For King or Country?

What a small window of time was the convenience of life. Those of us alive now have seen unparalleled “progress.” The Americans of the late 20th and early 21st century have grown accustomed to leisure and comfort.

Even though there has been crime, poverty and injustice, the vast majority has had access to comforts of life not seen before in history. Central heating, ways to keep cool, food without hunting, gathering or farming, and access to education are just a few examples.

We have seen sports become religions with stadiums as temples and fans as worshipers. Entertainers live in extravagance and exchange meaningless awards between themselves. All of this financed by those with less who bring their offerings and by their merchandise.

Current events may be signaling a change. Depending on our outlook, it may be a blessing or a curse. Life may become more difficult. In many ways it already has. For thousands of years humanity has endured, resisted and outlasted monarchs, tyrants and nations. In the midst, life moved on.

Fortunes made, fortunes lost.

Days of plenty, days of want.

Sunrise and sunset, birth and death, joy and sorrow, comfort and distress.

Jesus interrupted history at his first coming to announce that we needed to rethink who God was. There were a lot of misconceptions that had taken his identity hostage. Jesus came to sort things out and redirect our thinking about the Father by looking at the Son.

Two thousand years later our vision is again distorted. Western Christianity has lost its way. It has become obsessed with the notion of going to heaven. Instead of recognizing that the kingdom of God is the true New World Order that Jesus commissioned us to take into all the world, American Christianity has reduced itself to selling fire insurance against hell and choosing to fight for political ideologies.

American Christianity has replaced the kingdom for the republic, the cross for the flag and patriotism is viewed as Christian service. Democracy now supersedes the kingship of Jesus.

The church in America has become a partner with the systems and governments of the world. I am very grateful for the freedoms and affluence of the American that I grew up in. Those who sacrificed over the decades for the American way of life did so with the best of intentions. Their efforts afforded us the peace and prosperity.

If this lifestyle is lost in my lifetime, it will not diminish my trust in God. You see, Jesus did not die to create Christian nations. He died to secure His kingdom with followers from every nation.

American Christianity is enlisted to fight a political one world government. Bad theology has it looking for antichrists, “signs of the times” and a rapture. Preserving capitalism and America have become synonymous with evangelicalism. Instead of being the salt of the earth, it is now a voting block and a political action committee.

Those who belong to Christ echo the words of Jesus to Pilate “My kingdom is not from this world.” We are ambassadors of Christ in a hostile world sent to demonstrate what life in the kingdom looks like. Christ was a living, visible image of God. We are now his body.

God is not restrained by who is in the White House, controls the Senate or is Speaker of the House. For those who love him and are called according to his purpose, he has reassured us that he will work all things for our good. Neither Pharaoh, Caesar nor numerous other empires have been able overthrow the kingdom of God. No one on the horizon will either.

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the lowly.”

Humble yourselves , then under God’s powerful hand,

so that he may lift you up at the right time.”

I Peter 5:5,6

Light Prevails

Step outside and view the vastness of the night sky.

The dark curtain is speckled with hundreds of points of light.

We may say that darkness prevails, but that is not true.

Light Prevails

The darkness is invaded and pierced by the light of the stars.

The darkness cannot overcome the light. If the darkness deepens, the light becomes more brilliant. All attention is drawn to the light.

The only thing that lessens the light of the stars is the coming of the greater light. It casts out the darkness completely.

“You are the light of the world.”

Matthew 5:14

What is Abuse?

What is abuse? Is it the most common assumption of physical brutality that leaves black eyes and broken bones? Is there another, perhaps more sinister type that is harder to detect? Physical abuse is often covered with make-up or long sleeves. Psychological abuse is unseen and leaves no visible marks.

Physically abused victims try to hide their bruises. So do those who are psychologically abused. Abuse from manipulation and degradation is not easily recognizable and the abused has developed a faulty reasoning that they are the one causing the problem.

All of this is possible only if the abuse remains hidden. Narcissists are masters of this skill. Victims are unaware that their predicament is identical to many others. They believe they are alone when they are not. This is due in part to the fact that victims are typically good-hearted, empathic people. “Putting down unsuspecting, soft-hearted souls in their midst is a sport.” Carrie Barron, MD. Victims want to please and think if they try a little harder, things will work out.

