|Photo by The Happy Rower|
I'm sure we've all seen it happen in a TV show, maybe in a movie, or perhaps even in real life. A dramatic foot race is being run, and then near the finish the line, the lead runner trips and falls down. For whatever reason, he or she can't complete their race. They have come up short, and it may have not even been their fault to begin with.
A couple of months ago, I learned that one of my mentors in the faith and ministry had a moral failure. He was so close to the finish life of his primary, earthly ministry, and for whatever reason, he threw in the towel. He seemingly gave up everything that he said he believed in, in order to pursue getting his needs met; at least that is the perception of what happened. I don't know all the nitty gritty details. All I know is that he got busted and had to resign his spiritual position in defeat. He fell down right before his finish line.
Do I judge my mentor? No, not necessarily. I understand that even after our new birth in Christ that we still struggle with our fleshly, sin nature. Even the greatest Christian of the Church Age, the Apostle Paul, wrote in Romans 7:14-24 that he struggled to avoid sin and always do the right thing:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
Am I shocked, surprised, and disappointed that my mentor fell down near the finish line? Yes, of course I am. Assuming his upcoming retirement as a pastor of a large church, he could have probably had his pick of awesome post-retirement ministry opportunities that he wanted. I don't get it. At this point, all I can do is pray for him and his difficult situation. And, I can also assess, evaluate, and learn from his mistakes and the mistakes of others.
The Christian Life Is A Challenging Marathon
The Christian life is a difficult race. Even Jesus told the crowds that followed him around Galilee and Judea that the cost was extremely high to be a Christ follower:
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples (Luke 14:25-33).
The writer of the book of Hebrews likened the Christian life to a long-distance race that must be run and won:
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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Being a follower of Jesus is not going to be all puppy dogs and rainbows. Sure, there are some pretty amazing mountaintop experiences that we can and will experience with the Lord. The majority of the race, though, is just going to be plain, hard work. It's going to not be very fun, but that's not what we signed up for in the first place.
The Race Sucks. Get Over It. Set Your Eyes On Jesus.
In the above passage from Hebrews, we see the prescription for a successful race - fixing our sights on Jesus at the finish line. When we take our eyes off of Him and place it on ourselves and our circumstances, that's when we always get into trouble. Kind of reminds me of being in elementary school when the teacher told us kids to keep our eyes facing forward to the front of the room. When we listen, obey, and keep our focused in the right place, we're going to end up a winner.
If I can, let me encourage you today, fellow race runner, to stay on the course with your eyes looking straight ahead at Jesus. You may feel like your race is really difficult right now, but don't lose hope. And, if you should happen to fall down along the way, please, don't throw in the towel and give up. Let's finish our race well, together!
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