Monday, August 08, 2022

Breaking Free from Self-Pity

(Lake Michigan sunset)

In Luke 9:23 Jesus tells us, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Self-denial is necessary to take up the cross and follow Jesus. It needs to be happen every day.

Self-denial involves stripping away negative aspects of the self. These are things like self-love, self-hatred, and self-pity. All are forms of self-obsession. The more self-obsession, the less following of Jesus there will be. Following Jesus is in inverse proportion to self-obsession.

Self-pity is one of the more punishing forms of self-obsession. Self-pity cannot coexist with spiritual renewal and transformation. 

In one of my seminary classes I was talking about holding “pity parties,” when a pastor named Samuel from Ghana asked, “What do you mean by “pity party?”” I said, “Samuel, the next time I host one for myself, I’ll invite you.” Unfortunately, I could write an essay on How To Host Your Next Pity Party.

To be self-pitying is to live life as a victim. While it’s true that sometimes we are victims, there is a spirit of victimization (self-deprivation) that is to be distinguished from the real thing. It looks like this: "Poor me! They are not treating me right - and after all I've done for them!" Such is the self-pitying, angry person. (Can you imagine Jesus acting like this?)

In this regard Henri Nouwen asks, "What else is anger but the response to the sense of being deprived? Much of my own anger comes from the fact that my self feels deprived." When one chooses to express this anger by hosting a pity party, self-obsession has begun.

In Tolstoy’s character Ivan Ilych we see one of the most brilliant literary depictions of self-pitying victimhood. Read closely. He writes: 

"What tormented Ivan Ilych most was the deception, the lie, which for some reason they all accepted, that he was not dying but was simply ill, and he only need keep quiet and undergo a treatment and then something very good would result… The awful, terrible act of his dying was, he could see, reduced by those about him to the level of a casual, unpleasant, and almost indecorous incident (as if someone entered a drawing room defusing an unpleasant odour) and this was done by that very decorum which he had served all his life long. He saw that no one felt for him, because no one even wished to grasp his position… [W]hat most tormented Ivan Ilych was that no one pitied him as he wished to be pitied. At certain moments after prolonged suffering he wished most of all (though he would have been ashamed to confess it) for someone to pity him as a sick child is pitied. He longed to be petted and comforted.” (Emphasis mine.)

Self-pity is in opposition to spiritual renewal and transformation of the heart. 
Someone who holds “pity parties” refuses to take responsibility for their own behavior, and blames others. Self-pity leads to a “victim mentality.” Self-pity needs to be denied access to our hearts, because it keeps us from being fulfilled in Jesus. 

To experience renewal and transformation, be free from defending your own honor and reputation. Experience God as your Defender. Do this by being like a branch attached to Jesus the true Vine, gaining your sustenance from him. You will experience a joy, and a peace, unlike our culture offers, that will exorcize self-obsession.

The Counsel of the Ungodly

Image result for john piippo

Years ago I used to frequent a small coffee shop. I would take a book, my journal, a cup of java, and read and write.

One day the county atheist society was sitting a few tables away from me. Three atheists were there. I was around a corner, with my back to them. I couldn't see them, but I knew the leader. He had challenged me in the local newspaper. He said, "No pastor would dare meet with me!" I responded in the newspaper with my phone number, and a request for him to call.

He did. We met. For two hours. The time was spent trying to help him understand what he was trying to say. I helped him clarify his arguments against Christianity. Then, I showed him where he was wrong. Gently, I hope.

There used to be a group of older men who regularly met in the café. I could hear their lively discussions, though I tried not to. A couple of the men were loud, confident they understood the deeper recesses of politics, economics, religion, whatever. They were experts on every subject, so much so they didn't need to google anything. Yet it seemed to me that no one around that table had a clue of what they were talking about, at least when it came to these matters. I found their counsel uninspiring.

Psalm 1:1 states:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
    Nor stands in the path of sinners,
    Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;

In the little atheist group, and the global wisdom of the old men, we see the "counsel of the ungodly." You often find such counsel in churches, too. Like, e.g., when some Christians one wacthed a movie and told me, "If we build it, he will come."

