Is self-love our greatest need?

So how do you feel about yourself? How’s your self-esteem?  Do you have a good self-image? Answers to these questions have become prominent concerns of education, psycho-therapy, counseling and parenting.

One writer suggested that, “Feeling good about ourselves may in fact be the cornerstone of our total well-being.”

When this emphasis became mainstream, some church leaders jumped on the wagon. “Self-esteem or pride in being human” one minister wrote, “is the single greatest need facing the human race today” (Robert Schuller, Self-Esteem: The New Reformation, p.19). Schuller even wrote that, “Once a person believes he is ‘an unworthy sinner’ it is doubtful if he can honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Christ.” (Robert Schuller, Ibid., p. 98). Unbelievable!

As time went on, lack of success on every level of life (at work, in school, in relationships) as well as almost every form of evil and destructive behavior would be traced to low self-esteem. So the agenda in education, counseling and parenting became focused on the goal of encouraging self-esteem and self-love.

It’s certainly not unreasonable for parents, educators and counselors to see some connections between one’s view of oneself and other issues in life. Building healthy self-respect and confidence is not necessarily a bad thing — if built on the right foundation.  But those of us familiar with what the Bible teaches (and honest about the reality of life) have good reasons to be guarded against overstatement on self-image, self-love and self-esteem.

Is self-love mandated in Scripture?

Scripture assumes that we love ourselves when it says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) or “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but feeds and cares for it” (Ephesians 5:28-29).

The mistake some interpreters make is to misread these passages as mandates to love yourself. The text does not present two commands, one to love your neighbor; the other to love yourself. The texts above assume self-love as a current reality and mandate love for others. Scripture actually warns about the dangers of self-love and the need to put limits on self-esteem.

2 Timothy 3:1-4

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”

Misdirected love

The “terrible times” in the “last days” are partly due to misplaced love. Notice where love is directed:

  • verse 2 – lovers of themselves
  • verse 2 – lovers of money
  • verse 4 – lovers of pleasure
  • verse 4 – rather than lovers of God

Along with this, people become:

  • verse 2 – boastful, proud and ungrateful
  • verse 4 – conceited

These traits are labeled as dangerous. They belong to the degeneration of wholesome society.

Clear warning

In 1 Timothy 3:6, there is a direct warning about dangers related to self-esteem. It warns against allowing a new believer to be an elder/leader in the Church: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.”

Conceit is best defined in Romans 12:3-  “…I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment…” This offers an important word against unrestrained self-esteem.  “Think of yourself with sober judgment” –realistically and honestly— with humility (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7).

Would it be wrong to encourage someone to have confidence in himself or to have a little self-respect? No! But these statements shouldn’t be taken too far (Consider Luke 18:9-14 with Luke 15:18-19).

Old Testament examples:

  • Moses (Exodus 4:10-11; 3:11)
  • Gideon (Judges 6:15)
  • Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5)
  • Amos (Amos 7:14-15)
  • Job (Job 42:6)
  • Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:28-37)

New Testament examples:

  • Peter (Luke 5:8; 22:31-34)
  • Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
  • John the Baptist (Luke 3:16)

Philippians 2:3-5 – the mind of Christ

“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”

Kingdom thinking

The best way to overcome misdirected love is to live by a kingdom of Christ understanding of life.

How did Jesus present 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).

Consider the contrast

   

The self-Image focus Says:

God’s Kingdom Calls Us To:

1. Love Yourself Love God and others (Ma. 22:37)
2. Build your self-esteem Build up others (Hebrews 10:24-25)
3. You are good None righteous (Romans 3:23)
4. Believe in yourself Heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9)
5. Put yourself first Put others first (Philippians 2:1-4)
6. Think highly of yourself Be humble (Romans 12:3)
7. You are of great value We are sinners (Romans 3:10-11)
8. Do what you want to do Walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16)
9. Find yourself Deny yourself (Matthew 16:24-26)
10. Have self-confidence Put confidence in God (Philippians 4:13)

See: Pride: Should it be removed from the seven deadly sins?

What should you do with your life?

Can a line be traced from your life to the fame of God’s Name, the coming of God’s Kingdom and the doing of God’s Will — on earth as it is in heaven?

