August 31, 2014

Superhero Theology I: Indwelling Sin and Deliverance

I figured it would be clever to take public wallpapers and drop in some theology with a superhero motif. I'm pretty sure these can be considered fair use for educational purposes but...who knows? I'm sure I'll find out soon enough.

This will be the first of many or until I get told to stop using the images. Today's post is of a wannabe hulk and a passage from Romans on man's indwelling sin and the Law at work in man. In the end it points us to a need for Christ (constantly). 

Romans 7:15-26 ~ “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. 

Even after we are saved, there will continue to be a struggle with our very natures which are sinful. There is a constant tension described above and an inability to rid ourselves of our sinful nature that urges us to do things that lead to sin/death come out clearly in Paul’s writing here. Like hulking mass above we will never fully escape this battle with temptation in this life but through Christ we will have victory over sin in the end. It does not mean it will not plague us. True to our nature (and all superheroes) we will be frustrated in this battle. Please note that Paul asks who will save him, not what. It is a man, not a thing. It is the god-man that overcame sin with His own life. It is why all including superheroes must turn it over to Christ if we are to overcome this indwelling sin that frustrates and torments us at every turn.

August 28, 2014

Post Rock IV: All India Radio (s/t)

I present the band All India Radio and the self-titled album from 2003. Although I do a disservice to All India Radio to group them into ‘ambient music’ it would not be an incorrect descriptor. All India Radio is layered music best experienced through headphones while studying. More importantly, it is music that is unobtrusive and can easily work its way into the background. The songs are sublime movements of intensity, with slow picked bass notes, light snare drumming. Strong but delicate. There are occasional whispers lyrics over or atop one or two songs. When I hear this stuff I think of summer vacation at the shore with Space Rock echoing through sand dunes. In the end it has a relaxing effect on me but has just enough change-up that I stay alert to them.

Here is the video for Tijuana Dream from All India Radio’s self-titled album (2003)

August 26, 2014

He and I Share The Same Reflection IV: Learning How To Love

Part of the fix for my narcissism starts with dealing with the underlying sin through repentance. I must always turn to God first. This is true of any sin but especially so of entrenched sins like narcissism. Narcissists must take ownership for their actions and motivations and must be willing to sincerely repent. Initially, blame and retaliation will most likely be directed at people close to the narcissist at some point during or following an intervention that must come from them since a narcissist is nearly never conscious of their own sin of narcissism.

Narcissism is firmly seated in selfishness, therefore death to self is the only answer for victory. Narcissism is full of pride. Walking in humility is the counter to it. Narcissism is self-absorbed, therefore I must look for ways to be attentive to the needs of others and sow blessings into their lives in order to sincerely encourage them. I must do this without ulterior motive.

Like the Devil, we are what we think we are or we become what we imagine ourselves to be. This is why it is therefore so critical to align ourselves mentally with the Bible and God. As we renew our minds in the word of God, we too will be renewed.  If we think selfish and unbiblical we'll be selfish and unbiblical. If we think humility and kingdom we'll be humble and servants in the Kingdom. For me the pitched battle is in the mind. Some days I win, but most days I lose embarrassingly for all to see.

I need true accountability. I need to be held to account for things I do by my Christian brethren. I cannot be one thing to one person and another thing to other people. I must be consistent. I need male fellowship accountability. I need Scriptural discipleship, brotherhood and where necessary...I will need a reality check in the form of a rebuke or discipline. The spouse of the narcissist must realize that the narcissist will always demand more of the marriage relationship. Usually more than the marriage relationship can provide. In these instances, the marriage relationship will dissolve into a separation or divorce if the narcissist doesn’t begin to gain mastery over their sin.

The spouse of the narcissist will often attempt to give a little bit more because they often believe that if they just did a little bit more, then perhaps their spouse would be appeased and would reciprocate emphatically. This will never be enough. The narcissist needs to realize their utter sinful depravity and complete dependence on Christ. We truly need to die to self in the truest sense. The narcissist that can do this best may most aptly embody this command from Jesus. It is only in the true death to self that a narcissist can overcome their sin of self-absorption.

While held in this grips of narcissism, the person will desire to be loved and appreciated but will often reject the person or object of that love (Yeah, I know, it's messed-up). In the end, it seems that, as a narcissist I am incapable of loving and this stems back to the abuse suffered at the hands of others in childhood. Contrary to what many believe, narcissists are not in love with themselves but rather they are in love with an idealized unattainable version of themselves. Because they can never attain the status or condition of that idealized version of themselves...a self-loathing ensues. The narcissist is therfore incapable of even self-love let alone loving others. Nor are they capable of believing they can be loved. Most troubling is the fact that this inability "to love" or "be loved by"... includes a relationship with God. In a narcissist's life, it is nearly impossible to obey the two greatest commanments...but not for lack of trying. 

Luckily, salvation and the ability to love doesn't truly come from me, does it?

In the end it takes the love of Christ loving me to cut through all this obscurity and emotional subterfuge. Ultimately, this love in conjunction with loved-ones that are willing to persevere and love even under grueling conditions appear to have pulled me out of a relationally suicidal nosedive. Until I realized that the only reason that I am even able to love is because Christ first loved me...I struggled terribly with loving God. It is not until this sinks in that the narcissist can get an upper-hand. Ultimately, it is the power of the true love of Christ that will set the narcissist free if they are willing to receive it and persevere to that end. It is a long road fraught with emotional and demonic hazards.

