We’re back! Sorry for the lengthy absence, but we’ve been moving and getting settled and all that that entails… We do have some follow-up posts on that, but first I want to spill out my thoughts on the table so as to organize them all.
Today my NT reading came from Hebrews 11. And probably like you, I’ve read it a few hundred times. Even a whole play was inspired in my heart by it (well, technically Heb. 12:1 was the inspiration). But today what really struck me was vs. 39-40:
“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
I blame it on being pregnant, but this made me a little blubbery this morning.
I mean, c’mon! These are the heroes of the faith! The Hall of Faith. We talk about them at church, we look deeper at their lives, books are written about them. But they are the forerunners, they’ve passed the baton to us, inspired us with their race– but their finish line was not where ours is. They looked forward to seeing all that we have seen, first and foremost Christ’s triumphant salvation for mankind.
The beautiful and absolutely humbling realization is that God included us in this continuing story.
These stories of faith are the things movies are made of. Check out vs. 33-35a: “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection.”
Can’t get much more epic than that. These are the stories we love, that make us want to shout a war cry.
But then you keep reading: “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us,that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
These are the gruesome, grueling stories– the ones we don’t necessarily introduce to our children. Some of these faith stories deal with serious sacrifice. Sure, Abraham’s story is one of adventure into a new land (which I can relate to)… but his faith and obedience to God meant leaving what he was familiar with. Moses’ obedience cost him comfort and prestige and caused him exhaustion and frustration at times.
Today, Christians all across the globe are facing persecution (and I’m not talking “childish”: they make fun of me…)– unspeakable torture, loss of family and home, death– for their faith alone. How much more for those who are actively engaged in ministry? And then when they get out of prison, they go right back to their race.
I think about this a lot. Particularly since we are serving overseas… but in a pretty safe country. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, by any means. But I’m not facing the pressures of worrying for the life of my little girl. But could God call us there? He could. And how would I weigh the cost of my obedience? I have friends of a friend who purposefully decided not to have children, because of the area they are serving in overseas. May their spiritual children be like the sand on the seashore, they make me want to cry.
Still, going back to the verses, we are in it together with them too to make His salvation known throughout the world. They are our brothers and sisters, and many times their stories are the gruesome side. Since they are our contemporaries, we need to encourage them in their race and pray hard for them.
That’s a slight rabbit-trail, but I feel like Hebrews 11 is not just in there to give you a pat on the back reminder to have faith. It is, but if you look closer, it’s sandwiched between calls to endurance with a nice soppy layer of grueling suffering in the middle.
Hebrews 10:32-39– But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
Hebrews 12:1-3– “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
I guess to wrap up… we are together in this. We run a race. Our forerunners are a source of cheerleading for us, in the glorious and the gruesome stories. We have a goal in our race, to get as many people to join the race with us as we can… to make Him known and hasten His return!
What are the obstacles and considerations in this race? What are the things we weigh? Do those things become weights? What holds us back? Is it our home or our American dream? Is it our kids? Is it fear? Is it family? I’ve had people I respect tell me they wouldn’t let their kids go on the mission field. Why not? Are they more important than obedience and faithfulness to God?
I don’t write these things lightly. I’ve paused with heaviness at many ones. Any of these things could stumble my race. My eyes must be on Jesus. Is He worth giving any or all of these things up? Is He worth my story becoming a gruesome (yet ultimately glorious) one?
Again, a heavy pause.
And without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. v. 6
Now faith is the assurance of the things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. v.1
Faith– assurance that He is worth it all. He is our reward. The conviction that the reward will come, the harvest will be reaped, even if it is not seen. Even if none of my dreams can be seen, the promise of His Word is faithful. He is faithful.
And in the glorious and gruesome stories, HE IS FAITHFUL. He is the rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him. And Hebrews 11 is not the stories of the great, it’s the stories of God’s faithfulness that somehow, by His incomprehensible grace, extend to us.
So, let’s throw off our weights and considerations and run.