Run the Race With Grace

"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…" (1 Corinthians 9:24-26)

In 2010, I trained to run the “America’s Finest” half marathon in San Diego. I had been bike riding and working out a lot, but hadn’t really run much since I spiral fractured my tibia and dislocated my ankle in the late 90s. They said they did not recommend that I run anymore because there might not be enough cartilage left. Well, one day I thought I’m just going to try running and see how it goes, and away I went. It felt so good to be running again, and I soon committed to training for the half. I had run 6K’s back in the day, and trained once for a marathon, but never ran one. (What was I thinking?) I ran a lot of miles each week (alone), ate only organic food, worked out, and read running books. Never was I so committed to doing everything possible to be able to finish that race. Not win the prize, just finish. (Hopefully not last.)

I thought of that experience as I read this Scripture in 1 Corinthians 9. What is the imperishable prize referred to here? We all know it is salvation, eternal life in heaven, and abundant life with Jesus each day. I love the illustrations Paul uses to help us understand scriptural truth as he did here.

So, is the Christian life a race or grace? It does require commitment; it should result in self-control, and it helps to have the knowledge that comes from reading and studying Scripture. However, it is only by God’s grace that we come to the place of understanding the sacrifice he made for us on the cross. It is only by God’s grace and the prompting of the Holy Spirit that our sins are revealed and with His help repented of. It is only by God’s grace that we can stay in the race of life at all.

My life verse is Hebrews 12:1-3 in the NIV and says: "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 marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

I did finish the half marathon (I was not last), but it was the journey that led to the finish, the training, and the self-discipline that I remember most. God’s grace is sufficient, and His glory is revealed in us if we commit to running the race His way (not aimlessly), always rejoicing in His unending love and great mercy.

Deb Hill
Executive Administrative Assistant

A Moment of Weakness

"To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some." (1 Corinthians 9:22)

I had only been a Pastor for a few years when I got one of the worst calls of my career. One of my students had a tragic accident that ended his life. Although I was completely heartbroken, I quickly realized that my role was to provide comfort to this hurting family. I was fine with that, but when the family asked me if I would lead their son’s memorial service I got really scared. When I told my Lead Pastor about it, I fully expected him to offer to do it for me, or to give it to one of the more “adult” pastors, but he didn’t. Instead, he simply told me to be there with the family in their pain and then reminded me that God would give me the words. I thought, what words? How could there be any words for a time like this? I felt completely inadequate.

Sure enough, the rest was a blur. The day of the service seemed to happen so fast. After spending almost every waking moment with the family, I barely had time to prepare what I was going to say. All I knew was somehow I was supposed to transition from the pain and sadness of this event to an uplifting gospel message.

Throughout the first part of the service, things went pretty smoothly. I transitioned from worship song to slideshow to people sharing. Things were going well… until the boy’s father got up to share. He planned to share a few prepared words about his boy and then turn it over to me to share the gospel and close the service. As he shared, he got more and more upset. Eventually, the pain was just too much for him to contain and through the sobs and painful tears, he blurted out, “This is just s--- It is absolute s---!” And he said it again and again as he finished his speech and handed me the microphone. It took every bit of effort to hold back my shock. I barely had time to think, but all I can say is God gave me the words, even though they were the last words I ever thought I would say… I put my hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eye and said, “You are exactly right, this is s---!” And I actually said the word! The “S” word in church! As I said it, I remember thinking, “What am I doing?” But sure enough, you could have heard a pin drop. And literally, with a word, I was able to capture the pain of over 800 people and lead them to the hope that we can have in Jesus. “This is not the way it is supposed to be…. God didn’t want death… our sin caused it… but Jesus gave his life on the cross to save us from the sin that will kill us!” I couldn’t have planned it better myself. In fact, I’ve done a lot of memorial services since and I can’t think of many that I have felt more used by God than this one. To this day, there is a family still involved in that church who tell me regularly that the moment when I cussed from the pulpit was the moment they realized this Jesus thing was for them.

I didn’t fully realize it, but somehow in that strange, awkward and beautiful moment, I was able to “become weak, that I might win the weak.”

God, thank you for using us in our weakness...  may we learn how we can be all things to all people that we might save some!

Josh Rose
Teaching Pastor

Step Into the Mess

When I think of the phrase, “I’ll meet you there,” the first person that comes to mind is Jesus. Jesus didn’t remain in the synagogues, preaching from an elevated pulpit, expecting people to come to him. No, he went into communities, proclaiming the gospel and connecting with people right in the midst of their pain, confusion and sin. Jesus, a Jew, went to a well, asked a Samaritan woman for a drink and then lovingly revealed the agony that she felt in her heart. Jesus didn’t tell Jairus to bring his daughter to him, but instead made the day's journey to her bedside and healed her. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus saw crowds gathered, seeking his teaching, so he taught them truth and fed them, caring for both their physical and spiritual needs. Jesus met people where they were, not where they thought they should be.

