Keep Running His Race

Hebrews 12 1 (1)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1‭-‬3 NIV
https://bible.com/bible/111/heb.12.1-3.NIV

Yesterday evening I was out for a run.  It was my second run of the day as I did a 3 mile run in the morning.  I was feeling pretty good early in the run so I made a decision to run for 10 miles. I have only ran that far one other time in my life, it was 10 years ago when I ran a half marathon.  I knew this was a big undertaking so I settled into a manageable pace and went for it.  This scripture immediately came to mind, as well as my grandmother.   Sadly, she is in hospice care and very close to the end of her life.  She is surrounded by family, but not her whole family.  We are 800 miles away, and as I was running it gave me the time to reflect on her life, and draw strength from it.
She is someone I would put in that cloud of great witnesses.  She has lived her life in a way that I know God is proud of.  She has faithfully served Him and his people since she was able. And it makes me want to do better.  During my run, I stumbled between 3 and 4 miles. I fell to the sidewalk like a ton of bricks.  At first I laughed because I thought it must have been funny to the passer by’s in cars.  Then I assessed the damage, a few scrapes and a really scuffed up corner on my phone. I decided to push on, but was considering calling it quits and heading home at that point.   But that scripture says to throw off everything that hinders us, and the sin (sidewalk) that so easily entangles us.  Yes my leg hurt, yes my hand hurt, but I wasn’t giving up.  I had made a commitment to go 10 miles. Fast forward to about 8 miles in, and I notice my left hamstring is feeling a little weird with every step. I slow my pace but it gets worse, at 8.5 it starts cramping up. I stop, stretch, walk a bit, then start again. Yet it only lets me go a few steps before it gives up.  My body has had enough, but I still have a mile to go.  I ended up walking that last mile, but I finished the 10.
In many ways I see a correlation between that 10 mile journey and the faith journey we take throughout life.  There are going to be setbacks, there are going to be times we stumble, or get hurt, and want to quit. There are going to be times we can’t or don’t move as fast as we planned.  But the important thing is to remember our commitment, to draw on the strength of others, to eliminate the things holding us back.
The race is already laid out before us, first set out by Jesus, then followed by so many others.  Let’s make sure to include ourselves in that faith list shall we?
Jerry Briggs
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Affecting Future Generations

Gen 16 1
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”  “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.  The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.  Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”  The angel of the Lord also said to her: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery.  He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”  She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
Genesis 16:1‭-‬13 NIV
In this chapter, we see a choice that Abram and Sarai made, that still impacts the world today.  They were trying to fulfill a promise that God had made, by their design instead of waiting for God.  It’s easy for us to sit back and think, ‘Wow no way would I do that if God promised me something!’ Fact is though, we turn our backs on God’s promises all the time.  We force decisions in our lives based on our wants, instead of truly seeking God’s will first.  But what really gets me is the possible consequences of our decisions.
It isn’t always just us that pays the price, our families and friends can be significantly affected by our decisions.  If you’re a parent you see this all the time.  Might just be little things like choosing to stay late at work instead of going to a game, or it could be big things like how a divorce can change everyone’s life involved.  If you’re a son or daughter, you feel those decisions, but you also know that your choices affect your parents.  Could be something minor like not doing something you said you would, or something major like a DUI.  Point is that all of us have to realize that how we live our lives can affect how others live theirs.  And some of, if not many of,  the decisions we make affect future generations.
This is true for good decisions also, the legacy we leave on life isn’t just about our screw ups, it’s about our accomplishments also, all part of God’s design and his plan of grace.  So if you’ve screwed up, no worries, there’s forgiveness.  But that might mean the consequences are set, and we have to rely on that grace and work hard to make better choices moving forward.  Just remember next time you have a major choice in front of you, am I seeking God’s will or my own?  Does this choice honor the people around me as well as myself? If we take time to evaluate our choices like that, I think we’ll have fewer regrets in them.
Jerry Briggs

So Much to Consider

Hebrews 10_24
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:22‭-‬25 NIV
In this day and age, it’s not always easy to be real.  The influence of social media has pressured most of us into unrealistic expectations.  The constant “everything is the greatest ever” post, or the crazy filters that make us all look like models.  But reality is different, and you know what?  That’s just fine for God.  He wants our best no doubt, but he also wants us exactly how we are right now. That’s why we should draw near to him with a sincere heart, God knows us intimately already, so there’s no reason to try and fake anything with Him.
Knowing that we’re accepted just as we are, should put us at ease. With that we also know we are forgiven, we were bought with the price Jesus paid.  This means we don’t have to carry the baggage that sometimes comes with the regret of decisions made.  This can be really freeing for some.  So if we’re able to be real, and we know we’re forgiven, what’s next?
This scripture says to let us consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, and encouraging each other.  This implies that we should take time to think of ways to help and encourage our brothers and sister in the church.  Can you imagine how great church could be if we all made it a priority to be there as much as possible, and continually thought of more ways to encourage one another?  What if we made it a priority to spend time together outside of the four walls?  We could change the world. Maybe that’s a bit optimistic, but I do know we would at least change ourselves.
-Jerry Briggs

Looking for Loopholes?

