Monthly Archives: September 2016

By Faith – Pleasing God

Peninsula Community Church

By Faith – Pleasing God

September 19, 2016

Hebrews 11:5-6 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Genesis 5:18-24 When Jared had lived 162 years he fathered Enoch. Jared lived after he fathered Enoch 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Jared were 962 years, and he died. When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.

Today, we move to the next exhibit in the hall of fame of faith. It is an interesting story as there is not much of a story to tell and yet we find Enoch listed in the Hall of Fame of Faith. His testimony is that he walked by faith. Enoch’s story was not one that would have made the cover of the front page of the newspaper nor would there have been a entry in the society page of the day. In fact, little is known about him. What we do know is included in the passages we read above as well as the Book of Jude which we will consider in a few moments. The one known fact is that Enoch walked with God and God took him. He was also commended for pleasing God. It could be said of Enoch that he had a genuine personal relationship with the one true God like no one else. It is amazing to me that while there is little or no history of Enoch, God thought enough of him that he was included in the Hall of Fame of Faith. That is amazing.

While there is not much written about Enoch, here is what we do know from the little we have. Enoch lived during a time that faith in God was not popular. People had turned from God and were doing what was right in their own eyes and not what was right in the sight of God. Even with this, Enoch managed to stay the course and he live righteously before God. In fact he did so for more than 300 years. So many of us struggle to live day-to-day and year-to-year but the Bible tells us that he lived a righteous life for 300 years.

We know the condition of the society in which he lived and the role he played in that society in part because of Jude 14-16. Jude had this to said about Enoch. It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.

From this passage, we find that Enoch was a prophetic voice for that time. When I think of Enoch I think of a modern day Franklin Graham who is a prophetic voice in our day. Enoch’s ministry was one of warning his society and those around him that the Lord was about to execute judgment upon the land. While he issued a warning you also see his message being seasoned with grace in that he noted that God would convict all of the ungodly sinners. In other words, God would give them a chance to repent and change. That is always God’s mode of operation. He warns us and gives us a chance to repent and change.

In considering Enoch’s life, let me give you four lessons that are learned from Enoch’s life. First, he walked by faith. This is evidenced by the fact that Scripture tells us in Hebrews that by faith Enoch walked with God. It is noteworthy that Enoch’s faith was founded on the confidence he had in God and not what was evidenced by society. He put his trust in God’s word and promises. You see as believers our faith must also be in God and not what we see in society or in the circumstance of our life. Remember we said a couple of weeks ago that faith is the evidence of things not seen and the substance of things hoped for. Enoch’s faith was in God. He trusted God for what was not seen. What was seen was a failing, hopeless society but by faith Enoch saw God and He believed God for change.

Because of his faith, Enoch remained strong even though the world around him was crumbling and was going to hell in a hand basket so to speak. Even though it appeared his message was not being heard he remained strong and he remained vigilant to preach a message of grace and truth. He looked beyond the reality of the moment to see with eyes of faith that God was up to something. He looked beyond what he saw in the here and now and he saw a new day coming.

Spiritual darkness was all around him but he did not give up nor did he give in. In the midst of the ungodly generation in which he lived he would go against the establishment of the day and would go against the status quo of the society. He would live differently. He would live by faith. He would please God with his life.

Why was faith so important to Enoch? It is because it takes faith to please God. We have read already that without faith it is impossible to please God. Listen to this, we only please that which we trust and have confidence in. Where did Enoch’s faith lie? It was founded in the fact that he believed and trusted the one true God. He did not trust his circumstances. He did not trust what he saw in the society. He did not trust his family’s past. He trusted God. I need to ask you, today, do you trust God? Do you give Him your life each day because you know He can do a better job of handling things than you can? Do you trust Him when everyone else seems to be headed in a different direction than you? That is faith and it is by faith that we please God.

A second lesson for us today is that he sought God because he knew that God rewards those that seek Him. Our passage today tells us that without faith it is impossible to please him but it also states that for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Notice here that the passage tells us that he believed that God existed. That is the base line of all of our faith and existence as a believer in Christ. If we do not believe that He exists why would we even seek Him. It has been said that as believers we often live like Christians in the church but we live like atheists the rest of the time. The point being made is that we can profess Christianity and yet not live like we believe the truth we say we hold to.

