(11/24) The last man to finish a baseball season with a batting average above 400 was Ted Williams who accomplished the feat in 1941. Williams was known for his intense concentration and ability to stay focused. One day during batting practice, His team mates decided to test his concentration and at the same time have some fun. When
Williams stepped into the batting cage, they lite a string of firecrackers and tossed them at his feet. Bang bang bang bang bang, they went, but he never flinched. He just keep hitting the practice pitches. That, my friends, is staying focused.
You could see that same concentration when Michael Jordan stepped up to the free throw line. No matter how many towels and hankies were waved in the stands behind the backboard, M. J., with tongue out the side of his mouth, would swish the ball through the net because he knew how to stay focused.
In our Survival Study for Hurt and Confused Christians, it is so important that we learn to how to stay focused on the finish line. True champions in any sport know how to do this. Their focus on the finish line causes them to train to extreme limits, to deny themselves of the sweets they would love to eat, or the selfish pleasures they would like to pursue. The belt, the
trophy, the medal, the title of, 'champion,' or the rings that await at the finish line, are what they focus on.
As you and I follow Jesus, we often find it harder than we assumed it would be. Sometimes, things happen to us and we simply don't know what to do like our friend Job that we looked at a month ago. One of the things that kept Job going in his illness and his losses was that he maintained his focus on the finish line. Look at Job 19:25-27. "For I know that my Redeemer
lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" The author of Hebrews reminds us that the same thing was true of our Lord Jesus. Look at Hebrews 12:1-3, "Therefore we also, since we are
surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For
consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls." The Apostle John reminds us that before the anguishing prayer in Gethsemane, our Lord prayed to the Father anticipating His return to His glory, and that He couldn't wait to share that glory with His followers, "Father, I desire that they also whom You
gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world." (John 17:24). Sins would be paid for, Satan's power undone for many, his doom sealed, and heaven forever secured for Christ followers, and the return to His glory never to be abused by His creation again, were the things that drove
our Lord and enabled Him to endure the cross. He was focused on the finish line.
The finish line for Christ followers is when meet Jesus, either by our own deaths, or by His return as He promised in John 14:1-3.
I. Preparing To Live Life (Matt. 6:19-24)- From the time we were small children we began to prepare for life on planet earth. We are trained by our parents, we go to school, and then college or the military and/or we then join the work force, all in hopes of earning enough money to not only take care of ourselves but to acquire nice things and then be able to send our
children to college, when all of that is accomplished we hope to be able to retire and relax and enjoy the remaining years of our lives. The only probelem with this, is that all the focus is on the here and now, this side of death. When serious illness, accidents, or death occur in our families, we despair because all of our focus has been on this life on planet earth. We
even get angry with God for denying us what we think is just and fair for life on earth. Jesus, our Lord, explained it as laying up treasure on earth, and having our hearts centered on earth's treasure, and how you really can not serve both God and earth stuff. One will be loved and one will be despised, and He implied that there was no middle attitude.
Someone once said, and I agree, that no one is really prepared to live until they are prepared to die. However, once a person, has settled the issue of his or her mortality and have trusted in the grace of God, that person can live their life on this earth and no matter what happens, they aren't shaken, because their primary focus isn't here but on the finish line.
Let's pause for just a second and answer two questions. First, are you prepared to die? It really is an any moment possibilty. Have you received Jesus as your Savior and Lord? Second, This is retorical but be honest with yourself, where is your focus? Is it on retirement and the stuff of this world, or is it on the treasure of heaven? Be honest, are you focusing on
retirement or the finish line? They are not the same.
Focusing on the finish line is what enabled Paul to endure tremendous amounts of physical and mental pain. This morning, I hope, that no matter what you have gone through, or are going through now, the realization of what awaits you at the finish line will both encourage and enable you to face life every day of life that you have left with hope and confidence. Let's return
to his autobiographical letter to the Church at Corinth - 2 Cor. 4-5.
II. Patiently Enduring Life's Pains (2 Cor. 4:1-5:10)
A. I would love to give you a word by word, verse by verse, exposition of these two chapters but there just isn't enough time, so let me summarize. The message of Jesus Christ is so important that no matter the opposition that God allows from Satan, Paul will not quit, give up, shut up, or get discouraged. Satan is blinding people so they won't see truth and the Gospel is
opening blinded eyes and resulting in eternal life for all who will receive it (vv. 1-6).
