Running The Race (Part 1) – The Challenge

     Recently, I wrote an article about Islam. From all appearances Muslims are coming to a town near us regardless of protests and concerns. There are a few ways we can look at what may be confronting us. We can become irate because it appears to be another culture that refuses to assimilate into the American way. As in the past, this refusal could end up undermining the very freedom of this country, eventually bringing everyone under some type of financial bondage and tyranny. Even though some of these people are fleeing from oppressive countries, whether it’s corrupt governments, extreme poverty, or religious persecution to find a place where they can excel, they fail to realize that the very thing that they are holding onto is the very thing that oppressed them in the first place. They can appreciate the benefits this country allots them without realizing that they are holding to, and supporting the oppressive attitudes, ways, and practices that first took them and their families’ captive, causing them to flee their former life.

      The second conclusion we can make is to fear Muslims and isolate ourselves from them in suspicion and paranoia, hoping that they are not “radical” and will stay in their little worlds, while letting us happily stay in ours. The problem is Americans have stuck their heads in the sand far too long, not just about this matter but about corruption in our own government, electing politicians who have no calling or vision for America, the dulling down and indoctrination of our children, and most of all the institutionalized Church becoming culturally minded, worldly in its practices, and taking on its own form of political correctness, covering up the true light and losing its savor to stand distinct and clear in the world.

      The third thing we as Christians can do is see the Muslims as a mission field, a field that is white unto harvest (John 4:34-35). Instead of seeing them as indifferent monsters and enemies, we can see them as souls that Jesus died for. In fact, according to the June issue of Prophetic Observer, a revival is taking place among the Muslims. Every day, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity, ever year, six million Muslims convert to Christianity in Africa alone. We must note that these conversions are not happening because the Church is on fire, and is being evangelistic in carrying out its commission (Mark 16:15). In many cases it is happening because Jesus is stepping into the midst of their culture and is revealing Himself to them. Their stories of conversion reveal how faithful and committed He is to saving their souls (2 Peter 3:9).

      I was challenged by a recent publication to purchase a book, When the Mosque Comes to Town, to educate myself about the Muslim people. I must say it is a valuable tool and I encourage other believers to arm themselves with understanding in order to avail themselves to properly serve as a witness to these souls.

      The author of this book, Gina Wilson, maintains that westerners have become conformed to the cultural way of thinking about religion. It is all right to quietly speak about it in small groups, especially in public, in order to ensure no one becomes too uncomfortable with what they believe.

      At this time I cannot help but be honest about this very subject. In my experience, it seems Christians rarely speak about Jesus even during times of church fellowship.  I can count on one hand the number of times I have tried to fellowship on Christ at a church potluck or gathering, and I am the one who initiated the conversation. However, I must honestly ask myself at this point, and perhaps you need to ask yourself, about who will be the most uncomfortable, the person or persons who might overhear me speak of my faith, or would I be the most uncomfortable about possibly rocking the boat after being subtly dulled down by the philosophy of my pagan culture. Who am I really protecting?

      Ms. Wilson made this valuable comparison in her book, “Muslims do not shy away from religious differences, nor do they shy away from religious discussion. To Muslims, God is a way of life: a way of speaking, eating, breathing, working, playing and thinking. God is to be brought into every conversation, thought, and action…Here is where we western Christians need to learn something. God should be our way of life, too! Jesus Christ should be in every thought, breath, and action of our own…Live, breathe, and act Jesus Christ.” (pg. 17)

      Ms. Wilson went on in her book to give this admonition, “Let me give you a GREAT BIG WARNING. If you do NOT share anything about your identity in Christ at the first available opportunity, your (Muslim) neighbor will think you don’t worship God at all. God is the first thing on their tongues. So He should be on ours.” (pg. 18)

      It is clear from reading the book that if we Christians treat Christianity as simply another subculture in a multi-cultural society, the Muslims will not only be confused by our silence on such an important matter, but they will see us as hypocrites. It will seem that we tacked Jesus on to our activities because He is not really in our hearts, on our lips, nor the inspiration behind our life.

