Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:
‘Are You Running from God’s Judgment or towards His Grace?’
© July 13, 2014 by Steve Mickelson
Originally Published September 19, 2010
BLCF Bulletin 13, 2014
Announcements and Call to Worship: Responsive Reading # 648 ( A Challenge to Faith – Hebrews 11 and 12); Prayer Opening Hymn #200: The Church’s One Foundation; Choruses Tithing & Prayer Requests: Hymn #572: Praise God from Whom All Blessings Scriptures: Hebrews 12:1-3, 1 Corinthians 9:24, Acts 20:24, 2 Timothy 4:7
Let us pray…
In this age of instant fast foods, instant bank tellers (a.k.a. bank machines), movies on demand, and instant access to a wealth of information via the internet, it is refreshing to slow the tempo of our surroundings and do something that requires more than just a few minutes of our time to complete. For some, such low tempo activities includean extended period of unstructured time, untethered to clocks, schedules or timetables. For others, it is the challenge of completing a goal that involves continuous effort for a protracted period of time, dedication, commitment and provides a goal worthy of the effort.
One such event is the marathon, a cross-country run, not run as a competition between individual participants, but as a vehicle for a group of people to raise awareness and funds, by its participants in order to recognize or help others who suffer from, are afflicted by or have died from a disease or affliction. An example of one such marathon for a cause is the Terry Fox Run for Cancer Research, which occurs annually every around September 14.
The Terry Fox Run dates for the next three years:
Some people run in marathons for personal satisfaction of completing the challenge of the race. For others it is all about the cause.
The marathon is a long-distance running event with an official distance of 42.195 kilometers (26 miles and 385 yards), which is usually run as a road race. The event was instituted in commemoration of the fabled run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon (the namesake of the race) to Athens. Upon completion of the run where Pheidippides reported a victory, he collapsed and died. While he had died he completed his task and gave the message which gave hope and joy to the people of Athens.
Today, many marathon races are run to commemorate a person or just cause. Often the person and the cause are inseparable, such as the Terry Fox Run. Though he never finished his race, the effort and idea of running across Canada to raise awareness of, and funding for, Cancer was a victory for him.
We have with the Terry Fox Run, no individual winners; only a common desire amongst the runners to defeat Cancer. In our race as Christians, we run together to defeat Satan, to defeat death and win victories for God.
While Paul and other authors of the Scriptures speak of running or winning a race, I think the God was not speaking of a short sprint or even a middle or long distance event. God was talking of a long endurance race, such as the marathon. A life-long marathon.
And how do we prepare ourselves for in the long run, (if you excuse the pun)? God does provide us with a “Runners Handbook” in His Word. Here are a few of the important verses to prepare us for the race of life, beginning where the Bible describes ways of preparing the believer for the challenges encountered along the way of a lifelong “Christian Walk”:
Ephesians 6:10-20, describes them as wearers of ‘The Whole Armour of God’.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
And in 1 Chronicles 12:22, talks of the ‘The Army of God.’
22 For from day to day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God.
We are part of the “army of God”, engaged in battle, wearing the armour of God. But armour is not the only analogy given to our Faith Walk.
The Bible in 1 Corinthians 12:27, also, describes Christian believers as part of the “body of Christ”.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Looking at 2 Corinthians 5:20,we are “Christ’s ambassadors”; His envoys, representing him in this world.
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Ephesians 5:22-33 describes the church of believers as “bride of Jesus”, with Christ being the groom, described similar to the relationship between a wife and husband.
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Footnotes: a. Or holy and blameless
The Bible likens us in 1 Corinthians 3:17, to a “temple of God”.
17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
We are “healthy branches” and Christ is the vine, as described in John15:5.
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Matthew 5:13-16, characterizes Christian believers as “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”.
13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that[a] they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Footnotes: a. Matthew 5:16 Or house. 16Let your light so shine before others that
Each one of these is varied and each one is valid. Each one could easily take a sermon to explain and understand.
