Run The Christian Race

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Dumb Criminal & Christian Endurance

Probably many of us by now have heard a number of “Dumb Criminal” stories that make us chuckle as well as shake our head. Such as, did you hear about the criminal that the police were able to easily follow in the dark until they caught him? He had forgotten that he was wearing his sneakers that blink a bright red light every time you take a step. Or how about the bank robber who wrote, “This is a holdup,” on the back of a personal check that had his home address on it.

These stories sound both ridiculous and funny at the same time, don’t they? It really is amazing how some people can do the most foolish things, and also try to get away with things that ultimately will only hurt them in the end. Here is another story that illustrates this point:

David Posman 33, was arrested in Providence, R.I, after allegedly knocking out an armored car driver and stealing the closest four bags of money. It turned out they contained $800 in PENNIES, weighed 30 pounds each, and slowed him to a stagger during his getaway so that police officers easily jumped him from behind.

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Now consider what one person said after reflecting on this story:

David Posman is not the first person to make the mistake of trying to run while being weighed down. In fact, it happens spiritually all the time. The Hebrew writer talks about sin being a weight that keeps us from effectively running the Christian race. We can get bogged down with things that pull us away from God. And, by the way, as with Posman, those things that are weighing us down are not worth nearly as much as we thought they were when we grabbed hold of them.

And here is the verse in Hebrews that the person was thinking of:

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

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As we look at this verse in Hebrews, we will notice that there are three important aspects in this verse. First, there are the “witnesses” that surround us. Secondly, there are the things that weigh us down and the sins that ensnare us and hinder us from running a good race. And then finally, there is the aspect that we need to run our Christian race with endurance.

So who are these “witnesses” who are watching us as we live out our Christian lives? Many have felt that this is a spiritual reference to God and all the angels who are watching us here on earth. Textually, these witnesses could refer back to all of the “heroes of the faith” of whom we read about throughout Chapter 11 of Hebrews. Others have thought that this could simply refer to the people around us.

In any case, whichever interpretation we might agree with, there is one more imagery aspect that I want to highlight at this point. The idea of others watching as we run our race creates the image for us that we are in an Olympic type event surrounded by many spectators who were cheering us on to cross the finish line. That image helps us to understand the powerful point that the writer is trying to make here.

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Imagine an Olympic marathon runner wearing heavy shoes, extra layers of clothes, and carrying a heavy backpack. There is no way that runner could ever win the race, let alone even finish the race. And that is what our spiritual lives are being compared to if we allow sin or otherworldly distractions to keep us from focusing on our goal of winning the prize of being called to be children of God here, and inheritors of eternal life in the hereafter.

But not only are we called to live godly Christian lives, Scripture tells us that we are to run this race with endurance. That implies that it will be hard work, there will be sweat, and there very likely will be some pain and sacrifice involved. We must remember, that godliness is pursued and grown over an entire lifetime. The Christian life truly is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Personally, I have some great memories of being a long-distance runner when I was in school. I loved the feeling of being in good physical shape, and being able to run very long distances. And I also enjoyed the thrill of the competition of running against other athletes. As I said above, it did take a lot of work, dedication, and sacrifice to get to those competitions.

And even when we experience great pain or trials in life, we are called to keep pressing on. I still remember how that in grade 9, the night before the big competition, I sprained my ankle. The next day, I convinced my coach that if he put a tensor bandage tightly around my ankle I would still be able to run the race. And so I ran. And it hurt terribly. But I still came in third across the finish line. The next year, I won the inter-school competition of the 800 m run and was able to go all the way to the Calgary city finals.

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And so my friend, how are you doing in your Christian life today? Is there anything weighing you down in your spiritual life? Do you realize that other believers, God and all the heavenly angels, and perhaps even the “heroes of the faith” may be watching you and cheering you on to run this race.  May you have the strength and the courage to lay aside whatever it is that is keeping you from running this race well.

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God’s Assignment – Part 3

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Expect Great Things From God

This article picks up where I left off a week ago which you can read here.  I felt rather discouraged when I left PNG in October, 2010.  I had thought that our plan for a five-week trip to Papua New Guinea would be sufficient time for us to be able to check the Gospel of Matthew in the W. language.  But with me needing at least 4 days to travel there and 4 more days to come back, plus an adjustment period of a few days, we really only had about three weeks to do the work.

And normally, that would have been plenty of time.  But as I wrote last week, there were the issues of illnesses and deaths that cast quite a shadow over our work and caused us to end our checking sessions earlier than planned.   So we only finished checking 20 chapters of Matthew.  And in light of this, Jill and I started asking ourselves different questions.

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One of the first questions we asked was, “Should I (Norm) try to plan a longer trip so that I can accomplish more, or at least do the same amount of work that I would normally get done after two short trips to PNG?”  It certainly would be financially smarter to do one long trip, rather than two short ones, because of how much airline tickets cost just to get there.

Another question we asked ourselves was, “Would my health hold up and could I manage well if I came to PNG for a longer visit?”  And related to that, “If Jill were not able to get all the time off to be with me on a long trip, could we get enough resources and help from people put in place to allow me to live and work over there without Jill?”

And so we weighed out these questions, while at the same time we considered the requests from the Branch for me to come back in early 2011 to help do the consultant checking on a number of New Testament books.  I was asked to help finish the book of Matthew in the W. language, then check up to as many as five Pauline epistles for a second language, and then the book of Hebrews in a third language.

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My decision was to say “Yes” to all these requests, for I knew how difficult it was to get consultants to do the checking sessions.  But considering that there were only about 13 weeks for me to get my prep work done, and there were 39 chapters to check (mostly epistle material), the chances were slim that I could do all the preparation before I headed over there.  I knew I would have to make some choices based on the priority and checking dates of each project.

So here is what I decided.  Even though it would be the last material checked, I prepared my comments and questions for the first 10 chapters of Hebrews.  It is a very fascinating book, and I really had no idea how difficult and complex it would be.  It took me over a month to prepare these 10 chapters.  I figured that the last three chapters could be worked on once I got to PNG.

Then I switched to doing checking preparation on the other epistles (Eph., Phil., Col., Philemon, and Jude)  for the T. language group.  Now by just looking at my weekly average of doing prep work, I was certain I could do the first three epistles before flying down under.  Philemon and Jude would have to wait until I got into the country to finish them.  And as for Matthew, I knew the translation team quite well by this time, and so I told them that I could work with them without having the written VE (Vernacular-to-Englush) texts.  I would depend on listening well to an oral back-translation of the text.

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And so the checking sessions started on February 3rd with the T. language team.  It was amazing to see how quickly we were able to do the checking of the three larger epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians).  It took roughly two days to check each book.  Mind you, the average length of all the chapters of these books is about 25 verses.  So that means we were checking on average about 8 verses per hour.

The team wanted to get back a bit early, so we didn’t try to check Jude or Philemon.  They will have to wait till later.  That gave me a two-day rest before working with the W. language team on the last 8 chapters of Matthew.  And again, we did the work in just over 6 days of work.  Did you know that Matthew chapter 26 (75 verses) and chapter 27 (66 verses) are the 2nd and the 5th longest chapters in the New Testament?

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After spending a month in the highlands of PNG, then Jill and I flew down to the main city of Madang on the north shore where our mission office is located.  We enjoyed a few days of rest and a bit of relaxing beside a swimming pool, and then I dove into the checking sessions of Hebrews with the A. language team.  It was delayed slightly, which didn’t surprise me, as it is always so difficult for the nationals to walk, float, drive or even fly out of their villages to get to town.

Since this was the first time I worked with this language group, I allowed up to 12 days to get the entire book checked.  And again, God gave us all the strength, wisdom and insight to check and revise the material in just 8 days.  This allowed me to get some other language catch up work done, and to get rested before I started my long journey back to Canada.

So now we are reflecting on the questions that I wrote about above.  Are longer trips better?  How would I do health-wise?  What should we plan for future trips?  I think you can see that things definitely went well.  And the future holds great promises, of which I will write about next week.  So stay tuned.  🙂


Entering God’s Sanctuary

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Psalm 15

A Psalm of David

1 Who may worship in your sanctuary, LORD?  Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?

2 Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts.

3 Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends.

4 Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the LORD, and keep their promises even when it hurts.

5 Those who lend money without charging interest,and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.  Such people will stand firm forever. (New Living Translation)

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This Psalm of David has more meaning and significance for me now that I have worked on the book of Hebrews.  During the past month, I have been engaged in preparing and in checking Hebrews in the A. language, one of the local languages of Papua New Guinea.  I had read Hebrews many times in the past, but this was the first time that I had seriously studied the book verse-by-verse.

Sometimes when we are checking Scriptures we may go the other way and instead of  getting a good grasp on the big picture or main ideas in a book, we can get lost in the details of checking the meaning of a verse or phrase.  And yet, I think that even with our intense scrutiny of Hebrews, it was almost impossible to not get the main thrust of the book.

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This is very true as one considers the flow of the text from chapter 1 through chapter 10.  The author is very methodical, but very clear, that we are to see just how great Jesus is, our Mediator, our High Priest, our once-for-all sacrifice for sin.  From the cosmic (Jesus is better than the angels), to the simple (he shared in our humanity), from the earthly (from the line of Judah) to the heavenly (a great high priest forever), Jesus is the One through whom we can go to come into the very presence of God.

