When I was in High School I took a semester of JROTC (which Edna lovingly refers to as the Pickle Patrol; she has a song and everything). Now, toward the end of that semester we went on a run up a long hill. Some of us started struggling (I know what some of you are thinking; it wasn’t me. I was in good shape at this point of my life. I even broke the JROTC record for sit-ups in a minute) and our Sergeant yelled that we were whining like a bunch of girls, and that if we were in the real military we would have been running with 120 lb. backpacks on. At the time that made me feel really impressed with our soldiers and it also convinced me that I just might not be cut out for the military.
But that idea has stuck with me. That image of men in camouflage running with elephant sized backpacks on their backs still strikes me as heroic. But this week I’ve been studying Hebrews 11.39-12.2 and there we are told to lay aside every weight that hinders. And I’m just guessing, but a huge backpack would probably be a little bit of a hindrance.
I also have a competing image in my head. It’s of my college roommate, Phil. You see, Phil was a cross country runner, and a good one. He ate slept and breathed running. Cold or heat, rain or shine, Phil put on his shiny short shorts and ran for about a hundred miles everyday.
As I compare the images, the soldier with the huge backpack and Phil with his short shorts, it really is striking because the call in Hebrews 12.1 is to run with endurance. And I’ve got to tell you, if I needed someone to run thirty miles carrying medicine to my sick daughter, I’m taking Phil in his short shorts. The reason is that Phil doesn’t have the hindrance of that big backpack. He can run freely and swiftly and with endurance.
So we’re called like Phil to run with endurance. This isn’t a sprint. We have to be committed to the long haul, so like Phil we have to travel light. We need lay aside anything that might slow us down or keep us from finishing altogether. As I’ve prepared to preach, I’ve really wrestled with how to apply this challenge, and it has been a struggle since we are not talking about things that are inherently sinful (that’s easier - stop sinning). This is something that is intensely personal. What hinders me from running for Jesus, you might laugh at. But I want to give two examples that I think are pretty general.
Sports is a common preoccupation for Americans, especially American males. We love us some football. And there was a time in my life where I was downright obsessed with football. I watched the NFL network like a thirsty man drinking from an oasis. And when my Patriots played in those Superbowls, it was an internal war because everything in me screamed that I should skip the evening service to watch the game (I didn’t by the way, Dad taped them for me). It was an unhealthy preoccupation that is certainly not unique to me, Think of all the men you know who spend all day watching a NASCAR race. Or the man who goes to the golf course five times a week now that he’s retired but doesn’t have time for church activities.
Or how about TV? And I don’t just mean the sensual nonsense that we shouldn’t be watching on principle. Think about the sheer amount of hours that we spend watching TV instead of playing with our kids or sharing our faith, or hanging out with other Christians, or going out and doing ministry. If you want to get convicted, put a post it note under your clicker and add the hours for just one week. It will startle you. How many of the hours should have been spent running after Jesus?
I think that far too many Christians are choosing to put those 120 lb. backpacks on and then trying to run for Jesus with these burdens slowing us down. Instead we have to look at Phil. We need to get up early like Phil, put on our shiny spiritual short shorts and run with endurance for Jesus.
BTW - I still love football, but I don’t watch every second of the draft like I used to. Having a whole NFL network seems excessive to me now, and I limit how many games I watch. Oh, and the Patriots will return to the Superbowl this year. And when they do I’ll enjoy watching the tape on Monday.