Life Apps 3.0 - Chapter 12: Persevering In Our Commitments message by Lead Pastor Terry Brisbane with Guest Rusty Rueff. For more information, visit cornerstone-sf.org
As we explore a life app that accompanies this teaching, we can start with the fact that our life practices can be built from the example of Jesus who persevered and stuck with His commitment for each and every one of us while He lived and died on earth, and today, while alive in heaven awaiting us. I want to call this life app, the Stick E app. Let’s start with the “S,” which stands for the setting of goals and milestones. One thing I’ve learned in my business and personal life is that whatever we imagine the time will be to get something done, ultimately, it’s going to take more time to successfully hit dates, times, and expectations. We need to set realistic goals and timelines. I tell young entrepreneurs who are building their business to plan on revenue taking twice as long to build to half of what you think it’s going to be. What this does is set the expectations in an achievable way for sticking with goals and objectives.
The “T” is about understanding and accepting the lesson of threes. We can make it easier to stick through with what we’ve committed if we go into the year, acknowledging that we’re going to have three rough months, three bad weeks, and three, really, really, really hard days. It would be great if these would come sequentially, but they don’t always. It helps that when we look back and say, “Yep, those 90 days, they added up to three rough months,” and so on and so on, putting things in perspective for making the rest of the year look pretty good and survivable.
The “I” stands for the increase of our endurance level. I like to keep my weekly long-run endurance level at about a singular 10 miler. What this allows me to do is to run a shorter 5K or 10K race whenever I want. If I want to train for something longer, I’m ready. So it can be in work and life. If we know that we have the increased endurance level for a certain amount of work, travel, creativity, productivity, emotional capacity, even time, it’s then that we are better equipped to know what we can or should take onto our plate and, just as importantly, what we shouldn’t.
The “C” is about courage and character. It takes courage to start something. But let me tell you, it takes character to follow through with the commitment in the right way. I read a quote somewhere in a novel where the protagonist was encouraging others to fight through their struggles. The quote was something like this: “There are those who never make it to the starting line. There are others who quit because of their weariness. Then there are the rest of us.” It’s motivating when we consider that we have exercised the courage to start and have the character to fulfill our commitments in a way that makes us and others around us better.
The “K” in “Sticky” is knowledge. A favorite elite runner and Olympian of mine, Deena Kastor, says that “One of the success factors of finishing a race strongly is running within the mile you’re in.” Now, what she means by this is having the knowledge at all times of where you are in the race and then focusing on where you are now versus thinking about the past or worrying about the future. The final part of our Sticky Life app is the “E” that stands for the extra mile. At the beginning of this, I said to set the goal for longer than expected. Jesus told us that we are to go the extra mile in all that we’re asked to do proving our commitments and our follow-through. That’s our Stick E Life app. May God be with you in each and every commitment that you make.
There was a point in the ministry of Jesus where was very popular, people were talking about Him. We can see this in a passage from Luke 14. He was almost a celebrity of sorts in Israel, Jerusalem, Judea, and Galilee. Everybody was talking about Jesus of Nazareth. He had His own disciples and He had developed quite a following. There came a point in time when He started saying things that were bothersome. Not only did they bother the people that Jesus was talking to, but they started to bother even His own disciples. Initially, everybody was excited. The disciples were absolutely excited, like we would be, to be part of something that appeared to be so successful. Everybody was interested. It seemed like there were masses of people following Jesus. They were following Him for a variety of reasons, things that He did such as Healings. His words were different. He spoke about things that were moving people’s hearts.
There came a point where Jesus started to shift the way in which He talked. It was the most opposite thing you would do if you were trying to run a marketing campaign to build brand momentum. He started talking about things that were almost confrontational. He did it because He sensed that there was a real fickleness to the people who were following Him. There were a lot of different reasons why they were following Him. He had this real understanding that their real commitment was very thin. As soon as things didn’t go the way they were thinking, they would disappear, melt away. Jesus made a decision at a key place in His ministry to challenge people about what it meant to follow Him. In Luke 14:27, on one occasion, Jesus said, “If anyone’s going to come after me, you’re going to need to take up your cross and follow me. If you cannot bear your cross, you cannot be my disciple.”
That was an interesting statement. We read this statement and I think a lot of us think, “Oh yeah, the cross.” “Whoever can’t bear His cross cannot come after me.” I don’t know if we really appreciate the polarization and the emotion that would’ve been connected to that statement. We think of a cross today or identify that process, as we should, with the love of God who gave Himself for us. Crosses are on the tops of churches. Nowadays, lots of people just wear crosses as ornaments around their necks. Some people use them as good luck charms. Crosses are everywhere. They’re ubiquitous. They’re jewelry for most people. In their day, a Jewish audience didn’t have jewelry depicting a cross. When someone mentioned a cross, it was a very vivid thing. It was extremely jarring because, in that era, the Jewish audience that Jesus spoke to was well aware of how the Romans used the cross as a tool for capital punishment. They had borrowed the practice from the Assyrians. They had perfected it to extend dying out and to create something that was designed to be a warning to anyone who crossed paths against Rome. Jesus Himself was going to be put on a cross. People had witnessed the brutality of Roman justice.
When Jesus says, “If you want to be my disciple and follow me, you’re going to have to take up your cross.” It would be as if somebody said to me or said to us, “Unless you are willing to pick up your cross, unless you are willing to sit on an electric chair, or stand in front of a firing squad, you cannot be my follower.” Think about the intensity of what He was saying. It was jarring. Surely, I can imagine the disciples saying, even though they weren’t going to question Jesus, “Come on, Lord. Why do you have to bring up that? That’s the worst thing you can say if you want people to follow you. Everybody’s excited. Why do you have to talk like that? Can’t we just focus on the positive?” Honestly, if you’re a casual observer or an ambitious apostle, you would’ve thought, “Wow, that’s so unnecessary. Why use a disturbing symbol of death and suffering as a recruiting tool?” That’s what Jesus did.
Then to this mixed audience of the committed, curious, intrigued, and now recently offended, Jesus said, “For which of you intending to build a tower does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it? This after he has laid the foundation, he’s not able to finish and everybody who comes by sees that incompleted structure, says, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish, is testimony to your foolishness.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king does not sit down first and consider whether he is able, with 10,000, to meet him who comes against him with 20,000? Once he assesses that he’s at a disadvantage. While the larger army is still a long way off, he’s going to send a delegation and ask for conditions of peace because he can already see he’s going to get overwhelmed.” Jesus says, “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has, cannot be my disciple.” It was almost like Jesus was saying, “You cannot be a true follower of mine if you’re not willing to reorder your life. This is no small matter, no trivial detail. Weigh out what you’re doing because it won’t work right if you don’t. Following me is a dangerously beautiful thing and it will surely cost you something.”
Jesus is saying before you launch out and “Commit to my cause,” ask yourself if you are truly willing to follow through, come what may? That’s what He is asking. No, Jesus wasn’t making an appeal. In fairness, there were other times when Jesus talked about the blessing of coming into His kingdom. He talked about the promise of life beyond this life. He talked about the abundant life, the overflowing life, and the way life really works. He talked about the promise of joy and the promise of a relationship with the Heavenly Father. He talked about how God would take our lives and radically alter them and take the things that were sometimes the most painful places and bring good from them. Jesus talked about all the advantages of coming to the Lord in our brokenness. How He would not be turned away. How He would never leave us nor forsake us. If you walked with Him, the shepherd, you would never be abandoned. He talked about these things all the time. He made positive appeals. In this case, it was like He was saying, “Look, before you sign on the dotted line, don’t do it so fast. I want to tell you exactly what you’re signing on for.”
When we look closely and push at this, we’ll see that there are at least a couple of principles. We want to note them because they’re going to take us somewhere. The first principle is the principle of counting the cost. Jesus was reminding them, “Don’t do this thing half-heartedly. “Secondly, the principle on top of that has to do with the king who’s assessing whether or not he’s going to be able to win a pitched battle. I would call it the principle of disengagement. There are going to be times in some situations in our lives when we have to shift our approach and settle for a less than the ideal alternative. That would be wisdom. Then there’s a principle that goes all the way back to the tower reference. I want to call it the principle of completion. That’s the one that I want to settle into because it has everything to do with perseverance. What was He talking about for the tower thing we just read in verse 28? What did that mean?
In Jesus’ day, there were vineyards. In the vineyards, there were these structures that were built. They had large foundations. On them were built a tower. The tower was designed to be able to look out in all directions. Towers, which I think still exist in different ways today, are lookout points. You could see if there was a thief, a fire that was breaking out, or a fox in the vineyard. It gave you a vantage point. There were times where there would be these structures and people would’ve seen them all the time where somebody had started to build something in the middle of a field. They either had run out of money, there was an economic downturn, or the crop didn’t come through, for whatever reason they started this endeavor. You could still see the foundations of the structure, but they never completed it. The tower was a testimony to their inability to complete the project.
Not unlike when we’re walking down the street or in the neighborhood and we’ll see something like this will happen. We had this happen in our backyard a little bit on the other side of the block where we lived. There was a house that was started to be built and the project, for whatever reason, totally halted. All you saw there for about a year was a half begun project. You’ll see that from time to time. There could have been a variety of reasons. It could have been financed with no margin. What Jesus was saying is, “Don’t start something if you can’t finish it.” He’s saying there’s a principle there. I want to take this quickly and put some principles out that I want to suggest have to do with the fact that the Lord does not want us to have unfinished towers in our life. We don’t want our life to be filled with a bunch of unfinished towers, to use the analogy. There is something prevailing in our commitments that speaks of God’s work in our lives.
Let me put some principles up and we’ll sit with them because there’s somewhere else I want to go. I want to suggest that something else that Jesus is teaching us here is that success usually begins on the front end of things. You can see how He’s laying out these principles. One of the things Jesus talks about here is how we begin and prepare matters. Many times we jump into something, but we didn’t prepare for it. Jesus is very concerned about the beginning. The beginning matters to him. Think about a structure. When the foundation is laid, that sets the thing. If the foundation is sound, you can build on it. If it’s off, and we’re seeing that in the city these days. In the newspaper, you saw there was a problem with foundations. The entire structure now is in jeopardy. Lawsuits are flying everywhere.
Part of it has to do with how we begin. It matters. Right behind that is the second principle. Every good, truly good, and worthy endeavor, will inevitably be tested by adversity and resistance. This is something that I’ve come deeply to believe. When you are trying to pursue something of value in your life, certainly at a spiritual level, do not ever think that it’s going to only be easy. Nothing of quality is just easy and it costs something. That’s what Jesus was getting at. That’s what He was really saying because if you really want to follow him you understand it’s the greatest thing ever. It’s free, but it’s not cheap. It’s going to cost you something. “But I thought you said it’s free.” It is, but it’s going to cost you something. I look at that and think, “Lord, there are times when we’re in the process of trying to work through things and we’re going to have to ask ourselves, ‘Can I sustain this?'” We’re going to get pressure. When pressure hits, what do we do? Do we quit? We’re going to talk about that. When we’re trying to build something of value, we are going to experience some type of resistance. What we do in that adversity is huge.
I can only say that I look back on the year that I’ve had and it was filled with so much adversity. It was so hard, but there was so much to learn. There is adversity. When we get to the beginning of the year, really focus on that idea of growing through adversity. If there are people that you’ve been praying for or you think have been walking through things in life, who don’t have the tools and equipment to know how to move through that adversity, then this would be a perfect time. You should already start praying for people who you think might benefit from learning how to move through adversity in their lives. What we’re going to do is zero in on how to grow in that place. I want to talk a little bit more about it too, a little bit later in this lesson. I want to throw in one more thought here. Jesus teaches us that there’s a unique satisfaction and joy that comes when we see things through. I think we understand that. Everybody knows what it’s like to finish a short-term project, task, or report. Even cleaning something can have satisfaction in it. A hike or workout, when you finish that it feels good. It’s even better to finish something that you’ve been pouring your energy into for years. That’s why people love graduating. Everybody’s happy, throwing their hats up. It’s a special time because everybody feels like, “I did it. I accomplished it. I completed this.” There’s joy and satisfaction.
