Our sermon series calls us to ever deepening levels of child-like faithfulness. The Christian life really ought to come with a disclaimer. Because if you are a believer, you need to know that discipline is coming. Facts are that every believer is subject to the discipline of Almighty God. Our video today is War Room. The scene is entitled “Lukewarm Coffee.” The scene opens with a dialogue about prayer, and the main character is about to be disciplined. We can only imagine what it might be like for ourselves if a stranger called us out on our prayer life. Let’s dig deeper into the text.
Hebrews 12.4-8 ::: Oops! Discipline and Sonship
Across the pages of our Judeo-Christian history, the stories reflect the repetitive nature of the human condition called sin. Dr. Eugene Lowry wrote a book entitled the Homiletical Plot where he lays out the plot of every good bible story is in four parts: the oops! the ug! the aha! and the whee! This outline works really well for us in this text. The text is laid out in four parts: the sin, the divine discipline, the possibility of God’s rejection, and the healthy response to fear God.
The text begins like a boxing match. The author is using language that reflects the Greek style boxing in those days where metal spikes were placed in the boxers gloves to draw blood. The author as moved from marathon racing to boxing. It was commonplace for boxers to be killer in the fight, and at the least be seriously injured (Black’s New Testament Commentary on The Epistle to the Hebrews, 217-18).
The illustration is that of a father training his son for adult life instilling in his son persistent determination or what we might call “grit.” The father begins with a gentle word of encouragement: do not disregard the Lord’s discipline nor loose heart. Then he jumps right into the threat of forceful compliance: a “whipping” coming. The author understood the stern reality of corporal punishment inspired a healthy fear of those in authority. Ultimately, there have to be some consequences to actions that are wrong. When we talk about consequences to our actions, it gets ugly in our lives!
Job is a great example of ugly! When circumstances bring about deep suffering, we want answers that God often times has no intension of divulging to us. God invites us to sit in our state of ugly until we grow into maturity. This is when the earthquake gains its greatest momentum.
In the beginning faith is small. When it all begins, you really don’t know that you need faith. You are self-secured, able to do it all by yourself. In fact the problem that comes up seems like a molehill. Little did you know that that molehill was really a mountain.
Hebrews 12.9-13 ::: Ugly! Divine Discipline
The ugly can go on for a long time! We can sink so low that our pit becomes our new home. Beth Moore has a fantastic illustration from her book Get Out of that Pit. Imagine with me that you have stumbled upon something in your life that really is difficult situation to manage. There are many emotional issues and details. You begin making decisions but avoid addressing the root cause of the issues. Your molehill has just become your sinkhole, and you continue to fall deeper into the pit. You can’t get out so you bring in your recliner and start wallpapering the place. Add in your favorite beverage dispenser and now you’re all setup… for failure. You may even think that if you pretend the situation isn’t happening, it will just go away.
This is when you really want to complain and gossip. It’s during this season of the Lord’s discipline that life gets on your last nerve. If you remember, the Hebrews wanted to go back to Egypt! The texts clearly instructs us that if we do not experience discipline from God, then we are not truly his children. God disciplines his children. In our culture we think it is wise to shelter our children from consequential discipline, healthy disappointments, and holy discrimination between right and wrong, but in God’s economy those tools are used to mold our character and make us holy.
This is when it gets really ugly… because we can refuse to acknowledge that something is wrong with – who me? We find ourselves in a deep pit. Asking ourselves the rhetorical questions: Who’s in trouble? Is it the guy who wants to help get you out of the pit, or the situation that got you in the pit? If someone came to pull you out of the pit, and your entertained with a football game or a great movie, would you even acknowledge that you have a problem?
Small faith grows only incrementally through the uglies. Its only when you figure out that the oops! has become an ugly that you realize you are lacking adequate ability to cope with the situation. When we look at verses 12-13 we can understand that our response to adversity can pull us together as the people of God, or dismantle our faith. This passage is addressed to the entire congregation, not to individuals.
The author uses a medical term meaning dislocation of a joint that needs to be cured, not just relocated. The author indicates that if the whole church pulls together and aims for God’s plan, then those who are falling under the strain divine discipline will be brought upright – standing on their feet. That is the Scriptural promise!
Hebrews 12.14-17 ::: Aha! Possibility of Rejection
The aha! is the moment in time where the world is turned right toward God. It’s the moment when we recognize the sinful patterns of spiritual pride as a stumbling block with all our selfish preoccupations, worldly pressures, and misguided priorities. This is the point in time when our soul cries out hoping for a new pathway to peace. This is the moment in time where we find ourselves waiting upon God. We rest awhile and wait to hear God’s voice (Prov. 14.11-12). We no longer rely on our own planning, devising, and controlling of the circumstances. We wait. We hold the course. We wait until God speaks. Then we listen carefully to what God is about to say to us, and we follow his plan. His plan not ours is the way forward. We might even call it a “Eureka, I’ve found it!” moment.
The text refers to two aspects of Christian character that are required of us: peaceful fellowship with others and holiness in our relationship with God. These characteristics are two fold and must be achieved simultaneously. We are required to fulfill the command of Jesus to love God and neighbor. It’s just that simple. Holiness is defined as purity of heart, set apart for God. God is after our hearts! Three dangers are eminent. The first danger is failing to respond to God’s invitation or what we might call falling away. It’s important to humble our self and respond quickly to God’s correction. The second danger is the possibility of bitterness that spreads to others. It is critical not to spread our gossip to others, and cause others to fall from grace. If you are spreading opinions that embitter others, this text teaches us that the spreading of opinions causes trouble for the whole congregation. The third danger is failing to recognize God’s plan in our midst – and rejecting God himself.
Black’s New Testament Commentary on The Epistle to the Hebrews puts it this way: The first danger leads to personal spiritual failure, the second leads to spiritual corruption of a whole community, and the third leads to outright refusal to listen to God himself thus leading the whole community astray. Esau is the character illustration that teaches us that even tears could not recover what was lost in those moments of irrational decision-making.
The only way we come to the place of finding God’s will for our lives is if we are willing to face the possibility of rejection from God. There are two pathways ahead of us one will lead us to God and the other will lead us away from God’s plan. We must come to the place in our hearts and minds where we understand the possibility of rejection is real. God does have a preference as to how we live our lives.
This is where faith begins to take root! Do you believe that God can turn things around? Yes! Of course, we all do. But God never takes us back to the way things used to be instead his plan is better… his thoughts are higher. We have to learn how to survive in the days of reshaping moments. We all want revival in our churches, and the opportunity to grow, but do we want the reshaping that comes with the revitalization process. Revival is about crying and weeping at the altar in repentance for the things that God is asking us to change. In these moments of reshaping we must come to the place of saying yes to the obedience of God.
Hebrews 12.18-29 ::: Whee! Fear God, not people
We are called to draw near to the holy mountain of God’s presence, his holy invisible voice of the Almighty. God in his holiness requires that we come to him just as we are and find ourselves purified by the sound of his voice calling us forward into a future yet to be mapped out for us. Let us remember the Heartland District vision text which says, “…if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray (oops!), and seek my face (ug!), and turn from their wicked ways (aha!), then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (whee!)” (2 Chronicles 7.14). That moment has arrived for each of us. Are we ready to say, “Yes, Lord!”
Hitch your wagon to a star! Set high standards for yourself. Don’t settle for living in the pit. Find your, “Yes, Lord!”