Are You A Narcissist? (IBTR #67)

May I answer the question for you? Yes, you are and so am I. The real discussion is not whether we have narcissistic tendencies, but are we battling them. This is, of course, a human problem and not a denominational one. Though this series is aimed at those who are, or have been, part of the Independent Baptist world, this subject extends far beyond it. Those in it struggle here not because they are Independent Baptists, but because they are flesh and blood and join in the human condition. In that it is a challenge for us all, it affects every group of people including those in Christian circles. So that calls for a word here.

Narcissism as a term for our malady traces back to Narcissus in Greek Mythology. Its essence as a concept, though, goes back to Eden. Narcissus was a young handsome chap who caught a reflection of himself in a pond. He was so captivated by his own reflection that he fell in love with himself. This love affair grew until the captivated Narcissus fell in the pond and drowned. Whatever you think of Greek mythology, can you think of a better, or more accurate, story for being impressed and infatuated with yourself?

This excessively growing love that is narcissism has been described as “an unbounded admiration of self.” As bad as it has always been, it is clearly a growing issue of the Last Days: “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,” (II Timothy 3:2).

Being in a church setting, or a Christian home, or in a room all by yourself, is no guarantee to avoid narcissism. A preacher could look over his sermon notes and think…wow, this is awesome. A singer could come to believe that applause actually proved something. A pastor might start believing and openly proclaiming how great his ministry is…the best in town, or maybe the state. A volunteer might come to believe the church’s future is fully on his back.

Our teaching or preaching may become overloaded with stories where we are the hero. Beyond the little stories of things we have observed, our stories become ever more the tale of one rescuing the world, of one clearly standing above others. Just before we fall into the pond staring at our own reflection, our story grows more relevant as we speak than His story. 

It will show up in our daily lives as well. We might blog and think ours has more potential to change the world than others. (Ouch). Our Facebook or Twitter statuses grow beyond keeping up with each other to a need to status because those readers need to hear from us. It’s not the posting that is an issue, but the thought processes as we hit “send”.

The answer is in God’s Word. The reflection that you see in the mirror of its pages gives a more vivid and accurate image of us than do those ripples across the pond. If you look at it long enough you won’t fall in love with yourself, but with Christ Who is worthy of the deep love we narcissists usually give ourselves.

Perhaps, narcissism isn’t so surprising after all. I was reading the other day that we are made in the image of God and that God is worthy of praise. Somewhere inside of we who are in His image is a need for that praise. There is, however, two problems: 1) We are not the Almighty even if in His image, and 2) We are corrupted by sin and incredibly unworthy. We are marred and we view our lives as touched-up photos.

We must strive to keep the accurate, biblical view of ourselves ever before our eyes or we will never do any worthwhile ministry. We must stay in love with Christ, and fulfilled by Him, so that we need not believe such hopelessly ridiculous things about ourselves. The world could get along without us without missing one beat. On the other hand, it cannot do without Him.

So, I pray–Lord, help me keep the narcissist within at bay.

Find all articles in the series here.

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Jesus Outside The Lines by Scott Sauls

As the subtitle “A way forward for those who are tired of taking sides” suggests, this is a provocative volume. His reference to “outside the lines” refers to his preference for living inside the lines where all is a perfect black and white. His writes because he is tired of taking sides. He is tired of all the isms and as he says, “…the ism that feeds them all: elitism”.

In writing he exposes that our “outrage” is often enjoyed. He says that “…some part of us loves feeling 1) right and 2) wronged.” It is all helpfully convicting, especially as he shows that Jesus operated a different way. It wasn’t simply about outrage for Him, but rather people and right and wrong. That is not a subtle difference.

What was subtle about this book, however, is how Mr. Sauls took the subject of outrage and turned it on us. Not only do we live in soundbites and thrive on arguments, but we have lost sight of what we should most scrutinize–ourselves. For example, he transforms the discussion on the unborn and poor into one about how we really view those made in the image of God. He took the issue of declining church attendance and made it about what we have done to drive them away.

