Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

relay race

Run the Race

(a three minute read)

I’ve just come off a long weekend with 50 other men. It was called Returning Sons, clearly a reference to Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son, who returned to his father after a period of, well, let’s just call it ‘questionable living.’

Anyway, these types of Christian retreats are always uplifting, inspirational, meaningful and memorable. We cook meat. We burn stuff. We camp out. We sing and pray together. We prophesy over one another. We cover old ground and dig up new. Long-time friendships are rekindled and new ones are born. We breathe in fresh life and leave renewed because we take much time to praise God and reverence Him.

But then what?

As I write this, it’s now Wednesday – the third day. And one of our tribe, Jake, just posted this on the group chat:

‘This is about the time whether to choose to keep the momentum going or to drop back in to cruise mode and make it “just another conference”.’

Oh, ain’t that the truth! Thanks Jake, for shaking my tree. I attended Returning Sons for exactly that reason – to get out of cruise mode. In modern Britain, living a middle-class life, it’s way too easy to cruise.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul makes an observation, followed by indispensable advice:

‘Do you not know that all those who run in a race run, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain it. Everyone who strives for the prize exercises self-control in all things…’ 1

Keep your eye on the finish line, but know you get there in part by exercising self-control. It’s hard to do that alone.

A simple reading of these verses suggests a sprint, where one runner finishes first and gets the gold. But life (like Scripture) is deeper and more nuanced than this.

In my school years I was a long-distance runner, part of a cross-country team. Sure, we all wanted to finish first in our six-mile (now 10,000 meter) race. We worked and worked to get our times down. But more important than getting the trophy was helping the team win.

Cross-country works like this: The lowest scoring team wins. The first runner across the line gets one point, the second two points, and so on, through the first five runners on a team. If I’m the sixth or seventh finisher on my team I don’t score points, but I can keep my adversary from scoring points by displacing him to a lower finishing position.

You can see there is individual strategy here as well as team strategy.

Like my Christian life, I run the race, but I run with multiple outcomes in mind. I have to manage my own race (with self-discipline) and be aware of what my body is doing and what it’s capable of doing.

At the same time, I need to encourage my brothers as I run. My teammate Scott and I were well-matched in ability, so we’d run as a pair, egging one another on, keeping one another going, and pacing ourselves.

Finally, I need to keep an eye on my position in the pack. Where am I in the overall group – am I top five? Was I top five on my team? Was I ahead of the top runners on other teams?

I can’t win a team race alone. I need my brothers. Our relationships are valuable and vital. Some are ahead of me and some behind, but we are together.

It’s the same in the Christian life. We run the race, but we are only victorious together. You’ve heard the folk wisdom: if you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.

Again, the apostle Paul refers to this teamwork in his letter to the Romans: ‘I always thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all…2 ‘For I long to see you…so that you may be strengthened…’ 3 This is so that I may be encouraged together with you by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.’ 4

So back to Jake’s question: Do I ‘keep the momentum going or drop back in to cruise mode?’

This is set against a larger backdrop, namely whether I am a producer of Godly relationships and encouragement, or merely a consumer of them. This investment – to be a producer – is vital to my growth and success. I need to keep after it and stay stuck in. If I invest in a weekend away for a transformational experience, I must allow God to change me through it. And keep changing me. Otherwise it’s merely transitory.

The choice is mine to keep the momentum going. I’m the one who is running the race. When I look back I lose. I must press on.

‘Brothers…this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.’ 5

To successfully reach forward, I have to regard where I am with all honesty, and find men to share that with. Iron sharpens iron5 it’s true, and it’s also true that iron left to itself will rust and become useless.

Thanks and honor go to all the men in my life who help keep me sharp and rust-free. You know who you are, and you know that I love you.

1. 1 Corinthians 9:24
2. Romans 1:8
3. Romans 1:11
4. Romans 1:12
5. Philippians 3:13-14
6. Proverbs 27:17

Image by Snapwire via Pexels

A heart formed of barbed wire

There I Am Also

This material was developed for my memoir Masterpiece: A Love Story but not used in the book. (A five minute read)

Who am I now, anyway?

For many years I answered that question only by comparing myself against the signposts I saw in the world. That left my identity fluid, easily distorted, and subject to my whim of the moment. I used to compromise my values in the moment for the moment, instead of faithfully investing for the long term.

This all led me through about 40 years in the wilderness, where I refused to choose God’s best for me. Everything good was relative. Victory meant I got ahead of you. Success came when you thought I was doing well. Prosperity was about avoiding lack or punishment, not enjoying a full life.

These battles were all fought on the human playing field, the one where no one truly wins for long. When I suited up for that game, I had no time for God. He was the bad guy anyway, keeping me from the things I desired. If I couldn’t reach them, it was because He hadn’t made my reach long enough.

Apparent Failure is Not the End

But God being God, showed mercy, even though I was his enemy. My loss of a moral center had made me morally destitute. But God can redeem anything and anyone, including me. And He always has His best in mind.

Sometimes I still doubt that. When I do, it means I temporarily believe one or more lies about myself, instead of the truth. My recovery program is simple. I read the prayer written by the apostle Paul for the church in Ephesus. It’s a reminder of the promises God made to those of us who believe in Jesus.

It’s powerful to read it aloud and insert my own name in place of the words ‘we’ and ‘our’ and ‘us’ and ‘you’ and ‘your’. I won’t quote the whole thing here, but here are a list of the promises it contains. The next time you doubt yourself (or the Almighty!) remember these. And if you aren’t yet a follower of Jesus Christ, well, these will be true for you as well, when you take a knee for Him.

A Few Promises

  • You are a saint
  • You are faithful
  • You are blessed with every spiritual blessing (though Christ)
  • You were chosen by God before the foundation of the world
  • You were chosen to be holy (set apart)
  • You were chosen to be blameless before Him (thanks to the sacrifice of Christ)
  • You were predestined to adoption (into God’s family)
  • God’s grace has been bestowed to you (in Christ)
  • You are redeemed (through Christ’s blood)
  • You are forgiven of your sins (through repentance)
  • God has lavished the riches of His grace upon you
  • God will make known to you the mystery of His will (through the Holy Spirit)
  • You are part of God’s eternal plan
  • You have received an inheritance through Him
  • You get to live for the praise of God’s glory
  • You have been sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit1

A little further on, Paul reminds me about the sinful lifestyle I used to live. Yes, I still wrestle with these temptations, but they no longer guide my steps, just cause an occasional stumble.

I was spiritually ‘dead’ in the sins I used to walk in, Paul writes.2 This was all the way the world and the devil said I should live – insensate. I once pursued these things with abandon, and they almost killed me. I did only what my body and my mind demanded, and I was by my very nature a disobedient enemy of God.

When the Light Changes

What changed? He met me in a seedy motel room in Vancouver, Washington in August of 2003. I was a broken-down drunk crying out for mercy. I meant my plea. He knew it. He responded. By grace I was saved.

He pulled me out of the dung heap I’d made of my life.3 Why? Because, as Paul concludes, ‘For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.’ 4

There’s a plan. I’m an important part of it, and so are you. Our success only comes by being who God says we are, not what others say we should do.

So – how does it feel to know you are part of God’s plan to save the world?

1. Adapted from Ephesians 1:3-13
2. Ephesians 2:1-3 ‘And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you formerly walked..doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind.’
3. ‘I waited patiently for the Lord, and He turned to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet on a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth, even praise to our God; many will see it, and fear, and will trust in the Lord. – Psalm 40:1-3
4. Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)