Thursday, December 16, 2010

Run as if to Win!

Read 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

If you know me at all, you know that I am definitely not an athlete. I've never played a sport in my entire life, and I hate running! Despite my lack of athleticism, I have had good friends who played sports, so I have a very small amount of knowledge on the subject. I don't know much, but one thing I do know...if you want to be a good athlete, you have to be disciplined. Excelling at a sport will not happen overnight. If you want to be the best, you have to undergo countless hours of training, and it's hard work. I see so many teenagers completely dedicated to the sport they play. The amount of time, money, and energy poured into their sport is unreal. Sadly though, I have seldom seen this level of commitment to the Christian walk among teens. The amount of time spent reading the Word, praying, or memorizing Scripture would pale in comparison to the amount of hours spent training for their sport.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul challenges believers to see their Christian walk as a race. In verse 24 he says, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win." I don't know any star athletes who make it their goal to do an average job. No, their goal is to win. Unfortunately, we oftentimes don't live out our faith with the mentality that we want to be the best follower of Christ that we can be. We justify our lack of progress or spiritual maturity by comparing ourselves to someone who is weaker in the faith than we are. We look at the "spiritual giants" who we know as people we could never become, so we don't even try. As a whole, we are apathetic believers who do the bare minimum to avoid feeling guilty, not passionate followers of Christ wholeheartedly devoted to Him.

In verse 25, Paul explains, "Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable." The amount of self-control necessary to become an Olympic athlete is unreal. They train for hours and hours every single day, waking up at the crack of dawn to cram in extra work-outs. They don't allow themselves the pleasures the rest of us enjoy...junk food, staying up late, sleeping in, etc. They sacrifice so much, just for the purpose of winning a medal. The thing about that medal is that it is perishable. It won't last forever. When you think about the level of commitment athletes display for a temporary earthly treasure, it seems crazy that we as Christians would not display this kind of dedication to earning rewards in heaven, which are eternal and will never fade.

Paul goes on to say in the following verse, "Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way as not beating the air" (26). Paul lived a live of purpose. He explains that he made a point to be intentional in his actions and choices. He didn't waste his life on empty pursuits, but he dedicated his entire life to living for Christ. How much of our days are spent on meaningless and pointless pursuits?

Finally, he concludes by saying, "but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified" (27). Let me first point out that when he talks about being disqualified he is not talking about loss of salvation but loss of rewards in the kingdom. As humans with a sinful flesh, we're continually tempted and led astray by ungodly desires of the flesh. Rather than letting the flesh control you, Paul tells believers to beat their bodies into submission. Oftentimes you won't feel like reading your Bible or getting on your knees in prayer. You won't want to fast or wake up early for church or share the gospel with others. You'd rather watch TV or get on facebook than spend time memorizing Scripture or doing your Bible study. Living out the Christian faith requires great discipline. You have to force yourself to get up early for your quiet time, and you have to discipline yourself to spend extended time in prayer. Remember that you aren't going to become holy overnight. You aren't going to become knowledgeable of the Scriptures by accident. This takes hours and hours of disciplined training.

Is your Christian life an aimless wandering stroll, or is it an earnest and intense race? If we're honest, most of us fall into that first category. What changes do you need to make in order to discipline yourself? In what areas do you need to exercise more self control? Let's all run as if to win!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Read: Deuteronomy 7:6-9, 9:5-7; 1 Peter 2:9; Titus 3:3-8; Ephesians 2:8-9

Do you ever wonder why God chose the Jews? He could have chosen any nation in the world to establish His covenant with, but He decided to pick the nation of Israel. Throughout history, the Jews have been scapegoats. Even today, teenagers will call someone "a Jew" as a cut-down or slur against them. We all know by now of Mel Gibson's repeated obscene slander of the Jews, which has been broadcast all over the world. So why would God pick this nation, which the world deems so lowly? Wouldn't it make more sense if God chose a nation which was known as a world-power, a nation everyone stood in awe of because of their greatness and strength? If it was up to us, we would pick a nation that was considered great in a worldly sense, but God's ways are not our ways...and praise God for that! Let's look at God's reasoning for selecting such an obstinate people for His own.

In Deuteronomy 7:6, we read, "For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the people who are on the face of the earth." God picked Abraham to be the father of the nation of Israel, and He established His covenant with this nation, naming them His chosen people above all others. You would think that God must have chosen the Jews because they were just an exceptionally great group of people. However, you don't have to read much of Jewish history to quickly realize that that was definitely not the case.

In verses 7-8, Moses writes, "The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh of Egypt." We see here that there was nothing significant about Israel that set them apart from their surrounding nations. Israel was definitely an "underdog" nation, and they were few in number. We read that God chose Israel because He loved them, and that love was not based on anything they had done. He chose them because He had made a covenant with them, that they would be His own people, and He would always honor that covenant.

Moses explicitly tells the Jews that they did nothing to merit this election from God in Deut. 5-7. He says, "Know then, it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people," and reminds them "to not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath" (Deut 9:6-7a). The Jews were a rebellious group of people, not a saintly nation that deserved God's favor! Again and again, they provoked God to anger by sinning and wandering away from Him. Though they often turned their backs on God, God never left them. They didn't deserve God's faithfulness, but they received it by grace, because God loved them and would not break His promise to them.

If you are a believer in Christ, you know full well that your election was not a result of your own goodness. I know better than anyone else how little I deserve a spot in His kingdom, and I'm sure you feel the same way. In Titus 3:5, we're reminded, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy." Much like Israel, believers in Christ were chosen "before the foundation of the earth," and are "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (Eph 1:4, 1 Pet 2:9). Though we have this high position in Christ as a fellow heir, we must be fully aware how little we deserve it. Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2:8-9, "for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and it is not of yourselves, it is a gift from God, not by works so that no man can boast."

It doesn't make sense that God would select the Jews as the children of promise, because as an all-knowing God, He would be able to foresee all of the wickedness they would commit. He knew that they would forsake Him, follow after other gods, and turn their back on Him countless times, but He chose them anyway. This was a complete act of grace and was not dependant on anything they could do to earn it. Likewise, if you are a believer in Christ, you were chosen before the earth was formed. God knew every lie you would tell, every immoral act you would commit, every bitter thought you would harbor, but He chose you anyway. What a beautiful reminder of God's tremendous mercy on us lowly wretches. To God be the glory for our election and salvation!