In Part 2, he went deeper inside us. He took issues and discussed where a Christian must stand for truth while exposing where we are only playing a game. The chapters “Hypocrite or Work In Progress?” and “Self-esteem or God-esteem?” were his best.

This book speaks to areas of real need in our lives as Christians and I highly recommend it.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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What I Learned And Received From My Mother

My mother, Patricia Reagan, is not the bragging type. She has always done helpful things for others. It seems my entire life she has always been responsible for taking people to town for shopping or doctor visits. Many of those folks were on my Daddy’s side of the family ( I have a lot of relatives that never learned to drive and others just got old).

I owe her a lot too. Every year older I get I realize more what a blessing I have had in my parents. I had a sheltered, carefree, and happy childhood thanks to them. Here are some of the things she gave me:

1. She told me about Christ.

From a very young age she told me about the Lord. She talked often of Him to me in our daily life. She had herself walked to church every Sunday as a child because her parents did not go. It was real to her. Not that she was perfect, but it was real to her. I firmly believe that moved my heart more than lectures that many parents give about a Christianity that has no impact on their lives.

When I became convicted about being saved she talked so carefully to me. She didn’t have enough confidence in herself and so sent me over to talk to my Grandfather who lived across the road. Then I came back and she and I went into her bedroom where I knelt beside her bed with only her with me and asked Jesus to be my Savior. That is, of course, the most previous memory of my life. She led me to Christ, which is the greatest thing any parent can do.

She also encouraged me to be a Bible reader. (I inherited a love of reading from her). She talked me into reading my Bible through on the one-year plan when I was thirteen. I made it to 1 Kings. That summer she was my VBS teacher and she was telling the class to be Bible readers. She also told them to not be like me and start and quit either. She was not one to ever publicly embarrass me, so this must have been incredibly important to her. I decided that day that if I lived to January I was going to start again ( I have no idea why I didn’t realize I could start then). I did read it through when 14 and have been a Bible reader since. In fact, I try other methods on occasion and always fall back on the one-year plan. You owe a lot to the one who teaches you to be a Bible reader.

2. She taught me about trusting the Lord.

When I was young she went through a period of panic attacks and depression in doubting her salvation. She talked openly of it but sheltered me from the harder parts of it. I remember her finding some good Christian materials. I remember Bible passages that she learned in her life that spoke to her problem. No one had ever trained this young lady (she is only 17 years older than me) about these spiritual truths. I saw her pray, I saw the Lord send help, and I saw her change into a happy Christian. Again, I saw that Christianity was not a game–it was real! Never once have I heard her brag on herself over this victory. She always just thanks the Lord for helping her.

She had to demonstrate this again when she battled breat cancer at 37, and ovarian cancer a few years later. She also lost three of her four siblings by the time they reached 45. She has had hard times. When I went through my own hard times at least I had had an example of trusting the Lord in a crisis.

3. She has loved and embraced my family.

It is a funny sight when we visit my parents now. There is usually one child in her lap and two snuggled up against her at all times. I imagine she is sore by the time we leave. As the kids get older I still see that they love to talk to her and tell her all about their lives and she is always ready for that conversation. I have always received unconditional love from my parents (they have never once failed me in this way) and they have passed it right on to the children.

So Happy Mother’s Day, Mama! I love you and thank you for all you have poured into my life.

The Book of Psalms (NICOT)

The Book of Psalms has been well served in the world of commentaries of late, and here the venerable New International Commentary series enters the fray. Three scholars, Nancy deClaisse’-Walford, Rolf A. Jacobson, and Beth LaNeel Tanner, combine to give us this 1000-page one-volume commentary.

