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Entries in Faith (36)

Tuesday
Sep052017

The Unshakable Kingdom

Hebrews 12:25-29.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 03, 2017.

Today we will finish this chapter as we look at the importance of believers in Jesus living each day by faith in Him.  Last week we were reminded of the heavenly city in which we have citizenship.  In this last passage, the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are receiving an unshakable kingdom.  As we close out this section, I pray that you are able to see both the wonderful grace of God that we have been given, and the amazing responsibility we have to keep trusting Jesus, no matter what we may face in this life.

Don’t refuse the voice of the Father

By itself, vs. 25 begs the question, “What voice is being referenced?”  However, as you move back through the passage it is clear that the voice of God is what we are talking about.  If we tie the Old Testament allusions to the earlier references that God disciplines us as a Heaven Father, then it becomes clear that Christians are being told not to ignore the voice of God.  Even today, we can be guilty of ignoring or refusing to obey the voice of God.  But, before we get into what that can look like, let’s first deal with this exhortation to obey God’s voice.

We are reminded of those who rejected God’s voice under the Old Covenant and how they did not escape His judgment.  They did hear an audible voice while they were at Mt. Sinai.  However, the majority of God’s Word was given to them by the prophet Moses and confirmed by the amazing signs and wonders that God did among them.  That first generation that came out of Egypt heard the voice of God and even embraced it by agreeing to a covenant with God at Sinai.  Yet, they did not follow God through the desert in faith.  Most of them perished in the wilderness, not because they lost faith one time or in an instance, but because they continually refused to trust God all along the way.  His judgment was sometimes a quick and instantaneous thing such as when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were swallowed up in an earthquake’s rift, or the many that died from the fiery serpents, or those who perished in the deception of the Moabites.  The testimony of Scripture is that most of them did not walk by faith and complained with unbelief.  The majority perished by simply growing old and dying in their unbelief.  Later generations of Israel who were not at Sinai to hear “The Voice” had to make a choice.  Were they going to listen to the Word of God’s voice that had been recorded or were they going to refuse to listen to it?  We are in the same position.  Though we are not under the Law of Moses, we have heard the record of the New Covenant that God has made clear through His Son Jesus.  Jesus was the Voice of God and He guaranteed that His Holy Spirit would speak through His Apostles to direct His Church.  This has all been recorded faithfully for us.  We have a choice to make.  We either believe it, or refuse and go on in our disbelief.  All generations are accountable to the record of the God’s voice.  On top of all this, if we walk in faith and trust God’s Word, He speaks to our hearts by His Holy Spirit and leads us through the wilderness of this world.  So the point is clear.  Be like Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, rather than like those who refused to believe and perished.  Physically hearing God’s Word is not enough to save us.  We need to put our faith in what it says.

Verse 26 then reminds us that God is shaking the heavens and the earth with His New Covenant through Jesus.  Just as the voice of God shook Mt. Sinai, so the earth would be shaken by the Gospel.  But, more than that, God was also shaking the heavens.  The devil and his angels were being told that they would be cast down into the Lake of Fire, and the Church would be raised up in their place and even higher.  Now this part about shaking the heavens and the earth is a quote from Haggai 2:6.  Its point is that God would shake things to remove that which can be shaken and replace it with something that would be permanent.  It would be easy to see this shaking as something that started and ended in that first year as the disciples went out into the world.  However, when we think through what the Scriptures say about the removal of the old order, on earth and in the heavens, then we can recognize that the shaking started in the first century and will continue until Jesus comes back and concludes removing the old.  Yes, the Law of Moses and the nation of Israel passed away in that first century and the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church were set up.  But, this shaking is not over.  Throughout the New Testament we are given a sense that all that God has promised is both now, and not completely yet.  God has much more to do in this shaking that even involves the restored state of Israel and the Jewish people.  The key to this point is to recognize that in Jesus we are a part of what is going to remain.  Why would you try to go back to that which will not remain, the Law of Moses or the world, and refuse that which will remain?  The shaking has begun to knock down the shakable things of this world and that which cannot be shaken has begun to take its place, but it is not yet completed.