  • Are you  pursuing business? Good!
  • Athletics? Good!
  • Marriage and family? Good!

But will you settle for any of these in a way that disconnects from God’s name, kingdom and will? All too easily, we default to life built for our names, our kingdoms and our wills! And, in the end, it always turns out to be a little life shrinking into a final kind of meaninglessness. We were meant for so much more! 

Is it possible to have life-goals that are good without being great?

  • A good business has goals. A great business stretches goals into eternity.
  • A good marriage has goals. A great marriage (as God intended) has more than horizontal goals; it reaches vertically into eternity.
  • A good athlete has goals. A great athlete wants his goals to matter for eternal good!

Have you settled for too little?

When people admit to being frustrated, discontent, anxious and angry. When they express overall dislike of themselves and their lives, I respond by saying,

“I am sure you must have a wrong view of yourself, but the reason you feel as you do is because YOU matter to YOU a whole lot!”

The things that frustrate us, that make us anxious and angry are deeply connected with our most cherished values. More often than not, when we experience these emotions, it should alert us to the danger of settling for far less than God’s intended.

Think about it

“You” is not a big enough thing to live for when (to use Augustine’s line), “God made us for Himself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Him!” We were made “by Him (Christ) and for Him” (Colossians 1:16).  When we live for anything less, we shouldn’t be too surprised that we feel unsatisfied.

I realize that life is a daily routine filled with mundane and demanding things. I also know that we too easily fall into patterns of living that fail to reach with intention into eternity. When we attach our hearts to mundane goals and ambitions, we tend to settle and sour. We were made for more! (Did I say that already?)

Send a memo to your heart

“You were made for more than a sorry little life of self-absorption! Don’t settle; reach!

    • “And He (Jesus) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (II Corinthians 5:15). Repeat it often: “No longer for me but for Him.” (See: Galatians 2:20)
    • “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2).
    • “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).
    • “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31)

An ancient and evil strategy:

With brilliant imagery, C. S. Lewis, pictured a senior demon instructing a junior demon about the delicate use of pleasure as a weapon against God’s people:

“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s [God's] ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is [God's] invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever-increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula…. To get the man’s soul and give NOTHING in return–that is what really gladdens [Satan's] heart.” (C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters)

    • Our problem: We live for small ambitions that shrink us and rob the identity, meaning and joy intended for us by God and provided for us in the gospel.
    • Our vocabulary of Security, Identity and Mission reflects our little lives and empty relationships.
    • Our hearts must attach to something greater…something beyond this life! We were made for more than small lives lived for self!
    • Our goals in this life must reach into eternity by anchoring to God’s name, kingdom, and will.
    • The great danger might be that I will live for too little when God intends to enlarge my expectations by shaping them around something greater than my life.
Steve Cornell

Two Great Songs for Worship and a Prayer

I love songs with real messages centered in truth with deep gospel clarity! 

“Lord Jesus, give me a deeper repentance, a horror of sin, a dread of its approach. Help me purely to flee it and jealously to resolve that my heart shall be Yours alone. Give me a deeper trust, that I may lose myself to find myself in You, the ground of my rest, the spring of my being. Give me a deeper knowledge of Yourself as Savior, Master, Lord, and King. Give me deeper power in private prayer, more sweetness in Your Word, more steadfast grip on its truth. Give me deeper holiness in speech, thought, action, and let me not seek moral virtue apart from You.”

“Plough deep in me, great Lord, heavenly Cultivator of hearts, that my being may be a tilled field, the roots of grace spreading far and wide, until You alone are seen in me, Your beauty golden like summer harvest, Your fruitfulness as autumn plenty. I have no Master but You, no law but Your will, no delight but You, no wealth but that You give, no good but that Your blessing, no peace but that what you bestow.”

“I am nothing but what you make me. I have nothing but that I receive from You. I can be nothing but what grace adorns me. Quarry me deep, dear Lord, and then fill me to overflowing with living water” (The Valley of Vision, Collection of Puritan Prayers).

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

 

What’s your narrative for life?

What narrative do you follow for life? By narrative, I mean the way you choose to live your life.

  • What do you base life on?
  • What vision of life do you follow?
  • What matters to you?
  • What motivates you?
  • What defines you? 

