Mind, emotions and the gospel

“Human life is fundamentally a life of the mind. The posture of the mind determines so much about the character of an individual’s life.” (Robert C. Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion, p. 26).

Mind and emotions

Emotions are based on concerns. They arise because one cares about something that gives occasion to certain feelings.

Emotions are deeply connected to how one chooses to construe her circumstances in a matter related to a real concern. A construal – is an interpretation of the meaning of something; a way of viewing or a perspective on a situation, experience, or person.

Emotions and construals

  • To feel indignant is to choose to see myself or someone close to me as intentionally injured by someone in a matter of some concern to myself.
  • Becoming angry with someone necessarily involves construing him as obnoxious, offensive, or some such thing.
  • To feel despair is to see my life, which I deeply desire to be meaningful, as holding nothing, or nothing of importance to me.
  • To feel envious is to see myself as losing against some competitor in a competition on which I am basing my self-esteem.
  • To feel guilty is to see myself as having offended against a moral or quasi-moral standard to which I subscribe.

How to dispel emotion

“Because emotions are construals, and construals always require some ‘terms,’ to succeed in dispelling an emotion, I must somehow get myself to cease to see the situation in one set of terms, and probably must get myself to see it in different terms.”

Control over emotions

“It is important to Christians that emotions are partially within people’s control, that they can be commanded. Scripture commands us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. When Scripture reminds us that love is not jealous, or irritable, or resentful it seems to assume that these feelings are broadly within the control of the reader. Being resentful is not like being five foot six or having congenitally bad teeth.” (R. Roberts, p. 21).

Emotions and the Gospel

The ‘terms’ of the Christian emotions are provided by the Christian story, there is a necessary connection between the Christian emotions and the Christian story” (Ibid. p. 21)

“The gospel message provides people with a distinctive way of construing the world: the Maker of the universe is your personal loving Father and has redeemed you from sin and death in the life and death and resurrection of His son Jesus. You are a child of God, destined along with many brothers and sisters to remain under his protection forever and to be transformed into something unspeakably lovely” (Ibid., p. 16).

  • To experience peace with God is to view God as a reconciled enemy.
  • To experience hope is to see one’s own future in the eternity of God’s kingdom,
  • To be Christianly grateful is to see various precious gifts, such as existence, sustenance, and redemption, as bestowed by God.

Not our whole story

“Christianity is, among other things, the wonderfully good news that this life is not our whole story… The few years that we live in this body… are a kind of pilgrimage, a sojourn, a preparatory trip on the way to something much greater. For the Christian, this present existence is provisional. He is aware that every activity he undertakes is schooling for something else—that it is all directed toward a higher end” (Roberts).

Steve Cornell

Trust God at all times

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” ― Corrie ten Boom

This is a great quote from someone who practiced its truth in conditions far worse than most people ever experience. It reminded me of one of my favorite verses of Scripture, Psalm 62:8 – “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

Although I’ve never faced the kind of evil Corrie ten Boom experienced, I’ve learned that the key to trust at all times is to pour out your hearts to Him when times are dark and difficult.

Psalm 62:8 parallels two NT references:

  • I Peter 5:7 – “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (NLT).
  • Philippians 4:6-7 – “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (NLT).

At the opening of Psalm 62, the Psalmist wrote, “Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:1-2). 

Still learning to trust at all times,

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 literally 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 based on these truths:

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  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

Room for sadness

 

Do we have room in our lives for normal sadness? Do we have unrealistic expectations of gregariousness? Are we too quick to identify normal sadness as a biologically based depressive disorder?

These are questions explored in the helpful book, “The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sadness Into Depressive Disorder,” by Alan V. Horwitz and Jerome C. Wakelfield. The authors suggest that standard criteria for diagnosing depressive disorder does not adequately distinguish intense normal sadness from biologically disordered sadness.

Out of concern over what they view as “over-expansive psychiatric definitions of disorder,” they offer helpful insight for distinguishing “sadness due to internal dysfunction” from “sadness that is a biologically designed response to external events.” The chapters exploring the anatomy of normal sadness and the failure of social sciences to distinguish this kind of sadness from depressive disorder should be required reading for all medical and psychiatric professionals — as well as all counselors.

I do not believe a doctor should prescribe medicines for moods or behaviors without confidence that those receiving them are pursuing some form of counseling in a support system of caring people (see: Caring for the whole person).

For further help addressing the emotional and spiritual dimensions related to sadness and depression, see the following:

Steve Cornell

The glory of ordinary lives

il_340x270.505798718_omb6We need more emphasis on the glory of living ordinary lives for Christ. Perhaps it could become the new radical!

The emphasis we’ve seen on being radical Christians could lead to a feeling that what is ordinary is either boring or some form of compromise. This could then produce a larger chasm between what the Church says and the way most people must live day by day.

It also has the potential of threatening the joy of daily life with the spirit of discontentment that promoted the sin of Eden.

Listen to the way people tell you what they do.

  • “I am just a mom.”
  • “I am just a mechanic.”
  • “I am just a waitress.”
  • “I am just a ….”

On and on it goes. But maybe there is no “just” with God? Or, more likely, God is found in the “just.” Jesus asked, “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 22:27).

A needed message in our times

    • “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others” (I Thessalonians 4:11-12, NLT).
    • “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14, NIV).

I fear that we’ve lost touch with the glory and joy of being called to faithfulness and diligence in the ordinary routines and duties of life. What would life look like if we renewed our zeal to “… be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

I think of Jesus’ emphasis on serving God quietly in secret places. “Be careful” He said, “not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6).

We need renewed zeal for the quiet glory of being faithful fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, neighbors, employers, employees, — just common followers of Jesus Christ living ordinary lives for an extraordinary glory.

tumblr_mrwo0aVE5W1qcdaeho1_500“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Have we lost touch with the joy of ordinary, non-glamorous devotion to God and others because we’ve lived with an “If only….” spirit of restlessness? Have we overly radicalized wholehearted love for God and our neighbor by separating it from daily faithfulness in mundane but necessary duties?

Jesus said, “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).

Jesus required unconcern for status as a kingdom virtue. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5).

“Stop being un-amazed by the strange glory of ordinary things” (Clyde Kilby).

Steve Cornell

Trying to play the divine lottery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May you be blessed in the New Year!

Steve Cornell

Breaking the hold of Guilt

Is it possible to lead a safe and healthy life without guilt? 

Some guilt is necessary to restrain and redirect us. People who don’t experience guilt are dangerous to themselves and to society.

Yet guilt can become a burden too heavy to carry. Many people hurt themselves and others by failing to deal constructively with guilt.

Unresolved guilt can sap the joy out of life and trap us in a prison of despair (see: Psalm 32:3-5). This is partly why it’s import to think more carefully about guilt.

To help with this, I offer these thoughts about guilt as a starting point for deeper conversations.

Defining guilt

Guilt is a message of disapproval sent to our minds which says, “You should be ashamed of yourself!”

Sources of guilt

The primary sources of guilt include conscience, family, tradition, law and religion. It can be self-induced or projected on us by others. Some guilt is valid while some is invalid. Making this distinction is related to the two dimensions of guilt.

Two dimensions of guilt

Guilt has two possible dimensions: objective and subjective. It’s possible, for example, to feel guilty (subjectively) when there is no valid basis for guilt (objectively). Yet it is equally possible to be guilty (objectively) without any feeling of guilt (subjectively). If I violate the law, for example, I am objectively guilty regardless of my feelings.

Examples of misleading guilt

  • Although she did nothing wrong, a victim of incest often feels guilty for actions committed against her. 
  • A man who came out of the Amish lifestyle admitted struggling with guilt when he used modern appliances and decorated his home. In his tradition, these things were condemned. But this type of guilt is invalid because it is not based on objective, God-given standards of right and wrong. In other words, the man felt guilty without actually being guilty.

Two types of guilt

1. Constructive guilt

Guilt is constructive when it corrects us and keeps us on the right path. People who lack the capacity for such guilt hurt themselves and others. Constructive guilt is future-oriented and based on forgiveness.

2. Destructive guilt

Guilt is destructive when it becomes debilitating. Even when we are actually or objectively guilty, we must move beyond condemnation to forgiveness. If we do not, guilt will rule our lives and rob us of the joy God offers through forgiveness and reconciliation. Destructive guilt is past-oriented and based on a refusal to receive forgiveness and embrace freedom from emotional bondage.

Two negative responses to guilt

1. Self-condemnation

This could include self-punishment, self-deprecating statements, inability to receive compliments, a martyr-complex, difficulty in saying “no” to the demands of others, feelings of inferiority, insecurity, inadequacy, alienation, depression, and a pessimistic outlook on life.

2. Self-defensiveness

This could include self-pity, blame-shifting, self-excusing, a defensive spirit, and self-justifying anger.

Both of these responses lead to turmoil and misery. They rob one of peace and freedom. A better way to handle guilt is to respond constructively to failure and disobedience—in a grace-based, future-oriented, and other-centered manner.

Responding constructively is a choice

Failure and disobedience are part of life. We all deal with guilt and need forgiveness. A constructive response to guilt is a grace-based, future-oriented, and an other-centered choice. It is a decision to refuse to hold against yourself the sin God does not hold against you.

We must embrace the NT promise found in I John 1:9- “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Guilt for some people is not as much a choice as the result of abuse perpetrated against them. In these cases, it is best to see a counselor to work through the causes behind guilt. Through the assistance of wise counsel many have found their way out of the bondage of guilt to the liberating power of God’s love.

Others choose to wallow in guilt because they refuse to believe God’s promise of forgiveness. The person who is having difficulty fully receiving forgiveness must humble herself under the sufficiency of God’s amazing grace (See: Romans 5:8; 8:32).

See:

  1. Why do I still feel guilty? Eight possible reasons
  2. Guarding cherished resentments
  3. A closer look at forgiveness

Steve Cornell

Room for normal sadness

 

Medicines for depression and anxiety are now the most prescribed drugs by family medical practitioners. And I know people who have been greatly helped by some of these medicines. Yet the number of people requesting medication for depression has alarmed sociologists.

One of the more important questions being raised is whether or not we have room in our lives for normal sadness. Do we now live in cultures that hold unrealistic expectations for gregariousness? These are questions explored in the helpful book, “The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sadness Into Depressive Disorder,” by Alan V. Horwitz and Jerome C. Wakelfield.

The authors suggest that a standard criteria for diagnosing depressive disorder does not adequately distinguish intense normal sadness from biologically disordered sadness. Their aim is to offer a critique of what they view as the “over-expansive psychiatric definitions of disorder.”

They offer helpful insight for distinguishing “sadness due to internal dysfunction” from “sadness that is a biologically designed response to external events.” The chapters exploring the anatomy of normal sadness and the failure of social sciences to distinguish this kind of sadness from depressive disorder should be required reading for all medical and psychiatric professionals — as well as all counselors.

But along with the work of these sociologists, one should consider the emotional aspect of depression in a spiritual context. Humans were created as physical, emotional, psychological, social and spiritual beings. Although doctors are primarily charged with caring for physical health, they should be advocates for holistic treatment. I realize that they face both time and professional constraints but medicinal aid must never be approached one-dimensionally.

We are more the bodies with physical needs. Other dimensions of our being (emotional, psychological, social and spiritual) must be given consideration in the battle for health. A holistic approach will respect all dimensions of personhood created by God.

I do not believe a doctor should ever prescribe medicines for moods or behaviors without confidence that those receiving them are pursuing some form of counseling or that they are surrounded by a helpful support system of caring people (see: Caring for the whole person).

For further help addressing the emotional and spiritual dimensions, see the following:

Steve Cornell

5 links to see (and a fun video)

How (and why) to be the meanest mom in the world

When your kids tell you you’re mean, take it as a compliment. The rising generation has been called the laziest, rudest, most entitled kids in history. The news stories scare the best of moms. It’s easy to want to throw in the towel with your own kids. After all, don’t we all want to be the cool mom? Don’t give up. They may think you’re mean now, but they’ll thank you later.

The Irony of Despair (David Brooks, NYT)

“According to the World Health Organization, global suicide rates have increased by 60 percent over the past 45 years. The increase in this country is nothing like that, but between 1999 and 2010, the suicide rate among Americans between 35 and 64 rose by 28 percent. More people die by suicide than by auto accidents.”

