Tag Archives: love

The Ultimate Pragmatism

 

It’s Narcissist Friday!

 

Narcissism is a choice. I realize that there are people who would disagree with me on this “diagnosis,” but I have neither read nor experienced any convincing evidence to the contrary. Maybe the choice was made long ago and has now become a pattern, a default, for the narcissist; but it is still a choice and the narcissist is both culpable for his/her actions and accountable for change.

Narcissists don’t change because they don’t want to change. Narcissistic attitudes and actions are useful to them, more useful than the alternatives. Even when faced with severe negative consequences, the narcissist will adapt and, through projection or blame, push away the change that is suggested. Some may make minor changes when their normal narcissistic behaviors become less useful, but those changes will be made for self-serving reasons, rather than any empathic concerns.

Perhaps we could say that narcissism is the ultimate pragmatism. It begins because it works and it is maintained because it works. And here’s a scary thought: it spreads because it works. Narcissistic behavior is becoming acceptable in business because it is easier and more productive. Empathy causes problems in business. Self-serving promotion is considered not only normal, but necessary. Cutting off relationships, using others, pushing blame and consequence to others, and enlarging personal accomplishments are all normal parts of business today.

Sadly, the same is true in many other areas of life. Narcissism–or the behavior associated with narcissism–is becoming normal in personal relationships, in churches and other organizations, and in social media. It may be because we have become a media culture, with young people learning life skills through television or other media. It may be because there are increasing numbers of us, and we all want to live in the same places. It may be because the last couple of generations of parents became more focused on themselves (perhaps for the same reasons) and young people have grown up in more of what we have called “dysfunctional” homes. Whatever the reason, a cursory glance at our culture would be enough to conclude that narcissism is becoming not only normal, but desirable.

Perhaps I don’t have to do any more convincing along this line. Perhaps it is so obvious that no one would disagree. Perhaps the qualities of narcissism—self-promotion, fantasy superiority, need for admiration, exploitation of others, sense of entitlement, lack of empathy or desire to care about the feelings of others—are so much a part of the normal lives of young people that no one especially thinks of them as problematic. When even those who are not narcissists accept narcissistic behavior as normal, the difficulty of dealing with those who hurt and use others may become insurmountable.

A culture of narcissism will only serve to validate and encourage the narcissists. Remember that they are the ones who have been doing this all their lives. They are very good at being narcissists. The pretend narcissists, the ones who want to use the narcissistic characteristics for their own gain, will soon find themselves being used and abused by the masters. The only real change is that the narcissists will no longer be seen as abnormal.

There is debate on whether Hollywood leads and promotes cultural change or simply reflects that change back to us. Dr. House was the narcissist we hated to love. The characters on House of Cards attract and repel us at the same time. The plot line of 50 Shades of Grey is surprisingly enticing in a culture that claims to stand against sexual abuse. None of these shows promotes the kind of culture that serves to lift people up and learn to love; yet they are increasingly popular and increasingly intense. We are being (or have already become) desensitized to narcissism.

Why? Because we are a culture that worships pragmatism. Whatever works. Whatever works to get me a job—lying, cheating, blaming, boasting—is worthwhile. Whatever works to make me feel good about myself—using others, cutting off friends in need, over-spending, dramatizing the events of my life—becomes important. We have been taught that our goals, even the sub-conscious ones, are more important than the truth or the relationships of our lives. And the way to accomplish our goals, in a narcissistic culture, is through narcissistic behavior.

So what do we do? I wouldn’t want to end this post on a negative thought. There are things we can do. First, don’t be surprised at what you see. The person who cuts you off in traffic probably hasn’t even thought about you or the fear you might feel. The friend who lies to make whatever points she thinks are important probably doesn’t even see the problem. Just because this is wrong and contrary to the values we hold does not mean that the behavior should surprise us or overwhelm us. Of all people, those of us who have dealt with narcissism should understand what’s happening around us.

In relationships, especially, we can call out the behavior. We still claim to hold positive values in relationships. So we have the right and responsibility to help others maintain those values. Narcissism still hurts others, no matter how normal the behavior seems. Hurting others is still not acceptable. Speak up against abuse and lying and cheating and compromised values. (And don’t feed the bank accounts of the 50 Shades people!)

