Tag Archives: safe people

Fellowship

Grace 101

There are words in normal church vocabulary that are supposed to be fully and easily understood by those within the church.  Those same words may have different or puzzling meanings to outsiders.  We don’t often think about church jargon, but we certainly have it.  If you tell your unchurched friend that you were “really blessed by the fellowship during the mission fest last night,” she may have no idea what you are talking about.

I think “fellowship” is one of those words.  I’m not even sure that most of us know what it should mean.  I have heard all kinds of messages on how important fellowship is, but in the same churches I have seen very little evidence of any real fellowship.  Oh yes, the people who like each other get together and have good times, but that happens outside the church as well.

Yet, when you open the amazing box of gifts that came with your salvation, you will find something that could be called “fellowship.”  Basically, it means that you are now part of a community, with all the benefits and privileges thereof.  In fact, it means that you are part of a body and all parts are important and connected.  Since you are an important part of the body, the rest of the body loves you and accepts you and supports you.  The church needs you, not to do work, but just to be who you are.

Honestly, the church hasn’t done very well with this part of salvation’s gift.  We seem to be much better at making people feel separate or unwanted.  The church often fosters competition and judgment that are inconsistent with the character of Jesus.  Some would go so far as to say that they have found more friendship and acceptance outside the church than inside.  That’s very sad.

But those who seek love in the body of Christ will find it.  There are good people among the believers.  There are people who will help and encourage and love.  Their love might be challenging sometimes, as they refuse to allow you to keep hurting yourself or deceiving yourself.  But there are people who care.  They care because Jesus cares and they are filled with His life.

Just understand that other believers are just as hesitant and immature and compromised as you are.  They struggle too.  They are failures who need a Savior.  I know that some of them act like they have it all together, but that’s also part of their struggle.  They are afraid to relax and let others know the truth.

I have been in full-time ministry for over 35 years.  I have known a lot of believers through that time.  Some of them I call friends.  A handful of them are people who share life and support.  Those few are precious.  They are not users or judges or critics.  They are just friends—and brothers and sisters in Jesus.

I know that some unbelievers are good friends also but my Christian friends are especially important because we share a common life, the life of Jesus.  We draw from Him a common strength and understanding, a love that goes beyond this life and this world.  As I look around the church I see many people that stretch my belief that we will all enjoy each other in Heaven.  I believe it, but I can hardly imagine it.  But these few friends—well, let’s just say that they are evidence that Heaven isn’t just a place far away.  A little of the love and acceptance of Heaven is mine when I am with them.

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How can I protect my heart?

The key to protecting your heart is to only give it to one person.  If there is one person you can trust completely, who has only your best in mind, who will never betray you or leave you, and who is strong enough to never fail you—that’s the person you want to give your heart to.  Anyone less than that is risky.  Of course, there’s only one person like that I know.  Only Jesus.

In a world like ours, we talk about safe people.  They are harder and harder to find.  Part of the problem is that we expect too much.  We expect others to be like Jesus.  But they are not and cannot be.  They will fail us.  Some will be mean and cruel and hurt us on purpose.  Others will hurt us just because they are weak and broken themselves.  No one has what we need—except Jesus.

So, will Jesus always do what you want?  Will He always have a miracle handy to bail you out of trouble?  Yes and no.  Probably more than you would guess, but less than you would like.  He is generous in His love, but He will not be commanded by anyone.  The thing to remember is that He loves you.  He is wise enough not to give you everything you want, but He still loves you.  He will always love you.

The Scripture says that the Lord is a strong tower and we can run to Him and be safe.  Knowing that we always have Him allows us to risk relationships with others.  Not expecting them to give us what we can only get from Him allows us to relax as we relate to them.

Two facts change everything.  We are accepted by Him and we do not have to be afraid. 

Those who do not know they are acceptable will often compromise to feel accepted.  They will allow their hearts to be manipulated and controlled, just so they can fit in or feel loved.  But if you are already accepted by the One who really matters, then perhaps you have some protection against the manipulations of others.

Those who live in fear will sometimes do terrible things to themselves and to those they love just to find some peace.  They will give themselves over to almost anyone who will make them feel safe.  Sadly, the ones who offer protection and formulas for security are often the ones who do the most harm.