A narrative is always supported by a way of thinking about life – about yourself, others, possessions, purposes, priorities, goals and, especially, how you view God.

An ancient word on three popular narratives and one alternative:

“This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

1. What I know: the wise
2. What I do: the strong
3. What I own: the rich
4. Who I know: those who know the Lord
 

Life-defining experiences often shape the narratives people follow:

When we experience significant loss, hurt, betrayal or injury — it can lead to narratives of despair, resentment, self-pity, anger, revenge and even violence.

A bad life-narrative can feel like beingstuck in a bad flight pattern. But, no matter how bad, people often validate or justify their narratives when dealing with loss, hurt, betrayal or injury. They extend the damage by recycling its effects through their hearts and minds and into their relationships.

A narrative of self-confidence: gains and losses

A powerful example of dramatic change of narrative is found in the apostle Paul. He tells his story in the New Testament book of Philippians. The apostle followed the expected path to social recognition in the religious community of his times. He knew the course to take to gain status and esteem among the people who mattered most. He pursued and obtained the pedigree. He had the degrees and the accomplishment to make him important in the eyes of the establishment. Listen to his description:

“Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault” (Philippians 3:4-6).

Jesus Christ changed his narrative:

“I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.”
______________________________________________________________________
Change doesn’t come quickly or easily:
_______________________________________________________________________

The apostle quickly qualified the nature of life-change in Christ as an arduous journey of perseverance. He used words that remind us of active and persistent engagement: “press on” – “take hold” -”forgetting” – “straining toward” – “press on toward the goal

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

A narrative in pursuit of greatness

The first followers of Jesus were enamored with the power and popularity that surrounded Jesus. He taught with authority and performed miracles. He also revealed His identity as the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures. The early disciples saw Jesus as their ticket to greatness. They postured for seats at the right and left of the King in His Kingdom; they argued over which among them was considered greatest. They boasted of loyalty in the face of opposition. Bottom-line? They viewed Jesus as their ticket to self-exaltation! 

What inclined their hearts toward this narrative?

They simply followed the dominant narratives of religion and culture around them. Religious leaders loved chief seats and flattering titles in public. They loved the praise of man, money and power over others, etc… The structures of gentile authority followed similar lines without the religious overtones. Jesus repeatedly rebuked them and corrected their attachment to this narrative. It’s a narrative that can be found everywhere – in every period of history. 

Confronting their pursuit of this narrative, in Matthew 6, Jesus warned them not to prostitute the sacred practices of giving, prayer and fasting to promote themselves. Advocating a radical change of narrative, Jesus said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). Knowing that they were taking their cue from the wrong places, Jesus repeatedly said,  “Do not be like them.” “Do not do as they do.”

In luke 22:24-27, Jesus directly confronted this narrative:

A dispute also arose among them 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.”

When you encounter Him as Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ will radically disrupt and reorient your narrative for life. An excellent short summary of this truth is offered in II Corinthians 5:15 

“And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but (live) for him who died for them and was raised again.”

Steve Cornell

 

Fashionable to talk about God?

“The cold logic of mid-twentieth century atheism has now given way to an era of renewed ‘spirituality,’ but it is an awakening more therapeutic than pious, more attuned to self-expression than self-denial. It is now fashionable to talk about God, though it is still deeply unfashionable to believe in him. Yes, Americans are a religious people, but we embrace religious beliefs in the same way we adopt preferences for certain brands of product. The commitments are deeply personal without necessarily being deeply held. Our convictions are about identity, not reality. They suggest who we want to be rather than what we believe is true.”

~ J. Mark Bertrand, (Re)Thinking Worldview (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2007), 57.

One thing a parent should not say

 

Is there a method of parenting so effective that it will erase the sin nature in our children? Short answer? “No.” And if you don’t get this, it’s very possible that you’ll expect more from parenting than it can deliver.

But here’s the tricky part: parenting matters! It’s possible to be a good parent or to be a terrible parent. Parenting makes a difference! But how much is parenting meant to provide? How much can we actually do for our children?

