Jeff and Amy Jo Akin are good friends who moved from Burlington to Louisville, Ky. ten years ago. Jeff is a leader in the Trane Corporation, but he is also a church planter. After leading a small church for several years, Jeff heard from the Southern Baptist Convention about their emphasis on church revitalization. The more he heard, the more excited he got about it. That led to a conversation with one of the men in the SBC who is leading the charge for church revitalization, and from him, Jeff got a contact name and number. The pastor that Jeff called wanted to meet immediately, and the two men spent several hours together. Dan was pastoring an aging congregation that in its heyday had 600 people coming through the doors, and now were down to 50. Jeff and Dan met together numerous times, and then got their leaders together to plan a merger. Jeff took his fifty people and joined with Dan and his fifty, the old with the young, and now they are one year into the new work. One elderly woman told Jeff not long after the new work began, “I’ve been praying for you for 20 years.” Jeff looked surprised, since this was the first time they had met. The dear saint explained that she had been praying for two decades that God would revive her church and breathe new life into it.
Jeff shared with Antioch last Sunday the sobering statistics from the SBC. 15% of the churches report themselves to be healthy. 70% of the churches say they are in decline, and headed for death. 15% of the churches are dead, and don’t know it. 900 Southern Baptist churches die every year. The average church size in the U.S. is 50 people, so that means somewhere around 45,000 people every year lose their church home. Jeff has told me stories of churches in the Louisville area that are near death, with less than a dozen members, but who refuse to join with another church. This is not just the case with Southern Baptist churches, but with every denomination, and with non-denominational churches like Antioch. Jeff preached here last Sunday and used Revelation 3:1-6 as his text, which is a strong word on the need for church revitalization. Jesus spoke this exhortation: “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die.”
Some churches are dying simply because their members are elderly and no new families are coming in behind them. Many churches are dying because they have rejected the truth of God’s Word and have replaced it with their own agendas. Jeff said on Sunday, “Churches are dying because God demands glory, and they are not giving it to him. And time runs out.”
How can a church give glory to God?
God is glorified when a church believes and lives the truth of his word. He is glorified when a church does the work of transforming culture one person at a time, through the power that is only found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is glorified when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity. He is glorified when churches “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, and (are) patient with all.” He is also glorified when churches that are dying humble themselves and welcome another church into the fellowship.
Audubon Baptist is doing well, and experiencing the grace of God that attends any work done in obedience to the Lord. The challenges have been met with courage, and the people have risen to the call to make one out of two. They are taking seriously the command of Christ, to “strengthen what remains.”
Cindy and I got to spend one night last week with our good friends, Larry and Mary, in a beach house at Emerald Isle. They live in Tennessee, and we only get to see them once a year, if that. But our friendship goes back to when we were still young parents, trying to figure it all out. I remember our last time together at the beach. It was 25 years ago, or so, and we encouraged them to try something different in the way they were disciplining their firstborn. The son was not real happy about the suggestion, but Larry and Mary were thrilled with the results. Fast forward a quarter-century, and their four sons are all making a difference for Christ with their lives. Credit that to good parenting and the grace of God.
A few years after that beach trip, we spent some time together at a conference. After the evening session, Larry and I went to the gym, and played one-on-one basketball for more than two hours. We both remember that we played until one of us got to 100. Neither of us remembers who won. We have played golf together a number of times. Last week when we arrived at the beach house, Larry told me he had a basketball, a new football, and tennis equipment we could use. Hey, we both like to play, and we are both competitive! The next morning we played tennis for two hours. I won’t tell you who won, because it’s too painful.
I remember sitting in a restaurant with Larry in 1992, as he was preparing to take his family to Africa. He challenged me with questions about the call Jesus gave each of us, to make disciples of the nations. Since that year, Larry’s ministry has trained tens of thousands of pastors in Africa, and I have had the privilege to share in that training with him on occasion. I have led pastors’ seminars in four African countries, mostly because of Larry’s influence, and have traveled with Larry on a number of occasions. He invited me in January of 2006 to go to Kenya and South Africa with him and a few wealthy businessmen from Tennessee. That trip stands out in my mind for a few reasons. It is stuck in my memory because my father was dying with cancer. I asked Dad if it was OK for me to leave, and he gave me his blessing.
