Responding with Grace

The SCOTUS ruling and announcement about same-sex marriage blew up my Facebook account.

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Lots of people have lots to say. Most of it isn’t all that helpful. In fact, some of it is simply hateful. But here are two examples of responses from two friends of mine on Facebook. One’s a Christian, and one’s not. But they both gracefully acknowledged the tension and spoke with grace towards others they might not fully agree with. I love that I can call these two gentlemen my friends.

From my Christian friend, Rory:

“Marriage can be hard. In a marriage, love only wins when you consistently, over a long period of time, make the sort of choices that don’t always feel “lovely” or “winning.” It requires commitment, a long-term perspective, humility, a willingness to consider someone else over yourself, a willingness to prepare for the possibility and responsibility of raising children, a denial of consumerism and selfishness and cheap promises, and an investment into and from your community.

Above all it requires the conviction that there are very, very few things, perhaps only death or sustained / serious infidelity, that truly amount to acceptable reasons for ending a marriage. This might mean that over the years you discover that you’ve actually married a few different “people” rather than the one person to whom you spoke vows. It is only under these conditions (and more) that marriage truly acts as a fundamental building block for society, as the SCOTUS mentioned in their ruling yesterday.

So, to same-sex couples who can now marry: sincere congratulations, but also, welcome to the long, good, hard struggle. I hope, for the sake of our children and grandchildren and societal flourishing, that you are in this for the long haul, and that as a result of more people having access to legal marriage we can start to see more of the benefits to society that marriage provides. It will be good to have more allies in the struggle against broken commitments, no-fault divorces, and children who are orphaned / parentless / shuffled-around-between-warring-parties / all that.”


From my non-Christian friend, Eric:

“To those who are disappointed by yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on the legality of gay marriage, I hear your anger. I don’t share it, but I hear you. I understand that you feel disgusted and horrified at the sin you feel this country is permitting, and that you may not feel the same pride in our nation as so many of us do at this moment. You have every right to these feelings and to continue disapproving of homosexuality, although you will likely face significant challenges from others each time you express these thoughts. I expect that these challenges will become stronger in the months and years to come. I truly hope that you won’t use these challenges as a reason for extricating yourselves from our collective society.

If you can find it in your hearts to forgive those who you feel are misguided, sinful, and deceived in their feelings of love for another person, I hope you will do so. It will bring you peace. I also hope you may find the courage to direct this anger and disgust toward other fights. Your anger and faith are ideal weapons for fighting poverty, sickness, violence, and hatred in our own communities and across the globe. I’m certain you will find many more allies in these fights than you have in your fight against gay marriage — you would have my support and my allegiance, at the very least. If you can bring the same level of organization and dedication to these other battles, I guarantee that we will have every chance of creating a truly just and loving world.

To my friends who are thrilled with this ruling, and especially to my gay friends for whom this changes everything, congratulations! This has been a long, and difficult, and uphill climb from the start. It’s so incredible to see these accomplishments come into being, when they often seemed so far from the realm of possibility. Your expressions of love, tolerance, and acceptance are a joy to have in this world, and I am so happy that you now have these equal rights in the eyes of the law. Whether or not you choose to marry, keep this spirit of love in your heart for all people. Celebrate this ruling, and celebrate your love. Please remember that those who oppose you will not change their hearts and minds by being told they are wrong. Their hearts and minds will only change by seeing you love and be loved. Stay vigilant, stay beautiful, and let us continue our push for equal rights and opportunities for all.”

Narcissism and Gender (and the Evangelical Worldview)

Narcissism and Gender (and the Evangelical Worldview)

“Narcissism,” “narcissistic,” and “narcissist” are terms that are frequently used in today’s culture. Some people use these terms as labels for one of their parents or an acquaintance, or for our society, our generation, or even our general time in history. Some have said that the narcissistic personality is the “‘personality of our time’ in the same way that the hysterical personality is associated with the Victorian period and the obsessive-compulsive personality psychologically characterizes the stage of competitive capitalism.” (Philipson, 1985). Although there may be truth to many of these claims, the abundant use of these terms has caused us to treat narcissism flippantly. When someone is perceived to be self-serving or as having a big ego, he or she is quickly labeled a narcissist. If it is perceived that a certain individual lacks empathy towards another person, clearly he or she must be a narcissist. However, even though people are often familiar with the concept of narcissism, and even may be able to accurately label someone who has Narcissistic Personality Disorder a narcissist, there is still much that is commonly unknown. This is especially true as narcissism relates to gender.

Based on how our culture so often speaks of how we have narcissistic and entitlement issues as a society, one might assume that Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) would affect a relatively high percentage of the population in America. However, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text rev., American Psychiatric Association, 2000), estimates of the prevalence of NPD “range from 2% to 16% in the clinical population and less than 1% in the general population.” The DSM-IV-TR also states “of those diagnosed with NPD, 50%-75% are male.” Two things stand out about these figures: 1) what is clinically diagnosed as NPD is clearly narrower than what is commonly understood and 2) that fact that up to 75% of individuals diagnosed with NPD are male should be seen as significant, especially when considering gender issues in counseling.

