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 

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

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


 

People who are discontent

People who are discontent with their lives tend to spread dis-contentment to otherwise grateful people.

If you spend too much time with the discontent, you’ll find it difficult to shake their negative spirit. 

Discontentment can sneak up on people when maturity gives way to melancholy and an overall disincentive or loss of motivation. But a life of diminished hope and deflated resignation can slowly become a life of justified pessimism or even dark cynicism. 

Run with positive, uplifting, and encouraging people to avoid the infectious poison of dis – contentment. God calls us to be extravagantly grateful! A moderately grateful person is not doing life in the will of God. 

“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).
 

Redirect those who are negative toward more God-honoring perspectives on life. “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (I Corinthians 13:7). “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (NLT).

A few extra thoughts:

  • “…the rhythm of divine renewal beats in the pulse of a purposefully grateful heart” (Ellen Vaughn, Radical Gratitude).
  • “Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder” (G. K. Chesterton).
  • “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” (C. S. Lewis).

What are you thankful for today?

Steve Cornell

It doesn’t feel good to be a Christian

Zac Northen wrote a perceptive piece over at Relevant Magazine titled, Can Inner Peace be Misleading?

His call is timely for many people:

“We need to develop the wisdom for living a life that is comfortable with being uncomfortable, and accept the fact that it sometimes doesn’t feel good to be a Christian on the straight and narrow.”

“… many people believe …. God’s main job is to make us feel good about ourselves and remain happy on our journey…”

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

C.S. Lewis explains in Mere Christianity, “Comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: If you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with—and, in the end, despair.”

“We cannot follow Christ faithfully unless we are following Him into the world’s pain, tension and aching complexity. We must remember we follow a King who enters a broken world, then willingly chooses the Cross (John 10:17-18).”

For more on the subject of the role of inner peace, see: Inner Promptings?

Steve Cornell

Responding to disappointments

When my dis-appointment becomes His-appointment.

As a communicator, I always find it interesting to notice what people respond to and remember.

This past sunday, I gave a message about hope being a distinguishing mark of those who represent Christ.

My title for the current series is “Agents of Grace: Representing the One who brought you into His grace.” 

For the past three weeks, we’ve asked what people should notice in us as we live out Colossians 3:17 – 

“And whatever you do or say, do it (in the name of) as a representative of the Lord Jesus…” (NLT).

Our focus has been on three primary marks of character: Humility, love and hope.

I demonstrated how all three are deeply connected and this week I wrapped it up by looking at hope. The post prior to this offers a closer look at hope

I suggested in my message that some of us might need to do some significant repenting after hearing what I have to share. When we’ve allowed a dark and pessimistic outlook to become our way of approaching life, it should alert us to a need for spiritual transformation. 

Perhaps we’ve held to the idea that God is supposed to take away all our problems and give us the good life in the here and now. So when difficulties and setbacks come, we spiral into a state of spiritual confusion and become too easily discouraged.

At one level, this is a profoundly distorted understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Life in a fallen world is hard. Life lived for God in a fallen world is (on many accounts) harder. What I mean is that following Christ will put you at odds with the primary direction of the world around you and the flesh within you. It’s just tough at times.

Yet this should not catch us by surprise if we read our New Testament. A good bit of what is written is focused on how to understand and respond to  hardship. Very early in the life of the NT Church, believers received instruction on how to respond to trials and temptations (James 1:2-18). 

New Testament letters like II Corinthians and Hebrews are permeated with emphasis on God’s purposes in life’s hardships. It is very important for us to understand these truths to protect us from the defeating power of discouragement. 

Hope is meant to be an evident quality in the lives of those who represent Jesus Christ (I Peter 3:14-15) and this will not be the case if we allow a spirit of negativity and pessimism to control our lives. 

Believers should be the most optimistically realistic people on the planet. But for this to be true, our hope must reach beyond the momentary passing years we live on earth. Please take time to listen to the message I gave on this topic. The audio link is available here.

One of the things I said in my message that made the pens come out was a piece of advice given to me by a Christian businessman in my early years of Church planting. Faced with setbacks and disappointments, I shared some of the challenges with this man and he said, “Whenever I have disappointments in life, I try to remember to drop the “d” and replace it with an “H”.

My disappointment then becomes Hisappointment

This was not a Bible verse but it captured well the teaching of the NT on how to understand and respond to trials, setbacks and disappointments. 

