Resolving conflicts among Christians

We must be realistic about our expectations of life in a fallen world. While conducting our relationships with humble integrity, we must not be unrealistic about differences and difficulties that threaten peace between people — even among those who care deeply about each other. This is a truth that must be taught more clearly in the Church.

Jesus clearly anticipated fractures in Christian fellowship and taught us how to resolve them (Matthew 5:23-24;Matthew 18:15ff). We should not be surprised by them but ready to seek reconciliation.

These fractures are very different from the many minor grievances that should be immediately covered in love (I Peter 4:8) or from non-essential matters that should never be permitted to cause conflict in the Church (Romans 14:1-3). Believers must be mature on such matters.

But when sin divides Christian fellowship, a Church must understand the difference between personal forgiveness and reconciling a broken relationship. It’s possible to forgive someone without offering immediate reconciliation. It’s possible for forgiveness to occur in the context of one’s relationship with God apart from contact with an offender (Joseph being a great example). Reconciliation is about restoring broken relationships.

Forgiveness itself is not whitewashing or pretending a wrong never happened when the offense has driven a wedge between people. Forgiveness doesn’t require us to neutralize our sense of justice. The very act itself takes seriously the offense. But forgiveness does involve a surrender of desires for revenge. As such, it is an act of worship in the presence of the God who forgives our sins because it acknowledges God’s sole right to punish the offender (see: Genesis 5:15-20Romans 12:17-21). Forgiveness thus frees us from grudge-bearing vindictiveness and conversely empowers us to love our enemies as God loved us (Romans 5:8).

Priority Scripture places on pursuing peace

  • “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace …” (Romans 14:19).
  • “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
  • “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy …” (Hebrews 12:14).

What to do when peace does not seem possible

This depends on the nature of the situation. If the person is part of a fellowship of believers, we must follow Biblical mandates for protecting the unity of believers. The steps Jesus taught begin with private confrontation (after the personal preparation of removing logs from our own eyes, Matthew 7:3-5). If private confrontation does not remove the wedge, we move to private conference involving the offender brother and two or three others (enlisting those who are spiritually prepared (Matthew 7:3-5), spiritually mature (Galatians 6:1), and entrusted with spiritual oversight (I Peter 5:1-4Acts 20:28).

This only becomes necessary, if the one confronted has as obstinate attitude (Matthew 18:16). When a sinning member of the church refuses to heed the confrontation of a fellow believer, thus refusing to be restored to proper fellowship, the circle of confrontation must broaden to include one or two others.

Those called to be part of the confrontation do not need to be eyewitnesses of the sin (If they had been, they should have gone to confront the member themselves). Ideally, it would be good to include people who are known and respected by the erring member but this is not always possible.

The one or two witnesses are involved “so that every fact may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (v.16). Their purpose is not to threaten or intimidate, but to help the erring brother to understand the seriousness of the matter. Their main purpose is not really to evaluate the truthfulness of the charge, but to strengthen the rebuke and the call to restoration. After private conference, if the erring member remains obstinate and unwilling to acknowledge and repent of the sin, Jesus teaches a fourth step.

Each of the four steps has as its primary aim the restoration of the brother to proper fellowship. The fourth step is public announcement (Matthew 18:17a). Jesus said, “Tell it to the church (the assembly).”

This step is a sobering reminder that sin is not merely a private and personal matter for Christians. Sin that separates and alienates believers, must be dealt with and resolved. But how do we take this step of public announcement? In our church (due to size), we’ve sometimes handled this in the adult fellowship group the member participates in. Other times, we’ve communicated to all the covenant members through a special meeting of the membership. Some churches make these announcements during communion. Others will use a letter to the membership.

All churches should clearly spell out the process in their documents and seek agreement from the membership to follow it. This step also involves the fellowship in some kind of public confrontation. In Matthew 18:17b, Jesus implies that the church (as an assembly) has made an appeal to the erring member.

