Formula E429 could change your life!

One of the best ways to improve our communication is to replace destructive tones with constructive ways of speaking to each other.

Words of appreciation and encouragement are excellent alternatives to ugly tones of grumbling, whining; impatience, frustration and defensiveness.

Think of how many times we could defuse a situation by choosing better words and tones. Parents especially need to ask if their words and tones set the right example for their children. 

Use Formula E429 to remind yourself of God’s will for our speech. The formula is based on Ephesians 4:29 – “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29, NLT).

Then apply a large dose of the first two characteristics of love: “Love is patient, Love is kind…” (I Corinthians 13:4).

This could literally change your life and the lives of those close to you!

WARNING LABEL

This advice comes with a warning about how easily we excuse our attitudes, words and tones by pointing to the difficult people around us. Remember the basic truth that the only person you can change is yourself. But by working on self-correction and experiencing personal change, we can powerfully influence others. So if you feel stuck in a bad place, find ways that you can change your attitudes, words and tones. But start with the words and tones you use because this discipline will make you face and confront your attitudes and emotions.

Recognize how all of this change fits under the work God is doing in your life based on these truths:

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all … are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (II Corinthians 3:17-18, NIV).

“Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:12-13).

I have work to do. Will you join me?

Steve Cornell 

See also: Spiritual Depression

Forgiveness is an act of worship

Have you ever thought of forgiveness as an act of worship?

Jesus said, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25).

Forgiveness is the choice not to hold things against another. Forgiveness is absent when one holds things against another. This is what we call resentment and it is a root cause behind many personal and societal problems. It’s the tendency to bear grudges and it often leads to revenge.

Holding against

Many people go through life collecting grievances (perceived or actual) and then storing them in their memory bank — specifically, in what I call their grudge account. Rather than forgiving an offender, they choose to nurse their anger; to lick their wounds and to sludge in their grudge.

This way of life is rarely traveled alone because misery enjoys company. It validates our resentment when we can find people to commiserate with us in our grievances by swapping grudge stories. Some throw pity parties to seek solidarity with others in their resentments.

Those who habitually collect perceived rather than actual grievances are in a different category. These people behave in narcissistic pathologically paranoid ways. They’re narcissistic because they think people think about them more than people do and pathologically paranoid because they imagine people are continually against them. They people who are self-destructively self-absorbed and must come to even deeper levels of repentance by embracing Jesus’ call to self-denial.

“Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”

But Jesus’ words “Forgive him” are hard to hear when you’ve been badly hurt. I recall more than once, people responding, “Forgive him?!” “Not after what he did to me!”

Does Jesus ask us to become morally neutral about the wrongful and damaging behavior of others? Is he asking us to pretend nothing happened and let our offender off the hook?

One thing is clear from Jesus’ words, whatever else forgiveness involves, it’s the opposite of “holding something against” someone. Forgiveness requires an act of “letting go” or “releasing”— a refusal to “hold against”.

Empty your grudge account

But this act of releasing is not a superficial or feigned act of erasing or ignoring the wrong committed against us. Letting go of an offense does not require moral neutrality about right and wrong. We’re not required to let the offense go into some imaginary zone of forgetfulness.

Forgiving is an act of worship that takes place in the presence of the God who is the righteous judge of all the earth. Forgiveness is an act of releasing the offense to the God who said, “Do not take revenge, …but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

I am suggesting that forgiveness is first and foremost a matter between you and God, not you and your offender.

When someone hurts us, we tend only to see the horizontal significance of what occurred. “This is about me and the one who hurt me!” we insist. For those who worship God, however, life is primarily about God and secondarily about them. In the rest of Mark 11:25, Jesus reminded us that even our grievances must be dealt with in relation to God: “…if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Do we earn God’s forgiveness?

When Jesus related forgiving others to God forgiving our sins, was he suggesting some form of conditional or earned system of forgiveness? Is this a quid pro qo arrangement (favor for favor)? No! Our forgiveness from God is based on God’s undeserved favor received through Jesus Christ. It’s not that we earn God’s forgiveness by forgiving others, but that God expects His forgiven people to forgive. When forgiven people don’t forgive, God is not worshipped— He is dishonored (See: Matthew 18:21-35).

