Faith Conditioning in the Fourth Quarters of Life Michael A. Milton September 1, 2004 2 Corinthians 4 Ask former Kentucky Coach Guy Morriss about having a plan to go all the way through the fourth quarter. Last season, LSU appeared headed for a second straight league loss. The score was 30-27 with only seconds left on the clock. LSU was way back on their own 13-yard line and the blue-clad crowd was roaring for they could smell victory. In the final seconds, LSU quarterback Marcus Randall did what he had practiced so many times but never knew if he would ever really get a change to do in real time: Randall passed to Michael Clayton at the 25, and LSU called a timeout with two seconds left. LSU Coach Nick Saban gathered his team on the sideline and told them to do what they had been conditioned to do: go into the final desperation pass mode, which they had practiced and prepared for. Randall rolled right to avoid a ferocious on-coming defensive rush, and then he heaved that football sixty yards in the air. As the ball flew over the field, it seemed that time stopped; for in that time, a crowd was already taking down the goal posts, the Kentucky coach was doused with Gatorade, and fans were rushing the field. But then the ball came down, was tipped by Kentucky’s defensive backs, and fell into the hands of an LSU wide receiver that broke a tackle and scored the winning touchdown. The Gatorade drenched coach was in disbelief, the players were left with mouths gaping open in shock, fans sat in shocked silence, and a funeral pall was suddenly cast over the Kentucky stadium. But LSU, in this case, was conditioned for such a fourth quarter. 2 Are you conditioned for the fourth quarters of life? There are many “Fourth and Long” times in our lives: “Honey, I have been promoted, but it means we will have to move . . . but if I don’t move, I will lose my job.” “Mom . . . yeah, Mom, it’s me. Yeah, I know it’s late . . . Mom, I am in jail.” “Bill, I’m leaving you . . . I just need my freedom. I hope you understand. By the way, I want the kids.” “Sally, the tests . . . were . . . positive . . . I’m sorry.” “Fourth and long” and the clock is ticking. The question is: can you make it through the fourth quarter? Are you conditioned for adversity in your life? In 2 Corinthians, a letter written by Paul to the church in the cosmopolitan city of Corinth, a letter sometimes called “the painful letter” because of its confrontational nature, Paul reveals that he has faced the fourth quarters of life. Indeed, chapter four and the beginning of chapter five of 2 Corinthians is a veritable declaration of faith by Paul. He is reciting his own faith, his own resolve that no matter what comes, he will be ready to go through the fourth quarters of life because of his faith in Jesus Christ. Listen to the cadence of the creed: Hard pressed . . . but not crushed; Perplexed . . . but not in despair; Persecuted . . . but not forsaken . . . struck down but not destroyed. . . 1 Corinthians 4:8-9 I am certain that Coach Rodney Allison and his staff have a game plan for dealing with the adversities on the football field this fall, but I want you to see that, in this passage, all of us here have been given a Divine Game Plan to persevere, to make it all the way through the Fourth Quarter in our lives. I draw your attention to the 3 points in the Game Plan from 2 Corinthians 4: I. What to Expect in the Fourth Quarters of Life The Apostle Paul lived the fourth quarter for his entire ministry. There was no easy quarter. There was no coasting for Paul. God called him, and from day one his message of God’s grace encountered resistance from within the Church and from without. Here, Paul not only recounted these hardships, but also the faith that is needed to see one through such trials. He shows us what to expect. 1. Hard hitting We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair . . . – 2 Corinthians 4:8 Paul said he had been hard pressed, yet not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair. The words are a series of vivid phrases that describe Paul’s ministerial career. In 2 Corinthians 4:8, Paul used a word that is used for crushing grapes: he is pressed down. But then he uses a word that means, “Straightened out.” He is pressed down like grapes but he is not laid out flat, we might say. Some of you UTC running backs know what it is like to have about a thousand pounds of linebackers on top of you. But you are conditioned and you bounce back up – most of the time. Well, Paul was saying that standing up for Jesus Christ, living the Christian life is like being squeezed like grapes, rubbed into the dirt by 300 pound defensive ends, but he said even that would not stop him. Paul also says in verse eight that he was perplexed but not in despair. Not only did Paul admit that the adversity he dealt with crushed him in body, but it also crushed him in mind and spirit. Paul was perplexed, dazed by the hard hits of life as a believer. You see, living the Christian life takes it out of you, body and soul. I used to have this one person in a former church that had the gift of discouragement. And he would share that gift with me all the time. He seemed to prefer sharing discouraging news with me right before I went out to preach, so I had to ask him to hold off and hit me after I preached. Unlike this person, the hard hits of life, the crushing events of life, the perplexing moments of life, don’t always wait. Paul said they didn’t wait for him. This is the reality. This is what all of us have to expect. 2. Cheap Shots Persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. – 2 Corinthians 4:9 He said that he was also persecuted and struck down. The Greek word for struck down is kataBallo. Kata means downward and ballo is to throw. I suspect that when Coach Steve Sloan was a quarterback, he was been picked up by big defensive ends and just thrown down on the ground. This was what Paul said he lived as a minister. Time and time again, Paul was persecuted. The one who used to persecute others was being shaped under the crucible of suffering for Christ himself. Football is filled with cheap shots, and so is life. We would like to imagine that everyone will love us, everyone will play fair, but the truth is that we all take some cheap shots every now and then in life. I talk to people everyday who relate to me things that just are not fair. I often take these cheap shots of life with me into my prayer time and they lead me to tears. But Paul said he could take the cheap shots, for he was not forsaken. Christ Jesus will not leave you. Thank God that this good news is for everyone here today. This is what Paul meant in Romans 8:37-39: Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 3. Achy-Breaky Pain Always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. – 2 Corinthians 4:10 In this verse, Paul was saying that all of these trials, these fourth quarter adversities were to him signs of his faithfulness to Christ. Indeed, he used his trials to identity with the sufferings of Jesus. Paul did this in Philippians, as well, when he wrote: That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, bring conformed to His death . . . – Philippians 3:10 So, beloved, all things that come to us-every hard hit, every cheap shot, every achy-breaky pain of life-we should actually offer back to God as an offering of faith. We may say, “O God, this is the fourth quarter, and I am tired and I am getting hit hard. I am taking some cheap shots, I am in pain, body and mind and soul from this onslaught of trials, but I know this: Jesus Christ is alive in me, and because He lives, this game is not over with yet!” Now this is what we are to expect. Fourth quarters of life do come. But that leads us to a second point in the Game Plan from this passage: II. How to Condition for the Fourth Quarters of Life Just as a coach and his staff will put this team today through conditioning exercises, we too must be conditioned and prepared for the trials of life that come to us. Paul shows us two ways to condition ourselves, two exercises in faith, which will stand us in good stead for the tough times of our lives: 1. Know your strength For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. – 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul was saying that the God who created the light of the universe is the God who put the light of Christ in our hearts. In other words, Paul was strengthening himself in the truth of God’s glory for the fight of life. Paul knew that if his faith was all about his own works, his own decisions, his own strength, he could not make it through the game. The truth is that God Almighty called him on that road to Damascus. The truth is that God Almighty made him an Apostle of Jesus Christ; he did not take that honor himself. And my beloved, let us be conditioned by the truth that God alone is the One who saves us, who keeps us, who guides us, and thus God alone is worthy of glory. Know your position before you enter the field. You are not the coach. You are not the trainer. You are the player. It is God who is in control. This is His game, not yours. He will see you through. 2. Trust in the source of your strength But we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7 Oh what a verse! “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” Again, Paul is trusting in God’s power. He is just an earthen vessel. As He says in Romans chapter nine, we are just clay, but God is the potter. When I was a teenager, my coach was Coach Davis. I think I have mentioned him before. He was also my high School Sunday school teacher. He was known by the fact that he had been an Ole Miss offensive lineman and he chewed Red Man tobacco in his sleep. Every one of us dreaded August football training because he used to make us run sprints after every practice. He would increase the number of sprints as the days got closer to the first game day. One time, a number of my fellow players asked me, as the quarterback, to approach Coach Davis and try to appeal to his humanity and ask him to back off a bit on those sprints. I did. I should have had better sense. He pulled me within inches of his sweaty, ugly, but very sweet, face and told me, “Son, you tell those boys to get used to it cuz’ this is life!” I returned to the boys who were waiting for my response. “Did you talk to him?” “Yes,” I replied, still shaking from the experience. “Coach Davis says sprints are life.” They shook their head. And maybe you will, too. But I want to say to you that the thing that will condition you for the fourth quarters of life is the doctrine of God’s glory alone in salvation. It is all of God. He is sovereign. He is Creator and we are His creatures. Get that straight and remember that this Sovereign God is also the God of love and mercy, and you will be ready for the game. Now, finally, the third point in the game plan from this portion of God’s Word: III. What You Must Do in the Fourth Quarter of Life 1. Remember that you play for others For all things are for your sakes . . . – 2 Corinthians 4:15 In this passage, Paul was saying that he endured this for the sake of the Church. Now you may think that this sounds funny. Maybe you think, “I will go through trials for God and for me, but I am not going through them for others.” Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:10: Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect . . . It may seem funny to think that you play for the spectators, but in a real way you do. We are all here to watch our team win. Many have written about the importance of our national sports teams in times of national trials. When 9/11 happened, we needed, emotionally, as a nation to see our college football teams go on and play. We needed our World Series that year. Why? Because they represented that, in some strange way, we too could be victorious and brave during a national crisis in our lives. Likewise, Christian, you must stand through the trials of your life for the sake of the elect, for the sake of others. When you walk through the trials of life, Dad, remember that your son or daughter is watching. When you enter the field of testing, Mother, remember that your husband who doesn’t know Christ is watching. When you, Pastor, suffer for Christ, when your own family turns against you because of the Gospel, man of God, remember that there are those who are watching. These are the spectators who need encouragement. 2. Remember to encourage others Knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. – 2 Corinthians 4:14 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:15 Paul focused on the doctrine of the resurrection and the truth of God’s grace in Christ. He was saying that we can all go forward because Christ is victorious. He was saying that we can go forward, keep playing even though we are down for a while, because we are saved through God’s grace. Besides all this, it is really not our power anyway, but God’s working in us. And all of this, he was saying, is causing thanksgiving. God is being glorified in your fourth quarter trials. 3. Rally your own soul Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. – 2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. – 2 Corinthians 4:16 Paul bookends this section with these words: ” . . . we do not lose heart . . . Therefore we do not lose heart.” Because God is God, because Christ is alive, there is time on the clock! This thing is not over. The gun has not sounded! O how God wants you to know this, my beloved. Do not lose heart. 4. Embrace the struggle For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. – 2 Corinthians 4:17 Here is another great verse. It says that our temporary pain is paving the way for eternal praise. Our temporary setback is setting the stage for a sensational finale! I have in my library a book that contains the stories of ministers who have fallen into burnout. Burnout is not fatigue, but a loss of meaning. I often quote Moody, who said, “I am tired in the work but not tired of the work, and there is a huge difference.” Well, each case tells of expectations that exploded, dreams which were dashed, and how one by one, each man demitted the ministry. But the author saved the final chapter for a minister who said that though he was an old man, he was as excited as ever about the ministry. What was his secret? He said that years ago, when God called him to preach, he knew that this was a calling to embrace trials as a way of life, and that he was never disappointed. Life contains struggles. But it is only a light affliction, for soon you will stand before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This leads us to look at 2 Corinthians 4:18and the last thing we must do. 5. Eye the eternal While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:18 Paul calls us to look past the scoreboard, past the clock, past the trials of the hour, to the day when we will appear before the throne of God. The perspective of the eternal sustains us. As the poem says, “We have only one life and it will soon be past, and only what we do for Christ will last.” Conclusion We have learned in 1 Corinthians 4 that to follow the Lord, we, like Paul, will face trials and difficulties, fourth quarters of life. We have learned: What to Expect in the Fourth Quarters of Life How to Condition for the Fourth Quarters of Life What We Must do in the Fourth Quarters of Life. And we are left with the echo of the encouraging words of Paul (and I want you to say it with me . . . ) “Hard Pressed . . . but not crushed; Perplexed . . . but not in despair; Persecuted . . . but not forsaken; Struck down . . . but now destroyed.” I want to tell you a story about a boy I knew, but the names and events are changed just a bit. Let me put it like this: once upon a time there was a player and there was a game. It wasn’t the big, strong UTC Football team on the line that day. It was the Special Olympics, the great games that give kids with special needs a shot at glory. This boys name was Toby. Toby had Downs Syndrome and Toby had a dream. Toby’s dream was to run a race and cross the finish line and bask in the glory of victory. That was his parent’s dream, too. It was only a 100-yard dash, but that was a lot for Toby. But he had faith and hope, and Toby had even trained for the race. Toby was ready. The gun went off, and all of the athletes took off. Some were pretty fast! But Toby was heavy, and was having trouble breathing. He kept running, but Toby was way behind. Toby was not going to make it. Toby . . . fell. Toby’s dreams, like his lungs, were gasping for air. Toby’s face was buried in the turf, his tears mixing with sod to form a sort of muddy heartache. Suddenly, a new figure emerged onto the scene. It was Toby’s Dad. You see, this race wasn’t just Toby’s dream; it was his father’s dream, too. In fact, Toby’s dad wanted Toby to win the race probably more than Toby wanted it for himself. All of the other runners were safely home. They had all run the race when a scene happened that gripped the hearts of all there. Toby’s dad, picked up Toby, held that big boy in his arms, and began to run. He ran with Toby all the way to the finish line. The truth of the Gospel is this: none of us can really run the race of faith ourselves. Sin has left us with special needs. But we have a Father who had a dream and he will not be denied. For all who call upon the name of the Lord, the Father wants you to make it through the race, through the Fourth Quarters of life, all the way home even more than you do. In theology we call it “The Perseverance of the Saints.” This is the Bible truth that God Himself, through the life of Jesus, the One and Only Victor, and the Holy Spirit who empowers you, will get you through and will bring you home. That is the Gospel. There is no other way, but thru faith in Jesus Christ. The clock is still ticking. But Christ is reigning, and we will not lose heart. ____________________________ Michael A. Milton is Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Chattanooga, TN. ____________________________ 1. This sermon was preached when the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga football team was visiting our 11:00 AM Worship Service as a part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Sunday.2. This story was taken from the ESPN.go.com/classic/s/instant/LSU_Kentucky (accessed August 8, 2003). 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