When the church is informed, (which reasonably implies that the pastors will be involved) warnings should be made about the need for the whole assembly to avoid gossip, slander and a proud or critical spirit (Matthew 7:3-5Galatians 6:1). Members should not play spiritual detective or allow either a lenient or a punitive attitude. They should be encouraged to pray for repentance and restoration, and to appeal to their fellow member to submit to the leadership of the Church. In such an appeal, one might humbly say, “I don’t know all the details, nor is it my place to know them, but I do want to encourage you to make things right with the church.”

No one should give the erring member the feeling that he is in good fellowship with the Church (cf. II Thessalonians 3:12-14). Never act in cross-purpose with the church. We should not do anything that would cause disrespect for the leadership. Remember the goal: “Win your brother.” It is redemptive!

The final step Jesus taught is public exclusion: removal from membership. The primary aim of this step is to protect the purity of the assembly (see: I Corinthians 5:1-11). Failure to practice these steps invites God’s discipline on the entire assembly (see:I Corinthians 11:30-32Revelation 2:5,1620-233:3-19).”

Steve Cornell

Responding to false accusations

False accusations are serious matters. How should we respond to them? 

On a personal level, the first thing I recommend is deep reflection on the fact that our Lord and Savior knows the experience of being wrongfully accused.

During Jesus’ so-called religious and political trials, “many brought false witness against him” (Mark 14). They said, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King” “We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.”

On this level, I must seek to follow our Lord’s example. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (I Peter 2:23-24).

The present tense of the verb (he entrusted himself) indicates that Jesus (kept) entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” This offers an insight from the scene of the cross not as evident in the gospel accounts. When following this pattern one is not treating lightly the false accusation but entrusting justice to the Judge of all the earth.

God is quite capable of being our strong defense (Psalm 62:1-8) and we must be careful not to play God by hastily taking matters into our own hands (see – Romans 12:17-21).

On a relational level, one thinks of the apostle Paul who defended himself before the Church of Corinth (a Church that appears to have allowed themselves to be swayed against the apostle by detractors who wanted to shift the loyalties of the Church from Paul to themselves. The apostle had no desire to engage in self-defense but was compelled to do so when the spiritual well-being of others was attacked.

This sets a helpful example because sometimes attacks against us are aimed at or include hurt toward others. We need wisdom and grace to sort out these concerns, but sometimes we must defend ourselves to protect others. 

On a spiritual level, I think of the words of John Bunyan, “He who is down need fear no fall.” The late Martyn Lloyd Jones described the poor in spirit as the person “who is truly amazed that God and men would think of him and treat him as well as they do.” We tend in the flesh to think the opposite – they should treat me better than they do! But, as the Psalmist so clearly confessed, God “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:10-12).

When these truths are kept close to our hearts, we will be postured in the gospel (Titus 3:1-6) and protected from angry reactions against those who wrongly charge us. 

Steve Cornell

Trying to play the divine lottery

I am the oldest son of eleven children (seven boys). Growing up in a large family, I felt extra responsibility to help with the needs of the home.

When I was nine years old, my mother came close to death due to complications at the birth of one of my brothers. All of the children had to be “farmed out” to relatives until mom got well enough to take care of us. This was a very difficult trial, but it only increased my sense of responsibility.

When I was eleven, my parents became Christians and our home transformed from being basically non-religious to being Christ-focused. Shortly after, my father came down with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis. This devastated our finances and placed a great deal of stress on family life. We lost the home my Dad had built and we struggled through years of setbacks and limited finances.

Despite these trying times, my parents’ faith in Christ deepened. As for me, I felt an even greater need to help my dad with the family.  

As a twelve year old, I struggled with why God allowed these things to happen to my mom and dad. As the oldest son, I was more keenly aware of the difficulties but did not have the maturity to handle it. Throughout those years, I often prayed for God to intervene with a “BIG” solutions.

My approach to God was something like those who play the lottery –– looking for a “BIG” solution to life. Prayer became like a divine lottery. “If only God would intervene and take our trials away.” I thought. So I prayed, and prayed, and prayed some more. But the BIG solution never seemed to arrive.

