Tag Archives: Epistle to the Hebrews

Keep the Faith – Summary

All followers of Jesus will experience tough challenges that will tempt them to abandon what they believe.  All of us.  All followers will wonder if following Jesus is worth it, whether they have been gullible.  All of us.  Jesus promised us that following Him would be tough, painful at times and would cost some of us our lives.  The key to enduring these trials is the same thing that connected us with Jesus in the first place: Faith.   He is the Author (the Inventor and Giver) of our faith and He is the Perfecter of it.

When – not if but when – you go through these challenging times, it will serve you well to read Hebrews 11 and 12, letting the truths contained in those chapters soak into your heart and encourage you.  That is why they are there!

A friend of mine blessed my heart the other day, when he said: “Worry is the fear that God won’t get it right.  Bitterness is the belief that God got it wrong.”  Nice.  And between worry and bitterness, in the place of peace, lies faith, the faith that knows, despite circumstances that seem to deny it, that, of course God will get it right!  

Keep the Faith – Good Question

Somebody who has been reading these posts on faith asked a good question: “What if my suffering is God punishing me?” When we are tempted to turn back from our faith, is it always because we are experiencing some kind of attack? What if God is doing it to us? Let’s sort this out.

The last post, about keeping our eye on Jesus (See “Keep the Faith – Part 5“) did not go far enough. Here’s the next line from Hebrews:

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb 12:3)

Much of the suffering one experiences in following Jesus, comes from opposition from sinful men. Jesus clearly said:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. (John 15:18)

But there is another Source of some of the hardship we face as followers of Jesus. Some of it comes from God. But it’s not punishment, it’s discipline. Punishment is a penalty that is due for something wrong. Jesus took the punishment for all our sins; there is no further punishment due. Discipline, on the other hand, is correction for a tendency we have formed that is wrong. Discipline shapes us and steers us in a positive direction.

And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Hebrews 12:5-6)

Discipline is given to encourage us because we are loved. True, he uses the word, punishes, in that quote from Proverbs, but does so with the meaning of working to produce good in us. This whole passage is well worth chewing over, but here is another quote from it that makes the same point:

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:10-11)

See the difference? Hope that helps. My sense is that this is a question we all ask ourselves from time to time and it is good to get the truth of it, stated clearly, right from Scripture.

Keep the Faith – Part 5

Sneaking out of North Korea is so demanding and dangerous, it is only attempted by a tiny percentage of people.  After one leaves family and friends behind, the route involves perilous travel through China, avoiding detection at constant identity checks, tramping through thick jungles in Laos and then enduring 2 months of detention in Thailand before being allowed to apply for refugee status in South Korea.  There are so many potential obstacles, so many ways to get caught and sent back for torture and possible death, that the odds are stacked heavily against those who attempt it.  That is also why there are former escapees who serve as guides (sometimes, but not always for a fee) to show new escapees which routes and techniques are safe.  More than that, they serve as living evidence that the path to freedom is possible and definitely worth it!  Imagine how encouraging those guides must be to the confused and frightened souls who are on the run to freedom.

The author of Hebrews has been exhorting people of faith, teaching us ways to keep our faith in times of severe testing.  One of his teachings says:

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. (Hebrews 12:2)

Jesus went first.  He showed us the way and how it is done.  He came back and said, “Don’t be afraid; it’s really worth it!”  He did it “for the joy set before Him.”

There is no joy in being crucified.  Crucifixion remains as one of the most painful and horrific ways to die.  The “joy set before Him” was not the cross but lay on the far side of the cross.  The “joy” was in the triumph over sin that was accomplished on the cross.

Some of you are enduring the pain of chemotherapy, scorning the “shame” of losing your hair, for the joy of being cancer-free.  Some of you are enduring the financial hardship and stress of working two or three jobs for the joy of seeing your children graduate.  Jesus invites us to “pick up our cross,” figuratively speaking, and follow Him.  He invites us to follow Him despite how tough or painful, or even shameful it may seem to be, for the joy of being “raised up on the last day” to live with Him in His new and perfect “garden.”  He said:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”  (John 14:1-4)

When they asked Him where He was going and what was the way, He said:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)

Following Jesus is nothing less than a desperate escape from the world’s system of slavery.  Don’t be surprised or confused by how tough and scary it seems.  Keep your eye on your Guide.  He’s been there, “done that” and has returned to demonstrate that following Him is really worth it.

Keep the Faith – Part 2

We’ve been getting some complaints about the way you talk so much about Jesus.  If you want to keep your job with this firm, knock it off …”

How can you hang tough with what you believe when there is so much pressure  – tough pressure – to make you let it go?   Hebrews 12:1-3 answers that question with practical tips.  We covered the first one, about the “great cloud of witnesses,” here: “Keep the Faith – Part 1.”  

