Tag Archives: judgementalism

Training to Race, Not Racing to Train

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into training…I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” I Cor. 9:25 & 27

Theres’ a story of a young cross country runner who was training with his team and feeling rather “feisty” during a particular training session.  On this day, he decided to show the rest of the team that he was the fastest.  Instead of running with the pack and maintaining a sustainable pace, he broke free from the group and sprinted ahead for the last kilometer or so.

Finishing a considerable time ahead of the rest of the team he prepared himself for the accolades of his coach and teammates.  When the final runner crossed the finish line the coach called the team to circle up.  He commended the team on an excellent effort for the day and then singled out the young man who had finished well ahead of the rest, “Son, don’t ever do that again,” the coach chided. “This is a team of winners.  We have several regional and state championships in both individual and team categories.  And we win because we train to race, not race to train.  We are a team of winners, none of us are a winner above the team.”

The three of you who regularly read my blog know that I run three to four times per week.  Actually, it’s slightly above average jogging, but the allegory holds true.  I run in the morning between 6:00 and 7:00 AM.  I enjoy the solitude, just me and my iPod enjoying each other’s company plodding along for a few miles.  An interesting aside is that the more relaxed my listening music is then the better my running times for distances longer than five to seven miles.  I think it’s because I’m relaxed in not competing against anyone else, just out training for the intrinsic value of doing what is good for my body.

Needless to say that the more intelligent humans in my neighborhood are still in bed at that time of the morning.  But every once in a while another misguided soul will be out running.  This is when I get into trouble.  I start comparing myself to them.  “Is my stride as good as theirs?”  “How’s my pace compared to there’s?”  “Am I wasting as much energy in upper body movement as they are?”

Inevitably, in an attempt to increase my self-esteem I compare their weakness to my strengths.  I’m blessed with a naturally neutral stride.  That’s usually where I start.  “Their stride isn’t nearly as effortless as mine,” I assure myself.  It doesn’t matter that they just blew by me with a smile on their face while I huff and puff.

Of course, if their times appear to be better than mine it can only be because they’re just out for a quick one mile jaunt while I’m in the middle of a grueling five mile slugfest with exhaustion.  “Their form is so poor that I bet I could still catch them even with my increased distance,”  I rationalize.

My pace quickens and before I know it, I’m not training to race any longer, I’m racing to train.  I’ve lost sight of my goal.  My goal, in becoming a runner in my late forties, isn’t to win a race….I might not ever even run a competitive race.  My goal in running is to be healthy, to control my diabetes without drugs, to maintain a reasonable weight, to be the best me that I can be.  But, now I’ve made it about someone else and comparing myself to them.

In short order my session comes unraveled.  My form disintegrates, my upper body tightens, my breathing becomes erratic.  The neutral step that, just moments before, I was so proud of fails me as I fatigue and my feet begin scuffing the ground under me.  I am undone by my own pride.

I notice a similar tendency in my growth as a Christian, as well.  It’s a trap that many of us fall into; the tendency to compare our strength to others’ weakness.  The name for it is judgmentalism.  And it’s fruitless.  All it does is distract me from the race that God has called us to run.  He’s set a course, a pace, a discipline for all of us to run.  The life of a Christian isn’t a contest against others.  It doesn’t matter if I’m faster or better than someone else.  My life isn’t identified in relation to theirs.  My life is identified with the pace setter, Jesus.

Continuing with the analogy of my running, this year’s Boston Marathon winner, Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya, set a new record for that twenty six mile race: 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 2 seconds.  I run about ten miles in the same amount of time.  That means that Geoffrey could lap me and finish six miles ahead of me.  I wouldn’t stand a chance.  He could run with less than half the effort and still finish more than an hour ahead of me.

But what if it wasn’t a race to cover a certain distance the fastest?  What if the contest was to be the first to circumnavigate the globe at the equator in less than 2 hours, 3 minutes and 2 seconds?  At that point it really doesn’t matter that he’s faster than I am.  In fact, he could be one hundred times faster than I am.  He could lease a private jet and still not win.  It would be a hopeless, winless situation for both of us.

That’s the accurate race analogy for us as Christians.  We could never reach the goal except for the pace setter, Jesus.  And here’s where the analogy breaks down, He’s already won the race in our place.  But I’m thankful that analogies break down with Him.  He breaks the mould.  He doesn’t just set the standard; He also carries it for me…for you.  And He wins the race while carrying the standard in one hand and carrying us in the other.  He’s that big, He’s that strong, He’s that fast…He loves us that much.  He wants us to experience winning the race with Him.

