Thursday, October 9, 2008

Perseverance (upcoming Sunday message)

The American collective memory of the Great Depression (1929 to at least 1939, probably longer) has greatly diminished. We may remember a story or two told by grandparents, we heard bits & pieces during school, and there have been recent reminders as our economy has struggled. We scarcely remember:

- Stock market crash of 87% over three years, including loss of money five times the Federal budget in one week
- 15-25% unemployment
- Manufacturing production decrease of 45% from 1929 to 1932
- Homebuilding dropping 80% during the same time frame
- 5,000+ banks closing
- 80% of all income earners drop off the tax rolls completely
- Price of wheat declining nearly $2.00 per bushel to $.25
- Storms creating the Great Plains Dust Bowl, grasshoppers devouring all vegetation in their path, brutal temperatures, numerous (illegal) abortions & suicides as people lost hope.

Perhaps a short story from one family will help illustrate this: “My dad, Bob Holland, was born at the height of the depression, in 1933. His dad was a printer in the midwest. After years of poor harvests coupled with the dismal economy, my grandfather could no longer support a family of five when there was just no printing work left in his small town. The Hollands loaded up whatever they could pack, and set off in a Ford Model T to find work. At some point during the journey, the car broke down, literally in the middle of no where. The family picked what they could carry out of the car and began walking - never to see their car or their belongings again. They came upon a farm worked by a Native American family. The Hollands were allowed to sleep in the barn with the animals in the hay, milk the cow and pick vegetables from the garden. Leaving his wife, infant son and two daughters, my grandfather continued his walk for work. During his absence, my grandmother cleaned laundry in a huge iron pot over an open fire. When some long-forgotten illness restricted her ability to walk, she dragged herself through the garden on her elbows to gather food for her children. In those days, telephone were few and far between across the Great Plains, and months elapsed with no word or money from my grandfather. The coming winter was a serious concern as they considered the threat of living in the unheated barn. As fall approached, the story continues that my grandfather returned in a borrowed car. He had walked, hitchhiked and ridden the rails until he secured a job, saving every penny to finally rent a place for his family.”

Today many of the media and economic “prophets” are anticipating another depression, or at least a severe recession. They couild be right, they might be wrong. Their words produce discomfort, anxiety, fear. What can be done? Will economic bailout programs solve the situation, or make it worse (we still haven’t solved that question looking back at the Great Depression!)?

Frankly, Americans Christians face a number of national situations outside of our individual abilities to solve - abortion, breakdown of the family, crime rates that have filled our prisons, a post-Christian culture that often views us as irrelevant, a philosophy of science & life (evolution) that seeks to exclude our faith, natural resource problems – I won’t even try to name every difficulty. Tough times will come. Some will impact us, our family, our friends. What can we do? We are urged to vote our values, which is good (although I would urge you not to put intense hopes in any one candidate or party); we are urged to pray, which is better; let me urge you another way today: we can persevere.

What is perseverance? Dictionary definitions include: doggedness, persistent determination, steady and continued action or belief over a long period and despite difficulties or setbacks.

Following Jesus, living a life of discipleship, requires perseverance. As Eugene Peterson puts it, we need “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”. Let’s see what the Scriptures have to say.

Perseverance is key to character development (Romans 5:1-5, James 1:2-4, Hebrews 12:1-6)

- Romans 5 teaches us that God has saved us, now He wants to develop us. To do so, He allows and/or causes suffering and trials, which produce perseverance (if we’ll cooperate with the process), developing our character and hope. Our natural hope in circumstances, resources and people is gradually replaced by hope based in Him and His promises alone.

- James 1 teaches us that tough circumstances test our faith. If we allow perseverance to finish its work, we will become mature and complete, not lacking anything we need for our faith walk.

- Hebrews 12 assures that it’s best to treat tough times as discipline, as God training and correcting us, as a father does his children. An attitude of perseverance is key here, because we can walk away.

Perseverance is key to effectiveness and rewards (Luke 8: 8& 15, Hebrews 10:35-39)

- Remember the Sower & Seed parable? Remember the last seed that fell on good soil? Luke 8 refers to this – if we hear God’s word, retain it in our heart, and persevere in obeying it, we will eventually see a crop. There are no shortcuts to effective ministry for the Lord, we must persevere through tough times and failures (our own and others’). Also, we must not forget that difficult times separated the fruitful groups from the non-fruitful (and perhaps believers from unbelievers).

- Tough times can rattle our confidence. The writer in Hebrews 10 encourages us not to lose our confidence, rather, persevere in doing good so that His promised rewards will come. After all, Christ could return at any time – or He will bring us home through death – we only have to hang on a little longer (from His perspective, for us it may feel a lot longer). I love the note at the end of the passage: we are not those who shrink back, those who are true believers will persevere.

Perseverance is key to keeping our and others’ faith (I Timothy 4:16)

- We often think that a loss of faith comes through worldly influences and situations. We wring our hands over our grown and not-so-grown children, wanting to save them from people and teaching that could lead them astray. But these are secondary causes. I would submit to you that many more “faith failures” are due to a lack of diligence on the person’s part, that instead of watching their faith and life closely, instead of persevering, they began to drift away – and something else will fill that hole.

- Paul is careful to remind Timothy, and us through him, that our lack of perseverance can certainly affect others. Personally I find this very sobering.

Perseverance is key to making it through tough times

- I had an opportunity to read a number of people’s Great Depression stories this week. Almost invariably attitude was the key to their survival, their flourishing in difficult circumstances. I hear the same thing as I talk with a number of you. An attitude of “God is faithful, He will bring me through this, I can hang on” works so much better than complaining – finding fault with others – worrying – fear – anger – and all the other human responses we’re tempted with.

- Persevere. Don’t hear me wrongly, I’m not saying “grin and bear it”, or “shut up and handle it”, but commit to following the Lord through your difficult circumstances, commit to allowing Him all the space He needs to develop your character, commit to following His calling and will for you all the way to fruitfulness, commit to keeping your faith and walk with the Lord fresh. Persevere.

- 2 Thessalonians 3:5 states this blessing, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” May it be so for you.

1 comment:

Qtpies7 said...

I heard this was the best sermon a couple of people have ever heard from you. They loved it! I wish I had been there. I will have to get the video.