Since it’s Super Bowl week, I thought I’d do a post about another historic Super Bowl and another Patriots win. Check out this video to see what I’m talking about:

That was two years ago and I bet it’s still hard for Seahawks fans to watch. Marshawn Lynch is in the backfield in beast mode and you pass the ball.  Interception, game over.  That one play is the most second-guessed call in Super Bowl history and considered by many as the worst call in Super Bowl history.  Not only did it cost them the game…not only did it hand the game to the Patriots…not only do they have to relive that memory in their nightmares for the rest of their lives, but when that play happened there were 114.4 million people watching. No place to hide.  There was no way to escape the comments and criticism.

The Word

Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at the book of Hebrews.  In Hebrews 10 we talked about a spiritual reset the nation of Israel had to make.  Their lives used to be about religious rituals and holidays and sacrifices and then Jesus came and he became our sacrifice. So instead of living a life based on rituals and to-do lists they had to transition to being in relationship with God.  Last week we looked at the most difficult part of the reset.  It’s easy to set goals and it’s fun to celebrate achieved goals, but there is that unresolved space in the middle that we have to wait through.  Hebrews 11 gives us a long list of believers who had to work through the unresolved spaces of their faith.  That leads us to Hebrews 12:

1 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, 2 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

Let me define a couple of words for you here.  The word “cloud” means group.  The word “witnesses” has two meanings:  It means someone who has proved the strength and genuineness of their faith in Christ by undergoing a violent death and the second meaning is simply the word “spectator.”  Both definitions work here.  We are surrounded by a large group of people who have gone before us.  Many of these people suffered for their faith. They endured to the end and now they are watching us.  They are filling the stands. They are watching in front of their flat screens in the sky.

Theologian John Brown calls it “God’s Westminster Abbey.” For those of you who don’t know, Westminster Abbey is a church in England where many of the kings of queens of England are buried. So, what’s being talked about here is a heavenly amphitheater from which those who have gone before, the “so great cloud of witnesses,” are viewed as looking upon the race that you and I are running, down in the arena right now!

There were 115 million people watching the Super Bowl when Russell Wilson through that infamous interception, but how many people are watching us?  All the saints, all the martyrs, all the faithful throughout history have created this great cloud of witnesses watching us here on earth. This chapter paints this picture of a great athletic event and you and I are competing in it.  It is the race of our lives.

In a minute we will talk about all these people looking down on us from heaven and what that means, because it sounds a little creepy, but let’s put that aside for a second.  Think of your life as a race.  It’s one long competition.  With that in mind let me ask you a few questions:

  • What kind of a race are you running?
  • Are you running a good race?
  • Do you feel like you’re winning your race?
  • How do you know if you’re winning anyway?
  • Do you feel like you’re spending your race worried about what everyone else is doing in their race? Where your race isn’t successful unless you’re ahead of that guy at work or this girl in your math class?
  • Are you getting burned out by your race?  Are you running and running and just feeling exhausted?

I want to look closely at Hebrews 12 today and see if we can find out if it has any clues about what steps, if any, we can take to win that race. Specifically, I want to look at three lines that are some of the all-time great one-liners in the Bible, but they are also three great lessons on running. And the first one is this:

Run Light

“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”–Hebrews 12:1

Anyone who has ever run knows the truth of those words.  If you are going to run, run light. If you are a runner, answer these questions:

  • When you run, do you run in hiking boots?
  • Do you typically wear a wool sweater when you run?
  • Does anyone run in jeans?

Of course not.  Anyone knows that if you are going to run, you run light.   This is the kind of thing that if you are really into running you can totally geek out over how much your clothes weigh. Check out the weight of this running outfit:

  • New Balance 1600=5.6 ounces
  • Nike mesh dryfit shirt= 3.3 ounces
  • Underarmour shorts=3.3 ounces.
  • Drymax run hyper thin sock=.7 ounces.
  • If you buy all of these items, your running gear will weigh in at 13.2 ounces.  By the way, those 13.2 ounces will cost you $235.38 including tax.

If you are serious about running the lighter you are, the faster you will go. Let’s take a moment to talk about how that principle applies to running the race of our life:

If you want to run the race of life and win the race of life you have to throw off anything that can hinder your race.  I tried to make a list of all the things that can keep you from running the way God wants you to run but the list got way too long so here are just some of the things that might be keeping you from running light:

  • People can slow down your run.
  • Maybe you have a boss that keeps you working so hard that it’s hard to have time to do the things that God wants you to do.
  • Maybe you are the boss, but that makes it even worse.  You have clients that keep you busy, calling you all hours of the day, emailing you well into the evening.
  • Maybe you have friends that have different priorities than you have. They are constantly telling you, “Have a drink, everyone’s doing it. Smoke weed, after all it’s legal now.”
  • Perhaps it’s a boyfriend or a girlfriend that’s pushing your moral limits. You know God wants you to be pure, but he keeps pushing.
  • Maybe you have a toxic relationship with a friend. This friend is always complaining, always dragging you into drama.
  • Maybe you have a parent that wasn’t there for you growing up and even though you don’t live with them anymore, the dysfunction they introduced in your life still haunts you.

