Becoming

You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations –these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit –immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
– C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

 

Photo by Matt H Wade

I live in Orlando, a city best known for its theme park kingdoms. Most of us who live here take little notice of them, considering them irrelevant (except for occasional matters of traffic) to the struggles of daily life. I’m afraid that’s how we sometimes view God’s Kingdom, too.

 

Everyone who rightly claims the name of “Christian” has been given a free ticket to a supernatural kingdom of epic adventures, but most of us are content to stop just inside the gate and camp permanently in the parking lot. After all, it is clean and safe here. Little effort is required to wander aimlessly in the immediate vicinity. From time to time snatches of captivating music tempt us to press on for points unknown, but daily struggles, unspoken fears or a lack of imagination keep us rooted to the pavement.

 

Christ bought the ticket we carry in our pocket, and it was His song which drew us through the outer gate. Far in the distance stands a blazing throne where God the Father reigns in unimaginable glory, and it is toward this throne that Christ’s footsteps lead us, that gratitude for His love compels us, that the promise of His grace draws us. Between the gate and throne lie diverse pathways lined with heaven’s riches which are ours to discover if we will. Some of you will be saying, “Riches? The route of my life has included far more disasters than miracles.” But I am not referring to the outward condition of life but to the inner process of becoming Christ-like. It is a process of goodness and glory which requires our attention and cooperation and invites our celebration. Having passed through the narrow gate which divides the dead from the living, it is time to leave the anteroom where life is habitual and the world’s songs drown out heaven’s music. Half-hearted devotion is satisfied with half-truths and temporary treasures, but we were not redeemed for such trinkets.

 

God has infinite gifts tailored to meet the particular needs of His children. To move toward God is to become a little better, a little wiser, a little fuller, and a little more beautiful than we were before. One small step in the right direction will bring us that much closer to the Savior who has gone before us. Yes, we may encounter difficulties – battles and wounds, even – but there is no limit to the grace and joy to be found by walking forward in faith. When we finish this earthly sojourn, we will have become something more than we are now, and when we finally arrive at the foot of the throne, “the souls of righteous men made perfect,” (Heb. 12:23) we will have become everything that God dreamed for us. Right now, right here, all of us who dare this quest are in the process of becoming that new and glorious creature.

 

The Apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesians that they might “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge,” and “be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19). Can you imagine what that might mean, to be filled up to all the fullness of God? For one thing, it means that no matter how much you know of Him now, how much you are filled with His love, how much you understand His goodness, His sufficiency, His power in your life – there is more! There’s more right now, and there is always more. That is the marvel of God’s kingdom. You can always press a little closer to the throne. The wonderful promise for us is that when we draw near to God, He will also draw near to us (James 4:8).

 

Discuss it: What would it mean for you to step a little deeper into the Kingdom of God? What keeps you from taking that step?

* Would it mean clarifying a belief you have struggled with?

* Taking on a greater challenge in the area of service?

* Might it mean facing that sin you’ve brushed aside?

* Could it mean forgiving the nearly-unforgivable?

* Perhaps making prayer a more constant source of strength?

* Memorizing your favorite passage?

Let me know what is calling you deeper in.

 


 

I am having a happy summer break with the Littles, so this post is a repeat from several years ago.

Can You Love a Narcissist?

Dear Christian Counselor,

 

I’ve read a few blogs and been told by a counselor to cut off the narcissist in my life because it’s too difficult to maintain a relationship with someone who thinks about themself all the time. I admit I’ve been hurt in the past, but I’m not sure I’m ready to take such a big step. What do you think about black-and-white advice like this?

 

Wondering How to Love a Narcissist

 


Dear Wondering,

 

I’d need a lot more information to give you my best advice, but, in general, I think it’s unwise to make black-and-white rules about a whole category of people based on a subjective diagnosis. It would be rather like saying you should never pet large dogs. While that decision might keep you safe, it would also limit your life in a way which might not be necessary and might not be God’s best for you.

 

We all start life as narcissists. We all come into this world seeing ourselves as the center of it, possessing little or no empathy for others, manipulating those around us and believing in our own hyperbolic specialness. Most of us are able to grow past that stage, but for reasons no one understands, a few people never do. Yet even for adults diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, there is a continuum; all personality disorders are variable and subjective in their diagnosis, presentation and degree. Most narcissists are not serial killers, though an extreme few are. Some are quite good at their jobs. Some maintain marriages and families and friendships. A few even manage to improve over time.

