If you raced with us this past weekend at the JFest 5K and 10K in Chattanooga, TN then you know the meaning of this sign. This past Saturday was our 6th Annual – Run for God – JFest 5K and 10K. It’s a race that many people attend because of the fact that entry into this race also grants you entry into the JFest Festival which goes on for the entire day and spectators get to enjoy some of todays most popular Christian bands. This year’s headliner was David Crowder.
If you’ve ever been to one of our races, then you know the amount of attention that we give to every detail. The course, the volunteers, the entertainment, the results, the awards, the shirts, and the list goes on. We prepare for months, spending countless hours trying to anticipate what “could” go wrong. We’ve always been fortunate to have races that seem to go without incident. Yes we’ve had the occasional participant in the wrong category, or a participant whose chip did not read, but nothing major.
The previous statement did not hold true for this past weekend. You see the sign above? That sign is the one that indicates to runners that if you are running the 5K then turn right, and if you are running the 10K go straight. That sign, when held in the correct location, is a critical waypoint to get people to their destination with the correct race distance. The problem this Saturday was that this sign was being held approximately 100 yards away at different turn causing roughly 400 5K runners to take a turn that they did not need to take, thus making the distance of their race 3.75 miles instead of 3.1 miles.
Needless to say, as I saw this unfolding from a distance, my heart sank. I wanted to go crawl under a table and hide. “This is a disaster!” I though as I paced around trying to figure out what to do next. Luckily the 10K runners remained on the right route, but I had hundreds of 5K runners who were getting way more than they bargained for. Yes the thoughts of “Who’s to blame”, “How did this happen”, and “How do I fix this” raced through my mind, but the one question that trumped all others was “WHY?” Why did this happen? Over the next few hours and days I began to dwell on that question. I went back in my mind to the planning, the setup, the meetings, and the logistics. Why did this happen? Why did God allow us to mess up so badly?
This morning as I ran my 5-mile run, I believe God gave me some clarity. I believe that through this God pointed out two very important lessons that I often discount or simply look over. I believe that God allowed this “bump in the road” to get my attention. Maybe it was just for me? Maybe it was just for our staff? Or maybe it was for me to learn and share with you.
Lesson #1 – People follow your lead, and it can have eternal consequences.
What I failed to explain earlier was that the first 15 or 20 5K runners did not make a wrong turn. Why? Because they were running in a pack and they were following the escort bike. They had their eyes on someone who knew the route and was leading by example. The lead biker had come out the day before and studied the route. He even had us drive him around the route so that he could ask questions and know for sure that come race day he would lead everyone down the right path.
So what happened? Two things. A gap was formed in the field separating the leaders from the rest of the field. The leaders were following someone who knew the course and was telling them to “follow me”. At that same moment, the rest of the field had dropped back, not able to see the leader, and were looking for a sign of where to go. The sign that they saw, the sign above, was misplaced, and ultimately led them and everyone who followed down the wrong path.
God really got my attention here this morning. He pointed out that such a simple mistake can lead people astray. Saturday, a simple gesture caused people to run 1K longer than they had planned, but what about the seemingly innocent things that we do everyday? Our life as Christians are to be lived in a way that point people to Jesus. We are to be that lead biker. We are to be the ones that look back and say “Hey everyone, Jesus is this way”. But how many times are we that misplaced sign? How many times do we do things that seem innocent, but someone is looking at us, and that innocent thing causes them to turn the wrong way? Maybe it’s our attitude, our actions, our temper, or maybe it’s that secret sin that we think no one knows about.
God showed me this morning that my actions are sometimes like that misplaced sign. Those actions could not only lead someone down a path to eternal destruction, but they could also lead everyone who is in line behind them.
Lesson #2 – God’s Grace and Mercy is what its all about.
God actually began to show me this one while I was on stage after the race on Saturday. As I was watching this mistake unfold, I felt helpless. Once that turn was made, there was nothing that I could do other than let everyone finish and face the wrath of an angry mob at the finish line. I walked around preparing myself, trying to figure out how I was going to explain what happened. I had a few people who absolutely let me have it, one or two to my face and a few others via e-mail and social media. They were upset, and I understood why. We had turned them the wrong way and put a black eye on an event that they had been training for for weeks. These few angry voices were all that I was thinking about. I felt as though the entire field was just as angry as they were and that I had better get ready to face the music!
A strange thing began to happen almost immediately. As people came up to me and told me how disappointed they were with their time, I had the task of letting them know that their time was off because the course was off. Each time I explained this, I braced myself for the rude or not-so-nice comment that I knew was coming and that I deserved. The comments that followed my explanation were “Oh, I feel better now”, “No big deal, we just got more for our money”, “Don’t worry about it, everything was great”. These are just a few examples of many. Like I said, we did have a few that were very upset, and rightfully so, but 99% of the crowd did not even give the distance a second thought.
“How could this be?” I thought. As a race organizer, you have one main job. Give the athletes a course that is the correct distance, and that did not happen here. But possibly the biggest shocker came as I walked up on the stage to start the awards ceremony. I had already decided that I was going to be brutally honest and tell everyone that we made a mistake and that they had basically ran a 6K instead of a 5K. Once that statement left my mouth, I was blown away with the response. Applause! Yes applause! I was prepared for ridicule, booing, and a lot of angry runners, but I was hearing applause.
God showed me in that moment what grace and mercy look like. Grace is getting something you don’t deserve, and mercy is not getting what you do deserve, and I was getting both at this moment. I deserved boos, but instead I got cheers. Wow! Again, God pointed out this morning that this is a true picture of our walk with him. We as sinful humans deserve the wrath of God. We deserve to spend eternity separated from him. We deserve the worst that can be thrown at us because we “blow it” everyday. What happened on that stage Saturday is a perfect picture of God’s grace and mercy for those who have a personal relationship with Him. We deserve Hell and instead He gives us Heaven.
So did we learn anything about this race? Absolutely! Will we ever make a mistake again as race directors? Probably so. Did God illustrate a valuable lesson that I needed to see? You bet He did! Whenever you feel like you’ve been dealt a bad hand, be slow to react. Step back and assess the situation. Pray about it before reacting. Many times God will be showing you something that you would otherwise miss.
Have a great day everyone!
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God” Romans 8:28