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Racing through life? Indy pastor's tips to make the laps count

The green flag marking the start of the NASCAR FedEx 400 waves as cars pick up speed prior to crossing the checkered line at Dover International Speedway. Photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Morris, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.
The green flag marking the start of the NASCAR FedEx 400 waves as cars pick up speed prior to crossing the checkered line at Dover International Speedway. Photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Morris, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force.
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The Rev. Rob Fuquay is senior pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Photo by Christopher Fenoglio.

Where are you in your personal journey of faith?

Cruising down the track, comfortable with the position you're in? Sidelined in the pits, working on internal issues? Perhaps you are not in the race at all but are watching from the stands.

Whatever your situation, you are sure to find inspiration in Rob Fuquay's book Take the Flag: Following God's Signals in the Race of Your Life.

The Reverend Rob Fuquay, senior pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, developed this book and the small-group companion DVD first in NASCAR country at his church in North Carolina. He later adapted it to Indy car racing at St. Luke's.

Regardless of your interest in racecars and racing, Fuquay sees a parallel between the flags used in auto racing and "the signals God sends us in our fast-paced lives."

By looking at the meanings of the different flags, we can become "stronger disciples of Jesus Christ by paying attention to the signals God gives us each day."

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Let the race begin!

The Green Flag - Start
How do we start our journey of faith?

We have many green flag moments during our life; moments when we need to restart and refocus on what is most important. To do this, we need to return to the basics: an understanding that God loves us, forgives us, and that God can bring out the best in us.

It starts with this understanding and an acceptance of Jesus Christ as one's Lord and Savior.

"My green flag moment happened at the church that day when the pastor said I could have a fresh start and a new beginning," says NASCAR driver Michael McDowell. "It was the start of a long race, when God opened my eyes and my ears. (I realized that) what God has in store for me is better than what I have in store for me."

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Heeding the cautions

The Yellow Flag - Caution
Our life decisions can put us in peril on our journeys. How do we learn to heed God's cautions along the way?

We face many temptations during our lives: desires for wealth, power, physical needs, even flattering words from other people. The devil himself tempted Jesus with food, safety from injury, and power over all the earth. But Jesus heeded the warnings and resisted the temptations.

When desires interrupt our race of faith, God sends a yellow flag of caution, through other people or direct intervention, to remind us that danger is imminent. When we get a yellow flag, we should slow down, look ahead and refocus on the race at hand.

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Moving to the outside lane

The Blue Flag - Yield
Even in our own race, it is essential that we respect others. How does God help us focus on other people's needs?

In racing, the blue flag is called the "courtesy flag." It's a signal that a faster car is approaching, instructing you to interrupt your path, move to the outside, and allow the faster car to pass you. There is no requirement to move out of the way, but it is viewed as the right thing to do on the racetrack.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus often stopped to help people who asked for his help. He healed the sick, made the blind see and the lame walk. He eventually reached his destinations, even when his journeys were interrupted.

In real life, there are times when other people will interrupt our day, when we can stop what we are doing and move over to help them. Do you view the race of your life as a straight line around the track to the finish line, or do you acknowledge others along the way and move over to help them?

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Appreciating a delay

The Red Flag - Delay
When life throws us unexpected and unwanted interruptions, how does God help us get the most of the stops?

When the red flag comes out in a race, drivers know that the race must come to a complete stop. Sometimes this happens in our lives as well.

"We are not made just to go fast," says Fuquay. "A significant part of the spiritual life is developing practices that help us slow down and connect with God."

Ann Schrader, wife of NASCAR driver Kenny Schrader, recounts times when she felt the red flag. "There are days when the good Lord just waves that red flag and says, 'Ann, stop. Take a few minutes here.' God is a 'tap on the shoulder' to me. He knows when I've taken on too much, when I need to stop and give Him some time. God is truly amazing - what He has done in my life and what He continues to do."

"What we do when we are stopped, things that help us connect with God," recounts Fuquay, "make all the difference when we are racing again."

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Called out of the race

The Black Flag - Disqualification
What happens when our violations take us out of the race? How does God help us get back in?

This is called the "consultation flag" in racing, meaning that a driver has committed a rule violation and the car must come off the track to meet with an official.

In our lives, this is akin to acknowledging that we have sinned and that we must come out of the race for a time being. First, we must be honest with ourselves and acknowledge our sins and our failings. We should ask God for forgiveness and then purposefully change directions to a path away from these sins. Finally, we should reenter our race with a renewed sense of purpose and focus, all the while acknowledging the grace and love of God to help us in our endeavors. 

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In position for the final stretch

The White Flag - Final Lap
As we head to the finish line, how do we steer according to God's will?

While the white flag is a signal to the race leader that there is one lap to go before victory, it is also a signal to other drivers that the race will soon end. Drivers will see the flag and will evaluate where they are now – their current position in the race.

If their goal is to win the race, they will see how difficult it will be in the last lap. But if their goal is to win the points championship, then they will acknowledge that their current position will help in the long run.

Similarly, in our human relationships, we don't have to win every argument. We can acknowledge that what we do can keep our relationships healthy, even if the other person "wins." We surrender to not finishing first because there is a higher goal ahead.

Jesus embodied this idea when he surrendered and put himself in God's hands, no matter the costs. "Not my will, but yours be done," he prayed that night in Gethsemane. He reminds us that despite all our efforts, the act of surrendering to God's love can help us the most.

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Experiencing victory

The Checkered Flag - Victory
If we persevere, navigating the hazards, managing the pit stops - then victory is ours. How does God want us to experience victory?

We all recognize the checkered flag as the ultimate sign of victory in a race. But what did we actually win?

Sam Hornish Jr., a driver who won the Indy 500 in 2006, the same year he switched over to NASCAR racing, puts winning in perspective. "I know that eventually, a lot of the trophy stuff is going to be forgotten," Hornish says. "But, the legacy I leave are the things that I do in life, as well as how my kids grow up. I feel like I win more by being a good Dad."

Even if we receive the checkered flag at the end of the race, another race may just be beginning.

"The checkered flag," say Fuquay, "reminds us that everyone of us will cross a line and our race will be complete. But this is not just the finish line, it is also the starting line. Drivers cross this line literally hundreds of times in a race. It reminds us that victory in the race of life and faith is not limited to one day after we are gone. It's meant to be experienced over and over again in life. God stands ready to help you run your race well."

Throughout our spiritual journey, we should heed these flags to help us best run the race of our lives.

Readers, start your engines!

Church leaders: Looking for a seven-week series on biblical teachings that is designed to be easy to use and easy to understand? Read more about 'driving' Take the Flag to your church.

*This feature was originally published on August 2, 2017. It was written by Christopher Fenoglio.