Don’t let them drag you down

People who are discontent with their lives tend to spread discontentment to otherwise grateful people. Sometimes they disguise their negativity behind spiritual sounding “concerns,” or they tell you that they’re just trying to be honest about things.

Don’t let them drag you down but call them out of the negativity to a more God-honoring way of seeing life. We don’t want to be in the group identified as “grumblers and faultfinders” (Jude 16). 

 

Reflect and act

  • Philippians 2:14-15 – “Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” (NLT)
  • I Thessalonians 5:18 – “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ” Spirit-filled people are “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).
 God calls us to be extravagantly grateful! A moderately grateful person is not doing life in the will of God.
  • I Corinthians 13:7 – ” “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (NLT)
  • Titus 3:10-11 – “If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.” (NLT)

See: Grouchy people sharing a gospel of grace?

Steve Cornell

 

How do people regard me?

Audio version here

The most common argument among the early disciples of Jesus focused on their desire to be considered the greatest.

We might find it unusual and disturbing that they openly pursued self-promotion, but the core issues underlying their preoccupation with status are far more common than many would admit. Perhaps we don’t flagrantly advertised interest in greatness, but that doesn’t mean we are free from concerns about how others regard us.

Who is considered greatest?

During the final days of Jesus’ mission on earth, He ate with his disciples and during the meal drew attention to the bread as symbolic of the giving of his body for them and the cup as symbolic of “the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:19-20).

Then (as Luke’s gospel records), the subject turned to the one who would betray Jesus. “the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” (Luke 22:21-22).

At this, the disciples began to “question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this” (Luke 22:23). It’s stunning to move to the next verse and see how the conversation of the disciples shifted to a “dispute among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest” (Luke 22:24). 

How cold to engage in this kind of dispute after hearing of the Lord’s sacrificial death and of one who would betray him! But Jesus seized the moment as a teaching opportunity about true greatness in his kingdom. 

“Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves’” (Luke 22:25-27).

Jesus does not oppose authority but requires a transformation of it. The normal practice of kings exercising authority will not do for the Lord’s kingdom. Benefactors were wealthy people whose giving secured status and leadership for them in their cities. This approach to giving as a means of self-advancement and self-promotion contradicted the Lord’s kingdom. Serving others to secure status for oneself is a betrayal of servant-love.

Preoccupied with perception

“which of them was considered to be greatest” (24; also, Luke 9:46-48). Look closely at the word “considered” because it reveals a common human concern for how others “regarded” them or how others “thought of” them. Let’s be honest about how easily we can become preoccupied with how we are regarded or considered by others. It’s tempting to build self-perception on how others perceive us. This is the underlying concern relating to preoccupation with status or greatness. 

The dispute among the disciples is motivated by desires for self-promotion. It seems to reveal a deeper insecurity and a need for recognition and affirmation from others. It’s not too far from the warning Jesus gave when he said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

The cultural environment of religious and political leadership during this time was focused on the pursuit of power, control and personal exaltation. Of course, this focus is always a danger for leaders. In a piece I wrote about the danger of insecure leaders, I stated that,

“Leaders are easily misunderstood and often wrongly judged as self-seeking and self-promoting.  Sometimes they are guilty as charged. A leader unwilling to admit that he occasionally battles temptation toward self-promotion is probably one you shouldn’t follow. Yet people often wrongly project evil motives on leaders because they either feel threatened by them or jealous of them. Like most leaders, I’ve experienced the full spectrum. I’ve been guilty as charged and wrongly accused. I believe leaders are more vulnerable to selfish motives when they’re younger and more likely to be falsely accused when they’re older and more established in their leadership.”

For reflection and discussion

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important (or, accepted). They don’t mean to do harm, but the harm does not interest them … or they do not see it, or they justify it … because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves” (or, to have others think well of them) (T. S. Eliot).

I added the words in brackets to cover the full range of issues involved in this concern.  