Enoch sought God and because of that he was rewarded as a trusted follower of God. It is noteworthy that Jesus himself commanded His disciples to seek first the Kingdom of God. In Matthew 6:30-33 listen to Jesus’ own words. O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

We see that Jesus begins with pointing out they had little faith. Why is that? It is because it takes great faith to seek God first when our world is being turned upside down. In the case of the disciples they were overly concerned about the provision of clothes, meals, houses, and so on in their life. What Jesus was saying is that if you seek me. If you put me first, all of these things will be given to you and more. When we seek God, because we trust Him and believe in Him, then God will reward us by giving us all that we need and all that we require to live faithful lives.

What was Enoch’s reward? His reward was that He walked with God and God took him. For so many people this creates an environment where their are more questions than there are answers. Did Enoch just disappear? Did he walk into the woods or the desert and was never seen again? Was he transported into heaven like a scene from Star Trek? The fact is we do not know. We just know that he walked with God and God took him. That was his reward.

Thirdly, by faith he impacted generations to come which was an added reward. While the society in which he lived seemed to be lost and without hope he was incredibly effective in reaching the generations to come. The truth is that I am not sure that he was even aware that he was effecting the next generation. I think he was simply obedient to what God called him to do. God rewarded him by transforming the generations that were to follow. How do I know that? Well Enoch’s son and great grandson were a testimony to this fact. Remember Methuselah. He lived to be 969 years old (Genesis 5:27). Greater yet was Enoch’s great grandson Noah (Genesis 5:29).

All of us have heard of Noah, even if it has only been by way of the movie “Evan Almighty.” It was Noah who found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8-9). It was Noah who God chose to do the impossible and to do the extraordinary. He was called to build a boat that would hold a representative from every species known to mankind in that day. Even more amazing is that he was to build a boat because a flood was coming when there had been no significant rain fall in the land since the creation of the earth. Because of the faith and testimony of Enoch, Noah could stand tall against some amazing odds. Even though the world of the day thought he was crazy, he was obedient, I believe in large part, because of the influence of Enoch on his life.

Who are you influencing? Who are you making a difference in? You name may never be known or have any notoriety. You may always be in the background, but God sees you and that is what matters. How many remember man named Mordecai Ham? My guess is that there may only be a handful of people if any who will remember his name but how many know Billy Graham’s name? You see it was Mordecai Ham who preached to Billy Graham and Billy Graham came to Christ. We may never know who we are impacting so do not stop impacting lives for Christ.

And finally, we look to Enoch as an example of how we are to model our life. Do we live by faith? Do we truly believe that God is and because of that belief do we truly seek God? Do we put Him first in all that we do? Do we walk in righteousness? Are we effecting the next generation for Christ? I do not know your answers to these questions but they are relevant to us today. Enoch was not placed in the Hall of Fame of Faith by mistake. Enoch was placed there because of his faith and because of a life committed to God. That is God’s plan for us. He desires that we focus on Him and that we live a life filled with grace and power. May we accomplish that for His glory!

One final note. When we read the Genesis passage it is interesting to note that Enoch lived for 365 years. One year for every day of the year. He trusted God for all of those years. May we commit to live each day as a passionate follower of Christ who lives by faith and puts Him first in everything we do.

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Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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By Faith: A More Acceptable Sacrifice

Peninsula Community Church 

By Faith: A More Acceptable Sacrifice

September 18, 2016

Hebrews 11:4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.

This morning we will begin a journey through the hall of fame of faith where we will stand before each exhibit displayed to see what we can learn about each of these who have been enshrined here. When you visit a museum or an art gallery you will find adjacent to each exhibit a placard. On each placard is a bit of information about the person, place, or thing that is on display. The purpose of the placard is to tell you something about that exhibit and to explain why it is being included. We have this in Hebrews 11. It is noteworthy that the whole history is not on the placard but only a brief synopsis is given to intrigue us enough to study more and to get more information.