The study of narcissism really took root in the late 1960s when Otto Kernberg and Heinz Kohut both studied and developed theories about narcissistic disorders (as well as other disorders including Borderline Personality Disorder). Although their theories differ from one another in some significant ways, Kohut departing from traditional understandings of Freud and Kernberg remaining faithful to Freudian theory, their contribution to the understanding of NPD still continues through to this day, although certain aspects of their respective theories have been seriously challenged. The term “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” was first proposed by Kohut in 1968 (Kohut, 1968).

As much as Kernberg and Kohut did for psychology’s understanding of narcissism, there were a number of areas that were left to explore. Although their theoretical frameworks differed significantly in a number of places, there was at least one area in which they, as well as many who followed them, simply assumed: that their theory was gender neutral. Their discoveries and observations were treated as being true for males and females alike, although in their examples the proportion of males was significantly higher than that of females. In Kernberg’s Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism (1975), and Kohut’s Analysis of the Self (1971) and Restoration of the Self (1977) a total of 29 cases are presented as examples of various manifestations of NPD, but only five depict women (Philipson, 1985). Ilene Philipson (1985) also points out a number of other times in which presentations on narcissism have a significantly higher percentage of males represented as opposed to women. She also points out that “these ratios of men to women must be seen in light of the fact that two-thirds of all psychiatric patients in the population are women” (Philipson, 1985).

Critiquing the Gender Neutral Approach to Understanding Narcissism

I have already made significant reference to Ilene Philipson’s article “Gender and Narcissism” (1985), but in my research of a number of articles and books, Philipson’s critique of the traditional gender neutral approach in understanding and diagnosing NPD stands out. Although Philipson relies heavily upon Kohut’s theory of the formation of NPD, she brings strong challenges to the efficacy of the research and theory when applied to both men and women. It seems that she has no problem with Kohut’s theory applying to men because she believes that the research only analyzes data about narcissism from the male perspective. In her words she suggests “that it is possible to understand men’s disproportionate appearance in the case material on narcissism as a reflection of the fact that narcissism—as a personality type and pathological disorder—denotes a way of being in the world that is primarily, if not exclusively, experienced by men” (Philipson). She believes the problem lies “in the social construction of the asymmetrical development of women and men in the period of early childhood, when the foundation of pathological narcissism takes form.” (Philipson).

In summary of her article, Philipson believes that narcissism’s formation in an individual occurs as a result of “improper identity development during the time when a child is separating and individuating itself from its mother, assuming the mother is the primary caretaker of the child” (Philipson, 1985). This does not disagree with much of the research on narcissism. Traditionally it is explained that in children who grow up possessing narcissistic personality characteristics there are serious failures in maternal empathy and in the mother’s acceptance of a child’s separation from her. The faulty empathy of the mother is the result her ambivalence towards her child’s pull towards individuation and her child’s need for autonomy, control, and mastery. Philipson’s critique is that we should not assume that boys and girls react the same to their mother during this individuating time, and that we also should not assume that mother’s react the same to their daughters as they do to their sons. It is generally assumed that both boys and girls are affected in the same way by a mother’s faulty empathy, but Philipson asserts that that is not true. She asserts that what is commonly understood as the generic “child” in psychoanalytic literature discussing narcissism is truly the male experience and not the female experience (Philipson). She states that “because of an assumed gender neutrality, the psychoanalytic explanation of narcissism obfuscates the gendered relationship between mother and son and mother and daughter, which colors all aspects of psychological growth, whether that growth is ‘narcissistic’ or not” (Philipson). She explains that faulty empathy within a mother leads to the inability to tend to a child on the basis of her or his own needs, and such inability is frequently the result of unconsciously viewing the child “as another person, as an extension of oneself, or as embodying salient characteristics of a significant other” (Philipson). The key to Philipson’s understanding is that when mothers view their children in such a manner, they seem to do so in a gender specific way. Sons are most likely to be seen as husbands, fathers, and brothers, and daughters are seen as the mother’s mother or as extensions of themselves. This leads to significant differences between the relationship of a mother and her son, and the mother and her daughter. The difference in the level of how “other” the son feels when contrasted to the daughter has significant impact upon the formation of what is commonly understood to be NPD.

For the adult woman who has experienced her mother see her as an extension of herself, she goes on to find an “omnipotent” person who can fulfill her desires of love and complete her sense of identity, as she had previously had with her mother. For the adult male who has experienced his mother see him as her father, husband, or brother, he goes on to seek admiration and love from those around him as a person of his own, building his grandiose self – this being the commonly understood description of someone with NPD (Philipson). Philipson’s assertions about the differences between the kind of attachment a son has with his mother and the attachment a daughter has with her mother helps explain why there is a disparity in the number of male narcissists and female narcissists as we define narcissism today. She says that it is because we are defining narcissism from a completely male perspective.

