August 18, 2013: 13th Sunday after Pentecost

Let us pray: Dear Savior, give us what we need in life to be truly happy. Don’t allow us to be tempted with more than we need. Don’t allow us to be tempted by over-indulgence, greed, or gluttony. No, instead bestow upon us self-discipline so that we can appreciate our blessings and thereby grow in our faith and appreciation of You. Amen


TEXT: Hebrews 12: 1-13

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

We live in a society of over-indulgence. We justify such over-indulgence with rationalizations like: “I worked hard, I deserve it.” Or, “It’s my way of showing love for my kids or spouse.” Or, (Here’s an oldie but goodie): “It doesn’t hurt anyone so why not?” Examples of such over-indulgence are manifold. How about Oprah contemplating buying that $38,000 handbag in Switzerland recently? Or, how about scarfing down a whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s because you’re depressed? Or, how about buying the kids all kinds of “goodies” on your credit card to get them off your back and show them how much you love them? If you want to be the total drag on any party just start talking about saying: “No” and self-denial or self-discipline. It will clear the room in a hurry. The elephant in the room is that any and all over-indulgence eventually has to be paid for. The bill will always come due. And when it does, it will bite.

My parents loved their children dearly. By modern standards we were poor in money but rich in love and the intangibles of life: honor, respect, and self-discipline. My father never made much money by teaching high school. Even though my mother could pinch a penny until it said “ouch” by summer’s end we ate our meals predominately from our garden. Getting new school clothes was a hardship each fall. If the car broke down or the washing machine went on the fritz it was a major expense which impacted everyone. Remember, in those days there were no credit cards. Some winters the house was pretty cold come morning because the thermostat was lowered a lot to save fuel costs. We all had chores around the house. We all had jobs, too, in order to earn a little extra. No one could ever say that the Fox kids were lazy! I learned at a very early age the meaning of the word: No. I learned that whining about things didn’t work. But I also learned that love, true love, cannot be bought. My parents copiously gave us the greatest gift of all: their time. Each evening mother would make a modest but tasty meal. Afterwards mother and dad would sit with us around the table and discuss any and all topics for probably an hour or so. They were never too busy for us. And as a result, all of us learned self-denial, appreciation of blessings, the ability to problem solve, the satisfaction of hard work, and good old common sense. Of course, behind it all was the over-arching influence of the church.


Now, you might be wondering: what does all of this have to do with today’s lesson? I’ll tell you. Our text links together Godly love with Godly discipline. “The Lord disciplines those he loves.” Moreover, indulgence is the opposite of discipline and thus the opposite of true love.

That may seem jarring to the modern ear. But, it’s true. When children are small they need to learn the meaning of the word: No. They don’t like it. Who does? But isn’t life about learning your limitations? Isn’t safety learning that certain things are dangerous? Isn’t good health learning to “eat smaller portions, exercise more often, and avoiding wolfing down junk food in favor of fruits and vegetables?”

If I owned a large company and had a son who wanted to follow me is business, do you know how I’d handle it? I’d give him a job either as a janitor or a stock-room boy. I would not cut him any slack or dole out any special favors. I’d make him earn his promotions the hard way: through hard, honest labor. If he panned out, great. He’d be promoted. If not, well, he could go into another field of work that suited him. Would I still love him? Of course! But my love for him would hopefully move me to instill in him self-discipline thereby building in him true self-esteem together with humbleness.

That’s the point of our lesson. After outlining the triumphs and human tragedies of the OT heroes of faith, the writer to the Hebrews applies their lives to us this way: “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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector 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.”


Did God the Father cut Jesus any slack? Did He prevent the devil from tempting Him in the wilderness? Did He give Him fawning parents, helicopter parents who hovered over everything He did and catered to His every whim? Did Christ’s parents prevent Him from doing hard work with Joseph in the carpenter’s shop? When Jesus prayed for bodily deliverance from the cross the night before He died, did His heavenly Father say: “Yes, we’ll let those humans fend for themselves and be lost to spare you?” God the Father was tougher on Christ than any one of us. Yet, their love for each other was infinitely stronger than anything we can imagine. So now, when God lays before you His commandments, His “No’s”, and when He proscribes limitations in your life—isn’t that love, too? Isn’t it for your own good? Do you trust Him enough to accept and believe that? “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.”


Because of human sin, everything good in this life has to be earned. There are no free lunches. “By the sweat of your brow, you will eat bread.” God’s Son earned our salvation from sin. He bought us out of its slavery with His death in our place on a cross. And now He has given us the gift of faith in order to insure our eternal freedom. But that freedom has to have ongoing maintenance in order that we don’t fall into the slavery of sin again. So, in Fatherly love, God sometimes tells us: No. He sets limits for us in life. And sometimes He even lays hardship and suffering upon us in order that we may appreciate what is truly important and vital for true happiness and for an eternal future.

This applies to every believer. Children, adults, grandparents, pastors—you name it—sometimes God tells us: No. Sometimes He says: “Don’t do that.” Sometimes He allows pain and disappointment to come our way. Why? Because He knows the end results better than we do and He loves us enough to keep us away from all true danger. “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.”

When my sainted father was inducted into his school districts “Hall of Fame” a few years ago, one fellow who I had never heard of got up to speak. This fellow was a student of my father when I was probably in kindergarten. Now he had his doctorate in mathematics and was a leading light in his industry. He spoke of how hard my dad’s classes had been and how my father had pushed him as a student. Next he spoke of his first two years of college calculus and how he had breezed through them because my dad had already covered the material in high school! He basically said: “I’m what I am today because Lyle Fox pushed me in school.” Over-indulgence or self-discipline? That kind of teaching ability from a humble man who also as department head, assigned himself to teaching a class of 40 wattage math students because he wanted them to learn the basics as best they could, too. My dad loved all his students from the most gifted to the most challenged. He pushed them. They didn’t always like him, but they respected him and years later would come back and often thank him for his efforts.

As God’s children, you and I need to operate the same way within our sphere of influence. We all need to constantly seek ways to instill self-discipline among children, friends, family, everyone. We need to “speak the truth to them in love.” For that is what God is doing with each of us, isn’t it? Indeed, if such a disciplined life was good enough for Christ to save us—by following in His footsteps we cannot go wrong…..Amen