B. But human beings are frail, and subject to wearing down in our bodies and in our minds. He refers to our bodies as earthen vessels or clay pots, common clay jars used for about everything that can break easily. But no matter what Satan throws at him, Paul doesn't stop (look at verses 7-10).
C. Just as we saw last week, God had let Paul know that there was a plan, even if Paul didn't understand, for his pain. His pain would result in more Corinthians being encouraged, strenghtened in their faith, praying, giving thanks, coming to know Christ, and being bold in their witness as they followed Christ; all because Paul endured his painful experiences with
confidence and hope (see verses 11-16). In ch. 1 Paul says, he thought they were going to die. In ch. 11, he explains in detail some of the painful experinces he has endured as a Christ Follower; both physical and mental pain (11:22-33). Let me remind you again, that if God allows pain in your life and it doesn't make sense to you, and you pray and it doesn't change or go
away, it doesn't mean that God is angry with you or that He doesn't care. Rather, it just might mean that He is entrusting you with this pain because He wants others to see Him by your faith, trust, patience, and obedience. His, pain verse 15 says, was for them to know grace which would result in God being honored. Verse 16a, says for the second time since verse one,
Therefore, we do not lose heart. We don't get discouraged. We will not quit. Even though the body is wearing down, and wearing out, our inner person, (our Spirit), is getting stronger because of where our focus lies.
III. Perceiving God's Promises (4:17-5:1) Paul's focus was on the finish line. Let's slow down a bit and look at what He says.
A. Our Pain is Temporary - His Glory is Eternal. (v. 17, cp. Rom. 8:17-18). No matter what your affiction is, whether it is mental, physical, financial, occupational, etc. It is all temporary. Joni Erickson Tada's paralisis will one day end. Paul even makes light of all He has gone through and calls it light affliction. Affliction refers to intense pain, but Paul says it
is feather light and it is only for a short amount of time-a moment. Paul's trials would be crushing for any of us, but Paul says, its just temporary. Oh, but the glory Jesus has waiting for us is weighty like gold bars and it will far outweigh any pain we go through on the way to receiving it. At the finish line you will shine like stars and share the glory of your savior;
in fact, John 17:24 says, that He can't wait to share it with you, "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world." To the Romans, Paul said it this way, "and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we
suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." (Romans 8:17-18)
B. Our Possessions are Temporary, His Rewards are Eternal. All that we see and all the stuff we accumulate, and all the stuff that we don't have but want, are all temporary. Jesus, our Lord said, that it will all rust, bust, collect dust, and if it has any value, someone will want to steal it. You can't take it with you, and your children won't really want very much of it
if they can't spend it (Matt. 6:19-24). They will keep some memorable things and all the stuff you have worked so hard to get will end up at the Goodwill, or a yard sale or the county landfill. As the recent super storm Sandy showed us, your houses and cars and property are all temporary and can be gone in moments. But, oh dear friends, the Crowns, the Gowns, and the Castles
that Jesus has promised and has specially prepared for His followers are permanent and they are reserved for you (1 Peter 1:3-5; 2 Tim. 4:8).
C. Our Present Bodies are Temporary-Our Future Bodies are Eternal (5:1-5). Paul compares our bodies to a tent, a portable living space, no matter how big or small. This body is subject to damage. We can injure, cut, or break these tents. They are subject to birth defects. They are subject to aging, saging muscles, wrinkles, handles where muscles used to be. Skin where hair
used to be, and two round glass things on my nose so I can see your beautiful faces clearly. My hearing starting going with my hair. And, I always thought arthritus was for old people. So why do I have it? These bodies are subject to disease, germs, bacteria, viruses, the C word, poor plumbing, and hearts that don't have the stamina they used to. Eventually, they will stop
altogther and we will leave these bodies.
But Christ Followers know that Our Father is preparing us a body, according to Phil. 3:20-21, that will be just like Jesus' body, " For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to
subdue all things to Himself." Here in our text, Paul makes the comparison of our new bodies as a building, a solid permanent structure, while our present bodies are like tents.
