We Serve No Sovereign Here

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before leaving this world, the Sovereign One said, 

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

Living in freedom under sovereign Lordship,

Steve Cornell

People who want to feel important

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. 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” (T. S. Eliot ).

Scriptures to protect you

  • “Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness” (Psalm 115:1).
  • “If anyone thinks he is important when he is nothing, he is fooling himself” (Galatians 6:3). 
  • “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: 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).
  • “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).
  • “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 4:10-11).
  • “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breastand said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner. ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted’” (Lk. 18:9-14).
  • “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 2:3-9).

Steve Cornell

See also: A gospel postured self perspective

A generation of deluded narcissists

Are we raising a generation of deluded narcissists?

This question is being raised in view of a study showing that, “college students are more likely than ever to call themselves gifted and driven to succeed, even though their test scores and time spent studying are decreasing” (Foxnews).

Dr. Keith Ablow suggested that, “We must beware of the toxic psychological impact of media and technology on children, adolescents and young adults, particularly as it regards turning them into faux celebrities—the equivalent of lead actors in their own fictionalized life stories.”

While there are important concerns associated with the study, please don’t just read this kind of analysis and merely shake your head at the problem. Let it motivate you to look closely at your own situation? A danger for some parents is the delusion that they’ve protected their kids from narcissism by shielding them from media and technology influences.

Be especially guarded against the tendency to highlight these kinds of studies to foster a deeper sense of how you’re doing it right. Tend first to what happens under your own watch. Follow the pattern of “Log out of the eye first before splinter checking other eyes!” (see: Matthew 7:1-6).

Please don’t make the mistake of constantly looking at the way others get it wrong while failing to keep your own child’s egos in check. The corrupting forces are not only media and technology. Some parents foster in their children the notion that the world revolves around them. Imagine how sad it would be to constantly repudiate the “world” for its failures only to find out that you failed to properly guide your own. It’s alarmingly disturbing how easily we discern issues in others and cannot see them in our own lives and families. 

Almost a year ago, I wrote a piece titled, “Don’t raise a narcissist (advice for parents).” Among professionals, narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is assigned to someone who meets five or more of the nine symptoms of the disorder. Parents should look closely at these characteristics and correct them if they observe their children behaving in narcissistic ways. But parents must also avoid doing things that encourage narcissistic ways of thinking. 

  • Are you parenting in ways that foster narcissistic symptoms?
  • Are you modeling narcissistic behaviors as a parent?
  • Do you always have to be right or to know more? 

From a Christian perspective, everything about narcissism conflicts with the narrative of the gospel. Narcissists are unlikely to truly see themselves as undeserving sinners who desperately need God’s grace in the Savior. 

Be careful not to overreact when detecting some of the symptoms in your children. The sin nature is often displayed in a gravitational pull toward narcissism — in all of our lives! The essence of sin is selfishness and narcissism is a form of sinful self-absorption. Let’s teach our children to name and renounce narcissistic self-deception by leading them to be sober-minded in God’s grace. It’s best when our children learn to self-check these tendencies under the great truth of the gospel.

The gospel calls us into a life ordered according to the mind of Christ: 

“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).

Steve Cornell

Watch your tone!

It’s not always what you say but how you say it.

Do you tend to use a negative tone in communication? Did you grow up in a home where you were exposed to negative or cynical voice tones? 

Slow down and Listen to yourself. Be honest with yourself.

When one of the tones listed below is prominent in your way of communicating, it points to deeper issues — heart issues that must be resolved. 

12 destructive tones

    1. Condescending
    2. Bossy
    3. Angry
    4. Snobby
    5. Frustrated
    6. Impatient
    7. Defensive
    8. Moody
    9. Distant
    10. Disrespectful
    11. Cynical
    12. Whining

One of the best ways to change our communication is to replace destructive tones with constructive ways of speaking to each other. An obvious example would be to replace gossip or slander with positive words about others. Words of appreciation and encouragement are excellent alternatives to the dark tones of grumbling and whining. 


