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Pastor Rudy Sheptock

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In Hebrews 12:1-3, we read, “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. Consider him, who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” 

As Jesus' believers and disciples, we have already been called to run a specific race that God has set before us. It is a race that can only be finished by faith. It is a contest where we receive the prize not if we finish first, but just that we cross the final tape.  

We should consider it a true blessing that God has called us to run such a challenge because it is in the process when we experience that God has equipped us well with all we need to run, and He doesn’t expect us to sojourn alone. He will escort us in every facet of the feat, and we will only go deeper in our relationship with God when we finally behold Him and run with our eyes fixed on Jesus.  

Too many of us are pursuing the wrong prize, and it only leads to dangerous detours and delays on the way. Who or what is your reason for running your race today? 

Did you know that if you call yourself a Christian, running is not an option? It isn’t a choice, and you can’t opt out of the exercise. Are you walking where you should be sprinting?  

The race God prepared us for, which has purpose in every step, is non-negotiable. Are you sitting comfortably in the grandstands when your faith should be on the track if it ever will spiritually get on track? 

I love visiting Citi Field or Citizens Bank Park for a baseball game, enjoying every aspect of the opportunity. I like to sit in the front row, down a great hot dog or two or three, and cheer my Mets to victory. 

Christianity is not like professional sports. In Major League Baseball, there are nine guys on the field doing all the work, with thousands in the stands watching, and boy, can those bleacher creatures be overly critical.  

As you probably know, that’s not God’s game plan for His people. He wants us to go on to the field and use our talents and abilities for His glory. If you are wondering what you can do on the field, wonder no more. You run the race at the pace of grace that you face any day. 

God has given each of us gifts that can help advance His kingdom. Whether it’s teaching, encouraging, serving, showing hospitality, or extending mercy, each gift's use can yield eternal results.  

I remember well one of my teachers from Notre Dame of Mount Carmel Catholic School, in Cedar Knolls. Her name was Sister Noel Marie, and she was like a sunflower come to life. She constantly emphasized the importance of being an active participant in life and never be content just watching.  

Her great teaching has never left me. If you check the Hebrews passage that I began with, you will notice that the only ones in the stands as the great cloud of witnesses are those who are already with Jesus. 

The Christian life is not a hopscotch game or a short sprint. It’s a hard, exhausting marathon. We need more Christian sweaters. If your heart isn’t thumping and pumping, you aren’t properly interacting with Jesus.  

To run this race requires us, first of all, to set aside everything that might weigh us down.  

Picture a runner in our present context who is hindered by anything from sweatpants to hoodies to jewelry to bulky shoes.  

In the first century AD, runners ran in the stadium virtually naked. They would enter wearing long-flowing, colorful robes. At the race's start, these would be discarded. In the spiritual race, we are to set aside anything that might make endurance difficult, including anything superfluous, needless, or useless. 

I want to note that “encumbrances” are not the same for each runner. What is a hindrance to you may not be a hindrance in any way to someone else. A hindrance is something, otherwise good, that weighs you down spiritually. It could be a friendship, an association, an event, a place, a habit, a pleasure, entertainment or honor, but if this slows you down in being with Jesus, you must strip it away.  

To endure the race of faith, believers must first set aside all the needless baggage and useless distractions that would slow them down. We need to prepare ourselves to run a clean race, setting aside habitual sins and avoiding the constant temptations that can cause us to fall. 

The path is before us. Who is your Jim Brown, Gail Sayers or Walter Payton, spiritually speaking?  

God has given us all a running style, along with a race to run. It’s why I loved running cross country in high school. Every race was different in the scenery but consistent in the purpose.  

In 2021, we do not know where our road will lead us, how long it will go, whether it will be uphill or downhill, smooth or rocky, or wet or dry, but faith is trusting God during the uncharted course, knowing that He has set before us the path that will best contribute to our growth toward spiritual maturity.  

While running this course, it is necessary to be both driven by faith and drawn by hope. We are not to look down at our feet, around at our surroundings, or behind at our accomplishments or failures. We are to be “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” 

When I played baseball and all through my coaching days, there was one necessary rule to get a hit. Everyone needed to keep fix their eyes on the baseball. If a hitter went to the plate casually look at everything but the ball, they weren't going anywhere.  

It is the same with Christianity. Jesus Christ, alone, is to be our attention's sole focus on if we ever hope to make contact with God. Why? Because we need to be loved to run the race that is still to come.  

We don’t run to be loved. We run because we are already loved, which is why we need to keep looking at the Lover of our souls, or else the sneaker soles we run with will go off on paths that lead to pitfalls. 

The only way we can run like Jesus is if we see what He saw when He was on earth. The face of a Father who loved him at the beginning of the race gave Jesus everything He needed to press on when it appeared that nothing was going right.  

The Father never used "if" to define His love for Jesus. His love was a guarantee, certainty and done deal. Jesus loves us as the Father loves Him.  

Jesus says, “Keep your eyes fixed upon me, and you will never have to depend on earthly labels to get by again. God doesn’t play hide and seek or bait and switch, running from this experience to that encounter to trick us into connection.  

If I have to worry if I see love in Terri’s eyes every time I glance at her, our marriage and relationship are going nowhere fast. As our perfect example, Jesus looked beyond what He was to do and saw who was loving Him. 

The suffering and the shame of the cross was not His motivation. The Father assuring the Son that soon He would be home was all Jesus needed, setting His hope on the joy that would be His, not when He died on the cross or when He rose from the dead, but when He sat down in glory at the right hand of the Father.  

Hope drew Jesus onwards and upwards, giving Him the endurance needed to persevere and plow through the hostility of sinners. The same is true for us.  

This is a call for us to run a race, but let’s get the finish line defined. I’m not running to heaven. I’m running to fall into the arms of the One who lives in heaven and will keep us running, no matter whatever. 

The year has begun. What race will you choose to run? Make no mistake, we were created to run, but let’s make sure we run to the One who is calling us not to a place, but to a face that looks like Jesus. 

ED. NOTE: The author is the senior pastor of The Lighthouse Church, 1248 Route 9 South, Court House. 

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