James Merritt - Self-Control, Caging the Lion
Well, I am glad that you're here. I want to welcome those who are at our Sugarloaf Campus, those at our Mill Creek Campus, those who are watching online, those who are watching by TV. We are thrilled that you're with us today. Two of the three greatest home run hitters of all time, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth, couldn't do it. The winningest pitcher of all time, Cy Young, couldn't do it. The hitter with the all-time best batting average, Ty Cobb, grew up in Demorest, Georgia, not far from where my wife grew up, couldn't do it. The all-time strikeout king who has the most no-hitters, Nolan Ryan, couldn't do it. But a part-time player who couldn't hit, a pitcher who over 19 years only won 80 games, did it. Could do it and did do it.
New York Yankees reliever, Mariano Rivera, became the first baseball player in history to be elected to the Hall of Fame unanimously. When I heard that news the other day, I thought to myself, if there was a Christian hall of fame, there would be at least one and perhaps only one Christian who I believe would be elected unanimously. And let me tell you about his accomplishments. He wrote 13 of the 27 books in the New Testament, almost half, most of any author. Because of that, he is still considered today the greatest and the most influential theologian of all time. He is the greatest missionary the church has ever produced. He went on 30 mission trips, traveled 10,000 miles, taking most of astral travel time that lasted over 10 years. He visited more than 50 cities in those travels and preached the gospel to the emperor of the Roman Empire.
Beyond all of that, he was responsible for shifting the focus of the Christian religion from the proclamation of Jesus to the proclamation about Jesus. Because of his influence, Christianity spread to the point that after a few centuries, the Roman Empire, that used to burn Christians at the stake, officially adopted Christianity as its one and only religion. He shifted Christianity from a Jewish emphasis to a Gentile emphasis so that Christianity would not become just a sub sect within Judaism, it would become a worldwide faith. And because of his influence and because of his impact today, the Christian church has become the dominant religious, cultural, social, political, economic institution of the western world.
You know who he was, his name was Paul. Without a doubt, he was a Christian hall of famer. But what was the secret to his success? If Paul were alive today and we brought him up on the platform and we said to him, Paul, how did you do all that you did, how did you accomplish all that you had accomplished? He would very humbly and very accurately say, well, it was the grace of God. And he would be right but it was the grace of God that gave him a particular character quality that, without exception, you will find in everyone who has become a truly great leader and successful in the right way. I met some of the most successful people you could ever meet in politics, in business, in religion, in society, and without exception, when you examine their life, they all had this singular quality, and that quality is self-control.
If you are a guest of ours today, we've been in a series that we've been calling Mirror Image, and what we said is, imagine you had a mirror that you could look at and it wouldn't show you what you look like on the outside, it would show you what you look like on the inside. What would you see? What would you see ethically, what would you see morally, what would you see spiritually, what would you see on the inside of you? So we've been building this house of character brick by brick by brick. We put in bricks like integrity, bricks like honesty, bricks like humility, bricks like authenticity. And today, we're gonna put in the building block of self-control.
And let me tell you why this is such an important building block. I don't care how mild mannered you are, how sweet tempered you are, how easy you are to get along with, how easy other people are to get along with you, it doesn't matter. Within every one of us is a lion, and that lion is called self. And if we're gonna be what we ought to be and do what we ought to do and go where we ought to go, we're going to have to learn to cage the lion. Because you're gonna find that the biggest enemy to your success and the biggest enemy to being who God wants you to be, going where God wants you to do, doing what God wants you to do, is you. Your biggest enemy is your self. And if you want to win the battle of life, the first battle you've got to win is the battle with yourself. As a matter of fact, I may go ahead and tell you this. If you ever want to have a real relationship with God, the first battles you're gonna have to win is the battle of yourself.
Now, I love Paul for a lot of reasons, but one of the reasons why I love Paul is because he loved sports. I love sports. I believe God loves sports. I believe God has a special love for a university not too far from where I'm standing. I don't find that in the Bible, but God's revealed that to me in a dream. So, Paul loves sports, I love sports. And Paul talked about living the Christian life as if it were a race. Now I understand what he means by the Christian life. The Christian life is a life that is lived for the glory of God and under the power of the gospel. If you want to know whether or not you are a true Christian, not a talking Christian, but a walking Christian, ask yourself this: is my life a life that is being lived for the glory of God and under the power of the gospel?