So we are told that believers in Jesus are receiving an unshakable kingdom.  By faith in Jesus we have a part in that kingdom that cannot be taken from us.  As Joshua and Caleb led the next generation into the Promised Land, so we can rejoice at the 2nd Coming of Christ and the inheritance that will be made manifest at that time.  When all the nations of this world have fallen, the Kingdom of Jesus will remain.  We should not be arrogant at such words because we stand by faith in God and by His grace, not by our own power.  So the unshakable kingdom is here, at least in our hearts, but not complete.  The book of Revelation is about the completing of the Kingdom of God.  Just as Israel could not survive its continual refusal to listen to God’s voice, the nations of the world today (America included) cannot survive their refusal.  Think about it.  Is there any nation on the earth today whose government makes every decision based upon what will please Jesus Christ and God the Father, based upon God’s Word?  None do so, not even the United States of America.  So I fear for our country as I watch the federal government, state governments, and local continuing to reject the leadership of Jesus and going their own way.

Let us walk in grace

Surrounded by this sea of unbelief, it would be easy to doubt God’s Word and seek compromises with the world and our own flesh.  The whole point of this chapter has been to strengthen our faith so that we can continue to walk in the grace of God (vs. 28).  It is called grace because we cannot obtain it by obeying a list of outward commands.  It truly is a gift of God to those who repent of their sins, and put their faith in Jesus.  It is also called grace because we give to others what God has given us, love, forgiveness, and the offer of salvation.

To those first century Jewish believers (the book is called Hebrews for a reason) the temptation was to quit following the grace of Jesus and go back under the Law of Moses.  However, there was no going back in God’s eyes.  The Old Covenant was fulfilled and had served its purpose.  It was time for the New Covenant and the faithful would hear the voice of God and leave the spiritual Egypt behind in order to follow Jesus, who is greater than Moses in every way.  Today many Jews continue to cling to the Old Covenant hoping to find salvation in it.  But salvation can only be found in God.  For most Christians the problem is not trying to go back to the Law of Moses, although some do struggle with this.  Instead we are often tempted to create a kind of Christian Law, by which we attempt to justify ourselves through outward conformity, rather than through inward transformation.  The point is not so much what you turn back towards, but what you are leaving behind in order to do so.  If God is going east and you turn back and go west, then you are headed away from life.  Don’t turn your back on God and His amazing grace.  Other Christians turn towards a kind of intellectual trick that says we can live anyway we want because we are under grace.  They turn grace into a license for immorality.  This too is a refusal to follow God.  The New Covenant has not removed the need for living out the righteousness of God.  Rather, it has provided a safe platform on which we can become more and more like Jesus as His Word transforms us from the inside to the outside.

Thus verse 28 mentions acceptable service.  Though some versions use the word “worship” it intends worship in the sense of everything we do to show God’s worth.  What makes our life acceptable?  I believe the Holy Spirit’s continual reminder in these passages of those who didn’t believe under the Old Covenant reveals it to us.  Acceptable worship is to do what God says to do.  It is to obey and to do so from a heart broken over its sin and overflowing with thanksgiving to God for His mercy.  Acceptable worship is to walk by faith in Jesus and trusting His Word.  No, not just the parts that we think He said.  Jesus guaranteed that the Holy Spirit would guide the Apostles into all truth.  They faithfully recorded what Jesus taught and what the Spirit taught them.  We are accountable to those words. 

It is also acceptable because it is done in reverence and godly fear.  Why does passage end with such a fierce verse?  “Our God is a consuming fire.”  At Mt. Sinai, Israel was instilled with the fear of a slave towards a master.  But at the cross we are instilled with the respect and healthy fear that a child should have towards their father.  We should always be aware that no matter how close God draws us to His side and no matter how much He loves us, He will not put up with rebellion, unbelief, and refusal to obey.  His very nature of being a consuming fire requires us to approach with understanding.  In fact, it is worth contemplating that the same fire that is able to burn up all our sin and make us a refined product that is 100% pure, can also consume us in judgment.  Faith is what makes the difference.  So let’s fully follow Jesus.  And let’s not do so as we imagine him or want him to be.  Let us hear the word of the Lord and say, “Yes, Father.  I hear and want to follow you!”  Let's not trade an unshakable kingdom for that which cannot last, and a heavenly birthright for the temporary pleasures of sin.

Unshakable Kingdom audio

Thursday
Aug242017

Faith in Action

Hebrews 12:12-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 20, 2017.  Today we will continue in looking at Hebrews 12 and the importance of faith in the life of a Christian.  We have looked at how faith is a long-distance, endurance race, which includes times of discipline from the Lord.  In the verses we will look at today, we are given instructions that will help us to keep living by faith and what that looks like.