Abuse is Aided

Unknowingly, the silence and efforts to please only increase the narcissists control and power. They expand their influence toward friends, family and children of their victim and convince them that the victim is really the problem. The isolation deepens for the victim and the cycle continues. Shame and embarrassment weigh down the victim because they feel they are a failure in their relationships. Their fear and inability to speak up seals them in their fate.

Abuse Exposed

This article is written with a two-fold purpose:

Encourage the victim to speak up.

Plead with the bystanders to listen.

Because of their personality, it is difficult for a victim of a narcissist to speak poorly of anyone. The narcissist knows this and exploits it. But if you are a victim, you must. Find a way to express your pain. Ask questions, “Do you think its OK for someone to constantly blame other people for what they did wrong?”

Try to locate someone who is willing to listen to your experience before they judge you. You are the one who has been living on the inside, behind the curtain of shame and blame. Keeping the secret hidden does not help you or your children. Your silence gives the narcissist full control of the dialogue. The truth is your ally. The truth shall set you free.

Abuse Believed

I must forewarn the victim. You may not find many willing to believe you. This is especially true if the narcissist has already been charming them. That is why I now appeal to those who are watching. All the victim is asking is that you consider their side of the story. It may seem far-fetched. You need to do your own reflection. When you consider what you have observed in the relationship of the narcissist and the victim, what were the things that made you uncomfortable. Be willing to listen without judgement.

Victims are not typically accusing people. Why are they now? What has changed? What could be going on? What are they asking for? Don’t write them off. At least grant them the truth that there are always two sides to every story. Someone is reaching out for relational help. Don’t deny them.

More on dealing with narcissism can be found here.

The Denial of Evil

Too often, we practice the denial of evil.

I am not addressing instances where our frail humanity bleeds through and we act or speak carelessly. We all are fallen humans subject to frustration. Our natural condition lends itself to a poor attitude in the face of life’s trials.

Jesus came to restore the broken relationship between God and man. On the cross, he took everything evil had to offer and defeated it. Death reigns no more. However, evil did not relinquish the battle. He fights on; using people to steal, kill and destroy the relationship between God and man. Pitting person against person is an effective technique. Evil remains our foe.

A prime weapon in his arsenal is inordinate self-love. This demon has always been around. Greek mythology tells the story of Narcissus, a young man who spurned the affection of Echo and was cursed to fall in love with himself. Upon seeing his reflection in water, he was so enamored that he could not part with his reflection and he died at the waters edge. A tale of self-love that harmed all involved.

Today, modern psychologists use the name of Narcissus to describe a disposition of self-love at the expense of anyone else.

According to Mayo Clinic, “Narcissism is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” [Italics mine]

What is most interesting to me is that there is no known cause. It usually appears in the teen years or early adulthood and the only treatment is talk therapy. What this tells me is that it is a learned behavior.

The Emotional Hole

Identifying and treating narcissism is growing in the psychiatric community. Perhaps it should be said that treating the victims of narcissists is increasing. This is important for the Christian community to understand. Walking among us are those wounded by verbal missiles and psychological terrorists. Regardless of the speculative causes related to the development of narcissism, it must be dealt with head on and not allowed to take root.

Evil behavior emanates from an emotional hole, and being unaware of this has severely limited our ability to deal with the ruthlessness in our day to day lives and in our society.

Martha Stout, Ph.D. – Outsmarting the Sociopath Next Door

The Christian community is possible because of the grace and mercy of God. Were it not for his great love, none of us would know peace. Unfortunately, we have created a religion with a God who is only grace and mercy. This is a problem.

When the natural bent to sin is not challenged, it grows and overtakes the soul. The Enemy sees the opportunity and replicates his own character within the unrestrained person. Which character in biblical history displays these temperaments: inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. I think it is now easy for us to identify.

