Monday, March 12, 2012

Endurance: Is It Worth It?

Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, March 11, 2012

Hebrews 12:1-3, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.”

The longer I live, the further along I am in this ‘race’ called the Christian life, the more I see people, Christian people, struggle from day to day, the more I am convinced that what I need more of is not speed, not agility, but endurance.  Endurance.  The word doesn’t have quite the ring to it that speed does, but that’s okay, because – you see – the Christian life is not a sprint, but a marathon. 

Endurance.  It’s a word that has to do with bearing up under difficulty, that implies or entails patience, steadfastness and even courage in the face of life’s storms, all of which seem to be in short supply these days.  Furthermore, endurance, for the Christian, has everything to do with, is all wrapped up in, our hope, the anchor for our souls, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Writing to a group of fellow Christians, who like so many believers in Jesus today, were undergoing great trials, the author of the Book of Hebrews offers three poignant and powerful reminders, all of which point ‘marathon runners’ in the direction of what they need, endurance, patient steadfastness.  Let’s examine these together this morning, shall we? 

One of the huge challenges that goes with running a marathon is the problem of losing sight of the goal, thinking that the finish line is never, ever going to come.  Any parent who’s ever packed his children in the back seat of the car for a 500 miles road trip knows the feeling…  Ten minutes down the road, ‘Mommy, are we there yet?’  Half an hour further, ‘Daddy, are we there yet?’  Little ones, who’ve never traveled those roads, who were too young to remember making that trip and how long and tiring it was, they have no concept of what it means to get in the car and sit there, buckled in, looking at the back of Daddy’s head for 8, 10, maybe 12 hours.  They can’t see the goal.  They’re not sure they will ever get to their destination.  Maybe Mommy and Daddy aren’t so sure, either.  But, they keep driving, because they realize, they remember that at the other end of that long highway is grandma’s house and all the good food she’s preparing.  Grandpa’s house, and that cozy spot next to him, out on the front porch. 

Brother and sisters, have you lost sight of the goal for your life as a Christian?  Before we go on, maybe we should ask, ‘What is the goal?’  ‘What is on the other end of that marathon track, awaiting all who endure?’

Before we examine the three reminders to endure, maybe we should search out whether or not it’s worth it.  What is awaiting those who don’t quit, who don’t lose heart, who don’t walk away when the going gets hard and long and grueling?  Hebrews 12:4-9 – We don’t have time to read that portion in its entirety, but you look it over, you examine it, and what will you find?  You will discover that more of God’s love, a greater understanding and confirmation of the fact that you are God’s child awaits you at the other end. 

Hebrews 12:5-7, “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.”  If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?”
Endurance.  Yes, patiently, steadfastly, bearing up on that long, long road.  It’s worth it.  Every child the Lord loves, must pass this way, must go through this process of chastening.  Speaking of chastening, correcting, disciplining, God’s long and difficult, purifying work in our lives.  We must endure it also.  Why?  That painful process is worth it also…  How come? 

Hebrews 12:10-11 – “God chastens us for our profit that we may be partakers of His holiness… [God allows hard, painful trials into our lives, not because He gets some sadistic thrill out of it!  No!  But because a harvest is in mind…]  [He intends for these thing to] yield [in us] the peaceable fruit of righteousness [as we allow Him to train us by them].” 

What is at the other end of the line?  The Bible talks a lot about enduring and endurance.  But what awaits us, if we do?  And, is it worth it? 

At the end of the 500 miles road trip my mother and dad, and sister and brother and I would take every summer when I was a kid, were the homes, and gardens and farms and food we would always enjoy at grandma and grandpa’s house in Arkansas, and in Kansas.  And though, my sister and brother and I, got tired of looking out the back window of the car, and surely, mom and dad got tired of answering our incessant ‘When are we going get there?’ questions – it was worth it!  Believe me, it was worth it! 

But, what about this life-long race, stretched out over decades that goes with being a Christian?  Is it worth it?  Is what awaits us worth the effort, the blood, the sweat, and even the tears?  The Israelites of Moses’ day, sad-to-say, almost all of them didn’t think it was worth it.  Remember the accounts over in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy?  ‘Moses, take us back!  We want to go back to Egypt, at least there we had plenty to eat and drink!’  Take a look at Hebrews 12:18-21.  The Israelites of Moses’ day, almost all of whom did not make it to the goal, never arrived in the promised-land, they couldn’t – maybe, more accurately, they wouldn’t – see past obstacles like the Red Sea, and 40 day lay-overs like Mount Sinai, and so, where did they end up?  It’s a hard lesson, a brutal realization that underscores the absolute importance of endurance.  Virtually all of those ancient Israelites, including Moses, ended up dead and buried, BEFORE they ever got to see the Jordan River, or cross over it into the Promised-Land. 