Prepare yourself for God’s work

As the Holy Spirit instructs us to lay aside the weights and sins that would hold us down (vs. 1) and to keep our eyes on Jesus (vs. 2), here we are given further instructions in verse 12.  Before we get into what those instructions are, it is imperative to recognize that faith involves doing what God has for us to do.  These instructions are teaching us how to prepare ourselves so that we can do His work by faith.  Running the race of faith is a series of actions in life that flow from our confidence in Christ (his commands and direction), as opposed to doing our own thing. 

So we start with strengthening our hands and knees for the work.  Both of these aspects of our body are important to many tasks of life.  We use them to move, touch, and help others in so many ways.  Of course other body parts could be mentioned as well.  The point is really about strength to obey Jesus.  In fact the word for “feeble knees” could be translated as “paralyzed knees.”  Why would I have my hands hanging at my side and my knees paralyzed when Jesus has given me my marching orders?  It could be because of fear and discouragement, whether from past failures or present threats.  It could also be from the temptation of sin, its debilitating effects, and even deception.  The devil loves to get us in a position where we are neutralized from doing God’s will for any reason possible.  We need to first know what our Father’s business is, and then we must strengthen ourselves to do it.  I believe keeping our eyes on Jesus (vs. 2) and praying for the help of the Holy Spirit will go a long way to giving us the strength we need to obey Jesus.  However, don’t think that means you will feel strong.  The flesh often “feels” weak when you are exercising faith in God.  So trust God to help you as you step forward in faith.

Next we are told to straighten our path with others.  A straight path is an important image in the Bible.  In fact it reminds me of John the Baptist who quoted from Isaiah when he called himself, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.”  This image of building a road could be seen as making a path for the Lord Himself to walk on.  However, it can also be seen as straightening our lives because they belong to Him.  We have been purchased by Jesus and our lives (the way we live them) should take on the same form as the Lord himself.  My flesh makes me want to go to the left and to the right.  My flesh doesn’t want to go through the hassle of tearing down the high and proud places in my life, or the hassle of letting him lift up the low places (humble or weak) in our life.  To build a life that walks straight with our fellow man and is flat before them and the Lord is not easy.  In fact, without God it is impossible.  Repentance is the first step in asking God to help us in this endeavor, and believe His Word, He will.  Don’t let your flesh, or the world, dictate how you live among others or for what purposes.  Instead focus upon Jesus and the path you walk will be straight (correct).  His way must become our way.

Pursue peace with others and holiness with God

The next steps come in verse 14.  We must pursue peace with others and holiness with God.  A common thing in the Bible is the three aspects of self, others, and Jesus.  In verses 12 through 13 the instruction is focused on what we should do in ourselves.  Here we deal with the other two aspects “others” and “God.” 

When we are told to pursue peace with all people, it assumes that it will be hard to achieve for both internal and external reasons.  It is easy to quit seeking peace with others.  But that door is not left open for us.  No matter what we are to pursue peace.  Yet, peace cannot be contrived.  It must be real.  On one hand it is God’s will for His people to dwell in peace together, and it is His will for us to live peacefully among unbelievers.  However, Romans 12:18 gives us more information on this command.  “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”  It even goes on to tell believers that they must refrain from seeking revenge for wrongs done to us.  Instead we are to trust God’s judgments.  So recognize that though peace is the goal, we must not become people pleasers in order to get it.  We are to remain God pleasers always.  Thus for our part we act peacefully towards others, even though they may reject us and act without peace back towards us.  In those cases, we pray for them and wait for God to bring them around.  One of the surest ways to snuff out faith in others is to seek your own revenge, or to be overly obsessed with peace.  Both extremes side step the power of the Gospel and replace it with human power.

Now the holiness part needs to be looked at.  Holiness with God cannot be skipped in our lives.  It is often the first thing to be jettisoned when dealing with others.  What do I mean by that?  The essence of “holiness” is that we are not just another person.  We belong to the Lord and thus are to use our lives for his purposes only.  This is a holy thing.  But hurt and anger tempt us to reject holiness and choose to use our lives as we please.  We cannot continually reject our Lord and think such a life will end in our salvation.  I am not saying that our works save us.  But I am saying that the Lord has saved us for us to follow Him.  If we say we are following Him, but do whatever we want, we are simply lying to ourselves and the world around us.  Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and faith involves learning to follow Jesus.  Praise God that He helps us and knows that we are weak.  Trust His love and His instructions and He will bring you through.