This is where worship connects with forgiveness. When we forgive, we “let go of” instead of “holding on to” or “holding against.”

Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God the hurtful actions and consequences of the wrong done to us. God has sole prerogative of vengeance (Romans 12:19). If the one who hurts us is to be punished, it is God’s right to punish him. When sinned against, turn to God and worship Him by acknowledging His authority as Judge. Acknowledge that any judgment against the one who wronged you is His right — not yours.

Forgiveness as worship is not surrendering or neutralizing our sense of morality and justice. This is not a cheap “letting off the hook” of the one who hurt us. It’s not a mental exercise in forgetting or a feigned effort to trivialize evil by saying, “O well, we’re all sinners.” It’s an act of worship before the final Judge.

On this view, forgiveness is not solely about me – what happened to me and who did it. It’s about God—who He is and His authority as Judge.

Worshipping God, not using Him

Forgiveness is an act of releasing to God what rightly belongs to him. Since God is “the Judge of all the earth who will do what is right,” releasing to God places the offence in the purest context of judgment. Forgiving is releasing the grievance and the offender to God’s all-knowing perspective and to the perfect balanced of justice and mercy. This honors God by placing matters into His hands and His timing.

But this approach to forgiveness must not be corrupted into a “God will get you” mentality. Worship is not an effort to use God; it’s an act of humbling yourself before Him.

When forgiveness becomes worship, the offended person humbles herself before God honoring and confessing Him as judge and trusting Him to uphold His judgment as He chooses and in His time.

Unexpected blessing

In this act of “letting go” or “releasing to God,” the one who forgives is also released and empowered to live out the radical prescription of Romans 12:20-21: “On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. …. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Punishment of wrongdoers

Please don’t leave this subject with the final words from Romans 12. The connection with Romans 13 is important in any discussion of forgiveness. According to Romans 13:1-4, sometimes God executes His wrath (compare 12:19) and punishment of wrongdoers through the agency of human government (see esp. Romans 13:4). This strengthens the point that forgiveness is not a matter of moral neutrality.

When the one who wrongs you receives punishment from a God-ordained authority, it’s right to support and honor the role of government in punishing wrongdoers (see: I Peter 2:13). We honor this role of authority for the glory of God and the good of society. Yet endorsement of just-punishment must never be sought as a means for vindictive and vengeful intention. If tempted toward this response, turn to God is worship based on Romans 12:18-21.

When we’ve been wronged and the punishment of the wrong-doer becomes a matter for human government, we cannot sincerely support such punishment with the right spirit until we prayerfully apply the teaching of Romans 12:18-21.

An invitation

This is an invitation for those who bear grudges to worship God as the only rightful judge of evil. Turn your grudge over to the Judge! Recite His deep moral opposition to the evil committed against you and surrender every desire for revenge to His prerogative in punishing evil (Romans 12:19).

If God chooses to (or involves you in) mediating His judgment through ordained human authority, honor and support those authorities for fulfilling their divine role (see: Romans 13:1-4), but check your heart against seeking false and destructive satisfaction through personal revenge.

The connection between Romans 12 and 13 offers the important reminder that forgiveness does not require a surrender of our sense of right and wrong.

We need the grace of God to apply these truths with sincerity and humility.

Prayer

“God, please help me to worship you when I’ve been hurt by others. You have forgiven my sins and each day I remind myself that you have not dealt with me as my sins deserve. I release my grudge to the Judge and trust you with the outcome.

Steve Cornell

See: Moving From Forgiveness to Reconciliation

A needed word on Christian counseling

 

In a conversation with a medical doctor about anxiety and depression, he expressed frustration to me over the number of times he will diagnose significant levels of anxiety or depression only to be told that a patient’s pastor or friend warned against medicine and suggested a spiritual solution.

