Saturday, June 1, 2013

Burning Bridges; Building Bridges

Pilgrim’s Progress is one of the greatest allegories of the life of a Christian.  In it the author, John Bunyan, characterized our journey through this world as a pilgrimage; a race that everyone can win…but not easily!  If you read that 17th century classic you find there are many trials to overcome and mountains to climb. 
Paul the apostle used athletic struggle to frame the trials of Christian pilgrimage.  Today we are going to talk about the Christian race in terms of focus, bridges burned and bridges built. 
The Principle 
Running the Christian race requires burning some bridges,
and building others.
There are some qualities to consider in the Christian runner:
#1.  A Christian Runner Ought To
Burn the Bridge of Mediocrity and Run to Win
In a race everyone runs, but only one person gets first prize. So run your race to win.  To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best. An athlete goes to all this trouble just to win a blue ribbon or a silver cup, but we do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears. 1 Corinthians 9:24 - 25 (TLB)
Years ago I first heard the expression, don’t let the good become the enemy of the best.  This is an encouragement to choose well what your target will be.  Often we are tempted to settle for a safe, but lesser-goal, than to reach for the stars.  Paul says “nonsense” – go for the gold; there’s nothing higher than Christ.
“First prize” is Christ.  Our victory is our faith in Christ.  “Running to win” means trusting Christ for the victory.  We sing the hymn, Faith Is the Victory; “Oh, glorious victory that overcomes the world.” 
That’s burning the bridge of faintheartedness or fear.  It is building the bridge of faith – and that’s what will do – the only thing that will do – in serving Christ.
#2.  A Christian Runner Ought To
Burn the Bridge to Self and Build the Bridge of Sacrifice
So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I fight to win. I’m not just shadow-boxing or playing around.   1 Corinthians 9:26  (TLB)
There’s a bridge to burn if you’re going to run by God’s rules.  That bridge is self.  Jesus said,
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.  Luke 9.23b
If you listen to our culture (and you don’t have to listen too closely), it is a commonly held belief that following the rules is for other people.  Being selfish in this generation is almost considered a virtue.  But, that’s this generation; that’s not Almighty God.  He considers selfishness sin. 
If you’re going to run the Christian race, the bridge you’re going to build is sacrifice.  Paul sacrificed the luxury of receiving any financial compensation for his work as an apostle.  He did so because, to him, the hardship of poverty was worth the results he saw in reaching people for Jesus Christ.
Paul made it clear in personal example, and in other letters, that it is not wrong for God’s people to support those who labor in the Gospel.
For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn.   And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.      1 Timothy 5:18  KJV
In the early years of serving as a pastor, there were times when I went to a 9-5 job, then made visits and calls at night.  I spent all day every Saturday studying for sermons.  Sunday afternoons were for all the church meetings, sandwiched in-between hospital visits and an hour my family got while we cleaned the house and did the dinner dishes. 
You can do that kind of thing for a while – but the family suffers, your health suffers, and eventually the ministry suffers.  Paul loved that schedule – but he had no family responsibilities. 
What about you?  Many of you volunteer so much time, give your talents teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, working on committees, and doing every new thing the preacher comes up with…. revivals, and projects!  You never get paid for a single bit of it.  Many of you put self on the back burner.  Things get repaired, painted, donated.  Programs get staffed, upgraded, and promoted. 
Every week volunteers do things in and for the church.  They do it all for the glory of God.  That is the center of the issue – that’s why you run!  I am grateful for the salary I receive, but I don’t run for it.  If that ever becomes the case, I’ll quit!  Burn the bridge of self….build the bridge of sacrifice.
#3.  A Christian Runner Ought To
Burn the Bridge of Laziness and Run Hard every Day
Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants to. Otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside. 1 Corinthians 9:27  (TLB)
Age, temperament, physical condition and energy level aside, we all have 24 hours each day.  We may all work at a different pace, see things differently, or approach tasks from perspectives that demand our special talents.  The one thing we cannot afford is laziness.  That is a bridge to burn.
One Russian proverb is, he's willing to swallow but too lazy to chew.  In place of the burned bridge of laziness is the building of labor.  No church, family, business or individual ever truly achieved something worthwhile without hard work. 
It is sometimes difficult to keep your eye on the goal line.  Running hard means continuing the course even when obstacles come along.  Our unified budget need is something we agree upon each year.  That is the focus of our tithes – the regular 10% of our income.  We bring that into God’s storehouse as a matter of fact.  The regular ministry expenses and mission offerings are included in that. 
An obstacle, or unexpected bump in the road, like paying off the building debt early, going on additional mission trips, unexpected love offerings for singing groups and the like – these are bumps we must deal with, but never forget these are done with over-the-tithe offerings.  In short, give your tithe – the Lord expects that.  When other opportunities come, give sacrificially as you can.  The Lord will bless you for that.  And when pressed into difficult circumstances, be the most generous you have ever been – it’s then His miracles come to the surface.  But, in any event, run hard in building your bridge of labor.