In verse 15 we are told to watch again.  In verse 2 it was to look to Jesus for direction and encouragement.  But here we are told to watch for those things that are hazardous to our faith, and pitfalls spiritually.  As a band of brothers and sisters we must not only watch out for ourselves, but for one another.  We don’t want anyone to fall short of the grace of God, that is, to quit the race for one reason or another.  One of those hazards is bitterness.  Bitterness is likened to a root that starts out deep in our heart.  Someone wronged us somehow.  It can even be bitterness at God for allowing something to happen in our life.  We become frustrated and angry of how things went and can hold on to grudges and anger.  Like the roots of a weed, the roots of bitterness can go deep quickly.  We must be ruthless in digging it out of our own lives.  We must be careful in helping others who are dealing with bitterness because trying to force them to do it can become another source of bitterness for them.  In fact the writer says that bitterness can grow up and come to the surface.  We can be defiled through the turmoil and dissension caused by it.  It is good to be able to recognize wrongs, but we must not let self-pity and fear have a place, or we will become another part of the problem.

In fact the writer brings up Esau as an example of what not to be.  He grew up in a home that worshipped and served God.  He was the eldest and thus stood to be the inheritor of the birthright and blessings of his father.  Now two words are used.  “Fornication” is any sex outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.  It is sometimes connected to food in a metaphorical sense because both are appetites of our flesh.  Proverbs says that those who go to a harlot have been reduced to bread.  Both by being the means of her obtaining the money to buy food, but also the sexual act itself is simply two people satisfying their fleshly appetites.  Sex is something far greater than a means of satisfying our libido.  The word “profane” means to treat or use something that is holy for common or selfish purposes.  Esau stood to inherit a great spiritual blessing, but He treated it as if it was merely a commodity that he could trade for a meal.  Later his repentance was only a physical repentance.  In other words, his flesh was sorry that he would not get the blessing.  His tears are not about his own sin, but the effect of that sin.  True repentance is not just sorry because of the effects of sin.  It is also sorry that it chose the wrong path in the first place.  Though he sought to blessed by his father Isaac with tears, Isaac would not repent of giving the blessing to Jacob.  We cannot obtain the blessing of God without a life of faith in Jesus and avoiding those materialistic pitfalls that find a place in our heart.

Take time today to examine your heart and life.  Have I become profane and am I using the life that God has given me simply to please my flesh?  The good news is that even now if we recognize it to be true, we can have true repentance.  May our lives be filled with strength, straightened, peaceful, and holy.  May we be the saints of God!

Faith in Action audio

Tuesday
Aug152017

Faith in the Time of Discipline

Hebrews 12:3-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 13, 2017.

There is always friction between generations.  Though generations today may disagree on how to teach and train children, you will not find very many people who would say that it shouldn’t be done at all.  The question is not about teaching kids, but about how and what we teach them.  Thomas Sowell, the American social theorist and political philosopher has said, “Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.”  He is not the first to recognize the importance of socialization.

Today it may seem like our culture is kicking back against this as they tell parents to teach their kids all religions so that they can choose for themselves, or even better, don’t teach them religion at all.  Similarly it is becoming vogue to avoid seeing the gender of your child as something that is biological.  The mark of a progressive parent is to help your child transition from a biological gender to the gender of your feelings.  Of course, the social discussions taking place around them and with them begs the question if these kids are being overly influenced in this area.  Regardless, my point is that these two examples are not really rejecting the idea of training kids.  The truth is that they object to training them in certain ways and with certain ideas.  Thus in the areas that they want to deconstruct they promote jettisoning it and in the areas they want to construct they promote very heavy training, if not outright propaganda.  In truth they indoctrinate children with their truth that gender is a state of mind, and that all religions are the same, if anything at all.

Our passage today focuses on one of the great difficulties of trusting God, and that is the fact that God treats us as His children.  Just as human parents teach and train their child, so He teaches and trains those who will trust Him in order for them to be like Him.  May we learn to embrace this fact with faith.

Consider Jesus and His example

In verse 2 we were told to turn our focus upon Jesus.  In verse 3 another word is used that takes this focus further into the mind and tells us to “consider” our Lord Jesus and what He went through.  Believers in God can not only look to Jesus to show us the way, but also we can make connections between what He went through and what we face in our life.

