In any race we can tire out. To run the marathon, we need to run alongside our greatest hero, Jesus Christ.
The Heroes of Faith Series is built around Old Testament figures. We shared, that a lot of these figures we’re going to be looking at were flawed. That’s why I wanted to start out by saying these are people who had struggles themselves. That got me thinking about the Warriors. I was thinking about their big game tonight. I thought about how this is either going to be one of my best Father’s Days ever or not. I was thinking about their historic run, I know not everybody’s a basketball fan, but it’s a big deal right now. I thought if they lose, which is possible, the critics are going to be falling over themselves.
Some critics will be rejoicing over the flaws of our team, and say we choked. As a fan, I would lament it, obviously. I would also be thankful for a lot of the fun I’ve had following them. They will be losers and failures in the eyes of a lot of the national media people like Barkley, Van Gundy, and Jackson. These guys are going to be extraordinarily mean. They’re like vultures sitting on a tree waiting to pounce. Saying I told you so. I would love to prove them wrong. I think Curry’s hurt way more than he’s showing. I say that because I think he has injuries and needs surgery. He still may have enough in him for us to win.
The point is Curry is not superhuman. He’s flawed. None of us are superhuman. All the Heroes of Faith Series that we’re looking at here assumes that all of us are flawed. Just like the heroes we’re going to be looking at and learning from in the weeks ahead as different speakers share. All of us, like them, are going to have seasons of struggle in this life of faith, this race of faith. We’re going to have seasons of weakness and disappointment. There are going to be times in our lives when even though we’re sincere about following the Lord, there are going to be private wounds, hurts, and perhaps injuries that we can’t disclose, that are inhibiting our capacity. Other people may not know about them. They may look at it and say, “What’s wrong with you?” We may not feel comfortable being able to share it.
It might be hard for us. They might not realize how much we’re hurting, how hard it is for us, and what we’re having to walk through. Some of our wounds are self-inflicted. They’re tough. Some of them are other-inflicted. That’s tough too. How do we walk through that? I think for all of us, it’s like anyone who has a relationship with Jesus. I hope all of us, even those of us who are beginning to come close to that point where we’re stepping across the faith line, remember that we were born in grace. That’s the water we were born in. We were conceived in grace, and we will always need grace until the day we see Him again and emerge into a different life. The life he has for us, what He called the place that He has prepared, when our body can no longer house the spirit, the real us that’s within it, and we leave.
We will be people who live in grace. We need the grace of God, always and forever, as much as we need the air that we breathe to survive. That’s my message for today. I think we can just go home and call it a day. But we’re going to focus on Hebrews 11. I want to look at three passages fairly rapidly. One has to do with the review of where we were last week because I don’t assume everyone was here. Hebrews 11 is sometimes called the Hall of Faith. All these different figures of the Older Testament are referenced. Names that we would recognize in the early part, take up the bulk of the chapter. Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and Joseph. These are highly recognizable figures in the scriptures.
Large chunks of the Older Testament are devoted to their stories and accounts. As the chapter goes towards its close, different people are mentioned, some of whose names are far more obscure and only given little spaces. They each exhibited some type of heroic faith. The end of Hebrews describes the kind of struggles, pains, and violence they were forced to endure. I’m going to read that quickly. There’s a bottom side to that, the part that when it gets to the end near the 40th verse, many times doesn’t make sense. I’m going to try to explain it. The writer says, “What more shall I say, for time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barack, Samson, Jeff, David, Samuel, and the prophets. Who, through faith, conquered kingdoms. They enforced justice. They obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword. They were made strong out of weakness.” We spent a lot of time there.
“They became mighty in war and put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking, flogging, chains, and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawed in two, and killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated. Of whom.” I love this phrase as well, “Of whom this world was not worthy. Wandering about in deserts and mountains and in dens and caves of the earth. All of these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.” They didn’t. There was one great promise of faith that alluded to them that they never realized. What he’s trying to imply is they never were able to understand, or put their hands around, the promise of Messiah. All that their faith anticipated, which was fulfilled in Jesus. It says God has provided something better for us.
We share the fulfillment of the promise that they could only conceive in little ways, in bits, pieces, and shadows. It goes on to say, “Apart from us, they should not be made perfect.” The full aspiration of what their faith represented could only be appreciated on the other side of Jesus. It’s something that we participate in. Here are two verses from the Message translation. It’s a little bit easier way to get a handle on what is being described here. It says, “Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised.” God had a better plan for us, their faith and our faith would come together and make one complete whole. He is saying their faith only could point to something they couldn’t see. Like all those sacrifices you read about when you read the Older Testament. All the prophets saying there’s going to come one; there’s one promise. One who will take away the sins of this world, who will rescue our people. All of that was a promise by faith. They couldn’t see it. What he’s saying is really the promise they anticipated and we have now received, connects us. We’re connected by Jesus. If we have Jesus, then we are the culmination of everything their faith anticipated.
He connects us all together. Their lives of faith are not complete apart from ours. I love the idea of the connectedness of the old and the new. That’s why I say even though a lot of the stories we’re looking at taking place in a very different culture and time in history, and a lot of stuff may go against the grain of our sensibilities, the fact of the matter is each of our faiths completes one another. The old is fulfilled in the new. The new is rooted in the old, and Jesus is the link that pulls it all together. It’s like the cross is the perfect symbol. I know it was meant as a Roman torture symbol. A tool of torture. Painful death to teach everyone a lesson who would oppose the Roman empire. They borrowed that from Persia.
The fact is the very essence of the cross reminds me of the vertical and horizontal, that God comes to us. We could never get to Him. He comes to us so we might know Him. His reach goes in both directions. It’s the old and the new coming together in Jesus. One anticipating, the other building off of, all pointing back to the centerpiece, the cross. The writer goes on to say in Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, are in light of this reality, since we’re all surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses, all these people who’ve gone before us by faith, showing us how to live a life of faith, who both inspire and root us on, let us, in light of their example, let us strip off, for those of us who would run this race of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down.” Racers. Paul’s racers in their day. Paul’s day had outer garments that could hinder or trip them up. Like we would do today with warmup suits. When an athlete is getting ready to run, they’ll warm up. When the time comes to enter into the competition itself, they’ll strip themselves down to their inner garments so they can move. That’s what Paul’s saying, “All this, every weight that slows us down. Especially the sin that so easily trips us up, entangles us, hinders us. Let us run with endurance, the race that God has set before us.”
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Champion. There it is, “The Champion who initiates and perfects our faith, who creates and keeps, initiates, and completes because of the joy of waiting for Him.” Paul says, “He endured the cross. He disregarded the shame.” That is, He showed us how it’s done. The focus, submission, committed love, and selflessness. Now He is seated in the place of honor, beside God’s throne. There’s so much here. We could take this in so many different directions. For me, what I’d like is to settle into the fact that there’s a reality here. Let us run with patience, the race that is set before us. All who would follow the Lord are part of a great race. It’s the great race of faith but within the race of faith. In a way, we’re all born into the day we open our hearts up to Him.
Also, all of us are called to run in a unique race. Each of us has a unique race to run, and our race is going to be different than someone else’s race. Every now and then, it’s good for us to remember that we have a race that is very unique to run. It’s been marked out for us. What is our assigned race? Have we thought about it? Have we thought about where we are in this race of faith that is in a sense the arc of our life with God? Are we committed to the race He’s asking us to run? Are we tired of running it? Every race has its unique weights and entanglements. We all have them. There are entanglements and unique things that need to be challenged. They weigh or are connected to our past. My past is different than yours. None of us have the same past. Some of us have experienced patterns of behavior, reactions that have become ingrained into us, that when the heat is on it is what we drop into. Some of it’s connected to what we saw modeled, and some of it isn’t. Some of it is stuff we’ve learned on our own, but this is the type of thing we’re talking about. There are things that are specifically tied together.
