Twenty Meters Separate Victory from Defeat

Paul compared the Christian life with running a marathon because it requires endurance. It is not a team effort; each athlete must push through pain and fatigue to finish the 26 mile course. However, the marathon of life doesn’t end predictably at the 26 mile-marker. It may be 70 plus years or less. Each runner must finish the course that has been set out for him.

Compare another race, the 4 x 400 meter relay, with the Christian life. The 4 × 400, considered by some to be the most exciting track event, is traditionally the final event of a track meet. Teams consist of four athletes; each running a lap around the oval track. The race is often won or lost in a 20-meter section or box where the baton must be transferred from one runner to the next. The critical hand off occurs three times during the race, and dropping the baton results in instant disqualification.

In life’s relay, each generation has been charged to pass the baton of Faith to the next generation. Like any relay race, passing the baton is critical. Biblical history is filled with examples of one generation failing to pass the baton of Faith to those who followed. The most obvious example is stated in Judges 2:6-10:

When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” (Judges 2:6–10, ESV, emphasis mine)

Note several observations from Judges 2:

  • The conquest of the Promised Land had been completed, and the members of each of the twelve tribes had dispersed to their assigned borders. Each had an amazing story to share.
  • The generation that bravely fought to claim the land had witnessed God’s hand in victory and continued to serve the Lord as long as Joshua and their parents were alive.  
  • The third generation after the conquest no longer “knew the Lord or the work he had done for their grandparents and parents.” The second generation had failed to pass the baton of Faith to those who followed.

Those observations are still relevant. Each believer has experienced God’s faithfulness and has their own personal “God-stories”. Each person in our small home group has shared concern for their children and grandchildren, and we pray that each of them will truly “know” and follow the Lord. Regrettably, many young people who have been raised in Christian homes and Bible-believing churches drop out of the race after leaving home.

The obvious question is “Why?”

It’s easy to blame secular public education. However, even children who are home-schooled drift away from their parents’ faith. We wonder why the proverb, “train up a child in the way he should go” failed? Well, after all, it is a proverb not a universal promise or a guarantee. Obviously, the odds are greater that a child trained in God’s Word will follow the Lord than a child that has been neglected like a weed.

Why this attrition? Perhaps, because the human heart is bent toward rebellion. The Proverbs also teach that truth, and Jeremiah’s diagnosis rings true today: “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.” We’re predisposed from birth to pursue our own way. The first rebel. Satan, has perverted our culture, and the assault against moral decency and the nuclear family is pervasive.

Like all older men, I remember “the good old days.” Things were certainly better when I was a child.

However, I believe there is a more subtle, yet pervasive reason for abandoning the Faith. Perhaps we parents have failed to pass on our stories about God’s of faithfulness. We need to continue teaching our children and grandchildren the old stories about God parting the sea for Israel and about providing water in the desert. Our children need to hear the ten most foundational words in the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Let us teach our children to memorize truths like, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” We must continue to teach doctrinal truth because theology helps us know God better.

The Bible is filled with amazing stories of what God has done in the past. But do our children witness what God is doing in their parents’ lives? Have we failed to recognize God’s provision? We don’t pray for sufficient food to feed our family because the cupboards and the freezer are full? Has life been so good that we don’t feel the need to cry out to God in desperation?”

A life without challenges tends to leave us spiritually weak. It is in the midst of trials like those Israel faced—giants and Jericho’s—that faith becomes personal experience.

Let us, who have been the recipients of God’s provision and faithfulness, share our stories lest there arise a generation that doesn’t know God or what He is doing today. We must tell our stories lest God becomes an ancient myth who is no longer relevant.

I believe passing on our stories is so critical that Mary and I have written our family story—we call it “God’s story—so that we can pass it on to those who follow.

In this marathon relay of life, the baton contains both the ancient stories and contemporary evidence that God is still working in our lives today. There is no “20-meter box” in which to pass the baton between one generation and the next. None of us knows when our race will end, but it will probably not be 110 years like Joshua.

It’s always the right time to be passing the baton to those who will run the next leg of the race.

Old Songs: As Time Goes By

“Play it again, Sam” may be the most misquoted phrase from a classic movie. I’ve assumed that Humphey Bogart spoke those words in the movie, Casablanca. Instead, it was Isla, (played by Ingrid Bergman) who said, “Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By.” When Sam resisted, Isla hummed the tune and said, “Play it once for old times’ sake.”

