Distractions Part 5: The Race

Sermon Transcript

Well, good morning to everybody and also, we want to welcome those that watch via the internet and our mobile app. We welcome you as well. We are in a five-week series called “Distractions.” And, believe it or not, this is week number five. Some of you are going, “Alright!” Some of you are going, “Man. This has been a good series.”

But, some of you are maybe new or you missed some of them and you’re going, “Wow. Week five. I walked right into the middle of the end part of a series. Am I ever going to know what’s going on?” 

The answer to that is yes. Even though I do series’, I always make sure that any of the messages that I do can stand alone on their own so that nobody feels left out. But, if you really enjoyed this series, you can go back and catch the other ones in case you’ve missed something. But so that everybody’s on the same page and that we’re all focused, this is what we’re doing in this series.  

We’re talking about the distractions in our lives that we often overlook that rob us or keep us from living out God’s best. I think all of us would agree that we have distractions in our lives. But what we’ve tried to do in this series is we’ve tried to look at some of the distractions that we often overlook and I call those sort of root distractions. A lot of times when we look at the distractions, we look at the symptoms. But there’s usually a root cause that creates those symptoms.

And we’ve been trying to look at those particular things because what they do is when we get distracted, we get robbed from living out God’s best. And as the pastor of this church, I really want you all to live out the abundant life that God has for you all. That doesn’t mean everything’s going to be rainbows and butterflies. And it doesn’t mean there won’t be difficulties. But I believe that there is a win in the here and now following God and I believe that there is a huge win at the end of our life following God.

But, I also want you to experience not just out there, I want you to experience here. And that’s why we’re doing what we’re talking about. And so, I’ve saved the best – or maybe the strongest distraction – for last here. And that distraction is called simply “life.” And I think some of you are going, “Man. How come it took you so long to get there? That’s the biggest distraction of all.” 

I’m from Kentucky. Give me a little bit of grace. Alright? But we’re going to talk about this big distraction; this race of life. We all know it. There’s nobody in here that doesn’t have those moments where you go, “Man. Life just threw me a curveball.”  

I mean, I was going along and then this happened. Or I was going along and then that happened. And, at any given time in any church in America – even here at Grace – there’s 15-20% of the people that are at their wits end about something in every given service. It may be finances. It may be a relationship with a spouse. It may be a relationship with a friend. It may be a job. It may be a lot of things. But, the fact of the matter is so many of us get distracted by life. And that’s normal. It happens to all of us.  

I’ll use the analogy for me about how life can sort of distract you. My wife Mindy, – which you know I love and I’m not being negative in any way, shape or form. I’m just drawing something out here – she has a spiritual gift. And her spiritual gift – I can’t explain it – is whenever I am in the midst of carrying a lot of stuff – and for me, a lot of stuff is not that much. Some of you all probably carry a lot more than I do. I’m a small guy. But I’ll have like bags of groceries and my book bag and some book or whatever. And for whatever reason, whenever that moment is there, she has the gift of calling me. Anybody ever have that moment? And it’s like you’re trying to get your phone out and stuff’s falling and you’re like, “Honey, I’ll call you back.” 

She’s like, “Are you okay? You really want to talk to me?” 

“Oh, I love you so much.” 

Anyway. Come on. Some of you all are not laughing. You know that’s true. I mean, I’m not the only one. But anyway, the bottom line is life comes that way. I mean, there’s just distractions of life. And so what I want to do is this: I want to take you back to the 1st Century and I want you just to sort of get the smells, the sights and all of that stuff. We’re going to spend a little time there. And then what we’re going to do is we’re going to move into the future and we’re going to do some practical take-home applications. And, believe it or not, we’re going to end the service today singing an old, old hymn of the church. It’s going to be a great day. Sound good so far? So let’s get after it. Okay? 

So, I’ve entitled this part of my message “The Hebrews Marathon.” You’ll understand this in just a second. But, the reason I’ve called it The Hebrews Marathon is because we actually have a book in the New Testament that is written to a church that is absolutely worn out. My grandmother has this phrase and I love it. Her name is Inez. I call her nanny. She has this phrase that she used all growing up. She’d say, “Chip, I’m so wore out.” She goes, “I’m worn to a frazzle and the frazzle’s worn out.” It’s just cute, you know? But some of us are wore out. So, the writer of this book – which we don’t know who it was. We don’t know if was a he or a she or who it was. But the fact of the matter is – it’s funny, too, when you’re a professor because people will be like, “Who wrote Hebrews?” Nobody knows. I mean, we all have our little things that we like to throw out. But, nobody knows who wrote the book. 

But what we do know about the book, and there seems to be a consensus in scholarship about this, is that the book of Hebrews is an early-Church homily. It’s an early-Church sermon. It’s a sermon to a church that is wore out. They were Jewish people that had embraced Jesus as Messiah and they had said, “He’s the fulfillment of everything that we’re looking for.” But what had happened is as they had tried to follow Jesus, stuff started happening. Initially, it was just ridicule. Initially, it was just sort of statements. Initially, it was small things. Then it was jobs starting getting lost. Then it became some people got thrown in prison. Then some people started having their houses and their property plundered and stuff taken from them violently.

And some of them were right at the point of feeling like that maybe following Jesus was going to cost them their life. And they were wore out. They were tired. In fact, the writer to them of this homily says to them, “You guys have stopped training your Christians. I can’t even talk to you about these things because you no longer are teaching in the church anything. You’ve sort of given up. In fact, many of you aren’t even meeting anymore and gathering together.” 

You see that in Hebrews 10:25. You’re not getting together anymore. You’re just simply wore out. And so this letter is a letter of encouragement to these Christians that are simply wore out. And it’s, hopefully as we go through this and then go practical at the end, hopefully it’ll speak to your life a word of encouragement because that’s really what the book is about. It’s amazing, too, because Hebrews sometimes, when you read it, you think, “Man. This is a tough book.” 

It really is a word of encouragement. And what I want to do is I want to give you a panoramic view so that when I start with the chapter and verse that I want to start with, we’re all up on the same speed. Normally you all like it when Uncle Chip tells the story. So, we’re going to do an Uncle Chip story. And hopefully, those who watch via the internet and the mobile app will enjoy this as well. 

So, here’s the way the book starts. This is what goes on in chapter 1. You can just sort of sit back and listen because I think I’ll bring you up to speed and I think you’ll enjoy this. 

Chapter 1. The writer starts off and he says, “Listen. Here’s the deal. God has spoken to people in many different ways and through many different prophets back then. We know that. But in these last days, He has spoken to us through His son.” 

In other words, Jesus is like the final word of God. All that other stuff was great but it was leading us up to God’s final word which was Jesus. And He’s the exact imprint of His nature. He is the radiance of His glory. That idea of “imprint” is like a coin when you stamp a face of a person on a coin. Jesus is the exact stamping imprint of the very nature of God. He is fully God and not only that but He’s greater in chapter 1 than all of the angels. And, to the Jewish people, that was a big deal because, if you read the Old Testament, I mean, there’s angels going everywhere. Angels doing this, angels doing that, angels here and there. He says, “He’s greater than all the angels.” 

So, not only is He the final word, not only is He God in the flesh, but He is greater than the angels. So chapter 2. Because He is that final word, because He’s greater than the angels, we’ve got to pay attention. Now, some of you all might like the King James Version. There’s a word used there called “slip.” Most translations today – modern translations – use the word “drift.” It says, “Because Jesus is God, because He’s greater than the angels, we need to pay attention. We can’t get caught up in just sort of being wore out.”  

“We need to pay attention,” King James says, “lest we slip.” The idea of the word there is a loose fitting ring that, if you don’t pay attention and you turn your hand this way, it slips off and then you go, “Where did my ring go?” The other usage of the term is the word “drift.” It’s like lightly tying a boat up against a dock and then it sort of unravels and you’ve got to go chase the boat out in the lake. Anybody every had to swim out to a boat that you’d though you tied up? I know I’m not the only one that’s done that, but I am from Kentucky and I’m telling you right now I had to swim out to get a boat that I loosely docked. 