Radical Kingdom re-orientation 

Jesus rejected the patterns of greatness in society when he said, “But you are not to be like that.” He then set a new model before them in his own example, “But I am among you as one who serves.” This is the way Jesus summed up his entire mission, “The Son of Man didn’t come to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Truth for confronting preoccupation with self-perception

  •  “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12:3, NIV)
  • “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:3, ESV)
  • “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God,  did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3-8).
  • “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).
  • “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
  • “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT) 

Steve Cornell

 

Answering God’s call beyond the walls of the Church

 

“We make a huge mistake when we define a person’s ‘call’ in terms of participation inside the church.” (Tullian Tchividjian)

While on a writing retreat in Brewster, Cape Cod one summer, I had a great time meeting different people. But I have this little problem in getting to know people when the dreaded question comes up. “So, what do you do?” they inevitably ask. If I want to continue the conversation, I have to be careful with my answer.

If I say, “I am a pastor” it immediately changes the conversation – or, more likely, ends it. It’s a real dilemma. One night, for example, a group of people doing a restaurant limousine tour saw me in the lobby of the resort working on my book. They asked what I was doing. “Writing a book,” I answered. “Really, what’s it about?” they asked. “It’s about how your upbringing affects your life.”

Immediately the three couples gathered around me to engaged in lively discussion about the subject.

In the middle of some rather deep conversation, one man blurted, “Who is this guy?!” “How do you know this stuff?” “Are you a psychiatrist, or something?” “No” I answered, “but I do a lot of counseling.” “You’re a counselor?” “Yes, I am.” He quickly tried to sign up his wife for a few sessions.

What I said about what I do was true even if I am not solely a counselor by occupation. I was doing what I could to avoid the conversation stopper: “I am a minister.”

Ten minutes after the group left for the dining room, a waiter told me one of the men who was talking with me would like to buy me a drink. Later in the evening, his wife came to tell me how exceptional it was for her husband to order a drink for someone. “You made a big impression on him” she assured me.

All of this to say that had I announced I was a pastor, the evening would have proceeded much differently. People recoil and become guarded when they learn that you’re a minister. After all, “What do you say to a pastor?!” It’s a real occupational liability for someone who works with people!

I thought about this encounter when I read a blog piece by Tullian Tchividjian.

Under the title, Our calling, Our Spheres, he shared thoughts about how leaders in the Church “need to help our people see that their calling is bigger than how much time they put into church matters.”

Of course, serving in your Church is important but it could be wrongly exalted over serving God in your career. Here are some good thoughts on glorifying God in all you do:

“As Christians, we can serve God in a variety of vocations. And we don’t need to justify that work, whatever it is, in terms of its ‘spiritual’ value or evangelistic usefulness. We simply exercise whatever our calling is with new God-glorifying motives, goals, and standards.”

“Outwardly there may be no discernible difference between a non-Christian’s work and that of a Christian. A transformational approach to culture doesn’t mean every human activity practiced by a Christian (designing computers, repairing cars, selling insurance, or driving a bus) must be obviously and externally different from the same activities practiced by non-Christians.”

“Rather, the difference is found in the motive, goal, and standard. John Frame writes, ‘The Christian seeks to change his tires to the glory of God and the non-Christian does not. But that’s a difference that couldn’t be captured in a photograph.'”

“So, while Christians are to separate from the self-glorifying motives and God-ignoring goals of the world (our spiritual separation), we’re not to separate from the peoples, places, and things in the world (a spatial separation). We’re to be morally and spiritually distinct without being culturally segregated. In the famous words of Abraham Kuyper, ‘There is not one square inch in the entire domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

“For church leaders, this means that we make a huge mistake when we define a person’s ‘call’ in terms of participation inside the church—nursery work, Sunday school teacher, youth worker, music leader, and so on. We need to help our people see that their calling is bigger than how much time they put into church matters. By reducing the notion of calling to the exercise of spiritual gifts inside the church, we fail to help our people see that calling involves everything we are and everything we do—both inside and, more importantly, outside the church.”

