Growing in Christ During Trying Times

For several years I have served as a seminar speaker for the No Regrets Men’s Conference. This year’s conference was primarily online, but I still had the privilege of speaking within the discipleship track on “Growing in Christ During Trying Times.” I spoke from Hebrews 12:1-13, giving attention to six aspects of growing with Christ in trials and difficulties:

  • Running with a crowd (Hebrews 12:1a)
  • Running with hindrances (Hebrews 12:1b)
  • Running with our eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1c-3)
  • Running who we are (Hebrews 12:4-6)
  • Running with discipline (Hebrews 12:7-11)
  • Running bandaged (Hebrews 12:12-13)

I could not seem to embed the message here on my blog, you can visit the No Regrets website to view the message video here.

Finding Encouragement within Suffering: a reflection on Hebrews 12

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Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? (Hebrews 12:7)

Be encouraged: God disciplines His children because He loves them. Do not lose heart amidst your suffering. Instead, endure it sustained by the truth that God is lovingly at work even here.

We can fight against our suffering, and it may have some good effect, particularly if we face unjust suffering from external forces. However, fighting against our circumstances is different than fighting against God. We must internally and spiritually submit ourselves to God for training in righteousness, even if we legitimately wrestle with our circumstances.

We could give up in the face of our suffering, simply throwing in the towel by passively surrendering to what is happening. This most often happens when we feel we are powerless to change our circumstances. Still, this powerlessness to outside circumstances is different than our inner spiritual submission to God amidst our circumstances. Even if apparently powerless, we still have power to yield our lives to God so that He might grow us amidst our suffering. Although sometimes powerless to change our situation, God still releases His power in us as we surrender to Him, changing us to become more like Christ.

At other times, we are powerless to change our circumstances but do have power to remove ourselves from those circumstances. This takes great discernment because we must constantly yield to God so that He might have His way in us. Sometimes choosing to change our circumstances is best for our safety or our growth. At other times leaving our circumstances may actually circumvent what God wants to develop in our lives through challenging circumstances or suffering.

In our suffering-averse culture we do well to thoroughly consider whether we are listening more to God than we are listening to ourselves when considering leaving tough circumstances. We do not want to miss out on His best work in our lives. As James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

It isn’t easy to discern when we should choose fight or flight. However, amidst it all we should always choose spiritually to yield to God so that He might have His way in growing us to full maturity in Christ, even through suffering and trials. We will not grow in Christ without facing hardships and challenges. We will not gain wisdom apart from navigating tough and trying experiences which take us beyond what we already know and understand. Still, w will not make our way through these challenges well with Christ if we do not daily remember God’s love for us as a good father even in the midst of suffering.

Eastbrook at Home – August 30, 2020

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Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM as we conclude our series “The Final Word: Knowing Christ through Hebrews.” This weekend I will conclude the series by preaching from Hebrews 13:1-22 on the sufficiency of Christ. Follow along with the entire series here. Access the downloadable bulletin, sermon notes, and sermon discussion guide here.

We also continue in-person services at both 9:30 and 11:00 AM this weekend at the Eastbrook Campus, but you do need to RSVP ahead of time this week and in coming weeks. Find out more info here.

Don’t miss the chance to join in with a virtual small group discussing the sermon every Sunday at 11 AM. More info here.

Each Sunday at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts. You can also access or download the service directly via Vimeo or the Eastbrook app.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in a donation to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

Encountering the Overwhelming Presence of God

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Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29)

Lord, awesome God, who reveals with great power who You are and Your ways, I come to You in awe and humility today. If the might of storms and hurricanes show forth power, how much greater are You, the God who made those storms and hurricanes? “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1) and “clouds and thick darkness surround him” (97:2). Your power and majesty are overwhelming and unyielding. No wonder the Israelites trembled with fear after the Exodus while at Mount Sinai, begging Moses not to go up the mountain but to wait at a safe distance. You are not a God who by any means is safe. So “who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” (24:3). The question is not only who may but who would want to do something so bold? As it says elsewhere, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

