Running The Race

I have been angry and grieving this week. A fellow pastor and former co-worker was arrested for terrible crimes. I have been struggling with this in the company of friends and other pastors. 

·  On the one hand, I want to rage at this kind of alleged terrible sin – and I think I should, honestly. Not being angry would be a problem. Yet I too am a sinner – so does this make me a hypocrite? Am I allowed to judge?

· How do we condemn sin in a way that shows we understand why God hates it so much, and yet respond to sinners in a way that shows them how God loves them so much that He took their eternal punishment?

·  How do we balance the fact that God will forgive but courts probably won’t, and both of those are cases of what justice looks like in God’s good world?

·  The scandalous nature of the gospel is that God offers mercy and salvation to everybody, from the nicest person you’ve ever met to the worst. We all drink the water of life from the same well of grace. 

I want to run from this topic because I’ve had a hard time trusting my own thoughts and feelings this week. I want to avoid this because I could misrepresent God by projecting my opinions onto Him. But based on the comments I have seen, Christians are struggling with cynicism about their church leadership and even their faith, and non-Christians are confident this is just another reason that religion ruins everything. So, I feel like I need to walk into this instead of away from it, and I invite you into this process.

So, here we go. I am not going to talk about the allegations against this fallen pastor. I am going to talk about the importance of running the race well, and what God has put in place in this world to help us do it. 


Paul said the he disciplined himself so that he would not be knocked out of the race (1 Corinthians 9:27). Like an Olympic athlete, He subjected his body (the ‘flesh’) through moral training. Paul, of all people, knew about the transformative and ongoing power of God in his life. He knew that grace is a miraculous gift, not something he earned. Yet he work hard – he invested sweat equity - not to earn his salvation or impress God, but to give everything he had as a response of worship and love to His savior. He wanted to live in such a way that sin and hypocrisy would not undermine his mission, his momentum and his message.  

He “died daily” (I Corinthians 15:31); he counted the cost (Luke 14:28) and took up the cross (Luke 9:23). He knew what this meant. The Christian life would be hard, but there was a joy set before Him as he followed in the footsteps of Jesus, and that was all that mattered. That joy is the fruit of obedience and thus experiencing the fullness of life in the Kingdom on this side of heaven. 

We read last week in Hebrews 12:1 -  “Since we stand surrounded by an enormous cloud of all those who have gone before, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us.” I want to follow up on that this morning.   

First point: If you aren’t a Christian – if you aren’t a runner in this race - please don’t pretend you are.There’s an entire commandment about this: Don’t take God’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7). The word vain can mean “empty,” “nothing,” “worthless,” or “to no good purpose.” We are not to take (or bear) the name (reputation) of God in a way that is wicked, worthless, or for wrong purposes.[1]  

Don’t take the name of God in vain.Don’t claim his mantle; don’t shoulder His reputation; don’t write Team Jesus on your track suit and pretend you are running a race toward heaven and holiness when in reality you are not trying to do that; don’t align yourself with this King and this Kingdom unless you plan to put your hand to the plow and not look back (Luke 9:62).

The choice is yours, of course. You don’t have to have made a commitment to follow Jesus in order to be welcome in this church and in my life. We will love you; I will love you. You bear God’s image. You have value, worth and dignity. Just don’t pretend. Please. Tell us who you are and where you are at. We are going to pray and pursue you because we want to see you give your life to Jesus and be transformed into the image of Jesus, but we aren’t going to hate you or push you away because you aren’t there yet. Jesus didn’t do that. We won’t do that. Just don’t pretend. Be honest with us. 

Second point: Don’t enter the race if you aren’t willing to actually run.Jesus warned his disciples to count the cost – which is everything. There is nothing in you that will remain untouched if you genuinely follow Jesus. He will take everything: your money, your loves, your priorities, your sexuality, your speech, your dreams, your relationships, your things, your time, your energy; your entertainment; your friends; your work; your hobbies: surrender everything or surrender nothing.

 “What must I do to follow you, Jesus?”