So trust Jesus.  He is strong and good and He loves you.  From the relationship you have with Him, you will be able to reach out to others.  Love your spouse and your kids and your friends, but don’t expect more from them than they can give.  Don’t trust your heart in their hands.  Jesus will keep your heart safe.

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Guard your heart

The legalist organization in my past talked a great deal about protecting our hearts.  They referred to Proverbs 4:23,

Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.

 

I suppose that isn’t bad advice, if we understand it correctly.  The passage does tell us to protect our hearts because that’s where our lives take place.  So, be careful.

But legalism is a deceitful creature.  Who are the people who come into legalism?  What kinds of people get involved in legalistic organizations?  In my experience, there are three kinds of people found in legalistic churches or groups.

First, there are those who have been raised in the system.  Their hearts are already dysfunctional.  They don’t know who to trust or how to love.  In their lives, almost everything is tied into the system of shame and comparisons and frustration.

Second, there are those who came into legalism because of fear.  As they started to raise their children or began to learn about the evil of the world, they looked for a place to hide.  They searched for rules and guarantees and promises.  Their hearts were already vulnerable because of their fear and they were willing to give control over to those who promised protection.

Finally, there are those who have messed up their lives and want to find a way to make up for their sins.  They became pregnant before being married or did drugs or lived a promiscuous life or something.  They found it hard to live with the guilt and shame and believed the lie that said they could atone for their sins by legalism.  Their hearts were already broken because of the pain of what they did and they were willing to endure almost anything for the opportunity to feel better about themselves.

All of these people had heart issues.  Those raised in the system didn’t know any better.  Those who came in from the outside were lured by the false promises of hope.  Seeking to protect their hearts, these poor people opened themselves to a different group of abusers.  The rules and regulations, the comparisons, the shame and condemnation—these things do nothing to protect the heart.  They just bring more bondage and pain.

I really should add a fourth group to the above list.  The fourth group consists of the abusers.  The rules don’t apply to them.  They live apart from the requirements of the system because they are the ones using it to manipulate those look for help.  They take the money, the popularity, the praise—and they feed on it.  They live on the trust of others without giving anything of value back.

Looking to legalism to protect your heart is like looking to the strange man who offers you a ride in his car to keep you safe from the people on the street.  It is right to want to protect your heart, but there are those who will use your vulnerability against you.

So how do you protect your heart?  Tomorrow…

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The Heart is not the Brain

No kidding!  If there was a competition between the heart and the brain for who could gather more information, which do you think would win?  I think the heart would win easily.  The heart is a gatherer.  It remembers things your brain has long forgotten.  Its nature is to gather information, classify it, and store it.  And it never forgets. 

Why do you dislike certain people, even before you hear them talk or know anything about them?  Why do you collect certain things?  Why do you open yourself to someone so easily when you know better?  All of these things are based on the categorizing and evaluating done in your heart.  Your brain has little to do with it.

Of course, I am not even trying to be anatomically or even psychologically correct here.  I am trying to tell you what you have already experienced and why.  You already know what I mean when I say that your heart is not your brain.  If it were, you would not have done some of the things you knew you shouldn’t do.  No, the heart is a different creature.

The heart is filled with fears, anxieties, successes, pride, shame—and all kinds of things it has picked up through your life.  I have written about the flesh in previous posts.  It seems to me that the heart is the place the flesh stores all its stuff.

Years ago, when you were a little baby, something happened that frightened you.  Your heart stored that event and all the little details.  Today, when something happens that connects to that event, you become afraid.  Your brain doesn’t have a clue what’s going on, but your heart knows.  In fact, it is hard work to convince yourself that you don’t have to feel that fear.  You believe it is irrational, abnormal.  People think you are being foolish.  You don’t want to be afraid, but it just happens. 

Then along comes someone or some teaching that uses that fear to manipulate you.  Maybe they cause the fear to rise so you will do something.  Maybe they offer hope that the fear will be conquered and you open yourself to them.  And they get you to make commitments and do things you would never do if you were thinking clearly. 

The heart can be manipulated.  It can be deceived.  It can be damaged by those who reach in and try to control it.  The heart is vulnerable. 

