Hebrews 13:1–8 (NRSV)
Service Well-Pleasing to God
13 Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4 Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6 So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Hebrews 13:15–16 (NRSV)
15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
What is a lifestyle of faith? For the past few weeks we have looked into the things that faith is, and the conclusion I hope to have encouraged us to examine is that faith is not magic, it is not knowledge, but it is the deep entrusting of our lives into the hands of God. To entrust our lives to God we must trust that He is for us through the various amounts of struggles and blessings we live through. Faith is living our lives fully devoted to God; our mind, body, soul and spirit.
The writer of Hebrews gave multiple examples of people throughout Jewish history who lived lives of faith. People like Abraham who left the comforts of Ur and went out into the wilderness to the place where God would lead him. He went with the promise that God would make his offspring into a great nation which would be the light to all the world, yet for decades no heir was to be found. There was Joshua that trusted that God would deliver the city into their hands simply by walking around the walls as God commanded. Then there is Rehab the prostitute who was not born into the nation of Israel, yet had faith that their God was true. There was Moses, Gideon, David, Samson, and all the prophets each giving us a glimpse into this radical life of faith.
These stories of history speak to us. They tell us that there is struggle and victory, and hope even through the darkness. These stories speak of redemption, even among people who have a lifestyle seen as dirty and unrighteous. And those unrighteous lives can be used by God to bring redemption to the whole world, when people are willing to repent and follow Him who gives us hope.
These stories are wonderful stories. They are filled with adventure, suspense, and blessing. Faith does this. It takes us outside of our comfort zones and places us in that seemingly scary plain of unknown, with only the hope for the future to urge us on.
The interesting thing about faith is that it is something that must be communal. Our salvation is something very personal and individualistic, but it is also something that must be lived out in the company of others. This is why Jesus said that the most important commandment is, “hear O Israel the Lord your God is one God, Love the lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all the strength. And the second is like the first to love your neighbor as yourself.”
If we were to look back to the stories of faith that we previously examined we would see that they lived not only lives fully devoted to God but they lived them within their social context as well. Abraham left Ur with his family and servants, and when God gave him the sign of circumcision all the males in the household, including those enslaved to Abraham, participated. He left with a community, and all of them had faith in the God of Abraham. Rehab provided cover and aide to the spies from Israel, and when the devastation of her nation approached she and everyone in her house was joined into the nation of Israel. Again a community. Gideon was commanded to gather an army, and that army was whittled down to such a small number that only the power of God could be the answer for the feats, yet even a small army is a community.
We do not live faith in a vacuum, but our faith can only be expressed when it is lived with others. This is an extremely difficult path to walk. It is difficult because people are hard to live with. There is this thing that people seem to think that drives me crazy; they think that they have opinions and they often oppose what is clearly the best idea, my idea. We are individuals, filled with ideas, passions, desires, hopes, dreams, pet peeves, and countless other quirks that inspire, annoy, infuriate, and send our hearts head over heels. We live within the struggle of humanity trying to balance our individual identities within a crowd.
So often communities we find ourselves in cause us to withdraw and set up limits and policies to ensure only certain individuals can interact with us. We enjoy the company of similarities. But this is not what we are called to do. The final conversation Jesus had with His disciples, Jesus commanded them to go and make disciples of all the nations. The term nations is one that has multiple meanings, but the simplest definition is people. Any group of people is a nation. These nations populated by people that have similar ideas, values, or interests. This term goes beyond our contemporary ideas of nation being a civil government like that of the United States. Even within civil governments can be inhabited by several nations of people; some have even said that the federation of States that forms our country is actually made up of as many as eleven distinct nations and each of these nations have different ideas of what is best for our nation as a whole. With that in mind and the command of Jesus to make disciples of all nations, we must take a step back and consider just what that means. If we are to be followers of Jesus living by faith our identity should come from him as we engage those from other nations. And to make disciples of those nations we should be able to speak in their languages.
