Wednesday, January 27, 2021

How to Be a Pastor

Image result for john piippo eugene peterson pastor pray
(I spent several hours praying in this spot when I was in Eldoret, Kenya - gum trees, I was told.)

Are you a pastor? Do you feel called to be a pastor? What does "pastor" mean?

I love being a pastor.

I am still learning how to be a pastor.

I have looked to some pastors about how to be a pastor. One is Eugene Peterson. I never met him. I did I talk with Eugene on the phone once, for less than five minutes. I was inviting him to speak at a pastors conference in Michigan. He was gracious as he told me he would like to to it, but could not. He said, "I'm out of gas." 

Peterson was out of gas, but his words start fires.

Peterson's book The Pastor has been important to me. He shares what kind of pastor he wants to be.

  • "I want to be a pastor who prays. I want to be relaxed and reflective and responsive in the presence of God."
  • “I want to be a pastor who reads and studies. This culture in which we live squeezes all the God sense out of us. I want to be observant and informed enough to help this congregation understand what we are up against."
  • “I want to be a pastor who has the time to be with [people] in leisurely, unhurried conversations so that I can understand and be a companion with [them] as [they] grow in Christ—[their] doubts and [their] difficulties, [their] desires and [their] delights."
  • "I want to be a pastor who leads in worship, a pastor who brings [people] before God in receptive obedience, a pastor who preaches sermons that make scripture accessible and present and alive, a pastor who is able to give [people] a language and imagination that restores in [them] a sense of dignity as a Christian in [their] homes and workplaces and gets rid of these debilitating images of being a ‘mere’ layperson."
  • "I want to be an unbusy pastor." (P. 278)

I like this. I want to be a pastor like this. 

It requires a long obedience. In the same direction.

Nothing Has Separated Us From the Love of Christ

Image result for john piippo first baptist church joliet illinois
(Redeemer sanctuary)

When Linda and I were pastors at First Baptist Church in Joliet, Illinois (back in the mid-70s), our church hosted a coffee house. Every Saturday night, twenty to fifty young adults would gather in the basement of our building. Someone would bring a teaching. And, we would worship.

The worship stayed with me. We had great instrumentalists, and some phenomenal voices. Some of those songs, repeated over and over, have become the furniture of the room that is my heart.

One was a simple worship song that repeated Romans 8:35:

Who can separate us from the love of Christ? 
Can affliction or hardship? 
Can persecution, hunger, nakedness, peril, or the sword?

Follow Jesus long enough, and you will go through some of these things. Most have experienced affliction, hardship, persecution, and peril. Linda and I have had the death of loved ones. We have experienced persecution, sometimes coming from within our church families. We have known financial hardship (many pastors have, BTW). I have encountered perilous situations while ministering to people in dark environments.

And... there are these days we all are now in.

Still, through it all, the experience of God's love remains.

Love is an experience, not a theory. (See Leading the Presence-Driven Church, Chapter 2, "The Case for Experience.")

God's love is felt. It is known, in the Hebrew sense of knowing. 

Linda and I have never been cut off from this.

Dallas Willard writes:

"When our first child was born, I realized painfully that this beautiful little creature was separate from me and nothing I could do would shelter him from his aloneness in the face of time, brutal events, others’ meanness, his own wrong choices, the decay of his body and, finally, death. 

That would be the last word on the subject, except for God. He is able to penetrate and intertwine himself within the fibers of the human self in such a way that those who are enveloped in his loving companionship will never be alone." (Willard, Hearing God Through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional, p. 51)

Paul concludes with these words. Write them on a card. Carry them with you today. Read them often. Ingest them. Draw them on a poster. Hang the poster on the walls of the room that is your heart.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors 
through him who loved us. 
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, 
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future, 
nor any powers, 
neither height nor depth, 
nor anything else in all creation, 
will be able to separate us from the love of God 
that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-39

My first two books are...

Praying: Reflection on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing...

Technology and Spiritual Formation

How God Changes the Human Heart: A Phenomenology of Spiritual Transformation

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

To Disagree Is Not to Hate

(Tree roots - Lake Erie - Monroe)

(I'm reposting this to keep this ball in play.)

Here's a note to all who want to sit around the table and have interfaith dialogue. Interfaith dialogue is hard work, because you have to address different religious beliefs. The way you address them is not to affirm disparate beliefs. There will be no authentic interfaith dialogue if that happens. 

