Text: 1 Corinthians 9:24-30
1 Cor 9:24-30 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (ESV)
Get your head in the game.
The Christian mission is not for a participation award. You know, like the ones you get in elementary school just for being in the race and you get it with all the other kids and after a while you realize that if everyone is special, no one is. Paul is talking about a real prize here. What is the prize – the prize is sharing in the blessings of the gospel with others (verse 23). The prize is sitting in your living praying with your neighbors. The prize is seeing your addicted friend find freedom in Christ. The prize is seeing your suicidal depressed co-worker find new life and joy in Christ. That is the prize – sharing in the blessings of the gospel with others.
And it is a race for this prize. Now, we are not racing against other churches, or Christians. They are not our competition. In fact they are on our team. We are racing against the values of the world for the souls of the unbelievers. Your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers. The world is racing to their homes, inviting them to their parties, enrolling them in their causes, while churches sit around and debate whether we place our faith in Christ before or after he regenerates us. While the world entices them in with slogans like “believe in yourself” “you can do anything if you believe in your heart” we yell at them if they are not dressed properly or they are rough around the edges. We sneer at them if we invite them to a Bible study and (gasp*) don’t bring a Bible or don’t know where James is. We tell them that they can’t be in certain classes if they aren’t a believer yet. We invite them to church where they listen to music 50-300 years old, have to sing – and some people really hate singing, make them stand up and sit down and seemingly arbitrary times, sit and listen to a lecture that they may not care about, and pass a money bag in front of them. It seems like we are doing everything possible to lose the race. It is as if we place obstacles on the track in front of us. We have to remove the obstacles so that we can win people to Christ. Now I am not saying that the church needs to change everything. What I am saying is that every one of us needs a mindset change. What is the prize? The prize is getting past all of these things so that we can share Jesus with people in a way that the cultural baggage is minimized. All things, all people, win some.
No pain no gain
Exercising self control in all things. Reaching our community with the gospel depends “not merely from a series of spontaneous warm-hearted gestures, but from a settled strategy that involves personal cost.”
Athletes will resolve to do without excess food or luxuries that they might in other circumstances have a right to enjoy. You trim the fat and you devote energy into things that will enable you to reach your goal.
Look at verse 26: So I do not run aimlessly – aren’t churches great in this? We build programs here and there and here and there, but we don’t have an over all picture as far as where we are trying to get to. We do not need more programs but a shared strategic vision. Once we have that vision settled, we begin to evaluate how we can best make that vision a reality.
Did you know our church has a vision that we worked together on to see put in place? In August to December 2006 many, many members of OCBC prayerfully examined the needs, challenges and opportunities facing our church. If you’d like a copy of the document that we came up with, please see me. Let me summarize where we felt our vision mandate was.
We believe that OCBC has a unique and compelling role to play in outreach to the Mandarin speaking community, by outreaching to new immigrants and to South Asian students enrolled at local universities. In short, we want to reach Mandarin speakers as they settle in this area.
We believe that our English and Mandarin must synergize our efforts and work as full and equal partners to extend the work of the church. The objectives of each congregation are not mutually exclusive.
If that is our race, our goal, how are we doing?
The 2001 census also reports that the Chinese are now the largest visible minority group in Canada, reaching a total of 1,029,400 in 2001, up from 860,100 in 1996.
After the 2nd world war, the primary source of Chinese immigration to Canada was Hong Kong. In the 1970’s a couple of political factors paved the way for a Taiwanese influx of immigrants. Our church was founded during these years. Throughout the eighties and early nineties immigration from Taiwan continued at a steady pace. Immigration from Mainland China during this period was kept at a minimum because of both Canadian and Chinese government policies. However, in the nineties this changed and an era of open immigration was ushered in. 1998 was the first time the PRC émigrés outnumbered Hong Kong’s and Taiwan’s in 1998, as it became the top source region for immigrants to Canada.
Based on country of birth, the intake from China remained at the same level during the first two periods and then experienced a sharp increase during the last two periods (1991-1995, and 1996-2001). In the case of Hong Kong, there was a steady increase up to 1991-1995, and then a sharp decline in the late 1990s. The number of immigrants from Taiwan was relatively small; nevertheless it gradually increased over the period as Figure 2 shows.
So how are we doing to reach these people whom we have together as a church said that it is our unique and compelling role to play in outreach to them?
How are we doing in our English congregation? What’s our identity? Who are we trying to reach? How do we support the vision statement of focusing on the prize of winning these young immigrants to Christ while developing ourselves as a multiracial and increasingly Canadian-born congregation? These are hard questions and it is easier not to raise them. Just like it is easier for me to sit on my couch, playing wii and eating cheetos than to train to beat Michael Phelps. We have to do some soul searching. It will be painful, but we must discipline ourselves to become all things to all people and be all means win some.
I feel ashamed to say that I know we have put barriers up.
