June 5, 2016

                   Yesterday was our 6th Annual 5K.   We started this annual event back in 2011, and it has not only been a good fundraiser, but it reaches out to the local community and beyond with the Word of God, as we have Bible verses on our mile marker signs:

These verses encourage folks to put their hope in the Lord, not merely their own strength, as well as to run for a prize and to finish the race.  Of course, they apply to more than just the 5K, for our entire Christian life is a race of sorts.  So what can we learn about it from a running a 5K?

          Nowadays there are running races nearby every weekend of the year, so how do you decide which one to enter?  Life is the same.  There are many religions from which to choose, all promising that their finish line ends in heaven.  But Jesus said there is only one way to the Father in heaven, and that is through Him (John 14:6).  He is the race director you need to pre-register with.  And the good news is that it is free!  Ephesians 2:8 says, "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it."  If you put your faith in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, you are entered in the race to heaven.  But of course you are not on the finish line just yet.  You still have miles to run here on earth.

          The difference between awards for our 5K and the Christian race is that the trophies don't go to the fastest, but to those who ran the best.  For while the entry fee is free, and the Holy Spirit guarantees we will make it to the finish line, what we do between the time that the starting gun goes off and we cross that finish line will determine our heavenly rewards.  And the apostle Paul encourages us to run in such a way that we get the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24). 

          Naturally in any race, one of the most important things is to stay on course.  We mark every crossroad and turn on our 5K course with large yellow arrows so the runners stay on course.  We also station volunteers along the course to help guide and encourage the runners, some which hand out water so the runners stay hydrated.  In the Christian race, the course is clearly marked out in God's Word.  We need to follow it closely to avoid any wrong turns.  Straying off course wastes valuable time and energy, and sometimes it can take years to find your way back.  Believe me, I can testify to that myself!  But be assured that if the race director (which is Jesus) sees that a runner has veered off course, He will go after him until he is successfully brought back on course.  Thank God for that!

          And the volunteers along the way are the pastors, as well as Christian family and friends, which the race director has placed in your life to keep you on track.  They encourage you to keep running, offer refreshment for your soul, and warn you of obstacles, places, and people on the route that could easily lead you off course.

          Wearing the proper shoes, clothes, and extras also helps a runner to do his best.  In Ephesians chapter 6 we find the proper attire for running in the Christian race.  The apostle Paul encourages us to "be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power" by putting "on the full armor of God".  This includes: "The belt of truth and the body armor of God's righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God"  It may seem like a lot of gear, but I have seen runners loaded down with garmins, fitbits, heartrate monitors, iTunes, compression garments, vests and belts that carry water, and the like, and they swear all of these help them train and run their best.  So we too must be properly armed with God's gear.

          Once we are properly attired and geared up, how should we run?  I know some runners who get off to a fast start, but because they didn't pace themselves, they quickly burn out.  Often this is the case with new Christians as well, who start off on fire for the Lord, but then lose their enthusiasm as the road wears on.  Then there are runners who only care about their personal run and their time, and would never stop to help another runner who was struggling.  This is not the way to run the Christian race.  Instead of costing us seconds and a possible medal, turning our attention to helping someone else instead of pursuing our own glory actually brings more rewards in the end.  And in competition runs here, the less that enter the better your own chances; but in the Christian race, we are to encourage people to enter by accepting Christ, and running the race with us.  The more that enter, the greater the rewards for all concerned.  And don't forget all those ˜volunteers' who help you along the way.  Instead of just grabbing that cup of spiritual water, downing it in a hurry, and tossing it on the ground, a word of thanks can mean a great deal, and it won't cost you a valuable second off your time, but will only add to your future prize.

          So in conclusion, I pray that the day will come, when all of us here can also say as the apostle Paul did in 1 Timothy 4:7-8, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me - the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of His return."  Are you looking forward to crossing the finish line and receiving your crown?  Believe me, it will far surpass all of the medals and trophies you could possibly win here on earth put together.  And it will be worth each and every minute that you ran, no matter how difficult the course.  So on your mark, get set, GO!  Amen.