Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Rattlesnakes are large, venomous snakes that live throughout North and South America. In my humble opinion, they are one of the most terrifying creatures on the planet–from the hair-raising sound of that rattle to those intimidating fangs that can be up to six inches long. The bite from one of these monsters is excruciatingly painful. If you were to be bitten, at first you would experience a tingling feeling, followed by an intense burning sensation. After this you would feel lightheaded and begin sweating profusely. Your vision would become blurry, and each breath would be more strained than the last one.
If left untreated, it can be fatal to humans. All of that sounds terrible doesn’t it? What good could possibly come from a deadly rattlesnake? Well, at some point in history, somebody looked at these snakes and decided that they would make a beautiful pair of boots. That’s how to make something great, out of something terrible. There is no doubt in my mind that the inventor of snakeskin boots was an optimist. He could see the good, even when staring into the dark vertical pupils of pure reptilian evil.
When faced with hardship, that simply comes from living in a fallen world, it can be a challenge to see the silver lining in each dark cloud. American basketball player, Charles Barkley once said, “Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a train.” That’s definitely how it can feel sometimes! Although we have books in the Bible like Job and James that teach us how we should view our earthly struggles, here are just a few reminders from our God.
Number one, remember that each day is worth rejoicing over. Psalm 118:24 gives us the reason why— because today is another day that the Lord has made. It’s not my day; it’s God’s day. Reminder number two, what we can’t see in times of difficulty, is worth waiting for. Paul would inform us in Romans 8:27, “But if we hope in what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.” In the muck of life it may feel at times that there’s just no way out. Just because you may not see the end in sight, rest assured that our hope is in a promise that was put in place before time itself began (2 Timothy 1:9). The last reminder is simply this, that God made the world you are living in and Jesus is currently creating the world we will one day live in (John 14:1-3). I firmly believe each day that passes can only mean that heaven will be that much more beautiful. If God created this world in six days, in all it’s beauty, imagine the splendor of our home to come. Now, if that doesn’t make a bad situation a good one, I don’t know what will! Here are the lyrics to an optimistic hymn that I hope get stuck in your head for quite a while.
“I care not today what tomorrow may bring, if shadow or sunshine or rain. The Lord I know ruleth o’er everything, and all of my worry is vain. Living by faith in Jesus above, trusting confiding in His great love. From all harm safe in His sheltering arm, I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.”
From sea to sea, He is the same
No man can change His essence
From year to year, His eternal flame
Show His power and effervescence.
Whoever sits upon a throne
Or reigns a group or nation
We must that One make fully known
Through tireless proclamation
For all mankind must know that One
Who is changeless and transcendent
They must to Him yield before life’s done
And acknowledge on Him they’re dependent
Fickle, transient trends and times
Can’t blind us on this matter
The church’s mission in fair or foul climes
Is to take the Kingdom seed and it scatter.
And, so, we shall live and by such find peace
No matter the climate of our homeland
Leaning on God, who doesn’t change or cease
The trustworthy Rock upon which we stand!
A couple of closing caveats. No, I do not think the church, from the human side, is perfect. We have our foibles, fragility, and faults, but our foundation is flawless. No, the church is not a place, it is a people. “Where” indicates that the church, as a body, is a place where I can fit, belong, and function. No, this is not a Pollyanna-like, rose-colored glasses view of the church that glosses over or is ignorant of times when God’s people do not behave like they ought. But, when too often the diatribe is “what’s wrong with the church” and the mantra is, with negative and sarcastic spin, “that’s the church for you,” maybe it’s time we take a moment to count some of the blessings and perks of membership in the institution bought with the life and blood of Jesus (Acts 20:28). Obviously, there are other items to be added to the list. Feel free to do so! Generously.
Joshua and Caleb were positively optimistic. They surveyed the situation and saw the taking of Canaan as a no-lose situation (cf. Num. 14:7-9). But have you stopped to consider what made them so optimistic? When the majority was cursed with a pessimistic spirit, these men saw looming victory.