But, my loved ones, look what awaits us, look at what is at the other end of the race, just beyond the finish line!!  Hebrews 12:22ff – The real Mount Zion, the eternal, heavenly city of the living God, an innumerable company of angels, the general assembly and church of the first born made up of those who are registered in heaven’s book, the Book of Life, God, the Judge of all the spirits of righteous men and women made perfect.  And, best of all, look Who’s there to receive us:  verse 24 – Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and His sprinkled, shed blood that speaks better things, lasting, eternal things, than even the blood of righteous Abel. 

Endurance, laying aside hindering weights and besetting sins, endurance, resisting those who oppose the things of Christ AND resisting the temptation to listen to them and become weary, discouraged quitters.  What makes going through all of that worth it?  Can you help me?  All I can see is the trouble, the frustration and the pain!  Ever been to the cemetery, to lay a loved one to rest?  I made a trip there last week with Peggy B. and her family.  Ever stepped into an Intensive Care Unit, and walked up to the bedside of a dear one whose life was being sustained by tubes and pumps and ivies everywhere?  I’ve been there a bunch recently!  Ever been to a place like Joplin, Missouri was and is, after the terrible tornado that struck that city 10 months ago?

All three of those places, the cemetery, the I.C.U. unit, and the rubble of a tornado-ravaged city, all three of those places are a part of a kingdom, a domain that can be shaken!  A realm that can and will ultimately come tumbling down.  But what of those who patiently, steadfastly build their homes, their LIVES, not on shifting sand, but the Rock, the Lord Jesus Christ?  Is it worth it?  Remember Jesus’ parable in Matthew 7 and Luke 6?  Building on sand, just laying out your framework, putting up the walls, and the roof, setting in the doors and windows, without having to do all the slow and difficult dirt-work to lay a solid foundation.  Building on SAND, is so much easier!  And quicker!  But, what happens to your home, your life, set up on that sandy foundation, as it is, when a level 4 or 5 tornado hits it?!  Endurance, patiently, steadfastly, digging down-down-down, till you reach bed-rock, setting your forms, pouring your footers and piers, laying that solid-rock foundation.  It takes time, it takes effort, it takes sacrifice and sweat.  Is it worth it? 

Hebrews 12:28 – What kind of kingdom awaits those who endure?  A trip to the cemetery kind of kingdom?  A stay in the I.C.U. unit kind of kingdom?  A Joplin, Missouri tornado-rubble kind of kingdom? No!  Praise God, no!  Those who, by God’s grace and by God’s power, endure, all the way to the end, receive a kingdom, look at it!  They receive, we receive if we endure, a “kingdom that cannot be shaken…” 

Endurance – Is it worth it?  Hebrews 12:1-3, ask the winners…  Yes, ask the folks like Abel and Enoch and Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and Moses.  Ask them, that great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, cheering us on to the finish line, that group of Old Testament heroes listed in Hebrews 11, who themselves endured hardships and heart-aches as they ran the race and reached for the goal, ask them, “Is it worth it?”  Then, what?

Hebrews 12:2 – Then, ask Jesus.  Ask Him, “Is it worth it, WAS it worth it, what You endured for me, for us, at Calvary?”  Ask Jesus, and what will He tell you?  “I endured the cross, I despised the shame” of that ugly and cruel death, I did that, went through all of that – why?  “For the joy set before Me…”  “For the joy of sitting down at the right hand of God in heaven, knowing that I had done, completely, willingly and obediently, all that He sent Me to do…”  “For the joy of making the way by My shed blood for many other sons and daughters to sit down in My Father’s heavenly throne room with Me…”  “For the joy of defeating once and for all that dark, discouraging enemy of every runner’s soul.  “Ask Me,” Jesus says, “and I’ll tell, I’ll shout for you: ‘IT WAS WORTH IT to endure the cross!  It was!”

Look at the winners, look at Jesus.  Then what?  Look at yourself, look at what’s preventing you, hindering you, from enduring, running all the way to the end, compared to what awaits you, compared to all of that, wouldn’t it be worth it to lay aside everything, EVERY-THING that hinders you, and, especially the sinful habits that beset us, to run, to endure, to WIN? 

Would it be worth it?  “Therefore strengthen your hands, hanging down (so limp and lifeless) and strengthen your feeble knees, make straight paths for your feet…”  Yes, “Consider Jesus, think deeply, meditate long and hard on who He is and what He went through, so that you will not become weary and discouraged in your souls.” 

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