The target audience ranges from studious pastors to scholars. In this recent spate of commentaries, its niche seems clear. There is a recent fine three-volume set by Allen Ross among others, and this volume appeals to the same audience except offering a more economical option in one volume. This volume attempts to cover the same territory in a more succinct way. Ross would likely be more conservative, though I imagine the depth of three volumes verses the compactness of one volume will be the criteria of choice among purchasers.

The Introduction runs to page 51 and covers key issues well. Pastors will find some parts of it more helpful than others while scholars will delight in it all. Mr. Jacobson writes the bulk of the Introduction (and, as a matter of personal taste, he was my favorite of the three and I found myself agreeing with him more). Settling on the Masoretic Text rather than endless speculations over the elusive “original” is certainly a plus. An easy-to-follow history of approaches to scholarly trends in studying the Psalms was helpful.

Discussion on the Five Books within the Psalms as well as division within the books made sense. Special collections, like the Psalms of Ascent, are discussed in a meaningful way. There is less coverage of Hebrew poetry itself and main theological themes, though what was given I found interesting.

The commentary itself is exegetically satisfying. For reasons not clear to me, only Mr. Jabobson offered us a reflections section on some of the Psalms he covered. Perhaps it would have made the book too large to have it on every Psalm, but I especially enjoyed them. On that point, we can just enjoy what we got.

The writers chose not to translate hesed, which seemed odd to me. “Mercy’ or ‘Loving-kindness” are pretty good English words. Some Psalms seemed a little short in coverage, but, perhaps, that is the cost of covering Psalms in one volume.

Still, this is a fine volume and a worthy counterpart among New International Commentary volumes, and I suspect it will be around for a long time to come.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.psalms

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Bainton

Here is a classic biography reissued in a stunning hardback as part of the Hendrickson Classic Biography series. Though they have been publishing classic biographies for several years, they are in the process of republishing them in volumes worth collecting or displaying in libraries. Fortunately, they have managed to keep them economically priced as well. I’m glad Bainton’s volume on Luther made its way into this series.

This biography made Luther come alive. While Bainton was clearly sympathetic to Luther, he did not smooth off the edges. His background on Reformation history enriched this book in many places.

Luther’s story is amazing. He is heroic in ways hard to comprehend. When he rose up from within the Catholic Church, he traveled an uncharted course and continuously had his life on the line. He never dreamed he would start a Reformation, totally change his country, and shake a continent, but he did. While I do not personally agree with Luther on where he landed on several theological points, I was ever amazed at what he did come to see with no man really guiding him. This volume well handles his theological journey.

This volume tells the story where he finally uttered, perhaps, the most audacious statement any man ever said: ” My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” Wow!

We get the real Luther here. Mr. Bainton does not sugarcoat, for example, his inexcusable treatment of the Anabaptists. As a Baptist myself, I just remember where he came from and I am still impressed. The story of his marriage and relationship to his wife will bring a few smiles, though perhaps not to Mrs. Luther. As you read, you will wonder if he experienced survivor’s guilt as many of his followers were executed while he never was. We even learn here that he became quit the grumpy old man. We also learn the context of his failing health and difficult life. This volume is, without question, a winner!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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Where Will Independent Baptists Be In 10 Years and 25 Years? (IBTR #66)

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It is a scary exercise to contemplate the future. There is so much we do not know, so many variables we cannot accurately evaluate. Still, trends around us might suggest a general direction that might allow us in the broadest terms to make some good guesses. “A” does often lead to “B” in a world where God’s principle of sowing and reaping will never pass away.

What does this have to do with anything in a series about issues we face in the Independent Baptist world? In comes into play when we ask…where will we be in 10 years?…where will we be in 25 years? To answer these questions and make sensible predictions will involve considering two areas: 1) the natural progression of issues in this series, and 2) trends in our country that affect every Christian group.

