Marathon

Romans 8:31-35, 37-39 (the message)
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us-who was raised to life for us!-is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture…None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing-nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable-absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

For the past two springs our church has hosted a 5K/1 mile fun-run to help raise funds to send a group on missions trips to Haiti and Peru.  It’s a lot of fun to see everyone get involved and cheer them across the finish line!  As for me, it’s the one mile fun-run all the way.  I don’t do running.  I mean, I would like to be the kind of person who runs but in the rain to the mail box is about the extent of it for me!  What I enjoy most is the spirit of this event.  I’m in jeans pushing a stroller for the one mile…some are decked out in their running shoes and clothes (they are serious about timing themselves, etc)…and some are like me and probably don’t run except across the street and yet they put their ear buds in and take off with the rest.  There is no judgement.  Not meant to be a competition.  It’s fun.  It’s family!  When those huffing and puffing pass by the crowd cheers them on, You can do this!  See, it’s not really about the ease and sweet glide of those more fit or the tremendous  effort expended by those less prepared.  It’s about finishing.

For days now I have had the word ‘marathon’ on my heart.  I wanted to write last week about it but didn’t feel led to do so until today.  I trust God and His timing and I pray these are words flowing from His heart through mine.  So, here is what’s been stirring in me…

Have you ever felt like a hypocrite?  Have you ever been called a hypocrite or assigned that label to someone else?  I have.  I’ve been called one several times, actually!  Now there was a time, for a long time, that I believed it.  I thought if I couldn’t always live up to everything I professed to believe then it must be true.  I would inevitably get discouraged.  I would withdraw to some extent from God.  At some point I would once again pull myself up by the ol’ bootstraps to give non-hypocritical Christian living another go.  And I would fail again, of course.  I would fly off the handle at my kids.  Have a knock-down, drag-out with my husband.  Stew in offense or have a few gossip sessions.  I would be generally cantankerous and discontent or full of self-pity.  I mean you know, fill in the blank.  Of course I had “nice” days, too.  But I  believed I should be “nice” without fail as a Christian.  No mistakes.  No ugly days.

Let me tell you something this morning.  You and I are going to have ugly days.  And whether or not you have another human tell you what a hypocrite you are for still going to church and worshipping God in the middle of your junk, the devil is going to tell you for sure.  Now, I don’t deny there is certainly such a specimen.  There are those who go to church and profess a lot of things but whose hearts are far from God and motives completely false.  There are those who are truly pretending.  But see, there is a difference…

How about that 5K?  I could dress up like a runner with the best gear and the little thingy that counts my steps and times me and look like a serious contender.  I might even pick up my number and pin it on my shirt, you know if I have a label then I’m set, right?  But then I might just grab a bottle of water and have a seat.  I look like a runner but I never actually entered the race.  I didn’t actually participate.

There is a big difference between wearing a label but never participating and struggling with some of the miles we run as we press on toward the goal for which we are called in Christ Jesus.  A Christian label pinned to our shirt means nothing if we are not actually running the race.  And let me remind you, runners break a sweat.  They get muscle cramps.  Sometimes they have to slow down and walk a ways until they are ready to pick up the pace once again.  Even those who have built up strong endurance over their years of experience hit a wall occasionally.  Should they quit?  Are they hypocrites, you know fake, because they huff and puff and struggle on some legs of the race?  Well, I don’t think so!

The scripture above came to heart and mind this morning as I was praying and thinking about a friend.  I was reminded of how God used those words to draw me and encourage me as I took a seat on the curb for a while in my race.  In my early twenties I grew so discouraged with unmet needs and desires that I eventually took a time-out on God.  I didn’t plan it, but never-the-less I chose it.  I kind of wandered off the course laid out for me and participated in some other things I shouldn’t have.  Boy, if ever I was a hypocrite that would have been the time…so I must have been thinking…because I stopped going to church, withdrew somewhat from people whose light was shining too bright for my eyes, and tried my best to let the noise of my new experiences drown out the beckoning whisper of my Father.  But you know what I would hear deep down inside?  When I desperately wanted to lace my running shoes back on and refocus but felt so weighted down with condemnation I couldn’t see a way?

