Going Deeper with Perseverance

If you made it to this past Sunday’s Worship Gathering at Kohlmann Park – I’m so glad you were there! We had such gorgeous weather, Crossed did a fantastic job leading us in worship through song, we got to enjoy a picnic together, and best of all – we got to celebrate Eliana going public with her faith in Jesus through baptism. What a touching morning it was!

As part of the morning at Kohlmann Park, I finished up our Disciplined seriesby talking about the discipline of perseverance from James 1. I want to talk about perseverance just a little bit more by looking at 2 Timothy 2:3-6 with you. Here is that passage:

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” (2 Timothy 2:3-6 ESV)

This passage was written by the Apostle Paul to his protege, Timothy. Timothy was pastoring the church in Ephesus that Paul had planted, and in what is most likely Paul’s last letter written, he gives Timothy three illustrations – a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. And each illustration reminds Timothy he must stay focused and persevere in life and ministry.

Focused & Fair Athletes

This past Sunday, while we were hanging out at Kohlmann Park, the Tour de France was coming to a close. For the first time ever, Geraint Thomas, age 32, of England took the yellow jersey with the overall lowest time. The official Tour de France write up on Thomas’ victory says he is “an example of perseverance and consistency.”

(However, I think the Tour has a better example of perseverance. As great as Thomas’ win was, check out the story of Lawson Craddock, who finished the Tour in last place. Talk about soldiering on!)

But if you ask the average American to name a Tour de France, his or her first answer is most likely Lance Armstrong. Lance first became famous by winning seven Tours consecutively from 1999 to 2005, then became infamous when it was discovered a month after his seventh win he had cheated by taking illegal substancesall those years.

Lance didn’t play by the rules. Rather than persevere, he tried to find a short cut.

This is why Paul says in his letter to Timothy that an athlete must play by the rules. Likewise, the soldier must stay focused on his mission, and the farmer must focus on his crop if he is going to enjoy the fruit of his harvest. Each of these people in their specific occupation or hobby, must apply perseverance.

For you to enjoy the fruit of a relationship with Jesus, you must stay focused on the gospeland your spiritual growth, trusting God to do what only He can do within you to make you more like Jesus. And this type of focus requires perseverance.

So don’t look for spiritual short cuts. Instead, look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.

Keep Tapping Your Arrow

By Erin Bird
This week, I had a chance to gather with some other pastors from around Iowa for 24 hours of encouragement and sharpening. Our speaker was the pastor of a church in Minnesota. His community is only 6000 in population, and yet his church has roughly 700 in attendance and growing. Almost every week his small-town church sees someone find Jesus and begin following him.

Of course, the pastors in the room wanted to know “the secret.” How had he seen so many people place their faith in Jesus? How had his church gone from 250 to 700 in the seven years he had been there?

To explain his “secret,” this pastor took us to 2 Kings 13. There is a strange little story about the prophet Elisha, who is on his death bed, and his final conversation with the king of Israel. The king shows up at Elisha’s house sad that this prophet of God is ill and probably going to die. So to comfort the king, Elisha gives one last prophecy, and he does it through an illustration.

He asks the king to take a bow and some arrows and shoot them out the window toward the east. This was to illustrate that Israel would have victory over one of their fiercest enemies. But then Elisha asks the king to take an arrow and tap the ground.

So the king grabs an arrow and taps the ground three times.

Suddenly, Elisha is angry! Not because the king tapped three times when told to just tap the ground. No, Elisha is upset because he only tapped thrice! Listen to what Elisha said:

“You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.” (2 Kings 13:19b)

The pastor admitted this passage has nothing to do with prayer. However, he says he has been teaching his church that God invites us to pray, much like Elisha invited the king to tap the ground. But so often, we pray once or twice, maybe three times, for something… then we give up.

However, Jesus holds up a persistent widow in Luke 18 as an example for prayer because she kept going before a judge seeking justice, even though the judge had a reputation for not being fair. Like the widow, Jesus invites us to keep going to God in prayer. Don’t stop at once or twice. Keep at it. Five. Six. Seven. Eleven. Twenty. Fifty. Whatever it takes. Just keep tapping your arrow.

Because as we pray, God is molding our hearts. And we’ll either see Him answer our prayers by changing us and changing our prayers to be in line with His heart. Or we’ll have the joy of seeing our prayers answered just as we had been asking.

So what is it you need to persistently pray for? A child? Your marriage? A co-worker? A neighbor to find and follow Jesus? Wisdom about a big decision?

Then pray persistently. Keep tapping your arrow.

Two Keys to Keeping Resolutions

Happy Almost-New Year!

Many people use the start of the New Year to make some significant changes. Whether its lose weight, quit smoking, read the Bible, or start exercising, they aim to live differently than they did the previous year (or years!).

But as you know, most New Year’s resolutions seem to be broken by Valentine’s Day. So how do you keep your resolutions? Here are two keys:

#1. Envision the End Goal Daily

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg starts with the story of Lisa Allen. Lisa was being interviewed by a group of neurologists, psychologists, and a bunch of other “-ologists.” She had started smoking and drinking at age 16, struggled with obesity most of her life, had over $20,000 in debt during her 20s, and never held a job for over a year.

