It is when tragedy happens that our faith, trust and love are tested. It is when our “normal” is completely challenged, in a sudden change with an abrupt shift in direction and circumstance, when all is stripped to the bones of our existence to reveal the measure of our faith. What is revealed is weakness that comes from a faith built on people and things or a fiery, unshakeable faith in God—no matter what is happening around us. I am evaluating my own life as I ponder the measure of my faith this morning as I read this “Faith on Fire” chapter of Hebrews.
The writer of Hebrews tells us what faith is, what faith in God reveals to us and does for us, along with the loving discipline of a faith that grows and matures in us. Ah, but we do not like the word discipline in our culture, do we? Our first thought when we hear the word is negative. We only think of the punishment and not the growth we receive from someone who cares enough to correct and confront our behavior that is leading us down wrong paths.
What we think is not totally accurate. Defined by the world, discipline is: “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.” Used as a noun, discipline is a branch of knowledge, typically one studied in higher education. (Running is a disciplined sport!) So, discipline is learning process!
Okay, we now have a defined notion of discipline. But when God, whose love tops even the most loving parent who wants the best for their children, disciplines us; He does it because we are going in the wrong direction that will lead to death! Because He loves us so deeply, intimately, unconditionally, relentlessly and mercifully, He corrects us in ways that are best for us. God is FOR us, not against us. There is no one we can trust more with disciplinary actions than God, Himself. He truly wants His best for us. So, when God says, “no, go this way, stop that, or wait the time is not right for you”, listen!
A faith that is on fire for God, nothing held back, focused on God alone, is a life that is going the distance, no matter what is happening around us, until we meet Jesus’ face to face in all His glory. Discipline, like God’s Word describes, is like a long-distance race. We run to reach the goal in the distance. We run until we reach the finish line on earth with the best Coach in heaven and earth correcting, confronting and cheering us on—all because of His Love for us! When God disciplines, listen! He loves us more than anyone else on earth has the capacity to love.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
That same great Love of God that sent His Son to take all the punishment for our sin is the one who is cheering us on! Listen to Him with blazing eyes fixed on Jesus! Obey with unshakable, fiery faith!
Hebrews 12, The Message
Discipline in a Long-Distance Race
1-3 Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
4-11 In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children?
My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline,
but don’t be crushed by it either.
It’s the child he loves that he disciplines;
the child he embraces, he also corrects.
God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off big-time, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.
12-13 So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!
14-17 Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.
An Unshakable Kingdom
18-21 Unlike your ancestors, you didn’t come to Mount Sinai—all that volcanic blaze and earthshaking rumble—to hear God speak. The earsplitting words and soul-shaking message terrified them and they begged him to stop. When they heard the words—“If an animal touches the Mountain, it’s as good as dead”—they were afraid to move. Even Moses was terrified.
22-24 No, that’s not your experience at all. You’ve come to Mount Zion, the city where the living God resides. The invisible Jerusalem is populated by throngs of festive angels and Christian citizens. It is the city where God is Judge, with judgments that make us just. You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant. The murder of Jesus, unlike Abel’s—a homicide that cried out for vengeance—became a proclamation of grace.
25-27 So don’t turn a deaf ear to these gracious words. If those who ignored earthly warnings didn’t get away with it, what will happen to us if we turn our backs on heavenly warnings? His voice that time shook the earth to its foundations; this time—he’s told us this quite plainly—he’ll also rock the heavens: “One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.” The phrase “one last shaking” means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered.
28-29 Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!
I am, indeed, brimming with worship in gratitude for the discipline you have given me for my best so I will grow in our relationship. You are God, Savior, and Lord. Why would I quit now? There is not one reason. You are everything I want and everything I need. There is no one like You. Continue to teach me your ways and I will walk, no, run in them, going the distance.
In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen