Discipline: Get Stronger

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

Hopefully, one big idea has jumped out to you from Hebrews 12 this week: Following Jesus is hard work. We’re in a tough race following the path of Jesus, the same path that lead him to the cross and to the resurrection after it. To run, to take each next step of belief and obedience and praise, involves trusting God. Our Father is so convinced that this is the best possible path for our lives – and he loves us so much – that he’ll use pain in our lives to get us back on track when we slow down and wander off in a worthless direction.

trail_350Instead of fighting it, verse 12 says, “Hit the gym. Get stronger. Build up those arms; work out those legs. The path gets steeper from here; you need more power.” Verse 13 says, “And don’t just be stronger, play smarter. Pick your steps on the path wisely; keep your head in the game.”

Are you in this thing to win? Or are you like I was with JV basketball – happy to be on the team and sit on the bench, but not all that interested in getting good enough to play a whole bunch? Your Father won’t let you stay on the sidelines for long. Suit up. Focus. And let’s start running after Jesus together.

Think: On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate your commitment to the race of following Jesus by trusting God with your whole life every day?

Pray: Ask God to help you not be satisfied with sitting on the sidelines and just getting by in your relationship with him. Ask him to make you hungry to compete in this race at the highest level.

Do: Pick an area of your life that you can make stronger for the race – relationships, study of the Word, prayer – then figure out a way to do something about it.

Discipline: The Harvest

“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.” (Hebrews 12:11)

The idea of God’s discipline as evidence of God’s love for me made a lot more sense after I had a son of my own. Before that, the concept that God would include on his job description keeping tabs of how closely I was following Jesus—and that he would go to the trouble to discipline me when I’m not—seemed a little beneath him. He’s the God of the universe. He’s got a lot going on. Why waste time on my little sins when people are starving and dying? Is God just a control freak?

trail_350I get it better now that he’s not. If my son disobeys me in a “little” thing, I’d much rather just ignore it. I’ve got lots to do. I’d rather spend our time together laughing and having fun. Why make an ugly scene? It’s harder for me to discipline him than to let it go. But I know that if he does not learn to obey my authority, he’ll be even less likely to obey God. I know that his life will be harder—less peaceful—if he doesn’t learn to discipline himself. So even though it doesn’t “seem pleasant at the time” to either of us, I usually do what I’d rather not and discipline him. It’s an act of love, even when I hate it.

It should be a huge and humbling idea that the God of the universe—with 7 billion people on the planet who need him—loves me enough to take the time to discipline me when I begin to sabotage my life by wandering away again. He must really care that I find that “harvest of righteousness and peace.” What a good Father.

Think: What does—or what would—a harvest of righteousness and peace look like in your life?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be grateful for his attention and discipline.

Do: If your parents made an effort to discipline you well in your life—even if you didn’t always agree with their decisions—make a point to thank them this week and/or to thank God for their discipline.

Discipline: Endure

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” (Hebrews 12:7)

Way too many of us Christians have kind of blocked this part of Hebrews 12 out of our Bibles. Every once in a while we read it by accident and think, “God uses hardship to discipline His children? Hmm. I don’t like that idea. Wonder what’s in Hebrews 13?”

trail_350The ideas we like are a) all of a believer’s sins are forgiven because of Jesus’ death on the cross (true!); b) we are no longer “objects of wrath;” we will not be punished/condemned for our sin (true!); and nothing can steal us away from God our Father (true!). But would a God who loved us enough to sacrifice his only “birth son” to bring us into his family not also love us enough to discipline us (note: not “punish”) when we start living in worthless, destructive direction?

This passage says that’s exactly what he does. He cares about us way too much to just let us do our own rebellious thing for very long. He uses the hardship in our lives to give us the chance to come running back to him, to trust him again, to believe again that our Father loves us enough to show us the best path for our lives.

Think: Have you ever gone through a hard time and wondered if God might have been using it to help get you moving in a right direction again? How did you respond to that idea?

Pray: Thank God that he loves you enough to discipline you.

Do: Ask a wise and caring dad (not your own) how and why he disciplines his kids and how he feels about it.

Discipline: Serious Sin

“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:4)

We may not admit it out loud, but I think most of us carry around with us a kind of rating scale for sin. We all know the big ones: rape, murder, adultery, etc. But our list of “little” ones are very different: lying to parents, impure thoughts, envy, gossip, arrogance. Meh. Everybody does them. Not a big deal. We’re all forgiven, right?

trail_350It’s tough to carry that attitude toward sin (even little ones) too far into Hebrews 12. Today’s verse should grab us by the shirt and shake us up a little. It’s possible the writer is referring to a resistance against “sinful men” or persecution, but it starts a passage about how seriously God takes sin in the lives of Christians.

