Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 88: Strengthened to Run the Race
September 9, 2012
Scripture reading: Hebrews 11:1-6 (Erin)
The Crux of the Matter
I’ve already said that Hebrews was written to encourage struggling Christians. This passage is the crux of the book:
Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Geek warning: It’s harder to see in the translation, but in Greek this is one sentence. In Greek (as English), you can find the main point of the sentence by looking for the finite verb:
“Thinking of only of himself, Homer bought Marge a bowling ball, engraving it with his name.”
There are three verbs there, but “bought” is the main one, and rest describe it. In these verses, which one do you think in the finite verb: Surrounded, throw off, run, fix, scorning.
* The key word is “run,” the other verbs explain how to run and provide the key points.
This is the point of the entire book. He’s talked about the encouragement of Christ and the help from the community, but eventually you have to do something, you have to run the race.
* Not stroll, walk, saunter, or coast but run, press hard, push through with endurance.
Run, don’t walk
People ask me if I am a liberal or conservative pastor, which is hard for me to answer. Basically, liberals think I am too conservative and conservatives think I am too liberal.
* I am not talking about politics (though that is true), nor theology (but that is really true), but Christian living.
Because I spend a lot of time dealing with conservative Christians, I forget how much I agree with them, in spite of my disagreements. I had that reminder while working on this sermon.
On one hand, I read one well-known pastor (whom I respect) say your entire life should be about running (which is true) and anything that doesn’t help you run better should be removed:
Note the seemingly innocent weights and encumbrances that are not condemned explicitly in the Bible...the ways you subtly make provision for these hindrances: the computer games, the hidden alcohol or candy, the television, the videos, the pull-tab stop on the way home, the magazines, the novels.
This is not true, the Bible is clear that God has filled this world for things for us to enjoy and that he wants us to enjoy earthly things as well as spiritual.
* I strive hard against this false belief; it is half the message of my book, Radically Normal.
But that is only half the message. I was reminded this week that I don’t want to push so hard against joyless Christianity that I promote a lazy Christianity.
* C. S. Lewis described Christianity as either being something of absolute importance or of no importance at all.
God did not create this universe, come to earth to live and die for us, the saints did not suffer martyr’s deaths so that we could go to church occasionally and pray when we are in trouble.
* The American deception is God is a segment of our life – we care for spiritual needs along with emotional and physical.
To become a Christian is to reorient your life, where God is king, you live in Christ’s grace, and you join the saints across the ages in the radical mission to advance God’s kingdom on earth, to help his will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
* I hate nominal Christianity no less than joyless, legalistic Christianity – it turns the Almighty into a trinket.
That is not the life I want for you, I do not want nominal Christianity for you or I. Not because it is too much, but too little.
That same pastor said, “[the apostle] Paul knows nothing of a coasting Christianity,” and he is completely right.
I liked that imagery of coasting: You are riding bike down here in the Valley, get up some good speed, then coast. The thing is, when you coast you are slowing down.
* We all know how easy it is to coast in life; you get to a certain place, feel pretty good, then take it easy.
Nowhere is this clearer than marriage. I can get away with coasting for a little bit, but then Marilyn will notice. I might be doing better than two years ago, but I am still coasting.
* How much easier is it to coast when you don’t have a wife in your face!
Coasting works even less in Christianity. Marriage is just one segment of your life, family another, health another, but God is the central part holding it all together.
How are you doing now?
The test is never, “how am I doing compared to earlier?” A high school student can’t tell his teacher “What’s the problem? I can still pass the kindergarten tests.”
* The question is always how are you doing now?
Q Are you coasting now or running hard?
Are you spending time with God now, or resting on past experience with him?
Are asking him to help you grow and change, or content with how far you’ve come?
Are you working to push God’s rule into every part of your life or just coasting?
Notice, I am not asking “are you praying enough?” That is a trap to ever get to enough, and if you do, then you would coast. It is a question of effort and pursuit.
Helps for the run
Let’s talk about how to run, not coast.
I keep getting emails from some biking magazine. It is filled with all sorts of great tips and advice on bike racing, like how to shave your legs and use the bathroom without stopping.
* The thing is, I don’t want to race, so I just delete them.
Q Do you want to run or coast?
If coasting is your preference, then I don’t have any advice for you, expect maybe join Rotary instead of a church.
But if you want to run, if Christ is your everything, and pleasing God matters more than pleasing yourself, then Hebrews has three vital pieces of advice for running the good race.
1. Learn from past winners:
If you were to decide to run a marathon, whose advice would you seek out, mine (who’s never run further than a half) or Peter, who runs them in lederhosen and clogs. Likewise, Hebrews tells us to look at past runners:
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses...