So, let’s stop racing against each other and start training with each other.  Let’s stop competing in our habits, our lifestyles, our churches, our dogma with each other.  If we’re running in the presence of the One carrying the standard, then it really doesn’t matter that I read the Bible more, that my knees have bent in prayer more, that my church has more attenders on Easter Sunday, that my ministry has more major donors, that…anything.  It only matters that more people join the race and train to race, not race to train.

The litmus test of being great in the Kingdom of God isn’t that I’m better than those around me; that my theology is more sound than someone else’s; that my church is more Biblically accurate than the those surrounding mine; that my ministry ministers to more widows and orphans than mine.  The way to tell that I’m running the good race is that everyone around me runs a little faster, a little truer, a little straighter because of my example that reflects the One who has already won the race.  Spiritual leadership isn’t being better than everyone else; it’s encouraging, inspiring, equipping everyone else to be better.

Judgmentalism: Strength vs. Weakness

“But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.” Acts 10:28

I like to define “Judgmentalism” as comparing others’ weakness to our strength; drawing attention to habits, tendencies, sins in other people that we might not struggle with ourselves.  At it’s most blatant it takes the form of gossip.  But often we try to dress it up with words like admonishment, “building up” the body, maintaining integrity, being “set apart.”

Many times we try to define being judgmental as “encouraging” in love.  In the west, particularly those of us Christians in the United States, we “encourage” those in less prosperous situations to be “more like Paul” and be “content to live in need and to live in plenty.”  All the while we rest comfortably in the lap of luxury having never really tasted the life of want.

Or we try to “cheer up” someone who is walking through the gauntlet of a terrible disease; we admonish them to rely on the hand of the “Divine Physician.”  But we do it having never struggled ourself with the fear and helplessness of facing terminal illness.

A more diabolical form of judgmentalism is when we compare someone else’s “unforgivable” sin to our own less severe transgressions.  A stark example is from a church that was experiencing an influx of avowed homosexuals to its services.  It wasn’t the result of anything intentional that hey had done.  In fact, the preaching from the pulpit had been rather direct in calling homosexuality a sin.  It was always done with love for the sinner, but disdain for the sin, but in spite, or maybe because, of this God continued to draw gays and lesbians to their services.

Being a church that wanted to “love people into the Kingdom” they did their best to welcome everyone, but they also struggled with many of their own preconceived notions about the newcomers.  Try as they might to hate the sin and love the sinner, several members looked at these new attenders and thought, “at least I don’t have that sin.”  Inevitably someone asked the pastor, “What are we going to do with all of those people?  Do we need a special section for them to sit so that they don’t influence our congregation?”

In a moment of inspired insight the pastor said, “I guess they’ll just have to sit in the same section we have for the liars and gossips and hypocrites and tax cheaters and adulterers and…”

The point is that we’re all unclean…we’re all unholy.  Think of holiness as a contest to see who can jump higher.  Michael Jordan can out jump me by a ridiculous percentage.  Heck, I might not even be able to get both feet of the ground.  From our perspective he can beat me with one foot tied behind his back…literally.

But let’s make it a contest to see who can jump up and touch the moon.  And let’s observe the contest from God’s perspective.  From where God sits He can see both the earth and the moon.  From there you can’t even see Mike or me.  You can’t even see the basketball court we’re on.  You can’t even see the neighborhood park where the basketball court is.  In this contest it really doesn’t matter who can jump higher.

Who am I to call any man impure?  And it’s not that we’re all pure.  No, it’s that we’re all impure.  So to call out a weakness in another’s life from my place of feigned strength is laughable.

The irony is that there is One who can call our holiness unclean.  There is Someone who can jump and touch the moon; He has touched the moon.  Actually, He’s the One who created the moon and the sun and the stars.  But He doesn’t call us unclean.  He just calls us.  We’re the scum of the universe, but He calls us His own.

I much prefer that He loves me while I’m still dirty.  I love that the One who has the right to judge me doesn’t.  Try and beat that self-esteem, Oprah and Dr. Phil.  The Creator and Judge of the universe treasures me in spite, not because, of me!

That’s why worship.