Common grace and common good

I recently gave a series on the theme of common grace. It was eye-opening for all of us.

My practical emphasis focused on our calling to be agents of common grace who are committed to the welfare of the city of our exile. The basis for this model is the word given to God’s people in Jeremiah 29:40-7.

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”

The callings and concerns of seeking common good with and for those who are unredeemed have profound theological foundations on at least three levels of shared life. Everyone in the world can come together around three areas of commonality.  

  1. Common origin and image: God’s ownership and God’s image as a universal reality.
  2. Common Concerns: stewardship of the earth as our shared dwelling place.
  3. Common Connections: Accessibility to truth about God, moral order and transcendence.

Human flourishing and the common good are most significantly based on the image of God in humans. The universal reality of the image of God is part of the case for believing that, “God has lawfully ordered his creation in a way that all human beings have some sort of cognitive access to that lawfulnes” (Richard Mouw). Romans 2:15-16 appear to validate this cognitive access — even among those who don’t have access to Scripture.

The reality and realm of common grace presuppose an ability to have rational conversations about a common good between redeemed and unredeemed. Obviously in some political circumstances, Christians must accept limitations and seek other means of influence because they are not permitted to participate in choosing laws and policies. But, as long as we live in a system that allows us a seat at the table, why shouldn’t we join in seeking the good that leads to laws and policies? Why would we neglect such a privilege?

Dialogue and persuasion in these settings does not require quotation of biblical chapters and verses. Yet this does not mean that truth-based input is not possible. We can articulate a worldview that honors our Creator without verbalizing references to the Bible. We can also hope for some of these truths to resonate with a general population.

There are many ways to have conversations and we need more thoughtful creativity about the best ways to engage others in these contexts. More importantly, all that we have to say should be deeply rooted in the two great commands to love God and neighbor.

How could those who honor the Creator and care about a common good for His creatures withdraw from the table where policies and laws are formed that profoundly effect the people? 

Steve Cornell

Spreading the Word

I never planned to write for public newspapers but it’s been one of my extension ministries for nearly 20 years now. The two primary newspapers I write for are the Sunday News of Lancaster, Pennsylvania and The Morning Call of the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania.

I try to make these columns available through this blog and I ask for your prayers as I communicate through these venues. When you read my columns, please keep in mind that they are written for a very large and diverse readership.

I receive a good bit of feedback from a readership that extends to hundreds of thousands of people. Comments vary from deep appreciation to outright anger and hostility. I continue to be blessed by numerous hand written letters from older readers who offer heartfelt encouragement for me to keep speaking the truth. It is somewhat exceptional for public newspapers to allow pieces written with a Christian worldview.

An editorial staff always looks closely at the amount of response and sharing a columnist receives as they consider placement of articles. This means that you can help sustain these opportunities by using feedback or sharing tools associated with articles. Thank you.

Set the proper tone for effective communication (The Morning Call, March, 8, 2014)

It’s not always what you say but sometimes how you say it. Tone of voice matters in good communication – it can make or break a conversation. If you have to work with or for someone who is always using negative words and tones, you know how much these matter in communication.

Trust lacking in today’s society (Sunday News of Lancaster, March 9, 2014)

How important is trust to a good relationship? How necessary is trust to a healthy society? In my role as a pastor, I know what happens to relationships when trust is deeply violated. … There is little doubt that people today are far less trusting of each other than previous generations. …. The virtue of trust has all but disappeared in society.

Steve Cornell

Are you a hate-monger and a bigot?

There is no public safe zone for disagreeing with gay marriage.

Is it possible to hold a moral opinion that marriage is meant for male and female without being accused of hate or bigotry? It’s not if we grant the premise that being gay is equal with one’s race. But we need to be more honest about this comparison and where it is leading us.

If we make the sexual choices of individuals civil-rights comparable to race and gender, we will open a social and legal Pandora’s box. Citizens will not be permitted to morally oppose homosexual behavior without risking accusations of discrimination and racism. Federal law will be used against the freedoms of Americans to believe and teach a different view of marriage and sexuality.

