Last week we began a look at Hebrews 13 and the things listed in the chapter that we are to keep on doing. Hebrews 12 begins with an admonition to persevere and Hebrews 13 unpacks in what ways we are to persevere. When I started the two-part series I anticipated 13 points, but as I have continued in my study, I am down to ten! So, I have re-named the series, “The Ten Commandments” from Hebrews 13. Last week we learned we are to:
Keep on loving
Keep on being helpful
Keep on supporting those who are suffering
Keep on being faithful to our families
Keep on pursuing the right perspective for living
Today we are picking up the points of perseverance in verse 6 where we are told to:
Keep on exercising faith. 6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” 7 Remember your leaders, 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.
Remember, the writer of Hebrews compares our spiritual lives to a race. The entire time we are breathing, we are running this race. Too many people think the Christian life is about exercising faith at the beginning and merely believing in Jesus. Believing Jesus is Lord and allowing Him to be Lord by faith are two different things entirely. Starting a race isn’t hard. While you can’t finish a race if you never start it, finishing is far more important than starting it. I don’t believe every person who makes a one-time profession of faith is going to Heaven. It’s not about starting, but about running with Jesus every step of the way. Philippians 2:12 tells us we must continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. I’m not talking about being saved through works. That is through faith in Christ alone. It is a free gift. No race we can run or win will win us God’s approval, so He just gives us that as a gift. What Philippians 2:12 means it that we must continue to “walk out our salvation.” Christianity isn’t a one-time event. It’s not a one-time declaration. It is a daily, lifelong pursuit.
World class athletes train on good days and bad days. They train in good weather and bad weather. They train when they are tired, and they train when they didn’t sleep so well the night before. Too many people forget when they become Christians that what has changed is an internal reality. The external realities of life remain unchanged. Bills will still be due. Work will still require effort. Relationships will still take time. Bodies will still need to be maintained and repaired. Unexpected events will happen. Tires will still go flat, windows will still break, insurance companies will still mess up your paper work, teeth will still decay, and homework will still be given. Following Christ doesn’t guarantee anything but eternal salvation and the power of God’s presence in the midst of your circumstances (which while they may only be two things, but happen to be everything!). You will still have to deal with circumstances. Runners call them hurdles. Kayakers call them rapids. Swimmers call them currents. Frisbee golf players call them strong winds, and bikers call them hills. They are realities that become deal breakers for those who aren’t willing to commit to train through them.
Since we moved into our neighborhood I have added biking to my walking. I truly thought our neighborhood was flat until I started riding my bike around it! It all started great because going out of my driveway, I went to the right. Downhill. Woohoo! The first 15 seconds were exhilarating. I’m thinking, “This is my kind of exercise!” I didn’t even have to peddle. I wasn’t prepared for what came next. What was actually only a slight incline felt monumental. I had to stand up on my bike to make any progress. I had to dig in and give it my all. I had to switch into a lower gear. I made it through those grueling five seconds and was able to coast a minute and catch my breath. Then, without any extra momentum I was facing a steeper incline.
Now it’s not so bad to go uphill if you have just come downhill and have some speed to help you hit the next incline. But if you are trying to create some momentum without any extra help it is tough. The first several times through the neighborhood I had to get off my bike in the middle of the hill and walk my bike up to a flat spot. (I’m sure I’ve already gained a crazy neighborhood nickname!)
Now, I could have let that detour me. I could have gotten embarrassed about my lack of ability. I could have let the challenge become greater in my mind than it actually was. I could have jumped to the conclusion that I wouldn’t ever make it and therefore I should quit trying. I could have decided that I didn’t want neighborhood witnesses to any of my athletic shortcomings. But I didn’t choose any of those options, and last week after walking the entire neighborhood, I biked it immediately afterwards and made the whole journey without having to get off my bike and walk it up any incline.
You see, our personal faith isn’t about how fast we make progress, but it is about accepting responsibility for our forward progress. God will do His part. You don’t have to worry about that. You don’t have to wonder if He can or will keep up His end of the bargain. Let me reassure you of that reality. But too many Christians think God’s responsibility towards us means that He is to make life easy. Not so. It is our faith that drives us when the road is uphill. It is our faith that anchors us when the winds are strong. It is our faith that steadies us when the current is rough. We don’t quit, but we push on in faith because on the other side of the hill, the wind and the current is the development of a spiritual understanding, a maturing of our spiritual IQ’s, if you will, that will sustain us for the entire race and not just the hurdle we are trying to overcome this minute.
Maybe you are walking uphill right now. Maybe you are trying to run in the face of an oncoming wind. Listen, exercising faith now isn’t just going to move you beyond this challenge, but it will strengthen you for the one that will follow somewhere down the road. Every time you exercise faith you are gaining fortitude that will serve you later down the road, so that when you are faced with an incline you won’t have to rely on some downhill slope to give you momentum. It will already be in your spiritual DNA. Keep on exercising faith.
Verse 9: Keep on being grounded in the truth. “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them.”