 “You? Rich young law-abiding ruler who still loves money? I need your money. Give me everything, or offer me nothing. I am a jealous God; I will not share you with other gods.” (Mark 10:17-27; Exodus 20:5)

 I’m not asking you to be perfect, and neither is the Bible. Look at the disciples. We imperfect people are in good company. But we imperfect people have also fixed our eyes on the finish line, and we have refused to stop hanging out with Jesus. We might be ugly, but we are enduring. We are growing, changing, being transformed into a holy reflection of Jesus. Repentance and restoration and moving deeper into the Kingdom are part of the testimony. 

Third point: We are goofy-looking runners, carrying crosses and climbing up on alters every day.There is nothing cool about us. We are covered in scars, and we stumble, and we are constantly shedding weights and sins. It iscool, though, to watch us recover; to watch us heal from even the most mortal wounds; to watch our technique improve and our times climb; to watch our teammate refuse to leave us. Every time something sets us back, it’s embarrassing, but we endure. We mature. We grow. 

Fourth point: We must be slow to determine what successful movement looks like for those who are with us in this race.  Some of us are sprinting; some of us are running; some are walking, some are crawling. Some of us are just sitting and staring, because it takes everything we’ve got just to fix our eyes on the author and the finisher of our faith. But what we all have in common is that we haven’t left the race. 

Jesus and the people of Jesus will help us up, will tend our wounds, will turn sitters into walkers and walkers into runners. It’s not my business to judge how fast you are moving right now; you will answer to God for what you are doing with what you have been given. It’s ugly to watch us sometimes. But we are growing – sometimes slowly, but always surely - in truth, honesty, transparency, repentance, forgiveness, purity, holiness, accountability, restoration, self-discipline, agape love.  

·  we are trying to understand what it looks like to treat everyone around us with honor, worth and dignity; 

·  we are trying to do justice and love mercy; 

·  we are trying to offer clean hands and pure hearts (Micah 6:8); 

·  we are surrendering ourselves to the discipline of running in a pack under the direction of Jesus, with the accountability, rebuke, encouragement, celebration and strengthening that comes with that;

·  we are lying exhausted in His arms as He carries us at times; 

·  we are learning how to walk again, and to let Him pick us up and dust us off, and then to run again... over and over…

Committed, surrendered endurance is the marker of whether or not we are serious about our faith. Not perfect endurance, but an endurance in which we do not give up moving toward God as we grow into the image of Jesus, even if it’s painfully slow.  

If you are struggling to endure, just be honest with us. Don’t pretend to be overcoming when you aren’t. Don’t act healthy when you know you are wounded. If you hit a part where you really feel like quitting, or you know you just haven’t cared, don’t hide from us. We are here for each other. Let us bear you burdens with you. There is no shame in honesty. God’s people are here to help us endure. 

Fifth Point: The American Church in general is struggling right now.Did you know that the United States is the country to which the most missionaries are sent? It’s not even close. We talk about other nations as if we are the strong sending helpers to the weak, but the rest of the world is sending their people to us, because they can see that the church in the United States is crumbling. [2]

Missionaries in America view the United States as a “Christian” nation in trouble. America has lost its spiritual fire with growing materialism, secularism, humanism, and sexual immorality. It is no longer a “city on a hill” or a “beacon of light,” and may even become like the now secular and “dark continent” of Europe. Although the United States is a predominately Christian and a dominant missionary-sending nation, it is framed as a nation that has lost its foothold as a leading Christian influence. Its churches are great in number, but they are weak in “Spirit.” Missionaries are therefore needed to bring spiritual revival in America.[3]

 I am hesitant to introduce myself as a pastor when I meet people. I’m not ashamed to be a pastor; it’s just that, if they are not in the church, they will dismiss me because there have been so many stories of blatant, hypocritical sin in the church. Their first thought is not, “Here is a man who might be able to help me.” What they hear is, “Hi, I’m a hypocrite, a charlatan, and maybe even a threat.” What they think is, “Stay away from my pocketbook and my kids.” There have been too many wolves in the flock, and most of them have worn that sheepskin costume convincingly.  