This referring back to chapter 11, which is called the “Hall of Faith,” story after story of Old Testament saints. Seeing them around us gives us a glimpse of the bigger picture.
This isn’t just you, it isn’t just us at 1003 S. 3rd Street. It is the entire scope of God’s followers from the dawn of time to the end of time.
* BTW: This is where Catholics get the idea of praying to the saints...
Looking to them give encouragement, as if they cheer us on. The first race I ran, Peter, Cecil, Isaac, Ben, cheering me on; that was so encouraging, having these friends there.
* Now, these folks were not models of perfection, but of faith:
Hebrews 11:1-2 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
In other words, they are commended (and recommended) because they believed God, and acted on that knowledge.
* Faith is not believing the unbelievable, it is believing the reasonable and acting accordingly.
It is the testing point of whether or not you believe. That is what draws these stories together – they believed and acted in faith and God pulled them through.
When you are tired and frustrated and begin to doubt, look at those who have gone before you: They are there telling you, “It can be done, God is good, you can make it.”
* We made it, not because we are good (most of us were train wrecks) but because we trusted God.
The root of all sin
Q Why is faith the big thing we need to run with endurance, to not coast? Why not discipline, or prayer, or something else?
Because unbelief is has probably led more people into coasting than anything else. I don’t mean “I don’t believe in God” unbelief, but “I don’t’ believe God is good,” “I don’t’ believe this is worth it.”
* As a pastor, I’ve seen so many Christians lulled into coasting Christianity because they don’t believe God’s way is best.
When you are running uphill in the heat of the day, that is the hardest time to stick with it and the worst time to run cost vs. benefit analysis, because you just aren’t thinking clearly.
* It’s the middle of the race that can be so tough, because the end it not in sight.
* Faith means that you stick to what you know to be true even when you want to give up.
Are you in a tough spot in the race? Don’t focus on the pain or trials, but hold on to what you knew before.
Q Who do you believe more, God or your circumstances and fears?
2. Get rid of baggage
Hebrews 12:1 ...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Back in the day, sports were in the nude, so when it talks about “throwing everything off,” it literally means everything (“I didn’t know this was that kind of church!”)
* But the image is of shedding all the things that trip us up.
I have a computer bag that was given to me as a graduation gift by my roommates and it is leather, so it still works great. I load it down with my computer, some books and odds and ends, until it weighs about 35 lbs.
* Imagine me trying to run a marathon carrying it, tripping on the shoulder strap, while checking my email.
Hebrews talks about two separate things: Weights and sins.
Weights are the things that may not be wrong per se, but slow us down, trip us up and distracts us. They may even be good things.
* The good can be the enemy of the best.
Saying we can only do spiritual stuff ignores the bigger picture of Scripture – it is a balance: Enjoy life without being distracted.
Sin is worse than weights, it is like running in the woods with roots and vines – these things will trip you, tie you up, and pull you out of the race.
* This is where faith comes in again – believing that the things God call sin will leave you less happy, not more.
Q What things are tripping you up? Making you coast?
Good or bad, what is slowing you down? Things that are good lik your job? Marriage? Hobbies? Or things that are bad?
* Please text “Sunday School Teacher” ; service is almost over
3. Keep your eyes on the finish
I already said when you are running uphill in the heat of the day, it’s not the time to reevaluate how much you enjoy running. It is also a bad idea to focus on the hill, or the heat.
Q What should you fix your eyes on? The finish line.
But the finish line is not a place, it is a person:
Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God
There, at the finish line, we see our savior, by faith, “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
* He is there as one who ran and is our example par excellence.
He endured worse than we will, and scorned it, as a marathon runner would scorn a bee sting, for the joy set before him. Not obligation, not duty, but joy.
* He is our example – we run for joy; there may be pain along the way, but we run for joy.
As I have said before, I sign my letters “to the glory of God and the joy of the saints” because they are the same thing.
* Christians are too quick to dismiss joy (cf. Trent’s Hebrew Synonyms), but joy in the glory of God is our joy.
Running to Jesus
Ultimately, we are not running to cross a line, to receive a prize, or even bragging rights. We are running to Jesus. Steve Taylor had a song about crossing the finish line and falling into his arms.
* He is the one you really want – all the joys of this life are hints of joy in him.
* All the pains of this life will find meaning in him.
When the road gets tough and you get worn and are tempted to coast, fix your eyes on Jesus. Run to him. In him the pain of the race becomes worthwhile.
Q & A