Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How Sick Love Hurts

It is axiomatic that it is essential to love oneself in order to love others. The Bible teaches us to "... love our neighbor as thyself." The Bible does not call upon us to negate ourselves. However, when love does not move beyond the self it becomes sick love and will poison relationships.

There is a word for excessive self-love. It is narcissism.

In his last book before he died, Pastoral Psychotherapy, Dr. Carroll A. Wise (who taught and befriended me when I was a graduate student) addressed himself to the problem of narcissism. He speaks of this weakness, which "lies at the root of so many human problems," as "the human need to place self in the center of the universe" and "demand that the universe be revised according to my needs, regardless of the needs of others." It is a problem that appears in the earliest pages of the Bible, and it plays havoc in every life in which it finds cultivation and hospitality. The word "narcissism" comes to our language from a Greek myth, in which a young man by the name of Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Narcissism is essentially the habit of relating to others in terms of how they satisfy our needs, with little or no regard for how the relationship effects the welfare of others.

Children in early infancy are completely self-centered. Everyone in an infant’s constellation of relationships exists only in terms of how they relate to his needs. Some people never grow very far beyond infant narcissism. They are emotionally greedy. They relate to everyone out of their own needs. This human characteristic of early infancy, which is so essential to survival, will later destroy us if we are unable to grow beyond it. The opposite of narcissism is clearly pictured in the 13th chapter of I Corinthians which is the beautiful love chapter in the Bible. Thumb through your relationships and see to what degree they are characterized by narcissism. How selfish is your love? If a relationship has strong indications of selfishness in it, and it lacks many of the qualities of love set forth in I Corinthians 13, then it is not very healthy, and is likely hurtful to people who are in your constellation of relationships. When you read the 13th chapter of I Corinthians you will notice at once how very specific it is concerning the nature of love. "Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Loves does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right . . . " You cannot miss or misunderstand the characteristics of love.

Narcissism lies at the root of possessiveness, which is often offered in the name of love. In parent-child relationships it is often expressed in terms of preferential love for one child above other children. The Old Testament book of Genesis gives a classic example of the immediate and the long-term harm of parental possessiveness and preferential love of children. And, at each and every turn of the relationship, it was done in the name of love and under the guise of the child’s best interest; when all the while it was narcissistic selfishness.

The story begins with the birth of Isaac to aging parents, Abraham and Sarah. The harmful effect of the doting love of these two grandparents who became parents becomes evident early in Isaac’s life, but the full effect is not seen until Isaac marries Rebecca and they have twin children. It takes a generation for some problems to come into full bloom. Their names are Jacob and Esau. The Bible says that Rebecca loved Jacob more than Esau; and Isaac loved Esau more than Jacob. In chapters 27-28-29 of Genesis, preference and possessiveness act out their ugly lines in the life of this family of four. It splits the family and the individual persons in the family. Many people fail to see the sickness and harm because the people involved are among our biblical heroes. But the "sometime obedience to God" should not blind us to their failures to one another, and should not blind us to the long term damage it continued to do in the lives of persons in subsequent generations. There is a tendency for parental narcissism to move across generational lines unabated until some person or some experience puts a stop to it.

Most of us remember the continuation of the problems of possessiveness and preferential treatment in Jacob’s family. It was at the root of the problem between Joseph and his brothers. It almost cost Joseph his life – and it did deprive him of his family, and his family of him, for many years. We remember how sick love marred these three generations, but very few people remember (if they ever knew) how the strife between Jacob and Esau was perpetuated in their descendants for hundreds of years.

Hang on and I will give you some interesting biblical history.

The children of Edom, who sprang from Esau, carried on a constant hostility with the descendants of Jacob, who were the tribes of Israel. This quarrel was renewed in one of its bitterest forms many years later, when Moses was leading the children of Israel through the wilderness toward the Promised Land. As you can easily see by studying a map, they had to pass through the land of Edom before they could get to Palestine. Remember, the land of Edom is the land of the descendants of Esau, and the people of Israel are the descendants of Jacob. When Moses came to the edge of that land of Edom, (as recorded in the 20th chapter of Numbers) he sent messengers to the King of Edom, telling him how they had been in slavery, and how they had escaped, and they were on their way to the Promised Land. He begged permission to pass through Edom. He promised that they would not trespass on field or vineyard, nor drink from their wells, but would keep to the King’s highway. He implored them saying: "We are your brother Israel." What a gracious and brotherly appeal. You would have thought they would have forgotten by now, but the King of Edom said: "You shall not cross our land, and if you do we will march out and attack you" (Numbers 20:18). Moses sent a second message pleading and offering to pay for any damages they might do. But the descendants of Esau said to the descendants of Jacob: "You shall not pass through our land," and they put a large army in the field to enforce it. Can you imagine sick love being the source of all that? There is more!!

