This is the second to last message of the Moving Forward series. Pastor Ben will be back next week to wrap it up (he is teaching today at one of our partner churches in Sunnyvale). Throughout this series the goal of every message has been to equip you with an idea or a practice that will help you move forward and grow in your faith journey. Our hope is that you will latch on to one or two things and apply it to your life – because if you do, it will transform you.
And so today is no different. I have titled my message Lean In. Let me ask you two questions: In this season of life, What are you leaning into? And, Who are you leaning into? This is likely an obvious statement, but let’s just go there: Your life is the sum total of who and what you are leaning into. For the most part, the quality of your life is based on where you are directing your energy.
And so that means, it is very important to choose wisely what we are leaning into; AND THEREFORE, we shouldn’t lean into everything. Before we talk about those few things that are absolutely necessary that we lean into in order to move forward in our faith journey, let’s just cover what happens when we lean away. Let me give you some categories.
There are certain areas in your life that you can lean out of, take a step back from, or quit altogether, and it will have no significant impact on your life. For example, giving up on a book that isn’t giving you anything is not going to hurt you (this is hard for me to do). But on the other hand, finishing the book is also not going to harm you. The decision to quit or keep going is neutral. Like, running a mile when you planned to run two, all good in my book (even better, I would say). But if you can finish, good for you.
Now, there are other areas where walking away from something is exactly what you need to do. For example, quitting smoking, or a character flaw, or any other addictive behavior that is destructive. Quitting might spare your life, and even enhance your life and the lives of those around you, beyond what you can imagine.
In those situations, walking away is a blessing; but there are other occasions when leaning away is the most devastating thing that you can do. Like leaning away from a marriage or another important relationship, or walking away from your faith. The impact that those decisions have on your life have a long-lasting effect. So rather than lean away from these things, or just simply being indifferent towards these things, we actually need to double-down and ensure that we are doing everything possible to lean into them.
So for today, I want to talk about three areas, that when it comes to our faith journey, it is absolutely important we lean into them. As I was preparing for this message, I thought I was going to focus on just one. But there is a passage in Hebrews that gives us three, in a concise way. Let’s read the passage and then I’ll break it down. (The three areas are going to be preceded by this phrase: let us. So keep an eye out for that.)
19Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Think of the areas that we need to lean into as directions. We need to lean into our relationship with God (vertical), our relationship with others (side-to-side), and our relationship with the future (forward). Or you can think about it as The three F’s: Father, Friends, and Future.
For the first one, before the writer of Hebrews gives us the encouragement to draw near to God, he offers a premise. He’s letting us know that because this one thing is true, it makes leaning into our relationship with God the Father easier. And he gives two reasons why that is: 1) the sacrifice of Jesus (vv. 19-20; the blood of Jesus and his body); and 2) the fact that Jesus is over the house of God (v. 21) In essence, he’s making the point, which is one of our values here at Epic, that Jesus Changes Everything. Jesus changed everything and he continues to change everything.
You see, the writer of Hebrews has spent the previous ten chapters talking about how Jesus is better than the previous religious system that the Jews were accustomed to. Under that system the High Priest could only enter the Most Holy Place of the temple one time a year in order to offer sacrifices. But now, the writer of Hebrews says, because of the blood of Jesus, and because of his body, which is described as a curtain, we can enter the Most Holy Place at any time. Matthew tells us that when Jesus died on the cross, that At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51)
This is powerful imagery; with huge significance! The place that was once restricted, the place that housed the presence and glory of God, and could only be entered once a year by one man, is no longer closed off. Jesus’ sacrifice has figuratively swung the door wide open to welcome everyone in at any time.
And here’s the thing, not only can we all enter, but we can enter with CONFIDENCE. Don’t miss that. Under the old system, entering the Most Holy Place before was a precarious situation. The High Priest had to wear bells at the bottom of his garment because if he wasn’t holy he would die in the presence of God. And so he would wear those bells because if the other priests that were on the outside of the Most Holy Place stopped hearing the bells they would assume that he was dead. And then they would use a long hook to drag him out. (Pretty crazy, right?!)
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes lack confidence going into certain places. I get intimidated. It’s like I’m worried that I'm going to be found out; that someone is going to tell me that I don't belong. But here’s what I know, if I'm walking in with the owner, no one is going to tell me anything. My insecurity turns into confidence. If I have received a personal invitation from the person that is over that place, and he has paid my way in, my confidence and comfortability is through the roof.
And so because of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews tells all of us, Let us draw near to God. (v. 22) You don’t have to fear. You don’t have to worry about being struck down. If you have placed your faith (your trust) in Jesus, you can walk in confidently because Jesus is over the house of God and he has made it possible for you to enter and have access to the living God.
And so, what does that mean? That means that if you are struggling with anything, if you have a need, you can and should bring it to God. Like the writer of Hebrews says elsewhere: So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved grace, and we will find help. (Hebrews 4:16 CEV)
This is how your relationship with God is going to develop. This is how you are going to move forward and grow in your spiritual journey. And this is how you are going to find strength and joy in life. By going bravely and confidently before God.
Do you know what that word confidence means? It means to speak freely. It means to speak without thinking about what you’re saying; without fear of being judged or rejected. You just blurt it out. When you go in for a job interview, you are not speaking freely. You’re thinking about every single little word. But on the other end of the spectrum, picture that eight year old child going before his or her parents to ask for something. There is no fear. There is no hesitation.