Through this experience, I learned how I could get so focused on BIG solutions that I missed the hand of God through many smaller interventions. And we witnessed many of these during our seasons of trial in a large family.

I find that I am sometimes still affected by my experience as a youth. At times, I tend to look at all the challenges, trials and setbacks of life and ask God for BIG solutions. Although I am typically optimistic in my outlook, my childhood mechanism occasionally pushes me into a place where I lose perspective. The way out of this feeling of despair is to trace the hand of God in the many smaller blessings of life. When I do this, although I feel bad for failing to notice God’s blessings, God is kind and merciful when we turn to Him with grateful hearts.

I also learned to thank God for the process of my trials because it reminds me of my dependence on Him. This is a good lesson and needed place for me to be (see: Deuteronomy 8:1-5; Proverbs 3:5-7).  

Although there were hard times growing up in a big family, I learned invaluable lessons about life and God — lessons I draw on many times as a spiritual leader.

Have you ever been in a dark tunnel of doubt and discouragement? Do you tend to focus too much on BIG solutions? I encourage you to trace God’s many acts of kindness in the smaller blessings of life.

When you do this, God will be honored and your joy will be renewed. The small blessings will also take on much greater significance and these words of Scripture will become more deeply meaningful: “the Lord’s compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Ask God to help you live by these words: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).

May you be blessed in the New Year!

Steve Cornell

Top 5 Arguments against eternal punishment

Along with great emphasis on God’s love and mercy, Scripture presents God as the Judge who sends some people into hell.

Jesus warned his followers not to “… fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Jesus referred to hell as a place where God sends people (Matthew 25:41,46).

The Bible doesn’t describe a pleasant end for those who reject God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. But what type of judgment falls on them?

Is it eternal suffering or eternal annihilation? Eternal in consequence or in duration? Part of the debate centers on whether ‘eternal’ is meant as a consequence (i.e. eternal punishment– not eternal punishing; the result being eternal destruction,) or as a duration (i.e. never ending, on going punishing).

Five arguments against eternal punishing

1. The fire is metaphoric

The late John R. W. Stott (a teacher I hold in highest regard on most subjects) suggested that, “The fire itself is termed ‘eternal’ and ‘unquenchable’ but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed forever, not tormented forever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which ‘rises forever and ever’ (Rev. 14:11; cf. 19:3)” (Evangelical Essentials, David Edwards, p. 316).

But how does this same approach apply to the burning bush of Exodus 3:2-3 which “burned with fire yet was not consumed”? Consistency of metaphor would lead one to think that smoke rising forever and ever indicates something is burning in the fire.

2. The matter of justice:

Sins committed in a finite realm should not suffer an eternal consequence. Justice demands punishment in proportion to the crime. This argument may sound appealing on the surface but it fails at the Cross of Christ. Why did the infinite, eternal God have to come and die for the sins of finite creatures? Sin against an infinite God is infinite in consequence. Are we implying that people can sufficiently pay the consequence of sin against God? I am sure we are incompetent judges of the penalty sin deserves.

“The Bible does not present us with a God who chances upon neutral men and women and arbitrarily consigns some to heaven and some to hell. He takes guilty men and women, all of whom deserve his wrath, and in his great mercy and love he saves vast numbers of them. Had he saved only one, it would have been an act of grace; that he saves a vast host affirms still more unmistakably the uncharted reaches of that grace. Hell stands as a horrible witness to human defiance in the face of great grace” (How Long, O Lord?: Reflections on Suffering and Evil, p. 92).

“Unless we come to grips with this terrible doctrine (of hell), we will never even begin to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was being destroyed in the worst possible way, but that was a flea bite compared to what was happening to his soul. When he cried out that his God had forsaken him, he was experiencing hell itself” (Tim Keller).

