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A Lesson on Perseverance

When I think about the word perseverance I picture the running man.

“The running man,” as I’ve come to call him, is an older gentleman in my local area who has been pounding the pavement for as long as I can remember. He is tall, lanky and, by now, quite old. Although I’m not sure how old he is precisely (it would be improper of me to roll down my car window and ask), my best guess is early to mid-seventies. Despite his age, the running man has never abandoned his exercise routine which just so happens to be a long distance run along some of the busiest roads not far from my house.

For decades, I’ve spotted this man out on his runs which he faithfully takes in every season and through all sorts of inclement weather. And, for decades, I’ve been wondering how much longer he can keep up this exercise. Even twenty years ago, when I first started noticing him, he ran at such a slow clip I feared he might keel over right then and there. From my perspective, the man’s labored stride looked unsustainable at best and dangerous at worst.

About ten years ago I noticed that the man’s running pace had declined into a forced prodding. As uncomfortable as it looked, I couldn’t help but admire his determination. Muscle degeneration, stiffness and aging couldn’t stop him from pressing upward and onward (both literally and figuratively since his running route covered quite a few hills). And, yet, he refused to be deterred or defeated. Even if he had to move slowly, the running man was clearly determined to keep moving.

I truly didn’t believe that the running man could get any slower or become any clearer a picture of perseverance – until yesterday.

To call what I saw the man doing a “run” would be an inaccurate description of his arduous effort. In the past year since I last saw him out for his exercise, the running man’s pace has progressed from slow to snail. His every step is painfully strained and strenuous. Even from afar I could see his heavy breathing as he jerked his arms back and forth while shuffling his legs ever so slightly. And yet, he refused to be deterred or defeated. Even if he had to move slowly, the running man was clearly determined to keep moving.

The running man simply will not give up and that’s what makes him such a striking picture of perseverance. Webster’s defines perseverance as “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” In other words, the refusal to quit just because it’s hard. To persevere is to press on even when the road ahead is wrought with challenges; push through pain and overcome discouragement. When a person perseveres, they keep moving forward even when it isn’t easy, and the progress made doesn’t look promising.

Most importantly, those who persevere know that speed is not the ultimate measure of success. Faithfulness is. Dedication is. Resoluteness is. Those who practice perseverance know that the true prize is the character developed on the way to the finish line.

Obviously, these perseverance principles are important for physical training, exercise and running but where they truly shine is in spiritual training.

As God’s word says, “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things.” (1 Timothy 4:8) And key to godliness is perseverance. In order for God to strengthen the spiritual muscles of His people He must test and try them, just like a runner tests and tries his physical muscles. But if we, the spiritual runners, simply give up we will never reap the reward God has in store for us. If we hang up our spiritual sneakers, so to speak, we will miss all the blessings God longs to bestow upon as we press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of us. (Philippians 3:12)

But, you might be wondering, how is it possible to persevere? When the going gets extraordinary tough, how can weak and feeble people find it in themselves to keep going? Is it by our own effort? Are we supposed to soldier on in our own strength? I thought the Bible said we are supposed to be weak so God can be strong. How does that align with this perseverance talk?

The answer is found in James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

The key to spiritual perseverance is joy. When we respond to our challenges with a sincerely joyful heart it is as if we are inviting the Holy Spirit’s overcoming power to come and indwell us. When we choose to rejoice in the fullness of faith instead of complaining and finding every excuse to give up, the Spirit of the living God begins to produce within us the fruit of perseverance. He sows the seeds of resolve and determination that, in time, work in us a harvest of spiritual maturation and completeness.

Beloved, even if the road ahead looks daunting and your spiritual legs feel exhausted, consider it pure joy. Rejoice and refuse to be deterred or defeated. Even if you have to move slowly, keep pressing on and into the challenges ahead knowing that God will use every labored step, no matter how small, to cultivate the fruit of perseverance within you to the glory and honor of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

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Recognizing Jesus

One of my favorite post-resurrection accounts of Jesus is found in John chapter 21. Let’s return to the scene.

It’s nighttime and five of Jesus’ disciples are itching for something to do. Simon Peter decides he’ll go fishing which sounds like a fantastic idea to his four friends. And, with that, the five gather their nets, jump in a boat and hit the salty seas.

