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Jack Graham - Finish

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    Jack Graham - Finish
TOPICS: Going the Distance

God put us in a spiritual race, and in this race we are to run and run well. And as the Apostle Paul said, we are to run to win, not just to get a participation trophy, but we are to compete. And we are to run well. And that means not only beginning well, but, of course, running well throughout our days and then to finish well. Unfortunately, some do not finish well. I don't know about you but I want to run the race all the way through the finish line and burst into Glory! I don't necessarily want to limp into heaven; I want to leap into the arms of Jesus and experience His presence there, the glory, the victory that is ours in Jesus Christ. So, this race that we run is very, very important.

Remember, Hebrews is all about going the distance. Hebrews 6:1: "Let us go on to maturity". We don't just start the race, but we go on, onward and upward in the Christian life. We never stop until we get to heaven. So, the question we should ask ourselves before we even begin this message today, something I want to ask you: Are you running? Are you running well? Are you progressing? Are you pushing forward? Are you persevering? That's what this message is about. In Hebrews chapter 12, beginning at verse 1, and I'm going to read it to from The New Living translation just to give you a different turn on it. Therefore, it's on the screen.

"Since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to this life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding the shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God's throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won't become weary and give up. Contemplate Christ, think about Jesus, and what He went through in order to secure our salvation. And when you do, you won't be weary, you won't give up".

In fact, here's an example. I like the way The Message paraphrase puts it. He says, "That will shoot adrenaline into your soul"! So today's message I pray, is a shot of adrenaline into your soul! That you would run, and keep running, and never, ever quit! How do we do that? Number one, know that you don't run alone. Seeing that we are encompassed about, circled about by this great cloud, this great crowd of witnesses, martyrs! Those who have gone before us. Check out Hebrews chapter 11 and those great champions, those hall of famers, those veteran believers now in heaven, all these years who's lives exemplify lives of faith, who endured and persevered against all odds! They overcame! These great heroes in heaven! And all around us we can hear them cheering us on! Those who have lived their legacy in front of you, those even around us today that are encouraging us.

Hey, you encouraged me today, and I hope I'm encouraging you! When you're standing by someone and they're belting out worship even they sound like a calf dying in hail storm, when they're praising God, it encourages us! When the preaching of the Word, that's why we come to church. Back in Hebrews chapter 10, verse 25, what does it say? "Don't neglect the gathering of yourselves, the assembling of yourselves together as a matter of some". We need one another! We need to cheer one another on! And you'll never know, somebody here may be hanging by a thread today, and your word of encouragement will keep them going. We're circled about with a great crowd of heavenly and earthly witnesses. So, you don't run alone; we're in this together.

The second thing is, get rid of all the distractions. Eliminate distractions. That's why in these verses it says because we have this great cloud of witness, run with endurance, and it says, letting go, turning loose of the things which distract us. And the word that he uses here are the weights that slow us down. "Strip off every weight that slows us down". Lay aside every weight. Now there are no effective, successful, overweight athletes. If you're an athlete, you're going to be in shape. It's critical to be in the very best physical condition if you're going to succeed in an athletic contest. That's why these athletes train and train and train. And they discipline themselves and they get rid of distractions hopefully in their lives so that they can compete successfully. These kinds of encumbrances that may slow us down.

Now think for a moment about the stuff that slows us down. The weights that hold us back. I just read this week that if you lose ten pounds, your knees will thank you. And here's why. Because if you lose ten pounds, your knees will be subject to 48,000 less pounds of pressure per mile as you're walking. Compression and pressure on your knees. Just ten pounds. It sounds amazing but it's true. That's the spirit of this passage. By faith we keep going! And we get rid of anything in our lives, the stuff in our lives that is holding us back! Paul said, "All things are lawful, but not everything is expedient." 1 Corinthians 6:12. Not everything moves me forward; not everything is expeditious in my life. There are some things in my life that are not good or bad, they're just not best. In fact, good things can become bad things if they keep us from doing the best things! That's so good, I'm going to say it again! Good things can become bad things if they keep us from doing the best things!

A few examples: I have a cell phone. That cell phone is a great tool for me. I use it for ministry. I use it for calling people, connecting with people. It's a great tool. But I looked at my cell phone just this morning. It gave me my screen time average per day, and I said, "My goodness, I need to repent before I go out there today! How much time I spent on this screen just watching stuff; looking at stuff"! So, a good thing can become a bad thing if it keeps me from doing the best things. I mean, we need to forever do away with the idea that we don't have time to pray. If you've got time to look at your screen, hours a week, you have time to pray!

You say, "Well, why"? Because you're serious about following Jesus! You're passionate about running this race! What does the Bible say? The first Commandment, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength"! If you're in this you can't just be lollygagging through the race! This isn't a walk in the park! This is a contest and it's life or death! It's heaven in front of us! Now I want to say very quickly that God puts us in the race. You don't get yourself in the race. If you're saved, you're in the race. You're not running to try to gain or attain salvation. Salvation puts you in the race. When you trust in Jesus, you are in the race. Again, I go back to the question though: How are you running? Are you pursuing the will of God for your life? Are you passionate about the things of God? Are you running hard? Or are you allowing stuff, could be things, possessions, entertainment, even family.

