LEARNING TO FOCUS ON CHRIST

Dear Friends,

We’ve now come to the last in our series on Hebrews 12:1-3, a wonderful passage about running the race of faith. The first point this passage makes is an encouraging reminder of the many saints who’s lives bear witness of the victory ahead. Yet, as noble and godly as the saints were, they are not meant to be our ultimate source of strength and motivation. The next line in our study clearly states who is:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, 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. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

This passage affirms that we “fix our eyes” on Jesus as the One who gives us the faith and strength we need to also finish strong. I ask you today what I ask myself many times —

Where is your focus lately? I’ve thought of some areas where our focus may tend to stray:

  • On our calling
  • On our works (living by the law, legalism)
  • On others running ahead of us (jealousy, envy)
  • On others running behind us (pride)
  • On our own feet in dismay, not looking where we are going
  • At the scenery of the world
  • At our own ambition

To set our spiritual eyes on Christ is to occupy the heart and mind with Him. The more we do so, the more we stay on the right path and the less distracted we become. This passage doesn’t indicate that Christ is looking towards anyone, only “the joy that was set before Him.” What does it tell us about this joy, that it would be enough to withstand the shame and pain of the cross?  A reading of Christ’s own words shows us His intense focus on this joy, even though it was spoken at the darkest hour before His crucifixion:

“I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:4-5)

There is no one greater for us to set our eyes upon. He is the “Author and Perfecter” of faith. He is the one who blazed the trail.

And He has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”.

His sitting down indicates the completion of His atoning work. We follow in His footsteps to bow before the throne, a singular goal in eager expectation of our full redemption.

We know that we cannot endure without our spiritual eyes on Christ, so we would do well to mediate on His example.

Last, I leave you with nothing less than encouragement in this race before us. I can’t speculate on what you may be going through right now, but I’m here to tell you that no matter what you are dealing with, you still have the presence of God to heed your cry. (Heb. 13:5). Keep going, my friend! This life is not all there is.

May we stand before Him and say “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Excerpts from “The Race Before Us”

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THE RACE BEFORE US

No race is legitimate if shortcuts are taken. Our post today is not just about running the race of faith, but running it well. I refer again to our study text in this series, Hebrews 12:1-3, with this week’s phrase in bold:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, 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. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Like a marathon runner, we run a designated, specific race. In every race, there’s a complete path to follow. In the greatest of all races, our guidance and leading comes from the things that are revealed in Scripture. It is our “rule” book. The Word of God sets the standard and gives us the guidance to stay on track.

What are the rules and who gives us the strength to follow them?

Consider Psalm 119:32

“I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding”.

Consider also the sort and sweet words of Psalm 119:105:

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”.

The race is already mapped out; it’s already set before us. That is, taking the passage as a whole, we expect to be tested in our faith and challenged to persevere. We see what the heroes of the faith have gone through, and we are equipped to do the same because we have the same instructions and the same source of strength.

Can you thank God for a time when His word was a very evident guide?

Excerpts from “The Race Before Us”

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RUN WITH ENDURANCE

The average Olympian trains four hours a day, for at least 320 days a year, for six years before succeeding. In the four years before an Olympics, Greg Louganis probably practiced each of his dives 3,000 times. Kim Zmeskal has probably done every flip in her routine at least 20,000 times.*

Talk about dedication! They continued on, whether they felt like it or not. What do you think kept them going?

Hebrews 12:1-3 uses the analogy of physical discipline to answer this question on a spiritual level. That is, it addresses our need for spiritual endurance, as indicated by the phrase in bold:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, 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.

What we read about endurance points to Christ. We are told to run with endurance…fixing our eyes on Jesus. What do you suppose keeps a child of God determined to finish this earthly race in victory? It is hope, isn’t it? It is knowing that we run the same race as Christ, who claimed the ultimate victory for us.

I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of opportunity for my endurance to be tested, many which are built-in within our fallen world.

What does the Bible say we shall endure in this life? Here are just a few mentions:

We endure temptations:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Even in temptation, we have assurance and encouragement for two things: that it won’t be more than we can bear, and that God will provide a way of escape.

We endure trials:

“Consider it all joy, brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (James 1:2-3)

The more trials we face, the stronger our faith becomes, if we as Christians allow this testing to do its work in our lives.

