Sorry about the delay. I had a wonderful time in first service and then being with our brothers and sisters over at Northwest. To be able to do that live on this special day was a real privilege. One other praise I wanted to share with you before we get going, and that is on Friday night we were able to host the international dinner for college students from around the world. We had students from Saudi Arabia, China, India, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, many others, atheists — all gathering together for a Thanksgiving meal that our people put on. And there were about over 100 of you who cooked and served and cleaned and loved in so many different ways. And I just want to give God the glory. It was such a joy to see everyone come together to pull this off in such a joy-filled and stressless way. It really was a magical evening. And to watch the host families with the students having these great conversations throughout the night was a big, big blessing. Susan, my assistant, organized so much, and Kirsten and Sandy and Daren, and I could just go on and on. I love watching the body of Christ come together to do these things, and you people do it like no other people. It just makes my heart so full.
This morning the message is going to be a little different because we’re not going to land just on one passage. We’re actually going to step back on this, our 28th anniversary, and talk about the subject of endurance. I’m going to spend probably almost half the message talking about why — why talk about this on an anniversary? Then the second half is just going to be exploring some key ideas of endurance that I pray will meet us right where we are. Because really, churches don’t endure, Christians endure so that churches can endure. Christians are the church. As Christians endure, healthy churches endure.
Why talk about endurance on our 28th anniversary? Here are a few ideas. One, it can feel, this year can feel like many are giving up. This year a number of high profile leaders stepped down, and many ministries altered their beliefs in order to adjust to our culture. I realize this is always happening, but it does seem to be on the rise.
Number two, big questions. I have had more young people ask me questions about endurance this year than I can remember in any other year. How do you go the distance? How do you maintain a relationship with Jesus that endures? How do we not just start well but end well? How do you not get discouraged when you look around, and others are failing or falling or giving up? How do you keep going? And even those who are coming to Christ, not just this year, but I’ve had many say, “If I become a Christian, how do I know I can stay a Christian?” Great question. Big questions.
Third, we should talk about endurance because there are a lot of unbiblical views about endurance. I consistently hear and read views of Christian endurance that are unhelpful, if not unbiblical. Many Christians fly from one extreme to the other. You have a frantic, kind of a legalistic, muscle-your-way-through endurance and then on the other side you have a static, Jesus saved you, once saved always saved, go limp and do nothing and enjoy the ride. Both are unbiblical. A spiritual passivity and a frantic legalism do not seem to correspond with what the Scriptures say.
Let me give you an example. Andrew Farley, in his new book that just came out this year called “Twisted Scripture: Untangling 45 Lies Christians Have Been Told,” explains in lie number 9:
“You only remain saved as long as you ‘keep the faith.’”
He’s saying this is a lie. And depending on how you read it, it is, right? You can read this; you only remain saved as long as you keep the faith. In other words, you can lose your faith and still remain saved. Huh? No, he would push back against that. You can’t lose your faith. He’s right about that. True believers are secure. But what he fails to do in lie number 9, as he does many times throughout the book, is to look honestly at what the Scriptures as a whole are saying.
Let me give you an example. He refutes lie number 9 by going to Colossians 1:22, starts in the second half. We’ll put it on the screen.
“In order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.”
Now what Farley does is he goes on to explain,
“Without proper context, these ‘continue’ and ‘hold fast’ passages can strike fear in the mind of a believer. We imagine Paul is referring to life after receiving Christ. Maybe we think he’s implying we must continue or hold on tightly in order to remain saved. However, we know this just isn’t true.” (He says.)
Then he explains Colossians 1 by rightly saying that the process of coming to Christ is a process. It sometimes takes time for people to come to Christ. The people in Colossians 1 (according to Farley) have not come to Christ, but they need to continue to hear so that they will eventually come to Christ. He’s arguing the reason Paul says “continue in the faith” is because they haven’t believed yet, because he wouldn’t say that to Christians, because they have to continue in the faith because they can’t lose their faith. Now this is a creative interpretation, but it misses the point Paul is making.
Let me show you the fuller context, Colossians 1:21, the whole verse.
“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he [Jesus] has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.”
Now notice the tension.
“You, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he [Jesus] has now reconciled.”
That sounds like a what? A Christian. You were this, you’re now this.
“He has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if you continue in the faith.”
