No one came to my support

It’s hard to comprehend what the apostle Paul experienced when he wrote, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me” (II Timothy 4:16).

How could it be?

Paul was no recluse who failed to build meaningful relationships in the Church. He was one of the primary Christian leaders at the time. He had won many to Christ and planted numerous churches. He also sacrificed greatly on behalf of many people. He was a teacher and an apostle of the Church. And no one came to his support? Everyone deserted him?

How could it be that so many forgot or abandoned Paul in his time of need? Think about it. No one cared enough to show up.  

How does it feel to be forgotten?

How does it feel to be deserted? Paul could have said, “Well, Well, I guess I’ll think twice before I sacrifice myself for these people.” “After all I’ve done for them, this is how I get treated?” “I guess I now know how much I am appreciated!” 

It’s natural to feel self-pity and resentment when we’ve been forgotten and unappreciated. It’s super-natural to respond as Paul did. Paul chose forgiveness over resentment when he said, “May it not be held against them.”

And then he told of a special visitor who came to his aid. “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength,…” (II Timothy 4:17).

If Paul had chosen resentment toward those who had deserted him, it’s unlikely that he would have been able to detect the Lord’s presence with him. A bitter heart cannot experience the strengthening presence of the Lord. Paul would have pushed away from the Lord if he had allowed his heart to be controlled by self-pity and resentment. 

In the footsteps of the Savior

Perhaps, however, Paul’s experience is not so strange. Maybe it’s actually a required course in the curriculum for those who follow Christ.

We must remember that those who follow Christ are called to identify with him in his sufferings (I Peter 2:21) and to fill up in the flesh the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24). Perhaps this life will require some experiences like the ones the Savior endured for us.

Jesus was deserted by his own disciples.

  • “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16:32).
  • “On the way, Jesus told them, ‘Tonight all of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered'” (Matthew 26:31). 

Gethsemane experience.

“All those who journey, soon or late, Must pass within the garden’s gate; Must kneel alone in darkness there, And battle with some fierce despair. God pity those who cannot say, Not mine but thine, who only pray, Let this cup pass, and cannot see The purpose in Gethsemane” (Ella Wheeler Wilcox).

It hurts to be forgotten and deserted. But when faced with such experiences, we multiply our pain if we choose bitterness over forgiveness. We also push away from the presence of the one who said, “…surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” and “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you’” (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).

Reflect on the words of the psalmist, “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close” (Psalm 27:10). 

Steve Cornell 

The God of the vulnerable

Reflect deeply on the way God is revealed in both His greatness and His love for the vulnerable. (Audio version here)

“To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations—as it is today. …. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:14-19).

Great thoughts on this subject “The gods that the ancient world worshipped were concerned with great people — the mighty and cunning, the swift and the gorgeous. The rest of humanity served as a backdrop — bit players, foils, and inconsequential fodder for the grand plans of kings, generals, and deities. Not so with the God of the Bible. We see God’s strange interest in the people on the margins carved upon every page of Scripture. It was evident in Yahweh’s selection of a nation of slaves to be his special people. It echoed in his choice of sheep-tenders to be the first to hear news of the Incarnation. We may miss how odd it actually is because we live in a culture that is deeply shaped by Christian assumptions. Though it is often violated, to care for the weak and vulnerable remains a Western virtue. This generally wasn’t the case in the cultures that surrounded Jewish and early Christian communities. Like modern Social Darwinists, ancient societies typically saw weakness as unworthiness to live. As the Roman philosopher Seneca described Roman culture during Jesus’ time, “We drown children who at birth are weakly and abnormal. Consider then the marvel of a God who not only tolerates the feeble and lowly, but places special premium on defending and caring for them. What a contrast. We see God, the most potent and self-sufficient Power imaginable, continually expressing profound concern for the least potent and self-sufficient — the orphan in distress. The Law describes, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow …” (Deuteronomy 10:18 NIV). The Prophets echo the same truth: “For in you the fatherless find compassion” (Hosea 14:3b). And, again, in the psalms, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families …” (Psalm 68:5-6). As we grasp this outlandish, beautiful reality, we encounter the truth of God’s father heart. It pulses not only for the orphan, but for each of us as well. He pursued us when we were destitute and alone. He adopted us as his children. He invites us to call him “Abba” and to live as his daughters and sons. Of course, we must not miss the fact that God calls his people to do the same. We are to live out “pure and faultless religion” by caring for the orphan and widow in their distress (James 1:27). As we do this, we reveal God’s heart to the world. Whether by adoption or foster care or mentoring or supporting the local Church in care for orphans around the globe, we display that astonishing reality that the Great One cares passionately for the least. And in the process, we experience God’s heart more deeply ourselves as well — a peculiar, marvelous love for the orphan. A peculiar, marvelous love for us” (Rick Warren). This is our God