“I once heard Os Guinness address a question about why the church in the late 20th century was not having a larger impact in our world when there were more people going to church than ever before. He said the main reason was not that Christians weren’t where they should be. There are plenty of artists, lawyers, doctors, and business owners that are Christians. Rather, the main reason is that Christians aren’t who they should be right where they are.”

“’Calling’, he said, ‘is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction.’ When we reduce the notion of ‘calling’ to work inside the church, we fail to equip our people to apply their Christian faith to everything they do, everywhere they are” (Tullian Tchividjian).

Steve Cornell

Are you a cantankerous Christian?

Mrs grumpy...“They’re hard to please and quick to complain.” This is what I was told about people who attend Bible conference centers. I heard the same report from a waitress about groups of Christians who frequent area restaurants.

The director of a conference ministry informed me that this was a common problem in his line of work. A manager of a similar ministry indicated that her experience in a secular conference center resulted in far less complaints. She said, “Christians were more difficult to please and had more complaints.” Our waitress friend (though herself a Christian), said that Christian groups have the same reputation with the waitresses where she works.

Do these reports bother you as much as they do me?

Perhaps non-Christians hold Christians to an unreasonably high standard. This is probably true in some cases. But those informing me of the problem are Christians. They have no axe to grind and are saddened by what they’ve witnessed. They regularly observe a disturbing reality about the attitudes of their fellow-believers.

While no particular group is solely the problem, at the risk of offense (which is not my intention), another common factor among a large percentage of the disgruntled is old age. I am not sure what to make of this. I know that I don’t ever want to be the proverbial grumpy old man who is not happy with anything. 

Whether old or young, ask yourself if you’re known for being cantankerous and irritable or gracious and grateful.

Complaining is a sin. Yes, you read it correctly — sin. The scripture specifically says, “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14). We are also instructed to “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:18). Ungratefulness leads the way when the heart turns away from God (See: Romans 1:21-28).

Christians have experienced such amazing grace from God that we should be overflowing with gratitude and humility. The culture tells us to demand our rights and expect nothing but the best for ourselves. Christ tells us to serve and bless others. We should be distinguished by a gracious disposition, not a grouchy and demanding one.

How will people believe our message of hope when our lives don’t reflect it?

We all have bad days when we’re not the most cheerful persons. And there are proper ways to express disappointment with inadequate service. Yet we need to become more mindful of our witness for Christ if our attitudes are creating a negative reputation.

So if you’re a critical, crabby, and demanding person (young or old), please don’t tell people that you’re a Christian.

Revisit the words of Jesus, “For who is the greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

Steve Cornell

Scene 3 – Life as a prisoner

Audio message for all five scenesPlay Audio!

Sold to a different human owner, Joseph soon found himself in more painful and perplexing circumstances beyond his control. But he also continues to experience the Lord’s presence and blessing through it all.

“Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned” (Genesis 39:1-4).

Another trial for Joseph

Joseph had the “misfortune” of being “well-built and handsome” (Genesis 39:6a). This would result in Joseph being the object of lust and false accusation. As the story continues, “After a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’” (Genesis 39:6b-7).

This was a very real and dangerous test for Joseph. Sexual temptation is real for all men. Joseph, however, responded with a kind of principled integrity that sets a great example for all men.

Yet doing what was right did not mean that he would be “blessed” circumstantially. Joseph paid a severe price for his obedience.

Follow closely the line of reasoning he used for refusing to give in to sexual temptation.  “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:8-9).

Guided by four great principlesTrust, Reputation, Ownership, and Obedience to God, Joseph stood firm against temptation.

Did God bless him for his obedience? Should we expect obedience to bring blessing? Did it for Jesus?

Joseph stood his ground even as things intensified from sexual temptation to sexual harassment. “And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her” (Genesis 39:10). The persistence of this woman would not be deterred and Joseph couldn’t do anything to change what happened as a result.

Often in life we become the object of other people’s passions. Joseph was the object of parental favoritism, sibling envy and hatred and now lust and false accusation by Potiphar’s wife.

