Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Wiley Miller is the creator of the comic strip, Non Sequitur. When apolitical, Miller’s strip can be enjoyable. I cut one of his strips from a daily edition of The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, NC) back in the early aughts featuring “the eternal optimist.” In the one-panel comic, the grim reaper stands before a man in business attire. This eternal optimist calls to his wife in another room: “Well, honey, it doesn’t look like I have to worry about that long commute anymore.” I kept that strip until it yellowed with age and crumbled into oblivion. I did so for another reason than having a dark sense of humor. I hope I am an optimist on the order of the businessman finding something good to say even in the face of death.
Paul had such a character. He told the Philippians that he had everything to gain in death, as a Christian, and needed only remain for the sake of the brethren (Philippians 1.21-26). Nearing the end of his life, a confident Paul told Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4.7-8 NASB). Why was Paul an eternal optimist? It was not because he was free of sin. Indeed, Paul considered himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1.15). However, Paul was full of faith and understood God’s grace.
We cannot afford to live in fear, whether that fear is of death or whether we are “good enough.” We must do the will of God. John says, “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1.7 NASB). That faith may not always take us to places providing comfort. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego had their faith put to the test. Nebuchadnezzar had instructed everyone to bow to his golden image in worship. The young Hebrews refused because they remembered the Law of Moses and their covenant relationship with God. Nebuchadnezzar was angry with the young men and told them they would perish in a fiery furnace. They replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3.16b-18 NASB).
Did you notice why they did not fear? Can you see why they were optimistic? They understood their God was more powerful than a king and could deliver them. Yet, even if God did not deliver them, they still realized they had an obligation to serve Him regardless. These days the world seems scary. There is so much bad news on TV. But our God is more powerful. Thus, we can even say, “If I do catch COVID-19, God will deliver me. But even if He does not, I know Heaven will be my home.” Other scenarios would likewise suffice as an example. However, this is one of the things that seems to be on the minds of many today. Build your faith and become an eternal optimist as well. The world, in turn, will become a less daunting place.
There’s a magic moment when a child discovers that two different paint colors combined can create an entirely different color. The possibilities seem endless! Red and yellow paints are dumped on a blank canvas and mixed to create a bright orange. That same excitement, on a whole new level, can be experienced when we discover that God mixed with “human nature” creates something far better and more beautiful. God is often the ingredient missing from our potential success as well as those goals we sometimes attempt to make alone. Consider the impact He has on our common life struggles…
1. When God is mixed with our sin – He creates forgiveness (Romans 4:7)
2. When God is mixed with our finances – He creates a healthy view of money and how to use it (Proverbs 13:11)
3. When God is mixed with our relationships – He creates a stronger and more fulfilling bond (Eph. 4:2-3)
4. When you mix God with uncertainty – He creates certainty (Romans 8:28)
5. When you include God in difficult decisions – you find direction (Prov. 3:5-6)
6. When you mix God with depression/anxiety – you discover some relief (1 Peter 5:6-7)
7. When you include God in your work – you will get the best results (1 Cor. 2:9)
8. Add God to any fear – you not only get courage, but a total removal of fear (1 John 4:18)
In short, the more yellow you add to red, the brighter the orange. The more God you add to your life, the brighter the future becomes. If you desire a vibrant life, then God is what needs to saturate your mind, heart, and decisions.
When God is in my mind my mind becomes more holy.
When God finds His way into my heart, my heart develops more purity.
No meaningful and lasting change can be accomplished by sheer willpower and determination— if those two things are not mixed with an all-powerful God.
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.”
This week has reaffirmed a fundamental view I have about youth. It has been affirmed by what I see in our youth group, but it is bolstered by what I have seen in so many young people this week. Hearing youthful voices singing whenever they found an opportunity, I thought about how hopeful I felt for the church’s future as these beautiful voices blended in heartfelt song. Our world is growing more vile and wicked each day, but I have bathed in a spiritual oasis this week. It led me to think about how much hope we rest on the future of the church, but how much we should.
My hope for our youth is that they will develop their own faith. Some of those youth I speak of were converted, but many more are the product of Christian homes and heritages that go back for generations. Apathy and indifference can infect our youth who go through motions they have been taught but which have not been internalized. As one in that latter category myself, I found that a challenge I faced as a youth. I want our youth to grow a conviction and belief system founded upon the rock solid nature of God and His Word.
My hope for our youth is that they will maintain their purity. The aforementioned world is bombarding all of us with insidious messages. On every hand, the devil tempts us to let go of holiness. With so many ways to “get in,” I pray our youth will lock the door of their heart when evil is on the stoop.
