A perpetual dialogue of gratitude

large_be-grateful-titleBlessed Thanksgiving to all!

Even if you live in parts of the world where this national holiday is not celebrated, please join us in giving thanks! God’s call for all of us is to be an extravagantly grateful people. When our gratitude diminishes, our joy goes with it, and life becomes a more difficult journey.

Reflect for a moment on a few points about gratitude from Scripture.

1. A moderately grateful person or Church is not walking in the will of God, by the power of the Spirit of God or in the way of love.

  • The will of God – “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ” (I Thessalonians 5:18)
  • The Spirit-filled life – be filled with the Spirit … always giving thanks to God the Father for everythingin the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18, 20).
  • The life of love – “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (I Corinthians 13:7, NLT).

2. A grumbler and faultfinder is certainly not a hope-filled witness to the good news of what God has done for us through Christ.

  • “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky” (Philippians 2:14-15, NLT)
  • “These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage” (Jude 16).

Some final thoughts on thankfulness

  • The Christian life cannot be lived as God intended apart from a perpetual dialogue of gratitude toward God and others. Initiate an intentional dialogue of thankfulness today. Start with a purposeful week of gratitude ands watch how it grows. What if God made you live today on only those things you thanked Him for yesterday? 
  • We all have bad days when we’re not the most cheerful persons. And there are proper ways to express disappointment. Yet we need to become more mindful of our witness for Christ if our attitudes are creating a negative reputation.
  • Those who walk in God’s will are distinguished by a grateful and gracious disposition. How can we expect people to believe our message of hope when our lives do not reflect hope? How can grouchy people share a gospel of grace? So if you’re a critical, crabby, grumpy grumbler, please don’t tell people you’re a follower of Jesus Christ.
  • Have you become a moderately grateful person? Are you slow to give thanks and quick to complain? Your heart has drifted from the Lord if you fit these descriptions.
  • I invite you to turn to the one who can restore the joy of your salvation and learn to be amazed each day that God, “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).
  • Remind yourself each day of something that cannot be changed no matter the circumstances of this life — “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 5:21).

with gratitude,

Steve Cornell 

Warning those in the Church

I have the privilege each month of investing in other pastors. The concerns they share with me remind me of many things I’ve experienced and learned over 30 years of ministry.

A common theme I hear from other leaders is how often critics attack pastors and their Churches. I often encourage pastors to warn people about the consequences of standing against God’s work and servants.

There is an obvious difference between humble people who genuinely desire positive solutions to challenges in a Church and antagonistic individuals who take pleasure in causing strife and dividing people. I am not talking about necessary stands for truth but causing strife and divisions in unnecessary and destructive ways.

Sober words of warning

Consider these sober words to Church members who are behaving as antagonists: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple” (I Corinthians 3:17).

Wherever God’s work is flourishing, critics will be there to attack it — often from within the Church. These people feed on negativity and display a narcissistic need to find things wrong with God’s work and His servants. But I’ve repeatedly witnessed the ways God protects His work and servants.

But it sometimes seems like God waits until the hearts of the critics are entrenched before He stands against them – destroying them for trying to destroy His work. Scripture emphasizes God’s patience but also warns against taking it lightly (Romans 2:1-5; II Peter 3:9; Revelation 2:21).

Many of these people deceive themselves into thinking they’re defending righteous causes and they love to take others with them. These are individuals who use deceitful tactics to alienate people from each other — especially from leading pastors. They take strange pleasure in dividing people to draw a following for themselves or make themselves look better.

They use subtle accusations, ask questions with raised eyebrows, or resort to deceitful innuendo. They draw attention to the faults of others by subtlety joking about perceived weaknesses in them.

These are usually insecure people who look for ways to bring attention to the faults of others to make themselves look better. The will even lie (or, lightly shade the truth) to advance their cause or to make themselves look better. They tend to view leadership as competition for recognition.

Be warned!

Avoid the people Jude exposed as “grumblers and faultfinders” (Jude 16), especially those who “who cause divisions” (Romans 16:17) and promote “accusations against an elder” (I Timothy 4:19).

The apostle Paul ordered an early congregation to, “Do all things without complaining and arguing” (Philippians 2:14). To another Church, he wrote, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

    • “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud,… Do not be conceited (Romans 12:16).
    • “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).
    • “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel (Proverbs 20:3).
    • “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

Be especially careful in your criticisms to make sure you are not promoting your own agenda and actually standing against God’s work and servants. God will dismantle you or take you apart if you try to destroy His work and servants.

Steve Cornell

Don’t let them drag you down

People who are perpetually discontent often try to spread discontentment to otherwise grateful people. Don’t let them drag you down. Call them out of their negativity to a more God-honoring way of seeing life. We don’t want to be in the group identified as “grumblers and faultfinders” (Jude 16). 