Today, we will look at what is actually the second exhibit in the hall of fame of faith. The first exhibit was the creation which we mentioned last week. As we approach the glass and peer into the exhibit, we find a depiction of the story of Cain and Abel. Through the glass we see a series of dioramas or vignettes. The first is of Cain and Abel bringing their offerings to God. The second is an enraged Cain with drawn knife ready to take Abel’s life, which he does. The third vignette is one where we see Abel reaching across the generations of time to communicate a much needed lesson about our worship to God. As you look next to the glass enclosure you will find inscribed these words. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.

As we read these words we find a couple of things that are important. First, by faith Abel offered a more acceptable offering to God. In contrast Cain offered an unacceptable offering to God. A second thing we see is that Abel’s offering was commended to him as righteous because God saw the righteousness of his heart. And finally, the passage tells us that Abel continues to speak a truth to us even today. So let’s look at the rest of the story. To do so we must go back in time to Genesis 4. It is here that we find the story of Cain and Abel.

As we read this story we find that Cain and Abel both brought their offering to God. They both were fulfilling their spiritual duty of the day. It was their expression of worship. In the modern vernacular they both attended the same church. They both gave in the offering. They both engaged in worship. They both sang the songs of the day. It is noteworthy that they both had a relationship with God. We see this in the fact that God communicated to Cain specifically and personally. But what made the difference? It is found in the fact that God knew their hearts. God knew the motivation of why they did what they did. We find that the focus of this passage is turned towards Cain whose heart was filled with anger, jealously, and pride. Rather than trying to change his heart he took knife in hand and killed his brother. He was not only mad at Abel but he was also mad at God. He took his anger of God and the current situation out on Abel.

To fully understand this we must understand why God accepted one offering and rejected the other. As you read the story in Genesis 4 Moses, who is the author, rolls back the curtain to reveal why Abel’s offering was acceptable and Cain’s was not. We find it in these words. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions (Genesis 4:3-4).  Notice a couple of things here. Cain in the course of time brought an offering. The idea that is presented in this passage is that God was not a priority. Cain brought the offering to God on his terms, not God’s. He waited to make sure that everything was going to be ok for him before he gave his offering.

Secondly, the passage states that Cain brought “an” offering to the Lord. The implication here is that Cain did not give God his best but he gave something in order to appease God and to let everyone know that he was giving his offering. His actions showed that he did not trust God for His provision but he in essence held back from God just in case. He held back and gave some of his harvest to God because he wanted to be sure he was taken care of first. This also speaks to a heart that did not trust God enough to give Him his best.

Now contrast Cain’s offering to that of Abel. We find that Abel gave the firstborn of his flock and he gave the fattest of the first born. This was a sign of respect and love. Notice that this was not a casual gift where he gave some but he gave his best. He carefully chose what he was going to give. Contrast this to Cain’s gift were he gave some of his harvest. This may not seem very significant to us but it was. In giving this offering Abel showed great faith. Abel’s life and sustenance was in his ability to raise live stock so that they could have clothes to wear and so he could sell his livestock to others around them for his living. By giving his first born there was no guarantee that he would have another birth that year and if he did he did not know how many he would have. That is why God let us into his heart by stating that by faith Abel gave his best. Abel gave what cost him the most. Abel gave his best because he trusted God with his future and he knew God would sustain him.

As we return the passage we read this morning the writer of Hebrews makes an astounding statement. He notes that although Abel is dead, he still speaks to us. He still has something to teach us and we have something to learn. His death serves to give us guidance, hope, and a new perspective. So what do we learn from all of this? Let me give you a couple of things this morning.

First, we must give God our best. We give Him our first fruits which is called a tithe. It is our first fruit of income. We give it first and we do not wait to see what is left over as Cain did. We give our first fruit, our best, because we trust God and do so by faith because we know that God will assist us and help us. He will prosper us and cause His blessing to shine upon us.

In the New Testament, we see into the heart of God on this matter of giving when Jesus tells his disciples the story of the woman with the two small copper coins which was worth about a penny. Listen to the words of Mark 12:41-44. And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

You see it is not the quantity of our gift to God it is the quality. As noted there were some who gave and they gave out of the abundance they had. Jesus said that her she gave all that she had. She exemplified a trust in God that was not seen in the lives of those who gave from their abundance. Now Jesus is not communicating that we should give everything we have to the church but He is communicating that we must consider the motivation of our hearts when we give. Are we giving some or we giving our best to God? And this heart motivation is not relegated to whether we are rich or we are poor. It effects us all.