The Relationship Between Gender and Narcissism and the Evangelical Worldview

Gender relations is often a touchy subject within Evangelical circles today. And discussions about psychology and its place within Christianity are usually inflammatory in most evangelical churches. So what happens when we mix these two subjects into one and bring it up as a discussion within the typical Evangelical church? It is probably not going to be very productive. This presents a challenge when approaching topics like narcissism, and even more specifically, what the relationship is between narcissism and gender. Nevertheless, I believe that the Bible does speak generally to this topic.

I believe that gender relations were dramatically affected at the fall. Sin has distorted so much of developmental processes and our how we relate to one another as human beings. I believe that the power of sin also affects the incredibly formative beginning years of our lives, as we grow and develop a personality. Sin has dramatically tainted the process of our identity formation. The image of God we all have been made in, as described in Genesis 1:26-27, has remained in contact, but affected by sin in deep-rooted ways. After the fall, when God declares his condemnations upon the serpent, the woman, and the man, he specifically tells the woman in Gen 3:16 that her desire will be for her husband, and he will rule over her. This pronouncement is due to the fall; due to sin. When the breakdown of the mother-daughter relationship happens so that the mother sees the daughter as an extension of herself, this causes an increased desire for someone to unhealthily contribute to her identity and give her love that she is incredibly needful of to function. For many such women, that is often her husband. I believe that the assertions that Ilene Philipson makes are not in conflict with Scriptural teaching. Yet, as within the psychology world, such observations often go dreadfully unnoticed. But theology and psychology can clearly inform one another, and work hand in hand with each other.

If the church wants to be effective as possible in helping people grow holistically we need to, in submission to the Holy Spirit and under the authority of the Bible, understand and study what psychology has to contribute to our theology and think about how our theology can enrich psychological findings. But there remain many Evangelical and especially Fundamental Christians who would have nothing to do with the world of psychology or anything it promotes.

Some psychologists have proposed that American Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism are narcissistic themselves as movements, in that we separate ourselves out from “the world” and then make ourselves feel better by contrasting our lives to those of “the world” we separated ourselves from (Dyer, 2012). At the same time, in doing this Dyer suggests that there has been “a turn of focus away from God, yet a movement toward the self in seeking a sense of comfortableness, intimacy, and the meeting of felt-need in a space of worship for the adherent.” Ultimately, narcissism’s reach into the Evangelical circles is seen as “a product of Protestant individualism” (Dyer).

However, as I have already somewhat alluded to, I believe that the discussion of narcissism in this way is counterproductive. Narcissism Personality Disorder is a serious disorder. A counseling professor of mine has said that he would much rather have a client with Borderline Personality Disorder over a client with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He said this because he believes that it is nearly impossible to effectively work with a narcissist. This shows the seriousness of the disorder. But if we use the language of narcissism so flippantly, I believe it detracts from the serious attention and work that needs to occur within our understanding of what narcissism truly is.

Assessing Narcissistic Personality Disorder

The DSM-IV-TR has nine diagnostic criteria specifically listed, a total of at least five of the nine need to be present in order to diagnose someone with NPD. What the DSM-IV-TR says is consistent of NPD is “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts…” The Mayo Clinic staff (2011) on their website add, “Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

There have been a number of various types of inventories, but perhaps the most widely used inventory is the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI, Raskin and Hall, 1979). It was developed to measure “individual differences in the extent to which a grandiose sense of self and a grandiose fantasy life combine with hypersensitivity, exhibitionism, feelings of entitlement, interpersonal exploitiveness, and a lack of empathy for others to form dominant themes of an individual’s personality” (Tschanz, Morf, Turner, 1998). Tschanz et al. strongly question whether the type of narcissism that is purportedly assessed by the NPI can be validly generalized to both the male and female experience. However, the NPI particularly focuses on behavior manifestations of explosiveness and entitlement rather than the internal underlying psychological issues (Tschanz et al.). Philipson shows that the underlying psychological elements are what is key to understanding the differences between men and women more so than focusing on the behavioral aspects.

The mayo clinic website offers some great information on the treatment of NPD as it is commonly understood and diagnosed. But it also shows the lack of differentiation between men and women who experience and live out narcissism in different ways. It treats it in a gender neutral way, not acknowledging or mentioning any differences between genders.

They explain “NPD treatment is centered around psychotherapy. There are no medications specifically used to treat narcissistic personality disorder” (Mayo Clinic Staff). They go on to explain that Cognitive-Behavior therapy, Family therapy, or Group therapy might help them in various ways. Perhaps what is best (and most disheartening) is the honesty in which they approach how difficult NPD is to overcome.

The Mayo Clinic Staff  state to the person with NPD:

because personality traits can be difficult to change, therapy may take several years. The short-term goal of psychotherapy for narcissistic personality disorder is to address such issues as substance abuse, depression, low self-esteem or shame. The long-term goal is to reshape your personality, at least to some degree, so that you can change patterns of thinking that distort your self-image and create a realistic self-image.”