However, let me simplify all of them by describing them an aspect of our personal relationship with God. As soldiers in God’s army, wearing God’s armor we battle both Satan and sin. God is our Commander-in-Chief; the Bible gives us both His strategy and the weapons to battle within the scriptures. However, the battle, that challenges both our determination and tests our endurance, is lifelong; but great are the victories won, if we stay faithful in serving the Lord. Victory is found in souls saved from the final judgment of death by receiving God’s love and avoiding the obstacles Satan places in our path. The gaol and reward is salvation and eternal life.
Once we have made a decision to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour, having confessed our sins, and committing ourselves to God, we are immediately appointed His ambassadors. As ambassadors our passports are stamped by the precious blood of Christ who died for our sins. As so we carry the diplomatic immunity from judgment for our sins. But we are expected to represent the Kingdom of God in an appropriate and fitting manner. Our diplomatic mandate requires us to understand God’s purpose and policies, as outlined in the Bible. And as Holy diplomats, we must use the gifts given us by the Holy Spirit to walk, talk and act as messengers of truth. Otherwise, we lose credibility and do our appointed position a disservice and dishonor the One who sacrificed so much that we may be His representatives, unto the ends of the world.
A bride and groom are joined together in marriage until death. That is until death bids them to part. But God expects married partners not to be unequally-yoked. Like a pair of oxen, of one we stronger than the other. Otherwise the cart or the plough, or whatever the team pull, would be drawn into circles. God wants us walking a straight path, with straight rows, not making crazy crop circles. A bride and groom are kept together because they share the same values, seek the same goals, and work together in harmony. Jesus, the groom, did His part to provide for his bride, which is the church, by fulfilling the scriptures and being the last and final sacrificial lamb for all of humanity. Every believer; man and woman, Jew and Gentile, adult and child, alike may be judged sinless forever in God’s eyes’ thanks to the sacrifice of Christ.
And the bride in this relationship, being the Church, has the responsibility to maintain and nourish the faith; to ensure all her children understand the message of the Gospel, as well as God’s unconditional gift of love. Not for only a day; not until the kids are grown; and not until retirement; but until death, which in God’s time frame, forever! Forever includes this lifetime, the next, as well as the hereafter.
A married couple may have a wedding album to mark that special day, with all the events of the day being recorded by the photos, as well as by saved mementos which, when added to the photos, make the scrapbook a tapestry of a life event. This album is often followed by other albums to record other important events, such as: birthdays, vacations, anniversaries and other significant events of a whole lifetime bound within the albums’ collective pages. Today, tech savvy couples may post such images on social media pages, such as Facebook, Flickr, BLOGs and Instagram on the Internet for the whole world to see. To make a good impression, these social media albums are edited to show only the best images of what we do.
The Lord keeps an album too, sometimes referred to our “Book of Life”. Unlike our scrapbook albums, this one has a record of all that we do, say and think; the good as well as the bad. But like our album, all of the good and bad will be posted for all to see come Judgment Day. That is a daunting thought, for instead of warranting a title such as “The Highlights of My Life”, the title for such a Book might have one sounding like a spaghetti western title like “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of My Life”! To the Lord the content of this Judgement Book that is important to Him includes: whether we have faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour; whether we have confessed our sins; and perhaps most importantly, have we embarked upon the race that the Lord has set for us as Christian believers: to spread the Gospel to others and whether we grew in faith and trust in His Way.
Before I get carried away, and attempt to comment on all of these examples of our Christian walk, let me address the topic of this Sunday’s message: ‘Are you running from God’s judgment or towards His grace’? There is another analogy of the Christian walk, but the Apostle Paul describes it as a race, like a marathon. With a few exceptions, the runners of these races are not necessarily running the race as competitors against each other, but like the marathons for a just cause, as a group running with the common goal of just making it to the finish line by overcoming the challenges of obstacles, such as the wall of pain and exhaustion. They must find inner strength from within and demonstrate to the world that they can continue the race into to the end.
