Faith, Weight and Sin (Hebrews 12)

The following short passage has been coming up time and time again in my devotionals and podcast in the last few days. I sense that God is directing me to them, and so want to spend some time thinking about them today.

Therefore let’s also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider him who has endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, that you don’t grow weary, fainting in your souls.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (WEB)

Chapter 12 opens with the word “therefore,” and this connects it to the previous chapter. Hebrews 11 is definitely worth a read at this point if you have the time. It describes a number of the great heroes of faith, a sort of hall of fame if you like. These faithful individuals followed God and are an example to us. They were not always perfect of course, but are living testimonies to God’s kindness throughout the generations.

Hebrews 12 opens by pointing out that we are surrounded by such a great crowd of witnesses. Clearly, the author of Hebrews is pointing to the people just described in the previous chapter. As well as to the readers, we too are surrounded by their witness and can learn from the examples they set and the interactions they had with God.

Beyond that though, we are even now surrounded by witnesses to the faithfulness of Christ. Every time you set foot in church, there are those around you who are journeying through life with and for Jesus. Learn from them, let them encourage you, and do likewise for them in return.

When you are sat at work or school, surrounded by sin or the ways of the world, it can be easy to feel like the only Christian in the galaxy. Elijah once felt like the only prophet remaining, and it can feel lonely and isolated. You are not alone however!

Until the Lord returns, there will always be a church on this Earth. If you live in a place where you are able to freely worship the God of Heaven, then do so and enjoy the fellowship of other believers. Let them be a witness to you, and share your own faith journey with them to uplift and encourage.

Hebrews 12 goes on to instruct us to lay aside every weight which slows us down, and to remove the sin that easily entangles us. The verse will go on to tell us to run the race, so the idea of shedding anything that slows us down is important.

In running your Christian race, what weighs you down? Remember that it says to lay aside weight and also sin. So “weight” in this context is not necessarily anything sinful.

For example, I might love to play golf (or insert any sport or hobby of your choosing). If I become so obsessed with golf, playing it every Sunday, reading about it all week and spending all of my money on clubs and equipment, then it is likely that will weigh down my faith. Golf is not sinful, but when it becomes my top priority then it is a hinderance to my faith.

Do you have a golfing equivalent? Are there things in your life which weigh you down in your race for Christ?

And what about sin? Sin can so easily get tangled up in our lives, and in my mind, I imagine it as a rope or cord wrapping around us. When we try to run our race, we just trip and fall.

Do not take chances with sin. It is like playing with fire. If you know you are dabbling with a particular sin, stop it right now. Don’t even walk down the street where sin dwells! We must recognise its danger and flee from it with all our might.

If you know you are tempted in certain areas, then pray about it ahead of time and stay well clear. If you struggle with late night TV, then shut that thing off at 8.30 or make sure you’re never alone with it. If your thoughts are starting to wander towards an attractive person at work, keep well away from them where possible and do not let yourself be alone with them.

Sin is like an animal trap. If we get too close, it will spring shut and ensnare us. Please take sin seriously. I worry that the modern church does not always do this. We preach a great deal on God’s grace, and rightly so, but we must be fully aware of the danger of sin.

When I was at university, I recall sitting in a kitchen to an adjoining TV room. Something came on screen which was clearly sinful, and I remember one of the Christians leaping from their seat and running out of the room. They did not want any part in it, and good for them. Let us be equally quick to run from it.

I hope these few thoughts are helpful to you, and indeed convict you if changes need to be made. I have barely made it to the end of verse one today, so will likely pick up the remainder in subsequent posts.

If God is putting this passage in front of me for a reason, then I want to take it extremely seriously. Perhaps He is directing you to do the same?

We Are Connected

It was an absolute pleasure to write a guest post for Devotional Treasures yesterday. Alan Kearns is a wonderful writer, and his regular posts here on WordPress are extremely encouraging and uplifting – so do check them out!

It actually got me thinking a lot about WordPress in general and how I came to write here. I wanted to start a blog back in 2018, and not being especially in the know technologically speaking, I stumbled across WordPress. It was a name I had heard of, and so I signed up. My expectations were simply that it would give me a place to write from, and that it would be little more than a web provider.

I have to say that my expectations have been exceeded!

Beyond merely providing blogs and web sites, I never expected to find a thriving Christian community here. Yet it did not take long to find other Christian writers who I could not only read and follow myself, but who willingly read and followed me – regularly commenting and encouraging. Alan, as mentioned above, is just such an example.

Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:25 (ESV)

I’ve thought about this verse a fair bit over the course of the pandemic, and particularly at times when our churches could not meet together in person. Meeting face-to-face is clearly preferable, but thank God for the Internet that allows us to engage irrespective of distance, geography or viruses!

