Stripping Off Every Weight

The first couple of verses of Hebrews chapter 12 give this instruction:

Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.

The New Living Translation actually says: “let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.”

Having been a casual cyclist for several years, I have definitely become familiar with the idea of diminishing weight in order to gain efficiency. For a serious cyclist, unnecessary parts such as kickstands or baskets are immediately out of the question because of the weight that they add to the bicycle. Most will also immediately remove reflectors from a new bike if it comes with them. Some cyclists have even been known to peel the stickers off of their bikes in order to trim every last unnecessary gram.

The quest for efficiency does not end there. Road bikers where skintight clothing, and often shave their legs. They use extremely skinny tires with extremely high air pressure in them.

The women’s track pursuit bike for the Olympics this year has the drivetrain on the left side of the bike, instead of the traditional location on the right. This is to reduce wind resistance since the bike will only be making left turns. I could go on, but you get the picture.

If humans are capable of such intense attention to detail in athletics, are we not also capable of seeking that kind of perfection in spiritual things? Have you removed as many unnecessary encumbrances as you can from your spiritual life?

Susanna Wesley once wrote these words to her son: “Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.”

Her definition of sin is thought provoking because it reminds us that spiritual encumbrances may not always appear to be obviously wicked, but they may effect us negatively nonetheless.

What television shows could we give up, or what habits of thinking could we alter, or what quiet whisper of the conscience could we listen to more earnestly, in order that we might run with endurance the race set before us?

As any professional athlete can tell you, even the smallest changes could make a big difference.

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The Paradox of Personal Fulfillment

What did Jesus mean when He told his followers “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:24)?

There is a sense in which our lives cannot be fully ours until we give them away; a sense in which the world and all of its treasures cannot be rightly enjoyed by us until we place Christ, and no one and nothing else, on the throne in our hearts.

For the one who will indeed place Christ in the highest place, suddenly: “all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). What a peaceful place to be.

Why is that? Why can we not successfully take some aspect of this life, perhaps luxury cars, human sexuality, travel, or sports, and find within it the fulfillment of our deepest needs? Why must we give everything up before we can rightly enjoy any of it?

A.W. Tozer gives us a hint in his work, The Pursuit of God:
“Our woes began when God was forced out of His central shrine and ‘things’ were allowed to enter. Within the human heart ‘things’ have taken over. Men have now by nature no peace within their hearts, for God is crowned there no longer, but there in the moral dusk stubborn and aggressive usurpers fight among themselves for first place on the throne.”

James says it clearly in the scriptures: “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” (James 4:1)

All gods but the Living God prove inadequate, and when they do, we find ourselves in trouble.

Perhaps we place the burden of our fulfillment on a spouse or a friend, and when they fail us we find ourselves angry at them for not coming through for us.

Perhaps we place that burden on our career, and we sink into self-pity when we lose our job.

Perhaps we place the burden on the excitement of sexual encounters or mood altering substances, and we find ourselves enslaved but never truly filled.

The bottom line is that no created thing can be properly enjoyed or appreciated when it is being overburdened with expectations that only God can fulfill. And when it breaks, we hurt.

Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16)

There is no life as beautiful and fulfilling as the one that lays everything at Christ’s feet. With Him at the center of our universe, all of the little planets that we call “people,” “places,” and “things” fall into place in their orbits around Him.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

When the heart belongs to anyone or anything less than God, it is continually disappointed, hurt, angered, and enslaved. When it belongs to Christ, and only then, “all things belong to you.

Upside Down House

“Be Saved from this Perverse Generation”

Times Square
On the day of Pentecost, when the Lord’s church was established, Peter preached a sermon that was followed by 3,000 baptisms.  The Bible tells us that after encouraging the crow to repent and be baptized, “with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’

Apparently we aren’t the only generation in the past 2,000 years or so to get a few things wrong.  As the early church was set apart from the wickedness of popular culture in the Roman Empire, are we setting ourselves apart from that which is amiss in the 21st century?

Ours is a culture of intense individualism.  Each person chooses their own path, rises or falls by their own merits, and considers the needs of others as secondary.  What about you?  Do you look out not merely for your own interests, but also for the interests of others (Philppians 2:4)? Are you helping to build a loving community in Christ?  Are you making sure others are not falling through the cracks?

Ours is a culture that misuses technology.  The power of modern technology for good or for evil is immense.  It has been suggested that man is no more wicked than ever before, though he continues to invent more sophisticated means to his wicked ends.  How will you, the Christian, use the convenience, privacy, mobility, anonymity, availability, and scope of content and features provided by technology?

Ours is a culture crazy for entertainment.  Sports, television, film, and video games are all multibillion dollar industries, with film bringing in over a half a trillion dollars a year.  What does your spending reveal about your priorities?  What about the use of your time?  How many times have we spent a couple of hours watching TV or browsing the internet, only to realize that we are exhausted and go to bed without so much as 15 minutes for the Creator?

Will you be saved from this perverse generation?  Can a Christian be faithful in such a wealthy, self-centered society?  With man, it is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).”