Monday, November 17, 2014

Run for your life!

My lesson for November 16's Sunday School class ...

We continue our study of Hebrews, this time turning to chapter 12 as we talk about Jesus being the strength we need to persevere. The key words are "endurance" and "discipline."

FIRST THOUGHTS

*** Besides running, what kinds of things do we endure on a daily basis?

--- How about traffic to work and school after a surprise wintry mix comes through!

--- On the extreme, two women started camping out in front of a California Best Buy 22 days before Black Friday. Now that's endurance!

Now let's get to Hebrews and what it tells us about endurance:

*** Understand the Context:

--- The writer of Hebrews gives a pep talk to followers of Jesus suffering persecution for their faith. The believers in this time weren't the first to experience spiritual dullness, and we won't be the last to fight the fall into false comfort.

--- The Scriptures teach us that the Christian life is more like a marathon than a sprint.

--- The goal is to have endurance and finish well. The prize is to hear the Lord Jesus Christ say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

ENDURING (HEB. 12:1-3)

1 Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

*** It's a race!

If you have ever trained for a marathon or know someone who did, then you know that competing well in such a race does not happen by accident. No one wins a marathon—an endurance run of over 26 miles—by just showing up on the day of the race without training. Those who win marathons do so because they have trained diligently.

--- The author of Hebrews use an endurance race to describe our Christian walk.

--- Last week we talked about the Hero Hall of Fame in the Old Testament in Hebrews chapter 11. These are examples of people with great faith who had died and their race was finished.

QUESTION – Think of people who are encourage you while running their race in difficulties? What are some of the speed bumps that you have to endure to live the most effective life for Christ?

*** Developing endurance during spiritual opposition:

Nationally known Dr. Charles Stanley in Atlanta writes of four things that play a role in developing endurance during spiritual opposition:

(1) Receiving encouragement from others. The writer of Hebrews refers to “a cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1). Think of the crowds cheering you on, the crowd being the Roll Call of the Faithful as in Hebrews 11.

(2) Getting rid of hindrances. Hebrews tells us, “Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us” (12:1). This means we need to identify those things that could slow us down, including any sin God brings to our attention.

(3) Running the race. When the going gets rough, we don’t run away. We can’t be quitters. Rather, we continue on confident that the longer we persevere, the stronger our faith in Him becomes.

(4) Fixing our eyes on Christ. Nothing helps us endure like seeing the final prize before us—and that prize is Christ Himself. Fix your eyes upon Jesus, look to Him for guidance and wisdom.

---God knows the Christian life is not easy. And it never will become easy, no matter how long we live. In this world, we will face opposition, both from the world and from the enemy of our souls, the devil. Jesus told us, “In the world you have tribulation” (John 16:33 - "I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.").

--- This race isn’t about beating the other runners around us, more like a “fun run” together. Our competition does not involve other believers but rather the sins and spiritual distractions that so easily entangle us. We battle not against flesh and blood but against the great enemy of our faith who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy:

John 10:10 - The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Eph. 6:12 - For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

*** Joy of the cross?

--- Verse 2 has an interesting wording, that Jesus endured the cross "for the joy that was set before him," in other words, in anticipation of the joy of being our Savior. Jesus knew that when the necessary suffering of a shameful form of execution was over, the reward was to follow.

--- Acts 20:24 – “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

--- We can endure most when we are confident in what lies ahead. Few people will endure anything in the absence of hope. But to have the faith that endurance will lead to something great is necessary to hold on a little longer. Or as a great poet once sang, “if you hold on, for one more day, things will go your way.”

DISCIPLINED (HEB. 12:4-7) 4 In struggling against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons: My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or faint when you are reproved by Him, 6 for the Lord disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He receives.. 7 Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline?

Were the greatest opponents to the Christians in Hebrews external or internal?

*** Sin is your biggest obstacle.

--- In the ancient world, runners would remove anything that added weight. Often they ran practically naked. It’s hard to run in a toga. How much more important is the spiritual race that is set before us?

--- Verse 4 says that the struggle against sin is the biggest obstacle hindering the runners and can trip us up. The writer makes a point of saying that even though persecution was great, the readers had not yet suffered death.

*** God’s discipline.

--- "If it's from the Almighty it's alrighty!"

--- The image shifts from a runner enduring a race to the finish line to the discipline that it takes to finish the race.

--- The writer quotes Proverbs 3:11-12 here, a passage about a wise father instructing an eager son. The word for discipline in Greek is the usual word for the instruction of a person raising a child.

--- As parents, we are expected to endure a lot from our children, and sometimes even those who may not understand our children. This week we had a story out of San Francisco about a woman in a department store who told a mother to control her tantrum-throwing child. When the mother basically told the woman to mind her business, the woman said to "Go to Hell." Well, that really, really didn't go over well. The mother followed the woman into the parking lot and broke a few teeth from the woman. I admit, my first instinct would also be to tell the woman that I'm doing my best and to essentially mind her business. When you're trying to endure your children acting badly in public, you don't need an outsider to point it out.

--- QUESTION - Think of the purpose of discipline in a parent/child relationship. If parents refuse to discipline their children, what does that say about their relationship? If the discipline is not redemptive, what does that say about the relationship? How can discipline be both painful and productive at the same time? How does your trust in God help you endure discipline when it occurs in your life?

*** Discipline, not punishment.

*** Verse 6 is out memory verse for the week – “for the Lord disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He receives”

--- Pastor John MacArthur compares punishment to discipline: Punishment has one purpose, discipline another. Punishment is a severe penalty. And punishment from God is eternal. The purpose of discipline is to produce virtue and discipline is only for a season. In punishment, God is the judge. In discipline, God is the father. In punishment, condemnation is the goal. In discipline, righteousness is the goal. God’s discipline is out of love.

--- Discipline is also for prevention, to prevent sin. The Lord demands that you stay away from evil company because evil company corrupts good morals.Any good parent understands that you put restrictions on your children for their own good.

--- Education is also a reason for God's discipline. It teaches you the experiences of life that you can extend to others and feel more sympathy for their suffering. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that he had all these sufferings so that he might be comforted by God so that he might comfort others.”

--- Verse 8 continues that “if you are without discipline—which all receive—then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” So if you haven’t been disciplined then you aren’t Christian.

--- The believer who is most obedient is living the Christian life at its max. The more rebellious you are, the more undisciplined you are, the more disobedient you are, the less you enjoy life.

--- QUESTION - Do any of you have any examples of how God’s discipline has helped strengthen you as a Christian?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** Identify what's holding you back in your race, think of what you can do to improve in those areas.

*** Think about when you've had to be disciplined, and praise God for how He can train us for our ultimate good.

*** In the end I hope we can all say, like Paul did in 2 Timothy 4:7 - "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

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