Sunday, October 01, 2023
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A Father's Race

I want to examine with you A Father's Race and what that means in the context of Hebrews 12:1-11.

Some time ago when I was in Wenatchee, I stopped in at one of the places I remember from growing up—Dusty's In and Out. When I got there I looked on the wall, and saw this picture of the 1957 Dusty's In and Out team, and the guy in the top row in the middle was me!

The guy in the corner of the picture was Roy Snodgrass, my coach. In one particular game, it was the 9th inning, bases loaded, two out, 3-and-2 count. I was at the plate. I remember I was really nervous, and the crowd was kind of hushed. Then out of the crowd came this statement... "If anybody can do it, Bobby, you can!" I don't remember what happened after that—whether I hit or I struck out. All I remember is that phrase ringing in my ears! Roy Snodgrass gave me a compliment, and I remembered it. He showed some confidence in me, and it was great!


That is very, very typical of the impact of a father's words on a child; they can be for good or for evil.

They can stick in our minds. They can be an encouragement to us through many, many subsequent experiences; or they can ring in our minds as that which denigrates and holds us down and keeps us back.

So I want to talk to you about this concept: that fathers are like coaches. I'm not trying to be cute here. The passage that we're looking at really does lend itself to this particular idea. So as we turn to Hebrews 12:1, we want to look at

The Elements of the Race

the crowd watching the race

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses... If you've read the Book of Hebrews, you know that Chapter 11 is this wonderful Hall of Faith, where the patriarchs and those who've gone before us who speak encouragingly to us of a walk of faith. We understand what faith is all about.

But I think it's important for us to note that we could extend it even to the witnesses in this present day, especially on a Father's Day. Verse 13 of the same chapter addresses the weak, the disabled, those who need some help. I'd like to extend that passage—although it is not specifically speaking about this—to speak about children. Let's talk about children as being witnesses, too. There is a crowd watching the race of every man and woman here today, especially fathers. Someone is watching your race, so it is imperative that you run it.

What should you wear?

the clothes of the race

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Again, contextually "the thing that hinders" would be a lack of faith and also that very specific sin we have a propensity to commit. That also could be a problem; it entangles and trips us up, so we need to run the race with the right clothes.

the character of the race

Let us run this race with perseverance! It's not always a pleasant race. More often than not we don't understand the complexities of the race: what's it all about, where we're going, etc. So it is important, then, that we understand this character quality, the key character quality of the race: perseverance. 

the course

Run the race, run with perseverance, the race marked out for us. It's pretty obvious that someone who has run before us has marked out the race. It is important for us to understand that this race has a unique, as well as a universal, quality to it. We have as individuals a very specific race to run, impacted and empowered by the Spirit of God and also the gifts, talents, and experiences God has placed in our lives. On the other hand, however, our destination is the same. We're going to be conformed as believers to the image of Christ.

the coach

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men... Now, let's take a moment and think about His race. Think about the elements of the course on which He ran. There was joy. Endurance was called for. There was also shame, and finally He sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

If we extract that and apply it to our lives, we can see that these elements are needed in our race, too. There needs to be a joy factor, and on Father's Day I think it's a good stretch for us to think about those who will follow... those children who walk in our footprints. They can be the joy, as we in this room (our salvation, our redemption) were the joy that was set before the Lord. The same thing is true of us as we look to our children. That joy, that potential, that possibility, that goal, that dream needs to be the joy that is set before us.

Endurance is needed. We've already noted that. There's shame involved... shame in particular for our failures, the times when we fall down. The destination also applies: Jesus sat down at the right hand of God, and Scripture makes it very clear that we are seated together with Him in heavenly places, far above all rule, power, and dominion.

How should we respond? Stop and think about how you respond to the Lord. It's important for us to fix our eyes on Him.