So Paul's talking about how this life that we're living is like a race, and he talks about winning the race and he says, if you're going to win this race, if you're going to answer the call to the cross-shaped life, it begins and it ends with self control. So if you've brought a copy of God's word, or you want to get out your iPhone or your iPad or smartphone, whatever you use, we're in a book called Corinthians, 1 Corinthians, chapter nine. It's easy to find. You go to the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Keep going about four or five more books, you'll be in 1 Corinthians, chapter nine. Here's what I want you to do. In the next 25 or 30 minutes, I want you to imagine you are an athlete. You're in a race.
Now imagine that, and you hopefully want to win your race because God doesn't create losers, he wants to create winners. So the question is, how do you do it, how do you win this race called life that we need to be in? Well, number one, you must have a real desire to win. If you're gonna win, you've got to have a real desire to win. Now, Paul's mind, when he thinks about living the Christian life, it immediately goes to a race. He says, verse 24, do you not know that in a race, all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? So Paul says, run in such a way as to get the prize. Now, I would've loved living, I've been to Corinth many times, I've been to Athens many times, and I'll be honest, there's a part of me I would not have mind living 2,000 years ago back in the days when Paul was alive, because since the time of Alexander the Great, athletics dominated Greek society. They were a sports-crazy culture.
The most important athletic events were the Olympic Games. They were held every four years in Athens. But then every two years, they had the Isthmian Games, and they were held in Corinth. So you would have the Olympic Games, two years later you would have the Corinthian Games, then you would have the Olympic Games, then you would have the Isthmian Games. So you knew every two years, you're gonna have these fantastic athletic events. And I mean, they had something for everybody. They had running, they had long jumping, they had spear throwing, they had boxing, they had wrestling, they had chariot racing. And everyone that competed was required to take an oath that said, I have trained for at least 10 months and I will not resort to unfair tricks.
So that was back before the days of HGH and steroids and stimulants. Everybody's on a level playing field, and by the way, everybody was eligible, everyone could enter and anybody that wanted to compete could compete. However, they knew going in, though we can all compete, only one is going to win. Only one will win the race, only one will win the boxing, the wrestling match, or the boxing match, only one will win the long jump or the spear throw. So Paul is saying to them, look, if you're going to be in it, be in it to win it. And by the way, there was a great motivation to win your event. If you won, listen to this, your name and your hometown would be announced to the crowds as you were awarded first place. You would be given a triumphant parade in your hometown. You would be given 500 drachmas of money, a lot of money.
You would be given the right to sit at a place of honor for all of the succeeding games for the rest of your life. Your children would receive a free education for life. You would be exempt from military duty, you never had to serve in the army. And this was the best part, you ready? You never had to pay taxes again, so it didn't matter who controlled the Congress, Republicans, Democrats, Independents. They could pass all the tax bills they want to, you never had to pay taxes again. So, obviously, everybody wanted to win their race, and what Paul is saying, he says, look, in the race of life, we were all born running. Everybody was, whether you realize it or not. The moment you came out of your mother's womb, you were born running. Paul said, look, since you've got to run anyway, why not run to win? Why not make every day of your life count for God?
And he says, the first step to doing that is this: you've got to have a real desire to win. You've got to have a real desire that today I want to live a life that pleases God and blesses others. When I go to bed, when I get up in the morning, I want to live a life that pleases God and blesses others because the first step to winning is you've got to want to win. I mean, listen, I've seen it in all of my life, almost without exception. When two individuals are competing, or two teams are going head to head, almost without exception, the one that wins at the end is the one that wanted it the most. You'll hear it all the time. You'll hear the opposing coach that lost said, well, they just wanted it a little bit more, or the boxer or the wrestler will say, I just wanted a little bit more. Their fire burned a little bit hotter, their desire was up just a little bit higher.
