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Three challenges, two conditions, one command

It goes without saying that most of us do better "replicating" something if we can see how it is done before we try it.  For someone to merely tell us to do something and then attempt it without ever seeing it done is most difficult. The first time we made a cake in our home education classes in school, we measured out flour, sugar, eggs, oil, etc.  We followed a recipe - we had all the basic ingredients, were "told" how to combine them and how long to back them, and then we were given the time to do it.  What was lacking was an example of what it looked like along the way. It would have been so easy to get off track with what we were doing simply because we didn't see any example of it to follow.  Yes, we had everything we needed, including the time, but we didn't have anything to really "cement" the idea of how this cake was to appear when it was all finished because we had no example before us. When the teacher went to the refrigerator, produced this lovely three layer layer cake, completely frosted, we finally had the "image" of what we were creating before us.  The "image" brought it all together for us.  

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through.That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!  (Hebrews 12:1-3 MSG)

God doesn't leave us out there to just figure stuff out on our own - he gives us examples to follow because he knows we need them in order to "cement" the concepts he teaches and commands he gives.  What we don't need is conflicting examples - we need to eliminate those examples which just don't match up to what scripture declares.  Here we are challenged to "get on with" our spiritual walk - stop lolly-gagging around and move forward in our walk. At first, this may not seem like much of a challenge to us, but if we have nothing to "follow" it makes it very hard to even take the first step!  Since we have been given so many "positive" examples in scripture, we have no excuse for not running this race at full-speed.

     Three challenges:  Strip down!  Start running!  Never quit!  
     Two conditions:  No extra spiritual fat!  No parasitic sin!
     One command:  Keep your eyes on Jesus!

Let's deal with the challenges first.  
Strip down - get rid of excess "baggage" which only slows us down and hinders our progress.  When I was in the military, we had to run physical fitness drills daily.  Sometimes I wished we could have "stripped down" a little before doing these because running in starched fatigues, T-shirt, heavy socks, and combat boots just made it so much harder.  If we could have "stripped down" even to remove the fatigue shirt (long-sleeve), and the combat boots could have been replaced with running shoes, I think we would have done much better!  The excess weight and "material" in our uniform attire made it hard to move, almost binding at times.  It also made it harder to "pick em up and put em down" as we ran! This is how it is in our spiritual walk when we don't "put off" what binds us and "put on" what has been given to us to help us run well.  

Start running - as we lay down what binds us to our present circumstances, we find our next challenge to actually begin to put one foot in front of the other. There were some girls in my unit who obviously didn't do much running in their "former" lives.  They lagged behind continually, while others of us were out ahead, and then there was this "middle" group, just plugging along, looking at those ahead and thankful they weren't those pulling up the rear.  It was always kind of exciting to see the transformation of those who were in the rear as the weeks passed.  Just the consistency of running, even if they were lagging behind, made them stronger, developed their endurance, and eventually made it possible for them the gravitate into the "middle crowd". They may not have been our in the lead, but they did make forward progress!

Never quit - I think this is where some of us get it wrong - we get rid of the baggage and even step out to start the race, but then we peter out because we aren't in the lead!  As our drill sergeant called the consistent cadence we all ran "double-time" to, we picked em up and put em down in unison with each other.  There was something about the "unity" of our runs which made it possible for those in the rear to get there right along with the rest of us!  We couldn't leave a member of our unit behind, so if they were falling behind, we each took turns coming alongside until they made it to the end.  In essence, we were saying we wouldn't allow them to quit!

The two conditions:
No extra spiritual fat - at the beginning of training, we all had some "flabbiness" about us which just wasn't there when we finished!  What happened was something most refer to as "conditioning" - we got rid of the fat and developed muscle in its place.  We may not have been able to do more than 5 push-ups and sit ups that first day, but as we continued to be pushed and to push ourselves, we laid off the fat and put on the muscle. We became "toned".  The first condition laid out is that of getting rid of the "extras" we always try to work into anything we do in the spiritual sense - like all the "works" we think might be necessary to get us on the good side of God!  All these do is bog us down and keep us anchored to our "inabilities". What God wants is for us to let go of those and become "lean".

No parasitic sin - what an apt illustration of what sin does in our lives - it acts as a parasite!  A parasite lives inside its host - taking all its nourishment from the host.  An apt illustration of a parasite is a leech!  It is unable to live without the blood of its host!  It feeds on you!  Sin has the same attributes - it latches on, sucking you dry!  Nothing hinders forward progress more than having something sucking the very life-blood from you!

The one command:
Keep your eyes on Jesus!  In basic training, we had "guidons" - small flags on long poles which become our "rallying-points" as we came into formation.  The guidon-bearer was always out front of the troops - leading the way.  In the military, the guidon and the Commander are tied closely together - for the guidon signifies the Commander is "on-base" and "in charge" of the troops at his disposal.  We all kept our eyes on that tiny flag because as with our focus in our spiritual lives, it symbolized for whom we were running - our Commander!  Just sayin!

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