I can tell how well a person is going to do by asking him to talk about his faith for a few moments. If Jesus comes up in the conversation as a goal, as a model, that's a good sign. If I talk to someone about reading Scripture, and they say something like this: "You know, I find it's important for me to come back to the Gospel. That really helps to explain what has happened in the Old Testament and the progressive revelation as the Messiah has come...," what a wonderful thing that is. As they begin to talk about that and to share the things they are learning about Jesus as they read through that, I'm impressed with the fact that they are fixing their eyes on Him. Consider Him, meditate on Him, who endured such opposition for sinful men. The way our coach coaches best is by his action—by the way he lives.

the conditions for the race

Consider him who endured such opposition for sinful men so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood... You'll note here, there's a problem to avoid. The problem with the spiritual race—as well as any race—is that you can lose heart, grow weary, and get tired; and you want to drop out of the race. This is one of the huge problems we have in our culture, as fathers in particular are dropping out of the race. Weary, not understanding the importance of losing heart, not having perseverance (whatever the excuse we come up with), it's causing all kinds of problems in our culture.

The perspective to maintain is, it could be worse. This passage says, "In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." Now think about that. When was the last time you shed your blood for your faith because you were persecuted, because you went through some kind of huge trial?

Things could be worse. That's why this book is so wonderful for us, especially the latter part in Chapters 10 and 11 where we note those who have gone before us. "The world," the author of Hebrews says, "was not worthy of them." The paid a price. They shed their blood, and they did not even have a perfect picture of what was coming. Romans 8:32 tells us, "He did not spare his own son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" He didn't spare His own son. He shed His blood. He gave Him up. And thus He gives us all things.

Now contrast that with Jeremiah 12:5.

If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses [or with automobiles]? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?
Jeremiah 12:5

The area around Jordan is pretty stark. There are big crevices where, when the floods come down the hill, they etch themselves into the ground and it looks almost like a moonscape. So during flood season, the water comes down the hills and the banks overflow, and it is not a place you want to be.

The point is that we learn to handle the more difficult things by the easier steps. We learn to run with horses by running the race that's before us. It's progressive. It could be worse and it probably will be, so it's better for us to learn now so that the quality of our race, the nature of our ability will increase and we can handle what's ahead.

Why is the Race So Hard?

The first reason is that

a hard race displays the father's love

Hebrews 12:5-10: And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." Endures hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 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 our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.

It's just an awesome passage of Scripture. Let it roll around in your spirit, your heart and your mind. Let's go back and look at it again.

A hard race displays a father's love. You see, we forget—and this passage is reminding those folks that they had forgotten—a passage in Proverbs. "You've forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons. My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline and do not lose heart." And those are two possibilities—to make light of and lose heart when He rebukes you.

In the difficulty of the race, the coach is saying, "I love you," "I love you." That's what the Lord of Hosts is saying. A hard race also proves who our Father is, because the Lord disciplines those He loves and punishes everyone He accepts as a son. Endure hardship—any kind of hardship—as discipline. In whatever arena (secular, spiritual, any kind of hardship), it's discipline. It takes some thought—some discipline—to remind yourself when hardship comes... "Ah! This means something! It means God loves me, it means I'm His child, that I'm in His family.

it's training for our good so that we might be holy, that we might be sanctified.

The key word in verse 9 is submit. "Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best," it says earlier in the verse. And if your father's like many, his best—in reflection—wasn't always great. But God disciplines us for our good. It is absolutely for our good that we may share in his holiness.

Holiness—what is that? A total absence of sin and filled with every kind of goodness. There's a wonderful definition. God wants for us every kind of goodness, to live lives unentangled by our sin. He wants us to be holy, to share in His holiness. So what does he do? He constructs a race—an individual race designed with us in mind. He says, "Now, you run that race and I'm going to so engineer its elements that the end result as you run and keep your eyes fixed on me is, you're going to become holy.

Note what verse 11 says: "No discipline  seems pleasant at the time but painful. Later on, however, it produces"—here the metaphor changes, and if you're a writer of Scripture you can do that—"a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." There's that athletic word—"trained by it." Initially it's painful; eventually it produces a harvest.