Now let me just tell you something that we all know is true, but we need to be reminded about it from time to time. Here's the bottom line, true about me, it's true about you. We all do what we really want to do and what we really have a desire to do. I could tell every one of you right now, I don't have to know your name, I don't have to know what you do for a living, I don't have to know where you live, I don't have to know your educational background, I can tell every one of you in this room right now with 100% accuracy exactly what you're doing with your life. You're doing with your life what you want to do with your life. That's exactly what you're doing. You're doing what you want to do with it, and I'll prove it to you.
Many of you got up this morning, and let's be honest, the alarm clock went off and deep down you just wanted to turn that clock off and go back to sleep, but you didn't. You came. Why? Because in the end, you wanted to be here. And here's the truth of the matter, if you really want to come to church, unless you're sick or indigent, if you really want to come to church, you will. If you really want to read your Bible every day, you will. If you really want to spend time with God, you will. If you really want to be faithful in your finances, you will. If you really want to worship, if you really want to serve, if you really want to be sent, if you really want to be discipled, you will. You must have a real desire to win your race. But then Paul goes on to tell us a second thing that must be true. He says, you must exercise rigorous discipline to win.
Winning doesn't come automatically, and it's more than just showing up, and it's not easy as Paul goes on to tell us. He says, every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it, don't forget this part. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Now here's what Paul is saying. You want to be a winner? I really do. Then you've got to pay a price, and the currency is called discipline. As a matter of fact, the Greek word there for that little phrase I've highlighted, exercises self control. That's two words in English, it's only one word in the Greek. It's the word that gives us the word agonize. What Paul literally said was, every athlete agonizes in all things. He's talking about training because it's been duly noted, athletes in Paul's day trained hard just to be able to compete because, remember, in order to enter the games, you had to give proof that you had been training 10 months full time.
Well, you could say that and you could be lying, so guess what? For 30 days before the event began, you had to train with everybody in public. So if you had not been running, and instead you'd been eating at The Varsity and Cracker Barrel and you'd been eating the donuts and all that, it would show up really quick and you would be kicked off, you would not be allowed to compete. So they knew, it's one thing to say you want to compete, it's another thing to prove it. And this is where most people fail in going as high as they can go and going as far as they could go and doing what they really want to do and what they really could do. You know, discipline is kind of like eating vegetables. You don't want to do it, but you know you need to. In fact, I was thinking about this when I was working on my message.
You know, there are two things that, nope, no, I don't believe you, we like, anybody like, I've never really seen anybody that just really likes this. If you're a parent, you don't like to discipline your kids. If you do, you're sick, okay. Who loves it, who says I can't wait to discipline my kid, who does that? Right. Nobody likes to discipline. As a matter of fact, I dislike disciplining my kids so much, I refuse to discipline my grandkids, that's how much I hate it, okay. I just don't do it. I let Theresa do that because she's not as good as I am. But here's the point. We don't like to discipline our kids, but you know what, parentally, we don't like it, personally, we don't like to discipline ourselves, personally. No we don't. Discipline is what we know we need the most in our life, but we want the least. But the problem is, at the end of the day, the one difference between ability and achievement is discipline. The one difference between the potential and the prize is discipline.
Listen, I never met anybody in my life yet that was, I mean, that was really successful in the right way that spend their entire life doing what they wanted to do when they wanted to do it, who spent their entire life doing what they pleased, what made them happy. Zig Ziglar, my dear departed friend, said, when you do what you need to do, that takes discipline. When you need to do it. Then you can do what you want to do when you want to do it. Here's how most people live their life. They do what they want to do when they want to do it. If there's anything that needs to get done, it either gets done late, it gets done shabbily, or it just doesn't get done and somebody else has to take up the slack because it takes discipline to make that extra phone call. It takes discipline to do that extra rep when you're lifting weights.
You know, at 211 degrees, water's just hot water, but at 212 degrees, it is boiling water, and with boiling water comes steam, and with steam you can move a locomotive, but it's that one degree that makes all the difference in the world, and it takes discipline to exercise that one degree difference. So, you may be like me, you may say, pastor, I don't really love discipline, join the club. Neither do I. But if you're going to have, if you're going to live a life you ought to live, you've got to live discipline. If you're going to win your race and live the life that glorifies God and blesses others, you've got to have discipline.
