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Focus Please! Sermon Notes January 24, 2016

Something one of my teachers used to say to us as a class, or perhaps it was just to me!

In our continuing series, this week we turn our attention   to single-mindedness.
According to our text, to be single-minded means to have one desire that trumps all others. One goal, One focus.

Our   key question is this: How do I keep my focus on Jesus amidst distractions?
And   the key idea – I focus on God and his priorities for my life.

“The spiritual practice of single-mindedness is all about determining our priorities to ensure we are practicing our faith, living out our beliefs and accomplishing God’s will for our lives.” I hope that’s beginning to sound very familiar –   it’s all about “Think-Act-Be” like Jesus.

In our small group material for this week you’ll read examples of the sort of single-minded devotion to God that we are encouraged to pursue.   King Jehoshaphat’s “resolve to inquire of the Lord” when threatened by an insurmountable surrounding army, who end up fighting and destroying each other as Jehoshaphat’s “appointed men sing to the Lord and praise him for the splendor of his holiness”; Jesus’ own example of seeking and doing God’s will, speaking of life’s needs and concerns, when   he says, “…seek first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”; and as the example of what not to do,   Peter’s lack of focus while walking on the water, defying all the laws of physics as we know them until he looks away from Christ and at the gravity of his situation (if you’ll pardon the pun!); each of these examples serves to point us to the importance of single-minded focus on our God.

  Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness…

This morning I’d like to give you another example of single-minded focus, of the priority of our relationship with the God who loves us dearly and deeply.

Many if not all of you have seen   the movie Chariots of Fire. Let me describe for you “The Rest of the Story.”
David J. Michell, from the forward to the book The Disciplines of the Christian Life by Eric Liddell, writes I 

Remember Eric Liddell: 
If you saw the Academy-Award winning film Chariots of Fire, you will recall the jolt you felt as you read at the close   these words about one of the heroes of the film:
Eric Liddell, missionary, died in occupied China at the end of World War II. All of Scotland mourned.

[Michell continues] I remember seeing Eric Liddel just the day before he died. For more than two years of our wartime captivity our school was interned in the same camp as he was. That day he was walking slowly under the trees near the camp hospital beside the open space where he had taught us children to play basketball and rounders. As usual, he had a smile for everyone, especially for us.

The athlete who had refused to run on a Sunday in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, but who later won the gold medal and created a world record in the 400 metres, was now – twenty-one years later at the age of forty-three – reaching the tape in his final race on earth. We knew nothing of the pain he was hiding, and he knew nothing of the brain tumour that was to take his life the next evening, February 21, 1945.

Eric Liddell’s twenty years in China were eventful, to say the least. Within a year of his Olympic success, Eric had been farewelled from Edinburgh. More than a thousand people were unable to get into the service. Deliberately walking away from the fame and glory that could have been his in Britain, he responded to God’s call and went to China as a missionary with the London Missionary Society, following in his father’s footsteps. For a number of years he taught science at the Anglo-Chinese college in Tientsin and then decided to tackle the more arduous task of rural evangelism, travelling many miles in rugged conditions by foot and bicycle.

On one occasion as the hostilities between the Japanese and Chinese intensified in the late thirties, Eric Liddell heard about a wounded man who was dying in a derelict temple and whom none of the local people dares help for fear of reprisals from the Japanese. Despite natural fear of the consequences should they be caught, Eric persuaded a workman to accompany him with his cart to rescue the wounded man.
That night in a tumble-down Chinese inn, as the two men rested on their journey, God encouraged Eric through Luke 16:10: “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.”

When they reached the wounded man the next day, they lifted him on the cart and began retracing their steps. Then, as they carefully led the swaying, creaking cart along the rough track, miraculously protected from encircling troops, they heard of another seriously injured man.

The second man had been one of six who were suspected of underground resistance and who had been lined up for beheading. Five knelt and were decapitated with the swift swish of the soldier’s swords. Because the sixth man refused to kneel, the sword missed its mark, inflicting, however, a deep gash from the back of the man’s head to his mouth. He fell headlong and was left for dead. Villagers later came and helped him to a nearby shack. Though moving closer to danger, Eric and his companion reached the dying man, placed him in the shafts of the cart, and walked both desperately wounded men eighteen miles further to the mission hospital. Not only did this second man live, but he became a follower of Jesus Christ.

As conditions in China deteriorated in the weeks before the bombing of Pearl Harbour, Eric Liddell arranged for his wife and two children to leave China, planning himself to follow some months later. Safely in Canada, Florence Liddell gave birth to their third daughter, whom Eric never saw. Before he could get away, the Japanese army had rounded up all enemy nationals for internment in Weihsein, in the province of Shantung (Shandong), North China.

Sent to this same camp in Weinsien in August 1943 with many other missionaries’ children, I will forever share with all the other hero-worshippers of my age the vivid memory of the man whom others prisoners described excitedly as the Olympic gold medalist who wouldn’t run on Sunday.

