Friday, August 7th

Friday, August 7

Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV


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.


A number of years ago, when I was still running as part of my regular exercise routine, I hopped on a treadmill at a local fitness center. As I recall, my plan was to run for about 20 minutes at about an 8 to 9 minute per mile pace.

I was cruising right along, about 10 minutes into my run, when I sensed something was a little off. It took a few seconds to realize what was happening, but the treadmill had sped up just a bit and I was running slightly faster than my normal pace. I glanced down at the control panel to see if I had accidentally touched the speed button and I noticed that I was now running not an 8 minute pace, but at a 7 ½ minute pace. I suddenly realized that the treadmill was speeding up all by itself.

Now the reasonable, intelligent thing to do would have been to hop off the treadmill, which would not have been hard to do at a 7 ½ mile pace, and inform someone that the machine had malfunctioned. Then to simply get on a different treadmill to finish my workout. That’s not what I did. I took it as a kind of personal challenge. I thought to myself, “OK, Mr. Treadmill, you want it, you got it! Let’s see what you got!?” And I picked up the pace.

Soon the machine was whirring at a 7 minute per mile clip. Then 6 1/2 ; then 6. Within a couple of minutes the whir turned into a roar and people around me were interrupting their workouts to watch me assault the 4 minute mile barrier and I was in trouble.

What could I do? I couldn’t continue that pace for much longer; and if I tried to jump off the treadmill at that speed I risked running through the plate glass window in front of me! But I had no choice, I had to get off that crazy thing! So I grabbed hold of the hand-rail on the treadmill and leapt off hoping not to seriously injure myself in the process. I landed rather awkwardly, staggering toward the window; but, thankfully, I didn’t run through it. I did, however, learn a lesson!

I learned that trying to run faster than I am able is a dangerous thing to do. I learned that left to my own instincts I can make bad decisions. I learned that the best way to win the race is to run the right pace; a pace that can be sustained.

Paul writes:

...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith...


This tells me two things. First, we don’t have to prove how fast we can run this race; we’re just called to run with endurance. Second, we’re not running this race on our own, rather, we’re following after Jesus himself.


Jesus is the one setting the pace and the direction of our race. So long as our eyes are on him, we will run the right speed, the right direction, and we will finish the course!

Pastor Brian Coffey

Thursday, August 6th

Thursday, August 6

Psalm 119:30-32


I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
 I set your rules before me.
I cling to your testimonies, O Lord;
 let me not be put to shame!
I will run in the way of your commandments
 when you enlarge my heart!


When my brother Joe turned 50 he got the idea that he would compete in an “Ironman Triathlon” alongside his 29 year old son, Jeremy.

Now my brother had been a fine athlete in his youth and had even competed in bicycling races in adulthood, but he had never done a triathlon. Jeremy, on the other hand, had already done a couple of these crazy races and knew what it took to swim 2 miles, bike 112 miles and then run a 26 mile marathon consecutively.

My brother thought it would be a great thing to train with his son and then to accomplish something together. So they trained diligently for 6 or 8 months.

Finally the weekend of the race came. The night before the race the organizers of the event held a banquet at which they honored the people who had competed in the most triathlons as well as the oldest competitor. My brother remembered that the oldest racer was a 75 year old man who had been doing triathlons for like 25 years.

The day of the race came and it was hot; like 95 degrees hot; like “you do not want to do a triathlon today” hot. But the race went on.

My brother said the swim and the biking were hard, but he stayed with his son and they survived. When the running part of the race began they parted ways because he has arthritic knees and has to kind of shuffle/walk instead of run and his son could run much faster. So he was on his own in the heat and with his bad knees.

Hour after hour droned on. But he was determined to finish the race even if he had to crawl on his hands and knees.

Finally, some 13 hours after he began he could see the finish line. Right at that same time he heard someone coming up from behind to pass him. When the runner passed he saw it was that 75 year old man that had been honored the night before. All my brother’s competitive instincts kicked in and he got a powerful surge of adrenalin. He said he almost said out loud, “Not today buddy; not in your dreams are you going to beat me to that finish line!” He found the strength to do his best impression of a sprint and he beat the older man to the tape and they both laughed together in weary celebration at the finish line.

I think there is a kind of parable of faith in that story. read again the words of the Psalm:

I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
 I set your rules before me.
I cling to your testimonies, O Lord;
 let me not be put to shame!
I will run in the way of your commandments
 when you enlarge my heart!


The Psalm writer has discovered that the strength to run the “way of faithfulness” is found in the testimonies and commandments of the Lord; in the truth and power of God’s word. He is saying that the word of God both sets our course and enlarges our hearts to run that course.

So whether we are like the 75 year old competing in his 25th triathlon, or the 50 year old with arthritic knees trying to finish his first, we find our direction and our strength in the same place; the truth of God’s word.