  • “A father to the fatherless, a defender of   widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (Psalms 68:5).
  • “Though my father and mother forsake me,
 the Lord will receive me” (Psalm 27:10).

A call to be like our God

  • “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3).
  • “This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, …” (Jeremiah 22:3).
  • “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…”                                                        (James 1:27).
  • “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).
  • “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).

Steve Cornell

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

Living fully between already and not yet

Gospel-based living must be understood in the context of “Already (In between) and Not yet.” 

This way of seeing things will protect us from perplexing misunderstandings corrected by the apostle Paul in Romans 5-8.

The three parts (Already, In between and Not yet) follow the longstanding  Justification, Sanctification and Glorification. A Biblical understanding regards all three as a one-time gift received from God by grace (Romans 3:24-26; 8:29-30). But we experience this gift sequentially based on redemption accomplished and final redemption of our bodies (Philippians 1:6; 3:20-21).

This will happen “each in turn: Christ, the first-fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he ‘has put everything under his feet.’ Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” (I Corinthians 15:23-28).

Three Dimensions of life

  • Already: We are In Christ Justification: Justified before God through Christ (Romans 5:1-2). Redeemed, forgiven, saved, reconciled children of God.
  • In Between: We are being made like Christ Sanctification (II Corinthians 3:18). Progressive transformation into God’s image in this life.
  • Not Yet: We will be like Christ Glorification: the redemption of our bodies (Philippians 3:20-21; I John 3:1-2).

A Closer look

I. ALREADY – Four great provisions (Romans 5:1-2)

“Already…” God has made four great provisions for us through Christ and when I lose sight of them, I easily slip into a performance-based approach to God. These provisions are presented in Romans 5:1-2

  • Romans 5:1-2 – “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith (a one line summary of the whole argument of 1:18- 4:25), we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”

All four provisions belong to those who belong to Christ

  1. Justified: to be declared “innocent of all charges justly leveled against those who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (see: Douglas Moo, Romans NICNT).
  2. Peace with God: This is not inner peace but being in a relationship of peace with God. This is the gift of reconciliation for powerless, ungodly, sinners, who are enemies of God. Our peace with God shines against the backdrop of hostility (5:6-10).
  3. Access: a continual enjoyment of God’s presence through Christ (cf. Hebrews 4:14-16).
  4. Grace: as a realm in which we stand (3:23-24) Grace reigns (5:21) we are under grace (6:14). (

A new posture and perspective: joyful confidence

In view of the great provisions that belong to us in Christ, we posture ourselves with or embrace a perspective of “Rejoicing/Boasting.” Our posture is one of joyful confidence in the provision of God in Christ — not in human achievement (Romans 3:27; cf. Jeremiah 9:23-24; Philippians 3:3-9). We take joy-filled pride in God’s gift of salvation with a hope-filled expectation of His final deliverance!

II. NOT YET

We take this posture based on the promise of future glory awaiting us.  v.2- “We boast in the hope of the glory of God.” Our future is fixed in God’s gracious actions described with a rich array of terms: He (God) foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified! These are identity markers for those who have come to Christ! These actions of God overcome all the pain and challenges that assault us in this life. So “…our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18). And “….in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

Because of God’s gracious action for us: “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).