Revelation 21:4-5 says this, "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful." The brush of God's hand on our
faces, the promise of no more sickness, hospitals, funeral homes or cemetaries, no more accidents or injuries, no more mental stress, depression, heart ache or heart break. 33 year old bodies with out wrinkles, or acne, and I won't need a bow flex, tread mill or elyptical machine or a diet anymore. That's basically what Paul is saying in vv. 2-5. Verse 5 says that the
presence of the Holy Spirit is our earnest guarantee that all of this is true. Can you say, "Amen?"
D. Our Present Separation from Loved Ones is Temporary- Our Reunion will be Eternal. (cp. 1 Thess 4:13-18 with vv. 6-8). We grieve when loved ones leave us even if we know that they loved Jesus. We feel like there is a hole in our soul when they are gone. But we know this, at the finish line, when we cross it, those who knew Jesus will be there to welcome us into the
presence of Jesus and we will always be with them and with our Lord. And, oh, won't that be glory for us? The wonder of seeing our Savior's face, hearing Him sing and having Him prepare a meal for us. That's what the scriptures tell us. Rev. 22:4a says, "They (they is us) shall see His face,
IV. Purposefully Focusing on the Finish Line (vv.9-10) Dear friends, no matter what life throws at you; no matter what God brings or allows to happen to you, you must purpose in your hearts to respond with faith and in a manner that will honor your Father in Heaven, because here is the truth, The first thing you will do when you cross that finish line is to kneel before
your Lord and King. His Judgement Seat is really His seat of rewards and commendations. It will be there that He will commend you for your faithfulness, your devotion to His cause and your focus on the finish line. It will be there that He will bestow a crown or crowns on your head, and give you a garment befitting His forever child, and it will be there that we hope to hear
Him say the seven words I long to hear, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."
But while I don't want to end on a sad note, there will be Christians there that did not concern themselves with the finish line and it will be noted that their deeds and their lives were worthless (bad, good for nothing), and there will be no additional rewards, no words of commendation. Saved? Yes! Embarressed? Probably! (cp. 1 Cor. 3:12-15).
Contemporay Christian group, Bldg. 429's song is one that I have come to love. The lyrics are simple but fit Debbie and I so perfectly. Part of it goes like this, " So when the walls come falling down on me
And when I'm lost in the current of a raging sea, I have this blessed assurance holding me.
All I know is I'm not home yet, This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus, This is not where I belong
When the earth shakes I wanna be found in You
When the lights fade I wanna be found in You, All I Know is I'm Not Home Yet. This is Not where I belong, take this world but give me Jesus, this is not where I belong."
Closing Illustration (Henry Morrison’s wife "You are not home yet!" )
Henry C. Morrison was a great missionary who served the Lord in Africa for over 40 years. On the way back to United States, he began to wonder "will anyone remember us?" Unknown to Henry Morrison and his wife, Teddy Roosevelt, President of U.S., was also on board that ship. He had gone to Africa for a hunting trip. When ship pulled into New York harbor he looked to see if
anyone had come to welcome them back home. Thousands of people were there cheering. Bands were playing. There were signs, banners, and billboards everywhere saying, "Welcome Home". Henry and his wife were so excited about the crowds of people that were there to welcome them home. When they went to get off they realized that the people were already gone. They had come to
welcome Teddy Roosevelt. Henry Morrison went to his hotel room with a heavy heart. As he sat there on the bed, he asked his wife, "Honey, I just don’t get it...for 40 years we poured our lives into ministry and service. And yet we come back to America and not a single soul comes to welcome us home!" His wife came and sat down next to her husband, she put her hand on his
shoulder, and comforted him with words that he would never forget, "Henry, you have forgotten something, you’re not home yet!" (Source Unknown, Lou Nicholes - Missionary/Author).
Let's close by asking some questions.
1. Have you prepared to live by being prepared to die? Do you know Jesus, and His grace and do you have the assurance of eternal life (John 5:24)?
2. Where is your Focus? is it on the here and now and acquiring all the stuff that is all temporary or is it on the eternal stuff God has waiting a the finish line? Be honest, and no rationalizing.
3. Are you determined to honor God no matter what, knowing that this pain may have a much bigger purpose than I know, and my response may well make an eternal difference in the lives of others?
4. How much do you know about your forever home? Why not get a good study Bible and find out? Or Randy Alcorn's book, Heaven.
5. Why not commit to God right now, to begin living by focusing on the Finish Line?
Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman