The Christian Race

Hebrews 12

The 2020 Summer Olympics, (held one year later in Tokyo, Japan due to the Pandemic) were recently completed.  This major international multi-sport event is held every four years. 

As we consider Hebrews 12, the setting of a great sports stadium can be imagined.  Verse 1 talks about the great cloud of witnesses.  The ancient Greek word for cloud in this verse was a figure of speech for a large group.  These superheroes listed in chapter 11 and down through the ages are witnesses TO US of faith and endurance.   Just as a high school gymnasium has mounted pictures of past all-state athletes with a listing of their sports accomplishments to inspire the current sports players, so we can picture our Faith Superheroes encircling us and cheering us on. 

Verse 1 continues, instructing us to throw off every hindrance “and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  Here we see the sports analogy clearly stated—run the race set before us.  A runner wouldn’t compete in bulky clothes that carry extra weight and slow his time.  We too need to lay aside conflicting interests that take us away from our “run with God.”  We also must be wary of “the sin which so easily entangles us.”  Habits or actions that become so addictive, we don’t give them a second thought, can trap us like a spider web.  How many times do we pick up our phone instead of praying or offering God praise?

Instead, verse 2 tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith.”  What a beautiful description of Jesus we don’t often contemplate.  Jesus, our ultimate superhero, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” 

Every runner pictures his/her victory, and so we keep our eyes on Jesus, our coming king, bringing the prize of the kingdom with him.  Jesus saw the “joy” to come as he suffered unimaginable horrors on the cross.  Our faith race has twists and turns, challenges and difficulties, but when we picture the end result, as Jesus did, we will “not grow weary and lose heart.”  (verse 3)

Going back to the 2020 Summer Olympics, according to Wikipedia, “the Games featured 339 events in 33 different sports, encompassing a total of 50 disciplines.”  A discipline in the Olympics is a branch of a sport consisting of one or more events.  For example, skiing is a sport, while cross-country skiing, Alpine skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping, and Nordic combined are disciplines. 

And discipline is also the necessary foundation for any sport and athlete.  An athlete must consistently practice the fundamentals of his/her sport to improve and build their skill in it. 

The “discipline of the Lord” mentioned repeatedly in verses 5-11 coincides with this thought, in that it is not necessarily punishment, but rather repeated preparation and endurance for our walk/race of faith.  God’s motivation for this is His love for us.  “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.”  (verse 10b)

Verses 12 and 13 build on this thought, urging our Christian conditioning, just as an injured athlete is reconditioned to compete again through a specific rehabilitation program. 

Then, verse 14 urges us to “pursue peace with all men.”  Again, referencing the Olympics, we know one of its primary goals is to promote peace through fair play and friendship in its competitions.   This Olympic goal of peace is actually another discipline of the Christian walk/race.  The Hebrews writer warns us against bitterness, and he uses Esau as a prime example.  (verses 16-17)

Finally, verses 18-29 contrast the time of Moses on Mt Sinai, with the coming kingdom of God.  Read verses 22-24 aloud with all the expression and emotion you can muster.

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels,  to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”

Verses 25-27 give a final warning in this chapter, and we end with this concluding motivation.

 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let’s show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”

Gratitude, service, reverence, awe.  These “disciplines” will keep you in the Christian race, ever striving for that eternal prize at the finish line. 

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 41-42 and Hebrews 12

Weight and Clingy Sin

Hebrews 12

Hebrews 12 1 b NRSV

Pretend with me for a few minutes.  You are a well- conditioned athlete.  You have exercised hard, gone to every team practice, listened to your coach, and now you are about to get into the blocks awaiting the sound of the starting gun.  You are scared, shaky, and sweaty.  This has been your goal since you were 10 years old—to run this race and maybe even win!  You wonder, do I have everything that I need?  Shoes—check.  Proper clothes—check.  Cell phone—check.  Umbrella (in case of rain) —check.  Change of clothes (in case of rain) —check.  Sunglasses—check.  A pocket of change—check.  Bottle of sun screen—check.  First aid kit (heaven forbid if I fall, but just in case) —check.  House keys, car keys, church key, and safety deposit box key—check.  Clean underwear (just in case) —check.  Last Will and Testimony—check. Tomorrow’s homework assignment (unlikely, but) —check. Girlfriend’s picture —check.  Ear buds —check.  Full water bottle —check.  Protein snack—check.    When the call comes to get into the blocks, you try but all the stuff you are carrying begins to fall out of your pockets, off your head, out of your briefcase, and the suitcase breaks open unleashing tons of video games and decks.  You try in vain to get all of this essential stuff back into its containers so that you can run the race.  You could leave it all sitting on the track at the starting block, or you could just pack it all back up and slowly drag it off the course, and maybe try another day.  Maybe you could get better organized the next time.  Don’t say that bad word, downsize, because all of this stuff is absolutely necessary to run the race properly and without worry.  Regardless, this does not look like a good day to run a race.

You drag your stuff slowly off of the track.  Got to have that stuff, right?  Stuff is more important than the race.  What is life worth without our stuff?  Some of the stuff, I guess, you might be able to part with, such as the homework assignment, and the girlfriend’s picture (there are always more girls), but most of this stuff is essential.

That is the mistake a lot of people make.  We get so caught up in stuff that it hinders us from running our race and we end up staggering down the track and never finishing because our back is broken from carrying all of our stuff. We stumble, we fall, we slowly pick ourselves back up, we lick our wounds, and then head for the locker room. Paul talked about this, but instead of calling it our stuff, he called it a weight and our sin. Truly, sin is heavy and is a weight.   Not only that, but Paul tells us that sin is clingy.

“Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Maybe some of you have actually washed and then dried clothes in a clothes dryer before.  I have a few times.  Well, one thing that is essential to use when you dry clothes is fabric softener sheets which control static cling.  If you forget to throw one into the dryer, when the clothes are dry they are really, really clingy.  The clothes are fastened to one another with a death hold.  You have to peel them off of one another, and then make sure that the individual pieces of clothing don’t start clinging with themselves, like an arm to an arm, or the leg to the waistband.  You can get into a real take down trying to un-cling laundry.  That is the way it is with sin, according to Paul.  Sins are very clingy.  Once you start accumulating sin in your life, the sins cling to one another and to you.  Apparently, they like company.  If you don’t keep ahead of the sin in your life, you are going to have a clothes dryer type of disaster on your hands.  Imagine what having a lot of clingy sin in your life will do to you as you try to run the race set before you.  Your mind will be on the sin and not on Jesus.  Lay aside the sin and look to Jesus!

Besides all of the clingy sin in your life, Paul talks about the weights that you attempt to carry while running.  When you are overcome with a lot of weight, be it worry, cares, anxiety, unneeded possessions, or unhealthy relationships— you name it, you are slowed down to a snail’s pace.  If you run at all, you lack energy and enthusiasm for the race.  Paul says to get rid of the weight!  Just like the runner in the example, weight can sabotage your efforts and actually cause you to withdraw from the race.  Keep things simple:  Get rid of the weight of worry and all of his buddies, and get rid of the clingy sin.

What kind of weights and clingy sin do you need to drop at the starting line so that you can make it to the finish line?

-Luke Elwell

 

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