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 

Fill me with joy in your presence

Transformation of desire is at the heart of spiritual change. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Philippians 2:13).

One example of transformed desire occurs when a desire to learn to love becomes greater than the desire for love. This happens when “we know and rely on the love God has for us” (I John 4:16).

When we experience transformation in this way, we begin to “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10).

God’s kingdom is always ready to challenge the desires that preoccupy everyone (Matthew 6:32). God is always calling us away from lesser desires to draw us to more noble and lasting passions.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world” (C. S. Lewis).

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

Faith in Jesus Christ is not merely an agreement with facts about God and Jesus. It’s a matter of appetite and longing; hunger and thirst; satisfaction and fulfillment in the One who is the bread of life. It’s a satisfaction of our deepest longings and needs.

But our hearts will remain hungry until they find satisfaction in God and our souls thirsty until quenched by God. Of course, it must be understood, that as fallen beings, we can only be satisfied with unsatisfied satisfaction. As we taste and see that the Lord is good, we must return to the same source in our  hungering and thirsting.

The Psalmist said to God, “You make known to me the path of life;
 you will fill me with joy in your presence,
 with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1-2).

“Whom have I in heaven but you?
 And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail,
 but God is the strength of my heart
 and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).

Steve Cornell

 

Is God’s will specifically revealed?

Does God promise to reveal His specific will on matters not directly addressed in Scripture?

Few of us struggle with discerning God’s will on matters that are clearly commanded or clearly forbidden in Scripture. When we lack specific biblical directives, we often look to other means for discovering God’s will. But in such undefined areas, we must remember that Scripture firmly warns us to attach an “if” to all our plans.

James 4:13-16 provides us with a very helpful illustration concerning God’s will in these areas. Take a moment and read this text.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ 14. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ 16. As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.”

The picture here is of first century Jewish merchants confidently asserting their plans for future business and profit.

James does not explicitly condemn them for planning, but warns them to attach an “if” to their plans out of honor for God’s final authority. James wrote, “…you ought to say, ‘if the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that’” (v. 15.)

The merchants in the illustration confidently assert

    • A short-term plan: “today or tomorrow,”
    • A long-term plan: “spend a year,”
    • A specific plan: “in such and such a city,” and
    • A final result: “to make a profit.”

The problem is not really with the detail of their plans, but with the arrogant attitude behind the plans. Nor does James say, “First ask God to reveal the plan, then you can speak confidently about the future.”

No amount of prayer will give us the authority to drop the “if” from our plans. Christians should therefore not say, “we prayed fervently about this plan and we know God is going to accomplish it.” James would say, “Where is your ‘if’?” And the absence of the “if” in our plans is disrespect for God’s final right to change anything he desires. It fails to honor God’s sovereignty over life itself. Thus, “you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that'” (15). The presence of the “if” recognizes God as supreme over all of life. 

James is not requiring a slavish use of the phrase, “If the Lord wills…” as much as a submissive attitude of heart and restraint in how we speak about the future.

Proverbs 27:1 wisely reminds us, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

The “if” is also a place of peace and security in God’s final authority over life. Our decisions should be made with peaceful assurance that our Heavenly Father (who knows our needs before we ask, Matthew 6:8) is sovereign.  

The recognition of God’s sovereignty is not just that, “He works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11), but that He also promised to, “work all things together for good for those who love Him” (Romans 8:28).

“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). 

The Bible repeatedly advocates wise planning. But it also announces God’s right to change or set limits on our plans. So be careful in how you speak about God’s will on matters not specifically addressed in Scripture. 

God has provided us with a great wealth of wisdom in Scripture (I Timothy 3:15-17) and gifted us with teachers to equip and mature the Church (Ephesians 4:11-16). God holds us responsible for our use of His provisions.

God may not choose to tell us everything we want to know but he has told us all we need to know.   

“…it is to be feared that many today who profess to be Christ’s never learn wisdom through failure to attend sufficiently to God’s written Word. … It is folly to pretend to seek God’s will for your life, in terms of a marriage partner or some form of Christian vocation, when there is no deep desire to pursue God’s will as he has already kindly revealed it” (D.A. Carson, Spiritual Reformation).

When making decisions our first responsibility is to discover whether there are any direct commands in Scripture either forbidding or demanding a specific course of action. If specific statements cannot be found, we must seek general biblical principles or examples that apply to the decision. But even here we must be careful not to normalize biblical examples as if God works the same way in every period of history. Gideon’s fleece, for example, was never intended as a normal pattern for guidance.

