Never, Never, Never Give Up!

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On May 10, 1940, at age 65, the age most Americans are thinking about retiring, Winston Churchhill took the job of Prime Minister of the UK when there appeared to be little hope for Great Britain.

Two weeks later France would be crushed by the Germans and they would have complete control over all of Europe. There seemed to be little hope that Britain would not fall before their onslaught as well.

In one of his first speeches as Prime Minister Churchhill said, “. . . we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

On October 29,1941 to the boys at Harrow School, Churchill said, “Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Great Britain faced a powerful, evil earthly enemy. Believers in Jesus face much more formidable spiritual powers, as well as living in a fallen world. And we are promised we will encounter trials of various kinds and warned to not be surprised when we suffer. Yet we are exhorted again and again to endure, as in Hebrews 10:36:

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

Great Britain had no guarantee their endurance would pay off. But believers are guaranteed a great reward for their perseverance. We will be welcomed into heaven by our Master with “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We will be rewarded with the vision of the face of Jesus Christ and comforted as Jesus himself wipes away every tear from our eyes. We will sit down at the wedding feast of the Lamb and enjoy fellowship with our God and our family forever. We will be completely conformed to the likeness of Christ, and we’ll hear and join the heavenly multitudes in the song of the Lamb forever.

So don’t give up. Don’t give in. If you have fallen, confess your sin and Jesus will forgive and cleanse you of all unrighteousness. Then ask him for grace to get back up again and keep plowing ahead.

Imitate the endurance of Jesus, who endured the hostility of men and the agonly of cross by looking to the joy set before him (Heb 12:1-3).

Never give up. Never give in. Take up the full armor of God and stand. Don’t stop praying. Don’t quit serving. Don’t stop hoping. Our God is greater than any circumstance and any enemy and any failure. Nothing is too hard for our God. His arm is not too short to save. And the reward for endurance is greater than we can imagine.

It’s No Fun. It Hurts. It’s Hard. But It’s Good.

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the LORD reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights. (PR 3:11-12)

When my kids were little I spanked them. I tried to do it with gentleness and love, but it did smart. And each of my kids had a different response to it. One would fight it all the way, twisting and screaming and begging, “NO, NO, NO!” all the way to the bathroom, thrusting his hands down to protect his little butt. Sometimes he’d resist so much I couldn’t give him his little spanking and I’d have to wait till later.

Another child had a completely different response. His was more like “Give me your best shot.” He would bend over, hands on the wall, and take it like a man. He might wince a bit, but as soon as it was over, would straighten up and look at me as if to say, “Is that all you got?”

We can react in various ways when the Lord disciplines us. We can “despise the Lord’s discipline” and say “This stinks. Why is God doing this to me?” We grumble and complain or go about downcast and miserable, sliding into the pit of self-pity. We resent others who seem to have no pain in their lives.

We can become “weary of his reproof.”  We give up. “I quit.” We quit reading our Bible, quit asking God for his help, quit going to church.

Sometimes we interpret God’s discipline as if he is punishing us. But for believers, there is no more punishment for sins because Christ took our punishment on the cross.

But though God never punishes his children, he does discipline us because he LOVES and DELIGHTS in us –  for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights (12).

We must TRUST God when he takes us through painful hardships, and be careful not to DESPISE his discipline or BE WEARY of his reproof.

Hebrews 12, expanding on Proverbs 3, says that God’s discipline is proof we’re legitimate sons and daughters (8). Our loving Father disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness (10), that is, become more and more like Jesus.

God does so much for our good when he disciplines us. He steers us away from sin and temptation, like a shepherd giving a sheep a thwack with his rod on its side to keep it from the edge of a cliff. God humbles us, makes us dependent on him, and comforts us so we can comfort others who suffer. He strengthens our faith and makes us more merciful to others. He displays his power in us and proves his faithfulness. He does a thousand things for our good when he disciplines us. And though discipline hurts now, later it will yield good fruit.

But we must respond to God’s loving discipline correctly. We must trust our God completely.  We must lift our drooping hands and strengthen our weak knees (HE 12:12) – in other words, persevere. We must make straight paths for our feet (13), or turn away from any sin and get back on track with Jesus. When the Lord disciplines us, we’re tempted to bail out, or turn to other things for relief and comfort rather than him. But we must keep trusting him.

How do we do that?

Keep praying, seeking the Lord, and asking for help and strength. Ask him for anything you desire. Ask him to heal, provide, move you, change you. Ask him for joy.

Keep thanking him and praising him. Thank him for his steadfast love and his mercies that are new every morning. Thank him for his promise to never turn away from doing good to you. Thank him for his discipline – that he loves you and is forming Christ in you and making you holy. When we’re in heaven, we’ll thank our Father for disciplining us, because we’ll see the fruit. So why not get a jump start and start thanking him now.

Keep reading his word. Make sure you are not turning to your own understanding and being wise in your own eyes. God’s word is our lighthouse in the storm. His word keeps us trusting him and following him.

So if God is taking you through a painful season, don’t squirm and twist and cry and yell, “NO, NO, NO!” under God’s loving rod. Don’t grumble. Don’t faint. Don’t quit. And don’t interpret God’s discipline as punishment. It’s proof of his love.

I’m So Glad Paul Used This Word…

There is a word in the Bible that I’m so glad is there. I’ve come back to it again and again over the years. I have said many times, “Yeah! That’s the word for it. That’s what I’m feeling right now.”

What is the word? “Perplexed.”

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  2 Corinthians 4:7-10

Perplexed, but not driven to despair!

Paul, the author of most of the New Testament, was perplexed at times.  The brilliant theologian Paul didn’t know what the heck was going on at times. He didn’t understand why certain things were happening to him. There were things in his life that didn’t make sense. Outcomes that shouldn’t have happened. Friends that shouldn’t have betrayed him.  Unexpected twists and turns.  And he was perplexed.

Like when he was being a servant, gathering sticks for a fire and a poisonous viper latched on to him.  Ever had that experience?  You were just trying to serve and you wind up getting bit.

So many things in our lives are perplexing. We try to do the right thing and someone gets angry at us. We do all we know to do as parents and a child rebels. We help someone financially and they go around slandering us. We give someone godly counsel then they blame us for the problems their sins have caused. Perplexing. Confusing. Mind-boggling. Head-scratching.

Why does God allow us to be perplexed? To display his power. To remind us that we are jars of clay and all our strength is from God.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed” – When life beats us down and we rise up out of the ashes praising God, it displays his incredible power.

“Perplexed, but not driven to despair” – When we go through confusing circumstances that would drive others to despair yet we continue to hope in God, that displays his might.

“Persecuted, but not forsaken” – Others hurt us yet we find again and again that God is with us.

“Struck down, but not destroyed” – We just keep getting back up again. Why?  Why don’t we just stay down? Why don’t we we just give up? Why do we keep coming back to God’s word, and to church?  Why do we lift up our hands in praise when we should just quit?  Because of God’s power!

“Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.”  When we “die” in any way –  when we’re disappointed, betrayed, confused, perplexed, hurt, persecuted, disrespected, abused – it’s then that the life of Jesus shines most brightly through us. All our afflictions are intended to reveal the power and glory of God in our lives.

Are you perplexed?  Are you down?  Get back up. Keep going. Keep seeking Jesus for strength. Keep asking him for answers. Don’t despair. Jesus is about to display his glorious power through you.

God Is Looking For Plodders

Paul called the Christian life a race. But it’s not a short race. It’s a marathon.  It’s a long haul.

And it’s not a sprint.  It’s more like a plod. Or a hike. Paul could have said I have hiked the good hike, I’ve slogged the good slog.  I have plodded the good plod.

Our problem is we want things now. We want it in a 4-hour work week.  We don’t like having to wait 2 weeks for our new iPad to be shipped.  We want to get everything at the drive through.  “Can I have a double character with a side of patience and a super-sized endurance – like, NOW!”

But God is looking for plodders.  He’s not looking for comets who make a big flash in the sky then burn out.

God is looking for faithfulness. Most of us will never do anything sensational. But we can be faithful. We can plod.  Don’t be discouraged if most of your life seems to be plodding.