I also remember one of the team, also named Mark, was a very wealthy businessman. He invented a turbo football that I am sure many of my readers own. Mark and I sat next to each other on a bumpy flight to Masai Mara. He told me about his work, and about his family, and he asked me lots of questions about my life. I have never gotten sick on an airplane, but this is another reason I remember that trip so well. The plane bucked and wobbled as we went through heavy storms for an hour, and by the time we landed, I was green and my airsickness bag was full. My new friend, the multi-millionaire inventor, took it from me so he could throw it away.
Larry and Mary spent 7 years living in Africa, and saw the good, the bad, and the ugly. The bad and ugly include being robbed at gunpoint in Kenya. It includes being part of a church that was attacked by terrorists in South Africa. It includes a near miss, as one of their sons was headed to the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013 when masked gunmen attacked it. The good includes having children born in Africa; Larry calls them his “African-Americans.” The good includes making friends everywhere they lived, and partnering in ministry with hundreds of missionaries and church leaders. Today, Larry and Mary continue to serve the African church from their home in Nashville. You can read more about their ministry at http://www.leadershipintl.org/. If you have a chance to hear Larry speak sometime, do it. He is an excellent storyteller, and his stories will move your heart and may end up moving your place of residence to where a people-group in the world needs you.
Cindy and I love Larry and Mary, and have been privileged to learn from them over the years, to laugh and to pray together, and to share this past year in their battle with cancer. We are so blessed to walk together, even if only once a year, with them. They illustrate what the Bible says: “a friend loves at all times, and a brother (or sister) is born for adversity.”
One of the bedrock principles of the Bible is that God doesn’t need your ability; he works through your availability. We see it over and over again in Scripture. Gideon was chosen by God to lead the nation of Israel into battle against their oppressors, the Midianites. When God spoke to Gideon about doing this great thing, Gideon said, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest…and I am the least in my father’s house.” Moses said the same thing when God commanded that he speak to the Pharaoh and say, “Let my people go.” Moses said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
Do you recognize the mistake both men made? God told them to go and they said they could not go because they were not able to do this great thing the Lord was telling them to do. God could have said, “Who asked you to do it? I just told you to go. Believe me when I tell you that I know full well, much better than you could possibly know, that you cannot do what I am telling you to do.” But what God said to both Gideon and Moses instead was, “I will be with you.”
I remember being targeted by a certain boy in elementary school when I was around 10 years old. We didn’t call it “being bullied” back then. We called it, “the normal way bigger boys behave when they are around smaller boys.” Anyway, I would always walk the half-mile from my house to the school, and every day this boy named Chuck would try to pick a fight with me. I finally told my older brother about it and he said, “Tell little Chuckie the next time he even opens his mouth to you that I am your brother, and that if he lays a hand on you, he will answer to me.” Now, why didn’t I think of that? The next day I relayed the message to my friendly neighborhood bully. He said something like, “Keith Fox is your brother? OK, man, sorry about that, man, let’s just be friends, OK?” I took his lunch money and said, “Bring me your favorite baseball cards tomorrow, and we have a deal.” (That last part didn’t happen) The point is, in that situation, I didn’t need to rely on my own ability. In fact, if I had, Chuck would have stomped me into the ground. I relied on my elder brother’s ability; all I had to do was show up and speak what I had been given.
In the case of Gideon, all he had to do was obey God’s commands and his little band of 300 men routed an army of 145,000. In the story of Moses, all he had to do was obey God and the most powerful nation on earth voluntarily released its three million Israelite slaves, and allowed them to take away much of the wealth of Egypt when they left. Impossible? Absolutely. If you were making up such a story, that ending would be utterly ridiculous. But not with God. That is one of the most exciting truths about following the one true God. He wants us to live in such a way that there is absolutely no explanation for our lives except God. It is called “living by faith, not by sight,” and when you live that way, God gets the credit for your life. He alone deserves it.
God is not limited by your limitations. He is not surprised by your weakness. He is not upset with your imperfections. He does not need your abilities at all. He is God, after all. He only requires your availability as you place your life into his hands by faith. He can and will take care of the rest.
You have heard the familiar adage that you have to keep the camel’s nose out of the tent if you want to keep the camel out. But what if the camel is the creator? And what if the camel’s nose is the belief that the world was created by God?