Jesus and the Narcissist

Following his baptism, Jesus was sent into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the original narcissist. This is revealed in Satan’s final temptation, “I will give you all the kingdoms of the world IF you fall down and worship me.” Satan had tried to intimidate (make some bread!), manipulate (jump and angels will catch you) and revealed his true nature when asking for excessive attention and admiration because of his inflated sense of importance. He did this intentionally because he had no desire to do anything but harm mankind.

What we learn from this encounter is summed up in the final words of the story.

“Then the devil left him, and angels came and looked after him.”

Matthew 4:11 KNT

Dealing with narcissists is exhausting. Here are two truths you must understand.

  1. They attack when you are weak and capitalize on your frail condition.
  2. You need support when you have confronted them.

Unfortunately, most who deal with them today go it alone. Isolated with the narcissist during the attack, no one comes to there aid. In fact, others often begin to sympathize with the attacker. A complete turnaround has taken place. The emotional hole of the narcissist is now being dug for their victim.

Spiritual Narcissism

Jesus’ entire ministry was spent battling spiritual narcissists, the Pharisees. While their initial purpose was well-intentioned (devotion to the Law of Moses) it turned into a cult of power that was blind to the One the Law pointed to.

Spiritual narcissists often use their spirituality to justify harmful behaviors and use spiritual jargon to intimidate others

Abby Moore, 8 Types Of Narcissists & How To Distinguish Them

Jesus said of them “They tie up heavy bundles which are difficult to carry, and they dump them on people’s shoulders – but they aren’t prepared to lift a finger to move them! Everything they do is for show, to be seen by people. Yes, they make their prayer boxes large and their prayer-tassels long, and they love the chief places at dinners, the main seats in the synagogues, the greetings in the marketplaces, and having people call them “Rabbi.” Mt. 23:4-7 KNT

Jesus saw them for what they truly were. He also called them out on who it was that was encouraging them to act that way. “You are from your father – the devil. And you’re eager to get on with what he wants.” Jn 8:44 KNT. We must remember, people have a choice for whom they will serve.

Everyone falls to the temptation of sin, but those who willfully ignore the truth and manipulate others do not know God. (Jn 8:45-50).

“The one who does not love has not known God, for God is love.”

I John 4:8 KNT

The modern church has championed the second half of the above verse. “God is love” is the perfect description of who he is. However, “those who do not love” is also the perfect description of those who do not know him. When we encounter individuals whose lifestyle is one of manipulation and abuse, we need to take notice. If a child learns that acts of intimidation and manipulation allow them to acquire anything they want, he/she will use those methods.

Parenting involves love, nurture and restraint. When a child is not disciplined for bad behavior, a narcissist is born. Aristotle said, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.” This is not to say that change is impossible. We all know of people who saw the light later in life and were changed. However, most will talk of the regret they have of wasted years and the crisis that brought them to faith.

“God cannot use a man or woman greatly until He wounds them deeply.”

A. W. Tozer

What I want to address here is that when we see narcissistic behavior, we do no favor to the victim nor the abuser by letting things be. The abused grows more disheartened and the abuser more emboldened. The only hope for the victim is to separate themselves from the narcissist. The only hope for the narcissist is to be denied their victory. Being broken is the only cure for a narcissist. If not broken by God, only the grave will cure the hunchback. Love will not take root until evil is resisted.

You cannot love a narcissist to Jesus by letting them do as they please and let your light shine. You must stand up to their bluff. They must learn to humble themselves. Submission to God, not manipulation of people, is the only way to find what they are looking for. They will not be inclined to do so until their tactics do not work and they are alone.

God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee.

James 4:6,7

The phrase “tough love” is tossed about but rarely practiced. We cannot afford to deny that our adversary uses people to achieve his evil purposes. They will not stop nor be freed until they learn that evil behavior will not be tolerated. It is an ugly fight and they are good at it.

God is the God of grace and mercy, but not without a price . We cannot have it both ways. There is no grace without cost. “It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Only when the narcissist is forced to come to terms with their behavior do they have a chance for redemption.

Scripture tells us to step up and resist Satan when he is acting like a roaring lion seeking to devour someone. When did Jesus ever say it would be painless?

