“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV

For the last few weeks, I’ve used our Vacation Bible School theme of “FOCUS: Taking a closer look” as a devotional series.  Due to VBS preparations I was unable to finish a devotional last week, so I wanted to continue to “take a closer look”.

Whether we are a follower of Christ or not, “throwing off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” or keeps us from being at our best is great advice.  In 2021, we find ourselves living in a culture with seemingly limitless possibilities.  We are loaded with “options” and the means to explore them, so getting rid of distractions or escaping the lure of multitasking is greater than ever.

Throwing off everything that hinders” doesn’t mean getting rid of “everything” in our lives.  There are some distractions like, hobbies and recreational activities that can be very beneficial to our overall state of mind even helping us refocus on achieving our prime objectives.  Sometimes we do have to “unplug” or do something else, but there is truth in the old saying, “too much of a good thing”.  As long as those “other” activities are not hindering us from our goals, they can be very helpful.  For example, Endorphins, a natural chemical produced by the body, is released when we eat or exercise to relieve stress and pain.  Working out has always been a great way for me to “clear my head” and refocus.  Jesus himself was a firm believer in unplugging from the day-to-day stress of ministry.

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” Mark 6:30-32 NIV

Unfortunately they were spotted by a large crowd and followed, so their “time out” didn’t last very long.  But, even if our “time outs” are short, it can help.  Jesus, either by himself or with His disciples, “withdrew” (Luke. 22:41) on occasion for some “down time” to “recharge the batteries”.  However, this time wasn’t “unproductive”.  Jesus used it for prayer and reconnection with the God the Father.  Does that mean Jesus and the disciples never had fun?  Think about it, 13 guys hanging out together all the time.  I’m sure they had fun, but it didn’t hinder the mission.  Jesus the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith”, or “author and finisher of our faith” from the King James Translation, didn’t lose focus.  He finished the race!

Since the writer of Hebrews combines what “hinders” with the “sin that so easily entangles”, he is obviously FOCUSING specifically on hindrances that are out of control obsessions or destructive behavior, and not rehabilitative recreation.  His mention of the “sin that so easily entangles” is especially important because sin, moral or ethical failure, is the greatest threat to our physical and mental health, relationships with others, and ultimately our relationship with God.  Sin exacts a heavy toll.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 6:23 NIV

“Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”  James 1:15 NIV

When God told Adam and Eve that they would die if they ate from the forbidden tree, He didn’t mean they would drop dead immediately.  But, their disobedience or sin would have a bucket load of consequences including death.  Immediately after they ate of the fruit they tried to hide from God.  Why?  Guilt, shame, and the loss of innocence are the first fruits of sin.  If sin is unchecked, it can grow into something far more destructive.

Genesis 3:7 says that Adam and Eve’s “eyes were opened, and they realized or knew that they were naked.”  In this case having an “open mind” was not a good thing.  Before they ate the fruit, there was no concept of shame, no need to hide.  They were not “aware” or didn’t ”know” that nakedness was something to cover up or to be ashamed of.  Hiding from God was a sign that the relationship between creation and Creator had changed.  That’s what sin does.  It changes everything.  It separates us from God and others. It impedes our progress.  Because of sin, we aren’t free to run the race that is marked out for us.  It hinders and entangles.  God wants us to be able run freely.  He wants us to finish the race, but in order to finish we have to run the right way, God’s way.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NIV

The Apostle Paul was born in Tarsus to a devout Jewish family, but we know from Acts 16:38; 22:25-28 that Paul was a Roman citizen by birth. Tarsus is located in Turkey today, but in Paul’s day it was under Roman rule and the Greeks before that, so the region was still heavily influenced by Greek culture.  Greek culture was obsessed with athletics.  It was one of the foundations of their culture.  It’s where the Olympic games originated.  The reason I mention this is because Paul uses athletic analogy throughout his writings.  The athletic references made in Hebrews 12 are probably the main reason most people think it was Paul who wrote it.

Through Paul’s writings, we are able to see the relationship between physical and spiritual training.  They both require strict discipline, focus, and sacrifice.  We don’t run aimlessly, without purpose, plan, or direction.  As Methodists, we could say that our training should be “methodical”, done according to a systematic or established form of procedure.

Hebrews 12:1-2 is a great template and exhortation for faith and practice, but can be overwhelming when we consider the FOCUS and discipline that is necessary to “pull it off”.  Throwing off EVERYTHING that hinders, the sin that ENTANGLES, and RUNNING THE RACE is quite the gauntlet.  It can easily overshadow the fact that we aren’t alone.  We have a whole “cloud of witnesses” that has already finished the race.  No one in that cloud finished perfectly, but they ran.  They persevered.  They followed Jesus to the finish line.  Note to self:  “Don’t give up! Keep running!”

Love y’all!

Weekly Devotional by Robby Morris, Director of Family Ministry & Facility Coordinator @ Andrews UMC.