Rules Matter! Run to Win the Prize

Rules matter, guiding every area of life. Competitors must run according to the rules in order to win a prize. In far too many competitions, someone becomes exposed for breaking the rules in an attempt to reach the top of the podium. Why is twisting and bending any or all regulations so common — not just in athletics but in every aspect of life? Whether in sports, politics, business, or even ministry, people willingly risk disqualification or loss of reputation to attain perceived goals.

“Isn’t it obvious that all runners on the racetrack keep on running to win, but only one receives the victor’s prize? Yet each one of you must run the race to be victorious. A true athlete will be disciplined in every respect, practicing constant self-control in order to win a laurel wreath that quickly withers. But we run our race to win a victor’s crown that will last forever. For that reason, I don’t run just for exercise or box like one throwing aimless punches, but I train like a champion athlete. I subdue my body and get it under my control, so that after preaching the good news to others I myself won’t be disqualified.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Here, Paul lays out strategic guidelines for success for virtually any area of life. Rules matter!

Know Your Lane

Whether in baseball, motor sports, swimming or track events, each participant runs within an assigned position or designated lane. Lanes ensure safety for the competitors and fairness in the competition.

What lane has God called you to run in? Is it within business or finance? Maybe your lane focuses on caring for and loving your family or community well. Is it shepherding a church? Or perhaps teaching or writing? Are you running in your designated lane?

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Romans 8:28

God calls each one of us according to His perfect purpose and design for us. He equips and empowers us to fulfill specific roles. When we know and intentionally run in the lane God has called us to, our lives become exciting and fulfilled.

Whether you a professional dragster or an elementary school sprinter, knowing your lane determines your starting position and the course ahead! If you are unsure which position God has called you to run, ask Him for clarity and allow Him to show you.

Rules matter. The most important rule is staying within the lane God provides.

“Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.”
2 Timothy 2:5

Discipline and Self-Control

We will all start the race at some point, but too few will complete it. Perhaps, a lack of self-discipline or self-control hinders us from staying the course. Whatever the goal or purpose, these qualities will help successfully carry us from start to finish.

A good start doesn’t guarantee a great finish! Sacrifice marks the road to victory. Just as rules matter, so does character.

“. . . we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope.”
Romans 5:3

Though not a contest, entering God’s “race” comes with a physicaly, emotionaly, and often financial cost. However as we run our race, we experience many benefits. God brings out the best in us, deepening our character.

Titus lists qualifying characteristics of those who lead the pack:

“Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.”
Titus 1:8

These attributes form the personal character needed for a great finish to any race we begin.

Oh, my fellow runners, let’s not slow our pace or deviate from our course. May we remain faithful to run with perseverance, character, and hope.

Champion Others

The race we run resembles a relay or a marathon more than a solo sprint. Others run with and beside us. Still more will follow in our footsteps.

As we devote ourselves to run our race, may we champion others — encouraging, training, and developing those co-laboring with us.

We have opportunity daily to choose whether to wear the mantle of encourager or that of a critic. May any encouragement be sincere and all critqueing be given with humility, inspiring listeners to press beyond their expectations.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Matthew 7:1-2

May we refuse to look over our shoulders, judging others for running in a different manner than we would. Criticism inevitably causes us to lose personal momentum, veer off track, or even break godly guidelines of good stewardship of gifts and resources. Rules matter!

What strategies for success can we pass on? How can we help someone else meet and surpass their goals? What tools, resources, or influence can we share?

May we humbly and willingly both receive and pass on the baton of encouragement, creating a synergy of wins.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

God rewards those who diligently seek Him.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 3:12-14

Through the days, weeks, and years of training, a competitor strains toward the goal, the highest prize possible— the top mark, the highest rank.

Every earthly award will eventually break or lose its luster. In a few short weeks or years, it will fade into insignificance.

As Christians, we run or compete, not for human recognition, but to finish the course God has set before us. Everything will pale in comparison to hearing the King of Glory say,

” . . . Well done, good and faithful servant! . . .”
Matthew 25:23

Let us not become distracted. Rules matter! Staying the course matters! Character matters! Passing the baton and keeping focus matters, too. But maintaining sight of eternity guides us along a straight and purposeful path “heavenward.”

Run Well

Maybe you feel like you have tripped up too badly to continue. Today, I encourage you to restart and refocus. No matter how tragic your fall, with God’s help, restart. Move back into your lane and step-by-step aim for the finish line.

None of us know how much time we have left to run. Today, God offers us a fresh start and a new opportunity to gain ground. He is the God of second chances.

Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity . . . “
Ephesians 5:15-16

You can do it! God is on your side, while forerunners in heaven and on earth cheer you on!