I see too much formulaic thinking when it comes to parenting—especially among Christians. Formula in; product out! Or, so we hope. If only we had the right recipe! We want so much to believe that we can “get it right.” We want the proverb about parenting to be in the genre of ironclad promise, not a generalized observation. You know the proverb: “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” (22:6). Or the proverb, “Discipline your children, and they will give you peace of mind
and will make your heart glad” (29:17).

So what do I say to parents who are broken hearted over a wayward son and tell me they thought they did everything right in raising him? Is it possible to do a good job parenting and end up with wayward children? We are God’s children. Do we go astray? Does God have any wayward sons and daughters?

I have no doubt that I approach this subject very differently from when I had small children. Raising four children to adulthood has seasoned my thinking. More importantly, it has merged my theology with my reality. But wait!

What does theology have to do with parenting? 

Much more than most realize. And since you asked, let me explain. The human story started out as a good story. In fact, God said it was “very good.” “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). But God’s good beginning went bad.

When the first humans rejected God’s loving rule and declared their independence from His authority, the good story (our story) went bad. And it got so bad that God said, “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). God brought swift judgment to clean up the earth but even after His judgment, in a sad moment of divine concession, God declared, “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21, see: Life Under Divine Concession).

Another proverb tells us that, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (22:15). The apostle wrote, “just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). After things went bad, each person has been born “dead in their transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Our only hope is in God seeking us (and our children) for salvation because no one seeks after God (Genesis 3:8-9; Romans 3:10).

Most Christian parents know that they cannot “parent” their children into salvation.

But how much do they realize that salvation is God’s gift to mercy-pleading, chest-beating, self-confessed sinners? (see: Luke 18:9-14). Most Christian parents don’t want to raise self-congratulating Pharisees who look on others with contempt. But they want their children to “be” good. So how can we raise them to do what is right without being proud of themselves or thinking that they can be good enough for God? Christian parents want their children to experience God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ but they know they cannot “parent” them into this experience.

This is where things can get a little sticky.

Entering the grace-story of the gospel happens when one personalizes the back-story of human depravity. But how do our children come to see and know that they are depraved, lost sinners in need of rescue? We want them to make good and wise choices without believing that it gives them credit with God. We lead them away from bad behavior yet want them to turn wholeheartedly to God’s grace for sinners.

Grace is not amazing to a list-building, self-righteous Pharisee. Those who consider themselves to be generally good don’t plead for God’s mercy and go home justified by Him. They don’t get it. Their eyes remain blinded until the God “who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”made his light shine in their hearts to give us them light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6).

Then they will realize that God has chosen mere “jars of clay” for His treasure and that He did this so that the “all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7). It can’t be from us! We are powerless. But “just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). We can and should teach this to our children. We must model it in our own daily turning toward grace. Let them see you repent. But remember that only God can open the human heart to the need for saving grace. And when He does, grace is lavished on chest-beating, mercy-pleading, self-confessed sinners.

What am I saying?

Am I suggesting that our children must go out and behave very wickedly to be ready for the gospel? No. And if you entertained this thought, you don’t really get it. Each one of us is born anchored to our heritage of sin. Apart from the intervention of God’s grace in Christ, as one writer put it, “Our teleology is our archeology” (Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice). Human depravity is pervasive to our entire being from the moment we enter the world. It knows no borders in the human being. It spreads to every atom. But this does not mean that we will always act as badly as we can. It means we will always (apart from God’s grace) be as bad off as we can be.

As parents, we must teach this to our children. We must point them to God’s solution when we discipline them for the wrongs they do. In all character training, we must tell them that only God can change our hearts. We correct behavior and address heart issues. Only God changes hearts and gives a new heart!

Tell them your story in the context of THE story.

Start with God’s good creation. Tell them how and why it went bad. Expose our common share in the back-story of human depravity. Lead them to understand the grace of God in Christ. They will take steps toward this. Don’t rely too much on them “accepting Jesus.” Rarely do they really get it at a young age. Be patient, teach, invite but don’t assume that they’ve “accepted Jesus” and all is fine.

So what is the One thing a parent should not say?When our children do sinful things, we should be cautious about saying, “I can’t believe you did that!” We might ask, “What were you thinking?” or say, “That was very wrong of you!” but saying “I can’t believe you did that” could possibly minimize what Scripture emphasizes about the depravity of each heart. The gospel is good news because of the bad news of sin. We all have the capacity to do very evil things. This is why we all need God’s grace. Believe this gospel and teach it to your children.

