Living Hope: “The Christian Optimist Manifesto” – 2 Timothy 1

optimism-smileyTo truly embrace Christ, to truly have become a Christian, to believe all that the truth of Jesus’ coming, His death and His promises of the future – is to become an unstoppable optimist. There are many voices of people who have claimed Christ as Savior that sound ever pessimistic. I challenge you to see through a flawed logic. If Jesus is King, and if He died for me – if He rose from the dead and broke the power of death, and if He is, in fact, right now preparing a place for me as He promised – life is only getting better. As each moment ticks by on the clock above, my full redemption draws nearer. The earth around me grows closer to a judgment followed by a purging that will yield a new and wondrous place. The assailing of my flesh by corruption and illness is nearing its end. The railing of rebellion is reaching toward its final breath. My Savior is fashioning my next home, my next experience in joyful delight. As Ted Dekker wrote in The Slumber of Christianity: Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth: “The world’s bumper sticker reads: Life sucks, and then you die. Perhaps Christian bumper stickers should read: Life sucks, but then you find hope and you can’t wait to die.”

Deeply rooted in the physical life around us and its happiness, many Christians appear to have “left the reservation” to the land of the pessimists. The subtle adoption of a pagan world view has caused them to measure life by the short stick – the here and now. Yet, on closer inspection to the Word of God, Jesus called us to measure life by the longer view – His eventual triumph over all things. The New Testament doesn’t close with the instructional epistles that show the flaws of men – even those who love Jesus. It doesn’t close with warnings of the doom of the earth, a Zombie apocalypse in waiting, but rather it closes with a warning not to carve off a single words of the true end of all things from the story – Jesus shall reign. The Creator shall stand vindicated for His plan, and finally understood and acknowledged by all His Creation. The scene ends with knees bowed and confessing tongues.

Key Principle: To mature to a grown follower of Jesus, I must learn to see the future through the Word of God – the long view that restores hope when life is hard.

I am not saying things are looking rosy in the short term. The so-called “Age of Enlightenment” (also called the ”Age of Reason”) promised the world the opposite of the Bible – a world solved of its ills by the enthroned human will standing above the dullard mythologists who believed in a “God”. This cultural movement of intellectuals in the 17th and 18th centuries rose with the purpose to reform society using reason, but at the same time pushing society from a framework of ideas grounded in tradition and faith. It sought to advance knowledge solely through the scientific method – because the human brain replaced the revelation of any Divine source. It was deeply embedded in the worldview as a struggle for human development in opposition to faith. This is not a history lesson. This godless ideology is on the march through our universities again, with renewed vigor, and has found voice in our modern American courts and media outlets. Think carefully about the words of this author:

“How beautiful it all seemed at the time of the Enlightenment, that man triumphant would bring to pass that earthly paradise whose groves of academe would ensure the realization forever of peace, plenty, and beatitude in practice. But what a nightmare of wars, famines, and folly was to result therefrom.” ― Malcolm Muggeridge, The End of Christendom

It has produced a world that believes saving whales is intrinsically more moral and more essential than saving unborn humans, and delivering people from hearing a message about the sting of judgment more vital than doing what is moral as defined by their Creator. It was deeply rooted into the plan of the “Great Society” that is now yielding its fruits – an amoral individualist with little rationale for standing on any absolute “truth”. They called for greater assistance for the needy and got generations of people who have believe public assistance is both a guaranteed right and equal in all respect to their “job”. They constructed a world view that redefines inconvenient as wrong and statement of truth as intolerant judgment. All this they offered with great hopeful optimism in the alternative view of man’s origin, purpose and destiny.

