On July 4, 1952 – Florence Chadwick attempted to swim the 21 mile straight between Catalina Island and the coast of California. She swam with a team on a boat who kept an eye out for sharks and was there to assist in case of fatigue or cramps. After 15 grueling hours of swimming and a thick, dense fog where she could scarcely see the boats that accompanied her, she quit.
After entering the boat and debriefing with her team she realized that she was only a half-mile distance from the shore. The fog prevented her from reaching her destination. Later Florence attempted the challenge again and successfully reached the shore. When asked what the difference was from the first attempt she said, “This time the shore was in my heart.”
These days the fog of our circumstances makes it difficult to keep the heaven’s shore in our heart. It is easy to get discouraged, grow disappointed, and be overcome even with bouts of depression. While our circumstances of isolation have deterred us from gathering in-person, we must not deviate from our faith in Jesus Christ.
Today’s passage in Hebrews 12 will provides us 3 helps to persevere in the faith journey.
- Side note: Last time I preached from this text was May 2, 2010 at our church’s 50th anniversary celebration. Next week will be our church’s 60th While we are postponing our celebration, our marching orders remain the same. I shared then, and again today, God did not begin a church over 50 years ago just to let it fade away. We have a wonderful future ahead of us, but it requires us to stay focused and faithful in believing big in Jesus, belonging to His family, and bridging the gospel to our community and the next generation.
EXAMINE Hebrews 12:1-4; 12-17
We persevere in the faith journey by remembering our spiritual ancestors (Heb 12:1).
This text starts with “Therefore,” referring back to chapter 11 hall of faith list of OT saints. These saints are the cloud of witnesses, with the author using imagery of running a race, perhaps with onlookers cheering on the runners.
- PS: Heaven is going to be an amazing reunion and relationships with the saints; w/o quarantine!
However, these onlookers are not mere spectators, but μάρτυς – those who have lived, suffered, and died in faith. They endured and received their reward (Heb 11:6, 13-16).
Illus: When deciding if a roller coaster is worth your attempt, there are two keys:
- Observe the tracks. Look at the loops, twists and turns, and the speed of the coaster. If the tracks are hidden – like Space Mountain, then that provides mystery and you must decide if you’re up to challenge.
- Observe the riders getting off the ride on the other side. Look at their faces – and if you notice vomit or injuries, then that’s a sign to get out of line. But most of time you’ll see smiles & laughter.
- The same is true for those water rides to observe how wet you may get; then calculate twice as much : )
Illus: When I joined SPBC, it was helpful to talk and spend time with long-time members. It was a gift to meet and interact with Pastor Charles Barnes (SPBC beginning pastor) and Pastor Lawrence Baylot (longtime pastor). Hearing their joys and challenges of pastoring inspired my second decade of pastoral ministry (1997).
In all, Heb 11&12 is meant to spur us onward. If all these, and many others, endured hardship and received promised hope from God, then we can persevere too. This is also another reason why consistent Bible reading is important. We are tempted to think we are more enlightened and experts at faith than those of our forebearers, so we ignore and dismiss it. This overflows into our random approach to Bible reading.
Recently, a Crossway study reflected that Christians spend less time reading the OT and many books in the OT hard to understand or never reading. However, the NT writes thought the OT Scriptures were important to regularly read to guard against spiritual arrogance and apathy.
1 Coronathians Corinthians 10:11-12 “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
- Read 1 ch from OT & 1 from NT / OR / rotate books /… consider reading Psalms & Proverbs each day.
- It’s why expository > topical. We need whole counsel of God and balanced diet.
- Identify someone 15+ years older than you and ask them: What has been the most challenging circumstance you’ve faced in life, and how did you overcome it?
- If you are older, identify someone younger than you and ask them: What is your most challenging circumstance presently and how could I help you (at least prayer)?
We persevere in the faith journey by remembering our Savior (Heb 12:2-4).
The author compares Christians to athletes in competition, specifically a race (“αγωνα”) where we get our English word “agony.” Could also mean: a conflict or struggle, a battle. In other words, the author is saying that living a life of faith and having an enduring legacy is a struggle; it is difficult and takes years and decades. In order to cross the finish line we have to remove anything that distracts or hinders us.
Every Weight: The clothing of the day was often robing that would get in the way of competition. The athletes would essentially take their clothes off to run freely. Laying aside weight, not necessarily sin; but items that distract/hinder productivity – good can be the enemy of great!
Illus: 1Sam 17 King Saul tried to fit David with armor (not wrong), but David was more comfortable w/ slingshot.
The Sin: The author also says to lay aside the sin, which easily ensnares. Notice that sin does not have to work hard to trap our life- it’s easy! The word “ensnare” carries the idea of an animal ready to attack his prey. Sin is like a roaring lion ready to devour us if we are not listening and looking for the Spirit to stay focused.
Illus: 2Sam 11 David’s leisure revealed leniency toward sin: unmindful time, unrestrained lust, unashamed adultery, unabashed deceit, unregretted murder, and a desensitized heart toward God. David’s response to his failures and sins have defined him to be a man after God’s heart. David remembered the grace of God available to him through confession of sin.
