Dirt road through the jungle - Peten, Guatemala

The goal of a marathon

My dad was a race car driver before he became a professional business type. He raced Ford Fiestas and Volkswagen Rabbits. My earliest memories are sitting in the front seat of that beat up old Rabbit pulling the buttons and dials off the dashboard. But because my dad loved racing so much, we grew up with NASCAR and Formula 1 races on the television. So the concept of racing got an early start in my young brain.

I have met a few people in my life who don’t think that racing is a sport. And maybe that’s because they’ve never tried it or have never spoken to anyone who has. Because racing isn’t just driving around in circles. It’s a sport of endurance. And it’s not as easy as it looks.

Dirt road through the jungle - Peten, Guatemala

Dirt road through the jungle – Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Romans 12:1.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

In this context, Paul is referring to running a race in a literal sense, not driving a car. But the concept is the same. When you’re in a race, whether you’re physically running or directing an engine that’s running, you don’t want anything extraneous that will slow you down.

Paul uses sports metaphors to refer to the Christian faith many times throughout Scripture, which leads a lot of folks to believe that he was athlete of sorts. He could have been. I don’t really know. But many sports metaphors do fit the Christian walk very well. Racing is just one of them.

In a race, you’ve got a bunch of people all trying to get across the finish line. But have you noticed the difference between the attitudes of people who run the 50-yard dash verses a marathon? The 50-yard dash is all about speed. The 50-yard dash is about who can run the fastest. But a marathon? The goal of a marathon is to finish. Yeah, it’s great if you can win, but most people you talk to are just thankful that they can reach the end of the race without dying.

One will finish first and win, obviously. There always must be a winner. But whether you come in first or last, it’s your job to finish.

It’s the same with race car driving. Yes, there will be a winner. There must be a winner. But if they can actually finish the race without crashing, they count themselves fortunate.

That’s the kind of race Paul is talking about. Not the short sprints. Not a drag race. Not a race to determine who is faster. The race God has set before us is a marathon. It’s Talladega or the Indianapolis 500. It’s not about speed; it’s about endurance. And we’re not competing against each other to win; Christ has already won the race. He just wants us to finish alongside Him.

Hebrews 12 begins with the word therefore which means you need to refer to what was said in the previous verses to truly understand the context of what follows.

Hebrews 12 comes after Hebrews 11 (duh, I know, right?), but if you have the opportunity to read Hebrews 11, you should. Hebrews 11 is called the Faith Hall of Fame. It’s a chapter of names of people in the Old Testament who ran the race and ran it with endurance. They suffered. They struggled. They stumbled. But they finished.

Faith isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be. The day is coming when something will hit you so hard you won’t know what to do about it. Something in your life will break loose. You’ll lose your job. You’ll lose a relationship. You’ll lose an opportunity. Your dreams will come crashing down around you. Your family will fall apart. And all you’ll want is an answer. All you’ll want from God is for Him to fix it … or to tell you why. And He may not do either.

But that’s His prerogative. And that’s where faith comes in, believing that even though things in your life aren’t going the way you think they should be that He still knows better. And that His way is better. And that however your story is going to end, you will keep running the race. You won’t look back. You won’t pick up additional weight as you run. You’ll just keep running.

It’s not an easy choice. But the wisest choices in life are rarely easy. Nobody accidentally finished a marathon; someone made choices before they started running and during the race itself to reach the finish line.

Romans 12:1-3 (The Message)

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

My body has a first name . . . and a last name . . . but what does my soul have?

It’s easy to focus on our differences because so many times the only basis we have for figuring each other out is what we see. And at first glance, we are all very different from each other. But what we need to remember is that if we are followers of Christ, we all have one very important thing in common–we all have the Holy Spirit inside us. And if we have that commonality, no other difference matters.

Galatians 3:28 is the verse for today.

28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[a] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Now, does this verse mean that once you accept Christ, you’re no longer bound by racial heritage or governmental law or gender? No. I am a follower of Christ, but my physical self is still an American with an English-Scotish-Irish heritage and God created me to be a woman. But my spiritual self–which is what this verse is about–is beyond all that. My spirit–my soul–isn’t physical at all and it isn’t bound to any of the descriptions or labels we need for a human body.

During the time that we live on Earth, we have the bodies God gave us. And He gave us the bodies we have for a reason, whether they function the way we think they ought to or not.

He gave us the families and the family heritages we have for a purpose; some of our families are more interesting than others.

And He allowed us to be born where He wanted us. I count myself blessed that God chose to allow me to be born in America, and I know I take that for granted most of the time.

And I also know that God created me to be a woman for a reason, although most of the time I don’t feel like I fit in with others of the female variety because I don’t like painting my toenails or shopping or being overdramatic. In any case, God made me female and in a physical body there are differences between men and women. Obvious differences.

But when we’re talking about souls, everything we know goes out the window. Because we don’t understand souls. And we don’t understand spirits. We think we do. But honestly? We don’t have a clue.

But what this verse is saying to me is that our souls are far and away above our concept of existence. As we are now, we have to label each other so that our differences make sense. We shouldn’t most of the time, but we do it anyway. But souls defy explanation. Our souls supercede sterotypes.

Can we wrap our minds around someone not having a racial heritage? Can we truly grasp a person that has no cultural history? And can we really understand someone who is truly neither male nor female–not the mixed up Gay-Lesbian-Bi-Trans issues we deal with in our society (which isn’t an issue of sexual equality; rather, it’s sexual rebellion).

Of course, we can’t understand any of that. Because there’s never been a person on Earth who is none of those things. Maybe people think they are. Maybe people think that they can be neither. But it’s not true. It’s impossible physically. If you’re a human being, you have a race. And you have a culture and a country of origin. And you have a gender, whether you claim it or not.

Our souls, on the other hand, were created without race–without culture–without gender from the beginning. Granted, God chose to place those souls in physical bodies with all of the limitations of humanity, but the day is coming when we shed those physical bodies and leave this existence–and we’ll go either to heaven or to hell, where our lives will really begin.

And when we reach either of those eternities, it won’t matter if your family mostly ate potatoes . . . or if your heritage embraced Communism or Democracy . . . or if your physical body was male or female . . . . All that will matter is if you know Jesus because that’s what determines your final destination. Because God doesn’t make the choice to send anyone to hell; we send ourselves.

So what this verse helps me remember this morning is that even though we may be different on the outside, our souls all have equal worth to God. Our souls are all on the same level. There isn’t one that’s more worthy than another. There isn’t one with a better family–because we’re all from the same family. There isn’t one that descends from a greater country–because our souls didn’t come from a country. There isn’t a soul that is superior either for masculine qualities or feminine qualities–because our souls are gender-neutral.

The only difference in our souls is that some are redeemed and some are still broken. Those souls who haven’t made up their minds still have time to make a choice. And those of us who have already chosen Christ need to get it through our heads that even though our phsycial bodies may be different, our souls are the same–and we need to stand united in Christ now more than ever.