Pastor Brian Coffey

Wednesday, August 5th

Wednesday, August 5

Isaiah 40:27-31


Why do you say, O Jacob,
 and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?  Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
 the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
 his understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint,
 and to him who has no might he increases strength.  Even youths shall faint and be weary,
  and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
 they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
 they shall walk and not faint.


I know a number of people at FBCG who have completed multiple marathon races. I am in awe of those people! I think they're a little crazy, but I am in awe! I have great respect for what they do because I once got it in my head that I wanted to run a marathon. I had always been an athlete, playing football, basketball and baseball, but there was just something intriguing about seeing if I could push myself to run a 26 mile race.

So, along with a friend of mine who was more of a runner, we signed up for a marathon that was to take place in about 6 months. And we started to run together. I was in decent shape so getting to where we were running 5 miles only took a couple of weeks. We ran in a 10K as a practice and I did great. Then we got serious.

Over the next couple of months we got to where we were running 14 miles or so twice each week. I was starting to believe I could actually run a marathon! Then I was given an assignment for work that meant I had to travel for almost a month straight, right over the time of the scheduled marathon. It meant I would not be able to run in the marathon we had signed up for. My friend decided he would still run while I decided to try to stay in shape during my trip so that maybe I could run in another race.

At least that was the plan.

We both found it was much more difficult to go on ridiculously long training runs without someone running next to you. He eventually ran the marathon by himself, and finished, but he finished walking. I quit my training and have never again run as far as 10 miles at a time.

A very long time ago the prophet Isaiah wrote about how we all tired and weary sooner or later. Spiritual fatigue comes in many shapes and sizes. We might grow tired of praying for God’s help in a situation that seems to only grow worse by the day. We may grow weary of our own sinful frailties and doubt that God’s forgiveness continues to be extended to us. We sometimes get to the place where we aren’t sure we can take another step in the journey of faith.

And the prophet writes:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
 The Lord is the everlasting God,
 the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
 his understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint,
 and to him who has no might he increases strength.  Even youths shall faint and be weary,
 and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
 they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
 they shall walk and not faint.


So when you aren’t sure if you can take another step, remember that the One who never grows weary is running right beside you!

Pastor Brian Coffey

Tuesday, August 4th

Tuesday, August 4

2 Timothy 4:6-8


For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.


John Akwhari was a member of the Tanzanian Olympic team in Mexico City in 1968. He competed in the marathon, and is remembered not for winning the gold medal, but for finishing last. Here’s why.

Mexico City is located some 7,000 feet above sea level, an altitude that makes it much more difficult to run a race like the marathon. Mr. Akwhari had trained hard for the 26 mile race but had not trained at altitude. So by the halfway mark of the race he developed severe cramping and then, during some jockeying for position, fell and injured his leg seriously enough to consider quitting the race. But he continued running, limping along until he crossed the finish line over an hour after the winner.

When word came that one runner was still on the course a television crew was dispatched to get the story. By the time he reached the finish line only a few spectators remained and the sun had set.

As he finally crossed the finish line a cheer came from the small crowd. When interviewed later and asked why he continued running, he said, "My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race."


In his beautiful letter to young Timothy, the aging Apostle Paul writes of his life with Christ as if he is nearing the finish line.


For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.


Athletes often talk about “leaving it all on the field” after a particularly competitive or grueling contest. Paul says he has been “poured out as a drink offering.” That’s a reference to a kind of religious sacrifice in the ancient tradition of the Jews. Paul has poured his life out for the sake of the great call he received from the Lord Jesus himself, to take the gospel to the Gentile world.


Runners often try to save just enough strength to put on a “finishing kick” at the end of a race. They try to run the last 100 yards faster than they ran the first 100 yards. They want to finish strong in an effort to win the prize. Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race...” I think he means that, as he faces the end of his earthly life, he has finished well, and he wants young Timothy to begin his journey with the end in mind.


How is your race of faith going? Where are you on the course? While it’s true that we can’t know when our particular race will end, we can, with the Lord’s help, pour ourselves into the race so that we can say with Paul,


“I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Finish strong my friends!



Pastor Brian Coffey

Monday, August 3rd

Monday, August 3

Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV


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.


A long time ago I spent several years coaching basketball at Taylor University in Indiana. The head coach at the time was known for his particularly grueling preseason conditioning program. It lasted for about four weeks and consisted of lots and lots of running; sprints, distance runs, combinations of sprints and distance runs, then more sprints; you get the picture.

The most dreaded day of the whole month was the day the players had to do the “12 minute run.” Now “12 minute run” sounds rather innocuous, but, in reality, it is sheer torture. Here’s how it works. The athletes all line up on a track; the coach blows the whistle and they all run as far and as fast as they can for 12 minutes.

It’s brutal.

