Let them see it in our lives!

Take a moment and reflect on two ways that Christians can bear witness for Christ emphasized by the Apostle Peter in his letter to persecuted believers:

1. Good Works 

“Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. … It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. …. you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!” (1 Peter 2:12,15; 3:15-17, NLT).

There should be something compelling about the way we live in all our activities.  

“Any important work done well is an effective apologetic, especially as integrity in service continues to erode in our society. A Christian plumber who answers calls promptly, fixes problems quickly and thoroughly, and charges a fair price for time and materials makes a powerful impression for good upon every customer. A Christian manager who sets out clear expectations, listens attentively to both complaints and suggestions, and responds with evident thoughtfulness and wisdom elicits respect that strengthens any explicitly Christian testimony he or she might render. Good, skillful service casts threads around others that connect them to us in a relationship of mutual respect within which spiritual conversation might take place” 

“Christians contribute as they can — in neighborhood associations, in the workplace, on school boards, in mass media forums, in government — to the public conversation. Such Christians bring the wisdom of the Christian tradition to bear on matters of societal concern, and they do so in such a way that those who do not share Christian presuppositions nonetheless can appreciate and benefit from this wisdom. Education, financial responsibility, marriage and child-rearing, conflict management, ecological stewardship, racial justice, and a host of other generically human concerns all have been discussed by Christians in public language.” 

“Beyond the important intrinsic benefits of such “salting” and “lighting” of one’s culture, Christians hereby construct reputable standpoints from which they can share more specifically Christian convictions” (John Stackhouse).

2. Hope

“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:14-15).

This is so important! The underlying premise here is an assumed association with non-Christians significant enough that hope has an opportunity to be observed. Christians possess a profound hope, intended to be a radiant hope! We have been given great promises for a permanent, settled attitude of hope — with regard to life, death and the future.

According to Scripture, there is no room for pessimism to rule in the life of the child of God. And of course our settled expectation of hope is completely based on all that has given and will yet give to us in Jesus Christ.

“… with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming” (I Peter 1:13).

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21). 

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (I John 3:2-3).

The point of importance is that we should be among unbelievers enough that our hope causes them to inquire as to its source. But you can’t do this by hiding in a holy huddle among the Christians! And this would have been a temptation to these believers as they faced increased persecution.  

Get the point: Our good works and hope cannot be a source of witness without meaningful intersection of life with unbelievers. These are not c=verbal means of witness but life means that lead to verbal inquiry from unbelievers.

Of course, if we stay in a holy huddle — within the safety of our Christian stockades, how will those outside of the faith get an opportunity to observe the way Christ transforms our lives?

Where do you establish meaningful connection with unbelievers? What is your sphere of influence? How could these truths change your attitude toward the work place?

Action points:

  • Do you view work done well as essential to Christian witness?
  • Do you possess a contagious hope based in Christ? 
  • After answering these questions, ask God how He wants to use you. 

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

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 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. 

“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

Are you a social cannibal?

Beware of social cannibals

Some people enjoy bad news about others. They savor bits of gossip and slander. You might want to keep your distance from them when they give you the feeling that they might like to hear a little bad news about you. Let’s call these people social cannibals.

The analogy works because gossip and slander are behaviors that feed on weaknesses in others to nourish a sense of superiority. Like hungry cannibals savoring the flesh of another, social cannibals take pleasure in the problems, difficulties and failures of others. It’s dangerous to be in their company because you just might end up in their pot.

Have you ever been transparent about a personal misfortune only to feel that someone found a bit of pleasure in your circumstances? Sometimes it’s expressed in a little laughter and you’re not sure if indicates a strange enjoyment in what you shared. Be careful, you might be facing a social cannibal.

Have you ever caught yourself enjoying a bit of bad news about another person? Maybe you publicly feigned concern over the “unfortunate” news, while quietly finding pleasure in it. 

We must be humble enough to admit that this kind of response reveals, “human antagonism in one of its basest and most unheroic forms” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.). It is also a sin of the heart that is detestable to God (Pr. 6:16-19).

Why are we drawn to bad news about others? Could it be a diversionary tactic to make us feel better about ourselves? We must guard against this deeply sinful and destructive tendency. 

Social cannibalism is a predatory form of behavior that can be found in every culture and class of people. It tends to be more prevalent among refined and ostensibly religious people. The Germans call the behavior schadenfreude. The word refers to a twisted kind of pleasure in the misfortune of others. Social cannibals threaten good relationships and destroy wholesome community. Are you a social cannibal?

  •  “A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter” (Pr. 11:13).
  •  “Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife” (Pr. 26:20-22).
  • “But let none of you suffer as …. a busybody in other people’s matters” (1 Pet. 4:15).