Clearly there is a lack of discussion about how male and female narcissism differs, or even if it is a possibility. This is definitely a lacking element in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of NPD.

Some Aspects to Be Further Considered and Explored

After doing some research about NPD I believe there are many avenues for further exploration. If Philipson is correct in her assertions that how we understand NPD is from a completely male lens, distorting the realities of what narcissism looks like for women there is a lot of work that needs to be done to reevaluate how gender differences play into the development of NPD. This affects the definition of what narcissism is, this changes the diagnosis requirements, and this changes our understanding of the prevalence of narcissism in America. If Philipson is correct in her assertions, then there are a lot of women who have NPD realized in a different way that we acknowledge it now, that is going unrecognized and therefore undiagnosed. The numbers may not be drastically skewed towards men as thought.

I believe theologically speaking there is much that can be explored. Many questions can be asked. If women are seeking to find their love from a “omnipotent” source that matched what their mother once was for them, what does it look like to have that attachment be placed and founded in the true Omnipotent one? How can God be put into the equation more effectively when dealing with NPD? Is a man who has patterns of grandiosity in fantasy or behavior resistant to a relationship with God? If the male with NPD is already a Christian, does he want to naturally withdraw from intimacy with God? How does the narcissist’s theology inform his identity? How does his narcissism inform his theology?

Clearly there are plenty of theological paths to be further explored, and this is where I feel Christian theology is strongly lacking because of a resistance within the conservative Christian community to interact with psychological studies and research. As a Church, we need to better interact with Psychology and think about how practical theology can be informed by and inform psychological research.

Also, the relationship between gender and narcissism clearly needs to be more thoughtfully explored. There are a number of articles that have been written with gender in mind when discussing various aspects narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder. Hopefully more substantial work will be done concerning how gender plays a significant role in psychological issues and disorders. And hopefully the future DSMs will reflect those realizations.

References

Dyer, Jennifer E., (2012) Loving thyself: A Kohutian interpretation of “limited” mature narcissism in evangelical megachurches. J Relig Health, 51, 241-255.

Heiserman, Arthur, Cook, Harold, (1998). Narcissism, affect, and gender: an empirical examination of Kernberg’s and Kohut’s Theories of Narcissism. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 15(1), 74-92.

Kohut, Heinz, (1968). The Analysis of the self: A systematic approach to the psychoanalytic treatment of narcissistic personality disorders. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mayo Clinic Staff, (2011). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/narcissistic-personality-disorder/

Philipson, Ilene, (1985). Gender and narcissism. Psychology of Women Quarterly. 9, 213-228.

Raskin, R.N., Hall, C.S. (1979). A narcissistic personality inventory. Psychological Reports, 45, 590.

Tschanz, Brian T., Morf, Carolyn C., Turner, Charles W., (1998). Gender differences in the Structure of Narcissism: A Multi-Sample Analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Sex Roles, 38(9/10), 863-870.

Christ’s view on the Authority of the Old Testament

Jesus lived a life of humility, born of a woman, and born under the law (Gal 4:4). He lived His life in obedience to Scripture. He trusted the Old Testament Scriptures to be the Word of God, and therefore authoritative in all manners of life. He obviously knew the Scriptures very well, and could call vast portions to memory at a moment’s notice. He believed the prophecies of the Old Testament, that they were going to be fulfilled, and then went on to fulfill every prophecy concerning Himself. Before the first words even left the lips of Jesus Christ, He had fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. In every single act accomplished and in every single word spoken, Jesus Christ was constantly concerned about fulfilling, not destroying, the law and the prophets. He did not hide this fact either. He made it aware to His followers (Matt 5:17), to the religious Jews (Luke 4:21), and to His disciples (John 15:25).

Jesus never disputed the Old Testament. His teachings were completely based from Scripture. His teachings were already found in the Old Testament, but many times He clarified the applications to focus on the heart, rather than on the outward appearance. Jesus expected the religious leaders to know the Scriptures very well and to be applying them to their hearts. When the Jewish leaders and various other Jews would challenge Him with questions, Jesus would rebuke them for their lack of Scriptural knowledge. In seven separate occurrences in the Gospels, Jesus replied to such questions by saying, “Have you not read?” and then went on to allow Scripture to speak for itself. This shows that Jesus believed in the authority and the truthfulness of the Old Testament and that it can and should be applied to one’s own daily life.

Jesus believed in the purity of the Scriptures, and that they needed no addition, nor subtraction. He warned against those who added to and subtracted from the Scriptures, and rebuked those who did. Jesus exposed the Pharisees and other teachers of religious law of holding their own customs and laws above God’s law found in the Old Testament. The Pharisees and other teachers accused Jesus’ disciples of breaking tradition by not washing their hands before eating. However, Jesus replied very sternly to them by quoting Isaiah and saying, “Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men’” (Mark 7:6-7). Jesus showed the dangers of upholding that which was not commanded by God, and gave Scripture the authority above any manmade tradition.

