Perseverance

Batman and Robin decided to go camping. They set up their tent and went to sleep. A couple of hours later, Batman wakes his faithful friend. “Robin, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

Robin, who is used to these midnight lessons, replies, “I see millions of stars.”

“What does that tell you?” asks Batman.

Robin ponders for a minute. “Well, astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Chronologically, it appears to be about 3:15AM. Theologically, it’s evident that God is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant.”

“Why?” continued Robin. “What does it tell you, Batman?”

Batman is silent for a moment, then speaks. “Robin, you’re an idiot. It means somebody stole our tent while we were sleeping.”

How many of you grew up watching the television show “Batman?” Batman began as a comic book, evolved to TV, and is the recent subject of several new movies.

His story is first told in a twelve-frame comic strip in 1939 in issue #27 of Detective Comics. He and his parents are walking home from the theater when an armed robber accosts them. His father steps in front of his mother and takes a bullet. Then the gunman turns the gun on his mother while he watches. The robber runs away, leaving him standing over his dead parents. His guilt over standing by helplessly while his parents were murdered turns the boy Bruce Wayne into the superhero crime-fighter Batman. He dedicates his life to stopping criminals and defending the helpless.

Batman embodies the notion found in verse 3 in our scripture this morning:

Romans 5:1
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance produces character. Character produces hope. Lord knows, we are in a season that requires a lot of perseverance right now.

Can you recall a time in your life when you had to persevere through something? Maybe it was as transient as enduring the awkwardness of Middle School, or as life-changing as the kind of perseverance that families learn when they are battling cancer. Some are dealing with the challenges of raising a special needs child or a rebellious teenager, while others are honing their character by being caregivers to a parent who is struggling with dementia. Suffering that produces character that teaches us perseverance takes many forms. As this pandemic continues without an end in sight, we are all learning perseverance.

Many of you know that our family learned about perseverance when our daughter was diagnosed with cancer. It truly is in these moments that God teaches us so much about himself. Even the worst of times can be a blessing in the end, for it is often in those seasons that you learn who you are, and WHOSE you are.

I say this to everyone today who is enduring something: God is with you. Even in your darkest moments, God’s light can be found if you look up and study the heavens.

Robin was right: the bright, shining stars and the vastness of the universe remind us that God is all-powerful and we, and our troubles, are small and insignificant by comparison.

5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

May you persevere through whatever it is you are suffering through right now, and find the hope that comes from God. Hang in there. God is with us.

Moonlit Night

Endurance

Who remembers the television show Endurance? It was one of our favorite family programs. It was shown on the Discovery Kids cable network, and was a kind of “teenage Survivor” program. Kids would arrive on an exotic island and strategize and compete in physical and mental challenges for the ultimate prize of a trip to some amazing location like the Galápagos Islands. Through the season of challenges and hardships, a boy/girl team would eventually endure and take it all.

Life surely is a series of challenges and hardships, especially today. God calls us to endure it to obtain the prize that Jesus has already won for us. Take a look at this passage and note the progression of problems>trouble>endurance>character>hope:

Romans 5 (Common English Version)

Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Hope never fails us. Paul once reminded us that faith, hope, and love endure. This passage promises us that the love of God has already been poured out in our hearts by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people. It isn’t often that someone will die for a righteous person, though maybe someone might dare to die for a good person. But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. 

The worst thing that anyone could possibly endure is permanent and final separation from God. But this has been already been eliminated by Christ’s dying for us. This is how God showed his love for us! While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Love is the final product of endurance. Faith, hope, love, these three: but the greatest of these is love.

And so in love, we have separated ourselves from one another. In love, we aren’t gathering as a church or in communities so that our fragile members are protected. In love, we have canceled the world so that this hideous virus will end. In love, we submit to this new world order that will surely bear a price of loneliness, isolation, cabin fever, and stir-craziness to an extent we have never experienced before. But we do it, in love.

What to do? Go check on your neighbor (from 6 feet away.) Make a grocery run for an elderly friend (and leave it on their porch.) Call three people today who need to hear your voice. Do an online workout with your dog. Write a letter or send a card everyday until this is over.

READ A BOOK.

This season of endurance will surely produce character. I guarantee we will all look back at these weeks and months and realize we discovered new strengths in each other. And that newfound character will give birth to a new hope. We will realize how strong we are as individuals, families, communities, and as a nation. Life will never be the same because we will have endured something TOGETHER. Hang in there. And guess what? We are one day closer to the end of this thing.

This olive tree in Jerusalem has endured for centuries. Photo by Faye Gardner

The Rescuing Gift

Living in the Outer Banks has increased my deep appreciation for First Responders. When the tourist season begins in earnest, we see an increase in their efforts. Ocean Rescue begins their patrols again. Life Guards take their stands. Emergency crews gear up for the inevitable water and Bypass accidents. The Coast Guard increases their practice drills. We go from sleepy chill to high alert as winter moves into spring and on into summer.

I am forever impressed and humbly grateful for the work these men and women do. They RUN toward tragedy while the rest of us shrink back. I remember a time when my mother collapsed outside a restaurant and was lying unconscious on the ground. I called for help and within minutes the EMTs arrived. Their incredible care, their kindness in dealing with her, and they way they spoke to both of us still stay with me to this day. People like this have a rescuing gift, and thank God, they use it to serve the community.

In the book of Romans, Paul talks about the ultimate rescuing gift that came in the form of Jesus on the cross. Paul makes the case that one man’s sin (Adam) separated us from God. But that was overturned by another man’s gift (Jesus) which gave us life:

Romans 5 (The Message)

15-17 Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin. If one man’s sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?

I love how Paul describes this as a breathtaking recovery, a wildly extravagant life-gift that Jesus provides. It is indeed a grand setting-everything-right that puts death at bay and offers eternal life in its place. Death has no sting! All because Jesus said yes.

18-19 Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.

How about you? Is today the day you will say yes to Jesus? Will this be that moment that you accept him as your Savior and put your whole trust in his grace? Will you confess your sins and ask him to cleanse you? And then promise to follow him for the rest of your life?

It’s a simple step, one that brings the rescuing gift into your own grasp. Jesus died so that you might live. He offers you the breathtaking recovery of a sovereign life, and gives you an extravagant life-gift. Are you ready?

Just say yes.

Getting Ready