Romans 13 1a
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
Romans 13:1‭-‬5 NIV
Do you ever find yourself questioning authority?  Isn’t it super easy to find the flaws or loopholes with rules?  It could be simple stuff like “the speed limit is designed to be safe in all conditions, but traffic is light so it’s no big deal if I go a little faster.”
The problem with this is that it’s not how God intended it.
Did you know that at the time of this scripture writing the Jews were under the authority of the Roman ruler Nero?  He was a bad dude toward Christians. Yet this scripture still tells us to submit to authority.  How do we reconcile that decree when we know those in charge do not have God’s interest at heart? I think it’s simple, maybe authority isn’t about what a particular rule or ruler is asking of us, but about the who behind it. Not the immediate who, the ultimate who, God.  If we submit to the proper authorities in our life, then we’re really just submitting to God’s will.  Which ultimately is what we signed up for when we became followers of Jesus.  You know, that whole, ‘not my will but Your will’ thing?  If we can’t be faithful in the little things, how will we learn to be faithful in the bigger stuff?
It’s kinda backwards to our American culture I know, but if you try to look at it through the lens of just a humble servant of Christ, it’s easier to see.  I think our natural inclination is to evaluate each individual request upon us, and then decide if we think it’s worth following or “fair”. But that logic relies on us to make the call, and our decisions can be biased, and change with circumstances or mood.  But if we put aside our own judgement, we shine a light that people around us see,  that points to God rather than us.  As an added bonus, when we follow this principle, it helps us grow in our faith. I always say the best leaders are the best followers.
So the next time you find yourself questioning some authority, try to remember the ultimate “Who” and not so much “the what” is being asked of you.
-Jerry Briggs

More Love, Less Conflict

Prov 10 12

Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.
Proverbs 10:12 NIV
https://bible.com/bible/111/pro.10.12.NIV

One verse, one sentence that says something we all already know. It’s so obvious and yet we struggle to act in love in so many situations. Today, there is a run off election for 2 different state positions here in Georgia. As I voted today it made me think of all the election ads and speeches given just over a month ago. Very few of those were rooted in love, but many were negative. Is it any wonder our nation is so divided? Do we even need to question why people are becoming increasingly violent? It’s because instead of love, which covers wrong, we spread hatred, breeding conflict toward one another.

The only way to create positive change in the community around us is through love. If you’re a Jesus follower, then you know this principle already. It’s why you changed and are still changing. It’s God’s love for us, that we experience in all sorts of ways, that drives us to become better. It steers us away from hatred, it helps us see the potential in others and inside of us. The next time you find yourself disgusted about a person or situation, instead of complaining or pointing out what’s wrong, try focusing on how you can be loving anyway. That’s the only way things will get better, so we might as well stop wasting time with hatred that breeds conflict, and use our energy to show love that covers all wrongs.

-Jerry Briggs

Keep Running Your Race

Gal 5 7

Galatians 5:7-10 New International Version (NIV)

7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty.

Have you ever been having a good day, only to have something or someone happen, and totally change the day?  It’s easy to get beat down by life some days.  And it’s even easier to point the finger at other people or difficult circumstances when we let the things going on around us effect our relationships negatively.  I totally understand that sometimes life is difficult, and sometimes it’s unfair, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about when we’re really finding our stride in our Christian walk, and then we let something knock us off the path.  That’s why I love the section of scripture in Galatians 5.  It leaves us with no excuses.

This section reminds us that we are responsible for our own faith. It isn’t our pastor’s, our parents’, or our friends’ responsibility. Those can all be great people that God uses to challenge us to grow, but we must be careful to follow God and the teachings of Jesus, not people. Notice too that even a little yeast works its way through the whole batch of dough.  Letting just a little thing bother us without dealing with it could have huge implications on our actions.  We also see that whoever is throwing us into confusion, has to pay a penalty.  We must therefore also pay attention to how we are influencing people.  Take a good look into your life and ask yourself, Am I letting someone throw me off my daily walk?  Am I throwing someone else off of theirs?  If the answer is yes, we have some changes to make.

-Jerry Briggs

Guarding Your Heart

Prov 4 23

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.  Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.  Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.  Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.  Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

 Proverbs 4:23-27 NIV

     “Above all else, guard your heart”.  At first glance we may look at this statement and think it refers to relationships.  But on further inspection I think we can see more.  In Hebrew thinking, the heart is the center of everything, kind of like our minds to us.  This is reinforced by the second half of the sentence “for everything you do flows from it”.  Meaning, who we are as people, has a direct correlation to where our hearts are.  How we think, speak and act.  How we respond to criticism, how we react to negativity, anything you can think of in relation to yourself, is a reflection of our hearts.  This is why it is so important to continually evaluate ourselves.

     In order to change our hearts for the better we’re instructed to look at 3 things. Our mouths, eyes, and legs.  With our mouths we speak.  It is so easy to say things we know we shouldn’t.  Sometimes they even make us feel better for a while, or help us “win” an argument.  In the long run though, it is way better for the heart, if the mouth speaks truthfully, lovingly, and in an uplifting manner.  Trying to follow those will have a major impact on our hearts.

With our eyes, we fill ourselves to our “hearts” desire.  In our culture, we are constantly being stimulated visually.  Some of it is good, some is ok, and some just plain terrible.  But for sure it is too much!  Unless we decide to take control of what we see and how much, there is no way for us to fully guard our heart.  We have to make conscious choices on what and how much we watch or stream.  There are visual traps all around us every day, we have to choose not to look.

Lastly, is our legs.  This is as much about which way you are headed as where you are right at this moment.  Do you have healthy boundaries of places you know you shouldn’t be?  Have you already given careful thought to your future, both long term and immediate?  If you just go with the flow, you’ll most likely end up asking yourself, How did I ever end up here?  Too many people have to ask themselves that before they begin to guard their hearts above all else.  If you are already asking yourself that then now is the time to begin.

Start with these basic things, and you’ll be amazed at what God can change in you, in your heart, and then in your life.

-Jerry Briggs