I was reading the other day about one the most magnificent athletes I've ever had the chance of witnessing in my lifetime. Michael Phelps is not only the greatest swimmer who has ever lived, he is the most successful and decorated Olympian of all time. He has 28 medals, more than anybody's ever won, he owns the all-time record for Olympic Gold Medals with 23, all-time record for Olympic Gold Medals in individual events with 13, all-time record Olympic medals in individual events with medals in 16. He won eight gold medals in 2008, an all time record. He won the most medal of any athletes, listen to this, in four straight Olympics, he won more medals than any other athlete. He did it all four times in a row.
If you ask Michael Phelps, how did you do that, he'll tell you in one word: discipline, self-control. Buckle your seatbelt. He would swim 80,000 meters every week, 50 miles. He practiced twice a day, he trained five to six hours every day, six days a week. He did vertical kicking, he did underwater kicking, he used gear from kickboards, pool boys, training paddles, snorkels to make his swimming even more difficult. Now here's the good news, you ready for this? To have the energy to do that, he had to eat 12,000 calories every day. Our problem is, we eat 12,000 calories every day while we're watching him do what he's doing. But here's the point. He paid a price, and if you said to him, Michael, why are you doing that six days a week, six hours a day, 50 miles in the water, lifting weights, pumping iron, why are you doing that? You know what he'd have told you? I'm doing it for this thing called the gold medal.
And I've looked it up and after I looked it up, I said, really? The highest value of all time was the London Gold Medal. How much it was worth? $708 bucks. If you tell me, pastor, if you'll swim 50 miles a week, and that's all you told me to do, if you'll do that for four years, I'm gonna give you something that's worth $700, I'd tell you, go fly a kite. By the way, it's worse than that. It's not even really gold. 95.5% silver, 1.34% gold, with the remainder copper. It's not even a gold medal. In other words, give it time, it's gonna tarnish, it's gonna rust and it's gonna fade. In the ancient Olympic Games and the Corinthian Games, you know what you got if you won your race, if you won your boxing match, if you won the spear chucking contest? Do you know what you won? You got an, like a crown, and it was made out of olive branches, or you got a wreath and it was made out of pine branches.
In other words, by the time you got back to your chariot, the thing had already withered and faded. Has already fallen apart. And Paul says, but we're not running a race for a gold medal that will fade, we're not running a race for a wreath that will fall apart before you can get back home, we are running a race for something that will never perish. So Paul says, listen to this, here's the question. So you come to the end of your life. Would you rather have a gold medal or God's approval? You're coming to the end of your life, would you rather have the fame and the fortune of this world, or the favor of God? See, to win the only prize that matters, you must not only have a real desire, you've got to exercise rigorous discipline to win.
Then Paul says something else. He says, you must go in the right direction to win. You got to go in the right direction. I mean, if you're running in the wrong direction, you'll agree with this, right, if I take Usain Bolt, who's the fastest man who's ever lived, I could take Usain Bolt right now and I could put him in a 100-yard dash, listen, I can beat Usain Bolt in a 100-yard dash right now. Don't look at me like I'm nuts. I can beat him right now if I can convince him to do one thing: run the wrong direction. That's all I gotta do. Put the finish line up there. Let me somehow lie to this guy so he doesn't know what's going on and I'll say, the goal's that way. He can run as fast as he wants to run, I can walk and I'm gonna beat him every time because you've got to run in the right direction. No matter how hard you run, how fast you run, if you're not going in the right direction.
So Paul goes on to say, therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly. I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. Paul said, you don't win a race by running around in circles or running where you think you ought to run. You gotta run toward the finish line. And you don't set the finish line, somebody else sets the finish line. He said, you don't win a boxing match by just throwing punches in the air, you don't win a boxing match by swinging wildly and hoping something connects. He says in both cases, you want to win the race, you got to focus on the finish. You want to win that boxing match, you've got to focus on the fight, otherwise, you will hit the wrong target every single time. So we have to decide almost on a daily basis, who am I, why am I here, where am I going?