 

For the reasons stated above, I don’t think you can lump all narcissists and their loved-ones together and make blanket statements about how to deal with them. Are we talking about a lover, an employer, a sibling, a friend? We have more responsibility toward some than others. And what of the person asking the question – what are they strong enough to do? What are they being called to do? You might need to separate from a narcissist, either temporarily or permanently, because your heart has been so damaged that you can no longer relate to that person at all, in any helpful way. But that is not always how Jesus dealt with difficult, unsafe people (Judas and even Peter, for example). In many cases there is probably some middle ground between being consumed and ending all contact. The mistake generally comes in believing that love means allowing yourself to be consumed.

 

I am not sure we can say God has the exact same ‘no-contact’ plan for every person who is afraid of large dogs – nor for everyone who knows a narcissist.

13 Reasons Why: Advice for Christian Parents

In case you’ve been in cryosleep for the past few weeks, 13 Reasons Why is a new Netflix Original series, based on a young-adult novel by Jay Asher, which is the talk of the nation’s teen crowd. I just finished watching all 14 episodes, and I wanted to provide some guidance for Christian parents who are wondering whether they should watch it and whether their kids should. I wish that I could advise you not to view it at all, for Scripture is clear that we should fill our minds and hearts with uplifting and godly things, neither of which describes 13 Reasons Why. There are plenty of online reviews which will give you a feel for the dark and shocking content of the show as well as the excellent quality of its acting and writing. Therefore, I am going to stick to the concerns I would have as a Christian parent if my two adult children were still teenagers.

 

  • Talk with every child over the age of 8. You would have to be dead or seriously unplugged (which you are not because you are reading this blog) to miss that this series is a popular and controversial topic of conversation among kids and their parents. If you have a teenager, ask them whether they have heard of the show or watched it already. If you have a child over the age of 8, talk with them about whether you will allow them to watch the series and why. (You will have to read the rest of the review to find out whether I think you should.)
  • Know your kids. In today’s world, children are first exposed to sexuality, homosexuality, drinking, drugs, suicide, cutting and pervasive profanity at wildly different ages, from preschool to college. It is imperative that you know your child when making the decision to see this series. It contains ALL the material mentioned above, but the most difficult-to-watch content is sexual in nature. Just because your kids have heard about these topics, doesn’t automatically mean they should watch the show. As an adolescent, I would not have been ready to view it before the age of 17, but that is, sadly, not the case for most of today’s kids. I do know a few home-school families who have been able to preserve that level of protection, but not many. I think most high school kids will see the series, or parts of it, with or without your permission. If your children are in the public school system, I’d recommend you watch the series yourself and talk about the issues with your kids (not necessarily allowing them to watch it) at about an 8th-grade level. I’m sorry.
  • Watch the entire series before you decide. Your kids and other parents are going to ask what you are doing. Watch the entire series before you make a decision. Some of the most difficult material comes toward the end. You do not want to be halfway through with your child and suddenly decide not to let them finish. Take a few notes about the things you want to discuss in each episode as you watch it alone.
  • If you let your kids watch it, watch it with them. If you decide they should see it (or believe they will see it anyway), the whole purpose would be to help shape their opinions, to ask them inviting questions and to feel out their own experiences. In addition, a few episodes could be traumatizing, and you want to be there to provide comfort and balance and to fast-forward or turn the TV off if you think they need you to do that.
  • Don’t watch more than one episode at a time. When I was viewing the series, I watched several episodes together, up to three per day. I’d like to think I’m pretty savvy about my own emotions, but, at one point, I found myself feeling morose, emotionally flat, maybe even a little depressed. It took a while to realize it was because I had been immersed in those feelings by the show. Teens, whose brains have not fully matured in the realms of emotional and executive functioning, will be especially impacted by binge-watching.
  • Teen boys stand to be more impacted than teen girls. Spoiler alert: much of the drama in this series concerns sexual assault. Teen boys will be most helped by understanding the ramifications – for both boys and girls – of this crime. Several episodes provide rich fodder for discussing the practical ambiguities of sexual consent (see below) as well as the peer pressure boys face in this area. However, graphic depictions of sex are generally more likely to replay as opportunities for sin and acting out with teen boys. That is not to say that girls won’t have their own problems with recall of those scenes, especially if they have not been much exposed before. I used to fast-forward when objectionable material came up, but I don’t know whether you have that luxury. Your kids have many ways to go back and view what you have censored. It’s probably still worth a try.
  • Be sure to watch the follow-up. After the thirteenth episode of 13 Reasons Why, there is a short film featuring executive producer Selena Gomez which provides a very good follow-up to the issues raised by the series. It explains the teenage brain in a practical and compassionate manner while providing resources and suggestions for parents.
  • The worst thing. I did not feel that the series glorified suicide as has been the criticism of some (see “Suicide” below). In my view the most harmful aspect for Christian teens was the assumption that sex will be had often and by everyone. In a late episode, the female protagonist finally spends time with the male hero who is depicted as her first love and the character with the most compassion and integrity in the plotline. After a few drinks, the two of them quickly find a bedroom and begin some heavy foreplay which one can only assume will lead to the loss of their virginity – on the first date. There is no implication that this is not normal or desirable. In fact, we are sad and frustrated when it doesn’t happen.
  • The best thing. The best thing about this series is that it is an excellent opportunity to talk with older teens about a wide variety of difficult topics that they will certainly encounter in college if they have not already. (See “Know your kids” above.) If my small-Christian-schooled kids were still at home, I think I would watch this series with them the summer after high school graduation. I may be hopelessly naïve on that point, though.
  • Sexual consent. Perhaps, as a Christian, you think I should just say that sexual consent follows marriage, but I have known way too many grown Christian men and women who are having unmarried, dating sex to think that the next generation of believers is doing any better. There is a move afoot to define sexual consent as an unintoxicated, unambiguous, “Are you OK with us having sex? Yes, I am,” exchange. I wholeheartedly, brokenheartedly support that definition. Do I think you should teach your kids to refrain from sex before marriage? Yes, I do, but I think you should also teach them about the worldview of the dominant culture around them, the unintended consequences of intoxication and the ramifications of criminal, sexual behavior.
  • Suicide. All your teen girls are going to read about, hear about or think about suicide before they are out of high school. Many teen boys, too. Sometimes parents and even professionals are reluctant to bring up the topic lest they suggest something the student hasn’t thought about yet. That is not the danger here; the danger is not talking about something they have thought of. Make sure your teen has a suicide hotline contact in their phone to share with others. Crisistextline.org is one you might consider. Text HOME to 741741 to be connected to trained, volunteer counselors any time of the day or night.

