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Optimism

Here’s something that was passed along to me several months ago that I held onto but forgot about until I was talking to a brother at church the other day.  You may find it encouraging…or convicting.  

When I first received this it reminded me of how over the years following Christ has changed me from being quite the pessimist to quite the optimist.  Once you begin to understand more about His sovereignty it’s easier to see circumstances in the light of His glory rather than the fog of my own perspective. 

Of course, I was also reminded of how quickly I can still fall into the “You Say…” category quite quickly.  I can easily relate to many of these and I’m thankful that His Word speaks to all our needs. 

YOU SAY GOD SAYS BIBLE VERSES
You say: “It’s impossible” God says: All things are possible (Luke 18:27)
You say: “I’m too tired” God says: I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28-30)
You say: “Nobody really loves me” God says: I love you (John 3:1 6 & John 3:34 )
You say: “I can’t go on” God says: My grace is sufficient (II Corinthians 12:9 & Psalm 91:15)
You say: “I can’t figure things out” God says: I will direct your steps (Proverbs 3:5- 6)
You say: “I can’t do it” God says: You can do all things (Philippians 4:13)
You say: “I’m not able” God says: I am able (II Corinthians 9:8)
You say: “It’s not worth it” God says: It will be worth it (Roman 8:28 )
You say: “I can’t forgive myself” God says: I Forgive you (I John 1:9! & Romans 8:1)
You say: “I can’t manage” God says: I will supply all your needs (Philippians 4:19)
You say: “I’m afraid” God says: I have not given you a spirit of fear (II Timothy 1:7)
You say: “I’m always worried and frustrated” God says: Cast all your cares on ME (I Peter 5:7)
You say: “I’m not smart enough” God says: I give you wisdom (I Corinthians 1:30)
You say: “I feel all alone” God says: I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5)

From the David Letterman show…it just made me laugh.

10. Hundreds of volunteers have started to stack sandbags around you.
9. Doctor tells you your weight would be perfect for a man 17 feet tall.
8. You are responsible for a slight but measurable shift in the earth’s axis.
7. Right this minute you’re laughing up pie on the carpet.
6. You decide to take a little nap and wake up in mid-July.
5. World’s fattest man sends you a telegram, warning you to “back off!”
4. CBS tells you to lose weight or else.
3. Getting off your couch requires help from the fire department.
2. Every escalator you step on immediately grinds to a halt.
1. You’re sweatin’ gravy.

The Pattern for Failure

How’s this for a reoccurring theme for the Christian.  Let’s say you begin to realize that your having a problem with, oh let’s just say, humility.  So you pray and you begin to look for opportunities to “think of others as better than yourself” (Philippians 2:3) and while this goes well for a couple of hours (hopefully in your case longer) something bad starts to happen.  You start out freely encouraging and speaking kind words and somewhere along the line, without even thinking about it, you start to wonder why you aren’t being encouraged and then you start looking for the encouragement and then when the encouragement doesn’t come you throw up your hands in disgust feeling worse than you did before you began.

Recently I began to realize something about myself that I wasn’t satisfied with and when I began to think about how to deal with it from a biblical perspective I started to think about the failed attempts in the past.  I was trying to think of what went wrong then in the hopes that it doesn’t go wrong again.  I remembered an illustration I’d read recently that described the speech that the airline attendant gives before take-off.  The whole seat cushion as a floatation device and where the exits are located discourse.  Then she explains how the oxygen masks will drop in the event of a decrease in cabin pressure.  The illustration asked, if you have a child, whose mask should be put on first and why?  The answer is that you should put yours on first because you’ll be useless to your child if you pass out.  The illustration closed with the point that if we don’t go to God first then we’ll be useless to others.

It’s a simple illustration but it explains my failure.  When something bad started to happen in my example above is when I stopped getting my oxygen.  I stopped going to the Lord.  I stopped praying for real humility to be experienced.  I stopped praying for strength and satisfaction in Him.  I tried to help others when I was about ready to pass out myself and in then end I become weak and frail and in the end frustrated.  

What’s worse than being frustrated is feeling that I’ve failed the very one who I intended to glorify.  In order to glorify Him I must be satisfied in Him and to be satisfied in Him I need to seek Him daily.  That’s the way to break the pattern.  Seems so simple doesn’t it?