Here are some verses that offer insight into God’s purposes in our trials:

  • Romans 5:3-5 “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
  • II Corinthians 4:16-18 “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.”
  • James 1:2-5 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

Steve Cornell

Rejecting a shelter mentality

When God’s people were exiled in Babylon, God continued to speak to them. He instructed his servant Jeremiah to write a letter to His exiled people. One word he wrote to them offered hope and assurance for their future:

“This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:10-11). 

But this word for their future was not meant to encourage a “we’ll just wait till it’s over” mentality. Instead, they were told to be active parts of ordinary life in their city of exile. They were actually directed by God to pursue the welfare of the city.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare’” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

“Seek the welfare of the city”?

What did this involve? It was at least a call to reject postures of complacency and vindictiveness. Both reactions would have been tempting toward those who destroyed your city. Engagement for good had to characterize their presence and activity in the life of the pagan city of Babylon. Yes, they were even to pray “to the Lord on its behalf” — affirming the truth that, “in its welfare you will have welfare.”

Rejecting the shelter mentality: 

As an exiled people (Philippians 3:18-21;I Peter 2:11-12), it’s tempting to take a shelter mentality, to view this life as just a hold over to wait the next life. But such a mindset is an abrogation of the call to be salt to the earth and light to the world. Jesus taught that our influence of preservation and illumination is essential to the world (Matthew 5:13-16). It’s not so much a matter of duty as one of identity. “You are the salt; You are the light….”  As we live out our true identity, we will capture strategic places of influence like well lit cities on a hill. 

In To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World,“ James Davison Hunter offers insightful challenges on this theme:

“…. there is a world that God created that is shared in common by believers and nonbelievers alike. In the classical Christian view, the goodness of creation is fundamentally and ubiquitously marred by sin but it is not negated by sin. It may be fractured, incomplete, and corrupted, but his goodness remains in it. The gifts of God’s grace are spread abundantly among the just and unjust in ways that support and enhance the lives of all. As it is in the world that God has given, so it is in the world that his creatures fashion. This work is also typically pursued in common with those outside the community of faith. The task of world-making has a validity of its own because it is work that God ordained to humankind at creation.”

“… any good that is generated by Christians is only the net effect of caring for something more than the good created. If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world, in other words, it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfillment of God’s command to love our neighbor.”      

“…until God brings forth the new heaven and the new earth, he calls believers, individuals and as a community, to conform to Christ and embody within every part of their lives, the shalom of God. Time and again, St. Paul calls Christians to “shalom” (1 Cor. 7:15), to “follow after the things which make for shalom” (Rom. 14:19), to “live in shalom and the God of love and shalom will be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11) for He is “the Lord of shalom” (2 Thess. 3:16). In this Christians are to live toward the well-being of others, not just to those within the community of faith, but to all.”

“… believers themselves are often found indifferent to and even derisive of expressions of truth, demonstrations of justice, acts of nobility, and manifestations of beauty outside of the church. Thus, even where wisdom and morality, justice and beauty exist in fragments or in corrupted form, the believer should recognize these as qualities that, in Christ, find their complete and perfect expression. The qualities nonbelievers possess as well as the accomplishments they achieve may not be righteous in an eschatological sense, but they should be celebrated all the same because they are gifts of God’s grace” (see: Acts 14:14-17;17:24-29).  

“As a backdrop to all of this, there is a natural life originating in creation and a natural order in things that can be understood, developed, and enjoyed. The dazzling processes of growth in a tree or a bug or a newborn baby, the intricacies of molecular biology, the stunning ordered-complexity of mathematics, and the underlying logic of music all speak of an order that God has created and that has not been effaced by the fall, that people can discover and take pleasure in as well. These things too, Christians should neither dismiss nor disparage but rather be grateful for and be delighted by because they are gifts of God’s grace meant for their benefit and the benefit of all.”

“Indeed, insofar as Christians acknowledge the rule of God in all aspects of their lives, their engagement with the world proclaims the shalom to come. Such work may not bring about the kingdom, but it is an embodiment of the values of the coming kingdom and is, thus, a foretaste of the coming kingdom. Even while believers wait for their salvation, the net effect of such work will be a contribution not only to the good of the Christian community but to the flourishing of all.”

 Steve Cornell