So, the idea here is pay attention. And the writer of Hebrews says the reason you need to pay attention is because in chapter 2 he tells you that, “Hey, listen. Jesus has overcome death. We don’t have to fear death anymore. He’s destroyed the works of the devil. Jesus is awesome.”  

And not only that, but in chapter 3, He’s greater than Moses. I mean, He’s greater than that great guy Moses. And not only that, chapter 4, He’s greater than Joshua. And he does a little play on words because Jesus’ name is “Yeshua” which is really “Joshua.” But in the Greek you know it’s “Yesous” which is “Jesus.” But it’s the same word. In fact, Jesus’ name would have been “Joshua.”  

But Joshua in the Old Testament got them into the promised land. But he didn’t really provide them rest because they ended up getting kicked out. The writer says, “But this is the true Joshua that will give us all of the rest.” Then chapter 5. He introduces this guy named Melchizedek. And Melchizedek was this dude that Abraham found, Prince of Salem, and he gave 10% of his spoils to him. He was sort of like the precursor of the priesthood. And he’s like, “So, He’s greater than this. He’s greater than the angels. Pay attention. Greater than Moses. Greater than Joshua. Greater than Melchizedek. Greater than all of these things.” 

And, chapter 6. “Take a breath. We really need to stay focused because I know you guys can make it. I believe in you. I don’t believe you’re going to go back to where you came out of. I believe you’re going to continue going forward. In fact, I know you’re going to continue going forward.” 

And then in chapter 7 and 8, “Jesus is better than the high priest, all of the high priesthood, and He’s better than the old covenant. Better than all of that completely.” 

Then in chapter 9, “He’s better than Aaron.” 

So it’s like this writer is saying, “Guys. Listen. I know you’re wore out. I know you’re tired. I know life has gotten in the way. I know it’s difficult. But Jesus is better than all of that stuff that you came out of. There’s no reason to go back to it.” 

And then in chapter 10 he says, “Remember those sacrifices you guys used to make? Remember all that stuff you had to do?”  

Remember now, the priests, they stood every day offering a sacrifice that could never fully take away sin and all it did was remind you of the fact that you were in sin. But Jesus, when He came, He offered a sacrifice once and for all and when He was done, He sat down. And he says, “Okay. Now that you’re tracking with me. I know it’s tough. I know you’re struggling. But listen. I’ve got a secret for you.” 

Chapter 11. “There’s a lot of people that have run this race before you. A lot of them. They’re the saints of old. They’re the people that maybe you forgot about. But there are these people that have done this. In fact, there’s been this race going on in following God and baton has been passed by baton by baton to the next generation to the next person and he’s got Abraham and Moses and David and Jethro and Gideon.” He goes through all this stuff. “And Rahab. Everybody. Listen. These people, they all finished, but they never received the end. They never got to the finish line. They were part of a baton pass.” 

You’ve watched the Olympics, right? They have that race – the long race – where they pass the batons. And if you’re the first or second runner, you’re not the one that runs through the finish line. You’re the one that’s watching for that final runner to walk through the finish line. I mean, you’re part of that race but you’re waiting for that. And the writer to the Hebrews says, “Listen. Here’s what’s going on. All of these people have run this race before you. Every single one of them. And they didn’t finish it up at all.” 

And then he goes into chapter 12 which we’re going to look at in just a second. But I want to mention something to you all and I think this is huge. We are a part of thousands of years of people that have followed God. Let me tell you something. Worship music didn’t get invented when the electric guitar came on the scene. Worship music has been going on for thousands of years. Church didn’t start happening when we had big screens and cool plugs and all of that stuff. Stuff has been going on for a long time. Your Bible that sits in your car in the back in the 90-degree heat here in Florida and it sort of curls up because it hasn’t been read for a long time? People died so that you could have a translation in your language to have your Bible. We have a great group of people that have come before us. 

And so the writer starts off in chapter 12 – and I’m going to do a little bit of chapter 12. You can read it all this week if you want. I’m just going to lift a few passages but I’m going to go through the whole chapter with you and tell you what’s going on.  