The humility and love at the Cross. Herein is where the release from the narcissistic spirit resides. In life it looked like a wife that wasn’t going to put up with my crap anymore. Her love was tough, confrontational and extremely honest. Too honest for this narcissist at times and it resulted in arguments and resistance from me and my sin indwelling me (and still does). It took both God’s grace and my wife’s for me to see the truth and loath my condition.

She established in her heart a strong, non-negotiable decision before God and wasn't going to compromise on it. Love always wants the best for the sake of another. Sometimes the best is not satisfying their every wish, or facilitating and/or covering inappropriate behavior. She learned to be loving, caring, kind, giving and gentle, yet confrontational when needed. She maintains strong boundaries. From time to time, when my responses are emotionally abrasive, she will rightfully blast me and put me in my place like no one else could. She speaks to me and helps me reason through the situation while maintaining her clear position. She struggled to help me see the awful truth of my condition. She never gave up and never gave an inch. She embodied the love of 1 Corinthians 13. She is a strong godly woman and I love her for it among others things.

There are many who are held captive to narcissism. They are imprisoned by the deception of this wicked spirit and destructive, deceptive mindset. It is a demonic stronghold that we in Christ can and must break or it will break everything in our lives if allowed. We must take every thought captive that attempts to exalt itself against Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:3-6 ~ For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

I never imagined I would be given a condition from God that would virtually force me to turn to him on a moment-to-moment basis to walk the path He wants of me. He wanted a close loving relationship. I could not receive His love nor reciprocate that love in return but He has afflicted me to save me. He has given me the one condition that will have me do both. It will teach me to be utterly dependent in Him and get me to cling tenaciously to Him and His word. In doing this hopefully I will embody His word and His image instead of the Devil's. I will truly learn how to love not only Him but also those I have already said I loved but didn't know how to.

1 John 4:19 ~ "We love because he first loved us.


I chose the picture at the top of this post intentionally for a few reasons. (1) It is a modern take on the old Narcissus paintings. (2) It is hard to tell if the man in the picture is pining away at his reflection or vomiting in sickness. (3) The entire picture including the man has a somber or melancholy feel which is what a real narcissist feels when their well-controlled or well-structured world falls apart. A feeling I know all too well. (4) The fact that it is a lush green gives me the feeling of possible unrealized life. To me it has a vibrancy akin to hope. (5) It is a thin emaciated man in the picture that looks like he has been through the ravages of a tough life and is now possibly on his knees in prayer (6) The picture is mundane and uncluttered which is what I wish my life to be at some point when I overcome this sin. (7) Lastly, it is possible that the man is just peacefully looking into the water watching fish swim and the sky's reflection coming through the trees.

August 24, 2014

He and I Share The Same Reflection III: Imago Dei

So if the condition of narcissism is supposedly not fixable, what am I to do? Perhaps it is the narcissist in me or maybe the work of the Spirit but I refuse to accept this burden of sin in defeat. I have resolved to resist and fight it. The truth is, I don’t believe this is a lost cause. No, I believe this is going to be a imposing effort but it will not be completely hopeless. 

Where there is God there is hope. Where there is Jesus there is salvation. Where there is the Gospel there is new life and resurrection from the dead. Dozens of knowledgeable people have agreed that I have been called to the ministry. The question is now an issue of how and when. Having been saddled with this affliction of being a self-centered fool I have my work cut out for me and so does God. But…“Through God all things are possible.” For now though true ministry is limited to my myself. I am not even in a good position to lead my home properly.

I suspect this all happened for God’s plans because God is Sovereign. Part of being a person that speaks effectively in front of a crowd when preaching requires a good chunk of narcissism or self-assurance. Like everything else in our lives, all these characteristic traits lie on a continuum. Everyone is narcissistic to a point. The Bible has even acknowledged this fact (Ephesians 5:28). It doesn't necessarily condone it but it acknowledges that it exists. It becomes a serious problem when someone falls on the upper extreme side of things. This is the minefield in which I currently stand. 

I left the old sin-saddled life of a non-believer behind and began to run towards God. I quickly found that the sin life that I left behind…I didn’t leave behind. It followed me and planted mines all around me as I ran towards God. So here I stand halfway between the old me and the ministry that I’ve been called to. I am a new creation but I have not fully put on the new man by divesting myself of the old. I now need to tread through this narcissistic minefield to get to the service God is calling me to. The question is how?

Like I said, I believe it is all part of God’s plan, even though many would say that me thinking this is an exact symptom of my narcissism. I suggest differently for only one reason. The difference I believe is intent. Do I now pursue the ministry because I wish to self-aggrandize or am I doing it for God and through God? Intent and motivation are pivotal in figuring this out. Is what I am doing Scriptural and have I prayed fervently on it? Yes.

I have systematically had nearly all of my former life removed from me to learn all of these basic things. God took (or nearly took) everything in my life away…even the stuff I held dear. First I lost a job that would’ve had me set for life at Mack Trucks. I then lost my chances at ministry as they appeared to have dried up (at least temporarily they have been removed from me). I have left the church temporary due to this. I am now slowly returning. It appears some opportunities are opening up as I repent and try to continue to align to God’s will but they are slow in coming, just like healing from this sin. It is not coincidence that the opportunities are in direct correlation to my repentance and turning to God for help in prayer. 

