“The Road to a Better Life: Maintain a Good Weight”
Let’s have a moment of honesty. How many of you have, at some point in your life, been concerned about your weight? How many of you have been in a situation where your weight was important to the situation – you needed to fit into the wedding dress, you were going to spend time on the beach in your swimsuit, you had a doctor’s appointment - whatever? While there are many factors to healthy living, weight is a critical one because it impacts so many of the others. And what’s true in our physical lives is true in our spiritual lives as well.
The author of Hebrews, in chapter 11, lists a host of God’s people who faced difficult decisions and situations but persevered in faith. He then launches into an exhortation for us to run as they did. And to do so he refers to our weight – since to run well we must maintain good weight.
Let’s follow his exhortation. He begins by telling us to TRIM OUR WEIGHT. Verse 1: “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…” The implication is that we are all too heavy for this race, so the author urges us to strip down to our proper weight, to throw off, get rid of, to shed “…everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…” First, GET RID OF HINDRANCES. Runners throw off their regular shoes, their slacks and shirts, the warm-up suits. They wear as little as possible so as to go as fast and far as possible. So what, for us, is “everything that hinders?” Another way to translate the phrase is to “Strip off every weight…” Whatever weighs us down, whatever gets in the way of running, whatever hinders progress, must go! Finances, relationships, business commitments and issues, hobbies, service projects, many irons in the fire and other time related issues – whatever distracts and deters your life of faith must go. Notice that many of these things are, in and of themselves, good things. But when they become extra spiritual fat which impedes our running, they must be stripped off.
Randy Alcorn has written some wonderful novels with Christian themes. One of them is titled “Edge of Eternity.” I call it a modern day “Pilgrim’s Progress.” It’s the story of a man who is lifted off into a journey to the brink of Charis – heaven – only to be sent back to Skiathuros – earth – a transformed man. On his journey he and his companions meet up with a frazzled woman who is carrying a heavy load. One of his companions says to her, “’What you carry grows heavier each day, and you become weaker.' The frazzled woman looked at her things and fingered them. 'But my art, my music, my books, my collection,' she said. 'These are good things, aren't they?' 'Many of them are good,' Malaiki said, 'and we should thank the King for them. But even the best things can't endure the journey. They're expendable. The GuideBook says we shouldn't hold anything too close in the short today that will not be ours in the long tomorrow. It commands us to travel light.'’” (1) What is it that weighs you down, that holds you back in your life of faith? I invite you this morning to throw it off.
And it’s not only the weights but also “the sin that so easily entangles…” Like running with a robe on, sin will eventually get entangled with our legs and trip us up. So GET RID OF THE SIN. But just what is ‘the sin?” Unbelief. It’s doing the opposite of what the cloud of witnesses in chapter 11 did – it’s failing to trust the promises of God. Much of the Letter to the Hebrews deals with the danger of unbelief. In fact the phrase ‘by or through faith’ occurs 21 times. It really goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. As soon as Eve began to doubt the promise of God, to ‘disbelieve’ that God would do what He promised to do, she sinned. That’s the problem with unbelief – when we fail to believe we sin. If we do not believe God wants the best for us, we will eat forbidden fruit. If we do not believe God wants us to be whole and has our best interests at heart, we will break the commandments. If we do not believe God’s love is the purest love, we will be filled lust and the desire to commit adultery. A person cannot move forward when clothed with unbelief. Where are you having trouble believing? Where have you failed to trust the promises of God? Re-establish your belief and trust on God – otherwise the robe of sin will wrap around you and trip you up.
The second step in maintaining our weight is to TRAIN OUR FOCUS. Remember your reason for living the life of faith, for entering the race: to do your best to cross the finish line and gain the prize. And that means more than walking lazily and casually through life. “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run…” RUN THE RACE! He’s not talking about the speed at which we go through life; he’s talking about the attitude for and energy with which we live life. The life of faith is not a walk or a stroll – it’s a run! We cannot leisurely loiter or linger. The life of faith is not like a people mover in an airport where we stand still and let the moving walkway transport us. In fact, the Greek word for race is‘agon’, from which we get our English word ‘agony.’ The life of faith is a run involving agony and tough times. It demands commitment. There have been many things in my life I’ve thought I’d like to do, but I just didn’t have the commitment to do them. Hebrews warns us that the only way to live a life of faith, the only way cross the finish line, is to make the necessary commitment to run. As you think about your life of faith, does the word ‘run’ describe it? Have you made the commitment to do whatever is necessary to run the race, to take your witness to Christ seriously?
Notice that to run the race requires also A COMMITMENT TO PERSEVERE. “…and let us run with perseverance…” Use all the energy you can muster. Put everything you have into it. Run with gusto, with dogged determination! Cross country meets teach a great lesson. Some of the runners finish way ahead of the pack. Some finish in the middle of the pack. Some finish way behind the pack. But they finish! They do not quit. Many of the runners gasp for air as they cross the finish line, and others are cramping. But they finish. I read a story of a high school freshman runner who was elevated to the varsity track team when two all-conference senior runners had to be scratched from an important late season meet due to injuries. The coach didn’t expect much from the untested freshman, asking only that he give his best. He trailed significantly all the way. In fact, the leaders lapped him while he still had over 1200 meters to go; then other runners lapped him while he still had 400 meters to go. Finally, at long last, he was the last one to cross the finish line – and as he did so he fell to his knees dehydrated and gasping for breath. One track official, who came to give aid, asked him, “Son, when you fell so far behind, why didn’t you just quit?” The runner replied, “Our two best runners got hurt. Coach asked me to run. I ran. Coach asked me to give it my best. I gave it my best. Coach didn’t ask me to quit.” Are you committed to run the race of faith all the way to the finish? This morning you can make that commitment.
