Finish Strong

Exploring The Question, "How Do We Finish The Christian Race Well?".

Ross Sawyers
Jul 16, 2023    57m
Today, we look at the Apostle Paul's life and explore the question, "How do we finish the Christian race well?". The difference between finishing the Christian race well and finishing the race poorly, comes down to one thing. How do we grind it out well amid life's trials? Video recorded at Grapevine, Texas.

messageRegarding Grammar:

This is a transcription of the sermon. People speak differently than they write, and there are common colloquialisms in this transcript that sound good when spoken, and look like bad grammar when written.

Ross Sawyers: [00:00:00] From my understanding of track and field, and I don't know if some of you are probably runners and some not, but that the 400-meter is the most grueling event in track and field. It's a sprint, it's a 400-meter sprint, so it's in between the distances and the shorter sprints, and it's an incredibly grueling race. But I think what we see in that race is such a good picture of what it is to finish well and to finish strong.

Ross Sawyers: [00:00:29] And that's what I want us to think about this morning in Acts chapter 20 is, how do we finish strong? In our world today, there are so many that finish poorly and don't finish well. And I think we learned from Paul today in Acts 20, how we can finish strong and how we can finish well. We'll spend the bulk of our time in verses 17 through 24, in one way that saddens me because I had four points today, we're going to spend most of our time on one, and it saddens me because I was able to alliterate my points and I usually do not do that. And so I was kind of excited about that this morning, it's things that excited preacher that you could probably care less about, but I think it helps us to lock in and to remember. And we'll spend the bulk of our time in 17 to 24, and then just a quick overview of the end of it.

Ross Sawyers: [00:01:28] When we think about Acts, the Book of Acts, these last few chapters where we've been, thinking about being on the move. Paul has been on the move, taking the message of Jesus to cities where the message of Jesus had not yet been heard. And when we think about Vision 2025 at our church, there are a number of things that are in that vision. But the primary idea behind it is to establish worship where there is none, where there's not worship of Jesus, that would be a part of establishing that. It's tough to be a pioneer, and Paul is a pioneer. He's going to places where they've never heard the name of Jesus, and he's boldly bringing that message of Christ to these places. People are responding to it, churches are being established, and gatherings of those believers, and now Paul is going back and he's strengthening those churches. So it's not just that we go, and someone comes to know Christ, or we start something and there's faith there, we go back and we strengthen that which has been started. And Paul sets that pace for us as we watch him in his different journeys.

Ross Sawyers: [00:02:33] We've been primarily in Greece with him in the previous chapters to what we'll discuss today. In Acts 19 and 20, we're more in Turkey, and that's where Ephesus is. So if you think of modern-day Turkey, that's the region of the world where we are in speaking of Acts 19 and 20.

Ross Sawyers: [00:02:56] I want to give you a bit of an overview before we lock into these few verses. Paul arrives in Ephesus, and he stays there for three years, it's the longest time that he's at any particular city or church, so he has a deep investment in them, and a number of things are described in Acts 19 and 20. By the way, when you read the letter to the Ephesians, the sixth chapter of the letter to the Ephesians, it would be good to tie back to Acts 19 and 20. You could really probably go back a couple of chapters prior, but 19 and 20, and then that gives you a good picture of what he did when he established the church that he wrote that letter to.

Ross Sawyers: [00:03:38] We find him, there are a number of miracles that happen in Ephesus, and then as always, when people are coming to Jesus, then some people get upset about it. And this time we encounter a man in Acts 19 named Demetrius, and he's upset because his pocketbook is being upset. He and some of his buddies, they're idol makers, and Artemis was the primary one who was the god over the city, and they made a lot of idols to Artemis and that was good business. Well, Paul comes in and people are starting to follow Jesus, now all of a sudden, it's taking away from their business. And when the pocketbook gets hit, people aren't happy when that occurs. So Demetrius stirs up a crowd of people, and they get an uproar in the city, they're mad at Paul, but fortunately, there's a town clerk that comes in and settles everyone. And we're grateful for that town clerk, and the clerk basically says that if Artemis is who Artemis says, then Artemis can take care of this problem. If that's really a god, then that can be taken care of. Things calm down a little bit.