The most recent stripping-way has also been the most devastating emotionally for all involved. I have nearly lost my marriage and family due to the side-effects of narcissism. God has systematically cut me down to save me. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it will bear much fruit. It seems I have been systematically pulled away from everything to force me to reassess my entire life and how I interact with everyone around me. I have been forced to rebuild from the ground up. The original foundation I had built my life upon had been compromised. 

I realize that to a lesser extent all have narcissism (more specifically an egotism) in them. It is needed to some extent in the balance of what it means to be human. Low level self-need only trips the line into sin when it is overdone or misappropriated. In other words: It stems from our intent. An example of this is self-absorption in survival situations but is not expected in many other situations. It therefore stands to reason that if what I deal with is sin…it can be eradicated through the Gospel and Jesus’ work on the Cross and the Bible. Again, God can do all things.

The Bible teaches about intent on Romans 6. If I give myself to sin I create an open invitation for sin to enter my life and therefore the spirit of this world also. I need to become a slave to righteousness and God, not a slave to the world and sin.

Romans 6:16 ~ “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

God seems to be using this ordeal in my life to disenchant me about who and what I am. The discomfort is slowly clearing my vision to see the mirror clearly. It is becoming easier to see just how much I have relied on the endorsement of others to make me feel like I matter. Somehow in narcissistic behavior I've turned personal validation into the primary source of meaning and value in my life. So much so that without affirmation from others I become totally miserable. 

Somewhere understanding of spiritual life has become terribly narcissistic. I became completely preoccupied with how I was doing or how I was feeling. Instead I should've been learning everything I could during this brutal time. I ended up too consumed with gauging my spiritual health and everyone else fell by the wayside. Due to this I ruminated even deeper on my failures and doing so I lost sight of God’s grace completely. Too much time centered on the self instead of centering on Christ and the Cross. The more I focused on myself the more the problems became exacerbated. It turned into neurosis. I had become a slave of the idol of my own making instead of becoming a slave to Christ.

[Concluded In Part IV]

August 22, 2014

He and I Share The Same Reflection II: Imago Diabolus

To preserve the continuity of the four posts concerning my narcissism I have opted to post them in quick succession so that they maintain their cohesion. I must say that I take no pleasure in airing my dirt laundry but if I have learned anything about leadership and ministry... transparency is critical to maintaining people's trust. 

People will usually forgive a wrong admitted to and apologized for but tend to hold grudges when they've "been had" or made a fool out of by a dishonest conniving person. One glance at politicians serves as a perfect illustration of this.

So I left off in the last post saying that to defeat an enemy one must understand their enemy. In truth, we need to study the enemy and find its flaws and weaknesses. To understand the enemy of narcissism I have needed to recognize what I am and accept the uncomfortable facts. Right up front there are a lot to account for. There are 12 pivotal or outstanding characteristics of narcissism and I can be described by at least 9 of them. The fact that I can be described by even one is disheartening but to embody three-quarters of them is crushing and painful to any man. That is the way sin is. Deceitful and self-deceiving. The characteristics of narcissism that capture my psyche in a comprehensive snapshot are as follows.

(1) I act out in verbal aggression when wronged (even if wrong is only perceived). 
(2) When confronted/opposed, I shift blame or shame, I go on the offensive and accuse. 
(3) I can often be insensitive to the needs of others. 
(4) The world revolves around me when things don’t go well. 
(5) I attempt to be controlling and manipulating. 
(6) I show anger when people disagree with me, or make me look bad in front of others. 
(7) I sometimes expect special treatment or feel special (This especially applies to Christians that feel "chosen or appointed by God" instead of "called for service by God"). 
(8) People near me often feel like they are walking on eggshells. 
(9) I will sometimes show one side of my personality in public, another side in private (hypocritical, not schizophrenic).

Ask my wife, family or neighbors, they will admit I have embodied some of these in their presence over the last 10 years. What mortifies me the most though is that they have all been done in the presence of Holy God. I may not manifest them all at once but over time and place they have all seemed to rear their ugly heads at some of the most inappropriate times. 

Here is the sad and sinful fact: As a narcissist I am in extremely poor company because the greatest narcissist of all is Satan. There are some really specific indicators and evidences of Satan’s narcissism in the next passage. Emphasis in bold are mine.

Ezekiel 28:14-17 ~ “You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you.

Isaiah 14:13-14 ~ “For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation. On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.

Satan lived in near perfect conditions yet he thought way too highly of himself and exalted himself. He wanted more than was allotted to him and he paid the price for this narcissism and self-absorption. It is clear in this Isaiah passage that Satan had megalomania or delusions of grandeur that he would never be able to achieve. God will have no equal, nor will he give His throne to another lesser being. Satan isn't even dreaming of being great he is claiming he will be God’s equal…he is so deluded by his self-absorption he believes his own press. He is maniacal. 

