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Lighten the Load

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Becoming a Champion in 2005:

 Lighten the Load

(Hebrews 12:1-3)

January 2, 2005

Sermon

Everyone in a contest wants to win: be it a political race, a broad game, or first in line at Starbucks. In athletic contests, like the Olympics, competitors will do whatever it takes to win—enduring countless hours of training, employing the best coaches, removing all distractions, discarding any excess, and seeking any avenue to gain an advantage. While most compete within the rules, some athletes resort to illegal and illegitimate means to better their chances.

I want us to start thinking of becoming Spiritual Champions in 2005.

A spiritual champion is one sold out to Jesus, straining to become more like Him.

The finish line of faith is a life that is more Christ - like today than yesterday. Our goal is not perfection, but progress.

So, becoming Christ-like is not a sprint, it is not a dash, it is not a leisurely walk in the part or a hike in the desert.

Becoming Christ-like is like running a marathon.

And one of the key observations I have made about marathons is that they are run is the streets of the world.

And like a marathon we must take our Christ-likeness into the streets of the world.

It matters little how long you’ve been on the track; it matters greatly how far you’ve progressed from the starting line.

If you aren’t making progress what is holding you back?

Or if you haven’t yet into the race if you haven’t yet crossed over the line of faith and given your life to Jesus.

What is tripping you up in your spiritual journey? What is slowing your progress toward Christ-likeness? In other words, in the race set before you,

what would you and God say is presently keeping you from being the champion he would like you to be?

In your handout today there is a small area for you to list any thoughts that God may impress upon you as the morning and day go on.

I would encourage you to note them down.

Today we will be looking at a passage in which the writer.

The writer of Hebrews says, 1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.

Hebrews 12 begins with the word “Therefore.” When you see the word therefore in the Bible you ask what’s it there for?

The “therefore” of Hebrews 12:1 is a reference back to Hebrews 11, the great hall of fame of faith. The champions of Hebrews 11 have run the race victoriously and now encourage us to become spiritual champions, too.

The men and women of faith listed in Hebrews 11 were not perfect people. Look at the list.

Noah was a drunk.

Abraham, a liar.

Samson, a person of passion.

Rahab, a prostitute.

Moses had a temper problem.

Gideon was distraught with fear.

David, an adulterer and murderer.

Not only were these people not perfect, they weren’t even close to perfect. But they progressed toward the finish line of Christ-likeness.

These champions of yesterday testify to us today.

Noah is telling every drunk you can stop.

Abraham reminds every liar that you can tell the truth.

Samson acknowledges that God’s power can enable you to win over your passion.

Rahab informs you that you can break the chains of promiscuity. Moses jogs your memory that with God’s help you can control anger.

Gideon testifies that you can face your fears.

And, David shows that you can overcome the worst things a human being can do.

I.                 The Weights that Slows Us Down

Like the champions who have gone before us, we aren’t perfect either, we all carry a lot of weight with us throughout life that tends to get in the way of our spiritual progress.

A.    The Weight of Outright Sin.

Sometimes that weight is outright sin—things that we know are wrong but we have simply been unwilling to let go of them.

Outright sin entangles the feet so that the runner trips and falls, often repeatedly.

Many people have been tripped up in their efforts to be more Christ-like over bitterness, lying, envy, idolatry, and sexual sins?

B.    The Weight of Nagging Sin.

Sometimes that weight is nagging sin—things that we have tried to get rid of, but they keep coming back time and again, like a cancer.

Memories of past mistakes, bouts with addictions, wrongful habits that we can’t break are among the many nagging sins that get in the way our advancement

C.    The Weight of Distractions.

But sin is not the only thing that keeps us from being spiritual champions. Sometimes those weights are things that are not necessarily sinful, but they are distractions that keep us from progressing spiritually.

The author of Hebrews also speaks of “laying aside every weight . . . that so easily ensnares us.”

