A few weeks ago, I bought my daughter some Cross Country spikes as recommended by her coach. As she’s now on the varsity team, I wanted to be sure she was equipped with the equipment that would help her get to the next level. Like her mom, she likes to keep her shoes loose. During her latest run, another runner stepped on the back of her shoe. As a result, her spike flew off. My daughter ended up with only one shoe. I couldn’t imagine running with only one shoe. Even more so, I couldn’t imagine running a few miles without a shoe. Despite the pain, my daughter continued to press forward. She didn’t let another runner disrupt her race. She actually ran faster and more focused. She finished with a personal record. Yes, her foot was a bit sore, but she finished the race and she finished it well.
We are each running a race. The Apostle Paul talks about this race. Remember, we are to run so that we win the race (1 Corinthians 9:24). There are people out there who will step on our shoes. We often think it’s the people who don’t believe that step on our shoes. We make non-believers out to be the enemy. Stop doing that! They are lost people, just like you and I were once lost.
Oftentimes, the reason our race is slowed down is because of the other runners—our brothers and sisters in Christ. The Bible speaks again and again about unity, about harmony with the body of Christ. Jesus Christ is the Head and we all are the body. Yet, we have a terrible time at getting along. We argue over doctrine. We tear each other down, instead of building each other up. We promote our own agenda, even if it means sacrificing what God is doing through the ministry of others. We are divisive. We are judgmental. We live by our opinions and emotions rather than God’s truth. Our human nature leads us off course. We get in the way of what God is doing through others because we want to be control happy.
Today, look at your feet. Are you running the race? Are you running to win? Are you encouraging the other runners, or are you stepping on their shoes? Are you running alongside your brothers and sisters in love, or are you slowing them down as a stumbling block? Live in harmony. “Be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.”
“I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” – 1 Corinthians 1:10 [NLT]
When my daughter first began running Cross Country a few years back, she noted the importance of running within the flags. There’s a course set up and you have to go around the flags in such a way. If you go off of the course, you are in trouble. Something that I see as a big problem is the spectators. You have your eager parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, etc., chasing alongside the course cheering and screaming encouragement. Sometimes they get onto the course. Then you have those people who have no clue how Cross Country courses are laid out, and they walk onto the course. Many times, you will hear a parent yell for people to “get off the track” or “get off the field.” I have been that yelling parent many times. This weekend, I was that parent on three occasions. Guilty! I don’t usually yell, but when I do, you know it was me.
Thankfully none of the uninformed onlookers caused any real problems. They move quite quickly when you yell at them. However, there have been instances when runners have been slowed down because of some disruption on the course. Despite the yelling of the referees, coaches, and parents, it happens. Can you imagine running miles, training for weeks, trying to beat a record—only to have someone stroll onto the course and cause you to lose all that effort in a blink of an eye?!? Sometimes it’s a few tenths of a second. Boom.
Paul talks about us running a race. Each of us, whether we admit it or not, are running a race. It’s our Christian walk, our walk with Jesus Christ. Sometimes there will be someone who will come along as we are running our race, and he or she will cause us to stumble, to slow down, to get off course. Sometimes there will be that one person who will keep you from being where God wants you to be at and you might not even see it coming. Today, look at the track of your life. Do you have a group of encouragers, chasing along, trying to help you get to where God wants you to be? Do you have people in your life who look out for your best interests and try to equip and empower you? Or do you have someone on the field, walking along, getting you to stumble and slow down? Do you have someone who is trying to enable you to stay where you are at, when God is trying to take you somewhere new? Keep running the race. As Paul, may you finish the race.
“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 [NLT]
When I speak with people about church, they always ask the denomination. Then I say, “Oh it’s non-denominational.” It’s an interesting phrase. There’s different denominations (for example Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist). Then there’s non-denominational. Those are the churches that claim to not be affiliated with any of the known denominations. After the Early Church that you read about in Acts, things started to break apart. As time continued, groups were formed from other groups. Some churches have so many different divisions in their names, it becomes a tongue twister.