When I was a campus pastor at Michigan State University (1981-1992) I met with many religious leaders. We all held different core beliefs. In some cases, our worldviews were diametrically opposed. Obviously, we did not agree on many things. Did this mean we hated each other? Of course not. To label someone a "hater," or accuse them of "hate language," just because they don't agree with whatever your position is, is uncivil and irrational. (Welcome to the new world of microaggressions and cancel culture. See The Chronicle of Higher Education for university examples.)

We who are followers of Jesus are called to agape love. This love is so radical it even instructs us to love our enemies! People in my church, and those who follow me on this blog, know I have been praying to love even those who are my enemies. Jesus' command to love tells me it is possible to love people who hate me and come against me. Surely, then, I can love people who disagree with me.

To feel anger is not to hate. Over our forty-seven years of marriage, Linda and I have had moments of anger towards each other. But this does not entail that we hate each other. What we do with our feelings of anger can lead to hatred, which is not what God wants. When we are told to "be angry, but don't sin," this means anger does not equal hatred. To still love, even when in disagreement, even when angry, is a sign of spiritual maturity and freedom.

As a follower of Jesus, I am not allowed to say these words to anyone - "I hate you." 

Conversely, saying "I agree with you" is not to love. Agreeing or disagreeing has nothing to do with love or hate. Love and hate concern how we respond when in disagreement, when feeling anger.

I learned a lot about disagreeing with others in studying philosophy. Philosophy classes are arenas of formulating arguments and evaluating them. Every formulation is subject to evaluation. Evaluation produces tension and a conflict of ideas. Many times, in those sometimes-intense discussions, I heard words like, "I believe you are wrong about that," or "I disagree with what you just said, because..."  

Of all the philosophy professors I had, only one was unwelcoming of disagreement and dialogue. The rest were dispassionate and, as much as anyone can be (because no one can perfectly be), objective.

Philosophical disputing was welcoming and inviting. And, there was significant questioning and disagreeing.

Lying in the background of all this are the Platonic dialogues. Here is where the art of respectful disagreement was learned. All philosophers have been shaped by these forums.

Philosophy classes taught me how to disagree without hating. I learned that disagreement is not logically equivalent to hatred. Hatred, when it happens, is a sad non sequitur to disagreement. It was sad that Socrates was killed by the hatred of some who failed to understand him. The way Socrates handled this has been a model of disagreeing while not hating.

My philosophy professors expected disagreement and questioning. They made the classroom a safe place. I learned that a safe place is not a place where everyone agrees about everything. A safe place is a place where people can disagree and learn and grow in wisdom.

A safe place is a place where disagreement is accompanied by love and respect. An unsafe place is a place where disagreement breeds hatred.

A safe place is a place for civil discourse. An unsafe place is a place where you don't have a voice.

A safe place is a place where people come first to understand, and only after understanding is achieved, to evaluate. An unsafe place is where people judge without understanding.

A safe place is a place where you can be angry, but sin not.

Anger is not hatred. A parent can be angry with their child, and not hate them at the same time.

Anger is the emotion you feel when one of your expectations has not been met. Hatred is rooted in anger. Hatred is not the emotion, anger is. Hatred is a sinful expression or response or reaction rooted in anger. Anger is an emotion you feel. Hatred is expressed in something you do.

To disagree is not to hate.

To feel anger is not to hate.


My three books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

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

I am writing... (because I believe God has called me to write)...

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Linda and I will then co-write our book on Relationships

Welcoming and Sometimes Disaffirming

                                         (Redeemer - getting ready to worship!)

(I am re-posting this to keep it in play.)

I was asked the question, "Would a Muslim be welcome in your church?"

My answer is: "Yes!"

And Buddhists and Hindus and atheists, too.

I would be thrilled if people of differing beliefs came to my church. Even atheists. When I was teaching at MCCC, some atheists would sometimes come on Sunday morning to check us out. I was so glad to see them there. And a few atheists became followers of Jesus as a result!

I loved them. And obviously, my love for them did not include affirming the belief that there is no God.

Someone asked me this. "If a Muslim came and asked you to affirm their belief that Jesus was merely a prophet (and not God the Son), and that Jesus did not die on a cross (the Koran says this), would you affirm this?"

My answer is: "Of course not." And, BTW, the serious, practicing Muslim would not affirm my belief that Jesus died on a cross to atone for the sins of humanity. I have dialogued with some Muslims about this, even with a Muslim leader from the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn.