3. Conditional immortality of the soul:

This is argued by the late Philip Hughes in The Image Restored, pp. 398-407. He taught that immortality belongs to God in the purest sense and to believers only through Christ (I Tim. 6:15-17; II Tim. 1:9f). This seems to be based on a limited understanding of death as total extinction of existence. But, if spiritual and physical death do not result in cessation of existence, why would the second death? (Eph. 2:1-3; Heb. 9:27; Rev. 20:6; 14:21:8). Scripture does not equate death with non-existence. The evidence points in the opposite direction.

4. Luke 16:19-31 is a parable (and should not be considered a literal source of information)

This text is not identified as a parable, but even if it is parabolic in nature, treating it as an unreliable source ignores the one who is telling the story. Should we believe that Jesus Christ would use speculative imagery on such a serious matter? If this refers only to a temporary intermediate state ending in a judgment of annihilation, the judgment seems like it would be a welcomed end. This is clearly not the point Jesus is making.

5. The problem of eternal dualism:

Philip Hughes wrote: “With the restoration of all things in the new heaven and the new earth, which involves God’s reconciliation to himself of all things, whether on earth or in heaven (Acts 3:21; Col. 1:20), there will be no place for a second kingdom of darkness and death” (p. 406, The Image Restored).

The lake of fire is certainly not a Kingdom. Ongoing punishment itself would be a continuous testimony to the defeat of evil. The reality of victory over death secured by Christ is not threatened by hell (Heb. 2:14-16; I Cor. 15:54-55; Rev. 20:14; 21:4).

What does Scripture teach?

All humans will be resurrected (Jn. 5:28-29; Dan. 12:2; Acts 24:15); all will be judged by God (Heb. 9:27; Rom. 2:4-10; 14:10-12; Rev. 20:11-15), and all will be separated between two distinct eternal destinies (Mt. 25:32,41,36; Jn. 3:36; 14:1-3; Rev. 21:3-8).

Where people go after death

Theologian Millard Erickson offers a six-point answer to the question of where people go after death. His points are worthy of careful reflection.

  1. All humans are sinners, by nature and by choice; they are therefore guilty and under divine condemnation.
  2. Salvation is only through Christ and his atoning work.
  3. In order to obtain the salvation achieved by Christ, one must believe in Him; therefore Christians and the church have a responsibility to tell unbelievers the good news about Him.
  4. The adherents of other faiths, no matter how sincere their belief or how intense their religious activity, are spiritually lost apart from Christ.
  5. Physical death brings an end to the opportunity to exercise saving faith and accept Jesus Christ. The decisions made in this life are irrevocably fixed at death.
  6. At the great final judgment all humans will be separated on the basis of their relationship to Christ during this life. Those who have believed in Him will spend eternity in heaven, where they will experience everlasting joy and reward in God’s presence. Those who have not accepted Christ will experience hell, a place of unending suffering and separation from God (The Evangelical Mind and Heart).

Steve Cornell

See: Hell bound?

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…

A delusional euphoric state of stupidity

Emotional attraction is powerful and can be dangerous. It can induce drug-like feelings of euphoria that come with a blinding effect on otherwise intelligent people.

Be careful not to overdose on emotional love because it has a potency that can take you into a delusional state of stupidity.

Although most relationships that lead to marriage begin with high doses of this dimension of love, emotions don’t last long and they always change.

Women tend to be especially vulnerable to this when allow themselves to be in love with the idea of being in loveThey’ve dreamed of a wedding and marriage; a husband and a family. But (I am quick to remind them) it’s one thing to be in love — an entirely different thing to love someone for life. Emotions dissipate quickly in the routines and challenges of life together.

The danger with emotional love is that it can lead very bright people into a delusional euphoric state of stupidity.

Have you ever witnessed this in a friend? It’s tough to watch a friend become overly and irrationally obsessed with another person — especially when you see red flags about the relationship.

The delusional part is often in the irrational thinking about knowing the other person well when you’ve only known him for a short time. Or, when you think that she is just perfect and can’t see any flaws in her. It’s delusional when you let yourself think that you could never be happy without the other person and that you have to be together all the time to be happy.

This kind of euphoric state (often called the “in love” experience) tends to come with a number of superficial opinions based limited exposure and hasty conclusions. People in this “in love experience” typically exaggerate similarities and good qualities while overlooking differences.

