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Progress #TheWalk

I have been sharing a series of sermons with my church family (www.libertybaptistchurch.ws) entitled The Walk.  The Bible uses the metaphor of walking more than 200 times to describe the way one does life.  As I stated in a previous post entitled (What You are Missing by Googling God),  the metaphor is fitting because walking, in Biblical times, was a way of life. 

Last year, while driving, I passed a man dressed in military fatigues carrying an American flag.  I noticed him, but I moved on quickly and gave it very little thought.  The next day I saw the same man standing with a group of people on a street corner in a different town, at least 15 miles from where I had seen him the day before.  That weekend I was hosting a retreat for a group of leaders at a facility located at the summit of a mountain.  As I left the retreat center that Saturday, guess what I saw.  Same guy, same flag, only now miles away, and 3,000 feet above the town where I had seen him just a few days before.

That's progress!

After doing some research I found out that his name is Mac McQuown and he is on a journey to visit the capital buildings of all 50 states and raise awareness about the needs of US military veterans.  As of 4/6/2014 Mac had completed more than 2,800 miles of a walk that will take him at least 6 years to complete.

As much as we enjoy those miracle stories of conversion in which someone is drastically and radically changed, it is important to understand that the Christian life is not so much about the miracle moments as it is about progress.  I pray for certain things in my life to happen quickly, but they rarely do.  The interest God has in my life has less to do with the momentous and more to do with the mundane.  There is nothing more mundane than walking. 

Small amounts of incremental change leads to great amounts of progress.

The Christian life is very pedestrian.  It is about steady progress.  It is not about majoring on what happened to me "one incredible day" it is about the way I am thinking, behaving, and doing life EVERYDAY.  The Biblical metaphor of walking is powerful because it teaches us not only about the pace of progress, but it teaches us that God expects us to infuse Biblical truth into everything we do, no matter how pedestrian it may be. 

Mac's walk helped me to realize that drastic changes occur step by step.  As I drove past him the first day I only took brief notice of his walk.  I literally only saw a few steps and I moved on, but so did he.  Three days later, as I turned to drive down the mountain I had a stunning realization, while I slept, ate, and "did life" Mac kept walking.  In three days, he had made it further than me.  Apparently he continues to move along.  I am still here.

What you do everyday makes a huge difference.  Just make progress.



Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.  Colossians 1:10

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My Shield

Psalm 18:1 and 2 reads, "I love you, O LORD, my strength, The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold."

According to the prescript on this Psalm David penned it on a day when he experienced rescue from his enemies, particularly Saul.  No doubt in the heat of the moment, for those who trust the Lord the application of God acting as our strength and our refuge becomes apparent.  Our walk with Him deepens in the experience of the trial.  Yet I wonder how often God acts as "my shield" and I walk away unaware?

Our student pastor's wife  at Liberty, Lindsey Rainey has a father who holds a critically important position.  Her father Micah, is the director of the Homeland Security Division for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security (GEMA/HS).  He probably has a faceplate on his desk that weighs 12 pounds!  I'm sure when you ask Micah, "How was your day?" there is only a certain percentage of that answer that you really want to know.  For the percentage left unanswered, fill your imagination with The Blacklist, NCIS, 24, and a smattering of other crime shows in which we are exposed to the terrorist underworld for 60 minutes, with commercial interruptions.  The difference in our day and Micah's day is that we can safely turn off the television and it all goes away.  He can't.

When something blows up, you'll know about Micah's office.  But I wonder how many things haven't blown up and you had no idea Micah was there?

There is so much going on in the world that I don't want to know.  I like to sleep.  But I wonder how great is God's grace as our shield?  How often does He protect me, and I am unaware?  Psalm 18:2 reminds me that He is there when I need Him as my shield, my rock, my strength, my fortress, and my deliverer.  Psalm 18:2 reminds me that He is there even when I am unaware of how desperately I need Him. I wonder how many things in my life were so close to blowing up, and I walked away from my shield ungrateful and unaware that He was there.
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Doing Life at Godspeed - WALK

I am excited to begin a new series of sermons at Liberty this weekend entitled the walk.  The journey into this series began for me a few weeks ago during my morning prayers.  I was praying through Psalm 119:129-136 and the Spirit brought me to a halt at verse 133, "Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me."

My mind was immediately flooded by a number of Bible verses that speak about our relationship with the Lord as a "walk."  I continued to dwell on this verse throughout the morning and I went about my tasks.  I couldn't get my mind off of the idea of walking with the Lord.  My wife always says God speaks in themes.  That afternoon I made contact with my lifelong friend Chris Altman, student pastor at Roopeville Road Baptist Church in Carrolton, GA.  Chris has invited me to speak to his students for several years during their summer camp.  I asked him what his theme was for this year so I could begin to prepare.  Guess what he said, "WALK." 

O.K. God, got it!

Here is what I am going to focus on this Sunday, PACE.  If we are going to do life at "Godspeed" we must walk.  God walks wherever He goes.  

There is a lot we are missing in life because we are not doing life at Godspeed.  Allow me to share with you this Sunday (8:45 and 11 a.m.) some things I have learned about PACE, doing life at Godspeed.  Here are three things God hit me with yesterday afternoon just before I rushed out of my office, hurriedly running to accomplish another task.

  1. God is not nearly as impressed with my schedule as I am 
  2. God is not nearly as aggravated by my limitations as I am 
  3. God is not nearly as interested at all I have to do as I am  
  4. God says "no" to stuff all the time, why can't I?
  5. I make time to hear what everyone else has to say and every opportunity they have to offer, how in the world then can I say I don't have time to walk with God.
 It is time to do life at Godspeed, walk! 
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Why We are So Wishy Washy on World Vision

In case you missed it World Vision, a Christian relief charity focused on children in impoverished conditions, announced on Monday that it will change its hiring policies and will now allow same sex couples to work within its organization.  You can find out more information by reading an interview published by Christianity Today with World Vision’s U.S. President Richard Stearns here

That decision lasted until Wednesday when World Vision’s board announced it had made a mistake and had failed to be consistent with the Bible.  You will find that story posted here.  

I find World Vision’s actions, as well as the wide range of “Christian” reactions posted on social media and the blogosphere to be indicative of this current age of confusion.  It is symptomatic of the very thing Paul said we should not be in Ephesians 4:14b, “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”  

Why is the church so wishy washy, confused, and compromising?  Why is our message so unclear?  Pointing back to Ephesians 4, Paul says in verse 13 that there should be some semblance of “unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” about us.  This means that what we say on Facebook and in blogs doesn’t have to match precisely, but I’m not sure how much room there is in the word “unity” for our message to be all over the place.