Steve Cornell

Seven point marriage inventory

 

It takes work for marriage to work. 

A marriage will not do well without an intentional focus on building a strong relationship. After 29 years of marriage, raising four children to adulthood and planting a thriving Church during those years, my wife and I know that marriage requires intentional commitment.

The pastor who married us gave me only one line of advice: “The graces you used to win her love, use to keep her love.”

When I neglect those graces, the cause is typically complacency and selfishness. When married people fail to intentionally cultivate a good relationship, they easily lose good will toward each other. I need (as a husband) to see it as my calling to take the lead in cultivating a stronger relationship. 

A big marriage problem:

For as much as people desire to be married, we obviously have a marriage problem in this Country. Divorce statistics start at about 50 % for first time marriages and steadily increase for second, third and fourth marriages.

A growing number of people whom I care deeply about are in failing marriages. Most of them never imagined being where they are today. They went into marriage firmly opposed to divorce and determined to make it work. Facing the prospect of divorce has been devastating to them. They know that they’ve not been perfect mates, but are sincerely willing to work on their marriages. Yet they face unwilling partners. They feel they’ve tried everything to save their marriages but fear there is no hope. Life has become much harder for these people. Beyond their personal pain, their hearts ache for their children. My heart aches for all of them.

Make no mistake about it:

Divorce is painful and complicated. Those who experience it, endure emotional, physical and social exhaustion. I’ve observed this many times in my counseling experience. Even when divorce is an escape from a deeply troubled relationship, it’s difficult and painful. The discouragements, distractions and disorienting complications brought on by divorce can make life unbearable. And, to various degrees, the effects of divorce are lifelong.

Why are we facing a marriage crisis?

There are many reasons behind marital breakdown but a primary one seems to be an unwillingness to endure difficulties in relationships (or in anything else for that matter).

We have a big “I don’t have to put up with it!” attitude in our culture. I am not suggesting that we become enablers or co-dependents when the behavior of a spouse is selfish, destructive or abusive. This is another problem that leads to marital demise–especially among Christians. Yet I do believe we give up to easily and too quickly. We’re often too thin-skinned and too self-absorbed to cultivate deep relationships.

An iron-willed determination to make it work

A very wise marriage counselor once suggested that, “the secret to lifelong love and companionship is an iron-willed determination to make it work” (James Dobson).

When a marriage goes bad, there is almost always some form of neglect involved—some failure to be intentional and to cultivate relationship; a pattern of taking for granted. These are forms of relationship indifference that afflict many marriages. This is why events like marriage weekends are good for us. We need tune-ups and checkpoints. Every so often, we need to take inventory.

No perfect marriages: (no not one)

Another threat to marriage comes in the form of misguided expectations for instantaneous marital bliss. Let’s be very clear that there are no perfect marriages. I say this not to excuse people from working harder on their relationships but partly because I find that many people want too much from marriage. They have unrealistic ideas of marital bliss. They’re in love with the idea of being in love until they learn that loving another person takes effort.

All married people struggle to some extent to keep their marriages healthy and strong. 

It’s one thing to be in love; it’s another to love a person in the close proximity of marriage! Unrealistic and idealized versions of the relationship of marriage or of the person you plan to marry will quickly shatter in married life.

When sinners say, “I do” we cannot expect perfection! There are risks involved because there are sinners involved. You will probably get hurt but what you do with the hurt is the important part. The key to marital harmony is not the removal of all conflict (that happens in heaven), but a shared commitment to a reconciling spirit between two people who have been reconciled to God through their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Personal satisfaction and happiness

We have a huge contentment problem in our fast-pace, service-me-now, entitlement culture! Marriage is not primarily about personal happiness and satisfaction. Yes, in good marriages, this will be experienced. But personal happiness and satisfaction must not be viewed as the goal of marriage if you hope to experience them in it. 

A few closing words and a test

Marriages go through seasons– some better than others. If you find yourselves in an extended season of bitter cold winter, a check-up might help you to see the sun of spring again. If some form of complacency is behind your contentment, you might need to be snapped back into reality.