God is the ultimate or highest. There is none higher. Here we see the twisting nature of sin in Satan and how it makes one think irrationally and illogically. If God is the highest, Satan logically couldn’t get higher. Satan’s narcissism had ran out of control at this point. He couldn't even think properly. It will do the same with us. It did the same with me. With nothing to stand in the way of faulty sinful thinking…the pits of Hell are the limit of a reprobate mind and it becomes its own downward cyclical punishment. Grasping ever-onward for more glory that belongs to God, not ourselves. Instead we grab only a shattered image or ourselves.

The comparison and similarities to Satan is what makes narcissism so truly frightening. In a sad, sick and twisted way I have centered on an image of myself that doesn’t really exist (an exalted version of myself) and in so doing I am really looking into a reflection of the Devil. As a narcissist I am behaving exactly like Satan just previous to his fall from grace and now. This should be screaming truths at me and none are showing me to be Biblical. In narcissistic behavior I am a mirror image of Satan when he attempted to usurp God’s throne and position of righteousness. What’s worse is he and I both do it for unrighteous reasons. 

In reality I am not Imago Dei or in the image of God which is what I was created to be but rather I am Imago Diabolus. I am in the image or a reflection of the Devil. Like Lucifer I became completely self-absorbed and self-focused which are the main characteristics of narcissism. So which image do I want to have? Which image does God want me to have? In the end we all have a choice to make. This is not something we can blame on Satan. We will be held accountable for our own actions come Judgment Day. Satan is just an instigator and agitator pushing us towards our own sinful proclivities. In reality, we don't need his help, we can find our sin all by ourselves without his infernal nonsense.

It is no wonder there are often no Fruits of the Spirit being exhibited in my life. There was no room for them. My egotism was taking up all the space. It is also no wonder there is no joy. In truth I hated myself because deep down inside the Spirit convicted me that something was wrong but I couldn’t identify what it was. A constant nagging that beleaguered me. It is no wonder I was filled with melancholy and depression and to some extent, I still am. 

I am possessed with a self-loathing because my spirit knows I am not who I am supposed to be nor acting as I was created to act by God. It is no wonder I find it so difficult at times to love God or love others. The truth is I can’t even love myself because I am too much in love with the image of my ideal self that I can’t even meet the standards of. In the end of this nauseating downward tail-chase is a terminus in self-loathing and self-hate, not the self-love so common to those of my ilk.

I have found that narcissism’s roots are embedded in deception and sin. It is a sin so sinister that unless another person points it out to us it deceives us into thinking everything is fine, that everything is normal. Deception created blind spots in my perception so that I couldn’t actually see the truth. These deceptions didn’t necessarily come from Satan directly either, they came from my own mind. Don’t get me wrong though, Satan and his minions can certainly add to my family’s woes once I got snagged in the trap of my own devices. 

Additionally, when my deficiency was pointed out (even in a loving manner) my narcissistic nature denied it and deflected the accusation back on the one that has the audacity to mention it and point it out (usually my wife). Sometimes I even viciously verbally attacked back by pointing out the flaws in my wife or the person criticizing the narcissism. I know, I did so on multiple occasions. Behind the mask of supreme confidence resided a fragile childlike self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

I will continue with this line of though in my next post and elaborate on what it will take to kill this demonic oppression that torments not only me but also all those around me that have held on and still love me.

[Continued In Part III]

August 21, 2014

He and I Share The Same Reflection I: Compromised Foundation

Lately I have been forced to come to a really painful conclusion about myself. It is a conclusion that was probably evident to nearly everyone else but me. My sin made me blind to it. Isn't this the very nature of our entrenched sins? Entrenched sins are obvious to others but when it comes to our ability to recognize them in ourselves we ignore them or overlook them while hypocritically pointing the very same sins out in everybody else.

At the very core of what I am, I am a narcissist. Am I a full-blown narcissist? I don't think so but I certainly struggle with a lot of the issues that afflict narcissists. As a Christian I have struggled mightily with this and it has wreaked havoc with my ability to be truly humble and not have ulterior motives when doing things as a Christian. Many that have been following my posts over the last year have seen the slow painful unfolding of this self-realization and it has been excruciating for all involved, mostly my family.

I am not talking about the full-blown ostentatious type (age has tempered that aspect) but I am a narcissist regardless. My type of self-absorption rotates around putting myself first and I do it unconsciously most times. Why do I admit this? Do I wish to leave myself open to attack? No. I post it to let others know they are not alone in the battle. I know this condition afflicts many in the ministry, especially those that are in leadership and preaching positions. We have most recently seen this in the fall of Mark Driscoll and there have been Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. Proud narcissistic hearts...there is nothing new under the sun. All were possibly Christian but plagued with iniquity and an unhealthy portion of pride.

It is a condition that cannot be readily admitted to while active in ministry without seriously compromising that ministry. It would make the leader or elder in said position
clearly within the realm of needing discipline. They would therefore not be beyond reproach. At that point ministry is compromised. I suspect that is why I have been forced to confront it now before entering ministry (that is if God wishes to still use me in my flawed condition). Kill it now before it kills a ministry or congregation.  Narcissism really is a case of kill or be killed. A spiritually deadly war.

I also know that many do not admit to the condition or some do not even recognize it in themselves, in their pastors or their spouses. This needs to change if we wish to allow the Spirit to spread the Kingdom in the world. There is little place for needs of the “I” or “me” in Kingdom, only the “we” or “us” of the unity in the Spirit. I suspect that is why narcissism is so damaging to interpersonal relationships, especially marriages and therefore churches. Families build churches. If the system of the world can destroy the family through narcissism, the next level it can take down is the churches by crumbling the building blocks of the church...the family. It is an all-out satanic attack on our families my friends.