Hundreds of years later, when the Babylonians attacked Judea and Jerusalem, the Edomites were not involved, but they cheered for the Babylonians and urged them to destroy Jerusalem. There is that strange line in Psalm 137 where the Psalmist in exile in Babylonia wrote: "Remember, O Lord, against the people of Edom the day of Jerusalem’s fall, when they said ‘down with it, down with it, down to its very foundations’" (Psalm 137:7). It is all there in the Bible. The strife between Jacob and Esau was still going on a thousand years after it took place. They are the "Hatfields and the McCoys" of the Bible.

Sick love can have a long-term ripple effect that hurts for generations. Beware!

AN ENCOURAGING WORD for May 31, 2007 - written by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Prayer for Each Day by Dr. Jim Savage

You are invited to use this prayer everyday you feel led.

Gracious God, I praise you this day for your love, mercy and grace. You are truly an awesome God! I thank you for loving me, for offering forgiveness to me, and for sending your son, and our Savior Jesus Christ to die and rise again for me. Come into my heart this day, and make me the kind of person you would have me to be. Help me to do your will and your will alone. Help me to be honest with myself and about myself. I admit to you I am far from perfect and ask for your Holy Spirit to truly guide me this day.

Be with our president, congress, state, and local leaders. Grant them wisdom to lead and conviction for repentance in their hearts when they reject you. Be with all of our world leaders today; especially those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. I pray you will send your Holy Spirit to them and convict them of all sin or wrong-doing, and that you would do the same with our leaders in America.

Be with our entire church, our clergy, and our entire staff that they might sense your love and your guidance. Be with our entire congregation that they might sense and know what you are calling all of us to do. Help us to truly be the church you are calling us to be. Help me to be the Christian you are calling me to be this day. In the name of Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. Amen.

Jim Savage

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Word on Families Today, by Dr. Jim Savage

The month of May is often designated as the month of the American Family, or in some circles the month of the Christian Home. Regardless, the weeks between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are weeks that some people actually stop to think about their family situation. Even though the divorce rate is still high, new studies have been done that reveal most people truly attempt to be faithful to their marriage vows. Another study revealed that even folks who classified themselves as “liberals” (whatever that means today) also affirmed the importance of people keeping the covenant of marriage as a sacred vow. Whatever happened to the proclamations of “free-love” from the 1960’s? We found out it does not mesh well with the human spirit. People, regardless of religious affiliation or denomination, overwhelmingly agree that “faithfulness in marriage” is a good thing that should be supported on every front.

Even though we see the typical “Hollywood-Divorce-Front-Page-Pictures”, when you actually read about these people you discover that they also support faithfulness in marriage (even if they are not able to keep their marriages together).

We have also discovered that single-parent families are very, very difficult to maintain. Women (the single-parent-moms) often bear a terrible load, and often drop below the designated poverty line. Children are still the most likely “victims” who bear the brunt of anger, confusion, false accusation about both parents that cause even more confusion, and often find themselves in need of counseling, and life-long issues that are never resolved.

We like to pretend that children are “tough and can withstand anything.” Yes, children are tough, but we are kidding ourselves to say they can simply withstand every angry word, every parental argument, and every divorce with serious scars.

We are also facing a rise in parents who do not want to do the right thing even after their divorce. Child support is often not paid. Children are no longer a priority for either parent in some cases, but certainly not in every case. In fact some single-parents step up to the plate in heroic fashion, and should be nominated for parent of the year.

Our nation still has problems, but thank God for moms and dads who give their very best efforts! Thank God for grandparents who also step up to the plate.

I thank God for neighbors, coaches, teachers, scout leaders, and others who do all they can for our community.

