Monday, November 10, 2014, 6:30 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song, “Near the Cross.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Hebrews 12 (ESV). A Great Cloud Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses… The “great cloud of witnesses” is a reference to the saints of God who have gone before us, as listed for us in Hebrews 11. I believe this also may refer to all those saints of God since that time, who have also now gone to be with Jesus who, similarly, exemplified such profound faith in God as to risk everything to follow him wherever he lead them. In this life we have many bad examples set before us which we should NOT follow, so it is awesome when we have such wonderful examples of faith in God, such as these, which we can emulate. These people walked with God, obeyed him consistently, believed what he said, and they acted upon that faith by following him wherever he led them, even when they didn’t know what was ahead of them, and even when they couldn’t physically see the end results. Many of them trusted in God without wavering, even in the face of much opposition, persecution, and rejection, and also in the midst of the real threat of death. Whenever I read this passage of scripture, I get this picture of a long-distance race in which people are standing along the sides watching us and cheering us on to victory. Certainly I cannot guarantee that is what is literally happening here, but I do believe it is the imagery being presented. Not only do the saints of old set marvelous examples for us in how to live victorious Christian lives, and ones of faithful obedience to our Lord, but I believe they also serve as our cheerleaders, whether literally or figuratively, who serve to encourage us in our walks of faith, i.e. in this race God has set for us to run with perseverance. Lay Aside … 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. I am not a runner, so I may not be the best person to try to describe the imagery here, but I will do my best. From what I understand, the more weight that is placed upon a runner, the harder it is for him or for her to run the race with much endurance. The greater the weight, the slower he or she can run, and the less miles he or she can run also. So, that is why we often see pictures of runners in sleeveless t-shirts and loose shorts, because the less weight upon the runner, the greater chance of them running the race to completion. That is true of us, as well. The Christian life here is described to us as a race we run. As I was thinking about why our lives are compared to a race, what came to mind were the scriptures that speak of how we need to seek (pursue; run; follow; chase) after the Lord’s kingdom and his righteousness and how we are to seek to please him (See: Matt. 6:33; Jn. 5:30), as well as how we are to flee evil desires and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness (See: Heb. 11:6; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2:22). Following the Lord Jesus is not a casual thing we do. We are to continually and consistently chase (run) after him in pursuit of knowing him, hearing what he says, and doing what he teaches us to do. So, if we are going to follow our Lord Jesus in faithful obedience and in surrender to his will for our lives, and if we are to exemplify people of faith who walk by faith and not by sight, as did the saints of old, then we must remove all weights and hindrances from our lives which will keep us from running the race, from running it with endurance, and from running it to completion. We must lay aside “every weight.” A weight can be anything which distracts us or which pulls us away from our pure devotion to our Lord, and which gets us sidelined to doing other things, even good things, but which are not part of the race God has set out for us to run. A sideline, for instance, is “a place for people who are not involved in something; they are non-participants” (Encarta). Satan loves to distract us and to get us concerned over so many things which are not of God, but which keep us so occupied that we become uninvolved in the race he has given us to run. When we allow these distractions to suck away our times with our Lord and we allow them to rule our lives, instead, then they become our gods, and we follow them instead of following the Lord. So, we must keep our focus on Jesus Christ and on what he has called each and every one of us to do, and we must stay focused and free from those things which will weigh us down and which will keep us from following Christ Jesus in obedience to his will for our lives. The sin which clings so closely, I believe, is any sin which easily entangles (traps) us, and thus hinders us severely from being able to follow our Lord in obedience. Some people call these sins “signature sins.” Perhaps this is describing the areas of our lives where we are most prone (vulnerable) to falling into temptation and to yielding to sin. We are all different. For some it might be one thing, while for another it might be something else. If I had to describe one area of my life where I have been the most susceptible to sin over the years, I would have to say that it is in the area of fear of man or fear of circumstances. Yet, I must put on the armor of God daily with which to fight off Satan’s evil attacks against my mind so that I do not give way to fear, and so I continue to trust my Lord Jesus in all things, and so I continue to follow him in obedience no matter what comes my way. Yet, if we continually yield to temptation and we give in to sin, and if we continue to play with sin by taking into our minds, hearts and emotions what is contrary to the will of God for our lives, and which feeds the sin which clings so closely, then we cannot run the race God has set out for us, because we would be continually shooting ourselves in our own feet. Consider Him Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. This word translated here as “consider” literally means: “I look away from (something else) to, see distinctly; looking away from all else, to fix one's gaze upon" (Source: biblehub.com). To “fix” one’s gaze upon means to direct one’s attention or mind upon something or someone. It also means to “make something stable, firm, or secure” (Encarta). This reminds me much of the definition of holy, which literally means: “different from (unlike) the world" because "like the Lord;” because “set apart” from the world and set apart to God (Source: biblehub.com). We cannot fix our gaze upon the Lord if we are being distracted by so many things from the world, or if we are being weighed down by such sins which so easily entangle us, because then our minds and our hearts are fixed on other things other than God. We have to see our Christian lives as this race in which we look away from everything else in order to fix (secure) our gaze (attention) upon our Lord Jesus and the race he has for us to run with perseverance. We have to get our eyes (attention; heart) away from sin and the things of this world so that we can focus our minds and hearts upon our Lord Jesus Christ. This is almost like being a horse in a race – a horse which has been given blinders to wear so that it cannot see what is on the sides but can only gaze straight ahead. Race horses “can end up running off course unless they are made to remain focused” (Source: http://parklaneequestrian.com/). I believe the discipline of the Lord is a whole lot like these blinders put on race horses, for such discipline is used in our lives to help us to remain focused on the Lord and to keep us from being distracted by other things, as well as it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Amen! Make Straight Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. For those of us who are in Christ Jesus, by God’s grace, through faith, we have the Holy Spirit of God living within us. The Spirit encourages, counsels, directs, teaches, strengthens and empowers us to run this race and to walk by faith and not by sight. Yet, when we come to Christ by faith, we do not become puppets on a string with God making all the moves. We still have free wills to choose daily if we are going to live for our Lord or for ourselves. So, we must cooperate daily with the Spirit within us by submitting (yielding) to the cross of Christ in our lives, in surrender of our wills to the will of God. We must throw off all hindrances and all sins which weigh us down and which keep us from remaining focused on Jesus and from running the race he has set before us. And, then we must remain in Christ and in his word by fixing our attention (hearts and minds) on him, living holy lives pleasing to God, no longer conformed to the ways of this world, but transformed by the Spirit in the renewing of our minds so that we can know and can do what the will of God is – his good, pleasing and perfect will (See: Rom. 12:1-2). Near the Cross / Fanny J. Crosby / William H. Doane Jesus, keep me near the cross; There a precious fountain, Free to all, a healing stream, Flows from Calvary's mountain. Near the cross! O Lamb of God, Bring its scenes before me; Help me walk from day to day With its shadow o'er me. Near the cross I'll watch and wait, Hoping, trusting ever, Till I reach the golden strand Just beyond the river. In the cross, in the cross, Be my glory ever, Till my raptured soul shall find Rest beyond the river.