If you think about it, that’s the way God wired us. We bear the creator’s image. It says in the Book of Genesis, that when God finished the creation, He looked upon it with satisfaction and said, “It is good.” God did that. It reminds us that a lot of times we run past our blessings. I can say I’m as guilty as anyone at times, maybe more. We don’t pause to say, “Oh, that was good. That was good.” We’re onto the next thing. Every now and then, we need to mark the moment. Some of us are really good at marking things. You celebrate and honor what was done. That’s a good thing. Is there any better example than Jesus? He was in utter pain when He said, “It is finished. It is finished.” He completed His assignment if you will. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves.
Hebrews says, “For the joy that was set before Him.” The joy of pleasing the Father. The joy of seeing how many would be able to follow Him through the very jaws of death into life, through the giving of His own life. That joy and that saddest, “It is finished. It is done,” produced this whole new possibility, the idea of completion. The fourth reason is that both quitting and finishing become habitual. The more we quit on things for whatever reason tends to become easier to quit the next time. This is why, as a basic life principle, I’ve tried to train my kids to not quit on things. I’ve tried to encourage the church and to live my life that way too. Partly because I say, “Lord, even if I’ve got myself into something that probably I shouldn’t have committed myself to, I’m going to go ahead and finish this up because then I will remember how bad I feel for doing it in the first place.” The next time around, I won’t commit to this because I’ll remember what I felt like having to finish what I committed myself to that I wasn’t supposed to commit myself to in the first place.
I’m not talking about stuff that’s clearly not good. There are all kinds of reasons to stop something. I’m talking about when we feel, “I’ve lost my passion.” Or, I was having this conversation with my son, who’s saying, “They misrepresented this.” I said, “I see your point but, principally speaking, you would do well to finish this because it’s always easy to find a justification for quitting.” Quitting, we can always find a justification or a rationale for it. They’re not doing this or they said this, but the reason we need to finish something is that we start to become finishers. It’s not even the issue itself. It’s what it does in us, either positively or negatively when we quit or we finish. Many times some of us don’t finish the last 10%. We’ve got a ton of stuff there are uncompleted towers all over our lives. We think, “Can you finish this up?”
Uncompleted stuff does create stress. We haven’t really sealed off the ends. You get a number of those things flying around your life and you’re walking with low-grade stress everywhere. There is value in finishing things. Part of it is the peace it brings when we can simplify the stuff. In order to finish, it requires perseverance. It’s not always going to be easy. There is a quotation t from a book called The Strengths of a Christian. “As patience or perseverance is a virtue by which a person is capable and becomes more and more capable of keeping commitments.” It speaks of the ability to remain true over a rather long haul to an ideal, commitment, mission, person, or job. “When such remaining true is difficult because of the setting, temptations, adversities, and discouragements.” Have you ever been there? “And other changes of mood.” A lot of times we get tired of it or sad.
Last night I was already tired and for some reason, my week did not end great. Many times, people think pastors are the happiest guys on earth. Someone was saying, “Yeah, your life is happy. You don’t do anything. You don’t have to work. You have one hour of work a week. Anybody can do that.” I’m thinking, “Okay, you really don’t understand.” I do remember that I had people ask me that. I guarantee you, they said, “What do you do with all that free time you have?” I assure you that there are not always times where it’s easy because not only the normal stuff that running a community is and the things that go into shepherding those who shepherd, there’s also the idea of trying to get the visions for what we’re supposed to be reaching out and contending for people’s souls. We have to think about how to position things, dealing with nonstop conflict. There’s no perfect church because we’re all in it. The fact of the matter is there are no perfect people. There always are issues. There are times where it’s harder than others. It’s true in our lives as well.
This is a little side rabbit trail. I have seen over the course of 30 plus years, a lot of pastors burn out and go. You need to pray for your spiritual leaders if at all possible because there’s so much intense stuff going on all the time and at multiple levels. I’ve watched them burn out utterly discouraged. I’ve watched them burn out morally. There’s such a pressure to set a good tone, to live a biblical life that I’ve watched a lot of wonderful men and women falter under the weight of that. I had that happen this last week with someone who is close. I see and I understand that. I’m not complaining. Just being honest. What I’m trying to say is that I came into this week and it was hard. I got towards the end of the week and was trying to get ready for this message and I thought there were some things that were weighing. There were leadership issues, some personnel issues, and things that were going on inside of me that I wasn’t properly processing right. I could tell it wasn’t processing correctly and it was bothering me.
