World events are about to explode into a veritable holocaust! If such devastation happened today, would you be ready? World troubles are building to a crescendo — a climactic time of tribulation worse than ever before in human history (Matt. 24:21). When that happens, as Pastor General Herbert W. Armstrong has said, the Work of this Philadelphia era of God's Church will be finished. What if it happened today? Can you say that you have done your part to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God? Have you grown in grace and knowledge and righteous character to the extent that you will be able to stand in the day of Christ's return? Are you clothed in the wedding garment of righteousness and ready to go into the wedding feast of the Lamb with the rest of His Church (Rev. 19:7-8)? When this time of world crisis erupts, it will be too late to publish the Gospel, and our time to participate will be over. If we are not ready, we will not be given protection, but will be plunged into the holocaust itself. Now is the time to work! Mr. Armstrong has said that we are now in a stepped-up, homestretch spurt of this end-time Work God has given us to do. Are you racing down the homestretch? The goal lies just ahead. It is almost in sight. This is not the time to let down, to grow weary of well doing, to decide that there is time to spare. It is our time of testing. It is our time to be judged to see what we will do with our calling, and whether we will finish the race to make ourselves ready for the marriage supper of the Lamb (I Pet. 4:17).
Our spiritual marathon
Our situation may well be likened to a marathon across terrain unfamiliar to the runners. We must stay on the racecourse — over a tortuous track filled with stumbling blocks, pitfalls and bottomless chasms – and we must run to the finish. Do you have the courage and determination to win? My son John once ran such a race against 75 other contestants. The running course was most grueling, over paved streets and concrete steps, up and down the steepest hills in Los Angeles, Calif. As the runners took off on that marathon, some started out quickly, gaining the lead, and others fell back as the pack spread out. John, then a teenager, paced himself as he had trained to do and found himself at the very last place in the pack. Besides the older, more mature runners up ahead, there was another teenager John had often run against and who always beat him. Things did not look too good! As the race went on, some runners began to fall back, and many gave up and quit. Those who paced themselves more wisely began to move up slowly. John passed one, then two or three, but the big pack was stretched out far in front of him. The route was difficult and demanding. Along the way some of the hills were so steep that his ankles could not bend enough to match the hill and he had to turn around and run backwards. Going downhill was just as bad. His toes were jammed down against the front of his shoes, causing blisters to form. The muscles in the front of his legs trembled under the strain. Up and down, mile after mile, the race went on. Finally, a quarter of a mile from the finish line, John came, tired and exhausted, within sight of the last great hill. The sock on his left foot was now soggy with blood oozing from where the blisters had formed and burst. One of his toenails had been torn off. But now he was out in front of all the other runners. A crowd lined both sides of the street, cheering as he went up the hill. But all he could think about was the pain, and that there was very little strength left in his body. He tried to respond to the crowd's cheers by speeding up, but it seemed he simply could not. Wishing that he could quit running and walk, wishing more than anything else that he could just stop, he forced himself onward. Behind him he could hear footsteps drawing closer. He knew his No. I opponent was coming up from behind. John was giving it all he could, but the finish line was still 200 yards up the hill. And then he started vomiting — dry heaves. Surely he had every right to quit. Surely his body had just taken all it could take. His opponent was just behind him now. The pain was intense. He had almost no energy left. The finish line was still a hundred yards away. Then, amidst the clamor from the sidelines, he heard a familiar voice, that of his elder brother, shouting loud and clear: "He's going to pass you! Run!" Summoning his last ounce of strength, John sprinted for all he was worth, and with that final burst of energy he crossed the finish line ahead of his opponent. He had won!