Jesus also believed in the power of the Scriptures. He put a high standard in believing and knowing the Scriptures. When Jesus recounts the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, the rich man in hell begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his family to warn them of the torments of hell. Abraham replies and says that they can listen to Moses and the Prophets, speaking of the Old Testament Scriptures. The rich man is not satisfied with this, and tries to explain that if only his brothers will witness someone from the dead, that they will believe. Abraham, disagrees, and tells the rich man that if his brothers will not believe Moses and the Prophets then they will not be changed by even someone who has been raised from the dead. Jesus, in telling this story, shows just how important the Old Testament Scriptures really are. They are more important than any sign, miracle, or wonder Jesus ever performed. This is exemplified in Jesus’ own life on earth. Before His ministry began He entered into the wilderness to fast and to be tempted by the devil (Matt 4:1). Even though He was impoverished physically, He had internalized the Scriptures and had allowed them to be his nourishment (Matt 4:4). When Satan tempted Him in a number of ways, His reaction was to always use Scripture. He knew them well, and how to apply them. He rebuked Satan with the Scriptures even when Satan himself had used them against Him. Jesus allowed the power of the Word of God to sustain Him in His physical weakness.

Jesus quoted from twenty-four different Old Testament books. He took the Scriptures to mean what they said. He believed the Old Testament to be historically accurate and factual. He affirmed the creation, the flood, Abraham, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his wife, Isaac and Jacob, God’s provision of Manna, the brass serpent lifted by Moses, Jonah and the great fish, Isaiah, and Daniel. He trusted the Scriptures as fact.

Jesus showed the authority and validity of both the Scriptures and His resurrection by explaining how He fulfilled everything that the Scriptures had said about Him (Luke 24:25). In fact, Jesus had expected anyone who had read to Old Testament to have expected for Him to have had to suffer and die and rise again from the dead three days later. Jesus had been in the Scriptures from the very beginning, and He explained it to the two people walking to Emmaus and then later to His disciples. He had been in the Word of God since the beginning because He was the Word of God which became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1,14). Jesus was the Word and the giver of the Word, and for Jesus not to believe in the authority of Scripture would be for Him not to believe in His own authority as God and LORD.

Jesus desired for all to know the Scriptures and to view them as authoritative because faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10:17). The people who challenged Jesus were those who did not have a sufficient knowledge of the Scriptures and therefore insufficient faith; and He properly rebuked them for it. It was His understanding of the authority of Scripture that made Him stand out among teachers “as one having authority” (Matt 7:29). It was the fulfillment of these authoritative Scriptures that proved He was God.

Seven Steps to Genuine Christian Growth

Typically, we as Christians tend to compare ourselves to each other to define the “normal” Christian. If we look to someone we admire or respect as a Christian we many times make them a model of what we think being a Christian looks like. When it comes to sin, we don’t look to the cross or to Jesus, but rather to Christians who are participating in the same sins or “worse” sins as we are. This does nothing but lead to immature Christianity with a shallow faith and much hypocrisy. It is a Christianity that leads to loving by mere word and tongue, but not in deed and truth (1 John 3:18). Unfortunately this seems to be the typical consensus and understanding of what a Christian is like from non-Christians here in America. And this could be because that this is what the typical Christ is indeed like here in America.

Okay, so as we look at our lives I think we would all admit that we are guilty of comparing ourselves to others to help make ourselves not look or feel so bad for all of our shortcomings. By looking at a respected Christian and seeing their shortcomings we automatically think, If he is struggling and he is a mature and respected Christian then how am I supposed to expect to be any better? Or maybe you might say, Look at him! He’s my pastor and he has this problem in his life, then I must not be all that bad. Or perhaps you make yourself feel better by saying, Look at all these sinful Christians around me. I don’t have a problem with that sin. I must be doing alright! This then gives us an excuse to not try to live in obedience to God’s Word. But here inlies a big problem. We are not to compare ourselves to each other to see if we are living out the faith or to define what a good Christian looks like.

We are to only look to Christ, His cross, and His Word. We look to Him and instantly see a man that has not overthrown the law. He has not destroyed the law. He has fulfilled the law. He was a living fulfillment of the law. He was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin. Then we look to our lives and see that we utterly fall short of fulfilling the law. We are wicked sinners by comparison, no matter how you compare yourself to Jesus. But then is it hopeless? Far from it. God has given us the ability through His Holy Spirit to be able to not sin when tempation comes. Before one accepts Christ it is hopeless, however. They are slaves to sin and to death. But when one accepts Jesus Christ and His atoning death, God gives him freedom from obeying sin and life filled with the ability to love as Christ loved and to live as Christ lived with the ability to obey God and His law. This power is the same power which raised Jesus Christ from the grave (Eph. 2:19-20). We no longer have to serve sin, as we had when we were slaves to it. To serve sin would be as foolish as a freed slave going to back to the chains and imprisonment of his old abusive master.