I came to preach this message last night and I was feeling a little bit better. Afterward, I had a conversation with the leader and was feeling a whole lot worse by the time that we were done. I was thinking, “Oh, wow. Thank you for that wonderful report I just got. Now I get to go home and sleep really nicely getting ready for the message tomorrow with all this stuff on my mind. I wasn’t mad, believe me. I went home and I was praying, “Lord, what am I going to do here? How do I deal with this?” I went to bed and could barely sleep. That’s why I look so terrible. I could barely sleep. I thought about this message and what I have to deal with. I woke up early this morning and early, all of a sudden, a phrase came to me. ‘You’re so blessed.’ I said, “Why?” Because you get to experience the very thing you’re preaching about. I thought, “That’s true, actually.” The Lord is trying to teach that in every scenario that is challenging, there is opportunity. Where is that growth opportunity? Where is the opportunity by God’s grace in the adversity? Show me, Lord, and then teach me how to position myself. That’s what I want to do in these last few minutes. How can we position ourselves to persevere when it’s hard? Some of you are very tired. Others are in pain or very sad. There are things happening. Others don’t know about it, but it’s hard treading. What do we do there?
Here are a couple of things that have helped me. It can be a principal blessing. One is there are times when we are really feeling the pressure and want to quit, run away, or not finish our commitments, but need to shift into what I call the big picture thinking. We need to think in a bigger way. The idea is to focus on the big picture. Sometimes we get stuck in the weeds. We start feeling the pressure. I know you have felt it. I felt it. You start feeling the pressure. If you’re not careful, we start shrinking our world. Everything tightens up. We’re getting beat up on each side. I turn here, pressure; turn there, pressure. I go back, pressure. Pressure, pressure, everywhere’s pressure. All of a sudden we start closing down.
In those places, it’s really important to expand ourselves a little bit and say, “This too shall pass. The Lord has promised. He’s the one. He’s taken me through things before. I’m going to get through this, as well.” This is a season. The key right now is I need to learn how to keep moving my feet, keep trusting God. I shall prevail. I’m going to claim your promises, Lord. I’m going to keep moving forward and keep my eye on you. Help me. Remember, that in the big picture, I will, in the end, leave it all behind. Jesus reminded us, “Have an eternal perspective.” Don’t get stuck. Sometimes we get so narrowed down or defined by everything. Remember we have a great savior. We have a great future. Things are going to turn. Let’s keep positive. I know that’s a positive. I believe it because God says, “All things work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”
Sometimes we need to shift to the big picture. Other times, we need to shift our focus into a much littler picture. I call this principle: One day at a time principle. There are times when we think, “Oh, my goodness, how am I going to deal with this? Hey, oh, wow. What am I going to do?” Narrow it down. Jesus said, “When you pray, pray like this. Our Father in heaven, holy is thy name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done. Give us this day. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread.” Lord, give me enough for today. I’m going to focus right now at the beginning of this day, on this day. I’m not going to borrow from tomorrow’s trouble. It may get there, but it’s going to be there either way and I’m not helping myself. So right now, I’m going to ask you for grace for today.
I ask for grace. Help me with my attitude. Help me to reinforce my trust in you. Help me to believe that you are so merciful that when I make mistakes, you can turn them around if I welcome you into the process. Help me not to be afraid of things because a fearful person cannot see things clearly. You have not given me a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and soundness of mind. Help me, God, right now because I am feeling pressure on each side. Help me right now. I trust you for this day. Maybe I trust you right now at this hour. Help me, Lord. This leads perfectly into what I’m calling that third principle, which is: there are going to be times when you’re going to need to encourage yourself in the Lord. Somebody’s asking, “What does that mean?” It means there are times we need to trust in the Lord. I did it last night. I said, “Lord, this is hard. Right now I don’t like what’s happening. It just looks like more work for me. How am I going to do this? How am I going to trust you right now? Help me to trust you. Help me to trust that you will not only show me a way, but you will also teach me in the way.”
