"I can live and give generously, being proud that Christianity is -- and always has been -- a religion of Peace. Therefore I can stand in the gap for others with prayers of intervention, to be purposeful in my living and my speaking, to be thoughtful in my decisions and my actions. I can be bold and wise in my faith, taking every opportunity to plant, water, and fertilize seeds of hope. In every situation I can test my motive and my direction by asking "Would Jesus be pleased?" by that action or thought.
I am committed to knowing and doing God's will in all areas of my life, knowing that nothing can stop the perfect will of God because He has already won the Victory."
Introduction to the message:
The older I get, the more I like Thanksgiving. I obviously really do like the turkey and the food. Now that my children are growing up, gathering together is pretty special. More than that, the older I get, I don’t take the blessings of life for granted quite as much. Even in the midst of a difficult world ~ “the days are evil” or (another translation) “these are desperate times” is the way it says it in today’s scripture ~ I am more thankful than ever. As a nation we are losing freedoms, traditional values are being eroded, ~ that makes me more thankful than ever for God’s blessings. I like the quote in the bulletin about seven graves for every hut built, yet the people who lost so much are the ones at the first Thanksgiving… often the prayer of Thanksgiving is a list of blessings we have right now… homes, families, food, country, God. All good and wonderful things. Thanksgiving, however, should also point to the future ~ to be Thankful for what is coming. Even though “the days are evil,” We have reason to be optimistic. We who believe in Jesus Christ are called to be optimists, people who expect God’s guidance and blessings. Thanksgiving is the grease for an optimistic future, a future of hope and expectancy, a future orchestrated and directed by God. Amen?
The scripture today describes HOW to live as an optimist. I’ll expand later, but here they are: 1. Watch Your Step. 2. Take Risks. 3. Do God’s Will. …
Why I am an optimist? Because I am a Christ follower. Because Jesus Christ is in control. Because Jesus came to bring peace. Because peace reigns among Christians. The message of Christ: peace and contentment in spite of overwhelming reasons for discouragement. We are a people of peace, a people of hope, a people of contentment. This week is Thanksgiving. Don’t think of Thursday as one day set aside to remember all the good things God has given us, but think of Thanksgiving as a day in a pit stop, getting your axles greased, so you can continue around the track. Thanksgiving is the grease for an optimistic future.
We’ve been sold a bill of goods, ~~ the world tries to paint a picture of Christianity as old-fashioned, out of touch in rejecting the wisdom of science, the source of wars and everything that is wrong. But none of that is true.
Oct. 4, 1997. I went with several guys from the community… and at least a million other guys. It was the national gathering of Men in Washington DC for a Promise Keepers rally… no politics// ~ prayer, worship, praise for our country, our world… Some amazing things happened ~ The speakers, the prayer for repentance and transformation. You know what it’s like to sing Amazing Grace with one million guys? The singing is in waves ~ back to front, front to back, side to side, perhaps 15 seconds difference from beginning to end of the song …
The theme from Ez. 22:30: “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap…” Men were called to stand in the gap for the broken people of the world, the hurting, the struggling, to rise up as men of God, so that the hurting will not be destroyed. In the days of Ezekiel the scripture says no one was found to stand in the gap, nobody was found to stand beside the hurting, the weak, those who are afraid. These words could not have been written in the N.T., for now we have Christ who stood in our place when we deserved death/ ~ we are called to Stand in the Gap for others. I am an optimist!
I am an optimist ~ I believe in people even when they don’t believe in themselves, as Jesus has done for me. May Thanksgiving grease the wheels of optimism. Another small, but amazing thing happened on Oct. 4, 1997: When the million men left the National Mall, all the litter was picked up and the place was perfectly clean. I am proud to be a Christian! I am an optimist because as a Christian I stand for Peace, wholeness, cleanliness. We are called to help pick up the litter in people’s lives!
We’ve been sold a bill of goods. The world tries to say Christianity is bad and has been a bad influence on society. Are you kidding me? When the crazy pastor a year or two ago tried to make a big deal out of burning a Koran, he found only spotty support among the larger Christian community. When the abortion doctor was murdered in the name of Jesus Christ a few years ago, the larger Christian community roundly condemned such a shameful act. When the Westborough Baptist Church protests the funerals of soldiers with a twisted whacked out rational, 99.999% of Christians are ashamed. Christianity preaches and practices peace, even when attacked. Christian nuts are isolated and few. Yet in the Muslim world they rally entire nations to protest a cartoon they see as offensive. By and large Christians treat vulgar anti-Christian artworks as a source of disappointment. Muslims are aggressively seeking to destroy the west. The masses of Christians continue to love and live by the rule of peace. Yes, we want to see society transformed, but it is an invitation, not a threat of destruction…
I stand in the gap. Are you ready to stand with me? I am an optimist. Thanksgiving is the grease for the wheels of optimism! This past Thursday at the Bible Study we were looking at 2 Cor. 4. Significantly, one phrase is repeated twice in the chapter: “we do not lose heart.” Paul is speaking to people who are accusing him of being a bad person, and his answer: “we do not lose heart.” Discouragement is temporary. I am not giving up, I am hopeful….