We endure persecutions:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:10-NKJV).

It’s a given. This life is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Herein we find the training ground to bear up under all the temptations, trials, and persecutions.

***

Have you ever had to endure a long and painful time in your life? As a believer, were there any spiritual take-aways?

Excerpts from “The Race Before Us”

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*Illustration taken from sermoncentral.com, accessed Dec. 23, 2014

 

THE SIN WHICH SO EASILY ENTANGLES


There’s a story about a grasshopper that befriended a spider. “What’s the harm?”, he thought, while ignoring the risk. So he lingered close to the web, letting his guard down as he began to engage in conversation. With time, he found himself drawn further into the web. He tried to lift his feeler, then a limb, but couldn’t fly away. In a flash, the spider wrapped him up in the layers of his trap, and the grasshopper went from life and freedom–to being the spider’s meal!*

No one sets out to be entangled in a trap, but sometimes, like the grasshopper, the sin in our lives entangle us and render us spiritually immobile.

Thus, to continue our look at Hebrews 12:1-3, I’ve bolded our third study passage:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, 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.

As mentioned in my last post, when the writer of Hebrews wrote this letter, he was addressing the struggle with legalism among the Jews. He describes this preoccupation as a sin that they were entangled in. They were continually being bound by the ceremonial laws that they believed they needed to gain salvation. They thought that maintaining this legalism would enhance them spiritually, when in fact they were being trapped and deceived.

They were not the first. Think of how Satan drew Eve into his own web with cunning words and lies. (Genesis 3:1-6). Think also of the great power sin has over our own hearts and minds, if we aren’t careful.

Are there any thoughts or actions that continue to trip you up?

How then, are we to “lay aside” these entangling sins? As a runner set on a course, we are to clear our path from the traps and snares that would bind our feet and cripple our race. We do so by recognizing the warning signs—that first enticement that sets the process in motion. Seems Eve should have done the same thing before the serpent (Satan) encompassed her!

According to our text, there is urgency to this, in that sin so easily entangles. It would be much easier to lay them aside sooner rather than later, wouldn’t it? How can any serious runner get two feet in front of him when his arms and legs are tied up?

***

Can you think of a time when you have recognized a particularly entangling circumstance in your life? What were the warning signs?

Excerpts from “The Race Before Us”

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*Illustration taken from sermoncentral.com, accessed Dec. 23, 2014

A GREAT WAY TO LOSE WEIGHT

Dear Friends,

Everyone I know seems to have a preferred diet plan.  Weight watchers is mine, (17 pounds lighter and counting so far! yay!). Then there’s Atkins, 360, Nutisystem, Jenny Craig etc. Hey, if it’s balanced and works for you, go for it! However, what isn’t as often tended to is the matter of our spiritual health, and how we as believers can “put on (spiritual) weight” if we aren’t careful.

To this end, I thought I’d continue a train of thought I started months ago, when the Lord impressed upon me a life application of one of my favorite passages, Hebrews 12:1-3. Although time has gone by, I would like to continue with a short series on this wonderful passage…this time, without such long gaps between postings!

With each new post, I thought we’d focus on a specific phrase within the passage, which I will indicate in bold. So, let’s pick up where we left off:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, 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. (Hebrews 12:1-3).

First a little background: The writer of Hebrews is unknown, but many bible scholars believe it was the Apostle Paul. Part of his audience were the Jews, who happened to profess Christ, but still held on to legalistic practices and beliefs of that day. In context, Paul is pleading with them to let go of these practices (abiding by the law, sacrifices, and works for their salvation), and embrace Christ completely as Messiah. Instead, they were trying to live a hybrid faith of Judaism and Christianity. Yet scripture is clear that salvation is only by God’s grace alone through faith alone. (Romans 3:23-28, Ephesians 2:8-9).

Paul uses the correlation between the commitment of an athletic goal and their spiritual perseverance, (or lack thereof), to encourage them to see the error of their ways. To this end, he encourages them to lay aside every encumbrance (or “weight” in the KJV) that holds them back.

Imagine trying to run a good race while tethered to a weight. You can’t run, much less walk. In fact, you have to be as light as possible if you expect to run well.