The denominations all came about from a difference of beliefs. This still happens today, hence the reason we have tons of church plants and longer than life names. The reason for the differences of beliefs, and at times, disunity of the church, is because we are a broken people. The church is filled with sinners, many sinners who are saved by grace alone. But we aren’t perfect. Some of us are proud, lazy, quick to speak, discontent, disorganized, agenda focused, bossy, or fable telling folks. We aren’t perfect, so it’s hard for us to all live together in harmony.
Nonetheless, the Bible speaks a lot about unity or harmony. Yes, that’s the vision God has for His Church. The capital “C” Church is the universal church. Broken down, this is all of the denominations and non-denominations. Together, as the big C, we need to be united. Remember, the Church is the body of Christ. The Church is people, not buildings. As the big C, we must remember Who we worship, Who we follow, Who is the Head of the Body. Even so, all of the little C’s need to also be united as separate bodies.
This seems like an impossible task. People can rarely get along. There are bound to be disagreements. Yes. Very true. But with God, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37). Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Remember the reason for the Church. Keep running the race. The Spirit will unite us if we allow ourselves to be led (Ephesians 4:3). Don’t be proud. Don’t think you know it all. Humble yourself and seek the best for others (1 Corinthians 10:24). Love. It’s the bond of perfect unity (see Colossians 3:14). Live in harmony.
“Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!” – Romans 12:16 [NLT]
During one of our evening walks, Marci started to bark like crazy. She saw something dark moving at a nearby house. She went into barking dog mode and it was hard to get her to calm down. Funny enough, she was barking at a black plastic trash bag that was blowing because of the great winds passing through the area. It did not matter how many times I tried to tell her it was fine, she continued fixated on what she thought was an attack.
I see a lot of “little dogs” going crazy at things observed—many times misconceptions, many times judgmentally rooted. The “little dogs” are those people in a church who point out what everyone is doing wrong. A big spoon of legalism is dished out. Oftentimes this is seen between people who have grown up in the church. A person from one denomination, raised with certain traditions, barks at someone else who has been taught that other traditions were more important, or that their traditions are the “right way to do things.” Possibly the barking dog syndrome is a result of someone becoming puffed up.
The Bible talks a lot about unity of the Body. The reason so much time is spent on this topic is because the devil will use anything to try to plant and promote division. The church can often get off course when Jesus is not the most important focus. Whether we are at church, at home, at work, at school—wherever we are at—Jesus should be the main thing. As well, if Jesus is the main thing, we should do whatever we can to promote the unity of the Body. This means the little dog syndrome should stop. Instead, let us love God and love others. May we build up instead of tearing down. The bag in the wind is not something on which to fixate.
“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 [NIV]
Well my daughter’s Cross Country season is over. I asked if she wanted to participate in Track and Field; however, she said she doesn’t think she will. I asked why because I know she loves to run. She said she isn’t a fast runner. She’s a distance runner. Many of the Cross Country team members were fast and they would start out really well, but then she’d be ahead. Their energy fizzled a bit and she kept a steady pace.
In our Christian walk, we can start out really well and fizzle. I see it time and time again. Some people get this passion for Jesus when they accept Him into their lives. They get a huge Bible. They are highlighting. They are raising hands. They start telling everyone about Jesus and they look to be on fire. But that quick burst suddenly fizzles. In time it looks as if the light has gone out.
Paul told us to press forward on the race that is set out before us. It doesn’t have to be a quick rush forward to surge ahead. Our walk with Christ is a steady one—day by day, moment by moment. We aren’t in a race against each other trying to be the “better Christian” as if there was a thing. Each of us is simply to continue fixing our eyes on Jesus and trying to follow God’s will for our lives. We will stumble. We will mess up. God’s grace is enough. The bottom line is—keep pressing forward.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24 [NIV]
“I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” – Philippians 3:14 [NLT]