You say, "Surely, he's not going to go after the family"! Surely, I am! We love our family, but our families are not first in our lives if we're following Jesus! Jesus is first for all of us. What did He say? Luke 14:26, "If you're not willing to leave your mother and father and family and friends and follow Me, you're not worthy of the kingdom of God"! So, we love our family but how many of us are excessive in our family activities, our family responsibilities? We've got these select sports now. We want the best for our kids. We're running them out here; we're spending money there. We got all our time and effort and energy in our kids, our families, our stuff, our vacations! And sometime, I'm not saying all the time, but sometimes all this effort, even for our families can weight that holds us back from being our best for God, and teaching our children to be their best for God.

So, it's very important that you eliminate anything in your life, the stuff, could be your business. Really your business is important, certainly if it's your calling, your career. I mean what you do for a living, I'm not saying give that up, but it can't be first. Jesus is first. We're running to Him, and we're running hard for Him! So, eliminate the stuff that slows us. But then he says: "And the sin which (Old King James put it) besets us". Cling to us is the idea; the sin that trips us up. Those things that slow us are impediments, but the things that stop us, the sin that stops us, these are entanglements. Stuff will slow you; sin will stop you in your tracks, and even put you out of the race! There's an article there "the" sin. One vivid, illustrative paraphrase of this passage says, "the sin that dogs your heels". Just yappity, yappity, yap.

So, what is "the" sin? It doesn't say what "the" sin is. You know some scholars and students of the Bible suggest that it's faithlessness or not being faithful, there's the sin of not trusting God. May be. But I believe the sin there is generic in the sense it's your sin. It's "the" sin! What is it in your life that tempts you, that trips you up? Now when we confront sin in our life some people, the idea is here that sin clings to us. It's like an addiction. It just clings to us. Holds us tight. Won't let us go. Trips us up. And that sin means you can't win the race. Some people cling to their sin, they cherish their sin. They continue in their sin. The Bible says, "If I cherish sin in my heart, God will not hear me".

There's going to be a time in your life, if not already, the fact that you could pray and God would hear you would be the most important thing that will ever happen. And if you're cherishing, clinging to sin, regarding sin in your heart, that sin, "I like my sin, I like this sin, I don't want to stop doing this sin. I'm want to hang on to this. I'm going to run but I'm going to keep my sin". No, because your sin's going to trip you up. Your sin's going to put you down. My heart breaks for men I know in the ministry in the past who are out of the race because they could not sin and win! Tripped up. How many times have you heard me say sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you far more than you want to pay? Like one the ancient church fathers used to say, "You be killing sin or sin will be killing you".

Don't cherish sin. Don't try to control sin in your own power and your own strength. Don't continue in your sin. It will trip you up, put you out of the race. It will put you down on your face. But confess your sin! Which means to agree with God that this is not right; it's wrong! "God, I don't want this sin in my life! I don't want to cling to my sin anymore! Get rid of this sin by the power of Your grace". And here's the great news. Even if you're down and defeated because of your sin, by God's grace you can get up and go again! You've stumbled; you've fallen; you're broken on the side of the road. God's mercy and grace is available! That's why Jesus went to the cross. His blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse us from every sin. And, yes, Christian, if you're down, if you're defeated, if you've stumbled, if you've cherished sin and held on to it and that addiction seems to have the best of you and you can't seem to let go, it won't let you go, I'm telling you by the power of Jesus Christ you can get up and go again!

Now you may limp the rest of your life. One of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews chapter 11 was Jacob. He's introduced in the hall of fame, Chapter 11, as Israel. He had a new name. Jacob was his old name. It meant cheater, skinflint. He spent most of his life running from God. The one thing he had was his legs; he could run. He ran from God until God tracked him down. It's a bad idea, Christian, to run from God. God sent an angel and wrestled with Jacob all night. And then that angel kept a heavenly hold on him, took his hip out of socket, crushed his resistance to God's will. Jacob surrendered to the Lord, stopped running, stopped running from God and started running to God. That's what repentance is. "I was running away from God; now I start running to Him. I repent".

That's what repentance is. So, Jacob got up, got a new name, Israel, Prince of God. But now he's not running; he's limping. And it came time to put him in the hall of fame, the faith hall of fame. Of all the adventures of faith that are in this chapter his is kind of a letdown. You what it says? It says, "And Israel worshiped God". Well, that's a good thing. But he worshipped God leaning on his staff! That old man, now he was still limping, but at the end he learned how to lean. He learned how to worship God, trust God. It took some falls and some failures. Sometimes we learn more in our losses than we do in our victories. But if you're down because of sin, you can get up. That's what the cross, that's what the resurrection is all about.