Parenting is a form of plodding.  Day after day, little by little, faithfully serving our kids. Faithfully telling them about Jesus.  Faithfully correcting and loving in the midst of chaos.  Changing hundreds of diapers and saying no thousands of times and praising your children over and over. Saying thousands of prayers for your children. Working through lots of stuff with them when they’re teens. Long talks at night when they’re in college. Plodding.

The Christian life is plodding. It’s slow growth. It’s changing little by little. Sometimes it’s three steps forward and two steps back.  Sometimes change is undetectable for days or weeks or months at a time. Why? Because it takes time to build relationships.  It takes time grow in your marriage.  Christ doesn’t form his character in us like making a glass of instant tea.  He doesn’t produce the fruit of the Spirit overnight.  Developing spiritual gifts is a slow process.

The plodding life is trusting God day by day.  It’s asking him to fulfill his promises over and over again. It’s thanking God him in good times and bad.  It takes faith to plod.  To believe in God today when you can’t see an answer, then do it all over again tomorrow.  Then the next day.  And next week.  And next month.  To keep sowing seeds and watering them and waiting then watering waiting weeding watching.

But plodding eventually bears fruit.  Faithful in little leads to faithful in much.  Insignificant seeds sprout and grow and produce a harvest.  Children get saved eventually.  You see answers to prayer.  New people venture through the front doors of your church.  People get baptized.  You form friendships.  You use your gifts.  Saints are strengthened. And God is glorified through your faithful plodding.

So don’t be discouraged if you feel like you’re plodding along.  Eventually you’ll hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful plodder.  Enter into the joy of your master!”

Is Weakness a Good Thing?

 “I feel sort of thin, like butter scraped over too much toast,” Bilbo Baggins tells Gandalf in Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. I love the word picture in that sentence, partly because it’s such good writing but mostly because I can relate to the experience. Can you?

There’s not enough of me to go around.

I can’t manage all of these responsibilities.

I feel pulled in every direction.

I’m exhausted and ready to give up.

Weakness. It’s not a pleasant thing. To feel overwhelmed, out of your league, unable to cope, or stretched too thin is something every one of us can relate to – and yet that doesn’t make it any less painful!  And the things that come out along the way can be excruciating as well.  When butter gets spread too thin, holes emerge. Sin comes out. You yell at your five-year old because you’re stressed from trying to chauffeur your teens to all the places they’re supposed to be. Or inadequacies get exposed. You forget all about the promise you made to pray for a friend, or that you were supposed to teach children’s ministry this week, or that the car needs servicing again. Things you know you shouldn’t be doing are multiplying. Things you know you should be doing are falling through the cracks.

All of this can make us wonder: What have I done to get myself in this position? How did I end up so overwhelmed, so stressed, so…weak? Is something wrong with me? Listen to these words from Richard Bauckham:

Anyone who knows only his strength, not his weakness, has never given himself to a task which demands all he can give. There is no avoiding…weakness, and we should learn to suspect those models of human life which try to avoid it….To be controlled by the love of Christ means inevitably to reach the limits of one’s abilities and experience weakness.  (“Weakness, Paul’s and Ours,” Themelios, 1982)

I don’t want to imply that every experience of weakness or insufficiency is part of God’s call on our lives. It’s possible to unwisely attempt more than God would have us do. Sometimes we need to say “no.” But having said that, we must recognize that for the Christian weakness is not something to be avoided at all costs. On the road of gospel obedience, whether in ministry or parenting or vocational work or anything else, a sense of weakness is a gift from God. It is a painful mercy that drives us to the power of our Lord and away from our delusions of self-sufficiency. And the fact that you experience weakness is often the indicator that you are exactly where the Lord wants you, giving yourself wholly to the work he has called you to do.

Do you feel weak? Do you feel spread too thin? Take heart, child of God. Faithful Christians are weak Christians. God doesn’t call or use supermen or women. He uses weak believers, and he calls believers to weakness, and through it to dependence on him. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (1 Cor. 12:9).