But there’s more. We can smile more and be more kind. A thousand little acts of kindness to show the world that narcissism does not rule everyone. Affirm relationships. Tell people that you value them and are grateful. For so many, the characteristics of narcissism have been adopted because they are afraid or have been made to feel unimportant. Thank people. See people, especially those who have been invisible in the past. Do things narcissists wouldn’t think about doing, especially for the sake of others.

Here are a couple of simple examples. The next time you stay in a motel, thank the cleaners when you see them in the hallway and leave a tip with a word of gratitude. You just spent $150 on a room and you expected it to be clean. A couple of bucks might make someone’s day. Wave at the next police officer you see. Thank a nurse. Open the door for an older person. You know what I mean. Do little things that gain you nothing for people who may never connect with your life again. That’s not narcissism and it’s not pragmatic; it’s love.

We are called to be salt and light in a world of people who are afraid and want to be accepted. It costs us nothing to be kind and gentle and grateful. Let’s be anti-narcissists.

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To Be Happy

Once again we have been reminded of the desperate need of the human heart to be happy.  The death of Robin Williams is a particularly tragic event in our culture.  There have been many others who have ended their own lives because of depression, addiction, or pain; but Williams was a man who seemed so widely accepted and loved.  For forty years he made us laugh.

By now we should understand that there are those who seek to find their own happiness in the happiness of others.  The comics among us have so often been tragic characters.  Perhaps they think that if they can make us laugh, they will find joy for themselves.  I won’t pretend to know Robin Williams or understand his demons, but I know that seeking health by making others laugh is a losing proposition.

I write about some negative things, particularly narcissism and legalism.  Both are attempts to find personal health by controlling or manipulating the feelings of others.  Both fail to satisfy the needs of the heart.  The narcissist, like the comic, can make those around him laugh, and the legalist can give sacrificially; but neither will find joy or freedom or peace from their efforts.  The darkness within is not overcome by their gifts.

There is a need for us to be accepted and loved for who we are, rather than for what we do.  There is nothing we can do or produce to fill this need.  That love and acceptance must come from the free choice of another, someone who knows the truth of our hearts and still chooses to love us.  Many have found that the love of the people around them, no matter how sincere, is still not enough.  I believe there is a core need for the love of God in our hearts.

It is a particular offense to the gospel of Jesus Christ to make it about sin and wrath and measuring up.  The real message of the gospel is exactly what the human heart needs—love.  Instead of telling people that they have sinned and must find the way to being accepted, we must tell them that they have sinned and God loves them.  We do not bring a message of rejection!  The gospel is a message of love and acceptance.

You have sinned and God loves you.  You cannot save yourself, but God—in Jesus—will save you.  You are broken and hurting and Jesus offers health and peace.  The darkness pulls you to addictions and despair; Jesus calls you to eternal love and freedom.

In your own dark days, remember the love of One who truly knows you.  He knows your doubts and fears and compromises and He finds great joy in knowing you.  No matter how bleak or depressing your life becomes, you can never fall further than His arms of love.

When a friend or family member is going through the dark days, love them and tell them of this greater love.  Tell them that Jesus loves them.  Whatever they have done, whatever thoughts have gone through their mind and heart, Jesus loves them.  He is quick to forgive, powerful enough to heal, and steadfast in His love.

The message of grace is that love is already there for you.  You don’t have to earn it or deserve it or even seek it.  The tiniest glimmer of faith is enough to begin welcoming and receiving that amazing love.  Just the desire, the willingness to take what is offered, is enough—and that’s already in you.  That longing finds its fulfillment in Jesus, the love of God.

The lie says that if you can make enough others happy, you will find happiness.  Parents look to find their happiness in the happiness of their children.  Givers look to the happiness of those who receive.  Workers look to those who are served.  And then there are those who take a broken route, the narcissists who manipulate the feelings of others to create their own peace or the legalists who seem to seek to destroy the happiness of others to make themselves feel better about their brokenness.  But it doesn’t work.  None of it works.  We cannot take our happiness from others.

My prayer for all of us is that we would no longer seek to find our happiness in the looks or lives of those around us; but that we would find our joy in Jesus.  May that always be the place and beginning of our health.

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I am me!

