ISSUES OF FAITH: Focus on Jesus – and take heart

LAST YEAR CONTAINED enough catastrophes and crises to produce a lot of angst in this country and around the world.

Bombings, shootings, flooding, earthquakes, wildfires, terrorism, racial tension, abuse, political wrangling and a bad season for the Seahawks. Sighs of despair or snarls of contempt filled the air.

Nevertheless, I have chosen to enter 2018 with optimism, not pessimism.

My optimism doesn’t come from believing that turbulent times will cease; my optimism comes from, well, it comes from Jesus.

Prior to entering Jerusalem to be crucified, Jesus had a heart-to-heart conversation with his disciples. He knew they were going to be facing hard times.

They would be scattered and face deadly persecution.

Most of them would be martyred for their faith in him. But Jesus doesn’t give them all the frightening details awaiting them.

No, in an effort to encourage them, give them hope and keep them focused, Jesus tells them, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV).

I like that – “take heart.” The older King James Version says, “be of good cheer.” Optimism extraordinaire.

Why? Because Jesus overcame the world, and in him we can have peace. My optimism doesn’t come from focusing on the perils and evils in this world; my optimism comes from choosing to focus on Jesus.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not advocating that we should ignore the troubles or injustices in the world. Not at all.

We should all be defenders of justice, helpers to those in need, and light where there is darkness. And we can do these things when we stay focused on Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Take heart.

There’s an old adage that says, “It is better to light a single candle than curse the darkness.”

There was plenty of cursing the darkness in 2017, and I sometimes joined in. But Jesus told his followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). It’s time to be a candle.

Take heart.

It’s an old hymn, but it remains relevant. Oh soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, and life more abundant and free.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. I don’t know what tribulations you might be facing today. And I don’t know what crises you and I will face during 2018.

They will come, but they don’t have to be overwhelming. “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5).

Have faith. Believe. Focus on Jesus — and take heart.

_________

Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Greg Reynolds is pastor of Joyce Bible Church. His email is jbc@joycebiblechurch.org.

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