Laying Aside “Every Weight”

Neal Pollard

I try to write very seldom about my favorite hobby, running, which I picked up when our baby, who Pooh Duke has dubbed “Carlnormous,” was still in the womb (This is Carlnormous).  Running produces so many wonderful benefits, physically, psychologically, and mentally.  Yet, as I have heard said, exercise is only about 20% of weight management.  Therefore, until I have recently begun beefing up my “push back” exercises from the dinner table, I have been running at over 200 pounds for much of those 17 years.  I am 15 pounds lighter than I was this time last month, and Strava does not lie.  Today, I logged a 10K at a pace of 8:19/mile (Strava is cool), while listening to a mellow “Fleet Foxes And More” playlist from Amazon Music (Will Fleet Foxes reunite?)—not exactly heart-pumping exercise music.  This time last month, I was about a full minute slower per mile.  Since today I’m inevitably older than I’ve ever been, the difference has to be the fewer pounds I’m dragging around.  Hopefully, I’ll drop more weight, and if I do I anticipate that my pace may quicken and I’ll feel even better doing it.

New Testament writers use the running analogy on several occasions, but consider what the writer of Hebrews says:  “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is 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. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (12:1-3). The NASB says “encumbrance” (NKJV, “weight”), and the word means “that which serves to hinder or prevent someone from doing something—‘hindrance, impediment’ (Louw-Nida, 13.149). While the implication is “of an athlete stripping himself of clothing which would impede his performance” (Ellingworth, NIGTC, np), how much more does something like 15 pounds “impede”?

This passage encourages endurance with at least three ideas.

Laying Aside The Weight Is Meaningful. It helps one with endurance as it helps eliminate obstacles to a successful run.  It shows up in a better quality of life. It impacts more than just the run you are on that day.  The effects are enduring and they impact such vital areas as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc.  So it is spiritually.  This is about defeating sin, staying faithful, endurance, and overcoming.  In line with the thrust of the whole letter of Hebrews, it is about not falling away and leaving Christ!  We do not want to hang on to anything that interferes with that eternal prospect.

Laying Aside The Weight Is Measurable. I can tell the difference in myself when I have or have not lost that extra weight.  Certainly, the same is true spiritually.  When something is weighing me down, distracting, depressing, deceiving, or drawing me away, I can tell.  I can see it in my devotional life, it shows up in my speech, my attitude, my ethics, and countless similar ways. Other people can see it, too.  I know that God sees every bit of it!

Laying Aside The Weight Is Motivational.  By laying aside the encumbrances and entanglements, I feel better and improve my physical quality of life. The Hebrews’ writer tells us about a transcendent motivation which follows lightening our spiritual loads of sin problems.  Removing the impediments, I am better able to fix my eyes on Jesus and His example while not growing weary or losing heart.

Past experience tells me that weight can be picked up even easier than it can be laid aside.  This is an ongoing discipline.  But it is so worthwhile!  Oh, that I can remember that as I run the course of earth toward eternity.

“Marathon Heart”

Neal Pollard

A protein called “troponin,” indicating heart damage, is typical with the majority of runners tested after running a marathon.  Malissa Wood, a Harvard-affiliated cardiologist who has competed in four marathons says that the danger comes in not training enough, running forty-five miles or more each week.  Her pithy summary was, “Use your head when you use your heart” (William J. Cromie, Harvard University Gazette, 12/18/06).   Elite distant runner and hopeful Olympic marathoner, Ryan Shay, died November 4, 2006, from an apparent enlarged heart aggravated by intensive athletic training.  The month before, an amateur running a marathon in Chicago, also dropped dead with heart-related problems.

It is no news flash when heavy smokers or extremely overweight people die of heart disease and heart attacks.  It is expected.  Yet, most of us are shocked to get the news that athletes capable of running ridiculous distances dropping dead.  That just seems to defy logic.  Aerobic exercise is supposed to be good for the heart.

The Bible uses the heart to refer to the center of a person, his or her feelings, thoughts, desires, will, and more.  We expect that people out in the world have spiritual heart problems.  The world’s world-view has self at the center, with no regard for a higher standard or authority.  So, it thinks, says, and does so much that naturally and destructively follows spiritual heart problems.

As Christians, we need to be careful to monitor our hearts.  That applies to even those who are regarded as spiritual giants, leaders, and ones seemingly impervious to heart problems like those seen in the world.  No doubt, David is the greatest Bible example of this.  As you recall, he was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22).  What a strong heart!  Yet, he had a nearly fatal fall while running his course (2 Sam. 12ff).  Have you ever known Christians who you never dreamed would commit adultery, be arrested on child pornography charges, abandon the church, steal money from a company or organization, be jailed, or something similar?  What happened?  They developed heart problems!

The good news is, spiritually, that intensive heart training will not result in catastrophe.  You cannot over-meditate on the Word.  You cannot be overly-engaged in prayer.  You cannot too actively combat impurity in your heart.  In fact, it is the way to spiritual survival.  There is likely still quite a distance between you and your finish line.  It is not a sprint.  It is more like a marathon, that race you are running (1 Cor. 9:26; Gal. 5:7; Phil. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:7; Heb. 12:1).  Spiritually, at least, you need a marathon heart!