“Suicide is delayed homicide.” Suicides happen in clusters, with one person’s suicide influencing the other’s. If a parent commits suicide, his or her children are three times as likely to do so at some point in their lives. In the month after Marilyn Monroe’s overdose, there was a 12 percent increase in suicides across America. People in the act of committing suicide may feel isolated, but, in fact, they are deeply connected to those around. As Hecht put it, if you want your niece to make it through her dark nights, you have to make it through yours.

Diagnosis: Human (Ted Gup, NYT)

Challenge and hardship have become pathologized and monetized. Instead of enhancing our coping skills, we undermine them and seek shortcuts where there are none, eroding the resilience upon which each of us, at some point in our lives, must rely. Diagnosing grief as a part of depression runs the very real risk of delegitimizing that which is most human — the bonds of our love and attachment to one another. The new entry in the D.S.M. cannot tame grief by giving it a name or a subsection, nor render it less frightening or more manageable.

The 5 Gossips You Will Meet (Tim Challies)

Gossip is a serious problem. It is a problem in the home, in the workplace, in the local church and in broader evangelicalism. It is a problem in the blogosphere, in social media, and beyond. In his book Resisting Gossip, Matthew Mitchell defines gossip as “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart” and shows…”

The Hole in the Gospel (D. A. Carson)

What is the gospel? In recent years that question has been answered in numerous books, essays, and blogs. Like the word “sin,” the word “gospel” can be accurately but rather fuzzily defined in a few words, or it can be unpacked at many levels…

Overcome mediocrity and misery with a grateful heart

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Are you a moderately grateful person? Are you slow to give thanks and quick to complain?

It’s a sign of mediocrity when you express gratitude with moderation. It’s also a sign of a heart that is moving away from God. We are called, not just to give thanks, but to be extravagantly grateful!

“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ” (I Thessalonians 5:18). Spirit-filled people are “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).
 Extravagantly! 

Living in the will of God involves far more than finding a few things to be thankful for on a day called Thanksgiving.  “What I have found is that the rhythm of divine renewal beats in the pulse of a purposefully grateful heart” (Ellen Vaughn, Radical Gratitude).

Gratitude also just happens to be one of the best remedies for discouragement. But small doses of gratitude will not lift us out of despondency. “Cultivating a grateful heart is not just an add-on nicety, a civil tip of the hat to God as we steamroll through our day. A posture of purposeful, perpetual thanks to God is absolutely central to Christian character” (Ellen Vaughn).  



We need divine renewal of joy when despondency threatens our hearts. There’s a deep connection between restored joy and a thankful heart. Un-thankfulness is more than a personal matter; it’s a spiritual issue that affects fellowship with God and joy in God. It’s also a loss of perspective that offends God. 



We are called by God to “engage in the perpetual dialogue of gratitude” and, when we do this, we “turn the tide, rather than follow along on the lazy downward spiral of negativity.” (Vaughn)



Do you easily lean toward the downward spiral of negativity? Do you tend to always see what’s wrong in life? Do you focus more on what you don’t have than what you have? Ungrateful people take the path of laziness that leads to mediocrity and misery. Never forget that those who rejected God “neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (Romans 1:21). 



Yet some find it hard to be thankful because of the suffering and loss they’ve experienced. Life can be hard and painful. C. S. Lewis wisely recommended that, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is ‘good,’ because it is good, if ‘bad’ because it works in us patience, humility and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.”



If you’ve suffered a difficult loss, ask God to help you and lift you to a better place to gain a clearer vision of your eternal home (see: John 14:1-3; Hebrews 12:14-15).

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV).

When it’s difficult to be extravagantly grateful, pour out your heart to, “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).

Approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that you may receive mercy and find grace to help you in your time of need (Hebrews 4:16). The way out of a tunnel of deep sadness is to engage in the worship of extravagant gratitude.

“Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder” (G. K. Chesterton).

Three categories for thanksgiving

  • Spiritual
  • Relational 
  • Material 

The psalmist wrote, “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2). 


I am grateful that, ‘As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust’” (Psalm 103:13-14).

I am grateful that, ‘God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us’” (II Corinthians 4:6-7). 



Prayer - “God, please help me to flourish in your will by becoming an extravagantly grateful servant.”

Finish this sentence: ”I am grateful for …………”

with gratitude,



Steve Cornell