Yet the Christian view of life is not primarily fixed in the here and now. Ours is a message that man CANNOT fix himself – for what is broken is within, just as our Savior clearly said. Ours is a message that BROKEN MEN need not reform themselves by some religious work or radical self-deprivation. Ours is message that Jesus saves. He died in our place, and offers us new life when we give our lives to Him. His life then flows within us – and His message of truth carefully begins its transforming work in us. It is not our work – it is His. At the same time, the destination of my life was dramatically altered by the grasp of Jesus on my heart. I have Heaven in the future and transformation in the present. I am a child of God, and I am learning to act like it, while I anticipate a soon coming journey to my Father’s house! What a life is mine!

Now, I admit that even some believers will object and claim there are pessimists and there are optimists in life – it is a personality thing. I do not agree. I believe that salvation brings new life, and new life brings a new narrative of my end. I am not optimistic because men are getting better. I am optimistic because I believe the end story of the Bible – the Creator shall stand unopposed and victorious – and I have committed my days and my future in this life and beyond to Him. I believe, therefore, the message of William Ralph Inge when he said: “No Christian can be a pessimist, for Christianity is a system of radical optimism.”

Christian optimism doesn’t believe men will get better, but rather that there rebellion will continue, and in fact grow in strength and audacity. It accepts the Biblical idea that such a growing darkness will come with that overt rebellion that God will clearly make His point: Man cannot fix himself. Let me say it unmistakably: I truly believe that rationalism, humanism and enlightenment will eventually be exposed for more deceptions of the same voice – Lucifer’s song of mutiny and self-love. Science will scoff at the notion that they are beset by the same flaws of any philosophy – but they will prove unable to reform the broken nature of man. They will prove unable to bring real HOPE when terrible tragedies strike, for their power ends at the last breath of physical life. There is nothing beyond but in the memories of those who remain. Bonhoeffer was right: “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” Our world is destined to move in a direction so anti-god, that hope in this earth will drain.

Yet, we are optimists. We smile and look up, for redemption draws near. Not only that, but I stand in a world accompanied by the Author of hope. Look back at 2 Timothy 1 and listen to the words of an Apostle calling from a prison cell, facing a sword to the neck. He is none other than the Apostle Paul, and his message is bathed in sweat, stench and a sad state of companions. At the same time, it is a message of TRUE HOPE.

In the last study we learned that Paul recalled for Tim a series of things that should have helped restore hope:

• First, Tim had in Paul a godly friend that believed in him (2 Tim 1:1-3a).

If ever there was a good example of a Godly friend that could point upward, Paul was that guy in Tim’s life. If you have such a friend, breathe a prayer of thanks for them right now!

• Second, Tim had strong prayer support. (2 Tim. 1:3b).

The battles we fight are not merely in the flesh – but spiritual ones that show up in the physical world. They cannot be addressed by mere force of will to follow a list of resolutions – that doesn’t account for the spiritual world. Prayer is the effective tool to remind us that we are not alone, and that our God is able to supply when things look too difficult to see that.

• Third, Tim could look back at God’s blessings in his past. (2 Tim. 1:5-6) he had a great family heritage.

Paul called on Tim to recall that God was at work in him before Tim was even aware of it – and that is true of all of us!

• Fourth, Tim should inventory the ingredients driving your life choices (2 Tim. 1:7) – he was to remove fear and recognize the deliberate ingredients God put in him as power, love and a sound mind.

It is easy to be driven by FEAR, but it is not GODLY BEHAVIOR. Our Master gave us the power to stand against sin, the sensitivity to reckon the hurting around us, and the sound reasoning to grab the truths of His Word and live them out.

How could Paul, who was facing the end of his life, exude hope and offer encouragement? Because he measure life by the longer stick found in the Word of God.