BENAIAH’S BRAVADO

Neal Pollard

In December, 2003, Dave Young, Sr., Jim Dalton, Keith and Kim Kasarjian, Cy Stafford, Kathy and I all stopped for lunch at a picnic area in Tarangire National Park south of Arusha, Tanzania. We stood a short distance from our vehicles, and I prayed for the food.  About midway through the prayer, a lion roared.  The sound felt as if it went straight through us, and every eye popped open to see exactly where the big cat was.  Afterward, Cy told us it could have been a mile away.  The roar was so powerful, it felt like he was spitting (eating?) distance away from us.

Since then, every time I read about a particular conquest of Benaiah, one of David’s mighty men, I think back to that hot African day.

2 Samuel 23:20 so nonchalantly reports, “…He also went down and killed a lion in the middle of a pit on a snowy day.”  Notice three things about this exploit.  First, the foe was ferocious. It was a lion, one of nature’s fiercest predators.  It is likely to be an aggressor when confronted by a man.  Second, the field of battle was foreboding.  Try to put yourself in Benaiah’s position.  You are down in a pit facing the king of the jungle.  It is very unlikely one can outrun a lion on flat ground in ideal circumstances, but where do you run down in a pit? Finally, the forecast was definitely a factor!  What was the traction and footing like for David’s mighty man in this battle? Yet, the outcome, incredibly, was that Benaiah faced this foe and won!

Have you ever found yourself in a seemingly impossible circumstance?  Maybe a powerful temptation, a chronic illness, a perpetual enemy, a prolonged financial crisis, a wayward loved one, or other thorn in the flesh or spirit?  Maybe you felt like giving up.  Maybe you have given up.  I urge you to be a Benaiah, fighting valiantly adorned with the whole armor of God (Eph. 6:10ff).  Realize that you do not fight alone, that God will aid you (1 Cor. 10:13) and lead you to victory every time (1 Jo. 5:4).  Your lion, pit, or snowy day may be figurative, but that makes God’s aid no less likely.  You keep fighting, and He will give you victory!

Where’s Greg Reynolds Today?

Neal Pollard

Being a Rockies’ fan has its ups and downs—historically, there have been more downs than ups, I’m afraid.  Being no-hit last night by Dodger’s pitcher Clayton Kershaw was pretty low!  While it was only the third time in franchise history that no Rockies’ hitter got a hit in an official baseball game, there was a particular pain to the “no no” last night.  Kershaw was picked by the Dodgers with the seventh overall pick in the 2006 Major League Draft.  That means he was available when the Rockies used the second overall pick to take right-hander Greg Reynolds out of Stanford University (via http://www.baseball-reference.com).  While Kershaw is arguably the best pitcher baseball has seen this generation, Reynolds is duking it out in Japan’s professional baseball league with the Saitama Seibu Lions.  So far, he’s notched a very mortal 6-11 record in America’s professional baseball league. He’s 0-5 with a 5.52 ERA with the Lions (bis.npb.org.jp).

This is not intended to be a rip on Greg Reynolds or even Colorado’s front office, though the local fan base may like to see it.  Nor is it simply an opportunity to vent frustration against our local diamond dwellers. It is, however, a great illustration of something that can happen elsewhere in life.  Reynolds was selected so high in the draft because of potential, a record of achievement he had compiled to that point, and certain tools and traits that seemed to scouts and organizational brass like a “can’t miss” opportunity.

How often are we reminded that superior intellect, physical strength, charisma and charm, and abundant material resources alone are insufficient?  Whole nations like Edom, Canaan, Egypt, and even Israel learned this in the Old Testament.  Individuals with such potential, whether Samson or Saul or the Rich Young Ruler, prove that performance is the ultimate measurement over potential.  “Almost” is an unsatisfactory and incomplete idea, as is nearly, close, and “could have been.”  The graveyard is littered with stories of those who did not parlay potential into performance.  History’s pages portray so many figures who flirted with greatness without getting there.

The stakes are different for us.  It’s not millions of dollars, All-Star status, or the Hall of Fame (or even being able to stick on a Major League roster).  Intentions are insufficient.  Action is all-important.  When we are thinking about God’s commands and considering that eternity is at stake, we must have more than tools and talents.  We must, simply, do (Mat. 7:21; Luke 6:46).

 

No, THAT is not Reynolds. Guess who it IS?

SHE CARRIED HER SISTER TO THE FINISH LINE

 

Neal Pollard

At the southern Illinois state track meet, Claire and Chloe Gruenke, twin sisters, were signed up for several races.  Chloe would even win the one mile race in 5:23 that day.  But in the 800 meter race, Chloe heard a pop in her knee and absolutely could not run another step.  Claire saw it happen and made an incredibly sacrificial gesture.  She put her sister on her back and carried her piggyback the final 370 meters of that race.  The crowd wildly cheered her on and gave her the encouragement she needed to do the difficult and finish the race with her sister in tow (via Fox4kc.com). It was a beautiful story!