All of those people can drag you down, they can slow your run.  But it’s not just people that can do that. Check out this list:

  • Perhaps it’s what you watch.  Your DVR is filled with TV shows or movies that have a very different message than the one that God has for you.  Every time you watch your thoughts drift to sex or your need for more money or cutting remarks that are so funny on TV but not so funny when you use them on a friend.
  • It might be a computer screen that drags you down.  It could be sexy images that get you, but it could also be late night emails that distract you from your family.
  • Maybe you have a time-waster in your life.  You spend too much time on Facebook r you’re too connected to Instagram or Snapchat.  Perhaps it’s a video game that keeps you preoccupied from time you could spend with God.
  • Sometimes it’s as simple as a smart phone.  You just can’t put it down that little device that keeps you so busy you don’t have time for the things of God

When we think of things that hinder us it’s easy for us to think of external forces that keep us from running our race, but there are internal forces as well. Here’s another list; this one of internal baggage, some subtle some not-so-subtle, that can weigh us down:

  • Maybe you have an old habit that trips you up.  It could be as obvious as an alcohol or drug addiction or as subtle as pride or a critical spirit.
  • Maybe you have a tendency to be negative in your thinking.  You tend to look for the worst case scenario.
  • Maybe you get easily discouraged.  If someone says anything bad about you, you can’t get past it.
  • Maybe you have some irrational fears that keep you from risking the thing that God wants you to do.

Whether it’s an outside force or an inside one, you’ll never be able to run light unless you get rid of it.  What’s hindering you? Maybe it’s time to get rid of it.

Run in the Right Direction

“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 12:2

When we run we need to fix our eyes on the goal.  Fix our eyes on Jesus.  He created us. He knows us better than anyone.  He can help us get to the place we want to go.  There is nothing more important in a race than making sure you are running in the right direction.  Let me introduce you to some people who know that better than anyone:

This is LeeAdianez Rodriquez.  She’s 12.  She signed up for a 5k and got in the wrong starting position and instead of running her 3.1 miles she ran 13.1 miles, a half marathon:

Bangkok is now home to the world’s longest half marathon.  The race officials directed runners in the wrong direction and added 4 miles to their race!

This is Evan Megoulas.  He signed up for a half marathon and missed a turn and ran a full marathon. That is bad. The worst of it is his parents were waiting for him at the finish of the half marathon and when he didn’t come in they panicked and contacted the police to report him missing. High school kids, do you feel like that’s something your parents would do?  You’re late from a date and so they fill out a missing persons report?

You can do all kinds of training and spend $235 on the lightest running equipment, but if you run the wrong way, all your hard work will not matter.  There is nothing more important in running than making sure you are running in the right direction.

For most people, I don’t think your issue is that you’re not running.  Everyone I know is running.  Everyone is busy.  Everyone’s schedule is full.   The issue may be that you are running after things that aren’t capable of getting you where you want to go. Let me give you some examples:

  • You’re running at work.  You’re running to succeed so that somehow you feel good about yourself.
  • You’re running at school.  You’re running for grades because deep in your heart you don’t feel good enough about yourself.  You don’t see the value that God has given you
  • You’re running in sports.  You have to start and you have to be the best because you have to prove yourself.
  • You run after money.  You run and run and run because you don’t feel secure.  You don’t trust that God will take care of you.

I don’t question that any of you are running, but are you running in the right direction? Look with me again at this line.

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”–Hebrews 12:2

  • Fixing your eyes on school won’t perfect you.
  • Fixing your eyes on work won’t bring out your best.
  • Fixing your eyes on money won’t develop your character.
  • Fixing your eyes on sports success won’t make you into the person you want to be.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus will.  He is the perfecter of us.  He is the perfecter of your personality.  He is the perfecter of our character.  Now, I have to say, you may not like the way he perfects us.  Look with me at verse 4.

4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. —Hebrews 12:4-11

These verses remind us of the last great lesson on running.  There are times when you will have to:

Run Through the Pain

Some of you are running through difficult circumstances right now:  You have a rough home life.  Your health is failing.  You are struggling at work.  You’re battling depression.  I’m sorry that you have to go through these times, but these are the moments that God uses to grow us.  Look again with me at verse 11:

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”–Hebrews 12:11

No one likes to go through hard times. But if we allow God to train us through these times it will produce in us righteousness and peace.  If we trust God with this hard time we will see that he will come through.  He will take care of us.  He will grow us and that growth will bring peace.  If we really learn this lesson the next time we go through something difficult we will have peace because we will remember what God did last time. We will trust that he can bring good.

The Take Away

Two years ago in the Super Bowl, Russell Wilson was at the center of what is largely considered the worst play call in Super Bowl history and the worst decision by a passer in Super Bowl history.  Russell Wilson is a strong believer in Jesus and that was one of the most difficult trials of his football life.  But there was purpose to it.

Russell Wilson said that God spoke to him after that fateful interception at the end of that Super Bowl:

“The play happens, and they pick the ball off. And I take three steps,” Wilson said. “And on the third step God says to me, ‘I’m using you. . . I want to see how you respond. But most importantly I want them to see how you respond.”

When you go through hard times, how will you respond?  Will you get angry.  Will you think, why me?  Or will you fix your eyes on Jesus.  Will you listen to what he’s telling you? If you do that you will be able to stand up in front of that great cloud of witnesses.  And let me tell you something about those witnesses. They aren’t waiting for you to make a mistake.  They are cheering you on.  They’ve walked this path just like you have.  They had successes and failures just like us.  They are in the stands now watching you and me.  How will you respond? How will you run your race?

  • Let’s run it light.  Let’s get rid of the things that weigh us down.
  • Let’s run in the right direction.  Not towards money or fame or popularity, but run it toward Jesus.
  • Let’s run it through the pain.

If we do that we will finish strong and break the tape in front of a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on.