In some respects, I am challenged by this verse from Hebrews. It says that some are in the habit of not meeting, and I find myself convicted that of late, I’m not in the habit of engaging with my readers or other writers here on the blog. Life is extremely busy, and the habit of writing regularly has slipped. If I have even a small gift in this area, then surely it is my responsibility to use it for God’s glory.

This verse also exhorts us to encourage one another. Where so much of the Internet is negative and hostile, I can honestly say I’ve never had a comment on the blog of criticism or assault. That is not to say that others have not challenged me on some point of my writing, but I’m pleased to say they have done so with love and mercy.

The verse ends by pointing out we should do this – encouragement – more and more as we see the Day approaching. What “Day”? The Day of our Lord’s return. There is, of course, much debate about what that will actually be like and speculation about when it will be. Many point at the day’s events; increasing earthquakes, trouble in the Middle East, and the pandemic as all being signs that the “Day” draws near.

Whatever you believe about such things, and I do humbly suggest you seek the Scriptures for yourself to see what it says, one thing I can tell you for sure is this: we are closer to that Day now than we were yesterday, and if the Lord tarries, we’ll be even closer tomorrow. That Day is indeed approaching, so let each member of His Body support and uplift the rest.

For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all given to drink into one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I’m not the hand, I’m not part of the body,” it is not therefore not part of the body. 16 If the ear would say, “Because I’m not the eye, I’m not part of the body,” it’s not therefore not part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the smelling be? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body, just as he desired.

1 Corinthians 12:12-18 (WEB)

We are all part of Christ’s body. We need each other. We are connected. We are connected through the bond of the Spirit, and be it through WordPress or any other medium, we are joined together in love.

I write, in some small way, to strengthen the Body. What can you do this day?

The Early Church

We continue on with our study through the book of Acts, and today conclude chapter 2. There are only a few verses left in the chapter from where we left off, but there is a lot said.

They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer. 43 Fear came on every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 All who believed were together, and had all things in common. 45 They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. 46 Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47 (WEB)

This passage gives us a brief look into what the early church would have been like. Remember that this comes straight off of the back of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost where three thousand souls were added to the number of the followers of Christ. The “they” here is the new group of believers joining the disciples.

The Apostles’ Teaching

The first thing we learn is that this group of believers were dedicated to the teaching of the Apostles. We are not told specifically what was being taught, but based on Peter’s sermon and other teaching both in Acts and the rest of the New Testament, I think we can get a fairly good idea. The believers spent time learning what they needed to know. They were not satisfied with a short sermon on a Sunday morning, but rather were “steadfast” or continual in the teaching of the Word of God.

Do we “continue steadfastly” in the teaching of the Word, or do we dip in and out of it as we wish? What a challenge!

Fellowship and the Breaking of Bread

Fellowship means that this group of believers lived life together. They were united, and shared their days with each other. This is also seen in the breaking of bread, meaning they shared meals together also. We need other believers in our life. Life is difficult, and all the more so when you are a serious Christian in a hostile world. We need encouragement and support, and we get this from each other. A life lived alone is very difficult indeed. A life shared with other like-minded believers is not necessarily easier, but at least you can draw on the strength and help offered by the family of Christ.

While breaking bread of course means to eat meals together, in the culture of the Middle East it is more significant than that. To break bread with another means to be united with them. In the western culture, we might liken it to the shaking of hands. When we give someone our word, we tend to shake on it as a sign that we are serious. It implies a sort of contract between us. In the Middle East, the breaking of bread means something similar.

Prayer

Again we see here the believers united in prayer. As we read through Acts, we will see time and time again that the Early Church were constant in their prayers. These were nott prayers prayed alone and in private, but corporate prayer shared with others. Absolutely they would have spent much time in private prayer also, but they made it a priority to pray with other believers. We should do likewise.

All Who Believed

We see in verse 44 that all who believed were “together.” It says that they had “all things in common,” and this is a real challenge to us in the modern church. These verses paint a picture of almost complete unity among the believers. It is a unity we often only dream of in churches today.

Yet Jesus prayed for unity as recorded in John 17. He wanted and expected us to be in unity, to stand together and to hold one another up. I really feel, as i write this, that we are to take it seriously. How many churches have divided over silly issues; the colour of the curtains, the time of the services or other such trivial matters. Let each one of us do our part to protect and maintain the unity among us.

There are many references in these few short verses alone of their togetherness, unity, being of “one accord.” etc. Let each of us pray for that kind of oneness among our church family.

The passage tells us that they also sold their goods and possessions that they might share with each other. This kind of selflessness is unheard of these days. Many of us work very hard for what we have, and yet few of us are true givers. We might give some money to the church, but I’ve met very few who would sell what they have just so that they could share with the family of believers. Again, it is a real challenge for us. Tossing a few coins into the offering basket each week seems woefully inadequate next to the kind of selfless life lived by these believers.