I have a sister-in-law, Suuzie who is a triathlete. She does triathlons, which include three endurance races combined in a single marathon race. Part of the race is in the water; part is like the original marathon is on foot; and part is on bicycle. One of Suuzie’s first races took place in Hamilton, early in the month May, with the first leg to be swum in Hamilton Harbor. My brother-in -law recorded that race with over three hundred participants at the starting line. At the start of the race, we see that the starting gun goes off and the triathletes run into water. In the next scene of the video, about half of the participants doing a 180 – turnaround and run right back out of the water.
If you are curious as to how cold the water of Lake Ontario can be in early May, ask Sophie as she was baptized in Lake Ontario at Sunnyside Park in the month of May.
I believe Suuzie was one of those who ran in, then out of the lake. She and the other runners were not prepared for the conditions of the lake. Eventually Suuzie re-entered the lake and eventually finished her race.
Recently, Suuzie lived in Australia for a couple of years, and while on the road had her training run interrupted by a gang of kangaroos, which surrounded Suuzie on the roadside. This kangaroo encounter, while somewhat bizarre and sounding humorous could have had a very serious outcome, as the hopping marsupials are well known for their aggressive and combative behavior. Fortunately, Suuzie escaped from the encounter, unharmed. After she escaped the kangaroo threat, Suuzi actually returned to the same location with her husband, camera in hand, hoping to take a photograph the ‘roos. Come to think of it, it is likely that Suzie’s photo albums, at least those documenting her runs, are likely to be quite different from the norm.
As believers in the Resurrected Christ, those running the ‘Race of Christian Faith’, we must be prepared for the unexpected, which is Satan’s way of distracting us from our goal of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In school I used to like running to middle distance races. A middle distance was 880 yards before metrification or 800 meters today. I recall during one practice run, where I knew none of my opponents. I had taken, and was maintaining, a lead over the rest of the pack for most of the race, with one pesky runner, whose name was Alan, maintained a pace beside and behind me for most of the race.
At one point of the race, near the last thirty yards of the finish line, Alan looked at me with a show of apparent concern saying, “You look tired! Are you OK? Maybe you should take it easy, as it is only a practice.”
For me that was I all I needed to hear. My legs and arms were burning, my lungs bursting at my efforts and Alan’s words spoke to me of everything that my body felt. I was done, as Alan had effectively broken my focus enough to pass me and win the race.
In our race on the Glory Road, we too have someone like Satan whispering in our ears that the water is too cold to swim or that we have reached an insurmountable wall. Even something as innocuous as “Oh look a bunch of kangaroos”. Whatever it is, we must resist the temptation to stop or quit the race. For in quitting, we hand the garland of victory to Satan!
We must not be diverted from our route or distracted from the goal in our race. Satan loves to chill the water in which we swim or throw a kangaroo or two in our path. He will do anything to make us lose our focus and ultimately to stop us from running God’s race. Remember, that Jesus, immediately following his baptism and having received the Holy Spirit, was taken into the desert, where he fasted and was repeatedly tested by Satan. But Jesus, through faith in His Father, and by his knowledge of the scriptures, stayed on track and defeated Satan. Jesus’ victory was our victory. Jesus did not allow himself to be detoured from his appointed path to defeat sin on our behalf.
Having prepared ourselves for the race, let us review the race set before us:
Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV)
1Therefore, 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, 2looking 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.
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
1 Corinthians 9:24 (ESV)
4Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
The goal of our race is testify to the Gospel of Christ and to keep the faith:
Acts 20:24 (ESV)
24But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
2 Timothy 4:7 (ESV)
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
And if we set upon the marathon of our life, intent to share, without distraction, the Gospel of Christ and keep our faith in the Lord, then when our race is run. We may claim for ourselves the rewards of our efforts to draw closer to the Lord’s “Throne of Grace”, so that we may receive His mercy and, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, find the grace to help those who have not yet found it.
Hebrews 4:14-16 (ESV)
14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Let Us Pray…
Closing Hymn #546: Sing the Wondrous Love of Jesus
Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14): The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.