‘Go the Distance’

By John Adams

In late August the St. John’s, Newfoundland congregation marked its 40th anniversary as a church with the return of its founding pastor, John Adams, now living in New Jersey. Here are some core remarks from his August 31 message.

Cabot Tower on Signal Hill, overlooking St. John's.

We began here in March 1973 with 80 people and ended up with 175 when I left in 1977. Only two of us are here from that first service. That shows a lot of things have happened over the last forty years. We can all name names of people not here today who for whatever reason dropped out of the race. That’s why I like my wife’s title for this sermon “Go the distance.”

God does not want us to drop out of the Christian race. That is part of the important message of Hebrews 12:1-3. Let’s take look at that section of Scripture today.

Paul’s analogy here is from athletics, specifically running in the races the Greek were so noted for. He uses sporting language such as “throw off every weight” and to not grow weary. He is encouraging us to cross the finish line of life as a faithful follower of Jesus. But before that he says something else. He says that we are surrounded with a great cloud of witnesses, like the people in the stadiums and arenas who went to see the races.

And this sets up my point Number One.

  1. Remember those who have gone before. In fact the previous chapter – Hebrews 11 – is what some call the Spiritual Hall of Fame of those who were successful in staying faithful to God. Hebrews 11:24-27 specifically names Moses as one of them. It says that Moses refused his comfy inheritance as Pharaoh’s son to throw in his lot with the oppressed people of God. He regarded disgrace for God as a greater value than the pleasures of sin “for a season.” He was able to endure it, Paul says, because he looked ahead to his reward.
Eric Liddell – Christian and Olympian.

So should we.

We should think of people in our own church who have successfully finished the race. We can think of those names as well. They were not perfect just as none of us is perfect. In this life we are called to be faithful, perfection comes later in the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

  1. Throw off what hinders us. That is, the sin that easily besets us. If we are to go the distance we have to identify our weaknesses and deal with them. We all have things that hinder us. Some spend tons of time watching TV. Others have friends who don’t help them. We need to remember that our thoughts and actions have consequences.

That’s where Philippians 4 comes in. Here Paul tells us what to think about. Things that are true, pure, praiseworthy – think on these things. So many things out there can tear us down when we start thinking about them. We have to know what tears us down. Sin easily entangles us and we all have “besetting sins” as the old Puritans taught – things that easily entangle us that may not be a problem for someone else. We have to learn what these things are and be on guard against them.

1 Corinthians 10:13 gives us the good news that God will give us the strength to help us so that the temptation will not destroy. Remember that next time we are tried and tempted.

  1. Run with Perseverance. We’re all unique. We all have different talents as well as different problems. In the past Christian missionaries have put up with unbelievable things to run their race. Look at what Mr. Vic Pitcher had to do today to get here. He had 100 miles to drive on a stormy day but before that he had to get up and help put out a fire at 9AM. He has been a fireman in his town for 40 years. So if we feel we can’t get here – just think of that.

Actually some get preoccupied with other people’s sins. But don’t forget this is YOUR race. In John 21 we see how indignant Jesus got with hard-headed Peter when he was worried about the Apostle John’s race. Sounds just like stubborn headstrong Peter, doesn’t it? But he too finished his race, he carried out Jesus’ command to “feed my sheep” and you and I are all here in part because Peter finished his own race.

Don’t forget if your race seems hard that Jesus placed us in the body where it pleases him it says in 1 Corinthians 12. The race may be hard. Christianity isn’t just difficult, it’s impossible. But we have one more thing Paul advises u son that score.

  1. Fix our Eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).Those who go the distance have learned never to take their eyes off Christ. In the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, runner Derek Redmond was struck with a torn hamstring just a minute into his race. The crowd groaned with sympathy but from the stands came a man who picked up Derek and helped carry him to the finish line. That man was Derek’s father, Jim Redmond. The audience cheered like they have hardly ever done at any sporting event. And no wonder.

That’s what it is like in our race. We can’t do it ourselves but Christ is there for us. He will carry us over the finish line and that is a great thing to think about at our 40th. Hebrews 7:25 says Jesus ever lives to make intercession to the Father for us. Only Christ can guarantee that we will go the distance, that we cross the finish line. So let us come boldly to that throne of grace as it says in Hebrews 4:16, so that we too can go the distance.