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A Never Ending Battle: The Problem With Pride

Problem with Pride

Do you have a problem with pride? If you answered in the negative, I guarantee you do. Actually, we all do. Whether flagrant or subtle, we all battle with pride.

In an action-packed child’s game called “Catch-a-Mole” each player whacks one of several moles popping up from its hole with a hammer. The person who pulls the most moles out of their holes becomes the declared winner. Oh, how this game resembles my battle with pride. No sooner have I successfully whacked pride in one area of my life, when suddenly a new area springs up — or even a multitude of new areas.

Unfortunately, in reality, no one wins when it comes to being proud. God minces no words about His hatred of pride.

“The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.”
Proverbs 16:5

Proud as a Peacock

My Battle

I’m often shocked at the invasive nature of pride. All too frequently, I have to pick up my spiritual weapons against this deceiving attitude, pulling it from its hiding place. There lay part of the issue! Pride wraps itself deceptively in a multitude of disguises.

I may easily become proud of my looks and my possession, or even my spiritual gifts or prayers. Pride pops into my thoughts, bounces off my words, and hides in the motivations of my heart. Sometimes, I lose hope of succeeding in the battle.

Three truths help me:

  1. The root of all pride grows in insecurity.
  2. The only antidote is humility.
  3. I am free to choose.

“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Luke 14:11

Peacock Feather

Pride’s vain promises result in humiliation, but God rewards those who choose humility. We will all have ample opportunity to choose either to exalt ourselves or to walk in humility.

The Test

We often see the evidence of pride in others long before we recognize it in ourselves. I’ve listed just a few of my pride points below. Do you relate to any of these?

  • Self-sufficiency — difficulty asking others for advice or assistance
  • Comparing myself to others
  • Need to be heard or noticed (especially getting in the last word)
  • Not being grateful for the little and big things God and others do for me
  • Jealousy or envy
  • Slander, gossip, or talking negatively about others
  • Feeling irritated, frustrated, or critical of others
  • Fault finding and being judgmental
  • Perfectionism
  • Feeling inferior to others
  • Difficulty saying, “I was wrong. Please forgive me.”
  • Feeling embarrassed or foolish around others
  • Finding it difficult to receive correction — justifying myself
  • Believing my way is right
  • Self-willed and stubborn
Problem with Pride

These symptoms of pride are obvious. What about the more subtle ones?

  • Often late for meetings or appointments
  • Interrupting a conversation or not listening when someone else is speaking
  • Being superficial
  • Difficulty working with others or as a team
  • Preferential treatment toward some, while neglecting others
  • Reluctant to share personal needs or struggles
  • Neglect of prayer or Bible reading

These lists form only the key points of my struggle. Though I am improving in this area substantially, my problem with pride has negatively affected many people.

The Antidote

Fortunately, God equips us to win! The problem with pride is beatable. We dare not let down our guard, lower our hammer, or turn a blind eye to any “pride mole,” wreaking havoc in our lives. Whether I whack once or fifty times a day, persistence reaps rewards.

Whack #1: If I ask, God stands ready to reveal and expose areas of pride in my life.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. see if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Psalm 139:23-24

Puffed up Peacock

Whack #2: View every point seriously! Instead of a general, “I’ve failed . . . sinned . . . been proud,” be specific. By pinpointing the exact areas where the problem with pride arises, we target the “mole,” dragging it into the open. Then confess each area, asking God to reveal the source behind the problem.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
1 John 1:9

Sometimes, I wrongly expect God’s complete faithfulness, regardless of my half-hearted confessions.

Whack #3: The responsibility for my pride rests on me. God desires that I choose humility, but the decision is mine.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
1 Peter 5:6

Keep Whacking

For me, the greatest breakthroughs came after even more strategic whacks. Victory came as I honestly repented and confessed my pride to others. I needed to both ask for forgiveness and submit to accountability in this area. Painful, yes! But absolutely profitable.

I know the best path to follow loves what God loves and hates what He hates. Such a transformation of my heart and mind requires process — a Holy Spirit led daily process.

Peacock Feathers

I often become weary in the relentlessness of it all. In many ways, the problem with pride bears no resemblance to a happy children’s game. I expect the battle to continue as long as I wear this garment of weakened flesh.

“For this is what the high and exalted One says — he who lives forever, whose name is holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
Isaiah 57:15

This verse encompasses God’s ultimate goal for us — “to revive the spirit of the lowly (or humble) and . . . the heart of the contrite (or repentant).”

Humility

Humility literally means “low lying.” Humility consists of that quality where you don’t think you are better than any other person. We identify this freedom from pride and arrogance as true humility.