“This kind of five Bible verses and you’ll be better approach,” he said, “is far more common than many realize.”

Sadly, the doctor is right. Yet he acknowledged the common and misguided tendency among doctors to reduce these challenges to medicinal solutions. Over-prescription is a serious problem, but Christians should not react by choosing another extreme. Those who take the “five Bible verses and you’ll be better” approach risk discrediting the very Scriptures they offer. They also fail to leverage a great advantage available to Christian counselors.

We need more teaching on this subject because far too many Christians are quick to sound like an authority on a subject simply because they know a Bible verse or two about it. This approach is causing Christians to lose credibility in an area where they actually have far more to offer.



I told the doctor that when I counsel people I start with an assumption that they have a full line of moral credit. I treat them as individuals who can accept and pay for their debts. Out of respect for their dignity as beings made in the image of God, I view them as capable, responsible and accountable.



Yet I remain aware that life is not always easily reduced to raw choosing. We need to guard against a tendency within the Church to make all of life a matter of choice — of obedience or disobedience. We should counsel others with compassionate consideration toward the complexities that so often shape life.

This means (among other things) that we must take seriously the multidimensional nature of life in a fallen world. Christians must resist the tendency to approach people one-dimensionally — as if they were only spiritual beings in need of spiritual solutions. God created us as more than spiritual beings. Scripture itself reveals four dimensions of human life. We are…

  1. Physical beings with bodily needs.
  2. Social beings with relationship needs.
  3. Psychological beings with cognitive and emotional needs.
  4. Spiritual beings with a need for God.

Christian counselors have a unique advantage of being able to approach people holistically based on these dimensions. I say advantage because many other disciplines will not consider the spiritual dimension of life.

If I consider it inadequate when counselors or doctors leave out the spiritual dimension, why would I do the same with other dimensions? It is disrespectful to the truths revealed in Scripture to approach people one-dimensionally.

Scripture also reveals (what is empirically verifiable) that humans are fallen or sinful beings and that each dimension has been corrupted by our fallenness. This is why Christian counselors cannot accept idealized views of human potential apart from God’s grace and power. But it is also why the human body fails.

We should be grateful for the medical discoveries that help us with our physical needs. The most complicated human organ is the brain and it too can benefit from medicines that have been discovered.

A thorough Biblical understanding of humanity ought to protect us from simplistic reductions of life’s challenges. God has made us physical, social, psychological and spiritual beings and each dimension should be considered when counseling others.

We also must understand the dimensions of growth in spiritual maturity. While approaching people holistically, our ultimate aim should be to assist them in a life-process of bringing their lives into conformity to the will of their Creator. This involves our intellect (as we use our minds to explore God’s truth), our will (as we increasingly yield to God’s authority), and our emotions (as we cultivate godly affections).

Christian counselors do not treat people as products of impersonal chance. Since we know that there is a personal Creator, we call people to more than horizontal perspectives about life in a temporal world. Scripture reveals this amazing truth about Jesus Christ that, “all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). Our counseling must always point people to the Lord and sustainer of life.

The Church of Jesus Christ is called to show neighbor-love and true care for one another (Romans 12:10; 13:9-10; Galatians 6:1). Yet we must resist an all too common tendency to be overly zealous in offering quick and easy answers for the issues that trouble others. I realize that we’ve been told that the Bible speaks to every issue of life. And Scripture is a treasure of truth to guide us in a broken world.

Is it adequate, therefore, to share a verse or two of Scripture with a person who tells you about his struggle? This might be just what a person needs to hear — in some cases. Yet it is rarely all that is needed.

The approach that troubled the doctor is often guilty of careless listening that is more focused on answers than understanding a person’s problem. We need to practice patience and grow in mercy.

The virtues of gentleness and wisdom should be on full display among us when counseling others. Let us treat people respectfully and compassionately based on the four dimensions of life. This is a great advantage of Christian counseling.

Steve Cornell

* Please consider sharing this post with others.

