On your mark…get set…

This is rather lengthy, but I wanted to finish my thoughts on the “race”…
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”

    Perhaps this is a minor point, but I think it is an important one to mention: each of us has to run the race which God has set before us. In one sense, we are all running the same race: that of faithfulness to our calling to follow Christ. But in another sense we each have a particular race which God has set before US. We can’t run ANYONE ELSE’S RACE; we can’t run the race we WISH was ours; We can only run the race which is SET BEFORE US. We each have a different race. Mine is not yours; yours is not mine; ours is different from others’. We each have our own race, the one which God has set before us. You might wish that circumstances could be changed, and that you could run a different race, but you can’t. THE ONLY RACE YOU CAN RUN IS THE ONE WHICH IS SET BEFORE YOU! So determine to run the race that is set before you, whatever it is, with all that God gives you. You are not going to be judged because you didn’t run someone else’s race. You are going to be judged by how you ran the one that God chose to set in front of YOU! O.K. I think you get the point.
    I want to take a look at some directions in life with the Apostle Paul as he writes to the Philippian church; Philippians 3:12-21 – “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
    All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
    Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
    In this portion of Paul’s letter, I find some key words that speak of direction in life; First – Paul says, take a look backward – with the words “forgetting what is behind;” Then he takes a look forward with the words “straining toward what is ahead;” Next, he takes a look upward in the words “toward the goal for
which God has called me heavenward;” And, finally, he takes a look inward with the words “not that I have obtained all this, or been made perfect;” So, Paul looks at life backward, forward, upward, and inward, and so will we.
    I’m sure that you all have heard the saying; “You can’t be in two places at one time”…well, I’m not so sure that that is true. We, as Christians, have a unique role to play. We really are people who live in two places at one time. We are called to be human; born of the flesh, earth people; and, at the same time we are called by our new spiritual birth, to be heavenly people. That calling is to tell other “earth” people who live in this physical realm, of what the other “heavenly realm” is like and why they need to be a part of it!
    Look at the last part of verse 18 again; “many live as enemies of the Cross of Christ… their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, their mind is on earthly things.” “But” says Paul, “our citizenship is in heaven.” Even though we now live in a different land, a different place, a different country, a different planet called Earth, our true citizenship is in heaven. What is the problem with that?  Some are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good – And, some are so earthly minded that they are no heavenly good! It’s the problem of becoming so involved in the world’s philosophy, that instead of bringing heaven to earth, we let the earthly things rob us of our heavenly joy!
    It’s the danger of materialism or “having their minds on earthly things” as Paul puts it. It is the danger of sensual obsession – “Their  god is their stomach” says Paul, and we know that that can mean several things. It may literally mean food; it may mean lust; it may mean covetousness; it is a physical desire that is an obsession of any kind that comes before God and goes against His desire for our lives. When this happens, there is the danger as well of the world “infecting” the church more than the church is “affecting” the world! The Apostle Paul says when that happens it’s time to take a look around…and I am going to change the order just a bit;
    A look backward at sin; – It’s gone! It’s forgiven! It’s thrown “into the sea of for-getfulness, never to be remembered again!” We can’t play the “coulda, shoulda, woulda” game with the past. “Forget all that”, says Paul. Not that we should forget “from whence we came” but, don’t dwell on the past, nor live in the past. We can’t look back on the “good ole’ days” and depend on them today. We live in a different world, a different time, a different generation. We also can’t look back on our salvation and say, “That’s good enough” – God’s Word tells us that we need to “work out” our salvation. It’s O.K. to reminisce about the past, but the reality is, we live in the present, and we ought to be concerned about the future.
    Next, Paul takes an upward look. In this, Paul borrows on the analogy of an athlete. Paul is ready to fix his heart, mind, and soul, on the prize, on the goal. We must bear the pain of sacrifice and suffering, and the discipline of training and preparing, if we are to be winners for eternity. Walk the beach along the Ocean; pick up a single grain of sand; it represents an earthly, momentary, pleasure compared to eternity. We have a heaven-ward call that is worth far more than a single pleasure here on earth.
    Then Paul takes an inward look. By the way, there is a danger as well in looking back and looking up; and that is to become dissatisfied with where we are! This is why the mature experience teaches us to look inward to find balance. Paul says “I’m not there yet!” “I’m far from perfect!” “I have a lot to learn and do!” The Christian life is one of constant learning and growing. To stop growing is not a sign of maturity; it is a sign of arrested development.
    Finally, Paul looks forward. Back in verse 12 he says “I press on” and in verse 13 he says “I strain toward what is ahead.” The words in the Greek meant to “pursue relentlessly!” This isn’t a Sunday stroll in the park, this is a race, it’s a race against time; it’s a race against a more than able opponent, and, it needs to be run with diligence and determination until we cross the finish line. I have looked in the Bible, and although it says you can retire at age fifty, it is speaking of working, not learning; or growing; or running the race…the race is lifelong.
    Perhaps we could add one more; We need to take a look around, and see the number of people who don’t even know there is a race going on!
    1 Corinthians 9:24-27 “ Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
    In 1st. Timothy 4:7 it is explained very clearly. “Discipline yourselves for the purpose of godliness. For physical training is of some value, but godliness” – or Christ-likeness,“has value for both this life and the life to come.” I am talking about the disciplines in life that promote spiritual growth. They are what I would call the “habits” of devotion that have been practiced by people of God for over 2000 years. Have you developed any “habits” of discipline for the purpose of “godliness?”
     Whether it’s playing the guitar, playing football, becoming an expert carpenter,  a successful business man, or a master mom… we can decide that it’s just too much work and not worth the effort… or we can forget what we are, think about what we shall become, and discipline ourselves to do what it takes to get there!
    You see, discipline without direction is drudgery. If your vision of a disciplined Christian life is a grim, tight-lipped, joyless, half-robot, mixture of lemon and prunes kind of person…you’ve missed the point! That kind of person is more like pepper in the world than salt!
    2 Peter 1:3-12 says – “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.Through these he has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” ( Now, notice the progression of growth here…) “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness knowledge; and to knowledge self-control; and to self-control perseverance; and to perseverance godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love. For if you possess these things in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord”
    2 Timothy 2:5 – Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.
    Practice makes perfect. It is only when you practice at your skill that you can perfect your execution of it. Training requires self-discipline and commitment. You have to respect the game if you want to excel in it and be recognized as a worthy professional. You cannot cut corners. You cannot circumvent the rules. You have to be willing to compete with others on a level playing field and not seek a false advantage through illegal equipment or drug enhancement.
    There are rules of life. Jesus made them quite clear. “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)
    We need to pass on to the next generation the rules of life that we must follow if we are to win the victor’s crown. They need to know about faithfulness, integrity, commitment, sacrifice, generosity, compassion, self-control, kindness, patience and truthfulness. If we don’t pass them on our marriages, families, businesses, social and political life will deteriorate into chaos. We will all be losers for it. To be winners we need to follow the rules whether we like them or not. We are not here to make up the rules to suit ourselves. Winning requires the humility to recognize our limitations and to respect the One who has set the rules for us to follow.
    In 2 Timothy 4:6-7 the Apostle Paul, nearing the end of his life, wrote these words to his beloved Timothy; “For I am already being poured out like a drink  offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Go for the gold!


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