Thursday, April 3, 2014

"The Competition"

(Read this all the way through, Frances, before you become terrified...)

"The Competition"

    Yesterday afternoon during my walk, I heard a train approaching a railroad crossing toward which I also headed.  A row of bushes blocked my view of the tracks, meaning that I didn't know whether I would be able to pass over before the train reached the crossing.

    I stepped past the bushes to discover the train loomed near as it sounded.  However, the thought crossed my  mind, "I can make it, if I go now."  Note that I write, "the thought crossed my  mind."   Such a notion originated in ancient insanities of my youth, wherein I would likely have challenged thousands of tons of mass, force and speed (and I daresay, would have won).  Thankfully, however, current notions of the Holy Spirit, along with a bit of experience and maturity, stopped me in my tracks before the train perhaps accomplished that for me.  I stepped back a respectful and healthy  distance as the train passed, deafeningly blaring its horn as the ground literally trembled beneath my feet (I promise, Frances, there was never a chance that I might have chanced it!).

   Our children were conceived by parents possessed of what one might call pathological competitive streaks (which perhaps explains the fact that one is a lawyer, another is a Force Recon Marine, and the youngest will always be completely convinced that she is smarter and more able than the rest of us combined!).  Frances and I discovered these proclivities in ourselves when we first started courting.  I worked at a church that had racquetball courts.  I suggested we play.  We did, and I still walk with a bit of limp! (just kidding!).  Then and there, we realized that our inner competitive fires burned too hot to challenge each other, and over the years, we've only allowed a few competitions between ourselves.  I've actually backed away from pretty much all competition, with the exception perhaps of a smartphone quiz game our family recently discovered (the aforementioned youngest, Emmie, and I competed for the first time tonight.  We tied, and pretty much decided we'd leave it at that for the purposes of peace and a continued loving relationship :)   ).  All this to say that while I am sure competition can be a healthy thing, it seems rather to bring out in me responses and sensibilities I'd just as soon remain dormant.

    Interestingly, however, the Apostle Paul injects certain notions of competitiveness into spiritual matters of our relationship with God:

    "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (I Corinthians 9:24-27).

    Note that Paul suggests competition (to the degree of warfare) against his body.  That is, he sought to bring into subjection, through the power of the Holy Spirit, those natural inclinations of our fleshly humanity that war against the spirit.  "If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (Romans 8:13).  Such earthly proclivities include thoughts, attitudes, demeanor, opinions, emotions, words, actions, habits, and ways of relating to God and man.  When we see or sense such human expressions that do not correspond with the character of Christ as revealed in Scripture, Paul suggests that we view them as enemy combatants to be overcome.  That is, the person we most deeply are in Christ, united with His Spirit, arises in the power of our Lord to "mortify" (put to death) anything that originates in fleshly and devilish influence.  This we accomplish by acknowledging His enabling presence, and by affirming that we are "alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:11).  We choose to believe that, regardless of contrary fleshly inclinations, our truest delight involves trusting and obeying God.  "I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Romans 7:22).  Thereby we find ourselves more and more consistently winning the competition, as it were, between our spiritual delight and our fleshly lusts.

    I may or may not have won the race with the train.  I wisely chose to refrain from such foolishness.  I can, however, win the competition with my flesh through the power of the indwelling Spirit of the Lord Jesus.  I haven't always done so, of course, and will doubtless lose more battles along the way (although losses are never inevitable or excusable).  Our Lord grants to us a life and a lifetime of such purposeful devotion to the prize: "run, that ye may obtain."  Let us recognize how equipped we are for the battle, and how vital it is that we enter and remain in the race for the glory of the Lord Jesus and the fulfillment of God's will.

"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
(Philippians 3:13-14)

Weekly Memory Verse
   The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.
(Proverbs 28:1)

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