There are things you want to do in your life right now. Encouraging ourselves in the Lord. I looked at that and think, “God, how do I even start” One of the things that has been helpful is I will get the Bible and open up the Psalms. This is one of the things I learned. I want to talk more about that, Lord, at the beginning of the year. The idea of writing out a Psalm can be so powerful. As you read through it, there are very raw things in the Psalms. They talk about God’s faithfulness and God’s goodness. They also talk about how “I’m being hurt by this person.” Or, “I’m disappointed in you, Lord.” Or, “Why isn’t this turning my way?” Yet it always comes back to the goodness of God and reinforces our trust. Sometimes, just writing something out of the Psalm and saying, “Lord, I want to claim this. I feel you want me to claim this Word within your Word as my word for this season of my life or in this situation. I’m going to hold onto it.” Many times, it’s just living off the example of Jesus.
The last verse we’ll look at is Hebrews 12:1-3. This message has a unique way of approaching things in this translation. It says, “Do you see what this means?” He’s talking about the examples of people in the Old Testament. “Do you see what this means? All these pioneers who blazed the way. All these veterans cheering us on.” It means we better get on with this. Strip down, start running. It is something about running the race of faith and persevering. Never quit. Don’t quit. Keep with it. No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins that draw the strength right out of us. Lord, help me. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished the race we’re in. He’s the one. Study how we did it because He never lost sight of where He was headed. That exhilarating finish in and with God. He could put up with anything along the way: the cross, shame, or whatever. Now He’s there in the place of honor right alongside God.
When you find yourself flagging in your faith, go over that story again and again, item by item, that long litany of hostility that He plowed through. I love this phrase. If you do that, it will shoot adrenaline into your soul. Who needs coffee? We have Jesus. We have the example of Jesus for our souls. If somebody says to me, “This is how you do it.” But I don’t have an example. Someone says, “Do this.” But I don’t have an example. We have an example. If we want to see how it’s done, how you walk through things, endure betrayal, get past abandonment, finish your commitment, stay committed and steadfast, and are able to hold that line in your life, that’s the way of Jesus. He shows us how it’s done.
The last thing I want to say heading into this week choose to stay grateful. It’s a good week. We get a holiday that says to be thankful. That is so good. Choose to stay grateful, optimistic, and hopeful as a choice we make. At some point, we get to decide and say, “Lord, I know you’re with me. Where am I going to focus?” I’ll throw this last verse out there in everything by prayer and supplication, Philippines 4:6-7, “With thanksgiving, let your heart, your request be known to God.” Then the peace of God, as you share your heart with Him, with all of the contradictions, all of its questions, and all of its pain, He will keep your heart and mind. Your heart and your mind will be kept. The Lord wants to teach us how to do this. How to be people who can persevere.
There are key people in my life that if they had quit when they were under intense pressure or quit on one another, I’m not sure I’d even be following Jesus. Whatever I’m able to do on His behalf in some small, imperfect way would, essentially, be gone. Do you understand how to hold a line? They held their lines. When I was young, I never saw it but as I got older I started realizing, “Wow, they have problems. That was hard for them, but they held their line. They gave me something of stability.” In the end, the people who impact us the most for the best are usually the people who keep their commitments. That’s usually what happens, and all of us are an interrelated story.
Let’s pray together now and close this time out. “Lord, I want to ask you to help us, even now as we approach this season of thankfulness to be able to trust you in greater ways with things that are sometimes hard for us. To learn how to wrestle with that and to trust you in these places. This is because you’re trying to grow us. Some of us right now have stuff. We have to face it. We’re going to have to deal with it. It’s not easy. It’s not always easy, but I thank you for the people who’ve given us examples. I thank you for your example. I thank you for people who’ve been faithful to you and they finished their race well. Not perfect, but they finished it. We have that blessing. May we be that blessing for others. May we be for where we are now. We can’t change what it was, but we can do a whole lot about what is now and where we’re going. I ask that you would be with us. Help us, teach us to finish, and to run well. This is what I ask to be faithful by your grace, in Jesus’ name. Amen, Lord.