Running the Race (Lebanon PC Homecoming 2022)
Some of you may be runners… I know there are lots of people today who exercise by jogging or running. There are people who spend all kinds of money buying special shoes, shirts, shorts… all kinds of equipment for running! But I’m not one of them. I’ve never been good at running… partly because of weak ankles… My ankles tend to bend over on me when I run, and that causes me to fall. I’ve never been the most coordinated person to begin with: I’m a klutz at times. But the main reason I don’t run is because I choose to walk… I prefer walking… I’ll run if I have to… but if you see me running, you probably should start running too!
Of course, God‘s word uses lots of images that relate to life… And one of the more enduring and famous images from God’s word is that of running.
1 Corinthians 9:24: The apostle Paul says, “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!“
Philippians 3:14, Paul, again, still using his race imagery, says, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.“
2 Timothy 4:7... speaking of himself, Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
And to run the race, in Christian terms, is to do just that... it’s to keep the faith. It’s to stay the course… it’s to remain faithful to Christ to the end.
Of course, some of the greatest “runners” - some of the most popular, powerful people we’ve ever known (or heard of), will be remembered as failures, because even though they started strong, or they accomplished much… they stumbled along way.
I think of Richard Nixon, “I’m not a crook.” I think of people from the sports world like Mike Tyson, and O.J. Simpson. From the religious world, people like Jimmy Swaggart or Jim & Tammy Faye Baker who fell from grace…
And before you think otherwise, I’m not hinting nor suggesting in any way, shape, form, or fashion, that any of these people were (or are) beyond redemption, and forgiveness, and second chances. They’re simply well known examples of people who have fallen...
Of course, turning to our scripture from Hebrews 12, there’s several key thoughts that I wanna point out today - I think they’re relevant for us. If we’re going to run the race for Christ… If we’re going to finish the course and endure with perseverance till the end… Then we need to understand what Paul was trying to tell us here in our scripture lesson.
And the very first thing he tells us, is we’re under surveillance. We’re being watched! The King James version says we are, “encompassed about with a great cloud of witnesses.” We’re surrounded on all sides, by the Saints of old… “The Communion of the Saints.” They’ve set the example of a faithful life of endurance… And having finished their own race, having now received their reward.
The cemetery here at Lebanon, it’s filled with memorials to people who have “run their race, and finished their course.” People who prepared the way for you and me… People who taught us what it means to follow Christ. And they’re still surrounding us, still encouraging us, cheering us on, as we run our own race in Christ.
Of course, the scripture also reminds us, that if we’re gonna run this race of faith effectively, and efficiently, in order to win... we’ll have to get rid of some stuff in our life. Some baggage, some unneeded weight. We need to throw off everything that hinders. Be it some old indiscretion that weighing us down and holding us back, things from our past that we’re ashamed of… maybe even sin that’s currently slowing us down.
Paul tells us it will take endurance, perseverance to run this race… patience. The Christian life it’s not a sprint. It’s not a relay. It’s a marathon.
And if we intend to complete this marathon, if we desire to live a life that’s pleasing to God and worthy of heaven, we cannot take our eyes off the goal… Jesus Christ. I’m absolutely convinced, that the reason so many good, Christian men and women, stumble and fall is because they took their eyes off Christ.
When you and I take our eyes off Christ, we’re putting our faith our trust our hope, either in ourselves, or in this world... and that spells disaster for people of faith. You simply can’t run… You can’t finish the race of life without the giver of life. We must rely on the “author and finisher” (the author and perfecter) of our faith. We have to rely on Christ to see us through.
And keeping our eyes on Christ is so important, it simply can’t be over stressed. Back in the 1940s there were three great preachers in America… Chuck Templeton, Byron Clifford, and Billy Graham. Of course, Billy Graham is one we all recognize today. But believe it or not, the other two preachers were actually better known and attracted larger crowds at their crusades in the 1940s than Billy Graham. In fact, many people believed that Clifford was the most gifted preacher the world has ever seen.
But by 1950, Chuck Templeton had left the ministry all together… even deciding that he didn’t believe in Jesus anymore. 1954, Byron Clifford had lost his family, his ministry, his health… and he died an alcoholic, at the age of 35, in a rundown hotel in Texas.
Our scripture lesson from Hebrews is telling us, it showing us, that living the Christian life isn’t necessarily easy. It takes time, persistence and perseverance... like a marathon with lots of obstacles in the way... where many begin the race, but not all finish.
Those people who keep records, and work with statistics… tell us that 1 out of 10 people who enter the ministry (only one out of 10) will stick with it until retirement! Of course, the same thing is true of the laity. How many people can you think of your own life… just in the time we’ve been Christians… How many people have joined the church, committed themselves Christ… work for a while… and quit. I can name a dozen right now, who for whatever reason, gave up… They quit running the race.
A Catholic priest, a Baptist preacher, and a Presbyterian minister, we’re all talking one day about how to get rid of bats in their church attics. The Catholic priest said he tried to smoke them out, but it didn’t do any good. The Baptist preacher said he tried to preach him out, but that didn’t get rid of him either. So the Presbyterian minister spoke up, said he found the perfect way to get rid of bats in the attic. He just baptized them all, and never came back.
We laugh to keep from crying.
Our calling... is to keep running, and trusting - to keep on course, to keep “pressing on” toward the prize.
God is always with us, and Christ blesses us, and others encourage us: but ultimately, it’s up to us to stay on course: with the help of God’s Spirit. We’ve gotta keep our focus on Christ... keep our eyes on the cross.
If we do - we’ll make it - we’ll cross the finish line - we’ll win!
And we’ll hear those words, those wonderful and precious words that so many who’ve gone before us have already experienced: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, well done.”