Let us pray: Dear Savior, we know that life isn’t easy and life isn’t fair. We know that countless troubles come our way leading to emotional turmoil and even physical stress and pain. We also know that without You to lead and guide us, without You to comfort and uplift us, without You to love us and actively involve Yourself in our lives—well, life would overwhelm us. So, today we thank You, dear Lord. We thank You for caring about us and putting Your blood, sweat, and toil on the line to save our souls. Amen
GRACE, MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR LOVING LORD AND SAVIOR!
TEXT: Hebrews 12: 1-13
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
“No pain, no gain.” That’s what my friend Keith used to say to me as we huffed and puffed our way up the big hill coming out of Ramsey Park. I thought of that this week when I was heading off to visit one of our shut-ins. I saw the local high school football team working out in the sun. It reminded me of Keith and I doing early morning wind sprints to prepare for summer league softball. And those dreaded words: “No pain, no gain” came back to me.
During the Boston marathon you’ll hear athletes wax eloquent about the physiological reasons behind that statement: No pain, no gain. I usually tune out their blathering, but I seem to recall that it has something to do with lactic acid build-up in the muscles. The acid amount grows with exercise and leads to fatigue and the breaking down of muscle tissue. But, through repeated exercise, the muscle actually grows even stronger. Hence, no pain, no gain. Today’s lesson deals with spiritual strength, not physical muscles. It deals with God Almighty caring enough to involve Himself in our daily exercise of faith—caring enough to make us run extra laps when we’ve been lazy, doing wind sprints when we’ve let both Him and ourselves down, and generally trying to turn us into healthy, strong Christians. So, this little lesson from the book of Hebrews is really all about:
Like many of you, I’ve watched a bit of the Olympics on TV. The dedication of the athletes, their conditioning, form and grace, all of it speaks to constant and even severe training. I guess that’s why they are modern day heroes to the average couch potato. In any case, the Christian Church has its own set of heroes to look up to. In the chapter just before this one, they are outlined for us—beginning with Abel, leading on to Abraham, then Moses, David, Gideon, the prophets and countless others. With them in mind, we are then told to emulate their example and learn from them. “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.” Then, after recounting the struggles of Christ in saving our souls, the writer recounts an enlightening statement from Proverbs 3: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
Why do any of us have to endure pain and suffering in this life? Why does it even exist? Well, that’s where sin enters the equation. God created the world in perfection. He created it without pain and hardship. But, when humans rejected that glorious reality through sin, unfairness, pain, scorn, apathy, and all those other things which make life unbearable came upon us. In short, sin meant that we lost the heavenly gold medal. But, like any loving father or dedicated coach, God didn’t give up on us. Instead, He instituted a tough training schedule to lead us to heavenly gold once again. And right now you and I are undergoing such disciplined training.
Everyone occasionally laments that: “life isn’t fair.” Or, they will say: “life isn’t easy.” And it certainly is true. But, that’s why God did an amazing thing! He sent Jesus to win the gold for us! He sent Jesus to give us hope and help for understanding this thing we call life and making it more bearable. He sent Jesus to show us His most excellent way so that someday we could enjoy a fair, easy, and joyful life. “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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against in, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood…So, endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons…Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 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.”
Some people think the “no pain, no gain” dictum means that they must earn their own Godly peace through their own efforts. But, obviously that is wrong. For then the pain that God suffered in Christ is deflated and rendered meaningless. No, Christ earned the gold for you on the cross. However, for you to appreciate that gold and reap its benefits—a clean conscience and a happy heart—He re-reminds you through a life of discipline and spiritual training.
Our sin-tainted lives always try to take the easy way out of any tough situation. Let’s face it, it is easier to get fat and flabby than to stay in shape, isn’t it? So, too, our spiritual life. We get so caught up in working and earning money, in raising the kids and carting them around, in paying bills and obsessing on living for vacations that the joy of living and appreciating blessings gets left behind. To counteract such a flabby faith, God directly involves Himself in our daily life. He allows problems to crop up—personal conflicts, age-related diseases, even loneliness and discontent–in order to re-remind us that yes, He does have something better in mind for our lives—satisfaction and heaven!
No pain means no gain. With that in mind God does not want us to miss His training schedule of regular Sunday worship, an active prayer life, a home devotional life, the mutual conversation of our fellow believers, or regular communion. He wants us to live and breathe His love, compassion, and guidance from His holy word—all of which make us stronger and better able to cope. Like a great coach, He breaks down our personal failings and shows us a better way which makes us into winners not losers.
This past year has been a tough one for me. In fact, as I look back, every year has been tough. Personal heartaches and disappoints have weighed me down. At times, like you, I’ve questioned God and said: “why, why, why?” And yet, God graciously has used such heartaches to discipline me in love and to turn me into a better human and a better preacher. No pain, no gain! And as a result I’m relearning the age-old truth of our lesson: “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees…so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” My friends, submit to God’s will of no pain, no gain and you will be healed too! Amen