June 27, 2017

June 11, 2017 - Confirmation Sunday

Build Your Endurance with Strength and Understanding
1. Recognize Your Weaknesses
2. Trust God’s Power

I think that most of the adults here wish that they had the energy they had when they were younger. I think most young people here wish that they had the respect or independence that older people have. What we may not think of is that there is a connection between strength and understanding. It is true that young people generally have more strength or energy, and older people usually have more understanding or wisdom. The key to a successful life is finding the balance between both and using each gift appropriately.

Most youthful energy is wasted on foolish pursuits or not appreciated until it is gone. And most adults lack strength simply because it fades with time. I look back on some of the things I used to be able to do and I wish I still had the same energy. I wish I could run around outside all day during the summer and fall asleep immediately at night for 10 hours straight. I wish I didn’t have to drink a cup or two of coffee in order to feel like I can function in the morning. I wish I could spend a summer’s day shingling a house and then play softball or basketball with my friends in the evening. That would be a tough task nowadays. Many of the adults probably have similar memories; many of the kids are probably thinking, “What are you talking about?”

The thing is, when it comes to strength, you can build your endurance by being smarter at how you approach the task. You can apply understanding. This is how a person grows. Think about it in terms of exercise. As a really young kid, I used to think that running around the outside of the house was a far distance. As I grew I started to realize that it wasn’t a big deal, running 4 laps around the track for PE was a much harder task. That was a piece of cake, though, once I entered Cross Country in high school. Then I was running miles every day. Each race was 3.1 miles. That was a long distance. Then college came and I played basketball. When training in the fall we had two-a days, which are exactly what they sound like that. We would have two training sessions, 2 hours each, each day for 3-4 weeks. The first shift was 6-8 am, then 4-6 pm. I thought I knew exhaustion in Cross Country, and I found out I knew nothing. Life comes into perspective a bit more when while running hill charges you see your friends vomiting up their breakfast. But, as it turns out, I still hadn’t learned everything about endurance, for I’ve never been more exhausted then when I ran a full marathon at age 26.

No matter how exhausted a person is, there’s usually another level that they’ve never felt. A marathon is a lot, but not more than a doctor who works every day for a month straight, or a Navy Seal who trains without sleeping for an entire week, or a mother who spends 36 hours or more in labor. The point is, we learn as we grow. We get stronger through trials. What once seemed impossible to us we look back on years after as simple. This is endurance. The same holds true for spiritual growth. God builds endurance through strength and understanding. Think of it as applying wisdom with ability. We study this truth today from Isaiah 40:25-31:   

"To whom then will you liken Me, Or to whom shall I be equal?" says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high, And see who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, By the greatness of His might And the strength of His power; Not one is missing. 27 Why do you say, O Jacob, And speak, O Israel: "My way is hidden from the LORD, And my just claim is passed over by my God "? 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, 31 But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.

Part 1: Recognize Your Weaknesses

When considering goals and obstacles in life, we immediately think that big problems are too much for us to handle. Exercise certainly fits this. Others examples come to mind too. Learning how to swim, how to ride a bike. Even something as simple as potty training for toddler. These all seem like next-to impossible tasks in the moment. Yet, once we learn, we hardly remember the great struggle. These skills become habits and second nature.

It’s usually the opposite way when it comes to God, and especially how He works in our lives. As Isaiah writes, so we believe. God is all-powerful. He has no equal. He can do anything. Because of this, the Christian doesn’t usually doubt God’s ability to do anything, they doubt God’s desire to do it for me. Verse 27 states, Why do you say, O Jacob, And speak, O Israel: "My way is hidden from the LORD, And my just claim is passed over by my God "? Doesn’t that perfectly summarize one of the great logical conundrums that smacks us directly in the face day after day. If God can do anything, why doesn’t He do everything I need right when I need it? Why does He pass over my problems?

A lot of answers float to the surface of the discussion, most of them from the cess-pool of the sinful human nature. Some say, God’s got too much going on to concern Himself with your life. Don’t you know that there’s poverty, hunger, crime, disease and more throughout the world? What could God care about your 1st world problems? Others say, once you help yourself, God will help you. He wants you to show a little initiative. You can’t expect Him to do everything. You need to prove yourself worthy. Still others say God is only an idea that helps direct your moral beliefs. You can’t ever take Him at His word, nor should you ever try to convert anyone to Christ. Keep your Christian faith just so  long as you keep it to yourself. The world’s answers all come down to three options. Either God doesn’t care, wants you to do something, or doesn’t even exist. A lot of hope there right?