Paul knew Jesus wasn’t done when the Empire ruled against his life. He knew that His Savior wasn’t losing His grip on the world when his body was tossed into a dungeon… and he urged Tim to see life that way as well. He told Timothy – as his mentor and his friend – to do seven things to move ahead in HOPE:

Practical Commands to Show Restored Hope

First, stop fearing opposition. (2 Tim. 1:8-9)

2 Tim. 1:8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,

Because God didn’t give Tim the fear that he had – he needed to boot it out of his life! He needed to deliberately and consciously coach his own heart to recognize his God-given power to deny his flesh, while growing in sensitivity to hurting people and acute awareness of the principles of God’s Word. On that basis, as recorded in 1:7, Tim was to put aside any sense of SHAME that he felt because his mentor shared a cell with murderers and wretched men. He was to shed any DISGRACE over following a Crucified Criminal – for that was merely the arrogant evaluation of the Creator by the broken creation.

Paul called Tim back to the foundational truth – Jesus saved him by suffering on his behalf. He was NOT supposed to shrink away from the public connection to Jesus and to Paul. He was, rather, supposed to recall that his salvation came with a HOLY CALLING – a mark of separation from the world. That calling wasn’t given to him on the basis of his accomplishments, nor was it based on any life goal that Tim may have felt before Jesus changed his life. Tim was to stop fearing the opposition Jesus faced before, and Paul was facing at the time of the writing. He was to see that he had a call from Jesus that was to dominate his actions and reactions – no matter what course the world took.

Second, grab the eternal perspective to see real life! (2 Tim. 1:10-11)

2 Tim. 1:10 “…but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.”

Paul faced the loss of his head, but he did not face death. His body they would kill – but he was more than a body. That is at the heart of the Christian message. We are not just physical beings – we are primarily spiritual beings with a short stint of physical life. At the end of all the educational and intellectual posturing of our day – man without a Savior still has no real solution for the six foot hole he is facing at the end – but Jesus does. He has been there and back, and He holds the keys to death and true life.

The Apostle recognized that he was appointed to teach that very truth – Jesus conquered death. When John wrote from Patmos that he had seen the Risen Christ, he reported Jesus’ words:

Revelation 1:17b “…Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

“Do not be afraid”, Jesus said. I control life and death, and I control the end of the story! That is either the truth or a bold faced lie. If it is true – we need not fear if we KNOW JESUS.

Check the internet and it is flooded with skeptics and cynics over this claim of the New Testament. They are sure they have so advanced in technical civilization, having gone “all the way to the moon” to land their feet and “touch the face of God” they can now pull down the Creator to answer to them, and force Him to show Himself in terms they can accept. In arrogance, they fail to look out into space and see how little of it they have actually traversed.

They sit in certainty that such things as recorded in the Bible cannot happen for such a Creator does not exist. Yet the Heavens declare exquisite design. The human body screams that it is a product of intricate enterprise. “Millions of years!” they shout. “With millions of years, we can see the great emergence of evolving design!” For that belief, in lab coats they ask men to place faith in their conclusions, while mocking the very notion of the metaphysical as primitive mythology. This begs the question… “Why? Why should there be design with no intentional designer working behind it? Why should there be growth and expansion of good characteristics? Cui bono (to what end or purpose?)”.

If that isn’t enough, there is even a greater question: “Why should I care? If there is no purpose, no forethought, no destiny, nothing beyond my decades walking on the planet – where is the hope at the grave of a child? How can I lift the soul of a friend who has lost the love of their life? Robbed of purpose and destiny, how can I not sink into despair at the sight of the cemetery as I drive by?

If the design that I see in the world about me has not an intentional hand, and man stands in the light of no judge but himself, his peers and posterity – how compelling is the case for me to deny earthly pleasures and learn self-control for some temporary version of the ‘common good’?” If no personal God exists, and no judgment follows this life… if it is true that the fittest survive, and that is the way of the ages, let us cease this nonsense of good behavior and simply seek to become the strongest of all in order that we may reap the benefits of that strength in the short life we have on the planet. Why deny the urge to take food from the weak that I may be full? Would reputation or memory stop me? Achilles knew that fame has no meaning beyond this life – and the memorial of posterity is an empty promise. The fact is, most Americans don’t know one quarter of the names of the men who led their country, though it is not all that old a place. Memories are short, and it isn’t worth denying myself to be remembered as a good man.