First, we are told that Jesus endured hostility from sinners.  Do you remember in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:11-12) where Jesus told His disciples, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Now Jesus said that knowing that great persecution lay ahead of Him.  He was not merely taking His place in a list of those who have trusted God through the ages.  He is the Lord Himself, perfect and without fault.  He is the Son who is to inherit all things, and yet sinners brazenly persecute Him too.  It is easy for wicked people to tell themselves that the righteous are not as righteous as they pretend.  This becomes the justification for why they can mistreat them.  But this idea is completely undercut with Jesus.  This hostility between those who want to follow God and those who despise them for doing so is a fact of life.  But the key is that Jesus endured it.  The word means He persevered and stayed the course of faith even when to keep faithful was like a heavy burden on His back.  Too easily, we reach the end of our patience and throw off faith like a heavy weight.  “I won’t carry it anymore!  This is too much, I quit!”  When we look at Jesus and see that He didn’t quit, knowing full well what was ahead of Him, we are to take courage from it.  The godly have always suffered at different times in their lives because of the fallen world in which we all live.  But, Jesus tells us to rejoice because God will reward us along with all who have endured such evil.  Don’t look at Moses, Elijah, et alia and say that you aren’t as good as them.  Don’t look at Jesus and say that it must have been easy for Him.  Instead, trust God and take your place (whatever you are called to face) among God’s faithful followers.

In verse 4, when the writer mentions bloodshed, he is literally talking about death.  Jesus didn’t just endure hostility from sinners.  He was also executed and killed by them.  Jesus endured with faith to the point of death.  But notice that the struggle is not with the sinners themselves.  The real battle is with sin itself.  We are reminded that we haven’t resisted against sin to the point of death yet (if we had we would be in heaven and not reading Hebrews).  The sin we resist is not the sin of those sinners who are being hostile.  The sin we resist is our own temptation to jettison faith and give in for the sake of comfort and ease, to make the pain stop.  We are to recognize that Christ shows us to trust the Father even if it costs us our life.  Many Christians throughout history have resisted sin to the point of bloodshed.  But they did it by thinking about what Jesus endured, and keeping their eyes on the goal of being with Jesus and like Jesus.

Now I did skip over a very important phrase.  We are told to consider Jesus in order to avoid becoming “weary and discouraged in our souls.”  Both words give voice to the reality that our inner person struggles with trusting God.  When we face hostility and even death, we can grow tired of trusting God.  We can be discouraged in the fight against our flesh.  Such a soul is on the verge of giving in to unbelief and sin.  Where does one get the strength and desire to keep going on?  For a time we may have it from our own sheer will power, but this is not put forth as an answer for the believer.  Your strength will always come to an end.  The only way we can avoid spiritual weariness and discouragement is to keep our eyes on Jesus and draw strength from Him.  Your soul needs spiritual nourishment that it cannot get from the things of this world that your flesh craves.  When you feel discouraged, ask the Lord Jesus to strengthen you by His Spirit and also talk with other believers.  Sometimes they can encourage you with their stories of how God helped them.

Consider how the Lord disciplines His children

In verses 5-11 we are reminded of our calling and position in Christ.  We have become sons of God.  John 1:12-13 says, “But as many as received Him [Jesus], to them He gave the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  The truth is that every child must be taught the way to live in this world.  Now some versions use the word “chastise” in this passage.  The problem with this is that “chastise” has come to be used of corporal punishment only.  Originally it meant to make chaste or pure.  The Greek and Hebrew words that lie behind this translation refer to everything that is done in order to train up a child.  Thus it involves instruction, training, correction, rebuke, and sometimes punishment.  That is why I have used the word “discipline.”  God does all of the above in our lives.  We belong to the Lord and as such He is going to work in our lives in many different ways in order to help us grow up and become like Him.  Every time you go through a difficult stretch, you need to be careful of thinking that God is mad at you or doesn’t love you anymore.  He loves you very much because you are His child.

Verse 5 tells us that we can forget God’s Word to us.  It is important to recognize how forgetting God’s Word can lead to losing faith in God.  The writer quotes from Proverbs 3:11-12, which is written in the form of a parent addressing a child with wise instruction.  The key is that God’s Word tells us that not only are we made to be the sons of God, but that God will actually treat us as His children by being faithful to do all that a good parent would do in order to prepare their child for adulthood.  The enemy of our soul wants us to forget who we are and to create a rift between us and our Heavenly Father.  Your flesh even wants to lash out in anger at God when He allows difficult times in our lives.  But God’s Word tells us that He loves us and that nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God, except our own choice (Romans 8).