See: Social Cannibals

Steve Cornell

5 links to see (and a fun video)

How (and why) to be the meanest mom in the world

When your kids tell you you’re mean, take it as a compliment. The rising generation has been called the laziest, rudest, most entitled kids in history. The news stories scare the best of moms. It’s easy to want to throw in the towel with your own kids. After all, don’t we all want to be the cool mom? Don’t give up. They may think you’re mean now, but they’ll thank you later.

The Irony of Despair (David Brooks, NYT)

“According to the World Health Organization, global suicide rates have increased by 60 percent over the past 45 years. The increase in this country is nothing like that, but between 1999 and 2010, the suicide rate among Americans between 35 and 64 rose by 28 percent. More people die by suicide than by auto accidents.”

“Suicide is delayed homicide.” Suicides happen in clusters, with one person’s suicide influencing the other’s. If a parent commits suicide, his or her children are three times as likely to do so at some point in their lives. In the month after Marilyn Monroe’s overdose, there was a 12 percent increase in suicides across America. People in the act of committing suicide may feel isolated, but, in fact, they are deeply connected to those around. As Hecht put it, if you want your niece to make it through her dark nights, you have to make it through yours.

Diagnosis: Human (Ted Gup, NYT)

Challenge and hardship have become pathologized and monetized. Instead of enhancing our coping skills, we undermine them and seek shortcuts where there are none, eroding the resilience upon which each of us, at some point in our lives, must rely. Diagnosing grief as a part of depression runs the very real risk of delegitimizing that which is most human — the bonds of our love and attachment to one another. The new entry in the D.S.M. cannot tame grief by giving it a name or a subsection, nor render it less frightening or more manageable.

The 5 Gossips You Will Meet (Tim Challies)

Gossip is a serious problem. It is a problem in the home, in the workplace, in the local church and in broader evangelicalism. It is a problem in the blogosphere, in social media, and beyond. In his book Resisting Gossip, Matthew Mitchell defines gossip as “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart” and shows…”

The Hole in the Gospel (D. A. Carson)

What is the gospel? In recent years that question has been answered in numerous books, essays, and blogs. Like the word “sin,” the word “gospel” can be accurately but rather fuzzily defined in a few words, or it can be unpacked at many levels…

The Gospel vs. Religion

The word gospel means good news. It is the opposite of the message of religion that tells you to get your act together if you hope to be accepted by God.

Religion buries us under the weight of the impossible. The gospel lifts us to a place we could never reach in our own strength.

Consider the truth of this gospel:

“… no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, … We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ.”  And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are” (Romans 3:20-22, NLT).

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. …For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them….For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:17-21, NLT).

“He (Jesus) came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God” (John 1:10-13, NLT).

Are you discouraged by disunity?

A church leader commented that they had not had conflict in their Church for years. Another responded, “Sure. No movement; no friction.”

We don’t want our churches to be like the married couple who said that they haven’t fought for years and then admitted that they also haven’t talked to each other for years. 

While Christians are supposed to be distinguished by their love for one another (John 13:34-35), please don’t conclude that  this means they won’t have conflicts.

God’s Spirit within us longs for unity among us, but experiencing such unity will not happen without effort. This is what stands behind the call to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Some Christians become too easily discouraged by disunity because they hold unrealistic (or even utopian) notions of trouble-free fellowship among those who walk with God.

If you are praying for conflict-free fellowship, God might take you to the only place where this is possible – heaven. Conflict is unavoidable on earth, especially where sinners are joining together to advance God’s kingdom. 

There’s a reason why Jesus prayed for the unity of His disciples before leaving this world (see: John 17:20-23). Jesus placed our unity in the context of our witness to the world when He prayed, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). 

There are many threats to Christian unity but the key to unity in a Church is not the absence of conflict but a shared commitment to pursue reconciliation when conflict occurs (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15-18).

But we also must have the maturity to understand that sometimes division is necessary. On one occasion, the Apostle Paul actually said, 

“….when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized (I Corinthians 11:18-19).

Most Christians would be surprised to observe how much of our New Testament is written to address issues of conflict, both potential and actual. 

A close look at the early church reveals points of division common to churches throughout history:

When you combine this list with the repeated emphasis on the need to maintain unity and purity in the church (e.g. Rom. 16:17; I Cor. 1:10; 5:7-13; Eph. 4:3; Phil. 2:3-5; 3:16; I Thess. 5:14-15; II Thess. 3:11-16; Ti. 3:10-11; I Pet. 3:8), it becomes even clearer that churches should expect many threats to unity.

Let’s call our churches to the priority of pursuing reconciliation when conflict occurs by following the two primary New Testament directives for resolving conflicts — Covering in love and Confronting in love  (seeTwo Principles For Resolving Conflicts)

“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT).  

Other resources for unity in the Church:

Steve Cornell