What does it mean to believe?

16681-shutterstock_90113023Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

On another occasion, Jesus said, “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

What does it mean to believe?

From these words, we learn that belief is not merely an agreement with facts about God. It’s also a matter of appetite; of longing; of hungering and thirsting and finding satisfaction and fulfillment in the One who is the Bread of Life. Jesus spoke of “coming to him” in direct relation satisfying hunger and quenching thirst.

Belief is not merely thinking correctly about God and Jesus. It’s a turning to Jesus as the source of life itself and the source of nourishment for life (tasting and seeing).

What is involved in unbelief?

Rarely is unbelief solely a matter of changing one’s mind about facts. Unbelief is a turning of one’s heart away from the Creator and Redeemer – turning away from God to pursue meaning and satisfaction from something or someone else.

Our hearts and hungry and thirsty

Augustine prayed, “Hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee…” We might add that our hearts are hungry until they find satisfaction in God and our hearts are thirsty until quenched by God.

What sustains us?

“Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

So what do you think?

Steve Cornell

Posted in Belief, Christianity, Following Christ, Jesus Christ, Salvation, Teaching of Jesus, Unbelief, Wisdom | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What about those rich people?

Perhaps you know some rich people and consider yourself less fortunate. 

You likely never thought of yourself as one of the wealthiest people of human history.

So here’s a look at the facts about wealth that will challenge the way most of us think about money and what it means to be wealthy.

Is the 1 percent the problem?

1% of the population has almost the same amount of money as the rest of the 99% combined. 48.2 percent of all of the world’s wealth is in the hands of just 1 percent of the population.  

Before feeling sorry for yourself or wrongly judging the rich people, you are among the top 1 percent of earners on the planet if you make more than $50,000 a year.

$10 a day is the norm

Most of the population of the entire world (80 percent) lives on less than $10 a day. If your annual household income is above $9,733, you are doing better than most people.
The median household income for the global population is less than $10,000 a year.

Your coffee costs as much as many people spend in a whole day. More than a third of people on earth live on less than $2 a day. 1.2 billion live on less than $1.25.

Most Americans spend less than 10% of their personal income on food while most of the income (60% – 80%) of individuals in impoverished communities in other parts of the world is spent putting food on the table.

Writing on this theme, Jesse Carrey suggested that, “If you’re reading this article, that means, you have access to either a computer, a laptop or a smart phone. You have electricity. You have a connection to the Internet. If you know where your next meal is coming from and you don’t have to worry about getting clean water, having shelter over your head and accessing medical care, you benefit from more wealth than many people throughout human history.”

Not written for me

It’s likely that most of us read instructions to the rich found in I Timothy 6:17-19 as words that apply to others – to rich people. Yet the statistics above should make most of us read them as written for us.

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

The truth about wealth should give needed perspective to those of us who live in prosperity. Ironically, there is pervasive discontentment in many prosperous places.

Let’s take seriously the words of Scripture – “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5).

Let’s counter the pull toward discontentment by being rich in good deeds, generous and willing to share.

Steve Cornell

Extra thought for those Uncomfortable with global comparisons

I invite those uncomfortable with global comparisons to remember that followers of Christ are called to make disciples of “all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20) and to extend outreach “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We are identified and the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). The scope of our mission and influence is the earth/world. Yes, we should first learn to love our neighbor as our self before going global (Mark 12:31), but global perspective is part of our calling.

Posted in Andy Stanley, Anxiety, Belief, Character, Chesterton, Confession, Gay, George Beverly Shea, Graduates | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The true problem with lust

Which is worse the Animal self or the Diabolical self? Who is nearer to hell a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church or a prostitute? The sins of the flesh are bad but are they the least bad of all sins?

C. S. Lewis answers these question in an insightful word about the true problem with lust. 

Consider his insights

“Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it: the old Christian rule is, ‘Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.’

Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. One or the other.

Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct which has gone wrong.