Here is how that passage continues:

…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,  (Hebrews 12:1b)

Want to hang tough with faith?  Pull up your socks and tie your shoes!  Get rid of anything that will slow you down or trip you up.   

FAMU athlete Robert Hayes practices running on...

FAMU athlete Robert Hayes practices running on the track: Tallahassee, Florida (Photo credit: State Library and Archives of Florida)

 Things that slow you down (floppy socks) include anything you don’t need but have been carrying through life out of habit or laziness. In her younger years, my daughter used to want to take all of her stuffed animals with her on cross-country trips in the car.  Sometimes she would be nearly buried in the pile of fuzzy objects in the back seat of the car.  But there came a time when she realized all those toys were getting in her way.  We all have stuff like that in our lives.

It is time to take inventory and pitch a bunch of stuff.  After I retired, I spent about a month fixing up my woodshop so I could work in it again.  You wouldn’t believe all the useless crap I hauled out to the dumpster.  But now it feels good out there; I can actually see the workbench and get right to work.  You watch Olympic athletes getting ready for track events and the first thing they do is take off everything they don’t need – from jackets and sweats to jewelry – just so they can run faster.   Did you know that sailboat racers spend time scrubbing the dirt and algae off the hulls of their boats?

i don’t know what stuff you have loading you down and slowing you down in life, but you do!   When you “pull up your socks,” you become stronger and more effective.  It is easier to resist the world’s pressure.

If the “floppy socks” in your life slow you down, the sins (untied shoelaces) actually trip you up.  They stop your progress.  Picture a runner who is competing pretty well, right up there with the leaders.  As they round the final turn, he steps on an untied shoelace and loses his balance.  His legs begin to windmill wildly as he fights to stay up. But then he goes down, sprawled awkwardly on the track cinders.  He gets up, he finishes the race, but it’s not the same.  Sin works like that.

I have no idea what your “shoelaces” look like.  But you do!  “Tie ’em up!”  Don’t get tripped up.

When the world comes after your faith, tries to hold you back or knock you down, first, remember that you are a member of a great team, stretching back through history, a team that has left an indelible legacy of powerful acts of faith.  Secondly, pull up your socks and tie your shoes.  Get rid of anything that’s slowing you down or tripping you up.

Keep the Faith – Part 1

A few days ago, a mob in Egypt burned down a Christian school and then took 3 nuns out into the streets, to parade them around as prisoners of war.   There have been recent reports of courts in Iran sentencing people to death for the crime of believing in Jesus.  It is impossible for us to imagine how great the pressure is in these situations for people to deny their faith in Jesus, or at the very least keep quiet about it.

In my community the pressure is much less forceful (there were 2 letters to the editor in our daily newspaper today, telling Christians to keep what they believe to themselves.) but when it comes against you, personally, it still feels very challenging.    When the push of the world becomes shove, when faith is tested in painful ways or even simply embarrassing ways, there are some things we can do to help us stand firm.  We’re going to look at some of them in more detail over the next several days.

You may think the Bible was written by a drill sergeant and just tells us to suck it up and be strong.  But back when the early Christians were doing a lot of bleeding, real people needed real ways to keep their faith strong.   The book of Hebrews spent a whole chapter telling of great men and women of faith, who resolutely continued to believe in God and His promises, despite severe pressure from the world.  And then, the author of that book gave some practical tips for Christians facing similar threats to their faith. He said, here’s what you can do to stay strong, too:

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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

We’ll take this in pieces.  The first tip is this: Remember that your suffering has come because you are playing on a great team!   The word, witnesses, probably doesn’t mean that the souls of dead martyrs are watching from heaven as you struggle.  It means that they have borne witness by their lives that holding on to faith in the midst of suffering is really worth it.  The word, witness, is the Greek word from which we get the English word, martyr.  The idea here is that when you are tested because of your belief in Jesus, you have come off the bench to play on a great team that has left a legacy of fearless faith over the centuries.

There is a reason that pro sports teams retire the number and display the jersey of a great player.  The fans love it for sure but the deeper reason has to do with the impact on the team.  Implied in those acts that honor the former greats, is a message to the rookie on the bench: “This is who we are; this is what we play like and this is what we stand for.”

The great cloud of witnesses gives that message to the lonely soul who is being threatened for her or his faith today.  You may feel like giving up, caving in, but look up as you come off the bench.  Look up to the rafters and see those sweat and blood-stained jerseys of the great men and women who have played on this team before.  Remember their courage.  Know that they are glad to know you are standing in the lineup today.

Stay tuned over the next few days, and we’ll dig deeper into the next tip for keeping the faith.