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And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. - 2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV)
At Croton elementary school in Melbourne, FL, under a hot afternoon sky, I prepared for the great race. The stakes were high. Being the fastest Pony Express relay in our class that day was a big deal. Frankly, winning was a big deal to me for any day ending in Y. Across the field, I took my position in the anchor leg.
As the race started you could clearly see who was gaining and losing ground. Aside from pure foot speed, the only way to gain or lose ground was the hand-off of the baton. Oft overlooked, the hand-off was as important as being faster than your competitors. We probably ran the Pony Express a few dozen times each year and I know I won some and lost some. One thing I learned in those races is that if you didn’t get that baton in the hand of the next racer you lost precious time and could lose the race.
Seems like in life we are all running some form of a race. Our verse today teaches that more important than the finish line, we have to focus on what we have to hand off to others. So the question this Monday morning is, what are you handing off? Maybe you’ve worked hard to hand off a strong financial legacy. You don’t want your kids to struggle with money the way you did growing up. Maybe your legacy is to beat alcoholism. Addiction has gripped your family for years and you want to be the first to beat it and show the way for others. Perhaps, your family has a long line of church-goers, but few people that really live like Jesus. Your hope is to be real in your faith and see others blessed as a result.
Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. - 1 Corinthians 1:21 (NIV)
I recently shared vacation plans with a friend at work and when she heard where I was going, she immediately gave me a restaurant recommendation. She went on about how the food was essentially homemade and the menu had a great variety. She loved this place and wanted me and my family to experience it. She’s a great friend and as she got excited I got excited.
In the world of marketing, there are few things more powerful than personal testimony from credible people. Companies pay marketing agencies and celebrities zillions of dollars to place their product or service in a reputable and enviable light. The flywheel turns the most with “brand evangelists.” People so loyal to your product or service they effectively sell your stuff for you. Apple, Chick-Fil-A, Costco, and Starbucks all have national reputations and individuals crazy about the value they add to life.
I’ve been there. I’ve raved about a service I experienced or a restaurant I love. I’ve gone on and on about how great it is and how it made my life better. All the goods and services aside, it’s super perplexing that I fall well short of this enthusiasm when I know people need to experience what I have in Jesus. I can feel, well, kinda foolish.
Interestingly that’s part of the beauty of “preaching” and sharing the good news of Jesus. When we’ve been forgiven, blessed, touched, changed, filled, or whatever, it can be awkward to tell someone it’s all about a guy who claimed to be God and rose from the dead. That’s the “foolishness” of preaching though, and that’s the plan God has for sharing grace with others.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. - 2 Corinthians 5:20 (NIV)
My (wonderful, amazing, gifted, beautiful, talented) wife recently introduced me to a former student of hers. This student grew up at a Christian school and is now on campus as a freshman at a university. The conversation jumped right into her experience there and the contrast to her former overtly Christian environment. It was so much for this still-teen to sort out, but she was doing an amazing job processing it all.
What’s more-- she had recently visited friends at a Christian college. The differences were immediately obvious, but as she reflected out loud it was clear she knows God has her at a public university because so many people there need Jesus. She sees herself as being used by God to share His love with people who seem very far off from Him.
The challenge to start this week was to consider the call to hand off our faith to others and how we might do that. In 2 Corinthians 5:20 Paul likens us to ambassadors. It’s like we’re sent out, on behalf of God, to represent Him to others. Notice Paul doesn’t call us actors or salesmen or marketers or politicians or bullies for God. We are ambassadors who represent Him and His interests to others. We’re all like my friend at a university with many people far from God. We are here for a reason. It may be a challenge, it may be uncomfortable, but we are workers in a harvest field sent out by God.
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” - Matthew 9:37 (NIV)
I grew up in church. I can still close my eyes and picture all the rooms I had different classes and lessons in. At the end of just about every class, the teacher would finish by asking us for prayer requests. We’d take our time going around the room asking for requests and then pray together for the needs. I had this one teacher who could actually remember all the requests. He was like a prayer request savant.
These requests were all over the map. They could be for good grades on tests, a job for someone’s dad, a sick pet, or for great presents at Christmas. For me, it’s normal to get together with a group of people and share things we want and need God to intervene in. It stands to reason that we need God and so we ask for Him to move where and how we can’t. What’s super fascinating to me is that Jesus had a prayer request.
Jesus doesn’t lack for anything. For all the true superlatives He is The Son of God. All things in heaven and earth are subject to Him but, He shares a request for “workers for the harvest field.” Very few of us have ever been part of a harvest, but farmers around the world get super busy at different times a year, depending on what crop they’ve planted, bringing in a harvest from their field. Jesus asked His followers to pray for people to help share the Good News of Jesus with others. He called these people workers and their harvest is souls.
For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. - 2 Corinthians 5:19 (NIV)
In the Summer Olympics of 2016, the United States women failed to qualify for the finals of the 4X100 relay. In one of the more exciting races and one, the women were dominant in, there was a bump from another competitor that lead to a dropped baton and they couldn’t recover to place a fast enough qualifying time. Their dreams of gold in that race were over until Olympic officials made a ruling.
The ruling was that the runner in the other lane had interfered and the US could rerun their race in hopes of qualifying. As they say, the rest is history. The US women not only qualified for the finals but went on to win gold. The drop proved to merely be a bump on the road to ultimate success.
Have you failed? Have you dropped the baton? Are you in need of a second chance? There is really good news. The Truth that we are sent out by God to hand off to others is true for us too. In Christ, God is not holding our sins against us the way we deserve. We get a second chance and we can finish our race knowing we win the prize to which we are called, in Christ Jesus.