The Race – Part 4

20 06 2017

therace04
Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrew 12:1-2

It would be absolutely ridiculous if a runner got to the starting line and when the gun is fired, instead of running in his lane on the track, he begins to run in his own tight little circle. Unbelievably this is what many Christians do day in and day out. Instead of running the race that God has placed in front of them, they run in their own little circle. The Hebrews 12 passage says that we are to run the race that lies before us. There are two important implications in this short phrase that we each need to understand.

The first implication is that there is a path set up for us to follow and run. This is not a hidden path. God has revealed this path to us and it is very clearly marked. There seems to be an ongoing struggle among Christians to find the will of God for their lives, but there should be no difficulty. Scripture is crystal clear in a thousand instances that we are to be about redeeming lost people, particularly unreached people groups, back to God through Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 5:20 Paul says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: ‘Be reconciled to God.'” This is God’s will for our lives! This is the race set before us. The confusion in discerning God’s will comes when we are not running on this main path. For example, many high school students struggle with the decision on what college to attend, yet the decision becomes incredibly easy if they are running the race that lies before them. The questions change from personal, selfish questions that God will probably never answer to questions about where you can be the most effective for the kingdom and run the race more fully. These are questions that God will answer!

Since becoming a father myself, my understanding of the will of God has broadened. I am really not concerned with what my boys want to become, be it an astronaut, teacher, or trash collector, as long as they are running the race that lies before them. I simply want them to strive to be the best racer that they can be with this one, brief life that they are given. I certainly want to guide them in their decisions, and I believe God does that for us as well, but the most important thing I can do is to teach them about the race and allow them to run the best they can with the gifts and talents that God has given them. As parents and teachers, we ask the wrong questions of our children. We ask them what they want to be when they grow up, but the correct questions for Christians are, “What does God want you to be?” or, “What can you do to be the most effective for God’s Kingdom?”

The second implication of the phrase “the race that lies before us” is that this phrase is inclusive of everyone who is a follower of Jesus. The pronoun “us” includes you. Many people respond to this passage as if the pronoun is “them.” This phrase is for people who go as missionaries to another country, but not me. This phrase is for people who are radical Christians, but not for a normal Christian like me. This is how we respond. In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan would say that this “normal Christian” is really no Christian at all. How can one say they are on the track team but refuse to run the race? It makes no sense, and yet this is how many people live their lives. We will even redefine running so as to justify our disobedience. We will say that running is going to church most every Sunday or reading our Bible or knowing a lot about the faith or giving money, but in the end we know these are empty without the giving of our lives for the gospel.

Will you have the courage to run the race that lies before you? It’s tempting to run our own little race where we are rewarded by this world, but it is difficult to disdain the blessings of this world for the greater blessing of a future glory.

“We will not wish we had made more money, acquired more stuff, lived more comfortably, taken more vacations, watched more television, pursued greater retirement, or been more successful in the eyes of this world. Instead, we will wish we had given more of ourselves to living for the day when every nation, tribe, people, and language will bow around the throne and sing the praises of the Savior who delights in radical obedience and the God who deserves eternal worship.”
― David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream





The Race – Part 3

24 05 2017

therace03Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrew 12:1-2

When I was in high school, my race in track was the 800m run. My goal was to get under 2 minutes, but my best time ever ended up being 2:01. My coach trained me extremely hard, even to the point that I could tell you what pace I was running without looking at a stopwatch. Most people don’t realize how much strategy plays into running a race. It would be one thing if it was just you on the track running, but in the 800m run it was normally 20 or more competitive racers jostling for position on the same narrow lane. I was always quick, but I didn’t have the best endurance or kick at the end. Therefore my strategy was to sprint out of the starting line around the first curve in order to be well ahead and in first place. I then would fight to keep that position by spreading my elbows out and running as far outside the lane as possible without letting someone slip by me on the inside. All of this would make the other runners have to work harder to pass me. Sometimes this strategy worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes I just didn’t have enough at the end to hold off the top runners.

The type of race that the author of Hebrews was writing about here was not an 800m run. The author is talking about running with endurance, which means this is a very long distance race. Over the last 7 or 8 years my wife and I have gotten into running endurance races like regular marathons, trail marathons, obstacle races, etc. (There are worse things that one could do for their mid-life crisis!) My goal is to soon be able to run an ultra-marathon starting with a 50K (31 miles). Since beginning to run these races, I have learned a ton! I have learned what food is good to eat the night before and the morning of the race. I have learned what nutrition I respond best to while running. I have my favorite pair of shorts. I have my favorite brand and model of shoe depending on what surface I will be running on. I know what cold weather gear I need depending on what the temperature will be. I know, depending on the temperature and humidity, how far I can run on a liter of water without getting dehydrated. I could go on and on, but the point I am trying to make is that it takes a lot of training and preparation to run an endurance race.