This is mindset is where the writer of Hebrews begins the encouraging portion of this letter. Let mutual love continue. This introductory statement is one with a great deal of weight. Why would he say this? There is only one reason for it, they had in some way dammed up the flow of love. They began building walls to place a hedge between the various national identities. So the writer of Hebrews is saying do not let these nationalistic ideas crowd out the gospel. Let brotherly love continue to flow.
This is a pretty shocking thought. So often we look to the ancient first century church and wish that our church was like theirs, but even two thousand years ago they had the same sorts of issues that we face today. Let love continue. Do not neglect hospitality. This second phrase is one that encourages us to open our lives up to those around us. To give hospitality is to offer food and lodging for those that need it. In the first centuries of the church the persecution was great on those that claimed to be followers of Christ. Throughout the Gospel of John we can hear little indicators of the fear that the earliest believers lived in when we read the term, “for fear of the Jews,” and being put out of the synagogue. If one was thrown out of the synagogue they were effectively a person with no home. Everything in the first century Jewish culture revolved around the synagogue, and if you were not part of that community you did not exist in their eyes. If you were a tradesman your goods and services were no longer bought by the community, so unless you had land to grow your own food you were impoverished. So hospitality became something of great importance among the earliest of believers. Without this kindness many would have starved. But this goes beyond the community of believers. It was a command of God to be hospitable to travelers. Many of the social laws of the Old Testament deal with idea, laws concerning fencing around your roof so that people will not fall off are there because often this would be where the travelers would sleep.
So if this was such an important concept of the early church why would the writer of Hebrews mention it? Again the only explanation is that the people of the church began rationing and testing the worthiness of their hospitality. They would only serve those that fit into their boxes of orthodoxy. And if you did not meet their criteria you would have to move along to the next location. The writer urges them to remember that to love God we are required to love those around us and one of the greatest ways to show that love is to help those in need of a meal and a place to rest.
He then speaks of those in prison and those that had been tortured. Again as the persecutions began to intensify many believers were incarcerated for their faith. Even to open their homes up to provide hospitality could open their door to their own imprisonment. But they are encouraged to be mindful of these prisoner’s needs. In ancient times anyone that found themselves in jail lived at the mercy of others. Jails were not tax funded for the most part but food and clothing would be brought in from the outside. In some cases a fee would even be charged to the inmate for their boarding, which would have to be paid before they were released. These practices continued for centuries. Even in colonial America these ideas continued.
Remember those who are in prison, make sure they have what they need. Remember to be hospitable and to offer food and rest to those who seek it. Let the love continue to flow. We could identify several contemporary ministries to be involved in with just those first three statements. The common theme is that each of those are encouraging us to take an active role in providing encouragement to the body and soul, to share life with others in community. And while we do that we are to participate in the making disciples of all the nations, these activities build the community and encourage them to continue along the journey with Christ. The next two statement are about abstaining from activities that divide the community, or drive wedges between those within a community.
Let marriage be held in honor by all and let the marriage bed be undefiled for God judges the fornicator and the adultery, keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have. At face value these seem pretty strait forward, but there is a great deal going on here. And in both of these are connected. It speaks of two forms of sexual immorality the first, “Fornication” is most commonly used in speaking of prostitution. Prostitution is the exploitation of others, forcing them to sell their bodies to others for their sustenance. The love of money is very similar, because it is also exploitation. It is not wrong to receive a profit from the goods and services one provides, but when profit becomes the central theme in our existence we begin have skewed visions of humanity. Both the prostitute and the customer become means to an end exploited for what they can provide for our selfishness. Adultery, or sexual relations outside of marriage, also exploit others, all three are wrongfully taking what is not ours for our own personal pleasures. These three things will divide any and every community because they dehumanize those involved. These activities rip communities apart because it does not allow room for others, there is only room for myself.