Circumstantial signs, opened doors, inner impressions, or feeling called by God

The most important matter is whether circumstantial signs or inner impressions align with Scripture and sound counsel. Subjective data (desires and signs) must always be determined by objective considerations. For example, one may feel called to pastoral ministry and even believe God has opened doors to pursue this desire. But the final test of God’s call is the qualifications for church leaders in the New Testament (see: I Timothy 3 and Titus 1). A man disqualifies himself from pursuing his desires and opened doors if he fails to meet the objective qualifications for Church leadership.

Steve Cornell

See also, “Do inner promptings reveal God’s will?”

Listen:      Short audio about God’s will

In Step with the Master Teacher

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As I was studying the methods and content of the teaching of Jesus, the word reality kept coming back to me. Jesus kept things real in exposing religious hypocrisy. But reality for Jesus was far more than life in this world.

I also thought about a quote from a book we’re using in our parents of teens group:

“The more accurately you think about something, the healthier your life will be. The converse is also true. The more inaccurate your thinking the more dysfunctional your relationship with your teen will be — even if you assume your thinking is fine, which most of usually do.” 

“Reality can be a hard pill to swallow. But last time I checked, when you fight reality, you lose. Reality wins.” (Tim Sanford, Losing control and liking it, p. 10,14).

But what is reality? It depends on who you ask. If you look closely at the teaching of Jesus, any version of reality that disconnects earth from heaven is a dangerous kind of unreality. Jesus relentlessly insisted on this connection.

Earth and Heaven

As the Master Teacher, Jesus moved from what is seen and known to what is unseen and eternal. He transformed everyday earthly objects into lessons about God, heaven and eternity.

The people of his time had grown blind to the connections between earth and heaven. So Jesus connected the truth around them in the visible world with the truth before them in the Scripture — truth about eternity.

“They didn’t think of God’s word when they sowed seed, or the new birth when they felt the wind, or faith when they gathered the tiny mustard seed; but Jesus did.” (Warren Wiersbe, Teaching and Preaching with imagination, p. 161)

He connected what they could see in creation and life with truths about eternal life to come. Through many object lessons, he turned his listeners ears into eyes to help them see the truths he taught.

  • Jesus spoke of salt, light, wind, bread, vine and branches, flowers, trees, seed, fields white for harvest, birth, gates, coins, treasure, pearls, nets, cups, dishes, tombs…
  • Jesus used, fox, birds, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, serpents, fish, gnats and camels, a hen and her chicks, ….
  • He referred to physicians, shepherds, land owners, builders, friends, bridegrooms, virgins, farmers, tenants, sons, teachers, wine merchants, the rich and the poor, an unjust judge and a widow, blind guides,…
  • He spoke of banquets, weddings, feasts, temples, his father’s house with many rooms…

The teaching of Jesus is characterized by “an evident absence of artificial oratory” (C.H. Spurgeon). Yet what Jesus taught is consistently a combination of simplicity, and complexity that was often provocative and challenging.

Jesus told stories that often exposed the religious and social prejudices of the establishment. Yet there don’t appear to be any great shifts in tone and inflection; no special vocabulary or arresting theatrics, — just stories. The problem, however, is that in Jesus’ stories the wrong people win. The Samaritan shines as a keeper of God’s commands; the gentile demonstrates faith, the tax-gather goes home justified before God and the sinful women with a past is welcomed and forgiven. 

It was hard to miss his point — and they didn’t! 

Many times the simplicity of application cannot be missed. But this didn’t reduce the complexity and challenge. After hearing Jesus, one might respond with, “I get it … I think…” But wait,… does he mean…? Or, should I take it as …” His words invited deep contemplation and reflection. 

The elements of simplicity are unmistakably clear — on one level. When Jesus exposed hypocritical approaches to praying, giving, fasting; we get the point each time. But we also feel the challenge to consider subtle ways that we seek attention and praise for our acts of service.

When Jesus said, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” – we get it (Matthew 7:24). But it troubles us that so “many” people could call Christ “Lord” and engage in works of the kingdom (“did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?”) only to hear the Lord say to them,  “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Where are we hearing but not doing?

Back to reality

All of this takes us back to that word “reality.” According to the Master Teacher, the person who lives without making deep connections between earth and heaven lives in unreality. He might be a “man of the world” but if he thinks this is his only world, he is profoundly misguided. In 70-80 years, the connections will become clear.

To build your house on the rock, as a wise builder, you must follow the teachings of the one who continuously connected this life with eternity. He taught his followers to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He taught us to think of reward with our father in heaven and to store treasure in heaven — that place where corruption cannot damage treasure. 

A matter of perspective

How will you see things? How will you respond to the successes and trials of this life? If you live only on the horizontal level, only looking at things that are temporal, you’ll build your life fantasy not reality. Instead, join with Jesus Christ and make connections between what is known and visible to what is unseen and eternal.

Then when the torrential rain comes and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against your life, the rock-solid foundation of Christ’s words will withstand all the way into eternity.  

“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).

Steve Cornell 

 

Answering God’s call beyond the walls of the Church

 

“We make a huge mistake when we define a person’s ‘call’ in terms of participation inside the church.” (Tullian Tchividjian)

While on a writing retreat in Brewster, Cape Cod one summer, I had a great time meeting different people. But I have this little problem in getting to know people when the dreaded question comes up. “So, what do you do?” they inevitably ask. If I want to continue the conversation, I have to be careful with my answer.

If I say, “I am a pastor” it immediately changes the conversation – or, more likely, ends it. It’s a real dilemma. One night, for example, a group of people doing a restaurant limousine tour saw me in the lobby of the resort working on my book. They asked what I was doing. “Writing a book,” I answered. “Really, what’s it about?” they asked. “It’s about how your upbringing affects your life.”

Immediately the three couples gathered around me to engaged in lively discussion about the subject.

In the middle of some rather deep conversation, one man blurted, “Who is this guy?!” “How do you know this stuff?” “Are you a psychiatrist, or something?” “No” I answered, “but I do a lot of counseling.” “You’re a counselor?” “Yes, I am.” He quickly tried to sign up his wife for a few sessions.

What I said about what I do was true even if I am not solely a counselor by occupation. I was doing what I could to avoid the conversation stopper: “I am a minister.”

Ten minutes after the group left for the dining room, a waiter told me one of the men who was talking with me would like to buy me a drink. Later in the evening, his wife came to tell me how exceptional it was for her husband to order a drink for someone. “You made a big impression on him” she assured me.

All of this to say that had I announced I was a pastor, the evening would have proceeded much differently. People recoil and become guarded when they learn that you’re a minister. After all, “What do you say to a pastor?!” It’s a real occupational liability for someone who works with people!

I thought about this encounter when I read a blog piece by Tullian Tchividjian.

Under the title, Our calling, Our Spheres, he shared thoughts about how leaders in the Church “need to help our people see that their calling is bigger than how much time they put into church matters.”

Of course, serving in your Church is important but it could be wrongly exalted over serving God in your career. Here are some good thoughts on glorifying God in all you do:

“As Christians, we can serve God in a variety of vocations. And we don’t need to justify that work, whatever it is, in terms of its ‘spiritual’ value or evangelistic usefulness. We simply exercise whatever our calling is with new God-glorifying motives, goals, and standards.”

“Outwardly there may be no discernible difference between a non-Christian’s work and that of a Christian. A transformational approach to culture doesn’t mean every human activity practiced by a Christian (designing computers, repairing cars, selling insurance, or driving a bus) must be obviously and externally different from the same activities practiced by non-Christians.”

“Rather, the difference is found in the motive, goal, and standard. John Frame writes, ‘The Christian seeks to change his tires to the glory of God and the non-Christian does not. But that’s a difference that couldn’t be captured in a photograph.'”

“So, while Christians are to separate from the self-glorifying motives and God-ignoring goals of the world (our spiritual separation), we’re not to separate from the peoples, places, and things in the world (a spatial separation). We’re to be morally and spiritually distinct without being culturally segregated. In the famous words of Abraham Kuyper, ‘There is not one square inch in the entire domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”

“For church leaders, this means that we make a huge mistake when we define a person’s ‘call’ in terms of participation inside the church—nursery work, Sunday school teacher, youth worker, music leader, and so on. We need to help our people see that their calling is bigger than how much time they put into church matters. By reducing the notion of calling to the exercise of spiritual gifts inside the church, we fail to help our people see that calling involves everything we are and everything we do—both inside and, more importantly, outside the church.”