Another abrupt change occurs for Joseph.

“One day he (Joseph) went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, she called her household servants. ‘Look,’ she said to them, ‘this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.’ She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. Then she told him this story: ‘That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house. When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, ‘This is how your slave treated me,’ he burned with anger. Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined” (Genesis 39:11-20).

Have you ever been falsely accused?

It is a very painful experience. It cuts into a person’s heart. When we do the right thing only to be misrepresented, slandered and wrongly charged, temptations toward self-pity, resentment and despair are hard to overcome.

How would Joseph respond to this abrupt and undeserved turn in his life? Would he be confused? No doubt! Would you have been?

Could you hear his prayers, “Dear God how could this happen to me?” “Haven’t I suffered enough?” “How much can one man take?” “I tried to do the right thing and look where it landed me!”

We don’t read much about Joseph’s struggles but we must not treat him as if he didn’t. I am sure he wrestled through a number of dark nights of the soul. Have you had any dark nights like this?

Shortly we’ll notice that Joseph did not take lightly or completely forget the wrongs committed against him. Joseph was human and battled feelings common to all people.

But, again, I suspect that through a series of deep, dark nights of the soul, Joseph reaffirmed his conclusions about God and life (we will see these soon).

Once again, he faced options. We always do in our trials. Joseph needed something to lift him from the temptation to self-pity and despair; resentment and bitterness.

If he had chosen these responses, the story would not have been the same — for him and for many others (Genesis 45:7; 50:20). Our responses always have generational consequences.

Joseph prospers in the prison

“But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (Genesis 39:21-23).
 
Notice again that the Lord’s presence with Joseph and the blessings of God’s kindness and Joseph’s success (whatever it looked like) did not translate into immediate release from prison.

  • So what did God’s kindness look like in prison?
  • How did Joseph experience it?
  • Did he question whether God cared?
  • Did Joseph pray for release?

We know his desire for release and memory of his suffering never left him. Some time later he would interpret a dream for a new prisoner that indicated this prisoner would soon be released. Then he said to the prisoner, “But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon” (Genesis 40:14-15, emphasis mine). His sense of justice was clear.

The prisoner was released just as Joseph said. No doubt, this inspired renewed hope in Joseph that he would be release from prison. Yet to Joseph’s trial was added the additional pain of being forgotten.

With a simple stroke of the historian’s pen we read, “The chief cupbearer (the prisoner who had been released), did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Genesis 40:23).

It hurts to be forgotten.

Could you hear his prayers? “Please God, cause him to mention me.” “Don’t let me be forgotten in this place.” “I have had so much evil committed against me, I am not sure I can take much more.”

But again, with another simple stroke of the pen we learn that, “When two full years had passed…” (Genesis 41:1), Joseph would finally be remembered.

Have you ever had to wait two full years for something? Why two full years? How did Joseph guard his heart against discouragement and despair? Was God not good and great enough to lift him from this dungeon?

At the risk of being repetitive, allow me to again emphasize that through a series of deep dark nights of the soul, Joseph had to reaffirm his conclusions about God and life. He needed something to lift him from temptation to self-pity, resentment and bitterness.

Ultimately, we see that he resisted the temptation to resign to fate — to stop believing that God cared. There was something stronger that held and guided Joseph through his many abrupt changes and dark years of doubt and discouragement?

But it also protected Joseph from a darker prison — the prison of anger, resentment and bitterness. More than that, (and how important this is), Joseph’s chosen perspective blessed many people and preserved a remnant for Israel (Genesis 45:7; 50:20). 

Steve Cornell

How do you see yourself?

A fascinating presentation on how women view themselves compared with how others see them.

What a great conversation piece! Although it could be taken with a misguided emphasis, it’s clearly worth conversation. How do you see yourself? How do others see you? Does this matter? What does it tell us about contentment and acceptance of God’s work in and through our lives? What Scripture might apply to this?

 

 

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