This idea of giving our best not only relates to our giving of money but also the way we live our life. We must give God our best in everything we do. We must give Him our best on the job. We must give Him our best in our relationships. We must give Him our best in the way we treat others. We must give Him our best in the way we minster and use the gifts that God has given us. God wants our best and not our leftovers. The question here is are we giving God our best in everything we do. What about our time? What about our talents? What about our possessions? Are you giving your best?

Abel would also say that the way we give to God is often a barometer of where our heart is and how we will handle the other areas of our life. Because of Cain’s heart and mindset he gave some of his offering. He thought that he was doing all that he needed to do. The problem however is that he did not give God his best, he gave some. What God saw was a heart already in turmoil. The way he gave his gifts to God was simply an outworking of a heart that was in pain and was not in alignment with God’s will and purpose.

It is my opinion that the issue of the offering was not the first time that anger was raised against Abel. It is my guess that this was a culmination of years of jealously and hurt. His offering was only symbolic of the pain he felt and the spiritual condition of his heart. He gave some rather than his all. He was trying to appease God rather than worship God with a whole heart. Remember what Jesus stated. For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:43-45). Out of Cain’s heart he reacted negatively to God’s acceptance of the gift Abel gave and it ended badly.

Fourth, Abel would say do not refuse God’s grace. Notice in the Genesis 4 account. God gave Cain a chance to come clean and admit that He needed help. God spoke to Cain and told him that sin was crouching at his door. In essence, God was saying to Cain that He saw His heart and was giving him an opportunity to repent and walk in forgiveness. God saw that his heart was motivated by jealously and anger. The sad part is that Cain did not receive God’s grace but instead he refused it. He refused to take the steps necessary to bring change to his heart and his life.

So the question for us today as we stand before the exhibit of Cain and Abel’s life. Which one best exemplifies your life? Do you give your best to God because you recognize that God gave His best to you or do you hold back? Do you give Him your first fruits or you couching your bet and holding on to some just in case? Do you trust God with everything or do you hold tightly to the purse strings fearful that if you give too much to God you will not have enough for yourself?Your answers to these questions will give you an insight into your own heart. It will make a difference between a heart of faith and a heart of doubt and fear.

You see the world needs a lot more Abels and a lot less Cains. Cain was a grumpy, condemning, self-righteous, person while Abel was a faithful, cheerful, giving person. God honors the Abel lifestyle and yet at the same time he offers the Cains of this world an amazing grace and an amazing opportunity for change. It is our choice. Will you live as Cain did or will you take the grace of God and live like Abel? Give Him your best, He deserves it. Make the decision today to live in faith and give Him your best no matter the cost. It is well worth it.

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What is Faith?

Peninsula Community Church

What is Faith? 

September 8, 2016

Hebrews 11:1-2 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews has been called the hall of fame of faith. It has gained this title because of the focus it gives to those who have given themselves to God regardless of the issues they may have faced in life. When you visit a hall of fame there are those who are enshrined there because they have contributed to a certain field of study, a field of science, or they were successful in a particular sport or profession. In the case before us today, we find those enshrined here because of their faithfulness and their trust in the one true God.

By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit this chapter has been included in the Biblical text to remind us that we can also make it through until the end even when we face great odds and problems beyond our control. Last week, we noted that we have people watching our lives. We have those in our daily lives that we encounter and who see us every day. We also have a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us in death. It is this great cloud of witnesses that the writer of Hebrews is talking about. This is the hall of fame of faith. They are watching us and they are cheering us on in our exploits and our accomplishments for God. They are cheering us on when we fall short and we need special encouragement. How does this occur? It happens because we are challenged by their testimonies and their persistence to follow God whatever the cost.

I propose to you today that the thing that set them apart was their faith in Christ. The faith they possessed sustained and kept them through many different difficulties, adventures, and at time the unknown. You see none of these men were supermen in themselves. Each of them had faults and failures that could have negatively impacted them as a person and as one who was called by God. They were regular human beings who lived regular lives but each one was called with a supernatural calling for a supernatural task. You see they were ordinary men used for the extraordinary by an extraordinary God. The emphasis was on God and not them themselves. Their role was to exhibit faith and obedience to the call of God in their lives. They took the admonishment of Paul in Romans 1:16-17 seriously. “The righteous shall live by faith.”