Not good to be alone but…

Originally, God said it is not good to be alone, but when sinners say, “I do,” it’s not always easy being together! Marriage clearly offers the closest possible relationship of intimacy and companionship we can enjoy. It should be a relationship of mutual encouragement, acceptance and partnership. It should be characterized by truth, love, good will and grace toward each other. But when a relationship that was meant to be a close companionship disintegrates into one of conflict, alienation and loneliness, it leads to deep dissatisfaction and discontentment. It takes the joy out of life.

Good marriages are not accidental. Intentional commitment is essential. This is why taking occasional inventory is not a bad idea. The seven-point inventory below is a combined work between myself and a fellow-leader in our Church. Please share it with others.

Seven Point Marriage Inventory

  1. Ask God to give you a teachable and gentle spirit before taking this inventory. Stop right now and pray before doing this survey! Recite these truths to yourself: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).
  2. What are two things YOU could do to make your marriage better?
  3. What are three things you appreciate about your spouse?
  4. What is ONE thing your spouse could do to make your marriage better?
  5. Share your answers to #3 with your spouse.
  6. Share your answers to #2 with your spouse.
  7. Ask your spouse if one of the 3 things you listed for #2, is what he\she listed for you for #4.

(If not, share #4 with each other without a condemning attitude or a defensive response)

Assignment - Take time (right now) to pray about your marriage and thank God for your spouse. Ask for help if you feel your marriage could benefit from outside input.

____________________________________________________________

Treating my spouse as one for whom Christ died

The Scripture calls me to treat my spouse (and all others for that matter) as one for whom Christ died. The foremost ethic guiding our relationships with others is the example of the sacrificial death of Jesus. If Jesus died for her, how should I treat her?

Consider a few examples

  • “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
  • “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
  • “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
  • “If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.” (Romans 14:15)
  • “So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ” (I Corinthians 8:11-12).

Steve Cornell

See: Hope for hurting marriages


If only there were evil people out there….

 

Hamlet breaks into eulogy:

What a piece of work is man!“How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.”

Is there truth in this? Yes! As beings made in the image of God, human dignity is one side to our story. But honest people know all too well that it doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t address the uglier side to the beings we call human.

The other side: “Where is man?”

A prisoner in Auschwitz (the most notorious German concentration camp), gripped by the horror of his circumstances asked, “Where is God?” To which a fellow prisoner replied, “Where is man?” At the liberation of Auschwitz, one of the American soldiers said, “We knew man was evil but hadn’t suspected he was that evil.”

Confessing the truth about humanity:

“Man,” observed Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “seek the author of evil no longer. It is yourself.”

“Man,” wrote David Hume, “is the greatest enemy of man.”

Ambrose Bierce suggested that, “The defining feature of humanity is inhumanity” (The Devil’s Dictionary).

“We talk of wild animals,” wrote G. K. Chesterton, “but man is the only wild animal. It is man that has broken out.”

When humans dishonor the beasts:

Upon his return from the Rwanda Massacre, U.S. Ambassador Robert Seiple said, “There are no categories to express such horror. Someone used the word ‘bestiality’—no, that dishonors the beasts. Animals kill for food, not for pleasure. They kill one or two prey at a time, not a million for no reason at all.”

In the actual story of humanity, Shakespeare’s man of dignity and beauty is quickly overshadowed by human depravity. But it is of interest that in the face of horrific evil, we expect more from both God and man. Why?

The line dividing good and evil:

Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, after his horrific experience in the Gulag, wrote: “If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

From the Gulag, he noted how, “The victims hated their victimizers with the hatred by which they were victimized. And as hatred beget more hatred, the whole world became a concentration camp imprisoned and stoked by hatred.”

Absence of peace:

Looking at this world through any lens (or mirror) leads one to conclude that we human beings are not at peace or truly reconciled with anything or anyone in an unhindered way. If we reach some measure of peace, it’s not maintained effortlessly and soon disappears. This is true on all dimensions of existence. You are not at peace with:

  • Your body – It is threatened by many opposing realities. This is why we diet, exercise and contract diseases.
  • Your mind – It is threatened by anxiety, depression, evil thoughts and much more.
  • Your environment – Nature itself threatens to destroy us if we don’t respect its powers and our dependency on it: We can have too little or too much rain; too little or too much sun. The destructive forces are many (tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc…).
  • Your self – Sometimes we observe people who never seem to be able to get their “act” together and we ask, “What’s her problem?” Someone answers, “Oh, she’s got issues.”  Other times, after years of struggling, we’ll say of someone, “He’s finally at peace with himself.”
  • Your relationships – There are endless difficulties with family, friends and neighbors. Is there ever guaranteed peace and reconciliation between people? No. It’s almost always the opposite: conflict, hostility; revenge and war. Whether it is individual to individual, race to race or nation to nation. Absence of peace is real and even tragic.