The funny thing about this endurance race that God has placed us on is that we are to learn as we go. When we made the decision to follow Jesus, the starting gun went off. We might initially be excited about being in the race sprinting out of the blocks, but we eventually find a good pace to settle into and keep moving forward. There are times that we may have to walk as we do some training, and there are other times when it seems as though we could sprint forever. The problem with the church in the West is that the vast majority of racers have simply stopped. We are content to let the “professionals” run. We might invite someone to watch the race with us on Easter, but other than that it’s just too hard to run that race, especially with all of the distractions.

We must keep moving forward by making disciples with the long vision in mind. Making disciples is not a sprint; it’s an endurance race. We will mess up and stumble and so will those that we are discipling, but we fall forward. We keep our legs moving.

I tell people all the time that at my age I am not about winning; I’m about finishing. The funny thing is that as I build up endurance, I find myself getting more competitive. I believe that as we mature in our Christian faith and build up more endurance to run better, we become like-minded with Paul when he said, “Run in such a way to win the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24b CSB) In this context, Paul was talking about the gospel and sharing in the blessing of seeing others come to faith and be made disciples who make disciples.

How awesome would it be to be apart of a church that competed with each other for making disciples!? One of the things that I really enjoy about the running community is that although they are a competitive bunch, they are hugely encouraging. What would it look like if our churches were full of believers that fought hard for every disciple made and spurred each other on knowing it’s all for God’s glory?





The Race – Part 2

17 05 2017

therace02Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrew 12:1-2

Last fall I was able to take a shot at the Spartan Beast. This is a 13-mile obstacle course. Every obstacle is difficult, and if you fail an obstacle after one try, you earn 30 burpees. Running 13 miles on level pavement is difficult enough, but this was running up and down hills and cliffs on dirt single tracks. It was definitely the hardest event that I have competed in to date. There was one obstacle that was the hardest for me and many others. We ran around a bend in the trail and were confronted by a volunteer who gave us a 5-gallon bucket. We had to take that bucket to a pile of pea gravel and fill it to the top. We then proceeded to carry that bucket straight up a steep hill for half a mile and straight down the back half. Most, me included, could only carry the bucket 10 steps or so before we had to lower it down to catch our breath and shake our hands out. I even saw a couple of people break down crying. My wife always reminds me at this point in the story that I chose to do this and even paid money to carry that bucket.

That bucket always reminds me of the hindrances and sin mentioned in Hebrews 12:1. It seems ridiculous to run with a 5-gallon bucket filled with pea gravel, but that is how many Christians try to run. We might even have Jesus in our sights, but we are struggling every step carrying all that weight that so easily ensnares us. Some believers knowingly choose to carry a full bucket of sin and hindrances, but for most it is a small accumulation over the years that results in a wearing down. We may not even notice until one day we come to a stop completely burned out surprised at the load in our arms and our ineffectiveness in producing fruit. This is a great reason why every believer needs to surround themselves with a community of friends that are willing to point out those unnecessary loads.

It is important to note that the author of Hebrews talks about two distinct things that can ensnare us: hindrances and sin. Sin is something we understand. We know that it starts small and progresses over time accumulating a weight that keeps us from running. The way to cast off that sin is to embrace the forgiveness that is available to you through Jesus and repent of those sins. Although sin is incredibly destructive, it is something that is easily recognized, if not by ourselves then others and especially through the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

This word “hindrance” is usually something that is not talked about and fully understood. In the world in which this was written, this word would have been used for any restrictive clothing that caused athletes not to do their best. As a longtime runner, I understand the need for proper clothing and equipment. It’s one thing to throw any old shorts on and run a few miles, but those same shorts might rub you raw at 20 miles. As we will see, we are running an endurance race, and we must evaluate everything in our lives. It is important to note that these hindrances are not necessarily sin. Running a marathon in high heels is not the best thing to do, but it is not wrong.

If our race is to complete the Great Commission as Jesus has commanded, then we must evaluate our lives to see if there are any hindrances that might keep us from finishing that task. I don’t think that debt is an outright sin in all cases (it certainly can be in some), but debt could easily hinder you from running the race. What if you were led by the Holy Spirit to be a pioneer missionary among an unreached people group, but you were up to your ears in debt and could not go because of that? Do you spend so much time on your hobbies that you forget the lostness of your neighbors? Hobbies are not sin and could be used for the glory of God, but they can also be a hindrance.

Every year we push our church members to take a class called Perspectives. One of my favorite speakers each year is Todd Ahrend. Todd talks about how God has blessed us so that we can be a blessing to others, but he says that, instead of being a channel of God’s blessing, too many are consumed with managing their own blessings first. Having a boat is not a sin, but once you purchase a boat you must take care of it, spend money on it, store it, use it, etc. It can become a hindrance to running the race God has laid out for us.

