Be a Spiritual Champion: "Run for the Gold Lighten Up, It's a Long Race!"

Two Fridays 'til the Olympics begin, sandwiched in between our political conventions. What a welcome relief from the rest of the news. Inspiration! The joy of victory and the agony of defeat! And between events, those human-interest stories. Family stories. Training stories. Tales of the trials it took to get to the Gold Medal rounds. With help from David Mains, lets imagine just three of these stories. English miler, Peter Clark, inspired by Britain's Roger Bannister, the 1st to run the mile in under 4 minutes. Peter's a wealthy businessman who often runs… with a briefcase! At the end, he sits down, takes out his cell and talks to clients. But not now. Now, he's running for the Gold. How 'bout Ingmar Yars of Sweden? 'Runs the 100 meters. 'Can't miss him training: he runs with a shopping bag! He collects souvenirs from the cities he visits. Now he wants the Gold. Then there's Kenyan Kip Kandae, the marathoner. Kenyans are always strong in the marathon. He trains, running with his 6' pet boa constrictor on his shoulders. That probably explains why he usually runs all alone. They say he may be a contender for the Gold this year.

So here's my question: What's your story? I mean, we're spending a few weeks this summer striving to be Spiritual Champions ourselves. We're learning together how to run for the Gold! With Hebrews 12 as our training manual, we heard last week that the first step is to look who's cheering for us. To remember the witnesses, those heroes of the ancient faith and our own personal life who encourage us, hold us accountable to a higher standard and inspire us to strive for the Gold! And I must say, I do hope you really did read up on a Bible hero this past week (check out the bulletin board outside our library). I hope you did call a personal hero and tell them what they mean to you, and did decide to be a hero for somebody else. So: now you're ready for step two in becoming a spiritual champion. Lighten up. It's a long race. Remove every hindrance. Hebrews advises, "…Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…." Peter, Yars and Kandae say amen!
God in Christ wants us all to be spiritual champions for him. He's set his saints and his Son to cheering for us. So, what's holding you back, or me, from the Gold God wants us to claim? Odds are, it's not a boa, though a briefcase or a shopping bag could be. Lots of us know full well what weighs us down; we're just unwilling to set these things aside. Not everything that's a weight is a sin. At least not by itself. We choose a lot of things that seem pretty innocent, but they get in the way of our spiritual priorities. Instead of "running the race God has set before us", we give it up for another kind of game. We might call it Trivial Pursuit! Too much TV. Too much talk on the phone, too many cell minutes, too much email madness. Hardly a one of us doesn't have at least a 66-book library of the world's most inspired literature at home (The Bible). Yet we say, "I'm bored," and head for a video store. Our lawns are often better tended than our souls; most of us have redecorated our houses and left the souls that sit in them untouched. The Mall and the Ball Field call our kids more urgently than the church, it seems. I just wanna ask ya, "Does any of this make much sense if you're serious about going for the gold?" I confess. Not in my life. Yours either, I suspect. Scripture gives good advise to spiritual runners all. Cast off every weight that slows you down! Let me ask again, what's holding you back, you in particular, from running the course the Savior's set before you? What needs to change for you?
Weight off, our Bible reads. But there's more. "Especially the sin that so easily hinders your progress." Like a runner kickin' out, now we're in a new gear. As David Mains suggests, we move from the shopping bag to the snake! God knows, everybody in the race of faith is a sinner. Even the saints we celebrated this past week. Abraham lies. Jacob cheats. Moses murders. Gideon's afraid. David commits adultery and murder. James and John connive for favors from Jesus. Mary Magdalene's pretty shaky. Peter denies Jesus. Timothy's timid. Paul admits he's, "chief of sinners." No excuses, just the truth, we oughta be holy, but we're not. Paul's story is our story, too. "I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do." (Rms. 7:18-19) There are lots of lists of sin-weight to be set aside. There are the Big 10 in Exodus. Matthew 25 can help us see as Jesus sees. Paul writes to Ephesus and Colossae, walk in love. No impure thoughts or acts, no coveting, no silliness or empty words. Don't make an idol of anyone or anything (not our work, our play, or our work or playthings). Cast off anger, wrath, malice, slander, foul talk, telling a lie. BUMMER! We like some of this stuff from all those lists. We're good at it. It gives us a thrill, which is why we do so much of it. The devil himself has convinced us that there's pleasure in such pursuits. 'Problem is, if we're running to be spiritual champions, these are the sins that cling so closely and slow or even shut us down! They are unholy, and turn us away from the finish line. In our course, you see, we are required to, "Strive for peace with all, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." (Hebrews 12: 14) So if we are to run for the Gold, both our weights and our sins… gotta go.
"Sounds good, coach, only how do we do it?!" Let me be specific. Four things will help us lighten up for the long race to glory. First, identify your own personal signature sin (Mains). I mean the one in all those Bible lists, Old Testament to New, that you know full well has your name on it. Now, take out that little slip of paper the ushers gave you. Don't write it out! (We don't want your neighbor in the pew addin' jealous to his or her list 'cause your sin looked more interesting!) Do jot down initials for it, or an abbreviation, a little symbol. You and God-in-Christ are the only ones who need to know what it means. And when you come to the Lord's Table today, fold that paper over, and leave it here. Determine to really leave it here. And know that the nourishment in the communion will strengthen you to do so. Think of it today as the Lord's training table! Second, remember the battles we fight with the weights we carry are usually won or lost in the first 5-10 seconds. The longer you wait to let the devil close the sale, the more likely a buyer you will be. Remember Jesus in the wilderness? At every test, Jesus gave an immediate no. No to bread (he didn't ask what kind!), no to signs and wonders, no to the riches and powers of this world. Third, count on the cross to crucify the pleasure of sin. We're not ever gonna be sinless on our own. Jesus is gonna make up the difference. His sacrifice makes it sweeter to choose the holy than to try the unholy. Fourth, a day or a week of victories works wonders! You won't believe how good you'll feel in your soul, to claim a few victories in a row this week over your own personal signature sin. And too, to just cast off a couple of those otherwise innocent weights that slow you down in your race to be a spiritual champion.
I know. Nobody wins the Gold with only a week's training. But we all have to start somewhere. And I can tell you. There'll be a commotion in the crowd at the sight. You and I, just lightening up, putting aside what hinders us from running the race. The word will work like a wave through the stands. "They're going for the Gold! They've spied the cross at the finish line. They can see the prize that lies beyond." Come on, friends. Let's lighten up indeed. And let the saints start cheerin' that you and I are on our way!

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