Running the Race

In a few of his letters, the apostle Paul compared the Christian life to running a race.  It is a metaphor we often hear in sermons and devotionals.  The writer of the book of Hebrews probably made the clearest connection in Hebrews chapter 12.  “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Yes, the Christian life can be compared to running a race.  But here is a revelation you may not have thought about.  YOU STARTED THIS RACE WITH THE FINISH LINE BEHIND YOU!

Yes, the finish line is behind you.  The finish line was crossed by Jesus in your place at the cross.  Look at what He has already accomplished in you when you believed the gospel.

You are holy, “So as those who have been chosen by God, holy and beloved” (Colossians 3:12).

You are blameless, “Yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (Colossians 1:22).

You are righteous, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).

You are forgiven, “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us ALL our transgressions” (Colossians 2:13).

You are perfected, “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).

You are pure, “And God made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9).

Simply put, the work is finished.  The cross worked to accomplish all that God promised in the arrangement of the new covenant.

So what race are we running now?  You are running a race of rest.  You are called to run from a place of rest.  The same Hebrews author also wrote, “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.  For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.  Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:9-11).

It may seem counterintuitive to have “diligent” and “rest” in the same sentence of instruction for us.  But that is our race.  To run to His rest.  To be diligent to enter His rest.  To run from a place of rest.  Our rest is resting in the finished work of the cross; the finished work of Jesus.

Jesus proclaimed His accomplishment from the cross.  “Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’  And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).  We are the recipients of that work.

Yes, stay the course.  Say with the apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:7).

But remember in whose power you are running.  It is the wind of the Holy Spirit, the wind of Christ in you, that carries you along in the race.  And it empowers you to run the race from a place of trust, assurance, and rest.

Guarded by God’s Name and Power

11“And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You.  Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one.  12While I was with them, I kept them in Your name, which You have given Me.  I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.  13But now I am coming to You, and these things I speak in the world that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:11-13).

As we continue in Jesus’ John 17 prayer, we find Jesus preparing to leave this world.  While Jesus was in the world, He “guarded” the disciples so that none were lost (with the exception of Judas, who chose his own path of destruction).  In this prayer, Jesus now transfers His guardianship to the Father.  He asks the Father to “keep them in Your name.”  That is, to keep them with God’s power.

Throughout the Old Testament, the name of God is equated with the power of God.  “May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!” (Psalm 20:1).  “Through Your name we will trample down those who rise up against us” (Psalm 44:5).  “Save me, O God, by Your name, and vindicate me by Your power” (Psalm 54:1).  “Nevertheless He saved them for the sake of His name, that He might make His power known” (Psalm 106:8).  “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8).  And one of my favorites, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10).

Jesus also prays that “they may be one”.  We will see this specific request of Jesus a few times in this prayer.  Our unity as believers is of great importance to the Savior.  I believe that is why the apostles emphasize over and over the unity of the body in their letters to the churches.  “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

This call for unity is very serious.  Division is deadly to the body of Christ.  Too often, we separate over points of theology or over what should be emphasized in a church’s mission or which personalities to line up behind.  But we all need, with our various gifts and personalities, to come under the authority of Christ’s prayer; His prayer that we would be one.  There is no greater aspiration in the church.  Our unity is a direct demonstration of our “loving one another”.

Earlier in the evening, Jesus said to His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11).  Here in verse 13, Jesus prays to the Father requesting that their experience of His joy would indeed come to pass.  Christ’s joy IN YOU is Christ’s promise TO YOU and Christ’s prayer FOR YOU.  May you dwell in the answer to this prayer, and feel the overwhelming warmth of Christ’s joy in you.

-Excerpt from Abiding in the Father’s Love by Jay.  Click here to order a copy.  This book is a verse by verse look at Jesus’ last supper message where Jesus gives us a beautiful promise and preview of what life under the new covenant will look like.

Eyes to See

I have been doing business with Fed Ex for several decades.  Like most of you, I would recognize their logo immediately.  The blue and orange letters are striking.  But in just the past year, a friend showed me something in the logo that I had never seen.  This may be old news to you, but it was brand new to me.

