THE POSITIVE OUTLOOK

(November 1, 2020) Brian Bell shares …

These are continuing uncertain and unstable days when people are naturally concerned about the outlook, as around the world we see Covid-19 infection rates rising and sadly more deaths, concern for their families and the repercussions of the economic impact brought about by the efforts of governments to deal with the pandemic.

Last month  I shared recently some thoughts on my time recovering from surgery (Link: God’s-Repair-Shop). Also, during that time I had been reading through the apostle Paul’s letters to the various churches.

I was drawn to Paul’s words as recorded in 2 Corinthians 7: 5-6 (NLT version) and I share here a few short thoughts by way of meditation and encouragement.

In verse 5 we read of Paul’s dilemma, ‘When we arrived in Macedonia there was no rest for us. Outside there was conflict from every direction, and inside there was fear’ and in verse 6, ‘But God, who encourages those who are discouraged, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus.’

Paul’s outward look
‘Conflict from every direction’ – do we who are in the Lord’s service today expect to find it anything different? For brevity I suggest two main sources of conflict…

1) Conflict outside the church
In Paul’s case this was primarily from legalistic Jews and ‘teachers’ who were interested only in their own personal gain, for example, in 2 Corinthians 5:12 he talks about those who ‘brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart towards God.’

In our current generation some of the conflict comes from legislation which has been passed allowing the murder of unborn babies for example, we are likely to find conflict if we challenge these and other events from a biblical viewpoint.

2) Conflict inside the church
Yes, sadly, we still know this experience today. Eugene Peterson has said, ‘Christian churches are not as a rule, model communities of good behaviour, they are rather places where human misbehaviour is brought out in the open, faced and dealt with.’

Paul elaborates on this in 2 Corinthians 12:20-21 and Paul specifically mentions – quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfishness, backstabbing, gossip, conceit, disorderly behaviour, sexual immorality, eagerness for lustful pleasure.

These examples do not make for pleasant reading, but I am sorry to say they are also prevalent in the church today. I am sure you will agree these are ‘carnal’ behaviours and reflect our failing to rely on the Holy Spirit. We cannot condone carnal attitudes or behaviours, but I believe as we seek to live for the Lord, we may not always display ‘perfect behaviour’ but we must always rely on a ‘perfect Saviour.’

Paul’s inward look
‘Fear’ – the gifted Paul acknowledges this emotion. Someone has said, ‘It’s natural to have fears, but it’s detrimental to our physical and spiritual health to live in a state of constant fear.’

I’m encouraged that although Paul mentions fear, he doesn’t say he is gripped by fear, nor was he a prisoner of fear. He wasn’t prevented from moving forward or speaking the truth because of fear. I won’t elaborate any further, but it encourages me that a man of Paul’s calibre is honest enough to acknowledge fear as an emotion he felt, but which he did not allow to hinder him.

Paul’s upward look
‘But God’ – this is always the answer for us as believers. Paul assures us the Lord will encourage us because that is his business, encouraging those who are discouraged.

In Paul’s case he cites Titus as a source of encouragement… maybe you’ve found that as you spoke to someone recently, possibly even over the telephone, you were able to encourage their hearts in these uncertain days.

Paul’s future outlook
In this verse Paul does not make a specific reference to the Lord’s return, however our upward look ultimately as believers is to that day when Jesus will come to the air and call us to himself. We’ll be able to exchange these weak, sick mortal bodies for what Paul calls a transformed body!

Here, in Northern Ireland, in days now gone, there was a phrase that was often proclaimed: ‘I’m not looking for the undertaker, I’m looking for the uppertaker.

Now it’s been many years since I heard any believer speak those words… but although we do not know when that day will come, until then we need to keep that upward and expectant look. And we need to pray that those still outside the kingdom will be drawn to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus, able to share in that great day. And what a day it will be! One as the song writer Jim Hill expresses in these words…

‘There is coming a day when no heartaches shall come,
no more clouds in the sky,
no more tears to dim the eye,
all is peace for evermore on that happy golden shore,
what a day glorious day that will be.’

For us as believers and those in a leadership role, the future is likely to continue to prove challenging.

I like that quote attributed to J C Ryle – ‘The best of men are only men at best.’ But, in the midst of conflict and fear, let me encourage everyone, both men and women, to be ‘the best’ and keep a ‘but God outlook’ based on the faithfulness and certainty of God’s promises. And to ask the Lord’s help in encouraging those who are struggling in these days.

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Brian Bell is a diaconate member, Christ Church (Congregational) Abbots Cross, Northern Ireland, and a volunteer with Disabled Christians Fellowship Ireland. He describes himself as ‘grateful for the privilege and opportunity given me to serve my Lord.’ Link: brian.bell22@btinternet.com

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