Ross Sawyers: [00:05:00] Also, while he's there, there are a number of those who were practicing magic, and the ones that are coming to Christ are burning their magic books, and they're getting rid of anything that would profane the name of Christ. And so that gives us an idea of where we are in the Ephesian letter. Paul takes off for a bit and he ends up in a town called Miletus. While he's in Miletus, he calls for the elders of the church in Ephesus to come to him. And many would just refer to this, that we'll discuss, as a great farewell letter. So this is Paul's last time that he'll see these leaders of the church in Ephesus, and we get a hint into what he says to them as recorded here.

Ross Sawyers: [00:05:49] This is what I want us to think about, if we're going to finish strong and we're going to finish well in the Christian race. Then how are we going to do it? How will we finish really well and really strong? And I think Paul gives us some things here in his farewell to the Ephesians that will help us to do the same. There were four points that I have, we'll spend the bulk of it on one, and then I'll overview the last three quickly at the end.

Ross Sawyers: [00:06:23] But this is what I'd like to begin with, in 17 through 24, if we're going to finish strong and finish, well, then we're going to have to grind well. If we're going to finish well and finish strong, then that means we're going to have to grind well. What do I mean? Let's go, verse 17, "From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church." The elders are the team of people that are leading the church, and when we read in the New Testament, we see that the elders are consistently the ones that would lead the church.

Ross Sawyers: [00:06:59] 121 is an elder-led church, we have elders that oversee the church, there's a team of us that oversee what happens At 121. When we started the church, I was just coming off of being a youth minister for 12 years and I was uncomfortable with the elder term. It just didn't really work in my head, it's not what I came from, from a church structure, and so we called it a leadership team. So when you're here, you may hear something about a leadership team, that's our elders, that's who leads. Over the years, I've grown increasingly more comfortable with the biblical terminology of Elder, and I'm grateful that that's how God has set up the leadership of our church. Deacons are not the leaders of a church; the word deacon means through the dust. Deacons in a church are servants in the church, the elders are the leaders of the church, and that's who Paul is addressing as he speaks to them one last time before he heads on to Jerusalem.

Ross Sawyers: [00:08:12] Verse 18, "And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time." You yourselves know, it's an emphatic kind of you. He says, you know that when I was there, that I was with you the whole time. I heard somebody say this week in quoting Jim Elliot, who was a missionary in the 1950s that was killed in Ecuador, in his journal, he wrote, or he said, I don't know where it was, but the phrase was, be wherever you are. And I've heard somebody else say, be where your feet are. And the idea is that wherever you are, be there, be present, be focused, be with them. If you're with them, be with them. And Paul says to them, you know this, that the whole time I was with you, I was there. And I was with you, I was present with you the whole time, those three years.

Ross Sawyers: [00:09:12] What was he doing to be present with them? In verse 19, "He was serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials, which came upon me through the plots of the Jews." What's Paul doing? Serving, just like Jesus. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” And in the same way, Paul was serving, and he was serving with humility. Paul would write to the Philippians in chapter 2, that they were to "Do all things without selfishness or empty conceit and to look out with a humility of mind for others." They did not merely look out for their own personal interests but for the interest of others. And then he said, "Have this attitude in yourselves, which also in Christ Jesus." And then he goes on to describe Jesus laying his life down to the point of death, and then God raised him from the dead and exalted him at the proper time. He was with them the whole time, and he was serving them, and serving can be a grind.