There is so much more to say, but I will just add two more points.  First, this is why you feel this combination of anger and grief and fear about some of the relationships in your life.  Your brain says you were stupid, that you knew better.  But the problem wasn’t in your brain.  The problem was in your heart.  Now that your brain is (sort of) aware of the situation, you will be more careful; but you don’t know if you can trust yourself.  Your feelings get mixed up because someone has messed with your heart and you don’t know what to do about it.

Second, there is more than hope.  There is victory.  “God is greater than our heart,” the Bible says.  In fact, there is an opportunity in Christ to look past the input of the flesh and the feelings of the heart to the truth about yourself and the world around you.

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Close to my heart?

 

The topic of friendship is filled with emotion for most of us.  On one hand we think of people we almost couldn’t live without.  On the other we remember betrayals and pain.  Some friends are there when we really need them.  Others are there when we don’t want them.  Friendships are about hearts and hearts are complicated.

In spite of the fact that we rarely include the heart in the list of things that make up a person (spirit-soul-body), the Bible talks a lot about the heart.  In fact, the Bible speaks of it so often and so simply that it seems to assume everyone just knows what the heart is.  And maybe we do.  The philosophers and scholars can do or say what they want, but we understand that the heart is the center.  The heart is who we are. 

The heart – the core – the center.  If you take away everything on the outside from a person, what do you have left?  Change his location, his companions, his appearance, and you still have the same person because of his heart.  The heart is different from the mind, but certainly connected to it.  The heart is different from that thing in your chest that pumps blood through your system; but, just like that, removing the heart from a person takes away life. 

So, if you wanted to drain life from another person, you would want to deal with his or her heart.  If you need to control, you would want to control the heart.  And, if you wanted to destroy, you would have to destroy the heart. 

No wonder so many forces want your heart!  No wonder we are cautioned to protect our hearts!  No wonder we hide our hearts in response to betrayal or deception. 

Family has special access to our hearts.  Friends are closer to our hearts than others.  But narcissists, legalists, exploiters, and others want access to your heart.  They know that they don’t really have you unless they have your heart.  So they learn how to get in.

This week, I want to write about our hearts.  Do these thoughts prompt any questions?

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A Real Friend

Many years ago I served a mainline church in a small town.  The church had a rough history and seemed plagued with marriage problems.  At one point I was counseling with four families whose marriages were struggling.  It seemed to be all we could do to keep the couples together.

I left town for a few weeks on vacation and returned to find that five couples in the church had filed for divorce in my absence.  It was obvious they had waited until I was gone to do what they felt they needed to do.  I was hurt, offended, and angry.

I determined that I should preach on divorce, why God hated it and how evil it was (you know, condemnation).  When I told the elders, they were subdued and said little.  But one man came to me afterward, privately, and told me that I couldn’t do it.  That got my hackles up a little and I asked why.  He told me I couldn’t preach on divorce because I was angry.  His words hit me right between the eyes and I have never forgotten them.  I didn’t preach the message I had planned.

If any of the others had come to me with the same words, I probably would have ignored or scorned them.  It might have started a fight.  But this man was my friend.  I knew that he prayed for me every day.  He had never asked me for anything.  I knew that he could be critical, but he had never been unkind toward me.  He was my friend.

And when my friend came to me and told me something I needed to hear, I listened.  I listened because he had already proven his love and support.  I listened because he wasn’t critical of me.  I listened because I knew it hurt him to say it.  And I knew he was concerned about me.  It wasn’t divorce that was in his mind, it was my heart and my integrity. 

As far as I can judge myself, I never brought my anger to the pulpit after that.  His simple words still ring in my ears.  And I have never been so sure of a man’s friendship as I have of his.

You see, a friend can bring us the words we need to hear—but he needs to be a friend first.  We build defenses against the criticisms and challenges of others, especially in times of anger.  But a friend is someone we haven’t needed to build defenses against.  And, when that friend comes, we know we don’t need defenses even then.  They can speak into our hearts because we are sure of their love. 

This man was my friend for 30 years, until his death at 92.  This was the only time he chastised me.  His ministry of exhortation, rebuke, or admonishing in my life brought him no joy, no perverted pleasure.  He did it because he had to.  He did not see himself as my judge nor a force to keep me in line.  He was just concerned about me.

That’s the influence a real friend can have.

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Friends respect your boundaries

From time to time a new “friend” will come into your life who seems to become your best buddy right away.  They have to sit with you, call you, and do nice things for you.  This person wants to know all about you, meet your family, and be more important than your other friends.  This almost always turns out badly.

Ever feel like you are being stalked by a “friend”?  Smothered in niceness?  Ever find yourself agreeing to things you don’t want to agree with, just because that other person pushes and you feel the need to be kind?  Ever feel pushed into sharing things you didn’t want to share?

Real friends have no interest in making you uncomfortable.  They understand that you have things and time and ideas that are yours, not theirs.  They don’t feel like failures if you walk away with the same burden you carried in. 

Beware of the false friends who pull at you and push you and try to get things out of you that you don’t want to give.  Beware of friends who seem to want to take over your life.  That’s not what real friends do.  That’s what users do.  Some people need the lives of others and use others as distractions from their own dysfunction or fear.  Some people feed on the drama and anxiety of others.  They love to have the secrets of others because it makes them feel special or powerful.  It isn’t about you and it isn’t about love. 

The advice columns often carry the concerns of people who have given money or belongings only to find out they have been used.  Sometimes they find that they are responsible for the debts of others because they helped when the other person needed a loan.  There are people who will be your “best friend” simply for the purpose of getting something from you.  You don’t have to do it.

Listen: It is okay to say no!  Set your boundaries and hold them.  Your time is yours, don’t waste it on someone who is using you.  Your money is yours, don’t spend it on a user.  Your life is yours, don’t give it to someone who really doesn’t care about you.

Real friends will respect your boundaries.  They don’t push or pull.  They just walk alongside you as long as you are willing to walk with them.

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Friends accept failure

There are times in our lives when we simply choose the wrong thing.  We know what we should do and we decide not to do it.  We know what we shouldn’t do and we decide to do it.  Sometimes it’s just error, but sometimes it’s plain old sin. 

More than once I stood by and watched while good friends made bad choices. 

Why didn’t I stop them? 

How would I have done that? 

You see, the legalist must either change a person’s mind or separate from that person.  The legalist can’t be in the same room as sin.  (Well, someone else’s sin.)  But sin is part of this world and part of this life.  We all have broken thinking and feeling and sometimes our brokenness dictates our choices.  A friend will stay with you even if you sin.

So I have walked with my friends through decisions and actions some may have called failure.  They have stood with me through my failures.  Real friends don’t feel guilty by association with your failure.  Real friends don’t have to judge you in order to have peace in their own hearts.  Real friends don’t reject you when you blow it. 

That doesn’t mean they agree.  They just know it isn’t their life.  They care and they might even warn you to be careful or wiser, but they leave the decision up to you.  Most of us will make whatever decision is in our hearts no matter what others tell us.  We already know the arguments against our choice.  Real friends will be there when you begin to regret what you did.

There is an interesting verse in Job.  Job’s friends were legalists.  They believed that the trouble in his life came because of his sin.  He really didn’t need what they said.  But read this:

 

‘A man’s friends should be kind to him when he is in trouble, even if he stops fearing the Almighty.’ Job 6:14 (NCV)

 

I checked this in several translations and it always turned out the same.  Real friends will be there even if you turn away from the Lord. 

Think about that for a moment.  We all go through times of despair.  Sometimes we even blame God for our pain.  Sometimes we just don’t want anything to do with church or religion or salvation or God.  We just want to hide or act out or something.  A friend will still be there.

Which is a real friend? – The person who turns away from you when you turn from God so that he or she is not infected with your apostasy? – Or the person who says, “I am staying with the Lord and I am staying with you.  Deal with it.” ???

There is something about real love that continues, something able to look past sin and error and stupidity.  Something that will still be there when you and I come around to our senses again.

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What is a friend?

Last week seemed pretty negative on the idea of friendship, but I didn’t mean for it to be that way.  I know that many people have suffered from the strange and often cruel characteristics of friendships within legalist systems. 

But this week I want to do something different.  I believe that friends are among the most important blessings God has given us.  I understand why people want, even need, good friends.  But too many people are so broken and beat-up that they don’t know what a good friend looks like.

I have a few special friends.  There are a few people who have had a special connection with my heart over the years.  In them, I have found encouragement, companionship, and counsel.  But they are few, and that’s okay.