In The Message, Eugene Peterson communicates Paul’s heart in 1 Corinthians 9:19-21, “Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, the loose-living immoral ones, the defeated, the demoralized -- whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ -- but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.”

Paul modeled his servant attitude and passion to meet people right where they were after the heart of Jesus. As stated in verse 20, he “entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.” When we are struggling to connect with people who are confused, hurting, or deep in their own sin it may simply be because we are approaching them with hearts that don’t really want to understand. We may be scared, unsure, ignorant, or sadly arrogant. Paul “kept his bearings in Christ,” he remained grounded in the truth of Scripture, and he didn’t waver on his convictions. Yet in doing so, like Jesus, he chose to meet people where they were, not where they felt that they should be. No condemnation. No shame. Just simple and pure grace, truth and love.

Who is God calling you to reach out to today? Will it require you to step into something uncomfortable or messy? Can you recall a time when someone cared enough to step into your mess? How will you offer the heart of Jesus to those around you today?

Lynette Fuson
Care & Counseling Director

The Benefits Outweigh the Costs

"I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings." 1 Corinthians 9:23

I recently finished watching a rather lengthy documentary on the life and career of Tom Brady. If you don’t know who he is, let me just say he’s one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play in the National Football League. He is preparing to return for his 23rd season at the age of 44 and he has competed in 10 Super Bowls, having won 7. One other thing -- he was the 199th player picked in the 2000 NFL Draft. All of this is certainly impressive, and the reason I mention him is because of one piece of footage from a Super Bowl he won. As the clock winds down and the final whistle blows, among the first things he does is head for the sidelines to share the blessing of winning with his family. And among the first people he kisses is his mom who is struggling with an illness. To be sure, it’s a heartwarming scene to watch him with his parents, and wife and three kids as they soak in the moments of victory. Tom did what he did for the sake of the Super Bowl, that he might share with his family in its blessings.

This week’s passage points to a different game, if you will, and to a different motivation, and to a different kind of blessing. As Paul talks about his perspective and priorities, and exhorts us to adopt them for ourselves, one thing that stands out is the unspoken charge to follow him in making sacrifices for the sake of the gospel, and to do so with an eye to the fact that we will share in those blessings personally and corporately; that is, in our own hearts as well as in shared joy and connection with the others who have had their lives changed by it.

I know Emmanuel Faith to be a church filled with people who make regular sacrifices for the gospel. We give and go; we serve and strategize and sacrifice; we pray for and form friendships with those far from God. But if you’re like me, sometimes you lose sight of the reasons for the “Why?” of it all. And if you’re like me, when that losing of sight happens, your joy diminishes and your commitment lags. And so what do we do when that happens? We do what this passage calls us to do -- we remind ourselves that a reason we do what we do is so we might share with others in the blessings of the gospel. We remember the joy we have in our relationship with God through Christ, we remember the joy of seeing others come to faith and we remember the joy that comes from fellowship. We remember that while the “what” of getting the gospel out is of vital importance, so too is enjoying the “who” who are changed by it.

This week my encouragement to us all is to spend some extra time in fellowship and connection with those whose lives have been changed by the gospel, and to then let that time both encourage us and help us deepen our commitment to doing all things for its sake.

Scott Smith
Care Pastor

Holy or Hypocrite?

I’d like to begin this devotional with a disclaimer: 1st Corinthians 9:19-23 is Paul’s unique approach to reaching people for the Gospel. We have the freedom in Christ to follow his example, and Paul calls us to a mindset few of us operate under on a daily basis; however, what he proposes is something, in my opinion, not all of us can or should do. This mindset requires a vibrant interaction with God’s Spirit and (as Paul even says) a very disciplined life; it will call for subjective decisions from each person as God moves in their hearts. Please keep this in mind as you continue to read!

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought God called me to be "set apart." If everyone around me is making decisions to go off the rails and do things that fly in the face of God’s heart, I’ve always felt perfectly justified in standing up for my principles, lifestyle and values when others don’t. In fact, isn’t this what it means to be a Christ-follower?

But recently, I had a revelation after reading this passage. Here’s what brought it on: I’ve personally made the decision to avoid alcohol. There are multiple reasons for this decision, but it’s become a comforting principle I fall back on whenever the option presents itself. This is who I am, and this is what I do, and it’s never been a very difficult decision for me to keep. But if I’m honest with myself, part of the reason why I choose not to drink is because I’m afraid. And this is what Corinthians challenged me on; it laid bare my motivations and my heart.

