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 narratives of vindictiveness. Both would have been a temptation. Engagement for the good had to characterize their presence and involvement in the life of their city. Yes, they were to pray “to the Lord on its behalf” and to affirm 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 offered insightful challenge to this misdirected thinking:

“…. 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 and 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

To help you keep perspective (see offer)

Have you ever lost perspective? This happens when we lose sight of the big picture or even some important details of the small picture. 

When faced with trials or setbacks, we can find ourselves struggling to keep a good perspective. Discouragement is another threat to perspective. One has suggested that, “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).

Maybe your outlook on life has become dark, complacent or angry. Perhaps the colors of life have lost their strength. Perhaps some dreams have not been fulfilled and the routine of life feels horribly monotonous and without deeper meaning. We must be acknowledge that this kind of mindset can easily lead to trouble. 

When we start looking at things the wrong way, a caring friend might say, “You need to get perspective.” Or, “You really need to change the way you’re seeing things.” When counseling others, it’s not unusual for me to say, “Let’s put this in perspective.” How do we keep the right perspective?

In perspective-testing times, we have to decide how to look at life. So much of life is affected by how we view it—by our outlook; by the way we construe things. Attitude (which is vital to life) is especially related with perspective.

How to keep the right perspective:

I am suggesting that all of Scripture was given for perspective formation. Scripture lifts us out of the horizontal and connects with the vertical. It stretches beyond the temporal to the eternal. It calls us away from the mire of a self-centered living into the joy of a God-centered life of love.

Each day we need to consider ways of thinking that counter-veil destructive and sinful perspectives. This is the role the Bible fulfills! None of the Bible was written to us but it was all written for us. Although it was communicated in a context of culture and history different from our own, it contains truths that transcend culture and history and speak with powerful engagement to all people in all places at all times.

While one might have little interest in the city of Corinth and  the people who lived their 2000 years ago, when the apostle wrote his two letters we call First and Second Corinthians, he included amazing truths that have perspective forming implications for all people.  

Example: What kind of perspective forming applications can we get from these words?

“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)

As we read about many of the ways the apostles understood God’s activity in and through their lives, we gain immediate perspective in thinking correctly about God’s work in our lives.

This truth could change the way you approach your Bible. Why is a daily reading of Scripture so important? Because we so easily lose perspective and lock our minds on horizontal, temporal and self-centered ways of seeing things. 

An offer:

To help people see life from God’s perspective, a few years ago, I complied a two month devotional titled, Meeting God in His Word. The daily readings include one to three verses of Scriptures that I’ve returned to repeatedly in my life.

Example of how the guide works: based on (but not limited to) a 15 minute daily plan

Step 1 – Five minutes of praise and giving thanks

It is right to enter God’s presence with praise and thankfulness. We honor God by declaring His greatness: “Father in heaven, your name is exalted, and you are worthy of praise. Today, I praise you because you are the only true God. I specifically praise you because of your _____chosen attribute for the day____.            

  • Love: sacrificial giving for me and my salvation
  • Mercy: withholding the judgment I deserve
  • Grace: goodness to those who only deserve judgment.
  • Patience: bearing with disobedient creatures like me
  • Kindness: thoughtful actions for my good
  • Faithfulness: loyalty and trustworthiness
  • Holiness: complete uniqueness and separation from sin
  • Power: ability to do all things
  •  Salvation: provider of forgiveness for my sins
  •  Sovereignty: absolute authority and rule over your creation”

“I praise you that you have accomplished my salvation through my Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Jesus alone, I come to you. He is the way, the truth and the life. He is your gift of love to me (an unworthy sinner). I thank you that through Jesus I have been:

  •  Forgiven of my sins
  •  Justified in your sight
  •  Reconciled to you
  •  Given the Holy Spirit who lives in me
  •  Joined with the body of Christ, the Church
  •  Assured a home in heaven”

Prayer: “I acknowledge that apart from Jesus as my Savior, I am unworthy of you and your gifts of love. I need you to teach me how to live a life that pleases you. I ask you to open my eyes to see and my ears to hear as I enter your Word. I humbly ask you to use your Word in my life to change me more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.”

Step 2 – Five minutes…in the Word

John 14:1-3 “Don’t be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me. 2 There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” 

Underline the words and phrases that make connections with your life. Re-read the verses several times and pause to think about the words and phrases you underlined. Think about ways that these words connect with your walk with God.