Two essential movements in a Church

Centripetall-vs-CentrifugalTwo motions or forces of movement serve as helpful illustrations of the function of a healthy core group in any organization.

  • Centripetal movement/force draws something or someone toward a central point.
  • Centrifugal movement/force pushes something or someone away from the center.

These movements are helpful ways to understand and build the interior life of a local Church (or other organizations).

  • Centripetal force is an assimilating dynamic. It refers to the centering effects of the core commitments of a core group.
  • Centripetal force is a dis-similating dynamic. It refers to the purging effects of the core commitments of a core group.

Like the water draining from a tub, centripetal magnetic effect draws toward a central place by collective motion. In a Church, the core group provides this motion as it holds core beliefs and values and functions to draw others toward them.

For example, if a core commitment is to remain positive and solution focused, the core group will function to draw others toward this way of seeing things. But if a person determines to remain negative, the core group also creates a centrifugal force by purging out attitudes and perspectives that contradict the core commitments. 

If a core commitment is to avoid gossip, the centrifugal force of a core group will be felt by the person who gossips among them. The hope, of course, is that group dynamic can draw others toward godly attitudes, speech and actions. But protecting the health of a group will likely require both assimilating and dis-similating dynamics.

This same dynamic occurs in athletics. During a game a teammate who “gets his or her head out of the game” is typically surrounded by teammates who draw them back into focus. Those who are “head cases” will either not make the team or be purged from it. 

In a local Church, I put this under the plan outlined in Ephesians 4:11-16 where the leaders equip the people and the people become established in the truth in a way that produces collective stability and maturity. When opposing forces try to sway those who have been equipped, the core group protects the internal life of the Church in ways illustrated by centripetal and centrifugal movement.

The function of centripetal force is illustrated in Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25.  The function of centrifugal force is illustrated in Romans 16:17-18.

Have you seen these two motions/dynamics in your Church, team, group or organization? 

Steve Cornell

Get perspective!

It’s easy to lose perspective in a fallen world. Have you ever had a time when processing life became difficult? A time when you found it hard to keep a good and godly perspective?

There are many examples in Scripture of godly people who lost perspective about God and life.

Servants of God like Job (Job 3:10-13,16); Moses (Numbers 11:13-15); Elijah (I Kings 19:1-4), and Jonah (Jonah 4:1-10), all lost perspective so badly that they wanted to die.

Perspective (or how we choose to see things) can make a big difference in the quality of life.  We can’t always choose our circumstances but we can usually choose our perspective toward them.

Some life-controlling perspectives

1. Discouragement

Maybe you’re discouraged. Life has been hard and you’re having trouble seeing through your difficulties. Discouragement, at a deeper level, is a loss of perspective.

2. Negativity

Do you expect the worse to happen? Do tend to see the dark side of things first? Perhaps through setbacks or disappointments, you’ve even become very negative, cynical and sarcastic. You’re looking at life through the lens of pessimism but you feel like your just being realistic.

3. Anger

Are resentment and anger your primary lens for life? Perhaps you always have a slow burn under an outwardly pleasant veneer. Anger can erupt at any time and rule your life. Is anger an occasional disruption or the way you process most of life?

4. Complacency

Have you become complacent? Perhaps you’ve just stop caring because you feel that caring doesn’t help and often leads to hurt. Maybe you’ve drifted from God and you no longer take spiritual matters very seriously. 

5. Self-absorbed

Are you all about yourself? Is life about how you feel and what you want and you, you, you? Does it always have to be your way and about you?

All of these involve perspectives — ways of seeing things or construing life. What is your general outlook on life? Does you feel like your attitude is caught in a bad flight pattern? If you’re stuck in one of the perspectives above, you might need some counseling to help you move forward (some perspective sessions).

And please remember that your perspective not only affects you. All of those who must relate with you or who are under your influence are affected by your perspective.

How to keep a good and godly perspective

My recommendation for maintaining a good and godly perspective is as simple as it is profound. And it might change the way you approach the Bible and thus change your whole outlook on life in a way that conforms to God’s will.