And I'm gonna tell you what breaks my heart. Every time I get into a stadium with a big crowd of people, I think about this. Every time I'm around just tons, I was in a big crowd the other day, and I couldn't help but think to myself, how many of these people are just shadowboxing? How many of these people are running as hard as they can run, they are stressed out, their blood pressure is off the charts, they're taking 40 pills a day, and they're running in the wrong direction. How many of them are doing it? Because, see, let me just tell you, break the news. Most people in life are not serious about life. Most people in life are not serious about life.
You say, well, okay, back that up, tell me why. Well, you may not like the answer. You're gonna say or gonna say I'm very rigid, but it's absolutely true. You're not serious about life until you're serious about God. You're not serious about life until you're serious about God, and if you're not headed toward God, if you're not headed toward the will of God, you're not headed toward the work of God, you're not here toward the worship of God, you are headed in the wrong direction. You're just running around in circles, you are just throwing punches into the air. Let me tell you why. The finish line is not temporal, it is eternal. The finish line is not making the most money, it's not having the most stuff, it's not living in the biggest house, it's not driving the nicest car, it's not having the nicest clothes, it's not wearing the most expensive jewelry, and there is nothing wrong with that at all. It's not, but it's not about being popular or being famous. The finish line is the glory of God, and the finish line is the spread of the gospel.
Now, this may sound narrow-minded and it may sound arrogant, but if Jesus Christ is the real deal, if he is who he said he was and if he did what he said he did, then a life that is lived apart from Jesus Christ as Lord is a wasted life, it's a total waste. You had one shot and you blew it. You had one chance and you threw it in the trash. Because a life that is lived for the gold of this world and not the glory of God is a wasted life. A life that is lived for the fame and the fortune of this world and not for the favor of God is a wasted life. And the older I get, the more determined I am I do not want to run the race of my life only to realize at the end of the day I was running in the wrong direction.
You say, well, pastor, how you be sure of that? How can I be sure that I'm not running in the wrong direction? Oh, this is easy. If you're running in the right direction and you're running the race you ought to run it, every day will bring you closer to Jesus, not further away. Every day of my life, in a real sense, I'm getting closer to Jesus every single day. I'm getting closer personally, I'm getting closer spiritually, I'm even getting closer physically because my runway's starting to run out. All of our runways eventually run out, we just don't know when, where or how. And every day of my life brings me closer to Jesus. Every day you're living your life the right way if every day you're on the inside of God's will looking out, not on the outside of God's will looking in.
Listen, I read a sign one time that said this, listen to this. If most people drove their cars the way they plan their lives, they would never get out of the driveway. That's true. If most people drove their cars the way they plan their lives, they would never get out of the driveway. Every day of your life, you better do one thing above everything else, focus on the finish. But the finish is not a place, the finish is a person and his name is Jesus. So to win the race, you got to go in the right direction. And then Paul says one last thing. He says, you must maintain a relentless determination to win. See, in order to run the best race that you can, to fight the best fight that you can, you're got to be in the best shape that you can be, right. So Paul concludes with this striking picture. He says, no, I strike a blow to my body and I make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Now what does Paul mean by that? He says, look, at the end of every day of your life, one of two things will be true. Either you will have controlled self, or self will have controlled you. Either you will keep the lion caged, or you will let the lion out. And Paul said, what makes the difference is simply determination. I am determined. Self, you're not gonna control me, I'm controlling you. Lion, you're not getting out of the cage today, you're staying right where you belong. Look, we see this every day, right. Everybody says they want to get in shape but they're not determined to exercise. Everybody says they want to be financially stable but they're not determined to manage their money.
People say they want to lose weight but they're not determined to watch what they eat, or maybe they're too determined to watch what they eat. We say we want the prize of success, but we don't want to pay the price of success. And see, every day, you will determine how you run your race. That's why what Paul is saying is this, you can never let your guard down, you can never take your eye off the finish line, you can never slack off, you can never take shortcuts. You've got to be determined to keep the end in mind because the only runner that ever wins is the one that crosses the finish line. The only boxer that ever wins is the one that fights to the last bell. And he says, you need to remember, your race is never over, and your fight is never finished until you draw your last breath.
