Written by Pastor Bryan Niebanck
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before usHebrews 12:1
Some may be confused by the division that we see in Luke 12. Where Jesus talks about division, saying “Father against son, son against father, mother against daughter,” and so forth, I believe that Jesus is telling us to make our relationship with Jesus to be more important than our relationships here on earth (Luke 12:53). That is, if we have a relationship in our lives that we know is distracting us from pursuing and persevering on our walk with Jesus, then that is a relationship that we should place less importance on when compared to our relationship with Jesus Christ. Many times, we may be held back by a relationship that we feel we are obligated to maintain and persevere through; however, our most important relationship and conversation that we have is always with God. I believe that Luke 12 helps us to focus. Though it may cause divisions among people on this earth, they are better to have than a division with God.
We may ask, as Hebrews 11 asks, “What does it mean to persevere?” Perseverance means that we try to accomplish something and keep going even when something seems to be impossible. We may persevere in a marathon or some other lighter tasks than that. When I have gone through marathons, I have been tempted to stop around miles 13-16, thinking that I cannot go on any further. I wonder why I have put myself through the agony of doing such marathons. Yet, that is a time when we can persevere and push through to reach that finish line, because when we do reach that finish line, it feels so much greater than anything we may have previously experienced. Therefore, ask yourself what your finish line may be. What may be that thing that you have wanted to do and have not yet reached? Perhaps it is a closer walk with God, eliminating something that has taken you away from your walk with God, or it is something constructive that you want to do to deepen your relationship with God, such as praying more, reading Scripture more, or confessing more often.
Last week we reviewed how it is important to adore God and praise God in our prayerful relationship with Him. It is also important to pray with confession.
When we persevere through whatever task we are facing and persevere toward our finish line, whatever that finish line may be for you, we are engaging in purposeful living with the presence of the Holy Spirit in trial and in rejoicing. The Holy Spirit is here to help us on the road through anything that we may face; all that we need to do is call on the Holy Spirit. Even when things do not seem to be going our way – and often things do not seem to be going our way – we are to call on the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 12:1-2 again states, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, who have perfected or worked on perfecting the faith, and their relationships with God. They have set us an example to follow. They have set an example to lay aside the weight and the sin that clings to us, which is removing everything that takes us away from focusing on a relationship with God. And always, we look to Jesus in everything who is the pioneer who starts that journey and who perfects that journey as well. In verse 2, Hebrews tells us that it was for the sake of the joy that was set before him that Jesus endured that cross, and it is also for the sake of the joy that you and we all see that we are called to persevere. It is for the sake of the joy that God promises us, even if we do not see it right now and we are struggling to see the joy and believe in it right now, it is for the sake of the joy that we are eventually promised that we are called to persevere. We can persevere by confessing to God when we make a mistake and also by pressing on toward pursuing the kingdom of God in whatever way we know how.
There are seven ways that I will briefly suggest how we can confess to God while being in a right relationship with God. The first part to remember is that we should confess in a private space, not because we need to hide it from other people, but because we do not need to flaunt our confession in front of other people. Jesus tells us to go pray in private so that we do not go pray in public and think about how good we look to others. First, there are less distractions, and second, you are doing the confessing just between you and God. The second piece that we can learn how to confess to God is to be humble. If we are not humble, we may be focused on how good our relationship with God is, and not where the flaws are. If we are humble, we are more able to recognize that we are only human; we do make mistakes. We need to recognize this if we are not going to allow pride to take away from our relationship with God. When we are not humble, we often feel like we do not need to do anything more because we are already in a good relationship with God. Yet in truth, there is always something more that can be done to pursue God. And to pursue that, we need to be humble to recognize that we make mistakes, and to recognize that there is always more that we can do to pursue God. Third, we can ask for forgiveness for what we have done. We all make mistakes and we all need to rely on God for forgiveness. When we make a mistake and we wrong a neighbor, we also say, “I’m sorry,” and “Will you forgive me for doing this thing?” We should have the same relationship with God, where we ask for that forgiveness. Fourth, we can ask what should be done next. We are having a conversation with God as we are praying, and in that conversation, we can ask God what we should do, how we can move forward from it, and how we can not be tempted by whatever this is in the future. Fifth, we should not make the same mistake twice. If we tell God that we are sorry and we do not want to do whatever brought us away from God again, but then we go back and do the same thing again, we may not have truly been committed to that cause. Have you ever had someone in your life who apologized for doing something, and then did it again the next day? Perhaps it was a child who was late to dinner or to curfew. The child said, “I’m sorry for being late; it won’t happen again.” And then it happens again. When it happens again in our relationship with God – when we tell God, “I’m sorry for committing this sin, I’m sorry for not loving you more, or I’m sorry for not praying to you more, God,” – and then we do not actually do anything to change that, trying to lead us to pray more or lessen the impact or occurrences of our sin, we are not doing what we can to improve our relationship with God. If we do not show commitment to not making the same mistake twice, is our confession truly a confession? Sixth, we should explain if we need to. God is a friend to us. It is not the same as going to the principal’s office and trying to take in what the principal would say to you. If you get called to a private meeting at work with your boss, you may feel a bit nervous on your way to that meeting because you do not know what that meeting is about. But we do not need to go to God with that same apprehension. We can talk to God like God is our best friend, because in reality, that is who God is. We can explain to God what happened, why we think it happened, and how we may be able to do better the next time. And if we do not know how, we can tell God that we do not know how and that we need God’s help. But regardless, we do not need to hold anything back because we can explain to God what we were thinking and everything that was going on in our minds. And seventh, we do have to accept the consequences. Even though God forgives us, there are always consequences for what we have done and we need to realize that. Whether it is breaking a relationship or doing something that had an impact, such as creating a division, we know that it can be lasting. If we play a role in creating a division that is not of God, we do need to be held accountable for that and try to do our best to mend that crack, or to mend that broken relationship, whether it is between you and another or between yourself and God.
Confession is one of our major themes and ways to pray. We need to be sure that we confess so that we are always pursuing a constant relationship with God. First, we adore God. Second, we confess to God.
When we persevere through every trial and every struggle that we face, we are pressing on through whatever lies before us toward a greater kingdom of God. First, confess in a private space. Second, be humble. Third, ask for forgiveness. Fourth, ask what should be done next. Fifth, do not make the same mistake twice. Sixth, explain to God if you need to. And seventh, accept the consequences. But we know that when we do follow these steps and approach God with all of these things in mind, we are approaching God with an unhindered spirit, in an unbroken relationship that we can mend and continue mending and persevere toward, pressing on toward the goal of the kingdom of God every single moment of our lives. May all glory and honor be to God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
NOTE: This sermon was scripted from a recording of it being preached.
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19
80:1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
80:2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!
80:8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
80:9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.
80:10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches;
80:11 it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River.
80:12 Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
80:13 The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.
80:14 Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, 80:15 the stock that your right hand planted.
80:16 They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance.
80:17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.
80:18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.
80:19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
11:29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned.
11:30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days.
11:31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
11:32 And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets–
11:33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions,
11:34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
11:35 Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection.
11:36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.
11:37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented–
11:38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
11:39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised,
11:40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
12:2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
12:49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
12:50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!
12:51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!
12:52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three;
12:53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
12:54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens.
12:55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens.
12:56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?