They were optimistic about the land (7). They didn’t just refer to it as the land, but as a good land. They saw it not just as a “good land,” but an exceedingly good land. The Hebrew word translated “exceedingly” means “power and strength.” The idea is that it’s exceptional. It’s the same word used in Deuteronomy 6:5, that “you shall love the Lord your God with all….” The word is a word with great depth and the word God used to describe His view of creation in Genesis 1:31, which was “very” good. A passion that strong can’t be faked or contrived! They saw such potential in Canaan.
They were optimistic about the labor (9). Their faith led them to the optimistic conclusion that the Canaanites were their prey and that those native people’s protection was removed from them. They repeatedly admonished Israel not to fear them. Someone has said, “Fear wants to give your present to your past so you don’t have a future.”
They were optimistic about the Lord (8). He was the heart of their optimism. Joshua and Caleb mention His name three times in encouraging the people to take possession. They say that the Lord is with them and is pleased with them. To act with the assertion that the Lord is on our side is the height of optimism. They weren’t fooling themselves. God had already said He’d be with them, and they could look into the past and see His assistance and provision.
We have the same reasons to see this life with the same level of optimism. We don’t have a physical territory to inherit, but we still have a heavenly inheritance. Hebrews 9:15 tells us it’s eternal. Our labor is different, but we still should be optimistic about the battle with the enemy (Heb. 2:14-15). We live in a different age, but we serve the unchanging God (Mal. 3:6). A.W. Tozer has said, “He is immutable, which means that He has never changed and can never change in any smallest measure. To change he would need to go from better to worse or from worse to better. He cannot do either, for being perfect He cannot become more perfect, and if He were to become less perfect, He would be less than God.” All of this should give us the fuel for optimism however dark or doubtful the situation seems!
Some just can’t! They assume bad motives, intentions, and behaviors in others. They like to predict failure and disaster. Some take that attitude toward people, including Christians. “They won’t last!” “They can’t cut it as a deacon/elder.” “He won’t ever be a good preacher!” “They just want the praise of men.” Think about all the people you know and interact with. Some are exceptionally talented and pleasant and some are pretty worthless and repulsive, but most are in-between the two extremes. But, what if I told you that you could influence what others become? Barnabas did (Acts 4:36). He was so good at encouraging people, “encouragement” wasn’t his middle name but his first name. Who was the first one to see good in Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:27)? Who saw great potential in Antioch (Acts 11:23-26)? Who still believed in John Mark (Acts 15:37), who Paul would later think valuable once more (2 Tim. 4:11)? Barnabas was a great leader because of what he could see in others. We can make an eternal difference in people by seeing the good in them.
First, take them where they are. Jesus did. Do you remember when Jesus met Peter (Luke 5:1-11)? Peter calls himself sinful. We know he was impetuous (John 18:10) and could use unsavory words (Mat. 26:74). Peter’s business partners, the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17) seemed to have some anger management issues. In fact, Jesus made it an emphasis to take sinful people and work with them wherever they were (the woman at the well, the sinful woman caught in adultery, Bacchus, publicans, sinners, etc.). We will never help people get to heaven if we can’t take them where they are.
Then, see them for what they could be. Whether it’s a non-Christian or Christian, they need us to be able to see their potential and think the best of them. I don’t mean gullibility or compromise, but optimism! Why did Christ put such effort into Peter? He was a sinful man when He met him, made many mistakes while he was with Him, and denied Him in His greatest moment of need (Luke 22:60-62). He saw what Peter could be (John 21:15-17). Look past people’s quirks and flaws; imagine the possibilities. There’s got to be a soul-winner in every Christian, since Christ commands it of us all (Mark 16:15-16). Every one of us can be faithful, dedicated, and fruitful Christians. Every lost person could have their hearts softened by the gospel–at the least the gospel has the power (Heb. 4:12; Rom. 1:16). Remember, love “hopes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).