Why are we as we are in a time such as this?  Again, I point to the passage.  It is a systemic failure of the pulpit.  According to Ephesians 4:11, it is the assignment of the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for all of this.  If anything this week has shown, it is that when it comes to homosexuality, missions, Biblical policy, and social posting we have some glaring inconsistencies in our equipment.

Being a pastor I would like to address my fellow pulpiteers, stoolpiteers, tablepiteers, or whatever you choose to -piteer as your furniture of choice for preaching; by offering a short laundry list of Biblical issues we have failed to faithfully address over the last few decades.  

Sex in and of itself is not a social issue it is a Scripture issue.  Sex in and of itself is not sinful.  It is the boundaries of sex revealed by God in Scripture transgressed that is sinful.  The boundary we are categorically crossing is that sex is reserved for free, enjoyable expression between a man and a woman in covenant marriage for the purpose of union and procreation.  The union of man and woman in marriage is a model of Christ and the church.  Anything else distorts the gospel and dishonors Christ.  This we call heresy.  Let’s be clear not only on what’s wrong, but why. 

The reason we are confused about homosexuality is because we are compromised deeply on the Biblical message of sex altogether.  Before there was World Vision there was a landscape of broken preachers and churches wrecked by sexual sin.  The track record of clergy abuse, rampant pornography, affairs, and sexual failings that has plagued the church for the last 30 years has led us to our current quagmire.  The reason we can’t get homosexuality right is because we can’t get holy heterosexuality right.

What are we to do?  Repent of our sin and return to faithful, simple preaching of the full counsel of the Word of God.  Sex outside of marriage is sin - all of it, not just the homosexual version - all of it.  

If we are to return to faithful preaching we cannot return to where we were when I was a teen.  The only message I heard was that I was supposed to save sex for marriage.  O.K., then what?  O.K., now what?  

As a tempted teen we were told only to deny and resist.  We were never equipped in a gospel way to deal with the broader range of issues that surround sex, both positive and negative.  We just weren’t supposed to do it and we sure weren’t supposed to talk about it.    

True, God condemns fornication, adultery, and homosexuality, but that’s not all He said.  He also said that sex in marriage is to be celebrated and enjoyed.  We fail to equip the saints when we only condemn.  We should also affirm.  The Bible has a definite “No” but it also has a resounding “Yes.”  

Purity rings, true love that waits, and all of those youth camps that told us not to touch one another had their place, but because we never heard a single word from Song of Solomon, or Proverbs 5, or anything wonderful about what God has reserved for marriage, all we have now is a sexually dysfunctional laity of social media addicts who are, as I stated previously, “all over the place.”  

Don’t just preach to your boys not to touch the girls, teach them and show them how to be godly men.  The girls don’t just need to hear about modesty because they may “make a boy think a sinful thought.”  Teach them the model and reward of womanhood Christ has for them.  When it comes to homosexuality we are arguing socially, emotionally, and culturally and mistakingly calling it Christianity.  Hey preach, maybe its time we stop preaching 1,000 versions of our lame lists of how to be successful and develop some solid expositional sermons on how to be Biblically sexual.   

If homosexuality is wrong, what’s right?  Let’s not amputate the better half of our message again.  Why is marriage between a man and a woman better?  Why is it right?  How has God designed man and woman to unite?  What is it in the sexuality of a man and the sexuality of a woman that gives them the capacity to become one flesh in a way no other arrangement in creation is capable?  Even though Genesis 2:22-25 does carry with it some logical and simple refutations of the homosexual lifestyle, this is not the primary message.  I beg of you then dear pastor, please stop using Gen. 2 as a trite proof text that Adam didn’t have a husband named Steve!  Cliche‘ does not equip the saints, exposition does.  Preach Genesis 2 for what it is, a celebration of heterosexual covenant marriage.  The passage is not a stupid joke, it’s the gospel in its infancy.  If anything this week has proven, the saints have no idea how to articulate this message.  Again, the pulpit is to blame.

This leads me to our next glaring failure.  The reason we are confused on what to say about homosexual couples on the mission field is because we have been categorical failures when it comes to marriage at home.  Hey preach - when you cut on your wife and make jokes about her from the pulpit, it’s not funny.  Honestly, personally, it makes me want to punch you in the face - no joke.  When you ignore your wife and pay attention to her only when it benefits your “pastoral image” before “the people”, hey bro, the teens in your congregation are watching.  So are your kids.  The teens that have been watching this charade for 20 years are grown now - and they made a mess of Facebook this week.  Why?  Because they failed to see you faithfully model Biblical love for your wife.

Now they are divorced, abused, confused, broken and ashamed.  The reason they won’t take a stand on homosexuality is because they have watched everything else we tried to get them to stand on turn to quicksand.  

If we say homosexual marriage is wrong, dear God, please help us be more serious about getting Biblical marriage right; not just as something we say in the pulpit, but as something we model for YOUR people. 

What happened this week was that a generation of sexually broken, Biblically malnourished, confused adults tried to deal with something sexual and we stomped, fumed, condemned, posted, commented, and debated in the name of Christ but categorically failed to articulate a well grounded Scriptural message about Christ, the church, the gospel, and sex.  We were emotional, but not equipped.  We said stuff about sin and sinners and love and forgiveness and casting stones and all sorts of churchy gibberish what not . . . World Visions reversed their decision . . . Christian social media heads dutifully reversed their reactions . . .those that mourned on Monday rejoiced on Wednesday and Monday’s rejoicers became Wednesday’s mourners . . . but in the end we said nothing at all.  Why, because we are miles apart on Ephesians 4:13.  Why, because we are miles away from Ephesians 4:11.

For me, this week was not as much a commentary on our cultural compromise as it was an indication that the church is childish.  It is ill equipped to survive the social swirl, the angry churn of confusion Paul calls in Eph. 4:14, waves.  The decisions of Word Vision exposed the church as a weak swimmer in dangerous waters, with arms flailing, begging for help.  If we do not change the course of our preaching, if we do not connect the true gospel with sex, immediately, in due time there will be no reaction to these decisions at all.  Drowned men have little to say.

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Richard Baxter on Walking With God

Our walking with God is a matter of some constancy: It signifieth our course and trade of life, and not some accidental action on the by: A man may walk with a stranger for a visit, or in compliment, or upon some unusual occasion: But this walk with God, is the act of those that dwell with him in his family, and do his work.

It is not only to step and speak with him, or cry to him for mercy in some great extremity, or to go to church for company or custom, or think or talk of him sometimes heartlessly on the by, as a man will talk of news, or matters that are done in a foreign land, or of persons that we have little to do with: But it is to “be always with him.” (Luke 15:31.)