You may have been running a long time up until now, but if you quit before the finish line, you lose! You lose what? You lose your reward; you lose your great victory in Christ. You lose your testimony. You can lose a lot of things if you don't finish. So, no matter how long you've been in this race, don't you ever quit! Some of you are older now and you're thinking about retiring. Well, what does that mean? Fine, retire from your job! But you never retire from running for the Lord. You never give up on that? What are you going to do the rest of your life? Collect shells? Play golf? Ride around in one of those little golf carts? God's calling you up higher than that! He's calling you onward and upward to do something for Him!

I tell you, God put me in this race as a boy when I became a Christian and called me to be a preacher of the Gospel when I was 15. I will be in this race till my last breath! I will never stop preaching as long as God is giving me breath! I'll do other things in my life than this right here, but I'm just telling you, you're never going to quit what God has called you to do! Never quit! Endure! Persevere! And you say, "Well, I'm tired! I'm old"! If you're not dead, you're not done! So keep running! It is Saint Patrick's Day, so I bring you an Irish prayer, and it's a beautiful prayer. "May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back; may the sunshine warm upon your face, the rains fall short upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand".

That would be a good benediction. But it's not the benediction. Hang on! Persevere here. I like that! "May the road rise to meet you; may the wind be at your back". I mean, that's good, isn't it? You're in the zone. You're running; you're trekking, and the sun's on your face, and even if it rains, it's just a sprinkle. But life isn't always like that, is it? The wind's not always at our back. Sometimes it's right in our faces. The sprinkle turns to a storm. And we find out we're not going downhill, we're running uphill. How many of you maybe walked in here today, you feel like you're running uphill in the rain and in the storm? And it's hard, and you feel like you want to quit. What do you do? You get your eyes on Jesus. That's what this passage says. It's really all about, it's what the book of Hebrews is all about Jesus. The race is all about Him! Enduring is all about looking unto Jesus.

"Look full in His wonderful face; The things of this world will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace". "There's a race that I must run; there's a victory to be won. Every hour, by Thy power, keep me true". All these songs about finishing. I want to finish. When it gets hard and when the wind is blowing against you and it's tough, remember Jesus, consider Jesus who did not quit on us when He carrying the cross, all the pain and all the shame, when He's carrying the cross! And every ounce and inch of His body was crying out "Quit"!, People, mockers are saying, "If you're the Son of God, come down off the cross! Quit"! The demons in hell are mocking, "Quit"! But Jesus didn't quit; He went all the way to the end and He cried out "Tetelestai! It is finished"! Jesus finished for you and for me, so we consider Him; we concentrate on Him! It's a word there, look to Jesus which means get your eyes off of everything else and stay focused on Jesus Christ.

Every athlete knows you have to stay focused on the goal. The goal is our God! The goal is Jesus Himself. Well, I'm going to close with a prayer for you from Saint Patrick. Yes, Saint Patrick. Saint Patrick was a missionary. You say, this Saint Patrick Day thing, it's all about the luck of the Irish down, drinking green beer, I guess. But that's not what Saint Patrick was about. Saint Patrick was an evangelist. He loved Jesus! And there is a great prayer attributed to him. And it's really what it means to look to Jesus and to endure and finish and persevere with Jesus.

Here's what Saint Patrick prayed: "As I rise today may the strength of God pilot me, the power of God uphold me, the wisdom of God guide me. May the eye of God look before, the ear of God hear me, the Word of God speak for me. May the hand of God protect me, the way of God lie before me, the shield of God defend me, the host of God save me. May Christ shield me today, Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit, Christ when I stand, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me"!

Consider Christ. I ask you to consider Christ, some of you don't know Him in a personal way. You've heard of Him, you've heard about Him, watching online you've tuned in today, you clicked in and connected and this message, the Holy Spirit has used it to bring you to a place of decision for Christ. Right here in this room, so many people who are not here by accident or chance. The Spirit of God is with us. Someone witnessed to you, someone's testimony inspired you, you're hear for whatever reason. Maybe you're giving church, maybe you're giving God one last chance and Jesus is here and He's calling you. The Bible says, "look to Him and be saved". Look to Jesus. He said, "if I be lifted up I will draw all unto myself," we're lifting up Jesus right now.

I'm going to ask you to see Him by faith. See Him dying on the cross for you and your sins. See Him carrying all the way to calvary your burden that you can be forgiven and changed, delivered from the power of sin and addiction and pain and all the rest that you're going through. You tried it on your own but you can't do this but Jesus will do it for you. He will enable you, He will help you, He will pick you up. If you're broken give Him the pieces, He'll put your life back together again. He not only died on the cross but He rose again, it was the joy that was set before Him that He did this. Do you know what that joy is? You! The salvation that He brings to you, that was the joy that kept Him going, that was the love that nailed Him to the cross. And on the third day He rose and He's ascended, He's exalted at the right hand of God, Jesus Lord. So, right now where you are, wherever you are pray:

Lord Jesus I invite you to come into my life to forgive my sins. Thank you for dying for me. I believe you rose again. I put my faith and trust in you and you alone as my Savior and Lord. Amen.

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