Finally, help them be what they can be. It’s far easier to be the critic and tell people what they’re doing wrong. But remember, “To belittle is to be little.” Criticism alone is useless. It’s a lot tougher to help people improve and to go about helping with patience. Jesus didn’t end His work by telling people what sinners or failures they were. He guided them to the better way (Mat. 7:13). He told the adulteress to stop sinning (John 8:11). He told Peter to go feed His sheep (John 21). When He was through with Zaccheus, he went from thief to philanthropist. Jesus’ whole purpose was to take people afflicted with sin and transform them. It is rewarding work to invest in people and to help them grow. The Bible tells us to help people do better and be better (Gal. 6:1). To see the best in others, be willing to help and lead them (Luke 6:39-40).
If we are negative and pessimistic, that really is just a commentary on us. Look for good in others. Accept, anticipate, and assist!
There are some people with “trust issues.” They are stuck in a negative frame of mind, believing the worst in others with little expectation that they will improve. They may even castigate anyone who would encourage you to put faith in people. Certainly, our greatest faith must always be in God. He never fails, forsakes, or leaves us (Heb. 13:5-6), but people invariably do those things. We cannot put more faith in people than God, listening to and following them when they contradict His will. That’s a false, wrong extreme, but so also is a cynicism that fundamentally, inherently distrusts people to do the right thing. This does not mean that there are people in our lives who do not struggle with sin because we all do (Rom. 3:23).
Let me encourage you to have faith in God’s people. Why?
Teresa of Calcutta is often associated with certain verses found on the wall of her children’s home, even credited for authoring it. Kent Keith is the likely author. In the composition, “Do It Anyway” (aka “The Paradoxical Commandments”), he notes that people will criticize and be petty. He encourages doing good, loving, and serving anyway. You can choose how you will spend your life, expecting the best or worst of others. May I urge you to have the most faith in God, but leave room for faith in people—especially God’s people! You will not regret it.
The inimitable historian, David McCullough, has churned out another masterpiece in his new book, The Wright Brothers. Chronicling their lives before, on, and after that famous December day in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, McCullough, in his unique way, peels back the layers of the people who made the history. One particular example of this is seen in the author’s conveyance of Wilbur Wright’s misgivings about what he was going to make of his life. Writing to his older brother Lorin, Wilbur said, “The boys of the Wright family are all lacking in determination and push. That is the very reason that none of us have been or will be more than ordinary businessmen” (24). It is amusing to think that Wilbur made this statement in 1894, less than a decade before that historic first flight. Every airplane trip you make is a testimony to the Wrights’ determination, push, and extraordinary industry of the bicycle shop brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright.
What do you see when you look at your life? Are you dismissive of your talents and opportunities? Do you think yourself in terms of your “can’ts” or your “cans”? Perhaps you are prone to discount your potential.
If that is you, you should consider the case of a few other people. Moses resisted leadership, claiming to be a nobody (Exo. 3-4). Saul hid himself in the baggage (1 Sam. 10:22). Jeremiah apparently tried to hide behind his age (Jer. 1:6-7). Timothy seems to have been fearful (2 Tim. 1:7). Yet, each rose to a position of greatness and played an important part in God’s plan. What was the “X” factor in every case? As God told Judah through Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). Solomon would say, “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established” (Pro. 16:3). Then, a millennia later, Paul tells the church at Philippi, “It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phi. 2:13).
Relax! Take the pressure off of yourself because, frankly, it is not about you. It is about the God who is at work in you. Chart a course that puts Him first in your life and dedicate yourself to trying, as hard as you can, to please Him. Isn’t He strong and smart enough to open the right doors? Is He able to do great things? Yes! The incredible thing about that is that He has chosen to do great things through lowly people like you and me! Stop and consider this. What does God see in you? What will He do through you to His glory? Never stop asking that question!
The blogosphere is getting pretty rife with posts about how the church is inept in method or impure in motive on just about everything, from good works to evangelism to preaching to leadership to cultural relevance. It appears that we (the church) have a skewed perspective of the past, we are doing practically nothing now (at least nothing right), and we have a doomed future. We have no clue how to reach millennials or keep converts (not that anyone’s winning anyone). We’re losing our young people. We’re full of hypocrites. We have no vision or it’s the wrong vision. We’re at once too legalistic while too soft on sin and uncommitted in discipleship.