Love, be hospitable, and encourage those in need, do not exploit or be consumed by our selfish desires. All the stories of faith that were mentioned previously participated in these sorts of lifestyles. Even though one of those mentioned actually participated in an exploited lifestyle. This is simple stuff, there are only two commands: Love God, and to show that love of God, Love others. Simple right? How are we doing in these areas? Are we allowing the ideologies of nationalism, in all its forms, to limit the blessings God wishes to pour out on our community through us? Are we limiting those blessings even more by neglecting to share our lives with others through hospitality? Are we allowing others to struggle alone? Have we become consumed with selfish or self-serving power, treating others as means to an end?
Heavy questions to consider I know. If I want to be honest I could say that most of these I have failed in. I eat lunch in the company of people I get along with most of the time. But at times I rise up to a challenge, and have purchased lunch for people as a way to encourage them. Faith is a lifestyle that is lived out among others. Faith is taking on the very lifestyle that Jesus exemplified in his life on earth. Are we willing to walk that same path? “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
Hebrews 12:18–29 (NRSV)
18 You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19 and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. 20 (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
25 See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! 26 At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; 29 for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
Faith is a powerful aspect of our lives. For the past couple of weeks we have explored how lifestyles of faith can add hope to the lives of those whom our stories interact. But how does a lifestyle of faith effect our lives?
Faith is not a magical force, and it is more than mere belief; it is a lifestyle of entrusting our lives and livelihoods to the will of God. This entrustment of our lives to God is not done easily. To entrust our lives to God we must relinquish control, we have to let go. Why is it so difficult to let go?
The writer of Hebrews speaks about the forms of belief that are involved in the history of faith. The first is that of fear which was what was present at Mount Sinai. When the nation of Israel set up camp at the base of this mountain they waited for forty days while Moses climbed up to receive the law. They knew that the presence of God was all around them, the cloud that they followed settled on this mountain. They followed the cloud because it could be sensed, but when the cloud rested on the mountain things changed. They were faced with a glimpse of the unknown. For forty days they did not move, their leader was gone, and they for the first time had to consider their own life with God.
This time at the base of the mountain was described as terrifying. There was thunder and lightning, fire seemed to be falling from the sky and they felt very alone in the crowd. They knew about God, they even trusted God, but they did not know God. As the time progressed worry began to grip them and they decided they needed to take control of their situation. They gathered all their gold and developed a system of belief that they could control. But when they took control God responded with wrath.
This is what the writer refers to when he speaks of a blazing fire, darkness and gloom. They faced the wrath of God and as a result they were content with a barrier between them and God. This barrier allowed others to speak for them, it gave them the ability to compartmentalize their belief systems and separating their religious practices from their social practices. The writer of Hebrews speaks of another mountain of faith, Mount Zion. The idea of Mount Zion is one dedicated to messianic hopes. Zion is this place where God and mankind meet in peace.
The concept of Zion is one that Jesus spoke from the beginning of his ministry and it is the core of the Gospel. “The kingdom of God is here.” The kingdom of God is all around us if we are willing to look. The problem is that it is not one that can be clearly defined in common terms.
The difference is who we trust. Life is filled with positive and negative experiences how we handle those experiences is a reflection of where our trust lies. We cry out and say it is not fair that a loving God would allow pain but why are we crying? We want life on our own terms and we do not want consequence, this in itself is building a god in our own image or developing a philosophy to mimic our own desires. We do not want pain so obviously God does not exist because a loving God would not allow this. But then there are others that have fashioned their lives around the belief that everything that happens is either blessing or curses that are a direct result of our actions. If I am experiencing pain it is because I sinned and face judgement. Both of those views are empty of the hope that Jesus gives. Both put our faith in ourselves. There is no God so I must make my own way, and I will withdraw from relationships with others because they only cause pain. I will believe only in myself and become isolated and in this isolation we find ourselves experiencing hell. But the other extreme is that everything that happens is a result of God’s judgement and my ability to satisfy God. What happens if I am faced with a struggle? God is testing me, God is judging me, God is displeased and I must suffer. Again in that mindset our faith again is placed in ourselves, I must make my way or I will face judgement and as we are focusing so deeply on our personal adherence to our understanding of the law we often leave God behind.