This is a topic that is too involved for just one post. I will be contributing more in future. For more information on helping victims or narcissists go to Live the Stable Life

A Walk with Jesus

As I was on my walk this morning, it occured to me that the gravel road I was on was probably very similar to the roads Jesus walked on. As I prayed, I envisioned Him beside me. What must it have been like to walk with Him?

It would have been an audible conversation.

I would have heard any inflection in His voice.

I would have tried to read His expression.

When I looked at Him, His eyes would communicate inward thoughts and intentions. Foremost of which would be love.

Photo by Alexis Antoine on Unsplash

How have we lost

the God of Love?

Who left His throne

In Heaven above;

He walked with men

He laughed, He cried

He saved us all

the day He died.

For God So Loved…

In this moment of reflections, I yearned for Him to be present. I know someday He will. But for now,

“It is better for you that I should go away” (Jn.16:7) because the Helper, Spirit has been sent to all who believe.

By believing in Jesus, He sends us a Helper to be with us and in us. The divine nature of God now dwells in me. In you. In all who believe. I am not limited by physical time and place. I am now an active agent of God.

He communicates to me on a spiritual level. He is transforming me into a new creation that walks by Spirit.

My identity has changed.

We are sons and daughters of the King. We are to be visible representations of Jesus’ love to the world. All this because He loved us and gave Himself for us.

This love of God made me aware that just as I long for Him, He longs for me.

“All that really matters is this: Have you experienced the furious longing of God or not?”

-Brennan Manning

When Jesus was on earth, those who saw Him were touched by His physical presence and compassion. Now, we have a spiritual connection that I know I do not fully appreciate and develop. I know the day will come when we shall see Him and know Him fully.

In the meantime, I will continute to walk with Him in the Spirit. Learning to listen as He did.

It doesn’t matter where I am His witness. Only that where ever I go, I represent the God who loves.

The Life We are Meant to Have

Did you ever ponder what the life we are meant to have looks like? Did you ever consider what life would look like without all the drama? Sadly, the most recent expression of this would be some of John Lennon’s songs. “Imagine” is an attempt to envision people and life without strife. “Give Peace a Chance would be of similar sentiment. You could also include “The Last Resort” by the Eagles, although it laments what we have become through greed and aggression.

I can’t think of any current Christian movement or personality that is known for advancing a “Jesus fashioned” world. This is not to say there are none, only that the most recognized Christian entities seem focused on issues. Conservatism, inclusivism, Calvinism, evangelism, etc.

Focusing on promoting or resolving doctrinal or theological stances does not lead to unity. Focusing on Christ and finding our unity, oneness, in Him gives us Holy Wisdom (Spirit) and desire to work through issues. Christianity seems to have numerous factions that have followers. All claim they are “more right” than the others. However, even if one is “more right”, he is still some wrong.

In our current human state, God is too big for us to understand. That’s why Jesus is the one essential. He shows us what the Father is like. What did Jesus reveal? God is Love. He wants us to have an abundant life. Treat others as we want to be treated. The full list can be found by reading the gospels

The conclusion is this: Love God. Love others. Trust Jesus.

If our intent is to see improvement in this world, we don’t need more “movements” or celebrity spokespeople. These are not inherently bad, but unnecessary. The mission can be accomplished with, without or in spite of them. The world was turned upside down by 120 men and women of various backgrounds and standings when they were empowered by Holy Spirit. These people were from different political, economic, and educational backgrounds. The key is that they were united in one person and cause.

Jesus is King.

He reigns in and through His followers. We reign as He did – through love and service. The New Testament letters help us see how we can navigate life in the kingdom. Our devotion is to Jesus and our Guide is Spirit. Faithful to Jesus, guided, by Spirit, enlightened by the writings, we work out our presentation to the world.

Life with Christ is what we were created for. The straightforward motto that describes the life of Jesus followers is found in establishments worldwide. But it is not in church buildings.

When you enter any HardRock Cafe, emblazoned above the bar are the words, “Love all, Serve all.”

Maybe we need fewer religious institutions and more living in the Spirit of Jesus.

Where is Your Future?

