This week’s headlines announce that the local NBA team, the New Orleans Hornets, are optimistic about having a great year in spite of the 2-6 record they rang up during the just-ended pre-season.
What I wonder is which team in the league is NOT optimistic. I guarantee that this headline could apply to every one of the teams. In order to fill seats with paying customers, the team has to convince fans that “this could be our year.” Ask any New Orleans Saints fan; we’ve bought into that hype for over 40 years now, with little to show for it.
Is this the year for the Saints? Could be. A lot of sports experts and all the fans think so. Meanwhile, we’re optimistic.
The Richard Heene family fiasco is being played out before the world’s cameras these days. According to today’s news. Mrs. Mayumi Heene admits to the hoax of the 6-year-old in the balloon in order to get media attention for their family. And why did they want media attention, you ask. To land a reality show on television.
Would that work? No one knew, but Mr. Heene was optimistic.
Now, I’m all in favor of optimism considering that its opposite, pessimism, is a real downer. But there must be some grounds or reason for the optimism.
Pastors and church leaders, take note.
I was in college the first time I heard Christian optimism expressed as “pie in the sky, by and by.” The history professor told us the ruling classes of the Middle Ages kept the serfs poor, dependent, and acquiescent by promises of rewards in Heaven.
I’m not arguing that this was not done. To the shame of the Church, its leaders played their part in such travesties.
No doubt it’s still being done today, as tyrannical “Jim Jones-type” religious gurus work their magic and keep their members quiet and obedient and compliant.
Here and there, we encounter unscrupulous pastors of real, actual churches who attempt to pull off this kind of hocus-pocus on their congregations. Some of the ways we’ve seen it occur include:
–“Spend all this money to get us on world-wide television and our church will bring the gospel to millions. We will be known as the greatest church of our time. God has told me!” (After this campaign, there will be other ones to follow.)
–“Sell more bonds and build greater buildings that we don’t need at the moment because ‘if we build it they will come.’ It’s called faith.” (Ditto, more campaigns to come.)
–“I know the last five huge financial promotions we have made have all been great failures, but I’m asking you to believe in me and approve this expenditure. This is the one that’s going to put us over the top. God blesses those who persevere.”
Like Richard Heene, such pastors come across like snake oil salesmen.
There is a fine line between faith and presumption.
Faith follows where the Lord has led; presumption goes where no one has ever gone before or ever should.
Faith obeys what God has said; presumption admits God said nothing about this, but would have had He thought of it.
Faith follows, but presumption precedes the Lord.
Presumption claims what God never promised, goes where He never sent, and works for the ego of some leader than for the pleasure the Master.
“Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins.” (Psalm 19:13)
It’s good to be optimistic. But there must be a good reason.
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” The song has it right.
My hope for Heaven is based on Jesus’ death and resurrection. “Because I live, you too shall live.” (John 14:19)
“This hope we have as an anchor for our souls.” (Hebrews 6:19)
I think of our Mormon friends.
They have great visions for the life after this one. I’ll not attempt a description of their plans for the future, but as told to me, they include becoming gods, ruling over planets, populating entire worlds with their own children, and such.
My understanding is that in a Mormon marriage ceremony the wife is given a secret name known only by her husband. On resurrection morning, he awakens first and whispers her name which allows her to rise up. If he is not there–not a faithful member of the LDS church or if they were divorced–there is no one to call her name.
My question is: on what basis does that church believe and teach such?
Definitely not from the Holy Bible. And not even from the Book of Mormon, I’m told. (I’ve tried reading it, but it is boring beyond belief.)
The basis for their hope involves convoluted explanations involving Prophet Joseph Smith and various revelations he had for their sacred scriptures.
The fact that Smith has been proven again and again to be a snake-oil salesman and those sacred texts to be hoaxes exceeding balloon-boy dimensions ought to give pause to millions of the faithful.
We wait for a child to speak out of the crowd, “The emperor has no clothes.” Or at least, “We did it for the show,” as the little Heene boy told on the Larry King program, thus puncturing his father’s balloon.
Here’s how the Apostle Peter put it concerning the Christian faith:
“We did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” (II Peter 1:16)
An old gospel song said, “I was there when it happened, so I guess I oughta know!”
Paul cautioned young Pastor Timothy: “(Be) constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following, but have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women.” (I Timothy 4:6-7)
Earlier, when Paul was making his defense before King Agrippa and the governor named Festus, he spoke of the resurrection of Jesus as the basis for the Christian hope. Festus interrupted, “Paul, your great learning has driven you insane!”
Paul responded quietly, “I’m entirely sane, sir. I utter words of sober truth. The king knows–you can ask him. I’m certain that none of these things escaped his scrutiny. Because this has not been done in a corner.” (Acts 26)
There it is: “this has not been done in a corner.”
Visibility, transparency, clarity, and therefore veracity. That is what sets the Christian hope apart from all the others.
There is good reason why millions of people all across this globe read the Bible every day and rejoice in its insights and promises. There is good reason why it continues to be the best-selling book year after year. “The Word of God is alive….” (Hebrews 4:12)
And likewise, there is just as good a reason why adherents of all those other ways of salvation have to give their books away and constantly try to get people to read them. Their words are chaff–dead, dull, lifeless.
God considered the false prophets in Jeremiah’s day and uttered a word that still fits the religious snake-oil salesmen of our day: “Let the prophet who has a dream preach it, but the one who has My Word should speak my Word faithfully, for what is straw compared to grain?” (Jeremiah 23:28)
Then, in the very next verse, He adds: “Is not my word like fire and like a sledgehammer that pulverizes rock?”
Indeed it is, Lord. There is nothing like it.
That’s why we get up in the mornings and read it. And that’s why we go forth into each new day with optimism. We know, “This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” We know He will never leave us nor forsake us. And we know how it ends.
We have His Word on it.