My blogsite, Standing on The Promise’ is not a critique of movies, so what’s my point? As time passes, we sometimes recreate memories. Our childhood house once seemed much larger. However, more often we tend to forget significant things, and that is my point.

While reading about the ten plagues in Exodus, I have been impressed with how often phrases like “That you my know” or “That you may remember” or “Lest you forget” appear. Those phrases are repeated in Deuteronomy and throughout the Bible.

I share a few examples (emphasis mine):

Then Lord told Moses, to “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 10:1,2)

God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me. For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.’” (Exodus 9:13, 14)

Moses warned Pharoah, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord. The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.” (Exodus 9:29)

“But on that day, I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth.” (Exodus 8:22)

God warned Israel against becoming overconfident when they finally enjoyed abundance in The Promised Land: “Take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)

However, Israel did forget. They failed to pass on the story of God’s deliverance from slavery and of His provision in the wilderness.Here’s the way it’s described in Judges: “the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. … And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.”

Pause to contemplate those tragic words, “They did not know the Lord or the work that he had done.”

Parents had failed to pass the stories on to the next generation, and the consequence was monumental. Grandchildren did not know or love God. He had become irrelevant. Without God, “every person did what was right in their own mind.” That’s another way of saying “Do your own thing. Create your own truth.”

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The book of The Judges contains some of the most sordid stories in the Bible. Crime and injustice prevailed. Immorality, linked to idolatry, ripped the fabric of their culture apart. Just like our culture pursues the idol of personal freedom. We live with lawlessness. Recently, I was reminded that the problem is not the degree of sin but the absence of God, because if there is no God, or He is just a museum relic from the past, we are free to do whatever we please.

Life is a relay race and each generation must pass the baton to the next. Dropping the baton of truth has serious consequences. Sharing our stories of God’s provision and protection is essential. If we don’t have a “God-story” to tell—only hand me downs—I wonder if we really know God? Or, perhaps, we just haven’t stopped to remember all the things He has done.

When Mary and I reflect on 57 plus years together, we are amazed at all that God has done. We recognize His hands have led, provided and protected over and over again. We have a story—a God-story—to share with our sons and our grandchildren.

After retirement from full-time ministry, I have sometimes wondered where to focus my energy. I want to finish well. Whether I continue to post blogs may not matter. Where I serve in our local church may be insignificant. If I ever write another book is irrelevant.

We have committed ourselves to write down our story about God’s leading in our lives. It was Kordell, our youngest grandson, who challenged me to write our story last year.

Our story will not be finished as long as we are still living. Most of our story resembles an old song like “As Time Goes By.” We sing about what God HAS done. That’s what praise is: singing to God and telling others about His faithfulness. The old songs are good. But with every remaining breath, I want to sing new songs as well.

Here are a few requests in the Bible to compose and sing new songs:

Sing to the LORD a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the godly! (Psalm 149:1)

Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts (Psalm 33:3)

Oh sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!
Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples! (Psalm 95:1-3)

I love Psalm 40 below, because it tells how David “waited patiently for the Lord” and how God answered his prayer by lifting him up out of a miry bog. He then credits God with putting a new song in his mouth.

I waited patiently for the LORD;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD. (PSALM 40:1-3)

My previous post about Joseph enduring injustice for at least twenty years before he discovered God’s greater plan was to use him to preserve Israel and the promised seed. I assume Joseph probably asked God “Why?” or, “How much longer?” The Bible doesn’t say, but the names that he gave to his two sons born in Egypt reflect his struggle with the injustice done to him. I don’t need to assume that Joseph eventually discovered God’s better plan for his life. Whether or not Joseph ever verbally lamented about his situation while stuck in prison remains uncertain, but one thing we do know: God put a new song in Joseph’s heart- a song of praise with a spirit of grace toward his evil brothers.

So, shall we sing Old Songs or New Songs today?

Doesn’t matter. Sing both. Just sing them over again and over again. And again! Lest the next generation fails to know God and the things He has done.

Lest we forget as time goes by.

(All Scripture quotations are from the ESV Bible.)

Thanks for reading this post. If you enjoy Standing on The Promise, please share them with your friends. If God has given you a new song, please share it. Perhaps you can encourage others .