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Getting Out of Our Own Way

The just will live by faithEugene Peterson, in his introduction to the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament in The Message Bible, writes: “It seems odd to have to say so, but too much religion is a bad thing. We can’t get too much of God, can’t get too much faith and obedience, can’t get too much love and worship. But religion–the well-intentioned efforts we make to ‘get it all together for God’ –can very well get in the way of what God is doing for us. The main and central action is everywhere and always what God had done, is doing, and will do for us. Jesus is the revelation of that action. Our main and central task is to live in responsive obedience to God’s action revealed in Jesus. Our part in the action is the act of faith.

“But more often than not we become impatiently self-important along the way and decide to improve matters with our two cents’ worth. We add on, we supplement, we embellish. But instead of improving on the purity and simplicity of Jesus, we dilute the purity, clutter the simplicity. We become fussily religious, or anxiously religious. We get in the way.

“That’s when it’s time to read and pray our way through the letter to the Hebrews again, written for “too religious” Christians, for “Jesus and” Christians. In the letter, it is Jesus-and-angels, or Jesus-and-Moses, or Jesus-and-priesthood. In our time it is more likely to be Jesus-and-politics, or Jesus-and-education, or Jesus-and-Buddha. This letter deletes the hyphens, the add-ons. The focus because clear and sharp again: God’s action in Jesus. And we are free once more for the act of faith, the one  human action in which we don’t get in the way but on the Way.”

You can read the entire thirteen chapters in Hebrews in either the NIV 1984, NASB, NKJV or MSG by clicking here. The first several chapters tell us exactly who Jesus is and that He is the Centerpiece of everything we believe. If you have any doubts about Him, read the book of Hebrews to clear up any misconceptions you may have regarding Him.

For this post, I want to focus on the last two chapters, Chapters 12 and 13, and will be quoting directly from NIV 1984 version of the Bible. The chapter preceding these two chapters, Chapter 11, is known as the “Great Hall of Faith” chapter of the entire Bible. It starts out with these words:

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 1:1-3).

Then it goes on to list the numerous folks from the past who lived by faith:

“By faith Abel . . .” (v. 4)
“By faith Enoch  . . .” (v. 5) with the addition in v. 6 of the following “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
“By faith Noah . . .”
(v. 7)
“By faith Abraham . . .” (v. 8-12)

An important statement is made in vv. 13-16 that I don’t want you to miss: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

The list continues with:

“By faith Abraham . . . “ (a continuation from vv. 8-12 in vv. 17-19)
“By faith Isaac . . .” (v. 20)
“By faith Jacob . . .” (v. 21)
“By faith Joseph . . .” (v. 22)
“By faith Moses’ parents . . .” (v. 23)
“By faith Moses . . .” (v. 24-28)
“By faith the people passed through the Red Sea . . .” (v. 29)
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell . . .” (v. 30)
“By faith the prostitute Rahab . . .” (v. 31)
And numerous others are mentioned in vv. 32-38, ending in v. 38 with the statement that “the world was not worthy of them . . . .”

The last two verses in Hebrews 11 (v. 39-40) state: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us [Jesus] so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

Understanding the background of Chapter 11 clears the way for the last two chapters in Hebrews, Chapters 12 and 13. These chapters are not often spoken of in sermons today, yet the truth of them rings out loud and clear. Let’s read them (from NIV 1984):

God Disciplines His Sons (Chapter 12)

12: 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, the author and perfecter of our faith, 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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 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,
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! 10 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. 11 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.

12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

Warning Against Refusing God

14 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm;19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly,23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Concluding Exhortations (Chapter 13)

13 Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?”

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. 10 We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

11 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. 19 I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.

20 May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

22 Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.

23 [Ending remarks of his letter] I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you. 24 Greet all your leaders and all God’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.