Psalm 32:3-5 “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
Proverbs 28:13 “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
Likewise the author of Hebrews says, “looking unto Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).
Illus: When you make a big purchase on a car or house, you put down a deposit – enough to show you are serious and are not walking away from the loan. Likewise, Jesus has invested in us too much to walk away! The gospel of Jesus reminds us His grip on us and grace for us is sufficient for all our sin. In all, the cross of Jesus reminds us that God started our salvation, the resurrection and ascension with Pentecost reminds us God will sustain our salvation, and the return of Christ reminds us God will perfect and finish our salvation. The problems we experience or pain we suffer will never compare to what God in the flesh shed on the cross. Our life is one long story, and even if you have a few unique or even disturbing chapters, God promises the end will turn out glorious.
- If you’ve never trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins / OR / you’ve been fence-straddling rededicating your life to Jesus, then today is a divine moment… make it public by contacting us. Online worship distances you from making a public response, but do not delay what the Spirit has said to obey.
We persevere in the faith journey by remembering our shared mission (Heb 12:12-15)
The author begins to close his reflections on helps to persevere in faith not just by considering the past or present but looking ahead to the future.
- He exhorts them collectively (2nd person plural) “lift/strengthen” your drooping hands and weak knees,” using a medical term ἀνορθόω, which means to set up or straight.
- He exhorts them collectively make straight paths for your feet.
- He exhorts them collectively to strive (διώκω / make every effort, move swiftly) for peace and holiness, so no one misses the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”
Illus: The longer the race, a runner becomes fatigued. They are tempted to wander from their lane into the lane of others, which can disqualify you from the race. Normally, a runner will never intentionally cross lanes but only does so when fatigue
It seems the author knows some in the faith community who are withdrawing from their mission and weakening in faith. They were allowing petty issues to influence division; they were allowing hurtful conversations and conflicts to linger and cause bitterness to plant and root inside relationships; they were wandering from the path of mission for God’s kingdom, and the author was calling them to refresh in God’s grace and revive the mission of Jesus.
Sadly, Christians can be the greatest stumbling block to unbelievers coming to church or converting to Christianity. When Christians exhibit fear or foul behavior, our witness begins to fade and snuffed out. When Christians focus on worldly power and secular politics that will be a mere footnote in eternal history, then our witness is muffled and muted.
Church, a harvest is coming from this season. What we sow into this season and prepare during this pandemic, we will reap. If we sow into hype and frenzy, we will reap chaos. If we sow into anger and divisiveness, we will reap emptiness. If we sow panic, we will reap isolation. Make no mistake, this season will be fertile, perhaps the most frightfully fertile season of our life.
Likewise, if we sow with the Spirit, we will flourish. If we sow for good and generously spread seeds of the gospel, God will return a harvest like we’ve ever seen.
Church, we are not powerless during this pandemic. We have an enormous opportunity for impact on what grows out of the soil on the other side of this perilous season. These are planting days where we must lay down roots in the Scriptures and our shared mission from Jesus.
- Pray about it rather than post about it. Minimize social media posting for what will not matter in eternity. Maximize your prayers for what will matter forever.
- Church is not the mission, we are the missionary. #WhosYour1 for this summer / year.
The last few years our nation has seen several forest fires (out west in CA/AZ, also Australia, etc.). Predominantly, fire is the enemy of forests. However, God has created certain trees in the forests to produce after a fire.
A tree known as a Ponderosa Pine has developed thick bark, which protects the inside of the trunk tree’s nutrients. Another tree known as a Jack Pine tree has the potential to regrow a forest. This tree’s seeds are stuck in resin-filled cones, which are basically glued shut. Since the resin is so strong, cones can stay sealed shut for years… until a forest fire sweeps through. The heat and pressure of the fire melts the resin and allows the cones to open and pour out its seeds. Both these trees are not fire-resistant but are rather fire-adapted. In God’s creative design, these trees have adapted to the dangers of its environment in order to survive devastation.
- Do you feel like you are merely surviving or thriving during this season of life?
- In 1665-66 the bubonic plague swept through London and many were quarantining. A college student named Isaac went home and continued his studies. In near total solitude he would form new insights across vital areas of mathematics, what has become calculus, geometry, physics, understand the science of motion, and more. Isaac Newton did not postpone his life mission during a pandemic.
- A friend told me he’s glad for this season bc its caused him to think more about heaven; and he’s a fairly young person.
- People have noted the resiliency and resourcefulness that’s come out – making masks, dine-in restaurants turned into curbside, tele-dr bringing healthcare to patients, creative business opportunities… as well as ministry.
- Our church is partnering with other churches for 2020 Grad Bags to SPHS.
- Benevolence & Compassion ministries needed
- Don’t be like Esau (Heb 12:16-17) – a man who wasted his birthright and life purpose for a temporary pleasure (food!). There’s coming a day when we will no longer be able to repent and there will be no where to process our regret. We will arrive at the end of our race and stand before God face to face.
- If our trust was in Christ, then He will replenish what was lost and revive our exhausted life to live eternally.
- If our trust was without Christ and in anything else, then regret will be an all-consuming, forever feeling, layered with suffering and sorrow.