“To seek first his kingdom and righteousness.” (Matt. 6:33.) “Not to labour (comparatively) for the food that perisheth, but for that which endureth to everlasting life.” (John 6:27.) “To delight in the law of the Lord, and meditate in it day and night.” (Psal. 1:2.) That his “words be in our hearts, and that we teach them diligently to our children, and talk of them sitting in the house, and walking by the way, lying down, and rising up,” &c. (Deut. 6:6, 8.) That “we pray continually.” (1 Thess. 5:17.) “And in all things give thanks.” But will the hypocrite delight himself in the Almighty, or will he always call upon God?” (Job 27:10.) “His goodness is as the morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.” (Hos. 6:4.)

Richard Baxter, William Orme, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, vol. 13 (London: James Duncan, 1830), 179.

Bio of Richard Baxter:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/131christians/pastorsandpreachers/baxter.html
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Walking With Jeremy

I am beginning a new series of sermons on Sunday at Liberty entitled "The Walk, Conquering Life One Step at a Time."  This morning I spent some time with the Lord reading Jeremiah 1.  Here are a few things we can glean from his walk.
  1. What do you see?  Jeremiah is an unusual "prophet" book in that there are no miracles or fantastic visions for interpretation.  God told Jeremiah to look at things he sees along his path everyday, but to look at them in a new way.  God asked Jeremiah a simple question, "What do you see?"  I see an almond branch.  I see a boiling pot.  Suddenly Jeremiah really began to take notice of things he saw everyday.  God used those mundane things to speak into Jeremiah's life.  As you pass through your day today, what do you see?
     
  2. Never stop the conversation.  The most tragic thing about our "quiet time" is that often it becomes our "only time" with God during the day.  If your quiet time is in the morning, this should only be the beginning of your conversation with God for the day.  If it is in the evening, it should merely be the final talk of the day, not the only one.  As Jeremiah walked along his path he was in conversation with God.  Let's talk about what you see.  Let's talk about your fears.  "Your only a youth (Jer. 1:7)?"  Let's talk about that.
  3. Dress for success.  God told Jeremiah to "dress yourself for work (1:17)."  Walking with God is not a Christianized version of empty spirituality.  God does not speak to us so that we may be merely blessed, or calmed, or deep.  God speaks so we know how to serve.  There is a mission to be accomplished.  Look for ways throughout the day to fulfill God's commands.  
  4. Keep it Biblical.  Notice that Jeremiah was not allowed to go off on the tangent of his feelings, nor was he left to artistic interpretations of life.  Jeremiah was told to keep focused on God's commands (Jer. 1:17b).  It is important to fill our minds with Scripture instead of merely filling our minds with thoughts.  Notice Jeremiah was not left in his conversation with God to begin his sentences with qualifiers that have become all to common in Christian lingo, "I think God is . . " or "I feel like God is . . ."  Jeremiah's path was marked with divine revelation not human reasoning.
  5. Don't be afraid of a less than good day.  Too often our Bible reading and our time with God in prayer is set on one grand and selfish accomplishment, "Help me have a good day."  I'm not saying that God is opposed to good days, but I am saying that God is also not opposed to difficult ones.  God prepared Jeremiah for a fight (Jer. 1:19).  What if we were less concerned about a good day and more concerned with being prepared for what is coming our way?  "Do not be dismayed by them, lest I may dismay you before them (1:17).  God did not promise Jeremiah a good day, but He did prepare him to fight a good fight, to be a great prophet, to preach a great word!
Walk with God today.  Take notice of things you see everyday, but see them in a new way.  Never stop the conversation with God.  Get ready to respond to the work He has for you.  Ground yourself in the Word.  Trust less in your own thoughts and feelings.  Take every thought captive for Christ.  Don't be afraid of a less than ideal experience.  God is not looking for good days, he is looking for great people who walk with Him throughout the day.
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What You Are Missing by Googling God - Steps

The breakneck speed at which we do life has made one of the Bible's simplest teachings almost foreign to us.  Steps.

We are driving, texting, talking, and updating.  Our pathways are guided by intricate systems which communicate our exact coordinates to global positioning satellites instantaneously.  We are told where to turn and exactly what time we are projected to arrive at our destination.  For the most part, we are unaware of our surroundings as we do life at smartphone speed.

When the writers of Scripture describe life you can tell that they lived at a different speed.  They use words like "walk" and "steps."  When Paul says repeatedly in his letters for us to "walk worthy (Ephesians 4:1 or Col. 1:10)", he is not only admonishing them to pay attention to how they live, but he is reflecting life's speed.  They walked everywhere they went.  Walking was a way of life.

David says in Psalm 37:23 that the "steps of a man are established by the Lord."  In Psalm 119 the Word of God is illumination for the writer's feet and a light for his path.  Again, the proximity of the verse suggests life at close range, at walking pace.  Later in the same chapter, verse 133, the writer asks the Lord to, "Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me."

Because we have grown accustomed to life at digital speeds we want instantaneous results.  Yet we forget.  We may be able to Google information, but you cannot Google holiness.

Because we are guided by GPS we can drive to any destination and have no idea how we got there.  Life with the Lord is not merely about arrival at a destination, it is about steps.  It is less about praying about where we want to be and more about paying attention to where we are and how the Word of God applies today.

We need to be asking more questions like "What's next?" rather than questions that begin with "When?"  Your phone may know exactly "when" you will arrive, but God is less concerned with the "when" and more concerned with the steps.

In the past we asked for directions.  Now all we want is an address.  In later days we received directions based on scenic milestones.  Turn at the barn, over the hill.  There is a massive oak tree in a field.  Now we drive to an address and see nothing.

The Bible wants you to see what's along the way and take time to think about why it is there, who built it, what's the story, and what does it say about the next step?

We may live a multi-tasking digi life, but somehow we need to break it down, especially our journey with the Lord, into steps.  Slow it down.  Be deliberate with the day.  Become less frustrated with where you want to be, and more intentional about where you are.

Read the Bible not because you are "supposed to" but because you are looking for something to guide you today.  When you read a verse dare to ask why it is now a part of your day.  What is God saying to you today about that verse?  What is God saying about your day, through that verse? 

Pray about less general things and ask for more specific things.  Talk to God about people you will see today.  Quit asking about God's will for your life and start asking Him about His intent for you today.  Prayer and the Bible are not merely us giving God our coordinates.  God's intent is for these to be vital windows into today.  Stop Googling God looking for instant answers.  God is less concerned with supplying you an instant answer.  He is more concerned with directing your steps.

