Sunday, November 6, 2011

“Shaped By God” - Hebrews 12:1-3 (4-13) - November 6, 2011

Next time you are in the church offices, pop by my office and take a glance at the shelves. Of course you will find a couple of thousand books. You would also see an accidental elephant collection that grew from one to 82 over the last couple of decades, one at a time, from a wide range of family members and friends. But, one of the things that you would notice that might surprise you is my growing collection – or better said – growing obsession with pottery chalices and bowls. I begin with a single chalice to use for a Lord’s Supper service and now have probably ten or twelve sets in my office or at my home. I think the reason I like them so much is that each is truly unique but also truly simple. What began as just a lump of mud has been shaped by an artist’s hands into a thing of beauty that comes a tool to help remind me of Christ’s last night – that last supper – with his disciples. (Lift one goblet from among of the couple of sets sitting on a table). When you look closely, you can see the care the artist took in slowly but surely shaping the clay to craft this wonderful goblet. Almost every time I look at one of them I cannot help but think about the Old Testament story in Jeremiah where God sends him to the potter’s house to watch a pot being shaped by potter and there gives his a prophecy of how God will shape the people of Israel just like the potter shapes the clay. I think of Isaiah 64:8 where the great old prophet proclaims; Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

For me, it is remarkable to think about the fact that God loves me so much, that He is shaping me, molding me, making me into the all He dreams me to be. As we continue our walk through the Hebrews, we come to Chapter 12 where we are taught more about what it means to be shaped by God. We hear that while the process is not always easy, it is purposeful. God is alive and at work in our lives, shaping us, just like a potter at the wheel, to become the work of art that we were created to be.

Earlier in our service we heard the first three verses of Hebrews 12 read in multiple languages. It sets the tone for God plan for us. It reads; 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. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

We could spend hours just looking at these three verses, but what I want you to hear is that we do not run this race of life alone. Others have gone before us and still others go beside us. We are called to this grand race and we have to choose to strip away – to let go of – anything that might slow us from going where God wants us to go and to become the people God wants us to become. Christ goes in front of us, showing us the way. But you know, and I know, the path we run is not easy. Sometimes we stumble and fall. Sometimes our way of faith even seems painful because it is different than the path of least resistance – it is the way of God. Look with me at the Verses 4 through 13. They teach us that God is shaping us, molding us, teaching us – even discipling us, to make us who we were created to be. I read these verses from Eugene Peterson’s interpretive translation, The Message. I think his take gives us the best feel for what the writer of Hebrews wanted us to understand.

It reads: In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don't feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear children, don’t shrug off God's discipline, but don't be crushed by it either. It's the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that's why you must never drop out. He's treating you as dear children. This trouble you're in isn't punishment; it's training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God's training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God's holy best. At the time, discipline isn't much fun. It always feels like it's going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it's the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God. So don't sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!

I have to be honest. This passage makes me uncomfortable on multiple fronts. First it parallel’s the way a parent trains and disciplines a child with the way God trains and disciplines us. The reality is that there are some in this room who we instantly draw back because their experiences with their parents were far from ideal. Instead having a dad and mom who loved them and taught them and shaped them through blessing and discipline, they experienced tyrannical control and senseless abuse. In the proclamation of “spare the rod and spoil the child,” they experienced nothing short of brutality. Hear me say loud and clear that this is not what God teaches and I am deeply sorry for the emotional, spiritual, and physical wounds you now carry.

The second reason this passage makes me uncomfortable is that clearly understand there is a pervasive attitude in our culture that seems to walk away from any concept of discipline and blurs the power of the image the writer is trying to use. Many in our current cultural context have seen enough of the strong armed parenting approach of another generation and have reacted against it. This attitude is as prevalent within the Christian community as it is outside of it. So, I know what I say now will run counter culture to what some in this room hold as truth. But, please hear me out rather than tune me out. I believe this and countless other passages portray the role of the parent as a sacred responsibility. We are responsible before God how we live out this role. The Biblical principle is not a heavy handed abusive controlling model of parenting. In fact I believe this is counter to the way of God. Likewise, when we do not establish boundaries for our children and allow our children to behave in the way they sit fit, we have fallen short of what God asks of us. The Biblical principle is that our responsibility as parents is to love, guide, and shape our children in a way that leads them toward becoming the people God created them to be. Appropriate and purposeful disciple is not only a valuable tool in this process, it is essential. It teaches them to respect you and others, and will help them to understand God’s work in their lives.

With this in mind, our passages wants us to understand that just as loving parents shape and guide their children with discipline as one of their tools, God shapes and guides us, with discipline a one of God’s tools. We understand that there are consequences for our poor choices and actions, but this passage tells us that there are also times when God’s changes our circumstances as a way to redirect and reshape us. The passage is clear that God’s discipline is not malicious, or capricious, or irresponsible. It is quite the opposite. God’s discipline is purposeful – design to that we might share in God’s holiness. God’s discipline is loving – done for our good. God’s discipline is hopeful – intended to let us experience God’s grand will for our lives. God’s discipline is not punishment – it is divine shaping and training that pays off handsomely, for it's the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God. I want to be clear. God is not sitting there waiting to zap us with punishment or pain. God is not playing with us like living toys. God is not “doing things to us” to make us miserable. God is leading us and shaping us to be the work of art we were created to be. In this process we discover that he is shaping us with His divine love and touch. Sometimes God’s shaping is uncomfortable or even painful. The pain is born in our resistance to do what God wills for us. It is unpleasant because we have to give up our way for God’s way. So what does it look like when God shapes us or disciplines us? It is different for everyone. We will know when it is happening because we will be forced to make painful but essential decisions that will cause us to move in another direction or address a sensitive part of our lives. We will know it because we will realize that the only one we can turn to for help and direction is God.

God knows we have a race of faith to run that will carry us to His feet. God knows that we are tempted to fall back and to drift off course. We were created for more. God loves us enough that he shapes us and disciplines us so that we might follow his will and way and live the life of joy he intends for us. God is shaping us and disciplines us that we might be all we were created to be. God loves us enough not to let us settle for less. Do, what are your takeaways for the morning? * Let go of what is holding you back and seek God’s way. * Know that God loves us and wants us to be our best. * As followers of Christ, when we find ourselves in difficult and painful situations we must tune in and focus on God’s voice to see if this is a moment where God is shaping us or redirecting us. * Finally, Help each other out. And run for it! We do not run this race alone.

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