The Mission Field

The great commission tells us to go and make disciples of all the nations.  The only time I’ve ever been outside the U.S. is to go to Canada but I get the opportunity to go to “all the nations” every Monday night when I (and my friend Bob Nadeau) go into the local Dormitory Jail, which houses immigration inmates, for a bible study.  Every time I go I’m amazed at the opportunities we’re given to encourage and teach the truth of the scriptures and tonight was no different.

From the inmate from Rwanda opened the service by singing a song in Swahili to the Muslim from West Africa that we spoke with at length about Jesus dual nature, death and resurrection to the Jehovah’s Witnesses who we often encounter before and/or after our study as they meet next door to us.  Every time I go in I’m reminded of the need to be prepared as there seems to be no end to the questions and objections that we might face.  While it’s important to be prepared with the knowledge of the scriptures and the ability to maneuver through a conversation all will be lost if my spirit is not an attractive one.

I thought of this after the long talk with the Muslim from West Africa.  He kept telling us how much he enjoyed speaking with us and how he appreciated our willingness to talk.  His English was a bit broken but I think the bottom line was that he was happy to be able to talk about our differences concerning Jesus without our being angry.  At the end of the conversation I shared with him how I appreciated his gentle approach as well.  He could’ve gotten very frustrated by his inability to communicate as effectively as he would’ve liked and he could’ve been very defensive since there were two of us and only one of him.

While I wish all conversations concerning truth could go as well as that one, I also realize that where major differences are in play that won’t be the case.  Sometimes it will be because of the attitude of the person I’m speaking and unfortunately at other times it will be because of my pride.  To quote from the today’s Our Daily Bread devotional: “By every means possible, let’s proclaim the gospel. But let’s pray that the Holy Spirit will make us personally winsome and loving and free from sin so that we can attract others to Him.

It’s not enough to just go to the mission field but that my life would be consistently lived in the shadow of the cross that my attitude before others would be free from the pride of being right and instead filled with the humility of Christ.

What Can I Say?

Comforting people whose lives are at stake is not something I have a lot of experience with.  I’ve never personally been in a situation where my life was at stake so I don’t have a lot of experience to draw on when trying to comfort someone else.  Yet I have been put in the position a few times to counsel someone in that situation.

After a recent bible study at the local jail an inmate asked my friend and I to visit him.  During the visit he explained how he was in the process of being deported back to his home country which is predominantly Muslim and as a Christian he feared for his life.  I countries like his there  is a real threat of persecution unlike here in the United States where we consider being called stupid because of our faith an instance of persecution.  In his country he could be killed for just being known as a Christian.

Finding words to comfort him was difficult.  Even more painful was to see the look in his eyes.  I can remember the anticipation of having to face my dad after I ditched the family car and hoping that when I woke up the whole thing would’ve been a bad dream.  It was a similar look in his eyes but even more intense and understandably so.  With every thing we said, in the end I knew and he knew that my friend and I would be going home while he would go back to his cell to await deportation.  It would’ve been easy for him to not listen to us or ignore us but he didn’t.

Instead he was comforted not by our words but by the Wisdom of God’s Word that we counseled him with and reminded him of.  We reminded Him that God can deliver him from his current situation.  We reminded him how Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1 how God gave him the sentence of death so that Paul would trust God.  In the end Paul was delivered and was able to comfort others with the comfort that God gave to Paul.  But we also had to remind him that while God was able to deliver him in life He may choose to deliver him in death.  I know what we spoke to him was the truth but I’ve never had my life on the line to know how comforted I’d be by those words.

In the end we’ll all face death.  Some will face it sooner and some later.  Though only 45 this man may be forced to face it sooner but the truth be told I could meet my end tomorrow.  The only comfort we can offer the inmate is the same for me, is the same for the world and the same that the apostle Paul had known…trust in the God that raised Christ from the dead rather than trust in self.  It’s only then that well know what it really means to be comforted and what it means to live.