You see, there are many kinds of friends, I think.  This is my list and it may not even be complete in my thinking, but see what you think of it.

  • False friends – people who tell you they are friends so they can get something from you.  Usually these people like to call you “friend” and use the word “friend” a lot. 
  • Acquaintances – people who you know from work, church, the neighborhood, or whatever but you don’t really connect with.  You don’t know them well enough to know if they would be good friends.
  • Circumstantial friends – people with whom you connect under limited circumstances.  Perhaps a friend you have at work but never socialize with outside of work.  Perhaps someone from school from whom you have now drifted away.  These can be good friends, but the friendship ends or wanes because the circumstances change.  Moving away, getting married, changing jobs, ending a project, etc. 
  • Crisis friends – people who stand with you through a rough time, but may not stay connected beyond that time.  God sends these people for support when you really need someone and you are thankful, but it isn’t the kind of friendship that lasts, perhaps because you really don’t have a lot in common.  This is a type of circumstantial friend, but the relationship seems much deeper.
  • Special friends – people you could call once every five years and have a great, almost intimate, conversation.  Nothing has changed in the relationship during that time.  There are few expectations in this kind of relationship.  You might have lunch with this person every week, but you might not go to her with your problems.  Not because you couldn’t but because this is one person who loves you outside of your circumstances.  You are encouraged just by her presence, even by knowing she is there.  She might not come to you with her problems, but she knows she could and you would care.  You both know the other will be accepting, even glad to get together, no matter what is going on in the rest of the world.

Obviously, all of these are good to have in our lives (except false friends) and we are blest in the differences of these relationships.  We are not made to walk alone.  It’s okay to admit that we need others.  But one of the most important keys to friendship is understanding and accepting the limits of expectations.  Good friends accept you and love you and respect your boundaries.  They don’t have high expectations of you.  There is something about you they love and you might never really know what it is (nor, perhaps, do they), but you feel that love.

Let’s talk more about friendship this week!  What are your thoughts on this list?

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Friends with a Narcissist?

It’s Narcissist Friday!

 I have written some about friendships with narcissists before, but it seems appropriate to chime in with a little more here since I have been writing about friendships with legalists over the past week. 

There isn’t as much written about narcissistic friendships because the assumption is that you can simply walk away from them.  It isn’t like being married or born into a family or even stuck with one at work.  But this seems to ignore the way narcissists connect with people.

Narcissists need friends.  There may be some separated narcissists who prefer to live away from all others, but those would be aberrant.  Normally, narcissists try to surround themselves with people who will give them adoration, service, or opportunity.  You don’t get a lot of attention all by yourself.

So, generally, narcissists develop a personality that is outgoing, welcoming, and friendly.  Some of the strongest narcissists I have known are very friendly people, willing to connect with almost anyone.  It is this friendliness that many people see first and some never see anything else from the narcissist.  That’s why they have a hard time believing the negative things narcissists are accused of.

But sometimes narcissists are able to trap people into what appeared to be a friendship at first and then became an abusive relationship.  These victims are abused and manipulated and find it very difficult to escape.  Why?  Because the narcissist knows their secrets and knows how to twist their emotions.  Just like the husband/boyfriend abuser who is able to lure his victim back for more, the narcissist presents himself/herself in friendships as repentant, hurt, and needy.  He is also able to subvert other friendships so that the victim is seen as the abuser or at least as the cause of the problems.

So what do you do if you feel trapped in this kind of friendship?  Obviously, get out if you can.  Pay the price and be free.  Let her tell what she needs to tell about you.  Let him separate you from other friends who will believe his lies.  Just get out.

I understand that there are times when this seems impossible.  So begin by setting small boundaries.  Say no more often.  Don’t be as available.  Learn to barter your time and energy with the narcissist.  If he wants you to do something for him, require him to do something for you.  The more you can keep to this kind of relationship, the more you will find him distancing himself from you.  When you become a burden, in any way, he will focus on someone else and you may be free.  There are ways to play the narcissist’s game against him.

And be thankful that your only relationship is as a friend.  Some people are married to these folks!

I would be very interested in hearing your story, particularly if you solved the situation.  I know others would be interested as well!

 

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