What’s radical and eye-opening about verses 19-23 is Paul basically says to be an intentional chameleon. He’s not saying we are to live willy-nilly, like a leaf in the wind, mirroring all of the behavior people exhibit around us under the pretense of “reaching them for Jesus.” But he is saying we need to be willing to carefully, thoughtfully, and intentionally “be all things to all people,” and I’d like to gently suggest this even means that when God calls us to, through the moving of his Spirit, we are to relinquish our principles for the Gospel if we can reach people we wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.

I realized part of me isn’t abstaining from certain lifestyles simply because I think it’s the right thing for me to do. I’m abstaining because the thought of giving up my principles actually makes me afraid.

But verses 19-23 reveal that Paul is saying our freedom is for just this kind of scenario; not for aimless law-breaking simply because we can, but so we can be what people need us to be to reach them with the love of Jesus. There are obviously things God would never call us to do, but those aside, can I trust God, if he calls me to give up one of my principles, that I won’t slide down the slippery slope to a dark place? That’s the question these verses made me wrestle with. I hope this devotional will give you something to think about as well, since “God [has given] us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7).

Ashley Carr
High School Teacher

Run the Race

Series: 1st Corinthians - Saints & Stones
1 Corinthians 9:19-27 |
Speaker: Pastor Ryan Paulson

June 19, 2022: On Sunday, Lead Pastor Ryan Paulson continued the 4th season of messages in our ongoing, multi-week series in 1 Corinthians. This teaching session is entitled Saints & Stones.

A Loving Servant

"For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them." 1 Corinthians 9:19 (ESV)

Being somewhat of a task-oriented person, it’s easy to be very involved in a project or focused on a schedule I have created for myself. Someone might call or show up at my desk who needs me to listen or help them with a problem. At that moment, my servant’s heart might fly out the window and while I listen, I’m grumbling to myself about the interruption. Hopefully, with the Holy Spirit’s help, I realize that people are more important to God than my to-do list completed, or a project completed on time. In the best scenario, if I am really relying on the Lord, my time is multiplied and I’m able to do both, joyfully.

Paul did not answer to anyone, not a wife, not a boss, not his children, but he did answer to God. And “winning more” in verse nineteen meant winning more souls for God’s kingdom.  In other words, Paul had no distractions to interfere with his mission and calling of “winning” more souls. Not only that, he didn’t boast that Jesus had personally spoken to him, that he had vast knowledge, or that he was an apostle, though all of those were true. He humbly said he was willing to be a servant to “all” to win more people to Christ. What does that mean for us?

It means putting ourselves last and serving others, not because we must, but because loving Jesus means loving and caring for people, even at our own expense or inconvenience. It means reaching out when it’s not comfortable. It means offering help when we’d rather be doing something else. It means showing Jesus’ love to someone who has been unkind to us. It just means loving people. Sounds simple, but in our busy and hectic lives, it can be harder than it seems.

How does being a servant win people to Christ? Being a servant makes us different in a dog-eat-dog and “me-first” world. A caring, giving heart stands out and makes an impact on people in our daily interactions with people wherever we are.

It is easy to care about our friends and family, but let’s pray together, “Father, help us to see people with the eyes of Jesus and love them like the servants we are called, even commanded, to be.

Please help me/us to remember this scripture in John 13: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Deb Hill

Love Requires Sacrifice

Some occupations are seen by all. The job requires gaining public opinion, living in the limelight, and convincing people of a better way. These roles gain constant accolades and criticism alike. The recognition is wonderful when people agree, and not so great when they don’t.

Other jobs however are seen by few. Every institution requires many workers who do their jobs diligently and faithfully behind the scenes. Moms spend night after night caring for crying babies with no one truly being aware of their sacrifice and exhaustion. Soldiers spend countless lonely days away from loved ones while their country celebrates its freedom with patriotic holidays and backyard barbecues. Health care workers spend hours attempting to keep a person alive only to then have to utter the words, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Could these illustrations be modern-day examples of what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 9? The analogy breaks down when we consider the latter two examples do receive a monetary reward. Yet, the heart of the passage, and the examples listed above state that love requires sacrifice. Paul was so convinced of his calling and his passion to share the gospel was so great he didn’t want anything to get in the way; whether support or perception. He was willing to sacrifice at all costs.

Matthew 6 talks about practicing righteousness in secret. If our passion to serve the Lord through serving others is genuine, we don’t need the praise of man. Verse 6 says, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Our heavenly Father sees our acts of love that only we know about, and the joy of knowing we are being obedient to our Lord transcends any earthly compensation.