III. IN BETWEEN

Romans 5:3-4 “Not only so, but we also glory inour sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

We also take a joyful, hope-focused view of our sufferings. Why? Because our struggles are not really that difficult? No! We posture ourselves this way because present suffering cannot terminate or “break the connection with” God’s glorious future He has planned for us! “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”(Romans 8:18).

  • “No sooner has the Apostle pointed to ‘the glory of God,’ as a light shining afar to cheer the believer on his course, than he thinks of the contrast between that bright distance and the darkness that lies around him here.” (Gifford ). “It is probably to head off criticism of his teaching that Paul introduces the ‘problem’ of suffering.  For (particularly) Jewish objectors would be likely to question Paul sharply about his affirmation that the Christian is enjoying ‘peace with God’ when that same Christian is facing illness, persecution, and difficulties of all kinds.  Indeed, Christians themselves, then as today, were surely wondering about the reality of these blessings in the face of suffering. Characteristically, Paul takes an offensive posture. Not only do sufferings not overthrow the reality of these blessings, but they are themselves occasions for joyful boasting! The believer should boast ‘not only’ in the hope of the glory of God ‘but also’ in afflictions.  This means not merely that we are to exult ‘in the midst of’ afflictions but that we are to exult ‘in’ the afflictions themselves: that is, to view them as a basis for further confidence in our redeemed status (D. Moo).

Make the connection: faith, hope and glory

When we disconnect our present struggles from what we already have in Christ and what we will have by God’s promise through Christ, this life becomes burdensome in a way notintended by God.

The key words of this experience in Christ are “faith” and “hope”– focused on “glory.” Romans 8:24 says it well, “For in this hope we were saved.”

  • “Saved” is the definitive act of God in the past.
  • “Hope” is our present posture based on the certainty of God’s future for us.

Neither death (Romans 5), nor sin (Romans 6), nor the Law (Romans 7), nor any other created thing (Romans 8:38-39) can separate us from God’s glorious future He has planned us to in love (Romans 8:29-30). More than that God is working all things together to this good (Romans 8:28).

But during the “in between,” faith and hope are words that shine in a context of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and circumstances of desperation (Hebrews 11; Romans 4:18-21).

  • “…all the evil that the Christian experiences reflects the conflict between ‘this age,’ dominated by Satan, and ‘the age to come,’ to which the Christian has been transferred by faith. All suffering betrays the presence of the enemy and involves attacks on our relationship to Christ. If met with doubt in God’s goodness and promise, or bitterness toward others, or despair and even resignation, these sufferings can bring spiritual defeat to the believer. But if met with the attitude of “confidence and rejoicing” that Paul encourages here, these sufferings will produce those valuable spiritual qualities that Paul lists in vv. 3b-4.” (D. Moo)
  • “Sufferings, rather than threatening or weakening our hope, as we might expect to be the case, will, instead, increase our certainty in that hope.  Hope, like a muscle, will not be strong if it goes unused. It is in suffering that we must exercise with deliberation and fortitude our hope, and the constant reaffirmation of hope in the midst of apparently ‘hopeless’ circumstances will bring ever-deeper conviction of the reality and certainty of that for which we hope” (D. Moo).

Connecting our present sufferings to the already/not yet fortifies us with a continual reaffirmation of hope. But this fortification is the work of the Holy Spirit who fills our hearts with an awareness of God’s permeating and unalterable love (5:6; 8: 35-39). Yet the Holy Spirit also intensifies our awareness of incompleteness (8:23) and helps us in our weakness (8:26-27).

Life between: What does it look like?

We must be clear about what life looks like during the in between period. In Romans 8, we learn so much about it. Whatever it looks like, it’s built on three great truths:

  1. No condemnation is declared over those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1)
  2. We are set free from the law of sin and death in Christ (Romans 8:2)
  3. The righteous standard of the Law is fully satisfied for us through Christ (Romans 8:3-4)

After these truths, the apostle explains the crucial role of the Holy Spirit connecting the Already and the Not yet (Romans 8:5-16). Then he builds a deep connection between sonship (Romans 8:19,21,23,29), suffering and Glory (Romans 8:17,18,21,30). Postured in hope (Romans 8:20, 24-25), we (along with the sub-human creation) are waiting eagerly and patiently (Romans 8:19,23,25), groaning (Romans 8:22,23, 26) and weak (8:26). These are very real experiences in the “In Between.” We must make sure that new believers anticipate the reality of these challenges. But we also must teach them to view “present sufferings” in deep connection with the Already and the Not Yet.

