Summary: Effective disciples and relevant Churches in the twenty-first century must always “keep their eyes fixed on Jesus.” This is a two-part series on Hebrews 12:1-3.
Keeping Fixed on Jesus—Part One
Today we begin a two part series on one of my favorite passages of Scripture. Effective disciples and relevant Churches in the twenty-first century must always “keep their eyes fixed on Jesus.” My hobby is running. I began running in the summer of 1968 between my sophomore and junior years at Asbury College by training on the original Kenneth Cooper Aerobics Program. During the fall of my sophomore year at Asbury, I had to take physical education for the first time since the seventh grade. That was the only year I ever had to take PE until College. By participating in either the school band or chorus, I had always been exempted from the dreaded physical education classes in the Marion, Illinois, Community Unit School District beginning in eighth grade and continuing throughout high school. At Asbury I quickly discovered I was a physical wreck. I could not do a single pull up and could not complete one lap around the quarter mile track without walking. I had absolutely no endurance.
Returning home for summer vacation in 1968, I was determined to change my lifestyle and get in shape. By the end of the summer I could easily run four miles non stop. I felt great, and my self-esteem received a tremendous boost. On September 18, 1978, I set a goal to accomplish the same feat as my hero Jim Fixx, author of THE COMPLETE BOOK OF RUNNING, running the distance around the equator or a total of 24, 902 miles, and I was determined to do so before I reached age 50. I accomplished my goal on Pearl Harbor Day, Saturday, 07 December 1996, seventy-three days before my forty-ninth birthday. It took me a total of 6,656 days to achieve my ambition.
Running has always stimulated me and been a source of spiritual inspiration as well as physical healing and fortitude. While living in Decatur, I admired and respected Jerry Lambert, news anchor at WICS TV in Springfield. Jerry was a passionate runner for over twenty years; but due to a medical condition, he had to switch his routine to daily five-mile power walks. On the WICS web site, he shared his passion for running, “It is my stepping stone to fitness and a longer life. Plus, it helps organize my thoughts and gives me a sense of purpose and direction.”
I unconditionally share Jerry’s enthusiasm! Running has not only helped me “organize my thoughts and given me a sense of purpose and direction,” but my personal communion with Jesus often occurs during a run. On many such occasions the Holy Spirit has even given me inspiration for a sermon.
The New Testament often uses the imagery of running and racing to describe the goals and purposes for both the individual Christian Disciple and the Church as the Body of Christ. Our text this morning is one of my personal favorites, and I often include it in my signature at the close of a letter. I can intimately relate to its message. If the Church is to be relevant in the twenty-first century, as individual disciples and as the body of Christ, we all must “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.”
To be effective disciples and a dynamic Church, we must “throw off everything that hinders us.” Weights may be either a help or a hinderance to a runner, mostly a hindrance. I have never been able to run well when I am overweight, as I am now. At times when I have been heavy, the first thing I have had to do before entering a race is to “throw off the weight that hinders.” Weights are sometimes used in training for a race. A runner will often strengthen muscles by using weights during training runs, either by carrying them or by anchoring them around the ankles. While building up muscles, the weights slow the runner’s time during training. When they are discarded on race day, the strengthened muscles are ready to respond and perform at top speed.
As individual disciples and cooperatively as the Body of Christ we must “throw off the sin that so easily entangles” and hinders us in our spiritual race. J. B. Phillips puts it this way: “. . . Let us strip off everything that hinders us, as well as the sin which dogs our feet.” Even friendly dogs hinder a runner. Several times a sweet, little dog has lovingly nipped at my feet, even getting a grip on my ankle as a kindhearted gesture. There have even been times a dog has caused me to trip and fall. Oftentimes I have had to gently “shake him off” in order to continue my run. Sin “dogs our feet” and “trips us up.” Sin only hinders the disciple and the Church. In obedience to the Holy Spirit we must “shake off the sin that so easily entangles” by confessing, leaving it at the altar, and forsaking it in genuine repentance.