Sexual preferences should not be elevated to the level of race or gender. There is no conclusive evidence that supports this comparison. But this comparison is what feeds the accusations of bigotry, hate and legal claims of discrimination. I know many people who are morally opposed to homosexuality but are not at all discriminatory to people based on race or gender. Neither are these people hateful toward those who choose a different sexual lifestyle.  
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We must expose the race comparison as manipulative and a threat to civility and liberty. It also runs the risk of creating a counter group who could claim discrimination against their freedoms to believe and teach their own morality. 

Where will this path lead us as a nation? Where is it leading us now?

In most public settings, if someone dares to say that he does not agree with gay marriage, he is likely to be reprimanded and warned not to say anything about it. But those who openly flaunt their homosexuality must not be challenged in any way. 

Those who oppose gay marriage on moral grounds are being subjected to discrimination and exclusion in ways that only incite anger. To deny people their freedoms and falsely accuse them of hateful motivations only causes civil unrest. 

Those who take a different view on homosexual behavior are now the targets of condescending ridicule, hate speech, name-calling and scornful ad hominem. This behavior is a violation of the kind of civil debate we need in the democratic process. It’s also manipulation of the worst kind.

If you oppose gay marriage, you’re told that you have irrational phobias; you’re a hate-monger, a bigot, and guilty of discrimination. Why do people allow this kind of school-yard bullying scare them into acquiescing to a militant agenda to force a sexual lifestyle on the vast majority of Americans?

Teaching people to treat each other with respect is a better alternative to forced affirmation. Tolerance is about treating others with respect when you disagree with them. Telling people they’re not permitted to disagree is coercion, not tolerance.

It’s ironic how the intolerance and bigotry that was once wrongly shown toward people who chose a gay lifestyle is now aimed at anyone who dares to oppose homosexual behavior. 

We must see through the vicious rhetoric and courageously hold our convictions about marriage as a sacred union between a man and a woman. This isn’t about the rights of consenting adults to do what they wish sexually. They have those rights. This is about an arrogant insistence that the entire nation change its definition of marriage to conform to the sexual choices of two percent of the people.

Steve Cornell

 

See - Sexual preference or Sexual orientation?

 

 

Do we really want big government?

Ideas are powerful. A set of ideas is what we call an ideology. An ideology forms a basis for an economic, social or political theory. The current political environment of our country is in an ideological gridlock that will define our future. It appears that an ideology of big government is growing, and our president favors it.

But if we continue to follow this ideology, we can be certain that our children and grandchildren will suffer greatly from our reckless refusal to change. 

Gratefully, a number of primarily younger political leaders get this fact. These leaders have come to office with an ideology opposed to politics as usual. Among other things, they see where our addiction to debt and big government is leading us and they’re resolved to fight it. I don’t expect them to be popular, but they’re very likely the kinds of leaders we need.

They’re also up against great odds. Can they convince Americans to break from their dependence on big government? Will we have the discernment to see through the rhetoric of leaders who champion big government? Do we have the resolve to make the sacrifices necessary to turn things around?

I still assume that most responsible Americans don’t trust the ability of our government to handle anything in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Yet many still fall for the smooth talk of political leaders who promote their programs under the guise of looking out for the less fortunate or the uninsured. 

I also believe that most Americans see the need for assistance programs for truly needy people. But it doesn’t take much to see how carelessly and even recklessly many of these programs operate. Let’s reject any political candidate who promotes programs that create more government dependency. 

When a leader tells you he’s looking out for the less fortunate, check his personal charitable giving record before believing a word he says. You’ll find it interesting to know that the political leaders who talk most about being champions of the poor are typically the least charitable with their own money. Many of those who talk the most about compassion are only willing to look out for the needy with your money. 

If you surveyed Americans, a majority likely believes that the Democrats are the most compassionate toward the needy. Yet the charitable records of the most vocal Democratic politicians do not signal compassion. Worse yet, their brand of charity is mostly about using your money and creating greater dependence rather than teaching responsibility. This is not a partisan observation but an easily verifiable fact.

