May 31, 2015
What is the best reality-competition program on T.V. today? Over the past 12 years, The Amazing Race has won an Emmy for the best reality-competition program 10 times. Why is it so amazing? According to the Popmatters website, “...every minute of every episode is literally a mad dash to the finish line....[nothing]...can quite match the sheer exhilaration of watching the foot races and high-speed narrow-street car chases that have come to define The Amazing Race.”
So why do people compete in the amazing race? Well, you get to see amazing parts of the world. You get to match your wits and strength against others, and you might win a million dollars
The Christian life is also an adventure. It’s an adventure because in the Christian life we are brought into a relationship with the God of the universe through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals God to us and through faith in him we can know God. To know Christ is to know God.
Paul writes about this adventure in Phil.3. We might think that Paul writes from the perspective of having already reached the finish line. But, no! Paul writes as a fellow runner, as one who is with us in the adventure of learning to know Christ. He knows the challenge. And in v.12 and 13 he puts out a disclaimer telling us that he himself has not yet reached the goal. To know Christ is to participate in the race of a lifetime.
I. FORGET WHAT IS BEHIND. 3:12-13
Every good runner knows that in a race you don’t pay attention to those who are behind you because those runners will distract you. By looking around you lose precious seconds, and in a race, every second counts. Now in the race to know Jesus Christ it is very easy to become distracted by the past. This is why in v.13 Paul tells us that in running this race, he forgets what lies behind. And in the context of this chapter Paul is referring to his Jewish heritage in v.2-6.
One of the great lies is that we can earn God’s approval and eternal life through religious observance. Every religion claims to offer something of great value, whether it is called paradise, nirvana, or heaven. But the idea behind religion is personal merit. On the road to Damascus Jesus appeared to Paul and asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” and Paul realized that salvation, life with God comes through the unearned grace of God. In that moment God in the person of his Son, Jesus came to Paul and graciously took hold of Paul’s life. So Paul let go of trying to earn God’s approval. That only leads to spiritual pride, and spiritual pride leads to spiritual death. At the end of the day, all of us must repent of our spiritual pride and receive the grace and mercy of God freely given in Jesus. Why would anyone want to go back to thinking that he or she can earn God’s grace? You can’t. It’s grace.
But there are other ways we can be distracted in our race to know Christ. Past sin can hold us back. No one here today looks like a sinner. You all look beautiful. But we all know better. Everyone of us has had thoughts that we would not want others to know about. We have all participated in activities that we would be ashamed of if it were known. Some of us carry this guilt around with us on a daily basis. We can’t seem to let it go.
And then we are all well aware of the sins that so easily entangle us even now. Whether it is losing our temper, being judgmental, making sarcastic, cutting remarks, reading things or looking at pictures that lead us into the world of immoral fantasy, or giving into the craving of destructive habits that seem to have a grip on our lives, or yielding to the desire for more and more money and things, we all know what it is to fall short of God’s goodness and glory.
And then many are held back in their desire to know Christ because of the ongoing effects of being deeply hurt or rejected by those closest to us. I mean, as nice as people can be, that is how brutal we can be to others. Worry, anxiety, and low self esteem hinder us in knowing Christ. If you have been hurt, it can be difficult to accept the fact that God really loves you, that God would actually take hold of your life to bring you into his life. Bring your anxiety and low self esteem to Jesus. Embrace his love for you.
Men and women, Christ died for our sins. If we are trusting in him, our sins are all forgiven, even the sins we still struggle with. When we sin, of course we feel bad because we know we have grieved the Lord and we have disappointed ourselves. So we confess it and move on. To wallow in guilt will only hinder us in our desire to know Christ.
II. PRESS TO THE FINISH LINE. 3:13
Long distance runner, Scott Jurek, has 7 tips for long distance runners. For example he says, “Break your race goal into small, manageable bites.” In long races focus on specific sections. He says, “Have a nutrition and hydration plan during the race.” “Be adaptable by planning for extremes in the weather.” His last tip is, “Focus on the adventure.” “Running 100 miles is about adaptability, mental strength and the ability to get over hurdles.”
As Paul continues the running metaphor, he says, “I strain forward to what lies ahead.” In the greatest race of knowing Christ, there is a finish line. It is when we are finally with the Lord either through death or when Jesus comes. But until we are with the Lord, we press on towards the goal of knowing Christ.
The race course is experienced as we navigate the circumstances life presents to us. And there are so many variables. Our emotional wiring, our physical strengths and weaknesses, our mental capacity effects the way we live our lives. Our past experiences, our present circumstances and future longings impact the way we live our lives. Our cultural and social context, our exposure to past and current events, impacts how we live. And then there are deep and compelling ideas and causes that grab our minds and hearts, shaping how we live. And in all of this, as followers of Christ, our primary goal is to know him in the complexity of our lives. No wonder Paul talks about straining forward. The race is challenging and if we are not careful we can be swallowed up by the press of our culture and the circumstances of our lives. This past Wednesday I sat in the church parking lot at 7:00 AM listening to the world news roundup on WBBM. Those few minutes were so disheartening. All I could say was, “O Lord, Jesus.”