There is something else I know about people: Without a judge man will not behave any better than he drives when he thinks no one is watching the highway. Without a purpose to human history, man will slowly move downward to feed his baser instincts and sensual pleasures. Things won’t get better. With every freedom and right, someone else will suffer. Divorce will become easy, but children will suffer from increased lack of parental tender bonding. Marriage will be redefined, but family will be a word so overused and under-defined it will cease to have certain meaning. Children will be allowed to be born when it is convenient, and elderly will be ended when their life no longer makes economic sense. This is the bright new world of the enlightened heart.

Let me say it with unmistakable clarity: Jesus rendered death inoperable to those who know Him. That is the term ABOLISH in 2 Timothy 1:10. The Bible openly proclaims there is a PURPOSE, there is a DESIGNER, I have a DESTINY. Bill and Gloria Gaither said it well: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, life is worth the living, just because He lives!”

Third, trust that Jesus knows how to handle your future (since He made you! – 2 Tim. 1:12)

2 Tim. 1:12 “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”

I mentioned last time the Greek word, “paratheke” the “treasure or a deposit left with someone you trust completely.”

Here was Paul’s point to Tim: “Trust Jesus with all you have. He won’t let you down, Tim… I have. I know He will care for me, and it is my neck about to go on the chopping block”. Conquering fear is not just about quelling an emotion – it is about exchanging it with the confidence that comes from depending of God in the most practical ways. Maybe someone here wants to ask what I am certain Tim wanted to ask so long ago…”How do you do replace FEAR with TRUST like that?” Keep reading the text, Paul wasn’t done…

What is clear in verse 12 is that it starts with understanding what the Scripture teaches about the Person of God. You do it by recognizing that God does not place you in pain without purpose. That isn’t His nature. Trouble doesn’t come because God is cruel toward His children… that isn’t it.

Dr. David Osborn at Denver Seminary said a few years ago: “Too often we try to use God to change our circumstances, while He is using our circumstances to change us.” You see, God is right now in the process of making us like Christ. Think of the process of refining maple syrup. Maple trees are tapped with buckets hung under the taps, and out drips a sap which is thin and clear, like water. On a good day, 50 trees will yield 30-40 gallons of sap, but it is essentially useless at this point with only a hint of sweetness. Then as the buckets fill, they are emptied into large bins that sit over an open fire. The sap comes to a slow boil; and as it boils, its water content is reduced and its sugars are concentrated. Hours later, it has developed a rich flavor and golden-brown color, but it must be strained several times to remove impurities before being reheated, bottled, and graded for quality. In the end, those 30-40 gallons of sap are reduced to one gallon of pure, delicious maple syrup, which is far better than the cheap, imitation, colored sugar-water that passes for maple syrup in the grocery store. So it is when we come to faith in Christ. We start like raw, unfinished sap, which could have been tossed aside as worthless. But God knew what he could make of us. He sought and found us, and his skillful hands are transforming us into something precious, sweet and useful. The long and often painful refining process brings forth a pure, genuine disciple easily distinguished from cheap imitations. – (Michele Straubel, Red Lake, Minnesota. From a sermon by C. Philip Green, Our Living Hope, 4/26/2011)

Fourth, recognize the treasure of the Word of God (2 Tim. 1:13).

2 Tim. 1:13 “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.”

If trust begins with understanding what God’s Word says about God’s Person, the issue of the Word’s truthfulness comes to the fore. Timothy was to see the words taught him by Paul as the precious treasure of God’s Holy Truth, and he was to highly prize each one. He was to learn the Word, trust the Word, and keep the Word ever close. As the world’s darkness pressed in, Tim would need a lamp for his feet and light for his path.