Use the formula E429 to remind yourself of God’s will for our speech. This 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).

Steve Cornell

 

A gospel-postured self-image

What can we learn about self-esteem from these people? Or, What does a godly disposition or perspective look like?

How did Jesus view himself?

“Also a dispute arose among the disciples as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 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 22:24-27; cf. Mark 10:45).

Live this truth: 

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of 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!” (Phil. 2:3-8).

This is a posture formed by the gospel! It thrives in gospel-amazement among those who say, “when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4-5). “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (I John 3:1). “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us” (I John 4:16).
__________________
Steve Cornell
 

The Greatest Way to Live

If you don’t like the life you’re living, allow me to point you to “the most excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31).

If you want to leave mediocrity and complacency behind to pursue a transformed life, faith and hope are important but the greatest pursuit of all is love” (I Corinthians 13:13).

Love is so great that it binds all other virtues together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:14).

But I must warn you that a life of love is not for the faint of heart. Love will deeply enrich your life and relationships, but it will first require you to put everything under its influence. 

  • Slow down and reflect on the nature of love.
  • Let love examine every part of your life.  
  • Let it ask for changes as you submit to the transforming influence it requires.

The best place to go for love’s examination is to the 14 qualities of love listed in I Corinthians 13. Here is the best available description of love for humanity. A global pursuit of this love would change the world into a much better, safer and more godly place.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV).

This is God’s prescription for great relationships. Those who practice it minimize conflict because this love is anti-rivalry. Playful rivalry is not bad but when a relationship deteriorates, some form of divisive rivalry is involved.

  1. Love is patient: It is long-suffering. It restrains anger when provoked. Patience is more than passive waiting. It is active restraint that rests in God.
  2. Love is kind: It reaches out in good will with acts of care and concern for others. Love not only patiently forebears, through kindness, it actively pursues. Loving people are distinguished by their kindness.
  3. Love does not envy: It does not resent the blessings of others. Envious people engage in evil rivalry. The envier gloats over the harm or misfortune of the one envied. She delights in evil.
  4. Love does not boast: Love corrects the desire to call attention to one-self. A loving person is not a windbag or braggart. He does not parade himself. Love is willing to work anonymously. It needs no limelight or stage, applause or recognition.
  5. Love is not proud: not puffed up; not arrogant; not full of oneself. A loving person does not think more highly of himself than sober judgment dictates (Romans 12:3).
  6. Love is does not dishonor others: It is not rude. It is respectful of others.
  7. Love is not self-seeking: It does not insist on its own way. It is not self-absorbed.
  8. Love is not easily angered: It is not easily agitated nor easily provoked. Loving people are not hot-tempered, short-fused people.
  9. Love keeps no record of wrongs: Love seeks forgiveness and reconciliation. When hurt badly, this part of love is hard to practice.
  10. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth: This rules out gossip, slander, and delight in the downfall of others.

The grand finale: Love always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres.

In a staccato of four verbs enriched with repeated emphasis on how love brings everything under its influence, we learn that there is nothing love cannot face. Love is tenacious and faithful. Love is brave and noble; it never fails.

The personal nature and greatness of love takes on powerful significance when we realize that God is love. His love was put on display when He loved the unlovable – when “we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus offered a living example of love when as the Creator, He became a creature. The King became a servant; the Shepherd became a lamb; the High Priest became the sacrifice; the Sinless one was made sin for us (see: Philippians 2:3-10).

I recommend regular evaluation of life and relationships based on the 14 qualities of love in I Corinthians 13. We have put these on laminated cards for easy use. If you give me send your mailing address to me, we will send copies of these as our gift to you. (office@millersvillebiblechurch.org)

Steve Cornell


 

 

Don’t raise a narcissist (for parents)

Do you know the 9 symptoms associated with narcissistic personality disorder? 

Psychiatrists caution against assigning personality disorders to people until at least 18 years of age. I understand the reasons for this but (without using the labels), it can be useful to identify tendencies toward the symptoms of disorders earlier in a child’s life.

