This week, I drove to Minneapolis with a couple buddies of mine from college and church to see a bunch of metal and hardcore bands on a nationwide album release tour. For Today (one of all our all-time favorites) was headlining. We actually bought VIP tickets, which included a meet and greet with the band, a couple souvenirs, and early entry into the venue. It was fun to pick the rhythm guitarist’s brain about certain musical influences that manifest on their new record, the writing process, and touring life. One of my friends with me knew the lead singer from childhood, so they were able to catch up after many years. The show was awesome, the bands went hard, we were drenched in sweat, and sang/screamed our hearts out. There was; however, something about all these bands that stood out, but I’ll get to that soon.
Last Sunday, our senior pastor used an analogy of the 4×100 relay in track and field to describe the race that Paul talks about in 1st Corinthians 9 and Hebrews 12…
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. – 1st Corinthians 9:24-27
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2.
In the context of these verses and what pastor Brandon was talking about, the underlying definition of this race is rooted in Mathew 28:18 or what is known as, “The Great Commission” – to go forth and make disciples. In order for us as individuals and as a body of believers to run that race, Hebrews tells us to strip off “weights” (which translates into sins or burdens) that hinder us effectively being able to do so. Brandon challenged us as believers to understand what the “race” is. What is our race? How do we run it? What weights do we need to strip off in order to do so? Whom are we called to serve? How can we hold each other accountable and encourage each other as believers?
We spend our whole lives figuring out what God has in store for us, to where and whom we are called to, discovering how we use our spiritual gifts etc. Those are subject change. God may call us to move jobs or even to another state or continent. We may take those transitions in rough seas, but God ultimately delivers through those storms of change. The flip side of that coin is that we first have to pick up our crosses, lace up, and run the race. We learn those aspects of our calling along the way as we continue to seek first His kingdom. So, this passage does not deliver a static, one-and-done application, but it begins by approaching the starting line.
When I was sitting down with Brandon and developing small group questions on this topic last week, he let me in on something fascinating before this aforementioned passage in 1st Corinthians. This whole letter is Paul dictating a dialogue to the church in Corinth about the vagrancies in their doctrine – divisions, marriage, personal disputes etc. In chapter 9, verses 19-23, Paul discusses how he uses his freedom…
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Reading this passage made me think of how those bands from Tuesday night separate themselves from the pack… or run alongside them, so to say.
The lead singer of Phineas took a moment before their set ended to say, “If you’ve ever been judged, told you don’t belong in our church, or don’t belong, we are truly sorry.” Silent Planet sold a shirt at their merch table in the back that read on the back, “Forgive us for our racism, sexism, homophobia, war, religion.” They sang songs that narrated tales about the woman at the well and a Russian missionary executed for her work. Mattie took a couple minutes in between songs to speak about why they do what they do. It all pointed back to the redemption and experience of Jesus. One of the greatest reminders was when he said (and I got it on video), “The Bible makes a couple promises – one is that all who come in the name of the Lord will be saved and I will never turn away anyone who comes to me. I think that has happened in the mainstream church is that you have to get your life together in order to come to Jesus. You can’t come to Jesus if you have tattoos. You can’t come to Jesus if you’re gay, if you deal with cutting, if you deal with suicide… that couldn’t be further from the truth.” It’s a cross country race these bands run on tour, taking music they believe in and write inspired by their experiences with God, giving a message and hope to an uncomfortable place that was understandable. They became like one of “them” – frustrated by the establishment, impassioned, and eccentric to show them the love and grace of God. They used their platform to show people on the fringes of mainline culture that there is something greater to live for. It’s like Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves, when he becomes like the Lakota. He gets to know them and lives among them. It’s kind of like we do. Though we are called to be in the world, not of it, we are given the gift of being able to relate to people and walk a mile in their shoes.
What are those weights we need to strip? How can we encourage each other and be accountable for one another? Let’s take time in prayer to discover how we can relate to those around us. How can we act in a way that shows Christ? So lets put on our racing shoes, lace them up tight, run alongside each other, and let Christ be our coach.