This past weekend, for auto racing fans, there were two of the biggest races on the schedule. The Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600. I watched the races off and on throughout the afternoon and evening, but the finish of both these races was what was most intriguing and unexpected.
In the Indy 500 a 23 year old rookie, J.R. Hildebrand was winning the race after a flurry of lead changes toward the end. Coming into turn
four, the final turn, he had only to pass a slower lapped car then cruise down the straight away to the finish line and take the checkered flag. It was going to be a great story. But…it was not to be. As he passed the slower car coming out of the final turn, Hildebrand’s car got a little high on the track and out of the groove…sending him crashing into the wall! Dan Wheldon passed him and took the victory…while Hildebrand maintained enough control to slide all the way down the wall to the finish line and finish second. A great finish for a rookie, but not what could’ve been. My heart went out for that guy!
In the Coca-Cola 600, which is the longest race on NASCAR’s schedule, a crazy bunch of racing and pit stops and strategies made for an unexpected finish. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had been running well all day. Through a series of strategic calculations on fuel, Jr. decided to gamble on being able to finish
the race. he conserved as best he could…even turning off his engine and coasting during a late yellow flag. All this enabled him to be in the lead on the final few laps. He took the white flag with what seemed to be an insurmountable lead and a sure victory…his first in a long time. Then coming into turn 4…just as at Indy…that all changed. He began to slow and it was quickly apparent that he was out of fuel. Momentum would only take him so far. Six cars would pass Jr. before he coasted across the finish line in 7th place. A respectable finish and a decent payday for sure, but not what could’ve been.
So I was thinking about these races this week and several scriptures and principles from God’s word came to mind. Where are you on the track? Are you thinking about the finish at all? For all we know we are all coming into “turn four.” While Harold Camping’s supposed prophecy did not come true on May 21, we don’t know what the future holds, nor do we know when Christ will return (Matthew 24) or when our days will end (Ecclesiastes 9:12a). We can make all the calculations we want on our future, the future of the world, our nation, politics, economic forecasts, and on and on. The bottom line is we are all in “turn four” or at least we should live like we are.
In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Paul says,
24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
And again in Galatians 5:7…
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?
Jesus warned us to always be ready…live prepared for His return (Matthew 25:1-13). We should live as if we are coming out of “turn four” all the time. Some of us have run well but we are running out of fuel. We are not keeping our lamps full of oil as Jesus illustrated. We aren’t living our lives filled with and dependent upon and trusting in the Holy Spirit. We may be doing good things…going to church…but we aren’t in a relationship with Jesus. You are coming out of turn four and you are gonna run out because what you are filled with is insufficient to get you to victory. You must put your faith in Jesus…not in religion or spirituality. A relationship with Jesus is the only thing that will get you home. (John 14:6). We need to live everyday walking with Jesus as if it is the last day…as if we are in turn four.
Some of us are walking with the Lord, but we are in danger of crashing because we have gotten out of the groove. We are looking to the finish line but not paying attention to what’s going on right under our wheels. Hildebrand crashed because he got out of the racing groove and got “up into the marbles.” The marbles are the little balls of rubber that accumulate on the outside parts of the track as tires ont he cars wear over the course of the race. When a car “gets in the marbles” it’s like getting on ice. They can quickly lose control…and before they know it they are in the wall. We have to pay attention to the things that are all around us that can trip us up and send us into the wall. As the writer of Hebrews says, “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us” (Hebrew 12:1). The enemy wants nothing more than to see you not finish well. If you are a Christ follower, Satan knows he can’t have you (John 10:28) but he can surely disqualify you and make you less than useful for the Kingdom and the sake of the Gospel in this world. He can get you “out of the groove” and “into the marbles.” We’ve seen it over and over. In the wake of such disasters we see many hurt and disillusioned people…even the ones we love the most wind up damaged. Discipline and concentration are essential coming out of turn four and headed to the finish. That’s where we are as the church. It isn’t about us…it’s about HIM and HIS glory. It’s about the Great Commission and taking the Gospel to the nations…then the finish line comes.
We have to stay focused…concentrating…not letting anything “cut in on us” and distract us from what Christ calls us to. We must stay filled with the Spirit…stay in the narrow groove (Matthew 13:22-30). Turn four is where the race can be won or lost. We can finish strong and well or we can limp across the line…or not make it at all. What is your focus as you come into turn four? Are you running on fumes or full? Are you disciplined and concentrating or distracted by the world? Are you in the groove or not? Finish strong! Finish well!
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2