But the question for us today is to understand why their faith was so important to them. Their faith was critical because it was the sustaining factor in their life. You see to have faith is to have complete trust or confidence in someone or something. As believers, our faith is in the one powerful amazing loving God we serve. You see it is not so much about faith itself as it is the person in or object of our faith. In fact, it is my belief that we can have more faith in faith than we do the one in which our faith is based. We become so concerned about the nuances of faith that we tend to focus on the act of believing itself so much that we forget that our faith is based in and focused on Christ and all that He has done. To understand faith the writer of Hebrews has attempted to clarify the role and purpose of faith in our life.

He begins by focusing us on what faith is. He says, faith is the substance of things hoped for. In other words, our complete trust and confidence in Christ becomes the foundational truth and basis of all that is to come. Faith is both forward looking but it is based in the evidence of what has been done in the past. There is a trust that is built and a security that is fashioned from a truth that the one in whom we place our trust and faith will guide us and keep us. He will not forsake us. Therefore, I can trust Him and have faith for the future.

We must recognize that faith is not about feeling good about ourselves nor is it an ideal that is subjected to our emotions and our erratic ways of thinking. It is based in truth. The fact is Christ died, He rose, and He is sitting at the right hand of the Father. He has promised us that He will be with us and we can take that to the bank. This is the problem with faith too often, however. We can teach faith as if it is some arbitrary concept floating in the heavens. Real faith authentic faith  is based on the reality and the truth that God is alive and that He is in control. Without Him there is no faith for the future. This is the value of trusting Christ.

It is for that reason that Paul made this incredible statement in 1 Corinthians 15:14-19. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Secondly, faith is the evidence of things not seen. How is faith the evidence of things not seen? It is in the relationship of knowing God and His ability to be faithful himself that causes us to trust in what we do not see and what we have been promised. This evidence moves me to do my part and then trust God for the rest. I trust Him, so I honor Him with my time and my faith. Rick Warren has noted the 80/20 rule of faith. If we do the 80% of what is clear he will show us the 20% that is unclear. The problem too often is that we focus on the 20% . We therefore become overly concerned with the 20% and we neglect the 80% we know.

We all have dreams and hopes. We want to see these things fulfilled and come to pass. My dream and vision is that this church will grow and become an influential part of this community. As we look round the room we see many empty seats and people who are missing. What Rick Warren is saying is that I can focus on what I do not see happening to the degree that I am stymied and frozen to do nothing when God is actually doing so much around us. Our faith is not based in what we might see but what we envision as each of us do our part to fulfill the 80% and then let God take care of the 20%.

That is why the writer of Hebrews states that without faith it is impossible to please God. The reality for us today is that we need to understand that our faith only resonates in us when we know God. In knowing God, we know His will and His purposes. Because we trust Him, we can be obedient to Him and thus we can please Him. Do you catch the concept here? To please God we need faith. To have faith we need to know God. Our faith, therefore, is built when we know Him and His ways. So therefore it behoves us to know God.

True faith is more than just a belief in something. It is to know something. Now you might ask how can you say that when we are asked to believe by faith that God created the heavens and the earth. We can do this because we trust God. We know that His word is truth because we have seen it in action. We know that nature itself shows us how all of creation was formed by someone greater than ourselves (Romans 1:19-20). Because the truth of God has been borne out in my life and yours then I can proceed to trust God with the things that I don’t see, feel, touch, or taste. Because of the truth of God is acknowledged, I can then go into the unknown with great faith and hope.

So this begs the question? How is faith built? Faith is built on the word of God (Romans 10:8-11). It is built on our testimonies (Revelations 12:11). It is built on what we have seen God do in us and through us. He has, He is and He will continue to deliver us (1 Corinthians  1:10). It is based on what we know to be true about God. Sometimes we can make faith mystical but it really isn’t at all. It is founded in something and that something is Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.

Even in saving faith or the act of faith that leads us to Christ there is still a foundational principle of truth about God. Paul made this statement in Romans 10:8-11. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. We hear the Word which is truth. The Word by way of the Holy Spirit acts upon our life to receive the truth it presents. The Holy Spirit brings us to the place of understanding and then we acknowledge God and His work in us. That becomes the process of salvation and it is the process of faith. Notice the great salvation passage in Romans. Believe in your hearty and confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you shall be saved.

