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Running to Win the Prize

January 2013
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running the raceImagine for a few minutes that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ back during the time when He actually walked on this earth, and you were there in the crowd when He was crucified, shattering all of the hopes and dreams you placed in Him even though He explained to you that this very thing —His crucifixion— was going to happened to Him but that He would also rise again from the dead on the third day (see Matthew 16:21-25). As the stone cold reality of His death on that cross standing before you sends a shock wave through your mind and a dagger through your heart, somehow His words that He would rise again on the third day are totally lost, and your hope died on that cross with Him. Shattered, you leave the scene in despair. However, that is only the beginning of the story . . . .

Read the account of what happened next in Matthew 28:1-10:

“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb [where Jesus was buried].

“There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

“The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.’

“So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’”

Once the women announce to you what they have seen and heard, you shake your head in disbelief and wonder if this could really be true. And at this point you head off to Galilee with the others to see if Jesus is really there. After all, you just witnessed his death two days earlier. How could this be?

Let’s pick up the story from there (Matthew 28:16-20):

Running-uphill“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Did you notice that when they saw Him, they immediately worshiped Him, but some doubted–some doubtedas in “How could this be? We just witnessed his crucifixion two days earlier.” Undaunted, Jesus made an amazing proclamation to them . . .

All . . . authority . . . in heaven and on earth . . . has been given to me. Therefore go . . . and make disciples of all nations . . . baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In evangelical circles across our nation today we hear a lot about the need to get people “saved” but not so much about making them “disciples.” In fact the whole topic of discipleship gets lost in the mix of getting people “saved,” yet Jesus was clear in His “Great Commission” above that He was commissioning and sending out His disciples to make “disciples” of all nations, not just converts. Today, most of the time we stop at the point of conversion. Why is that? Perhaps it is because our own personal lives have grown cold towards Jesus Christ and what He taught us about living this life as one of His followers on a daily basis and not just on Sunday morning in church or listening to the latest worship tunes on our drive to work.

A “disciple” is defined as “a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another; a follower” (source: Dictionary.com). If we are truly disciples of Jesus Christ, then we should be adhering to what He taught us on how we should live our lives and how to conduct ourselves in our interactions with others (see Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount,” for example). Yet most of us can’t even name one or two of the items listed in the Sermon on the Mount,” (Matthew 5-7), let alone actually live them out in our daily lives.

So what exactly happened to discipleship in America? An article titled, What Happened to Discipleship?” in The Christian Post states, “There is a growing body of research demonstrating that there is a significant disconnect between professing faith in Jesus Christ and actually following Jesus.The article continues, “The ‘modern’ idea of church . . . is that the church exists as a venue to ‘attract’ the lost through dynamic programs, performances and events–the more dynamic the better. . . . The problem with emphasizing this approach exclusively is that a disproportionate amount of the church’s time and resources go into these efforts at the expense of discipleship and training the already saved. The result is the proverbial church that ‘is a mile wide and inch deep.’ Yes, the local church may grow in numbers but rarely in spiritual maturity and the witness of the Church is often rendered lackluster” [Emphasis mine].

In another article titled, Mass Exodus: Staggering Numbers of America’s Young People are Rejecting the Christian Faith,” published in The Truth,” the author states, “The truth is that the United States is quickly becoming a highly secularized nation. Europe has already been down this road, and now America is rapidly following . . . . But the most frightening thing of all is that we are losing almost an entire generation to the world.  Never before in U.S. history has an entire generation rejected the gospel as much as this one has. America’s young people are rejecting the Christian faith, and yet the Christian establishment keeps running around and telling everyone that everything is fine. Everything is NOT fine. The Church in America is broken. It is very rare to find a church where authentic Christianity is being practiced anymore. Our young people are not stupid. They know what is real and what is not. If the Church in America would repent and turn back to real, authentic Christianity at least we would have a chance of capturing the attention of those young Americans who are honestly looking for the truth.”

So is anybody in the Church today listening? We have so acclimated to the culture around us and become so much a part of it that we fail to see the truth right before our eyes. Not only are we not disciples ourselves, but our example and the way we live our lives is losing an entire generation of young people because they can see right through the hypocrisy in our own lives. We divorce at the same rate as our culture; we want more and more material possessions or money just like the rest of our culture; sex outside of marriage or adultery inside marriage is hardly even blinked at anymore and even if it is, lust is still a huge problem; and we aren’t particularly kind to strangers in our midst except on a surface level and if they are willing to become just like us.

sleepyheadAmerica needs a serious wake-up call. And it called discipleship. If we’re “saved,” we need prove it by the way we live our lives on a daily basis. Remember what Jesus said in Luke 9:23? “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Well, we have it backwards–we deny Him by following ourselves and what we want in this life. And attending church on Sunday morning and living the rest of the week any way we like isn’t going to fix that problem. No wonder we are losing the younger generation.

The apostle Paul compared this life in Christ to running a race. In I Corinthians 9:24-27, he states, “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 a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” And the author of Hebrews reminds us that . . . 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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

So, the question is this . . . are we serious about our relationship with Jesus Christ, and if so, how does it play out in our daily lives and interactions with others and not just with family and friends but with coworkers, strangers and even our enemies? My generation (the Baby Boomers–born between 1946-1964) has played around with church for so long that not only are we lost, but we’re losing an entire generation of young people because of the blatant hypocrisy in our own lives. And it’s time to clean up our act . . . .

Or will we just roll over and hit that snooze button one more time?

“Go and make disciples . . .
And surely I am with you always,
to the very end of the age”
~Jesus Christ

YouTube Video: “Here Am I, Send Me” by Keith Green (1953-1982):

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