We simply must recognize that all Scripture was given for perspective formation.

Consider what the Apostle Paul taught about the origin and role of Scripture: 

II Timothy 3:16-17

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to:

  1. teach us what is true and
  2. to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.
  3. It corrects us when we are wrong and
  4. teaches us to do what is right.

God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (NLT)

God’s Method

God’s method for changing you is that you “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Ephesians 4:23 describes it as being “made new in the attitude of your minds.” God is committed to changing your outlook, attitude or perspective! (cf. Philippians 2:3-5).

Romans 14:13 specifically challenges us regarding this:

“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about (προνοιαν) how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” 

The italicized words in english come from a greek term which means “a pro-visionary way of thinking.” Another translation says, “make no provision for the flesh” (NASB). Another says, “don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires” (NLT)

To overcome sinful attitudes, perspectives and emotions, one must see things differently. One must “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” How does an appropriation of Christ to one’s life (clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ) offer a different pro-visionary thinking? How does it provide a gospel-based outlook that counter-veils the wrong way of thinking?

Two Provisions from God

Perspective is often closely associated with personality or temperment. Transformation in this area doesn’t mean that we all become the same personality type or temperament, but that we all yield our personalities and temperaments to the transforming influences of two divine provisions:

  1. The Spirit inspired Word - all Scripture.
  2. The Spirit indwell community - the reinforcement of godly perspective through connection with our local Church.

Notice that the Holy Spirit is the agent of spiritual transformation (see, II Corinthians 3:18) and His two primary instruments are the Word (Scripture) and the Church — the community of believers (see, Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25).

We believe that Scripture is God’s revelation of Himself and His ways of dealing with His creatures. Apart from it, we’re reduced to subjective human opinion and speculation about God, life, suffering, death and eternity. We would have nothing that offers univocal and universal authority transcending human culture and opinion. We would have many human stories but no original story to shape perspective. The Bible provides this for us!

Of course, the Bible was not originally written to us – but it was all written for us. And it presents God’s dealings through different times of history — which means we do not apply all of it the same way. We must “rightly handle it” (II Timothy 2:15).

So when reading the Bible, some things relate specifically to the original recipients (and seem foreign and strange to us) —-but from the text emerges truths that transcend time and culture! (Examples: II Corinthians 1:3-5, 8-9; 4:16-18; 12:7-10; James 1:1-5).

When you enter the Bible, I am encouraging you to see it as a “perspective formation session with God.” Your personal devotions offer a time to get perspective or to maintain godly perspective. 

Again, all scripture is given for perspective formation.

Three unique perspectives 

What the Bible offers is different from positive thinking books or other material in that it confronts us with:

  1. Vertical truths for the horizontal issues of life
  2. Eternal truths for the temporal circumstances of life
  3. God-centered truths for the self-centered default mode of life.

The Bible also answers really important questions about origin, meaning, morality and destiny. 

Remember that behind actions, emotions, and attitudes are ways of thinking (perspectives) that fortify the actions, emotions, and attitudes.

Why do I do this? (you’re struggling with habits and actions). Why do I feel this way? (you’re struggling with emotions). What we need is counter-veiling ways of thinking (perspectives) to confront ways of thinking that hold us in destructive ways of life. This is the role the Bible fulfills.

Loss of perspective must be challenged by daily perspective forming sessions with God.                                        

Don’t try this alone

We cannot do this alone. God designed that we flourish in community not in isolation. We must allow others to speak into our lives to reinforce vertical, eternal, God-centered perspectives. The Church is God’s ordained place for this to happen. 

When we lose perspective, we’re tempted to travel in the company of those who share our outlook. “Misery likes company.” To maintain good and godly perspective, we need to travel with people who reinforce it (see: Hebrews 10:24). 

Steve Cornell

Biologically based sadness

Church people are sometimes well-intentioned but hurtful when they approach all discouragement as a matter of simple obedience to the Lord.