+photo by Photo by Rennett Stowe

When All Things Seem Against Us

I recently finished the book The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins’ novel-soon-to-be-major-motion-picture. It was quite an enjoyable read, and I’m looking forward to seeing the movie. I won’t give away any of the plot, but the basic storyline follows a girl who is forced by a cruel government to participate in a kind of gladiator games where twenty-four teens are thrown into an arena and forced to battle to the death.  Most of the book takes place in the arena where Katniss, the main character, attempts to survive in a hostile landscape where literally everyone and everything is out to get her. And that got me thinking…the Christian life feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?

Our inward sins and weaknesses war against our souls. 1 Peter 2:11: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”

The world in rebellion against God seeks either to seduce or destroy us. John 15:18: “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”

If that’s not enough, we have a great Enemy of our souls, Satan himself, who has no greater desire than to destroy each one of God’s people. 1 Peter 5:8: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

The Bible and our own experience are clear: we have much set against us. What can give courage and hope to a pilgrim passing through such a war zone? Jonathon Edwards’ sermons on 1 Corinthians 13 have been feeding my soul for months, and once again in reading I came across another wonderful insight. In the midst of all our foes, Edwards says, God Himself is our defense and salvation itself is our fortress.

[God’s] mighty power, by which he is able to subdue all things to himself, is on our side, and pledged for our protection, so that none of our enemies shall be able to destroy us. We may rejoice that we have a strong city, unto which God has appointed salvation for walls and bulwarks…The everlasting arms are underneath us. Jehovah, who rides upon the heavens, is our help. And all our foes He will subdue under his feet; so that we may well rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the rock of our salvation. (Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, p. 302).

Do all things seem against you today? Are you tempted to raise the white flag in your battle against sin, Satan, and the world? Remember this, and stand firm. “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

What’s The Point of All This Work?

One of the challenges of the Christian life is to keep working when it seems to be in vain.

We share the gospel with someone for months and they don’t receive Christ.  We try our best to bring up a child in the fear and instruction of the Lord and he rejects Christ as a teenager.  A pastor faithfully preaches the gospel only to find his church doesn’t grow much.  A small group leader encourages his fellow Christians week after week and they don’t seem to change.

We can ask “Is it worth it?”  Paul says:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.  (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Christians are never finished.  It’s not like building a house where you finish, step back, and see the work of your hands.  God’s work in us is never done in this life.  Fruit takes a long time.  God often lets us experience the joy of reaping and lets us see the fruit of our labor, but it usually takes a long time.  And sometimes we don’t see it at all.

Paul could have been tempted to feel like his labor was pointless.  Near the end of his life he wrote Timothy:

You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15)

For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. (2 Timothy 4:10).

Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!  (2 Timothy 4:14-16)

Deserted by many, abandoned by key leaders.  No one comes to his defense.  What’s the point?

Here’s the point: our labor in Jesus is not in vain.  None of it.  God promises our work for him will be rewarded in the end. He’ll use it somehow.  He won’t waste a single bit of it.

It’s knowing this that stirs us to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”

It’s knowing this, DESPITE appearances, that keeps us sharing the gospel, training our children, and serving God’s people.

So be steadfast.  Immovable.  Keep praying.  Keep hoping.  Keep loving.  Someday you’ll hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your Master.”

Crawl If You Have To

I recently listened to the story then watched the video of a woman named Julie Moss, who in February 1982, was a 23-year-old graduate student who competed in the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Hawaii.  The triathlon includes a 2.4-mile ocean swim, a 112-mile bike race and a 26.2-mile run.

Near the end, she had a comfortable lead over the other athletes, but less than a mile from the finish, Moss’s legs turned to jelly and she collapsed.  She kept struggling to stand and walk, but kept collapsing.  Less than 10 yards from the finish, she collapsed for the final time. As Moss was lying there, she was passed by the woman in second, who won the race.

But Moss didn’t give up.  She got onto her knees and crawled inch by inch to the finish line to come in second.

It is amazing what people will go through to win an earthly race. To win a ribbon, medal or trophy. To win earthly applause and recognition.  How much more should we be willing to endure suffering and hardship to win heavenly glory.  To hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.”

