Onward and Forward

by Lillianne Lopez

“As long as you keep going, you’ll keep getting better. And as you get better, you gain more confidence. That alone is success.”[1]

“I always think today is better than yesterday, and tomorrow is better than today.”[2]

We hear lots of quotes like these pretty often, don’t we? Along with things like, “If God brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it.” and “It’ll all be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.”

These saying all seem to imply that our lives move from not so good to better. I’ve had posters of sayings like these on my classroom walls. I’ve reposted them on Facebook, but I’m beginning to question the validity of this philosophy of life – partly because, as I live, age, and gain experiences, I am noticing that things don’t always get better. Things aren’t always ok, even at the end.

I was thinking about Paul this week. In Acts 19, Paul heads out on his third and last journey. He was taking his farewell tour. I’m nor sure how he knew it, but he’s going back to the churches he’d started and, essentially, giving them his parting wisdom. “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. … And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, 38 sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.” Acts 20:25, 36-38

It becomes pretty clear as he goes along and gets closer to Jerusalem, that things are not going to end well for Paul: “And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, “So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”’” Acts 21:10-11

Why did Paul keep going if he knew how his journey would end? Why would anybody walk into a situation that they know will end badly? Aren’t we trained, from birth, practically, to avoid sketchy situations? Why didn’t Paul listen to Agabus?

Come to think of it, I can think of other people who kept going onward and forward when odds were good things would end badly. Daniel went on praying in his window, three times a day, even when he knew there was a law against it. Most of the apostles continued to preach the gospel even after they were thrown in prison, beaten, and/or threatened with death.

Even today, there are those who go boldly into darkness with no guarantee they will come back out again.

“Kayla Mueller, 26 years old, was captured by ISIS, and on February 10, 2015 U.S. officials confirmed that Muslim extremists had murdered her while in captivity. In the spring of 2014 as a captor she wrote to her family. The letter begins with Kayla’s assurance that she has been treated well, and is ‘in a safe location, completely unharmed + healthy.’ The 26-year-old aid worker goes on to apologize touchingly to her family for the suffering that she has put them through because of her captivity. Then comes her central proposition: ‘I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else.’

“Kayla, who was involved in the campus ministry at Northern Arizona University, goes on to relate how ‘by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.’ She adds: ‘I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.’

“She concluded, ‘Please be patient, give your pain to God. I know you would want me to remain strong. That is exactly what I am doing. Do not fear for me, continue to pray as will I. By God’s will we will be together soon. All my everything, Kayla’”[3]

The question is, am I willing to go onward and forward in the will of Jesus Christ, when I have no assurance that “I always think today is better than yesterday, and tomorrow is better than today.”?

Yes, I know, we have the promise of eternity, but there might be a lot of ugliness between now and then. That can be very, VERY intimidating? Am I sure I can go through that ugliness without losing my faith? Are you sure you can?

“The story we’re called to tell and live and die by is one of risk confronted, death embraced. What’s more, Jesus calls us to walk the narrow way, take up a cross with him, daily. It’s terribly risky business. Ask that bright company of martyrs that quite recklessly parted with goods, security, and life itself, preferring to be faithful in death rather than safe in life.”[4]

“It was that eternal perspective that inspired J. W. Tucker to risk his earthly life for the gospel. Tucker didn’t fear death because he had already died to self. It wasn’t an uncalculated risk that led J. W. Tucker into the Congo during a civil war. He counted the cost with his missionary friend Morris Plotts. Plotts tried to convince his friend not to go. ‘If you go in,’ he prophetically pleaded, ‘you won’t come out.’ To which Tucker responded, ‘God didn’t tell me I had to come out. He only told me I had to go in.’”[5]

Eternal perspective … on second thought, things will get better and better … onward and forward for Jesus Christ!

Lillianne Winegardner Lopez    8.31.2018

 

Jesus is the great polarizer. It’s as if all of humanity were iron filings laid out on a sheet of paper, and Jesus is the magnet. Every single filing lines up either with the North Pole or the South Pole. Every person is either attracted to or repelled by the person of Jesus Christ, because he’s a magnet. The power and influence of his very being cannot be ignored.

Kent Edwards

 

Faith is confidence in the person of Jesus Christ and in his power, so that even when his power does not serve my end, my confidence in him remains because of who he is.                                             Ravi Zacharias

 

Clay is actually composed of many microscopic clay mineral crystals, which not even a light microscope can see. But under pressure the clay minerals are not crushed or made smaller. Rather, they grow larger. The minerals change into new larger biotype grains forming slate, found on many homes. With even more pressure, the minerals become even larger. And some are transformed into garnets, which are semi-precious gems.