“I once heard Os Guinness address a question about why the church in the late 20th century was not having a larger impact in our world when there were more people going to church than ever before. He said the main reason was not that Christians weren’t where they should be. There are plenty of artists, lawyers, doctors, and business owners that are Christians. Rather, the main reason is that Christians aren’t who they should be right where they are.”

“’Calling’, he said, ‘is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, dynamism, and direction.’ When we reduce the notion of ‘calling’ to work inside the church, we fail to equip our people to apply their Christian faith to everything they do, everywhere they are” (Tullian Tchividjian).

Steve Cornell

Trust God at all times

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

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

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

Psalm 62:8 parallels two NT references:

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

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

Still learning to trust at all times,

Steve Cornell

Christ appears in Heaven for us!

When we are told to “set our affections on the realities of heaven,” the reason for doing this is that it is the place “where Christ sits at God’s right hand.” 

Think about these great words: “For Christ … entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:24).

Heaven is so desirable not because of the absence suffering (as great as this will be), nor because of our reunion with those who died before us (as wonderful as this will be). Heaven is so desirable because it is the place where Christ sits at God’s right hand — for us.

We join with the apostle Paul and say, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23).

After Jesus finished His mission by dying for our sins and being raised from the dead, He returned to heaven and took the seat of highest honor to appear before God “for us.”

These two words “for us” are amazing!

Those who know Christ as their Savior are represented in the highest court. Let these words sink deeply into your heart: “Christ went into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us.”

“For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4).

Reflection

“The Christian’s whole and only status before God is in Christ. True and wonderful though this is, however, the sphere of the Christian’s existence is still here on earth. He is still beset by temptations; he is hampered by weakness and frustrated by failings; he falls short of ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13); the perfection for which he longs is not yet. He needs a holiness not his own, made available to him by the Lamb of God who has made atonement for his sins and who now interposes himself as his representative in the heavenly sanctuary. And this is the representation which Christ fulfills as he appears in the presence of God for us” (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 349).

For deeper meditation on Christ’s representation, see: Romans 8:33-34; Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:23-27; John 2:1-2. The apostle John said those who confess their sin (I John 1:9), have an “advocate” with the heavenly father (I John 2:2). The N.I.V. translates advocate as, “one who speaks to the Father in our defense.” It pictures a legal setting with Christ as counsel for the defense. And His position as advocate is based on His redeeming work (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5-6).

“Our advocate doesn’t plead that we are innocent…He acknowledges our guilt and presents His vicarious work as the ground for our acquittal” (John R. W. Stott, I John, TNTC, pp. 81-82).

We must guard against misguided understandings of representation. We should not picture a dualistic situation where a well-pleasing son is trying to persuade a hostile father to look on us with favor. God was the one who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (II Corinthians 5:18-21).  God “spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32; cf. 1 John 4:9-10).

Reflection

“The intercession of the Son, then, is in no sense a pleading with the Father to change his attitude toward us. Nor does the Father have to be reminded of the full redemption that he himself has provided for us in his Son—the very thought is preposterous! The presence in heaven of the Lamb bearing the marks of his passion is itself the perpetual guarantee of our acceptance with God, who gave his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. In ourselves, however, though we have the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ and though we are united to him in love and trust, we are unworthy because Christ has not yet been fully formed within us (cf. Gal. 4:19) and we still sinfully fall short of the glory of God (cf. Rom. 3:23). This consideration explains our continuing need of the advocacy and intercession of him who alone is accounted worthy before God (cf. Rev. 5:1-10). It is in his worthiness that even now we rejoice in the blessings of the divine favor, for by the grace of God his merit has been reckoned to us as our merit, his heaven has become our heaven, and his eternal glory our eternal glory” (Philip Hughes, Hebrews).

 Do we need the assistance of saints or angels to bring us to God?

“To imagine that saints or angels can be influenced to intercede for us is not only delusion; it is to cast doubt on the perfect adequacy of the intercession of Christ on our behalf and thus to deprive ourselves of the fulness of the security which is available to us only in Christ. Our Lord clearly taught that no man can come to the Father except by him (John 14:6) and that our requests to God are to be made in his name (John 14:13f.; 15:16; 16:23, 24, 26), precisely because there is no other name which avails and prevails with God (cf. Acts 4:12) (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 353).

Christ alone is our mediator, advocate, intercessor, high priest, and way of access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; John 14:6). “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He (Jesus Christ) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2; cf. Hebrews 7:26-27). “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:18). 

Let your heart dwell on these great words: “Christ went into heaven to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24).

Steve Cornell