If Julie Moss was so determined to get to the finish line that she would get up again and again after falling and then finally crawl to the end of the race, shouldn’t we who have the hope of enjoying Jesus forever be even more determined to finish our race?

If you are suffering today, don’t give up. Keep going. Keep seeking Jesus for strength. Keep asking for prayer. Keep thanking God. Keep meeting together with the saints.

Endure because when you gaze upon Jesus’ soul-ravishing beauty you will say it was worth it. You’ll say I would have endured a thousand lifetimes of suffering for this kind of joy and glory.

Lord Jesus, give us grace to endure!

Why We Should Be Steadfast

Ever feel like giving up?

You put your check in the offering basket month after month, and after years, you still struggle to make ends meet. You share the gospel with your child for decades and have yet to see her trust Christ for salvation.  You pray for your friend to be healed for years, then he goes to be with the Lord. You spend dozens of hours counseling a couple struggling in their marriage, only to see them divorce.

I know pastors who’ve preached the gospel for years yet see little church growth.  And small group leaders who’ve regularly prepared for meetings, opened their homes, and gotten together with those they serve, only to see their groups dwindle.  I know believers who have adopted only to experience rejection and pain from the child they took in.

Sometimes we feel like, “What’s the point?  Why am I doing this?  Why keep praying?  Why keep reaching out to this person? Why keep serving?  Nothing’s happening.”

Yet God tells us:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 CO 15.58)

The word “therefore” connects this verse to what Paul shared previously, namely, the doctrine of the resurrection.  Paul says since Christ has been raised, we’ll be raised with him to enjoy the fruit of our labors for eternity.  “Therefore” nothing we do for Christ is in vain.  We’ll be rewarded – not here but in heaven.

If there were no resurrection all Paul suffered for the gospel would have been pointless:

Why are we in danger every hour? …I die every day!  What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”  (1 Corinthians 15:30-32)

In other words, if there’s no resurrection, why am I doing this?  Why should I expose myself to danger for the gospel?  Why fight beasts in Ephesus?  If there’s no resurrection, eat, drink and be merry.  Live for today.

But there will be a resurrection, so none of our work in Christ is in vain.  Every prayer, counseling session, act of mercy, no matter what the visible results are here, will be rewarded.

You will be raised imperishable in Christ, so all you do for Jesus has eternal significance.  That’s the point. That’s why you should be steadfast and immovable.  That’s why you shouldn’t throw in the towel.  Keep abounding in the Lord’s work.

photo by Jeremy Brooks

Act Like Men!

My favorite commercial is a Geico ad where a patient on a couch says to a former drill sergeant therapist, “And that’s why yellow makes me sad, I think.”  The ex-drill sergeant replies, “That’s interesting, you know what makes me sad?  You do!  Maybe we should chug on over to mambi-pambi land where maybe we can find some self-confidence for you, you jack wagon!”

Sometimes we don’t need sympathy.  Sometimes we need someone to say to us, “Hey!  Stand up!  Be strong!  Trust the Lord!” Like when Paul said to the Corinthians:

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)

When Christians go through tough times, we should weep with those who weep and show sympathy to those who suffer, even as our Great High Priest sympathizes with us in our weakness.

Yet there are times we should exhort our embattled brothers and sisters to get up and keep fighting the good fight. When Israel was poised to enter the promised land Moses charged them:

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”  Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it.  It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:6-8)

Moses was talking to a ragtag, insignificant people about to go up against nations far more powerful than they were.  Yet he tells them not to be afraid of these mighty foes, not because they were strong, but because their God was strong.  They were to be courageous because the Lord promised to go with them and never forsake them.

Moses says the same thing to inexperienced Joshua, about to assume the leadership of Israel.  He says, “Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed.”  Why?  Because the Lord “goes before you” and “will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you.”

So we too should encourage one another to “act like men,” because our mighty God is with us and will never let us down.

So be confident in the Lord and in his mighty power!  No matter what you face, don’t be dismayed.  Don’t give up.  Don’t give in to discouragement and unbelief.  Get up!  Stand firm!  Act like men!

photo by Jeff Kubina