What are some of the truths that have needed to accept about myself? Let me list the sins. I have overbearing pride. I tend to blame others for my shortcomings or blame-shift. I also am never satisfied with either my own output or other’s output. I hold everyone including myself to an impossible standard because I am a perfectionist. I have had addictive behaviors (drugs, alcohol, spending, etc). I often believe that my ideas are the best ideas. I am sorely lacking in empathy of others but not completely devoid of it. There are times though when I have little or none. My model of empathy does not always fit neatly under the narcissism diagnosis. Additionally, I have often needed praise to increase my self-esteem. Finally, I have often acted as if I know everything which annoys everyone I come in contact with.

These are the characteristics/rotten fruits of narcissism that I see looking inward with an excruciating self-assessment. In the past I have been blind to these shortcomings but I can be blind no longer. Such was I when I came into the Faith but I have been washed in the blood of Christ. I must confront these issues head-on. With the aid of Christ and the help of those that still love me (that I haven't driven away) I must dislodge them from my life. There is no room for them here and they have been around too long.

Because of my self-absorption I sometimes have even appeared as if I am not even Christian. I certainly have been hypocritical in the same spirit of the Pharisees. Narcissism crushes the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. Sometimes the Fruits of the Spirit are barely discernible. I make myself a god. I am my own idol and God gets pushed out. This in turn produces a deeply entrench melancholy. It manifests as a lack of joy and afflicts those around me. That is because the very thing I need inside of me to produce that joy has been set out at doorstep of my life. The Holy Spirit. I have grieved Him.

As a matter of fact the narcissism in me allows me to treat others like objects and not people. Since the persons of the Trinity are personalities, I do the same with Them and it is to ill effect. Nowhere did that become more evident than in my marriage and parenthood. The strange thing is, it remained low-key and mostly hidden until my late thirties to early forties. It then surfaced like a eruption spewing bile and emotion. It was triggered by the stresses of life and abuse as a child that came on multiple fronts.

The narcissism was the sum product of an abusive childhood mostly at the hands of my brother and neighbors. They used to kick the crap out of me. According to the psychologist, I apparently split to protect myself and preserve the mind of my childhood self.  If a child is neglected or physically / sexually abused, the effects of it are devastating because they create a foundation of brokenness in the personality. That broken, bruised and empty place longs to be whole even persists into adulthood because what we learn in childhood builds the foundation that we build later life experiences on. If the foundation of the building is is everything else. A broken boy grows into a broken man.

When true love and acceptance are not shown to a child, then vulnerability to responses such as self-focus and self-absorption can set them up for narcissistic patterns. This is why the truth that we are to rebuild our entire lives on the foundation that is Christ is so true and so profound for all believers no matter what happened in their past. It provides that solid foundation that sin took away. We all need a firm foundation of righteousness to build on and this can only come from Jesus Christ and the Cross. It can only come from the preaching of the Gospel.

Please understand that my narcissism is nearly never intentional nor malicious. It is more a resurfacing protective measure to what I perceive as a threat…even when it is not a real threat to me. I tend to overreact at times too because of this. In the end I cause division in my family and most likely in all other relationships. I can probably say that I broke covenants with God over narcissism. It comes in the form of not being obedient to His word mostly by getting angry when things don’t go exactly the way that I had planned.

I must also admit that I sometimes used people to get what I wanted or to get things done. This in fact was often justified as a means to an end. Get the job done (git'er done) was more important than who I build up or beat down to get it done.

This is where Romans 7 is exemplified in my life. It has become a battle for the ages in me and still rages today. Every day is a new battle in which to engage the enemy and the enemy is extremely tenacious and clever. It is an albatross or millstone around my neck. It will become my undoing without God in my life 24/7. I must renew my mind and my efforts every day. In truth it is a minute to minute and hour to hour skirmish. I am totally dependent on Christ to win this battle for me...I just am not capable. That road has been traveled and it was a dead end.

Romans 7:15-24 ~ “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

Many say that narcissism is not curable. It is said I cannot fully overcome it. Some days I must agree with this assessment (other days not…more on this later). It is an ever-deepening cyclical trap. The more I look inward to myself, the more I realize I fall short. This forces me to look outward towards others. If I don’t get the affirmation from others which is what usually happens, I turn inward again to reassess and then I regress. Reassess and regress over and over.

In this very pattern I imitate the Israelites of the Old Testament who inevitably suffered judgment at God's hands. To maintain this pattern I fall farther and farther afield from God and deeper into self until I've totally isolated myself. I need to be going the other direction. My life and everything in it builds momentum in the wrong direction. When people don’t reaffirm I push them away. In this way my past abuse comes into play because the abuses I suffered have taught me to avoid deeper meaningful relationships. Why? By avoiding deeper meaningful relationships I don't get hurt. I "dig-in" rather than reach out. I attempt to become self-sufficient by pure individualism. None of this is conducive to ministry or God's work in my life.