Words of Grace

 

I remember a statement in math class that went something like this: “The whole is equal to the sum of its parts.”  That probably works for math, but it isn’t true in life.  Fittingly, the first recorded challenge to that statement came from a philosopher, Aristotle.  Philosophy has always understood that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

You and I are more than what we have done or what we have gathered into our lives.  There is something about every individual that is separate from everything in this world.  There is an identity greater than our parts.

In other words, I am not a collection of the things I have associated with or the things I have done or even the things I have thought.  I am me.  I am a person, an individual.  I surround myself with decorations, but I am still me.  The organizations or people with whom I associate are not me.  The places of my life are not me.  The activities with which I fill my life, or which I have done in the past, are not me.  Even my family is not me.

To the world I say:  When you look at me and judge my clothing or my connections or my home or any of my other adornments, you are not yet seeing me.  Yes, I may have chosen some of these things in my desire to express myself; but they are just things I like or use, not me.

And to my own heart I say:  There is One who loves me, the real me, and He knows me personally.  Jesus doesn’t love me because I dress a certain way or go to a certain church or perform a certain service; He just loves me.  When I do something wrong, whether sin or mistake, He still loves me.  He looks past all my coverings and sees my heart.  He loves me.

 

I am me.

I am not what others see connected to me.

I am more than the sum of all my parts.

And Jesus loves me.

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Grace is a gift

 Grace 101

The word “charis” means, in its various forms, to give or a gift.  The charismatics were those who celebrated the spiritual gifts.  But the word means much more than gift.  It is the word for “grace.”

So the point of grace is that it is a gift.  Let’s go further.  Grace is a gift of something you don’t already have, can’t get for yourself, and couldn’t afford if you could find it.

You see, God knows our condition.  He knows that we were lost.  Everything we know, we learned while we were lost.  He has reached into our lives and has saved us, but we still think like lost people and we are still limited in what we can do.  For example, we couldn’t save ourselves before and now we still can’t keep ourselves saved.  We couldn’t stop sinning before and now we still think we have to do the same things.  We couldn’t solve our problems before and now we still can’t solve our problems.  In ourselves, we are as weak and helpless as we were before.

So God gives us what we need.  He gave us salvation as a free gift and He keeps us saved as a free gift.  He delivered us out of sin’s power and He daily gives us victory over sin.  He gave us new hearts and a new mind and He gave us His Spirit to guide us into becoming what we are.  He graciously gives us everything we need.

You want to be a good parent for your children?  Trust the Lord to give you what you need.  You want to get rid of some sin in your life?  Trust the Lord to deliver you.  You want to have victory over your fears?  Look to the Lord who cares for you.  Everything you need, even the most practical things, are gifts from Him.

How do I know this?  Through Peter, the Lord gives us His Word:

. . . His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue  2 Peter 1:3

This has become one of my favorite verses.  “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.”  Think about that!  All things that pertain to life—gifts from Him.  All things that pertain to godliness—gifts from Him.  He has given us these things.

Jesus said—to us—something wonderful:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For My yoke
is easy and My burden is light.”   Matthew 11:28-30

How does He give us rest when we are responsible to be holy and good and righteous?  These are gifts He gives us.  He has given us holiness and goodness and righteousness.  We don’t have to strive to be good enough for Heaven.  We just have to trust what He has given for us.

And remember that the word for “gift” is the same word as “grace.”  This is what grace is all about.  Something you must have, but can’t get by yourself or from others, given to you as a gift from the Lord who loves you.

That’s grace!

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His Grace

Grace 101

 

Words mean things.  Mathematicians have numbers.  Physicists and engineers have formulas.  Writers and teachers have words.  If the numbers don’t mean the same thing from one point to the next, the mathematicians have no way to do their work.  The same is true for the formulas and those who depend on them.  But words seem to fluctuate in meaning all the time.  It depends on who’s talking.

So, when I use words like “grace,” I try to be careful.  I try to stick with a simple definition.  Grace, in my vocabulary, means the activity of God on our behalf.  Sometimes I say it is the activity of God’s love, or even more simply, what God does.

But I almost never use the word to mean an act of kindness between people.  The reason for that is twofold:  First, we have no clear examples of that use in Scripture. If I am going to let my use of the word be guided by Scripture, I will use “grace” only in reference to what God gives us.  There is no call that I can find for me to “give grace” to others.  And, second, not being careful to use correct words causes misunderstandings and compromises our communication.

