Running the Race With Endurance: Free Church Youth Conference 2012

Here is a brief summary of Dan Peters’ three talks at the 2012 Youth Conference; initially thought that this was my first ever non-sporting blog post and then I looked at the theme title again… Hope you all enjoy and it brings back good memories, and more importantly reinforces these vital truths for our Christian lives.

 

Talk 1 – The Necessity of Endurance

Endurance is universally and fundamentally relevant for every Christian group.  Hebrews 12v1 tells us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The writer is using a metaphor comparing Christian life to a long-distance race. Hebrews was written to a group of struggling and faltering Christians whom the writer is concerned may not reach the finish line.

Endurance is mentioned 33 times in the New Testament. Jesus, Paul, Peter and John all stress the theme. Why?

1. Endurance is necessary because God does not give us everything at conversion

Ephesians 1v3: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Conversion is an inestimable blessing and we sometimes feel that we can claim and experience God’s promises right now; however, Hebrews 4v1: “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you are found to have fallen short of it” and Hebrews 10v36: “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” both make clear that some promises will only be fulfilled in the future.

We often use the word Salvation to speak of our present reality, but writer to the Hebrews also emphasized Jesus’ second coming and the glory of final salvation for those who waited for him. (Hebrews 9v28).

We also usually speak of the word faith as the thing that saves us; the clinging to Jesus. Indeed, see Ephesians 2v8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so no-one can boast.” However, the writer to the Hebrews again speaks of this slightly differently, emphasizing conviction in unseen realities (Hebrews 11:1) and the absolute importance of patience in conjunction with faith (Hebrews 6:12).

The writer to the Hebrews has a distinctive use of the three terms: promise, faith and salvation. He places great importance on the need for continual work in our lives and how we must wait upon God. This is why endurance is necessary.

Heaven is an integral part of the gospel and our glorious hope for the future. As Romans 8v23-24 tells us: “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for out adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Is this focus occasionally missing in our evangelism? It is crucial that we have this emphasis on eternal rest and hope.

2. Endurance is necessary because without it the Christian life is invalid.

Christianity is NOT like a pension system, we must endure till the end. As Hebrews 10v39 says: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” The writer is clear: if we shrink back, we will be destroyed. Thus, we must be careful about importance we place on Christian experiences – there will be people in Hell who spoke of having great ‘conversion’ experiences. For this reason, the writer pronounces continual warning to persevere in their lives.

“What happens if you die tonight?” is a question that we hear often; however, a more pertinent one for the believer is “What happens if you don’t die tonight?” By extension, we are asked whether we can endure for another 30/40/50 years in this world?

The writer vehemently makes the point that having a Christian experience and falling back is worse than never having started to walk with Jesus. (Hebrews 6v6). When we fall back we crucify Jesus all over again. He is not talking of a moral fault (e.g. David and Bathsheba) but rather an active and calculated turning away from Jesus. All that matters is where you are at the end of your life.

3. Endurance is necessary because many fall away

Jesus talks often of stumbling in our Christian walk, it is a prominent concept in fact. He describes the Christian life as a narrow path and stumbling is serious because the path is narrow. Good analogy of a motorcyclist speeding along a cliffside road, with sheer drops to centre death on either side.

To continue the theme of the vehicle, the speaker mentioned the giant LED signs at the side of the motorway displaying driving warnings. But, these do not sober us and slow us down as much as the sight of a car wreck beside the road. We must never think that we have had such great blessing in our Christian lives as to be immune from stumbling; even the privileged Israelites in the Old Testament fell away. Tragically, we know many people who have stumbled and fallen away – we see it every day and must use it as a warning sign in our lives.

God keeps us through our taking of responsibility. The believers in Hebrews are in Heaven right now because this letter came to them at just the right time, as the writer sensed they were in danger of slipping back. Will this Youth Conference be the same stimulus for us?

Make sure you are not among the casualties beside the road.

 

Talk 2 – The Challenge of Endurance

Enduring in the Christian life is not an easy thing; rather it is a particularly challenging business.

1. Endurance is challenging because there is nothing to see

The Hebrew believers were struggling in faith having been converted from a highly visual and tangible religious background, they were accustomed to this. However, as Christians, their new faith was the opposite. Hebrews 9v8-9 tells us that as long as the Jewish faith was visual – it was worthless: “The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to justify the worshipper.” The fact that our faith is invisible is its compelling glory.

The Hebrews were finding a huge mental shift to become accustomed to this new faith. The Hebrews would have instinctively thought of religion as a series of festivals and rituals and they were having a difficult time changing their perceptions.

We are promised a future in Heaven which is spectacularly glorious; yet very little is tangible in this present time. Our glory remains entirely in the future and there is always a sense in which we find this difficult as we are a people and a society who want things here and now.

During our time on earth, many of us are called to serve God in our ordinary, banal lives. As 1 Thessalonians 4v11 says: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands.” George Orwell suggested that this banality was a reason that the Germans followed Hitler and the Nazi party as they were bored with ordinariness and tedium in their lives. Hitler promised struggle, self-sacrifice, danger and potential death.