These faiths of men lack hope. We will always face pain and struggles. It is part of life. A simple definition of life is growth. And pain and struggle always accompanies growth. The odd thing is pain and struggle also accompany decline or the departure of life. For a tree to be strong it must grow to handle the stress of its environment. It must feel the pressures of the wind for the cells to strengthen. It must experience water scarcity so that the roots will grow deep. Without these stresses it would never survive.
But if all we have is stress it can overtake us as well. If there is not hope in the future we will often give up and let the pain overtake us and lose hope. This is where Zion, the city of the living God is so important. We come to a place where there is an assembly of others, angels, and the living God. We come to a place where our judge is Christ himself who has taken on our sin and has covered it with his own blood so it is never remembered. So when we face the struggles we do not face them alone. The winds blow and we have support.
This is why I like the image of the labyrinth. Most of us when we hear about this we think of a maze where there is confusion and dead ends at every turn, we must find the way through, but that is not what a labyrinth is. A labyrinth has only one path it goes in to the center and back out. There are twists and turns but as long as you continue down the path you will always make it through. The twist and turns in a labyrinth show us the struggles of life and there are always struggles, but there is always hope and each step brings us closer to the center.
How do we handle the stress and the struggle? Those who have faith in themselves only hit the wall they feel the pain and they look to themselves for answers and turn the other direction. Those that have faith in God hit that wall and they again center of Christ and are guided closer to the center. The writer of Hebrews explains this through the illustration of shaking. When the nation of Israel turned from God at the base of Sinai and began worshiping a god created by their own hands the wrath of God was expressed through an earthquake which opened a chasm in the earth and swallowed many of the unfaithful. This image of shaking and being swallowed up is one that is important to consider. When the world shakes around us, where are we placing our faith? If it is only on our own strength then we will be swallowed up, because we cannot stand before the righteousness of God by our own merit. We have all failed and continue to fail. But what if we entrust our lives in Christ? When things begin to shake it is Christ who remains. Christ who sacrificed himself on the cross, who was swallowed by the grave for three days and who emerged from that grave victorious. If we are found in Christ then the shaking earth cannot bind us because it cannot hold Christ.
So where is our faith? What type of lifestyle do we live? Is it one that is relying on our own strength or one that is entrusted in Christ? When we walk the journey of life are we constantly drawing closer to the center the heart of Christ or when we face the pains of living do we hit a wall and turn away in confusion? The writer of Hebrews says that the things that are shaken are remember and all that remains are the things that cannot be shaken, all that remains is Christ. He then says, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God and acceptable worship with reverence and awe.” We are receiving a kingdom. This is odd phasing, but the interesting thing about it is that it is present tense. We are receiving and living in the kingdom now when we dedicate our lives to God through Christ. The question then is how do we live in that kingdom now even when so much of the world seem to opposed to the ways of God?
That is faith. The assurance in things hoped for and the confidence of things unseen. The world is shaken by financial collapse, it is shaken by wars and disasters. The world around us is shaken by things every step through the chronicles of history, but those that are centered and grounded in Christ will continue to walk toward him allowing His kingdom to take hold in their lives as they reflect it to those around them. They speak to those that God calls them to speak, they minister to those to which God calls them to minister. They do the work set before them where they are at and stay focused on the center of their faith that part that remains unshaken because it has already overcome the world. And when we live that lifestyle; when we live lives of faith that are fully entrusted in Christ we live lives that will catch hold of those around us. Like a fire raging in the prairies as we burn for God the next blade of grass also gets caught in the blaze, and each person must chose to turn toward God or away.