This is especially the case of symptoms associated with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). One reason is that the symptoms of narcissism are closely aligned with the sin nature because the essence of sin is selfishness.

But it’s perhaps more important for parents to check their own tendencies toward narcissistic behavior. Some parents actually model narcissistic attitudes and behaviors.

The parent who always insists on being right or knowing more or being better than others should not be surprised if his children display the same behaviors. Other parents raise their children to be little narcissist by failing to correct behaviors associated with the 9 symptoms of the disorder.

I am inviting parents to take inventory on this matter because a narcissistic life is not only destructive, it’s blatantly contrary to the gospel. 

A closer look at narcissism

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is assigned to someone who meets five or more of the following symptoms:

  1. A grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. (expects to be recognized as superior; is angered when not recognized)
  3. Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  4. Believes that he or she is special and unique (can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions).
  5. Requires excessive admiration (craves attention)
  6. A very strong sense of entitlement, (strong expectations of favorable and special treatment; demands compliance with his or her expectations)
  7. Exploitative of others, (takes advantage of or uses others to achieve his or her own ends — will even exploit people who should be appreciated)
  8. Lacks empathy, (unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others where it conflicts with his or her agenda)
  9. Is often envious of others (resentful toward the achievements of others who outshine him or her; and believes that others are envious of him or her)
  10. Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes (must be the most important person who knows more and is better than others; desires to be the center of attention)

Parents are wise to correct tendencies toward these behaviors and to avoid doing things that encourage narcissistic ways of thinking.

Parents who overly indulge their children by jumping at their every request actually encourage the symptoms of narcissism. These parents wrongly think this is how one should be a good parent. They should pause to recognize that the world they’re sending their children into won’t revolve around them or jump for them. This kind of overindulgent parenting will only set children up for self-destructive expectations.

More importantly, everything about narcissism conflicts with the narrative of the gospel. Narcissists are unlikely to see themselves as undeserving sinners who desperately need God’s grace in the Savior. 

The great emphasis of Scripture is on how God esteems humility and self-giving service toward others. Yet this fact may actually be used to motivate misdirected parenting among Christians. Some parents wrongly conclude that demonstrating servanthood to their children excludes being firmly authoritative in correcting selfish behaviors or withholding from them a sense of blessing when they are rebellious. But healthy application of authority does not necessarily violate the practice of humility and self-giving service. Instead, it can occasion opportunity for children to respect God’s order of authority and submission in this life.

Parents fail to prepare their children for life when they act as servants of their desires and demands rather than as parents who lead them and do what is best for their children no matter what they desire or demand – even telling their children not to be demanding.

God calls parents to firmly correct selfish behaviors and attitudes in their children. This is an act of true loving service.

Two points of caution:

  1. I am not referring to honest words of encouragement and compliment. Our children need to hear our love for them and our realistic confidence in them. They need to see themselves as valuable beings made in God’s image. We should also encourage them toward their gifts and strengths but always in context of humble recognition toward the Giver.
  2. Be careful not to wrongly judge self-confident people as narcissistic. Narcism is not so much about whether one is confident and comfortable in public roles, but whether he or she holds unrealistically distorted versions of reality regarding themselves. Quiet or seemingly shy people can also be very narcissistic (hypochondriacs are classic examples). But when people are self-absorbed or self-assertive in ways that involve arrogance and condescending attitudes toward others, the flag of narcissism is flying high.

Yet I have seen parents overindulged a child’s sense of personal beauty or talent in a way that distorts reality. This approach will lead to self-deception, narcissism and social dysfunction. It’s also a sure path to marital misery!  

  • Are you parenting in ways that foster narcissistic symptoms?
  • Are you modeling narcissistic behaviors as a parent?
  • Do you always have to be right or to know more? 

We should not be overly alarmed when detecting some of these symptoms in our children, because our sin nature displays a gravitational pull toward narcissismBut we must teach our children to detect and deal with narcissistic attitudes and behaviors.

Steve Cornell