But there’s a problem. The fish aren’t biting. The disciples wait all night and into the morning, but they still don’t have enough fish for breakfast. That’s when they see a man standing on the sandy shore of the beach. He’s far away – maybe a hundred feet or so – but he seems to understand their predicament and, what’s more, he has a solution. “Cast your net on the other side,”he says.

Since the disciples aren’t having any luck doing it their way, they figure why not take the advice of the stranger on the beach? So, they lift their nets and cast them off the opposite side of the boat. And that’s when the incredible happens. In no time at all, the net fills up with so many fish the men can’t even muscle it up out of the water and onto the boat!

It’s at this miraculous point in the story that John looks up and across the water. And that’s when it clicks. The man on the beach is Jesus. “It’s the Master!” John says. Without missing a beat, Simon Peter throws on his clothes (he had been stripped down for work but that wouldn’t be any way to greet his Lord and Savior) and flings himself into the ocean. His excitement is uncontainable! Meanwhile, the other men begin rowing their little boat hurriedly across the sea and back to shore to join in the post-resurrection reunion.

When the men make it back to the beach bearing 153 big fish, they might assume that Jesus will be using their bountiful catch for the meal but, to their surprise, a tantalizing feast has already been prepared. While they were waiting for the fish to bite, Jesus was at work by the fire, browning their protein and carbs for the brunch.

The disciples never actually confirm that the man on the beach is Jesus. No one asks, “Umm, hey, Jesus, I mean sir, uh, I just want to just double check something…. you’re really the Messiah who was just crucified and rose from the grave three days later, right?” They don’t make such inquiries because they don’t need to. The men were sure this was really Jesus because they recognized His face from a hundred yards away. They had no doubt it was their Messiah because, when they heard and heeded his instruction, they experienced another one of His indescribable miracles. Because of their great love for Jesus, their hearts were open to receiving and responding to His surprise visit.

I love this picture of Jesus with his disciples, don’t you? His gentle instruction. Simon Peter’s passionate devotion. The abundant catch. The breakfast spread. The whole scene is a glorious picture of Jesus’ pursuing love and faithful friendship that delights in making surprise visits.

Now, just because Jesus has ascended to Heaven and isn’t preparing your omelet on the seashore doesn’t mean that He isn’t showing up unannounced. Jesus, in the form of His Holy Spirit, still takes great pleasure in making surprise visits. The question is, do we recognize Him?

While studying John 21:1-15, I discovered that the disciples’ actions and attitudes reveal three key principles for recognizing, receiving and responding to Jesus. Let’s look at them:

First, we must look up and out. Until John looked across the water, he didn’t know that the man on the shore was Jesus. And the same is true with us. Jesus still shows Himself to His followers today. His Spirit is active and moving all around us but we must have our eyes open and gaze focused outward in order to perceive Him.

Second, we must keep our ears attune to His voice. While out on the water, the disciples weren’t listening to the news and they most certainly didn’t have ear buds in. If we want to hear Jesus, we could benefit by following their example and keep our ears and minds free from competing noise. Oftentimes, our own inner dialogue is the greatest distraction from hearing the voice of Jesus. Therefore, we must guard our minds from ourselves and from the outside world, intentionally filling our mental space with thoughts that are true, right, pure, lovely and admirable. “If anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8) Then, when the voice of Jesus comes (and it must assuredly will come), we will be prepared to receive it.

Last, but certainly not least, we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul. When you love someone, you can recognize them from afar. When you love someone, you can watch them walk from a hundred yards away and know that it is them just by the way they swing their arms. It is this love and devotion that positioned the disciples to be attune to their Saviors voice and familiar with the distant sight of His face. Love sent Peter jumping into the water. Love left the disciples in holy awe and wonder.

How are you doing when it comes to recognizing Jesus? Are you regularly receiving His surprise visits? Are you responding with sold out surrender and devotion?

Jesus is still appearing and if you look, listen and love, you won’t miss a single surprise visit.

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Confessions of an Overthinker

I’m an overthinker. It’s a trait I was born with; woven into my DNA. I’m a wonderful ruminator with a knack for pondering, contemplating, and considering. There must be an off switch to this brain of mine, but I haven’t discovered it yet.

Although being an overthinker doesn’t have to be a negative, overthinking certainly has the tendency to become unconstructive and downright damaging. The trouble is what overthinking naturally leads to. Namely worry which leads to unrest. 

