Archive for August, 2015

The Race Begins

August 3, 2015

I love sports. I love them. I started running cross country and track when I was in the 5th grade and I still run 5 miles a day, 5 days a week. I grew up with the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati in the 1970s. I watched Secretariat win the Triple Crown. When I graduated from Terre Haute North High School in 1979, I watched Larry Bird lead Indiana State to the NCAA basketball championship game vs. Magic Johnson and Michigan State. I moved to Detroit in 1991 to pastor a church there right after the Pistons had won back to back NBA titles, and I lived there when the Red Wings won a Stanley Cup. When I lived in San Diego, I watched Kawai Leonard play for San Diego State University before he helped the San Antonio Spurs win an NBA title. I love March Madness. I play fantasy baseball and fantasy football with my two sons. I love sports movies like Moneyball, Remember the Titans, Sea Biscuit, and Hoosiers. I love the competition, the hard work, the drive, and the determination. I love the struggle to overcome obstacles and push yourself and your team to succeed. I love it when the gun goes off to start the race and when the runners cross the finish line.

Today, I am beginning a new race. My wife Kim and I have felt called to move back home to Terre Haute, Indiana, to join what God is doing in Vigo County. I started today as the new pastor of the Northside Community Church across from North High School in Terre Haute (www.northsidecommunityumc.com) and as the pastor of the Emmanuel Methodist Church in West Terre Haute, about a mile north of St. Mary of the Woods College. It feels like my younger days when I would line up at the starting line, with energy and anticipation running through my veins, waiting for the gun to go off.

Sports are a metaphor for the Christian life. We see references in the Bible that describe following Jesus to running a race. For example:
• 1 Corinthians 9:24 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.”
• Galatians 2:2 says, “I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.”
• Galatians 5:7 says, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?”
• 2 Timothy 4:7 says, “I fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
• Hebrews 12:1 says, “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.” And
• Ecclesiastes 9:11 says, “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong.”

Athletes spend more time in practice than they do in their actual games. They know that if they want to succeed in their games, a lot of training is required. They have to eat right. They have to get enough sleep. They have to take care of their bodies. They have to run and lift weights. They have to develop skills and hand-eye coordination. You can be born with all the athletic talent in the world, but if you are not willing to practice, if you are not willing to work hard, you won’t become a great athlete. It takes a lot of perseverance, persistence, and determination. You have to keep going even during those times when you feel like giving up.

The Christian life is the same way. Just as athletes must go through physical practices, Christians need to go through spiritual practices. Spiritual practices include things like scripture, solitude (prayer), Sabbath, stewardship, service to the community, hospitality to the stranger, and fasting. If we want to be strong Christians, we have to develop our spiritual muscles every day. This is not always easy. Some days, we feel tired. Sometimes, we get discouraged. Some months, we just want God to do everything for us. Developing our spiritual muscles is a daily discipline. It means denying ourselves things that would weaken us, in order that we might reach our potential and become stronger. It means developing certain habits and disciplines that are not flashy or sexy or that will gain us a lot of attention. It means staying focused on the prize, the race, and the goal that God has set before us. It is not always easy, but it can always be rewarding.

So, I am lining up at a new starting line, ready to begin a new race. I am eager to see what this race will be like, how it will unfold, and what the Holy Spirit will do before we cross the finish line. I would like to invite you to begin this race with me. If you live in or near Vigo County in Indiana, I invite you to come this Sunday, August 9, to the Northside Community Church at 9:00 am or to the Emmanuel Methodist Church at 11:00 am. And I’ll be there most every Sunday morning after that.

When you first start running, it’s hard, because your muscles aren’t used to it. But, after you’ve been running for a long time, it becomes natural. Your body begins to do it even without thinking. Our journey with Jesus is the same way. When you first begin, it’s hard. It can feel awkward and unnatural and tiring. But, after you’ve developed your spiritual muscles, it becomes natural, and you run the race without even thinking about it.

The starting gun goes off this Sunday morning. The race is beginning. I would be honored if you would run with me. I have a sense that this race is important. I believe this race matters. I believe something significant is going to happen in this race. And I would love to have you running with me.

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