Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Running a good race

I was talking to our Youth Director Ben this morning. I asked him if he remembered a famous event from the 1984 Summer Olympics. He said he didn't know about it because he was born that year. Talk about feeling old.

Do you remember those Olympics? It was the year that Mary Decker, a track star from Oregon, was America's hope to win lots of Gold in the Track and Field Distance Events. A huge controversy ensued when another competitor - Zola Budd - a barefoot, South African runner (who had at the last minute gained British Citizenship to avoid the Olympics ban on the Apartheid Policies of her home country)got her feet tangled with Mary Decker's on the last turn of the 3,000 meter race and Decker went sprawling to the ground; her Gold Medal hopes dashed.

Was it accidental? Or was it on purpose? Was there a foul? Or was it unintentional?

It's easy to get tripped up. Since my accident, I have a hard enough time to keep from tripping on small cracks in the sidewalk, or a rough spot in the floor. The other day, I was on the 8th hole at Jade Green Golf Course. My approach shot had come up short and I needed to chip my ball some 25 yards up onto the green towards the hole. I was so intent on the shot I needed to attempt I didn't pay attention to my feet and my shoelace got tangled in the leg of the golf bag stand. Before I knew it I was laying on my side in the wet grass, inches away from the small pond that my golf ball was lying next to. With "catlike" reflexes (ha) I got back to my feet and quickly began looking around to make sure nobody had seen my clumsy, careless spill.

It's easy to get tripped up if you're not paying attention to the terrain and the people around you.

Paul addresses the Galatian Christians in chapter 5 by saying: "You were running such a good race. Who tripped you up." Just like Mary Decker, these young believers who had accepted the Gospel of Grace in Christ were now being tripped up by those legalists who insisted on the Old Testament mark of circumcision - a small part of the larger Old Testament Covenant and Law. Having been tripped up by giving in to the "Judaizers" as they were called, the new believers had fallen away from grace and had landed face down in the demands of the Law.

It's easy to get tripped up on small details and on matters that don't lie at the core of Christian faith. It's easy to make "law" things that Christ has freed us from. We make "mountains out of molehills" and "major on the minors." Instead of focusing on the prize of the upward calling in Christ, we can get our spiritual feet tangled in the confusing web of church traditions, man-made rules, or archaic laws from which Christ's completed work has freed us.

Paul reminds his readers, "You were called to be free." That was the race you were running. That is the course you were on. You were doing great, but you got tripped up and defaulted on the race.

On the opposite end of that entangling legalism, is a false understanding of freedom. Yes, Christians are called to freedom. But it is a mistake to think that freedom in Christ is a free pass to live autonomously and without restraint. Freedom is not anarchy. Freedom is relative. Freedom, as we know from living in the freest country in the world, also requires responsibility.

You are running a good race. Don't get tripped up. Don't get hung up on a legalism that robs you of the freedom and grace that are in Christ. By the same token, don't get tripped up from running a good race by mistakenly thinking that it doesn't matter how you live.

Freedom means serving others in love. Freedom means putting aside our own selfish interests for the sake of others. Freedom means living by the single command that sums up all the OT Law: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Freedom means wanting to follow Christ in love and faith rather than by duty or toilsome obligation

Are you free? Are you running a good race of faith? Or have you been tripped up?

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