No amount of words is going to change this reputation, but dozens, then hundreds, then thousands, then millions of individual lives will, by the power and grace of God, change the narrative. This is going to happen by the power of God moving through our orthodoxy and orthopraxy: right beliefs and right actions.

Orthodoxy is True Belief (God, salvation, sin, humanity, creation). What we believe to be true about the world will steer the course of our lives.God has given us the Holy Spirit, His Word, and His people to guard and guide our minds.True belief is more than head knowledge, of course. You can know stuff and not have it make a lick of difference in your life (James 2:19; Matthew 7:21). But wisdom is knowledge rightly applied, and you need knowledge in order to rightly apply it.[4]We are transformed by the renewing of our minds, which has to with God working in us as we fill ourselves with truth. 

How do we fill ourselves with God’s truth? The Bible is the obvious answer; resources that help us understand the Bible better are the obvious companions. Here is a huge but incomplete list of recommendations. 

Bibles and Bible Study Aids

·      The Bible(I like The Voice on Bible Gateway)

·      Reformation Study Bible

·      The New Testament, An Expanded Translation– Kenneth S. Wuest 

·      The Book of God– Walter Wangerin (Not a translation. It’s the Bible as a novel.) 

·      Biblehub.com

·      Biblegateway.com

·      The Bible Project (thebibleproject.com). Everything here, frankly.

·      Precept Austin (preceptaustin.org) has TONS of resources.

·      Tim Keller’s series, “_______ For You” (insert book of the Bible name)

·      N.T. Wright’s series of books, which are simply titled after each book of the Bible he covers.

·      Shane Wood’s lecture series and sermons (shanejwood.com) #favorite

·      Paul Copan

·      Gary Habermas

·      John Walton – The IVP Bible Background Commentary;  The Lost World Of Scripture;  The Lost World Of Genesis 1

·      Sarah Ruden, Paul Among The People

·      E. Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien, Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes

·      D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies

·      Kevin DeYoung – Taking God At His Word

Christians With Godly Wisdom

·      Timothy Keller – The Reason For God; Making Sense Of God; The Meaning Of Marriage;  Generous Justice; The Prodigal Prophet; sermons and podcasts

·      Matt Chandler – The Explicit Gospel; The Mingling Of Souls; To Live Is Christ To Die Is Gain;  Creatures Of The Word;  sermons and podcasts at The Village Church

·      Greg Koukl - The Story Of Reality; Tactics; podcasts

·      J. Warner Wallace – Cold Case Christianity; God’s Crime Scene; website (coldcasechristianity.com). 

·      Nancy Pearcy – Saving Leonardo; Love Thy Body

·      Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcy – How Now Shall We Live

·      Kenneth Bailey – Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes

·      Francis Schaeffer – How Shall We Then Live

·      Lauren Winner – Real Sex

·      Dawn Eden – Thrill Of The Chaste

·      Dallas Williard – The Divine Conspiracy;   Renovation Of The Heart

·      Norman Geisler – Love Thy Neighbor

·      Andy Bannister – The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist

·      James K.A. Smith – You Are What You Love

·      Matthew Rueger – Sexual Morality In A Christless World

·      Phillip Yancey – The Jesus I Never Knew; The Bible Jesus Read; Where Is God When It Hurts;  Disappointment With God; What’s So Amazing About Grace; Prayer

·      C.S. Lewis – anything, really, but Mere Christianityespecially

·      John Stott – Basic Christianity 

·      Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God's Story– Michael Horton 

·      Concise Theology and Knowing God– J.I. Packer 

·      Foundations and The Holiness Of God– RC Sproul 

·      The Making Of An Ordinary Saint,Nathan Foster

·      Dietrich Boenhoffer

·      David Platt

·      John Lennox

·      Gary Habermas

·      Paul Washer

·      Alvin Plantinga

 

ORTHOPRAXY: RIGHT LIVING

This brings us to running the race. You can learn the details of the path of life in the above section. I want to talk about the practical side of it. What has God given to us to help follow him with integrity and consistency? This cannot be done with surrendering our lives to the lordship of Christ, so that we have the power of the shed blood of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the message of His Word, the Bible. These three things are foundational. I want to talk today about two other gifts God has given. They are on the front of my mind because they both have come up A LOT in my conversations with other Christians this week.