The absence of peace (shalom) runs like a fault-line through human history and through every human heart.

Not the way it’s supposed to be:

“Human life is not the way it’s supposed to be. And so…the world’s great thinkers often diagnose the human predicament and prescribe various remedies for it. They diagnose oppression and prescribe justice. They diagnose the conformism of bad faith and prescribe the freedom of authentic choice. A few look at the world, fall into a depression, and put their prescription pad away.”

“Christians think that the usual diagnoses and prescriptions catch part of the truth, but that they do not get to the bottom of it. The real human predicament, as Scripture reveals, is that inexplicably, irrationally, we all keep living our lives against what’s good for us. In what can only be called the mystery of iniquity, human beings from the time of Adam and Eve (and, before them, a certain number of angelic beings) have so often chosen to live against God, against each other, and against God’s world. We live even against ourselves.”

“Near the beginning of our history, we human beings broke the harmony of paradise and began to live against our ultimate good. We once had a choice. We now have a near-compulsion—at least, that’s what we have without the grace of God to set us free. Over the centuries we humans have ironed in this near-compulsion, with the result that each new generation enters a world that has long ago lost its Eden, a world that is now half-ruined by the billions of bad choices and millions of old habits congealed into thousands of cultures across all the ages. In this world even saints discover, in exasperation, that whenever they want to do right “evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21). We are conceived and born in sin. This is a way of stating the doctrine of original sin, that is, that the corruption and guilt of our first parents have run right down the generations, tainting us all” (C. Plantinga Jr. Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be).

Beings capable of choice:

“In short, the Bible places responsibility for sin, which opened the floodgates to evil, squarely on the human race—starting with Adam and Eve, but continuing on in our own moral choices. In that original choice to disobey God, human nature became morally distorted and bent so that from then on humanity has had a natural inclination to do wrong. This is the foundation of the doctrine that theologians call original sin, and it haunts humanity to this day. And since humans were granted dominion over nature, the Fall also had cosmic consequences as nature began to bring forth “thorns and thistles,” becoming a source of toil, hardship, and suffering.”

“When God created the first two human beings, Adam and Eve, he set a moral limit: ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’ (Genesis 2:16-17).  Adam and Eve were free either to believe God and obey his law or to disobey him and suffer the consequences.”

“To create personal beings capable of this kind of relationship, however, God had to create beings capable of choice. These were not human puppets dangling from celestial strings but morally significant agents who are capable of altering the course of history by the choices they make.” (How Now Shall We Live?, Chuck Colson).

Peace needed and peace offered:

History offers endless proof that peace is the essential need for fixing what is broken in this world. We experience occasions of peace (which in itself testifies to our dignity) but disruptions, disturbances and wars are never far away. Whether relating to family, friends, neighbors or our own selves, peace doesn’t come easily and must be protected from corrupting forces. And peace with God is so far out reach that God had to come to earth to make it possible.

Our only hope:

“For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.  So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 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 5:19-21)

When we come to know peace with God through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1), we experience the peace of God in our hearts and our relationships. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:9).

After thought: Was Nietzche right?

Friedrich Nietzche argued that, “Christianity needs sickness and making sick is the true hidden objective of the church’s whole system of salvation. One is not converted to Christianity, one must be sufficiently sick for it.” In part, Nietzche was correct: the “sin-sick” find their cure in the Christian message of salvation. “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners,” (I Timothy 1:15).

But Nietzche had it wrong when he accused the church of making people sick to convert them. Scripture aligns with reality when it declares that, “All have sinned,” and “No one is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:23, 10). People do not need to be made sin-sick, they need to recognize that they are sinners in need of salvation.

Steve Cornell