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I was privileged to be a part of the Reviving the Passion of Preaching Conference in Hattiesburg, MS this week and had the opportunity of hearing my friend, Dr. Dean Register, pastor of Crosspoint Community Church, preach an amazing sermon on Hebrews 12: 1-3.

In the sermon the Hattiesburg pastor told a story about an incredible Australian by the name of Cliff Young. Each year in Australia the nation hosts a 543.7-mile (875 kilometer) endurance race, an ultra-marathon, from Sydney to Melbourne. As you can imagine, the five-day event is one of the most grueling, unremitting foot races in the world.

As you can image, the race is normally only attempted by world-class athletes who train especially for the event. These athletes, generally in their 20s, had huge corporate backing from sporting goods companies like Nike, Adidas, Brooks, and Champion. One of the competitors in the run was Siggy Bauer, who had previously set the 1,000-mile world record in South Africa.

In 1983, a 61-year-old potato farmer by the name of Cliff Young showed up at the start of the race. He did not come to watch the race, but to be a participant. He was not decked out in typical running paraphernalia, but the scrawny, socially awkward farmer wore overalls and gumboot galoshes. He had cut holes in his overalls for ventilation and had no teeth explaining as to how his false teeth rattled when he ran.

The race officials must have looked at him incredulously as he picked up his race number and joined the other runners. In fact, he was generally welcomed with derision and disdain. When the gun sounded to start the race he surely looked out of place among all the trim, well-trained, younger professional athletes.

An article about the race in www.elitefeet.com reported, “The press and other athletes became curious and questioned Cliff. They told him, ‘You're crazy, there's no way you can finish this race.’ To which he replied, ‘Yes I can. See, I grew up on a farm where we couldn't afford horses or tractors, and the whole time I was growing up, whenever the storms would roll in, I'd have to go out and round up the sheep. We had 2,000 sheep on 2,000 acres. Sometimes I would have to run those sheep for two or three days. It took a long time, but I'd always catch them. I believe I can run this race.’"

In the first 100 meters the professional athletes left Cliff in a cloud of dust. The farmer didn’t have a smooth stride, but more of a shuffle. However, what he was lacking in style and technique, he made up for in determination.

The professional runners knew that the race took approximately five days to complete, so they paced themselves and ran for approximately 18 hours each day and slept six hours each night. Cliff was not aware that the runners had the option of sleeping at night, so he continued to run both day and night. One reporter claimed that while the other racers got six hours of sleep, Young did get two hours. However, the point is that while he got off to a dismal start, he gained ground at night while the others slept. Each night he edged closer to the leaders in the race. He ran 200 miles in the first 48 hours and as the race progressed the media began to report that the tortoise was outrunning the hares.

According to elitefeet.com, “By the final night, he had surpassed all of the young, world-class athletes. He was the first competitor to cross the finish line and he set a new course record (and beat the rest of the field by 10 hours.

“When Cliff was awarded the winning prize money, he said he didn’t know there was a prize and insisted that he did not enter for the money. He ended up giving all of his winnings to several other runners, an act that endeared him to all of Australia.”

Young’s race may go down as the greatest run in history. The Australian reported, “In breasting the tape at Doncaster, in Melbourne’s east, the sexagenarian had covered 875km in five days, 14 hours and 35 minutes – the equivalent of almost four marathons a day – shattering the previous race record by more than two days.”

What is the point of the editorial? I could say that we have heard so much about the Nike Corporation lately that I am weary of it; and you don’t have to wear Nike products to win a race. You could wear gumboot galoshes, if you have the determination and courage to be a winner. But that is not the point of this editorial.

Here is the point!

In Pastor Register’s sermon on Hebrews 12 he made three salient observations: (1) We need to learn from the legacy of previous runners, (2) We must let go of the stuff that holds us back, and (3) We must keep our focus where it belongs.

I really appreciate sermons with appropriate illustrations. I had a very wise pastor tell me once that good illustrations shed light on God’s eternal truths. I will remember Dean Register’s sermon for a long time because it was accented with riveting illustrations that beautifully highlighted God’s Word.

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