“And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved” (Romans 8:23-24, NLT).

Note: The only change I would make to this translation is to stress that it is because the Holy Spirit has given us a foretaste of future glory that we groan in view of our painfully obvious incompleteness in this life. We sigh and it’s a sign of our spiritual health. I call this the blessing and burden of the indwelling Spirit.

The Holy Spirit provides what we need as we journey through the incompleteness and frailty of life between the already and not yet! The two primary means used by the Spirit for transforming us into the likeness of Jesus are the Spirit-inspired Scriptures (II Timothy 3:15-17) and the Spirit-inhabited community — the Church (I Corinthians 3:16; 12; Ephesians 4:11-16).

Bondage to decay: from dust to dust to glory

It is noteworthy and must be taught that our present reality of “bondage to decay” is a result of God’s curse against the earth and against us because of sin. The reason that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (8:22) is because “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it” (8:20).

This is doubtless a reference to God’s judgment in connection with human rebellion against the Creator. To Adam, who was gifted with earth as his dwelling place and made its caretaker, God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17).

Yet God (who is rich in mercy) brought this curse against the sub-human creation “in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (8:20-21). So the apostle (by divine inspiration) postures the sub-human order with this profoundly amazing depiction: “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (8:20).

Decaying, waiting, groaning and hoping

Creation is in the waiting, groaning and hoping phase as it endures under bondage to decay. And– “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved…. But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (8:23-25). For God’s redeemed people, this (in between) time is also one of decaying, waiting, groaning and hoping.

For God also brought judgment against the man himself, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” When Adam broke God’s law, he came under the curse “you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). And, “just as sin came into the world through one man, anddeath through sin, andso death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12, ESV)

Under bondage to decay, we are waiting, groaning and hoping! Let’s make sure that we adequately teach each new believer about this reality! But never teach it (this theology of the fall) apart from the gospel!

  • Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:20-22)

Dust I may be, but troubled dust

Struggling with what he felt to be the exasperating enigma of existence, Richard Holloway, (the frustrated Scottish agnostic) couldn’t escape some identification with this reality when he groaned, “This is my dilemma. I am dust and ashes, frail and wayward, a set of predetermined behavioral responses, … riddled with fear, beset with needs…the quintessence of dust and unto dust I shall return…. But there is something else in me…. Dust I may be, but troubled dust, dust that dreams, dust that that has strong premonitions of transfiguration, of a glory in store, a destiny prepared, an inheritance that will one day be my own…so my life is spread out in a painful dialectic between ashes and glory, between weakness and transfiguration. I am a riddle to myself, an exasperating enigma…the strange duality of dust and glory.”

Hope of the gospel

The gospel (good news) is our hope. Jesus broke the power of this curse for us! “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Galatians 3:13-14).

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of death… and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15). For “God would not leave him among the dead or allow his body to rot (decay) in the grave. God raised Jesus from the dead… Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us” (Acts 2:32-34, NLT).

God did this “for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25).  Yes, the gospel says, “God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:8-9). We must place all of life and death in the context of the gospel!

Foundation of certainty

Paul emphatically and unequivocally states that no experience in this life can alter the certainty of God’s love for us. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).

A plan for action 

Mediate deeply and often on what God has already provided for us in Christ. And “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. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him inglory” Colossians 3:1-4.

Live this life resting deeply in the one who said, “Come to me…take from me… learn from me… for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light: (Matthew 11:28-30).

