June 4, 2017

Yesterday was our 7th Annual 5K.  Many folks came out to run the race.  Just as a wide variety of people entered – young, old, male, female - the reasons people entered also varied.  Some had trained, were competitive, and sought a trophy or medal.  Some just wanted the chance to do something they enjoy with other people.  Others wanted to support our church.  And a few entered for all three reasons.  Then there were volunteers who helped by bringing refreshments, accepting entries, and directing runners, a timekeeper, family and friends who came just to cheer on those who were running, and of course, me, the race director.  Each and every person was important to making the whole event a success.

The apostle Paul often compared living for Christ, and all it entails, to running a race.  So let’s us also see what comparisons we can make between running a 5K and living our lives for the Lord.  First of all, does everyone who says they are going to run a 5K actually run it?   Of course there are some that will say right away, “3 miles???  You’ve gotta be kidding!”, or “If you see me running, you better look behind me, because there must be something chasing me”.  But there are others that might at least consider it.  Perhaps as an excuse to get a pair of high-tech running shoes and some other fancy gear.  Or maybe because they think it will help them shed a few pounds.  Or maybe just because it is the current ‘in’ thing to do.  But once they realize it takes some serious training and commitment, the shoes might still be worn to make them look like a runner, but never experience any serious pavement pounding.  When compared to what it takes to be a Christian, these are the folks the Lord is talking about in Matthew 7 where He says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’  Wearing running clothes doesn’t make you a runner, any more than wearing the label of a Christian, and even throwing Christ’s name around, makes you a Christian. 

But maybe you have a friend that has taken up running, and even though you decided it wasn’t for you, this friend persisted, and encouraged you to give it a try.  “I tried it, and it was awful” you say, but she doesn’t give up.  “Where did you try running?” she asks.  “Just on the streets around my house.  I made it two blocks, and turned around and walked home” you answer.  So she invites you to try joining her on a run down her favorite trail through the woods.  Finally, just to make her happy, you agree.  Next day the sun is shining, there is a gentle breeze in the air, and the two of you take off down the trail.  The birds are chirping, a squirrel sits up to watch you, a scent of honeysuckle wafts across your path.  Pretty soon you see a bench, and ask if you can stop.  So you sit on the bench, thinking you ran two blocks, and she tells you that you actually went twice that far.  “Really?  That wasn’t so bad…” you respond.  And you start to rethink the whole running thing.   Sometimes the idea of living for Christ isn’t presented to us as something that is actually enjoyable.  Some people make giving up sin, attending church, and studying God’s Word sound like pure drudgery.  But that is not how Christ presented it.  Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  (John 10:10)  We cling to sins that we think will make us happy, but will only bring us misery.  We don’t attend church because we think it is a waste of an hour, but it actually is the best hour of the week, because our spirits are revived, refreshed, and renewed.  We don’t read God’s Word because we think it is boring and outdated, but it actually makes us wise, strong, and gives us hope. 

So you decide maybe you didn’t give running enough of a chance.  And you and your friend go out a second time, and a third, and a fourth.  After a month, you found out you can actually go a whole mile without a bench break.  Something you never thought you could do.  You start to eat healthier.  You discover you sleep better at night.  And – surprise, surprise – you now actually start to look forward to your next run.  What changed?  Some would say you’ve ‘caught the bug’.  And what does ‘catching the bug’ equate to in the Christian life?  Let’s see… Your outlook has changed, and what you craved before is not what you crave now.  Your energy level is up.  You experience what Wesley called having your heart be strangely warmed.  In running that might be endorphins, but in the Christian walk, that is the Holy Spirit!  The Holy Spirit takes up residence inside you when you accept Jesus, and starts to inspire positive changes from within. 

So now you are a Christian, and you are ready to run the race for God.  When a runner signs up for their first 5K, they don’t go back and lay on the couch, and eat junk food and drink soda all day.  Not if they intend to cross the finish line!  They train.  They build up their strength and endurance.  They eat clean, drink lots of water, and get enough rest.  How do Christians train for living their lives for Christ?  They study God’s Word and they pray to build up their spiritual strength.  They don’t feast on mental and spiritual junk, but feed their minds and their spirits with the true bread from heaven (John 6:32).  They drink the water of life which Jesus said He would give to all who come to Him (John 4:14).  They rest in His grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).  And as runners join a running group to stay motivated and to be encouraged, Christians join a church where they receive the same benefits.  But both runners and Christians must be careful to avoid people that are going to ridicule their efforts, minimize their progress, and cause them to eventually give up.

Yet even with all of this, there will be tough times.  In a runner’s life, they go through periods of injury and recovery, as well as illness, overloaded work schedules which cut into training time, frustration at slow progress, lack of energy, or being drawn away by a diversion of some sort.  Maybe they finished a race slower than they had hoped, or didn’t win the medal they had hoped for.  Perhaps they made a wrong turn on the course of a race, and ended up having to backtrack.  Or maybe they had to miss a race altogether they had really wanted to enter.  But that is what separates the true runners from the wannabes.  A true runner will get back out there, and will get past that injury even if it takes time to get back to the level they were at when it happened.  True runners don’t give up.  And neither do true Christians.  Christians also experience times of great spiritual strides, as well as deep dark valleys where it seems God’s presence is nowhere to be found.  But God is with us through the good times and the bad, and will see us to the finish line, so that like the apostle Paul, we will be able to say, “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.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)  So stay on course, and win that crown!  Amen.