Ross Sawyers: [00:10:34] Most of our lives are not spent, as we saw in the earlier video, at camp. And camp was amazing, but most of our lives are spent in the grind. And those who grind well, will more than likely finish well, and finish strong. And you say to them, I was with you, and I was serving you, and serving you with all humility. He served them in the midst of tears and with trials. What would the tears have been? Perhaps, before we went to Israel a few months ago, I ran into this when I was studying. In John chapter 11, Jesus is with Mary and Martha, and their brother had just died, Lazarus, and Jesus is weeping with them over their brother. The word for weep is a word that is for tears coming down the cheeks, and we also read in the Gospels that Jesus wept over Jerusalem because of the lostness of Jerusalem, but it's two separate words that are used to describe the weeping. When he's weeping over Jerusalem and the lostness of people, he's sobbing, it's ugly crying over the lostness of people. It was regular tears in walking with someone in the death of a friend and a family member. There were deeper sobs and deeper tears over those who did not know Jesus, and I suspect that's the kind of tears Paul was crying over Demetrius and the ones who were more interested in their pocketbooks, and their credit cards, and their money than Jesus.

Ross Sawyers: [00:12:46] Trials, someone said in a Bible study that I did several years ago and was working through it, that we're either entering a trial, we're going through a trial, or we're coming out of a trial. I think that's a good way to think about it, but I don't think it's that clean. I think we're always about to enter trials, I think we're always in trials, and I think we're always coming out of trials, and some are heavier and harder than others. And when we're in those trials that are heavier and harder, it calls for us to be able to grind well, because it's not easy. So if we're going to finish strong and finish well in the Christian race, we grind well in the midst of the trials until the day that God brings us home to himself.

Ross Sawyers: [00:13:45] He goes on to say in verse 20 "When I was with you, I was serving you in humility, and I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house." He didn't shrink back, this is also what he says in verse 27, "I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God." I was with you the whole time. I served you the whole time. I served you with humility. I served you in tears. I served you in trials. I taught you. I didn't shrink back from you. I taught you the whole purpose of God the whole time. The whole purpose of God, I didn't shrink back. I didn't hold back the hard stuff. We live in a culture where it's hard to say the hard thing because we get offended so easily and we're so fragile that it's hard to hear the hard things, so we have to figure out ways we can make it where it's palatable so that we can actually even hear it without being offended by it.

Ross Sawyers: [00:14:56] But Paul said, "I declared to you everything that was profitable for you." And he would write to the Colossians in chapter 1, verse 28. It says, "We proclaim Christ, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ." Paul's goal was not for you to like him or feel good about him, Paul's goal was for you to be complete, and me to be complete, in Christ, that we would have all that he intends for us in Christ. The word admonish means to warn. Paul warned them, to stay clear of these things; and then he taught them, to do these things, and get in on it. So he didn't shrink back, he warned, and he taught, and he did this publicly in the synagogue.

Ross Sawyers: [00:16:10] We say, again and again, we do publicly here. On Tuesday nights we have a summer Bible study in Deuteronomy publicly we're gathering. Then from house to house, and the model that we do life at 121, we have 100 plus life groups that most are meeting in homes. Publicly, house to house, God's word being taught. And it's not just community, community is good, but it's a community that's built and centered on God's word where nothing is being held back and the whole purpose of God is being declared. Not just what salvation is, but then what it means to live as a follower of Jesus, the whole purpose of God, and the whole counsel of God.

Ross Sawyers: [00:17:10] In chapter 19 it says that God's word in Ephesus was multiplying and prevailing. And I wouldn't say we're necessarily multiplying, but groups are continuing to grow, and in the last couple of years we've gone from almost no young adult groups to this fall we'll have 11 or 12 just in our young adult and 20-somethings. Pretty cool. Multiplying in God's Word and prevailing, publicly, and house to house. And part of the message in verse 21, "He is solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." So question for us to contemplate for a moment. in your small groups, in your life groups, and in the homes, how often are you speaking of repentance? In your families, how often are you speaking of repentance? This was core to Paul of not shrinking back and bringing what's profitable, and it's profitable when we talk about repentance of sin. The word repent means to change my mind. I'm going one way, and then I change and I'm going another. It's a change of self, going in that direction, instead, it's going toward God. And I love how the scriptures write it, it's repentance toward God. So it's not just turning from something, but it's turning from something toward God. We're turning from something to something.