The writer of Hebrews tells us we are running a race, surrounded by many witnesses (12:1).  It is easy to grow weary and lose heart (3).  God has given us Christ as a focal point (2). However, the Bible gives us the charge to help each other, too (Gal. 6:1; Heb. 12:13).  While no one can run the Christian race for someone else or make another person do what they need to do to be saved, we are encouraged to help each other run that race.  Paul talks of helping other “runners” and watching himself in the process (1 Cor. 9:27). He urges the Romans, “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification” (Rom. 15:1-2).

There are times when we feel strong and can make progress without the assistance of others on this earth, but at other times we will struggle.  How terrible if we do not have someone to help us make it through the struggling times.  Of course, we also have to think of ourselves as ones willing to aid the brother or sister who needs a spiritual lift—the carrier and not just the carried.  God has made the church as a unified body, each member helping the other when the need arises.  Many will not finish the race.  May we make sure that we do what we can to prevent our spiritual family from failing to successfully cross the finish line.

The Origin Of Scruples

Neal Pollard

Wes Autrey gave me an incredibly cool book by Charles Earle Funk.  The title of it is, “Thereby Hangs A Tale.” The book divulges the origin of words in modern usage, a study known as etymology. The fascinating explanations of many of our words is virtually endless, but the origin of our word “scruples” is particularly interesting.  Apparently, the Romans were prone to get sharp pebbles in their sandals.  They called those “pointed bits of stone” scrupulus. Funk says, “It is easy to see how the uneasiness one would feel from a pebble in the sandal gave rise to the figurative use of scrupulus for an uneasiness of the mind” (254).  In time, scrupulous has come to mean “extreme caution and carefulness.”  Scruples are “a feeling of doubt or hesitation with regard to the morality or propriety of a course of action.”

There is a connection between scruples and conscience.  It is the conscience that informs our scruples.  Our sense of right and wrong determines our caution, care, and even hesitation when we are in a given situation.  How sharp our conscience is effects how scrupulous or unscrupulous we are.

The Bible does not use the word “scruples,” but the word “conscience” is mentioned 27 times in the New Testament alone. Some people’s conscience forbids them to do what may be acceptable (cf. 1 Cor. 8:7), but others’ consciences allow them to do what is forbidden (Acts 23:1; 1 Tim. 4:2). Thus, the goal is for us to properly train and adequately sharpen the conscience.

What helps in this process is growing close to God by communing with Him in Scripture, application of Scripture, and prayer.  As we walk the narrow way, we want to feel the pain of those “pebbles” that may keep us from finishing the journey.  Is this not the idea conveyed by the writer of Hebrews, who says, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).  That rock in the shoe may be some ethical or moral practice that ultimately takes us off course.  Let us be careful to gauge the morality or propriety of any course of action, making sure it is in harmony with the goal of eternal life and not more likely to ultimately lead us away from God.

Simon Ostrovsky’s Courage

 

Neal Pollard

Perhaps you have seen YouTube or Vice News videos featuring Simon Ostrovsky’s behind the scenes reports of the escalating crisis in eastern Ukraine as well as earlier reports in Crimea.  On April 21, at a police checkpoint in Sloviansk, Ostrovsky was detained and held in a squalid holding area for four days, beaten a couple of times, and interrogated by his captors. He has been released now and is seeking press credentials before considering reentering this city in Ukraine that has been the center of gun battles and alleged protestor deaths.  While I am unsure of Ostrovsky’s political ideology and he does not appear to have deep religious convictions, I admire his courage and perseverance.  He believes in the importance of media rights and the ability to give uncensored reports of happenings there and he is willing to risk and sacrifice on behalf of those convictions.  The fact that he wants to remain in Ukraine and report on this ongoing, changing international situation is remarkable, a tribute to his fearlessness.

It is hard for us to imagine today what the early Christians went through to defend something greater even than national freedom and civil rights. Disciples of Christ were persecuted (cf. Acts 8:4; 2 Tim. 3:12; Heb. 10:34; Rev. 2:10) and even killed for serving Him (Acts 7:58-59).  Yet, the courage they so often demonstrated in the face of such things is incredible!  They sang in prison after being beaten (Acts 16:22ff).  They rejoiced after they were flogged, “that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).  Paul, oft-recipient of physical persecution, wrote the Thessalonians, saying that their persecutions and afflictions were “a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering” (2 Th. 1:5).

The mood and spirit in our country has certainly changed regarding faith in the Christ of the Bible.  There could come a day when you and I might have to muster the courage to stand before those with the power to imprison, torture, or even kill us for standing up for Jesus.  However, as the world’s mindset encroaches more and more into our lives and culture, we must maintain the courage to stand up for Him even when we must stand for the unpopular and even stand alone while doing it.  It takes uncommon courage to remain distinct and loyal to our Lord, no matter what people say and do.  Let us learn a lesson from Mr. Ostrovsky.  Let us have the courage of our convictions and conquer the fears that might keep us from doing our “job” as Christians!