- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2001

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Joseph S. Edmonds at First Baptist Church of Ballston.

I will never forget a display commemorating Dale Earnhardt, seven-time winner of the Winston Cup at the Daytona 500. He was known as the "Intimidator."

The greatest NASCAR racer who ever lived slammed head first at over 180 miles per hour into a concrete retaining wall as he drew near the finish line. He died almost instantaneously. More than 200,000 spectators watched in shock and disbelief. His son said, "He went to heaven in the twinkling of a eye."

In the first part of Hebrews, Paul speaks about the perils of drifting. Folks drifting along and doing nothing about their salvation. He is speaking here of race, much as the one Dale Earnhardt was involved in… . The Bible tells us that in this great race there is a "cloud of witnesses" out there.

This cloud includes Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Samson and we could go on. Paul was referring to the ancient games of that day, with thousands cheering in the amphitheater.

There were 200,000 spectators at the NASCAR race, but we are surrounded by unseen spectators. I don't know, but I believe, that many of our loved ones who have gone on before are in that cloud of witness. So Paul says, "Let us lay aside every weight." This is a challenge. If we are going to run the race and do what God has called us to do, would must run that Christian race with fervor. The fervor of a Dale Earnhardt. Now, that's a lot.

The only way to achieve the goal is to run, keeping our sights on the goal, and move on with enthusiasm. We have more to be excited about than anybody else. We need to run with dedication and commitment and patience, which in the Greek means "persistence." I was on the track team one time, and my legs got so sore. But I decided, no matter what, I would finish the race, and God helped me to.

Dale Earnhardt said, "I don't want them to beat me." The great terror in racing, they say, was to look in your rearview mirror and see Dale Earnhardt coming up. You know, there can only be one winner each year for the Winston Cup. But the good news, folks, is that we can all be winners through the Lord. We can all win the race. But we have to get rid of those hindrances, those things that weigh us down all that is contrary to the will of God.

Everything must go. The average Christian runs and stumbles and wanders. The problem is that Christians do not go on. They don't maintain serious Bible study and prayer. The little girl who fell out of her bed one night said to her mother, "I was too close to the place where I got in." We stumble because we stay too close to the place where we got in. We are not going on in the race.

The only person who can run this race is someone who loves the Lord. We can lean on the Lord Jesus Christ, lean on His word and be saved. Paul, writing to the church in Galatia [Galatians 5:7], says, "Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?" He is saying, "You ran well, but something happened. You quit running." Have you been weighted down? The witnesses are cheering, encouraging us, and we need to move out in faith.

A lot of things go wrong. Christians should not be carrying the weights of sin around. They stop you from winning the race. The young lady came up to the pastor and said, "Is it all right to dance?" He said, "Sure it is, if you don't want to win." Dale Earnhardt wanted to win. The criterion is, "Are there things in my life that keep me from winning the race?" If there are sins that weigh us down, then they ought to go.

One of the sins, of course, is our unbelief. I'm not going to say what you can and can't do. The Bible tells you all of that. And as we lay aside those weights, we need to look unto Jesus and His holy life, His perfection, love and patience. See what He endured on the cross. We can't run the race alone.

Next week: a sermon at a Maryland congregation.

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