One year we had a guy try out for the team who had played intramural basketball for two years and then had decided to try out for the men’s college team. He was about 6’4 and a pretty good athlete as I remember. Early in the conditioning program he impressed the head coach with his speed for a bigger guy. Soon we noticed he had a tendency to run fast only when he was sure we were watching; but when he was on the far side of the track and though he was out of view he would slow down considerably.

The head coach preached giving your best effort all the time and so not only did he notice the loafing on the back side of the track, he was somewhat annoyed by it.

Well the day of the “12 minute run” finally came. The guys all lined up and the coach blew his whistle and off they went.

The kid in question took off like a shot and was with the leaders for the first lap. But part way into the second lap we noticed he was losing ground. By about five minutes into the run he was being lapped by the faster guys. The thing about a “12 minute run” is that you have nowhere to hide! By about the 7th minute the poor guy had slowed nearly to a painful looking jog. Finally at about the 8 minute mark he stopped running altogether.
Now you need to know that the head coach’s rule was, “If you stop running, you cut yourself from the team.” So we watched as the young fellow stopped running, turned and started the long slow walk across the track to where I was standing with the head coach. As we waited we wondered aloud what he would say when he arrived.

When he finally got to where we were standing he looked at us and, still trying to catch his breath, said, “Coach, I’ve been praying about this a lot lately, and I just don’t have any peace about playing ball this year.”

The head coach looked back at him and said in his steely coach voice, “Son, the middle of a 12 minute run is no place to be looking for peace.” That young man didn’t play basketball that season.

In the New Testament the Christian life is sometimes pictured as a race.

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...
 

I love this text! I love it not just because it carries obvious athletic overtones; a race with a crowd cheering the athletes on; but because Paul presents the journey of faith as requiring endurance.

I think this is what that young man so long ago failed to understand. The “12 minute run” wasn’t about how fast he could run or about how he compared to the other guys running with him; it was about endurance. All he had to do was set a pace and keep with it! Even if he finished last, he would have finished and he might have made that team.

But how do we endure? How do we keep running when everything in us tells us to quit? Paul concludes his thoughts on endurance with this:

...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.


See it? Jesus endured the cross because of the “joy set before him.” That joy was the pleasure and reward of God the Father.


That’s also why we run this race called faith!

Pastor Brian Coffey

Friday, July 31st


To download an audio version of this, click here.

Friday
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.  He prayed to the LORD,  “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.   Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”   - Jonah 4:1-3
For the second time in this story, Jonah prays.  In the first part (Jonah 2) he prays when he's desperate, when he's in the belly of the fish, in the depths of the sea, and it looks like he's going to die, and he wants to live. "Oh, God!, help me. Let me live. Forgive my disobedience." and God hears him and gives him grace.  
In his first prayer, Jonah's going to die and he prays, "God, let me live." This time he's in the middle of this amazing triumph of life, he prays, "God, let me die."  At this point, he doesn't really want to die.  This is like an adolescent. "God, I want my own way, and I want it to be the destruction of the Ninevites." "Please," he says twice in this verse. This is not a polite please; this is an annoying two-syllable please that kids use when they are whining - “Puh-leeaase!” 
Notice that Jonah says in his prayer, "is this not what I said when I was still at home? "  Now, in fact, Jonah didn't say anything like this back home in the first chapter.  The truth was that he said nothing at all, he just ran away out of fear.  Now he conveniently remembers himself as the champion of justice. "I saw this one coming." He claims he always knew God was going to go soft.
There's something else going on in this prayer that would be very apparent to its readers. It's important for us to see this to get the tension. Jonah says, "I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God." He's quoting here one of the most famous confessions of God's identity in the history of Israel.
Exodus 34:6 - And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming,  “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
God is revealing here, not just His reality, not just His power, but His character...His heart. This was so sacred to Israel. This was the most prized revelation of God's identity in the history of their people. Any devout Jew knew these words by heart.  They knew these words like we know the words to the song, Happy Birthday.  Only Jonah leaves something out. This would be glaringly obvious to any Israelite reading this text.  Let’s compare the two texts...
Exodus 34:6 - the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
Jonah 4:2 - I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love,
What word is missing?  “faithfulness” 
What is going on here?  Did Jonah just make a mistake?  Was this simply an innocent omission?  I don’t think so.  Jonah is intentionally impugning the character of God.  He is saying (in effect) “Oh sure God, You abound in love, but what about faithfulness to Your Word?  You said You were going to punish Nineveh....well?  What about it?”
How does God respond?
God is so patient with Jonah. Jonah goes on this tirade and impugns God's character, and all God says in return is, "Is it right for you to be angry?"  Jonah doesn't give any answer. Jonah gives God the silent treatment.  (it may seem ridiculous to us, but don’t we often do the same thing when we ignore the clear Word of God?)  
In the next part of the story we are told Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city, and waited to see what’s going to happen. I think Jonah's still hoping...forty days...Nineveh is going to get blasted.
Then there's this odd little part of the story. If you've ever read through the book, you may have wondered about this. It is such a strange account. Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. (4:6) That word "provided" is going to recur here, same word as provided a great fish back in the first chapter. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. (4:7)  That seems like a dirty, little trick, doesn't it?  When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said,  “It would be better for me to die than to live.” (4:8)
But God said to Jonah,  (Here is that question again) “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”  “I do,” he said.  “I am angry enough to die.” (4:9)
Does that seem a little immature to you?  (me too)  It's like God's dealing with a five-year-old here. You understand there's something here going way, way deeper than Jonah just worrying about getting a sunburn or something.
God is trying to teach Jonah about His heart for people.  It's a funny thing, God seems to have have a harder time saving Jonah than He does saving Nineveh.  When Jesus came, the people that Jesus had the hardest time with were not the people that everybody considered the big sinners...not the prostitutes, not the tax collectors, not the people that you'd obviously associate with a place like Nineveh. The people Jesus had the hardest time with were people who considered themselves the spiritually mature. They had these superior, judgmental, unloving hearts. It's a funny thing.
People matter to God. The jobless person. The homeless person. The wealthy and successful person. They just matter to God. God is not like you & me. God doesn't look at categories like we do, and think, People in this category, they’re my kind of people. I like these kinds of people. But people in that category over there, I can let go of them without much pain. People matter to God. Depressed people. Educated people. Divorced people. People with different politics than yours. They all matter to God. Conservative people and liberal people. Muslims. Atheists. New Age people. Every color of skin. Asian people. Hispanic people. Caucasian people. African American people. Gay people. Old people. Young People.  All People matter to God. Every one of them!  And they should matter to us too.
Jeff Frazier