When you talk about sins, they’re specifically tied to our up upbringing, dispositions, and unique vulnerabilities. We all have them. Every now and then it’s good to think about what ours are, not get all depressed. My hindrance may not be your hindrance. Yours may not be mine. There might be an area where I struggle and you do fine. There might be an area where I’m okay with it. I do fine when it’s my walk with God, but for someone else, it’s a tough zone. I would say it’s one of the reasons why we need to be merciful to one another. Tender-hearted the Bible says because like every hero of faith, we all have flaws and unique struggles. Let’s not be dismayed. Let’s not be discouraged. My larger purpose here is to encourage us because I truly believe we can prevail in our race of faith. We can do more than just survive. We can flourish. We can grow. We can learn. We can become better racers. Part of it means we’re going to have to do a second thing. Which is to run our race with endurance and patience. In Greek, the word is hupomone. It means not passive resignation, but a tenacious resilience that is focused on something and pursues it. We’re called to run towards a goal that inspires us to contend.
In this same passage, we’re told, not only to run this race with patience but when the going gets tough shift the focus back onto Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate example, ultimate racer, ultimate champion, and the one who shows us how to get it done. What the heroes could only do in part and imperfectly, He did in whole. Jesus is the model. He’s the originator and sustainer of our faith. When it comes to this idea of heroic faith and running our race of faith, there are tendencies that we need to be aware of if we’re going to do this right. Most of the time, I like to do something in threes to get it because it’s easier to get a handle on it, which I’m not sure which one of these is going to most resonate. I know which one works for me. There are tendencies to be aware of when it comes to running this race of faith. Being able to do it for the long haul and prevail. Even if it’s just prevailing in this stretch of the race that we’re in. Here’s a tendency to be aware of. One is the tendency to become weighed down and tripped up by things we should not be carrying. Emotions, negative self-talk, attitudes, and habits that the weights and sin slow us down. Some things are clearly wrong. We call those sins. Some things are bad. Others are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, but they may be bad for us right now. Those are weights.
Those kinds of things need to be challenged because many times we run our race thinking, “Man, this is hard right now.” Part of it is because we’re carrying stuff. We’re running. We want to run. The want-to is there. But we’re almost a contradiction because part of me is saying, “I want to run with you, Lord. I want to run the race You’ve called me to run.” But then I have this stuff I’m carrying. I say, “But it’s hard.” The Lord says, “Why are you carrying that? I didn’t give that to you to carry.” Yeah, but I like carrying this stuff right now. That might hurt you. I think for this season you need to lay that down. But Lord, I don’t know if I want to do that. Do you want to run the race with me beside you? Yes. Do you want to let that go? No. Okay, what do you want to do? The result is going to mean that you’re going to need to loosen your grip. Let’s start there. Can you say, “I’m open?”
We’re making progress. Sometimes, like in the parable, The Prodigal Son, the issue has a lot to do with our attitudes. I love that parable. It’s my favorite parable. Of all the stories that Jesus told, I think it’s the heart of the Gospel. He came to seek and save and recover the lost. The son was lost. We call him prodigal. Prodigal means wasteful. You know that. He messed it all up. Squandered everything. It’s all the money his father gave him for his inheritance. The son asked for the father to give him his inheritance now with an I-know-better attitude. He takes it, cashes it in, and loses it all. He decides to go back home and ask if he can get hired. You know the story. He comes home and his father shocks him because it’s all about grace.
You’re my son. I love you. I thought you were dead. You’re alive. We’re going to have a celebration. I could just talk about the parable. But it’s the other brother who was lost in a different way, wasn’t he? They say to him, your brother who was dead, remember he lost it all, has returned. You stayed here and worked faithfully for your dad. He’s back. Aren’t you happy? He’s having a party for him. You have to come. I’m not coming. I’m not going in. I will not waste my time. We see the small heartedness, locked up resentment, and anger. The father comes out, “Son, you have to come in. Don’t do this. Your attitude’s wrong. I get it. But it’s wrong. You have to come in. Come on, you have to celebrate.” I love the way Rembrandt’s picture captures it. He’s just aloof watching, not willing to go in, hands locked up.
God, things locked us up. The Lord doesn’t want us locked up. Don’t carry that weight. Some of us need to mentally and emotionally declutter ourselves. We are too cluttered with stuff in there. The Lord wants us to lean some of that down. Are there attitudes or feelings that are weighing us down? The Lord is inviting us to lighten our load and run more lightly. Others might have habits that we’ve acquired that put us in a highly addictive era. We are in an amazing time of technology. It’s also a time of extraordinary addiction to things that people don’t want to be addicted to. Constant voices are calling out to us to neutralize. I was sharing this last night, the voices are like the siren death voices calling to us. Things that want to bring us back into places we can’t or shouldn’t go. It’s robbing us of our initiative and passion. We feel beaten down, hamstrung. It’s hard to run. We can kind of limp along.
I tell you, when we get in these places where we start hearing these things try to tear us down, we’re going to need to bring others in. Part of running the race when we’re feeling weighed down by our past and it’s starting to claw itself back into our lives, we can see and sense it, is bring others into. We have to bring others in. This is what I do. When I sense that I’m getting hurt in my ability to run, this is hurting me now, and my will is paralyzed a little bit, I say, “You’re in an endangered zone right now. You need to be careful.” I go internal and external. I start praying more specifically and journaling my thoughts. I start having conversations with trusted friends. I’ll bring in my account. I’ll up the ante on my accountability. I’m going to do whatever. If I have to, I’ll talk to someone who I trust. Whenever we’re in those places where we know we’re in jeopardy, or tempted to go back into places we should not go, that’s when you have to surround yourself with any angle of support.
I’m going to try. I’m open. There is no shame in wanting to get better ever. In fact, I remember when Jesus would ask people, well, at least one man in John 5. He said something to him, I’ve always thought, “Why are you asking him this?” There was this man who was very sick. A paralytic. Jesus said, “Do you want to be healed?” I thought, “Why would you ask him that?” But Jesus felt compelled. Do you want to be healed? I get the, yes. Many times, what we’re saying is, Do you want to be healed? Do you want to be? That’s a huge question. I understand a part of what I think He is getting at. Is this what you really want because it can be done.
Two, we tend to carry things we shouldn’t carry, but also to wander off course, lose our focus, and become distracted. We’re capable of being distracted by so many things. There’s no question about that. Distracted from running the race of faith that’s been marked out for us. The truth is, we can stop looking at the pacesetter. We need to look at the one who’s the author and finisher of our faith. I’m talking about the other voices that start calling to us. I’m running my race. You’re running your race of faith. Things are going well. All of a sudden someone’s calling over here and we are casual about it. The next thing you know, I’m running off, lost, and off course. I lost my focus. Sometimes, it’s a very innocent loss of focus I can pull back on. Other times, I’m in peril.
A voice starts to whisper, “What are you doing anyway? This Jesus thing isn’t real. Why are you bothering to run this? What are you?” All this stuff starts flying our way. Just pull off and enjoy. Forget it. You just quit running. You’re not good enough, you can’t make it, and you’re going to quit down the road anyway. Just quit now and enjoy it. Why bother? Why challenge it? Why push yourself? Why stay? You get this stuff that the Lord’s trying to say to us differently. He’s trying to talk to us differently. I’ve heard this voice sometimes. I try to run off course sometimes and I am just fooling around. I hear, “Son, come on. I’m with you. Stay on your race. Keep moving. Son, I’m with you. Steady, steady. Daughter, steady. Hold your line. Keep moving, come on. Steady, steady.”
In Hebrews 12:1-3, the first two verses are captured. It’s going to render it differently. The third one says, “Do you see what this means? All these pioneers who blazed the way. All these veterans cheering us on. It means we better get on with it. Strip down, start running, and never quit.” Then look at this phrase, “No extra spiritual fat.” The other one. “No parasitic sins.” What is that? It’s on me. It’s living off of me. It’s stuck on me. I’m running. I’ve got something, some parasite, living on me. “What is that? No parasitic sin. Keep your eyes on Jesus.” Look at this, “Who both began and finished the race we’re in with God. He could put up with anything along the way, the cross, shame, whatever. Now He’s there in the place of honor, right alongside God.” I love the way what follows in verse three is rendered, “When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility that he plowed through. It will shoot adrenaline into your soul.” How good is that? How many of us need a shot of adrenaline every now and then right into the soul? Oh man, I needed that. Oh, God.
