Spring 2009 Chapel - March 4th

Spring 2009 Chapel Address - 3/04/09

Listen to the recorded version here:

Training for Life

(Show video clip of Ashley Puga's Indoor Track Championship Mile victory)

Don't you love that?  I still have hearing loss from my wife screaming in my ears as Ashley achieved what appeared to be the impossible.  The indoor mile is an 8 lap race and in a lap and a half she closed a 50 yard gap and passed her opponent at the finish line to win the race, and not just any opponent, the young lady was league champion the last two years.
Don't you love winning?  Isn't victory grand?  

That was an amazing race Ashley ran.
    Miss Pixler, the young lady from SPU is a classic runner, beautiful style.
    But my, my Ashley has heart, and heart wins over style.
    It was wonderful testament to the "miler's kick"-- that reservoir of spirit and energy that enabled her to dig down and chase down the leader.

In addition to the race itself, was the time in which Ashley ran her race, it was ten seconds faster than any previous time she had run the indoor mile, 4:47.

What happened?  How was she capable of doing that?  I've already referenced the character of this young lady, her heart.

But this morning I want to focus our attention on something, without which, there would be no victory.  Something done without fanfare, without cheers, without praise or adulation.  Training.

To train.  To work out.  To seek to get better, to be better.  You know, if you hang out in the stands of the meet, you can hear the athletes talk to one another after their event is over, they ask, "how did you do?".   They don't ask this of the person who won, that accomplishment is obvious, what they're asking is, "did you PR?" Did you set a new Personal Record? A PR.

I.e., Did you do the best you've ever done?  Did your training and trying, pay off?

We train to get better.  That is our quest.  Listen to this quote from one of my heroes, John Wooden:   Those who most often enjoy victory and success, are in fact more motivated by the journey, the challenge.  The final outcome is a by-product of seeking to do one's best.

I asked Ashley how many miles she ran to prepare for that race.  She couldn't answer the question.  It's too big a number, it's the total of all the training steps she's ever taken.  Her training has made her the runner she is.

I mentioned John Wooden a moment ago.  For those of you who don't know him; he is arguably the greatest basketball coach of all time.  His teams at UCLA won 10 national championships.  More importantly than that, he is a fine Christian gentleman of highest integrity and character.

You know what he said he missed most about coaching---PRACTICE.  He missed being with his players and seeking to get better.  Listen to this quote:
I take greater pride in how players prepare, progress and perform than I do the outcome.  Do I like to win?  Yes.  Am I disappointed when we lose?  Yes.  But if I and the team strove to become the best it could be, and played to the best of its ability, then I felt as if we had achieved success despite our loss that day.

When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur.  When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning.  Not, tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made.
Don't look for the big, quick improvement.  Seek the small improvement one day at a time.  That's the only way it happens, and when it happens, it lasts.

You see, when you train in this manner, when the journey has value equal to the contest, success may be defined in a manner different than margins of victory and won/loss records.

Success is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

This chapel message isn't really about athletics, although that's the context in which I've placed these remarks.  It's really about learning the joy of discipline.  You see, we're all in one sense or another in training.
    The race
    The test
    The recital
    The experiment
    The research paper
    The performance
    The internship
    The clinical

In each case we have choices to make about how we intend to apply ourselves.  How do we approach the goals we have set for ourselves, the journey that we're on?  What motivates you?

Do you compete with what you were yesterday?
Do you wonder what you're capable of?
What you might accomplish if you put your mind to it?
Are you committed to living life to its fullest?  
To seek to excel and serve in ways and places of value?
What expectations do you have for yourself?

Listen to one more Wooden story, in this case a poem he liked to share:


This is your first game, my child.  I hope you win.  
I hope you win for your sake, not mine.
Because winning's nice.
It's a good feeling.
Like the whole world is yours.
But, it passes, this feeling.
And what lasts is what you've learned.

And what you learn about is life.
That's what sports is all about.  Life.
The whole thing is played out in an afternoon.
The happiness of life.
The miseries.
The joys.
The heartbreaks.

There's no telling what'll turn up.
There's no telling whether they'll toss you out in
     the first five minutes or whether you'll stay for
    the long haul.

There's no telling how you'll do.
You might be a hero or you might be absolutely
There's just no telling.
Too much depends on chance.
On how the ball bounces.

I'm not talking about the game, my child.
I'm talking about life.
But, it's life that the game is all about.
Just as I said.

Because every game is life.
And life is a game.
A serious game.
Dead serious.

But, that's what you do with serious things.
You do your best.
You take what comes.
You take what comes
And you run with it.
Winning is fun.
But winning is not the point.

Wanting to win is the point.
Not giving up is the point.
Never being satisfied with what you've done
    is the point.
Never letting up is the point.
Never letting anyone down is the point.

Play to win.
But lose like a champion.
Because it's not winning that counts.
What counts is trying.

- Unknown

Here's the point I'm trying to make:
Change does not occur at the final buzzer, at the finish line or on the victory stand.
Change occurs in the training and the trying.  In the experimenting and stretching and striving, this is where change occurs.
What is more important in this sense is not achieving the mark, but striving for the mark.

Stay with me now as I shift perspective; the training metaphor is not only for us as students and athletes, mental and physical calisthenics.  It is also an apt metaphor for us as Christians.  The life of faith is itself a race.

Ashley wasn't the only one who raced that day.  She was a part of a victorious relay team as well.  I've asked the members of that team to read several passages of scripture.   Listen to the word of the Lord from First Corinthians:

I Cor. 9: 24-27
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win.
And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.  They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;
But I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.

Just as we seek to better ourselves in this temporal world, so too we seek to improve in matters thought eternal.  We are called to behave like athletes in the Christian life, but with one important distinction.  Listen to the words of Paul from Philippians:

Phil. 3: 7-14
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ,
And may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,
That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; In order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

We will not, we cannot, run the race on our own.  We humans have spent our entire existence on this planet proving that we don't measure up to God's law.  We can't manufacture a righteousness acceptable to God.  Before we can go further in training, we must learn the mystery of yielding, of surrendering, of letting go and allowing "the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith" to be what makes our training possible and effective.  We will not finish the race, we will not win the crown, without acknowledging and learning to depend on God as Lord.  Listen to these words of Paul as he reflects back on life's race to young Timothy:

II Tim. 4: 7, 8
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;
In the future 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.

Paul had learned the mystery of the "faith race," that in order to be successful, we must both run to Him and run with Him.  God enables our steps, while simultaneously expecting us to train, to live out what we've heard, to seek to take steps beyond our fallen, human capacity, to train to be like Christ.  To run the race in such a way that in our training and trying we finally realize that we have become something we could not be without Him, we have become like Him.

So run my friends.  Fix your eyes on Jesus and run.  In just a few days, we're going to celebrate the NNU Presidential Inauguration.  This isn't my party.  This is an opportunity for the University to say to itself and all who are joined to it, this is who we are, this is what we believe in, better said, this is who we believe in.  We run to Jesus.

You may not know it, but NNC had a college hymn.  My parents sang it, back in the 40's.  We sang once a year when I taught here in the 80's.  But now it's time for NNU to have its own University Hymn.  We'll unveil it on Thursday evening, March 12th at the Inaugural Ceremony.  But I want you to know about it in advance, a sneak peak.  I want it to be a song that says, this is who we are, this is how we run, this is who we're running to.
Listen to these powerful words from Hebrews and then we're going to stand and sing:

Heb. 12: 1, 2
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.


Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, Thine own may I be,
Thou in me dwelling, and I one with Thee.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven's joys, Bright Heaven's Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.