Ross Sawyers: [00:19:05] Then he talks about faith, every person in the world lives by faith, there is not one person, the most ardent scientist lives by faith. The Christian race, it's not just faith, it's the object of the faith that matters. Jesus is the object of the faith, it's not Jesus plus something else, it's only Jesus. So it's a faith towards God, it's a repentance toward God, and it comes through faith in Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the cross, in dying for our sin, and God raised him from the dead. It's the object of our faith, it's repentance, and then it's faith.

Ross Sawyers: [00:20:08] I was listening to an interview of Timothy Keller that Carey Nieuwhof was doing with him, and it's 2.5 hours long and about a half hour in and he's talking to Timothy Keller about the culture. When Keller, and he passed away in May, is a great example of someone who finished well and finished strong in the Christian faith. And Keller talked about how the culture has changed in the last 30 years, and that when he started a church in Manhattan, there was a certain way that he talked about the culture and then bridged it to the Gospel and the message of Jesus. And then he was asked, how would he do it now? And he said, well, it started to shift right when I retired from the church, he continued in other ministries, but left the church. And so he kind of laughed, like I'm not doing it now, but then he was pressed. Okay, what would you do today? How do you think about our culture? And he said, "Well, in 1989 when I started, it was more about freedom that people were after. And that's all we talked about, you're looking for freedom in this endeavor or this endeavor, but freedom really comes in Christ. And he said, I wouldn't speak so much today about freedom as I would about identity, and the highest value today in our culture for identity is for you to be true to yourself. And he said, what I would talk about is this, I would say, if you're trying to be true to yourself, any time you do that, you're gaining your identity by what you achieve. But if you find your identity in Christ, it's not by what you achieve, it's by what you receive. And I would say to them that that's the more beautiful and better story because no matter what happens in life, your identity never changes because you've received it in Christ. So what happens when achievement is where you're finding your identity, and it doesn't happen, or it doesn't work? Repentance is turning from finding my identity and being true to myself, and turning towards God in Christ, and receiving him and allowing him to determine who I am and allowing him to write the story. Repentance, faith; and then repentance is daily. There's that repentance when we come to know Jesus, and then there's that sin we battle so often and we're constantly coming back to God in confession and repentance before Him so that we can continue to walk in the way that he's called us to walk. I didn't hold it back, I kept bringing it, I didn't shrink back from it, I didn't shrink back from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.

Ross Sawyers: [00:23:37] “And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. Well, Paul is in the midst of this farewell address, he's on his way after he leaves here to Jerusalem, where he knows the Spirit of God is leading him into a really hard spot. God's Spirit will lead us into hard places. Paul knows he's headed to a hard place, but he's not shrinking back from following the lead of the Spirit, and he's continuing on that path.

Ross Sawyers: [00:24:21] But he says in verse 24, “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the Gospel of the grace of God." The core of Paul's home ministry was the Gospel of the grace of God. The word gospel means good news. The word grace, I'll just share with you what my son said when he was a child, he's 31 now. h asked him one time, I said, How would you define grace? And as a child, he said it's giving someone a break. God has given us the biggest imaginable break at the cross so that we could escape God's judgment and wrath, be freed from sin, be freed from chasing an identity of being true to ourselves, and instead being captured by the beauty and glory of Christ himself and what he did on our behalf.

Ross Sawyers: [00:25:36] That motivated Paul, and when grace captures us, then it motivates us to give other people a break. He says as I continue to remind myself of the break I've been given, how can I not give you the same? That is what moved him, that's what motivated him, and that's what kept him on the move. That would be what sustained him in the grind, reflecting on the beauty of the grace of God. I can grind one more day as I dwell on the grace of God and what it is that He's done at the cross on my behalf.