Can we at least agree that we don’t need any more political leaders who use our money to create greater levels of government dependence? It might sound noble to say we’re providing health care for all, but without fundamental ideological changes, in the end Obamacare will be another top-heavy, inefficient program used to create more dependence on government. It will become another burden (perhaps the largest one ever) on the shoulders of Americans, and will bury us more deeply in debt. 

I am pleading with you to put aside party loyalty and recognize this truth. It doesn’t take special powers of observation to see it. We will not turn things around unless we can get enough people to move beyond partisanship to see through the sham and shame of big government ideology. 

Of course, because of the monster we’ve created, change can’t happen overnight. A system of dependence can’t become one of personal responsibility without a painful weaning process. And the process must begin with Washington itself. 

I doubt many Americans believe that we need to increase the number of government workers in this nation. We need to downsize government, but it’s going to take time, and it’s going to hurt before it helps. Yet it must be done if we hope to save this nation from ruin. We’ve already buried at least the next generation under reckless debt. 

Change won’t happen, of course, if we keep falling for the smooth talk of deceitful political charlatans who use our money to appear compassionate and to create more unnecessary dependence on government, 

We need to get rid of political leaders who promote themselves and their big government programs at the risk of our children and grandchildren. 

Steven W. Cornell is senior pastor at Millersville Bible Church and a correspondent for Lancaster Newspapers Inc. 

We’ve become a culture of law

The gradual disappearance of virtue-forming influences from family, Church and societal expectation in America has led to a culture of law. 

The virtue of honor that once held greater influence in our common life has been largely replaced with social authority in the form of law and punishment.

When people refuse to live respectfully toward one another maintaining civility falls to the role of law and law enforcement. 

As we move toward a society where everyone does what is right in his own eyes and looks out for himself at the expense of others, law enforcement increasingly steps in to regulate our individual lives. But expansive social authority over individual conduct is a poor substitute for a culture based in mutual honor and respect.

Law is more of a negative consequential force than a positive and preventative influence. Obviously, human flourishing cannot be experienced without some degree of law and law enforcement. But expansive law enforcement rarely provides the best context for such flourishing.

Take into consideration the fact that America has put more of its citizens in prison than any other nation (1 out of every 100). The outlook for our future does not look good.

    • Our prisons are overcrowded and unsuitable as effective places for reform.
    • Our legal system is weighed-down, slow and sometimes wrongly weighted toward those with resource and influence.
    • Our families are dysfunctional and disintegrating. 
    • Our tax burden continues to increase.
    • Our schools are struggling to be effective.
    • Our Churches are in decline. 

The American experiment has taught us that a free society is the best context for human flourishing. But freedom itself cannot flourish without deeper commitments to personal and civic responsibilities that promote healthy social order.

We cannot afford, therefore, to be indifferent to the need for virtue-forming influences through families and Churches. Without widely shared virtues like honor and neighbor love, narrowly defined self-interests will threaten our common good. Liberalism without virtue and character ultimately destroys itself.

I believe that Churches must renew their roles in the lives of families and communities. As Churches become the humble, redemptive and truth-telling communities of love that Jesus intended them to be, they will serve as surrogate families for many people.

The Church is called to: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).

In a pervasively dysfunctional society, regaining such a vision for the Church is not only a matter of obedience to the Lord, it might also be the best hope for our nation.

Steve Cornell

Freedom is impossible without limits

At the deepest level, the culture of America is disintegrating because we’ve become a people who demand freedom without limits.

Our obsession with equal rights has created an entitlement mentality that is threatening the very freedom we think we deserve.

As one example of this entitlement attitude, our greatest problem is not the number of illegal immigrants living here, most of whom are working very hard to find a better life. We should be far more concerned about the large numbers of legal citizens who refuse to work and actually think that everyone else owes them a free ride through life. 

Let me be very clear that I am not talking about those who genuinely need assistance but about the hundreds of thousands who are taking advantage of the system and have the audacity to claim an entitlement to the hard-earned tax dollars of working citizens. The current administration operates as an irresponsible parent who enables this sense of entitlement. 

Another example is the demand of a tiny percentage of citizens for our nation to reject the long-held understanding of marriage as meant for a man and a woman. This is being demanded under the notion of equal rights for all. Some are even trying to make it a civil right rooted in nature. Rights and entitlements are demanded without limits. How far can a society take this notion before it implodes? 