Walk with the Lord.  All you need to do today is take a step.
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Fallon's First Night

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Questions to Evaluate Your Prayer Life

photo courtesy: AdamRozanas/Flickr.com
Below are some questions that may help you evaluate your prayer life and make some necessary changes.
  1. Does my prayer life move the Acts 1:8 mission forward?
  2. Does my prayer life reflect dependence on God or do I pray for things it would take little effort or resources to accomplish on my own (Phil. 4:19)?  
  3. If God answered my prayers, would it bring more glory to Him or more attention to me (James 4:3)? 
  4. How does my prayer life reflect the time I spend in Scripture (Psalm 119)?
  5. Do I ask for specific things (James 4:2)?  
  6. Does my prayer life consist of praise and thanksgiving to God, intercession for others, confession of sin, as well as personal requests (Luke 11:1-4, 1 Tim. 2:1)? 
  7. Is it measurable?  If it was answered, would I know it?  Am I actively looking for how God answers?
  8. How long do I generally pray about things (Luke 11:9-10)?
  9. If God answered my prayers:
      • What would be the impact of the advancement of the gospel in the world?
      • How many people would be added to the work of the ministry?
      • How would it impact the church I attend?
      • How would it grow my marriage?
      • How would it encourage faithfulness?
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Keep it Clean

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reveals our inf...

reveals our infatuation with self - perhaps we are in the wanning days of our rugged individualism
we are living in hypocrisy - we will not take responsibility for ourselves, and lay the blame squarely on everyone else
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This really ________________!

The lead story in the south is the gridlock in Atlanta and Birmingham caused by a sudden burst of snow.  The whole thing was strange in that it didn't look like much.  We've had worse.  It was nothing more than a dusting compared to some snows we have had in the past, but it has caused havoc.  As a result there have been a myriad of human interest stories as people slept in their cars on the interstate, enduring single digit temps.  Moms and dads walked miles to schools to be with their children who were trapped in the building for the night.  There was even a baby born on I-285.  Apparently something decent and kind can come from 285.

The snowcalypse of 2014 was a welcomed day off to some, an inconvenience for others, and a near tragedy for many.  However you estimate it, none of us are immune to disruption, stress and an unwelcome surprise along the way.  Complete the following statement,

I want you to know, that what has happened to me has really ____________________________.

No curse words please . . .

In a letter purposed on giving his supporters an update, Paul said the most surprising thing.  "I want you to know, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel (Phil. 1:12)."  How often can we put everything in our lives from inconveniences, to triumphs, to near tragedies in the category of "has really served to advance the gospel?"

If you read Philippians 1:12-26 you will see that:
  • Paul's imprisonment - serves to advance the gospel.
  • Paul's rivals speaking ill of him wanting to add salt and shame to his wounds - serves to advance the gospel.
  • Paul's life - serves to advance the gospel.
  • The prospects of Paul's death - serves to advance the gospel.
  • Paul's letter - serves to advance the gospel.
  • If Paul is released - you guessed it - it will serve to advance the gospel.
His thinking ought to deeply challenge our thinking.  It should especially challenge those of us who claim to follow Christ, who, like me, often think of inconvenience and suffering only as a bother.  The centrality of the gospel for Paul calls for me to rethink a lot of things in my life.
  1. Paul challenges the way I think about the gospel itself.  If I am honest I would say that in most cases I treat the gospel as secondary, unimportant, and as a result there is a marked lack of urgency in my life.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is everything to everything.
  2. Paul challenges the way I over-dramatize most everything and as a result have no real grasp of what it means to suffer.
  3. Paul challenges my attitude in interruptions and inconvenience (Phil. 1:14).  Think of how many parables Jesus shared and miracles he did on the occasion of interruption.  Think of how many people inconvenience has led me to and how few of them I have shared Christ with.
  4. Paul challenges the way I talk about other churches, pastors, or servants of Christ who are not like me.  Do I speak as a rival out of envy and conceit or is it from love "knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel (Phil. 1:16).
  5. Paul challenges my dependence on prayer and the Spirit of God (Phil. 1:19).
  6. Paul challenges my definition of life (Phil. 1:21-22).
  7. Paul challenges my understanding of death (Phil. 1:21-22).  
  8. Paul challenges the way I think of myself and my connection with the other people in the church.  It is not, who are they for me, but rather who am I for them (Phil. 1:24)?
  9. Paul challenges the way I evaluate difficulty.  Most of the time it is without reference to the gospel, but according to his remarks, difficulty is a necessary assistant to help my Christian experience (Phil. 1:25-26).
If we think properly about the gospel, less of our phrases that begin with "This really . . ." should end with a word used to describe the action of a vacuum cleaner . . . or worse.  We should be able to insert every circumstance in life from snow storm to imprisonment, night in the elementary school to martyrdom, long line for bread and milk to persecution, into the category of something that happened to me and "this _____________ has really served to advance the gospel!"  
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Who Should You Support?

If you are a generous Christian you have experienced the constant solicitation of good causes for your money.  In addition to regular tithes and offerings your church probably raises additional monies for missions or perhaps to help support a local food bank or Christian charity.  You go home and have your pick of television channels full of preachers and evangelists telling you that their program is made possible by people like you.  Me?  Yes, you!  Then there are a fountain of seasonal causes, shoe boxes going to Africa, an angel tree for a local hospital or school, and baby bottle full of pennies for the women's center.  As a pastor, I receive two to three contacts per week from missionaries and church planters wanting me to give them time either in Sunday School classes or in the pulpit so they can ask our congregation for support.

Even though some people may be put off by Christian organizations asking for money, there is nothing sinful, unethical, or immoral about the process.  You may be aggravated to some degree by it, but it is not wrong.  As a principle of stewardship God has ordained that His mission would be funded by His people.  We can't ignore the fact that spreading the gospel costs money.  Furthermore, we need gospel partners.  No one church or person can possibly fulfill all that Christ has commanded us to do on our own.  The call of the gospel is huge.  Who possibly has the time or the talent to be Christ to the vast number of imprisoned, hungry, hurting, naked, persecuted, lost "least of these" in the world (Matthew 25:35-40)?  I can't do it all.  Neither can my church.  We need partners.

Yet even in partnerships, there is no way you can do give to all.  So how do you sort through the white noise of good causes and Christian missions without feeling like you are shooting a puppy in Jesus' name if you say "no?"  At its heart, the Book of Philippians is the correspondence between Paul and one of his partners.  The opening paragraph of the gospel gives us some principles we can use to guide us when it comes to giving and going in partnership with others.  When considering gospel partnerships we should ask:

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The Power and Peril of Habit

If you were at Liberty this morning, I know I gave you a lot of information in a hurry.  Here is a copy of the material with everything filled in.

