The Ability To Persevere
The Godfather was released in March of 1972 and is widely considered one of the greatest movies in cinematic history winning three Oscars. The movie begins at a wedding, and ends at a baptism and during the movie the scenes quickly change from family life and life in the mafia. Or said another way, the life we portray and the life we actually live.
Of all The Godfather‘s memorable scenes, the one that resonated the loudest with me comes at the end of the move in a beautiful Italian catholic church. The film rises to a crescendo as the movie cuts back and forth between Michael’s godson’s baptism and the brutal murder of the Corleone family’s enemies. The priest turns to Michael and asks him a number of questions. Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth? Do You Renounce Satan?, And All His Works?
As Michael answers yes to each question, the movie cuts to the brutal murder of his enemies. There is no hint in his face as to what is happening elsewhere. But as the questions are being asked, we cut one by one to the brutal killing of six men, gunned down in cold blood. The organ plays in the church as guns fire and blood is spilled in other parts of the city. The priest concludes the service with: ’Go in peace, and may the Lord be with you.’
It is a grim reminder that it is never enough simply to mouth Christian platitudes. It is not enough to be baptized, married and buried in the Church. Real faith revolves around a transformed life. The Godfather presents us with extreme examples of hypocrisy, it is easy to be in a building and profess a life of love, peace, and compassion only to leave the building and not live up to those professions. The easiest person for you to deceive is yourself. It’s easy to come to a building and profess your undying commitment to God only to leave and act just like the darkness we are called to illuminate. I need to be reminded from time to time that being religious does not guarantee a relationship with God.
Over the past few weeks we have been studying and singing our way through a section from the book of Psalms called the Songs of Ascent. I know it has been a little different, but I hope that by singing and talking our way through these Psalms we have been able to find a deeper understanding of what is required to meet God. These songs were not only used to pass the time as they traveled to Jerusalem, they were intended to get the pilgrims mentally prepared to meet with God. These songs are an honest discussion of what is happening in the world and how it affects the Children of God. That’s why our songs are filled with struggles and joy in an effort to be completely honest with ourselves and God.
After singing a song of joy and praise we get to the 129th psalm, a song about struggling in a world that is broken. This song calls us to be honest and admit that there have been times when it would be easier to portray our lives here one way which is different from the life we actually live. Everyone of us have those days when it would be so easy to buckle under the weight and the stress of this world. We all have had days where we wondered if being dedicated to God is actually worth the sacrifice. We sing this song as a reminder of the need to persevere in our faith. Authentic faith continues to trust God when everything else around you is falling apart.
Far too many people have bought into a Gospel of convenience and comfort. Then when hardships and difficulties come they just walk away. Perseverance is not passive resignation, or putting up with things the way they are. It is growing stronger through the valleys of life, being knocked down and getting up again. Perseverance is not perfection. We continue on, through our successes and failures, learning from both. Even when we fall, we get up and keep going. And we understand that we don’t produce the ability to persevere, that’s something God does within us. So as we sing our way through our text this morning, let us be reminded of why God is worthy of our worship and praise even in the struggles of this life.
Sing Let It Rise
The Psalmist says because of our relationship with God we should expect opposition
Our song paints a vivid picture of the opposition that the Children of Israel faced. As they traveled to Jerusalem to worship God the people would sing, They beat me until I had deep cuts. My back looked like a freshly plowed field. As I read those words I have to admit that’s not a song that we would gather to sing. We don’t face that kind of oppression and that type of religion doesn’t sell very well in a western world. And yet it is a song that the Jews gladly sang on their way to meet God.
Most people, and nations, want to look back at the golden years the great successes in their lives so that they can plan for what will come in the future. But the Children of Israel were a bit different, instead of looking at what they have achieved, they take a moment to remember what they have survived. The Jewish people have endured more pain, turmoil, hatred, and persecution than another ethnic group in the history of mankind. But they look back that what they have endured and are able to find peace in the fact that they have survived. This was their 728B, their anthem because they knew there would always be someone in our families, churches, and community that attack, insult, and otherwise persecute people living out their faith. God is honest about the fact that following Him means hostility from the world. So we shouldn’t be surprised when All my life enemies have attacked me.
People who are angry with God often attack those who are His disciples. We become the lightning rod for the world’s anger and frustration with God. Let me let you in on a dirty little secret; when you set out to live a life that imitates the love, compassion, and mercy of Christ you will be met with persecution. I understand that someone told you that when you follow Christ everything in your life becomes gumdrops, lollipops, unicorns, and rainbows. I know you though if you were to make your faith a verb and get baptized then all of your problems go away. You hoped that when you became a Christian there would be no more sickness, no more struggles, no more difficult people in your life. You entered this relationship with God thinking you could have heaven right here on earth.
The truth is that when you become a Child of God you still have struggles, and they come from outside and inside the church. In a country built on freedom it’s not likely that you will face some of the persecution that Christians around the world are having to endure, but you will face opposition. Often times, we are in greater danger of ridicule than assault. Thomas Carlyle so aptly wrote, If Jesus Christ were to come today people would not even crucify him. They would ask him to dinner, and hear what he has to say, and make fun of it.
Not everyone who claims to be a child of God is cultivating their relationship with God. Not everyone who gets up on a Sunday morning and walks in to a building has spent time in the Bible and in prayer the week before trying to see if their lives are in line with the will of God. In every church there are folks who say they believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost; agree to renounce evil, and then perform their own version of murder. So we can gather to sing a song of opposition, not to remember what we have endured, but to celebrate what we have survived.
Sing I Shall Not be Moved
Next we see that we worship God because he will “cut the cords” of opposition
After describing the brutal attacks of the enemy in verse 3, the song changes it’s tune. This is not a song of despair, we remember that All my life enemies have attacked me, but they have never defeated me. Despite the attacks, he has not been overcome. Despite their attacks, his enemies have not managed to get a real foothold. They keep on trying, but they have not defeated me.
The song builds in verse 4 But the LORD does what is right; he cut the ropes and set me free from those wicked people. Cutting the cords makes the plow useless and unable to do its job. We sing a song of joy because God has cut these cords of the enemy, rendering his plows useless and ultimately harmless. While the attack continues, it has no effect. The enemy is powerless.
The basis of our faith is not some mystical fantasy, our faith is built on the bedrock of the great things that God has already accomplished; things that only God can do. He cut the cords of the wicked. We cannot defeat our enemies, we don’t possess that ability, but God does. There is this great part of Israel’s history in Deuteronomy 9. The Children of Israel were about to cross over into the promised land and face the Anakites, people described as strong and tall. The Children of Israel didn’t have the power or ability to win this battle, so God promises: I want you to know today that it will be the Eternal your God who will go across the Jordan ahead of you. A blazing fire, He’ll destroy those nations. He’ll subdue them so you can destroy them quickly and take their place, as He has promised you will. (3)
We can try to defend ourselves but we will never defeat our enemies; that’s already been done by God. Like a blazing fire God goes before us. He is righteous and He has cut the cords. The Lord is righteous and He has disarmed the enemy and protected His children. Our salvation does not come because of our own goodness, or skill, or wisdom. We cannot defeat our enemies. No matter how hard we try to defend ourselves, we cannot defeat our enemies; that’s already been done.
Let me add something here that is very important; the opposition God is saving us from is the sort we experience on account of our faith in Jesus Christ. There are many difficulties that come from living in a broken world, among broken people. There are times that we suffer because we are caught in the backwash of someone else's sin. The relief that God provides is relief from the enemy who tries to prevent God’s children from being faithful. Back to the story Deuteronomy 9 God says that He will go before them and give the victory not because you’re so good and righteous but because God is faithful to His promises. It is on account of God’s own righteous character that He will not allow opposition to prevail and overcome His people.
Even though God has defeated the enemy, we are by no means completely passive in the face of opposition. That is why we must persevere in the face of opposition. We must keep pressing on and trusting God even through severe circumstances. We cannot forget that we have been created, and redeemed to bring light into our world. We worship God because He is the one that gives us the light to illuminate the darkness of our souls. We take that light into our community and introduce them to a God that can save us from our enemy. Our God who is worthy of our worship, honor, and praise is the light that we must share with those who also find themselves in the darkness.
Sing This Little Light Of Mine
As we close this morning let me remind you of why it is so important that we not only persevere, but that we live a life worthy of that faith we profess.
First it’s important because it takes time to see the whole picture.
Appearances can be deceiving. In fact, as you look through the scriptures you will find that many times God waits until the situation seems hopeless before He moves and brings about victory. He demonstrates His power and might by turning around seemingly hopeless situations. And so if we give up too soon, we may miss the blessing.
Think for a moment how hopeless it all seemed in the darkness while Jesus hung on the cross. By all appearances, His mission had failed miserably. What could be more hopeless than a dead Savior, a lifeless leader? But three days later came the resurrection. And that changed everything.
Next it’s important because it takes time to reveal a person’s character.
A lot of us begin well, but very few finish well. In fact, when it comes to the issue of faith in Christ, perseverance is so important that only the one, who continues to the end, will be saved. In 1 John 2:19 we see the apostle, referring to those who had left the church and denied the gospel. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
In other words, these people had never been fully converted. While it might have seemed for a time that were honestly trying to build a life dependent on Christ and His will for our lives, the truth is that they never really believed in what God was offering. While they might have shown up to worship a few times a month and they knew all the religious terminology. But when they left, the truth was finally revealed. Their failure to persevere showed the emptiness of their life. Enduring in a life of faith demonstrates the validity of our faith.
Finally, it’s important because it reveals the truth about God.
The longer we persevere the deeper we know God. If we abandon our hope when trials come, then we will never experience God’s power to sustain and strengthen us in the midst of suffering. If we give in to sin, we won’t experience God’s grace as sufficient for us to resist temptation. The only way to know God’s grace is to persevere in a situation in which we need His grace. If we run, we may avoid the pain, but we will also be avoiding the chance to know God. If we give up on Christ too soon, then we will only see the tragedy of the crucifixion, and never the victory of the resurrection.
Paul writes in Galatians 6:9, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." If you want to reap a harvest you must persevere. We can reap the harvest of His sufficient grace and mercy. We can reap the harvest understanding that all the suffering, and sacrifice, and labor, and tears are worth the reward. But we must not grow so tired that we stop following Him, or else we will never know God as He truly is.
God wants us to persevere because that’s the only way to get past the garbage to the glory. You usually have to go through a lot of difficult, painful, unpleasant stuff in order to get to the really good stuff. As with most things in life, it’s only by persevering through the trials and troubles that you can enjoy the deepest blessings.
Perseverance is not easy; no one talks about persevering through the things they enjoy. The Bible encourages us to persevere because God knows there will be times we want to quit. Perseverance implies difficulty. But it’s difficulty the results in a Godly character, and hope, and joy.
Whenever we face something that threatens to throw us off the road of faith and we wonder if we can continue, if the fight is worth it, let’s just remember that the Lord is our defender. We gather to worship this morning because God has already cut the cords of the wicked and they hold no real power against anyone who trusts in the righteousness of the Lord.
Sing Let Us Worship