Beyond legalism, scripture mentions other encumbrances in this life:

“Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation”. (1 Peter 2:1-2)

“Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap”. (Luke 21:34)

You don’t have to think too long to come up with many other attitudes and distractions that bog us down from the race we are meant to run.

It could be fear, unbelief, love of the world, whatever. What a strong reminder to cast off all that extra and unnecessary weight!

***

Have you ever wavered towards an obligation to work your way to God, or can you see how someone could do this?

What weighs on your mind and heart? How has it slowed you down in your race to the finish? Lay it down before Him today.

Excerpts from “The Race Before Us”

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THOUGHTS ON MY FATHER’S HOMECOMING – A YEAR AGO TODAY

Dear Friends,

I just wanted to take a minute to share something that God put on my heart the other day, an encouragement from Hebrews 12:1-3:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, 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.”

It’s one of my favorite passages. We could spend days on these few lines, but today I just wanted to share a small insight about the first line. Who is this “cloud of witnesses”? We need only to look back one chapter to Hebrews 11, which contains a long list of Old Testament saints who were noted for their exceptional lives: Noah, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses to name a few. Those were individuals who endured suffering and great hardship, yet persevered to become the great pillars of faith that we read about today.

There is a sense of community and courage that we as Christian can glean when we study the lives of those who have gone before us. We get the benefit of reading how each of their stories are living proof of God’s faithfulness as we all follow our ultimate example, Christ Himself. Like a relay race from generation to generation, there is a sense of the torch being passed to us.

And then it occurred to me on a personal level. I indeed have a torch in my hand, so to speak. It was passed to me by my father, who went to heaven exactly one year ago today. You know, life is a funny thing. It feels so long in the midst of it, yet so very short when it ends, doesn’t it?  Looking back, it almost feels like he was a shining star that shot through our lives to point the way, and then he was gone.

I watched my dad persevere through financial hardship, trials of faith, illness, and grief, and not once did he waver in his trust in God or the joy of his salvation. Not only that, but I am more than humbled that God somehow saw it fitting that I would carry on my dad’s passion for studying and writing bible studies.  Why this is the case both blesses and baffles me.

So I ask you today what I ask myself: What are going we to do with the torch, the light that we have? How then shall we run this race?

My “Baba”, he ran the race, kept the faith, and finished strong.

I Shouldn’t Be Alive

 

There’s a TV show I used to watch called “I Shouldn’t be Alive”*. It was a documentary series that featured re-enactments of dramatic search and rescue operations. Each episode involved the story of someone who had gotten lost or injured in the wilderness and were rescued in the nick of time. What I found interesting is that when many survivors, (of the ones I watched), were asked what they attributed to their survival, they would almost always say it was due to good fortune, or a wonderful “stroke of luck”.

Many whispered prayers when they came to the end of their resources and had lost hope…so I wonder why they didn’t mention that maybe God had heard their prayers. Even so, would God and the concept of luck even be a compatible thought?

Some said their mental or physical ingenuity kept them alive. They tried everything they could, and it did keep them going, until even that did not ultimately save them. Each literally would have died, and true to the title of the series should not be alive.

I thought about that, and I couldn’t think of a more accurate phase to describe God’s own rescue of my life, because guess what – I shouldn’t be alive either.

I refer to Ephesians 2:1: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world, and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient”.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the word for “dead” in the Greek translation in this passage is the word “Netros” which means “a corpse”. (Stong’s concordance, P. 49, Greek Dictionary)

Because man is born in sin, he carries the wages of sin, which is death.  This death is described as a pre-existing condition – the condition of everyone since the Fall of man, except Christ Himself. We are walking spiritual corpses – spiritually dead while being physically alive. As such, we don’t even have the ability to save ourselves. This we remain, regardless of the efforts of good works, resources, smarts, or good behavior.

“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corin. 2:14).

But…praise God…

“…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:5).

Unable, unwilling, undeserving, hopeless, dead, a corpse…

I’ll say it again. I Shouldn’t Be Alive.

****

Have you thought about the reality of your own spiritual condition?

 

*”I Shouldn’t Be Alive” title and trademark by Darlow Smithson Productions, a UK-based production.