So what does one do when plagued or demonized like this? Well, considering it is not of Christ, it therefore makes this blight demonic. How does one deal with the spiritual and demonic? We need to treat it like the spiritual enemy that it is. To be able to effectively fight an enemy, one must understand the enemy. This is not only a physical and psychological issue…it most certainly is a spiritual one. It therefore must be approached as such. More on this in the next post.

[Continued in Part II]

August 19, 2014

Bezalel and Oholiab II: By Grace, So No One Can Boast

Profoundly ordinary. Stay with me folks, I'll be trying to tie a few ideas together in this post. Admit it, the very characteristic that made Bezalel and Oholiab special to God would usually be overlooked by worldly men. In the narrative of these men we see that even in mundane tasks like carpentry and metalwork there is tremendous honor when the glory of God is involved. There is tremendous honor when it is being done for God or the glory of God. Please take note all those who believe that they might be spinning their wheels in a “dead-end” job. If you are in a given situation…it is because God has you there for a reason

The best things you could do is allow the Spirit to work through you in your work to produce a phenomenal output. I see it in my work often. Sometimes the things I do can only be accounted for by divine grace and supernatural assistance. My employers have even acknowledged this. When we look at good preachers of the Gospel we see the same thing. We see a message that supersedes the messenger. If a preacher has done his job he is merely a medium for the message of the Gospel.

1 Peter 5:6 ~ Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,

So what we may see from our vantage point may seem insignificant but when viewed from God’s side of eternity…everything else will pale by comparison. It shows that the insignificant things of the world are exalted by God. Not because of anything in and of those people but merely because of God’s presence in mercy and grace. Bezalel and Oholiab’s are forever immortalized in their task because of something God had them do. More specifically they are immortalized in the Bible because of something God did through them.

By creating the Ark of the Covenant they created that pattern or shadow of Christ for the Israelite people. They literally created the place on earth where God specifically designated that He would meet His people. This junction point would of course become Jesus Himself.

Exodus 25:22~ “There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the Testimony, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.”

As Byron Forrest Yawn said in his book What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him:

True strength is found in restraint, and not dominance. Fortitude is seen in quiet suffering, and not hardheadedness. Character is visible in consistency, and not status. Determination is evident in patience, and not headstrong belligerence. Real zeal is aimed toward God, and not found in self-determination. Real power is doing what you should, instead of what you want. In a word, strength is restraint.

If Jesus is the most perfect example of what it means to be human, then a definition of Christian humanity will have humility (Philippians 2) and an aura of ordinariness attached to it (Isaiah 53). It will have a cross in it. Perhaps not literally but at least figuratively. When we come to the cross and come face-to-face with what we are called to be in the Faith we see sacrifice of our wants and needs for a greater cause. The cause of the Gospel. The cause of Christ's cross. Sacrifice, just as Jesus did on the Cross.

Matthew 11:29 ~ “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Matthew 16:24 ~ “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”

Not only must we take up our own Cross (Matthew 16), we must take up Christ's too (Matthew 11). An absence of sacrifice or absence of the preaching of demands on believers from the modern pulpit therefore amounts to a failure to preach the true Gospel and capture the reality of a real Christian life. We totally miss Jesus hanging on the Cross and flash-forward directly to the Resurrection bypassing the scourging and nails foretold in Scripture.

Where is God planning to meet you in your life? What is he asking you to do that will map your course for eternity? Are you prepared for the momentous effort you may need to expend to do what God calls you to do or have you fallen victim to "easy believe-ism"? Do you realize that what you are called to do others could do also but because God chose you, only you are allowed to do it? Do you see a sense of value instilled in you because of mercy and grace? You should. It is the old adage: "Everyone's replaceable". It is because God chose you and called you to the task you've undertaken that makes you irreplaceable. It isn't your work, it's His grace.

Bezalel and Oholiab knew what they were building was specifically for God’s purposes. They knew that what they created would probably outlast them. Do you not realize that everything that you do and say has the same potential effect or significance? Everything you do is a reflection of God's plans for either you or someone else. If they are His plans they are more than just yours individually, they could be for multitudes. They are not transient like we are but have the potential to last eternally. 

When we see two men like Bezalel and Oholiab working together we see the Kingdom proliferate and it stretches beyond the horizon into eternity. All this starts with an ability to humble one's self to work with another of equal worth to create something greater than both of them put together. In this way we see the symbiotic and synergistic nature of the Kingdom of God. 

Where we see this compounding effect we see mercy and grace. Where we see this power...we see the Gospel. Grace, Mercy, Kingdom, the Gospel...they are synonymous because they are of God and His holiness.

Yawn, Byron Forrest (2012-02-01). What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him (pp. 44-45). Harvest House Publishers. Kindle Edition.

August 17, 2014

Bezalel and Oholiab I: Profoundly Ordinary

If I say the names Bezalel and Oholiab, do they have any significance to you? Who comes to mind when I say them? If you are like a lot of Christians these two obscure names will mean absolutely nothing to you. It will only solicit mental question marks. Unless you are an Old Testament scholar or participated in a high school or college Bible challenge your puzzlement will remain.

So who are they?

From the image at the top of this post you will probably inductively reason that they have something to do with the Tabernacle and you would be correct. They are the names of the two men that God specially and specifically pick out of all of humanity past and future to build the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was is a chest described in the Book of Exodus that contained the Ten Commandments. The Ark also contained Aaron's rod, a jar of manna, and the first Torah scroll as written by Moses. The first of the Books of Kings says that at the time of King Solomon, the Ark contained only the two Tablets of the Law.