“In our limitless selfishness, we have tried to define ‘freedom’ as an escape from all restraint.” (Ken Myers, Mars Hill).

But we will never escape the fact that humans were created as dependent beings meant to flourish within creaturely limits. From the beginning, God set boundaries for life. When our original parents chose to live outside of those boundaries, they experienced the ultimate kind of limitation – death. This explains much of the sad side of the human story (see: Romans 5:12). 

In our delusional effort to escape life under authority, we’ve rejected limitations and boundaries – preferring self-rule over submission to divine authority. Our irrational bid for autonomy has produced a kind of bondage to corruption that could become the destruction of our existence. 

“We are free not merely because we can choose, but only when we choose well. For to choose poorly, through folly or malice, in a way that thwarts our nature and distorts our proper form, is to enslave ourselves to the transitory, the irrational, the purposeless, the (to be precise) subhuman” (David B. Hart, Atheist Delusions).

Steve Cornell

A time of scandals

Before offering critique of current political scandals, I need to qualify my viewpoint with a bit of perspective.

On a relatively small-scale, I know what it’s like to be a public leader. As senior pastor of what is considered a large church (on the lower end of the scale); a correspondent for our Sunday Newspaper (readership of over 200,000) and producer of daily and weekend radio (WJTL, 90.3 FM), I’ve had my share of praise and criticism. I realize that it’s not easy to be a public figure.

I cannot imagine what it’s like to be at the top of public figures. It’s certainly not the cake walk that some might naively imagine. The personal, emotional, intellectual and social strain that comes with highly visible leadership is often more than any human can endure. On my small-scale of Church leadership, I often find myself asking the question raised  by the apostle Paul, “Who is equal to such a task?” (II Corinthians 2:16).

I also understand that leaders cannot reveal everything necessary to make every critic satisfied with their performance. Transparency is important but not always as possible as we might like – especially when national security is involved.

All of this makes me reticent to jump to conclusions that condemn leaders for scandals. It’s important to make sure that the facts are sufficiently gathered before making judgments. Sometimes this requires a degree of patience on the part of those who are suspicious. There are also times when leaders (out of respect for processes and procedures) cannot give all the information people desire.

The tricky balance to this is how to be an effective leader among those who cherish their freedom to scrutinize your every word and action. How can we the people exercise this freedom without creating an environment of suspicion and distrust that makes it unnecessarily burdensome for our leaders? There are no easy answers.

One thing, however, that goes with executive or senior leadership is the willingness to take responsibility for more than you’re sometimes directly responsible for. The old “Buck stops here” mantra is part of the work of top-level leadership. Generally, people appreciate a leader who clearly accepts this charge — even if they disagree with him or believe he is in the wrong. But when “in the wrong” involves violations of law, things get murky.

This leads me to some current thoughts about the scandals now plaguing the Obama Administration. On one level, I am incredulous about the ignorance being claimed by the President and high-ranking officials under him. I’ve found myself asking, “Who do you take us for?” If they were that much out of the loop on crucial issues, why? Either someone under them is not doing his or her job or there are serious issues of neglect and carelessness in governing. No matter my political affiliation, as one grateful for our Country, I don’t like what were seeing.

Over at The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan is not far off in suggesting that,

“We are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate. The reputation of the Obama White House has, among conservatives, gone from sketchy to sinister, and, among liberals, from unsatisfying to dangerous. No one likes what they’re seeing. The Justice Department assault on the Associated Press and the ugly politicization of the Internal Revenue Service have left the administration’s credibility deeply, probably irretrievably damaged. They don’t look jerky now, they look dirty. The patina of high-mindedness the president enjoyed is gone.”

In her WSJ column, Kimberley Strassel was more explicit about the IRS scandal:

“Was the White House involved in the IRS’s targeting of conservatives? No investigation needed to answer that one. Of course it was.

President Obama and Co. are in full deniability mode, noting that the IRS is an ‘independent’ agency and that they knew nothing about its abuse. The media and Congress are sleuthing for some hint that Mr. Obama picked up the phone and sicced the tax dogs on his enemies.