Now the proverb in verse 5 brings up the issue of despising God’s discipline.  It tells us not to despise God’s discipline because it is proof that we are His children.  Now the word “despise” typically carries the sense of a strong, visceral reaction- which we would do well to avoid.  But the word it translates here actually has the sense of not caring at all about it.  It is the picture of a person who could careless that God is “disciplining them because they are His child.”  Instead of being encouraged by it, they see it as worthless or something not worth holding on to, as they toss the relationship away.  How great and amazing it is that the God of the universe has made us His children.  You are special and He is bringing you to His greatness.  But you must trust Him.  Just as the One and Only Son of God, Jesus, was allowed to face difficulties even to the point of death in this life, so we too must face things in our life that our flesh will despise.  We must resist the temptation to throw away the priceless love that God offers you.  Don’t let the difficulties of life cause you to treat God’s love for you as a thing of little worth.  Like Esau we can sell our faith for a pot of beans, or for an immoral, sexual liaison, or for a drug induced high, or for the praise of the world, or for any other work of our flesh.  God’s work of discipline is proof that He accepts you as His child, rather than the opposite.  Why doesn’t He spoil you and me rotten?  He doesn’t do it because it would ruin us.  He cares about what we become because we are not illegitimate children.

In verses 9-10, we are reminded that God’s discipline is superior to human discipline.  Whether parents or teachers or professionals, we often look up to humans who train us in ways that our flesh doesn’t appreciate, but our minds recognize as valuable.  How much more ought we to embrace the discipline of God.  He is not subject to the jealousies and selfishness of humanity.  He trains us for our benefit.  Only God can bring us to that which is good and profitable for us, both in body and in soul.  It is more than profitable.  We also are able to obtain a portion of the Holiness of God.  He is not just teaching us to look a certain way.  He is changing us from the inside out.  We are separated from those who reject His discipline and fashioned into His image, to His glory and for our good.  This is the essence of holiness.  God is completely other than fleshly humanity.  But in His grace, He gives Himself to us and makes us like Him.

Lastly, in verse 11, we are told to see the result of God’s discipline over the occurrence of it.  When we are in the moment of discipline it is not joyful.  The occurrence can obscure our vision of that to which it is leading us.  We have to learn to see beyond the instruction that our flesh doesn’t like, and the rebukes that our heart is hurt by.  We have to learn to see beyond the hardships that He allows us to encounter and see the joy that is on the other side.  We will not be children forever.  He will finish His work and we will be adult sons of God at the resurrection.  God’s work in us will yield the amazing fruit of righteousness that is characterized by peace.  In a world where we are being stirred up to anger, division, and self-seeking, is a God who tells us that we were not created to be so.  You will never find peace by tossing aside your faith and confidence in the Lord.  But with Him there will be peace in the time of trouble.  There will be peace in the midst of the storm.  There will be peace, though the world be raging, in the shelter of God’s arms.

Faith in Discipline audio

Monday
Aug072017

Faith is an Endurance Race

Hebrews 12:1-2.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on August 06, 2017.

There have been many great runners throughout the history of the world.  In fact, many great runners may never have run in sporting events, or at the Olympics.  Today, through science and technology, we are able to squeeze out ever faster times.  And, yes, sometimes even through the use of drugs.  The latest line of technology is that of gene therapies.  Instead of trying to correct DNA errors to fight disease, they seek to enhance the performance of athletes.  There is no end to what people will be willing to do in order to win a race.  However, the question should never be, “Did you win?”  Rather, it should always be, “When the truth is known will you be disqualified?”  This brings to mind the American cycling legend Lance Armstrong.  He had amassed an amazing 7 Tour de France titles.  However, claims of doping dogged him throughout his career, all of which he emphatically denied.  Eventually enough evidence came forward to have the Cycling World strip Lance of his titles.  He had been doping and even using blood transfusions of highly oxygenated blood.  To the world looking on, it seemed like Lance Armstrong had won those events fair and square, but when the truth was known he had cheated and was disqualified. 

Life is an endurance race and all of us are going to live it one way or another.  No matter how well it looks like you did to others around you, the real question will be this, “Did you live it with faith in God as your foundation?”  Will we live our lives in such a way as to have the commendation of God, who alone knows the truth?  We want to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” from Him.

I want to encourage you today that regardless of the questions and fears that you have today, you can trust God and take your place among the vast number of saints who have finished their race with commendation.  How?  By the help of God Himself, no less!

We are surrounded by witnesses

In Hebrews 12 verse 1, the writer points to a surrounding cloud of witnesses as a reason why Christians should lay aside the things that keep them from living by faith, in God and for God.  But before we break that down, let’s look at the context that has led to this statement.