The Power and Peril of Habit document

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Introduction to Philippians

An Introduction to Philippians
Worthy of the Gospel

When we first engage a book of the Bible it is important to spend some time in background study.  A good background study will involve at least two aspects (all of which and more can be found in most Bible commentaries):

1)     Context - The profit of studying context is that it helps us interpret the text rightly.  The Bible never means what it never meant (Fee and Stuart - How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth).  Studying context also helps us to not exempt ourselves from the demands of the text.  Most would think that such study would alienate us from the text and that we would indeed find reasons to exempt ourselves.  The Bible is old and culturally distant, but it is eternally relevant and so the very opposite of what we would expect takes place.  A thorough background study will actually bring the reader more closely to the Bible's originally recipients.  Good study builds sympathy not distance.  We find ourselves more like them that we originally thought.  There are two general types of context we observe.


Historical - What is the life situation of the recipients?
Biblical - Where does the text fit into the Bible?


2)    Structure - The profit of studying structure is that it helps us familiarize ourselves with the way the letter works and seeing how the argument progresses.  What is the one central idea that holds it together?  How does each paragraph and statement in the letter support this central idea?  We do this to keep ourselves from merely seeing the letter as a bunch of verses.  We would read one of Paul’s letters much differently than we would Proverbs.  This is an important conversation between Paul and a church.  They understood what he was saying.  We study structure by:


    1)    Reading the text in whole.
    2)    Observing the flow of the text from paragraph to paragraph.
    3)    Identifying key verse or passage that holds it all together.
    4)    Find an outline that communicates the text to us.

 I.    Context


A.    Philippi


1)    One of the most well known cities of the ancient world.
2)    Highly developed with baths, marvelous temples, libraries, gymnasiums, streets, and an acropolis (upper city).
3)    Became a capital center for politics, philosophy, and a military outpost about 800 miles from Athens.
4)    Religiously “charged” area taking not only the Roman cult gods seriously but participating fervently in emperor worship.  There were only two types of religion in Philippi, legal and illegal.
 
B.    The Church at Philippi - The story of the Philippian church is in Acts 16.  There you will notice several key characters who are mentioned in Paul’s letter.  Paul founded the church during his second missionary journey in the early 50’s (1st century AD).  Two critical facets of Paul’s story are developed in Philippi.  1)  Paul gains some important partners who help not only support him personally, but help finance his church planting efforts as he spreads the gospel to the Greek world.  2)  We also get a glimpse into Paul’s experience in prison.  Many of the admonitions and behaviors Paul fosters in his letter to the Philippians are exemplified in the way he spent his time in prison in Philippi.  At the time of Paul’s writing it is probably the late 50’s or early 60’s and Paul has been imprisoned again.  Even still, the Philippians remain not only person friends but ardent supports of his work.


C.    Occasion - 


1)    The Philippians have made a contribution to Paul and he is sending Epaphroditus back with a letter not only thanking them, but instructing them and answering some of their concerns as a congregation.  The letter serves as a note of gratitude and a missionary report (1:12ff, 4:8-13).
2)    The people were personally concerned for Epaphroditus’ health.  His return would encourage them (2:25-30).
3)    As supporters, Paul needs to give the Philippians perspective on his imprisonment.  This is not only an update to assure them he is currently well, but that whatever happens it is not a failure of God’s plan for the gospel (1:12-25).
4)    Paul uses the letter to address the Philippian concerns over Paul’s opponents (1:15-18) and to warn them about false teachers who have entered their congregation (3:2-11).
5)    In light of the growing dangers surrounding their support of the gospel, the people needed to receive an apostolic admonition toward doctrinal integrity, missional solidarity, and congregational unity (4:2-9).


I.    Structure

      Key passage - 1:27-30 - A life worthy of the gospel


    1)    Congregational unity in the gospel


    a)    One spirit
    b)    One mind
    c)    Striving side by side


    2)    Faithful in suffering


    a)    A refusal to back down from opponents.
    b)    Living examples of a saved people strengthened by God in the gospel.
    c)    Seeing suffering as much a part of the call of the gospel as believing.
    d)    Partners in the greater/global conflict of the gospel.




    I)    Outline

    A.    Salutation (1:1-2)


    B.    Thanksgiving and joyful intercession (1:3-11)


    1.    Thanksgiving from a full heart (1:3-6)
    2.    The apostle’s affection (1:7-8)
    3.    Intercession for love and discernment (1:9-11)


    C.    The Priority of the Gospel for Paul (1:9-11)


    1.    The progress of the gospel (1:12-14)
    2.    Preaching Christ from different motives (1:15-18a)
    3.    Final vindication and glorifying Christ (1:18b-20)
    4.    Life or death (1:21-24)
    5.    An anticipated reunion? (1:25-26)


    D.    Conduct worthy of the gospel: exhortations and an example to the community (1:27-2:18).


    1.    Unity and courage in the face of opposition (1:27-30)
    2.    A call for unity and mutual consideration (2:1-4)
    3.    Christ Jesus, the supreme example of humility, solidarity, and faithfulness in suffering (2:5-11)


    (1)    Adopt Christ’s attitude (2:5)
    (2)    Learn from Christ’s example of humility (2:6-8)
    (3)    Be inspired by Christ’s exaltation by the Father (2:9-11)


    4.    Work out your salvation (2:12-18)


    E.    News about Timothy and Epaphroditus, two Christ-like examples (2:19-30)


    1.    Timothy (2:19-24)
    2.    Epaphroditus (2:25-30)


    F.    Warning against Judaizers. Following Paul’s example and teaching (3:1-21)


    1.    Watch Out for the Evil Workers (3:1–3)
    2.    Paul’s Past Life: Privileges and Achievements (3:4–6)
    3.    A Radical Change: Paul’s Present Values (3:7–11)
    4.    Pressing On toward the Goal (3:12–16)
    5.    True and False Models. A Heavenly Commonwealth and a Glorious Hope (3:17–21)


    G.    Final Exhortations (4:1–9)


    1.    Stand Firm (4:1)
    2.    Be United (4:2–3)
    3.    Rejoice, Be Gentle, Don’t Be Anxious (4:4–7)
    4.    Focussing on What Is Excellent, Following a Godly Model (4:8–9)


    H.    Paul’s thanks for the gift (4:10–20)

    I.    Final greetings (4:21–23)

Outline taken from: Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians: a Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 39.