But that’s not how things work in post-Watergate Washington. Mr. Obama didn’t need to pick up the phone. All he needed to do was exactly what he did do, in full view, for three years: Publicly suggest that conservative political groups were engaged in nefarious deeds; publicly call out by name political opponents whom he’d like to see harassed; and publicly have his party pressure the IRS to take action.

Mr. Obama now professes shock and outrage that bureaucrats at the IRS did exactly what the president of the United States said was the right and honorable thing to do.”

How could even the most objective observer argue against this point? As more information emerges, it becomes harder for defenders of the president to argue his case without risking serious embarrassment.

Noonan got it right: 

“Something big has shifted. The standing of the administration has changed.

As always it comes down to trust. Do you trust the president’s answers when he’s pressed on an uncomfortable story? Do you trust his people to be sober and fair-minded as they go about their work? Do you trust the IRS and the Justice Department? You do not.”

The IRS scandal is particularly egregious and strains the credulity of a watching public. As Noonan wrote, 

“All of these IRS actions took place in the years leading up to the 2012 election. They constitute the use of governmental power to intrude on the privacy and shackle the political freedom of American citizens. The purpose, obviously, was to overwhelm and intimidate—to kill the opposition, question by question and audit by audit.”

“It is not even remotely possible that all this was an accident, a mistake. Again, only conservative groups were targeted, not liberal. It is not even remotely possible that only one IRS office was involved. Lois Lerner, who oversees tax-exempt groups for the IRS, was the person who finally acknowledged, under pressure of a looming investigative report, some of what the IRS was doing. She told reporters the actions were the work of “frontline people” in Cincinnati. But other offices were involved, including Washington. It is not even remotely possible the actions were the work of just a few agents. This was more systemic. It was an operation. The word was out: Get the Democratic Party’s foes.”

While I am hopeful that we can get to the bottom of this scandal and clean up the act of the IRS, I take no delight in the way it damages the president because on a larger scale than political partisanship, I desire much more for our Country — at least in honor of those who sacrificed their lives for the freedoms we enjoy! 

I realize that we don’t have all the facts but I am less and less encouraged about the possibility of information emerging that will distance this scandal from the highest places of leadership in our nation. 

What an important time to pray for our leaders!

Steve Cornell

7 links worth seeing

1. A Nation of Wimps 

Parents are going to ludicrous lengths to take the bumps out of life for their children. However, parental hyperconcern has the net effect of making kids more fragile; that may be why they’re breaking down in record numbers.

2Gay marriage: a case study in conformism

In truth, the extraordinary rise of gay marriage speaks, not to a new spirit of liberty or equality on a par with the civil-rights movements of the 1960s, but rather to the political and moral conformism of our age; to the weirdly judgmental non-judgmentalism of our PC times; to the way in which, in an uncritical era such as ours, ideas can become dogma with alarming ease and speed; to the difficulty of speaking one’s mind or sticking with one’s beliefs at a time when doubt and disagreement are pathologised. 

3. Tolerance as a strategy, not a virtue

This strategy of social coercion to approve the sexual preferences of a small number of people who want to engage in same-sex behavior has gotten out of control. We’re not being asked to tolerate, but forced to approve and celebrate homosexual preferences. Is this the kind of tolerance we want for our country? What happened to freedom for all? Can’t there be respect without coercion and control? 

4. If only gay marriage was all they wanted

It certainly might be more politically and legally amendable and create less social unrest if the gay community said, “All we want is marriage and the benefits that come with it, but we are not asking for civil rights status as a minority group along the lines of racial identity.  We are not asking for businesses and Churches to be forced to affirm gay marriage. We are not asking for curriculum changes at the public schools to include gay marriage and families.”

5. What a week of groceries looks like

Photographer Peter Menzel started this intriguing series of one weeks of groceries from around the world, taking traditional food photography to a much larger scale.

6. Every Every Every Generation Has Been the Me Me Me Generation

Millennials are the “ME ME ME GENERATION,” writes Joel Stein for the cover of Time magazine, which is apparently a marked departure from the Baby Boomers, who were the plain old “Me Generation” (one me, no caps) and who created the “Me Decade” in the 1970s, and who coined the phrase, “But enough about me… what do you think about me?” in the 1980s when they were raising the next narcissists, Generation X.

