Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The Jealous King


He was a madman. He exiled or killed off all of his wives. A master of manipulation, he worked to gain the favor of the people above and below him. Known as a “ruthless fighter, a cunning negotiator, and a subtle diplomat,” (Nelson’s Bible Dictionary), he was the first of six King Herods, Roman rulers in Palestine around the time of Jesus’ life. The biblical account presents Herod the Great, a self-designated title, as the narcissist in the Christmas story. He was so bad that when people recognized the leadership potential of his son, the buzz around Jerusalem became, “Herod is great, but his son is greater.” To eliminate the competition, he ordered the assassination of his son.

In direct contrast to the magi, the joyous kings, who came to worship the newborn King of the Jews, Herod was the jealous king. The Herod spirit is an insecure, manipulative, self-serving one.

Narcissism, a term derived from Greek mythology, designates a person obsessed with themselves. Modern psychologists even designate a narcissist disorder for some people, though many people would simply be described as having narcissistic tendencies.

Unfortunately, the church is not immune from this reality. I’ve spent more than twenty years studying the effects of narcissistic ministry leaders on churches and people. I’ve seen it surface in a senior pastor. I’ve experienced it in a pastor’s wife (not my own!). I’ve seen it in a church treasurer. And likely, you may have too. The manipulation and politicking I’ve occasionally – not often – seen in churches by someone with narcissistic tendencies rival anything that happens in Washington, D.C.! And it leaves much damage in its wake.

Earlier this year I read Chuck DeGroat’s recent release from InterVarsity Press, “When Narcissism Comes to Church.” DeGroat offers several characteristics of the narcissistic ministry leader.

Decision-making centers on them. They must keep their hands in the decision-making, and they are offended and angered when people make decisions different than what they would choose.

Impatience and lack of ability to listen to others. He may call his impatience decisiveness, but he lacks curiosity, empathy, and compassion.

Delegating without giving authority. She wants people around her to carry out her wishes, resulting in micromanagement. She may call a team together and ask their opinions, but at the end of the day she instructs them to do what she wants in sundry subjective details.

Feeling threatened or intimidated by other talented people. DeGroat says they often “feign connection in order to woo followers.” They pour it on to people they want to sway, yet they are deeply threatened by someone who does not seem to need them.

Need to be the best and brightest in the room. The narcissistic ministry leader wants to outshine others. In a healthy team, when one person wins, it makes everyone look good. In an unhealthy one, jealousy and turf wars erupt when one person shines. The narcissist needs to be special, needed, and the hero. Henry Cloud writes in his new book, “Trust,” that narcissistic “people have a great investment in being seen as ‘ideal’ or ‘perfect.’ They must be adored and idealized by others in order to feel secure and trust.” A narcissistic parent will even feel threatened by the success of other people’s children and may even target them.

Intimidate others. Highly insecure, “they are always on the watch for disloyalty, and when they find it, they punish it severely.” They see their opinions, views, and the way they would do things as the “right” way. And they will not hesitate from using intimidation to try to back you down into your corner.

Praising and withdrawing. She will pour it on to praise the person that she feels approves or her, submits to her, and can be controlled by her. But watch ought if you disagree with her, because she cannot tolerate disagreement. To her, it is disrespect and worthy of correction. Her correction. When she realizes you will not be controlled, she withdraws – and often begins plotting how to get you out of her system.

The narcissist works hard to control themselves, their family, and those around them. However, staying in control will attack your spirit of joy. Herod was crazy in part because he would not give up control. He tried to perfect his life by controlling everyone around him. But the spirit of joy is in direct contrast to the spirit of Herod.

The Bible describes the magi, after their 1000-mile journey that likely took six to nine months, as being “filled with joy” (Matthew 2:10 NLT). Unlike Herod the Great, they focused on One even greater – the true King of Kings. Seeing themselves as one part of a much grander plan, they served others, valued input from others, and helped others to accomplish their goals.

And the young Child born in the manger modeled the opposite of the Herod spirit. The Creator of the universe came to earth as a vulnerable baby, needed to be carried, nourished, and helped by the very humans He created. Giving up His rights, and giving up any need for acclaim, He humbled Himself.

And because He did, you and I can know everlasting joy. The spirit of great joy comes from submitting to and worshiping the King of Kings - and serving others with your life. Give up your control and trust Him.

Read Lessons Learned from Church Hurt

Pictures used courtesy of Pixabay.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Letting Go of Christmas

Reposted from December 2013 . . .

It is always hard for me to let go of Christmas. 

The fall months are my favorite time of year – all leading up to Christ’s birthday.  For our family, the celebrations begin with birthdays for my wife and I in August and September.  Then each year fun marks October as our children pick out costumes to wear on Halloween.  As the bright leaves of October begin turning into November’s duller hues, my oldest son has a birthday the first week.  After that celebration, we anticipate Thanksgiving, trying each year to give the holiday more attention than simply one Turkey Day.  I pull out some CD’s with traditional Thanksgiving hymns, and we read stories of the Pilgrims.  Thanksgiving Day (or the weekend thereafter) our family works on our Thanksgiving tree, each one writing down specific matters of thanksgiving on construction-paper leaves. 

Thanksgiving afternoon includes Daddy pulling out the sale papers and making strategic plans for Black Friday!  Christmas is the only season when I really enjoy shopping (and when I give myself permission to really splurge and enjoy spending).  Black Friday finds me most years leaving the house hours before the rest of the family awake.  And over the course of that weekend, as Thanksgiving hymns give way to Christmas ones, the Advent season comes alive once again! 

Our family enjoys the various aspects of December.  Tree-decorating always stands out as one of our favorite experiences.  We love unpacking the various ornaments – many that we have forgotten since packing them eleven months ago – and enjoying the memories associated with them.  We have fun Hallmark collectibles ranging from superheroes, Disney characters, and movie nostalgia.  There are classy, blown-glass ornaments including Santas, manger scene people, and drummers from Colonial Williamsburg.  Small treasures adorn our tree as keepsakes from the places we have traveled – a clear holy family that we obtained at The Biltmore House on our honeymoon, a small Ryman Auditorium from Nashville, a beautiful one replicating the barn at The Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, and a red round ball with the inscription “Thomas Road Baptist Church” which we bought to remind us of our December-trips to Lynchburg, Virginia.  There are even ones that remind us of friends from long ago – childhood friends, our families of origin, a star that deflects the light of the tree that was given to me in memory of a dear old friend, Gloria Taylor (the person who gave it called it my “Glo Star” to remember that sweet woman).  During the month we can hear Kermit the Frog sing the rainbow song, the Indiana Jones theme song, and Linus repeat the Christmas story as our children press various buttons on the ornaments with batteries!  What fun are Christmas trees!

We enjoy reading books about Christmas.  One series we have used in recent years explains from a Christian perspective the traditions of the candy cane, the Christmas stocking, the Christmas tree, and the history of Saint Nicholas.  What a rich heritage surrounds Christmas.  I suppose one reason that Christmas is so wonderful is that, whether the world understands it or not, it is as if the modern world adjusts their lives for one month to remember and celebrate what happened at Bethlehem.  You can turn on virtually any radio station – country, rock, classical – and hear people singing about Jesus Christ.   On our CD players we hear The Robert Shaw Chorale singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” The St. Olaf Choir sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” Nat King Cole roll out “The Christmas Song” and “A Cradle in Bethlehem,” Kenny and Dolly frolic and play with “I’ll Be Home with Bells On” Michael Buble croon with “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” Alabama share “Christmas in Dixie,” and The Oak Ridge Boys add my children’s favorite from this year – “A Peterbilt Sleigh!” 

People often take time to be friendlier, to show generosity, compassion, and goodwill during December.   People share their goods with the needy and hungry, often purchasing toys or meals for children or families in want.  Church services abound with songs about Jesus, festive lights and colors, and genuine wishes of cheer and blessing to one another.  Dickens also said, I have always thought of Christmas as a good time; a kind, forgiving, generous, pleasant time; a time when men and women seem to open their hearts freely, and so I say, God bless Christmas!

In early December our family celebrates the birthday of our daughter, often by taking a road trip to Lynchburg, Virginia, to experience The Virginia Christmas Spectacular, a fantastic Christmas show at Thomas Road Baptist Church.

Yes, to me it is the most wonderful time of the year.  Charles Dickens wrote, “There seems a magic in the very name of Christmas.”

I enjoy giving.  I often don’t have the money to give the type of gifts through the year that I would like to people I love.  But Christmas offers an opportunity to find ways to express your love and appreciation to those around you.  I find it a great yearly joy to prepare and give those over-the-top presents for my own children and to enjoy their pleasure in them.  (We chuckled happily at our seven-year old falling on the floor as though he were fainting when he saw that Santa had left him not one or two but six Star Wars action figures!)

The few days before and after Christmas offer time to devote almost completely to the family.  For my wife and I, that may be the best gift of all.  To have a few days to spend in almost uninterrupted leisure together – that is surely a taste of heaven on earth.   Each year I am surprised afresh at how little I long for the outside allurements around Christmas.  Email and surfing the internet hold little appeal, I don’t want to spend any more money on anything after the gifts are purchased, there is little pleasure in engaging the outside world of stores, shopping, and the like.  I suppose it is because when you have focused on Jesus and His coming for weeks, when you have given your best to those you love, and when you take time to really enjoy the people around you – that indeed is  a blessed, contented taste of heaven.  Time to play long with the children without feeling the need to "hurry it up."  Time to say, "What do you want to do," and mean it!  Time to get on the floor and engage the children and play with their toys in their world.  Time to talk with your spouse and enjoy the blessings of marriage!

Oswald Chambers rightly says that the real test of spiritual maturity is not how well one does on the mountain but how well he descends the mountain.  As we walk forward with the afterglow of Christmas 2012  on our backs and still ringing in our ears, may we remember the words of Charles Dickens, “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.” 

May we remember and live our lives in light of the things that really do matter.


Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Hendrix Performs at Liberty University


Our son, Rhett Jr. (Hendrix), and his band rocked the house last Saturday evening at Liberty University's coffeehouse held in the Vines Arena. Watch (below) the L Street Band perform "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Rhett's Interview with Bob Crittendem - The 7 Ps


Here's an interview with me and Bob Crittendem of Faith Radio that recently aired. Bob and I talked about my new book. Click here to listen.

Bob and I talked about the release of my new book, The 7 Ps of Prayer.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Christmas Concert - Rhett and Tracey


Tracey and I enjoyed performing last November at Edwards Road Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina. You can enjoy our concert by clicking here.