FINISH STRONG 7-15-18
July 15, 2018
Last month Mazon UMC held it’s 8th Annual 5K, and this month Braceville UMC will hold its 1st. As the director for these races, and as a runner myself, I have seen many similarities to running in a race and living a life for Christ, as did the apostle Paul. In our first Scripture reading (Hebrews 12:1-3) Paul tells us to be determined to run the race ahead of us, and to keep our eyes on Jesus so we don’t get discouraged and give up.
Of course, before you can run in a 5K, or any other type of running race, you have to enter. In our Christian life, we enter when we repent of our sin, and ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, committing our life to Him. A runner that doesn’t pay the entry fee and sign the registration form can run alongside the runners that did enter, but when he gets to the finish line expecting to win a prize, there won’t be one. His name will not be on the list when the rewards are calculated. Likewise, someone can serve in a church all his life, but if he never truly gave His heart to Jesus and put his faith in Him for salvation, his name will not be in the Lamb’s Book of Life; and not only will he not receive any heavenly rewards, but he won’t even be allowed into heaven.
Some folks think it will be fun to run a 5K, but once they discover it isn’t as easy as it looks, decide not to enter. They also will never collect any heavenly rewards, nor see the inside of heaven.
Then there are those who enter, and even go the first half mile or so, and then quit. When the placements are posted, they will see a DNF after their name, which stands for ‘Did Not Finish’. The apostle Paul warns about this in our third Scripture reading (1 Corinthians 9:24-26). He encourages us to run to win, and not to be disqualified. That means we have to be dedicated and willing to train. And as Christians, we also have to be willing to train, because living a life for Christ in a world dominated by sin is not easy. That is why Paul said to keep our eyes and our minds on Christ, because sin can easily trip us up. But even if it does we have to keep going. When I ran a half-marathon back in 2010, during the very first mile I tripped on a pothole and fell, hitting my chin on the pavement. But I got back up and finished the race, with blood dripping from my chin the whole time. We can also fall in our spiritual race. King David fell, and fell hard. In 2 Samuel 11 you can read how he took his eyes off of God and set them on the wife of Uriah. First he slept with her and got her pregnant, and then he had Uriah killed so he could marry her. And this was someone whom the Bible called a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22)! David did get back up and finish the race, but his fall cost him greatly. An injured runner cannot finish as strong as he had hoped he would. An ounce of prevention as they say…
The first two lines in our Call to Worship were “For some the race is short - for others it’s quite long. Either way the goal is to finish running strong”. Some folks receive Christ when they are young and serve Him for decades. They, in essence, are running a marathon, or even an ultramarathon. It takes a great deal of spiritual stamina, endurance, and strength to stay on course for so many years. Without proper nutrition it would be impossible. Seasoned runners know the importance of carbs to fuel the body during a long race. Christians need the bread of life to keep their spirits strong. Jesus told us that He is the bread of life, the bread that gives life to our spirits and keeps them energized so they can live forever (John 6:51). Runners also need water. They must stay hydrated throughout the race. If they do not, they risk suffering fatigue, headaches, decreased coordination, and muscle cramping – or even worse, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Christians need living water, the Holy Spirit. We receive the Holy Spirit the moment we put our faith in Jesus, but just like keeping the water in a bottle and never taking a drink won’t keep a runner hydrated, unless we allow the Holy Spirit to permeate our hearts and minds, our lives as Christians will become dehydrated.
Some folks receive Christ late in life. I didn’t start running until I was 46 years old. I had to train before I could even attempt a 5K. My first few runs were only a half mile and I felt like I was never going to be able to go further. My body was not accustomed to running and my muscles and lungs needed to gradually adapt to this new endeavor. Those who accept Christ after years of living in the world also need to train for living a new way. Holiness is a gradual process, that takes discipline and conditioning. Paul told Timothy to train himself for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). A Christian can’t expect to go out and live like a saint the moment he receives Christ, any more than a non-runner who decides to run can go out the next morning and run a marathon. A Christian must commit to spiritual training, to following the Word of God and the direction of the Holy Spirit, and purposely avoiding sin; just as a dedicated new runner must commit to physical training, following a strict regimen of appropriate exercise and a healthy diet, avoiding the pitfalls that will derail his efforts.
The Bible never promises it will be easy. Jesus said to his disciples, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). A Roman cross used for crucifixion weighed about 300 lbs. The crossbeam that those about to be crucified were often required to carry weighed 100 lbs. Either way, it was not light! If you are going to finish strong, you need to not only have the endurance to run, but the strength to carry your cross as well. But God can give you that strength. Our second Scripture reading God promised us that “He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless”. And reminded us that “Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31).
So no matter the length of the race before you, go out, run your race, and finish strong! Amen.
Video: "Running" (Hillsong) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrSwSG65ggY