Thursday, July 30th


To download an audio version of this, click here.

Thursday
Yesterday we saw how Jonah obeyed God (even if he did not have the purest of hearts) and God used his act of obedience to reach the great city of Nineveh.
On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed:  “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”  The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.  - Jonah 3:4-5
The point of the story is people of Nineveh are overwhelmed by an awareness of their sin. It's not because Jonah gave this eloquent sermon. It's just God. It's just the Spirit of God falling on people. Their hearts are broken, "Oh, God, we've been so far off track. We've been so wrong." They repent the best they know how...the best they know how.
God looks at this poor miserable people... We're told later on, when God talks about Nineveh, that this is a people who do not know their right from their left. That's a way of talking about people who do not know right from wrong, a people who are totally morally lost.  God, being God, is filled with compassion when He sees the Ninevites repent.
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.          - Jonah 3:10
He has mercy on them and gives them His grace. He says, "I forgive."  They have turned away from their violence and their aggression and their sin, and they are repenting.  They are receiving grace. Now the story could end happily ever after, except for one tiny little problem (can you guess what it is?) - Jonah.
Jonah looks at all this... Now, you would think he'd be thrilled. This is the greatest spiritual achievement of his ministry. It is a whole great city of Assyrians, and they are brought to God through his preaching, and his wasn't even preaching wasn’t even any good; because when God moves it's not about human effort.  He has never been used by God like this. 
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.  - Jonah 4:1
Jonah can't take it.  He thinks, “This cannot happen!  This should not happen!”  He looks at Nineveh repenting and being forgiven by God, and he says, "This is terrible, this isn’t right!"   The Hebrew text actually implies that Jonah saw it as “evil”.  Think about this for a moment, what is great to God, Nineveh being forgiven and receiving grace...appears evil to Jonah.
Jonah was okay when grace was being given to him, but now it's going to Nineveh.  Now Jonah is not okay.  Now Jonah is really mad.  Ann Lamott writes, "You can tell you have made God in your image when it turns out He hates all the same people you do."
I imagine Jonah thinking to himself -”C’mon God, You said You were going to blast them, and I took you at Your Word. I told them, 'Forty days, Nineveh and it's Sodom and Gomorrah time...you’re all gonna get it!   Now it's not going to happen?  God, I'm going to look like a fool.  What’s worse is I'm going to go back to Israel, Your people, and it's going to look to Your people like I like the Ninevites. I don't like the Ninevites, God. I thought You didn't like them either.”
At the start of the book...to any Israelite reading it...to you and me, we think God's big problem in this book is, "What are you going to do about Nineveh?"  That is sin city.  Those people are degraded and vile.  We think God's big problem is, "What are you going to do about Nineveh, about those evil people over there?”
That's not God's big problem. God's big problem is, What am I going to do about Jonah?  What am I going to do about the man of God with a smug, superior, resentful heart?  What am I going to do about my own children who lack compassion and grace?  That's God's big problem.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be one of God’s big problems.
Jeff Frazier