And yet, we as Christians today forget these great truths at times, and at other times we behave in ways that draw us away from God.  In reading again from my daily devotions, “Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“, I thought the writer of one devotion asked some very good questions based off of Psalm 15 which asks about who can enter in and worship in God’s sanctuary.  She writes:

If you are experiencing times of intercession and worship that are dry and difficult, it may be time to take inventory as David did in Psalm 15.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if any of the following are hindering your worship:

• Are you leading a blameless life and doing what is right? What about staying away from things that have the appearance of evil? (v. 2)
• Are you speaking the truth from a sincere heart? Any half-truths or painting yourself in a better light when recounting a story? (v. 2)
• Do you absolutely refuse to slander others no matter what? Do you refuse to harm your neighbors or speak ill of your friends or spouse? (v. 3)
• Do you despise persistent sin? Do you honor the bride of Christ in thought, word, and deed—including those from other denominations? (v. 4)
• Do you keep your promises even when it hurts? (v. 4)
• Do you want something in return when you do something nice for someone? (v. 5)
• Do you speak against someone when it is in your own best interest? (v. 5)
Holy Spirit, show me any areas of my life that are hindering my prayer life.  I desire to enter in with a pure heart!

–by Sandra Higley, author of A Year of Prayer Events for Your Church; Taken from an article that originally appeared in Issue 19 (July/August 2000) of Pray! magazine.

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And as I read these questions, I recognized my own failings.  I know that there are times, more often than I would like to admit, that I sin against God or against another person.  For the Israelites, they were required to come to the Tabernacle (later the Temple) where they would bring an animal sacrifice and offer up the sacrifice as a means of atonement for sin.  How sad it is when we read “again and again he (the high priest) offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”  (Heb. 10:11)

But praise be to God, when Jesus offered himself as a living sacrifice, even though he had done nothing wrong, had never sinned, “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”  (Heb. 10:14)  We are no longer under the old regulations whereby we deal with sins temporarily, but we are assured of eternal forgiveness.  And that gives us the great assurance that yes, indeed we can come into God’s heavenly sanctuary and worship Him.

And like a climax, the author says these inspiring words in 10:19-22

19  And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.  20  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.  21  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him.  For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

Isn’t that good news?  Yes, in fact it is fantastic news.  What we could never achieve on our own, Jesus has accomplished by dying on the cross and moving aside the barrier that once had separated God from mankind, and mankind from God.  Now we can come before the King of the Universe, bow before Him and worship Him, knowing that our sins have been dealt with, and we are found acceptable in God’s eyes.

Spiritually Dangerous Attitudes

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Read Hebrews 10:26-31

It is not certain who wrote the book of Hebrews.  But many believe the author was writing to Jewish Christians.  There are points throughout the book where it is clear that these Christians were enduring hardships, even persecution for their faith.  The author wants to strengthen their faith, pointing out just how superior Jesus is to key OT figures, and even more superior to angels.  He demonstrates time and again how much better the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood is than to the limited and temporary Old Covenant build on the sacrifices of animals year after year.

But there is one more concern that the writer touches upon a number of times throughout the book, namely the fact that there is the danger of Christians turning away from God and rejecting all that was once held to be true.  He speaks quite bluntly about this in the passage quoted above, Hebrews 10:26-31.  It is hard to believe that a Christian would ever turn his or her back on God, since they have, as the author puts it, “received the knowledge of the truth.”

The question some might ask is, “was this just ‘head’ knowledge, and so that person was never actually saved?”  No, the wording here speaks of not just knowing facts about God, but rather it speaks of someone who has had “a deep experiential relationship knowledge of God.”  There can be no doubt that person had been born again and was a child of God.  So what happened?

The key is in the wording of the actions of the person.  In verse 26, the verb speaks of a person who “deliberately and habitually chooses to sin against God.”  This attitude is expanded in verse 29 where the person has “trampled underfoot the Son of God, treated as unholy the blood of the covenant, and insulted the Spirit of grace.”  Put in simpler terms, the person has decided he wants nothing more to do with Jesus, he has considered the sacrifice of Christ as being meaningless, and speaks out against God and considers Him to be a God of wrath and punishment, not a God of love.

I’ve pondered this many times, and tried to figure out how a person who loves God, could become a person who hates God.  And I think part of the answer lies within the very nature of human culture, whether it be Western or non-Western culture.  Our attitudes towards God can be so negatively influenced by our culture that the results are that our beliefs are correspondingly incorrect.  And this can cause a person to start the walk of faith, and end up at least ignoring God, if not outright denying God in their lives.

In the more developed countries, where we also see the most blatant forms of materialism and consumerism, God is treated more as a Bargain Warehouse Operator, or an Emergency Medical Service Provider.  In the former case, whenever we have a need (whether it is a felt need or a real need) we turn to God and ask (perhaps demand) God for it.  And when God does not provide, we begin inch by inch to turn away from God, and we rely on self-dependence and see God as irrelevant.  Or in the latter case. when a crisis of any kind come upon us (physical, medical, financial, marital, etc.) we cry out to God demanding, begging, pleading with Him to do something.  But when the situation does not resolve itself the way we think it should, we get angry with God and shake our fist at Him in defiance, and our hearts get hardened to the idea that God could ever be a loving God.