As we enter into this time of open worship, consider the type of life you are living. Consider the story of your life and what is most important. Are the things of this world shaking us or do we remain firmly planted in Christ? Consider the journey you are walking through life when you are faced with the next twist will you turn from or toward Christ? Let us now center down together and focus on the author and protector of our faith, and let us become people who are loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others.
Hebrews 11:29–12:2 (NRSV)
The Faith of Other Israelite Heroes
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
The Example of Jesus
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
What is faith? We asked that question last week and again it remains. When theology tells us that we are saved by Grace through faith, it is a legitimate question to ask. Especially if the grace that we received and continue to receive from God through Christ is given through faith. Last week the writer of Hebrews told us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith is assurance and conviction, faith is a lifestyle based in hope. This seemingly simple concept is one that has been twisted throughout the history of the church. Faith is unquestioning submission, faith is magic, faith is logical theology, and faith is… we can add our own statements into this. Every culture adds their own interpretation to what they would like faith to be, each of those concepts tend to fall short. They fail because they tend to place their hope in the wrong entity.
So I ask again, “what is faith?” What is faith in our lives here today? If faith is a lifestyle based in hope what does that look like?
The writer of Hebrews speaks about faith by looking at the history of the religious community. It is important to remember the history of those that have gone before us because often in their lives we can catch a glimpse, a brief testimony or witness to how these people we often consider heroes were able to press on through the struggles that they faced. I want us to stop there just for a moment. If we look at this list, this brief history of faith, this hall of fame there is something that runs through it from the start to the finish. Each of these people were given hope for something amazing in the future, but they lived through struggle to get there, and in some cases what they saw in their own lifetimes were just a faint reflection of the amazing blessing that those of us that came after them received because of their faithfulness.
The children of Israel after leaving bondage in Egypt were caught between a sea and a pressing army. Not just any army but the most technologically advanced and conditioned army of the world at that time. They stood there on the banks of the sea, listening to their leader telling them that God will get them across safely. Army behind, water before, and inhospitable wilderness all around. In our minds all is lost but there was hope. There was this promise that God was going to take them to the land that was promised to them through their father Abraham, a land flowing with milk and honey. I want us to look at this scene in our mind’s eye. Imagine yourself right there on the shore feeling the mist and salty spray hitting your face, and then hearing the command to walk forward. To simply walk one foot in front of the other as God pushed the water away so you would not even get mud on your shoes. Imagine this scene, I really want us to imagine it because this speaks volumes about true faith.
Today our concepts of faith are so often twisted they go from one extreme to the other. There are those that equate faith with governance, there are those that equate faith with theological concepts, there are many who actually believe faith to be a magical force, where if the proper amount of faith and the proper words are spoken anything can leap into existence. Tell me how those things help you as you are standing on the shore of a sea with the world’s greatest army thundering behind you?
How did they get across that sea? God told them to face their fears and to walk forward, and to lift up their hands in praise. Faith is not magic, it is not blind obedience but it is trusting that God will do what He promises to do. Each of these stories have a similar theme. Something before them that is greater than their ability to conquer, a claim from God either directly or through perception, a change inside those involved to the point they entrust their life to God, and then God pulls them through.
Now look at the life of Rehab. Her knowledge of God was pretty much nothing when she first placed her faith in Him. All she had to go on was there knowledge that a group of people forty years prior left Egypt and wondered in the desert. For forty years these people survived and grew. Now they were ready to settle. Imagine this story for a bit. A woman, a small business owner, a woman that made a living by fulfilling sensual desires, living in a city that was well fortified, protected by a well-trained fighting force. They may not have been the super power of their day, but this nation was not one to laugh at. A group of people was advancing on their city, this group of people did not have siege equipment, their armor and weapons were nothing compared to their own. It would be like people today advancing on our military with black power muskets.
