Running the Race

The other morning I read a devotional that started off with Hebrews 12:1-3. Those verses from the NIV state the following:

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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he 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 sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

The author of the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament is unknown, but it is often attributed to the Apostle Paul. In an article titled, Who Authored the Bible Book of Hebrews: Paul, Luke, James, Priscilla and Aquila, Silos, Apollos, Barnabas, or Clement of Rome?” by Edward D. Andrews, CEO and President of Christian Publishing House, and author of 180 books, he states the following in his introduction to his article:

Who is the author of the Book of Hebrews? Why does it really matter, if the book is canonical, authoritative and inspired? The book was not signed, and so there have been many suggestions over the centuries. This article will provide evidence that the author of the book of Hebrews is, in fact, the Apostle Paul. To be quite frank at the outset, there is no absolute determinate evidence for any suggested author, even Paul. However, we do not live in an absolute world. God is absolute and the Word of God in the original is absolute. It seems that most researchers that address this appear to offer just a few suggestions to live with the belief that it is best to say that we do not know. Having gotten that out of the way, I view biblical evidence like a criminal court views the level needed for a decision. Let us take a moment to consider just that. (Quote source and the rest of his article are available at this link.)

GotQuestions.org provides a summary of the Book of Hebrews at this link. The following information is part of that summary:

Brief Summary: The Book of Hebrews addresses three separate groups: believers in Christ, unbelievers who had knowledge of and an intellectual acceptance of the facts of Christ, and unbelievers who were attracted to Christ, but who rejected Him ultimately. It’s important to understand which group is being addressed in which passage. To fail to do so can cause us to draw conclusions inconsistent with the rest of Scripture.

The writer of Hebrews continually makes mention of the superiority of Christ in both His personage and in His ministering work. In the writings of the Old Testament, we understand the rituals and ceremonies of Judaism symbolically pointed to the coming of Messiah. In other words, the rites of Judaism were but shadows of things to come. Hebrews tells us that Christ Jesus is better than anything mere religion has to offer. All the pomp and circumstance of religion pales in comparison to the person, work, and ministry of Christ Jesus. It is the superiority of our Lord Jesus, then, that remains the theme of this eloquently written letter.

Connections: Perhaps nowhere in the New Testament does the Old Testament come into focus more than in the Book of Hebrews, which has as its foundation the Levitical priesthood. The writer to the Hebrews constantly compares the inadequacies of the Old Testament sacrificial system to the perfection and completion in Christ. Where the Old Covenant required continual sacrifices and a once-a-year atonement for sin offered by a human priest, the New Covenant provides a once-for-all sacrifice through Christ (Hebrews 10:10) and direct access to the throne of God for all who are in Him.

Practical Application: Rich in foundational Christian doctrine, the Epistle to the Hebrews also gives us encouraging examples of God’s “faith heroes” who persevered in spite of great difficulties and adverse circumstances (Hebrews 11). These members of God’s Hall of Faith provide overwhelming evidence as to the unconditional surety and absolute reliability of God. Likewise, we can maintain perfect confidence in God’s rich promises, regardless of our circumstances, by meditating upon the rock-solid faithfulness of God’s workings in the lives of His Old Testament saints.

The writer of Hebrews gives ample encouragement to believers, but there are five solemn warnings we must heed. There is the danger of neglect (Hebrews 2:1-4), the danger of unbelief (Hebrews 3:7–4:13), the danger of spiritual immaturity (Hebrews 5:11–6:20), the danger of failing to endure (Hebrews 10:26-39), and the inherent danger of refusing God (Hebrews 12:25-29). And so we find in this crowning masterpiece a great wealth of doctrine, a refreshing spring of encouragement, and a source of sound, practical warnings against slothfulness in our Christian walk. But there is still more, for in Hebrews we find a magnificently rendered portrait of our Lord Jesus Christ—the Author and Finisher of our great salvation (Hebrews 12:2). (Quote source here.)

For this post I am focusing on the three verses found in Hebrews 12:1-3 which follow right after the Hall of Faith chapter, Hebrews 11. The great cloud of witnesses mentioned in Hebrews 12:1 are those Old Testament heroes of faith who are mentioned in Hebrews 11. In view of the faith experiences of those “great cloud of witnesses,” these three verses in Hebrews 12 speak to us about throwing off everything that hinders us and the sin that easily entangles us, and running the race with perseverance by fixing our eyes on Jesus, who is the author and finisher (NKJV) of our faith.

The Apostle Paul reminds us in his second letter to Timothy written near the end of Paul’s life that we who are believers in Jesus Christ are in a race to the end when he states to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (See 2 Timothy 4:1-8 for the context of that verse). GotQuestions.org explains what Paul meant when he wrote he had finished the race:

“I have finished the race” is the second clause of three within a passage written by the apostle Paul to Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). The apostle wrote these words near the end of his life. These three statements reflect Paul’s struggles in preaching the gospel of Christ and his victory over those struggles.