So I can tell you now, I've still got a number of goals in my life, but I can tell you easily what my biggest goal in life is now. I mean, it's so big almost, you can't even see the rest of it, it's so big. Because boy, as you get older, you finally, it finally dawns on you one day, it is not how you start in life, it's how you finish in life that counts. And it finally, you finally see the light. So my biggest goal in life today, and it will be tomorrow, and it will be to the day I die, I want to finish well. I want to finish strong. I do not want to run my race only to be disqualified at the end because in Greek culture, there was nothing more shameful for an athlete or a community or a town than to be disqualified. It was a shame. It brought shame on the athlete, it brought shame on his family, it brought shame on his friends, it brought shame on his hometown, and if anybody was ever caught cheating, they'd always be ready, no matter who came from that town, oh yeah, I remember that town, that's the town that produced that cheater.
And what Paul was talking about here was being disqualified for being the representative of Jesus that you ought to be and the messenger of the gospel that God has called us to be. When I was working on this sermon, a man popped into my mind. I met this man probably about eight or nine years ago. Absolutely as talented and gifted a person as I have ever known in my life. He had a magnetic personality. He was funny, he was one of those communicators, I mean, he just had you from hello. I mean, he was tremendous. Built this unbelievably humongous church. He went to work in a nightclub doing comedy, stand up comedy. Last year, he just got fired from the nightclub. What happened? How did he lose his pastorate, how did he lose his job? He fell into sexual immorality and he was disqualified. I've been married to that woman right there, next month, it'll be 43 years.
And I know some of y'all probably get tired of me saying this, but really it doesn't bother me. I am more in love with that lady today than I've ever been in my life. I walked into the, I walked, the other day I got home from, I was in Phoenix, I was in Phoenix last week. I came back. I walked in and I said, you know what happiness is? She said, what? I said, being married to your best friend, that's happiness. Being married to your best friend. Nothing else happens with God as my witness and God as my help, I'm gonna die faithful to her. I'm gonna hit the tape well, hit the tape fine. I'm not gonna do anything to bring shame to her, shame to my kids, shame to my grandkids, shame to this church.
If I die today. Some of you know me well. Am I a perfect? No, I'm not perfect. I have faults, gosh, yes. And she'll be glad to tell you every single one of them. But if I die today or whenever I die, I want everybody in this church to say, you know, my pastor's like everybody else, he wasn't great. I mean, he wasn't perfect and he didn't do everything right, but I'll tell you this. If you asked me to kind of talk about a scandal, I can't name one. His reputation's clean as a whistle as far as I know. Character was sterling, right. I want to hit the tape well. I want to hit the tape with my chest out. I want to hit the tape, I mean, standing tall.
Now to be clear, listen, Paul was not talking about losing your salvation. You can't lose your salvation. But you know, in a way, there's something worse than losing your salvation. It's when you lose the tremendous privilege and honor and blessing of being an example for Jesus of being a credible messenger of the gospel and to be used of God as greatly as God wants to use you. Listen, do it, let me just say this. Is God the God of the second chance? Absolutely, and in many ways I've got to get second chances over and over and over, but I want to tell you, there are a lot of areas in my life I don't want a second chance, I want to keep the first chance he gave me.
I want to finish well. And that's why every single day, want you, and by the way, this is a great lesson to teach your kids, parents. Every single day, what you may think are little things are really big things. It's the little things that will keep you in the race. It's the little things that will keep you going in the right direction. It's the little things that will keep you making the right decisions. But listen, it takes discipline and it takes determination. It takes discipline and determination to say, I'm gonna turn that TV off and I'm going to get into God's word. It takes discipline and determination to say, I'm gonna turn that cell phone off, I'm not gonna play that game, I'm gonna spend time talking to the Lord. It takes discipline and determination to get involved in a small group, to take time out of your schedule to know you need to be in a small group, you need to disciple and you need to be discipled. It takes discipline and determination to make worship with God's people a regular habit.
