissists drain life from their victims. This has come up again and again in the comments and in my personal correspondence. Just as I decided that it was time to write something on this phenomenon, the popular tv show, “Grimm,” had an episode titled, “Lebensauger.” Yes, it means, “life-sucker.”

The life-sucker. I know it sounds like a crude term, but it fits. The narcissist sucks life from his/her victim. In fact, this could be one of the defining characteristics of a narcissistic relationship.

When I talk with counselors about narcissists, I suggest that if they see someone who appears drained of enthusiasm and energy, who has little normal ability to fend off the criticisms of others, they should look for a narcissistic relationship. Some might say that this is simple depression, but too many victims of narcissism have been diagnosed as depressed without anyone seeing the abuse in the relationship.

I also ask the counselors if they have ever had a client who seemed to pull the life out of them. Yes, even the counselors. Scott Peck describes such a case in “People of the Lie.” They never seem to move past their presenting problems, but move you to work and strategize and study to help them. They pull on emotions, both positive and negative. Sometimes counselors try to find ways to avoid the appointments with these folks or end the counseling relationship, but they also find that separation is difficult. And, in the back of their minds, the guilty little fantasy world of the counselor, they dream of how life would be so much better if the client would just cease to exist. (If you have never watched the Bill Murray movie “What about Bob?” you should.)

Why does this happen? Why does the narcissist draw life from those around him/her? The answer really requires a general understanding of what narcissism is, but let’s just say that the narcissist does not function in the real world. The narcissist’s world is a fantasy. While the real life of the narcissist is hidden away and protected, the image of the narcissist is put out for others to see. The narcissist wants others to believe that the image is real and is, of course, him.

But the image has no life and the narcissist does not dare to reach to his hidden self to draw life from there. So life is drawn from those around the narcissist. They are the “supply” the narcissist needs to maintain the image.

What does this look like? Well, picture the child whose mother uses her to make points with acquaintances and then blames the child for any negative that comes. The little girl is loved when she is dressed up and behaving well so that others can give praise to mom; but she is hated when she gets dirty or misbehaves because that might make mom look bad.

Or picture the office worker who puts in extra time and energy on a project only to have a co-worker or boss steal the credit. Or the spouse who is blamed for any financial stress or any discomfort, even that caused by the narcissist. Or the church member who works hard and sacrifices but never seems to give enough to be appreciated or to rest because the narcissistic organization or leaders just keep taking.

I’m sure you can come up with your own examples now. When you try to be positive and you try to contribute and you try to stay on top of things, but always fall short or get criticized, you might be dealing with a narcissist. When you are no longer the person you used to be, no longer as creative or happy or fun to be around, you might be in a narcissistic relationship. When you feel like it would be easy to die, a pleasure to kill, a wonder to run away, but you end up pulling back into your cave a little more each day; you might be losing your life to a narcissist.

Please, if this is you, find someone to talk with. The depression of a narcissistic relationship can go away. The life that has been drained away can come back to you. Deep inside, in your heart, you are still the person you want to be. Find someone to help you find the way back. If you are free to leave the narcissistic relationship, do it. Don’t look back. If you are not free to leave—if you are married or need the job or in a family—there are ways to rebuild your life. Setting boundaries, rebuilding your support system, finding ways to be creative again, can all be done within the narcissistic relationship. It might be challenging, but don’t be afraid.

Your life is ahead of you.

 

 

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Performance Spirituality

In nearly every part of life, performance is vitally important.  In school, in sports, at work—performance is what it’s all about.  When we don’t perform well, we wish our acceptance was based on something else.  Yet, we accept the judgment and rejection that comes with poor performance.  We understand the system and yield to its values.  Football players, business employees, factory workers, medical personnel, and so many more, expect to be judged and accepted on performance.

Then, when we consider our spiritual life, we are so used to the performance system that we assume it must be the same thing.  When the Law is added to the church’s message, we get the idea that we must measure up or we will not remain part of the church.  Manipulative churches and teachers add their own items to the Law’s list (and take away ones they don’t like) in order to control their people.  The sad thing is that it seems so normal, so natural, that we don’t question whether it is right.  Performance spirituality is just the way the system works.

But here’s the good news: your spiritual life is not based on your performance; it is based on your relationship with Jesus!  He loves you and has called you to Himself.  He has offered the only sacrifice necessary and sufficient for your reconciliation with God.  He is Himself your eternal life.  He has initiated the relationship, made it possible, and has committed Himself to keep it secure.

You can’t perform well enough to be acceptable to Him.  You can only be acceptable to Him because of His love.  This isn’t a football team or any kind of business.  Your performance is not the measuring tool for determining your acceptance.  He has already decided to accept you. The question is whether you can accept that you are accepted.

When the accuser comes to challenge your faith and reminds you of your sin or your lack of performance, do you crumble in shame and feel unacceptable?  Do you agree with him that God should kick you out of His family?  Do you worry whether God has already rejected you?  Well, you don’t have to have these feelings.  Jesus wants you to know that you are acceptable and accepted, just because of His love.  He won’t reject you if you fail or if your performance is less than best.  That’s the world’s way, not His.  He has chosen to cover your sin with His own blood.

I am convinced that the primary compromise of the church has been to look at spirituality through the grid of performance.  The people are discouraged, defeated, and depressed—because they know they can never measure up to the ever-changing standards that are placed on them.  Their work will never be enough and their sin will always be too much.  We tell people about Jesus and His love and then force them under the bondage of performance and take away their joy and peace.

