Monday, June 8, 2020

Narcissists in the church

The term narcissist in common usage is often associated with vanity and self-centeredness. However, clinical narcissistic personality disorder goes much deeper than that. A simple layman definition can be summarized with the three E's. A narcissist acts Entitled, are Exploitative, and lack Empathy. Because of a rise in the frequency of this disorder, many blogs and YouTube channels have sprung up in the last decade to assist in dealing with their abuses. So I thought it time to address it myself.

While the average narcissist would never be a part of anything as altruistic as a church, there is a specific type that will. Which would be "the communal narcissist." They will often align themselves with a cause, charity, or religion; but their motivation is not for a greater good. They do it for the praise they receive, and to deceive everyone into believing that they are good people. (Which they are not) While they may technically do some good, albeit for the wrong reasons. They can also do much harm as well. So these stealthy and covert individuals need to be dealt with very strategically. So we will go over ten important things we need to know about the communal narcissists we may encounter in the church.
  1. Whitewashed tombs. (Matthew 23:27-28) While they go to great efforts to project an image of perfection. The one person they are trying to convince the most is themselves. Underneath all the bravado, there's a very insecure person with a very fragile ego. So they need as much grace and understanding as anybody. So don't be too quick to boot them out of your church. You never know when you might be able to get through to their heart of stone. So pray diligently for these damaged people.
  2. Very dangerous to confront them. They don’t like being vulnerable, so they are very prone to outbursts of rage if you back them into an emotional corner. They may also start to spread gossip about you to discredit anything bad you may say about them if you do so. So it’s best to not let them know you are on to them. It is quite impossible to reason with a narcissist, so you can easily get sucked into an adversarial relationship if you try. If they are truly doing more harm than good, then the safest way to get rid of them is to make sure everyone stops feeding their ego. The narcissist will only associate with people and institutions that stroke their ego. (That person who is always hopping from church to church MAY be a narcissist.) 
  3. Know how to fake empathy. As indicated before, a true narcissist has no empathy and doesn't care who they hurt to get their way. So any so-called empathy they seem to be projecting is all an act for the sake of their church persona. Don't be deceived by it.
  4. Habitual liars. They will say absolutely anything to maintain their false persona and get what they want out of you. So don’t be surprised if they tell you exactly what you want to hear Sunday, only to deny saying it Monday.
  5. Live by double standards. They are hypocrisy personified, and often defame any institution they are connected to because of it.
  6. Never admit to a mistake. They will play the hero, or even the victim, but never the one at fault. Even when presented with irrefutable evidence. 
  7. Judgmental. They are very critical people, offering lots of unsolicited advice. As well as being very vocal with opinions about people they find inferior. 
  8. May seek positions of authority. Narcissists love power, but the only person they are really serving is themselves. They will try to direct everything to revolve around them and their preferences with said authority. If they don’t have an official position yet, they will likely bully those in power with veiled threats. Constantly reminding leaders of their perceived obligations to them. (Congregational type churches that give as much authority to its laity as clergy tend to be more narcissist friendly.)
  9. May use their money to influence people. While some narcissists are tightwads but don’t be surprised if they can be quite generous with their offerings. They will make sure everybody knows it too because it’s only done for praise, admiration, and camouflage, not the good of the church. Also, do not be surprised if they suddenly withdraw financial support if they are not getting their way.
  10. Steal affirmation from others. If someone else accomplishes something good or is recognized for their deeds, a narcissist will likely try to make it seem like the person in the limelight owes their success to them. If that is not an option they will just plain dismiss and belittle that achievement. A narcissist cannot stand someone getting more attention than them.

Did you notice all the negative church stereotypes on the list? Apparently, this has been an issue far longer than our current heightened awareness of the disorder. All the more reason to address it. Just remember, they are often experienced advisories, so you can be like a sheep facing a wolf. So it's important to remember Christ's words of "be as shrewd as serpents, but innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16) A narcissist can very well be that proverbial mountain that needs to be moved, (Matthew 17:20) so one truly needs divine guidance and strength to make it happen. So I urge you, seek that first if you have a communal narcissist in your church. So, you can maintain your integrity despite them.

