Navigating 2020 is not for the faint of heart. Most of us have been off balance most of this year. It’s hard to believe that six months ago, the impeachment trial in the US Senate had yet to begin. Now that seems like ancient history, a forgotten footnote in a year that has been dominated by pandemics and protests. We’re six months in, and what may be the most divisive presidential election in my lifetime is still in front of us. Buckle up.
In the midst of the turbulence, the only place I know to go to steady myself is God’s word. There have been passages I’ve read or mediated on in recent weeks that have reminded me of how I am to run the race that is set before me, no matter how challenging the terrain might be.
That metaphor – running the race before us – is the metaphor employed by the writer of the book of Hebrews. Writing to Christians who had converted from Judaism to Christianity, only to find themselves facing challenges and persecution (including being thrown in prison and having their property plundered), the author of the letter tells his readers to run with endurance and to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus.
It has been easy for all of us in this difficult year to become weary and to want to slow down. But we can’t. “Lift your drooping hands,” we’re told, “and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:12-13).
Drooping hands and weak knees. I can relate. I bet you can too. But like a coach or a personal trainer, the writer of this letter calls us to keep going and not to quit. In telling us to straighten our path, he is charging those of us who are both weak and lame to stay on the path of holiness. As one Bible commentator says, this is an exhortation, quite simply, to “be strong and go straight.” Wandering from the straight path is a good way to injure yourself.
Most people in our day who hear the word “holiness” or hear someone talking about walking the “straight and narrow” are likely to immediately jump to a list of behaviors to be avoided. There are passages in scripture that list for us certain “deeds of the flesh.” We think that holiness is about avoiding sensuality and carnality, gluttony or drunkenness.
But a commitment to holiness in scripture goes well beyond avoiding certain behaviors. And the writer of the book of Hebrews has two specific commands to his readers – commands that I need to keep in the forefront of my thinking right now.
First, he says, “strive for peace with everyone” (Hebrews 12:14).
The same command is found in Romans 12:18. “If possible,” we’re told, “as much as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” I’m grateful for the caveats that make it clear that peace isn’t always achievable. It takes two to be at peace with one another. But to be at peace should always be our goal.
The owners of Twitter don’t want you to read these verses. Their whole business model seems to be built around stoking the fires of cultural conflict. A quick click of the Explore button on Twitter and you’ll be ushered into the online squabble de jour, complete with a cast of characters you can choose to lionize or vilify.
But the straight path – the one where the lame can avoid injury – is a path of peace. Pursuing peace with everyone. Even when we disagree.
That’s part of what’s broken in our culture today. The ability for people to disagree and still seek a path of peace. In many circles today, a lack of civility or respect for those with whom we might disagree is seen as a badge of honor. We want to score points for our side more than we want to be at peace with all men.
But the call to holiness in scripture includes a call to be men and women who pursue peace.
“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble,” we’re told.
I have to confess that I find roots of bitterness springing up more often these days. Whether it’s the policies, the pundits or the politicians with whom I disagree, I can easily become agitated and embittered. The enemy loves to move me from whatever righteous anger I might be experiencing as quickly as he can to sinful anger. He knows how useful and stubborn a root of bitterness can be, and how hard it is to dig it up.
The straight path of holiness requires that I avoid these roots that would trip me up. My agitated heart needs to move away from anger and toward peace.
God has promised that He will keep us in perfect peace if our hearts and minds are stayed on Him. That’s what the hymn writer said: “Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blessed, finding as He promised, perfect peace and rest.”
If your hands have been drooping in recent days, and if you find your knees are week, listen to the Holy Spirit who is charging each one of us to press on and to pursue the path of holiness and peace. Take a minute to meditate on Hebrews 12:12-15, and let those verses direct your steps today.
One of the hardest parts of the last four months for me has been the loss of the weekly connection we have with one another when we are able to gather for worship. There are so many of you who I haven’t seen in such a long time. And I find myself wondering how you’re doing in your walk with the Lord. I want you to know that as God brings you to mind – and it happens often – I take a minute to pray for you.
I hope we’re staying in touch with one another regularly. I hope you’re connecting in some way with people from your small group or with friends from church. I hope we’re texting and calling and finding ways to make sure we can be here for each other.
Is there someone God has put on your heart in recent days? Why not call them or text them today and ask them how they’re doing.
Here’s what Sunday will look like again this week. Mrs. Jen will have the Gospel Zone lesson for kids beginning on line at 9:40. We’ll start the service on line at 10, as usual.
We’ll be continuing our look at what Jesus says about how the way the Father and Son work together to bring men and women into God’s family, and to keep them safely there.
See you (in person or on line) Sunday!
Soli Deo Gloria!