Step 3 – The final five minutes… responding to God

Talk to God about the connections you’re making in the words and phrases you’ve underlined. Perhaps one or two key ideas will especially speak to you. In the passage above, we could talk to God about our tendency to be troubled or our need to grow in trust. We could also thank God for giving us assurance for our future. We could tell him how much we look forward to being in that place Jesus is preparing for us. Finally, through this Scripture, we could express our longing to always be with our Savior.   

___________________________________________________

The premise of what I am saying is summarized well in II Timothy 3:16: 

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to:

  1. teach us what is true
  2. to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.
  3. It corrects us when we are wrong
  4. teaches us to do what is right.

The constant challenge of losing perspective must be met with daily perspective forming sessions with God. Each day, we need a Hebrews 4:12 and Hebrews 4:16 encounter with God. (Look them up)

Question:

What Scriptures has God recently used in your life to help you keep a godly perspective?

Purchasing a copy of Meeting God in His Word:

If you would like a copy of Meeting God in His Word, contact me at

s.cornell@millersvillebiblechurch.org with your mailing address. 

It is an excellent tool for small groups, couples and individuals. The second volume is almost completed. We charge $ 6.00 per copy to cover costs of production and shipping. Each copy is 5×7, seventy pages and nicely spiral bound for easy use. The verses are included for each day along with space to write your thoughts. I also included a few additional resources for digging deeper into Scripture.  We will enclose a bill with the shipment on a good faith basis. 

Steve Cornell

Many have misunderstood communion

 

When I was a young boy, two main things entered my mind on the Sundays our church gathered around the communion table. First, I knew it would be a long service because the pastor was not about to give up sermon time. This meant Church would end no earlier than 12:15 — instead of 12 noon.

The second thing I recall is a strange sense of fear. With his deep voice, the pastor would always read and make a strong point from I Corinthians 11:27-30 (the King James Version):

“Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.”

Who wants to get sick or die?

Like most protestant pastors (following the lead of most commentaries on I Corinthians), he stressed the need to be careful not to come to the table with unconfessed sin. Thus the call to “examine ourselves” lest we eat and drink “unworthily.” With this emphasis, the focus turned inward as each person searched his or her soul for unconfessed sins.

The stated purpose for communion: “In remembrance of me,” easily got lost in a self-preserving concern for protection from “damnation” (whatever that meant). And who wants to get sick or die?

If you identify with my experience, let me assure you that the apostle Paul would be deeply troubled by such a misunderstanding and misapplication of his teaching in I Corinthians 11. Many years later, I was studying this text and noticed that most commentators went right to this widely held misapplication instead of hearing the words in their actual context. A little help from the context easily clarifies the true intention of the text read by my pastor. The popular misreading of the text has led to a strange kind of protestant system of confession at communion.

A protestant confessional booth?

Walk with me through a few translational points. The old translations of I Corinthians 11:27 go with the KJV: “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily...” Most newer translations, however, capture the intended meaning much better. for example: “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner…” (ESV).

Small difference? Not really. In some ways, focus on “the worthiness of the participant” has turned the table into a kind of protestant confessional booth. “Let a man examine himself” then becomes the opportunity to engage in a strange kind of introspection that actually promotes the very individualistic attitude the apostle was opposing in I Corinthians 11.

An unworthy manner

The “unworthy manner” was the individualistic focus involving behavior that sinfully violated both the unity of the body and care for the needy. It was a very specific issue being addressed in context. The concern related to the fellowship meal they shared at the time of remembrance. The verses surrounding the portion recited at communion (vv.23-32), provide the key to why Paul wanted them to examine themselves and why some among them were weak, sick and dead.

Paul wrote, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry,another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God andhumiliate those who have nothing?” (vv. 20-22).

The important connection is between the words used in vv. 23-32 and the final exhortation:

“So then, my brothers,when you come together to eat, wait forone another— if anyone is hungry,let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment.” (vv. 33-34).

Communion was never intended to be turned into what the protestant Church has made it over the years. We have turned it into an intense soul-searching effort to find and name unconfessed sin lest we partake as one unworthy. This actually facilitates the individualism that was at the root of the sinful division of the Church. When Paul warns, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (v. 29), the body is the Church, the people of God. Failure to discern the body had to do with sinful disregard for the needs of others.

