Sunday, February 15, 2009

Finishing Well

Sunshine on a chilly February morning, but lots of warmth in our sanctuary today as we prepared to celebrate another baptism, which always seems to bring out a little extra passion from our pastor Brad Shannon who welcomed us by noting today’s theme, Finishing Well. “None of us run this race alone,” he said. “As those who follow Jesus we do this together…. It’s not how you start, but how you finish.”

After announcements – a board meeting Tuesday evening, and the Valentine’s Banquet postponed till next Saturday – an Introit was played (Crown Him With Many Crowns) and Pastor Brad read to us Psalm 150, with its exultant celebration of music and song, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

A youth group from River Falls Covenant in Wisconsin had spent the weekend here with our youth. Two musicians, Ryan & Tyler, shared a song, followed by a time of congregational worship. The baptism of River Lee Strom came next, with special music by Ed Newman, O Love That Will Not Let Me Go. Brad reiterated a recurring theme from his ministry: “We’re in this together.”

After the children were dismissed, Eric Borndal read from the Scriptures: II Kings 5:1-14 and Mark 1:40-45.

During the time of prayer we remembered Leonard Armstrong who was hospitalized Friday evening while in the process of preparing his gift to the church, our Valentine’s Banquet, now postponed a week. Leonard joined Lillian Peterson at St. Luke’s Hospital, with Lillian having fallen on the ice while retrieving mail.

It was also noted at this time that a donation for $100 had been made toward a professional quality food processor to help Leonard and our other kitchen services contributors. The target is $300 if you wish to pitch in and upgrade our kitchen.

Finishing Well

Pastor Brad began by reading portions of Hebrews 11, initially pertaining to Moses in vss. 23 and following, but noting that many others have demonstrated their faith throughout history.

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The message, in a nutshell, was this: "Just keep running. Just don't quit." But his sermon elaborated. He began by asking how many of us run for exercise. "Anyone tempted to quit?" he then asked. Laughter followed because that's the nature of running.

With marathons you especially see this pattern. In the beginning there's a kind of a high, a runner's high. All is well. How long this high lasts is directly related to the runner's condition. Brad jokingly said he lasts about seventeen steps.

Once the run begins there is a sequence that follows. After the initial exhilaration, there comes the laborious part, followed by exhaustion and fatigue. Then there's the wall. To keep going requires determination, and those who determine to finish must keep going.

The start is fun, finishing is hard. Finishing well is glory.

It's a metaphor for our Christian walk, of course. And to this end Brad asks, "Will you run the race to the very end? Will you finish well? Will you remain steadfast?" And once more he affirms, "Just keep running."

Returning the the life of Moses, around which our recent messages have centered, Pastor Brad picked up the thread of the story where Moses and Aaron finally believed that God indeed would do the amazing thing of liberating Israel by their hand. (Exodus 4:31)

In chapter 5 of Exodus, we see that, like the marathon runners, they begin boldly, with confidence. "Let my people go," Moses exclaims to Pharaoh.

Pharaoh, ruler of the world's greatest empire, is not impressed. Moses adds a "Pretty please" to the somewhat confrontational dialogue, and Pharaoh indeed responds by making life tougher for the Hebrews. Instead of supplying straw for their quota of bricks, they must now gather their own straw, with no diminution of the quota.

This is where Moses hit the wall. The Hebrews he had come to liberate were less than encouraging, a little more obstinate. To paraphrase, their response to Moses was, "You have made our fragrance stink."

Here's where we get tempted to quit. It seems like we're alone, that it's just us against the world. Moses was left alone with Aaron, with Pharaoh and Egypt and his fellow Hebrews against him. But Moses was not alone. And we're not either.

Moses turns again to the Lord. In chapter 6 God speaks to Moses: "Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh... I will make Myself known..." What's more, God has not been indifferent to the suffering of His people. He has heard their groaning.

If you're going to persevere in this race, like Moses you will have to persist in prayer. Moses, every step of the way, kept turning to God. He begins, continues and finishes in prayer.

Brad then told two stories from the life of Jesus which were especially amusing because of the way Brad makes them relevant to our contemporary situations. The point of each is that God cares about us, our needs, our circumstances, and we are to seek him, with persistence.

Turning now to each of us, Pastor Brad asked, "Can you identify the greatest need in your life right now? Make a commitment to persevere... to pray saying, 'I'm going to do what Jesus commands me to do, no matter what.' Draw a line in the sand. Will you do that with me today?"

At this point, Brad revealed his motivation for being so passionate about this theme. "I can't have friends falling off the side of the road." His heart was thus opened up to us with that wide transparency so needed in our world today.

"Just keep running," he implored. "Don't quit, friends."

Amplifying these thoughts, he states that the church needs to be a place where we encourage one another.

Ultimately, however, the Bible is not a book about our persistence. It is a revelation of God's persistence. He will not give up on you. As it is written "I will never leave you, I will never forsake you."

This is the word of the Lord.

No comments: