The anxiety we feel in death

Hope-logo-2Each death of a follower of Jesus leads to an answer to His prayer, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24).

Because of this, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8). “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”.. “…to depart and be with Christ, is better by far” (Philippians 1:21-23).

And one day, “when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (I Corinthians 15:54). For Jesus broke the power of death, and those who trust him as their Savior rest confidently in his promise, “my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:39-40).

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

Jesus gave us direct orders when he said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

Consider some of the features of this place awaiting us: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Reflect deeply and prayerfully on these words

We must view death as an enemy and a thief – not a welcomed friend. Death is a separator. It brings things to an end and removes loved ones from our presence. But gratefully our Creator did not allow death to have the final word. Life in our present physical bodies is not our only existence. “Christianity is, among other things, the wonderfully good news that this life is not our whole story” (Robert C. Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion).

Therefore “… the anxiety we feel in the face of death is the consequence of our investing this life (from which we must die) with ultimate significance. The despair we feel when forced to reckon with the vanity of all our activities and pleasures is the result of our according ultimate significance to those activities and pleasures—to their being for us the whole story, or the center of the story. If we could manage to see this life as a stage in an eternal life, then it could be accepted honestly and gladly for what it is. If we could see the significance of our present activities and pleasures as deriving from a context beyond this present one of flowering and fading, they could be honestly enjoyed for what they are, no less and no more.”

“If on the other hand we have no larger expectation in terms of which to interpret this life, then since we are creatures who cannot escape our surveying imagination and our deeper longings, embitterment dwells on our doorstep. And we live in constant fear of stepping out into the open” (R. Roberts).

Steve Cornell

Confession of a senior pastor

In a recent Facebook post, I wrote:confession

“As senior pastor of a large Church, I often wish I could be more directly involved with many needs in the body, but I am grateful that God has raised up so many people who minister compassionately and effectively at our Church. This is the way God planned for His Church to grow. As I’ve answered my calling over the years to “equip his people to do the work of the ministry, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12), I find great joy in continually hearing about how many among us do those works of ministry.”

“I am also grateful for the pastoral staff and elders God raised up. As my focus has shifted to ministering to and through these leaders, I have watched God multiply His work in many places. Although I cannot be directly involved in all the areas of need and with each person, I am grateful to minister through others as they reach out. My fellow leaders do a great job keeping me informed about important needs and other areas of ministry as we pray together for the Church. Whatever our role in God’s work, it is to be done “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 4:11).

Response from a member

It is a good thing that you have been able to delegate this responsibility otherwise I cannot see how you would last more than a few months without complete burnout let alone all the years that you have been faithfully serving Millersville Bible Church.

My response

So true, but sadly this perspective is not always widely understood. Although I have the privilege of ministering to everyone each week through pulpit teaching, I cannot be personally involved with each area of ministry in the church. Some place misguided expectations on senior pastors to be there for all situations and they wrongly criticize them as uncaring when they cannot personally be involved. Thankfully, I don’t get much of this criticism because we’ve worked hard to teach people God’s plan for the Church based on Ephesians 4:11-16. When it does come my way, God has kindly granted me grace not to take it personally but to use it as an opportunity to teach. If I allowed myself to be controlled by the misguided expectations and demands of people, I would burn out in a short time and the Church would suffer as a consequence.

Additional thoughts — two dangers

As I am soon at the 30 year mark at our Church, I’ve observed two dangers with longevity of ministry. First, you can expect to be taken for granted. The old saying is true, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” But it’s not always contempt. Sometimes it’s more an issue of complacency and assumption. When this happens, it can hurt or even offend, but I must guard my heart lest I think more highly of myself than I ought (Romans 12:3). I must hear Jesus words, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty'” (Luke 17:10).

Secondly, there is a danger in me taking for granted the many blessings that come with longevity. I too could become complacent and allow assumption to breed ingratitude. I must remind myself of God’s call to be extravagantly grateful — “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ” (I Thessalonians 5:18).

Someone warned that it’s a sign of mediocrity when you express gratitude with moderation. A moderately grateful person is not one who does the will of God. G. K. Chesterton said it well, “Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

When we take things for granted we lose the wonder of it all. I must heed the wise warning from Clyde Kilby, “Stop being unamazed by the strange glory of ordinary things.” “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

At the same time, people must be taught to, “honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13).

Steve Cornell

Your eye is the lamp of your body

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Play the Audio Version!

What is Jesus teaching in Luke 11:33-36?

“No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you” (Luke 11:33-36).

  • Luke 11:33 – Perhaps a reference to how openly Jesus’ shined the light for a generation that demands a sign (v.29).
  • Luke 11:34-36 – Inner light that comes through the eye – (verse 36 connects the concern back with verse 33).

When trying to understand a difficult passage like this, it helps to explore ways that the Bible speaks about the main topics. In this case, we can look at ways the Bible addresses light, darkness and the eye.

Light and darkness are used throughout the Bible as metaphors for God’s revelation and removal of revelation from God; for moral purity and evil; for truth and deception; for spiritual understanding and ignorance or blindness to truth.

The eye is considered the igniting source to temptation and sin.

1. Eve was drawn to the forbidden fruit after “she saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it” (Genesis 3:6).

2. When a man named Achan hindered Israel by giving into temptation, his confession exposed the path of temptation: “When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them.” (Joshua 7:20-21).

3. David saw the beautiful woman, sent and inquired about her and finally sent messengers and took her (II Samuel 11).

4.  Jesus emphasized the power of sight to cultivate a heart toward evil, “…I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:28).

Important cross references:

  • Romans 2:17-13 “Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?”
  • John 9:39-41 “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’ Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

Steve Cornell

Does God control everything?