. . . You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act—that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally (strange) about the state of the sex instinct among us?

. . . You and I, for the last twenty years, have been fed all day long on good solid lies about sex. We have been told, till one is sick of hearing it, that sexual desire is in the same state as any of our other natural desires and that if only we abandon the silly old Victorian idea of hushing it up, everything in the garden will be lovely. It is not true. The moment you look at the facts, and away from the propaganda, you see that it is not.

They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess. If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not. I think it is the other way round. I think the human race originally hushed it up because it had become such a mess.

Modern people are always saying, “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of.” They may mean two things. They may mean “There is nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that the human race reproduces itself in a certain way, nor in the fact that it gives pleasure.” If they mean that, they are right. Christianity says the same. It is not the thing, nor the pleasure, that is the trouble. The old Christian teachers said that if man had never fallen, sexual pleasure, instead of being less than it is now, would actually have been greater. I know some muddle-headed Christians have talked as if Christianity thought that sex, or the body, or pleasure, were bad in themselves. But they were wrong.

Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body — which believes that matter is good, that God Himself once took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in Heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, our beauty, and our energy. Christianity has glorified marriage more than any other religion: and nearly all the greatest love poetry in the world has been produced by Christians. If anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once.

But, of course, when people say, ‘Sex is nothing to be ashamed of,’ they may mean ‘the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of.’

If they mean that, I think they are wrong.

I think it is everything to be ashamed of. There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips. I do not say you and I are individually responsible for the present situation.

Our ancestors have handed over to us organisms which are warped in this respect: and we grow up surrounded by propaganda in favor of unchastity. There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out of us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales-resistance. God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them.

Before we can be cured we must want to be cured. Those who really wish for help will get it; but for many modern people even the wish is difficult. It is easy to think that we want something when we do not really want it. A famous Christian long ago told us that when he was a young man he prayed constantly for chastity; but years later he realised that while his lips had been saying, “Oh Lord, make me chaste,” his heart had been secretly adding, “But please don’t do it just yet.” This may happen in prayers for other virtues too; but there are three reasons why it is now specially difficult for us to desire—let alone to achieve—complete chastity.

In the first place our warped natures, the devils who tempt us, and all the contemporary propaganda for lust, combine to make us feel that the desires we are resisting are so “natural,” so “healthy,” and so reasonable, that it is almost perverse and abnormal to resist them. Poster after poster, film after film, novel after novel, associate the idea of sexual indulgence with the ideas of health, normality, youth, frankness, and good humor.

Now this association is a lie. Like all powerful lies, it is based on a truth—the truth, acknowledged above, that sex in itself (apart from the excesses and obsessions that have grown round it) is “normal” and “healthy,” and all the rest of it. The lie consists in the suggestion that any sexual act to which you are tempted at the moment is also healthy and normal.

Now this, on any conceivable view, and quite apart from Christianity, must be nonsense. Surrender to all our desires obviously leads to impotence, disease, jealousies, lies, concealment, and everything that is the reverse of health, good humor, and frankness. For any happiness, even in this world, quite a lot of restraint is going to be necessary; so the claim made by every desire, when it is strong, to be healthy and reasonable, counts for nothing. Every sane and civilised man must have some set of principles by which he chooses to reject some of his desires and to permit others.

One man does this on Christian principles, another on hygienic principles, another on sociological principles. The real conflict is not between Christianity and “nature,” but between Christian principle and other principles in the control of “nature.” For “nature” (in the sense of natural desire) will have to be controlled anyway, unless you are going to ruin your whole life. The Christian principles are, admittedly, stricter than the others; but then we think you will get help towards obeying them which you will not get towards obeying the others.