      If Jesus is not real to us, how can we expect a Muslim to even consider Him as being important and significant, let alone take us seriously about His salvation? If Jesus is not worth declaring, then how can we expect a Muslim to receive Him as Savior? If Jesus is not worth living for, how can we expect a Muslim to embrace Him as Savior and Lord, knowing it might cost them their very life?

      Sadly, there is a name for the type of gospel that is being displayed by the visible church. It is a gospel that fits into the category of “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5). It is known as Moralism. Larry Spargimino describes this gospel in June’s Prophetic Observer as a method of self-improvement. He goes on to say, “Moralism is one of the most seductive false gospels in the world, though we often say little, if anything, about it and find some other departure from Scripture to be more damaging and consequently more demanding of a learned dissertation attacking the problem. This false gospel can show itself in any number of political and cultural movements. Nevertheless, the basic impulse of moralism comes down to this: the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements on behavior.”

     Spargimino then addresses the heart of the problem with this false gospel, “For the moralist in the Western church, the cross provides us with the ability to live a blessed and happy life. The closest we get to the cross is a decorative ornament” He then quotes a man by the name of Richardson, “If the church is to fulfill its last days mandate it must reclaim the theology of the cross as it was proclaimed by Jesus, the early apostles and the early church.”

      As I watch the various aspects of Christianity being redefined and swallowed up by heretical nonsense, it is clear that the visible church in America has been systematically taken captive by the times we live in.  It is also obvious that the Church age is winding down as times become precarious, not only in America but throughout the whole world (2 Timothy 3:1).

      As I consider the days in which I now live, I have to ponder my Christian walk. The Bible clearly speaks of the Christian journey involving a walk and a race. When we are first born again, we rest in the glorious light of the Father’s love, but as we start to crawl towards His promises, we learn to stand by faith on them. As we hold onto the promises, we begin to walk by faith towards the one and only God who never changes. Once we learn to be steadfast in our commitment towards the Lord, we can begin to run the race towards a particular finish line.

      It is clear that there are various stages of growth in the Christian life. This proves that a Christian is either going forward in his or her Christian life or he or she is going backward. To go backwards, points to a state of backsliding into the same old life, ruts, and mindset. In fact, backsliding can cause a person to slide into a spiritual, mental, and emotional state that can prove to be seven times worse as it brings leanness to the spirit and despair to the soul. Because of previous knowledge and experiences with God such individuals can be plagued by shame, guilt, despair, and condemnation. People in this morbid state can even become sentimental about their past experiences with God, while bemoaning their present miserable state.

      I must point out at this time that the condition that is the most dangerous to Christians is not when they are backsliding and aware of their plight, because it is clear that God is still working on them. Rather, the most dangerous state is the one where Christians are dulled down or asleep as to their spiritual condition (Ephesians 5:14-17). They are living on the plateaus of mediocrity, while consoling themselves that they are not as bad as the world, even though they find themselves frustrated that their religion seems dead and ineffective as they desperately cling to the fact that they still love Jesus (Revelation 3:14-19). They may go to church, pay tithes, be outspoken about their beliefs, and present an impressionable religious front, but behind the performance is half-heartedness that lacks vision, passion, and conviction. Such a person may be indifferent to lost souls, barely tolerant of the brethren, and resentful of any intrusion or inconvenience that religion may cause him or her along the way.

      Clearly, such individuals are not walking the walk, and if they are not walking out their Christian life, how can they be part of the race the Bible outlines in some of the Apostle Paul’s writings? How can they be heading towards the finish line if they are not pressing forward with everything in them (Philippians 3:11-14)?

      This year millions of people will watch as athletes from all over the world take center stage at the Olympics. Orchestrated pomp and circumstance will signal its start. Each athlete will give their best and their all to win coveted medals. Winners will cause the flags of their nations to fly higher than normal, and many enthusiastic spectators will cheer for their teams in solidarity as patriotism is taken beyond its usual mundane level, for at least two weeks.

