Run To Win!

Rev. James A. Splitt

Sermon Summary Ė February 13, 2000

Mark 1:40-45 [NIV] A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: "See that you donít tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.

I Corinthians 9:24-27 [NIV] 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. 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. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

"The ultimate measure of a person is not where he or she stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he or she stands at times of challenge and controversy" [Martin Luther King, Jr.].

Have you heard the story of Florence Chadwick? She was the first swimmer to swim the English Channel in both directions. Forty-seven years ago, on a July morning in 1952 she set out to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast a distance of 30 miles. She almost made it. A half-mile from Newport Beach she asked to be pulled out of the water. She was not a quitter, but she had lost sight of her goal. In fact she never did have sight of her goal. There was a dense fog that morning and it never lifted. To a reporter she made the following remark, "Look, Iím not excusing myself, but if I could have seen land I might have made it." Two months later she attempted the same feat. Again there was fog. But this time she had planted the sight of her goal in her mind. She won the race against herself and made the best time ever, beating the menís record by two hours. ["Keep Your Goals in Sight," A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul. p. 237].

"We can't let the fog of the world, the flesh and the devil obscure our goal from our eyes, the goal of being conformed to the image of Christ. Even if it appears we are swimming in pea soup, we must persevere by faith, knowing that the goal is still there, even if we cannot see it temporarily - we must proceed by faith." [see: Randy Walker [http://lists.spunge.org/inspirations/archive/msg00037.html]

Christians without goals are like Alice in Alice in Wonderland, when Alice comes to a junction in the road that leads in different directions, she asks the Cheshire Cat, Cheshire Puss...would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to go to," said the Cat. "I don't much care where," replied Alice. "Then it doesn't matter which way you go." [Lewis Carroll. Through the Looking Glass].

Paul saw himself in a race. The Greeks were noted for their passion for sports. Paul was writing to Christians in the Greek city of Corinth where athletic competitions were common place. So he used the analogy of a runner running the race to compare what it was like to run the race of life as a Christian. He used this same illustration in several writings:

Acts 20:24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me óthe task of testifying to the gospel of Godís grace. (Paulís farewell discourse to the Ephesian Elders, Acts 20:13-36)
Phil. 2:16 as you hold out the word of life óin order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.
Gal. 2:2 I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.
2Tim. 4:7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Hebr. 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

The illustration that Paul uses in his letter to the Corinthians conveys the point that we can become our own worst enemy if we allow ourselves to be defeated by the pressures of the world and allow our sinful nature to be in control. The pathway of discipleship is personal discipline. We run the race against ourselves. If we resort to self indulgence, we lose. If we give into our own desires and ignore the invitation of Christ, we lose. If we seek our own pleasure and look away from the stranger on the side of the road we lose. If we turn away from God and think we can do it on our own we lose. We forfeit the race. We lose the prize set aside for us by Jesus Christ. "The world invites us to climb ladders; the gospel invites us to lift crosses. What will you choose?" [Leonard Sweet. A Cup of Coffee at the Soul Cafť, p. 151].

I want to invite you to join in the race. Run to win! The race begins and ends at the feet of Jesus. It is a race for life. Eternal life is the reward for all who run and persevere to the end. This is a race in which you can stumble and fall all along the way. What matters is getting up again and continuing the race. It is a race of faith and grace. Our faith is the stamina, the determination, and the commitment needed to run the race to the finish. Godís grace is the gift of our omnipotent coach who cheers us along and picks us up when we are weary. We run in such away that our effort will not be in vain. What a waste if we live without faith.

Paul talks about strict training. Good parents set goals for their children to accomplish. One image I will always have of Dee Rohrig is how she encouraged her grandchildren to get their homework done. Her encouragement was real clear. Homework first! Before anything else, homework was completed and she would sign off on it. Trevor Hannah, our youth elder who was ordained today was named scholar athlete at Goshen H.S. He didnít get that award because heís lazy. He was selected because he is disciplined. Like his grandfather, Les, Trevor isnít a quitter. As a younger elder, Trevor is now a scholar athlete and servant of the living Christ. Strict training, disciplined discipleship is the key to winning the race of faith.

Paul uses two negative images to point out how important it is to be intentional in our faith. . Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. The idea of running aimlessly is like a chicken with its head cut off. Most of us have seen the movie Itís a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. George Bailey is a man overwhelmed by his problems. At the point of desperation he runs aimlessly through a blinding snowstorm. He wants to die. The idea of beating the air is like the gesture of one fighting for their life when drowning. These two images come alive in this movie. George Bailey has to lose his life in order to find it. Bailey comes upon a stranger ready to jump from a bridge in to the freezing water below. George ends up saving this stranger from drowning and in so doing meets Clarence the angel.

The wonderful life is the race of faith. With strict discipline and moments of grace we are able to run and win. It is so important that we take time for the reading of Godís word. In this race we need coaching and conditioning. If we neglect Godís word even for one day, we can get off course. It is important that we take time for worship and prayer. In this race we need the fellowship and encouragement of others who run the race with us so that we can celebrate the power of Christ in our life. It is important for us to seek a life of service and mission for others. We do not run for ourselves, but we run in order to give testimony to the power of Godís love in our life. Above all, we run in order to invite others to run with us. Paul invites us into this race with him. Run to win! Bring others to know the love and saving grace of Christ! We know what it means to walk the walk and talk the talk. Can we RACE THE RACE and GRACE THE GRACE? Indeed we can.

Amen!