A race for life
We, too, are running a marathon — a race for life, far more abundant life than we have ever known. Are you running for the finish as though your life depends on it? If a marathon runner is willing to endure all he does to win a perishable prize, how can we not be willing to exert the effort and endure the hardship caused by running out of step with the world, in order to attain the prize of our great calling? This temporary existence is drawing to an end for each of us. Our allotted time shortens with every passing day. As Paul wrote in I Corinthians 9:24-27 (Revised Standard Version): "Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest... I myself should be disqualified. " You and I entered this race for life when God granted us repentance, we were baptized and God impregnated us with the Holy Spirit. God is judging each of us, taking special note of what we are doing with this great gift. He is pulling for us, cheering us on, and He will help us if we follow His instructions with our hearts on the goal. But we must race to the finish. Our calling is part of God's great plan of creating children in His own Family — beings who have minds of their own and who will have perfect, righteous character, who will look, act and think like God. As Mr. Armstrong has explained, God can create all kinds of living beings, in all kinds of shapes and composition and with amazing knowledge and ability, but He cannot create them with perfect righteous character. They must first have power of mind and choice before that kind of character can be created in them. They must of their own free will choose to behave like God. Godly character is the ability to choose the right way, as defined in God's law, and to follow that way, even against pressures to do otherwise. Those who have perfect godly character will choose the right thing at the right time, and will resist the wrong every time. That is the kind of character God has. It is this holy, righteous character that God is creating in His children. These separately created beings will live with God and will help continue God's creative work throughout the universe. They will have great power — godly power — but God will never entrust such power to one who has not demonstrated that he will always use it rightly. How does God build this character in us? First we must repent of doing things our way instead of God's way. Then, at the laying on of hands of God's ministers after baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit, which enables us to comprehend the things of God. Then, as we pursue God's ways and live by every word of God, thus allowing Christ to live His life within us (Gal. 2:20), we begin to grow in the character of God. As we continue to pursue God's purpose, subordinating our will and seeking His will, we continue to grow in grace and in the knowledge of how God does things. As we continue to use the Holy Spirit, godly character grows. All this time we are nourished in the body of the Church through Jesus Christ. Paul illustrates how Christ does this: "Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27).
The engagement period
We are members of God's glorious Church if we have God's Spirit within us and are being prepared as a bride for her husband. We are in the engagement period, so to speak. Since one does not marry a stranger, the engagement is a time when hours and days are spent together, getting to know one another. It is an exciting time when two make plans for the future. It is a time when the bride-to-be makes herself ready to leave one environment and her old way of life to begin living a new way with her husband. Are you getting to know Jesus Christ? Do you spend enough time in prayer and Bible study with Him and the Father? Are you excited about planning a future together, running the race of life hand in hand with Jesus Christ? Are you constantly developing holy, righteous character, using the physical exercises of work, play, family togetherness, shopping — every situation that arises? Or do you leave God in the closet, saying a quick prayer before dropping off to sleep at night and only occasionally studying your Bible? Are you doing your own thing while your allotted time runs out?
Where is your heart?
If our hearts are really in God's Work we will be praying in real concern for all parts of it. God rewards heartfelt prayers with answers, and they do much good. By these prayers He also knows whether we are in the race for eternal life or not. Our tithes and offerings are another important way we can serve, and they prove where our heart is. So does our service and hospitality in our local congregations. We have been given the opportunity to be among the firstfruits to receive eternal life. Time is running out on the important special mission that God has given us to do. That mission, as Mr. Armstrong has explained, is to get the Gospel out as a witness to the whole world. We need to renew our enthusiasm for the Work, pray more earnestly for it and contribute whatever we can to support it. In short, we need to get in and run the race, and we need to run to win. All of us have problems. The long run may have worn down some of our interest. We may have lost some of the excitement we had when we started the race. It has been a long grind, laying down step after step. Our attention gets pulled away from winning and becomes centered on our pains — our economic pains, our poor health, our family problems. We often get bogged down in self-imposed burdens that rob us of the time to do those things that will win the race. We are fighting a losing battle unless we elect to do the things that count toward winning. Some things can be put off — others cannot. Satan wants to trick us into putting off the wrong things. My son ran up and down hills for eight miles against great opposition. You and I also have to run a course against opposition — opposition from one jealous of our winning because it manifests his loss. Satan is crafty. He puts obstacles in our course and digs pits for us to fall into. We had better keep our eyes on our Leader and on the goal ahead, or our adversary will lure us into a trap. We are a chosen people, greatly blessed with great opportunity. We are plunged into this race for life. The prize is well worth our greatest effort and many of us have come a long way down the course. The goal is almost in sight. Run! Else Satan will gain on you! The finish line is just ahead. A voice is crying from the sidelines, "He's going to pass you!" Now is the time to sprint!