The counsel of the ungodly is not someone encouraging me to smoke cigarettes, or watch "The Bachelorette." The counsel of the ungodly is, says Dallas Willard, "just the way most people talk." (Willard, Living in Christ's Presence, p. 46)

Willard gives examples.

"The counsel of the ungodly is “Live as if it matters what people think of you.”

The counsel of the ungodly is “Live as if the outcomes of your life are on your shoulders and you control them.”

The counsel of the ungodly is “Live as if aging is something to worry about.”

The counsel of the ungodly is “Live as if satisfying your desires and appetites is central to your well-being and a wise strategy for living.

That's the counsel of the ungodly. It goes on all the time, and we rarely even see it." (Ib.)

Turn on the television - there is the counsel of the ungodly.

"Acquire more," "be successful," "look sexier" - that is the counsel of the ungodly. (Get money, get power, get sexy - see Richard Foster, The Challenge of the Disciplined Life: Christian Reflections on Money, Sex, and Power.) Imagine what might happen if such counsel colonized the hearts of pastors!

Willard writes, "Just listen to the conversations we have with each other, and that’s the counsel of the ungodly." (Ib., p. 47)

What, then, is wise, godly counsel? Psalm 1 continues,

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,    And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
    Planted by the rivers of water,
    That brings forth its fruit in its season,
    Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

This is a life that can flourish.

"There’s a decision that everybody faces, and part of the danger of the world is it causes us to forget that we have to decide who we are going to learn to live from." (Ib., p. 48)

My books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (co-edited with Janice Trigg)

Sunday, August 07, 2022

Two Books I Am Reading this Week, On a Beach


                                                          (Linda, Weko Beach, Michigan)

This week Linda and I head to a Lake Michigan beach area to celebrate our 49th wedding anniversary.

We love sitting on the beach, and reading, and talking, and just enjoy a getaway and being  with each other. 

I'm taking two books with me.                         

First, I am re-reading (for the third time) C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces. I love this book! I have it in paperback. This is a book I want to hold while reading it. 

The second book is my "heavy" read for the week: The Morality Wars: The Ongoing Debate Over the Origin of Human Goodness. This is a collection of essays on metaethics. Metaethics is an area I continue to read in. The Table of Contents is below.

But soon...  coffee, a book, a beach, a great lake, meals together, with my gift-of-a-wife Linda...

The Morality Wars: A Discussion on Why We Are Good Louise Mabille

Part I: The Naturalists

1. A Science of Good and Evil Sam Harris

2. The Origins of Morality in the Human Psyche Bert Olivier

3 .Morality as Delusion Michael Ruse

4 .Return to the Enlightenment Susan Neiman

Part II: The Ambivalents

5. No science of morality Steven Weinberg

6. Misunderstanding Moral Psychology Jonathan Haidt

7. The Use and Abuse of Naturalism for Morality Louise Mabille

Part III: The Theists

8. My God-Given Conscience Henk Stoker

9. Theism as Meta-Ethical Foundation for Morality William Lane Craig

10. Morality as Based on Natural Law Richard Howe

11. Ethics Needs God Paul Copan

12. Biologizing Ethics and the Destruction of Morality John Lennox

Saturday, August 06, 2022

40 Evidences That You May Have Left Your First Love

                                                             (Flower, on our deck.)