So what is faith? To summarize, faith is trust, assurance and confidence in God and in the work of Jesus Christ. Living faith is not just believing that God exists. It is demonstrated by one’s service and obedience to God. God will increase our faith if we fervently ask Him for it and seek to draw closer to Him in prayer and the reading of His Word.

That is why we gather today around the communion table. The Lord’s Table serves to remind us of what Christ did for us. It reminds us of what Christ is doing in us now. But it is also a promise of what is to come. It is what we pin our faith to. It is the hope of a greater day. That is where we focus our faith and where we place our hope. He did and we can. He is and we can be. He is to come and we will be with Him.

As we prepare our hearts would you listen to this song by Jeremy Camp about our faith. I would ask those who will be serving today to come forward at this time. As you receive the elements would you hold them until everyone has been served and then we will take them together after we pray.

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Enduring Until the End

Peninsula Community Church

Enduring Until the End

September 4, 2016

Matthew 24:9-14 Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Romans 8:18-25 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

The topic of discussion today will be the idea of “endure” or “endurance.” In the Oxford dictionary the word endure has been defined as “suffer patiently.” How paradoxical  are those two terms. To suffer patiently seems so impossible. To understand this paradox perhaps it would be helpful to understand the concept of enduring. Biblically, the word endure often implies a painful or difficult situation that one must navigate but to succeed spiritually, there must be an enduring faith that keeps one stable and focused not in the moment but in the future. It is noteworthy that in terms of the Greek New Testament the use of the word endurance is almost always also based in a view of what is to come and the future hope for believers. In other words, I can endure the temporary trials and difficulties of life because my heart is set on the eternal hope that is in Christ Jesus. Some have called this an eternal perspective. Additionally, in almost every reference to the concept of endurance in the New Testament, there is the idea of unbreakable and patient endurance in face of evil and injustice in the world. This is one of the true characteristics of believers that separate true believers in Christ from all other religions and all other secular philosophies. We endure because of our focus of what is to come.

I do not know how many of you love the Olympics but they are always filled with amazing stories. During the Olympics we hear of the back stories of the athletes. We hear the stories of what they had to go through to make it to where they are. We also hear of the positive acts performed by some of the athletes. One of the most inspiring moments in this year’s Olympics occurred when track and field star Abbey D’Agostino tripped over New Zealand’s runner Nikki Hamblin. They were running the second semifinal heat of the women’s 5,000-meter race. D’Agostino, a twenty-four year old distance runner from America showed a remarkable case of Olympic spirit when she stopped along the race to help a fallen rival.

It all started when Hamblin took a fall on the track. As she fell, D’Agostino tripped over Hamblin and fell to the ground herself. Rather than get up and plow past D’Agostino, Hamblin did an amazing thing. She stopped to check to see if her Olympic rival could continue and helped her off the ground. The selfless move quickly caught the notice of Olympic broadcasters, who commented on her show of sportsmanship. Continuing on, it was clear the pain of D’Agostino’s leg injury was settling in. Moments later, she collapsed to the ground. It was Hamblin this time who came to her aid, checking to see if she was okay to continue but D’Agostino wouldn’t back down. She got back up on her feet, and completed the rest of her laps at a very slow pace. She knew the goal and was determined to make it all the way. It did not matter if she won, what mattered is that she finished. That is patient endurance.

You see in Scripture we have been challenged with the fact that we must endure hardship, trouble, and persecution. We do so not for some earthly prize but for a heavenly prize that is eternal and lasts forever. The prize we obtain lasts not just for a few mere moments or is subjected to loss or corrosion. You see we endure the difficulties of life not because of what we have here but what has been promised to us in the future. That is our hope and hope keeps us moving forward. In the second passage we read today Paul relates this idea of enduring to the groaning and the moaning that takes place when a mother is giving birth. It is an imagery that most men cannot fully appreciate. It is one that most men have only experienced from a distance. As a woman who has given birth to a child you know the pain and the agony of giving birth. That is the agony of enduring that Paul is discussing here. Here is saying that the end is near so just keep pushing through and you will be victorious.