Eric Liddell stood out among the 1800 people packed into our camp, which measured only 150 by 200 yards. He was in charge of the building where we younger children, who had already been away from our parents for four years because of the war, lived with our teachers. He lived in the very crowded men’s dormitory near us (each man had a space of only three by six feet) and supervised our daily rollcall when the guards came to count us. One day a week “uncle Eric” would look after us, giving our teachers (all missionaries of the China Inland Mission and all women) a break.  His gentle face and warm smile, even as he taught us games with the limited equipment available, showed us how much he loved children and how much he missed his own.

Eric Liddell helped organize athletic meets. Despite the weakening physical conditions of the people as the war dragged on, the spirit of competition and camaraderie in sports was very good for us. Young and old watched excitedly, basking in the glory as Eric Liddell ran in the race for veterans, his head thrown back in his characteristic style, sailing through to victory.

Besides basketball, soccer, and rounders, Eric Liddell taught us his favorite hymn:
  Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
  Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change he faithful will remain.
  Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

  …Eric Liddell often spoke to us on 1 Corinthians 13 and Matthew 5. These passages from the New Testament clearly portray the secret of his selfless and humble life. Only on rare occasions when requested would he speak of his refusal to run on Sunday and his Olympic record.

But once “Uncle Eric” thrilled us with the story of the time he was persuaded to run an extra race at an athletic meet in North China. The problem was that the race was scheduled just half an hour before his boat was due to leave to take him back to the college where he taught. He failed to have the boat’s departure delayed but arranged for a taxi to take him from the track to the boat. Having won the race, Eric was about to leap into the waiting taxi when the national anthem was played, followed straight off by the Marseillaise, forcing him to keep standing at attention while the minutes ticked by. The moment the music stopped he leaped into the taxi, and the vehicle sped off, reaching the wharf in under twenty minutes. By this time the boat was already moving out from the dock. But when a wave momentarily lifted the boat nearer, Eric threw his bags on board and then took a mighty gazelle-like leap, managing to land on the back of the moving boat!

Not only did Eric Liddell organize sports and recreation, but throughout his time in the internment camp he helped many people by teaching and tutoring. He gave special care to the older people, the weak, and the ill, for whom the conditions in camp were especially trying. He was always involved in the Christian meetings which were a part of camp life. Despite the squalor of the open cesspools, rats, flies, and disease in the crowded camp, life took on a normal routine, though without the faithful and cheerful support of Eric Liddell, many people would never have been able to manage. Particularly grateful for his visits and encouragement were the daughter of a widow and a Roman Catholic nun, both critically ill and quarantined in the camp morgue.

Eric was one of those responsible for keeping law and order in camp. Ours was a world in microcosm, with prisoners representing nearly twenty nationalities. When we boys were caught climbing the tall trees in the Japanese part of the compound, how glad we were that it was he and our teachers who dealt with us, and not the Japanese guards!

As the months in captivity turned into years, there were many reasons why discouragement came over the camp. But, like the rest of us, Eric was buoyed by news from the outside that somehow made its way inside, and he faithfully passed it on to us…

But for Eric Liddell death came just months before liberation. He was buried in the little cemetery in the Japanese part of the camp where others who had died during internment had been laid to rest. I remember being part of the honour guard of children from the Chefoo and Weihsien schools. None of us will ever forget this man who was totally committed to putting God first, a man whose humble life combined muscular Christianity with radiant godliness.

What was his secret? He unreservedly committed his life to Jesus Christ as his Saviour and Lord. That friendship meant everything to him. By the flickering light of a peanut-oil lamp, early each morning he and a roommate in the men’s cramped dormitory studied the Bible and talked with God for an hour.
As a Christian, Eric Liddell’s desire was to know God more deeply, and as a missionary, to make him known more fully.

David J. Michell. Director for Canada Overseas Missionary Fellowship finally, 3 quotes   from Eric Liddle:
From his book, The Disciplines of The Christian Life: “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Creator, infinitely holy and loving, who has a plan for the world, a plan for my life, and some daily work for me to do. I believe in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, as Example, Lord, and Saviour. I believe in the Holy Spirit who is able to guide my life so that I may know God’s will; and I am prepared to allow him to guide and control my life. I believe in God’s law that I should love the Lord my God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind, and with all my strength; and my neighbour as myself. I believe it is God’s will that the whole world should be without any barriers of race, colour, class, or anything else that breaks the spirit of fellowship. To believe means to believe with the mind and heart, to accept, and to act accordingly on that basis.” 

And 2 from interviews he had…

“Many of us are missing something in life because we are after the second best.”

 “It has been a wonderful experience to compete in the Olympic Games and to bring home a gold medal. But since I have been a young lad, I have had my eyes on a different prize. You see, each one of us is in a greater race than any I have run in Paris, and this race ends when God gives out the medals.” 

Sermon notes, January 24, 2016