He says, “Therefore…” – or whoever it is – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” – And this is important. Let’s stop here for a second. “Therefore” means it is linking to what has come before. Probably the entire argument up to this point. But for sure the people that have been mentioned in chapter 11. 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” – It’s interesting. We protestants don’t even know what to do with being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. If you’re Catholic, you’re like, “Yeah. That’s right.” 

We need to love some of our Catholic brothers and sisters because some of this stuff is actually in the Bible, folks. Some of it’s in here. Okay? We’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses; by people that have gone before us. By people that have paved the path for us to be where we are today. We do what we do today because someone else passed it on to us. You follow what I’m saying? 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely.” – Listen. This is important. – “And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” 

The writer has brought them all the way up to where they’re at now to explain to them, “You’re in a marathon. This is not a sprint. You’re in a marathon. And you have a great cloud of witnesses that have passed that baton to you and now it’s your watch. Are you going to pass batons on or are you going to get out of the race?” 

Now, he believes in them and he’s encouraging them. But he says, “We’ve got a choice here. We’re in a race.” 

And I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, if you watch the Olympics, when the runners come in, they’ve got their big satchel full of stuff and they’ve got their headphones on and they’re coming in. They’ve got their cool sweatpants on and everything. I mean, they’ve got all their stuff. But, when they get out and ready to run, they strip down to almost nothing. You know what I’m talking about? I mean, just like flimsy little pants that I would never wear. I mean, you might wear them. I would never wear them. And shoes that don’t weigh anything. And then they go run. The writer says, “Listen. What you’ve got to do is you’ve got to lay aside every weight.” 

Notice there he says, “Weight and sin.” In other words, some things in our lives aren’t sin, but they’ve weighed us down from running the race. That’s an amen. That’s good preaching right there. Okay? Seriously. Listen to me here. So, you’ve got these weights than can distract us. We’ve got sin that distracts us. He says, “Get rid of all that because we’ve got to run a race and it’s an endurance race. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.” 

And he says, “And here’s what we do. We look to Jesus.” 

Because, see, Jesus has already run that race for us. You follow what I’m talking about here? You’re looking at Jesus, the founder and the perfecter of our faith who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 

The writer to the Hebrews says, “Listen to me. All of this stuff is going on and all of these people have gone before you and you’re in a race. You’re in a marathon. And here’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to make sure that you keep your eyes on the right thing.” 

Remember? Like Peter when he was sinking in the water? Remember? He started looking at the wind. Have you ever thought about that for a second? Let me just say this. This is something sort of ad hoc off the cuff here. Have you ever thought that when he was in the water – I want you to hear me on this. This is good. This is either a really revelatory moment right now or it’s a bad burrito. Okay? I think this is more revelatory. Listen. Did you ever notice that what distracted Peter wasn’t a demon, wasn’t hell, wasn’t Satan, wasn’t any of that? It was the wind. Just natural stuff. Do you know how much natural stuff distracts you and me when we get our eyes off of Jesus? 

So he says, “Keep your eyes on Jesus. Keep focused. Do what you’re doing.” 

And then he goes into a little digression about discipline and he says, “Listen. The reason some of these difficulties that are in your life – not all of them – but the reason some of these difficulties are in your life is because God is using them to discipline you to make you more fit for the endurance race that you’re a part of.” 

Now, my wife runs marathons. You might not know that. Mindy has run the 26.2 marathon. She’s run the 13.1 half marathon. The only thing I run from is my problems. But she is really good at running. She’s fantastic. And so she said to me one time, she says, “I’m going to go run the Disney marathon. Do you want to come with me?” 

And I’m like, “I’m not running. I’ll be happy to stay in a nice room on a Disney property. One of them $300-a-night rooms that’s got a little bar with some Snickers and Pringles and all of that stuff.” I’m like, “I’m in!” 

Some of y’all know what I’m talking about because that’s the way Christians roll. I don’t know about marathon stuff. Honestly, have you ever stopped for a second and listened to people who run? Look, God bless you for running a marathon. Totally cool. I mean, totally praise God. I’m cool with it. But they get around and they’re like, “Chip. You’ve got to run a marathon, man. You’ve got to run a marathon. You won’t believe, man. The last marathon I ran, I lost both my toenails and I was dehydrated for a week.” 