7. Petraeus Concerned Over Edited Benghazi Talking Points, According to Email

As the Benghazi story heats up, reporters grilled Press Secretary Jay Carney at the White House on Friday after ABC reported that the CIA’s talking points on the Benghazi attack were revised 12 times.

Extra: A Picture of Earth through time

Can we all get along?

 

The majority of Americans feel that the public square has increasingly become a place where you must believe what you’re told to believe — or else!

If you are brave enough to say that you choose to see things differently, you’ll encounter a smug and condescending attitude or be treated like an idiot. You’ll also risk being labeled a bigot and hater for refusing to conform to the culturally mandated ways of seeing things.

There is a strange feeling of pitiable weakness in watching people parrot the mandated lines and then act as if they are being broadminded, progressive and novel. In reality, they are the new conformists.

The strange version of forced tolerance promoted over the last few decades has generated lifestyles of duplicity. People have learned to subscribe to one set of beliefs publicly and another privately — to avoid the “or else.”

Is it surprising that this breeds resentment and sometimes violence? If you force a man against his will, he’s of the same persuasion still — and he’s likely to get mad.

I realize that maintaining order and civility in a free society necessitates law making and law enforcement. I also realize that we cannot expect everyone to agree on all of the laws and policies.

But in a society that cherishes freedom, people want to know who gets to set the morals that everyone must tolerate. Who defines what “we the people” must accept as lawful and good? As we navigate the give and take of life together, we must find ways to improve respectful and open dialogue with one another concerning the shared values we the people embrace. 

We also need to teach people that tolerance does not mean agreement. It means treating others with respect when you disagree. Where disagreements are deeper, practicing tolerance becomes more virtuous. When told that we’re not permitted to disagree, we face coercion, not tolerance and we threaten liberty.

In “The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by religion and politics,” Jonathan Haidt quotes Rodney King’s lesser known response to the riots incited by the court verdict that acquitted the LA police officers.

“Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try and work it out.”

Although his words were aimed at racial reconciliation, I believe a lot of people feel this way about the current political atmosphere in the USA.

The American experiment (imperfect as it has been) has offered one of the best opportunities for individual liberty and human flourishing. Before we completely dismantle the foundations of this experience, we ought to look closely at the potential outcomes of moving toward other failed systems.

When everyone does what is right in his own eyes and looks out for himself at the expense of others, society suffers and law enforcement increasingly steps in to regulate individual lives.

 A culture of law, however, is not a good substitute for one of honor and freedom. Law is more of a negative and consequential force than a positive culture shaping influence. Obviously, human flourishing cannot occur without some degree of law and law enforcement, but expansive law rarely provides the best context for such flourishing.
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While the American experiment has taught us that a free society is the best context for human flourishing, freedom cannot flourish without deeper commitments to personal and civic responsibilities that promote healthy social order. We cannot afford, therefore, to be indifferent to the need for virtue-forming influences through families and Churches. Without the virtues that helped to build this nation, narrowly defined self-interests will threaten the common good. Liberalism without virtue and character ultimately destroys itself.

I believe that Churches must renew their roles in the lives of families and communities. As Churches become the humble, redemptive and truth-telling communities of love that Jesus intended them to be, they will serve as surrogate families for redeemed people.

In a pervasively dysfunctional society, regaining such a vision for the Church is not only a matter of obedience to the Lord, it may also be the best hope for our nation.

Steve Cornell

Four steps to destroy a nation

 

“Let’s say somebody were [in the WH] and they wanted to destroy this nation. I would create division among the people, encourage a culture of ridicule for basic morality and the principles that made and sustained the country, undermine the financial stability of the nation, and weaken and destroy the military. It appears coincidentally that those are the very things that are happening right now” (DR. Ben Carson).

  1. I would create division among the people
  2.  I would encourage a culture of ridicule for basic morality and the principles that made and sustained the country
  3. I would undermine the financial stability of the nation
  4. I would destroy the military.