Do you feel the tension? He reconciles, he presents, you continue. That’s a tension. But I would argue that kind of tension is everywhere in the New Testament. And what Farley does is he tries to eliminate the tension. But frankly, you can’t live the Christian life without that tension. Think about it. God says he’ll provide for you. Then why do you have a job? God is sovereign. Why do you pray? God saves the lost. Why do you witness? You can go on and on. He promises to protect us. Why do you wear a seat belt? God promises to keep us. Why does he call us to endure? Perhaps the only way we can endure is because he keeps us. Let that soak in. He enables us to endure as he keeps us.
Number 4, the message of Revelation. If you’re just joining us you may wonder, “What is this about Revelation?” We’ve been studying the book of Revelation most of this year. We’ve covered 1-16. We’re taking a break now. We’ll come back to the book of Revelation and Lord willing finish in January. But one of the big themes of Revelation is endurance. One of the key words that you see appear throughout Revelation is the word “hupomone,” which is the main Greek word for endurance — a patient endurance, a perseverance — hupomone. Guess how many times … Think of what’s the magical number in Revelation. Guess how many times this word appears in Revelation? Thank you. Wow. That was amazing. A Greek scholar. Yeah, it occurs seven times. Chapter 1, verse 9, if you’ll look at that, 1:9. Revelation 1:9, this is the first appearance of this word hupomone.
“I, John, your brother and partner [This is the one who’s writing describing himself as a brother and one who shares together] in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient [There it is, patient endurance, one Greek word, two English], patient endurance that are in Jesus.”
John is sharing together as brother and partner in three things: tribulation, kingdom, patient endurance. This is like the opposite of the communication sandwich. Do they call it that? I don’t know. When you go to somebody and you have hard news, you’re supposed to start nice, and then deliver the hard news, and then end nice. Some of you don’t like that, yeah. The communication sandwich. This is the opposite.
He starts with tribulation, kingdom, patient endurance. And as Christians we can say, “Hey, I want to enjoy the kingdom with Jesus, but hold the tribulation and hold the patient endurance.” I don’t want those. I don’t like those. I want it now and I want it easy. And John is saying, “No, no, no. As your brother and as one who shares these things with you, you will find Jesus, even more specifically, you will experience the reign of Christ in the midst of tribulation and patience endurance.” That’s the message.
And if you say, “Well, I don’t want those things, I just want Jesus. I just want a crown; I don’t want a cross.” That’s an American Jesus. It’s not the real one. The real one went to the cross before receiving the crown. And he calls us, as his followers, to go the way he goes. And that’s why Paul prayed in Philippians 3:10,
“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
That’s why Acts 14:21, “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch [What were they doing? They were], strengthening the souls of the disciples [What did early Christian discipleship look like? What did they teach young Christians?], encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God.”
That was part of the early discipleship. Christians, do not be surprised when Jesus leads you through deep waters. It’s not broken. It’s actually working. He calls us through the cross to the crown and we experience his reign in the midst of the tribulation and the patient endurance. These are just a few reasons why it’s important for us to talk about this on our 28th anniversary.
Let’s try to press into a few conclusions. And what I’ve been praying is that the Spirit would speak very specifically to us, because there are some of you today, when it comes to endurance, you desperately need encouragement. You are weary, you are tired. You just want to collapse spiritually. There are others of you who are in a place of stubbornness or presumption, and you need a very different message. You need these warning passages that will snap you out of your lethargy and wake you up.
How do you, when you have hundreds of different people hearing the same Word, how do you hear what you need to hear? The Spirit speaks to our hearts, takes his Word and applies it specifically right where we are at, where we are. And please, Spirit, do that now in our hearts. Don’t try to get all of this. Say, “Spirit, show me what I need to hear, and let me receive it. I don’t want to hear someone else’s message. I want to hear what I need to hear.” Because again, if churches are going to endure, Christians must endure.
A couple of thoughts. Number 1, we are called to grow in truth and love. As we look back over 28 years of God’s faithfulness and look forward to 28 more years, we must grow in truth and love. Jesus promised in Matthew 24:10,
“Many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. [See what he’s saying here. Don’t be surprised when key leaders that you thought highly of bail.] And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Now he’s describing here a dual temptation — a temptation to give in and a temptation to grow cold. And I think it’s important for us to be aware of both. Because we learned when we were in Revelation 2, and you have two appearances of the word hupomone in Revelation 2:2, and the next verse, John commends the church at Ephesus,
“I know … your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil.”