To train our focus also means to FOLLOW OUR COURSE. “…and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Follow the path laid out before you. “Marked out.” The Greek means, “lie before, lie in view, be at hand.” Runners do not design the course – they run the course laid out before them. We do not design our course for life. The path for our faith has been placed before us – God lays it out and we must conform to it. The moment we commit to live for Jesus Christ, to be His disciples, we commit to running His course for our lives. It’s only as we run that we see the markers along the way. But make no mistake about it – you have a divine destiny for your life; Jesus wants you to cross the finish line so He has laid out the course for you to follow.
And here’s how to do it. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…” FOCUS ON JESUS. The word ‘look’ means “to turn the eyes away from other things and fix them on something…to turn one’s mind to a certain thing.” If a runner, while racing, looks around in the stands to try and spot a friend or family member, her running will suffer. If her eyes continue to wander, she will soon get off course. If she concentrates on texting while running, she will slow down and get off course. Turn your attention to Jesus.
Remember when the disciple Peter started to walk on the water to get to Jesus? As long as his eyes were on Jesus he was fine; but as soon as he looked at the water, he began to sink. Focus on Jesus. It takes discipline, time, and effort. Spend time with Jesus, in prayer and devotion. Study His life and teachings. Worship Him. Obey Him. Love Him. Yes – you will need to get rid of some things, to give up some things. But don’t concentrate on what you give up – concentrate on what you will receive. Even Jesus fastened His eyes on the course before Him. “…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.” As the Apostle Paul later wrote (Phil. 2:5-11 MSG) “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.” Don’t concentrate on what you give up – concentrate on what you will receive.
The third step in weight maintenance is to TREASURE OUR DISCIPLINE. (5) “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…” The key word is ‘discipline’, which is literally ‘chastening’. It is a Greek word that means "child training, instruction, discipline." A Greek boy was expected to "work out" in the gymnasium until he reached his maturity. It was a part of his preparation for adult life. The writer viewed the trials of the Christian life as spiritual discipline that could help a believer mature. Our tough times are meant to lead us to greater, fuller maturity. It’s so easy for us to say, in the midst of tough times, “The devil is attacking me.” He may be.
But we must always ask, before giving the devil more credit than he deserves, if God may be disciplining us.
Hebrews teaches us about God’s discipline. First, GOD DISCIPLINES HIS CHILDREN OUT OF LOVE. Satan fosters the lie that hard times and trials are proof that God does not love us. But “…because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!” Our Father, because He love us, does not want us to be pampered, immature babies – rather He wants us to become mature sons and daughters who can serve Him faithfully, experience the full depth of His love, and receive all the blessings He has in store. That’s why the author wrote in chapter 11 of all the saints who faced and endured through difficult times. He also mentions that even Jesus learned obedience, became mature, through what He suffered. Remember His course: He went from the joy of Palm Sunday to betrayal, false arrest, unjust trial, cruel beatings, and death on a cross. Should we expect any less?
The Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, while in prison, was able to say “Bless you prison.” Can you say “Bless you loss, loneliness, misunderstanding, pain, trial?” The bottom line is that every trial comes from God as a call to refocus on Him, to believe more firmly in His love. Remember the words of Paul, written from prison (Phil 4:4-6 GNT): “May you always be joyful in your union with the Lord. I say it again: rejoice! Show a gentle attitude toward everyone. The Lord is coming soon (at hand). Don't worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. And God's peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.”
Second, remember that GOD’S DISCIPLINE HAS A PURPOSE. “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.” GOD WANTS US TO SHARE HIS HOLINESS AND BE PRODUCTIVE. A blacksmith, about 8 years after his conversion to Christ, was asked by an unbeliever, “Why is it you have so much trouble? I have been watching you since you trusted Christ as your Savior and began to ‘walk square’ and seem to love everybody, and you seem to have twice as many trials and accidents as you had before. I thought that when a man gave himself to God his troubles were over.” The blacksmith replied, “Do you see this piece of steel? It is for the springs of a carriage, but it need to be ‘tempered.’ I heat it again, then I hammer it and bend it and shape it so it will be suitable for the carriage. Often I find the steel too brittle and it cannot be used. If so, I throw it on the scrap heap. Those scraps are worth less that a cent a pound, but this carriage spring is valuable. God saves us for something more than to have a good time. We have the good time all right, but He wants us for service, just as I want this piece of steel, and He puts the temper of Christ in us by testings and trials. Ever since I saw this I have been saying to Him, ‘Lord, test me in any way you choose, but don’t throw me on the scrap heap!’” God want us to share His holiness.
Near the end of his novel Edge of Eternity Randy Alcorn has a moving scene where Nick – the main character – is being instructed by the King (Jesus) just before he returns to earth. “‘Friday has passed,' he said to me. ‘Tomorrow is Sunday. I send you back to the world's Saturday. Know that the never-ending Sunday comes, and even until it does I am with you. I listen to you, and I weep with you that you may one day laugh with me.' My eyes burned. 'Listen carefully, Nick, for in a moment I send you back to the true Skiathuros (earth). Before I do, I want you to look once more at Charis (heaven). I am preparing this world for you – and I'm also preparing you for it. Charis isn't just a world I make for you, it is the world for which you were made. Every
part of it resonates with who you are, who you really are, not the old Nick Seagrave, but the one I've made you to be. I have a new name for you. You're not ready to hear it yet. But I will give it to you when we meet face to face in our home.” (2)
“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…”
(1) Edge of Eternity, Randy Alcorn, Waterbrook Press, Colorado Springs, Colorado, © 1998 by Eternal Perspective Ministries, p. 203
(2) Edge of Eternity, Randy Alcorn, Waterbrook Press, Colorado Springs, Colorado, © 1998 by Eternal Perspective Ministries, p. 321