The chapter ends with verse 47:

praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:47 (WEB)

As well as all the things we have mentioned above, this verse sums it all up with the words “praising God.” Everything they did revolved around their dedication to the worship of the Lord. He had saved them, in His great mercy, and they now lived their life in worship to Him.

It says that they had favour with all the people, which is a sign that they truly lived humbly and in loving-kindness. Only such a church family would attract such favour.

The chapter closes by telling us that everyday God was adding to their number. As churches, we may long for God to add to our number, and regularly pray that He would do so. It is a great responsibility however, to nurture new believers and we must make every effort – co-operating with the Holy Spirit – to be the kind of church where God can trust us with new believers. Let us not just preach the Gospel, but let us live it out each and every day. As we do so, it will be a witness to the world.

I pray that God will indeed add to the family of believers each day, and that the church globally will look like the early church described above. Amen!

How do you do church?

Today I was all set to write more on the Ten Commandments – yet I felt it was necessary to highlight the importance of church. It is Sunday after all!

We have all been forced to reassess how we do church since the outbreak of COVID-19. In the UK, the Church of England very quickly closed its buildings and many other major and minor denominations followed suit. Aside from this, government guidelines prohibited any large groups meeting together and so, church as we knew it was no longer possible.

Many have turned to live streaming and platforms like YouTube to record content and share it with their congregation. Has your church done something similar? Other churches have struggled to acclimatise to the newer technologies. They may only be able to record audio and others only able to use social media like Facebook to reach its people. Either way, it is a huge ministry challenge. It presents a number of opportunities also though.

For us as church members, we have something of a responsibility here. If you have skills which can help, then it is a great time to start sharing them. For example, you may have experience running social media pages or even with audio/visual techniques. Many ministers are not up on the latest technologies so may appreciate your help in putting online services together.

Even if you have no such skills, then you still have a responsibility as a member of the church. It takes a lot of time to prepare services, and even more so when recording them and having to edit and stitch them together. The least we can do is to sit down and watch them!

If your family is like mine, and consists of some younger members, then you may find it difficult to gather around the TV on a Sunday morning. We may think it easier than getting everyone up and dressed and settled into a pew by 10am, and in some ways it is. But on the other hand, keeping children interested in a live stream service for any length of time has its own challenges. In my experience, they find it all too easy to wander off or get distracted by nearby toys.

One risk of online church is that members no longer see the need to actually meet together. If your church offers an online option, then it can become a temptation to just watch from home or catch up at a later, more convenient time. I am referring to times when we are not all locked down! One church I read about somehow managed to put a geographical limit on their live streaming. If you lived within three miles of the church building, then you could not access the live stream. The implication is that if you are close enough, then there really is no excuse for not actually going to church. I hope they put in some kind of access points for those not physically able to go along.

That’s a risk for all of us to bear in mind. Hopefully the lockdown will soon end and our church buildings will be open for ministry once again. When that happens, I pray there is not a diminished congregation for those choosing to stay away and access content online.

Many committed members are not even considering this. For them, the idea of coming back to church is an exciting one. These members miss one another and cannot wait until they can fellowship in person once again.

Something which is both a risk and an opportunity is the fact that while at home, we are not restricted to any one single church. If many churches are now live streaming, then anyone can flip the channel as it were and tune in to another church’s service.

Perhaps you are someone who doesn’t normally attend church. This time offers you a great opportunity to see what church is about without actually setting foot in the door. We should not underestimate how difficult it can be for some to walk into a church for the first time. It can be very intimidating. At least YouTube or your platform of choice offers a window into the church world. We, as churches, need to be aware of this and consider how we can reach out to those “just looking.”

Whether now or normally, there is no one way to “do” church. There are many ways of expressing worship and meeting as a church family.

There are two important things to remember however:

  1. We must never dilute the message of the Gospel, no matter our style of church
  2. We must make sure that our expression of church really is church.

Taking each in turn, firstly we must not water down the message of Christ. There are different packages but the gift inside must never change. The Gospel is very clear, and we must not fail in presenting it. If our preferred flavour of church does not include the message about Jesus, then it is not really church at all.

The second point is not all that dissimilar to the first really. In fact, it may be the same point restated.

Many churches have experimented with cafe church, messy church or what some call bridging events designed to encourage those outside of the church to move toward the church.

There is nothing wrong with any of these models in and of themselves, but equally we must make sure these events are drawing people closer to Christ. If an event does not point us to Jesus, does not teach us more about God’s Word or does not lead us to worship together, then we have to ask what its purpose is.

So, how will you do church today? I hope this time of Coronavirus lockdown reminds us all how important church is, and encourages us all to want to flock back to fellowship as soon as we can.