Each person must pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to them those things that are hindrances and sin so that they can be freed up to run the endurance race marked out for us.





The Race – Part 1

10 05 2017

therace01Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrew 12:1-2

 The very first word of this scripture, therefore, is hugely important. It means that in light of the previous passage and because of the previous passage, now do this. So whenever we see this word, it should sound an alarm for us to look at what was written before, so that what we are about to read is understood in the proper context. In regards to this particular therefore, it refers back to Hebrews 11. This is a chapter that many people have nicknamed the “Hall of Fame of Faith.” Beginning with Abel, it lists many individuals and included the multitude of unnamed people who kept their faith even through the worst hardships, torture, and persecution.

Our passage of scripture in Hebrews 12:1, referring back to all those listed in Hebrews 11, says that all of the faithful make up a large cloud of witnesses that surround us.

Not too long ago, I watched a documentary on Netflix called “Fittest On Earth.” This documentary followed some of the greatest athletes as they competed in the 2015 International CrossFit Games. On the second day of the games, they competed in a workout called “Murph.” This starts with a 1-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, and then ends with another 1-mile run all of this done with a weighted vest on. It happened to be very hot that morning of the competition, and most of the athletes were really struggling to even finish. They showed these competitors exhausted, taking ice baths, and some were even passed out. Although this was an extremely difficult workout, the day was just beginning! Following this workout, they were to do another very difficult workout called a “Snatch Speed Ladder.” This is basically throwing a bunch of progressively heavy barbells over your head in a controlled fashion. As the athletes waited to enter the field, you could see the trepidation on their faces, but something changed as they entered the playing field. The stands surrounding the field were completely packed with crazy, cheering fans! Of course the athletes were still tired, but the encouragement from the stands allowed them to pull from some deep reserves to do some incredibly difficult lifts.

This is what the author of Hebrews is talking about. Those faithful that went before us are sitting in the stands cheering us on to do incredibly difficult or even impossible things for God. Now, I am not sure if this means that those people are with us in spirit or if they can physically see us. On my good days I like to think that they can gaze from where they are and see us, but I have bad days, too, where I would just rather nobody sees.

The point, though, is we should be encouraged knowing that when we remain faithful we are just the latest of generations of faithful that have gone before us. In Hannah Hurnard’s famous allegorical book, “Hind’s Feet On High Places,” the main character named Much Afraid is led down into a desert of suffering. In the midst of that suffering she is encouraged when she sees a long line of people as far as the eye could see beginning with Abraham, and she is invited to join hands with the last in line making her a part of the faithful sufferers.

Because of knowing the fact that others have successfully gone before us and they now surround us with their encouragement, throw off every hindrance and sin, and run!





Persecution in America

6 10 2015

persecutionMy eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
Philippians 1:20

In this passage of scripture, Paul is writing from prison. He has been imprisoned because of his faith in Christ. His prayer is simply that no matter what happens, Christ would be glorified, whether he lives through this persecution or he is killed. Death is a reality that he is facing as he writes this letter.

In recent years, there have been numerous Christians talking and writing about increased persecution of Christians in America. Certainly there have been instances where Christian people or businesses have been targeted expressly because they hold a Biblical worldview, but the vast majority of these do not end up in prison or dead. We have all been following the news about the mass shooting that happened in a small college in Oregon. It has been reported that the gunman was targeting Christians. There have been in the recent past other such shootings with similar stories of Christians being targeted and killed, but, not to minimize these tragedies, these events are not the norm and are usually carried out by mentally unstable people. In America today there is no widespread, systematic persecution of Christians going on where the end result is imprisonment, death, or banishment.

To say that we, as American believers, are persecuted is an insult to the many Christians that face hatred, discrimination, death, torture and imprisonment in other parts of the world simply because they have chosen to follow Jesus. Instead of crying foul at the media, sharing alarmist articles on social media, and wishing for the good ole’ days, we should be taking advantage of the unprecedented freedom that we have to share the gospel not just in our country, but in most places on the planet. The fact of the matter is that I could go out on our streets right now, share the gospel with someone, and see them become a Jesus-follower, and neither of us is going to face prison, torture, or death. If it ever comes to that, then we can start calling it persecution.

In the end, though, persecution does not matter, because all that matters is that God receives the glory. If I live in a country where persecution is the norm, then by my imprisonment, torture, and death I should see that God is glorified. If I live in America where I can share openly and freely, then by my life I should see that God is glorified.

