Difficult times are coming

Does it feel like we’re moving closer to the times Jesus spoke of when, “Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12, NLT).

When the apostle Paul described the difficulty of the last days, it wasn’t due to economic downturn, but because of the way people will live.

“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money … They will scoff at God,… and betray their friends, … they will love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (II Timothy 3:1-5). 

“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day” (Matthew 24:37). Those were days of indulgence in pleasure and indifference to God. Are we moving closer to these days? 

Our culture has been strongly influenced by factors that encourage people to feel entitled to a good life or their terms. People are increasingly living for themselves over everything and everyone — even their own families. We no longer see as much honor given to virtues like loyalty, faithfulness and courage. Instead, everyone wants to do what is right in his own eyes and seek the good life in the here and now.  

More and more people even in the Church are viewing God as one who ought to secure the good life for them. They think that God should respond to whatever is asked of him or risk disappointment from them.

But I am encouraged to remember that the Lord “is patient… not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).

May our hearts align with what “is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (I Timothy 2:3-6).

A needed word for the times 

“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil” (Ephesians 6:10-13, NLT).

Steve Cornell

 

 

Tough advice

My father use to say, “You are where you are because that’s where you want to be. If it wasn’t, you’d do something about it.”

This advice might sound a bit simplistic or even reductionistic, but I wonder how many times it’s true.

In a culture where excuses are continually used to justify all kinds of inaction, Dad’s tough advice might be just what is needed. Dad would often add a final line: “So do something about it!”

Think about it

“You are where you are because that’s where you want to be. If it wasn’t, you’d do something about it. So do something about it!”

Perhaps you need to hear or share this tough advice. I realize that there are things we cannot change, but how many things could we change if we dropped our excuses and decided to do something? 

Dad knew a lot about things we cannot change. In his mid-thirties, he came down with a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis. This devastated our finances and placed a great deal of challenge on our family. We lost the home my Dad built and struggled through years of setbacks and limited finances. But Dad pressed on working in the trades with his twisted fingers and painful arthritis until he passed away in his late seventies.  

Dad’s advice reminded me of another dear friend (who is now in heaven) whom we called “Dr. B.” She was a tough and tender lady who didn’t want to hear excuses but wanted action. If you shared some difficulties with her, it was not unusual for her to say, “Get with the program, kid!” “God knows, He cares and He is in control! So let’s do something about it!” 

A prayer worth praying

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Dad’s life Scripture

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”” (II Corinthians 12:9).

Steve Cornell

 For a light and humorous side to this advice, see: Stop it!

A Sure and Contagious Hope

This world has a way of turning on us when we try to make it our home. It disappoints and frustrates us. It cannot offer what is necessary to quench the deepest longings of our hearts. It leaves us with a sense that we were made for something better, something more. We cannot escape a nagging feeling that things are not the way they were meant to be or ought to be. 

Not everyone experiences this dissatisfaction with the same intensity. Endless distractions and unfinished bucket lists easily suppress the feeling that everything might be “meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). But as we fight against the feeling that dust we are and to dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19), we soon realize that all our pursuits and projects in this life must come to an end.

Something almost always comes along to shatter our dreams and raise the age old question of meaning. Even the person with shallow assumptions will feel the uncertainty and insecurity of life in a finite world.

“Happiness based on worldly security alone is endlessly vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune which may come in the form of illness or inflation or the loss of a loved one. There are all manner of threats to the meaning of our lives both internal and external which can conspire to destroy it if it is inadequately grounded” (Clark Pinnock).

Even our hope in Christ is not adequate if it is “only for this life we have hope in Christ.” Such a narrow and limited hope would mark us as “people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:19).

Christian faith offers a structure of deeper meaning based upon the unalterable love of God the Father. With the apostle Paul, we say, “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 8:38-39).

Faith in Christ secures for us a “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 3:19-21).

Christians locate their hope not in a religion but in a personal Savior, in Jesus Christ (I Timothy 1:1). This hope inspires us to press on in the face of distressing and discouraging circumstances. The wonderfully deep mystery we experience now is Christ in us, “the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

We share in the “hope of eternal life” and are designated by God, “heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 1:2;3:7); those who have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3).

But this great hope requires patience. “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25).

What a treasure it is that, “….through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Finally, our hope is meant to be contagious — especially when it appears to lack circumstantial reason. This was the case for the persecuted Christians who were encouraged to “set apart Christ as Lord in their hearts” and to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15). Are people attracted to your hope? 

Reaching for hope that is larger than this world is intuitive to humans and reminds us that we were made for more than this life? “Christianity is, among other things, the wonderfully good news that this life is not our whole story” (Robert Roberts).

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

Nothing wasted

 

God doesn’t ignore or waste our suffering. After each of the following Scriptures, make a list of the purposes accomplished through suffering. Then talk to God about what you learned.

“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).

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (II Corinthians 1:8-9).

“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).

“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (II Corinthians 12:7-9).

leaning into grace,

Steve Cornell

* Other Scriptures: James 1:2-5; Psalm 23:4; 62:8; Proverbs 3:5-6.

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).

Needed message 

    • “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