The Race of a Lifetime

    Sep 13, 2015

    Passage: 1 Corinthians 9:19-27

    Preacher: William (Tex) Culton

    Detail:

    Isaiah 40:21-31 & 1 Corinthians 9:19-27

    Mike was a five and a half minute miler as a sophomore in high school and destined to break all the school records for distance running and do very well. Then the car crash on a Friday night that almost took his life and left him with significant brain damage and a prognosis that claimed he might never be able walk again. He moved into town with his sister and mother, living on assistance and receiving physical therapy in order to lean to walk. He got so he could hobble around dragging one foot and arm behind him and sort of tilting his body to one side and swinging the partially paralyzed side around, regaining his balance and then taking another step forward. His speech was terribly effected by the partial paralysis so that it was difficult to understand when he talked. In time he learned to ride a bike, which was easier for him than walking. I would see him in all parts of the county when I was out calling. Our connection came through his sister who attended worship and came to youth group with some of the other kids in the church. I would wave to him as I drove by or stop the car and engage him in conversation, complimenting him on his ability to ride such great distances  

    One day when I was jogging by his home I saw him there on his bike and stopped. In that conversation I asked him about his past running experience and if he missed it. His answer indicated that he did, but didn’t think he could ever run again. I invited him to go running with me. He accepted and the next day he rode to my house and I ran beside him to a field on the north side of town. The field is about a quarter mile around. We started to jog and I was shaken by how difficult it was for him to run. It took an inordinate amount of energy and strength to move the paralyzed side of his body forward at a pace faster than a walk. It took us about twenty or thirty minutes to make it once around the field, and he was exhausted; coughing and spitting and holding his side. But he never gave up. Every time he would stop, I would ask if that was enough, and he would answer, “No!” and on we would go. We repeated these exercises for a few weeks until he had cut his time in half and began running on his own without me. It wasn’t a pretty site; more modern dance than classical ballet, but he was improving and I was getting to know the person inside the injured body. We went to the high-school track where he had competed and I raced him in the mile. It was the only mile run I ever won, and we laughed as he tried to keep me from lapping him by stepping in front of me. He rose to the challenge and refused to quit.

    Then came the Tinicum Turkey Trot just before Thanksgiving; a 5k run twice around the most beautiful park along the Delaware, with a turkey as a prize for the winner. I brought him to it and entered him. When the race was over and I didn’t see him at the finish, I ran back along the course and joined him a mile from the finish. I ran with him as he leaned, bending the knee on his good side and throwing his bad leg forward; up and down, spitting and coughing, but moving inexorably toward the finish. When we came into view, the runners and the crowd began to cheer. I stopped and watched through my tears as he made it across the finish line. The prizes had already been awarded, but the big German who had taken first place came forward and handed his medal to Steve saying he takes the real first place based on courage.

    Isaiah 40: 30-31 “Even those who are young grow weak, young people can fall exhausted. But those who trust in the Lord for help, will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings of eales; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak.”

    1Cor. 9: 24 “Surely you know that many runners take part in a race, but only one of them wins the prize. Run then in such a way as to win the prize.”

    This passage comes at the end of a long explanation of Paul’s reasons for doing what he did to proclaim the gospel and open the door to the kingdom of God for as many different people as possible.

    In essence, he did what he had to do. And he wasn’t without a handicap. And this wasn’t a golfer’s handicap, it was a “thorn in the flesh” that he pleaded with God to remove from him. His answer from God was, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

    So he ran the race bending one knee, and swinging the partially paralyzed side around, gaining his balance and taking another step forward on the path that
    God had called him to follow. He didn’t give up and did what he had to do, confident that in doing it, he would win the race and the prize, which was eternal life!

    Translated, eternal life means God’s grace, God’s unlimited love.

    What is your handicap? What must you overcome to run the race to the finish line?

    It probably isn’t a physical handicap at all, and it may not be one imposed on you, but chosen as your way of defining yourself. Anything that keeps us from expressing ourselves as the image in which we were created is a handicap to be named and overcome.

    Some of us don’t want to come in last. Some of us don’t want to look ridiculous? Some of us shun vulnerability. Some of us define ourselves by our shame or our fear. Some of us refuse to do the training it takes.

    For a runner, that is the discipline of going out in all kinds of weather and hardening the body and developing the lung capacity and heart strength needed for the race.

    For a Christian, that is the discipline of prayer and Bible study and worship and practicing our faith through sharing and sacrifice, so that when we cross the finish line, we hear the words of our Lord, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

    We need to train ourselves in the faith we claim to live by. We can quote secular poets and coaches and athletes and even comedians, but are hard pressed to remember anything beyond the 10 commandments and John 3:16. We know bits and pieces, but are slow to understand what we are expected to do in different situations and we are hard pressed to make an argument from scripture and our prayerful interpretation of it for certain types of behavior such as risky forgiveness, dealing with anxiety, hatred, hurt, or loss.

    How will we know what God wants from us and what an intimate relationship with Jesus looks like, or even know what intimacy is, if we don’t make the commitment to grow spiritually beyond attending worship when our schedules permit? In order to run the race of life, we have to keep ourselves in shape with Bible study, prayer, fellowship and service. When one trains for a race, running, proper diet, rest and above all discipline are all called for. To win a race, something more is required, the sacrifice of comfort or the willingness to suffer. Something is sacrificed, left behind, in order to win the prize. I can’t over-emphasize the need to know what we believe and why. It is hard to train alone; I often had a running mate and if not would run with a group on Saturday and sometimes Sunday mornings to feel encouraged and discuss our lives and what to do about certain challenges I faced as a runner.

    I was raised in a church that encouraged Bible verse memorization and hymn singing. When I finally entered Seminary, I discovered that in order to graduate, one had to pass a test that included outlines of the books of the Bible and 99 memory verses.   We also would be given a book of the Bible and have to name the book that came before and after. Those years of discipline growing up made that test a simple exercise. Oh, and one of the songs we sang was simply the books of the Bible fit to a tune! I remember my classmates walking around campus with notecards memorizing between classes and at meals (much like modern kids with their cell phones)

    Living a Christian life doesn’t come naturally. We don’t pick it up and do it well by simply watching others, or because so many Christian ethical values have been assumed by our culture.

    Christianity begins with the understanding that God loves us and sent Jesus, the Son to sacrifice himself for our sins (which separate us from God and the image in which we were created). It begins with an understanding that we are created in God’s image and that it is imperfect because of sin; ours and others against us.

    We can live relatively good lives by just following the laws of the land and the mores and folkways of our culture. But being Christian takes the discipline of practice and practical application. And being the Christian that God created you to be takes the humility to follow coaching and being unselfish in working with others. We’ve all known very gifted people who just refused to take instruction or study or practice or develop the abilities with which they were born, who were good at what they tried, but missed being great because of their attitudes. We’ve also known average folk who wanted something so much that they drove their bodies and minds to accomplish what seemed impossible to everyone except themselves.

    Today many of us are running a race to support a man whom we love who is facing a great challenge. We run to let him know that he is not alone