I am amazed at the boldfaced steps that are being taken to make Darwinian evolution mainstream and to marginalize or destroy any mention of God as creator in today’s classrooms. Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin wrote several years ago that we must prefer “science” to “supernaturalism.” Why? “Because,” he said, “we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.” That is stunning in itself, for it is an admission that a philosophical presupposition drives the evolutionist, not the facts. Lewontin agrees. “It’s not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation” of the world, he writes. “On the contrary,” he continues, “we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations.” Nancy Pearcy translates this in her book, “Total Truth.” She says that what Lewontin is saying here is, “We first accepted materialism as a philosophy, and then refashioned science into a machine for cranking out strictly materialist theories.”
Lewontin concludes that this commitment to materialism must be “absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.” Or, a divine camel’s nose in the tent.
Don’t believe that the tent flaps have been nailed down? Here are a few examples from textbooks that are used in our nation’s schools today.
“Many people believe that a supernatural force or deity created life. That explanation is not within the scope of science.”
“By attributing the diversity of life to natural causes rather than to supernatural creation, Darwin gave biology a sound scientific basis.”
Darwin himself would be pleased that his theory of evolution has taken root so deeply in our culture. He wasn’t sure about evolution, but he saw it as one of many possible explanations for the origin of the universe that left out God. Make no mistake: leaving out God was his primary objective. He wrote, “If I have erred (by exaggerating the power of natural selection) I have at least, as I hope, done good service in aiding to overthrow the dogma of separate creations.” What was most important to him, Darwin wrote, was the idea that “species have descended from other species, and have not been created immutable.” He was willing to concede his theory for any other viable mechanism out there, as long as it was naturalistic, as long as God could be kept out of the picture.
Funny thing about God. He will not be left out of the picture, especially since He painted it. Only the Bible’s explanation makes sense of where we came from and why we are here. C.S. Lewis responded to those who misinterpret the Bible and in the process make fun of Christians for wanting to go to a heaven where we will “spend eternity playing harps.” Lewis wrote, “The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.”
Here’s how God might respond to those who would make up stories to explain the universe. “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.”
Forget the camel, his nose, and your tent. It is the Lord of the universe with which we have to do.
Look to him. Listen to him.
I was in line at a wedding reception several years ago when a man asked if I remembered what happened at his big day nearly 16 years earlier. I started laughing. The picture is etched in my mind of the two of us who were officiating the wedding standing in front of the two being united that day in holy matrimony. The problem was, there was a third party standing there. Right between the bride and groom. You see, the pastor who was supposed to ask, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” forgot to ask. As a result, the man giving the bride away kept standing there. He didn’t know what to do, and the pastor who forgot to ask the question didn’t know there was anything that needed to be done. This was only the third wedding I had officiated so I didn’t know what to do either. We were all undone.
As I recall, the bride and groom spoke their vows to each other by leaning forward and looking past the man in the middle. He was no small man, and the image of those vows being tossed across the bow at each other makes me laugh every time I think of it. An awkward situation, to be sure, but the couple came to the same end that every wedding is supposed to come to: they were married when it was over. That story has been told and re-told for these many years, and I am sure it will live on in the lives of their children’s children.
I couldn’t help but think about what that wedding scene represents for so many today who never really left home on their wedding day. Though a man in the middle of the wedding ceremony may not change anything, a mother or father in the middle of the marriage will spell disaster. You have heard these stories. Young newlyweds decide to remodel their living room. The groom’s mother hears about it, orders paint and wallpaper that she thinks would look best, and shows up on Saturday morning ready to go to work. Or a young couple with their first child decides to go to the lake for a summer vacation. When the maternal grandmother hears about it, she insists that the young man not take her daughter and grandchild to that lake “because it is not safe.” Or a young family is visiting grandparents when one of their children acts up and needs to be spanked. The young man’s father tells him he is being rash and begins to teach him, as he says, about the “proper way to discipline your children.”
Now when I officiate a wedding, I will always ask the parents of both the bride and groom to stand. Then I say to them, “You have the privilege and the responsibility to pray for (this couple), to support his leadership in their marriage, to give advice and counsel only when asked, to encourage them and take delight in their life together as husband and wife. Will you pledge to do this?” The two sets of parents don’t hesitate to promise before God and man to let this young couple establish their own household as the Lord requires.
Jesus said it like this: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” The picture of a mother or a father sleeping between newlyweds makes us shudder. There’s no room for a third party in the middle of a marriage.
Get the leaving part right.
I love summertime. I have always loved it. It brings back some of my best memories of childhood, which includes, at the very top of the list, trips to Surfside Beach. Every summer my family would rent a small cottage down near the beach and spend a week there. Dad was always a little less stressed and we would play in the sand, swim until we were waterlogged, look for shark’s teeth, fish off the surf, and get sunburned. Getting burned wasn’t much fun but the rest of it was a blast. The day ended with showers for all and a trip down to Murrell’s Inlet for some of the best seafood in the world. We were usually there with my Mom’s parents, and a lot of the talk at the table included stories about previous beach trips and childhood stories from my grandparents about growing up in the 1920s. My granddad would talk about some of the crazy things that happened to him when he was a deliveryman for a laundry and then later a journeyman electrician. My grandmother was a receptionist at Whitaker Park in Winston-Salem, and would regale us with stories about meeting people like Lucille Ball and Gary Moore.
After supper we would often walk down to one of the docks at the inlet where the deep sea fisherman were cleaning up from a day out at sea. As a little boy I would stand with my mouth agape at some of the big marlins, giant bluefin tuna, and other game fish that were on display on the docks. Occasionally someone would have a hammerhead or tiger shark strung up on the scales, and we three boys would ogle and point and threaten to push one another into their fearsome and jagged rows of teeth. Dad would almost always get one of the fishermen into a conversation about his big catch, and I learned from my father that you really don’t have to be afraid to talk to anybody as long as you are asking them about themselves.
We would spend the rest of the evening back at the cottage, either playing cards or working on a 1,000-piece puzzle in the living room, or sitting on the front porch and listening to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. The conversation again would turn to childhood stories, and I would listen and learn of my heritage. I also learned what a good story sounds like and would practice telling the stories of my own life in my head, pretending at times that I would write them all down in a book one day.
The next day at Surfside Beach would be very much like the previous day. But we never got tired of it, and by May every year my brothers and I were counting the days until summer vacation and dreaming of the trip to the beach. It was one week of family time without any interruption from school or chores or friends.
Jesus told His disciples on more than one occasion, “Come apart by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.” Vance Havner used to say that if we don’t come apart and rest awhile, then we will come apart. I for one am very thankful for my parents’ commitment to taking an annual vacation with their three sons. I don’t remember exotic trips to far away places. I remember salty, sunny seascapes, simple fun, sprinkled with stories and lots of laughter.
It nourished my young soul.
I just learned last week that a longtime ministry partner, Simon Mkolo, has died. Simon was 81 years old and left behind six children and a wife. I met Simon in Zimbabwe, where he lived, in 1999. I had the privilege to go back in 2007, at Simon’s invitation, to speak to a church leaders conference in the village of Manjolo. Here are some memories I wrote down about that journey.
Its name means “the big house of stone.” Zimbabwe is bordered by two rivers and boasts one of the largest waterfalls in the world. “Smoke that Thunders,” known as Victoria Falls, is a sight to behold. The wildlife reserves of Zimbabwe draw tourists from all over the world. The breathtaking beauty of this country’s landscape, however, stands in stark contrast to the bone-crushing poverty of its people. Nearly 75% of the people live in chronic poverty.
I did not go there to try and fix the economy or to confront the political landscape. Nether did I go to address the AIDS epidemic, though more than one-fifth of the nation then was infected with HIV, and more than 500 adults and children were being infected every day. One doctor said, “People are dying of AIDS before they can starve to death.” I did not go to try and help the orphan problem, though there were more orphans per capita in Zimbabwe than anywhere else in the world.
I went to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He alone has the power to change a nation. I went to serve alongside Simon Mkolo. Simon met the Lord Jesus as a young man while serving a prison term for being a political rabble-rouser in the 1970s. He came out of prison with a different message and life purpose. Instead of trying to change Zimbabwe from the top down, Simon began to work from the bottom up. He went to the common people, the laborers, the farmers, the merchants. He told them the story of how his life was transformed by a Galilean carpenter, and he invited them to meet the Savior. His message took hold in the hearts of thousands, because the gospel of Jesus Christ “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Since he became a Christian, Simon has planted over 300 churches, and each of those churches is making a difference in the towns and villages of a suffering nation.
There were hundreds of people in attendance at the conference in Manjolo, many of whom had walked for four or five hours to get there. They slept on concrete floors in cinderblock school buildings during the week. They gathered under two huge trees and sat from nine o’clock in the morning until nine in the evening. They ate sadsa, the staple food made of maize “flour” and water.
And they worshipped God in the most exuberant and refreshing way I have ever experienced. Singing at the tops of their lungs, they leapt and danced in such a way that huge clouds of dust rose up and danced with them. When we stood up to speak, they applauded wildly, not for us but for the opportunity to hear someone preach the Word of God. They listened patiently as the interpreter spoke our words in their native tongue, Tonga. They took notes, flipping through their Bibles to every passage mentioned. And when the message ended, they bowed their heads to pray.
There was one moment during the week that made me tremble. Dozens of church leaders were standing at the front, having responded to an invitation by Simon Mkolo and the local pastor. Simon turned and asked me to speak a word of encouragement to them, and my mind went to the book of Esther, the story of a young Jewish woman who became Queen of Persia at the same time there was a plan to destroy all of the Jewish people. Mordecai said to her, “Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” I challenged them that God has brought them to a place of leadership at such a time as this, when the stability of their nation stands on the brink. As I spoke, some of the people began to weep and then to wail. They were crying for their country and they were crying out to God for strength and wisdom and for help.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives. It changes hearts. It gives hope where there is none. It changes sinful and deadly health habits and calls people to repentance and faith. It changes sexual behavior and calls people to biblical marriage. The Gospel moves people to have compassion on the hungry and to provide shelter for the orphans.
Zimbabwe is in dire straits, and I don’t suggest for a moment that we need to stop giving money and medical supplies to organizations like the Red Cross and others. But money and supplies are temporary solutions that improve the quality of life for a day or a week. It is the church in Zimbabwe, led by men like Simon Mkolo, that is changing lives for eternity.
That’s why I traveled to the “big house of stone.” I went to help Simon tell Zimbabwe about the rock of ages.
Every living thing grows. That’s why we have to keep our grass mowed in the summertime, lest we lose small children in the backyard. God created the earth and started civilization in a garden, one that was already growing when man was created. You plant seeds in your garden, and you water them with the expectation of growth. Otherwise, what’s the point?
But, let’s be honest: you and I can’t make the tomato plant grow. Only God can. Jesus said it himself: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.” Gardens grow, and so do people. We started life as a zygote, a fertilized ovum. After we were born, our parents took care of us as we grew from an infant in arms to a baby trying to turn over and to crawl. We learned to crawl, and then to walk. That is expected growth and maturity. If you walked by a church nursery and saw a few babies crawling around in diapers, you wouldn’t think twice about it. Babies do that sort of thing. But if you glanced in there and saw a couple of the adult leaders sitting on the floor and wearing onesies, pacifiers in place, playing with toys, you would have every right to be alarmed. Babies in the nursery are normal. Fully functioning adults in a nursery? That’s tragic.
There is an expectation of growth because God, the creator of all things, made us to grow up. We expect it. We also desire it. Though some of us might like to go back to our childhood and have the energy of a 10-year-old, none of us wants to go back and have the stature of a 10-year-old. Or the wisdom of a 5-year-old. It is natural and normal for a child to want to grow up to be a teenager, and it is normal for a teenager to want to grow into an adult. Yes, “adulting” is hard, but God created us for growth and maturity. We do not want, nor should we want, just to maintain the status quo. Even worse, we do not want to regress, to go backwards in our growth. Stephen Um writes, “Now the only thing more fearful than stasis (not growing) is regression, decline, and death. We go to great lengths to hide the ways in which we decline and regress. What is clearly known in the universe is that the principle of decay clearly exists. As it has been said, ‘Gravity isn’t just physical, it’s also historical.’”
Growth is part of God’s plan. So is regression and decay of all things physical. Every living thing has a growth cycle and then it begins to move towards death — quickly if it’s a fly, and very slowly if it’s an oak tree. You want to hear some really good news? Incredible news? That is not the case with our spiritual being. Paul wrote, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” Continual spiritual growth for the Christian is as much the plan and purpose of God as the life cycle of an apple tree. Our bodies may break down, and they do, but our life with Christ grows stronger every day.
This is why Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians. The church there was a spiritual nursery. Instead of growing to maturity, the church was filled with jealousy and strife and factions. The people were fighting like 3-year-olds, and Paul asked them, “Are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”
God hard-wired us for growth, so we do not have to be “merely human.” In Christ, we can grow into spiritual men and women, fully equipped to do all that God has created us to do. So, let’s grow up, church!