Discouraged people often need words of encouragement and even admonishments. Yet we risk doing more harm than good if we always approach sadness and despair as merely matters of choice. Some kinds of sadness have physical causes that cannot be adequately managed by choosing to see things differently. Biologically based depression cannot be treated exactly the same way as intense normal sadness.

The following one-liners are sometimes thoughtlessly spoken to discouraged people:

  • “Just cheer up!”
  • “Don’t be so negative!”
  • “You have a lot to be thankful for!”
  • “Complaining is a sin!”
  • “Do you think God owes you a better life?”

The key to helping someone who is battling despair is to patiently ask caring questions about their struggles. Seek to understand the full picture before handing out advice. Don’t be too hasty to launch advice at people in ways that are not helpful and perhaps serve our egos more than their needs.

Please remember that the brain is perhaps the most complex human organ. A good friend of mine is a neurophysiologist and, more than once, I’ve consulted with him about the neurological challenges people experience. He fully affirms that (like all other organs), the brain doesn’t always function in health producing ways. Relatively recent discoveries in the field of neuroscience have provided hope for those who suffer with neurological issues like depression.

I am grateful for the medicines available to assist those who struggle with depression. And those who benefit from such medications must never be made to feel embarrassed about it. They are no different from those who take medications for deficiencies in other bodily organs. Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, but woefully and tragically fallen.

Those who battle prolonged and debilitating depression that negatively affects their daily lives and relationships should be directed to seek medical counsel. They should also be encouraged to be open to the possibility of medicinal aid.

Yet medicinal aid must never be understood as the total solution to depression. We are more than bodies with physical needs. The other dimensions of our being (spiritual, emotional, psychological and social) must receive thoughtful attention in our battle for health. A holistic approach respects all the dimensions of personhood created by God.

Steve Cornell

See also:

When words cannot restore trust

Among people who have been loved by God, “love covers a multitude of offenses” (I Peter 4:8).

Forgiven people forgive others. Where minor offenses occur, forgiveness and reconciliation will restore relationships to true unity. Those who withhold restoration over minor grievances are not behaving consistent with gospel-based love (see: Ephesians 4:32-5:1). Where such love is lacking, immaturity and manipulation often threaten unity.

But when we have been deeply or repeatedly sinned against, forgiveness does not necessarily require immediate restoration of the same level of relationship with an offender. Even when God forgives our sins, He does not promise to remove all consequences created by our actions.

Being forgiven, restored, and trusted is an amazing experience, but it’s important for those who significantly hurt others to understand that their attitude and actions will affect the process of rebuilding trust. Words alone are not enough to restore trust in such cases.

When a husband speaks harshly to his wife in a way that is out of character, his acknowledgement of sinning against her should be received with forgiveness and restoration. If he repeatedly speaks this way, he should expect his acknowledgements of wrong to be more difficult to receive. If the pattern continues, his wife could appropriately tell him that she forgives him but will not accept his harshness in the future without consequences.

When someone has been significantly hurt and feels hesitant about restoration with her offender, it’s both right and wise to look for changes in the offender before allowing reconciliation to begin. This is especially true when an offense has been repeated.

See: Seven signs of true repentance and Instruments of godly sorrow

Steve Cornell

Is it wrong to be proud?

It might surprise you to know that pride comes first in the longstanding list of seven deadly sins.

In Scripture, “a proud look” (or “haughty eyes”) tops the list of seven things God hates (Proverbs 6:16-17).

Yet most people agree that there is a type of pride that is good. Isn’t it a good thing, for example, to take pride in your work or in some achievement of excellence? Should we encourage our children to be proud of themselves — not in an egotistical sense, but in a way that promotes healthy self-respect?

If pride is a feeling of satisfaction at a job well done or a healthy sense of worth as one made in God’s image, it’not necessarily a bad quality.

The ugly side 

But let’s be honest. There’s an uglier side to pride that is deeply disturbing.

Sometimes it comes in “the form of inordinate self-congratulations” or a “blend of narcissism and conceit that we detest in others and sometimes tenderly protect in ourselves” (C. Plantinga).