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. -Philippians 1:15-18


a man exalting himself above God to the devils delight.
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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Pruning Season?

I once had a pastor who used to always say, we practice Christianity, not church-inanity. He probably needed to remind himself of this as much as everyone else. I made an Instagram post about this idea recently, asking people to consider that this pandemic may be casting a light on this distinction. However, maybe the corona effect on the church goes even deeper than that.

I say that because many churches are utilizing online worship via social media to maintain social distance, and it is proving to be an unexpected source of outreach. Many guests are tuning in searching for comfort and guidance in these crazy times. People who would not necessarily feel comfortable walking into a brick and mortar church. Churches who are still giving 100% despite the limitations are finding they are reaching far more than they ever did with a traditional face to face service. Where the churches that are submitting to the less than ideal circumstances, and are just doing the bare minimum; they are not seeing these same benefits. There have also been reports of people watching 3-5 services per week. Giving regular churchgoers plenty of opportunities to see what else is out there.

Granted it’s too early to say for sure, but I would have never predicted what has happed several weeks ago. But what I am getting at is that before all this is over, the less enthusiastic churches may end up getting pruned from the vine, so to speak. Allowing the more fruitful parts to thrive all that much more. This may be a hard pill to swallow for some, but it may very well be necessary to get the church universal back on track again. By narrowing our focus, and consolidating our talents towards a common mission once again. So you may want to consider this post a fair warning.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. -John 15:1-8


God pruning off the deadwood
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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A backwards question.

"With so much evil in the world, how can you believe in a loving God?" I'm sure we've all heard a nonbeliever utter something like that many a time. To me, this is a flimsy excuse for dismissing God. When you get down to it, if you will not put your hope in God the creator, then your only other option is humankind and what it creates. For example, if you put your hope in things like fame, fortune, possessions, comfort, convenience, praise, self, accomplishments, or relationships, it all comes back to mankind and its cultural expectations in one way or another. Yet there is no denying that all the evil in the world originates with selfish people. Specifically when people seek their own good, instead of following the will of God. Or sometimes people trying to misrepresent God for self-serving means. So why are we blaming the one individual who is not responsible for all the evil in the world, only to put our hope in what's actually to blame? To me, the question is backward. It is we the church that should be asking "With all the evil in the world perpetrated by humanity, how can you possibly put your faith in mankind?" The human race is the most unreliable thing on the planet if you ask me.

Granted, God could make all this evil go away if he made us all puppets, but that wouldn't actually mean anything. Nothing we do, good or evil, would have any relevance at all if we did not have freewill. People may like to self-delude themselves through forced submission, but an all-knowing God will not. The strange thing about humanity's relationship with freewill is we all want it for ourselves, but we don't necessarily want others to have it when it's an inconvenience to us. So we expect God to change the world to suit us, yet we ourselves refuse to change. Consider just how much of our energy is spent on trying to take away the freewill of others, just so we don't have to change ourselves. Just another example of how unfair humankind really is.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? -Jeremiah 17:9

A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.-Psalm 33:17



a man angry at God for allowing his own freewill to hurt him
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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Can we save without seeking?

A licensed therapist once told me that most of his patients were simply looking for approval, acceptance, or some other form of validation. Not that you have to be a student of psychology to see the reality of that. So the church should be at an advantage, with Jesus offering the ultimate unconditional love. However, that does not seem to be the case much of the time, since so many so-called believers are so conditional with God's love.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” -Luke 19:7-10

In Jesus' own words, he came to "to seek and to save the lost." Words uttered in reference to a man who was viewed as a sinner. A man who was a tax collector, a group of people who were perceived as thrives who sided with their oppressors. A man who had no approval, acceptance, or validation from his fellow Hebrews.

Over two-thousand years later, what has changed? While there are a few exceptions, but for the most part most are uncomfortable with seeking and saving the lost as Christ did. We will condemn, criticize, and judge them in a futile attempt to save them. But we will not seek them and get personally invested in order to save the lost. Yet, somehow we rationalize such unloving actions despite it being doctrinally unsound.