He commends them. You’ve stood strong against false teaching. You’ve confronted false teaching, but you’ve lost your first love. And so, if we as a church are going to endure, we can’t just clench our fists and stand firm and angry, because we’re misrepresenting the gospel, right? But neither can we love and fold — a truthless love. God is calling us to grow in truth and love, to stand firm on what we must stand firm on and to do it with the love of Christ burning in our hearts. And that is vital for us to endure. And that is one of the reasons you’ll notice, if you look back 28 years … I was looking at some old pictures 28 years ago, me and my big glasses. Ugh! You look at a lot in our church has changed, and that can make people feel uneasy. They’re like, “OK, what’s going to change in the next 28 years?” And let me tell you, I hope a lot does. I’ll probably still have the same haircut that I had in first grade, but a lot of things should change. There are things culturally, stylistically, Romans 14 kind of things. You know what I mean by that? Things that Christians can agree to disagree on, those kinds of things we need to, out of love, be ready to change.
But there are things that cannot change. And over the last 28 years, our commitment to God’s Word and the truth of the gospel has not moved an inch. And it will, by his grace, not move. But part of growing in truth and love is knowing the difference. And Christians who to just get angry and are determined for things not to change end up refusing to change on the wrong things. You just died on the wrong hill! And then we end up not standing on things we need to stand on.
If we’re going to endure, we have to know the difference, and the way we know that is to bathe in the truth and love of Christ. He was full of grace and full of truth, and he will empower us as his people. Some of us need to hear that.
Number 2, we must not judge the mission by our moment. We must not judge the mission, what God is doing in the mission, by our moment. Let me show you an example of this. 2 Timothy 4:16, Paul stood trial alone.
“At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!”
Now imagine what it would have been like for Paul to stand on trial, a Roman court, on trial for being a Christian, alone. This is the most well-known Christian evangelist of the time and he is standing on trial for being Christian, and he is absolutely alone. If he were to judge the mission by his moment, in the flesh, he would have said, “Whoa! This Christianity thing is not going well. It is hanging by a thread, this meager little church. I can’t even get anybody to stand with me, and the Roman Empire has big scissors closing in on this thin thread.” In the flesh he could have said, “This isn’t going to last.” He could not have imagined … In the flesh he could not have imagined that hundreds and hundreds of Christians, just in one little local fellowship of believers, on the other side of the planet, 2000 years later would be crying out praise to King Jesus on the Lord’s day. He couldn’t have imagined this if he judged Christianity by that moment. Does that make sense? But today the Roman Empire is no more. The empire that seemed all powerful is no more. King Jesus is reigning supreme, and the church of Jesus Christ today around the world, is growing faster than it ever has. Don’t judge the mission by the moment.
Look where Paul goes next. 2 Timothy 4:17,
When “all deserted me,” instead of going with the flesh and judging the mission by the moment, “the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Even in a moment when he was all alone, his confidence was fully fixed on God’s ability to finish what he started.
Number 3, we need to receive warnings as enablings. Receive warnings as enablings. The New Testament is loaded with strong warnings, including warnings to endure. And when most readers read these warnings, like Farley illustrated, we’re tempted to ask, “Who is this for? Who is this warning for?” Well imagine you’re driving down the road. You’re on a mountain road, and you see a sign that says, “Sharp curve, cliff ahead, go slow.” Is your first question, “I wonder who that sign is for? It’s obviously for these wild drivers. I’m not a wild driver. I got an A in driver’s ed. I’m pretty safe. I can ignore that.” That would be unwise.
The first question you should ask when you see a warning is not who is it for, but what does it say? And so as Christians, when God gives a warning, our first question isn’t, “Oh, is that for Christians or non-Christians?” Our first question is, “What is God warning us of? And thank you for that warning.” This is the characteristic of a sheep. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” My sheep hear my voice. Sheep by definition hear warnings. Fake sheep imagine that the warning is for someone else. I hope that guy down the row hears that. I hope that other person, they hear that. No, no.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them [I know them], and they follow me.”