Recently at church we watched a message by Louis Giglio from the “How Great is Our God” video.  The message itself is wonderful and it motivated me to re-read Isaiah 40 as he quotes from it.  After a short study I found out Isaiah wrote chapter 40 before the Israelites were taken into captivity by the Babylonians to answer the questions they would have in advance.  The questions God knew they would ask are the same ones we ask when we hit difficult times in life.  In verse 27 Isaiah writes: “Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God?’”.  In other words, “God don’t you see what I’m going through?  Don’t you care?”

When I’m on the mountain it’s all good but when the trials come its one grand pity party.  I dislike those moments when it seems like God is distant but I really dislike the feeling that I’ve failed because I feel the way I do.  Thankfully God is not surprised by any of those moments and just like with the Israelites He knew in advance what I needed to know in order to experience a renewal.  The same words that He gave to comfort them are available to comfort me today.

What caught my attention was the reminder that while God never tires even the young men will get tired (v39).  I still get surprised when the dry times come but I’m not sure why.  It’s as normal to have dry times emotionally and spiritually just like it’s normal to get tired physically.  The beauty of these times is that’s when I grow the most.  It is during the dry times that God is allowed to grow us into His image.  His promise is that if we wait on Him we’ll receive new strength (v31), strength that is compared to that of an Eagle soaring high above the storm.

The thought of the normal ups and downs of our Spiritual walk caused me to remember something I read years ago from the C.S. Lewis book “The Screwtape Letters”.  The book is written from the perspective of a senior demon (Screwtape) as he mentors his nephew (Wormwood) on tempting his patient (a Christian) away from God.  The following is a quote from one of the letters Screwtape wrote to inform his nephew about the pattern of peak and dry times in a Christian’s life and God’s intention for the dry times:

We can drag our patients along by continually tempting…He cannot tempt to virtue as we do to vice.  He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.  Do not be deceived, Wormwood.  Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

I love that quote.  If the will to walk is really there God will be pleased even when we fall…and we will fall.  But the last sentence really captures the victory of turning to God when we’re in the valley. Whenever you feel like God has forsaken you He hasn’t.  God knows all our trials before we face them and although it may feel like He silent He isn’t and His desire is that we obey in spite of how we feel.  It is in those moments of trusting Him that we will experience His promise and will be strengthened in amazing ways.

Ready To Share

It’s easy to find out the passion that people have when you start talking with them.  Whether it’s a hobby, career, food, music, etc. they get excited to share.  They look for opportunities and sure they can go overboard at times but you can’t deny that they have a passion and willingness to share what that they think is very important.

I was thinking of this other day during an encounter I had with an elderly gentleman while I was out walking my dog.  We crossed paths, exchanged hellos and he seemed to want to talk a little so I listened.  He was telling me about some of his recent health problems but he didn’t tell me about every medication or procedure he’d ever had.  Instead he kept using stories about his good health in days gone by when he served in the Korean War to talk about how deteriorated his health was now.  It was his service in the War that he really wanted to talk about.  That was his real passion.  In fact as he opened his first story he smiled as he pointed to his hat, which read “KOREA” across the top with the American flag below, and he explained how he had served in the war.

I enjoyed talking to him and peppered him with a lot of questions which he was more than happy to answer but as I listened to him talk I kept thinking about how proudly he wore his hat (and he should!) and how ready he was to talk about his service for his country.  I thought of how many times I’ve dropped the ball in opportunities that I had to share Christ and the times I coulda and shoulda spoke up but didn’t.  (Why is it I seem to remember those times much better than the times I was courageous and obedient?)  I thought about how he was ready to talk to me about his passion even though he had no idea what my views were.  I could’ve been a pacifist or a war protester and he wouldn’t have cared either way.  He still would’ve been ready to stand firm. 

I was encouraged by his passion and I kept thinking how it shouldn’t be any different for me when it comes to sharing Christ.  In Romans 1:16 Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek”.  There’s no need for me to lack any courage about sharing Christ.  The truth is that in those moments where I’ve failed to share I have lacked courage and it’s usually because I’ve been more concerned about what I might lose in this world rather than being willing to risk the loss of those things for Him.

The passion of the elderly man was born out of the war he actually fought and survived to tell about.  My passion will mature out of the victory Christ purchased for me and my willingness to fight the battle he’s called me to fight in His strength.  The more that happens the more likely I’ll be in the next encounter to just smile and share the good news of Christ regardless of the people I meet.