The Pittsuburgh Marathon and The Narrow Road...

So there was this Juggler who was giving a sermon...

Sounds like the start to a joke right? Well this was part of the church service that I was a part of last week for my special needs friends (I was delivering the praise and worship for the service).

The juggler (who normally juggles for the congregation but didn't juggle this week; he was substituting for the pastor who was off in California...) started off talking about 'The Narrow Road'. He talked about his niece who lost her way, fell into the drug culture, robbed a bank and is now on her way to paying her debt to society. His message was not structured well, but he made his point: follow Jesus and stay on 'The Narrow Road'.

His abrupt message made me think about my race in the recent Pittsburgh Half Marathon. This was my first race at this distance (13.1 miles) and I loved it was was excited to run it.

Starting at about mile 11 there is a -very long- uphill section of the course that starts in the South Side when you turn from Carson Street onto the Birmingham Bridge. It is almost 1 1/2 miles uphill until you start your final decent to the finish line on the Blvd. of The Allies. At the end of the Birmingham Bridge the Half Marathoners make a 'left' and run up into the Hill District and the Full Marathoners make a 'right' and go up into Oakland.

All the while when you are running the Birmingham Bridge there are volunteers announcing on bull horns for the Half Marathoners to turn left at the bottom of the bridge. Even when you make the left hand turn to head up into the Hill District the Pittsburgh Marathon has large signs that read 'You Are Now On the Half Marathon Route'. Thank goodness that the people in charge of the Marathon were very demonstrative about telling us runners which was the right way to go as I am sure that more than one runner has made a wrong turn there in the past in midst of competition, stress and exhaustion.

If you were running the Half Marathon and were to make a wrong turn and headed into Oakland instead of the Hill District it would be very disheartening to first, discover that you were headed the wrong way and secondly, to realize that you had to run a lot further that you would have had to if you had just followed 'the way' in the first place.

In life, when you make a wrong turn and judge yourself for making a mistake, most of the time you can turn around (repent) and keep running in the race towards the finish line. If however, we do not judge ourselves and keep going the wrong way someone else is going to judge us; either an actual judge (like with the Jugglers' niece) or we will have finished the wrong race.

So we can repent and still make it to the finish line. But make no mistake; there is only -one- finish line in any race. If someone tries to shorten the race or cheat to get to the finish line, he or she is disqualified. And so, there is only one road with one gate, the Narrow Road to Heaven. Jesus said Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. (John 10:7-9(a))." Just as there is only one finish line in any race and only one way through it, there is only one way to be saved, one 'gate', one Savior.

I am very happy to have run and trained for my first Half Marathon. I loved it and would do it again. Hopefully the next time I won't have to train hurt and run hurt. I finished in front of 59% of the race participants. Not bad for a first time. My talented 20 year old son on the other hand finished in front of 98.2% of the race participants (and that is with stopping to go to the bathroom in the middle of the race!).

In the midst of the competition, stress and exhaustion of life if we keep our eyes on Jesus we don't have to make wrong turns. Even though the way is difficult sometimes (for some of us, all the time), we will get to the finish line if we keep our sights set on the right guideposts. So what does a Juggler, a sermon and a Half Marathon have in common? A lot it seems........