Ross Sawyers: [00:26:28] When we go back to the video of the race. Now we're probably fixated on Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and the domination in that race. But did you hear the girl in second place? Did you hear what she said? The interviewer asked her, he said, when you saw Sydney out front, as far as she was out front, what were you thinking? What were you going to do? And she said, I just executed my coach's plan, and I just ran my race. You see, this is very personal here in verse 24. Paul said, "I don't consider my life of any account." And that's why in Philippians he'd write, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Either is an advantage, it's an advantage to live and know Christ, and it's an advantage to die and be with Christ. Either way, it's an advantage, and Paul was confident in that advantage he had in being in Christ. And then he says that he has his course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus.

Ross Sawyers: [00:27:41] See, Paul ran a Christian race, and you're not asked, and I'm not asked to run Paul's race. We learn from him, we learn from his example, we see ways to run, but God has a race marked for you, and he has a course marked for you, and he has a race for you. See God calls us into being followers of Jesus, and then within that larger realm of being in the race, he has a specific thing for you, he has an assigned race for you. That second-place runner understood that she had a race to run, and her coach had a plan for her, and I'm sure they'll go back, and they'll try to adjust the game plan for the next race to give her a good shot at winning. But do you know what race you're running right now? Are you confident you're running the one God's marked out for you? He has a race for you.

Ross Sawyers: [00:28:56] Paul would write to Timothy in Second Timothy 4:7, he's fought the good fight he's finished the course, and he's kept the faith. This was his last letter he wrote, and he was confident that he was finishing good, finishing well. Paul would also say in First Corinthians 9 "We're to run the race, run it well, and only one receives the prize, but run in such a way that you might win." And then he goes on in verse 25 to say "Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." We're not talking about a race where there's a perishable prize at the end, but rather one where it's imperishable. Verse 26, "Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified." He understood the race terminology, and in order to run the race, we saw the race in 49 seconds or less. What we didn't see is the grind to run that less than 49 seconds, all the hours those young ladies have put in to be that kind of an athlete, all the time spent alone training, all the time spent together training, all the time with coaches, all the time tweaking. So I just want to say this morning, if we're going to finish well, then we have to be willing to get in the grind of the things that nobody sees, in being in the rhythm of being in God's word and studying God's word and reading God's word and memorizing God's word and listening to God's word and spending time praying. It can be a grind, it's not easy, it requires study, it requires work, and the more we're in, the more God teaches, the more God shows us. Are you in the grind?

Ross Sawyers: [00:31:23] You saw those ladies right at the very beginning of the race, the very beginning of the video, they're in their blocks, lined up for the race, and here they are in their stance. I can't get down quite as far as them, but I'm in the hunt. And I was told to do my fingers like this, but it hurts, so I'm going to go back to this. So they're at the starting blocks, they entered the arena and they're at the start of the race, and the cameras go and look at their faces. And I don't know if you remember their faces, it's intense focus and concentration, and they're waiting to hear the gun go off. I don't make noises very well, so I'm not going to do a gun sound. But they're waiting for the gun to go off, and when the gun goes off, they're going to take off out of the block and they're going to run the race. But imagine if the gun goes off and they just stayed there, maybe if you take off and run, but others stay. And I'm afraid that's what too many Christians do, they hear the message of Jesus and there's an initial repentance, and they love the idea of heaven, whenever that comes, but they never get off the blocks. They are just in the blocks, it looks funny to never get off the block, that's what it looks like when we never get in the race that God has marked for us. We've gotten off the blocks, and you're running the race.

Ross Sawyers: [00:33:32] We showed that video earlier of the Make a Difference, and for the last couple of months we've been talking about how can we make a difference in our church. So when we think about the race, we know from the Scriptures that if God has brought you into this gathering of people at 121, if this is your church, and if you're visiting from somewhere else, wherever your church is, then the expectation from God is that you would use your giftings in that body of people. Like, it's not the whole race, it's part of the race, and God has given every person spiritual gifts to use and serve in the church. You may say, I don't know what mine are. Well, do you think those girls ran like that the first time they ran the race? No, they just started training and running, and they figured it out. So part of how we get off the blocks is we just try something, just start running, just get in the race somehow and some way. And we'll trip and we'll stumble, and we'll fall and we'll try to figure it out and we'll say, oh, that was a bad idea, I don't think that's where our gift is, and we'll find another spot. We'll figure it out, and just get in the race, and I know that can be hard.

