It was exactly a year ago that I was struggling to climb Hatcher’s Pass (8 miles anywhere between a 6-15% grade) in the final stage of the Sadler’s Alaska Challenge. The “mental game” in any endurance event like this is so strange: while you’re competing your mind is telling you “You’re nuts! Why are you doing this?” Then, when you finally finish and the race is over, the thoughts become more like, “That wasn’t so bad; I could do that again!” So, it got me to thinking what it would be like to be “back in the game” like last year. More importantly, it made me think about God’s aim and priority which is always seeing people “back in action” or back in the game! He is always at work to this end. Hebrews 12 is all about running the race and in vs.11-13, God says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather be healed.” He talks about the unpleasant but necessary dimension of the Father’s discipline pointing out that fact that it is afterwards that makes the difference. “Afterwards it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” God’s exhortation in light of this is to “strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees; make level paths for our feet so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather be healed.” Can you see that God’s priority and working is to see you healed and back in the game? Several years ago I had a bout with cellulitis and had to go to the emergency room. The first doctor that saw me after being there all night began almost immediately talking to me about amputation!? I understand that if an infection goes unchecked drastic measures may be called for, but you haven’t done anything yet! Don’t you think it’s a little premature to be looking at the amputation option? Why don’t we concentrate on getting this infection under control so we can get this man back in the game. When I mentioned all this to a respected Orthopedist I know and he asked me the name of the doctor, his response was, “Oh, he’s new.” That says a lot. This should remind us of an important aspect of the Church’s ministry. (Gal.6:1) says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” Restoration is such a needed and powerful work in the “people business”! The word means, “to mend (what has been broken; torn; dislocated); to equip; to make one what he ought to be.” It’s clearly talking about a dislocated member of the church, the Body of Christ. We are not an “art gallery” for the saints, but we are a “hospital for sinners.” This doesn’t mean that we ignore or minimize sin, lowering God’s standard and making room for loose living. It means that God’s aim and our calling is restoration, helping to get people back in the game! This is definitely an atmosphere that we must contend for and a spiritual skill we must develop. When you ask people how they are doing and they say, “Oh, Pastor, I’m fine.” Not really, not if you’re not back in action! There’s a little hint here about the cost involved because it is in the Greek continuous present tense (an on-going dimension versus just snapping your fingers). It is God’s way of telling us that this work will require a great deal of patience and perseverance. There are many aspects where we see this in people’s lives. There are those who are backslidden, out of the will of God and no longer walking in His ways. There are others who have suffered different wounds or injuries. Then there are those who have been side-lined by life’s circumstances, or they are passing through a different season of life. Other times they’ve simply given up to a spirit of withdrawal. Either way, this is real, and an ever-present reality. It is also one that the devil, our adversary, exploits all the time. If he can work to get people effectively out of the game or dislocated, then he has won a victory of sorts. There are so many great examples of God working in people’s lives to bring about restoration. Let me just mention two because they are similar in both their experiences and also the word that describes the work God did in their lives: John Mark and Onesimus. Both of these men had disqualified themselves by turning back. First, John Mark by backing out of Paul’s first missionary journey at a critical time, and Onesimus by stealing from others and fleeing to Rome. Paul wrote to Timothy about bringing John Mark because “he is profitable (easy to use) to me for the ministry.” Regarding Onesimus, who had been converted in Rome where Paul was in prison, the apostle Paul could point out the transformation in his life by saying that he “once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me.” I am so glad that God is in the restoration business! He is able and He wants to teach us to also be those who are able to work with people to see them back in the game and once again useful to the Kingdom of God. What is our confidence in all of this? (Phil.2:13)NLT says, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.” You know that desire in your soul that is drawing you to Christ and to get back in the game, well, that in itself is a work of God. He put that there, along with the power to make it a reality! I find it very interesting in the Old Testament there is so much detail and effort related to the placement and purpose of the cities of refuge. Without going in to all of the rich truth about these cities, God was making sure that throughout the land there were to be these reminders (clearly marked) that there is a way back home! He is still making that known today. I think of the poem that says:
I wish that there was some wonderful place; In the land of Beginning Again; Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches; And all of poor selfish grief; Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door; And never put on again!
The good news is that God wants you back in the game and will help you to see that process become a reality. These are some of the miracles in Gospel ministry that truly refresh my soul! Uhhmm, maybe that’s why I am starting to work to regain some racing shape because there’s a race coming up in August. “Harold, it’s time to get back in the game!”