Between the orange capital E and the orange small x is a white arrow.  Do you see it?  It looks so clear to me now, but I had never noticed it.  And the strangest part of this revelation to me is that now that I know it is there, I can’t unsee it.  Every time I see the Fed Ex logo on a truck or store or package, ALL I SEE is the white arrow.  Literally.  I don’t see the letters.  I don’t see the colors.  I don’t see anything except the white arrow.  It is all I see.  The rest of the logo fades to dim.

I was thinking as I passed a Fed Ex truck on the freeway yesterday, that this logo revelation is the same way I see our freedom in Christ in the Scriptures.  Now that I have been captured by the complete gospel – Christ died for our sins, we are fully forgiven, Christ is living His resurrected life through us, His new covenant has given us a new heart, a new nature, a new identity, a new power, and a bunch of other new stuff – I can’t unsee it.  When I read the New Testament, this complete gospel of grace leaps off the pages to me.  I see it everywhere.

There was a time in my past when I was reading the Bible as if I was studying the blue and orange Fed Ex letters.  I saw the words.  But the words were contradictory, mysterious, confusing, a complicated list of commandments.  Shame, grace, condemnation, mercy, law, love, punishment; a confusing mix.

Then the light of grace shown through.  The promise and provision of the new covenant became clear.  So much of the New Testament now fits the overarching message of grace that Jesus came to initiate and the apostles sought to explain.  Now the Scriptures are a giant white arrow pointing to our freedom in Christ that was won at the cross.

The world of shame, condemnation, penance, and punishment have been put in their place; in the rear-view mirror once we have believed the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  And we are now walking in the world of love, forgiveness, acceptance, grace, and freedom that Christ brought to us.  Can I encourage you?  Follow the white arrow that points to Jesus; the embodiment of grace, the mediator of grace, the giver of grace.  His death and resurrection delivered to us a new life; a new life of freedom in Christ.

You Have a Story to Share

To the one who thinks they are unqualified; to the one who thinks they have nothing of value to share; to the one who feels untrained and not expert enough in the Bible to have a voice…THIS IS FOR YOU !

In the world of church organizations, celebrity pastors, and seminary degrees, it can be easy to think that you are unqualified for ministry.  But don’t believe it!  You are eminently qualified!

You are completely qualified to share, proclaim, teach, and explain the message of the gospel; the message of grace.  “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to human standards, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (I Corinthians 1:26-27).

These verses used to puzzle me.  I say it humbly, but as a geophysicist, I was considered pretty smart by “human standards”.  I made straight A’s in school.  I can do algebra in my head.  Does this ability disqualify me in God’s view?  What does Paul mean by “foolish things”?

I now believe that these verses have nothing to do with innate intelligence.  I think they are related to what I would call religious expertise and status.  And I think Paul’s point is that religious expertise and status as the world sees it is not required to proclaim the good news.  And I see a very practical side to this understanding as we see these verses come to life right before our eyes.

We are witnessing, in our day, an incredible grace revolution pouring out around the world.  And the part that is crazy and inspiring at the same time is that God is using the “foolish” in terms of religious status to proclaim it.  For the most part, you and I are not “the professionals” so to speak.

The grace message of the finished work of Christ to secure our salvation is being spread across the globe by realtors, school teachers, eye doctors, soccer players, homemakers, furniture restorers, rocket scientists, college students, mechanics, investment bankers, counselors, IT professionals, salesmen, pastors, blackjack dealers, craftsmen, business owners, hospital technicians, musicians, and even a lowly geophysicist.

If you have believed the gospel message of Jesus Christ, Christ Himself is living His life through you.  The Holy Spirit is teaching you.  Christ is guiding you.  The Father is empowering you.  You are qualified to proclaim grace to those God brings into your circle.  (And thanks to the internet, that circle is getting bigger and bigger.)  Never be ashamed of what training or expertise you lack.  You are fully qualified to announce the good news!

As I was writing the last paragraph, I recalled a gospel story of someone like us.  In Luke chapter 8, Jesus healed a demoniac in the region of the Gerasenes.  The cured fellow sought to follow Jesus across the sea of Galilee.  “But Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your house and describe what great things God has done for you.’  And he departed, proclaiming throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him” (Luke 8:38-39).

Did the cured demoniac go to seminary?  Did he go through a training regimen?  Did he enroll in a discipleship program?  He simply shared his grace story of healing.  You and I all have our own grace story of the great things Jesus has done for us.  And your story is a story that you are fully qualified to share.