So, moms, keep loving your little ones and do it with all the energy you can muster. Your tender care will help them grow up to be kind, confident adults, convinced they are loved. Soldiers, your sacrifice goes beyond what most people can fully comprehend. Serve with passion and tenacity knowing your Savior sees you and he totally gets it! Health Care Workers, your love and compassion may be the only hope a hurting person may experience in their darkest hours. Keep caring and do so with the compassionate heart God has given you. For all of you who steward your gifts in a way that often goes unnoticed, remember when you put your own needs aside and love becomes your driving force, no human reward can compare to the joy of knowing you are loving with the heart of Jesus.

Lynette Fuson 
Director of Care & Counseling

Freedom Surrendered

As Christians, we’re called to think outside the box. To think outside of the current trends and rhythms of our culture. This is because we now have the "mind of Christ," which doesn’t think in terms of rights, fitting in or being relevant. Jesus couldn’t care less about that sort of thing. Instead, he’s in the business of the lasting and the real, and usually turns what the world cares about on its head and shows us just how superficial the world’s values are. A great example is found in Philippians:

     “In humility, count others more significant than yourselves…Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:3-7).

The world tells us that we are the still point around which the turning world revolves, but the heart of Jesus tells us to “count others more significant than [ourselves].” This passage shows us how Jesus, God and Creator of the universe, took a lowly form in order to do his work among us. He didn’t do his thing with fanfare and intimidation like the ancient god Zeus announcing his presence with thunder and lightning (so typical of a man-made god!); instead, Jesus came as a weak and humble child whose claim to fame was that he died.

And it was through his dying–not through his conquering, manipulating or subduing–that we were given life. He "made himself nothing" so we could be redeemed and have an everlasting relationship with Him. If Jesus becoming ‘nothing’ was a necessary part of our being awakened to new life, then what does his sacrifice mean for us?

If we are to be "little Christs," then Jesus is calling us to surrender those things the world tells us we need to be successful, to be human, and to be good. It might not make sense to us that by relinquishing what we feel makes us most ourselves we can actually revive a dying world, but that is the calling Jesus beckons us into. This is expressed beautifully in one of my favorite Michael Card songs, God’s Own Fool:

When we in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
When we in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong.
And so we follow God's own fool
For only the foolish can tell -
Believe the unbelievable
And come be a fool as well.

Ashley Carr

Examine Me

I feel like it has the potential to go either way. It really depends on the heart and attitude of the person. Someone could have a prideful and arrogant heart and someone else could be humble and gracious. To be like Christ, we need to be humble and gracious in all things and when we are, love and truth can be reaped.

In 1 Corinthians 9:3, Paul says, examine my life. That’s a bold and vulnerable statement to make. As believers, we will have many watching us and examining how we live. And being that we are human, those who watch us will also see us when we slip and mess up. To be humble enough to say, “examine me” feels a bit risky at times, am I right? But not to Paul. He was confident in his heart and actions and humble enough to take correction if the need arose. Today, our lives and moments can be quickly plastered on social media, in an email, or spread via phone or text. It’s like we are living in a fishbowl. Anything and everything can be seen by everyone. All our good and all of our bad.

I think it takes a true heart of humility to say, “look and examine me.” As Christ-followers, we want to be humble and always grow in our faith. There are a lot of things in this world that can distract us, be “gray” for us, and be blinding to us. We need to be open and willing to let God use others in our lives to help us see the blind spots we have and we must remember we are living as an example of Jesus for others to see. Our actions can help draw them to Jesus or they can keep them further away.

I remember a very specific time in my life when a dear friend who loves me so much heard me share something that caused her concern. She took a couple of days, prayed, and then asked if we could talk. I was completely oblivious to what she was about to share but had such deep respect and love for her, that I wanted to hear it. She asked me a couple of questions to clarify what I said a few days earlier and then shared her heart of concern over it. Her perspective was right and something I hadn’t even thought of. Her heart to share truth in love and my heart to be willing to listen created a moment that God has used in my lifetime and time again.

From what we know about Paul, I believe he says, “examine me” with a heart of humility and grace. It wasn’t an arrogant dare or threat. He knew he was doing his best and he knew he was in communion with God, yet was humble enough to say, “examine me” and add an extra layer of accountability.

People will examine us. It’s just the way it is. Hopefully, they see a consistently godly life that draws them to Jesus. Will we be perfect? No. But that’s ok if we are willing to have accountability. When that accountability and loving truth is shared with us, I hope we will be humble and willing to hear what they have to say.

Bonnie Nichols
Women’s Ministry Specialist