Final thoughts

Between the already and not/yet, I must train myself to be godly (I Timothy 4:7), seek God’s glory (I Corinthians 10:31), groan as I hope and wait (Romans 8:23-25), work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13), avoid grieving the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), make no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14), run the race with perseverance and struggle against sin (Hebrews 12:2-4); wrestles against principalities and powers and take up the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10ff.), strive to please the Lord (II Corinthians 5:9-10), and endure hardship as discipline (Hebrews 12:7). I don’t do any of this to gain righteous standing before God but to practice righteousness as one who has been justified before God in Christ.

I am in Christ (Justification/saved); I am being conformed to Christ (sanctification/being saved); I will be made like Christ (glorification/ will be saved). I receive all of this as God’s gift in Christ (Romans 8:28-30). I am an unworthy recipient of the gift but by grace, an active participant in God’s work of transformation.

Yes, I must be mindful that transformation is by the Spirit (II Cor. 3:18) and my aim is to “strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me” (Colo. 1:29).

Do I work to be justified? No! (the “Already”). Do I work to become glorified? No! (the “Not Yet”). Do I work to be Christlike in between these realities? Yes! “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man” (Colo. 3:23)–with “all the energy Christ so powerfully works in you.” And, as a spiritual leader following the example of Paul, sometimes for those I lead, “I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).

The really important thing for believers is to keep both (already and not yet) in clear view during this life. This will protect us from slipping into legalism or law-based relating to God. Too many celebrate grace upon salvation and move on as if grace got them in but works are the basis once grace gets them in. Yes, we work out our salvation but only because God works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Steve Cornell

Audio versionLiving Fully Between the Already and the Not Yet.

Every day is NOT a great day

jewish-wedding-breaking-glassIf you’re unfamiliar with Jewish weddings, it might catch you by surprise at the end of the ceremony when the groom steps on a thin glass wrapped in a napkin — smashing it under his foot.

I wish this breaking of the glass tradition was included in every wedding. It offers a very important reminder that where there is rejoicing, there should be trembling. This idea is based on Psalm 2:11 “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”

According to the history of the tradition, breaking the glass served to encourage sobriety and balanced behavior. One Rabbi said, “A wedding should not be sheer undisciplined merriment, and the breaking of expensive glass stunned the guests into tempering their cheerfulness. The ceremony serves, then, to attain tempered emotions.”

The custom could be used as a vivid object lesson to teach us that even in times of great joy and celebration we must also realize life and marriage will not always be easy. There will be times of difficulty,  sadness and sorrow. It serves to remind the couple and all who are present at the wedding of how fragile life and relationships can be.

The breaking of a glass is also reflects the Talmud’s assertion that, “joining two people in marriage is as difficult as splitting the sea.” On a more humorous note, another Rabbi suggested that it might be the last time the groom gets to put his foot down.

Our Church services

I thought of the breaking of the glass in light of Christian Church services where so much emphasis is placed on everything being “wonderful” and “great” and “amazing.” Do we strain to present ourselves in such positive terms that we give a one-sided view of reality? More importantly, how does our emphasis fit with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the following verses?

  • Matthew 6:34 – “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
  • John 15:20 – “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also”.
  • John 16:33 – “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
  • Acts 14:21-22 – “Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.

Evidently instruction about hardships, trials and suffering was part of the core curriculum of disciple making. It was presented as something normal to life and especially to the Christian life.

Cultural shift

Do we now live in cultures that encourage unrealistic expectations of uninterrupted happiness? I find it troubling when the Church strains to paint everything in such positive terms that believers are shocked and perhaps disillusioned by trials and suffering.

I appreciate the way one writer approached this truth:

“We need to develop the wisdom for living a life that is comfortable with being uncomfortable, and accept the fact that it sometimes doesn’t feel good to be a Christian….” “many people believe God’s main job is to make us feel good about ourselves and remain happy on our journey…”

“In this approach to following Jesus, there is no place for ambiguity, tension, struggle or any sense of anxiety. It’s a lot easier to believe that abundant life comes without pain and struggle. This mentality, however, directly opposes the type of self-denying life Jesus lived (Luke 22:42), and the inward dying and external pain Paul wrote about (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, Romans 5:3-5)” (By Zac Northen).