And I’m like, “Bless God I’m not going to run no marathon.” 

I mean, why in the world would I want to do such a thing? You know? So, Mindy has me get over there. I stay and she’s like, “Let me tell you what’s going to happen here.” She says, “This is the way it works. I’m going to run. It’s going to take me about five hours to get to mile twenty-three and you’re going to be at mile twenty-three where you’re staying on the Disney property.” 

I’m like, “That’s awesome.” 

I started having these visions of maybe hopping into the race at mile 23. You know? I think I could bust out three miles. If you’ve got to put me in a wheelchair, I’ll make it. Give me a Snickers. 

But what’s cool is, you know, I woke up and the first people, in two hours, they’re at mile twenty-three. I’m like, “What is wrong with these people?”  

I mean, they’re like in great shape. You can’t even see them. They look like poles running. They’re such thin people. They’ve got cool shoes and everything. But then the middle of the pack comes along and you start going, “Yeah, I think I can associate with that.” But towards the end of the pack it was really cool. There was even people that were somewhat disabled. They were running the marathon. And you know what’s cool about the back part of the marathon? It’s not about competition anymore. It’s about compassion. If somebody falls down, they’ll all get together and pick them up and carry them along. The writer to the Hebrews sort of puts us at the back of the pack. We’ll get to that in a second. 

So he says, “You’ve got to be disciplined.” 

You know, you can’t just go run a marathon. I mean, Mindy didn’t just go run a marathon. She did all kinds of running and practicing before she got there. So, the writer says, “We’ve got to be disciplined.” 

Then this is what he says. He says, “Therefore,” – Based on the fact of the discipline that we just talked about. – “Therefore, here’s what I want you to do. Lift up your drooping hands. Strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet.” 

In other words, you’re sort of running along – I don’t know if you’ve ever run before, but you’re running along and you’ve got this nice little posture going on. But the longer you run, the more those hands sort of want to go down and the more those knees start to get weak. And he says, “You need to make sure that you’re running straight. Because what happens is what’s lame may not be put out a joint but rather be healed.” 

Because what happens is if you were able to see yourself on a computer and you’re running straight and you’ve got all this stuff going and you’re doing good, you’re doing good, you’re doing good. The more tired you get, the more you start to move around a little bit. You’re not going as straight. And what can happen is is you can get your lame legs – they can sort of go out of joint and then you’re out of the race. It says so you’ve got to make sure. Just pick it up. We’ve got a finish line. Keep your eyes on the prize. Keep what you’re focused on. 

And he says, “And listen, I know it’s tough. I know spouses, when you’ve got problems with them. I know when you’ve got problems with your kids. Problems with finances. So easy to get mad at other people. It’s so hard not to get frustrated when people do you wrong.”  

And that’s why he says here, “So strive for peace with everyone…” 

In other words, we’re called to be a church that doesn’t get back at people. We’re called to be a church that loves people. 

“So strive for peace with everyone…” 

It doesn’t say you’ll be able to get peace with everyone. But it says that we’re to be people that strive to be at peace with everyone. 

  “…and for the holiness; without which no one will see the Lord.” 

It was interesting. I grew up in a church tradition where every Sunday they told me, “You’ve got to be holy or you won’t see the Lord.” 

And I’m thinking, “Man. The only holy I’ve got is holey like Swiss cheese. Man I’m holey but not that way.” 

I started wondering, “Is anybody going to see God?” 

Then I went to school and started studying the original languages and realized that there’s a definite article. A definite article is the difference between “a” car. If I say, “Hey, have you seen a car?” Or if I say, “Have you seen the car?” Now it’s specific. Well, there’s a definite article here before “holiness.” It’s always strange because some translations don’t show the definite article. That’s why I like the ESV. It tends to be a little bit more in congruency at times with the original languages.  

It says, “…and for the holiness; without which no one will see the Lord.” 