Experiencing glory is like having blackout blinds in your bedroom – right now it is pitch dark but the light will stream in as the blinds are lifted and Jesus returns. Unfortunately, we too often mimic the prodigal son with our desire to have our inheritance now.

2. Endurance is challenging because attractive alternatives surround us

The Hebrews were being tempted back to their old religion by its pomp and ceremony. It offered a quick fix, present razzmatazz and something tangible for its followers. This is why the writer spends so long belittling the Old Covenant religion.  

Hebrews 13v4-5 tells us that: “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”” This shows us that – just as we live in a dangerous contemporary society – so did the Hebrews.

The temptations of sexual promiscuity, wealth and the accumulation of possessions were widespread even then; anything to relieve the tedium of an ordinary life. We can recognise the relevance of this in our current society and in our lives, especially as so many people find it difficult to understand why we resist against these temptations.

John Piper tells of a couple who took early retirement and spend the rest of their lives sailing a yacht round the Florida Keys, playing softball and collecting shells. Imagine having to stand before God on judgement day and justify wasting such a large portion of their lives with sailing, shells and softball.

Ensure that this does not happen to us.

3. Endurance is challenging because we must rely on others

Psalm 16v3: “As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.” King David, the writer of the Psalm, needed the togetherness and fellowship of other Christians. Ephesians chapter 4 also talks of how we grow together as Christians in Jesus.

Why is this part of the challenge of endurance? Because others can let us down.

As some Christians withdraw from meeting together there can be a severe detrimental effect on the support system of believers. Let us always spur one another on (Hebrews 10:24); we need to always remember this in our increasingly individualistic society.

We need others; as others need us.

 

Talk 3 – The Dignity of Endurance

Rod Liddell’s article in the Spectator – I must have it and I must have it right now. We live in a society in which everything is about the moment – deferred gratification is an alien concept. In the bible, endurance is beautiful and lovely.

1. A Clever List

We can admire things without ever properly appreciating them. Hebrews 11 lists the exploits of various saints in the Old Testament, and many New Testament Hebrews lived with a sense of self-pity brought on by the aforementioned banality and tedium of their own lives. This was fostered by a sense of jealousy regarding the Old Testament characters and their exploits.

The Hebrews failed to see why exactly the Old Testament saints were great men and women; it was their endurance and faith rather than their amazing deeds which made them great. The recurring theme of Hebrews 11 is “By faith, By faith, By faith…” and the utter conviction of unseen realities that these saints had.

What were the unseen realities? Was it Noah awaiting the flood? Was it Moses’ parents hiding their baby in the river? Was it Rahab aligning herself with the Israelites? No – it was not these things. The summary sections of the chapter (verses 13-16 & 39) make clear that Heaven was the unseen reality. The Old Testament saints yearned for Heaven; a better country. They had a hope of glory and this was their motivation. It should always be the same for us.

The writer never asked anything unreasonable of the Hebrews and inspired by the hope of Heaven they endured. We are also called to do likewise.

We make the same mistake as the Hebrews – identifying greatness in great exploits e.g. renowned missionaries bringing the gospel to thousands of people or translation of the Bible into the rarest of languages. Instead, the greatness always comes in perseverance and endurance.

2. Arousing exaltation

Hebrews 12v1-3 is the grand climax to chapter 11: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” – Let us always fix our eyes on Jesus, he is the perfecter of our faith and gives us a greater basis for our faith than the saints of the Old Testament ever had.

Jesus is also the pioneer of our faith – he has shown us just how to live a life of endurance. He practiced this ultimately at Calvary. He couldn’t sail through life as he was fully human, he had to persevere and always remained convinced of the glory beyond the cross even as circumstances at Calvary screamed “This is a disaster, Jesus. You’ve failed.”

Even as Satan tempted Jesus to bypass the cross he remained faithful and endured, managing to throw off the sin that so entangles us. When we find ourselves in battle with the devil this coming week ask ourselves What Would Jesus Do? He has pioneered endurance for us.

3. A Tantalising Hint

There is not much in the book of Hebrews about God keeping his people. However, there is one hint of how this occurs in chapter 7v23-25: “Now there have been many of these priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” Here, the writer contracts Jesus with the Old Testament priests; Jesus has a permanent priesthood and is always able to save. This is our final dignity.

We often talk of doctrine like justification, sanctification and adoption – endurance is just as important; it a major part of our salvation and we have Jesus to ensure that we do endure.

New Testament churches had different needs at different times – hence the wide variety of instruction in the epistles of the New Testament – and the Hebrews were anxious as to whether they could endure. Do not ever be complacent by always practice endurance in your life.

Have we become complacent? Have we flirted with sin? When we feel this remember that the endurance spoken of in Hebrews is the answer. Jesus will help us to make it home however long we have left on the earth.

The juxtaposition between Paul and Demas is displayed in 2 Timothy 4v6-10: Paul had kept the faith and finished the race but Demas had deserted because he loved the world too much; this was all that mattered at the final reckoning.

Are you a Paul or a Demas? This is what our Christian lives ultimately boil down to.

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