In the second place, many people are deterred from seriously attempting Christian chastity because they think (before trying) that it is impossible. But when a thing has to be attempted, one must never think about possibility or impossibility. Faced with an optional question in an examination paper, one considers whether one can do it or not: faced with a compulsory question, one must do the best one can. You may get some marks for a very imperfect answer: you will certainly get none for leaving the question alone. Not only in examinations but in war, in mountain climbing, in learning to skate, or swim, or ride a bicycle, even in fastening a stiff collar with cold fingers, people quite often do what seemed impossible before they did it. It is wonderful what you can do when you have to.

We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity—like perfect charity—will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You must ask for God’s help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again.

For however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.

Thirdly, people often misunderstand what psychology teaches about “repressions.”

It teaches us that “repressed” sex is dangerous. But “repressed” is here a technical term: it does not mean “suppressed” in the sense of “denied” or “resisted.” A repressed desire or thought is one which has been thrust into the subconscious (usually at a very early age) and can now come before the mind only in a disguised and unrecognisable form. Repressed sexuality does not appear to the patient to be sexuality at all.

When an adolescent or an adult is engaged in resisting a conscious desire, he is not dealing with a repression nor is he in the least danger of creating a repression. On the contrary, those who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than anyone else. They come to know their desires as Wellington knew Napoleon, or as Sherlock Holmes knew Moriarty; as a rat-catcher knows rats or a plumber knows about leaky pipes. Virtue—even attempted virtue—brings light; indulgence brings fog.

Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the center of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins.

All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.” (From Mere Christianity)

 

Posted in C. S. Lewis, Christian life, Christian worldview, Christianity, Culture, Lust, Sex, Sexual temptations, Sexuality, Wisdom | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Feeling discouraged?

Four recommendations for times of discouragement. 

Turn to “the father of mercies and the God of all comfort.” He “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). God chose to put His “treasure in jars of clay to show that the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7). We need his comfort and His power.

Remember that we have a Savior who is able to “empathize with our weaknesses” because “he has been tempted in every way, just as we are —yet he did not sin.” Because of Jesus, we are told to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). Our great Savior “is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” He “truly meets our need” (Hebrews 7:25-26).

Reflect on God’s mercy in gifting you with eternal salvation (Romans 5:8; 6:23; 8:28-38; Titus 3:1-7). It’s amazing that God would “demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The payment for our sins is death, but “the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Our great Savior assured us that His “Father’s house has many rooms” and, He said, “I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3). This life is not our whole story. 

Trace God’s many acts of kindness in the smaller blessings of life. Doing this will honor God and renew joy in your heart. As the smaller blessings take on greater significance, you will find yourself saying, “the Lord’s compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23). It will help lift the cloud of discouragement if I learn to be amazed by “the strange glory of ordinary things” (Clyde Kilby). Practicing this will help us learn to “be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

Steve Cornell

Posted in Anxiety, Assurance, Burnout, Christian worldview, Comfort, Defeat?, Depression, Despair, discouraged, Discouragement, Encouragement, Eternal life, Eternal security, Fear, Fear of death, God's Love, Grieving, Hope?, Mercy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

7 resources for spiritual maturity

Hope and Remembering play essential roles in growth toward spiritual maturity.

Spiritual growth requires looking ahead and looking back. We will not grow in maturity if we lose focus on what God did in the past and what God will do in the future. 

There are five primary resources for spiritual maturity specifically mentioned in the New Testament. Each resource is associated with verbs describing maturity.

Five resources

  1. God’s Spirit (II Corinthians 3:17-18; Ephesians 5:18-21)
  2. God’s People (Hebrews 3:13-14;13:17; Ephesians 4:11-16)
  3. God’s Word (Hebrews 4:12; I Timothy 3:16-17; James 1:21-25; I Peter 1:23;2:1)
  4. God’s throne (Hebrews 4:16; Colossians 4:12; James 4:8; I Peter 5:7-8)
  5. God’s discipline (Hebrews 12:1-11; James 1:2-5; I Peter 1:6-8)

Two additional resources emphasized in the New Testament are hope and remembering. These are big themes in Scripture. 

