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Are You In It for the Long Haul?

The Boston Marathon bombings on Monday remind us that the fight against evil is ongoing. We are, indeed, in an endurance run to protect our freedoms and build a safe world for future generations.

Hours after the attack, a Facebook friend posted, “What is wrong with our species?” I replied, “Sin.” I didn’t mean it to be a simplistic answer, either. The human bent toward breaking God’s law, of missing the divine mark, has infected our race since the first couple chomped into a forbidden fruit.

For the follower of Christ, this is especially important to grasp. If we liken our faith journey to an effortless stroll, we will be crushed when the world, flesh and devil trip us up. Sanctification is a cross-country run with potholes, stormy skies and dogs nipping at our heels, not a sprint that barely breaks a sweat. Becoming like Jesus requires patience, perseverance and, above all, a pursuit of God that will not allow hardships and hurdles to turn us back to a no-fuss, no-muss religion.

Don’t forget that our Leader was a marathoner. Before He took on His public mission, He retreated to the wilderness for 40 sweltering days and 40 lonely nights. His ministry was a three-year endurance test with religious enemies on one side, confused disciples on the other, skeptical masses behind him, the Enemy in front beckoning Him to give up His destiny for the splendors of this world. With burning focus, Jesus kept a steady pace toward the finish line of Calvary, not allowing temptations and controversies to sidetrack Him. Greg Arnold of Live Bold Ministries has noted that it’s common for a believer to happily sprint toward the Cross, misjudging the terrain and distance, and then collapsing, allowing evil to slowly walk over and step on the person’s neck.

Of course, we pose hard questions and weep bitter tears when woe or wickedness invades our neatly-ordered worlds. This is natural. The prophet Habakkuk, seeing vicious Babylonian hordes storming toward Israel, cried, “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” (Hab 1:2 NIV) Believers cry and hurt and struggle like everyone else. As much as some Christians want to claim otherwise, we do not have all the answers and sometimes wonder what God is doing behind the scenes.

But we keep running. Inspired by noble saints who went before us, we “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb 12:1). Ultimately it is Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith, whom we fix our eyes on as we jog toward the finish line, the One who “for the joy set before him…endured the cross, scorning its shame.” (vs 2). The author of Hebrews notes that the Son of God Himself weathered “opposition from sinners” (vs 3). We, His faithful followers, can expect the same.

My earnest prayers go out to those who have been shattered by Monday’s despicable work of terror–most especially those who were injured or lost loved ones. Many inspirational stories are coming to light, such as runners who crossed the finish line and kept running to Mass General Hospital to give blood. I also pray that this horrific act will shake up sprinting Christians and inspire them to get back into the long-term race of faith, hope and love. Now, more than ever, the world needs the steady witness of disciples who stay on course for God.

ADDENDUM: At a meeting I attended today (Wed, Apr 17), I heard about 78-year old Bill Iffrig who was knocked down by the blast of one of the Boston Marathon bombs. Dazed, he managed to make it to his feet and cross the finish line about ten feet away. What a great example of being knocked down but not knocked out–a powerful analogy of finishng the race that God has for us.

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