      As Christians, can we learn something about the Christian race by considering the Olympics? We know that the Olympics originated in Greece when the Grecian Empire was still supreme. In the beginning only freeborn Greek men were allowed to participate and leaf wreaths or crowns were given to the winner. It was a way for the Grecians to honor their gods, especially Zeus and to spread the Hellenic culture throughout the Mediterranean. These games continued even when the Grecian Empire came under Roman rule, becoming a political tool. A truce between warring kingdoms was even called during the time of the games.

      As Christians, what can we learn from the previous information? The first thing we must get in our minds is that the Christian race is not about us. Many times Christians do not run the race because they cannot see how it will personally benefit them up front. They excuse their lack of participation by convincing themselves that there are others more qualified to run the race. They are content to stand in the background.

      The truth is every Christian is called to participate in the race. We are representatives of an unseen kingdom, redeemed, reconciled to God, and set free by the sacrifice of our Lord and King. We are called to run this race in the name of our King, our God (Colossians 3:17). Our loyalty to the kingdom of heaven should create fervent passion to do our best and our love for our king should inspire honorable dedication to do all we can to not only finish the race but do it with honor.

      Clearly this Christian race is taking place in the arena of the world. It is all about bringing attention to our heavenly citizenship. The pomp and circumstances for each of us started when the angels of heaven rejoiced that Jesus found us, lost sheep wandering in the great wilderness of the world (Luke 15:4-6). We had a torch (the Gospel) placed in our hands to carry on our journey through the world. We were supplied with the necessary water (Holy Spirit) and food (the Word of God) to effectively run and gain the crown at the finish line (Matthew 4:4; Mark 16:15; John 7:37-39). The Apostle Paul actually identified the crown awaiting believers in 2 Timothy 2:8 as the crown of righteousness.

      The question is how many of us, who call ourselves Christians, are really running the race? Keep in mind, there are three types of people who are part of the Olympics. There are the spectators. They are not there to participate, but to watch, support, and enjoy the games. They want to be part of the excitement without having to go through the preparation. They want to watch others win for the team, and share in the victory, but they will never know the real taste of personal victory. They are there to support and cheer on the competitors as they proudly wave their country’s flag, while becoming lost among the masses.

      The second group is the officials who oversee the activities surrounding the games. It takes a great effort to ensure everything runs smoothly at such events. Clearly, someone has to do the job. There are many Christians who oversee and try to make sure everything runs efficiently in local churches and religious activities. However, overseeing such activities does not mean the person is actually running his or her particular race.

      God has a whole heavenly host to ensure everything runs properly when it comes to the race of life. Granted, there are those who are in different positions in the kingdom of God to ensure there is order in the church, but their responsibility is not to make sure that everyone is running the race according to God’s plan for them; rather, these people’s positions entrust them with the responsibility to equip the saints so that they will run the race (Ephesians 4:11-16).

      The final group in the Olympics is made up of the participants. They are there to compete for the prize, not to entertain the world. They know their abilities and talents will be tested and tried, and their hope is that they will exceed their own personal expectations, and their aspiration is that they will win the ultimate prize in the end, bringing glory to the flag they are representing.

      The final group makes up the smallest group when it comes to the spectators and the officials. For Christianity the final group should comprise the biggest group, but I fear the visible church mimics the world when it comes to the percentage of people who are actually running in the race. It is clear that there are many who prefer to be spectators when it comes to the Christian race, and there are those who want to oversee and control the race for others.

      In this series my goal is to challenge believers to consider where they are when it comes to the Christian race. It is also my desire to explain what it means to run the race. Sadly, some have laid the torch down to take a few worldly detours, while others have dropped the torch altogether to go their own way and do their own thing, while tacking on aspects of religion. As a result, the organized church, for the most part, has forgotten why it is here. It is not to make Christianity look like a successful lifestyle or a popular subculture; rather, it is about making the Christian walk count and the race successful. It is about gaining the ultimate prize that will count in the world to come and shine throughout eternity.

      The remaining question is, “If you are not presently running the race, will you accept my challenge to discover what it means to put on the right shoes in preparation to run it until you cross the finish line” (Ephesians 6:15)?