How long will it take us to learn that time away from God’s Word is time away from understanding life from God’s perspective. How we perceive the world is a product of what we see – and God’s Word is a lamp to the heart to show the dangerous obstacles to walking well, as well as a beacon to help others be drawn to God through our testimony. We must learn that the Bible is precious, as essential a part of our daily regimen as our tooth brush and our deodorant. If you can go away for a week and don’t think you’ll need a Bible with you – it is likely that others can tell in your life. Just because you passed the “sniff test” on your own – doesn’t mean your life isn’t truly offensive.

Fifth, we must guard by the Spirit’s power the timeless truths placed in our hands (2 Tim. 1:14).

2 Tim. 1:14 “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”

The idea here is that each generation of believers will need to protect the legacy of the text, and rightly reflect the principles of God’s truth. Compromise may bring short term popularity and likeability – but long term devastation. There is no time like now that this has been more important. Any forum discussing God’s view of marriage and sexuality is now filled with people who claim to be believers but utterly misquote and improperly frame key principles of God’s Word on the vital issues facing the American home. We must be sharp on truth and loving in delivery. The church is sending mixed messages, because the Scriptures have not been carefully learned, studied and applied.

How do we reflect TRUTH but still show LOVE? That is a good question.

First, we need to understand that LOVE is not the wholesale nod of approval to anyone who wants to feel included and accepted. My love for my wife has an unspoken and never violated rule that she remain separate for me alone. I am not open to redefining that term for the sake of love.

Second, we must remember the ultimate objective of our teaching is not to tell people what we think about all the issues of our day, but to help connect them with Biblical truth on the way to connecting to God Himself. We would do well to separate ideas into three important categories: absolutes (unchanging principles of God’s Word), convictions (culturally sensitive applications of principle that are not universally agreed upon even by brothers and sisters in the faith), and preferences (traditional methods that we like). If we spend our energies on the last two, we will not address the first one – and that is where the power for God’s Word can move effectively into the hardened heart – just as it did for all of us who believe.

We must recognize many of us have been duped into distraction inside our own respective worship communities. Some are caught up in peripheral struggles of stylistic issues in the church while the mammoth battle of changing worldviews is not being addressed – let alone strategically fought. Scores of churches are losing their children, but they fail to see why, claiming an issue like drums or hymnbooks – when this is far from the real problem. Make note: When a church ignores the grave issues of worldview but rages about lesser issues of style, preference and tradition it is setting itself up to grey first, close later. Spiritual bloodletting on preference leaves little energy to fight the real battles of our day.

Third, we must awaken to the reality that we live in a culture largely committed to relativism, unreceptive toward all-embracing, unchanging and ultimate truth. That makes the Bible as understood and presented by Christians in the public square an offense of its own, regardless of the content and irrespective of our quality of presentation. Some of this offensiveness simply can’t be avoided without compromising the spirit of the text. We need to simply accept that fact, and at the same time not grow angry or withdraw from our society because of the hardness toward truth. As God said long ago to the Prophet Samuel, they aren’t rejecting the messenger, but the Master and His mastery. They are responding to a very choreographed entertainment industry and a carefully sculpted educational system designed by pagan and post-modern minds.

Nil desperandum – don’t despair. It is still very possible to gain a hearing for the Gospel in a relativistic setting, and our cause is not dead and neither is our God now helpless. The Author is still the Finisher. There are things we can and must do and the Gospel will find its mark in some. We must guard truth for the sake of coming generations – even if they have little place for it in their lives right now. Nothing is made better or stronger by whining – but the fervent and effectual prayer of one who walks with God pierces the armor of the enemy with the power and principles of God.

Sixth, we must face the struggles and troubles that come from working among weak men (1:15).

2 Tim. 1:15 “You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.”

Discouragement will feed fear, and fear will block faith. How we handle trouble is a key point for the world to see our testimony. We must expect men to defect. We must anticipate that some will invite embrace sin and call it love, others will strike parts from their Bible they perceive are not palatable to the post-modern mind. They will speak of blessing, love and tolerance – but know little of surrender, repentance and mourning over sin.