The average attender in church today, across all denominations, attends church 1.6 times a month. I'm not fussing anybody, I'm just giving you the facts. It takes discipline and determination to say, you know what? I'm not gonna go only when the sun is shining and there's no football game on and it's too dirty, too hot, or too cold to play golf. This is a time I've got to be in God's house with God's people. It takes discipline and determination to go on a mission trip, to be sent, whether it's across the street or around the world to share the gospel. Now, let me just clarify something and I'm gonna wrap this up. Let me, this is important. If you're not a believer, you're not a follower of Jesus. I didn't say you believe in, you can believe in Jesus and not be a follower of Jesus. You can believe in Jesus and not know Jesus. You can believe in Jesus and not have a relationship with Jesus.
So let me clarify. If you are an unbeliever, you're not a follower of Jesus, you're not even in the race. You're not even running. Because remember, in order to run in the Olympic Games or the Corinthian Games, you had to be a Greek citizen. Well, you've got to be a part of the family of God to be in the real race that counts. So if you're not a part of the family of God, you're not even in the race. Now, here's the good news, here's the good news, ready? The moment you give your life to Christ, the moment you trust Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are in the race. You are qualified to run.
Now listen, hadn't told you the best part about the race. You ready? Here's the best part. Everybody can win their race. Everybody. You know why? Because we're not competing against each other. We're competing against ourselves. I'm not running your race. You're not running my race. I'm running my race and you're running your race. And if you say, I've got the desire to do it and I've got the discipline to do it and I've got the determination to do it and I'm gonna run in the right direction, you can win your race. Listen, if you don't believe that, let me ask you a question. Well, before I do that, let me just say this.
Haile Gebrselassie, who won two Olympic Gold Medals in the 10,000 meter run, greatest runner probably of all time in the marathon, listen to what he said. He said, when you run the marathon, you run against the distance, not against the other runners and not against the time. I thought, man, that's so true. You run your own race. It's all up to me. Every day, it's all up to me to have the desire, to have the discipline, to have the direction and the determination as to whether or not am I gonna win? Am I going to be disqualified?
Now, here's the good news. We can win. Let me tell you how I know that. Why do you think the Bible is filled with examples of ordinary people just like you and me? Because, don't miss this. Abraham, just a guy. Joseph, just a guy. David, just a guy. Solomon, just a guy. Paul, just a guy. Peter, just a guy. James, just a guy. John, just a guy. Daniel, just a guy. Esther, just a woman. Mary, just a lady. Why are they all in there? They were people just like us, but they ran their race and they won their race. And the reason why they're in the Bible is because God is telling us 2,000 years later, they ran in one, so can you. Because the same grace it took for them to win, you've got, and the same power it took for them to win, you have.
Many of you will remember, if you're a basketball fan, Cotton Fitzsimmons used to be the coach of the Atlanta Hawks. He was quite a character. He was a great, great motivator, great motivator. Well, one time they were, the Hawks were playing the Boston Celtics. Now, the Hawks weren't very good, they were on this long losing streak and the Celtics, well, they were the Boston Celtics. I mean, they were the top of their game, they were the best team in the league. And so they were playing them one night in the Boston Garden. So Fitzsimmons got all his players together before the, right before the game, and he gave one of his famous pep talks. You know, he was really a great motivator and he thought he'd talk to them, he built this whole speech around one word, pretend.
So he got all of his players together and he said, men, when you go out there tonight, forget you're in last place. Pretend you're in first place. He said, men, when you go out there tonight, forget you've been on a long losing streak, pretend you're in first place. Pretend you're on this long winning streak. He said, men, when you go out there, forget you've been in last place, pretend you're in first place. And men, when you go out there, forget this is just a regular game. Pretend this is for the championship. Man, they got up, they all put their hands together, they're fired up. They went out there, they're ready to, I mean, they're ready to charge hell with that water pistol.
And they went out on that court fired up. They got blown out by 50 points. They come back into the locker room and I mean, Cotton Fitzsimmons is hot. I mean, he is ticked and he is about to lay into them and read them the riot act and about that time, one of the players who didn't even get to play in the game walked up to him, had a big grin on his face, slapped him on the back and said out loud, cheer up coach, pretend we won. Listen. Life is too short and life is too valuable to pretend anything. Get real with the one who ran his race to the finish line of the cross. Get real with the one who crossed the finish line coming out of an empty tomb. Get real with the one who wants to live in you so you can live for him. Then you are guaranteed to win your race.