Optimism: “a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.”
Was the Apostle Paul an optimist? For a guy who taught a lot about the depravity of the human heart, Paul sure seemed to take a pretty rosey view of life sometimes, didn’t he?
A ‘Church-is-Half-Full’ Kind of View?
Here’s a case in point: The church in Corinth. They were divided and dividing still, they valued fancy speech over sound doctrine, they had cases of publicly known immorality that were not being addressed, they were suing each other, they were leaving betrothed women unprovided for, fighting over food sacrificed to idols, arguing over whose spiritual gifts made them the most spiritually mature, leading chaotic worship services, and considering denying the resurrection. Seriously. And you thought your church was bad!
But think about how Paul addresses them:
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge — even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you — so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift… (1 Cor 1.4-6)
That sure sounds like a very optimistic, ‘glass-half-full’ kind of view of the church, doesn’t it? Is he just flattering them?
The furthest thing from being an optimist who chooses to ‘look on the more favorable side of events’ or a double-tongued flatterer who dabbles in deceit, Paul is speaking the truth boldly. He has something greater than optimism when it comes to the Corinthian church — as messed up as it is. Paul has hope. God-grounded, gospel-believing hope.
A prayer for growth in holiness:
Father, how could I sin?
Having seen your hatred for sin and your love for righteousness, how could I sin?
I have seen the fullness of your just anger borne by Christ for me. How could I be speak angrily to others?
I have seen your patience with me through decades of rebellion. How could I be impatient with others?
I have seen how you work the evil of others for good. How could I be bitter?
Some time ago I posted an article listing all the ‘sins’ of the New Testament. There I argued that if committing an act is actually sin, then we ought to use New Testament words and categories to discuss it.
One major question that arose from that article, however, was this:
‘Those are all the sins of commission (things that you do when you shouldn’t), but what about sins of omission (good things that you know you should do, but don’t do)?’
How can we identify those? Are they the same for everyone?
How can I inform my conscience to know when I’m not doing what is good for the sake of actually doing what is best? How can I tell the difference?
How can I know when it’s okay to not do something good? How can I know when not doing something is actually sin?
1. Ensure you’re working in biblical categories.
Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and then love your neighbour as yourself. That is the law that must govern you. Nothing else. Recognizing that you’re bound by this law, and then freed to do as you please is remarkably liberating.
2. Realize that you have gifts and you are a gift.
You are a gift to the church, a part of the body, and you have gifts that must be used for the building up of the body. No one else can be you or use your gifts. So the specific ways that God has gifted you and the specific needs of the specific family, church, and community in which he has placed you need to be taken into account.
My family just returned from a couple weeks of vacation. It was a glorious opportunity to play, to sleep, to relax, to read good books, to spend time together — in short, to rest. What a blessing to be able to experience something of the balance that God intended when he established the rhythm of the universe in creation: day and night, work and rest.
It is one thing to preach about this harmony in Genesis 1 (as I did a few months ago) and another thing completely to experience it. God ordered his creation in this way, work and rest, and it continues to function in the same way through all the generations of humanity.
I’ve been thinking, however, about the need for continuing this balance on a micro scale (day & night, week & weekend), as well as on a macro scale (work 49 weeks & get three off). It seems to me that failure to attain true and meaningful rest in the midst of labour is one of the main reasons why pastors burn out so frequently.
It’s not hard to see why. As I’ve reflected elsewhere, the pastor’s work is never really finished. There is always more to study, more people to meet with, more to pray about. Things are never organized enough and long-term vision has never been developed enough. That’s to say nothing of the constant, urgent demands on a pastor’s time because of genuine problems in people’s lives.
So pastors often do what the world does. We read time management books and strategize. We come up with systems to ‘get things done.’ We work harder and harder to be more productive in the hopes that we’ll somehow attain that ever-elusive moment of rest when everything is finally done.
But it’s never done. And that’s the thing. If we wait for things to be finished before we rest, we’ll never rest. And we simply can’t sustain that. And that’s not the way we’ve been designed to live.
As a church, we have been going through our annual week of prayer this week. It has been a blessed week. But as the week has progressed I have been asking myself, “Why is my hunger for God so weak so much of the time?”
I was convicted when I found this answer from John Piper:
The greatest enemy of the hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.
Jesus said some people hear the word of God, and a desire for God is awakened in their hearts. But then, “as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life” (Luke 8:14). In another place he said, “the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4: 19). “the pleasures of this life” and “the desires for other things” –these are not evil in themselves. These are not vices. These are gifts of God. They are your basic meat and potatoes and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV-watching and Internet-surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking. And all of them can become deadly substitutes for God.
– John Piper, A Hunger for God, 14-15
If you are like most Christians, you realize your need for true fellowship (not just surface chit-chat). You want to get to know other believers and you want friends who know you and your struggles. You want to be able to get to know other believers well so that you can serve them and speak truth to them in love.
But, if you are like me–and most Christians I know–you may have trouble figuring out how to get to those good, deep, spiritual conversations. I’d like to offer a couple of resources that we’ve found helpful here at GFC. Neither is new to us–which is probably why they’re good–but we love them both.
The first is a document listing some accountability and authenticity questions for men. This was originally created for our men’s meetings some time ago, but several of our men have taken them and used them with great success in one-on-one friendship and mentoring relationships.
The second is a document that we created to help some of our leadership team grow in our understanding of how to open up spiritual conversations with people and ‘drive to the heart’ with our questions. It’s based on David Powlison’s list of X-Ray Questions.
What’s great about lists of questions like this is that they don’t have to be all that you use. They are not a script or a formula. But they are helpful resources for learning the art of skillfully asking questions and helping people uncover issues in their hearts. As we identify with them where their hearts are tuned away from God and help point them to God we’re fulfilling both great commandments: we’re loving God and loving others.
I hope you find these helpful!
Pretty much any Christian who has lived for a little while as a Christian can look back at their lives and recognize that the seasons of life when they’ve known the most blessing are those seasons when they’ve been most faithful to read through the Bible. That’s certainly been the case for me! You look at life through an altogether different set of eyes when your mind is being renewed and transformed by the word of God.
What better New Years resolution could there be than to spend more time hearing from God in his word?
As you may or may not remember, last year I posted a Bible reading plan that I had put together. I was thrilled to have a few brothers and sisters eager to use it.
This year I made a few revisions to that plan and we’ve offered it to the whole church to see if anyone would like to read along with us. I thought I’d post the new plan here for this year for any more people who are still looking for a Bible reading plan for 2010.
As with last year, there are two versions, one for reading through the Bible on your own and one for reading through the Bible with your spouse.
While there are certainly myriads of Bible reading plans out there, I’ve found this one pretty helpful. Here are some of the features of it.
- You will find that you are reading through the OT on your own, and the NT together (if you do the couples plan)
- OT prophets are placed in (roughly) where they would have ministered chronologically. This helps break up the monotony of reading through huge chunks of narrative and prophets, by intermixing the two. It also helps you understand the historical and redemptive context for the prophets.
- The NT is organized into bodies of literature. You begin with the the Johannine body of literature (all the books written by John). Then you read Matthew and the other books written particularly for Jews. Next you read through Luke-Acts, you read through material written for Gentile audiences. Finally, there is Mark and Peter.
Overall, the variety and structure helps to ‘change things up’ enough that it doesn’t feel like every other time you’ve tried to read through the Bible. The main changes from this year over last year are the ordering of the NT books and some of the prophets have been placed differently.
Let me know if you’ve got any questions / comments / suggestions for improving the plan for next year!