How to practice optimism. This world is full of reasons to be discouraged. Yet optimism in Christ is what the world desperately needs. Paul writes these words in Ephesians 5:15-17 while chained to the guards in a Roman jail. The emperor was a man by the name of Nero, an immoral ogre for a king. He set fire to Rome and blamed the Christians. Later he would order Paul beheaded. Ephesus was a city wholly given over to the sins of the flesh. In Paul’s day it was a prosperous, bustling city. You could find in Ephesus the Temple of Artemis ~ the goddess of sex. Astrology, black magic, and sorcery joined with sexual perversion to produce a degraded form of idolatry that held ancient Ephesus in its grip. Meanwhile the persecution of Christians became a sport ~ people cheering as Lions were let loose on the Christians (see Mark 1:13, “wild animals”). As the gospel spread, the Roman world saw Jesus and his followers as a threat. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “The days are evil.” /“These are desperate times!” There is nothing new under the sun! Christians in the U.S. have it easier than Paul. Yet it is not much of a stretch to declare that our day, too, is evil.
How to live as an optimist: watch your step, take risks, do God’s will.
1. “Be very careful how you live” ~ watch your step. deliberate, purposeful. Once I attempted to climb Mt. Shuksan…steep…came to a crevasse that angled up... A narrow pathway…. This is my enduring image of carefully walking a path, we do need to live carefully, deliberately, like a narrow precarious path.
2. On the other hand, we are to live our life “making the most of every opportunity” Take risks. An aggressiveness because the time is short. Raise your hand if you are a person that has ever gone bungy jumping? ….Good for you! We have a limited amount of time in a day. How are you going to spend it? We need to be ready, looking for opportunities to help people, to make a difference to others, to stand up for Christ.
There is a tension between carefully walking a narrow path and taking risks. We need both. If we walk carefully and deliberately, it would be easy to never take a risk, always play it safe. If we emphasize making the most of every opportunity, there is a danger in being too driven, never getting any rest, never slowing down, exhausting ourselves. We need to find that wonderful balance between living carefully and deliberately and making the most of every opportunity. Each is a wonderful complement to the other. At times I need to carefully consider and carefully think through the options, at other times I need to take a risk and speak what’s on my heart, or act with boldness. In a Church can you see how we need both types of people? Think it through, take a risk, think it through, take a risk…
One of my favorite movies is Disney’s Jungle Book. In the closing scene, Mowgli, the man child, who has never seen humans, is smitten by a young village girl fetching water. Mowgli loses his mind; in a trance-like state he heads towards his new love and the village. Balou the Bear and Baghera the panther, Mowgli’s long time companions and teachers of jungle ways, are in the bushes as Mowgli is pulled towards the man village. Balou, not ready to let his friend go, whispers loudly to Mowgli, “come back, come back”, while Baghera, the wiser of the two, knows it is time for Mowgli to go to his new life, “go on, go on…” This is the tension we face everyday: watch your step, take a risk. Come back…/go on… Notice the two tiny word between these two bits of competing advise: BE WISE!
Wisdom to play it safe or take a risk is found in the final step:
3. “do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” Do God’s Will. How do you know to play it safe or take a risk? You need to see the way forward through the filter of God’s will. What does God want? In every situation consider WJBP? [Would Jesus Be Pleased]. What is God’s desire, his value. It’s all about God. This is why I am an optimist, because my desire [imperfect as it is] is for God’s will to be done. Hold back or take a risk, whatever it is that would accomplish his purposes best. Not about me. I am an optimist because I know God is already victorious. No longer is it about me! No matter how evil the world gets, no matter what disappointments I face, I know God’s desires will always win. I know that nothing can separate me from the love of Christ. I know he will never leave me or farsake me. His ways are higher than my ways. As I commit my life to him and his passions, I already know that nothing can stop the perfect will of God.
Thanksgiving is coming. Offer heartfelt thanks for what the Lord has done. And may the thanksgiving in your heart be the grease for an optimistic future. Optimism is needed because we live in desperate times. The days may be evil, yet we have many reasons to be optimistic ~ the victory has already been won in Jesus Christ! May we go forward carefully watching our steps, yet taking risks knowing when to emphasize the one over the other by being committed to knowing and doing God’s will. I am an optimist. The world needs optimists because the world needs Jesus Christ! Won’t you join me?