Reflect and act

  • Philippians 2:14-15 – “Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” (NLT)
  • I Thessalonians 5:18 – “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ” Spirit-filled people are “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).
 God calls us to be extravagantly grateful! A moderately grateful person is not doing life in the will of God.
  • I Corinthians 13:7 – ” “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (NLT)
  • Titus 3:10-11 – “If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.” (NLT)

See: Grouchy people sharing a gospel of grace? Steve Cornell

Discouragement – a “dis” on courage

Discouragement is a “dis” on courage! Have you ever thought about it that way? It’s a loss of courage, confidence or hope. Discouragement includes some degree of fear. 

The word “courage” is part of the word “discourage.” It’s like the word disheartened (a “dis” on heart or a loss of heart). Don’t let life “dis” on your courage or heart! 

Why do our words need prefixes and suffixes?

When we rebelled against God’s good plan for us, our existence required prefixes and suffixes to negate otherwise good words. Dis -courage, dis-obedience, dis -able, dis -agree, dis -advantage… Faith-less, hope-less, etc…

We must come to see sin as something that not only disobeys God’s will but also spoils the good and corrupts worthy virtues. Discouragement assaults and spoils courage.

This is why we need exhortations like the one to “….. stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (I Corinthians 15:58).

Like Joshua, we need to hear God saying, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Sometimes, (with sensitivity), discouraged people need gentle but firm admonishment about a loss of perspective that leads to a loss of courage.

Discouragement is more than a feeling. It involves a loss of wider life perspective. It narrows life down by discounting things that count. Courage is necessary for life in a fallen world. It helps us see things more honestly and positively. It fortifies us to tackle the work of everyday living.

“Despondency has a way of selectively focusing on certain aspects of life and conveniently overlooking others. Despair is always colorblind; it can only see the dark tints” (David A. Hubbard).

Discouragement wants to blind me to all the encouraging little things in life. I need to be admonished to, ““Stop being unamazed by the strange glory of ordinary things” (Clyde Kilby).

And sometimes I allow discouragement to derail my prayers so that I focus prayer so much on obstacles and challenges that I fail to give thanks for many great little ways God is working.

The way out of the dark tunnel of despair is not always a change of circumstance but a change of perspective. The humble worship of repentance (over my ingratitude) leads me to the worship of gratitude and frees me from the feelings of hopelessness and anxiety that so often accompany discouragement.

It’s easy to be misunderstood when you need to discourage the discouraged. People will sometimes accuse you of causing them more discouragement. But we cannot adequately encourage those who have lost perspective without discouraging them from a frame of mind that binds them to their discouragement. (Read it again).

Sometimes we can’t shake our discouragement because we don’t feel God is caring for us as we believe He should. When we feel down we often lock ourselves more deeply into our feelings with wrong ways of thinking. We bury ourselves more deeply into discouragement by listening to ourselves instead of speaking truth to ourselves. Part of the cure is to begin to think differently based on God’s truth and hope-filled promises (see: Spiritual Depression).

The primary New Testament Greek word translated “encourage” is “parakaleo” and means to call alongside. The word was used in a military context to call for reinforcements. Encouragement (like an encourager) functions as a reinforcement for life — a boost to our courage!

Offering encouragement is a means of giving courage, hope and confidence to others. It’s usually in the form of verbal affirmation, comfort, and exhortation. We need encouragement as part of the cure for discouragement. But sometimes our need is not merely to hear words of positive reinforcement. 

Getting out of the fog of despondency often requires a little loving admonishment. Caring friends will cross this line with love and sensitivity when they sense we need a better perspective. But we must allow people with mature perspective to have this kind of access to us. (For building larger perspective: Counseling the whole person).

Steve Cornell

Protecting the unity of the Church

The story is told of a church in the northeastern United States that had a disagreement over where the piano should be placed in the sanctuary.

“Some felt that the music sounded better when the pianist played next to the wall to the left of the pulpit. Others were convinced that the right side of the auditorium was the best acoustical choice. So they began experimenting with the piano placement, moving the instrument around from week to week. Both sides were convinced they were right. Soon members of each faction were racing each other to the building on Sunday mornings to see that the piano was “properly” placed before the service started. People began showing up earlier each week, trying to beat the other group to the piano. One day the disagreement culminated in a physical tug-of-war. Members arrived to find the piano standing in the middle of the sanctuary with a handful of people on either side shouting, arguing and pulling with all their might toward opposite walls” (From: War in the Pews).

Throughout more than 30 years of ministry, I have talked with many pastors who have experienced the pain of disunity in their congregations. Sadly, in most cases, the root causes of these dissensions were not issues of orthodox teaching or obedience to God’s commands. Petty differences have disrupted the fellowship of these congregations.

Disunity is not a recent problem for the Church

During New Testament times churches divided over leaders, traditions, economic differences, racial tensions and other matters. Yet the differences that exist between Christians do not need to be an obstacle to church unity. Our responses to these differences and conflicts is what matters.

They key to unity in the Church is not the removal of all conflict.