What does it mean to "affirm" something, or someone?" "Affirm" can mean, to agree with. Or, "affirm" can mean, "I value you." But this does not mean I value all your beliefs. From my Christian point of view, I want to affirm what God affirms. As far as I can tell, God does not affirm the following Muslim beliefs: Jesus was only a prophet, and Jesus did not die on a cross. (Note: If you want to have true interfaith dialogue with a Muslim, you disrespect them if you do not talk about how our core beliefs are different, and expect them to affirm your core beliefs. But there are those who know more about this than I, one of them being my friend J. S.)

Welcome and love people? Yes. Even enemies? Read here. And here

Affirm every belief people have? No. To do that is neither loving nor truthful. And, BTW Jesus didn't affirm all the beliefs the people and religious leaders had.

Is it loving to welcome but not affirm? Of course. To love someone is not equivalent to affirming every belief they bring with them. That would be disingenuous. I have had a few atheists over the years tell me they respect the fact that I can be gracious towards them while not affirming their beliefs. One atheist looked me square in the eye and said, "I respect you for not affirming my atheism. That's why I am interested in you."

The atheist Christopher Hitchens said the same, and castigated both Christians and atheists who mindlessly and hypocritically affirmed everything, no matter what. (See The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist.)

The philosopher skeptic David Hume said the same. There's the story of Hume getting up at 5 AM to travel to hear George Whitefield preach. Asked if he believed what the preacher preached, he replied, "No, but he does!"

No one affirms everything. Probably, people disaffirm more things than they affirm.

Much depends on a person's worldview. It is within a worldview that affirming and disaffirming find their place. Everyone has a worldview. Even the view that there are no worldviews is a worldview. The question becomes: Is my worldview true? That is, is my worldview the way things really are? This is not the special province of Christians. Everyone believes their worldview represents the way things really are.

Everyone affirms and disaffirms. It is unloving to expect, even force, someone who does not share your worldview to affirm it. But we can try to understand. And then, evaluate. And then, in a civil way, disaffirm. (Unlike life at American universities today, which mostly are disaffirming and not welcoming.)

"Could an atheist teach atheism in your church as something God affirms?" Of course not, for what seem to me to be obvious reasons.

"Could a Muslim be one of your youth leaders and teach your youth that Christ did not die on a cross?" Of course not.

"Would you, John, be allowed to be a youth leader at the Islamic Center of America, and tell Young Muslims that the Koran is wrong, and God is a Trinity of Persons, in One?" Definitely not!

"Could someone teach your people that marriage is not limited to a man and a woman?" No.

"Does that mean you don't love people who have beliefs contrary to the Jesus way?" Of course not!

The idea that we ought to love everyone, even our enemies, finds its most powerful formulation in Christianity.

The idea that we should affirm every belief is unloving, and pop-culture nonsense. If love meant affirming everything people believe, we would love no one, not even ourselves, not even God.


Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

With Janice Trigg - Encounters with the Holy Spirit  (June 2019) 

Monday, January 25, 2021

One Way Humanity Is Not Progressing, But Regressing


In 1977 I taught a course on prayer, to Master's students at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. Since then I have taught countless seminary classes, seminars, and conferences on praying and spiritual formation.

Almost anyone who has done likewise admits that, in spite of all that technology has given us, tech-saturated humanity has spiritually regressed. Call this 'regressive', and 'regressivism'.

Here's a quote from Thomas Merton that confirms spiritual and moral regressivism.

"Though man has acquired the power to do almost anything, he has at the same time lost the ability to orient his life toward a spiritual goal by the things he does. He has lost all conviction that he knows where he is going and what he is doing, unless he can manage to plunge into some collective delusion ['progressivism'?] which promises happiness (sometime in the future) to those who will have learned to use the implements he has discovered." [Progressivism as a utopian myth?]

Further corroboration of regressivism can be found in Sherry Turkle (Reclaiming Conversation), and Greg Lukionoff and Johnathan Haidt (The Coddling of the American Mind).

I subscribe to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Regressivist concerns are regularly expressed there.

One can consider Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World can be seen to support, not moral progressivism, but moral regressivism, in spite of technological advances, which are utilized by morally regressive humans.

Overcoming Fear

(Lake Erie - Monroe)

Do I ever feel afraid? Yes.

One thing I do to combat fear is to meditate on biblical truths. The more I meditate on them (saying them over and over...), the more they descend from my mind into my heart.

Print these verses out. Take them in. Memorize some of them.