So the focus required was on others not myself. I must come to the meal and remembrance in a way that promotes love and unity toward the body of believers. When I make it about me and my needs, I sin against the Lord. His sacrificial death brings us together in unity. To celebrate its remembrance in a divisive manner offends the sacrificial love of our Savior.

A silly question:

But you might ask, “Should we be unconcerned about celebrating with unconfessed sin?” Silly question indeed! We should always and immediately confess our sins! Confess them preferably before gathering! The bread and the cup are remembrance of Him, not about protecting me from judgment! What I remember about Jesus is how he took away my sin as the lamb of God and how he sealed my standing with God for eternity. More importantly, I remember this with my fellow believers who share in Christ with me.

This is not to say that there are not other ways we could eat in an unworthy manner. Forbidding husbands and wives who are not living in harmony would be a better example . The violation of the unity of the Church and care for the less fortunate was the unworthy manner being addressed. Read the context and for an excellent handling of this text (and they are not plentiful) (see Gordon Fee First Corinthians, NICNT).

Steve Cornell

Extravagantly grateful people

 

“Anyone with half an ounce of self-awareness recognizes how much we whine about what is missing in our lives, and how often we nurture what I call thanks-killing vices like anger, lust, and greed, and how often we are just indifferent to the many divine gifts showered upon us hour by hour” ( Mark Galli).

As we approach Thanksgiving, let’s commit to becoming extravagantly grateful people. This is the way of life for those who desire to walk in God’s will. Consider the extravagant language Scripture uses: “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God” (I Thessalonians 5:18). “Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father” (Ephesians 5:20).

Prescribing gratitude adjustments

Extravagantly grateful people fill their hearts (and every room they enter) with health! Gratitude operates in a way “similar to the brain’s dopamine reward system, the positive emotion incentivizes cooperation and serves as a binding force in society. As an affective reward, gratitude enriches the individual, in addition to the group. Just think about the range of positive emotions — such as hope, trust and relief — that arose the last time you felt truly grateful for something” (Cristen Conger). The opposite also works. Resentment, complaining and ingratitude produce rotten fruit to spoil our hearts and our friendships. Good things flourish in thankful hearts and in thankful marriages and homes.

Doctors need to start prescribing gratitude adjustments for better health. “It may be a dramatic departure from what we’ve been taught about how to get healthier, but the connection between gratitude and health actually goes back a long way. It’s no secret that stress can make us sick, particularly when we can’t cope with it. It’s linked to several leading causes of death, including heart disease and cancer, and claims responsibility for up to 90% of all doctor visits. Gratitude, it turns out, can help us better manage stress. Research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress” (source).

“Grateful people tend to be more optimistic; a characteristic that researchers say boosts the immune system. ‘There are some very interesting studies linking optimism to better immune function,’ says Lisa Aspinwall, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Utah. Optimism also has a positive health impact on people with compromised health. In separate studies, patients confronting AIDS, as well as those preparing to undergo surgery, had better health outcomes when they maintained attitudes of optimism” (source).

Three things assault gratitude: self-preoccupation, misguided expectations and an attitude of entitlement. A gratitude adjustment must look closely at all three. Do I live a self-absorbed life? Are my expectations realistic? Why do I think I deserve more or better? What does my disappointment tell me about what I value most?

Giving thanks when life hurts

Sometimes we all find it hard to be thankful because of our hardships and suffering. Life can be cruel and painful. How can we give thanks when we hurt so much? Difficult seasons of life threaten perspective. Despondency is a state of mind where we tend to view life through the selective lends of our hardships. Some people complain that God put thorns on roses, while others praise him for putting roses on thorns. Ask God to give you eyes to see the roses.

C.S. Lewis wisely suggested 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.”

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (II Cor. 4:16-18, NLT)

Extravagantly grateful people are rare. But this is what God calls His people to be—not just at Church, but all the time, in all places! Am I leaving a legacy of gratitude? Or, will I just become another old grouch with whom people limit their time? While enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, football games commit to becoming an extravagantly grateful person who leaves a rich legacy of gratitude.

A good place to start would be with Ellen Vaughn’s book, Radical Gratitude. “Cultivating a grateful heart,” she wrote, “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…. the rhythm of divine renewal beats in the pulse of a purposefully grateful heart.”


Steve Cornell



Daily perspective sessions with God

by Steve Cornell

Lost perspective?

Have you ever lost perspective? You’ve just started to look at things the wrong way. Maybe a caring friend says, “You need to get perspective.” “You really need to change the way you’re looking at this.”

Loss of perspective often happens when we’ve faced difficult setbacks or hardships. We become confused or maybe upset or flat out angry about something and our way of seeing things becomes hard to sort out.

Trials and times of loss are perspective-testing times! They’re times when we have to decide how to look at life. And, this can be serious stuff because so much of life is affected by how we view it—by our outlook.

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How Perspective forms:

We have to admit that perspective (how we look at life) is highly affected by two big contributors:

  1. Our 18 year factor: A parent’s perspective (or experience of a significant disruption or an ongoing dysfunction from your home of origin) has major influence on how we see things. But remember that God’s redemption reaches us here: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers” (I Peter 1:18). You don’t have to remain trapped in a negative outlook or enslaved to a negative background. God redeems us from the vain ways of our 18 year factor. “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me” (Psalm 27:10).
  1. Our personalities or temperaments: Are you a Type A or a Steady Eddie or Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic, or Phlegmatic. There is no doubt that these differences affect perspective. Some people, like the grey, gloomy donkey in Winnie-the-Pooh, take the Eeyore approach to life. Ever met an Eeyore? Ever been one or gone through an Eeyore phase? And nothing bugs an Eeyor more than a Tigger! Always bouncing around in an electrifying and exuberant mood—he’s the eternal optimist looking to make the most out of what life has to offer.

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Hey, listen, it’s possible that somebody reading this has really lost perspective and just isn’t processing life very well. Consider some possible life-controlling perspectives:

1. Discouraged:

Maybe you’re discouraged. Life has been hard and you’re having trouble seeing through your difficulties. Discouragement, at a deeper level, is a loss of perspective.

2. Negative:

Perhaps you’ve even become very negative, cynical and sarcastic. You’re looking at life through the lens of pessimism.

3. Angry:

Or, maybe anger and resentment are your primary lens for seeing life. You’re always in a slow burn that can erupt at any time. For you, anger is not an occasional disruption of life; it’s the way you process most of life.

4. Complacent:

Or, maybe you’ve become complacent. You’ve drifted from God. You don’t take spiritual matters very seriously because you’re just living for yourself.

5. Self absorbed:

You’re so into yourself: how you feel and what you want and you, you, you—it always has to be your way and about you.

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  • All of these involve perspective—a way of seeing things or construing life:
  • A construal! An outlook or lifeview.

And, again, if you’re in one of these perspectives too deeply, you might need some counseling (which are often perspective gaining sessions). But, I do think that what I have to share here can help anyone keep a good and godly perspective. And remember this: The thing about perspective is that it not only affects you; — all of those who must relate with you or are under your influence are affected by your perspective. Here’s an example:

  • Genesis 37:3-4 “Now Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”
  • Jacob’s parental favoritism was a self-gratifying behavior that incited destructive consequences in his family.

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My big recommendation for you (and it’s as simple as it is profound):

“All Scripture was given to us for perspective formation.”

As I unpack this, it might change the way you approach the Bible and change the your whole outlook on life so that it conforms to God’s will.

II Timothy 3:16-17:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to:

  1. teach us what is true and
  2. to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.
  3. It corrects us when we are wrong and
  4. teaches us to do what is right.

God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (NLT)

Follow me on this:

God’s method for transforming us into His likeness is that we: “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” Romans 12:2

Ephesians 4:23 described it as being “made new in the attitude of your minds” God wants to transform our outlook, attitude or perspective! (cf. Philippians 2:3-5)

Romans 14:13 “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about (προνοιαν) how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Πρόνοιαν (pronoian) is a provisionary way of thinking. Another translation says, “make no provision for the flesh” (NASB) “don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires” (NLT)

Too often we make narrow applications of verses like this to sexual temptation. But the works of the flesh include other evils. Consider:

Galatians 5:19-21- The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

8 acts of the sinful nature on this list are relationship sins!

How does one make pro-visionary thinking for hatred or jealousy or envy? What mind-set or perspective allows for these sins? To overcome sinful attitudes, actions and emotions, one must see things differently. One must “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” How does an appropriation of Christ to one’s life (clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ) offer a different pro-visionary thinking? How does it provide a gospel-based construal that counter veils the way of wrong way of thinking?

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These are the really important considerations if we desire to move forward in spiritual transformation. It’s not that we all become the same personality type or temperament, but that we all yield our personalities and temperaments to the transforming influences of two provisions:

  1. The Spirit inspired Word: all Scripture
  2. The Spirit indwelt community: the reinforcement of godly perspective through connection with our local Church!

The Holy Spirit is the agent of spiritual transformation (II Corinthians 3:18) and His two primary instruments are the Word and the Church — the community of believers.

First, the Word:

We confess that we are a people of the Book. We believe that Scripture is God’s revelation of Himself and His ways of dealing with His creation. Apart from it, we’re reduced to subjective human opinion and speculation about God, life, death and eternity. We have nothing that speaks with univocal and universal authority that transcends human culture and opinion. We have many stories but no Original Story from which our individual stories originate. The Bible provides this for us!

Consider the way the apostle opened his message to the philosophers of Athens: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth; …he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” (Acts 17:24ff. )

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Of course, the Bible was not originally written to us– but it was all written for us. And, it presents God’s dealings through different times of history— which means we do not apply all of it the same way. We must “rightly handle it” (II Tim. 2:15).

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A Way of Looking at the Bible:

Engagement ring illustration: setting and jewel

The ring– the Setting: History, culture, language—background stuff.

The Jewel: universal, univocal truths that transcend culture and time because they are rooted in God’s Character and will. (We often refer to these as principles or applications to our lives).

So when reading the Bible, some things relate specifically to the original recipients (and seem foreign and strange to us) —-but from the text emerges gems that transcend limitations of time and culture!

Examples: II Corinthians 1:3-5, 8-9; 4:16-18; 12:7-10; James 1:1-5

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When you enter the Bible, I am encouraging you to see it as a “Perspective formation session with God.” Your personal devotions offer a time to get perspective or maintain godly perspective. Again, all scripture is given for perspective formation.

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Three unique perspectives from the Bible:

What the Bible offers is different from positive thinking books or other material in that it confronts us with:

1. Vertical truths for the horizontal issues of life

2. Eternal truths for the temporal circumstances of life

3. God-centered truths for the self-centered default mode of our lives.

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The Bible also answers really important questions: Origin, meaning, morality and destiny. It tells us: Where death came from? What happens after death?

Follow this because there’s more to it:

Behind actions, emotions, and attitudes are ways of thinking (perspectives) that fortify the actions, emotions, and attitudes.

Why do I do this? (Your struggling with habits and actions)

Why do I feel this way? (Your struggling with emotional issues)

What we need is counter-veiling ways of thinking (perspectives) to confront that ways of thinking that hold us in destructive ways of life. This is the role the Bible fulfills. It challenges our perspective!

Again: II Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to:

  1. teach us what is true and
  2. to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.
  3. It corrects us when we are wrong and
  4. teaches us to do what is right.

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Get this: Loss of perspective must be continuously challenged by daily perspective formation sessions with God.

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But, we cannot do this alone! God designed that we flourish in community not in isolation! We must allow others to speak into our lives to reinforce vertical, eternal, God-centered perspectives. And, the Church is to be the place where this happens through two primary means:

Teaching and Fellowship

1. Teaching:

There is a direct connection between the strength of the Church and the strength of pulpit ministry. The pulpit raises the bar for all teaching in the Church. The pulpit ministry is about helping people get perspective: God’s perspective. It should be engaging and deeply challenging (not fluff stuff). There should be a sense that you have heard from God based on Scripture.

I Corinthians 14:23-25:

23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” Not “that was cool.” “Church isn’t too bad.”

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2. Fellowship:

People rarely go the wrong way alone and they rarely stay on the right course alone. God wants us to travel in community. And His plan is for the local Church to be the place where we find the encouragement and accountability we need.

Hebrews 3:12-14

“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

Follow this:

When people lose perspective, they often travel in the company of people who share they’re outlook. Sometimes it works the other way and people allow others to shape their perspective. This is often one of the biggest challenges of our work environments. We need to regularly surround ourselves with people who reinforce godly perspective.