This will only be realized in heaven! The key is a reconciling spirit in the hearts of God’s people. Church leaders should teach people to handle differences in a mature and godly way. Since God reconciled us to himself at great cost, we should highly value reconciled relationships among God’s redeemed people.

We are commanded to protect the unity of the Church (Ephesians 4:3).

This is a non-negotiable requirement for all believers. Among other things, this means that selfishness and petty bickering must not be allowed among God’s people.

The apostle Paul ordered an early congregation to, “Do all things without complaining and arguing” (Philippians 2:14). Just as parents should not allow such behavior in the family, pastors should require the right attitudes from church members (see: I Peter 3:8-9). Those who insist on being antagonistic and divisive should be dealt with firmly, and, if necessary, removed from the church (see: “Antagonists in the Church”, Kenneth Haughk).

Disunity over matters of personal preference.

It’s important for members to learn how to distinguish their preferences from the clear commands of God. A preference is one option in a series of options, none of which is explicitly wrong according to Scripture. It is an area of behavior where scripture does not clearly command or forbid a certain action.

When we elevate our preferences to the status of command, we wrongly threaten the unity of the church. When we reduce commands to the status of preference, we threaten the purity of the church.

Here’s the point to learn

Where Scripture outlines general commands like, “Be holy in all your behavior” (I Peter 1:15), or “Do not be conformed to the world” (Romans 12:2), we must guard against treating our applications of these commands as binding upon all Christians.

In matters of preference, we need to demonstrate flexibility, and show deference to others (Romans 12:3; 14:3). Those who demand that the church conform to their preferences should be corrected for their selfish attitudes. A church capable of understanding and applying these distinctions will be able to maintain stronger unity. (See: Legalism – a resource for teaching others)

Steve Cornell

Are you a cantankerous Christian?

Mrs grumpy...“They’re hard to please and quick to complain.” This is what I was told about people who attend Bible conference centers. I heard the same report from a waitress about groups of Christians who frequent area restaurants.

The director of a conference ministry informed me that this was a common problem in his line of work. A manager of a similar ministry indicated that her experience in a secular conference center resulted in far less complaints. She said, “Christians were more difficult to please and had more complaints.” Our waitress friend (though herself a Christian), said that Christian groups have the same reputation with the waitresses where she works.

Do these reports bother you as much as they do me?

Perhaps non-Christians hold Christians to an unreasonably high standard. This is probably true in some cases. But those informing me of the problem are Christians. They have no axe to grind and are saddened by what they’ve witnessed. They regularly observe a disturbing reality about the attitudes of their fellow-believers.

While no particular group is solely the problem, at the risk of offense (which is not my intention), another common factor among a large percentage of the disgruntled is old age. I am not sure what to make of this. I know that I don’t ever want to be the proverbial grumpy old man who is not happy with anything. 

Whether old or young, ask yourself if you’re known for being cantankerous and irritable or gracious and grateful.

Complaining is a sin. Yes, you read it correctly — sin. The scripture specifically says, “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14). We are also instructed to “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:18). Ungratefulness leads the way when the heart turns away from God (See: Romans 1:21-28).

Christians have experienced such amazing grace from God that we should be overflowing with gratitude and humility. The culture tells us to demand our rights and expect nothing but the best for ourselves. Christ tells us to serve and bless others. We should be distinguished by a gracious disposition, not a grouchy and demanding one.

How will people believe our message of hope when our lives don’t reflect it?

We all have bad days when we’re not the most cheerful persons. And there are proper ways to express disappointment with inadequate service. Yet we need to become more mindful of our witness for Christ if our attitudes are creating a negative reputation.

So if you’re a critical, crabby, and demanding person (young or old), please don’t tell people that you’re a Christian.

Revisit the words of Jesus, “For who is the 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 22:27).

Steve Cornell

Formula E429 could change your life!

One of the best ways to improve our communication is to replace destructive tones with constructive ways of speaking to each other.

Words of appreciation and encouragement are excellent alternatives to ugly tones of grumbling, whining; impatience, frustration and defensiveness.

Think of how many times we could defuse a situation by choosing better words and tones. Parents especially need to ask if their words and tones set the right example for their children. 

Use Formula E429 to remind yourself of God’s will for our speech.

The formula is based on Ephesians 4:29 – “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29, NLT).

Then apply a large dose of the first two characteristics of love: “Love is patient, Love is kind…” (I Corinthians 13:4).

This could change your life and the lives of those close to you!

WARNING LABEL

This advice comes with a warning about how easily we excuse our attitudes, words and tones by pointing to the difficult people around us. Remember the basic truth that the only person you can change is yourself. But by working on self-correction and experiencing personal change, we can powerfully influence others. So if you feel stuck in a bad place, find ways that you can change your attitudes, words and tones. But start with the words and tones you use because this discipline will make you face and confront your attitudes and emotions.

Recognize how all of this change fits under the work God is doing in your life. 

“And we all are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (II Corinthians 3:17-18, NIV).

“Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:12-13).

I have work to do. Will you join me?

Steve Cornell 

See also: Spiritual Depression