What the writer’s talking about here is he’s talking about the fact that there is a holiness and our holiness – you see it in Leviticus 19.  

God says, “Be holy for I am holy.” 

You say, “What’s that look like?” 

It’s the way we treat others. That’s the whole essence of it. How will they know you’re my disciples? By the love you have for one another. If you say you love God and you don’t love your brother, how does the love of God dwell in you? It’s very simple. We’re to be known by the love that we have for other people. We’re not known for anything else but the love that we have for other people. And so, while we’re running this race and people are doing us wrong and our hands are down or whatever else, the natural inclination is to want to get them back. We’re not supposed to be that way. We’re supposed to be people that strive for peace and love.  

Then the writer does the coolest thing. Have you ever been to a travel agent? You don’t have to raise your hand. But, my travel agent is the best. They have this 35-inch monitor and they flip it around and they’re like, “Chip. Don’t you want to go here?” 

And then, all of a sudden, it’s like blue water and white sand and then, all of a sudden, there’s this man that’s got this long flowing hair and he’s got a six-pack rather than a gut. You know? And he’s sort of just doing his thing, you know? And then his wife shows up and she’s got beautiful hair; tan. And then a couple of unicorns appear and then there’s a rainbow and then somebody goes walking across the water and the next thing you know you’re reaching in your back to pull your wallet out even though you can’t afford it. It’s like, man. That’s incredible. Right? 

We’ve all had that moment where we’ve seen that thing or whatever. So, what happens here, the writer here of Hebrews does that. He’s like, “We’re in a race. We can’t give up. We’ve got to keep going forward. We’ve got to be looking at Jesus. He’s the one that ran the race. We’ve got to keep our eyes on Him. We can’t get distracted. We can’t let life distract us.” 

And here it is. You’re right there at the end and there’s a fork in the road. And you get to choose which path you’re going to go down. Are you going to go down the old path that leads you back to where you came from or are you going to continue on to where you need to go? And he believes in them, this writer. This is what he says. Listen. 

“For you have not come to what may be touched,” – In other words, this is not where you want to go. You’ve not come there. – “a blazing fire, darkness, gloom and tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.” 

This is Mount Sinai. 

“Indeed, it was so terrifying the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’” 

In other words, he says, “Okay. You’re running. Do you really want to take that path back to Sinai? That every time you do something wrong you remember the guilt, the judgment? Do you really want to go back to that lifestyle? Is that really where you want to go? Are your distractions so much that you just want to sort of remove yourself from the Lord? Remove yourself from what’s going on and go back to what it is?” 

He goes, “I don’t think that’s where you want to go.” 

The shame of it, honestly, as a pastor, and I’m going to be honest here. It’s a shame. So many people think that that’s the way a relationship with God is. That He’s like this big God with a gavel just out to get people and they always feel guilty and they always feel ashamed and they always feel bad. That’s the way they think Christianity is all about. In fact, you can find people outside of the church and that’s what they’ll tell you Christianity’s all about. 

He says, “You can go that road. But I believe in you.” 

Listen, this is encouraging as can be. He says, “But you…” – See, I believe in you is what he’s saying to that church. – “…you’ve come to Mount Zion and the city of the living God. You’re running.” 

I want you to see this. Some of you have droopy hands. Some of you are wore out. Some of you have so many things going on in your life. So many of you all have so much stuff. You’re just wore out. Your finances are killing you. Your relationships are killing you. Your physical ailments are killing you. You’re just wore out. He says, “Stop. Listen. Visualize with me here. You’ve come to Mount Zion into the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering.” 

He says, “Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to imagine you’re running. You’ve been passed the baton and you’re wore out, but you look up and you see the heavenly Jerusalem. And in that stadium where that finish line is, every angel that has even been that didn’t fall is screaming your name saying, “You can do it. You can make it.” 

Every single one. Innumerable. You can’t even count them. And they’re in festal gathering. They’re there throwing an absolute party. And all of a sudden, those arms come up. It’s like my dad. My dad, at 65 years old, ran a 26.2 marathon. God bless him. He’s crazy. He’s a dentist. He had too much gas in the office. He decided to run the thing. And it’s funny because I was there. I thought it was awesome that my dad ran a 26.2 marathon and, honestly, 100 feet before the finish line, he’s all hunched down just barely making it. And he looks up and he sees there’s a camera at the finish line. He finishes. 