Steve Cornell

See also: The Christian’s conflict:

Watching Over One Another

Sunrise by kamalika04

A neglected ministry in the Church 

All of those who receive God’s gift of salvation can be confident that God will preserve them as His children all of their days on earth into eternity. This great truth has been titled, “The perseverance of the saints.” It is the belief that all who genuinely experience God’s salvation continue in the faith until the end. It doesn’t mean that they will not have times of unfaithfulness but that God’s faithfulness will sustain them.

Two statements of this truth:

“They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.”(The Westminster Confession of Faith)

“Perseverance may be defined as that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart, is continued and brought to completion” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 546).

Does Scripture support this conclusion?

I believe it does. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29). Earlier Jesus said, “Those who continue in My word are my disciples in reality” (John 8:31).

The apostle Paul taught this truth when he wrote to the believers in Philippi: “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6; cf. Romans 8:38-39).

The apostle John indirectly referred to this important truth when he wrote of certain people who went out from the Christian fellowship because they were not of it. Concerning them, he wrote, “For if they had been of us they no doubt would have continued with us” (I John 2:19). Continuance was considered the sign of reality. We continue because God has justified us in Christ not to obtain justification before God.

Based on Scriptures like these and many others, I believe that those whom God has saved will remain in His salvation until the end. They shall neither totally nor finally fall away and God will see to it that this takes place by His Spirit who dwells in each believer.

Divine Means for preserving God’s children:

A clear point made in Hebrews 3:12-14 is that part of God’s means for our perseverance includes His people watching out for one another. We cannot sit back and say, “Oh, well, God will keep all His children on the path of obedience.” No, God’s plan includes our fellow believers helping us to stay on the right path.

Hebrews 3:12-14

“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (Hebrews 3:12-14)

These verses reveal God’s intention to use the accountability of Christian fellowship to help believers “hold firmly till the end.”

We have a God-ordained responsibility to look out for the spiritual well-being of each other. “Be constantly on the watch brothers (and sisters).” The Church is not to be a place where each one minds only his own business. The cultural idols of individualism and privacy must not rule our fellowship. Loving watchfulness over each other is a distinguishing mark of the true Church. We are not to “watch” each other. The pharisees did this to Jesus. We are to “watch out for” each other. There is a big difference.

True Fellowship:

“Fellowship is more than unconditional love that wraps its arms around someone who is hurting. It is also tough love that hold one fast to the truth and the pursuit of righteousness. For most Christians, the support side of the equation comes more easily than accountability and the subsequent discipline involved. Which is one reason the behavior of Christians is often little different from the behavior of non-Christians. Maybe it’s because we simply haven’t taught accountability. Or maybe it’s because, in today’s fiercely individualistic culture, people resent being told what to do, and since we don’t want to “scare them off,” we succumb to cultural pressures.” “But too often we confuse love with permissiveness. It is not love to fail to dissuade another believer from sin any more than it Is love to fail to take a drink away from an alcoholic or matches away from a baby. True fellowship out of love for one another demands accountability.” (Chuck Colson, The Body, p. 130)

It is the lack of this kind of biblical accountability that is a primary obstacle to the Church being an instrument of God’s power in the world. People can talk all they want about church growth and renewal, but if it is emptied of true biblical accountability, the kind of growth and renewal that pleases God won’t happen.

Fellowship and Accountability:

“…accountability is a hollow concept unless it is enforced. There must be teeth in a church’s demand for orthodoxy and righteous behavior; that is what we call discipline. Yet examples of real discipline are all too few. Although evangelicals pride themselves on defending orthodoxy, I can recall only one instance in recent years when questions of theological integrity actually resulted in discipline” (p. 131, Ibid). “Discipline should be applied not only to enforce orthodoxy, but to maintain righteous behavior in the church. Sermons on holy living are empty exercises unless the church is willing to back them up with action” (p. 133, Ibid).

“…discipline guards the purity of the church, preserves the church by removing evil, and provides severe by loving correction for one who is in danger of falling into perdition.” Without effective discipline, there can be no accountability.” (p. 135, Ibid)

Hebrews 3:12 is a call to constantly watch out for our fellow believers so that no one has a “sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” According to verse 13, believers who fellowship together are to engage in positive reinforcement of each other in the faith. Again, God uses the accountability of Christian fellowship as an effective means for helping His saved ones persevere.