According to the Bible the Ark was built at the explicit commands of God, in accordance with the precise instructions given to Moses on Mount Sinai Exodus 25:10-22 and Exodus 37:1-9. The explicit design for the tabernacle and its other furnishings were also given at the same time. Moses passed on the instructions to Bezalel and Oholiab for the furnishings. The construction required skilled craftsmen that, according to Scripture, were hand selected by God Himself. Furthermore, after it was made the Ark itself would then be carried in a specific manner based on is specific construction by people also specifically hand selected by God.

The Ark was a box with the dimensions of two-and-a-half cubits in length, by one-and-a-half cubits in heights, by one-and-a-half cubits in width (a cubit is about 18 inches). It was constructed of acacia wood, and was plated with pure gold, inside and out. On the bottom of the box, four gold rings were attached, through which two poles, also made of acacia and coated in gold, were put. The family of Kehath, of the tribe of Levi, would carry the ark on their shoulders using these poles.

In these people and associated objects we see and ever tightening bond or knot of human responsibility and obedience to divine plans. All needed to believe in the God of the Bible. All needed to obey this God in accordance with the Law and Scripture. All of these things were to show the work necessary to overcome sin. It is here at this junction point that we see the stringent requirements of God. We begin to see how man falls woefully short of God in their attempts to fulfill the demands of obedience and of the Law.

We see the need for something more than humanity can offer. We see the need for God. Here the junction point comes into clear contrast. The Ark of the Covenant's real importance is that it’s lid was the "Atonement Cover" or  "Mercy Seat." The term ‘mercy seat’ comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cover, placate, appease, cleanse, cancel or make atonement for.” It was at the Ark that the high priest once a year entered the Holy of Holies and atoned for the sins of the people. This was the only place that this could happen. In accordance with a specific plan laid out in Leviticus 16

Leviticus 16:29-34 “This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is to be a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute. So the priest who is anointed and ordained to serve as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement: he shall thus put on the linen garments, the holy garments, and make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar. He shall also make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. Now you shall have this as a permanent statute, to make atonement for the sons of Israel for all their sins once every year.” And just as the Lord had commanded Moses, so he did.

The author of Hebrews specifically states the following concerning the Tabernacles and its furnishings including the Ark of the Covenant.

Hebrews 9:1-5 ~ Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lamp stand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place. Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

What is really interesting is the word in verse 5 used for Mercy Seat. It is ἱλαστήριον/ hilasterion in Greek and literally means propitiation place. The writer of Hebrews is of course speaking of Jesus Christ in Chapter 9. What does it say in verse 11 and 12 which is immediately following the mention of the Mercy Seat in verse 5?

Hebrews 9:11-12 ~ “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 

So Bezalel and Oholiab’s essential claim to fame attaches them to the construction of the Ark. They are pivotal to the most important aspect of the Israelites lives as a people. The Tabernacle (and later the temple) and its furnishings. The tabernacle, the intersection between a holy God and man. What they create/construct changes the course of a kingdom, changes history…and lays the ground work to map the path to eternity. They were craftsman building symbols that will all point to Christ.

The Ark and the Mercy Seat on the Ark was a shadow of the sacrifice for all sin that Christ would come to fulfill. Jesus’ blood would be shed on the Cross.

Romans 3:24-25 ~ “...being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;

We are atoned for by a gift or mercy and grace. There was only one place for atonement in history and only One who could fulfill it. Just as there was only one planned place of the annual Day of Atonement sprinkling of blood on the mercy seat. A seat built into the lid of the Ark that was specifically designated by God and was built by specifically designated men at a specifically designated time in accordance to a specific set of rules. All of which are outlined in a specific book that was specifically given to a specific people (Jews) and later given to another group of people (Gentiles) to tell us about a specific man (Jesus)  that would fulfill the Law that called for the atonement of sin. A Law that showed us our sin. A law that showed how great a distance there is between God and us. It showed us how great our need for a person like Jesus…the very one specifically designated to give His life so that we could return to God. So that we could return to Him and not need the Ark nor any more blood sacrifices because it was decided in eternity past that Jesus’ shed blood would be the once and for all sacrifice for our sins.

So what does Bezalel and Oholiab's narrative tell us? Their story tells us something profound about the ordinary...or should I say that it tells us something about the profoundly ordinary. 

[Completed in Part II]

August 13, 2014

In Their Own Words XIII: There Is No Matter, Only Forces

Max Planck was German theoretical physicist regarded as the founder of Quantum Theory. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918. His theories revolutionized human understanding of atomic and subatomic processes. So profound were Planck’s theories that their effects have forced mankind to rethink some of our most treasured philosophical beliefs about physical reality. Since Quantum Theory in general has so dramatically altered the way some people see the physical universe, Planck's theories have even begun to affect some people’s metaphysical understandings.
“As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.” ~ Max Planck [Founder of the quantum theory and one of the most important physicists of the twentieth century]

Having Planck's statement above stated an alternate way from the Bible makes it a little more understandable. How is it possible that we have similar quotes in the Scriptures? Simple, God created the physical universe that Planck speaks of and God also inspired the text of the Bible. So we have the same quote from the author of Hebrews and the Apostle Paul in Colossians 1:15-17 and they were written 2000 years before Plank uttered his words. These Scriptural verse literally explain what the forces are that Planck speaks of. The forces of physics referred to by Max are in reality Christ and the Words of God (one and the same) holding creation is stasis.
Hebrews 1:3 ~ “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”   
Colossians 1:15-17 ~ The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 
Based on his aforementioned quote, it is clear Planck was not dumb enough to discount the existence of something greater than himself or an “intelligent mind” as he dubbed it. It is also clear that he most likely was not Christian. Then again, he was clearly not an atheist or agnostic either.