When pride involves a blend of self-absorption with an overestimation of one’s ability or worth, it’s a destructive force that is anti-community and, more importantly, anti-God. “What sin makes God seem more irrelevant? God wants to fill us with his Holy Spirit, but when we are proud we are already full of ourselves. There’s no room for God” (Plantinga).

Augustine depicted pride as the great political enemy in the city of God. Scripture teaches that, “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:6 ).  “According to traditional Christian wisdom, a main problem with pride is that it recognizes neither sin nor grace; in fact, pride hammers them flat and discards them” (Plantinga). This is why a proud heart is opposed by God.

Ego-centered culture

For a long time there was widespread agreement in our culture about the evils of sinful pride. But attitudes toward pride have shifted significantly. “What has changed is that, in much of contemporary American culture, aggressive self-regard is no longer viewed with alarm. Instead, people praise and promote it.” Are we now living in an ego-centered culture in which “human life degenerates into the clamor of competing autobiographies?” In such a culture, the self exists to be explored, indulged and expressed but not disciplined or restrained” (Plantinga).

For a cultural gut-check, enter American Idol: an example of the self-esteem movement on steroids. It stretches credulity to believe that all of those who audition really believe they can sing. Is this what we wanted to accomplish by making self-esteem the primary goal of education? This show repeatedly features people with harmful levels of self-delusion. Perhaps this emphasis is one contributing factor to the pervasive struggle with depression in our culture. Our expectations are too high because our egos are too inflated. What a set-up for disappointment!

Original sin

The original sin was pride. It was the sin that occasioned the fall of Satan. We learn this in a New Testament list of qualifications for church leaders. The leader “…must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil (I Timothy 3:6, NIV). Conceit is defined in the scriptural warning, “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves” (Romans 12:3, NLT). Another translation warns not to “think more highly of yourself than you ought.” This is at the heart of sinful pride.

False humility

While exposing pride, we must not encourage false humility. Some people are so humble they’re proud of it. Pre-tending to be humble isn’t the same as actually being humble. Pretentious humility is self-refuting. Those who use humility to seek praise are perhaps the most proud. Discerning people will see through this behavior.

Humility doesn’t require one to continually engage in self-deprecation. We must learn to think soberly about ourselves. This often necessitates the help of others when we miss the mark. True self-perception is slippery territory but it’s possible to be both humble and aware of one’s gifts. Admitting our sins, faults and limitations fosters stronger humility. Being humble involves showing deference to others in a courteous and respectful manner. It’s the opposite of precocious arrogance, boasting and self-absorption.

What did Jesus teach?

Jesus taught and demonstrated humility as God’s way for us (See: Luke 22:24-30; John 13:1-17; Philippians 2:3-10). He pronounced a blessing on the poor in spirit, not the proud in spirit (Matthew 5:3). He esteemed humility as the mark of true greatness.

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 18:1-4). “And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (Matthew 23:12 NAS)

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?’” (Matthew 16:24-26).

Let’s learn from Jesus Christ the joy and freedom that comes with humility and self-denial. Those who take the path of self-denial in an age of self-expression, self-worth and self-indulgence, will be set free!

A proud heart is an imprisoned heart. A humble heart that looks to God is free and full of grace.

Steve Cornell

We Serve No Sovereign Here

 

The story is told of an Englishman who came to this country in the decade of the sixties, and upon arrival spent his first week in Philadelphia becoming acquainted with historic landmarks, such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. In order to familiarize himself with American culture, he visited several antique stores that specialized in colonial and revolutionary memorabilia.

In one such shop he saw several posters and signboards that contained the slogans of the revolution, such as No Taxation Without Representation, and Don’t Tread on Me. One signboard attracted his attention more than the rest. In bold letters the sign proclaimed: WE SERVE NO SOVEREIGN HERE. As he mused on this sign, he wondered how people steeped in such an anti-monarchical culture could come to grips with the notion of the kingdom of God and the sovereignty that belongs to the Lord (source: R. C. Sproul, Following Christ).