As the apostle Paul said, "Whatever is good, whatever is true, whatever is beautiful, think on these things." (Philippians 4:8)

God has not given us a spirit of fear...

God's love "casts out fear."

33 Verses to Remind Us - We Do Not Have to Fear:

1.  “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
2.  “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3
3.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
4.  “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” John 14:27
5.  “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
6.  “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18
7.  “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” Psalm 94:19
8.  “But now, this is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1
9.  “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” Proverbs 12:25
10. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
11. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
12. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34
13. “Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that he will lift you up in his own good time.  Leave all your worries with him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7
14. “Tell everyone who is discouraged, Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue…” Isaiah 35:4
15. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:22-26
16. “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1
17. “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” Psalm 55:22
18. “Immediately he spoke to them and said, 'Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'” Mark 6:50

19. “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
20. “'For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.  Do not be afraid, for I myself will help you,' declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 41:13-14
21. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1
22. “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?  The Lord is with me; he is my helper.” Psalm 118:6-7
23. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” Proverbs 29:25
24. “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Mark 4:39-40
25. “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” Psalm 34:7
26. “But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats.” 1 Peter 3:14
27. “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.  He freed me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4
28. “Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you.” Deuteronomy 3:22
29. “Then he placed his right hand on me and said: 'Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.'” Revelation 1:17
30. “Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’” Mark 5:36
31. “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” Romans 8:38-39
32. “The Lord your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” Zephaniah 3:17

33. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”…He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.  You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.  A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you…For he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways…“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.  He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him…” from Psalm 91:1-16

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Every Statement Draws a Line


(Flowers in our front yard)

I believe the following propositions (i.e. 'statements') are true:

1 - God exists.

2 - Jesus is God incarnate.

3 - The only way to God is through Jesus (Jesus is, e.g., "the door").

These beliefs marginalize many people. To marginalize someone or something means to draw a line and exclude them. Proposition 1 (P1) marginalizes atheists. P2 marginalizes atheists, Muslims, and most Jews. P3 marginalizes all non-Christians and even some Christians who deny the truth of P3.

Such is the nature of truth. Truth always marginalizes. "Truth," whatever it is (e.g., as a property of statements), is not all-inclusive. (See, e.g., philosopher Simon Blackburn's book Truth: A Guide.) Every statement draws a line. Every statement expresses a belief. Therefore, every belief excludes someone, or something. This is often good. 

Motor oil is not a soft drink. Motor oil is excluded, banned, from the soft drink aisle. A line has been drawn. This is good. 

Only children are allowed on the playground equipment. A sign is posted, saying: No adults on the playground equipment. A line is drawn. I am excluded.

Here is something that shocks most of my logic students, because they are so postmodern-relativistic: If a proposition (statement) is true, it is true for everyone. Truth, in logic, is binary. Either true or false. We may not know which.  That doesn't change the binary nature of a proposition. (See this, e.g., on truth-functional propositional logic.)

Consider the statement Detroit is the largest city in Michigan. This statement is either true or falseIf it is true, it's true for everyone, everywhere, cross-temporally. If someone thinks this statement is false (while it is true), then they are wrong. (But aren't some things "true for me" but "false for you?" For example: For me, it is false that God exists. But this statement, if true, is true for everyone; viz., X thinks it is false that God exists. If that is true, then it's true for everyone. Note what is not being claimed here; viz., It is false that God exists. That's an entirely different proposition. And, if it is true, it is true for everyone. On the "subjectivist fallacy" see the text I use to teach logic - The Power of Critical Thinking, by Lewis Vaughn; Chapter 3.)

All persons have a worldview, a belief system. One's beliefs can be articulated in a series of statements. The beliefs of other people marginalize me, because I think they are false. Consider these three beliefs (propositions).

4 - God does not exist.

5 - Jesus is not God incarnate.

6 - There are many ways to God.

P4 marginalizes all theists, such as myself. P5 marginalizes most Jesus-followers. P6 marginalizes Christian exclusivists such as myself. (See here Alvin Plantinga's essay "Pluralism: A Defense of Religious Exclusivism," Found in Louis Pojman's Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology.)

To say that P4, P5, and P6 "marginalize" me is to say they do not include me. They draw a line, and I stand in opposition to the beliefs. I am outside the margins of any worldview that believes P4, P5, and P6. 