Hardships and Hope

Believers face sorrow like all people — but we do not sorrow like those who have no hope (I Thessalonians 4:13). We have access to the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles (II Corinthians 1:3-4). And we are encouraged to count is all joy when facing trails of many kinds (James 1:2-5). We also eagerly await a Savior from heaven, 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).

One day “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). But until that day comes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).

Do our gatherings reflect the tension of these truths? Are we equipping young people and new believers to understand the place of hardships and suffering in a context of hope? I get the desire to be positive but let’s not allow ourselves to be artificial or even dishonest in leaving out important truths that God has graciously revealed.

Psalm 2:11 “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”

Steve Cornell

God is an active presence during our suffering

“Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” Do you agree with these words? They express a dark outlook spoken in a season of grief.

These are the words of the ancient patriarch, Job. But many echo his sentiment. Many feel that life is short and full of problems.

It’s important to realize that being a Christian does not erase the challenges and troubles of this life. It’s tempting for us as Christians to think that being a Christian should minimize our troubles. After all, we have God with us! Shouldn’t He protect us from hardships? Shouldn’t life be easier?

Jesus said, “In this world you shall have trouble” (John 16:33). Paul reminded new believers in Antioch that, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

But trouble and hardship cannot separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35). “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble” (Nahum 1:7

No stranger to hardship

The Apostle Paul was no stranger to trouble and hardship. In fact, from the beginning he was marked out for these experiences by the Lord Jesus himself. At Paul’s conversion, the Lord said in Acts 9:15-16, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

The most comprehensive list of Paul’s hardship and suffering is found in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29.

Comfort for those who suffer

One of the main themes of 2 Corinthians is God’s comfort in the midst of affliction and suffering. This particular theme reaches all people because we all go through hardships and difficulties. We all suffer. Some members of the church (like Paul) are called on to suffer more than others. But we can all expect to make strong connections with 2 Corinthians as the truths of this letter reach into our experiences and teach us about the way God relates to our sufferings.

The primary occasion for an emphasis on God’s comfort and purposes in suffering was the accusation by Paul’s opponents in Corinth—claiming that Paul’s suffering calls into question his ministry and apostleship.

Of course, it is an ancient accusation suggesting that a person’s hardship is a clear sign of God’s displeasure. But in this case, it was being used to accomplish a very evil and subversive purpose of discrediting God’s apostle with the intention of taking his place of leadership in the church at Corinth.

So Paul opens his letter praising God for the very thing his opponents are using to discredit his ministry. For Paul, as it should be for all of us:

God is an active presence in the midst of trouble, hardship and suffering.

II Corinthians 1:3-4 bring us a very God-centered focus for our troubles.

  • Verse 3 focuses on who God is.
    • “He is the God of all comfort”
  • Verse 4a focuses on what God does.
    • “Who comforts us in all our troubles”
  • Verse 4b focuses on God’s purpose in what he does.
    • “So that we can comfort those in any trouble”

God calls us into His school of comfort where we study His ministry of comfort to us so that we can be equipped to be His agents of comfort to others.

Our God is so personal that He meets us in our troubles and comforts us through them. The people who know God can say with great confidence, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” It’s a very personal relationship. And because the Lord is my Shepherd, I can say, (Psalm 23:4) “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

The apostle is directing us to be students of divine comfort as God is preparing us for ministries of comfort.

Steve Cornell

Good advice for adult children of divorce

In his helpful book, “Breaking the Cycle of Divorce: How your marriage can succeed even if your parents’ didn’t,” Dr. John Trent suggested that adult children of divorce (ACOD) face daunting challenges in both life and marriage.

“Statistically, studies have shown that children of divorce suffer from more depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of rejection, drug and alcohol abuse, delinquency, poor inter-personal relationships, and criminality than children from intact homes. Sixty-five percent of children from divorced families will never build a good post-divorce relationship with their fathers. Thirty percent will be unable to build a good post divorce relationship with their mothers”

Most ACOD are resolved to have strong and lasting marriages. But, as Dr. Trent says, they live with a “nagging fear that your marriage will fail — just as your parents’ marriage did.”