The Bible’s answer is entirely different. It says, if you struggle in your spiritual endurance, or in understanding something about God, recognize first and foremost your weaknesses. The world never wants to look inward, but that’s exactly what God tells us to do. Because once you recognize, you can repent. One Christian writer used this illustration about the sin of bitterness. He said the world has two options for bitterness. Keep it in and poison yourself. Or spread it around and poison others. God says repent. Think of yourself as a cup. You can be filled with either bitter water or sweet water. The tribulations of life, the tests from God, jolt you. They shake the cup and either bitterness or sweetness flows out. You see, the problem is not with the test. Everyone gets jolted in life. The cup can’t point at others or God and say, “it’s your fault that bitterness came out.” Tribulation only brings out what is already in the container. When others sin against you, no matter how grievous and unwarranted it may be, it will never corrupt you unless you allow it to. God says, spill out the sweetness of the Gospel in the moment of trial and others will be blessed through it.

Likewise, God uses repentance to give you endurance. Isaiah’s words are simple and true. God has no equal, that includes you and me. In addition to that, we are weak and faint on our own. We need help. There is a freedom from repentance in Christ because it replaces our weakness with His power and gives us the strength that is equal to God’s, Who has no equals.

Part 2: Trust God’s Power

Here’s where it gets though, because repentance demands humility and trust. If we don’t understand everything on our own, we need to follow someone who does. If we aren’t strong enough for the journey we need to be carried by someone who is. In every stage of endurance training or learning, you have to trust. The kid learning to ride without training wheels has to trust mom and dad; that they’ll hold the back of the seat, that they can actually balance enough to stay up, that it’s actually possible. The college grad needs to trust that maturity pays off over cutting corners; that eventually you can get that job to support yourself and begin a family, that the mortgage, however daunting it may be, will eventually be paid off with persistence. 

The world often tells us that trust is unique to religions, but in reality it is at the very core what it means to be human. Every person trusts, even if they are too insecure in that trust to actually admit it. But, the real thing that makes trust difficult, especially with God, is that when combined with repentance it means change. Our text says that very thing, 31 But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. We often read this verse and think of the grand splendor of soaring like an eagle, but the actual Hebrew word for “renew” means to change.

Most people want God’s blessings without the change of repentance, but that’s not the way it works. They say, Christianity is good and useful because it fills me with hope through beautiful imagery like eagles’ wings and running without being tired, and Christ’s power, and love, and acceptance of everyone, and the hope of a utopia here on earth. My friends, that’s the great lie of our culture and nothing short of idolatry and the worst hypocrisy of taking the name of Christ.

Christianity is useful because it changes sinners. Jesus didn’t die under the weight of His Father’s justice because all we needed was a better feeling in our hearts and more hope for a better society. Talk about passing over a truly just claim! Jesus died because all people were infected with a deadly disease; an incurable one. A condemning rift existed between God and His highest creation. Change was needed and that change came about through a cross. That’s why the Pentecost Church said this about the way to salvation, “Repent therefore and be converted (changed), that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19).”

Friends, change and trust go hand in hand and they are abundantly difficult for sinners like us. But, we learn. We grow. We endure through Christ and with Godly endurance comes greater understanding. In Christ, we have access to God’s very own ‘no-equals’ understanding. This is a very blessed gift indeed for it means more than just IQ or knowledge about the truths of God. It also means understanding in character, in the quality of my thoughts, words, and actions. This is God’s gift of grace to you through Christ Jesus. It is the pinnacle of the struggles, tribulations, and tests you endure in life. It is the mark of a mature believer. It is the blessed product of faith. But, to have it you must be changed. Converted in the heart by the Holy Spirit. Assured of the eternal promises of God but also renewed with a burning desire to resist sin and follow the truth in humility.  

If we agree with or support the false philosophies of the world which tell us repentance is cruel and archaic and threaten us to be Christians who are neither seen nor heard in society then we are not enduring, we are regressing. Peter forcefully spoke about this very thing saying, 2 Peter 2:20-22 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: "A dog returns to his own vomit," and, "a sow, having washed, [returns] to her wallowing in the mire.”

Brothers and sisters, young and old, and especially dear Yanet and Brendan. We are about our heavenly Father’s business of the Gospel and that is a pursuit of understanding and endurance, not regression to the former ways. Don’t return to the world’s moral vomit. Don’t wash in the muck and mire of your sinful flesh. Rather, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” It’s an uncommon path for many people. It runs contrary to modern thinking. It takes the combination of strength and understanding applied together – the qualities of youth and age. And, most daunting of all, it means you must daily change through repentance.

This is an intimidating thing and not to be taken lightly. But, it’s not just tough for you, it’s absolutely terrifying to Satan. He hates to see people who have been changed. Because that’s about more than just self-denial and Godly restraint. It also means you are blessed with the strength of God. It means you are raised as on eagles’ wings. It means you are washed by the blood of the Lamb. It means you feed on the living and active Word of God. Satan rages in terror against such change. He stops at nothing to impede it in your life, even if that means tempting you to be afraid of it yourself.

Don’t give in. Don’t regress. Build your endurance with the strength of Christ and the understanding of the Holy Spirit. May your lifetime be one of continual reflection on the grace of God, seeing with clarity and humility everything He has brought you through which you were too weak on your own to face and looking forward with joyful hope to the life of no tears, sorrow, pain, or death. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Preached at Redemption, 6-11-17    

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