Wise counsel from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“When another Christian falls into obvious sin, an admonition is imperative, because God’s Word demands it. The practice of discipline in the community of faith begins with friends who are close to one another. Words of admonition and reproach must be risked when a lapse from God’s Word in doctrine or life endangers a community that lives together, and with it the whole community of faith….Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin. When we allow nothing but God’s Word to stand between us, judging and helping, it is a service of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine community. Then it is not we who are judging; God alone judges, and God’s judgment is helpful and healing” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, trans. Daniel W. Bloesch, Augsburg Fortress, 1996, 105).

The Leaders and the people

Here is a truth we don’t hear much about: “God’s plan is to use the accountability of Christian fellowship as a means for helping his saved ones persevere.” Accountability should be aimed at helping people keep their commitments to God. We know that God has given the responsibility of providing accountability to the leaders of the church (Hebrews 13:17; I Thess. 5:12-13; Acts 20:28; Gal. 6:1; I Peter 5:1-5). But do we hear much about it being given to the entire body of believers?

It would be interesting to survey church people (in churches that profess to believe in the Bible) and ask them what they consider to be the main responsibility of church leaders. Would they say, “Holding us accountable to be obedient to God”? Then ask if this is also their responsibility toward each other.

I don’t think most Church people know this. Do we as leaders teach this and practice it?

Whenever we teach this responsibility of Church leaders, we should also emphasize the role of the members in watchful accountability for each other. Our text in the book of Hebrews reminds us that the whole church shares this responsibility.

A closer look

In considering the challenge in Hebrews 3:12-14, it is helpful to understand some of the circumstances these believers faced. The book was written to Hebrew Christians who had converted from Judaism to Christianity and had paid a great price for their identification with Jesus, the Christ. From the book you can pick up the author’s pastoral concern for these believers. They had grown weary in their life of faith and were tempted to give up and return to Judaism. Hebrews 10:32-36 provides insight into their circumstances.

Hebrews 10:32-36

Verse 32- Remember those earlier days after you had received the light (i.e. the saving illumination of the gospel). With pastoral wisdom the writer appeals to their own past experience and holds it up as a paradigm for their present and future. He says, “Look at the courageous stand you once took!” Read verses 32-34.

Verse 32- They endured a hard contest with suffering.

Verse 33- Reminds them of the nature of their suffering.

    • “publicly exposed to insult” (to bring up to stage, to make a spectacle of, to hold up to derision. They had been subject to public abuse and shame.
    • “insults”- refers to verbal abuse, public jeering and scoffing. (They had truly shared the reproach of Christ.)
    • “persecutions”- acts of violence
    • “You stood side by side with those who were so treated.” They showed solidarity. This is a truly Christian quality because this is what Jesus did for us (2:14; 4:15)!

Verse 34- Their hearts were fixed on their eternal home.

So, verse 35-

    • Don’t throw away your confidence!
    • Regain the boldness of your past!
    • Emulate your own example!
    • Pull out your own spiritual chart.
    • Review your own spiritual resume.
    • Review your own spiritual history and be challenged by it!

In chapter 11, he will appeal to examples of Old Testament believers to encourage them (see 12:1-2). In chapter 13, verse 7, he will appeal to their past leaders. But, in chapter 10, he pulls out their own spiritual resume and holds it up before them to challenge them to continue. Due to their hardships, they had grown weary and were tempted to give up. This is perhaps the occasion for 10:23-25 and the reason for the teaching in chapter 12.

The warning not to forsake the assembly in Hebrews 10:25 should be read in this context. When a believer begins to distance herself from Christian fellowship, it should alert the Church of a need for watchful accountability. The book of Hebrews provides a model for Church life in helping weary Christians stay on the right path. Clearly, according to this New Testament book, God designed the accountability of Christian fellowship to help His people persevere. Too often this is a missing characteristic in our churches.

Does your Church approach ministry in a way that respects the role God has for His people to provide reinforcement in the faith for each other? Is your Church a place of mutual encouragement and mutual accountability? 

Steve Cornell

Check out the 4 part audio series: “Watch out for the ways of Esau” - Play Audio!