Ross Sawyers: [00:35:03] I started probably about a year ago trying to play pickleball, and then I got hurt doing something else, and so the last several months I've been trying to rehab that, and I've gotten to a place where I can play again and try it. And I'm terrible at it, I mean, it's just, it's bad. And I've been watching for a while at the gym I go to, people playing because I'm thinking if I keep watching, then I'll figure out what they're doing, and I can get a little better at it before I step among them because it's a cruel crowd that plays pickleball. And so I'm thinking I want to be a little better before I step into it, and I'm looking out through the glass, and I see someone I know. And then when I see them, I think, okay, I'm going now because at least there's a familiar person in there. And I do, I start playing, and I'm terrible. And this is how I know, because when I'm playing, one, and we're losing every time, that's one way I know. But two, the people that get stuck, it's kind of like you put your rackets in this basket and the first four, then you play together, and you just kind of get stuck with people. So they you stuck with me, like, I'm the one they're stuck with, I'm that guy and I know it. But I'm thinking if I don't play, I don't know how I will get better, but I know you don't want to play with me, and so it's kind of intimidating. And so I'm every bit as bad as I think I am, and I'm worse because I'm nervous because I'm thinking I need to do X, so at least maybe they'll let me play a second time, I don't know. But here's the second way I know, they keep looking at the door hoping someone else will come in and they don't have to play with me a second time. I see it in their face, I watch them. I tried it again last night and this lady was really great, I ended up on her team, and then the guys we were playing with, they said, do you want to play again? She goes, no, I think I'm going to swap around. You see, it's not hard, I knew, I know, they don't want to play with me. But I want you to know in the Christian race, we're going to play with you. I don't care where you are in it, we're in there with you, we're going to run together. All you have to do is step in and say, I'm ready to run, and this is where I need help.

Ross Sawyers: [00:37:30] We're doing an overview of the Bible class this fall. If you don't know the Bible and you're thinking, I don't even know where to start. We've got a class, if you want to do the class, we've had several people do that now. People will go with you one-on-one in it, I'm just telling you, you've just got to get in the race. Where do you want to serve? You've been here for years, and you've never served anywhere, get in the race. Did you see Sydney's face when they showed the race the next time? And they said about her face, it usually doesn't get that way, but she was grinding at the end, going for it. Run well, run the race God has for you. Let's work together on it, how we do it, how we run it.

Ross Sawyers: [00:38:35] I want to quickly give you what those last three are, just so you have it if you want to go and look at the scripture. In verses 25 through 31, if we're going to finish well, we're going to have to guard well. And just in some, what Paul says is, hey, you going to have to be really careful here to the elders, he's telling them they have to guard the flock. It's their responsibility for them to guard, to be aware of what's going on in their own selves, and then the church, they're protectors of it. Why? He says savage wolves are about to rise up. When I leave, there's going to be outside influences that are coming after you, and there's going to be people within that are going to create trouble, savage wolves, so be on your guard. Well, we've talked about already is how we guard, and sometimes we don't finish well and finish strong because those savage wolves get hold of us from the outside or from the inside. And a savage wolf, by the way, is a false teacher. That could be an influencer on social media from the outside, it could be somebody getting hold of bad doctrine on the inside, it could be somebody that's just divisive on the inside, and certainly, everybody on the outside is trying to fracture. A savage wolf, so Guard yourself, and Guard the flock. So if we finish strong, we'll guard well, our own hearts and the hearts of others.