The duty of the Christian as defined by the Bible can be summed up in two basic requirements:

1.) Be holy as He is holy

2.) Go and tell

How does the Christian accomplish these two things? I believe it can be done by following seven steps. They are easy to write out, but hard to live out. But we should daily be following these steps to be living in a way which pleases God and accomplishes His will in our lives.

1.) STOP SINNING

2.) FEAR GOD

3.) LIVE  CONSISTENTLY

4.) PRAY FOR OTHERS (The lost, our enemies, the persecuted, etc.)

5.) TELL AS MANY AS POSSIBLE

6.) HELP OTHERS GROW

7.) THANK GOD FOR HIS BLESSINGS

Staying Focused on Eternity

As I look to recent “heroes of the faith” (I speak of those God has used mightily in this world. I am not idolizing people here, just admiring their willingness to serve with purity of heart.) there is usually an obvious similarity between them all. They seem to have a healthy understanding of their future home in heaven. Paul understood this and expressed his feelings for desiring to be with Christ. Remember his words in Philippians?

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

More recently we can see this same understanding from Jim Elliot, missionary to the Auca Indians when he said,

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

Throughout the centuries martyrs who were not willing to back down from their faith in God or their stand on the inspired Word of God have understood that to die is not really a loss, but a gain. Books have been written of these people. Probably most famously is Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Another good source, and fairly recent, is a book put together by D.C. talk of stories of people who were willing to die for their faith called Jesus Freaks (there are also additional additions).

There are scores of people that have lived that way and their memories and testimonies stand as examples to us to keep things in the right perspective. Having a proper understanding of our duty to the Kingdom of God versus the Kingdom of the World will radically change how we see many aspects of our life on this earth.

First of all, and probably most importantly, it affects how we see the people all around us. When we understand that our life on this earth is “a vapor” (James 4:14), we will see people destined for one place or another, for heaven or for hell. This will cause us to live life with an urgency which compels us to be active witnesses for God’s kingdom. We will not be focused on everyone’s day to day well-being but be interested in their eternal destination. When we come to grips with the reality that most often than not the people around us at any given moment are more than likely on their way to hell, it will make the Christian life become very meaningful and realistic. God left us on this earth for a purpose. We are to spread the Good News. We are to warn people of their coming destruction. We are to pull people out of the fire (Jude 23). We are mere strangers on this earth. We are ambassador’s for Christ’s kingdom (2 Cor 5:20; Eph 6:20). We should be as passionate as Paul was when telling the lost of their condition. Think about what he said to the Philippians,

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:18-21)

Paul was passionate about making sure others knew that this is the only chance we get to warn others about their eternal destination. He thought about the lost with tears. He had an urgency in which we need to grab a hold of and embody ourselves.

Recently I watched a video made of Rich Mullins where he discussed his understanding of how short life is. His philosophy of death really shows through in his songs such as “Elijah,” where he says “it won’t break my heart to say goodbye.” He had a longing to be in heaven. He had a desire to be with Jesus. And God took him up in a dramatic way.

Our view of Christ’s kingdom changes how we feel about gaining material wealth. When our hearts are set on things above, our desire for the things on this earth diminishes. In fact, the more “things” one has the less likely he is to go to the mission field. There are more things to give up. Everything we have is given by God, anyway. He owns it all.

When we realize how short our life is, the beatitudes will become possibilities in our lives. We will understand our destitution before God. We will weep. We can be meek and merciful. We will have a hunger and thirst for righteousness. We will desire to make peace, and will bless God when we are persecuted. We must have the right perspective of who we are on this earth, especially when things are going well for us.

There are those that shine bright for God when their faith is tested. They are those who understand the role of eternity here on earth. They understand their place in the Kingdom of God and in the Kingdom of man.

Paul_Schneider

 

Paul Schneider was one of those people. He was a pastor during the early Nazi rule in Germany. He spoke out against the Nazi’s and was imprisoned for his stand against the government. He had no backing from anyone. He stood fast in his faith and let the word of God, specifically Esther, drive his faith in God. People urged him to stop what he was doing and think of his family. His reply is was this:

My primary responsibility is to prepare my family for eternal life – not to insure their material well-being.”

Paul Schneider understood that his citizenship is in heaven. He was eventually taken to a concentration camp and was murdered via lethal injection. His life, as well as many others like him urge us to be daily aware of the fact that as Christians, our true home is in heaven. Let us live like it.

The Mission Field: Need v. Call

Last night I ate dinner with a man and his wife from my local church who were  missionaries in Nigeria for over twenty years. They now serve with Overseas Council overseeing seminaries and Bible colleges. Throughout our discussion of our lives we discussed missions in general. As I listened to him discuss his involvement in missions across the world, I thought about the great differences in the spectrum of the various mission fields. The mission field is so needy. The laborers are in such need all around the world. But every area is unique from one another. He discussed how the needs in Nigeria were to keep up with the fast growth of Christianity. He discussed that there really are not enough trained leaders to give the Nigerians more depth to their faith. Many Nigerians are swept away with other false doctrines because of their shallow faith. As I sat and listened to him describe this my heart went out to this country. Oh how I wish I could help prevent wolves from stealing away God’s sheep. Oh how I want to get involved. What a need there is in Nigeria.

