Renewed commitment to boundaries

Humans were created as dependent beings who can only flourish within established limits or boundaries. Life within these boundaries is freedom. Life outside of them is bondage.

In our delusional effort to escape 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 is threatening our future security and stability.

“The account of Creation resounds with the establishment of boundaries. Almost all human cultures have pursued the task of defining and governing boundaries in human behavior. Every culture survives by the power of its institutions to bind and loose men in the conduct of their affairs.”

“The story of modern Western culture, however — a culture built around the ideal of the sovereign self — is a story of the abandonment of restrictions and restraints in the name of human freedom. Our institutions have increasingly been defined in terms of encouraging liberation from limits rather than cultivating a conscientious honoring of limits.”

“Wendell Berry argued that, ‘we have founded our present society upon delusional assumptions of limitlessness,’ that ‘the commonly accepted basis of our economy is the supposed possibility of limitless growth, limitless wants, limitless wealth, limitless natural resources, limitless energy, and limitless debt. In our limitless selfishness, we have tried to define ‘freedom’ as an escape from all restraint.” (quoted by Ken Myers, Mars Hill).

We need a renewed interest in the value of limits, boundaries, restraints.

Could we begin to see these things as values to be honored and protected? Let us pursue a tradition that does not enslave us to legalism but binds us in a loving accountability of mutual protection? But where do we look for these boundaries? Natural law? Divine law? Both?

Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:31-36).

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free” (Galatians 5:1).

Is there a kind of freedom that could threaten true freedom?

Is there freedom that is a form of bondage? Am I free to make decisions that will destroy my life and hurt others? Free to be in slavery?

The demand for absolute liberty of personal choice; the power of each of us to choose and act upon what he or she desires and believes is at the root of our cultural demise. We must face the universal and ugly reality that we are dangerous to ourselves when we embrace freedom without truth and life without limits.

Truth must expose this powerful deception that enslaves us.

We must reject the myth of absolute freedom before in destroys us. The kind of freedom that provides for our well-being requires restraints and limits to protect it from destructive forces both within and around us?

“We are free,” wrote David B. Hart, “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.”

Steve Cornell

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?

Once again we learn that there is no public safe zone for disagreeing with gay marriage. Just ask the Benham brothers and Miami Dolphins safety, Don Jones.  

Is it even possible anymore to believe that marriage is meant for male and female without being accused of hate or bigotry? It’s certainly not if we grant the false premise that being gay is equal with one’s race. We need to be more honest about the manipulative agenda behind this comparison and where it’s leading us.

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

It is foolish to treat sexual preferences as equivalent with race or gender. There is no conclusive evidence that supports such a comparison. But the comparison is what feeds 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 or hateful toward those who choose a different sexual lifestyle. I am one of them.
We must expose this race comparison as a manipulative 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? Ask the Benham brothers and NFL player, Don Jones.  

 

If someone dares to publicly say that he does not agree with gay marriage, he is likely to be reprimanded and possibly hatefully ostracized. We can trash Tim Tebow for his faith without consequence but we dare not say anything about Michael Sam’s preference for sex with men. Those who openly flaunt their homosexuality must not be challenged in any way. Perhaps Michael Sam will be “uncuttable” as a player now. 

Those who oppose gay marriage on moral grounds are now being subjected to discrimination and exclusion in ways that will only incite anger in a free nation. 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 democratic process. It’s also coercion and manipulation of the worst kind.

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

Hope and change we really need

As we’ve increasingly become a culture where everyone does what is right in his own eyes and looks out for himself at the expense of others, the force of law has stepped in to regulate our individual and common lives.

Virtue forming influences of family, Church and societal expectation have gradually disappeared in our nation as we’ve become a culture of law.

The shared virtue of honor, for example, once played a greater role in our common life. But as people began to show less respect toward each other, maintaining civility became the work of law enforcement and we’ve become more dependent on social authority. 

We must recognize that expansive social authority over individual conduct is a poor substitute for a culture of honor and respect. 

Law is more of a negative and consequential force than a positive and preventative influence. I realize that human flourishing will always require some degree of law and law enforcement, but expansive law enforcement rarely provides the best context for such flourishing.

Consider 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.
  • If the American experiment has taught us anything, it has at least revealed that a free society is the best context for human flourishing. Yet freedom cannot flourish without deeper personal commitments to individual civic responsibilities that promote healthy social order.

We cannot afford 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 continue to threaten our future. Pursuit of freedom without virtue and character ultimately destroys those who seek it. 

I believe that Churches must especially renew their roles in the lives of families and communities. As Churches become the humble, redemptive, truth-telling communities of love that Jesus intended them to be, they will serve as surrogate families and reduce the need for a society based on law. 

Churches are called to be communities devoted to one another in brotherly love who delight in honoring one another (see: Romans 12:10).

In a dysfunctional and disintegrating society, regaining such a vision for the Church is not only a matter of obedience to the Lord, but the best hope for restoring 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