I’m like, “You lying scum. Going to blow Hell wide open.” 

But that’s what happens. When we’re down and out and life’s coming our way, if we look up and see what’s out there and what can be done, all of a sudden it picks us up. Innumerable angels. He’s not done though in the stadium. Look who else is there. 

“The assembly of the firstborn who were enrolled in heaven…” 

All the ones that went before us. Every one of them is cheering on our name. “You can do it. You can make it.” 

Not only that, but God. And I love how the writer says this. 

The judge of all.” 

In other words, He can cast you out. He can throw you out. Oh, no, no, no. But the ones that get in that stadium are the righteous that have been made perfect. They’re the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus and they’re going to be made perfect. And not only that, but Jesus himself, the mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 

What does the blood of Abel speak of? Vengeance and retribution. The blood of Jesus is greater. It allows us to love our enemies and to strive for peace with every one. It’s a beautiful scene. So now let’s detach from that beautiful scene that this writer has given to this 1st Century church that’s struggling and let’s look at what we can apply to our lives. 

Let’s look at the take-homes. If you’ve got a sheet of paper and you’re writing down, write these down. 

Number one. We must not allow ourselves to get distracted running the race. 

It is so easy to get distracted by the things that go on in our life that keep us from all of what God wants. There’s a great story of these people that moved out into the country – and I’m talking about the country. Have you ever been so far out in the country that you have to sort of go back towards town to hunt? You know what I’m talking about? Like country is cornbread. You know what I’m talking about? I grew up in Kentucky so I know what I’m talking about. These people moved out into the country. Way out into the country. And they were trying to sleep at night and all these frogs were croaking. I mean just frogs. [frog noise] Doing their thing. So they called the frog gigger. Do you know what a frog gig is? Maybe people in Lakewood Ranch know what frog gigging is. I’ve done frog gigging. It’s nasty. It’s like this thing and you shine the light and, boom, you get ‘em. I did that as a kid. I mean, I’m telling you what, man. I’ve got some stuff to get out of my growing up in Kentucky. Can I just go ahead and share that with you? So anyway. He calls the frog gigger and he’s like, “Look. We’ve got thousands of frogs. They’re keeping us up all night. You’ve got to do something.” 

So the frog gigger comes out that evening and he does his thing. He shows up the next day and knocks on the door. He’s like, “Got ‘em all.” 

He’s like, “You got ‘em all?” 

“Yep. Got ‘em all.” 

He said, “There were thousands!” 

He said, “No. There was two.” 

He says, “Two?” 

He says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. When two frogs really get to croaking it sounds like there’s a thousand.” 

And now listen to me, this is huge. This is what we do in our life. We focus on the two frogs rather than all the other things that are going great in our lives. Two frogs. That little thing. That little teeny thing we focus on. We can’t allow life to get us distracted from the race that we’re running. 

This is the best one. Look at this one here. 

If we play hurt, we get healed. But if we stay on the sidelines, we forfeit the race.

Listen. The writer says that if your legs are lame, he says, “Keep running.” Keep running and you’ll be healed. See, what happens is we think that the only people that can run the race of God and pass the baton to the next generation are the people that are the high end sprinters with all the ads on their shirt and the cool shoes. No. The people that do the work of God are the people that are hurt. The broken. You and me. We’re the ones that run the race. God makes us champions. See, God doesn’t call those that are champions. What he does is is he makes champions out of the ones he calls. So many people walk around going, “I could never do anything for God. I could never. I could never.” 

No. The writer here says we’re hurt. We’re limping! We’re down and out but we keep going. We’re the ones God uses. You know why God uses us in our brokenness? Because if it were us in our togetherness, nobody would be able to see God. It’s when we’re broken. It’s when He shines through the areas of our life that are broken that He shows His strength. When we are weak, we’re made strong. We keep going when we’re hurt. Every one of us are. There’s none of us in here that got it together. At all. But we’re in a race that we keep passing the baton. And let me tell you something. The wind of Christianity is not just out there. The wind of Christianity is right now.