Do not judge your past on what you know now; just make a better future.

We all have regrests from our past. Things we said and things we did. Things we didn’t say and things we didn’t do.  

Some carry consequences that are daily reminders.  A tatoo. Our financial situation. An injury. A criminal record. A child.

What we have and where we are now is based on our past decisions. They may even influence what we may be able to accomplish. But they do not need to define who we may become.

Victim or Villian?

Whether our past was as a victim or a villian, we do not need to maintain that identity. For many of us, we played both roles. We’ve all been hurt and we’ve all hurt someone else.  

This is an important admission. For without it, we really can’t move forward in life. If we claim to have only been a victim, we cast all responsibility on others. We overlook our ability to survive. It is easy to fall into a crevice of self-pity that keeps us from climbing out because we are waiting for the person who we think pushed us in to come pull us out. When they don’t, life becomes an existance of waiting for someone else to make things right.  

Being a victim is tragic and leaves residual fear. I do not under appreciate how devastating it is to be misused or abused. It will take time, effort and support, but the tragedy is not final and fears can be faced.  

In your past, you were a victim.

Today, you are a survivor.

Tomorrow, you can become a conquerer.

If You Have Wronged Someone

You cannot go back and undo it. This can produce tremendous regret. If possible, you may go to those whom you’ve hurt and express your sorrow over your words and actions. This must be done as an expression to help them, not to simply make you feel better.

Saying “I’m sorry” just so you can say you did, means nothing.

You might not be able to undo the consequences either. Remorse for causing physical pain or death does not restore health nor life. Apologies cannot erase years of belittling treatment and insults.

The prison for this type of behavior is believing that because you were insensitive, uncaring and hurtful, you cannot change.

You can.

You must.

Your greatest hurdle will be other’s skepticism of your transformation.

Let them be skeptical.

Don’t try to convince them with your words. Don’t demand they accept that “you’ve changed”. We’ve all heard that before. Just start living and treating others differently. Keep in mind, if you’ve hurt someone, they owe you nothing.

So how do you move forward in life then? Move forward.

Be the person you want to become.

Treat others as you would have them treat you.

Think others more important then yourself.

Associate with those who need friends.

Give expecting nothing in return.

If you knew then, what you know now, you may have made different choices.

Now That You Know

With the knowledge that you can, create your future.

In John 8, a woman is caught in the act of sexual sin. She is thrust before Jesus by her accusers in an attempt to trap Him. Debate between Jesus and the accusers takes place in front of the woman. Jesus writes with his finger in the sand twice during the discussion. He told them that the one without sin should throw the first stone. Some scholars think Jesus may have been writing the sins of the accusers in the sand for them to read. The wisdom of Jesus silenced her accusers and they dropped their stones walked away.

Jesus looks at the woman and asks, “Who has accused you?” “No one” she replies. “Well then,” said Jesus, “I don’t condemn you either! Off you go – and from now on don’t sin again.” Jn 8:10 KNT.  

Jesus does not condemn her. Neither does he say that what she did was OK.

He says “from now on.”

That is the key to your future. Living life from now onward. 

From here on out, do the right thing.

That’s the best you can do.   So do it.

Home On Sunday

It is a Sunday. For the first 40 years of my life, I would awaken on this day aware that the entire forenoon would be consumed by religious observances and obligations. As a child I was an attendee. As a college student, a critic. As a minister, an actor.  

Lifestyle and vocabulary swirled in a whirlwind of religion. Proper dress, proper behavior, timeliness and faux camaraderie dominated. Jesus was simply the merit badge worn by the regular attenders. We used his name or referenced him to lend authenticity to our words and actions.

What Jesus did for us played well

We are going to heaven because he died for us. That’s worth a wafer and a shot of grape juice. We also gave him a complete list of who was sick or traveling so he could heal them or keep them safe. This prayer ritual always amused me. We would openly name everyone to pray for and then close our eyes and read the list to God as if he had been in a soundproof booth. I regress.

Every Sunday a man, males were the only ones allowed, would preach to us. When I became that man, I did the preaching. I carried on the role of speaking about all things moral and biblical. My heart was in it. I had great material people could learn from. But I fear I missed the main point.

