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John 21:17

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

April 7, 2001

The Race that Is Set before Us

When I was younger, I had a love/hate relationship with the Olympics.

I loved to watch the Games on television every four years. I especially enjoyed the coverage of sports you didn't get to see every day — like swimming, skiing, gymnastics and bobsledding.

But when I was about 16, I began to hate the Olympics, too. Mostly I had a problem with the women gymnasts. It wasn't anything personal. Many of them were my age — and some of them were younger than me.

Actually, that was the problem. When I watched them perform, what ran through my head was, "They're my age and they are winning gold medals. It is too late for me to be a gymnast."

That was the first time I remember feeling a door of possibility slam shut in my life. Before my gymnastics revelation I believed that I could grow up to do and be anything. But now I realized I was too old for something. A possibility had passed me by. Life was not one long limitless opportunity. Someone else had accomplished something I never would.

I didn't like how that feeling of loss felt back then, and today, many more closed doors later, it still bothers me.


I write this on my 42nd birthday, a day I've often used to take stock of my life. Unfortunately, in recent years it's also been a day when I've enviously looked over my shoulder at other people's lives and regretted and lamented the closed doors in my own.

But this year, a biblical concept and a death in the family are keeping me whole, and helping me to reflect on my life in a healthy way.

I've been thinking about the race that is set before us.


It hit me with great force a few weeks ago. My seminary class was meeting in the ninth largest church in America, a model of vital, effective ministry. My instructor spoke kindly but with great seriousness as he led us in a devotion on John 21:18-22.

"Most of you in this room are going to toil in obscure ministry that no one is going to notice," he said. "You are not going to be a part of a church like this one."

"What you have to realize," he continued, "is that God does not call many people to be Knute Larson [the pastor of that church]. Most ministries are not like his."

Turning to the gospel, he read the account of Jesus telling Peter how he would die, and Peter looking over at John, asking what John's future would be.

"Jesus told Peter not to look at the other guy's ministry," my instructor said. "He said, 'What is that to you? You follow me.'"

I looked down at my Bible, on which I'd had imprinted, "Hebrews 12:1." In that moment, it took on a whole new significance.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us." — Hebrews 12:1


I'd spent time recently bemoaning the fact that my church leadership career was in a shambles. I'd been at a church that had split. Then I'd been involved in a church start that hadn't made it. Now I was on the periphery of a new church, wondering how to fit in.

Six years ago when I'd stopped being a nominal Christian and turned everything over to God, he had come into my life in a big way, and had immediately blessed my efforts to get involved in ministry. Now I was sidelined. I caught myself jealously eyeing people who were in healthy, growing churches, with ministries that seemed to be making a real difference. I found myself thinking: "Lord, What about him?" [John 21:21].

I realized that what was really going on was that I wasn't content with following where Jesus was leading me. Looking at the success of others, I was balking at running the race that was set before me. It was as if God had built me to be a marathoner but I'd chosen to pout because I wasn't being asked to run the more glamorous 100 meters.


My dad died on February 10, 2001.

In the weeks since that day, thinking about my dad's life has helped put things in perspective. You see, my father did run the race that was set before him. He lived the life he was given and faithfully fulfilled the tasks God gave him.

My dad worked more than 40 years in purchasing for a hosiery mill and a commercial printer. He raised two daughters, was a devoted husband, and was active in his church. That's a summary of his life in two sentences. It's where God planted him.

But if you dig a little deeper, you come up with some other things:

Four of my dad's six pallbearers were younger men he had mentored at work. The other two were his son-in-laws.

At the viewing and the funeral, more than 200 people whose lives he had touched streamed by, with stories about my dad's kindness, generosity, faith, and high standards. These were friends, neighbors, relatives, church people, business associates, high school classmates, even people he'd served on borough council with more than 30 years ago. My mother received close to 200 sympathy cards.

I was always especially proud of my dad for the faithfulness he exhibited during difficult times. When the hard thing had to be done, my father was the one others could count on to do it.

That was the race God gave to my father. He ran it.


In the parable of the talents, Matthew 25:14-30, I don't think my dad was the five-talent guy — the superstar with a big splashy role to play. And he certainly wasn't the one-talent guy, who buried what he was given and had nothing to show for his life at the end.

No, I like to think of him as the two-talent man. God gave him certain gifts and a certain position in life, and his response was to be faithful with what he had. He ran the race that was set before him.

I think that when my dad met Jesus on February 10 he was able to say, "Master, you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more." [v. 22] And I believe he heard the master's response: "Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share your master's happiness!" [v.23]

At the end of my life I would like to say about myself the same words I read at my dad's funeral:

. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. — 2 Timothy 4:6-8

For me, the peace is coming as I begin to make a sober judgment of myself, as Paul put it in Romans 12:3. I am probably a two-talent servant like my father. I'm not going to win any gold medals. I probably won't have a well-known ministry. But I can be faithful with what I've been given. I can choose to run the race that is set before me, no matter where it does — or doesn't — lead.



Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
— Hebrews 12:1