May Paul’s prayer be our prayer! We need to quit worrying about this fallen world. God will take care of that. It should be no surprise that this country is going the direction it is going, yet we act shocked when a sinful people actually sin. We have been called to see that God receives all glory, and by His plan we are to do that by making disciples of all people groups. Paul could have easily languished in prison feeling sorry for himself. Instead he boldly witnessed so much that it could be said that the entire Imperial Roman Guard knew that he was imprisoned because of his faith in Christ. God, please, give us that same expectation and hope!





The End

28 09 2015

theendAnd this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 24:14 ESV

Last night, many of you went out to see the lunar eclipse take place. In our area, it was a beautiful night to do so. My family had to pick me up late at the airport, and on the way home we stopped in a big, dark parking lot to enjoy the view. It is always funny how events like this get Christians stirred up about end time prophecy. Many church-goers love to talk and debate about when the end will come and what it will be like. I saw multiple shares on Facebook this last week concerning these topics. Pastors love to preach through the book of Revelation, because it gets people to come to church. The problem with most talking and preaching on this subject is that it is pure speculation. I remember when I was in high school that we had a guest preacher come and talk about how Jesus was going to return in 1996. He had all kinds of Biblical “proof.”

I am all for reading the book of Revelation! John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote that we are blessed if we read it (Revelation 1:3), but we have to be careful when interpreting the meaning of John’s apocalyptic language. I believe that Jesus gave us this book to give us hope, not information about how things are going to exactly play out.

The funny thing is that when talking about end time prophecy, most people do not talk about the most definitive statement on Jesus’ return ever. Plus, this statement came from Jesus himself. In Matthew 24, Jesus’ disciples have come to him and have asked him the same question that we want to know: When will the end take place? Jesus proceeds to tell them about things to watch out for, including wars, famines, earthquakes, and false teachers. Jesus then says that at some point the gospel will be preached all over the world as a witness to every ethnic group. When enough people from every ethnic group on earth receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior, Jesus says very plainly, “…and then the end will come.” The end of the age is not contingent upon a lunar eclipse or a certain country invading another or the increase of evil. These are signs that the end is coming, but the end itself will only take place when the Great Commission is completed. This is further confirmed in Revelation 7:9 when John looks and sees a multitude from every ethnic group worshipping the Lamb.

The exciting part about all of this is that we have never been so close. With a concerted effort the Church could possibly get missionaries to every ethnic group within a short time span. That effort is underway but needs more help and finances. As Christians, if we truly long for the return of Jesus, we would be doing all we can to fulfill the Great Commission. How awesome would it be to be apart of the generation that got to usher in the return of Jesus!

I believe that God has given our generation the ability and the potential to finish His task of getting the gospel to every ethnic group, but it will take each of us as individuals to come under His Lordship and follow Him with utter abandon to the uttermost parts of the world. Let events like last night’s lunar eclipse or the world news spur us on to get the gospel to unreached people groups, because it is only then that the end will come.





The Joy of Missions

19 02 2014

joyofmissions18 yet I will triumph in Yahweh;
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!
19 Yahweh my Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like those of a deer
and enables me to walk on mountain heights!
Habakkuk 3:18-19

One of my favorite books of all time is Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. This Christian classic is an allegory that is based around a girl named Much-Afraid who decides to give her life to and follow the Chief Shepherd with the hope of one day running on the mountains, even though now she is crippled. At the end of this tale, she is transformed in the beautiful Grace & Glory and is able to walk on the mountain heights. As she enjoys her time in the Kingdom of the Chief Shepherd, she finds herself looking back down into the Valley of Humiliation where she had come so long ago and feeling love for the very people who tormented her before. One of the last scenes in the book is of Grace & Glory running down the mountains with her head thrown back laughing, ready to share the love of the Chief Shepherd with those who need to hear and experience that love.

Most of the best times of my life were while participating in the sending of God. I will never forget the times of worshipping in a mud hut with my Tanzanian friends with nothing but a plastic bucket and a stick for accompaniment. I will never forget laughing over a game of Settlers of Catan with my friends in Central Asia. I will never forget bringing rice to a hungry village on the backwaters of the Amazon River, or eating hamburgers with college students in Anchorage, or hugging the kids at Orphanage Emmanuel. This is the throwing back of the head and laughing while running down the mountain in total abandonment to the will of God. There is no greater joy!

We were created to glorify God, and in that glorifying we experience the greatest joy. Jesus has given us the mandate to go into all the world as the way in which we glorify God, and so it is in the going that we experience our greatest joy. Church members everywhere miss out on the greatest joy of their life, because they think they are fine by just attending church, fellowshipping with other believers, reading the Bible, and listening to Christian music. These are not bad things by any means, but they are incomplete without us working towards fulfilling the mission of God. We so often waste our lives on things that might make us happy in the moment, but will never bring us the greatest enjoyment. John Piper once said, “If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full.”

Determine this day that you will seek the greatest joy by participating in the great mission of God.








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