What to say to your kids:

  • If you decide your kids should not see this series, I’d suggest you be honest with them and tell them that the content is so very disturbing you think it could harm them. Explain that you can never truly erase anything you put into your brain. It would not be amiss to sit and talk about a few of the topics, anyway, especially sexual assault and suicide, but you can do it with less graphic intensity than they would experience by watching 13 Reasons Why. I’d suggest you ask your teens for a commitment not to watch the show elsewhere, and to come to you if they feel they really need to see it for some reason.
  • If you decide to watch the series with your kids, Begin the same way, with a warning that the content is very disturbing. Ask them whether they think they are ready to see it and why. Anyone who has watched The Passion of the Christ knows that watching something can be much more powerful than talking or reading about it. Give them permission to take a break or turn it off, and ask them periodically if they want to do that. Warn them especially about the later, darker episodes. If you plan to skip a few scenes, explain why you feel that’s best for them and talk about not being able to erase those tapes in your brain. Have just a couple of questions ready at the end of each episode to discuss, e.g., “What do you think you would do if you were in her situation?” “What do you think God would say to him?” “Is there anything you need help with in your life?” “What would you do if there were?” Let your teens know up front that discussing these things with you is part of the deal. Try not to lecture or judge in ways that cause your kids to become defensive or end the conversation. Your kids may know other teens who are struggling and wonder what they should do. If the thoughts or behaviors involved are dangerous in any way to themselves or others, tell them they must involve an adult – it’s the only loving thing to do, even if it ends the friendship. Safety first!

If you are the parent of a teenager, may the Lord bless you with His strength, wisdom and grace as you grapple with how to approach this show. I’m afraid the only choice here is to be wise as serpents rather than innocent as doves.

 


Christian Reviews:

http://www.pluggedin.com/tv-reviews/13-reasons-why/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sickpilgrim/2017/04/13-reasons-netflix-invites-us-spiritual-works-mercy-holy-week/

https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/2017/05/01/13-reasons-why-is-deceptive-and-destructive/

 

Other Resources:

http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/10-things-christians-should-know-about-sexual-assault.html

https://www.rainn.org/

https://13reasonswhy.info/#usa

http://www.crisistextline.org/