Keep your eyes on the prize
Here’s why. Here’s our motivation. Verse 25. We are doing this to receive an imperishable wreath. Think of how an athlete prepares and discipline himself and strategizes and deprives himself so that he can win a prize that sits on a shelf gathering dust. In Corinth they helpd the Isthmian games that completed with the now more famous Olymian games. Every four years the population of Corinth swelled as the were treated to feats of athletic prowess. You know what the victors got? Celery. They got a crown of celery on their heads. Great. Piece of gross junk. But people would kill themselves for it. Give up their lives, their luxuries for a vegetable. We are striving for an imperishable prize the souls of these Chinese who come to Ottawa looking for a home. We need to show them their eternal home and God will judge us if we put any obstacles in the way. They are the prize. If we win them they will not perish but have eternal life, we will share with them in the blessings of the gospel eternally.
Play by the rules
A judge is watching our ministry conduct for:
False starts: building our ministry on anything but the person and work of Jesus. On charisma or flash. Meredith was telling me about a guy who wouldn’t come to church because he pastor dominated things like a little God. False start, disqualification. Or false pretenses. Inviting people over for a supper, and then springing the Jesus video on them. False start. Disqualification. How we do ministry matters.
Doping: Bringing in substances that would make you appear stronger than you really are. I see this primarily in some churches that stress signs and wonders. Make grand unsubstantiated claims. I am not saying that miracles don’t happen, what I am saying is that you don’t need to call everything a miracle or take credit for something that you didn’t do. That’s doping disqualification. We do thi9s when someone asks us a question about the Christian faith, and even though we don’t know the answer we give them one. Just say I don’t know, but let’s try to pray and study this one out together.
Taking short-cuts: Here we go. Instead of doing the hard work and asking who we are trying to reach and what we can do to best reach them, we just cookie cutter what other churches are doing and bring it to our situation. When we use other people’s ideas we need to work them through for our people. This is called contextualization. Its harder to do. But we have to do it if we are trying to speak to the people we need to reach.
Impediment: prohibiting another runner from running his race. We tear down other Christian ministries for using methods we find sketchy. Maybe he is trying to reach another group of people. Someone tries something different to reach out to others, and he or she is criticized. I know of pastors who will not let people in their flock start ministries that they have a heart for because they can’t let go and everything has to run through them. High schoolers, you sometimes are really bad at this. One person brings a friend to church and the rest of you ignore him or worse tease him. You are impeding the ministry of your friend in the youth group. Help each other out, don’t hold each other back.
Uniform Violations: not being properly dressed. We can be dressed in not the right gear. What if Michael Phelps tried to race in this? This is a swimming suit from the early 1900’s. We are trying to reach modern people using old ways, and if we continue to do this our church will die. Let me say this strongly. If we do not do everything we can do to tear down cultural obstacles to the gospel, we as a church are sinning and we are going to die. Yet there’s a limit. Women swimmers don’t race in string bikinis (i’m not going to show a picture!) either because they are going to expose too much of themselves and create drag.
How do we find the balance between being so ancient that we can’t reach the modern person, or being so relevant that we have nothing to offer? Mark Driscoll does such a good job of explaining these I steal from his notes:
Reject: Some aspects of culture are simply sinful and must be rejected by God’s people. In our day this would include sexual sins (we don’t have strippers for Jesus, or go out of our way to embrace every deviant sexuality out there and say yeah that cool) It includes drug use. We don’t have heroine parties as a way to introduce people to Jesus – you might see him! And we don’t agree to a definition of tolerance that requires us to say that every way to heaven is ok. Because then we are not embracing culture for the gospel’s sake, we are trampling on the gospel for relevance’s sake.
Receive: Some aspects of culture are actually good! We can use them and receive them. These are actually positive virtues. Environmental stewardship is a big thing now – great. You love the creation, you should meet the creator – He’s great. I’ll go hug that tree with you and while we are there I’ll tell you why I love the God who created that tree. Volunteerism – your kids have to volunteer! Their schools make them. Why not join them and use it as an opportunity to share the love of Jesus. Go to a food shelter, help out with the food bank. Take part in a community cleanup. I can’t go to the community cleanup because I have to go to church. Take church there. Technology. Human rights. Canada prides itself on human rights. Christians should be joining our voices to the causes that we are able to redeem.
Redeem: some aspects of culture are morally neutral. They can be used for evil or good. The media. The internet. A lot of terrible things on the internet, but I can do research for my sermons, post them online and talk with people all over the world about them. Money. People do terrible things for money. We use money to do good things.
The point is, we need to evaluate and discern how each aspect of the culture we are trying to reach can be used or must be avoided for the gospel’s sake. Let’s not disqualify ourselves because we reject or embrace too much. We need to be seeker sensitive, but not seeker driven. We don’t change our entire services to revolve around the felt needs of seekers, but we definitely remove barriers that keep them from seeing Jesus. As i sadi before this is going to take long, hard discussions and honest looks in the mirror, but this is the race that we have been set out to win.
Big Question: Would you do anything to reach those God is calling you to reach? Are you ready to run this race?