Now I understand that I am going against the flow a little here.  It has become popular to use the word “grace” in human relationships.  We hope that the boss will have grace toward an employee.  We speak of “giving a little grace” when someone wrongs us.  We say that she is a “woman of grace” even though she doesn’t know Jesus.  And we try to be “gracious” toward others.

But there are other words for these uses.  Yes, they might fit with certain inflections of the Hebrew or Greek words usually translated as “grace,” but there are more precise words for us to use.  We actually hope that the employee will find “favor” in the boss’s sight.  We give “mercy” to the one who hurts us.  She may be a lady of “poise” or “charm,” rather than grace.  And we are called to “love” one another.

The unfortunate effect of using minor variants as applications of a word is that the primary meaning becomes forgotten or compromised.  Over the years the idea of “grace” has become diluted by references to human relationship or institutionalized by obscure and complicated doctrinal uses.  But there is an amazing concept taught by Scripture that is breaking into the hearts of God’s people.  We need what we cannot find in ourselves or receive from other people.  We need the grace of God.

Let’s love people and forgive them and show kindness toward them and grant them mercy.  And let’s be compassionate and gentle and considerate and patient.  But let us also understand that grace is a gift from God to us because He loves us.  Grace is the power and activity of God on our behalf.  Grace is a big word because the One who gives it is big.

There’s a passage in Acts that illustrates the size of this simple word:
And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.   Acts 4:33 (NKJV)

What was this “grace” that was upon them?  Was it love?  Yes!  Was it mercy?  Yes!  Was it patience, or kindness, or forgiveness, or charm, or excitement, or favor, or something else?  Yes, yes, and yes!  God poured out His Holy Spirit upon the people and gave them great grace.  It flowed from Him through them to each other in a variety of ways.  But it came from Him.  His power.  His love.  His grace.

It is always His grace.

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What if it is true?

What if it is true that the Lord God Almighty loves you and accepts you?  What if He has already taken care of your sin and separation and welcomes you into fellowship with Him through Jesus?  What if you never have to be afraid of being rejected or condemned?  What if shame and fear and worry no longer have to define your thinking?

What if your doctrine and your actions and your thoughts don’t have to be perfect?  What if Jesus loves you even when you fail?  What if the bondage that led you to hurt yourself or hate yourself was lifted and you were free to receive God’s love?  What if the goal of your life was simply to live in relationship with the One who loves you enough to forgive and accept and carry you?  What if the Christian life was a life of joy and peace and good?

Would any of this affect your day?

How can I say it strongly enough?  Look away from your sin and see the Savior.  Look away from your fear and see the Deliverer.  Look away from your loneliness and see the One who truly loves you.

IT IS TRUE!

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What is Grace? pt.1

(This blog will be offline for a couple of weeks while I travel.  Please enjoy these posts from the archives.  Feel free to comment or ask questions.  I will be able to respond when I return.)

I have studied grace for over 30 years, particularly asking the same question for the last 15, and I still ask.  I have studied several answers, most of them the standard ones, but the concept of grace is always bigger. 

The best I have come up with is that grace is what God does.  Putting it another way, grace is the activity of God’s love.  The concept of “unmerited favor” is one I accept, but grace is more than just favor.  We need and appreciate the favor of God, but it may not be appropriate to say that God shows favor to everyone.  He does show a certain grace to everyone.  “The rain falls on the just and the unjust.”  “God is not willing that any should perish.”  “God so loved the world that He gave…”  Over and over we read of the love of God for all people and the fact that God acts on that love in some way toward all. 

I have come to understand that this activity is, in fact, grace.  Thus, there is grace shown in the giving of the Law and grace shown even in God’s wrath against sin.  The Law was a gift of God’s love and, unless we are willing to disagree that God’s fundamental motivation is love, even His final judgment against sin and those who choose to remain in sin is somehow an expression of His love.  I would say that this is grace.

I would never leave grace in a negative sense, however.  God’s love is a desire to live in relationship with His people.  His activity of love always has that as a primary goal.  It may seem negative for Him to judge or punish, but the only motivation is love.  This is why I am left with the idea that anything God does out of love is grace.  He seeks to draw us into a relationship with Him. 

–more coming–

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