Nothing separates you from My love.

Geez even now I have to pause for a second.  My eyes burn and my heart is filled with gratitude.  Nothing means nothing.  See, when I embraced Jesus as a child and learned to follow Him with my heart, I was embarking on a journey, a race.  My destination has always been and will always be Jesus, but my journey in knowing Him and being transformed into His likeness stretches out across a lifetime.  It’s not a sprint to perfection.  It’s a marathon of intimacy.

Thank God I’m learning it’s not a sprint.  If it’s a sprint then I’m running out of steam fast and giving up.  If it’s a sprint and the finish line is perfection I’m out.  Seriously.  I can’t get there and certainly not super-fast.  I am so over that stuff.  The refreshing wind on my sweaty face is the truth of Jesus still blowing across my sometimes yucky heart…nothing separates you from My love.  When I believe Him, I realize what I did yesterday or might do tomorrow does not separate me from Him.   My imperfections do not separate me.  Even my proclivity to selfishness and self-pity do not.

How, I ask, could God expect me to take this marathon journey with Him if I have to be perfect to stay in the race?  The answer that sets me free over and over is that He doesn’t.  Check it out…the scripture above says God is on our side…Jesus is sticking up for us!  We sing this song at church and the simple chorus touches my heart:

I know that You are for me
I know that You are for me
I know that You will never
Forsake me in my weakness

Can I encourage you this morning to lay aside the “I must be a hypocrite if I’m not perfect” mentality?  God is for you!  Jesus is cheering you on!  You are a participator!  It’s okay if some days are better than others, that’s life!  It’s okay if you struggle…it’s okay because nothing, nothing, nothing separates you from God because of the way Christ Jesus holds onto you!  Even in our weakness, our grumpiness, our selfishness, our despair, our confusion or fatigue we can still particpate…Jesus wants us to continue to engage with Him right in the middle of our junk.

I still screw up on a regular basis.  But now-a-days even if I know I’m in the wrong I still go to church.  I still read my Bible.  I still lift my hands and heart in response to His grace in my life.  I get real about things and ask Him to help me see and hear what I need to about myself.  Eventually I follow His lead to a place of humility and repentance.  How else can I stay in for the long haul, how else can I refuse to be moved, if not in spite of my reckless humanity?  See, it’s His grace that makes me a contender.  His grace that says, Get back up, I’m still for you.  Still rooting for you.  And when need be, I’ll carry you.  If you are participating, remember it’s not a sprint.  It’s a marathon that lasts a lifetime.  And the only way to run a life-long marathon is being completely transparent with your Trainer.  He’s for a healthier you, after all.

If you are not a participant, I pray you will think it over.  Wearing the label but not running the race is a shortchange.  It’s a lifetime of sprint-running pretending to care about religious expectation you can’t fully meet.  Marathon life is not about meeting expectations…it’s about discovering Jesus, a life marinated in love, a change of heart and direction that comes with experiencing true grace.  It’s exciting.  Fulfilling.  And when you’re down, huffing and puffing, someone comes along and encourages you, cheers you on.  Runs (or limps) right beside you.  It’s staying in, after all, that makes you stronger in Christ.

So, here is my theme song.  You know, like Rocky had when he was training.  It has a great race-running beat and the lyrics are my life.  Maybe you can use it, too…smile.

“I Will Not Be Moved” Natalie Grant

I have been a wayward child
I have acted out
I have questioned Sovereignty
And had my share of doubts

And though sometimes my prayers feel like
They’re bouncing off the sky
The hand I hold won’t let me go
And here’s the reason why

I will stumble, I will fall down
But I will not be moved
I will make mistakes
I will face heartache
But I will not be moved

On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
I will not be moved, no, no

Bitterness has plagued my heart
Many times before
My life has been like broken glass
And I have kept the score

Of all my shattered dreams
And though it seemed
That I was far too gone
 My brokeness helped me to see
It’s grace I’m standing on

I will stumble, I will fall down
But I will not be moved
I will make mistakes
I will face heartache
But I will not be moved

And the chaos in my life
Has been a badge I’ve worn
And though I have been torn
I will not
I will not be moved, no, no
I will not be moved,no
I will not be moved

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