By now everybody has heard the news: 12 soccer players from Thailand, and their coach, were rescued in heroic fashion from a cave. I heard one radio commentator say that this was one of those rare news stories, where the whole world rejoiced in the outcome. I think he’s right. There were no protests outside the cave. There was no one trying to convince the rescuers not to go in. There were no appeals courts deliberating whether in fact the soccer players had the right to be saved. And as far as I know, there was no one on the planet hoping the rescue efforts would fail, because there were 13 human lives at stake. I know there was a Babylon Bee story with the title, “Huffington Post Criticizes Thai Navy SEALs For Displaying ‘Toxic Masculinity’ During Daring Cave Rescue.” But that was satire. In fact, the whole world rejoiced that these 13 people were rescued, and saddened that one of the rescuers lost his life in the attempt.
Much has been written about this event, and I hope you will forgive me if I offer a perspective on it that you may not have heard. Think with me about this. These 13 were absolutely helpless to get out of that underwater cave by themselves. It was impossible. Hopeless. Their only hope was for someone to come from the outside, someone who had the strength to pull them to safety. They could do nothing to help their rescuer except to hold on, by faith, and allow the rescuer to do the work necessary to save their lives. The rescuers reached into the deepest part of a hopeless situation, and brought the dead back to life. As far as I know, not one of those people said to the rescuer, “I know you think I need being rescued, but that’s simply not true. I’m fine right where I am. I hear you say there’s a way out, but I don’t need it. Why can’t you just leave me alone and let me live my life the way I want to? I like it here in this cave!” No one said that, because they knew the desperation, the hopelessness, the inevitable end they faced without a rescuer. The rescuer. The one who came for them.
The fabric of the universe is woven around the most dramatic rescue operation ever. You know this verse, right? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Maybe the world was riveted by this story in Thailand, as we were by the rescue of 18-month-old Jessica McClure in 1987, because we were created by God, in his image. And God is a rescuer. Jessica fell into a well in her aunt’s backyard in Midland, Texas, and it took rescuers 56 hours to free her from the eight-inch well casing, 22 feet below the ground. The whole world watched and prayed, and then rejoiced when she was saved. We love stories of daring rescues, and all the more when we come to understand the Gospel.
The Gospel was on display in those watery caves that were denied becoming watery graves. Thirteen people were rescued from certain death. The truth is, we all need to be rescued from eternal death, because of our sin, and there is only one rescuer. The old hymn describes Jesus’ rescue mission this way: “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood, sealed my pardon with his blood, Hallelujah, what a Savior!”
The cross? That was a heroic rescue for the ages. And for all who will believe. There is no other.
Many of you would agree with the late comedian. You are the same ones who respond when I talk about going for a run: “Was someone chasing you?”
The truth is, yes. I am being chased by an old man, by my geriatric future self who can’t walk to the mailbox without oxygen. I am being chased by the image of me, ten years from now, tired and out of shape, unable to take a walk with my grandsons, much less go for a run with them. I am being chased by obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Edward Stanley said, “Those who think they don’t have time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”
Do I like to run? The answer to that question really doesn’t matter; the bottom line is that I need to run. I need to “discipline my body and bring it into subjection,” as Paul said. He also said, “While bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.” There are three ways physical exercise profits. First, it helps me feel better and have more energy for the work God has called me to do for the days I have left. Second, it is one way I provide for my family. Think about it. If you die early because you were not a good steward of your physical health, are you being the best possible provider and protector for your family? Third, I run because discipline begets discipline. In other words, if I get self-indulgent with my physical appetites, I get lazy with my spiritual disciplines as well. Anybody who runs will understand this: the battle is not with your body but with your mind. Discipline your mind in physical exercise and you are strengthening your mind to follow the Lord and obey His commands as well.
And to answer the question, yes, I love to run. I didn’t at first, but the more you run, I promise, the more you will grow to love it.
General George S. Patton, U.S. Army General in World War II and Olympian (pentathlon) in 1912, said, “Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”
I run in town, and I run on the rural roads around my house. I always face the traffic, as runners should do. Here is what kills me, and thankfully, it hasn’t yet: drivers who seem to be playing chicken, seeing how close they can get without hitting me. Most of the time, there is no one coming in the other direction, so there is no reason why the driver barreling down on me could not move over into the other lane. I am hugging the white line, or moving onto the shoulder if there is one, but they pass by within a foot of me anyway. I always wonder why anyone would take such a risk: a sudden sneeze or a spasm or a bee in the car could mean death for one or both of us.
Go for a run or a walk this morning after you finish reading the paper. It will be good for you. And if you drive past me while I am running sometime, please wave as you motor by … in the other lane.