Category Archives: pride

A Quiet, Deadly Disease

It’s difficult to resist.
It grows in our heart–pastor and people, pulpit and pew.
It taints the way we talk about ourselves, yet sometimes motivates our best efforts.
It makes us ashamed, but lives on pride.
It destroys contentment, but promises happiness.
It rejoices at the losses of others while mourning our own.
It turns everything into itself, and ruins everything by doing so.
It presents itself as defense, but it’s usually on the offense.
It prompts both noble sacrifices and wretched cheating.
It may make us Niccolo Machiavelli or Frederick the Great.
We feel it toward others but resent it being expressed toward us.
It could either make us fearful or stir great courage.
We wish it weren’t there, and yet we hope for its fruit.

The disease: Competition.

It’s been interesting to follow the discussions of church polity (multi-site vs. single site) and well-known pastors (notoriety or celebrity). On one hand, the two discussions can be had independently of one another. But on the other hand, in many of the comments in the different discussions one can’t help but detect a unifying theme: a certain competitive pride.

Pride wears many faces. It has many arms. It’s a hydra.  So, we ought not be surprised that it shows up as competition and that competition itself shows up in many forms.

So, we hear ourselves say things like:

“There are no good churches in my area, so I’m glad people leave their churches to come to mine.”  –Joe Pew

“If the preaching at our church is better than other preaching around, why shouldn’t …


“Pastoral Narcissism: The Shadow Side of Ambition”

A very good article on pastoral narcissism, otherwise known as “pride,” over at CT.  A snippet:

Recently I came home to find my wife researching narcissism on the computer. We have been in counseling for a few years and during a session where we discussed my relentless ambition, the phrase “narcissistic leanings” came up. My wife was researching the concept to see if it fit me and what the implications might be for our marriage.

At first she was embarrassed that I caught her, but I was interested as well, so we read the characteristics of narcissism together on the screen.

My immediate thought was, This isn’t a problem for me. Narcissism is the adulation of the self, the diminishment of others, and often expressed as reckless ambition. Nothing could be more inconsistent with the character of Christ–the self-sacrificing servant who sought only to do the will of his Father. How can I be a pastor, a servant of Christ, and struggle with this?

But as we read the definitions online, without saying a word we both knew we were reading an accurate description of me. I am a believer and yet I remain a sinner. I am a pastor and I’m often a self-promoter. I endeavor to serve Jesus and I also have narcissistic tendencies.

Consider the entire article for a bit of helpful heart-searching, conviction, and grace.  I especially appreciated the way he points to community as both a necessary corrective and also a place of temptation (people pleasing).  Good stuff.  His conclusion:

So …

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What Do You Do?

HT: Mockingbird

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Pride and Knowing God

“In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that — and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison — you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” (italics added)

From C.S. Lewis, quoted in Keith Mathison’s review of C.J. Mahaney’s book,Humility: True Greatness.

Lewis captures well why my mama wouldn’t let me have a Muhammad Ali action figure when I was growing up.  Only my mother was more efficient with her words: “He talk too much, and got the big head.”

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Calvinist Confessions, 2

I am a Calvinist. And I am a Pharisee. This shouldn’t be the case, but it is. Admitting you have a problem is the first step in getting better.

Last time I tried to reflect on how a certain “bent” toward precision, accuracy, concern for detail seems to blend together with the rich exacting resources of Reformed theology and history to make Pharisees of those who lose sight of the object of our attention and affection: Jesus. If you care more about “getting it right” than you care about “getting close to Jesus,” then you’ll drift toward the Pharisees. You’ll swallow a camel and strain a gnat.

But let me not project onto you the things that happen in my heart and head. I am bent toward all those things, and I lose sight of Jesus too often and for too long.

I’m a Pharisee. And I’m a Calvinist. And I’m told and believe those two things don’t belong together. But why do they so often come together, like a dark prize hidden in the Cracker Jacks of the faith?

Here’s the second reason I’m a Pharisee and Calvinist, or, another reason why those two things happen together far more often than they should. The Pharisee and the Calvinist are both suspicious.

Now I’m suspicious of a lot of things, but I’ll just mention one. I’m suspicious of joy. Yep. Now, not my joy. That’s another problem.

No. Like …

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Calvinist Confessions, 1

I’m a Pharisee. And I’m a Calvinist.

Those things should not go together. But they do in far too many instances. The Calvinist should be the last to become a Pharisee. Our theology should keep us humble. Or, so we’re told.

But I’m a Pharisee. And I’m a Calvinist. Which means I’m a bad Calvinist.

Here’s the first reason I’m a Pharisee and Calvinist, or, one reason why those two things happen together far more often than they should. The Pharisee and the Calvinist are both exacting persons. They care about precision, about “getting things right.” They care about the letter because each believes getting the letter correct is important. And it is.

So, there is this “bent” toward intellectual things. There is this tendency to live in our heads. And when that meets with a theological tradition as rich and robust as the Reformed tradition, sparks fly–in our heads. Add to that a pinch of argumentative spirit and out comes the Pharisee.

But you know what’s lost? The spirit, or the Spirit. Sometimes both. The letter kills. That’s what happens with us Calvinist Pharisees.

In my particular case, the letter became pretty important once I realized I had spent a few years of my life giving praise to an idol. Once I realized I had believed a lie and bowed to a god who was not God, well getting things correct theologically became desperately important. …

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Edwards on Pride

Quoted at Christ Is Deeper Still:

“There is no sin so much like the devil as this for secrecy and subtlety and appearing in a great many shapes undiscerned and unsuspected, even appearing as an angel of light. It takes occasion to arise from everything, it perverts and abuses everything, even the exercises of real grace and real humility. It is a sin that has, as it were, many lives. If you kill it, it will live still. If you suppress it in one shape, it rises in another. If you think it is all gone, it is there still. Like the coats of an onion, if you pull one form of it off, there is another underneath. We need therefore to have the greatest watch imaginable over our hearts and to cry most earnestly to the great Searcher of hearts for his help. He that trusts his own heart is a fool.”

Jonathan Edwards, Thoughts on the New England Revival, page 155, edited slightly

Related Posts:Pride and PreachingGood Words on Faithfulness, Fruitfulness, and Pride

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Back in the Day…

Fifty pounds and 20 years ago… when I was in my prime… I still couldn’t do this… not even close! Impressive.


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Make It Plain Preacher!

Derek Thomas asks:

Which of these two statements do preachers most like to hear: a) “I didn’t understand much of what you said, but I love to hear you preach,” or “You know, when I hear you preach I say to myself, ‘I could have seen that in the text”?

Read here for his short response.

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Good Words on Faithfulness, Fruitfulness, and Pride

“Humbled for past unworthiness, let elders work on steadily and prayerfully, looking for and expecting the blessing. There will be fruit of our sowing, for that is promised; and usually we shall see fruit, though that is not promised. Some men have passed away from their work to their reward thinking that they had been of little or no use in the world, when it was found that much good had been done by them. With others, again, there is a tendency to exaggerate in their own minds what they have been enabled to do. While it is very encouraging to know that the Lord has blessed our work, it requires much grace for ourselves to safely see much fruit. Everyone is not led to say, or at least to feel, as Dr. Chalmers did when told of a conversion under his preaching, “That is very humbling.”

“Then we are apt to forget a great principle of God’s Word: “One soweth and another reapeth” (John 4:37). In the rescue of a drowning man, one person might give the alarm, a second might bring a rope, a third might throw it to him, and a fourth might draw him to shore. It could be said truly of all these four that they were instruments in saving the man from death. So it is in the salvation of souls, as proved by the history of individuals. God works all in all, but he often …

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