Recently, I was discussing with some friends several pastors that had fallen from grace and lost their position in the church through one indiscretion or another. Some of those pastors have since been restored to being a pastor in another church. Some were so greatly shunned that they never returned to ministry. Some were removed properly through biblical church discipline while others were removed after their stories made it into the spotlight of media coverage.
I was going through some old CDs and found a set of devotional CDs that included a couple of the pastors we discussed. As I listened to their contributions to the devotional, I realized what they were teaching was solid theologically. It made me think that if they had only taken their own advice, they may not have found themselves in the trouble that caused them to fall. In fact, many of the pastors that have lost their position, have been solid theological, doctrinal teachers that have lead many people to know Jesus. So, what happened? Were these men deceivers from the start? Some maybe, but I believe the majority of them simply got caught up in the race set before them and failed to run with endurance. They forgot their training and became undisciplined in their running.
Hebrews chapter 11 is often called the “Hall of Faith”. It reads like a who’s who of the Bible with example after example of people who ran the race before them, “by faith”. Then, in chapter 12, the runners of the past hand off the baton to the next leg of runners. The author of Hebrews calls them witnesses which is an important distinction. They are not spectators watching in comfort. Witnesses have been there, done that, and now tell their story. They testify. They don’t stand around and watch. The lives of these witnesses in chapter 11 have testified to us, the next leg of runners, and shown us how to run our leg of the race set before us. As chapter 12 starts, we receive our instruction and our ultimate example; “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. Who, for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Here is our example and our finish line. Lay down everything that is going to hinder our stride, look to Jesus and keep running until we finish at His feet in the Throne Room of God. We often start so well. Sometimes we may even be leading the pack then and we find ourselves off course, running in the wrong direction or not running at all. As Paul says, “You were running superbly! Who cut in on you, deflecting you from the true course of obedience?” (Galatians 5:7 MSG). We cannot forget that we have one who opposes our race, seeks to hinder our path, and pull us out of the race and devour us (1st Peter 5:8). We must be disciplined to avoid the obstacles the opposition throws at us.
And what obstacles does the opposition throw in our path? The very same weights and sins we dropped at the beginning of our race. That’s what makes them so difficult to pass up. They are familiar to us. We don’t see them as obstacles to avoid but as something that was once too heavy for us to carry. Now, in our new found strength, we make the mistake of thinking we are strong enough to pick them back up and keep running. This is where many of the fallen pastors, and us as Christians go astray. We began by laying aside the weights and sins that hindered us and picked up the discipline it takes to be a runner. We then forget our training and lose sight of the path of righteousness.
Discipline is necessary for running well. Not discipline in the sense of punishment but discipline in the sense of determined and purposeful training and living. We pay attention to what we take in. We train our mind and body to push through pain and discomfort in order to reach new levels. We find our rest in Jesus, not in comfort. Comfort is for the spectators. Endurance is for the runners, the witnesses, past, present, and future. Endurance is not built in comfort but in the trials and the tests. James 1:2-4 tells us to, “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials. Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have it’s perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
This race we run as Christians begins and ends at the feet of Jesus. Let’s continue to run well. Let us be disciplined to avoid the distractions and endure the tests and trials set before us as Jesus endured the Cross. Let those tests and trials be a reminder that our race is not yet finished and let’s use them as training for the next leg of the race. From the Cross of Jesus to the Throne Room of God, let us run with endurance the race that is set before us!