Ross Sawyers: [00:40:12] The third thing is to grace well. Paul says, he talks about grace again, and he talks about generosity, it is more blessed to give than to receive. He comes back and helps the weak, helps the vulnerable, and helps the poor. How we're to win the race is when we're helping the poor, the vulnerable, the weak, the same grace we received, we give that grace.

Ross Sawyers: [00:40:38] The last thing he says is to grieve well, that's how I would frame it, is to grieve well. He's leaving, they're weeping, they're kissing each other repeatedly hugging, they pray together. Do you know what I think is cool about this? They know this is the last time they're going to see him. You know people love well when their last time together is a weeping, praying, hugging fest. I love you so much that I can't stand the thought that we're about to separate ways. It's good to grieve that way, and when we go out that way, we'll know that we finished well and finished strong.

Ross Sawyers: [00:41:31] The other day I was at a gathering, and I met a guy who played professional football, and then he ran track in college. And when he was in college at the University of Illinois, they told him they wanted him to run the 400 meters, and he wasn't a 400-meter runner. He was a 100-meter runner, a 200-meter runner, he was a sprinter. He didn't want to run the 400, but they said you run the 400, so he runs 400, you do what your coach says. And he ended up winning the conference championship in his junior and senior years in the 400. And I asked him, I said, what's something that helped you to be able to run that race? That race is a grind, what helped you be able to run that race well? And he said, I didn't think of it as a 400 race, I thought of it as a 550. So we're not trying to just come to the finish line and limp across it, we want to blow through the finish line. We're not grinding in a 400, we're running a 550, it's a long-haul race. The writer of Hebrews says, "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." We're not looking at a 400, we're looking at a 550, we want to look beyond the finish line. And beyond the finish line is Jesus, and we're looking to him. We're not just looking at how we tap out a life whenever it ends, but what is it way beyond that? How can I look at the 550 so that I can grind now, and when I finish, I can't believe it's over? As hard as it was and what a grind it was at times, but yet with the spirit of God within, even in the grind there's a joy that comes in Christ and Christ alone, and there's a power that comes from the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit alone. How did he do well in the race? He did well because he didn't look at the finish line, he looked 150 yards past it so he could do the grind.

Ross Sawyers: [00:43:56] But I think verse 3 is the missed verse in Hebrews 12, 1, and 2 that I just quoted. What is beyond that finish line for us and how do we get there? Well, we get there by looking at Christ and beyond it, and the joy it will be to be with him in all eternity. But in the meantime, I'm also looking to Christ, "For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." When you're feeling weary, and you want to lose heart, what do you do? Try harder, go work out more, no, believe more deeply, and think more often on Jesus, who endured more hostility than you and I will ever face in these days, and he'll give us what we need so that we can burst through that finish line well with joy and a smile. And like the third lady in the interview, give all glory to God, this was not me, this was him.

Ross Sawyers: [00:45:13] Father, thank you for your word to us today, and I love the strength of it. Thank you, Father, for Paul giving us a thought into the way he was thinking when he was saying farewell. I pray, God, we'd be encouraged by it, and that we'd be able to say like he did, that he's fought the good fight, he's finished the course, and the race that you had for him. I pray, God, each of us would finish well. And God, just like these ladies, that we would push each other well, that we'd have accountability well so that we can all finish strong. When we trip and when we stumble and when we fall, I pray, God, that we'd lean back into your grace as you pick us back up and get us back in the race again. So, God, help us be that to one another. You know, we just want to say thank you today for your time. In Jesus' name.

Ross Sawyers: [00:46:08] Well, if we could, in this small, quiet space, what is the race God has given you? Not just in the church, that's part of it, but the overall race that he wants you in to run hard for him, and bringing that message of grace, no matter where you are the whole time, the whole purpose of God, what is the race God has marked for you? If you're not sure, ask him, and if you're not sure yet from Him, just get in and do something and see how he starts to direct and lead and guide. Let's take a little bit of space here.

Recorded in Grapevine, Texas.
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121 Community Church
2701 Ira E Woods Ave.
Grapevine, Texas 76051