paul’s focus

No, dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us.                  Philippians 3:13 - 14 (TLB)
To press toward something is to keep focused on the desired result.  Bill McCartney is the founder of Promise Keepers.  His testimony about life as a successful football coach includes a bridge of distraction. 
“When I took the job as head football coach at the University of Colorado in 1982, I made a solemn promise: I told everybody that with me, God was first, family second, and football third.
But I didn't keep that promise for long. The thrill and the challenge of resurrecting a football program in disarray simply took too much time and attention. As my teams kept winning year after year, I kept losing focus of my priorities.
When we won the national championship in 1990, many people said I had reached the pinnacle of my profession. But for me, there was an emptiness about it. I had everything a man could want, and yet something was missing. I was so busy pursuing my career goals that I was missing out on the Spirit-filled life that God wanted me to have.   All because I had broken my promise to put God first and foremost in my life.[1]
I have a sign in my office.  It says:  70% of Leaders Never Finish!  That’s what running to win is all about.  I want to finish my course as a pastor, a witness of Jesus Christ, being a son, husband, father and grandfather, and as a good steward – with a win. 
I want to go on like John Wesley, one of the greatest preachers of the last millennium.  Here’s a single page from his journal:
·        "Sunday a.m., May 5 - Preached in St. Ann’s; was asked not to come back anymore.
·        Sunday p.m., May 5 - Preached in St. John’s; deacons said, ’Get out and stay out.’
·        Sunday a.m., May 12 - Preached at St. Jude’s; can’t go back there either.
·        Sunday p.m., May 12 - Preached at St. George’s; kicked out again.
·        Sunday a.m., May 19 - Preached at St. Somebody Else’s; deacons called a special meeting and said I couldn’t return.
·        Sunday p.m, May 19 - Preached on the street; kicked off the street.
·        Sunday a.m., May 26 - Preached out in a meadow; chased out of meadow when a bull was turned loose during the service.
·        Sunday a.m., June 2 - Preached out at the edge of town; kicked off the highway.
·        Sunday p.m., June 2 - Afternoon service, preached in a pasture; 10,000 people came."[2]
I want to be faithful despite whatever my fainthearted ways previously; I want to go out a winner in faith.  I want to come to the end and hear, Well done, thou good and faithful servant
How is your running?  Have you come to that point in your life where you finally said, That’s it!  I am not settling any more.  I am going to stop this merry-go-round right now.  I will not run with the world any more.  I hereby declare my cheese moved!  I want peace.  I want purpose.  I want the power that comes with Jesus.
If you have not come to that point, but sense it may be near…allow me the privilege of praying with you today.  Step forward as we sing the next hymn.  Come in this invitation, ready to pray with others who will be coming.  Together we will make our commitments to run by the rules, run hard every day, and run to win.  Come as we make the commitment to Jesus to be faithful stewards.

[1] Bill McCartney, founder of Promise Keepers. Men of Integrity, Vol. 1, no. 1.
[2] Bob Hartman, Plugged In, 9-16-97

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