Throughout the previous chapter we are reminded of the faithful saints who have gone before us and their stories of faith.  Of course this list is of the many people recorded in Scripture.  None of them were perfect and without sin.  However, they believed God in the face of trials, persecutions, personal failures, and questions.  Chapter 11 opens with the statement that each of these saints obtained a good testimony (vs. 2), and then closes the chapter by restating the same in verses 39-40.  “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”  Now the phrase is literally, “they were witnessed.”  It begs the question, “By whom?”  We see in 11:4 that it is God Himself who testified that Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable and Cain’s was not.  The point is that each of these people were received by God as commendable because they lived by trusting God rather than themselves or the world around them.  This is in contrast to individuals like Cain, Lamech, Nimrod, Esau, Saul, etc.

So this great cloud of witnesses that we are surrounded by is now 2,000 years of saints larger.  But what exactly is the writer trying to tell us?  Some see them as witnesses of us.  The picture would be that of a stadium in which all the saints, who are no longer running, are cheering us on from the stands.  Although this would fit the analogy and it would be an encouragement to know that our loved ones are cheering us on in heaven, it has been suggested that we should not see them as witnesses of our lives, but rather as witnesses to us.  Their lives are testimonies that God has testified are holy and acceptable.  We are surrounded by the millions of past and present stories of those who have lived out faith in commendable fashion.    I am sure that the saints in heaven are rooting for us, whether they can see us or not.  However, more than this, we can read their lives and draw encouragement from what they had to endure.  In some ways our stories are no different from theirs.  No, they are not exactly the same.  But, like them we have to overcome the trials, pitfalls, temptations, and fears that they did in order to have faith in God.  We have all lived in a world that is adverse to our faith, and in the midst of a spiritual enemy that seeks to work us woe.  So take time to glean the difficulties and trials of the faithful throughout the Bible.  Take time to read the biographies of modern believers who have had to overcome great difficulties in order to trust God.  And, don’t say, “I can’t do that,” or, “But, I’m not a Moses/David/Elijah.”  You have not been called to live their lives.  You have been called to live yours, by faith in Jesus.  You can do it because the same Spirit of God that enabled them is going to help and enable you as well.  Jesus said to his disciples, “I will never leave you nor forsake you even to the end of the age.”  This is your promise too, as one of his disciples.

Lay aside the things that slow you down

Like any race, you only wear what is necessary to run.  I have seen people jogging on the side of the road and they may be carrying 5 pound barbells in their hands, and 10 to 20 pound weights on their ankles.  They do that in order to get into shape quicker.  That is fine for training, but when it comes to race day, no runner in their right mind would try to run with those things.  So Paul reminds us of all those who have gone on before us and tells us to remember them so that we will then turn and jettison anything that might slow us down in this race of faith.  Are there things that are spiritually slowing you down, tiring you out, and making you want to quit?  We have to learn to hear the Holy Spirit pointing out those things that are hurting our faith and boldly toss them aside. 

You will notice that though the writer mentions sin next, this first phrase is not necessarily about sinful things.  Can things that are not sinful be detrimental to our faith?  There may not be anything inherently wrong about it, but it gets in the way between Jesus and me.  It side tracks me away from Christ and stirs up my flesh towards selfishness.  Just like there is nothing illegal about running with weights, so there is nothing sinful about these things.  However, they slow us down and lead us away from faith in God.  Too many Christians are concerned about what they are permitted to do.  They state phrases like, “The Bible doesn’t say I can’t do such and such.”  The problem with this mentality is that we are always trying to justify ourselves instead of trying to win the race of faith.  The rules don’t say you can’t run with a 50 pound backpack on.  But, you would be stupid to try and run a long distance race wearing it.  Thus wisdom is more important than permission.  In fact if we honestly and openly prayed about some of these things, we might hear the Holy Spirit say, “It isn’t sinful, but it is holding you back.  Let it go.”  Paul dealt with this in 1 Corinthians 10:23.  Some of the Corinthians kept stating the mantra, “All things are lawful for me.”  They took the grace of God and their release from the Law of Moses to mean that nothing was unlawful for them anymore.  Paul retorts, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.  Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.”  When we live this life trying to maximize our own pleasure, we quit running the race of faith. We quit being helpful and edifying to ourselves and to those around us. But when we watch out for one another and live to please God, then we are running the race that God has for us.