Humility never refers to belittling oneself or denying God-given gifts or abilities. Rather, it freely acknowledges God’s grace without diminishing others.

As a matter of fact, humility empowers us to encourage, build, and lift other people to their full potential without personally feeling threatened by their success or ours.

Humility

Humility opens the door for us to receive fully the knowledge, wise counsel, and even correction from others, without self-defense, criticizing, or becoming resentful.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Ephesians 4:2

May we all overcome the problem with pride, learning to walk in true humility, gentlessness, patience, and love.

Is anyone else ready for a ferocious game of “Catch-a-Mole?” Let’s do it!

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A Double Portion — Double for the Trouble

Double Portion

The saying “double for the trouble” originated with God. He turns even the most difficult situations for our good and His glory. I grew up hearing this idiom without knowing where or how it began.

Has someone ever stolen something from you? Perhaps money or possessions? Maybe reputation or position? Be encouraged, my friends! If we continue to trust God, putting our hope in Him, He will restore.

“And when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.”
Deuteronomy 30:2-3

God moves beyond simple restoration, however, desiring to give us double for the trouble we go through.

Two Kittens

The Thief

Make no mistake! Jesus warns — a thief lurks among us.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
John 10:10

This thief comes with evil intention to steal everything and anything he can, rushing in like a lion to the kill, destroying fully and completely. But God! Ha! I love those words whenever I read them. But God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to bring us both physical and spiritual life, now and forever. God’s restoration exceeds everything the enemy tries to destroy. God gives back to the full.

“Full” here means superior, superabundant, excessive, and preeminent. When God gives double for the trouble the enemy has caused, it defies explanation or expectation.

Two horses

Double for the Trouble

Elisha became Elijah’s servant and understudy. If you think tagging with this out-spoken miracle-working great prophet was easy, think again! Only Elisha succeeded at the task. Elijah tried to shake him off more than once, but Elisha tracked his master diligently. Finally, Elijah asked,

” . . . ‘Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?’ ‘Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,’ Elisha replied.’ ”
2 Kings 2:9

And Elisha received what he asked for!

Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, banishing him from home and family. Slavery turned to imprisonment through no fault of his own. Years earlier, God had given Joseph dreams of his divine destiny — dreams that under the circumstance appeared lost and stolen forever. For a season,

“They bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons, till what he foretold came to pass, till the word of the LORD proved him true.”
Psalm 105:18

But God! But God proved Himself faithful, elevating Joseph from the prison to a palace, second in rank only to Pharoah. Much later, when Joseph’s descendants inherited the promised land, Joseph received double for the trouble.

“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘These are the boundaries of the land that you will divide among the twelve tribes of Israel as their inheritance, with two portions for Joseph.”
Ezekiel 47:13

God’s sovereignty exceeds time and circumstances.

Two Birds

More Not Less

Sometimes the losses we experience come through our own mistakes, poor choices. or even sinful actions. Job didn’t fit any of these scenarios. Yet in a single day he lost his work force of oxen and donkeys, his revenue in sheep and shepherds, his means of transportation by camels, and even his closest relationships with family. Refusing to blame God for the extreme tragedy, he acknowledged everything came from God and ultimately belonged to Him.

Even when Satan inflicted what he thought would be a fatal blow, painful sores head to toe, Job maintained his devotion and faithfulness to God.

No matter how many times I hear Job’s story, I marvel. Look at the ending to Job’s story.

“After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.”
Job 42:10

Double for the trouble! God restored twice the number of sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys, many more children, and a hundred and forty more years to his life (Job 42:12-17)

God doesn’t always restore like for like. Hebrews 11, also known as the Bible’s faith chapter, tells us sometimes the full reward isn’t realized until heaven. God will come through for you, though. He always has; He always will.

Two Sheep

Double Portion

I’m not sure what you have been or are facing. May I encourage you today with these words from the prophet Isaiah?

“Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours. For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.”
Isaiah 61:7-8

Does shame feel like your portion? Don’t despair. God is preparing a double portion of His inheritance for you. Have you felt the sting of disgrace? Your story isn’t over yet! God’s grace is greater. His justice final. Because He is faithful, we wait in hope for Him to turn things around and make them right.

Zechariah understood God’s guarantee of double for the trouble. God announced through Zechariah this promise.

“Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.”
Zechariah 9:12

Our fortress is none other than God Himself. Let’s return to and stick with our Mighty Fortress! As willing prisoners, we hold with hope to God. God announced to Heaven and Earth His promise to “restore twice as much” as anyone or anything has taken from us.

Restoration is coming! Double for the trouble we have endured! Don’t lose hope, dear ones, hold fast.

Two Fish

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