But then I remember the country of Japan. A country which lives without ever thinking of Jehovah God. A country hard to the working of God. It’s at the complete opposite side of the spectrum. While Nigeria has in essence too many believers to disciple, Japan many times lacks enough believers to even have church services. Where is the greater need? What about places like the jungles of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea? There are people groups begging for missionaries. Places like Japan ignore Christianity. A missionary can go years without one convert. Is it a waste then for me to go to Japan when there are people groups and tribes and nations who would long for me to come to them? It would seem this way from a simple pragmatic standpoint, but we’re forgetting a major element of missions: God’s call.

There is a difference between need and call. In our eyes it would seem that the places begging for missionaries should be the first place I would go. And a part of me wants to help them out as much as possible. There is something bigger than need, and that is God’s will. God does indeed will that all men come unto the knowledge of the truth. And the truth has been placed in our hands to give to the world. If there are people who are desiring to have a missionary, then someone needs to obey God’s call to go there. But I know that I have been called to Japan. Therefore there is no better place for me to go than to Japan. For there is no safer, nor better place to be than in the middle of God’s will.

From a human standpoint it would seemingly make sense for me to go where I am seemingly needed the greatest. But God knows and sees the whole picture. Japan needs someone who is called to them. That is where I fit in. Who greater needs God than a country that does not even think about Him? Someone needs to tell them about Jesus Christ. God loves all people equally. If people are not hearing about the Gospel, it is not God’s fault. It is our own. Indeed it is true, we have no right to hear the Gospel twice while their remains those who have not heard it once.

Pushed Out from the Nest

I am currently in the process of moving from my parents house to an apartment that I will be sharing with my two best friends. It is a transition period where there are a lot of phone calls being made, papers being filled out, bills to be paid, and boxes to be filled.  It is a time where I am being pushed out from the nest. I no longer have my parents to help front bills, or to make dinner. I no longer will turn on a fan or take a hot shower without thinking of the money that it costs to do so. Things are changing, it’s time to grow up.

As I am doing this, I am realizing the great number of things I supposedly need in my new apartment. Furniture, and towels, and silverware, and dishes, and a desk, and bookshelves, etc. There is much that is needed, and all these things cost a lot of money. Money is something that a recent college graduate does not have. But in today’s world the things that we seem to think we need are really not needs at all. There are only three things in this life that we actually need: Food, water, and clothing. That’s it. All the rest are luxuries.

I plan to be a missionary to Japan. Japan is considered the most expensive mission field on earth. The more things that I think I need in Japan, the longer it will take to raise the right amount of support to go there. Now of course there are things which are needs in our day and time out of practicality sake. Things such as cell phones, a microwave, an apartment, a car, and a heater. These things are practically necessary today. But wherever I can cut costs by cutting my “needs,” I should do it. I don’t need an iPhone. I don’t need a bed. I don’t need a TV. I don’t need I couch. There are lots of things which are wants, and luxuries which I just don’t need. These are things which will save me money, and allow me to be frugal as much as possible with my money. I need to make sure to give my share to God, and to spend my limited amount of money as wisely as possible.

God does hold us accountable for how we use our money. What a person’s philosophy of money is and how we spend it tells quite a lot about them. We are told that Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6). We are also to be content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:8).

So I am living with the challenge of honoring God with my money. Will I spend it on myself to make myself more comfortable? The things I buy I won’t get to bring with me when I die. Or will I invest my money into the church and God’s kingdom? Let us give God our money because it’s not our money anyway.

Hippie Philosophy and the Bible

I graduated from one of the most conservative Christian campuses in America. The school was through and through Republican on nearly every account. We were in a very red county and were actually one of the deciding counties of the 2000 Bush v. Gore elections. Nearly all the people there are gun totin’, big business pushin’, Bush lovin’, war backin’ Republicans. Although none would ever admit to it, most seem more proud to be Republicans (or in reality, not Democrats) than being Christians. And purely by observation, one would attest to this. Actions do indeed speak louder than words. However, in their case both words and actions compliment each other. Unfortunately, it’s not Christian.Christian Republians

Now, I’m not necessarily against Republicans. On paper, I think I would align myself with them more often than not. But there are some major problems that jump out with me about the typical Republican’s philosophy of war and human rights that don’t align themselves with the Bible. The same philosophies that have existed all throughout church history and will more than likely not be changed anytime soon. But someone needs to say something, and it might as well be me.