Do you know how many religions have rules and regulations about what a person can and cannot eat? If you subscribe to the Bahai faith, to Buddhism, Hinduism, Isalm, Jainism, Judaism, Rastafarianism, Sikhism, and Yezidism just to name a few, there are restrictions about what you can and can’t eat. I had never heard of Jainism, Sikhism, and Yezidism, so I looked them up, and let me tell you, they are as weird as they sound. Even some “so-called” Christian groups observe some dietary restrictions.
I’m not saying that some of the ideas of some of these groups wouldn’t benefit our health, but they have no spiritual value, and we mustn’t buy into doctrines that make people jump through hoops in order to experience God’s grace through salvation. It is a gift. It is a heart-issue as is stated in verse 9, and not an outward conforming issue.
If ever you needed to know what you believed it is now. According to Wikiepedia, an online encyclopedia, there are some 4200 religions in the world today. The potential to be led astray is huge. The potential to be burdened with rituals and regulations is great.
Boudreaux was out fishin’ when he came back in with a boat load of fish. The game warden was watchin’ and came and said, “Boudreaux, how you caught all dem fish?” And Boudreaux say, “Com’ see.”They both went out again and then Boudreaux said this is the spot.So he pulled out a stick of dynamite and lit it. The warden he done started hollerin’, “Boudreaux, you can’t do dat! You can’t fish dat der dynamite! What you tink boy?”Just then Boudreaux threw the dynamite to the warden who caught it and said to the warden, “You gonna sit there a hollerin’ or you gonna fish?” (http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/know-what-you-know-mike-richardson-sermon-on-apologetics-the-bible-36291.asp) For some people it takes a stick of dynamite to get them to change their convictions, but for others it’s just a simple idea or as James puts it when he calls buying into religious scams like believing “a new wave” or “new wind” of doctrine that blows over the radio, newspaper or television screen. Not everything people are touting as Christian is truth whether online or even on Christian television.
We take our youth to the big Winter Jam Christian concert in January each year. Two years ago there were “Christian” groups outside of the Civic Center holding boycott signs and yelling at us telling us we were going to Hell for taking our children to see and hear Christian artists because of the style of the music that would be played. Crazy!
In this race we are running, we must make a committed pursuit to know the Word of God for ourselves. Study it. Know it for yourself. II Timothy 2:15 says we are to study the Word of God for ourselves, that we will be approved as workman who are rightly dividing the Word of Truth. I know we didn’t all go to seminary. I know the Bible, especially in parts, can be really tough to understand. But God is faithful to lead us by His Spirit if we will pursue His truth. In a couple of Wednesdays I am going to do a series on Basic Christian Doctrine. If you are unsure about Bible basics it would be great for you to attend. I am also going to feature a question and answer time called “Ask PM anything.” PM is me. J You can submit questions on your blue card ahead of time or email them to me ahead of time, so that if I can’t answer your Bible question on the spot I will have had some time to dig into finding an answer. We must be tenacious about knowing and holding onto the truth.
Skip to verse 14 where we are told to persevere in our attitude about Heaven. Keep on looking forward to Heaven. “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” The Christian life has great benefits. I have mentioned salvation and the power of God’s presence, but have you ever considered how the Christian life offers you forward focus because you have something to look super forward to? That’s one of my favorite things about being a Christian. Heaven is a reality. I know that the best is yet to come.
Perhaps you have heard the following story that was widely circulated several years ago. Though it is likely an urban legend it illustrates how we ought to view leaving this life and going into the next life if we are Christians:
There was a woman who had been diagnosed with a deadly illness and had been given 3 months to live. Her doctor told her to start making preparations so she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what Scriptures she would like read, and what she wanted to be wearing. The woman also told her pastor that she wanted to be buried with her favorite Bible.
Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the woman suddenly remembered something very important to her. There’s one more thing. She said excitedly. “What’s that?” came the pastor’s reply. This is very important. The woman continued. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.” The pastor stood looking at the woman not knowing quite what to say. “That shocks you doesn’t it?” The woman asked. “Well to be honest, I’m puzzled by the request,” said the pastor.
The woman explained. “In all my years of attending church socials and functions where food was involved my favorite part was when whoever was clearing away the dishes of the main course would lean over and say ‘You can keep your fork.’” It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming. When they told me to keep my fork I knew that something great was about to be given to me. So I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder ‘What’s with the fork?’ Then I want you to tell them: ‘Something better is coming so keep your fork too.’”
The pastor’s eyes were welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the woman good-bye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that that woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did. She knew that something better was coming. At the funeral people were walking by the woman’s casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing and her favorite Bible and the fork placed in her right hand. Over and over the pastor heard the question, “What’s with the fork?” And over and over he smiled. During his message the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her.