When it happens, remember this: It isn’t new – this has always been around. Misuse of the Word accompanied proper instruction from the first century. As God poured out healing power through an Apostle, a huckster tried to buy the power for self-benefit. As God communicated through His Spirit, others tried to mimic the conditions. We can trace their path all the way back to Moses and Aaron throwing down a rod and picking up a snake. The problem of fakery isn’t new, and it isn’t more sly than before – if you know the Lord, walk by His Spirit and study carefully His Word.

Don’t judge too harshly those who feel forced to point out the names of ministries and teachers that aren’t walking in truth. It sounds “judgy” but Paul found it necessary to make his point to Tim – and we may, on occasion, need to do it as well. We reserve it for the most egregious cases of violation- but we do it when it is needful.

Seventh, (and finally!) we must “bathe often” in praise for the blessings God has put in our life (1:16).

2 Tim. 1:16 “The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; 17 but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me— 18 the Lord grant to him to find mercy from the Lord on that day—and you know very well what services he rendered at Ephesus.”

Paul’s hope was in the deliverance that JESUS would give him in his death, but his endurance in the physical torment was boosted by the little reprieves he got from Onesiphorus.

The man whose name means “profit bringer” is mentioned only two times in the New Testament (see also 2 Timothy 4:19). God used this man to become a friend of Paul when desperately in need of one. Onesiphorus took a profound risk seeking out the imprisoned Apostle who brought the Word to the people Asia – his hometown crowd. Paul met him and believed God has sent him a very special relief in the midst of the hard time he faced. How he celebrated a godly and bold friends in the midst of his deprivations! God hadn’t forgotten to send a small cup of water to his parched and pained soul.

What did Paul do? He praised. He thanked God. He acknowledged the diligence of the man who sought him out. He kept his focus, not on the encroachment of evil, but on the actions of Godly helpers. Let me deliberately ask you to do something before we close this lesson: Make sure that as much of your effort is found in praising God and trumpeting good as preaching warning and pinpointing evil. The world will notice a positive voice – they truly will.

Beloved, we are a people made for the hope that is found in Jesus Christ.

God created us, bought us, indwelt us, instructed us and is transforming us… but we are making a mistake when we move to playing defense instead of working from a victorious HOPE.In his book Winning Life’s Toughest Battles, psychologist Julius Segal wrote about the 25,000 soldiers who were held by the Japanese in POW camps during World War II.

Forced to exist under inhumane conditions, many of them died. Others, however, survived and eventually returned home. There was no reason to believe there was a difference in the stamina of these two groups of soldiers. The survivors, however, were different in one major respect: They confidently expected to be released someday. As described by Robins Readers in Holding On to Hope, ‘They talked about the kinds of homes they would have, the jobs they would choose, and even described the kind of person they would marry. They drew pictures on the walls to illustrate their dreams. Some even found ways to study subjects related to the kind of career they wanted to pursue.'” -(Quoted in Morgan, R. J. (2000). Nelson’s complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.) (450). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. From a sermon by Matthew Kratz, Hoping Against Hope, 9/3/2011)

For many of us, the difference between life and death – is HOPE.

To offer help in sharing it – Paul didn’t only attack what TIM was DOING, he attacked the ROOT of the problem – Tim’s THINKING. Remember, What you know affects what you do. We must KNOW the right things to DO the right things! That is why it is important to remember:

To mature to a grown follower of Jesus, I must learn to see the future through the Word of God – the long view that restores hope when life is hard.

Paul told him clearly: Face your fears. Look long and get perspective. Take a GOOD LOOK at Jesus – and you will find Him trustworthy. Hold tightly on the treasure of God’s Word. Defend its truth. Don’t get knocked off course by unfaithful men around you. Bathe often in the sweet water of praise.