25 Grace be with you all.

As I mentioned in my last post, Running to Win the Prize,” discipleship (to include discipline) is not often spoken of in our churches today. I also cited an article titled, What Happened to Discipleship?” in The Christian Post which states, “There is a growing body of research demonstrating that there is a significant disconnect between professing faith in Jesus Christ and actually following Jesus.” The article continues, “The ‘modern’ idea of church . . . is that the church exists as a venue to ‘attract’ the lost through dynamic programs, performances and events–the more dynamic the better. . . . The problem with emphasizing this approach exclusively is that a disproportionate amount of the church’s time and resources go into these efforts at the expense of discipleship and training the already saved. The result is the proverbial church that ‘is a mile wide and inch deep.’ Yes, the local church may grow in numbers but rarely in spiritual maturity and the witness of the Church is often rendered lackluster” [Emphasis mine].

“A mile wide and and inch deep . . . .” The Christian life is not about “getting saved” and then just coasting along for the ride. Not at all . . . . And the Book of Hebrews cures that erroneous assumption if only we will heed what it says.

So the question is, will we heed what it says?

If only . . . .

Keep your lives free from the love of money
and be content with what you have
because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?”
~Hebrews 13:5-6


Jesus Christ is the same
~Hebrews 13:8

YouTube Video: “By Faith” (2009) by Keith and Kristyn Getty:

Photo credit here


That Dreaded “D” Word defines “discipline” as “training to act in accordance with rules; activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill.” It’s opposite, “undisciplined,” is defined as “not exhibiting self-control or good behavior; untrained.” Where do you see yourself on the “disciplined–undisciplined” continuum?

Discipline is not a subject we hear very often (if ever) from many pulpits in America today, yet it is required as an active part of every Christian’s life. Accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is not just about receiving His blessings and having a “good” life (however we define “good”) in the here and now. No, we have entered a war zone. Heaven comes later . . . .

We’ve been peddled a “soft” Christianity for several decades now, but in years past, the theme of many hymns including this 19th century hymn, Onward Christian Soldier,” was one of entering a battlefieldwar–and we were “soldiers” in it. The chorus for this 19th century hymn goes like this, “Onward Christian soldier, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.” Christians of the past knew they were in a war; Christians today have been lulled to sleep by the excesses of a culture that whispers ever so sweetly, “anything goes . . . if it feels good, do it.” And it’s killing us so softly that we hardly even notice . . . until it’s too late.

In a chapter titled, “Slaughterhouse Drive,” in an excellent book by Dr. Russell Moore titled, Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ,” (Crossway, 2011), he describes a system that was created by a scientist to kill cows with kindness. Due to the fact that “high stress levels in animals can release hormones that could downgrade the quality of the meat,” this scientist learned through years of research “how to register which stimuli produce which animal sounds and how to track what scares or distresses livestock” (p. 25). And, as you can imagine, the beef industry was willing to pay for this information.

Turns out the scientist’s secret insight was that novelty distresses cows. A slaughterhouse was designed with this in mind to keep the cows calm and instructions were given on how the cows should be treated. The next three paragraphs are from the book on page 26:

“Workers shouldn’t yell at the cows, she said, and they should never ever use cattle prods, because they are counterproductive and unneeded. If you just keep the cows contented and comfortable, they’ll go wherever they’re led. Don’t surprise them, don’t unnerve them and above all, don’t hurt them (well, at least until you slit their throats in the end).

“Along the way, this scientist devised a new technology that has revolutionized the ways of the big slaughter operations. In this system the cows aren’t prodded off the truck but are led, in silence, onto a ramp. They go through a ‘squeeze chute,’ a gentle pressure device that mimics a mother’s nuzzling touch. The cattle continue down the ramp onto a smoothly curving path. There are no sudden turns. The cows experience the sensation of going home, the same kind of way they’ve traveled so many times before.

“As they mosey along the path, they don’t even notice when their hooves are no longer touching the ground. A conveyor belt slowly lifts them gently upward, and then, in the twinkling of an eye, a blunt instrument levels a surgical strike right between their eyes. They’re transitioned from livestock to meat, and they’re never aware enough to be alarmed by any of it. The pioneer of this technology commends it to the slaughterhouses and affectionately gives it a nickname. She calls it ‘the stairway to heaven.'”