One thing it tells me is that I should be struggling against my sin. I don’t know how often we do that. The point isn’t that we should be perfectly sinless already. The point is that we should be in the fight. We should expect it to be a fight. We should expect the “want” to sin to fight back every time we stand up and say, “No, I’m going the other way.”

Then this crazy idea: Whether facing persecution or facing down my own sinful desires, the fight is against sin and it can get bloody. Pain and blood always raise the stakes of a fight. Are we just in the fight against our own sin until it gets inconvenient – or even when it gets deeply painful?

Think: What’s the furthest you’ve ever gone in standing up against your own desire to sin?

Pray: Ask God to help you come up with braver and bolder strategies for saying no to sin.

Do: Pick a sin or two you struggle with, and write down a new battle plan for winning your next encounter with that sin.

Discipline: Eyes on the Road

“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.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Driver’s Ed can be scary. You ride around for hours in the back seat finding out all of your classmates’ driving flaws. I remember seeing a friend of mine notice something on the side of the road. As his head turned to look at it, he began to turn the wheel in that direction, too. If the instructor hadn’t snapped him out of it, we’d have driven right off the road and straight into what he was focused on.

trail_350Faith racers are kind of like new drivers. We run toward what we’re looking at. So this passage says, “Hey, keep your eyes on the road; look at Jesus!” After all, we’re running his trail. We’re following him. Sometimes, I forget that. I think I’m supposed to take off on my own in search of direction (or I just lose interest in the race). But my purpose in life is to keep following Jesus.

It’s a tough trail. It took Jesus to the pain, agony, and potential shame of the cross. But he kept running. He knew how many of us would be following him. He made it possible for us to follow him until we finish our own race.

What are you looking at today?

Think: How does this racing metaphor help you picture the life of trusting God in a new way?

Pray: Ask God to snap you out of it when you begin to turn your focus away from looking at Jesus and the path he set for you.

Do: Write down three things you sometimes start to focus on instead of Jesus.

Discipline: Strip Down

“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.” (Hebrews 12:1)

Some people get the wrong idea about Christianity. They think you have to check your competitiveness at the door to Jesus’ house. If that’s true, why does the Bible use so many sports metaphors? The writer of this passage wants to reach out and yank on your need to compete, to do your best, to win.

trail_350He says, “All the old champions are at the race today. The legends of the game are in the stands. Their pictures are all in the trophy case. I hope you’re up to the challenge!”

You can almost hear your favorite coach’s voice: “Are you serious about doing well? Then dress like it. Strip down before the race starts!” In this Bible culture of long, flowing robes, it was normal for runners – the serious ones – to compete naked. Even most runners today wear next to nothing. Those jeans, hiking boots, and sweatshirts can only slow you down and trip you up.

If you’re serious about trusting God – about stepping up to the faith of the champions – strip your life of all the sin and unnecessary baggage you can find. It can only get in the way. Don’t wait. The champions are watching.

Think: Is it okay to use competition as a motive for trusting God more? Why or why not?

Pray: Ask God to show you any sin or worthless stuff in your life that’s slowing you down on the race he has marked out for you – then ask him for the strength to leave it behind.

Do: Briefly write: a) what is the course God has marked out for you today and b) how will you need to trust him to run it well?

Discipline: Better for Us

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:39-40)

Most of us like a movie with a happy ending. The hero survives the adventure, defeats the bad guys, and saves the day to live happily ever after. But some of the richest stories don’t arrive at such a tidy end. The hero does everything he or she is supposed to do – and still dies without figuring out the mystery or saving the day. His part runs out before the story does.

trail_350The writer of Hebrews describes all those Old Testament heroes that way. They lived by faith. They obeyed God because they believed him. And they died without ever seeing the ultimate point of the story. They never saw Jesus. That makes their faith even more heroic to me.

We take our part of the story for granted, don’t we? We’ve been told the beginning, middle, and ending. We know all about Jesus – about his heroic death in our place and our future with him through faith. Do we trust God more or less than they did?

Think: Would my faith be stronger or weaker if I had to go through what the OT faith heroes did? (See Hebrews 11:32-38)

Pray: Pick a few of those trusting champions described in Hebrews 11 and thank God specifically for their example.

Do: Finish this sentence, “By faith today, I will . . .”