However, the writer does mention that we need to also jettison the sin that so easily entangles us.  Now, there are many things listed in the Bible that we are told are wrong.  To do them would be sin.  Sin is not an act of faith but of rebellion against God’s judgment.  Every runner has an inner dialogue from their body that is constantly badgering them.  “O, not this race again.  I hope I finish and don’t die.  This is too hard.  Slow down.  You’ll never make it.  You better just drop out or at least walk.  If you quit now you can go get a Krispy Kreme donut.  Running is for losers!”  Okay, so maybe not everyone has the exact same dialogue, but you catch my drift.  Our flesh constantly fights us in the natural against goals that our minds and hearts have set.  So it is in the spiritual.  Our flesh doesn’t want to trust God, it wants to please itself.  We all have our own personal panoply of sins that we are drawn towards and must resist in order to follow Christ.  In Christ, we do not lose our salvation every time we sin.  But, we can be slowed down, and we can be tripped up.  In fact, we can even have our faith “ensnared,” as verse 1 states.  Don’t get stuck on the course like some large mouse trap.  Though sin can ensnare us, we can also be set free from it through repentance and faith.  If you know someone who has had their faith ensnared by sin, then pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit to help set them free from the sin and get them back on the path of faith in Jesus.

Whenever we talk about laying aside those things that side track us, sinful or not, we have to ask ourselves, “What am I pursuing and for what prize am I running?  If I am all about pursuing the pleasures of this life rather than pursuing God and His promises then I am not running the race of faith.  I have been trapped in sin.  If I am all about an inheritance in this life rather than the inheritance that God has reserved for me in Heaven, then I am not running the race of faith.  This is what we should get rid of, so that we can obtain the prize that God has for us.  Next the writer speaks of the positive thing that we should focus on.

Keep your eyes on Jesus

Of course we want to run the race of faith, but we successfully do so by keeping our eyes on Jesus.  In this sense He is our goal.  He is the one that the Spirit is working in our life to make us like.  Also, he is waiting in heaven and when we finish this life, we will go to Him.  He is the one we want to see.  Imagine stepping to the other side and being greeted by Jesus and the cloud of witnesses who have gone on before us.  Keeping your eye on the goal is the only way to avoid the temptations of this life to give up our faith in Him.  We want to be like Him and also be with Him.

Verse 2 says that Jesus is the author and the finisher of our faith.  The word “author” has the sense of a chief or leader.  He is the one who has blazed the trail ahead of us and made it possible for us to follow.  His work makes it possible for us to have faith and live by faith.  Without Him our faith, if we had any, would fail.  The word “finisher” is the sense of completing it.  When a house is being framed you don’t worry about how pretty the boards are.  But when you finish out the house, you are making sure the trim boards and everything are just as you want them.  Here we see that God is helping us all along the way.  When you feel like you are losing your faith, and you wonder where God is?  Remember that He is all around you.  He is in the person who led you to Christ in the first place.  He is in the Bible that you can pick up and read at any moment.  He is in the silence as you pray and aren’t sure what to do.  He is in the brothers and sisters at Church who have as much trouble as you.  Don’t let the enemy rob you of your prize.  Keep your eyes on Jesus and He will bring you through.  Have faith!  He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Next we are told that Jesus endured the shame of the cross for the joy that was on the other side.  Jesus also had trials, persecutions, and temptations that he had to face in order to live out His faith in the Father.  He didn’t love the cross.  Rather he despised its shame, and yet saw something good on the other side- like a runner who doesn’t like side aches and lack of oxygen, but they want the joy on the other side of the race.  Thus this example that Jesus sets for us is to be our torch in the dark times.  It reminds us that there is a day of joy ahead.  God gives us times of joy in this life, but our ultimate joy is the day of the Restoration of All things.  Then we will stand with Jesus and all the saints upon a new heaven and a new earth and there will be no more evil.  What a day that will be!  So keep the faith, brother, and don’t give up, sister.  God is on your side and no one can stand against Him!

Lastly it says that he has received a place at the Father's right hand.  Our place is secure because Jesus is holdin our place in reserve for us.  We belong to Him and He is already seated in the highest place in the universe.  My, how our faith should soar at the thought of such a thing.  All who belong to Jesus will be accepted by the Father.  Don't listen to the world as it tries to discourage your faith.  They will be found out in the end.  The truth will set you free, but it will disqualify them.  So don't let the enemy plunder you of all that God has for you in this life and especially the next.

Faith is an endurance race audio