Do such posts draw an elevated number of hits or similar attention? Do they gratuitously spark or provoke strong emotions from readers? Do they make good tabloid journalism?
The church faces enormous challenges that require greater service, dedication, faithfulness, and sacrifice. Being full of sinners, we’re imperfect and have plenty of room for improvement. I guess my question is what the objective of this “Negative Nelly” approach is. To better motivate and encourage growth? Or is it to beat down, create guilt, or demonstrate some sort of superiority by the “pundit”? Is it a spiritual approach or does it look more like the world than we might like to admit? May we never be like the ostrich, head buried in the sand and ignorant of reality around us. Yet, as Christians, may we exemplify a joy and positivity borne of following Jesus.
Because of sin, things have always been bleak–including when He walked the earth. Yet, rather than lament a falling sky, He came to make a positive difference in this world. His followers’ writings were rich with words like “hope,” “grace,” “heaven,” “faith,” “unity,” “forgiveness,” and “peace.”
What if we made more suggestions and used less sarcasm? What if we concentrated more on our own example and less on everyone else’s errors? What if we balanced our hand-wringing about what’s wrong with the church with hand-raising about what’s right with it? What if?
I am filled with a tremendous sense of optimism that is not generated by politics, current events, the media, the economy, or any other worldly thing. Neither am I fueled by some Pollyanna spirit. Yet, I cannot shake this swelling tide of hope that fills me on a daily basis. It is a hope for what the church and its members can be in the face of the growing challenges we face in this culture and around the world. Why are these such exciting times?
The darkness is allowing the light to shine brighter! Sadly, moral, ethic, philosophical, and civil behavior is eroding. The messages being sent by those in power and authority are increasing anti-biblical. Those who have lived for any length of time have witnessed a pretty dramatic shift in thinking and behavior. This is reflected in so many things from language on the job and on “the street” to what is allowed and promulgated in TV and movies to the blatant lifestyle choices of the rank and file. What all this means is that as Christians we can, by leading “a quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Ti. 2:2; cf. 1 Th. 4:11), shine the light of Christ (cf. Mat. 5:14-16). As we share Christ with those in our circle of influence, we can countermand the marching orders of the “world forces of this darkness” (Eph. 6:12). That, brothers and sisters, is exciting!
People are earnestly searching! I read with interest the studies about exiting millennials, new world orders (not just conspiracy theories, but fundamental shifts in worldviews), spirituality over organized religion, and the like. For all of that, down where we live day by day on our jobs, at school, in our neighborhoods, and our community and civic activities, people are longing for meaning and purpose in their lives. Yes, they can be confused and misguided. Yes, they have broken and messed up lives. Yes, this produces a great challenge to churches as we are intentional and outwardly focused. But, we have not seen a day in any of our lifetimes where biblical ignorance and, thus, directionlessness has been greater. Remember what Jeremiah said: “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (10:23). There are many who would say with the Ethiopian nobleman, “How can I (understand, NP), unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31).
The church is ripe for revival! It seems that the tale most churches with whom I have contact tell boils down to larger numbers, greater involvement, and younger members occurred in the past! Thus, panic, pessimism, and perplexity lace the private conversations and public addresses of the pulpits, the pastors, and the pews. Perhaps it is time for congregations to consider moving from the defensive to the offensive. I don’t know that individual Christians have ever been more impressed with the dire urgency of evangelizing than right now. I believe the conviction and dedication of our Christian soldiers is palpable. With bolder leadership, concerted efforts, and a faith-filled plan of action, I believe the church as a whole is poised for growth. This will require a change of priority, focus, and commitment, but I believe that we are more than ready for it. We are eager for it!
But, time is short! Paul is right. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12). If ever the mantra, carpe diem, has applied, it is right now! May our anthem become, “Rise up, O men of God!”