As an ACOD himself, Dr. Trent offers 10 helpful points for people who never had the benefit of seeing a loving, committed marriage modeled for them.  If you suffered wounds when your parents’ marriage ended that make it difficult for you to trust other people, and even God, despite these struggles, Dr. Trent  encourages you not to think that you’re doomed to divorce. You can break the cycle and build a healthy marriage.” Share his advice with others.

  1. Embrace the love that will never abandon you. Understand that, while people might let you down, God will come through for you. Accept the love that He offers you —unconditional love that you can count on, no matter what. If you haven’t already, begin a relationship with God through Christ. Make it a top priority to build a closer relationship with God each day. [If you need further direction on this issue go to our web site. There you’ll find a number of web links to ministries and organizations, like NEED-HIM, where you can find answers.]
  2. Know that you have a choice. Recognize that you aren’t a powerless victim. Know that what happened to your parents doesn’t have to happen to you, and that you aren’t a slave to your past. Decide to choose to respond to your circumstances in ways that will lead to a positive future.
  3. Face your fears. Take your fears out of the dark (lurking in your imagination) and bring them into the light by talking about them openly with your spouse. Pray about them specifically rather than just worrying about them. Seek and accept help from a close friend or a professional counselor to confront stubborn fears.
  4. Focus on positives instead of negatives. Ask God to renew your mind and help you reprogram your thinking about your marriage and life in general so you’re more positive than negative. Write several lists: one that lists ways you and your spouse are not like your parents, one that lists ways your marriage is not like your parents’ marriage, and one that lists your spouse’s strengths and positive attributes. Then post your lists in prominent places in your home or car where you can see them every day to remind you.
  5. Take small steps toward a big difference. Don’t worry about trying to make huge strides of progress in a short time; recognize that that is unrealistic. But be encouraged that making small, steady steps toward breaking bad habits and establishing good ones will eventually lead to a significantly more positive life for you. Focus on one issue at a time and keep stepping out as God leads you to do so.
  6. Find an accountability partner. Ask God to lead you to someone who will hold you accountable as you make changes for the better in your life. Consider a friend, family member, clergy person, or counselor. Meet with your accountability partner regularly to honestly share your thoughts, feelings, and recent behaviors. Know that support from a relationship like this can be a great source of encouragement and help to you.
  7. Seek professional help when you need it. If you aren’t making progress on your own in dealing with tough issues, don’t hesitate to get help from a professional counselor. Schedule some strategic sessions so the counselor can coach you through the issues. Realize that just a few short meetings can benefit you.
  8. Rely on God’s power rather than your own. Don’t try to wrestle with your struggles on your own. Instead, invite God to work in and through you, empowering you to handle everything that comes your way. Trust that whenever you ask for His help, He will respond —day by day, and moment by moment.
  9. Find a healthy marriage model. Look around for couples who have healthy marriages, and choose one to ask if you can build a friendship with them and study how they interact with each other. Know that observing a good example of marriage can give you: hope that marital commitment can endure for a lifetime, the expectation that commitment will endure for a lifetime, specific ways to relate to your spouse in healthy ways and build up your marriage, and ways to resolve conflicts without destroying your relationship with your spouse.
  10. Pass on blessings to the children around you. Decide that, even though you learned some unhealthy lessons growing up yourself, you will do all you can to be a good example to your own children and others (such as nieces, nephews, and friends of your children). Remember that children you encounter on a regular basis are constantly watching you, listening to you, and learning from your life.

“In candid and age-appropriate ways, show children how to communicate openly and honestly, be proactive and take initiative, make good choices, put the needs of others before their own, make and keep commitments, ask for and offer forgiveness, relate to and draw strength from a loving God. Ask yourself every day what kind of lessons the children around you are learning from your example, and what kind of legacy you’ll leave to future generations.” (Breaking the Cycle of Divorce: How Your Marriage Can Succeed Even If Your Parents’ Didn’t, by John Trent).

Steve Cornell