Yet here is an equally overpowering and awe-inspiring series of truths. “We have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God” (4:14). “Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant….he is able to save completely those who come to God through him” (7:22, 25). “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (9:14). “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (4:16). This seems almost as a different world from those overwhelming words of distance earlier. On our own we could perchance try to ascend Your hill, but the revelation of our own inabilities and insignificance would lead us to falter, even hinder us entirely. Who can ascend? The One who is blameless, even Jesus the Messiah, who then makes a way for us to draw near to Your throne? of grace, finding there not fear-filled judgment but even awesome and undeserved mercy and grace in the presence of You, the holy God.

Thank You, Lord, for this greatest of gifts and the wonderful opportunity to know You and the responsibility to serve You upon earth. May we live in response to Your grace today!

Make every effort and see to it!

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14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. (Hebrews 12:14-16)

In this passage the writer of Hebrews admonishes God’s people to live together centered on life in God instead of turning aside.  Two decisive verbs capture our attention in this section.

The first of those is “make every effort.” The believers are to make every effort to live in peace together and also to be holy or to be sanctified. As we discussed last week, there is a call to Christian unity in the peace of the Lord that requires effort and hard work. We have to help one another and stand together in the long endurance race of faith. It is not easy because we will grow weary and sometimes are wounded, but that is why we are called to make every effort. This is not contrary to the grace of God but our strength for the effort comes as an overflow of God’s grace.

This unity is fueled and sustained by holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. Holiness is essential to unity and we cannot sacrifice holiness on the path to unity. Otherwise, we are not talking about Christian unity but something else. Holiness means that we are increasingly reflecting the presence and character of God in our lives. To become holy means that we are turning away from sin and being increasingly re-formed to look more and more like Jesus. This is a work of God in us by the power of the Holy Spirit that will continue until the day that we are with the Lord face to face.

Holiness requires us to “make every effort”; not that we make ourselves holy, but we make the effort of putting ourselves steadily into the place where God can have His way in us. It is firstly a decision of the will, and secondly action within our lives. This is not opposed to God’s grace, but it is both our response to God’s grace and preparatory to God’s grace having its way in us.

The second of the decisive verbs in this section is “see to it.” “See to what?”, we might ask.

First, see to it that no one in the community falls short of God’s grace. Help one another. Walk together. Encourage one another. Correct one another. This is what it means to be the body of Christ. We are not in this for our own growth alone, but for serving one another as the body of Christ. This is why Paul the Apostle writes to the Philippians:

“if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:1-4)

Just as the Apostle Paul finds joy as he sees the believers live in such tangible unity and care for one another, so, too, the writer of Hebrews calls them to see to it that God’s grace makes its way into each and every one of their lives together.

Secondly, they are to see to it that no one gets off course through sexual immorality or godlessness. Esau is given as an example of someone who just loses their way through godless living, eventually losing the birthright and blessing of God – something that he could not get back.

Brothers and sisters, if we see someone losing their way in sin, we need to gently, but decisively, address it. The writer calls out sexual sin because it was pervasive in the culture of the day but also because it is one of the clearest and most basic manifestations of a life that is at odds with God’s way. This does not mean that sexual sin is weighted as worse in the grand sense, but it is a sign that the same sort of godlessness decried in Esau is happening in us. We should not approach one another with condescending judgmentalism but with humility and grace. The goal of addressing such sin is not condemnation but encouragement and the strengthening of God’s grace in our lives matched by growth in holiness throughout the community.

At its heart these verses call us not to walk away from the essential faith in Jesus Christ. Verse 15 say see “that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many,” which is a reference not to bitterness but to idolatry – a turning away from God – that gripped God’s people during the Exodus. The warning in these verses calls us to stay on course with God and not to lose our way through sin. Make every effort…see to it!

[This is excerpted from my message, “Make Every Effort,” on Hebrews 12:14-29.]