David B. Hart summarized where we stand now at the end of modernity.

“… each of us who is true to the times stands facing not God, or the gods, or the Good beyond beings, but an abyss, over which presides the empty, inviolable authority of the individual will, whose impulses and decisions are their own moral index.”

“This is not to say that – sentimental barbarians that we are – we do not still invite moral and religious constraints upon our actions; none but the most demonic, demented, or adolescent among us genuinely desires to live in a world purged of visible boundaries and hospitable shelters.”

“Thus this man may elect not to buy a particular vehicle because he considers himself an environmentalist; or this woman may choose not to have an abortion midway through her second trimester, because the fetus, at that point in its gestation, seems to her too fully formed, and she–personally – would feel wrong about terminating ‘it.’ But this merely illustrates my point: we take as given the individual’s right not merely to obey or defy the moral law, but to choose which moral standards to adopt, which values to uphold, which fashion of piety to wear and with what accessories.”

“Even our ethics are achievements of will. And the same is true of those custom-fitted spiritualities – ‘New Age,’ occult, pantheist, ‘Wiccan,’ or what have you – by which many of us now divert ourselves from the quotidien dreariness of our lives.”

“These gods of the boutique can come from anywhere – native North American religion, the Indian subcontinent, some Pre-Raphaelite grove shrouded in Celtic twilight, cunning purveyors of otherwise worthless quartz, pages drawn at random from Robert Graves, Aldous Huxley, Carl Jung, or that redoubtable old Aryan, Joseph Campbell – but where such gods inevitably come to rest are not so much divine hierarchies as ornamental étagères, where their principal office is to provide symbolic representations of the dreamier sides of their votaries’ personalities.”

“The triviality of this sort of devotion, its want of dogma or discipline, its tendency to find its divinities not in glades and grottoes but in gift shops make it obvious that this is no reversion to pre-Christian polytheism. It is, rather, a thoroughly modern religion, whose burlesque gods command neither reverence, nor dread, nor love, nor belief; they are no more than the masks worn by that same spontaneity of will that is the one unrivalled demiurge who rules this age and alone bids its spirits come and go” (First Things, David B. Hart, 2000).

R. C. Sproul noted that, “The concept of lordship invested in one individual is repugnant to the American tradition, yet this is the boldness of the claim of the New Testament for Jesus, that absolute sovereign authority and imperial power are vested in Christ” (Following Christ).

Without such sovereign authority, we are never truly free. Jesus said it this way, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Our well-being is at risk on every side if we choose a kind of freedom that refuses to serve the only true sovereign of the universe. 

But this Sovereign One, unlike all would-be Sovereigns, 

“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

Before leaving this world, the Sovereign One said, 

“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Living in freedom under sovereign Lordship,

Steve Cornell

It doesn’t feel good to be a Christian

Zac Northen wrote a perceptive piece over at Relevant Magazine titled, Can Inner Peace be Misleading?

His call is timely for many people:

“We need to develop the wisdom for living a life that is comfortable with being uncomfortable, and accept the fact that it sometimes doesn’t feel good to be a Christian on the straight and narrow.”

“… many people believe …. God’s main job is to make us feel good about ourselves and remain happy on our journey…”

“In this approach to following Jesus, there is no place for ambiguity, tension, struggle or any sense of anxiety. It’s a lot easier to believe that abundant life comes without pain and struggle. This mentality, however, directly opposes the type of self-denying life Jesus lived (Luke 22:42), and the inward dying and external pain Paul wrote about (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, Romans 5:3-5).”

C.S. Lewis explains in Mere Christianity, “Comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: If you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with—and, in the end, despair.”

“We cannot follow Christ faithfully unless we are following Him into the world’s pain, tension and aching complexity. We must remember we follow a King who enters a broken world, then willingly chooses the Cross (John 10:17-18).”

For more on the subject of the role of inner peace, see: Inner Promptings?

Steve Cornell