My hope for our youth is that they will have proper examples in us. How heavily this point hits home! So much of what we hope for our youth begins, continues and ends with our impact upon them. They will be, in large part, the product of our training, what we emphasize, value and show to be important, and what our passions and priorities are. They will have great difficulty rising above what we model before them!
I certainly hope so much more for them, but in all of this my hope is that whatever peril or persecution they must face in the years to come they will be faithful even to the point of physical death. But I believe in them! They have showed me so much now, and faith is built before the storms of life come.
Thom Vaught gave the “elders remarks” last night after the Young Lions participated in their annual program of Scripture reading, song leading, prayer, and preaching. The fourteen first through six graders obviously listened well and learned much. Thom noted how we look at the Christian life as a marathon, but these boys (and the seventeen God’s Precious Daughters who hosted a tea in the fellowship hall at 4:00 PM yesterday afternoon for 80 Christian women!) were actually the next leg in a relay race. Everybody seemed to leave the assembly last night so spiritually full and energized. Perhaps that was because of what we had seen (and learned) throughout last evening’s service.
…That genuine enthusiasm is infectious.
…That worship should be characterized by purity.
…That you cannot easily fake sincerity.
…That sometimes truth gets told most poignantly and effectively from such an innocent heart.
…That it is encouraging to see someone overcome their fears to lead.
…That we appreciate seeing those who lead us unashamedly show us their hearts.
…That worship should be joyful.
…That we should carry the experience of worship out the door with us into our lives.
When Thom asked those present last night who had formerly been through Young Lions and God’s Precious Daughters to stand along with the 31 children involved this year, it was overwhelmingly encouraging to see so many scattered among our healthy crowd last night who had received this wonderful training. The leadership training they have received through the years has contributed to the teenagers and young adults they have become, serving Christ and others. Some of them are married now. Others have graduated from preacher training schools or are students there. Others have gone on to Christian Colleges. They lead us in every phase of our worship regularly and effectively. We appreciate the men and women who came up with this program and all those who have served through the years. All of us are the better for it. Last night was a reminder of something Trent Woolley, who helped lead this year’s program, said to us, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 18:3). I pray we will carry these lessons learned into worship with us next week and the weeks beyond that!
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.
Strayer University shared their video from the day they ran an ingenious experiment in New York City. They put up a chalkboard on a busy street with this caption written at the top: “Write Your Biggest Regret.” Scores of people wrote on the chalkboard. Nearly every answer visible in the video included the word “not.” Interestingly, it was not confessions of sins of commission. Instead, it was about opportunities missed, dreams not pursued, and things they failed to do.
That exercise made me wonder how many are inmates in the prison of “not.” While Strayer seemed more interested in highlighting regrets that were tied to career, that impacted quality of physical life, and the like, regret reigns in people’s hearts and has dominion over their spiritual and eternal lives, too. Scripture shows us those challenged with the gospel message who ultimately refused to follow Christ. The rich young ruler was not willing to choose Christ over his stuff (Mat. 19:22). Many of the rulers believed in Him, but they put their stock in the approval of men rather than God (John 12:42-43). Felix trembled at truth, but ultimately turned away (Acts 24:25). His cohort, Agrippa, was nearly there but not quite (Acts 26:28). Other examples can be found of those who came so far but would go no further.
How many people have been shown the way to eternal life and have acknowledged, to a point, that it is the way they should go? Yet, when push comes to shove, they refuse to leave the cell of self and confine themselves to the chains of a condemning choice. Before Christ, they will see their regrets realized in a rejection that cannot be remedied.
The incredible news is that they keys are in reach of this prison. It was a running gag in the Andy Griffith show that particularly Barney would leave the keys on the peg of the Mayberry jail where the prisoners could reach the keys and let themselves out. Would you picture our spiritual circumstances this way? The Psalmist praises God for many reasons, including the fact that “the Lord sets the prisoners free” (146:7). In a Messianic passage, Isaiah writes of His mission to “proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners” (61:1; cf. Luke 4:18; 7:22; Mat. 11:5). He can emancipate lifelong slaves to sin (Heb. 2:15). He has left the keys where we can grab them, but we must want to be free and choose to be free.
This video ends with the participants taking an eraser and removing all the regrets from the board. One of them writes just two words in their place: “Clean slate.” What an optimistic, hopeful, empowering difference that contrasting concept is. Regret can be replaced with resolve. Do you believe that is possible for your spiritual life? Don’t you think God wants you to experience that exhilarating hope? The proof is there at Golgotha and the sepulcher that could not keep His Son entombed. What He did there can provide you with a clean slate! Take possession of the freedom He came to give you!
Strayer video link: http://aplus.com/s/83d4dc91dee
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!