Here’s the deal. The more we look at our injuries and the more we put our self on the sidelines which is easy to do, the more we lose out on what God has for you and me. It’s so easy to look inward. But, as long as we’re passing the baton, as long as we’re passing it to other people, we can play injured. We can keep going. And if we play hurt, we’ll get healed. But if we go on the sidelines, we forfeit the race.  

And number three. The race that we run is tough.

And I’m not trying to diminish any of the stuff going on in your life, but the hope that we have is greater than all of the pain and suffering that we could ever endure. We look at Jesus who said He saw past the cross to the joy that was before Him. If we can ever as a church realize that passing that baton and reaching the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ and then look towards that final finish line and realize what’s waiting there for you and me, it helps us to not get distracted at life and to stay focused on the race that we’re running. 

Now, here’s what I want to do to end this series. Some of you may be in here and it might have been a First Friday. Some of you might have been coming for a while. I don’t do this very often and there’s a reason why. But I’m going to ask you today. Maybe you’re going, “You know what? I’ve been trying to live my life without God.” Or, “Chip, I’ve been living my life without God.” 

Here’s what I want to do as the pastor of the church. I’ve got a baton that I want to hand to you. I want you to get in the race. I want you to make a decision today. “Hey, I’m going to get in the race.” Some of you are in the race but you’re just wore out. I want to hand you the baton again and say, “Come on. We can do this thing. We can make it together. We could find a way to get other people in the race and get them past the finish line.”  

And what a glorious day that will be when we stand there at the finish line and we see the people that we handed the baton to and they made it. What a day that will be. So, here’s how we’re going to end this. If you go, “You know, I’ve been living my life without Jesus but I really want to live my life with Jesus,” we’re going to sing a song today and we’re going to make it our prayer. And for those of you all who are struggling, this song, for years and years and years and years has spoken to people and has kept them in the race. It’s an old hymn of the church and it connects us with people that have come before us and I think we’ll all have that moment when we sing it. 

So, what I want you to do is I want you to stand up because this is the way we’re going to end today. We’re going to sing an old hymn of the church. Lynn is going to lead us. And for some of you all, it may sound like an old church hymn. But I’m telling you this: People that have come before you – the great cloud of witnesses, millions of people have sung this song and it’s given them what they needed to walk out of church and get back in the race. Let’s sing it together. Cut all the house lights off. Lynn, lead us in the song. 

[singing] 

I have decided to follow Jesus. (x3) 

No turning back. (x2) 

The cross before me. The world behind me. (x3) 

No turning back. (x4) 

If you prayed that prayer today; if you sang that song as a prayer and you decided to follow Jesus, find me or another pastor here or somebody and let them know because we want to help you move forward. And for those of you all that maybe you’re weary and you’re struggling, sing that song. Look up. Look out into that stadium. Angels in festival array. Those that have gone before us, God who says you’re righteous and I’m going to make you perfect, and Jesus who says My blood is better than all of the blood that’s ever been spilt before is waiting you and me.

And in the interim, let’s pass that baton to as many people as we can. Focused on making sure the race gets done. And who knows? Maybe we’ll be that generation who gets to cross the finish line or maybe we’ll just be another generation in that long line of people that have been in the race. But the beauty is, one day that race will end and we will stand with everybody that has ever run that race and there will be people on that day that you have passed a baton to and they will be your joy on that day. 

Let’s keep in the race. Let’s not get distracted. Let’s do what God has called us to do. 

Let’s pray. 

Dear Heavenly Father, 

I thank You so much for Your love and mercy. I thank You for the truth of Your Word and I just pray, Lord, that as we leave here today that You would watch over us and protect us and that You would lead and guide us. Continue to help this church be the light that you’ve called us to be to Lakewood Ranch, Bradenton and Sarasota for Your glory. Bring us back safely to when we meet again. We thank You for it in Jesus’ name. And everybody said, “Amen.” Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him and I’ll see everybody soon.