What do kids and youth need from us?
1. Love!
2. A safe and loving home, school, and place of work or recreation.
3. Hugs and assurance that they can be happy and successful in this world, but do not paint false realities of wealth or happiness.
4. They also need to know the realities of life without making it so depressing. We should paint positive but realistic pictures of possibilities for them.
5. Let them know that their choices are very, very important. Once they become teens and older, every single decision is important and could change their entire future.
6. Let them know that education is very important without demanding unrealistic goals from them. Not every teen will make a 36 on their ACT, or receive an academic scholarship for college. Not every child is ready for college. We still need people who learn the trades of this world, who would never be happy at college, or the type of job this provides. Education is a broad term.
7. Listen to our youth and take them and their stories seriously.
8. Help them understand that popularity is not the most important thing. Help them know that their friends will change many times in their lifetime. High school and/or college are just short stops in this journey of life.
9. And last but first, talk with them about the love of God.

Even is you are not a parent or grandparent, simply stop and talk to youth when you can: at the grocery store, workers at Wal-Mart, at the malls, ballgames, and every possible place. Offer them the best words of encouragement and wisdom that comes to mind.

You never know---you just might save the lives of 32 other youth on a college campus one day.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Reflections on Mother's Day

AN ENCOURAGING WORD for May 10, 2007 - written by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church

Reflections on Mother’s Day

Sunday is Mother’s Day, a time when our minds turn instinctively to the meaning and quality of love in our lives and the person from whom we first received love. How we received love from this primary parent the first few years of our lives still colors our lives more than we know.

For many the nostalgia of Mother’s Day puts us in touch with some deep primal sentimental feelings that we may not have felt or expressed for a long time. It feels good to be sentimental, and perhaps we need to be in touch with those feelings more often than most of us do. It has a way of softening some of the crusty cynicism that seems to accumulate in life like barnacles on a ship. And God knows we could do with fewer barnacles.

Most of us have conscious memories of how we were nurtured by our mother which go back to the earliest days of our lives. I dare say that we likely have as many subconscious impressions of early childhood as we do conscious memories. Some say these subconscious memories even go back to a time before we were born. That is an interesting thought! We do know that the content of our subconscious mind has a profound influence in our lives.

We can all dig up memories of how we were cared for by our mother when we were hurt – physically or emotionally. Fathers tend to gloss over the cuts and bruises and disappointments of little children by urging them to be strong – "don’t cry – it will be alright by tomorrow – it happens to everybody." Not so with mothers! Mothers tend to hug hurt children, kiss the boo-boo, and say soft understanding words. How we are nurtured and cared for as children when we were hurt leaves a profound conscious and unconscious impression. I have been told by soldiers who have experienced combat that wounded and dying soldiers often cry out for their mothers. I have on several occasions been at the bedside of elderly people whose last words as they were dying were for their mother. That is how deep the influence runs. In the throes of death and distress our minds go back to that earliest care giver.

Mothers have a powerful influence on the lives of their children which continues undiminished down to the end.

Since no parents are perfect, it follows that all parents make parenting mistakes. Those mistakes also constitute a powerful influence on children. Most of the marriage problems that come into the counseling rooms of pastors and psychologists have roots that go back to the family of origin. Some parents do untold emotional damage to their children in unspeakable ways. Child abuse can, and does, happen in many ways. Children survive and overcome the occasional and unintentional mistakes of parents. It is the constant repetition of the same mistake that does irreparable damage.

All parents should remember that, for better or for worse, our children are forever influenced by what we did or did not do when they were young. That thought should make all parents of young children careful, intentional, and loving with their children.


Gracious God, in this season and month of “The American Home”, we pray for all homes of every shape and size. We pray for homes of one person living there and for homes that house dozens of children who have no other place to live. As we approach Mother’s Day and Father’s Day we pray that you will grant great wisdom, courage, strength and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to all moms and dads in our land. For those who are not moms and dads but desire to be, we pray that you will open the right doors for them. For those who are abusive to those they live with, I pray that you will convict them of this sin deep in their hearts. May all types of abuse stop all across our nation, and may every person in every home seek a true relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Grant to every parent, grandparent, aunts, uncles, and the children a sense of your presence and guiding love.
Grant every home your peace, that all of us might live in peace with one another and with our Savior, Jesus Christ. We pray that trust these things in the names of Christ. Amen.