Friday, July 20, 2012

The Finish Line

My family has been sitting down together for times to reflect on the goodness of God this summer.

Last night we listened to this song by Steve Taylor called "The Finish Line" and talked about it together.

As usual, my wife and I cried at the end of the song. But there are beautiful truths scattered throughout and as we talked about these with our boys several thoughts came up.

First, the song begins with a young man who kneels at the altar and surrenders his life to Christ, vowing like Peter before him that he will never forsake Jesus, even if everyone else does. However, as the song reveals, he's full of self-righteousness and spiritual bravado.

And I saw you, upright and proud
And I saw you wave to the crowd
And I saw you laughing out loud
At the Philistines

And I saw you brush away rocks
And I saw you pull up your socks
And I saw you out of the blocks
For the finish line

Almost immediately, as the young man runs the race he discovers that the race isn't a sprint, but a marathon. He is distracted by the world, and worse, he is swayed by those other runners who meander along and lose sight of the goal.

Darkness falls, the devil stirs
And as your vision blurs
You start stumbling

The heart is weak, the will is gone
And every strong conviction
Comes tumbling down

Haven't well all been here before? We start off so passionate for our faith, so in love with Jesus, but we are quickly discouraged by our own weakness, or the lack of passion we experience in those who have been following Jesus longer. Soon we realize that everyone is much more comfortable if we just tone things down a bit and settle down.

I love the lines in the song where he describes the condition of the young man's heart after he has followed "the party line".

Let's wash our hands
As we throw little fits
Let's all wash our hands
As we curse hypocrites

We're locked in the washroom
Turning old tricks
Deaf and joyless
And full of it

"Deaf, and joyless, and full of it." That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it? We curse those hypocrites over there, not realizing that we are the "chief of sinners". We are deaf - unable to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit convicting us of our apathy. We are joyless - mocking those who are full of passion when we ourselves are desperate for it. We are full of it - unable to admit our own weakness and blindness.

But, thankfully, the song doesn't end there, and neither does our walk with Christ. Because of God's grace, we are given another chance to stand up, set our gaze on the finish line, and run once again.

Off in the distance, bloodied but wise
As you squint with the light
Of the truth in your eyes

And I saw you, both hands were raised
And I saw your lips move in praise
And I saw you steady your gaze
For the finish line

I love this image of the young man, "bloodied but wise" who squints "with the light of the truth in (his) eyes" as he finds his faith again and runs the race before him.

Every idol like dust
A word scattered them all
And I rose to my feet
When you scaled the last wall

And I gasped
When I saw you fall
In his arms
At the finish line

This is the part that always gets me. My wife and I both wiped away tears as we pictured this man, much like ourselves, who runs the race before an audience of believers and non-believers alike, living out his faith in full view of all mankind.

As he scales that last wall and once again falls - but this time into the arms of Jesus who catches him at the very last step of the race, on the finish line.

To me, this image stands in contrast to the young man's posture at the beginning of his race where he was confident and waving to the crowd. His fall after that was due to his pride and arrogance, but after enduring that shame he is wiser and more aware of both his own weakness and the true nature of this long marathon race of life and faith. When he falls the final time, it is almost a statement of faith. He knows that he cannot make it alone. He finally realizes that only those who fall completely upon the mercy and grace of Jesus will ever actually reach that finish line. So, when he does fall, he does so accepting his own weakness and admitting his need for more of God.

In our conversations together as a family after listening to this song, we talked about how God can only help those who admit they need help. As Jesus said to the Pharisees:

"If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains." (John 9:41)

We have to admit our weakness to God, and also to ourselves. We can't let our pride delude us into believing our own hype. We are made of dust. We are weak. We need all the Grace and Mercy that God can give us, and even then we still need to hold on tightly to Jesus for all that's within us.

Paul used this metaphor of running a race when he wrote to the church in Corinth.

"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." (1 Cor 9:24-27)

Paul wants to run as if there's only one winner. He runs against himself, ultimately, and fights his own body or flesh so that he might finish the race well.

I love that, at the end of us life, Paul returns to this metaphor and says:

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day —and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." – (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Paul has fought the fight against his own sinful flesh. He has finished this race. He has kept the faith, and now he will receive that crown at the finish line and look deep into the loving eyes of his savior and King as he hears those words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

As important as it is for us to live our faith daily, it's also important to keep our eyes on that finish line and to do all that we can to finish well, regardless of how many times we stumble along the way.

We need to know that we will fall. That's a given. But when we do we need to make sure we fall into the arms of our Lord Jesus who knows our weakness and rains down mercy upon us each and every day.


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