I explained to the congregation that this geological process illustrates how pressure and suffering can be used to refine, purify, and mold a person into a more beautiful soul. I will never forget what I saw when I looked at the congregation. It seemed like the whole congregation was sparkling. The babushkas’ (old women) eyes were gleaming bright with tears recalling past suffering. What makes a gem so attractive? It’s the reflection. And these dear women and men were reflecting God’s glory through the suffering they had endured.

The metamorphic rock story doesn’t end there. With even more pressure applied, a new mineral forms called staurolite. The name is from two Greek words meaning “stone cross.” The twin variety forms deep under high mountains in the shape of a cross. A reminder of Christ’s ultimate suffering for us all.                                                 James Clark,

 

I believe it to be a grave mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular with no offense in it.                 Dorothy Sayers

Following Sunday worship services on January 8, 2006, five young men attacked and threatened to kill a Protestant church leader in Turkey’s fourth largest city. Kamil Kiroglu, 29, had just left his church in Adana when he was ambushed and beaten so severely that he fell unconscious twice.

“They were trying to force me to deny Jesus,” Kiroglu said. “But each time they asked me to deny Jesus and become a Muslim, I was saying, ‘Jesus is Lord.’ The more I said, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ the more they beat me.” One of the attackers pulled out a long butcher knife and threatened to kill Kiroglu if he did not deny his Christian faith and return to Islam. Kiroglu refused.

After the incident, he said, “I am praising God—not because he saved me from death, but because he helped me not to deny him in the shadow of death.”                                                                            Lee Eclov

 

Beyond the Gates of Splendor is a documentary based on Elizabeth Elliot’s best-selling book, Through Gates of Splendor. Both tell the true story of 5 missionaries: Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian, who in January 1956 were speared to death in the jungles of Ecuador by the Auca Indians.

In a testament to forgiveness, the documentary shows family members of the slain missionaries return to the Amazon basin and live among the Auca tribe. Their evangelistic efforts eventually help Christianity to flourish among the native people.

In this particular scene, Frank Drown, a pilot and missionary friend, recalls leading the search-and-rescue team in an effort to find the five slain missionaries: “They [the slain missionaries] had guns with them. They had said that they would never kill the Aucas, even if they attacked them, because they made this strong statement: ‘They’re not ready for heaven, and we are.'”                                                                Van Morris

 

Missionary Karen Watson counted the cost of following Jesus. That’s why she left a letter with her pastor before going to Iraq. She went to provide humanitarian relief in the name of Jesus—but she was gunned down in the country she came to serve.

The letter began, “You’re only reading this if I died.” It included gracious words to family and friends, and this simple summary of following Christ: “To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, his glory my reward.”

Bill White

 

When one preaches Christianity in such a way that the echo answers, ‘Away with that man, he does not deserve to live,’ know that this is the Christianity of the New Testament. Capital punishment is the penalty for preaching Christianity as it truly is.”              Soren Kierkegaard

 

When Jesus said, “If you are going to follow me, you have to take up a cross,” it was the same as saying, “Come and bring your electric chair with you. Take up the gas chamber and follow me.” He did not have a beautiful gold cross in mind–the cross on a church steeple or on the front of your Bible. Jesus had in mind a place of execution.        Billy Graham

 

The story we’re called to tell and live and die by is one of risk confronted, death embraced. What’s more, Jesus calls us to walk the narrow way, take up a cross with him, daily. It’s terribly risky business. Ask that bright company of martyrs that quite recklessly parted with goods, security, and life itself, preferring to be faithful in death rather than safe in life.

 

The year was A.D. 155, and the persecution against Christians swept across the Roman Empire and came to the city of Smyrna. The proconsul of Symrna, swept up in this persecution, put out an order that the Bishop of Symrna, Polycarp, was to be found, arrested, and brought to the public arena for execution. They found Polycarp and brought him before thousands of spectators screaming for blood. But the proconsul had compassion on this man who was almost a hundred years old. He signaled the crowd to silence. To Polycarp he said, “Curse the Christ and live.”

The crowd waited for the old man to answer. In an amazingly strong voice, he said, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong. How dare I blaspheme the name of my king and Lord!” With that Polycarp became a martyr.                                          Leith Anderson

[1] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/tamara_taylor_884736?src=t_getting_bet

[2] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/gdragon_889032

[3] Stephen L. Carter, “On Kayla Mueller and Faith,” BloombergView (2-13-15)

[4] Leadership, Vol. 12, no. 1.

[5] Mark Batterson, Chase the Lion (Multnomah,2016), page 107

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