Then he goes on to give us massive amounts of assurance. Look what he says next in verse 28,
“I give them [John 10:28] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all [even the sheep itself. Greater than all.], and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
Do you see the tension there? My sheep listen, they follow, my Father’s got them, together. Receive the warnings as enablings.
Number 4, we cannot minimize the significance of healthy rhythms of grace, healthy rhythms of feeding on God’s grace. I know it can feel legalistic to pray before every meal — to fall on my face each morning and pray the Lord’s Prayer as I begin my day, to read the Bible, to pause throughout the day to work on reminding myself of a verse I’m memorizing, to give your body attention and rest, Sabbath, to attend worship each week — all of these can at times feel legalistic or ritualistic. And so can eating food every day multiple times a day like most of you do. And so can breathing 25,000 times a day. How legalistic is that? And if we’re trying to do these rhythms, these disciplines of grace, to impress God or earn salvation, then of course that’s raw legalism. But what if we practice these rhythms of God’s grace to live, to continue, to be strengthened, to fight lies? Every morning I have to get in his word and do battle with the lies bouncing in my head, the coldness seeping into my heart.
I want to challenge you. You notice a bunch of dots there in your notes. I’m not going to fill those in. You fill those in and talk about that with your life group. What are the rhythms of feeding on his grace that help you, that you do day after day, week after week, year after year? He empowers you to do those things. Each of us may have different ones, getting up in the morning and getting on our face. For me, journaling is really important because I’m a doer. I want to go on to the next thing. But to pause long enough to give thanks for yesterday for what he has done to energize me to do, for physical exercise. I’m exercising right now to Shane and Shane’s worship hymns. And let me tell you, when your body is exercising, and your mind and heart are soaring to Christ, and you’re screaming out in a place where no one can hear you, that is a refreshing experience. Prayer walks, scripture memory, whatever it is, this isn’t a list to try to impress God. But if we’re going to continue, we have got to have healthy rhythms of feeding on his grace.
And then number 5, we find our confidence in Jesus alone. I’ve talked to many Christians who battle with insecurity, who are utterly convinced that when you are God’s own, he will never let you go. But they wrestle with the question, “How do I know I’m his own?” I know the elect will never be damned, but how do I know I’m one of those, whatever that is?
Spurgeon, the 19th century preacher, wrestled with this question. He actually quotes the curious soul when he says,
“‘I want to know first whether I am elect,’ [and Spurgeon says] you ask you know not what. Go to Jesus, [Go to Jesus.] be you never so guilty, just as you are. Leave all curious inquiry of election alone. Go straight to Christ and hide in his wounds, and you will know your election. The assurance of the Holy Spirit shall be given to you, so that you shall be able to say, ‘I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed to him.’”
Amen? Go to Jesus. If right now your heart is cold, go to Jesus. If right now you’re fearful, “I don’t know where I stand.” Go to Jesus. He knows you way better than you know you. Go to Jesus.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [Let’s say together these next three words.] looking to Jesus, [Looking to Jesus.] the founder and perfecter of our faith, [the author, the finisher, the starter, the completer of our faith] who for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” The very next verse says, “Consider him [Consider him.] who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose, I will not, I will not, desert to his foes. That soul though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”
Let’s pray. Father, as we look back over 28 years, we see your faithfulness. You have not forsaken us. When we get caught up in ourselves, when we wrangle between and among ourselves, when we struggle to trust your Word, when we fail or fall, you will never forsake us. You are the reason we can endure. Because we are kept, we can keep on. We can receive the warnings, even the strong warnings, the Hebrews 10 kind of warnings. We can receive all of those warnings as grace gifts from our Father, full of empowering favor. Your grace is not a bucket of white paint just to wipe away our sin, which it is, but it is also fueling favor that energizes us, reorients us, and fills us with your Spirit of discernment. Lord, as we have been praying, please take this word which touches on so many different things and apply it very specifically to each of our hearts. As we get to take today to slow down and look back and look forward and praise you, we ask that your Spirit would do a very specific work in our hearts. For those who don’t know you, that this would be a day of looking to Jesus and trusting, believing in the death, burial, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For those who know you, and their hearts are weary, this would be an energizing boost of encouragement. For those who are presumptuous and have grown lethargic, that this would be a wake up call. As we worship you, we’re receiving these grace gifts from your hand. In Jesus’s name, amen.