This is from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

40 Evidences That You May
Have Left Your First Love

  1. You can go hours or days without having more than a passing thought of Him.
  2. You don’t have a strong desire to spend time with Him.
  3. You don’t have a strong hunger for the Word; Bible reading is a “chore”—something to mark off your “to do” list.
  4. Spending time in prayer is a burden/duty rather than a delight.
  5. Your worship is formal, dry, lifeless, merely going through the motions.
  6. Private prayer and worship are almost non-existent . . . cold and dry.
  7. You are more concerned about physical health, well-being, and comfort than about the well-being and condition of your soul.
  8. You crave physical food, while having little appetite for spiritual food.
  9. You crave human companionship more than a relationship with Christ.
  10. You spend more time and effort on your physical appearance than on cultivating  inner spiritual beauty to please Christ.
  11. Your heart toward Christ is cold and indifferent; not tender as it once was, not easily moved by the Word, talk of spiritual things, etc.
  12. Christianity is more of a checklist than a relationship with Christ.
  13. You measure spirituality (yours/others’) by performance rather than the condition of the heart.
  14. Christianity is defined more what by what you “do” than who you “are” (“doing”  vs. “being”).
  15. Your obedience and service are motivated and fueled by expectations of others or a desire to impress others, more than by passion for Christ.
  16. You are more concerned about what others think and pleasing them, than about what God knows and pleasing Christ.
  17. Your service for Christ and others is motivated by a sense of duty or obligation.
  18. You find yourself becoming resentful over the hardships and demands of serving Christ and others.
  19. You can talk with others about kids, marriage, weather, and the news, but struggle to talk about the Lord and spiritual matters.
  20. You have a hard time coming up with something fresh to share in a testimony service at church or when someone asks, “What’s God been doing in your life?”
  21. You are formal, rigid, and uptight about spiritual things, rather than joyful and winsome.
  22. You are critical or harsh toward those who are doctrinally off-base or living in sin.
  23. You enjoy secular songs, movies, and books more than songs or reading material that point you to Christ.
  24. You prefer the company of people who don’t love Christ, to the company and fellowship of those who do.
  25. You are more interested in recreation, entertainment, and having “fun” than in cultivating intimacy with Christ through worship, prayer, the Word, and Christian fellowship.
  26. You display attitudes or are involved in activities that you know are contrary to Scripture, but you continue in them anyway.
  27. You justify “small” areas of disobedience or compromise.
  28. You have been drawn back into sin habits that you put off when you were a young believer.
  29. “Little” things that used to disturb your conscience, no longer do.
  30. You are slow to respond to conviction over sin—or you ignore it altogether.
  31. You enjoy certain sins and want to hang onto them. You are unwilling to give them up for Christ.
  32. You are not grieved by sin—it’s no big deal to you.
  33. You are consistently allured by certain sins.
  34. You are self-righteous—more concerned about sin in others’ lives than in your own.
  35. You are more concerned about having the right position than the right disposition.
  36. You tend to hold tightly to money and things, rather than being quick to give to meet the needs of others.
  37. You rarely give sacrificially to the Lord’s work.
  38. You rarely have a desire or burden to give, when you hear of legitimate financial needs within the Body, your church, or a ministry.
  39. Accumulating and maintaining material “things” consumes more time and effort on your part than seeking after and cultivating spiritual riches.
  40. You have broken relationships with other believers that you are unwilling or have not attempted to reconcile.
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: "The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands."
I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent . . . .
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."
(Rev. 2:1–7)

Friday, August 05, 2022

Take My Class on "Deconstructing Progressive Christianity"


I'll teach my class, Deconstructing Progressive Christianity

in Renewal School of Ministry.

Six Monday nights, beginning September 19.

8 - 9:30 PM EST.

 I'll teach my book, plus additional research I have done since the book was published.

Cost: $10 (for six sessions)


Questions? Email me at:


1. Introduction: What Is Progressive Christianity? 

2. The Roots of Progressive Christianity: Political Progressivism 

3. The Roots of Progressive Christianity: Postmodernism 

4. Are Beliefs Less Important than Behaviors? 

5. At the Same Table, but Not on the Same Page 

6. Can We Know Who God Is? 

7. Can We Know Who Jesus Is? 

8. Is the Atonement “Cosmic Child Abuse?”

9. Was Jesus Really Raised from the Dead? 

10. What About the Supernatural? 

11. The Battle for the Authority of the Bible 

12. Marriage is Between and a Man and a Woman 

13. The Myth of Progress 

14. Love and Wrath 

15. For Such a Time as This

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Social Media - Come to the Coliseum


                                            (Fireworks at Monroe County Fairgrounds)

Johnathan Haidt is one of my favorite culture-analysts. His Coddling of the American Mind remains one of the most helpful books I've read in the past few years.

I collect Haidt's essays. I am looking forward to his coming book Life After Babel: Adapting to a World We Can No Longer Share. Haidt previews the book in this interview, and in his recent essay "Yes, Social Media Really Is Undermining Democracy (despite what Meta has to say)."

In America we are in a post-Babel world, a world where we no longer understand one another. We are numerous tribes, with different narratives (mostly non-reflexive). This is a world of "“toxic polarization”—signaled by declining “respect for counter-arguments and associated aspects of the deliberative component of democracy.”" 

Our social media platforms are mostly "echo chambers," where we only hear the sound of our own voices. "Researchers who measure echo chambers by looking at social relationships and networks usually find evidence of “homophily”—that is, people tend to engage with others who are similar to themselves. One study of politically engaged Twitter users, for example, found that they “are disproportionately exposed to like-minded information and that information reaches like-minded users more quickly.”"

"A major feature of the post-Babel world is that the extremes are now far louder and more influential than before. They may also become more violent. Recent research by Morteza Dehghani and his colleagues at the University of Southern California shows that people are more willing to commit violence when they are immersed in a community they perceive to be morally homogeneous."

I find Haidt's analogy of a coliseum spot-on. Social media platforms are Roman coliseums, to which we are all invited to both engage in and behold the human carnage. Sadly, as I see it, Christians accept the invitation as well. 

Haidt writes:

"The fear and cruelty of the post-Babel era are a result of its tendency to reward public displays of aggression. Social media has put us all in the middle of a Roman coliseum, and many in the audience want to see conflict and blood. But once we realize that we are the gladiators—tricked into combat so that we might generate “content,” “engagement,” and revenue—we can refuse to fight. We can be more understanding toward our fellow citizens, seeing that we are all being driven mad by companies that use largely the same set of psychological tricks. We can forswear public conflict and use social media to serve our own purposes, which for most people will mean more private communication and fewer public performances."

Which is why I discourage Jesus-followers to reject slaughtering those with whom they disagree, for a bloodthirsty audience to behold. But will this happen? As for now, it looks like... not.   

How to Have a Civil Discussion on Gay Marriage

(Rail road bridge, Monroe, MI)

(I periodically re-post this, to keep it in play. Over the years I have written several blog posts affirming marriage as between and man and a woman.)

I believe the core issue is one of authority. What is your authoritative text. Whose voice or voices do you bow before? 

Pause here. Everyone has their authoritative text, whether it is written or not. So do you. Most do not reflect on this.


For a Jesus-follower the question is: Does the Bible affirm sex-same unions? 

If you are not a follower of Jesus, or if you are an atheist, then - of course - this question has no relevance for you. But, again, you still have a worldview. The philosophical question is: Is your worldview correct?  

Is it possible to get beyond a shouting match and have a civil discussion?

I believe so. Here are the steps to take, as I see things. 

Below is my flow chart for having a civil discussion on gay marriage. (BTW - our culture has already decided on this one, sans understanding. But, in matters of Christian understanding, the moral pronouncements of the prevailing culture are irrelevant. It's like using the sport of throwing horseshoes to critique the game of tennis. Within the worldview of Christian theism, this remains a discussable issue.)

This process is a slow-cooker. In my case it has spanned almost five decades of thinking, studying, researching, dialoguing, and praying. You probably do not have the time to do this. But note this: If you are unfamiliar with the relevant literature, then do not hastily judge me. (Like, "How hateful John is!") 

Here's the template. 


On a scale of 0-10, how authoritative is the Bible for you (with '0' being no authority, and '10' being fully authoritative). This is the first matter that must be discussed, without which there will be no meaningful outcome.


If the Bible has no authority, or very little authority, then the Christian discussion is over. Because, of course, we will disagree on same-sex marriage. There will be a kind of "clash of civilizations" (following Samuel Huntington - see below*).