Hope

  • I John 3:2-3 – “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
  • II Corinthians 5:9-10 – “… we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

Remembering

  • II Peter 1:3-9 (esp. v. 9) – “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.”

Hope and Remembering are a kind of fuel for propelling us to spiritual maturity. They provide necessary perspective to protect us from the dangers of despair and of forgetfulness.

Steve Cornell

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After 33 years as a pastor…

After 33 years as a pastor (32 in the same church), I know by experience that the life of a pastor is a continual reminder that God put His “treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7).

Did you catch the last three words – “not from us”?

These words sit deeply in my heart as a reminder that the power for serving God are not within me. I don’t have the strength and wisdom necessary to such a life and calling!  

Let these words settle deeply in your heart and mind (“from God and not from us”). Repeat them often to yourself.

We’ll run out of fuel for the work if we forget this basic truth.

With all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me

“We proclaim Christ admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28-29, emphasis mine).

There are plenty of parts of ministry that remind me that I am not equal to the calling. So I must live out the truths of Proverbs 3:5-7 –

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.”

With the Apostle Paul, we should always be asking, “Who is equal to such a task?” (II Corinthians 2:16).

The word from the apostle Peter is never far from a shepherd’s heart: “be examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:3). Examples are needed, but not easily provided. It’s tough to be a good example when aware of your own sins! Gratefully, we can also be examples of those who live under God’s mercy in amazement of His grace.

Clock-out and go home?

Pastors can never totally clock-out and go home: “Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?” (II Corinthians 11:29). I am thankful that God designed the Church to be under a plurality of leaders. Who could do this a work alone?

Rhythm of ministry and personal transformation

Those who take the role of Elder in the Church must remember that the rhythm of personal transformation and pastoral ministry is death and resurrection: “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (II Corinthians 4:10-12).

This rhythm continually reminds me of my source for strength. The temptation to rely on our own gifts and abilities must be resisted. The apostle spoke of a time when God used his circumstances to remind him to lean on God for strength.

“We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead” (II Corinthians 1:8-9).

Our Lord’s rhythm

Practice the rhythm of spiritual activity our Lord followed. Trace His steps and you’ll find a pattern of engagement and withdrawal; of crowds and solitude. “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23). 

We need time to rest, refresh and renew — to get perspective in the audience of One. 

“Come away” Jesus said, “to a secluded place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). I may not be able to completely clock-out but I must get away. Frankly, I always felt that I had to leave the town I minster in to do this. But this was not always feasible. So at least leave the office or hit the DND button and put up an “In Prayer” sign on your office door.

My lifeline

A disciplined practice of Psalm 62:8:  “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” Prayer is so often a perspective gaining session with God. I just need to clear my mind by pouring out my heart to Him! 

  • “Prayer has become for me much more than a shopping list of requests to present to God. It has become a realignment of everything. I pray to restore the truth of the universe, to gain a glimpse of the world, and of me, through the eyes of God.”
  • “In prayer, I shift my point of view away from my own selfishness. I climb above timberline and look down at the speck that is myself. I gaze at the stars and recall what role I, or any of us, play in a universe beyond comprehension. Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view” (Philipp Yancey, “Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?”).

We need daily encounters with God based on Hebrews 4:12 and Hebrews 4:16.

  • Hebrews 4:12 – “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
  • Hebrews 4:16Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

When you feel overwhelmed or discouraged, seek the God who is “our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (II Corinthians 1:3-4).

Your co-worker in God’s field,

Steve Cornell

Posted in Call to ministry, Calling, Christian Counselor, Christianity, Church Leadership, Counseling, Ecclesiology 101, Elders, elders in the Church, Emerging Leaders, Leadership, Local Church, Pastors | 1 Comment

Stop it!

Think of the hours and money one could save with this approach to counseling.

Posted in 18 Year factor, Counseling, Wisdom | 1 Comment