These are the many things in life that are not particularly sinful in and of themselves, but they have the potential to become weights that slow us down, hold us back, and get in the way our progress.

They are pursuits or activities like ambition, socializing, decorating, golf, Television, surfing the web, movies, music, talking on the phone too much, playing too many video games, or any other activity that would keep you from pursuing Christ-likeness.

Let me ask you again, in the race set before you, what would God say is presently keeping you from being the champion he would like you to be?

Is your weight addiction?

What do you think you can’t get along without?

We may condemn or pity the alcoholic and the drug abuser, but the truth is that we all tend to form addictions of some sort.

How jealously do we guard certain little habits? Our paper in the morning. Coffee on the way to work. Uninterrupted time watching our favorite television show.

Addictions, large and small, gross or petty, can be overcome.

We can look to Noah who struggled with drunkenness. He will tell you that our little “dependencies” are actually crutches; how can we run a race hobbling along on them? Addictions weigh us down. God says lose the extra weight.

Is your weight lying? Lying seems such an inconsequential sin. Who does it really harm? You and God.

There are no little sins to God. God despises dishonesty.

If you are struggling with tongue issues look at Abraham. Abraham twice lied to a king by claiming his wife was his sister. He was a deceiver and a liar, but he overcame it. He was a man of faith who had to come to trust in God not only in his walk but also with his talk. Foul mouths are dirty little weights. God says lose the extra weight.

Is your weight passion? Maybe you struggle with issues of your heart. They come in the form of ambitions, prejudices, obsessions, infatuations, and zeal.

Passions are not necessarily evil, that is, until they get you off track and cause you to lose focus.

Passions misdirected can destroy a life.

Just ask Samson. A man blessed with passion. But it ruined him. He will tell you, “Don’t substitute a passion of people and things for God. Passion is an unmistakable weight. God says lose the extra weight.

Is your weight promiscuity? Are you struggling with your sex drive? Has your sexual relations overflowed the God-ordained boundary of marriage? Nothing will weigh a person down heavier and be harder to break than sexual sin. Talk to Rahab, a former prostitute who assisted the children of Israel in their campaign to take the Promise Land, but now residing in the stadium of spiritual champions. Rahab will tell you that the sin of promiscuity can be broken, forgiven, and you can be restored to wholeness and wellness. But first you must let go of this ball and chain that is holding you down. Sex sin is a razor sharp trap that will ensnare and wound you. God says lose the extra weight.

Is your weight anger? Do you have a temper?

Can you just blow up in a second when some of life’s inconveniences and frustrations are blown your way?

The more we allow sources of offense to preoccupy us the less time and emotional energy we have left over to run the race.

Are you weighed down by anger? Look at Moses. He struggled with his temper, but now resides in the heavenly grandstands. He will tell you to forgive quickly and go on with the race.

Anger is an encumbering weight. God says lose the extra weight.

Is your weight fear? Fear can be paralyzing.

The race for spiritual champions wanders through some unfamiliar terrain and threatening situations and dangerous environments.

It’s an adventure. At times we will be anxious. Sometimes we will freeze. At other times we will want to refuse to go any farther.

When fear strikes its chord look at Gideon.

Gideon, God’s warrior, will remind you of the time he led his soldiers into battle. Though outnumbered and death seemed imminent, Gideon trusted God and won the battle. Gideon would say that your fear is a weight that will hold you back from running your full potential in the race. Give it up. Give it to God. Trust in his presence. Fear is a needless weight. God says lose the extra weight.

Is your weight your past? Have you committed a horrendous act for which you can’t forgive yourself? Did you do something so awful that the Devil says you are not eligible to run the race?

You can never run a race if you are always retracing your steps. What ghosts from yesterday are haunting your today’s, distracting you, weighing you down?

Look at David encouragement.

David was guilty of an illicit affair and a murderous cover-up. Such heinous crimes would have disqualified most people. Yet God met David in his sin. God forgave him.