When caring friends or family express concern, the delusional lover doesn’t tend to hear them or claims that, “You just don’t know him as well as I do.” But the euphoria of love can move from delusional to dangerous when people are unable or unwilling to see red flags.

Advice – Let your head lead your heart.

Let your head lead your heart when it comes to relationships. Use your brain! Don’t give your heart to anyone until your head has processed the necessary data to tell you that you are making a wise decision. If you give your heart to a bad relationship and I try to talk your head out of it, no matter how much I might make sense, I will probably not be very successful. 

Emotional love is a natural part of human attraction, but we must not allow it to lead to a delusional euphoric state of stupidity. No matter how good it feels, always be aware that it can produce a blinding effect that hinders rational and wise decision-making. It can also lead to profound disappointment and perhaps even contribute to divorce.

Although people who are “in love” tend to think that the feelings will never change, studies show that the euphoria diminishes early in marriage. This often comes as a surprise or even a shock to the delusional lover. When feelings fade and differences emerge, conflicts become a reality. Delusional lovers often don’t have a plan for resolving conflicts because they don’t think they’ll have any. This is why they tend to be unrealistically traumatized by conflicts.

When this reality hits, it can make people wonder what they were thinking or why their partner changed. “I didn’t see this side to him or her when we were dating.” they tell me. I gently remind them that sides to people don’t appear out of no where. Character traits are typically cut in deep channels with extended histories. So either he was concealing or you weren’t looking — probably both!

Remember that dating often tends to be a time when people conceal information that marriage will inevitably reveal. This is why we must guard our hearts and use our brains.

Someone once recommended that we should focus on becoming the person that the person we’re looking for is looking for. Start first by becoming the person that your future spouse needs. This will more likely lead you to attract and be attracted to the right kind of person. 

We also need a more mature understanding of love. Emotional love tends to be more selfish, more about how I like to feel. Those who are obsessed with emotional love reveal their immaturity.

Immature people are not going to enjoy deep companionship in a functionally healthy marriage. Perhaps the best advice an emotionally obsessed person can hear is that it’s time to grow up and stop making life about your feelings.

The emotional dimension of love (no matter how natural) is not enough to sustain a meaningful and lasting relationship. It’s far too superficial. Deeply satisfying relationships are built on the dimension of love I call “behaving in love.”

This dimension does not depend on feelings and chemistry. It’s based on a choice to value my mate and seek his or her best. It’s a daily decision to respond to my mate in a loving manner — regardless of feelings. While I can’t always make myself feel a certain way, I can always choose to act in a loving way.

Most marriages start with higher doses of emotional love and, in most relationships, the feelings diminish with time. When this happens, the key to love  is not pursuit of feelings — but a choice to act in love even when we don’t feel love. And what I’ve learned is that the feelings often follow the actions.

I am not advocating dishonesty about feelings but a priority on and enjoyment of a more mature approach to love. Marriage is not about feeling love but an agreement to love.

Steve Cornell

See also:

A needed word on Christian counseling

 

In a conversation with a medical doctor about anxiety and depression, he expressed frustration to me over the number of times he will diagnose significant levels of anxiety or depression only to be told that a patient’s pastor or friend warned against medicine and suggested a spiritual solution.

“This kind of five Bible verses and you’ll be better approach,” he said, “is far more common than many realize.”

Sadly, the doctor is right. Yet he acknowledged the common and misguided tendency among doctors to reduce these challenges to medicinal solutions. Over-prescription is a serious problem, but Christians should not react by choosing another extreme. Those who take the “five Bible verses and you’ll be better” approach risk discrediting the very Scriptures they offer. They also fail to leverage a great advantage available to Christian counselors.

We need more teaching on this subject because far too many Christians are quick to sound like an authority on a subject simply because they know a Bible verse or two about it. This approach is causing Christians to lose credibility in an area where they actually have far more to offer.



I told the doctor that when I counsel people I start with an assumption that they have a full line of moral credit. I treat them as individuals who can accept and pay for their debts. Out of respect for their dignity as beings made in the image of God, I view them as capable, responsible and accountable.



Yet I remain aware that life is not always easily reduced to raw choosing. We need to guard against a tendency within the Church to make all of life a matter of choice — of obedience or disobedience. We should counsel others with compassionate consideration toward the complexities that so often shape life.

This means (among other things) that we must take seriously the multidimensional nature of life in a fallen world. Christians must resist the tendency to approach people one-dimensionally — as if they were only spiritual beings in need of spiritual solutions. God created us as more than spiritual beings. Scripture itself reveals four dimensions of human life. We are…

  1. Physical beings with bodily needs.
  2. Social beings with relationship needs.
  3. Psychological beings with cognitive and emotional needs.
  4. Spiritual beings with a need for God.

Christian counselors have a unique advantage of being able to approach people holistically based on these dimensions. I say advantage because many other disciplines will not consider the spiritual dimension of life.

If I consider it inadequate when counselors or doctors leave out the spiritual dimension, why would I do the same with other dimensions? It is disrespectful to the truths revealed in Scripture to approach people one-dimensionally.

Scripture also reveals (what is empirically verifiable) that humans are fallen or sinful beings and that each dimension has been corrupted by our fallenness. This is why Christian counselors cannot accept idealized views of human potential apart from God’s grace and power. But it is also why the human body fails.

We should be grateful for the medical discoveries that help us with our physical needs. The most complicated human organ is the brain and it too can benefit from medicines that have been discovered.

A thorough Biblical understanding of humanity ought to protect us from simplistic reductions of life’s challenges. God has made us physical, social, psychological and spiritual beings and each dimension should be considered when counseling others.

We also must understand the dimensions of growth in spiritual maturity. While approaching people holistically, our ultimate aim should be to assist them in a life-process of bringing their lives into conformity to the will of their Creator. This involves our intellect (as we use our minds to explore God’s truth), our will (as we increasingly yield to God’s authority), and our emotions (as we cultivate godly affections).

Christian counselors do not treat people as products of impersonal chance. Since we know that there is a personal Creator, we call people to more than horizontal perspectives about life in a temporal world. Scripture reveals this amazing truth about Jesus Christ that, “all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). Our counseling must always point people to the Lord and sustainer of life.

The Church of Jesus Christ is called to show neighbor-love and true care for one another (Romans 12:10; 13:9-10; Galatians 6:1). Yet we must resist an all too common tendency to be overly zealous in offering quick and easy answers for the issues that trouble others. I realize that we’ve been told that the Bible speaks to every issue of life. And Scripture is a treasure of truth to guide us in a broken world.

Is it adequate, therefore, to share a verse or two of Scripture with a person who tells you about his struggle? This might be just what a person needs to hear — in some cases. Yet it is rarely all that is needed.

The approach that troubled the doctor is often guilty of careless listening that is more focused on answers than understanding a person’s problem. We need to practice patience and grow in mercy.

The virtues of gentleness and wisdom should be on full display among us when counseling others. Let us treat people respectfully and compassionately based on the four dimensions of life. This is a great advantage of Christian counseling.

Steve Cornell

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Get perspective!

It’s easy to lose perspective in a fallen world. Have you ever had a time when processing life became difficult? A time when you found it hard to keep a good and godly perspective?

There are many examples in Scripture of godly people who lost perspective about God and life.

Servants of God like Job (Job 3:10-13,16); Moses (Numbers 11:13-15); Elijah (I Kings 19:1-4), and Jonah (Jonah 4:1-10), all lost perspective so badly that they wanted to die.

Perspective (or how we choose to see things) can make a big difference in the quality of life.  We can’t always choose our circumstances but we can usually choose our perspective toward them.

Some life-controlling perspectives

1. Discouragement

Maybe you’re discouraged. Life has been hard and you’re having trouble seeing through your difficulties. Discouragement, at a deeper level, is a loss of perspective.

2. Negativity

Do you expect the worse to happen? Do tend to see the dark side of things first? Perhaps through setbacks or disappointments, you’ve even become very negative, cynical and sarcastic. You’re looking at life through the lens of pessimism but you feel like your just being realistic.

3. Anger

Are resentment and anger your primary lens for life? Perhaps you always have a slow burn under an outwardly pleasant veneer. Anger can erupt at any time and rule your life. Is anger an occasional disruption or the way you process most of life?

4. Complacency

Have you become complacent? Perhaps you’ve just stop caring because you feel that caring doesn’t help and often leads to hurt. Maybe you’ve drifted from God and you no longer take spiritual matters very seriously. 

5. Self-absorbed

Are you all about yourself? Is life about how you feel and what you want and you, you, you? Does it always have to be your way and about you?

All of these involve perspectives — ways of seeing things or construing life. What is your general outlook on life? Does you feel like your attitude is caught in a bad flight pattern? If you’re stuck in one of the perspectives above, you might need some counseling to help you move forward (some perspective sessions).

And please remember that your perspective not only affects you. All of those who must relate with you or who are under your influence are affected by your perspective.

How to keep a good and godly perspective

My recommendation for maintaining a good and godly perspective is as simple as it is profound. And it might change the way you approach the Bible and thus change your whole outlook on life in a way that conforms to God’s will.

We simply must recognize that all Scripture was given for perspective formation.

Consider what the Apostle Paul taught about the origin and role of Scripture: 

II Timothy 3:16-17

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to:

  1. teach us what is true and
  2. to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.
  3. It corrects us when we are wrong and
  4. teaches us to do what is right.

God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (NLT)

God’s Method

God’s method for changing you is that you “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Ephesians 4:23 describes it as being “made new in the attitude of your minds.” God is committed to changing your outlook, attitude or perspective! (cf. Philippians 2:3-5).

Romans 14:13 specifically challenges us regarding this:

“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about (προνοιαν) how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” 

The italicized words in english come from a greek term which means “a pro-visionary way of thinking.” Another translation says, “make no provision for the flesh” (NASB). Another says, “don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires” (NLT)

To overcome sinful attitudes, perspectives and emotions, one must see things differently. One must “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” How does an appropriation of Christ to one’s life (clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ) offer a different pro-visionary thinking? How does it provide a gospel-based outlook that counter-veils the wrong way of thinking?

Two Provisions from God

Perspective is often closely associated with personality or temperment. Transformation in this area doesn’t mean that we all become the same personality type or temperament, but that we all yield our personalities and temperaments to the transforming influences of two divine provisions:

  1. The Spirit inspired Word - all Scripture.
  2. The Spirit indwell community - the reinforcement of godly perspective through connection with our local Church.

Notice that the Holy Spirit is the agent of spiritual transformation (see, II Corinthians 3:18) and His two primary instruments are the Word (Scripture) and the Church — the community of believers (see, Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25).

We believe that Scripture is God’s revelation of Himself and His ways of dealing with His creatures. Apart from it, we’re reduced to subjective human opinion and speculation about God, life, suffering, death and eternity. We would have nothing that offers univocal and universal authority transcending human culture and opinion. We would have many human stories but no original story to shape perspective. The Bible provides this for us!

Of course, the Bible was not originally written to us – but it was all written for us. And it presents God’s dealings through different times of history — which means we do not apply all of it the same way. We must “rightly handle it” (II Timothy 2:15).

So when reading the Bible, some things relate specifically to the original recipients (and seem foreign and strange to us) —-but from the text emerges truths that transcend time and culture! (Examples: II Corinthians 1:3-5, 8-9; 4:16-18; 12:7-10; James 1:1-5).

When you enter the Bible, I am encouraging you to see it as a “perspective formation session with God.” Your personal devotions offer a time to get perspective or to maintain godly perspective. 

Again, all scripture is given for perspective formation.

Three unique perspectives 

What the Bible offers is different from positive thinking books or other material in that it confronts us with:

  1. Vertical truths for the horizontal issues of life
  2. Eternal truths for the temporal circumstances of life
  3. God-centered truths for the self-centered default mode of life.