Yet the woman who was sitting in front of the panel of scientists was 34, debt-free, slender, a non-drinker, a homeowner, and had completed a marathon. How did she make such remarkable changes? As her story unfolds, you learn her husband left her for another woman. In her depression and desire to escape the pain, she booked a trip to Egypt because she had always wanted to see the pyramids (and one of her credit cards wasn’t maxed out yet…).

Sitting in a taxi in Cairo staring out the window at the desert, Lisa felt like everything was crumbling. She felt out of control and was desperate just to control something. And so she decided to set a goal she could control. She decided she was going to return to Egypt one year later and walk across the desert.

To endure such a crazy feat, she knew she was going to have to quit smoking and get in shape. So that’s what she did. Every day, she envisioned making the trip across the desert. That “vision” kept her from the cigarettes, from an extra helping of food, and from sitting on the couch in her sorrow.

(By the way, she did make the trek across the desert – in an air-conditioned bus with other tourists. She learned it wasn’t safe to attempt to walk across!)

That one small change that Lisa made began a series of changes. She learned how to envision the end-goal daily, and so she began to apply it to other areas of life, and pretty soon dramatic changes happened.

I think the writer of Hebrews attests to this. In explaining why and how Jesus endured the horrific-ness of the cross, the author says that Jesus’ mind-eye was on “the joy set before Him.” Jesus saw the end-goal – you and I back in relationship with our God – and so he endured the shame and pain of crucifixion.

So Key #1 to keeping your resolutions is to envision the end-goal daily.

#2 – Don’t Do It Alone

The second key is to include others in on your resolution. Get some accountability. Recruit some trusted friends to ask you how its going and to encourage you to keep at it.

Even better, find a friend who will share the goal with you! Go exercise together. Talk daily about what you read in the Bible that morning. Share recipes that will help each other reach your weight goals.

I think this is why Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs. No one went alone. By going together, they could better endure any mocking they might receive for their message, they’d have extra strength to keep going, and they could keep each other’s spirits up.

So recruit someone who will encourage you in your resolution, or some one who might even do your resolution with you.

And if you do one or both of these things, the chances of you keeping your resolution increase dramatically!

Persist Like Jesus

by Erin Bird

Last week, my family was able to slip away to the Twin Cities for the long Labor Day weekend. It was incredibly fun and relaxing.

On Labor Day itself, my boys and I went to Target Field to see our beloved Kansas City Royals play the Minnesota Twins. We had a blast riding the Metro, taking in the game, seeing the stadium, and just soaking in the atmosphere of a Major League baseball game.

The game, however, started in the Twins favor. Ian Kennedy, the Royals pitcher, was on the mound, and in the past he has dominated the Twins. But on the very first pitch, Brian Dozier of the Twins blasted a home-run, then did it again two innings later to lead the way to a a 4-2 lead for the Twins after 4 innings.

But that’s when the rails fell off for the Twins.

A couple of homers and a dozen hits later over the next 4 innings, the Royals went up 11-4. Many Twins fans got up at the end of the 8th inning and headed home (missing Dozier’s third home run of the game). The video boards out in center field were encouraging the fans to get loud, but the Twins fans sat silent. The only cheering was from the several thousand Royals fans that were in attendance. The home team fans had lost hope of winning the game.

The “Power” of No Hope

That’s what a loss of hope does. When we have no hope, we lose enthusiasm. We disengage. We pull back. We leave early.

That’s why Paul tells us in Romans 12:12:

“Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.”

When a person makes a decision to follow Jesus, it should fill them with hope. Hope that God is with them. Hope that God loves them despite their circumstances. And hope that this world is not all there is.

But when you lose hope in life and God, you won’t endure affliction. You won’t keep praying to God. You disengage spiritually. You pull back relationally. Some people even leave life early because they have no hope.

This is why the gospel is not just the ABC’s of the Christian faith, it is the A-Z of your faith. When you keep returning to the gospel, you are filled again with hope. The Jesus Story reminds you that you are loved and never alone. Jesus’ life and death shows you how to be patient in affliction. His resurrection inspires you to be persistent in prayer. His substitutionary atonement gives you hope that you are forgiven and your relationship with God restored.

All of the gospel, therefore, shows you that the difficulty you are going through isn’t the end – that your life has been changed through faith and grace. And that’s why you can be persistent. You can keep going. You can persevere in prayer. You can be patient in the middle of suffering.

So if you are without hope, turn to Jesus. Look at His life, death, and resurrection, and allow the truth of the gospel renew a right spirit within you, restoring your hope. Because with hope, you’ll be able to go to work, to your neighbors, to your clubs, to your school, and even in your home and be a blessing to those around you.

Persist like Jesus. Don’t give up. Cling to hope in the gospel. And let it guide you into rejoicing at who Jesus is and what He’s done.

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