But come back to Hebrews 10 with me and see how the passage concludes.  Verse 30 speaks of a God who knows all things, and He will ultimately judge all things and all people.  If life, circumstances, or especially other people have mistreated you or harmed you in any way, God himself says, “I will avenge.”  We must trust in and wait patiently for His justice.  But better than justice, we can know His grace, for God says in verse 17 with regards to us who believe in Christ and ask forgiveness for our sins, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”  And the Hebrew writer gives us this encouragement in verse 23, “…for He who promises is faithful.”

In conclusion, let us not judge God by the circumstances of our lives, which change day by day.  Is God real?  Yes!  Does He answer our prayers?  Yes, though often in ways we did not expect, or necessarily understand at the time.  But let us be careful not to let our hearts become hardened in our attitudes against God.  So often it is not one thing that starts this slide into unbelief and disobedience.  It is a lot of tiny slips, when we tried to control the circumstances of our lives instead of patiently trusting and believing that God could and would work out the situation.  We must believe that He is for us, and not against us.  Or we will find ourselves to have become enemies of God.

 

Why Pray? Why Read? Why Go?

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Read Hebrews 10:1

The Law is a shadow of the good things to come.   The Law which required sacrifices to be made day after day, year after year, could not make the people spiritually perfect in God’s sight.  So why do it?  Same questions today?  Why pray…why read the Bible…why go to church?

Can praying more prayers, reading or even memorizing more Bible verses, or going to church every week get us into any better position with God?  Yes and no.  These activities can bring us into a deeper more intimate relationship with God.  But these practices, or rituals, cannot in and of themselves, gain us any more credit with God.

So why do them?  Because just like the sacrifices, they in turn speak about the relationship we will have one day when we are forever with Him in heaven.  We pray now to God, even though we do not see Him.  We read His Word, which gives us spiritual light and life here, but there we will see the Living Word and be energized by His presence forever.  We attend a church to be encouraged by fellow believers, and become part of a small community of faith.  But in heaven we will belong to a community of believers whose number cannot be counted, from every nation and tribe and language on earth.

So when we pray, we connect with God.  When we read Scripture, we are illuminated by God.  And when we go to church, we share a worship experience of God.  But these are fleeting moments of great experiences with God.  Like the sacrifices of old, they point to a bigger picture, a bigger reality, that goes beyond this world of space and time, and helps us to see we are even now part of an eternity which will include walking and talking and living together with an Almighty God.  Wow!

“What I practice here in part, I will experience forever in full when I see Him face to face.”                   (A paraphrase for 1 Corinthians 13:12.)


Jesus – Our High Priest Forever

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The basic facts of the Gospel are pretty easy to sum up, I think.  Jesus was, and still is God.  He became human and died a terrible death.  It was because of sin which broke the relationship between God and mankind that he died.  Jesus took our place as a human and paid the penalty of sin when he died on the cross.  Jesus rose from the dead proving he had conquered death.  When we put our trust in him, God does not see the sin, it has been done away with.  And so after we die here and have our bodies raised, we too who are saved from eternal death will live with God forever.

This all sounds so nice and intellectual.  But as I was working on Hebrews chapter 7, I was struck with a profound truth.  In verse 25, it says that “And so Jesus, now and always, is able to save those who come to God through him.”  The concept that Jesus is able to save people throughout time is huge.  But it is the verse above that really gave me a thrill.

Unfortunately, the English does not do this verse justice as one version puts it. “Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.”  This puts emphasis on his office, not on his work as a priest.  Biblically speaking, a priest’s job is to offer sacrifices to God on behalf of men and women so that sin is dealt with and God and mankind can be united again.

It was as I looked at the back translation (translated from a village language back into a form of English) of verse 24 that I was hit with a huge spiritual “Ah Ha!”.  This back translation basically says, “Jesus is always existing.  He was doing and will never stop doing the work of giving offerings.  He will be doing this work forever.” These words, “always exists”, “never stop”, “forever”, these all spoke to me of how much Jesus loves people, now and always.

From before the beginning of time up until the crucifixion and resurrection, the plan to rescue people from sin existed, and ever since then up until the last day, Jesus is in the business of presenting the offering to God (his sacrifice on the cross) which can take away sin.  And the end of verse 25 tells us that not only does Jesus have this power to save people, he is continually speaking to the Father, interceding on their behalf, reminding the Father that he paid for people’s sin.  And it is because of Jesus’ faithful and continual acting as our Mediator that we are able today, and every day, to stand in a living, loving, and forgiving relationship with the God of the universe.

Thank you Jesus!!!!