1 Corinthians 2:9 says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” Christian, the best is yet to come!
Hebrews 11:10 tells us Abraham looked forward to Heaven. 11:26 tells us Moses looked forward to the rewards of Heaven. The Apostle Paul in II Cor. 5:1 was looking forward to Heaven. Old Testament martyrs suffered and died as they anticipated the reality of Heaven, Hebrews 11:35. That forward look towards Heaven gave them momentum to keep on running the race. Keep on looking forward to your eternal reward, Christian.
Keep on praising God. Verse 15: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess his name.” Your praise and worship life is one of the evidences of your faith. If you can keep praising God while you run this race, you are demonstrating He is still in control whether your life seems to be going downhill or uphill.
I happen to believe that perhaps more than anything else, praise will take you to the finish line. Why? When we pray it is easy to be focused on ourselves, our needs, our pains, our hurts, our disappointments. But when we praise, Jesus, God alone is our focus. He is Who we are thanking. He is Who we are trusting. He is Whose opinion we are seeking.
I love this next verse: Psalm 149:5-6 “Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds. “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands.”
Listen church. The Word of God is a double-edged sword which will cut away in us what isn’t like Jesus as we submit to it. And the continual praise of God is a double-edged sword in our hands that will go before us and cut away briers and thorns and tall trees standing in our way as we run. Like faith, praise will give us access to our future. Praise will keep us moving forward. We must persevere as a people of praise because our worship of God will make our path sure. When Satan seeks to use the trials of life to make us spiritually unconscious praise and worship will keep us God-conscious which will ensure our victory.
When you come to worship with this body, don’t hold back. Get your praise on. But listen, Sunday morning and Wednesday night better not be the only times you are praising and worshipping God. If you have a race to run every day, how often should you be praising the Lord? That’s right! It’s an everyday expression. Verse 15 says it is to be continuous. You don’t have to be in a sanctuary to praise the Lord. You better believe on Thursday night as I was ascending the last incline on my bicycle and my neighbor, Joyce Bowen, who also is a church member, was out in her front yard and I called on her to cheer me on up the hill . . . when I made it, I was praising the Lord! No joke.
It is God who gives me strength (Phil. 4:13). It is God who trains my hands for battle (II Sam. 22:35). It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure (Ps. 18:32). It is God who makes me stand firm in Christ (II Cor. 1:21). It is God who works in me to will and act according to His good purpose (Phil. 4:12). It is God who answers my prayers (Matthew 7:7). It is God who makes my path straight (Prov. 3:6). It is God who has created me (Psalm 139). It is God who has forgiven me of all of my sin (Psalm 103). It is God who has a prepared place for me in heaven where I will know nothing except eternal happiness (John 14:2 and Rev. 21:4).
Everything you have and are is because of God’s grace to you both believers and unbelievers. That is why you always have a continuous reason to praise Him. If you have prospered it is because God has prospered you. If you have good health it is because God has granted it unto you. If you have excelled with a skill, gift or talent, it is because God has seen to it. If you are walking through and open door it is because God has unlocked it. I get fired up about this because I think we underestimate the role of God’s Sovereignty in our lives and forget to remember Who the Source is of “every good and perfect gift!”
King David knew who really deserved the credit. 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 10 David praised the LORD in the presence of the whole assembly, saying, “Praise be to you, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. 11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. 12 Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. 13 Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
It’s all from Him, for Him and through Him! I have told you we intend to glorify the Lord with our home. Each of you is invited to come to an open house on August 11th. But beware. You won’t be the only folk there. We are inviting our whole neighborhood. If any of our neighbors should offer a compliment about our home, we are ready to tell them that we have been blessed by God to acquire the home and to become their neighbors and that if we can help them in any way, we have been sent to Beechwood Estates to be servants of those around us. You see, we praise and worship God not just in a corporate way through singing or clapping or hand-raising, but we praise Him in front of a watching world believing that as we lift Him up He will be faithful to draw all people to Himself. Lift Him up in here, please. That is part of your reasonable service to God (Romans 12:1). But be sure you are lifting Him up “out there!” as that is the witness our world needs to see in order to be inspired to investigate this race we are running.
Finally, Keep on being equipped. “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.”
Don’t stop growing. Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop serving. There is more to know. There is more to become. What you need to accomplish His will, will be different in five years than it is today. Keep pursuing what it means for you personally to be “conformed to the image of Christ” (Romans 12). Take an online class. Go to a Christian seminar. Get into a small group Bible study. Listen to Christian teaching on TV or through your favorite podcast. Keep learning the skills which will make you more effective as Christ’s witnesses and serve, serve, serve.
Why is investing in being equipped so important? Because if you are equipped you will more likely serve, and if you are serving Christ it is far less likely that you will fall away from Him. Those who just sit on the sidelines and watch, who don’t know the joy of serving, who haven’t experienced the power of God in them as they step outside their comfort zones to serve or witness about Him, aren’t as likely to stay in the race. It’s just easier for them to quit. Those who are invested in helping others get into the race are the ones who are likely to run to the end.
Brothers and Sisters, it’s not how fast we run, but how far we go in the end that matters. Persevere. Persevere. Keep on keeping on in these areas which will ensure our success.