Natural Progression Of Truth Revolution Issues

1. The Pants Issue will fade away. It will retreat greatly in 10 years and fade almost completely in 25 years. It has been divisive, split a few families and churches along the way, but it simply will not last. Hundreds drop it yearly and others are trying to get up their nerve. The logic behind this prediction comes from those constantly shrinking numbers, from the inability to frame either a biblical argument for its necessity or an intelligent explanation for how pants and immodesty (a clear Biblical idea) are synonymous, and track records of other such standards as strongly upheld in other generations. For example, 30 years ago TV was as forbidden in as many Independent Baptist homes as pants are today. Where is the TV issue today? Almost every one of those homes have a TV today.

2. The Music Issue will change but it will not go away. I do not believe what is argued today will be the same in either 10 or 25 years. The logic there is that there has always been a music debate and likely always will be. Music, in some respects, is a matter of taste. There will always be a temptation to confuse that with its being not worldly. It will always be hard to pin down. The Fanny Crosbys of the world can be radical in one generation to some groups and too conservative in another. I can’t see what would change it.

3. Alliances among several Independent Baptists groups will shift. History dictates this prediction. Every 10 or 25 years the most vocal groups cycle a few times. Yesterdays close friend is preached against at today’s conference. This lamentable fact likely is a natural result of a hyper separatist outlook all too common in some circles. Couple that with the sin tendencies we all fight and it is inevitable.

4. Standards may change, but legalism will thrive. Legalism has always thrived and will till Jesus comes. The temptation to self-righteousness and a need to earn God’s favor will never end until Satan is chained. Religion arises from the dark core of who we are as sinners. Even those who love holiness and hate legalism are haunted at some deep level by these Gospel-hating, grace-denying thoughts. The best we can do is get it right on a personal level.

5. Our greatest challenges will arise from without. For some time our challenges have come from within (hence this blog series). I can’t pin down if it will be real soon, 10 years, or 25 years, but we won’t need articles like this series for long. That leads to…

Trends in our country that affect every Christian group

I may sound overly pessimistic here (I sincerely hope someone can show me this article in 25 years and tell me I was an idiot!), but recent news and changes that are being made in our country do not bode well for Christianity, at least as we have known it and handled it. A persecuted church may thrive in ways we have been seen before, but it will surely change what we are used to.

1. Bus Ministry will die. I am in no way criticising what has been a blessing in many ways. My only negative would be those who only use it as an attendance and baptism numbers game, but it has brought many under the sound of the Gospel. Beyond the growing antagonism toward the outreach in some communities, and the ever-expanding possibilities of lawsuits and accusations, the openness of our government to criminalize Christian work doesn’t bode well for bus ministry.

2. Church-run Christian schools will fall by the wayside. They are already closing in alarming numbers as the financial side is now close to impossible. The likelihood of a national approval of homosexual marriage and the corresponding ability of the IRS to revoke tax-exempt status for an anti-homosexual marriage stand will surely be the greatest challenge for us. When we lose that exemption, a 30% tax rate may kick in. Schools will evaporate in a moment in that environment. Our Bible Colleges will be strained as well.

3. Decreased giving will strain all churches and ministries. We have long faced Christian apathy and disobedience, but the loss of a deduction for charitable donation will erode giving even more. Couple that with paying taxes on what we do get and that will be financial crisis. I am in no way saying the Lord cannot provide, but that how we do things will change to what is done in other parts of the world today. With this potentiality, even taking on long-term debt or large building projects are tenuous at best.

4. Other changes will follow. It is hard to predict what other dominos that may fall. It may require the churches going underground. Our invitation-to-church approach will likely give way to one-on-one work only

Perhaps this is enough legitimate prediction. My faith in God has not wavered. I still believe He can take care or me and you. Still, I know changes to all I have known will be a challenge for me. Maybe it would be time to pray and prepare our hearts for the handwriting on the wall. And for sure it is time to live for what is really important. If it won’t be important in an underground-church environment, it likely isn’t too important now.

(You know I don’t really like this article myself, but I am compelled to write it. God bless you all!)

Find all articles in the series here.