In the 1st century, the Romans celebrated both the Olympic Games and the Isthmian Games. Competitors would spend up to ten months in arduous physical training. Because the Corinthians were very familiar with these events, Paul used the games as an analogy for a believer’s life of faithfulness. He wrote the church in Corinth saying, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). Paul’s exhortation is that believers should be as focused and dedicated as those ancient runners in the games. Our motivation in serving Christ is much higher; we “run” not for a temporary crown, but for an eternal one.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul is not commending himself for having “run the full distance” (TEV); rather, he is simply describing what the grace of God had enabled him to do. In the book of Acts, Paul says these powerful words: “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).

So, by declaring “I have finished the race,” Paul is telling Timothy that he had put every effort into the work of proclaiming to all the gospel of salvation. He had completed the course set before him; he had left nothing undone. He was ready to cross the finish line into heaven.

In a race, only one runner wins. However, in the Christian “race,” everyone who pays the price of vigilant training for the cause of Christ can win. We are not competing against one other, as in athletic games, but against the struggles, physical and spiritual, that stand in the way of our reaching the prize (Philippians 3:14).

Every believer runs his own race (1 Corinthians 9:24). Each of us is enabled to be a winner. Paul exhorts us to “run in such a way as to get the prize,” and to do this we must set aside anything that might hinder us from living and teaching the gospel of Christ. The writer of Hebrews echoes the words of Paul: “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, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

May we be diligent in our “race,” may we keep our eyes on the goal, and may we, like Paul, finish strong. (Quote source here.)

So, how should we as believers run our own race as stated in Hebrews 12:1? GotQuestions.org explains what that means:

“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). What kind of race do believers run? Who sets the race parameters? Is it a race we define and purpose for ourselves? The passage in question draws from the rich imagery of the footraces of ancient Israel, Greece, and the amphitheaters of Rome. It was written to encourage and challenge believers to persevere in their faith, especially in the midst of trials and persecution (2 Timothy 2:15Hebrews 10:3612:7).

Athletes in a race were surrounded by rows and rows of spectators, pictured for us as “a great cloud of witnesses.” The “witnesses” of the believers’ race are listed in the previous chapter of Hebrews: the men and women of God whose faithful lives were recorded in the Old Testament. These saints persevered despite unimaginable oppression and cruelty (Hebrews 11:33–38) and were commended for their faithfulness. Whether the saints of Hebrews 11 are actually watching us run our “race” today is doubtful; the point of the passage is that their testimony lives on. Their unyielding faith bears witness to the promises of Jesus Christ, urging us to follow their example and “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1).

The “race,” then, is the Christian life. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and we are called to stay the course and remain faithful to the end. Paul used this same imagery near the end of his life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

The steadfastness of the Old Testament “witnesses” speaks to believers today of the rewards of staying in the race, of never giving up (1 Corinthians 9:24Philippians 3:14). A marathon is a strenuous test of fitness and endurance. The race set before us requires faith, stamina, commitment, and discipline in order to live faithfully (1 Corinthians 9:25–26Philippians 3:12–141 Timothy 6:12).

The race is “set before us”; we did not select the course, for it is God who established it. This race we run for Christ. We stay the course in spite of trials and persecutions (Hebrews 12:4–11). As we run, we must “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Because He perfectly finished His race, He is the focus of our lives. We look away from all distractions because He is already at the finish line (Lamentations 3:25Matthew 6:33Romans 2:7).

The race demands that we do away with “everything that hinders”—sin and whatever else threatens our relationship with God (Hebrews 12:1). Anything that will slow us down or trip up us must be cast off. The apostle Paul says “to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22–24). With the encouragement of those who have gone on before, we rid ourselves of thoughts, attitudes, and habits that impede our progress (Romans 12:2Titus 3:31 Peter 1:14).

Seeing that the race God set out for us is a lifelong marathon, we must commit ourselves to run to the very end. A daily regimen of prayer, worship, reading God’s Word and examining our lives for impediments will help. We will persevere by maintaining a Christlike attitude even in the midst of trials (1 Peter 2:214:11 John 2:6).

No matter how long the race may be, we keep our eyes on Jesus, “the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:2, NLT). There is joy awaiting. In the words of songwriters Twila and Starla Paris, “Runner, when the race is won, you will run into His arms.” (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with these words of encouragement from Jesus in his Parable of the Persistent Widow found in Luke 18:1-8. At the beginning of the parable in verse 1, Jesus told his disciples what he is telling us to do today. He told them and he’s telling us to…

Always pray . . .

And never. . .

Give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “Runner” by Twila Paris:

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Becoming

“You don’t have to be somebody different to be important. You’re important in your own right.”Michelle Obama, lawyer, university administrator, writer, and wife of the 44th President, Barack Obama. She was the first African-American First Lady of the United States.I’ve read a lot of books since the beginning of this year, but the very first book I read is one of my favorites. I wrote a blog post on it on January 6, 2019, titled, Moving Forward in the New Year.”