Last, the tendency to not pace ourselves, to lose heart, and want to quit. I’m talking about that tendency to push too hard for too long. We’re talking about that proverbial, “this happens when you work out.” There’ll be a point when you hit a wall. Athletically, if you do it long enough, happens to runners a lot, you hit a wall. When we hit a wall, it’s because we’re pushing ourselves to the max for too long. Our body can’t keep it up. It’s an unsustainable pace for us. We can start to burn out and meltdown. That can happen in life too. We can be working for the King and stop working. We mess ourselves up because we’re not pacing properly. Pacing needs to be tailored to our uniqueness. Remember, even Jesus honored the Sabbath. Did He need to go to church? But He did. He honored the Sabbath. He had prayer time, church time, and community time. It was in the rhythm of His life. The most whole being the world has ever seen, had the rhythm we’re sharing in right now. It’s the place where God can help us many times. Remember, this is not a sprint. It’s Christian. He didn’t say, “Run the sprint of life.” He said it’s a long-haul run.
You know, over the years and now that I’m older, hopefully, I have a little race to run still. I started when I was 16 years old. I was a youth pastor and leader here. Since that time, I have been able to watch a lot of people. I felt like I was trying to get myself to follow Jesus. I was trying to get in. Over the years, I’ve tried to encourage everybody else to follow Jesus. How we can do this, strengthen you, strengthen one another? Over the years, running the faith race, I have watched some people. Now, I look back, I think, I watch people who got out of the gate so fast. They blew out of the gate. Their running style was gorgeous. The stride, talent, gifts, and growth, I watched that. I’ve been here long enough to see pastors come and go. I remember how I would look at them and watch them start to fall away, crumble, or grow so fast they didn’t have any roots. I think they grew disproportionate to their root system. There was a lack of character base to sustain them when they hit the wall. Which I suspect we will all do. We will all hit the spiritual and emotional wall once in a while. When we do, what’s going to happen to our faith? Do we quit? I’ve seen people who are so gifted, they get it so fast, and I marvel. There are others who got out of the race. It was like they were stumbling out of the gate, falling down.
I thought, “I don’t know if they’re going to make it.” I watched, marveling, after some ups and downs and struggles, they eventually found a faith pace, and they shocked me. The one I thought was the blazer fizzles, but the one who had to work through the struggle, found the way to trust God in their weakness, and began to develop roots because of that struggle. They started to grow and began to find a faith pace they could keep and run well. It’s the ability to sustain. Our struggles force us into grace. The key is to run our race, not to get overly discouraged when it gets hard. To keep our feet moving because we are supposed to keep falling forward. That’s all walking is anyway. Walk by faith, fall forward. Running. What is running? Just falling forward. That’s all it is. I’m moving forward with you, Lord. I’m moving forward with you, Lord. Which is the focus of our race. The great race, our race, the part of the race that we’re in right now in this season of our life. How does He want to start? Is it uphill? That’s hard. Is it downhill? That’s a different type of temptation. Is it flat ground? It can get boring. What’s our race? Remember win or lose, if we stick with Him, we win.
Let’s pray. Thank You Jesus for this opportunity. Exhort us to keep running our race. We talk about not carrying things that we shouldn’t be carrying or at least challenging those things a little bit to lean ourselves down. The emotional and spiritual clutter that creeps its way in with those attitudes. Talking about it, Lord, and letting some of that go. Keeping our focus in the right places. Some of it is stuff that we’re carrying and we need to let go of. For others, it has to do with our focus, which is misplaced. For others, it has to do with our pace. You’re trying to get our attention on certain things because You care about our long-haul growth, survival, and ability to implement blessings generationally. The real stuff is going to hit us. It does. That’s life. You can teach us how to prevail. I ask that You would do that. Win or lose. We win with You. I thank You for that. Your grace is efficient even in our weakness. I ask for Your blessing. Bless this closing song. It reminds us how we’re supposed to pursue life with You. Bless our time of giving, as many of us honor You in this Word. Let it reside deep in our hearts. This is what I ask, so we run our race well, by Your grace. Run the race in Jesus’ name. Amen.