Talk About a Victory Lap
Written by Ferrin Gillespie
It was a warm and humid day in Turkey as our group got off of our buses and stepped foot in Aphrodisias this morning. Upon our arrival, we quickly made our way to the museum on site, where a little bit of air conditioning was greatly appreciated and got to see about 30 reliefs up close and personal. Each of them were 5 feet by 5 feet, all bearing their own story that ultimately presented the Roman empire as being strong, the ultimate conquerors that you don't want to find yourself facing against. As we exited the museum, just a few yards away, we were welcomed into the Sebasteon, the original home for all the reliefs that we had just seen in the museum. At one point in time, it was home to 180 reliefs, all relaying their unique stories but together further presenting the same message about the Roman empire. This Sebasteon was created to ultimately point people towards the temple, where passersby were encouraged to walk into a temple to honor emperor Tiberias. As we left the Sebasteon, while walking through tall paths of grass that went up to our calfs, and baking under the hot Turkish sun, we made our way through the rest of Aphrodisias. Past the bath house, the enormous Agora, through the sculptors workshop, Aphrodite's temple, and we eventually ended in the stadium. This being stadium the best kept in antiquity, we were immediately blown away by the enormous amount of seating all circling around a field over 100 yards long. Think Jerry World, but without the jumbotrons and with a lot of overgrown grass instead. After spending a little bit of time there, we eventually made our way back through the town, with briers in our socks, empty water bottles in our backpacks, and small conversations with pockets of laughter throughout our long train of a group, onto the bus so that we could make our way to a small local vineyard to walk through the church of Philadelphia's mention in the book of Revelation.
As we were sitting in the stadium, Jared began to relay the importance of sports within Greco-Roman culture as well as our own. Passages in Paul's epistles which mention racing like Galatians 2:2, Hebrews 12:1-2, Philippians 2:14-16, and many more references began to jump off the page as we were now sitting in a place similar to where Paul himself was impacted by the importance of sport in culture. While in the stadium, we began to relate the metaphors of racing to our own lives. Sitting under the warm sun, the first thing I thought about when Jared had first mentioned running was how hard it is. When the weather isn't perfect, and you're not in the perfect mood to run, when it seems like you're just jogging through the unknown with no clue where the race ends. Running is hard. But let's think about the reality of our race from the Lord's perspective. As Paul relates to us time and time again this importance of running the race, I start to realize that it's about time to accept my role as a runner. God has made me to be a runner, in the race that He has laid before me. So I might as well run. And I might as well enjoy it. I mean, what could possibly make me not enjoy this race that the Lord has me running? Well, it's when I look to my left, and I look to my right, or even at myself instead of the prize ahead. When my sights are no longer on moving forward, but on gaining "perspective" through comparison. What a waste. This metaphor took me back to my time spent on a track team while I was in elementary school. At the time, our coach would really drill into us the importance of never looking to the sides or the people around you while running your race. Because in the time it takes for you to turn your chin to the right, or to the left, or to start overanalyzing your form, you start to lose your own race. Your desire to measure yourself against someone else just leaves you further behind. How much do I lose in the race that the Lord has set for me when I want to compare? How could I ever assume that it'd be worth falling behind just to see how I measure up to someone else who's just running their own race? And with that, what's the point of looking to the side anyway. Because of what Christ has done on the cross, I've already won. The prize is mine. No one is taking that from me. What a shame to trade the freedom of just running, moving forward in the security and joy that only the Lord can provide as we move along in this race that He has set for us, to trade all of that in for a second of comparison. Why create competition where there is none?
It's interesting what happens when you set your sights on something other than Jesus. When we leave the identity that the Lord has already given us, as His workmanship, His poema, His medium to share His ultimate message of the gospel, to leave all of that behind in search of something new. Like we're the creative ones. Like we're the ones who guarantee our own security and victory. My first instinct at this realization is to laugh at myself. To shake my head in shame and swear that I'd never let myself fall into those rhythms of fear and comparison again. And then I laugh again at my pride. Like I'm not a human being who continuously falls, who has chronic forgetfulness of God's faithfulness when I'm not diligent to remember. And so what do we do instead. Well, I'd think we can begin to diligently chose to live in the world that we have today, while fanning into the flame of the truth of the gospel. We remind ourselves of where we were in our sins, and where we'll be in eternity thanks to Christ. Again and again and again. We walk in uncontainable joy of what the Lord has done and continues to do to build up His kingdom through us. We're the reliefs now. Just little parts all working together as we send people on the path to send praise and worship to the Father. We sit in the victory, and point people to the ultimate victor. We are God's biggest fan club. His greatest marketing campaign. We're the people who know the guy that all the other people should met. And we get to do all of that by walking in the unique and purposeful gifts and stories the Lord has given us. What a neat little photo album the body of Christ gets to be.