  1. Community.  Why?

Honesty with ourselves and transparency with others.We must “walk into” our lives and confront the skeletons in our closets. We will probably need other godly people to help us get them out. I was talking with friends this past week about the question of privacy and Christians. Frankly, if you signed up to follow Jesus, you signed up to be an open book- not to everybody, but at least to somebody. We keep our inside from going dark but constantly letting the light shine in. My wife has full access to my phone and my computer. She can pick them up at anytime. She has the right to ask me who an unknown texter is or why I thought that movie was okay to watch on Netflix. When I start to think, “I should remove this from my record, “ that’s a flag for me. We all need people who play this role in our life, and they should be in the church. 

o  Accountability for challenge and encouragement.I love how in Message Plus and small group I’m hearing more and more comments like this: “So, what’s the latest in that area? How are you doing?” Someone made themself accountable. It’s amazing how motivational that is. 

 Here is what it looks like in this church: I am one of three elders; there is an Elder advisory board. They know me. They are not “yes men” by any means. They have proven themselves very capable of holding my feet to the fire, and I theirs. Our small group leaders meet regularly and press into each others’ lives. All of us in leadership have a responsibility toward and an accountability to the other leaders. You have a responsibility toward us as well. If we sin against you, or you have concerns of a moral nature about any of us in leadership, you need to Matthew 18 us. 

o  Responsibility for others (The Ripple Effect).Do we consider who all is impacted by us? A commercial a number of years ago featured a girl who said, “When my brother committed a gun crime, he sentenced me to 5 years of walking to school alone.” I thought that was brilliant. 

I am responsible for those around me – I ammy brother’s keeper – because I am a steward of what God has given me, and I will give an answer for what I have done with it. It’s not just myself; it’s my wife, my kids, my friends, my congregation, my representation of Christ. I need to tame my tongue for the sake of my sons. I need to guard my heart for the sake of my wife. I need to curb my anger on FB for the sake of the witness of the gospel. It’s not just about me. It’s about us. When I signed up to follow Jesus I signed up to take care of his people. 

o  Cloud of Witnesses.Who is in your cloud of witnesses, and toward what do they inspire you? We all have a cloud around us. They model the good life for us; they set the bar of success and worth and value and of what’s important. Who is in your cloud of witnesses? Who do you wish you were? Whose life do you wish you had? Whose life inspires you?

 

Habits 

·   Song of Solomon 2:15  - “Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.” It’s an image that reminds us that we must catch the little things in our lives before they destroy what is meant to yield a bountiful harvest. There is a story that an old Cherokee was teaching his grandson about life. ‘A fight is going on inside me between two wolves. One is evil , the other is good. ‘Which wolf will win?’ ‘The one you feed.’”

 Will Durant once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” That sounds a lot like the Apostle Paul: “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. (1 Corinthians 9:27)

Eugene Peterson described the Christian walk as a “long obedience in the same direction.” There is also a long disobedience in the same direction. One leads to heaven; one leads to hell. We get where we are going one step at a time. [5]

Jesus; the Holy Spirit; the Bible; God’s people; our self-discipline (a fruit of the Holy Spirit) as we run. Committed endurance. Take the name of God seriously: for our good, for the sake of those around us, for the reputation of the church, and for God’s glory.

__________________________________________________________________________________

[1]https://www.crossway.org/articles/what-does-it-really-mean-to-take-the-lords-name-in-vain/

[2]https://www.quora.com/Christian-Ministry-Are-there-any-Missionaries-sent-to-the-US-from-other-countries

[3]https://blog.oup.com/2015/02/missionaries-america/

[4]Proverbs is all about this.

[5]This is why “spiritual disciplines are so important! https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-are-spiritual-disciplines