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The Irrational Season

Madeleine L'Engle calls Christmas, "The irrational season."  She is not referring to the irrational behavior we often exhibit during this season.  Crazy we are, but it is not the irrationality that is a by-product of our greed or our busyness that inspires L'Engle's poem.  The focus of the short verse is the rebellion of Christmas against enlightenment.

I do not sleep well.  I spend many nights wondering around the house, going from room to room, thinking, praying, watching the most boring thing I can possibly find on TV in hopes that it will someone put me to sleep, or finding a couch to just lay there.

One night late last summer I was awakened by the barking of a dog somewhere in the dark shadows in front of our house.  There was nowhere in the house I could go that I could not hear him.  Sleeping was out of the question.  If I can be honest for a moment without being judged by dog lovers . . . I just want to be real.  I went upstairs and stood within the frame of a very large window staring into the darkness, searching for the dog.  If I could locate the dog, I could kill said dog! 

I never could see the dog even though my eyes were adjusting well to the darkness.  I could hear him and if he chose to move at all, I was certain to notice the movement.  But then he stopped barking and I was left with only a pitch black silent landscape.  There was this pause.  Maybe it was because I was now focused more intently trying with any of my senses to find the dog, but it made the silence and the darkness that much more acute.  Then it happened.

The darkness was interrupted by a light so bright I could discern the colors of the trees, plants, houses, everything within my view.  It was not lightening.  It lasted too long, several seconds it seemed.  It also didn't flicker like lightening seems to do.  Here is the weird thing, the light was moving.

You know how a car passing your house, or a tree, will cast a moving shadow as the car goes by?  As the angle of the light changes, the shadows move.  That's exactly what happened.  Even though the light seemed as bright as the sun, I could discern that it was coming from a source behind my house which cast a shadow of the pitch of the roof across my driveway and into the field below the window.  The shadow quickly moved from right to left.

What was that?  I quickly raced down the stairs not only replaying the image in my mind, but running all of the logical scenarios - shooting star?  I've never seen one that bright that lasted that long.  Car?  No way, too bright and no car actually passed my house.  Missile launch?  Who knew that The Pentagon had missile launch sites in Chatsworth, GA?  Low flying plane?  There was no sound.  And then it hit me about the time I walked out on my back porch . . . UFO?  Well, at this point if aliens had landed in my backyard they would have to take me in my boxer shorts and I would have to defend myself with an iPhone.

I know what you may be thinking at this point.  Why does the Pastor of Liberty Baptist Church walk around his house in boxer shorts and an iPhone in the middle of the night?  If that is what you are thinking, I need you to concentrate on the bigger issue here . . . there may be a UFO in my back yard.   By the way, the dog was still silent - hopefully dead or abducted by aliens.

There had to be a logical explanation, but I was coming up empty.  I will admit, the whole thing freaked me out, to the point that I was afraid to tell anyone about it, even my wife.  Should I tell her that a dog was abducted by aliens in our neighborhood.  We just moved into this house.  Would we now have to defend it from space invaders?  For the next few days I recalled the light and the movement of the shadows.  I couldn't figure it out.

Late that Saturday night the lead story on the Chattanooga 11 p.m. news, "Massive meteor explodes over Cleveland, TN.  The light could be seen for miles."  AHA! I yelled.  I then confessed everything to my wife, what I had seen, and my fear of telling her about it.  Yes!  A meteor explosion, it makes perfect sense, no big deal!

That's our problem.  Everything has to make sense to us.  Everything needs an explanation.  This is why, for us, there are no more "Irrational Seasons" to enjoy.  Enlightenment has murdered amazement.  A meteor explodes 20 miles from my house and I am relieved that is all it was.  Cool?  Absolutely, but not amazing.

The same thing that makes us run outside onto our porch in our boxers armed only with an iPhone to search for aliens also explains why we are no longer amazed at Christmas.  Instead of standing in my window and worshiping God in that moment by simply saying, "Wow", I was influenced by every stupid sci-fi movie I have ever seen (confession: Signs has forever freaked me out), every scientific article I have ever read, every intellect who has ever lectured me, every ounce of inescapable cultural cynicism in which I have been raised.  I forsook awe and did what I have been conditioned to do, search for answers.

Christmas at its core, "is the irrational season."  L'Engle's full verse reads as follows:

This is this irrational season.
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There'd have been no room for the child.

Perhaps this is why we are so drawn at Christmas to movies that challenge us to "just believe."  In Elf, belief makes Santa's sleigh fly.  In Polar Express, belief enables you to hear the bells on Santa's sleigh ring.  In The Santa Clause it is forsaking an adult reality and returning to the belief of a child that helps Tim Allen's character embrace becoming The Claus.

Belief rescues us from a dark, soundless world raped of wonder and makes things "bloom bright and wild" again.  The problem with movies is that it is impossible to hold our faith in fiction.  Once the credits scroll upon the screen, we are reminded of what our momma always told us, "It's just a movie."

But what about the irrational season of Christmas?  Perhaps you are convinced that the Jesus story is also just fiction trying to impotently hold our faith.  Maybe you are like I was when the meteor exploded, no longer considering simple "awe" but instead filling our heart with reason and consequently crowding out the Christ child.  If so, perhaps you would agree with me, that we have lost one of the greatest gifts God gave us, amazement.  Without amazement there is no worship.  Without amazement we have no place for faith.

What has caused you to dismiss the amazement of the "irrational season?"  Is it the science of the whole thing - a virgin girl giving birth?  Is it a dose of heady theology you have heard - the Hebrew word doesn't necessarily mean virgin, but rather young girl.  Is it the total lack of amazement we find in the modern church, or perhaps her people - hypocrites aggravate, they do not amaze.  Has the irrational season been forever skewed by tragedy - if there is a God, why is my life miserable instead of amazing?

We need desperately to be amazed.

If you struggle with the amazement of Christmas, join me this Sunday, 8:45 and 11 a.m., at Liberty Baptist Church in Dalton, GA.  I will be looking at this topic of amazement and belief in the irrational season.  I will be using several popular films that challenge us to return to belief, much like the version of belief we had when we were children.  We will have a conversation about science, hypocrites, tragedy, and culture - all things that tend to destroy amazement and belief.  We will be looking at the irrationality of Christ's birth and how it beckons us to be amazed and believe.

If you can't join us on Sunday.  I will have audio and video posted on this site very soon.  May God bless you.  I pray that you will be amazed this Christmas.      

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The Wandering Son (Gen. 4 in Meta-Narrative)

Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil thinking he would become like God.  When God pronounced the curse upon Adam it was a rude awakening.  He would not become deity, Adam would return to dirt (Gen. 3:19).  Yet God cast Adam and his wife out of the garden with a glimmer of hope.  A son would be born who would bear the brunt of Satan's blow, but would in the end crush him and would somehow reverse the curse.