If you really want to abuse those you find unworthy, there are other religions that make allowances for that, however, Christianity is not one of them. Not that we need any religion to lead us down the path of human nature's tendency to exclude and hate. So for that reason alone I must dismiss any belief that condones humankind's self-destructive sinful nature, including the shaming of the lost. Such practices cannot be divinely inspired. How can what's considered a symptom of narcissism ever be considered holy after all. No, it's far more likely that the practice originates in the wicked hearts of mankind.

Yes indeed it's in our nature to seek approval, acceptance, and validation from our peers. Yet it's not in our nature to offer it to just anybody. So if we really want to follow the path of the righteous, then one must defy that nature. Not just because we must seek the lost people who make us uncomfortable, but also because our peers will likely judge us for it. Just as Jesus' own people did with him.

I have stated it all very bluntly. If you find yourself convicted by this, I challenge you to ask God to examine your heart, so you will better understand your own failures so that you might be able to repent in a deep and significant way, and not merely in a surface superficial way.


illustrating how to disciple
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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

A kingdom without walls?

Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. -Hebrews 6:1-2

This passage came to mind while attending a Lenten study called The Walk. I say that because it was rather basic beginner stuff, more like a crawl if you ask me. The author himself even called it foundational; hence, the passage. In a way, I was glad it was cut short because of the quarantine. Yet, where I was unimpressed, it seemed that many others there ate it up. While there is indeed a need for basic foundational teaching for those new to the faith; however, I happen to know most of the people there did not qualify. Many of them have been a part of the church longer than I have been alive. So it seems rather apparent that some two-thousand years later, we are dealing with the same issue that the second generation church was.

Let me start by saying in a way it is proper that this blog comes right after Easter. To quote a friend of mine ”We know that the resurrection changed things, but we need to pay attention to ALL of the ways it should change things…” Dare I say “self” should be at the top of the list of changes.

Christ established a foundation that his church would ultimately build God's kingdom. We honor that by becoming a pillar in his kingdom. (Matthew 16:18) Yet if too many of his followers are content to remain in a safe and familiar place by revisiting the foundation repeatedly, not much of a kingdom will be built upon earth. This would surely explain the church's present situation.

Let's consider the ramifications of this. If one were to remain in the basic truths of forgiveness and salvation, one will not progress with the transformed life that leads to genuine holiness as the passage alludes to. This means we won't likely become missions-minded, which is necessary to expand the church. If we don't challenge ourselves, then we are ill-equipped to answer the hard questions that come up when witnessing. This has absolutely been downright harmful to the growth of the church.

While a true disciple must indeed learn to walk with God, not just crawl. One must remember, we cannot learn to walk without many falls, bumps, and bruises. Which touches on what may be at the heart of the problem. It seems that many in the church play it safe, thinking it’s better to not try than fail. That it’s better to crawl through life, instead of risk stumbling. As if God were so strict that we are required to get everything right the first time. When in Reality the biggest failure a Christian can make is to never try.

An example of the disciples failing to try, and Jesus’ reaction. Matthew 15:10-20

An opportunity for the disciples to redeem themselves. Matthew 16:5-12


Another possible reason is we just don’t want to disrupt our lives as is. Let’s face it dedicating our lives to mission, evangelism, or outreach isn’t always going to be easy. So by remaining in foundational truths, instead of building ourselves up as a disciple, we won’t have to risk inconveniencing ourselves.

No matter the reason, I'm sure it all comes back to one thing, self. We stay in the realm of introductory foundational truths for our own perceived good. This may be true, in the short-term, but in the long term, we are doing ourselves a great disservice. Since the church universal, is suffering for a lack of spiritual maturity, so it's ill-prepared to be there when and how the lost need it to be right now.

So my challenge to you on this day is this. Ask God to examine your heart on this matter, so you can honestly ask yourself these things. Am I acting in faith, or just fear or a desire for comfort. Am I a vital part of the structure of the kingdom of God, or am I a part that’s too weak to bear any load? Am I living the resurrected life, or am I still in the tomb?

a man wanting to raise walls on a foundation but his follwers are too apathetic to do so.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The fast we didn't ask for.

The other day someone told me that they hoped the quarantine would be over before Palm Sunday so that it wouldn't ruin Easter. Understandable, but then again, maybe this pandemic is more serendipitous than we realize. It is the season of Lent after all, which is a time of giving things up. Where we attempt to let go of the physical world so that we may be in a better position to take hold of the spiritual one. Yet because of circumstances, we all find ourselves in where we must go without. Maybe we should not let this moment go to waste, maybe this happened now of all times because God is telling the church that we've gotten far too attached to this world and its comforts. That it is an invitation to seek him in a more intimate way.

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. -2 Chronicles 7:14

Why do you think some people are panic buying? Is it not because they do not want to endure going without basic comforts and convenience. If you honestly believed that this world is all there was, why wouldn’t you respond in a self-centered way that could be detrimental to others. Yet, since they are all fixated on what they must go without right now, they are condemning themselves to misery, even with their stockpile.

Yet for the believer, I would encourage you to seize the moment and seek what you might have been neglecting within your faith. It is always a good time to grow after all. Even when we don't know our next move, or all else seems to be at a standstill, we can always seek spiritual maturity through prayer and study. So often when we are waiting on God, he is actually waiting on us to seek him.

May I suggest, instead of asking for a quick end to all this. Ask what good can come from it all.


a man so entangled by the world he can not seek higher things.
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Saturday, December 7, 2019

Prosperity?

Within the church universal, there is a rather predominant conflict between those who preach a prosperity gospel, and those who call that teaching absolute heresy. The thing is they both make compelling arguments. Still, I think they are both missing the mark with this issue. What we really need to look at is what scripture reveals about prosperity. If we don’t do that, our definition runs the risk of being worldly, instead of spiritual. Let’s face it, if one simply follows their longings and emotions, our perception of prosperity will likely revolve around things like comfort, ease, convenience, fame, or fortune. How does that compare to spiritual prosperity though? One could write a whole book on this subject, but let me highlight but a few key points.

Let's start with the concept of ease. Name a single person in the Bible who had an easy time of it? You can't do it, because not even Jesus himself had it easy. So why do believers assume that they are entitled to an easy life. For example, I once saw a video online of a dramatic car crash. It was posted by the driver, and the description said God must have been with him to have survived such a horror. Yet, a commenter posed the question, if God were really there, why didn't he just prevent the crash entirely. A common perception of those who look only at the surface. Yet, how would you have even known God had done anything that way? God isn't as visible during calm waters, yet the hand of God is often most visible as we overcome the storm that dwarfs us. (Exodus 7:1-6)

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28

An often quoted verse that seemingly points to a warm and fuzzy prosperity that people want. Yet if we consider the broader context, that idea falls apart. This one verse is referring to a future glory, yet the entire passage reveals that we will have to suffer through labor pains to obtain that good. I challenge you to look it up for yourself, so you can stop taking it out of context.

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. -James 1:2-4

This builds upon the last verse, which reveals that God wants his children to grow and mature. Which happens in times of trial, not comfort.

Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. -1 Kings 19:3-8

We see God comforting Elijah in this verse, but notice it comes in the midst of the trial, not as a replacement for the trial.

Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, “Who is the Lord?” or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God. -Proverbs 30:7-9

People often have extremist notions about wealth. That it has to either be a defining characteristic of prosperity, or an absolute evil. This passage puts things into a balanced perspective. Money is indeed needed to survive in this world, so no need to take a vow of poverty. Yet, if we put all our hope in it, we can alienate ourselves from God.

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength. -Philippians 4:11-13

Verse 11 is often quoted by itself, and not in context. One thing we often forget is that Paul wrote this from prison. 

There is indeed a prosperity gospel, but I hope you realize now that spiritual prosperity is about strength, faith, endurance, and contentment. Not a life inside a glass bubble free from trials and storms, as the world defines it.



a man deflecting lightning in a storm
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