Restored him. Cleansed him. Remade him. David would say, “Sin is sin, it must be dealt with. But don’t hide it in the closest of your mind. Take to Jesus. He already knows your sin. Confess it so he can forgive you. And in doing so he will put you back in the race to.” Past mistakes and sins are a painful weight. God says lose the extra weight.

LARRY KING RESPECTS BELIEVERS

Agnosticism; Authority of Scripture; Belief; Bible; Faith; God, will of; Judgment, divine; Questions; Scripture; Seekers; Seeking God; Testing; Tests

GENESIS 22:1-19; JOHN 6:29; JOHN 20:1-30; 2 TIMOTHY 3:16; 2 TIMOTHY 4:1; 2 TIMOTHY 4:8; HEBREWS 9:27; HEBREWS 12:23; JAMES 4:12

In World magazine, interviewer Larry King said:

I can't make that leap that a lot of people around me have made into belief that there's some judge somewhere. I have a lot of respect for true people of faith. . . . I've done so many interviews on it. I've always searched. But as someone said, "Did you ever sit down and read the Bible cover to cover?" The answer's no, because I don't know who wrote it. I'm too in my head to be into faith. Faith is a wonderful thing. I envy people who have it. I just can't make the leap.

I remember as a kid, my father died when I was young, and that was unexplainable to me. The God of the Old Testament, I didn't like things he did. "Abraham, sacrifice your son." That always bothered me as a kid. I remember thinking, Why would he do that to Abraham? As a test? So I said to myself, I don't know. I just don't know. That's still true to this day.

Citation: Bob Jones, "It's Good to Be King," World (7-28-01), p. 22

II.             How to Lose the Weight

How do you go about losing the extra weight? Admittedly, it will not be easy because most sins are stubborn, and many weights involve years of habit. It’s like training for an Olympic event that takes years of practice, work, discipline, and dedication. Follow these steps.

A.    Identify the sins and weights.

The first step is to identify the sins and weights that are tripping you up. We are very aware of our outright sins and besetting sins. The distractions, however, are sometimes a little more difficult to identify.

B.    Confess and repent of your sins.

The next step is to confess and repent of what is weighing you down. Confess means “to speak the same.” In other words, it means to call it like God sees it. Confession accepts the responsibility for our actions and acknowledges what God already knows. Our holy God also demands that, in addition to confessing our sins, we repent of it, or forsake it. Repentance says that we turn our backs on the way of sin and turn instead to God. The farther we progress toward being a spiritual champion the more sin does not look good. We turn from sin not only for what it does to us, but also because of what it does to our Holy Father.

C.    Be filled with God’s Spirit.

Once sin has been confessed and forsaken, God forgives and gives us his Spirit to enable us to live victoriously over it. So the next step for us is to be filled with God’s Spirit. Trying to live above sin without God’s power is like trying to drive a car without gasoline. When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, God gives us his Spirit to empower us spiritually. Through the Spirit’s power we are given the resources that break the chains of our sin and remove the weights that hold us back so we can run the race to become a spiritual champion.

Our part is to identify the sin, confess it, repent of it, and then seek the controlling influence of God’s Spirit.

Remember the movie Forrest Gump? Forrest was a mentally slow and physically challenged child. While wearing braces on his legs he moved painfully slow until one day a miracle occurred. (The video clip from the movie Forrest Gump would be appropriate to show here or you can tell the story.) As we was walking home from school with his friend Jennie a group of bullies road up on their bicycles and began throwing rocks at Forrest. Jeannie instructs Forrest to run. As he runs away his braces come off and he runs so fast that the boys on bikes can’t catch him.

In the race set before you, what would God say is presently keeping you from being the champion he would like you to be? Do you feel like Forrest Gump before his braces came off? Are you trying to run your spiritual race with leg braces? Is sin tying your down? Are distractions holding you back? What sin have you identified? Will you confess it and repent of it? Will you allow God’s Spirit to control you so God can do a miracle in your life? Then you can run unencumbered the race God has set before you.

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