Genesis 4 opens with great anticipation.  We find out first that the blessing of God to be fruitful and multiply was indeed in tact.  Eve has fulfilled her name, she is the mother of all living.  Not only has she given birth, but she has brought into the world a son.  Is this the son who will crush Satan?  We get a sense that Eve believes this to be the child of destiny as she praises his birth (Gen. 4:1), "I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD."  And another son is born, with far less fanfare.  There is no applause, no praise surrounding the second son.  We are told only that she named him Abel.

I am an only child, but I have long observed the plight of the second born.  The youngest child is "so and so's" sibling.  The curse is worse if you are the sequel to a superstar.  A stellar academic, a superstar athlete, the eldest child with looks that could kill always leaves for those who come after him the difficult label to shake, "______________'s brother."  Cain is a man acquired with the help of the Lord.  Abel is merely Cain's brother.

The Bible says nothing of Adam and Eve's parenting skills, but it is not difficult to understand the ways of humans.  We bring a child into the world with high expectations.  Our culture fans the flame of the intense pressure of success.  A son is born - who must be proficient in piano, a straight A student, a goal scorer, the leading tackler, bat .300, and be elected the class president.  It is hard to be Abel, but it may be even more so to be Cain.  Lessons, practices, tutors . . . only a diet of free range chickens and green veggies with no pesticides is fit for a child with the potential of Cain.

I had lunch with a couple on Sunday.  The lady works at a Karate studio and interviews potential clients.  She said last week a couple brought in their son to sign him up and she ran the usual gambit of questions.  In the interview it became apparent that Karate might be an issue with his busy schedule.  Mondays he learns an instrument.  Tuesdays and Thursdays he practices football.  Saturdays he plays soccer.  So the final question was brought to the parents, "Why do you want your son to take Karate?"  The mother replied, "He needs an activity."  The child was 4.

We are not enrolling our children for activities.  We are busy raising Cain.

I know nothing of Cain's academic accomplishments or his athletic achievements.  We know only of the man his mother hoped he would be.  In his mother's mind, Cain was Satan's crusher.  Yet instead of becoming Satan's crusher, Cain became his brother's killer.  Such is life outside of Eden.

Genesis 4 is an early indicator in the meta-narrative of life that this sin thing may have done more damage to us than we originally thought.  I know that in a world of sin, such is not the case in every circumstance, but I believe in every birth there is in all of us a hope that this child will be Satan's crusher.  At the very least, we see in the birth of a child the triumph of joy and the power of hope to endure.  In a world in which so many people go the way of Cain, perhaps this child will succeed.

Instead life teaches us a cruel lesson.  We invest in lessons, we spend countless hours at practice, we pay for clinics, braces, and tutors.  Like Eve we so desperately want our child to succeed, but at some point we will learn, our child's biggest problem is not his inability to play the piano.  Our children have in them what Cain had in him; sin.

We are paying good money for success, but we are inevitably raising Cain.  We can shower our children with accolades from the moment they are born, but positive reinforcement does nothing to change our nature.  We need something more.

Our children do not need insane amounts of protection from scraped knees and disappointing comments, our children need redemption.  Our children do not need a heaping amount of lessons, clinics, and personal training sessions; our children need Christ.  Our children do not need ballgames without scoreboards to save them from the pain of losing, our children need to be saved from Hell.  In our desperate plight to raise successful sons and daughters all we are doing is raising Cain.

When Cain was punished by God there was no repentance only protest.  "My punishment is greater than I can bear (Gen. 4:13)."  There was nothing in Cain that made him grieve that he had killed a man, much less his brother Abel.  All Abel was to Cain was the representative of his failure, so he axed him.

In our current age of helicopter parenting we teach our children that they are not responsible for anything less than success.  If you don't succeed its someone else's fault.  Axe the teacher.  Axe the coach.  Axe any difficulty that stands in your way.  Don't take responsibility for the fact that your lack of study or even your lack of ability is the reason you are on the bench or that you didn't win first place; what you need is a new coach, a different teacher, a new school, a better environment.  A "B" is too much to bear.  Second string is unacceptable.  This is why compared to other generations our modern day Cains turn in D level work with an F level of effort but expect an A every time.

So what was Cain's fate?  He was left to wander.  The Biblical text here smacks of irony.  Cain settled in Nod (Gen. 4:16).  The word "Nod" means "wandering."  Cain settled for a life of aimlessness.  If you raise Cain, as an adult he will not be able to hold down a job, pay his bills on time, or do the things necessary to be married.  The first time he is told he is unproductive, that he needs to work harder, that he needs to forgive - the first time he realizes the rest of the universe doesn't revolve around him like his parents did, he will quit.  He will settle in Nod just like Cain.  Nod is a quitters paradise.

Even though his mother wished success upon him, Cain never succeeded.  Cain was not the redeeming son.  By his lack of sacrifice, Cain was not even a redeemed son.  The primary goal of a parent for their child is not success, but redemption.  Jesus asked a pertinent question of all of us exiled form Eden, "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul (Mark 8:36)."  Sin has done more to us than we realize.
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A Letter From the Field

I received this message by email early this morning.  It is from a family serving Christ in Africa that we have been communicating with for many years.  It is easy for us to lose perspective on exactly what the gospel costs.  These updates help to keep me grounded and to also expand my vision of God's greater Kingdom in the world.  Thanks K. for sharing.  We are praying for all of you.

__________________________


I have been talking with colleagues and personnel sent out by other organizations that serve here and we are all feeling it.  Though we have toiled long and hard, the fruit of our labor has shown itself to be very little.  But, we have a sense, given by the Spirit, that a movement is coming.  At the same time,  there is a heaviness of the dark cloud of persecution that overshadows us.  It hasn’t been an issue before, because we haven’t yet caused a major stir with our Message and the good things we do are pleasing.  But, once an Acts 2:41 type movement happens, we WILL be noticed and those that join our Family WILL face persecution. 

As we get closer to a major mslm holiday in just a few weeks, there is a call to “revival” and relig. leaders “preach” and groups of disciples chant portions of their holy book all night long.  It began last night until early this morning.  Though our windows were closed, the echoes of chanting and preaching from loud speakers were sometimes so loud they rattled our windows.  The enemy can use this to exhaust us (for lack of sleep) and break us down with discouragement.  But, we hold tightly to I John 4:4, You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

We are so very thankful that we have you loving and lifting us up to our Father.  Please keep in touch.