P6 may sound inclusive, but it is not. I am not included in the inner circle of P6-ers, because I believe P6 to be false. If P6 is good news to some, it is not good news to me, and I am not included in the celebration. (I think P6 is untenable for reasons that, e.g., Stephen Prothero gives in his book God Is Not One.)

Every proposition has a certain level of arrogance attached to it. Consider, e.g., the following:

7 - I am now writing this sentence.

P7 is, I believe, true. Or, a moment ago P7 was true, but now P7 is false. But still, P7's truth was only prob
able, and someone could reasonably believe it was false. Nonetheless P7's arrogance-level seems to me to be low. Which means that most would accept P7 as having been true a moment ago.

Now try this:

8 - One should never try to convert others to one's own way of thinking.

P8 seems to have a high arrogance-level. Because P8 is itself a way of thinking that is being forced on someone like me who thinks P8 to be inherently false. P8 functions for me in the same way that P3 functions for others.

Let me try one more.

9 - Christian theists like Piippo think they are right and that people who disagree with them are wrong.

But of course. But so what? That is the nature of propositional thinking. 

A proposition is a sentence that is either true or false. In logic there's no "true for me" stuff (i.e., don't commit the "subjectivist fallacy"). Every proposition contains a level of epistemic arrogance that necessarily marginalizes those who dissent.

This is unavoidable. Every proposition marginalizes. Every belief that engages you disengages someone else. Every belief disinvites someone to the party.

Every statement draws a line. Don't freak out about this.

Tolstoy on Victimization and Self-Pity


Tolstoy on Victimization and Self-Pity

                    (Green Lake Christian Conference Center, Wisconsin)

All of us have been victimized. Someone has done something hurtful to us that we did not bring about or deserve. We've all had that experience, probably more than once. And, surely, we have victimized others. We have punished someone wrongly, with our words and actions.

There are true victims.

There are also people who hold on to their victimization. It becomes a badge of their identity. They are a victim. Call this a spirit of victimization. They don't get over it, and they won't get over it. Victimization has become an illness.

A spirit of victimization exudes self-pity. Tolstoy, in The Death of Ivan Ilych, describes the sickness of self-pity in exquisite detail: 

"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 odor) 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.)

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 happening every day.

Healthy self-denial involves removal of 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. 

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, the self-obsession has begun.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Angry Blamer Is the Imprisoned Victim

(Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan)

A year ago we read of another beautiful demonstration of the power of forgiveness. A police officer accidentally shot and killed a man in their apartment complex. The deceased man's brother was in the courtroom when the officer was sentenced to ten years in prison. When it was the brother's turn to speak after the sentencing, instead of raging at the officer, he said, "I forgive you." Then he asked the judge if he could give the officer a hug. (See here.)

The maturity of this man contains many messages. One is: We don't have to live as angry victims the rest of our lives. That... is true freedom! (As opposed to what is commonly seen - like the person who leaves their spouse, or their friends, or their parents, or their religion, claims to now "be free," but demonstrates their bondage by unleashing hatred against the spouse/friends/parents/church that hurt them.)

To better understand how to be free from a victim mentality Linda and I strongly recommend John Townsend's book The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success in Doing Hard Things the Right Way.

One of the bitter fruits of entitlement is externalization. Townsend writes: "People with an attitude of entitlement often project the responsibility of their choices on the outside, not the inside. The fault lies with other people, circumstances, or events. They blame others for every problem." (p. 61)

The worship songs of externalization are...

"It's Them, It's Them, It's Them O Lord, Standin' in the Need of Prayer," and...

"Change Their Hearts, O God." 

Externalization-people fail to look at their part in their problems. "Instead, they default to answers outside their skin. The result? They tend to be powerless and unhappy. They tend to see life through the eyes of a victim. And their suffering is unproductive — it doesn’t get them anywhere." (Ib.)

The classic victim mentality is:

"Yes, I did what was wrong. But you forced me to do it." This is a testimony to human character weakness. The characterless "victim" persists in recruiting other characterless people for the self-justification of evil. They engage in perpetual destruction of others, not to mention their own soul.

"Blame," writes Townsend, "is a first cousin to entitlement." 

The constant blamer is the perpetual victim. The antidote to this bondage is to reject forces outside yourself and take responsibility for your own choices and attitudes. Be open to seeing yourself as the problem. Reject a global victimization that views yourself as someone who is always being "done to," and own your own part in your problems. 

Forgive those who have trespassed on your heart. Take responsibility for your own trespassing.


My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

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

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then, the Lord willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.