I communicated a zealous faith but not a devotion to Jesus.

Faith and Jesus is not faith in Jesus

By his grace, I have come to know him. His presence, nature and love have overcome the guilt and obligations that characterized the faith of earlier years. As a young man, I experienced it briefly and it catapulted me into bible college. I learned enough to be dangerous. I received a degree and license to preach.

I always meant well.

But the accumulation of a spouse, children and debt required a vocation. It became necessary to get and keep a job. Then it was to look for a little better job.

The young man who read the story of the rich young ruler and in faith quit his job, sold his car and began a quest to find true faith was now a religious hireling. Life became a struggle to make ends meet and preaching was my profession. During this time period, leadership and management were catch phrases in western Christianity. Books and seminars everywhere, but I needed Jesus.

Funny But Sad

I’ve been out of the ministry for almost 18 years with the exception of two or three attempts to “change the world” that amounted to miserable attempts to inflate my pride and prove I still had it in me. It’s funny but sad that a person can be so miserable in a situation yet return to it in an attempt to validate himself.

But all the while, Adonai has been patient. Jesus has been interceding. Spirit has been whispering.

My desire now is that Jesus lives in me and that he lives through me. I desire to know him, understand him. I want to grasp the meaning of his teachings and become intimately aware of him. This means time with him. Discussions with him.

N. T. Wright uses the marriage analogy. Newlyweds are in love with the intention of always being in love. If they do not take the time to discover who their mate is and invest in the relationship, they will not experience the deep union of marriage found through knowing  their partner.  Becoming one flesh is not a one time occurance.  It is a lifelong process.  Uniting with Jesus has an initial point of decision but does not deepen without a lifelong passion to know him.  

This Sunday, I am here at my desk. I am with my wife and daughters today. The Spirit lives within us and my thoughts and devotion to Christ are the same today as every day of the last week. We would like to find other believers to share the bond of Christ with. It has not been a successful search here. It is better than to go to Christian assemblies and stir up strife. However, I am always prepared to answer to anyone who cares to ask about my lifestyle.

It seems also that living each day with Jesus honors him more and is better for me than three hours in a building as a spectator. Especially when there is usually a specific timeline to ensure prompt start of the second service, beating the Baptists to Golden Corral or being home for kick-off.

I do not intend to shame or guilt anyone. This is my conclusion and understanding of living the life of freedom Christ provides.  

May you find peace and love in him as well.  

Restoration Project

In the story of Eden, after Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened, they took action to cover themselves. Then they hid from God.

“They heard the voice of Adonai, God, walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.” Gen 3:8a CJB

God was more than a voice. He was walking in the garden and they heard his voice. He had had previous conversations with them both. When created, the creatures were comfortable in the presence of God. His form was not intimidating. He was conversational. He came and went. Adam and Eve were the caretakers of the garden.

God never offers a reason as to why he created, but he did. We can observe that it was designed to be a mutually beneficial relationship. The very first “win, win.” God created a world with beautiful scenery and animals and tops it off with a creation in the image of God themself. (Let Us make man in Our image, Gen 1:26).

He created beings that were responsible, relational and diverse. That balance was upset when the creation acted irresponsibly. This damaged the relationship in an effort to be just like someone else.

God – Father, Son and Spirit, has always been the original arrangement. They have been working through time to restore our vision as it was in the garden.

Jesus is our answer. Our Example. Spirit is our guide. Father is – well, our Father.

Jesus in Galilee was as he was in the garden; approachable, visible, audible and relational. Jesus began the restoration of all things. He reintroduced the image of God and man in the garden. Responsible, relational and diverse.

We can have an intimate relationship with God. We need no longer hide from him. Our sin is removed. We have been given responsibility with authority to reclaim this world for its true king. This is accomplished through all nations and peoples.

We are not to live as those waiting for destruction. We are to expend ourselves as agents of the king; spreading the good news that a future awaits that is magnificent.

We are more than conquerors (Ro. 8:37). We are destined for the throne!

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