Here is a definition of a Christian that I like: One who is completely fearless, continually cheerful and constantly in trouble. God does not ask us to rejoice in trouble, but in what trouble does for us. It's not, "Hallelujah; it hurt!" It's "Hallelujah; it helps!"

The Criteria for Winning the Race

We have seen that the Lord is going to put this together. He's organized it; He's marked out the race for us. But we play a part, obviously. As the Spirit works through us, He enables us. It's not earning your salvation, but we do play a part.

"therefore—strengthen your feeble arms and your weak knees."

Look at 1 Samuel 30:

1 Samuel 30

David has had somewhat of a defeat at Ziklag. He's come back; the women and children have been taken away from his camp; and his guys are a little upset. In fact, they're very upset.

David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength [or, in the King James, strengthened himself] in the Lord his God.

In other words, he went through a process in that very difficult moment that strengthened him. I had a breakdown a number of years ago, and I remember how it feels. I remember the stress, the trouble, the loss of memory, the pain of that whole thing. And when symptoms start showing up in my life from time to time, I try to remember how to strengthen myself in the Lord. I recently did a study called "Strengthen," going through the Old and New Testaments and noting all the places where that word "strength" or "strengthen" is mentioned.

So in order to win the race, we need to strengthen ourselves, to find ways to get ourselves in better shape.

make level paths for your feet, make every effort to live at peace, and make every effort to be holy

In verse 13, we again see effort, in the context of working out your salvation as Christ works in you. So "make level paths for your feet so that the lame may not be disabled but rather healed, make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy. Without holiness no one can see the Lord." So we make level paths; we make efforts to live in peace, to be holy as Christ works in us. What are the consequences of that?

The lame will not be disabled. We will be holy and we will see the Lord. This is what I'm offering as somewhat of a definition of children. One of the consequences of winning the race is so that the lame, the weak, those that are following in our footsteps, those children that are following may not be disabled but rather, healed. Healed. What a wonderful thought that is!

I want to go back to one passage we saw above: Hebrews 12:13. This is really quoting from an Old Testament passage, Proverbs 4:25-27:

Proverbs 4:25-27
Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you, make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or to the left, keep your foot from evil.

Making level paths is the context. The way we make a level path is not looking to the right or to the left, but straight ahead. Focusing on the Lord makes our path firm, not swerving, keeping our feet from evil.

Coming back from a trip over the mountains one day, I saw a guy driving in the car reading a newspaper. You know, he kind of ticked me off a little bit, and then I remembered that sometimes I write sermons in cars. (It's amazing how bad our sins look on other people!) However, I was watching this guy as he was driving, and every time he looked down at his newspaper he went to the right. He was going off the road! I saw him do it about five times. Now, I have this little thing I should probably repent for, but I sometimes like to scare people. So I came up behind him and honked my horn—big time! Well, you know, he got it corrected real quick, and he put his paper down.

Right at that moment, I was reminded, "Bob, that's exactly what you do, so be careful." It also reminded me of my life. If I am going to participate in sin it's because I take my eyes off Jesus. If I look this way, or look that way, eventually I'm going to drive that way. So the way that we

  • stay on course
  • win this race and
  • finish in a way that brings holiness to us and enables those following us to find sure footing

is by keeping our eyes focused on Jesus.

Some of us fathers are halfway through the game. Others of us have finished one game and are starting on a new one, called grandparenting. Others are not fathers yet. But the coach might say something like this... "Guys, I want you to understand that this race you are running is not about you, just about you. It's about those who are watching in the stands, because they're picking up some things.

"So, my encouragement to you fathers, is to run your race with perseverance. I want you to take off the clothes that are going to entangle you: the sins, the lack of faith—those things that trip you up. I want you to run with perseverance, looking at me, the coach. And if you run this race as I've asked you to run it, not looking to the right or to the left, it will remind you that you are my child and that I love you. Ultimately if you run it as I have outlined it for you, you will develop holiness and righteousness in your life, and you will see me someday. So don't swerve to the right. Don't swerve to the left. Keep your eyes fixed on me, and the result will be that many who are weak and many children who will follow, will find the footprints that they need to follow me into eternity."