Republicans are very patriotic. They love America. They love to pledge allegiance to the American flag and sing the national anthem. To most Americans this would seem like a good thing. It is promoted, and I think for the most part that this is a good thing. Now speaking from a Biblical perspective, I believe that there is a line that can easily be crossed which many times gets unnoticed. There is a line  that can be crossed where being proud to be an American, and being proud of democracy and capitalism can be too strong. It is when patriotism becomes nationalism. When people start thinking that the way we do things is the best and only way to do them, and that everyone else should do things like we do, things begin to become unbalanced in our duty to God and our duty to country. The most glorified people are those who give “the ultimate sacrifice.” We are eager to go to war. We are eager to eliminate those who do not think like us and are oppressive governments which do not allow for democracy. The Bush administration reacted to 9/11 how they wanted to react. They saw what they wanted to see, and heard what they wanted to hear, and then told us that they saw and heard those things. They fought out of revenge and out of fear, and they got much of America to live in fear of another 9/11. So we decided to bully our way in the Middle East by shootin’ us some Arabs and taken down Sadam. Christians were all for it. It’s justice, right? That’s what the government is there for, right? JUSTICE.

We live in a justice seeking, give me my rights, everything should be fair society. We sue over every little thing, and are encouraged to do so. Work the system, you know? We are always concerned about our personal rights. And if someone messes with my rights or my property, our response is to ruin the other person for it. We are a society which knows nothing of mercy. We are a society that knows nothing of grace. Yet 70-80% of this society claims to be Christian. They believe that they are reliant upon God’s grace and mercy to get them to heaven. We want justice, until it comes to us. We expect forgiveness and give vengeance. We demand mercy for ourselves, but never justice. If God gave us what we deserved, and forgot about mercy and grace, we would all die pretty quickly. And there would be no way we would ever be allowed to spend eternity in heaven. When things are viewed and stated this way, it is not hard to get people to agree. Yes, we should be nicer and forgive more often. Why can’t we all just get along? Then we’ll get mad at someone cutting us off on the way to work, or worse, church. But those are the simple concepts, in which most Christians will hang their heads admit their mistakes, and think about changing. But when it comes to life or death issues, that is another story.

I have to up front state that I am against war. I am against murder. I am against killing. Period. No matter what the circumstance, I think it is always wrong to kill someone. It is not anyone’s place to kill anyone. (Nor to torture anyone…) I believe that Jesus Christ taught that killing in any circumstance was wrong, and that mercy should always be the first option.

Before I was a pacifist I always characterized pacifism with hippies. You know, naked, hairy, smelly, flower power, tie-dye, and riots against Vietnam. I never thought of Christianity. When I thought of pacifism as related to religion I thought of Ghandi. He wasn’t Christian. I thought of the Quakers, the Shakers, the Amish, and the Mennonites. I thought of small farming groups of non-mainstream protestantism. They were weird and they were draft dodgers. Plus, I never met one person who challenged war or did not think that the death penalty was a bad thing who was a Christian. If there were anybody like that, they were labeled liberals and unChristian. But in high school I watched the Fog of War, which is Robert McNamara’s apology to the world about what went on in Vietnam, and lessons he’s learned in life. Although today I don’t agree with all that was said in that film, it really planted some seeds about war in my mind. It planted some seeds about how the Christian should consider war. As I read the Bible and I read what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount, and what Paul says about our enemies, and that we battle “not against flesh and blood.” I really began to think about war in a different way. I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and was deeply stirred in a way that I had never been stirred before. I saw God’s mercy for us in a different way than I ever had before. At this same time I had an Italian roommate who was a very strong pacifist, and, get this, a Christian! Finally, I had met a living Christian who thought that killing people was always wrong. After much discussion, more reading, and much prayer I concluded that much of what I have been taught about war, revenge, and killing was wrong.

They always told us that these things (mercy, forgiveness, etc.) all apply on an individual basis. When we are told to turn our cheek, that is only on the individual basis. When we are told that we fight not against flesh and blood, that is only talking about the individual level. When we are told to love our enemies, pray for those who despitefully use us, and go the extra mile, that is only on the individual level. But when a country wants to get revenge, or fight back, or fight battles of flesh and blood we are to completely back our government. Perhaps not even question their judgment.

There is much that could be said that I do not have the time to comment about today, and will more than likely get into in the future. But I will end with this. We are a nation of people that expect mercy and never desire to give it. Usually on an individual basis, and nearly always on a national basis.

Why?

No pastor would ever last if he spoke out against war in the evangelical world today. There are too many veterans of war who risked their lives for this country. Too many people would get mad and wrathful. Too many people love their guns, and live in fear. But of all people in the world, why do Christians live in fear? What are we to be afraid of? What’s the worst that could happen? Dying? Really? I mean life is pretty nice, but living in heaven with God forever? That’s what happens when we die. If we really believe that, then we certainty are not living like it. We seem to want to get them before they get us. But I say, so what if they get us? They probably won’t anyway, but what if they did? Heaven? Sign me up.

People I think don’t want to associate themselves with pacifism because it sounds wimpy. It sounds like hippie philosophy that is completely unattainable. But so is evangelizing the world, yet we still believe in it. Christians need to stand up for mercy and forgiveness, and leave justice to God. He is pretty good at handling things. After all, He’s God. Remember if God forwent mercy as much as we want to forgo it, we’d have no hope of heaven, and would have a destiny in hell. We bear the name Christian, let’s for once act like Christ.