Originally posted on WisdomForLife:

Do you believe that God is the ultimate and final power over all things? Is God sovereign?

According to Scripture, God is the superior or supreme being. Describing the God we encounter in the Bible, one has written, “God does whatever he chooses to do, whenever he chooses to do it, wherever he chooses, involving whomsoever he wishes to involve.”

The sovereignty of God answers the question, “Who or What is in ultimate control?” Many people feel that life is generally a matter of good luck or bad luck. “Que Sera, Sera” — “whatever will be, will be?”  But are we victims of fate?

God’s description of His sovereignty

“… I am God, and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done. Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all my good pleasure’…

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Never give up!

Originally posted on WisdomForLife:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (II Corinthians 4:7-9).

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What does the Spirit-filled life look like?

Originally posted on WisdomForLife:

Spreading Tent of Rainbow RaysWhat does it mean to be filled with the Spirit? Is your local Church a Spirit-filled community? Where should we look to these questions?

Audio: Be filled with the Spirit–What does it mean?

The personal presence and power of the Holy Spirit is central to life that pleases God. The Holy Spirit is also the source for true Christian community.

The Scripture speaks of:

  • Walking by the Spirit
  • Being led by the Spirit
  • Bearing the fruit of the Spirit
  • Keeping in step with the Spirit
  • Sowing to the Spirit

This emphasis reminds us that everything in the believer’s life is affected by the role of the Holy Spirit. All of these expressions (from Galatians 5 & 6) also fit under the New Testament command: “Be Filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

  • But how does one obey this command?
  • What does the Spirit-filled life look like?
  • Is there a…

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Afraid of the Bible?

Why do some people feel a relentless need to attack the credibility of the Bible?

These attacks were (for many years) aimed primarily at an assumed contradiction between the Bible and science. The notion that the Bible requires a certain age for the Earth fueled these efforts to discredit the creation narrative. What many still do not realize is that the assumptions behind the science vs. creation debate are faulty (see: Confusing faith and science).

The endless attacks on the Bible beg the question: “Why are people so afraid of the Bible?”

It cannot be denied that the Christian Scripture played a central role in the founding and formation of our nation. The first English settlers looked to the Bible to guide them. “The influence of the Bible on their literature, their music, and their lives came with them. Their Christian faith was as much a part of who they were as their audacious spirit.” (Woodrow Kroll).

Perhaps this fact from history is behind many of the recent attacks aimed at Christianity and the Bible. Some feel that Christians have enjoyed status as the reigning ideology for long enough. Whatever the motivation, there is a growing band of anti-Christian missionaries who joyfully celebrate the marginalization of Christianity. But don’t let them fool you into believing that they are safeguarding us from some sort of Christian imperialism. Closer to the truth, they despise the influence the Bible carries on moral conclusions of voting members of the nation. Because the Bible doesn’t support their desired lifestyles, they increasingly see it (and those who take Scripture seriously) as an enemy to their cultural agenda for reshaping American life.

The tone of condescending ridicule aimed at the Bible has been common fodder for late-night comedians, and the media. What is more disturbing is the number in ordained ministry and on seminary faculties who encourage people not to take the Bible seriously. This reminds me of the New Testament warning that “a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Many of these ministers insist upon some sort of allegiance to the Bible even while they discredit it as a reliable moral guide for life today. With all their doubts about the integrity and reliability of the Bible, I honestly wonder why they don’t just get another book to teach and follow.

One of the latest waves of anti-biblical rhetoric  follows a pattern of listing strange laws meant to govern Israel as a nation during the Old Testament era and scoffing at how incredulous they sound to modern times (see: A strange yet realistically hopeful book). Another approach picks out the transparent stories about the bad things done by some of the main characters of the Bible. These things are all used to make the closing argument: “You cannot look to the Bible as a reliable guide for life today.”

Some critics are even more misleading by suggesting that the Bible promotes slavery, oppression of women and genocide. These accusations are not based on careful historical research of ancient Near Eastern contexts. Most often they are taken out of context and manipulated to serve a biased agendas.

I am not suggesting that everything in the Bible is easy to understand or accept. It is not easy to read about God’s judgments, but perhaps our perspective misses the greatness of his mercy in allowing rebellious creatures to live. Although we do not understand all the laws meant to govern Israel as a nation during OT times, we do know from repeated emphasis in the New Testament that believers today are not under those laws.

The fact that the Bible reveals its main characters violating God’s will for things like marriage and sexuality actually strengthens the authenticity of the text. As author, Dick Keyes wrote, “I never felt the God of the Bible was asking me to put on rose-colored glasses. Even the heroes of the Bible were described unsparingly in appalling moral failures—lies, sexual aberrations and murders.”

“I did not have to give up the honesty and realism that I had valued. Cynicism claimed that the world— both inside and outside of our heads—was profoundly broken and bent. I realized that the Christian faith had been saying this for two-thousand years, and Judaism for longer than that” (Seeing Through Cynicism: A Reconsideration of the Power of Suspicion).

The honesty of the biblical narrative reminds us that we are all sinners who have not lived up to God’s plan for us. So I come back to one compelling question: “What way of seeing things corresponds most with reality and does not contradict what I clearly know to be true?” Asked differently, “What seems to be the most plausible way of seeing things in light of what we know about humanity, the observable world and its history?

I believe the biblical narrative and the Christian worldview it presents offers the most logically consistent and plausibly realistic understanding of life and the world. It simply does the best job explaining the world we encounter each day. And it offers the best explanatory frame for the most extensive range of evidence in the world and in the human spirit. There is no other way of understanding the world that corresponds with reality as comprehensively.

Steve Cornell