Max understood that matter or what we perceive as matter (hard tangible stuff like a rock or steel) was in reality made of atoms. Atoms which are 99% empty space. If an atom were the size of Philadelphia, the atomic nucleus would be the size of a basketball in Center City with the electrons orbiting out in the Manayunk or Germantown area. If we really get down to the nitty-gritty of what an atom is…it is compressed light. Light being compressed and held together by the "force" Planck refers to in his quote. More specifically it is energy compressed or held together by force. All matter is tightly packed energy that is held in sway by forces (strong and weak nuclear forces among others) that we don’t fully understand but are able to unleash in things like nuclear weapons.

While on the topic of physical “forces”, two facts must be fully understood. (Fact #1) A force is defined as any external effort that causes an object to undergo a certain change, either concerning its movement, direction, or geometrical construction. (Fact #2) Science doesn’t know exactly what “force” is. Planck must have known this or he wouldn’t have made his comment above nor attempted to explain physical reality down to the detail that he did by using Quantum Theory. Forces are things that scientists/people knew existed but to this very day, they are at a loss to fully explain them. If asked, a scientist will be able to quantify, measure or use force as a variable in mathematical equations…but they will be at a loss to define what exactly “force” is. They will only be able to tell you the cause or effect that force has on things in the physical universe. Come to think of it, science cannot fully explain gravity, the speed of light, dark matter, "charge clusters" (billions of electrons sticking together), or the very nature of time either.

Planck knew even in the 1930’s that science did not currently have all the answers but nor was he willing to relinquish explanation of reality to godless men. In a lecture in 1937 called "Religion und Naturwissenschaft", Planck criticized atheism for being focused on the derision of religion. At the same time Planck warned of the over-estimation of the importance of religions by believers (I smell a philosophical dichotomy). Planck regarded a scientist as a man of imagination and "faith". It is clear he believed holistically complete men needed to have a balance of the physical and metaphysical. When he said "faith" though, what he meant was that it was something akin to having a working scientific hypothesis. In this way Planck made things like the causality principle or determinism an act of faith not a true or false proposition. Due to this, when referring directly to a deity Planck was noted as saying…
"Both Religion and science require a belief in God. For believers, God is in the beginning, and for physicists He is at the end of all considerations… To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view" ~ Max Plank [Religion and Natural Science (Lecture Given 1937)]
Sadly I believe Planck to be epistemologically or metaphysically conflicted (or confused). He was in a mental state similar to Albert Einstein. This appears to be an internal struggle for worldly men that are of extraordinary (superhuman) intelligence. Planck believed that miracles must retreat step by step before a relentlessly and reliably progressing science and that sooner or later miracles must vanish completely because of the progress of science. In this way I believe Planck saw miracles as superstition or mysticism. Sadder still, because of this presupposition Planck didn’t really comprehend the God of the Bible nor did he understand the true nature of Biblical miracles. A biblical miracle being a less common kind of God's activity in which he arouses people's awe and wonder and bears witness to himself in the physical universe (Wayne Grudem-Systematic Theology). 

If God is supernatural acting in the physical universe then it stands to reason that the supernatural source like God (who is metaphysical) will not necessarily have an empirical or physical explanation from science. Planck is therefore committing a first year Philosophy major's mistake. He is confusing two types of epistemology or confusing sources of philosophical knowledge. He is confusing a priori (without experience / non-empirical) and a posteriori (experience / empirical) knowledge and he is also confusing the metaphysical and physical. Sometimes it is hard for me to believe intelligent men like Planck would do this but if I take the evidence prima facie, that is what it appears he did. He seemed too intelligent for it. But then again, sin does cloud and confuse the mind of all men.

In the end Planck essentially stood in the same company as people like Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Later in life, Planck's views on a god were probably that of a Deist. Was he saved to eternal salvation? Without a death bed conversion...probably not. It is clear that he wasn’t foolish enough to discount the existence of a god based on the physical evidence in the world around him (Romans 1). He just never seemed to make the jump from physical to spiritual. He never went from the natural man to the spiritual man of 1 Corinthians 2. 

It was rumored that at the end of his life he had converted to Catholicism. It is also rumored that when he was questioned on his supposed new found religious belief he responded by saying that he did not believe in a personal God, let alone the Christian God. He most likely entered eternity being a certifiable genius by man's standards but condemned by God's standards. In other words, he's one of the smartest people in Hell. It appears he failed to manifest faith in Jesus as minuscule as an atom (i.e.: mustard seed). I guess you could say that his failure to believe compelled or forced the perfect justice of God to repel and condemn him.

F. Gaynor, Religion and Natural Science (Lecture, 1937) Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, (New York, 1949), pp. 184
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