The Bible also answers really important questions about origin, meaning, morality and destiny. 

Remember that behind actions, emotions, and attitudes are ways of thinking (perspectives) that fortify the actions, emotions, and attitudes.

Why do I do this? (you’re struggling with habits and actions). Why do I feel this way? (you’re struggling with emotions). What we need is counter-veiling ways of thinking (perspectives) to confront ways of thinking that hold us in destructive ways of life. This is the role the Bible fulfills.

Loss of perspective must be challenged by daily perspective forming sessions with God.                                        

Don’t try this alone

We cannot do this alone. God designed that we flourish in community not in isolation. We must allow others to speak into our lives to reinforce vertical, eternal, God-centered perspectives. The Church is God’s ordained place for this to happen. 

When we lose perspective, we’re tempted to travel in the company of those who share our outlook. “Misery likes company.” To maintain good and godly perspective, we need to travel with people who reinforce it (see: Hebrews 10:24). 

Steve Cornell

Social Justice and the Church

The Church is in need of a far deeper understanding of what it means for believers to be agents of common grace who are committed to the welfare of the city of our exile.

This calling is rooted in our identity as salt to the earth and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). It also has profound theological foundations on at least three levels of shared life between redeemed and unredeemed.

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

This part of our mission is largely built on truth about the universal human reality of the Imago Dei (the image of God). It provides a 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 lawfulness” (Richard Mouw). Romans 2:15-16 appear to validate this cognitive access — even among those who don’t have access to Scripture.



The realm of common grace presupposes an ability to have rational conversations about a common good with fellow human beings. In some political circumstances Christians must accept limitations and pursue 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 to sit at the table to seek the good that leads to laws and policies, why would we neglect such a privilege? 



Are there social, cultural and political agents of change ordained by God for the common good? Yes. And these are His gifts of common grace. Parents and authorities are two of the primary examples (Ephesians 6:1Romans 13:1-4). Society benefits when parents are attentive and diligent. We need laws and law enforcement to protect us. We also need mentors to train us.

We can engage in truth-based dialogue and persuasion in settings like family, work, community and government without quoting biblical chapters and verses. When sensitivities are high to separation of Church and Sate, explicit use of Scripture in dialogue about public policy will be more quickly dismissed. 

We can confidently articulate a worldview that honors our Creator and Savior without verbalizing explicit references to the Bible. We can also hope for some of these truths to resonate with the general public.  Never forget that each person brings a worldview to discussions about moral and social issues. Many of our laws and policies reflect moral and worldview commitments.  

What we need is more thoughtful creativity about the best ways to engage the public in serious dialogue and persuasive thinking on current social issues. Frankly, what I’m advocating will require a deep understanding of the unfolding narative of Scripture in shaping our worldview. 

How could those who honor the Creator refuse to care about a common good for His creatures? How could we withdraw from the table of discussion where the policies and laws are formed that profoundly impact our neighbors?

Of course, all activity on this level can never displace the greater needs we have as human beings. The human need is far deeper than social or cultural change. Our nature itself must change. We need a change of being or ontological transformation. This change only comes through God’s gift of spiritual regeneration in the gospel. Rules and laws can be used to regulate behaviors but a change of being is nothing short of a creative act of God.

God said, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). We need a recreation or new creation by the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5) for the restoring of God’s image in us.

Steve Cornell

 

8 Links worth seeing

  1. The End of the World’s Leading ‘Ex-Gay’ Ministry
  2. Group apologizes to gay community, shuts down ‘cure’ ministry
  3. Conversion therapist: Lawsuit won’t stop us
  4. Why Do So Many Rappers Impersonate Christ? 
  5. The Evolution of the Swimsuit
  6. Marriage rate may be low, but more weddings predicted
  7. Marry Me. And Me
  8. The Pornography Culture (an older column worth seeing again)

Other ministries dedicated to helping those with unwanted same-sex attractions