The book I’m referring to is Michelle Obama‘s book, Becoming.” It is a fascinating look at her life starting on the South Side of Chicago and leading to all the way to the White House and beyond. And no matter which side of the political fence you are on, the book is a memoir and not a political statement. It comes from the very heart of who Michelle Obama has become through her life experiences.

On her website for her book, BecomingMichelleObama.com, the following statement is written:

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, “Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same. (Quote source here.)

In the preface to her book written in March 2017, she writes:

When you’re First Lady, America shows itself to you in its extremes. I’ve been to fund-raisers in private homes that look more like art museums, houses where people own bathtubs made from gemstones. I’ve visited families who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and were tearful and grateful just to have a working refrigerator and stove. I’ve encountered people I find to be shallow and hypocritical and others–teachers and military spouses and so many more–whose spirits are so deep and strong it’s astonishing. And I’ve met kids–lots of them, all over the world–who crack me up and fill me with hope and who blessedly manage to forget about my title once we start rooting around in the dirt of a garden.

Since stepping reluctantly into public life, I’ve been held up as the most powerful woman in the world and taken down as an “angry black woman.” I’ve wanted to ask my detractors which part of that phrase matters to them the most–is it “angry” or “black” or “woman”? I’ve smiled for photos with people who call my husband horrible names on national television, but still want a framed keepsake for their mantel. I’ve heard about the swampy parts of the internet that question everything about me, right down to whether I’m a woman or a man. A sitting U.S. congressman has made fun of my butt. I’ve been hurt. I’ve been furious. But mostly, I’ve tried to laugh this stuff off.

There’s a lot I still don’t know about America, about life, about what the future might bring. But I do know myself. My father, Fraser, taught me to work hard, laugh often, and keep my word. My mother, Marian, showed me how to think for myself and to use my voice. Together, in our cramped apartment on the South Side of Chicago, they helped me see the value in our story, in my story, in the larger story of our country. Even when it’s not pretty or perfect. Even when it’s more real than you want it to be. Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own. (Quote source: Becoming,” Preface, pp. x-xi.)

One of my favorite scenes in her book is when Barack proposed to her (pp. 155-157 in the hardcover edition). It’s time to warn you of a “spoiler alert” if you’d rather read the account in the book. Here goes….

At a favorite restaurant where they were having dinner one night, at the end of the dinner Barack raised the subject of marriage and said that as much as he loved her, he still didn’t see the point. They had discussed the subject of marriage plenty of times up to that point and nothing much ever changed. She was a traditionalist and Barack was not, and neither of them would sway. But as she writes on page 156:

But still, this didn’t stop us–two lawyers, after all–from taking up the topic with hot gusto.

After a long discussion of quarreling and doing it “attorney-style”; punching and counter-punching, dissecting and cross-examining (and she states she was clearly more inflamed and doing most of the talking), their waiter came around holding the dessert plate, covered by a silver lid. Michelle writes:

He [the waiter] slid it in front of me and lifted the cover. I was almost too miffed to even look down, but when I did, I saw a dark velvet box where the chocolate cake was supposed to be. Inside it was a diamond ring.

Barack looked at me playfully. He’d baited me. It has all been a ruse. It took me a minute to dismantle my anger and slide into joyful shock. He’d riled me up because this was the very last time he would invoke his inane marriage argument, ever again, as long as we both should live. The case was closed. He dropped to one knee then and with an emotional hitch in his voice asked sincerely if I’d please do him the honor of marrying him. Later, I’d learn that he’d already gone to both my mother and my brother to ask for their approval ahead of time. When I said yes, it seemed that every person in the whole restaurant started to clap.

For a full minute or two, I stared dumbfounded at the ring on my finger. I looked at Barack to confirm that this was all real. He was smiling. He’d completely surprised me. In a way, we’d both won. “Well,” he said lightly, “that should shut you up.” (Quote source: Becoming,” pp. 156-157.)

I just love that story! It makes the romantic in me melt. The book is warm and engaging, even though I am personally at the more conservative end (I’m an Independent–neither Democrat nor Republican) of the political spectrum from the Obamas. But the book is not about politics. It’s about, as the title implies, “becoming” over a lifetime of experiences. Her book is a memoir, and not a drumbeat to a particular political point of view.

At the end of the short section I quoted above from the Preface is this sentence: “Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” While it goes without saying that most of us won’t ever come close to Michelle Obama’s experiences in this life, we still have our own story. “Becoming” for all of us is a lifetime journey filled with many twists and turns, ups and downs, high points and low points. And it is a reminder for us to never stop or give up at the rough places or low points. We should “keep on truckin'” until our last breath, and not allow the hard places or negative people we run into in life to discourage us from going on.

At the beginning of the Parable of the Persistent Widowfound in Luke 18:1-8, Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. Here is that parable:

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”

Let that parable be an encouragement to you, and no matter what kind of situation you find yourself in, remember to…

Always pray . . .

And . . .

Never give up . . . .

YouTube Video: “Miracle” by Unspoken:

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