A second problem is that too often pastors and teachers communicate a message that everything is going to be wonderful and exciting all of the time, if you are a believer in Christ. If there is a problem then it is your fault because you did not have enough faith or did not do all of the right things. But the reality of life says this is nowhere near the truth. In fact, it is the opposite. Listen to what Paul has to say not only in this verse but in James 1:2-4, James had this insight to suffering. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).

A second imagery that Paul uses for endurance is that of a runner. He uses the marathon runner as an example of this because the marathon runner is in it for the long haul. Paul often talks about running the race with patient. He talks about enduring to the end. So how do we endure and survive here in this life? I would suggest the following.

First, we must refuse to be distracted. While we are running this race for Christ too often the issues we face become distractions for us. These distractions force us to take our eyes off of the prize and we begin to focus on the problems we face. The enemy is so good at doing that? How often do we feel distracted and just out of sorts. Rick Warren has suggested when it comes to distractions we can find ourselves experiencing spiritual ADD. We are all over the place and we flit from one spiritual thing to the next. We tend to encounter one problem after another and another. The result is that we are distracted by the problems and not focused on the power of Christ to bring healing and help. The problem is not so much the distraction but how do we get back to where we need to be when we have been distracted? To get back we repent? We start over and we go back to where we lost track.

Second, refuse to dwell. Don’t dwell on the failures and mistakes made. Take steps to change and move beyond the failures of a given day. Marathon runners will tell you that one of the most difficult things they face is move beyond having a bad day of training. It messes with their psyche and they tend to allow the events of one day to effect their training on the next day. But good marathon runners will also tell you that they must put the failures of the previous day behind them and move toward a new day. Doesn’t that sound familiar. It should because Paul made a very similar statement in his teachings. Listen to his words in Philippians 3:12-16. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Third, refuse to be detoured. In Galatians 5:7-8 we find that Paul states You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. You see the purpose of the issues we face in life too often serve to detour us away from the direction we are to take. The result is that we are take pathways and make decisions that God never intended for us to take or make. Detours are interesting. While God can use the detours of our lives, there are detours that serve to get us off the path chosen for us by God. We find that we are at a loss of direction and we are in unfamiliar territory. We can be detoured by our calendars, emergencies, difficult people, and financial problems. We can also be detoured by the words that are spoken to us and about us. All of these can cause us to be detoured away from God’s purpose and plan for our life. That is why the writer of Hebrews 12:2 stated that we are to look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. He paved the way so we can stay on track with Him.

Fourth, never forget that others are watching. In Hebrews 12:1 we find this amazing passage. 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… Here is the deal and it is an amazing deal. There are people in heaven who have gone before us who are watching us. They are there to cheer us along. How are they cheering us on? It is by looking at their examples and their tenacity to keep the faith. Once again in the Olympics, we watched as people lined the streets to cheer the runners on. They were there to encourage the runners and the athletes.

In contrast, we also have those around us who are watching us and are observing how we deal with problems and the stressors of life. Here is a fact. How you live will effect others. People are watching you even when you don’t think so.  They are observing and watching you to see how you handle the stressors of life. You see people want to see how we run the race. When we fall do we get back up? Do we keep the faith? How do we respond to the difficulties of life? By doing these things we show our dependence on one that is greater and more powerful than any of us. We focus on the author and finisher of our faith. In Him we have nothing to worry about.

So how are you doing this morning? Do you feel distracted? Are you dwelling in the past or are you focused on the future? Do you feel you are in a detour season of your life? Do see that there is a cloud of witnesses that have gone on before us to pave the way and to show us that it is possible to endure until the end? They have shown us that we can do the same thing because of a focused faith and an enduring hope. When we are discouraged, we can remember Moses who was a great leader even though he was not always liked by those who followed him. We can remember Daniel and the three Hebrew children who refused to bow to the outside influences in their life. We can remember the disciples who gave themselves to preach the gospel. Through their testimonies we can be encouraged and blessed.

Finally, we have a great opportunity to show the world what it means to live a life filled with hope and enduring faith. We have the opportunity to show others that we can stand again and that we can be all that God desires. Yes! we will have trials and difficulties but we can also endure because our hope is not in the present but in the future. How awesome is that?

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Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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