Now I don’t know about you, but as I read that description it sent chills up my spine. That’s exactly how succumbing to all of the excesses in our society–the lure of money, materialism, greed, gossip, gluttony, power, illicit sexual encounters (yep, that includes porn, folks), and the list goes on–and allowing those excesses to invade our lives without giving any thought as to what it is doing to us will destroy us in the end . . . and we won’t even know it until it’s way too late.

That slaughterhouse description gives new meaning to “wake up and smell the coffee,” folks! It sure had that affect on me.

Dr. Charles Swindoll wrote a devotion that targets one of the areas of excess in our society today (one I definitely relate to) and I want to share it with you:

That Dreaded “D” Word

I Corinthians 6:12-20

Okay folks . . . it’s that time again. I’m down to two suits, one sports coat, and only a couple of pants that I can squeeze into. No more excuses. I’m tired of good intentions, secret promises to myself, groans and grunts as I roll out of bed in the morning, and especially those well-meaning comments from first-time visitors at our church: “You look . . . uh . . . different than I expected.” I suppose that’s better than “You look . . . uh . . . fat.”

Funny thing about being overweight . . . it’s impossible to hide it. So the alternatives are (a) ignore it and lie to yourself by saying nobody notices, (b) make jokes about it, (c) try to solve the problem overnight–which is tempting but dumb, or (d) face the music and get underway with a long-range plan that works.

For me, it’s an intelligent diet (ugh!) mixed with a program of regular exercise and a do-or-die mind-set that is determined to see it through, followed by a from-now-on game plan that is realistic, workable, and consistent.

Personally, I don’t need a shrink to shrink. But what I do need is discipline with a big D. (It might also help me a lot to think of rewards other than a strawberry sundae). You know what I’m getting at, don’t you? If I intend to avoid great widths, I need to go to great lengths to make that happen. And if you are put together somewhat like I am, you do too.

So why am I telling you all this? It would be much easier and certainly less embarrassing for me to say nothing, eat little, exercise in obscurity, and start to shrink. I did that once before and it worked. Problem was, when I got down to my desired weight, a rumor spread that I had cancer. Cynthia even got a sympathy card or two. So . . . none of that.

I’m mentioning it because I need to be accountable and we need to be reminded of the importance of our physical appearance. While there is an overemphasis on this in the secular world, for some strange reason, we Christians tend to underestimate its importance. Yet our bodies are indeed the “temple of the Holy Spirit” and we are to “glorify God” in those bodies (I Cor. 6:19-20).

So, let’s get serious about something we’ve ignored or excused or joked about long enough. As for me, I’ve got about forty pounds to go. How about you?

Have you looked in the mirror lately?
Could the Spirit’s temple stand a little attention
to get it back where it ought to be?

Source: Day by Day by Dr. Charles Swindoll, p. 214
Word Publishing, Thomas Nelson, 2000

In the past year I’ve done some serious soul-searching regarding how I’ve treated this body of mine over the years; and since that time I’ve lost 45 lbs and worked my way up to exercising five to seven days a week for 55 minutes each day using a Leslie Sansone 4-mile walk exercise DVD (started at one mile last December and worked my way up to all four miles by the end of February). However, since around March of this year, the weight loss has halted (in other words, I decided to coast along at that point), yet I still want to lose another 50 lbs. I also cut out using all artificial sweeteners this past summer and I spend a lot more time in the grocery store now reading labels and checking for “high fructose corn syrup.” (Anathema!) And, I must tell you I haven’t felt this great physically and emotionally (eating junk and too much sugar affects a person’s emotions, too) in years and years . . . maybe never . . . and I’m 60 years old, folks!!!

Well, after reading the slaughterhouse story in Dr. Moore’s book and then Dr. Swindoll’s devotion, I’ve decided it is definitely time to get serious again about getting the last 50 lbs off. Starting now!

So what parasitic sins are you in need of getting rid of? First off, pray and seek God’s help, and don’t make excuses with Him or with yourself.

And do it now . . .

You don’t want to end up like those cows . . . 

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
    and nourishment to your bones.
~Prov. 3:7-8

YouTube Video: “My Help” by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir (from CD-“High and Lifted Up,” 1999):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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