Rahab looked at her city and the people advancing. Everything would say Jericho would win yet when she looked out at the hills to see the camping people, she knew that God was with them and she listened to the call within. Her grace was confirmed even while she still participated in a lifestyle seen as unrighteous, because she entrusted her life to the one true God.
These are both cases where the faith resulted in things that seemed to bring blessing to those who entrusted their lives to God, but what about when the trials seem harder? Many of the prophets entrusted their lives to the service of God only to find that their own countrymen would take their lives from them. Many faced torture and poverty because the kingdoms of men do not have the same values as the kingdom of God. Yet these men continued to follow God through the greatest trials. Many were even told that they would face the trials and they still followed. Why? There was hope that though they suffer for a moment through their suffering they would redirect the future of their community.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. This is why your story is so powerful. Your story like all those who have come before you can speak to the conditions people find themselves in. This is also why God commanded the children of Israel to remember how he brought them out of Egypt and to tell their children. This is also why it is so important to join Christ in his Holy Lifestyle which he taught us as he lived among men.
If we again look at the lives of all these listed the largest majority were said to have literal conversations with God. They knew when God told them to move and when God told them to stay. Back to the story at the shore of the Red Sea, they knew the presence of God, He lead them with a pillar of fire and a cloud of shade. When He stopped they stopped where He lead they followed. When God spoke to them through Moses they knew that God was trustworthy at that moment and they walked forward.
When we look through the chronicles of history we know that Joshua spoke with Lord, he was told to be strong and courageous and in response Joshua said, “As for me and my household we will serve the Lord.” He said these word with confidence because he knew the voice of God, he had seen the hand of God working in his life and in the lives of those around him, and he knew that it is only through God’s grace that they received the blessing of the land.
Faith is a lifestyle, it is not an emotion or a force to be wielded to overcome our enemies. Faith is believing in God to such a degree that we acknowledge him, trust that He can do what he says, and entrust our lives into the purposes that He has. Faith is a rhythm of life that reflects the life of Christ; making it our custom to worship and encourage one another in the meetings for worship, withdrawing often to isolated places to pray, and embracing the Spirit’s leading and calling and serving those around us.
The writer of Hebrews then encourages us to “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” As the Olympics are being held in Rio at this time, it is easy to consider the image of running a race set before us. As people train for races they often train with resistance to help strengthen their muscles. I am nowhere near the caliber of athlete as those in Rio, but even while I was training for track we would pull weight sleds as we ran, we would place ankle weights on our feet as we ran and pole vaulted, we would have training shoes and competition shoes all of which had different weights because if we were able to carry the weight in practice when it came time to compete and we released the weight we would run faster and have greater stamina. Unlike a race, the weights of our life are not always there for training, at times we are required to carry crosses but usually we carry weight for other reasons. We carry these weights because we do not trust that God is looking out for our good. We worry about our careers and finances so we hold tightly to the money we have and seek to control the uses of the money we donate because we do not trust. We worry about our families and our communities, we worry about the nation and the politics of our government because we do not trust that God will give us a future of our liking. All the weight we carry all the things we do not entrust to God shows that we lack faith, we do not believe and have not entrusted our lives fully to God. That is grieving the Spirit of God. We know through the teachings of Christ that there is only one unforgivable sin, grieving the Spirit. The only sin that truly holds us back is when we do not fully entrust our lives to God, when we lack faith.
What is holding us back from full commitment? What is keeping us from entrusting our lives to God? We have heard the stories of how faithful God has been to those of ancient times, we hear the stories every day of how God has worked in the lives of those around us. Yet at times we still hold back and reject the grace that God has offered to us through Jesus. Our stories are the most important tool God uses to encourage those around us, our lives are the greatest tool God uses to expand His kingdom of hope and love. Our stories can also be used to discourage. What is holding you back, and what story do you want to leave with others. As for me I want a story like that of Joshua, or Rahab. One that is saturated in the Lord. I want to live out a story that leaves everyone involved with a bit of hope. What is your story?