Jonathan, my five-year old, absolutely refused to go to children’s church alone. We were in the States and I was the guest preacher who was expected to stand up and be anointed in about five minutes.
In the meantime, all the children quietly vacated the auditorium and settled into their own service, complete with puppets and snacks. They were all doing as expected, except Jonathan. I understood his dilemma. This was not our church. We were guests and he didn’t know anyone in his class. It was a little intimidating for him. He had no idea what evil lurked beyond those sanctuary doors. Fear of the unknown paralyzed him. So, he refused to go, that is, unless James, his seven-year old brother, would go with him. Ah, what a difference big brother makes!
James wanted to stay in the big service and hear me preach. But somehow, I was able to coerce him into going to children’s church. So, Jonathan scooted off into the vast unknown in the safety of big brother’s shadow.
I don’t like to admit it. But, like my five-year old son, I’m often intimidated by unfamiliar situations. All too often, when God challenges me to take a new step of faith, my first reaction is to stay in my comfort zone. Why? Because I might get rejected out there. I don’t know anyone else going that direction. I might fail.
If it wasn’t for leadership in my life, I may have never gotten a passport or a plane ticket to come on that original "one month" outreach to Manila’s University Belt in 1984. Like Jonathan, I silently said: "I’ll only go if Rice goes." Well, Rice went. And so did I. The only difference is that he went back to the States. I stayed. Thank God for big brothers in the faith who constantly provoke us to face our fears and accept new faith challenges.
Daniel was one of those big brother type leaders who had the ability to get people to do things they would never have done if left to themselves. The evil Babylonians captured Daniel and his three buddies. They were hauled off to a pagan land far away from all forms of godliness and out of the sight of parents, prophets and priests. New temptations and opportunities to compromise surrounded them. How did they handle the situation? Notice Daniel’s response: "But Daniel resolved not to defile himself. …(Dan. 1:8). Even before he had the opportunity, Daniel decided not to compromise.
When explaining his stand to the Babylonian officials, Daniel said, "Please test your servants. …Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink" (v.12). We know that Daniel made a resolution not to defile himself. But who are these servants and who is this “us” that Daniel spoke of? It seems that Daniel dragged his three friends along with him. He took them where they probably would not have gone on their own. That’s what leadership is all about. Maybe Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, "We’ll only go if Daniel goes." Well, Daniel went. And so did they. In the end, they all saw how God blessed their stand.
Next time the three amigos made a bold stand for righteousness, Daniel was nowhere to be found. When they faced crazy King Nebuchadnezzar at the door of the fiery furnace, they were all on their own. This time, they were not following leadership. They were leading. Once again, God met them there in the scary unknown.
Meanwhile, back to the church service. My younger sons made it safely to children’s church. I preached my usual sermon, challenging the church to get serious about world missions. Deborah and William, my oldest son, heard the same sermon for the 10th time. James and Jonathan enjoyed a Christian puppet show, met some new friends, and ate some snacks. And I saw a picture of how desperate we all are for leadership in our lives.
Thank God for those men and women of great faith who, when they get a vision from God, say, "We" and "Us" rather than I.
1988 summer Olympics. Seoul, South Korea. Eight men started the race. Only seven finished. British 400-meter runner Derek Redmond had to quit because of an injury to his Achilles tendon. The pain in his heart was greater than the pain in his leg as he watched his seven fellow Olympians cross the finish line. Like countless young athletes, Derek had dreamed of Olympic gold. Unlike most, Derek actually had the talent to win it.
Stubbornly refusing to let a torn Achilles rob him of his lifelong dream, the young runner set his sights on the 1992 Barcelona Games. Four more years of training. Four more years of hard work. Four more years dreaming of the gold.
By 1991, Derek was back to world-class speed, leading his team to an upset victory in the 4 x 400-meter relay in the World Championships.
Another year and his Olympic dream could become reality.
1992 summer Olympics. Barcelona, Spain. Derek Redmond is again lined up with seven others in the 400 meters. Four years before, he started the race but couldn’t finish. This time, he is a heavy favorite not just to finish but to win a medal, possibly a gold.
Derek’s dad and number one fan, Jim Redmond, is among the 100,000 spectators in the stands that day.
The starter fires his gun. Derek has one of the best starts of his career. Approaching the halfway mark, however, he hears a strange “pop.” Disaster strikes again. As he crashes to the track with a torn hamstring, seven men fly past him, racing for his medal.
In a few seconds, the race is over. The cheering has stopped and all eyes are now on Derek Redmond, who has managed to pull himself up from the track and, despite the pain, is slowly hobbling toward the finish line.
Suddenly, a man breaks past the security guards and leaps onto the track. He sprints past the medics who have been trying in vain to get Derek to lie down on their stretcher. As he catches up with the injured Olympian, the injured sprinter melts into his arms.
After a brief conversation, Derek continues his struggle to finish the last fifty meters of the race—now with two strong arms and two healthy legs supporting him. Finally, Derek and the man cross the finish line together, setting the record for the slowest 400-meter time in the history of the Olympics. But that didn’t stop the 100,000 fans from standing to their feet and giving the greatest applause of the whole 1992 Games.
Who was the man and what was that brief conversation all about? The man was Jim Redmond, Derek’s dad. Here’s how the conversation went.
“Look, son, you don’t have to do this.”
Despite the pain, Derek responded: “Yes, I do.”
“Well, if you are going to finish this race, we’ll finish it together.”
With those words, Jim helped his son finish the race.
The Christian life is a race. Many start out like a champion and with dreams of victory, only to suffer injury along the way. They stumble and fall flat on their faces. Many of the fallen and injured are determined to get up and finish. But the pain is too great. Besides, everyone else is so far ahead.
If you’ve fallen in the race of life, if you’ve been injured along the way, if you feel like everyone is way ahead and you’re being left behind, if you are determined to cross that finish line no matter how much it hurts, then I’ve got good news for you.
As soon as you scrape yourself off the ground and “set your face like flint” to the finish line, as soon as you start putting one foot in front of the others, then Someone makes His way through the crowd of spectators and jumps out of the bleachers on to the track.
This Man breaks through the demonic security guards the devil has stationed to make sure you don’t finish. He sprints past the stretcher carriers who tell you if it hurts too much, you can just lie down and quit.
If you will only get up and refuse to quit, He will wrap His big arms around you and say: “Son, if you are determined to finish this race, then let’s finish together.” Then, He makes sure you finish the race.
Acts 20:24 says, However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
It was Saturday night and James, my eight-year-old, was completing his daily ritual of writing in his journal before bedtime. His brothers were asleep, so I tiptoed into the room and whispered: “Time to turn that light off and go to bed; it’s late.”
“Ok. I’m almost finished.”
“What are you writing about, anyway?”
“THE GAME!” He answered as if there could not possibly be anything else worth writing about on that particular Saturday, and he couldn’t understand why anyone would even ask. Of course! He was writing about THE GAME. I should have known that.
I asked him to read to me what he had written about THE GAME. Here’s what he wrote:
“October 27, 1996. Today, we had our first baseball game. Our team is Apple Computers. I got a home run. We won the game 13 to zero. The other team was Yellow Pages. I played shortstop.”
He played baseball. His team won. He hit a home run. That’s about all that really matters to an eight-year-old Little Leaguer.
He hit his home run the third time he batted. He was so proud of his big hit that he conveniently forgot about the other two times he batted. It’s amazing how selective memory is developed at such an early age.
Since James decided to forget his first two times to bat, I decided not to remind him that he struck out both times. I told him that I was really proud of him. I kissed him on the forehead, turned off his light, and tiptoed out of the room.
As I lay in bed that night, I thought about how glad I am to serve a God who records our home runs and “forgets” our strikeouts. I’m so thankful He doesn’t constantly remind us of all our dumb decisions, bad attitudes, and past sins.
I’m not at all suggesting we should live in unreality and pretend we never do anything wrong. Spiritually speaking, we can only forget our strikeouts after we repent and receive God’s forgiveness. Our conscience is there to make sure we never forget until we experience real repentance.
Here’s my point: Once we face and confess our sins, our God chooses to forgive and purify us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). He chooses to remove our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). He chooses to hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). Because of the blood of Jesus, we don’t have to live in sin, defeat, guilt, and condemnation any longer. In short, God forgives and forgets.
You say, “That sounds too good to be true!” Jeremiah said it like this: For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember his strikeouts no more. It’d be a good idea for us to forget them, too.
I love my sons when they hit home runs and when they strike out. Of course, they are much happier when they hit home runs. Striking out is never much fun. The spiritual parallel is obvious. God loves us when we are living the life of victory and when we are walking in defeat—when we hit homeruns and when we strike out. His love is constant, no matter how poorly we perform. The difference is that it is much more fun for us when we are hitting home runs and living the life of victory!
Remember, we are destined to be more than conquerors, not because we never lose but because He loves us whether we win or lose (Romans 8:37).