However, I am interested in the person who gives the Bible little or no authority. I want to ask them: "What text (narrative) is authoritative for you? Have you thought about this?"

Again, if someone goes to Step 1a, then the intra-Christian discussion is over. But, since everyone has a worldview, a narrative they live by, what is theirs? And, should one respond "I have no guiding narrative," that itself is a guiding narrative, to which I will ask for some justification.

After years of teaching philosophy, I have concluded that few people understand and evaluate their worldview. And note again: the rejection of all worldviews is itself a worldview. Like, e.g., the rejection of all metanarratives is itself a metanarrative (contra Foucault, et. al.).


To say that the Scriptures have great authority is to say they guide and influence our faith and life. They are not just occasionally read, but studied and looked to and lived by.


We must handle the Word of God correctly, or rightly.

To do this requires study. Two good books on how to interpret the Bible are:

That is, to enter more fully into this discussion at this point, one should have some understanding of principles of biblical interpretation. Everyone cannot invest decades of study into this. But it helps avoiding horrendous mistakes in reading the Scriptures. For example, context is important in the interpretation of anything, to include interpreting the Bible. Because a text without a context is simply a pretext to say what you want the text to say.


This is the question for followers of Jesus who give the Scriptures great authority.

As Craig Keener writes"My primary vocation is as a Bible scholar, and I need to explain the text faithfully."

Correct. The issue here is: what does the biblical text say, as opposed to what we might wish the text would say.

This is why, e.g., what the prevailing cultural wisdom says is irrelevant to the interpreting of the Bible, and any text, for that matter.


The person who ends up here must justify their interpretation of Scripture, and conclude that God affirms same-sex unions. They might find themselves agreeing with people like Dan Via (presents view #2) and Matthew Vines, et. al., for example.


The person who ends up here must justify their interpretation of Scripture. 

At this point I have long laid out my cards on the table. I'm with Keener (and N.T. WrightBen WitheringtonTim KellerRobert GagnonWesley Hill, Francis Chan, et. al) when Keener writes: "I believe that the biblical passages about homosexual behavior are fairly clear... most exegetes, whether they agree personally with Paul or not, still regard Romans 1 as disagreeing with homosexual practice... I would be happy to be persuaded otherwise, but so far it continues to appear to me that this is where the exegesis strongly points."

Here's where I land on this. This has been our church's position since its inception. Marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman, established by God as the foundation of family and human society reflecting the nature of Christ’s sacrificial love and devotion for His bride, the Church.

Another excellent resource here is: Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?

Does this mean I hate people who disagree with me? Of course not. (See here.)

Does loving someone mean I affirm all of their beliefs? Of course not. (See here.)

For some SSA (same-sex attracted) Christians who hold to the orthodox view of marriage, see...

Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting

David Bennett, A War of Loves (Foreward by N. T. Wright)

Becket Cook,  A Change of Affection (Foreward by Francis Chan)

Greg Johnson, Still Time to Care

* "It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.

Samuel P. Huntington. The Clash of Civilizations? The Debate: 20th Anniversary Edition (p. 3). Foreign Affairs. Kindle Edition. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

It's Linda's Birthday!


Wednesday morning, August 3. 

It's Linda's birthday!

I met Linda in 1970 at Northern Illinois University. We were part of the same campus ministry.

I was attracted, not only to her physical beauty, but to her heart, to her spirit. And, most importantly, to her unwavering love for Jesus.  

I thank God regularly for giving me Linda, my beautiful wife and life partner. 

She has a vast personal ministry to many people. 

She is a source of wisdom for constant callers. 

She is a compassionate God-seeker and prayer warrior. 

Linda has a fierce, loyal, unswerving faith in Jesus. 

She is a piano/vocal teacher, imparting more to her students than musical abilities.

She has many gifts, and uses them for the glory of God. 

She is a phenomenal mother.

And now, a grandmother!

She is a great support and strength to me. I could not do what God has called me to do without her.

Thank you God, for giving Linda to me, and to so many others.

Happy birthday!