This ministry, for the past nine years, has helped hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who have felt trapped under the burdens of performance spirituality.  Our goal for the future is to reach even more with the truly Good News of the gospel.  The grace of God in the person and work of Jesus is enough.

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Why the Formula “Works”

I don’t often get theology from television shows, particularly a show like House.  But Dr. House has a helpful saying when we are trying to understand why the formula works for some people.

You know what I mean.  “Ever since we began studying the Bible early in the morning the discipline issues in our home have stopped.”  “Our children love to do their chores.”  “They always eat joyfully whatever is set before them.”  “No one complains at our house.”  “Our children made a commitment to stay pure by xyz method and their first kiss will be at the wedding altar.”  “If you just follow the “teacher’s” teaching, your home will be righteous and happy.”  “No, we never argue.  Our marriage is wonderful ever since we went to this conference.”  “All my struggles with sin went away when I started doing this.”  The testimonials are endless.

But, when you try the same things they did, nothing happens.  No changes.  The wonderful conference, the new commitment, the great habit, the superior teaching—all of these are parts of formulas guaranteed to work.  At least they seemed to have worked for so many others.  Why don’t they work for you?

Well, as Doctor House would say, “Everybody lies!”  Yes, that seems like a pessimistic outlook.  Yes, it may be an overstatement.  But it explains what we have experienced.  The formulas don’t work for us because the formulas don’t work.  The testimonials are not true.

Why do people lie about these things?  Some lie to cover up their failure.  They believe the formula works and they cannot admit that it didn’t work for them.  Like the emperor’s new clothes, their “success” is imaginary.  But they don’t want you to know that.  They want you to respect and honor them.  They want to be better than you.  So they lie.

And some lie because to say that the formula didn’t work seems like blasphemy.  They want so badly for it to work that they “name it and claim it.”  Never mind what they see.  Never mind the failures.  The formula is working and they will promote that success.

Some lie because they are part of the promotion.  They have a vested interest in getting you to the conference or doing the activity.  They look good when they bring friends or they believe God will somehow reward them with the success they seek.  Like the “honest” review online about the weight loss product (the one where the product is sold on the same website) the buyer should be aware of the compromised position of the one giving the testimony.

I am increasingly convinced that lying/deception is an integral part of legalism.  As long as performance is the key to spirituality, the lie will be present.  It has to be . . . because the formula doesn’t work.

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I am Accepted!

Words of Grace 

(This morning begins a simple and important series of posts that will offer words of encouragement to begin the week.  The weeks of the holidays and winter can be discouraging, even depressing, as we struggle to find the joy.   We all seem to have negative words stuck in our heads, telling us lies about ourselves.  These “Words of Grace” will be for believers, those who have come to God through faith in Jesus.  Watch for these posts each Monday.  I hope you are lifted up!)

 

When identity is based on performance, you can never do enough.  When identity is based on appearance or talent, you can never be good enough.  The most successful people often feel as though they lack something to be accepted.  The most beautiful people or popular people think of their flaws.  So how could the rest of us have any hope?

We strive not so much to better ourselves, but to feel better about ourselves.  Perhaps because of the way we were raised, perhaps because of the competitive world into which we were thrust, or perhaps because of the betrayal and rejection we have experienced—we can find it very hard to believe that we are finally accepted.  The negative words ring in our ears.

Where do you go to find acceptance, real acceptance that settles the matter in your heart?  To work?  To your family?  To your friends?  We want to be accepted in all those groups; but, even if we are, we can still feel that something is lacking.  There is only one opinion that brings the satisfaction and closure we need.

So many go to church on Sunday and hear all about what they have done wrong.  They come away believing that God does not accept them, that they will never be good enough.  Their sin and weakness lie heavy on their hearts, made even heavier by the preacher’s words.  Surely acceptance is not to be found with God, they think.

But the good news is that we are accepted!  One of the basic definitions of grace is to make someone or something accepted, to accept someone.  God accepts you!  When your identity is based on His love, you are finally good enough.

We have learned through experience that love is not quite the same as acceptance, so we might believe God loves us and still doubt that He accepts us.  We have learned that He has saved us, but we have been taught that He does so in spite of His feelings about us.  Some people think that God will tolerate them because of Jesus.  They believe that they are “dirty rotten sinners” in His sight and that He must look at Jesus to receive them into His presence.  But the truth is that God accepts you and me, as individuals, because of Jesus.

Paul understood.  He said:

3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4  just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5  having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6  to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved Ephesians 1:3-6 (NKJV) 

“He has made us accepted.”  Notice that it does not say He will accept us.  Nor does it say He has made us acceptable.  He has made us accepted.  It’s a done deal.  It doesn’t even say that He accepts us.  That would feel weaker to us.  Yes, God accepts us, but that’s because He has to, we might think.  No, He has made us accepted.  His grace has been sufficient in us.

This is a big deal!  You can stop trying to measure up.  You can stop striving to find acceptance in the world around you.  Whether it is the negative voices that come from your past, the rejection of a loved one or friend, or the fear of failure in spiritual things—the decision has been made.  You are accepted.  You are good enough.

So, through this week, tell yourself the truth:

I am accepted.

I am good enough.

God has said it.

All because of Jesus.

I am accepted.

It is finished.

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