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“I never lost faith in the end of the story” (A former P.O.W. gives perspective-shifting words for Easter)

paper sheetsAdmiral James Stockdale was a prisoner of war for eight years during Vietnam. After those eight long years, author Jim Collins asked him how he ever survived.

Stockdale replied, “I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

Collins then asked him, “Who didn’t make it out?”

The answer Stockdale gave is illuminating. He responded, “Oh, that’s easy. The optimists… they were the ones who said ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

The optimists died of a “broken heart” because they just wished upon a star that things would be okay. Their vision was limited. Too small.

But Stockdale made it because he “never lost faith in the end of the story.”

(This blog is a partial and modified exert from my Easter Sunday message at Westminster. You can hear that 16-minute audio podcast here.)

For God’s people, Easter is the guarantee that the end of our story will be a victorious one.

When I was playing hockey there was a statistic called the “game-winning goal.” If you won 5 to 2, then whoever scored the third goal had scored the “game-winning goal.” At the time it was scored, you didn’t realize its significance. But when the buzzer went at the end of the game, you knew that it was goal number 3 that ensured the victory. After that goal, you still had to finish the game, but that was the one that sealed the deal.

What Jesus accomplished on the cross and empty tomb is that victorious moment. Easter is the “game-winning goal” in the middle of the game. And even though the final buzzer hasn’t gone off yet, God has assured us of the final victory even as we are still living out our lives.

The exciting challenge for us is to live confidently, as if we know the outcome.

  • That the trials we face are temporary.
  • That the disappointments we encounter are not final.
  • That our God-honouring contributions to this life will, one day, shine even more brightly, as we take our place in the victorious eternity God is crafting.

How does this help us?

It gives us courage in the here and now. As Max Lucado writes, “Real courage embraces the twin realities of current difficulty and ultimate triumph.”

Optimism and positive thinking aren’t enough. If that’s all we have, the world will beat us down.

Lutheran Paul Scherer wrote, “the joy of religion is not in being good. People get bored and tired with being good. The joy of religion is trusting God in the presence of some great darkness and waiting for the light to break.”

Easter isn’t about bunnies and chocolate. Nor is it about spring and newness of life. It also isn’t about being naïve and simplistically optimistic.

It’s about a love, sacrifice and resurrection that changes everything.

Faith in the long-term victory breathes victory into the short-term faith.

 

It’s about acknowledging the realities of the world’s darkness—both out there and within our own lives—and not being intimidated. It’s about triumph. A triumph which gives us courage for the game.

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “take courage; I have conquered the world!”

After the war Stockdale said, “I never lost faith in the end of the story.” And so yes, God wins. And for those who have been enlisted on his team, his victory is theirs.

RESOURCE: Here’s a non-academic document I put together called Can You Trust The Bible About the Resurrection? Enjoy!

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