Serving with Joy,
K. Heb. 1:3
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Temptation in the Story of God


">Temptation in the Story of God from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
How does the temptation of Christ fit into the story of the Bible? There is an incredible message in this!
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What Andy Murray Taught the Church - There is More to Championships Than What You See in the Highlights


Yesterday Andy Murray brought an end to the angst of an entire nation becoming the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years.  What made the win even more appreciable probably escaped the view of the casual tennis observer or even the sports enthusiast who caught the highlights on ESPN.  What made Murray great was the struggle; the immense amount of persistence in suffering that resulted in a championship.  
Winning Wimbledon is not easy.  If you don’t understand the tournament allow me to fill you in.  While Wimbledon gets better TV coverage than most tennis majors, the primetime stuff most of us see is only the last three rounds.  The tournament actually takes two weeks and it consists of seven rounds.  In perspective, there are 68 teams in the NCAA basketball tournament.  There are 128 players competing in the bracket at Wimbledon.  
For the men, each round consists of a best 3 out of 5 set match.  I am not trying to diminish other sports.  You’ve got to be a MAN to play football.  Football games last about three hours, but there is a halftime and constant substitutions.  Even the best players play somewhere between 45% - 55% of the game.  In tennis there are no subs.  It’s all about you, alone on the court against your opponent.  A quick match is a minimum of two hours with the later round more competitive matches lasting as long as four to five hours.  Cumulatively, tennis players are running about 3 miles in a dead sprint over the course of a match.  Then, depending on the schedule, you have to turn around and play again within 48 hours, sometimes within 24.  
Murray’s championship match was against world #1 Novak Djokavic.  Great baseball pitchers have a 95+ MPH fastball.  Djokavic has a 130+ MPH serve!  He’s Nolan Ryan with a racket, on jet fuel.  The match lasted over 3 hours in stifling heat.  Both players were spent by the end of it.  The final game was the best of the match.  It was one of the longest of the entire tournament.  That one game may go down as one of the greatest single games of tennis in tournament history.  For those that appreciate great athletes the final game is one worth watching even if you hate tennis!
Murray has now won Wimbledon once, but he has lost it 7 times.  The last few times he has lost it, he has done so in late rounds with the weight of his nation on his shoulders.  Last year he lost Wimbledon in the final to Roger Federer.  That was probably Federer’s swan-song.  He is a great champion on his way out and a much younger Murray couldn’t overcome the much older, experienced player who was trying to do what no man has done.  Federer has won Wimbledon as many times as Murray has lost it, 7 times!  Murray was great, but destined to lose.  Murray, classy but emotional, simply commented to his country after that match, “I’m getting closer.”  Those words hung over every point Murray played yesterday, especially when he found himself down significantly not once, but twice throughout the course of the grueling match.
Murray’s coach is Ivan Lendl.  Lendl was the world’s number one player for five years, 270 consecutive weeks.  He was one of the top five greatest players of all time.  He NEVER won Wimbledon.  Ironically, Lendl was hired with one mission in mind; help Murray win Wimbledon.  Even more ironic is that Lendl has never coached a pro player and has hardly picked up a racket in 19 years after seriously injuring his back.  
During Murray’s final game it looked to me as if the usually emotionless Lendl was breaking down.  To appreciate this you had to be a tennis fan back in the ’80’s.  If you were, you probably had an Agassi mullet.  I did!  As a player, Lendl was nothing but a stoic, yet viscous fire.  He NEVER smiled.  He always looked like he could choke your granny and then go to lunch without any remorse.  When Murray won Wimbledon Lendl not only teared up, but the man smiled, albeit for 3.8 seconds, but everyone watching saw it!
Most people don’t realize Murray was born with a knee defect.  His knee cap is split in two pieces.  It causes him extreme pain and has caused him to withdraw from several tournaments throughout his career.  Yet yesterday, Murray was in the best shape of his life.  He physically outlasted an amazing athlete in Djokavic.  Since losing Wimbledon last year Murray dedicated himself to winning the tournament.  In the past 12 months he has been unbeatable on grass courts (18-0) including an Olympic Gold Medal at Wimbledon, again in front of his home country.  For a man with a split knee cap, working through the pain both on the court and in training is an amazing accomplishment.  
So why such a long diatribe on a tennis match?  There is a pertinent message for the Church here.  I love sports, especially the back stories of great champions.  Apparently, the author of several Biblical books, Paul, was also a sports fan.  His letters to the churches are full of words and images drawn from the context of Greek sports.   
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV)”
“Holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” (Philippians 2:16-17, ESV)
“An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2:5, ESV)
Paul’s frequent reference to the struggle of sport serves to remind the church, there is more to following Christ than what you see in the highlights.  On ESPN Andy Murray’s win looks like five great shots in a few minutes, but in reality it was an excruciatingly disciplined journey executed successfully within a pre-determined set of rules.  
Such is the call of the gospel.  According to Paul in 1 Cor. 9:24-27, Christ calls us as well to an excruciatingly disciplined journey executed successfully within a pre-determined set of rules.  There will be highlight moments, but each of them will come at great cost.  Following Christ requires self-control, self-denial, self-sacrifice.  The gospel calls us to suffer without excuses.  Being a Christian is a constant journey toward being better tomorrow than you are today.  Too many of us want an ESPN version of Christianity - all highlights, no discipline, so suffering, no sweat!  This is not championship tennis and it is certainly not the gospel.
As great as Andy Murray’s win at Wimbledon was, he ultimately won a perishable, forgetful prize.  One that in the end will amount to nothing.  Do you know who won Wimbledon in 1888?  How about 1988 or even 1988?  How about 2008?  Can you answer those questions without looking up the answer in a web search engine?  Murray won a great prize.  The way he did is inspiring.  Yet for the follower of Christ we have a greater inspiration:  
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, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and 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.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)
We have a greater prize, one that is worth it all.  As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9, “They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”   Because of the prize Andy Murray altered his life.  His goal shaped him.  His win was a highlight, but there are no highlights from his workouts or his diet.  ESPN is not interested in covering the countless hours of hitting tennis balls with a coach it takes to win Wimbledon.  
Like Murray focused on Wimbledon, the call of the gospel should shape the way we live our lives.  The goal is worth it all.  The church does not exist in the highlights.  The church exists in the call of Christ to an excruciatingly disciplined journey executed successfully within a pre-determined set of rules.  Let us deny ourselves - not for tennis, but for Christ.  Let us suffer - not for tennis, but for Christ.  May we alter our lives - not on the altar of sport or fame or for the highlight, but for the joy set before us in following Christ.  The prize is worth is all!

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