By Ken Idleman
You’ve probably heard the story of the woman who had twin 10-year-old sons, one an incurable pessimist, the other a cockeyed optimist. One day, at her wit’s end, she asked a counselor for advice. Together they came up with this plan for the boys’ birthday: get two refrigerator boxes and fill the pessimist’s box with a wonderful assortment of new toys, and the optimist’s box with manure.
On the big day, the woman sent her boys to their separate rooms, where the boxes had been prepared. She shut their doors and then waited outside with the counselor for several minutes.
When they peeked inside at the pessimist, he was holding up the toys and angrily discarding them muttering, “This is cheap. It won’t work. I don’t like this color.”
Then they peeked in on the optimist, who was digging feverishly. He kept repeating, “With this much manure, there must be a pony in here somewhere!”
Are you more like the pessimist or the optimist? If the former, I want to convert you!
Now, I know this is a fearful time with troubling concerns: War is raging in Afghanistan and Iraq, many are troubled by global warming, gas prices are climbing, home foreclosures are widespread, and there are duplicitous political leaders, and absentee parents, and overcrowding in prisons all across the nation.
However, for Christians, particularly those of us committed to New Testament Christianity, it is a very promising and hopeful time. Why am I optimistic? Why do I encourage a positive outlook in others? Here are several reasons:
Our Christian churches/churches of Christ are experiencing growth reminiscent of the early years of our movement. Our number includes at least 50 megachurches averaging more than 2,000 in attendance and probably another 100 averaging over 1,000. (One church welcomes more than 30,000 at Christmas and Easter.)
According to The New York Times, the growth of our fellowship of churches in the 1990s was second only (by one-tenth of 1 percent) to the Mormons (who require their members to do two years of mandatory mission work at their own expense). The plea for simple nondenominational New Testament Christianity has never been more relevant, and it’s even being imitated by mainline denominational churches.
Our fellowship is setting the pace in Christendom in the arena of planting new churches. Some of the best and brightest of our young leaders are sensing the call to be first-generation, church-planting pioneers.
We are successfully planting new churches in cities that, in years past, have been thought to be impenetrable to evangelism. And, in fact, several of our most vital and prevailing congregations are less than 20 years old.
The surge in young adults who are sensing God’s calling to the foreign mission field is astounding and unprecedented. The younger generation is fueling the increased interest and attendance at the annual National Missionary Convention. While registration and attendance at the North American Christian Convention has flattened in recent years, the missionary conference is experiencing its best days.
Growing numbers of people in our churches have gained frontline missionary experience on short-term trips. Heart ownership of missions is profound these days, in both rural and urban churches.
Except for the persecution of Christians in Muslim-dominated countries, there is unprecedented openness to the gospel worldwide. The iron and bamboo curtains are now down.
China is inviting young Christians to come, at the government’s expense, to teach English as a second language. These missionaries are using the Bible as a textbook and sharing their faith freely. This is one example of activities possible in China that certainly would not be funded, or possibly even permitted, in the United States.
I recently participated in a conference on Malta where full-time evangelists worshiped together every morning, nearly 300 strong, in Arabic, French, and English.
It is a new day for global evangelism.
People all around us are open, even desperate. Although there is strong resistance to religious legalism and extremism, there is openness to a literate presentation of the gospel of grace.
This year both Tom Brady, quarterback of the three-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, and movie star Brad Pitt independently said they are searching for something more than fame and fortune, and haven’t found it yet. That signals a new day for the opportunity to teach and influence this generation.
Cultural seduction will wither in the bright light of the glory of Christ and the power of the gospel, if we will only “lift the bushel” of our inferiority and let it shine.
Man-invented religions are failing and falling. The Hindu religion is experiencing a mass exodus, by the millions, of former members exploited by their “low caste” system.
Extreme Islam is being indicted for its intolerance/hatred of dissidents and its mistreatment of women and children. Conversions to Christ from the global Islamic community are growing exponentially and finally being reported in the media.
Scientology is being accurately perceived as weird, appealing mostly to narcissistic people who have embraced materialism and the desire to be their own gods. Thinking people are rejecting new age ideologies (like “The Secret”) in growing numbers.
Many churches testify that their worship attendances are growing. Although some may argue that the changes in worship are not necessarily improvements, it is a fact more people are involved in leading and singing praise choruses that direct our attention to God.
Without question, more attention is being given to biblical preaching, as well as the thoughtful planning and creative execution of worship.
As I write this, I am just a couple of days removed from Easter Sunday. Maybe that’s why I am especially optimistic. But, I assure you I am not just some raving Christian existentialist. I am just convinced the most logical response to the resurrection is to “go and tell,” and the results are bound to be positive.
Christ followers can be optimistic about the future because God is in control!
Ken Idleman ministers with the Crossroads Christian Church in Newburgh, Indiana.