Now how do we press to the finish line? Well, I would say with Scott Jurek, focus on specific sections of the race. In other words, take it a day at a time. Each day has enough trouble of its own. It is good to cultivate throughout your day an awareness that God is with you through the Holy Spirit. You are living out the resurrection life of Christ in you. “God is working in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” We cannot be reminded enough of these truths. There is no way around it, we walk by faith and not by sight. Brother Lawrence would cultivate his awareness of God throughout the whole day. At many times during the day stop and acknowledge the presence of God with you where you are.
Jurek says that long distance runners need to have a nutrition and hydration plan during the race. How important is this? What is your nutrition and hydration plan for our race to know Christ? You say, “I don’t have a plan.” Well, are in the race or not? No one runs a race by accident and no one gets to know Christ by accident. I recognize that we are all wired different. Some of us are very disciplined while others of us are not. The thing about our great race is that the goal is not to be the first over the finish line. The goal is to finish well.
In 1Cor.2:16 Paul tells us that believers have the mind of Christ. Now this is a wonderful truth. But be aware that the mind of Christ is dwelling in bodies and brains that are synchronized with sinful habits and thoughts. So we need to develop a spiritual nutrition and hydration plan. It will involve the Bible and prayer. The Bible is God’s word and it will accomplish in our lives all that God wants it to accomplish if we will prayerfully read it. You say, ‘I’ve tried that. I get lost in the details and just don’t understand it.” Well, then, don’t worry too much about the details. Take it slowly. Focus on the New Testament and the Psalms and ask the Lord to cultivate the mind of Christ in you as you read it.
Jurek says that runners must be adaptable by planning for extremes in weather. How do Christians plan for extremes in the race to know Christ? Let me offer a few suggestions. Practice key spiritual disciplines. The disciplines of worship, giving, fasting, silence and solitude are all disciplines embraced by followers of Jesus over the many years of church history. The reason athletes practice specific plays and strategies over and over again is so that in game time they will know what to do in any given situation. Spiritual disciplines help us to learn to die to ourselves and to have our hearts and minds open to the Lord at all times. The race is grueling at times and will throw us many curves. We must be ready.
And this leads me to point out that we can learn to be adaptable by being part of a congregation of Christians in a local church. In a local church we can encourage and be encouraged. We see that we are not running alone. If you are here, there is a reason why God has brought you here. It is because he wants to use you and encourage you in the race to know Christ. You are needed.
Jurek says, “Focus on the adventure.” Every day we begin. “This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it. I don’t know what challenges you are facing in your life right now. What I can tell you is that God is working in every challenge you face to help you know Christ better.
III. KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE. 3:14
In a recent study published in the journal, Motivation and Emotion, it says, “These findings indicate that narrowly focusing visual attention on a specific target, like a building a few blocks ahead, rather than looking around [at] your surroundings, makes that distance appear shorter, helps you walk faster, and also makes exercising seem easier,” said New York University psychology professor Emily Balcetis.” In v.14 Paul writes, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Back in Genesis 29 we read about Jacob and his love for Rachel. Jacob asked Rachel’s father, Laban, if he could marry Rachel. Well the deal was that Jacob would work for Laban for 7 years in return for Rachel as his wife. It says, “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” Jacob had his heart set on Rachel and the time flew by. The principle is the same as the exercise study just cited. When your eye or your heart is fixed on a specific target or person, it helps you preserver and be diligent.
Christians are those who have come to see that Jesus Christ is the only one who can give eternal, abundant living, in the kingdom of God. He is the only one who can cleanse our hearts from sin. He is the only one who can enable us to know God in a personal way. And so we have turned to Christ by faith, taking him at his word. Jesus Christ has now become our Savior, Lord and King. His life is in us and our goal is to be like him in every circumstance of life. So our focus must be on Christ. If knowing Christ and being with Christ is the goal of our lives, we will persevere in all of life until we are with the Lord.
Men and women, as our culture presses in on the church today, it is more and more challenging to run in the race of knowing Christ. In the Amazing Race on T.V. there are many challenges and puzzles to figure out. Contestants have to follow the clues step by step. Sometimes they want to give up, but most don’t. Why don’t they give up? It’s because their minds are focused on the prize of a million dollars. And so, with a million dollars in mind, they keep going. They persevere even though it is not easy and often frustrating.
In 1Cor.9:24-25 Paul writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”
Those people in the amazing race are competing for perishable prize. We are running for a prize that cannot perish, spoil or fade. We are running to be with Christ forever.
Soon after the publication of John Stott’s 1971 revised edition of Basic Christianity, he received a letter that read: Dear John, Thank you for writing Basic Christianity. It led me to make a new commitment of my life to Christ. I am old now-nearly 78-but not too old to make a new beginning. I rejoice in all the grand work you are doing. Yours sincerely, Leslie Weatherhead
Leslie Weatherhead was one of the most respected and influential Christian leaders in the United Kingdom. Thousands heard him preach at City Temple, his books were read widely, he pioneered in the field of pastoral counseling, and he was president of the Methodist Conference. Yet at 78-years-old he was not too proud or too worn out to make a fresh commitment of his life.
What about you? Are you in the race to know Christ and be found in him? Does Jesus Christ captivate your heart and mind?