Whenever I begin overthinking, my next natural step is to worry. Once this happens, I rarely come up with a fantastic idea, enlightening revelation or great breakthrough. Those miraculous moments almost always arrive in a flash, at the precise moment I thought I was “under” thinking. What I do come up with in these moments of worrisome thought is fear being projected into the future and an absence of peace to enjoy in the present.

When speaking to His disciples, Jesus said, “do not worry.” Or, as the Message version puts it, “don’t get worked up.” Period. End of story. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it; no noted exception to this rule. Jesus made it clear that His followers must actively choose not to worry which, for some of us overthinkers, requires intentionally intervening in our very active – and at times destructive – minds.

But before we can get intentional about fixing our overthinking problem, we must first admit that we have one. We must get brutally honest with ourselves and these five self-diagnostic questions can help:

  1. Do I often find myself WONDERING what if?
  2. Do I have to stop myself from OBSESSING about what might be?
  3. R: Do I catch myself REHEARSING worst case scenarios?
  4. R: Do I find myself REACHING for ways to take control?
  5. Y: Do I secretly (or not so secretly) YEARN for a way out?

If you’re an overthinker with a worrying problem, you might get uncomfortable reading that list. I know I sure did. This list is revealing and, if we’re candid, downright convicting. We know that worrying does us no good (and that Jesus explicitly told us not to do it) but the unrest of worry is an easy, albeit upsetting, trap to fall into. But, praise God, it is NOT an impossible trap to get out of.

A fertile mind and the capacity to create thought is a gift from God but it comes with a responsibility. If we aren’t careful, our busy brains can and will be used against us by the enemy to steal our joy, rob our peace, and destroy our contentment in all circumstances. Thankfully, the enemy’s power to control our thoughts is limited and grossly inferior to the power of God to rule and reign in our minds. The same power that raised Jesus from the grave can and will free us from the trap of overthinking. And all we have to do is resolutely reposition ourselves before God and take every thought captive at the foot of Christ’s cross.

If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry (pun intended). Scripture tells us exactly how to reclaim our mind in the name of Christ, inviting joy, peace, and contentment to rule and reign in our hearts again. It’s as simple as W-O-R-R-Y:

  1. WORSHIP God for who He is and His great mercy, faithfulness and love. Lord, you are my God;
    “I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.” (Isaiah 25:1)
  2. OBEY God by taking the next right step that is right in front of you.
    “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)
  3. REFOCUS your thoughts on today.
    “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:35)
  4. REJOICE in the blessings you’ve been given.
    “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
  5. YEARN for more of Jesus with all of your heart, mind and soul.
    “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'” (Matthew 22:37)

Friends, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” – go ahead and overthink about such things. (Philippians 4:8) You can simply never think too much about the goodness of our great and glorious God.

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Frenemy on Facebook

I have six hundred and thirty-eight friends on Facebook and one frenemy named Satan.

I never intended to add the enemy of heaven and earth to my friend list. I don’t even recall receiving a friend request with his name on it. Yet, there he is, cluttering up my newsfeed with envy and dissatisfaction.

The enemy first slithered his way onto my social media while I was feeling weak and lonely. Before I knew it he was in nearly every post, hijacking updates of joy with his malice and discontent. My frenemy is so deceptive he has even invaded likes and shares. He even exerts his evil influence in smiley faces and pictures of furry pets. How dare he.

When my frenemy is online he fills the comments and likes with jealousy and discontentment. For far too long I have scrolled by the enemy’s posts and given him the evil pleasure of stealing my stillness and peace with his social media sabotage. I’ve clicked “unfollow” here and there, but I’ve never blocked him entirely.

Until today.

Today I am unfriending the enemy and blocking his influence. With the joy of the Risen Jesus Christ I am kicking Satan off of my social media and out of my soul. To simply “unfollow” isn’t enough. The enemy must be blocked entirely.

In order to remain united with my very best friend, Jesus, I cannot tolerate a single post from His arch enemy, the destroyer of eternal peace. The destructive influence of Satan must be forcibly removed and only the power of Christ’s Risen life can do it. Only God can effectively and entirely block the enemy from my heart, mind and soul.

 

The love of Christ cleanses my Facebook of the enemy and rids my feed of his hate. Transformed by the Savior’s redemptive mercy, my social media is made new in the presence of His amazing grace.

I still have six hundred and thirty-eight friends on Facebook and one best friend named Jesus Christ spreading abundant, everlasting joy all across my eternal feed.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:4-7