Do you approach God in that way? Do you have a regular rhythm of coming to God to share with him what you need? As Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer, do you pray: Give us this day our daily bread? Give me what I need. If you are not drawing near to God in this way, then you are missing out on a key aspect of your faith; probably the most fundamental aspect of your faith. And if you don’t soon lean into that you will soon lean out of your faith altogether; or really not have much of a semblance of faith at all.
Now, not only should we lean into our relationship with God (with the Father; with that vertical relationship), but the writer of Hebrews encourages us to …hold unswervingly to the hope that we profess. (v. 23a) This has to do with leaning into our future; with what’s ahead.
Leaning into the future might sound weird; but let me explain to you what I mean. And the key word that we have to focus on here is hope. Hope has to do with the future. Hope is more than just wishful thinking. It’s not like when we say, I hope I find a parking spot or a seat on Muni. No. Hope is about having confidence, and even certainty, that what awaits you ahead is a better future. It is trusting that you are in God’s good hands and that he is paving a way forward for you that is beautiful.
And why do we have that confidence and certainty? The author of Hebrews gives us the reason. He says, for he who promised is faithful. (v. 23b) God is a promise maker and a promise-keeper.
Now this doesn't mean that God has promised you a future without pain or suffering. But he does promise that in your pain and suffering you are not alone – that you are not without hope. Remember, the hope that the scriptures profess is not one of riches, health, and pleasure. But the hope that we profess is that the one who began a good work in us will see it to completion; it’s that God is redeeming all things; it’s the promise that one day every tear will be wiped away; it’s the promise that nothing can separate you from the love of God, and that he is working out all things for your good.
Now, here’s another reason why we must hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. Because how we view the future is closely linked to the present. There is a proverb that says that hope deferred (hope given up on) makes the heart sick. (Proverbs 13:12a) Not having the vision to see a better future makes me sick today. When we abandon hope we become extremely pessimistic. When we abandon hope we make poor choices because who cares, right, the future is bleak. In fact, when it comes to our faith journey, without hope everything stops. One commentator goes so far as saying that without hope – that without leaning into your future with a heavenly perspective – it’s almost impossible to lean into the other two areas (Father and friends) in a meaningful way.
Let’s not underestimate the role of hope in our faith journey today. Hope for the future is power in the present. So let me ask you, do you believe that God has a good plan and purpose for your life? All of us need to commit to memory Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Are you leaning into that? And you know whether or not leaning in by your steady commitment to follow and trust him today, despite what the circumstances might be telling you.
So we have covered leaning in vertically with the Father and forward with our future, and now we are going to discuss leaning in to the sides with our friends. The writer of Hebrews closes out this section by encouraging us to …consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds… (v. 24). The goal of this section is love and good deeds. The emphasis is on that – that we would be transformed into more loving and generous people. And so the author gives a few things that we should do and one thing that we shouldn’t do.
Let’s start with the one thing that we shouldn’t do. The author writes that We must not give up meeting together; as some are in the habit of doing. (v. 25a) The word that translates into ‘not giving up’ carries the idea of abandonment; or forsaking someone or something. This is the same word used by Jesus on the cross when he cried out (Matt. 27:46): “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
I share that comparison because the writer is not making light of this situation. He’s using strong language. It’s not like, Hey, some people haven’t been at church lately. I hope they come back. No. He’s warning his audience not to abandon God and his people. He’s like, We need you.
And let me just say this, one commentator wrote that some of these people may have had very good reasons to stop gathering with the Christian community. Others did not have a good reason, like those who stopped being a part of the church because of apathy, or because of their connection to the world or the Jewish synagogue. But this commentator said that some could have stopped gathering because of the heavy threat of persecution coming against the Christian church – the fear of losing their life kept some away. And then he adds this: “Whatever the reason, the author [of Hebrews] sees their discontinuance of common fellowship and worship as fatal for perseverance in the faith. Encouragement cannot take place in isolation.”
Here’s what he’s saying. Some see it as fatal to meet with the Christian church, but in the biblical author’s eyes it’s more fatal to not meet. Not gathering with other believers for an extended period of time is devastating to your faith. I have heard it said, and have seen it played out time and time again, that Before someone walks away from their faith they usually first walk away from Christian community. They're just not as close to this person or that group – and little by little they drift. And this happened to so many people during the pandemic.
But let me tell you, this is not just a word for those who are still watching online. If the only Christian gathering that you are a part of is on Sunday for 75 minutes, that is a problem. It’s a start; but you are not truly leaning in. Tim Keller writes, A congregation is a community in which all aspects of the members’ lives touch. You don’t just come together to hear a speaker or to have an experience. You eat together. You pray together. You learn together. You love. You confess your sins to each other. (Tim Keller)
We are to be different from what takes place at a theater. The gathering together of the larger community that happens on Sunday is just a part of what we do as a Christian community—it’s not the full extent. So if this is all you are participating in, you are missing out on so much. And you are invited in. In a couple of weeks, when sign-ups for our fall session of groups begins, be sure to join a group.
And here is the other thing that the writer of Hebrews is telling us. If you are only learning from those who get up on this stage (if this is the only Christian instruction that you received) then you are missing out on so much. Verse 24 says that we must consider (think creatively) on how we can spur one another on. That word ‘spur’ means ‘to poke’, ‘to irritate’. A spur is what is used on a horse to guide the horse and to move it forward. It’s an interesting word to use in this context; but here’s what it means.
In this service you are not spurring one another on; you can’t; that’s not happening. But to spur one another it’s to get close; it’s to get out of rows and into circles; it’s to get into each other’s lives; it’s to meet face to face. It’s to share deep spiritual friendship with brothers and sisters in Christ. The goal is to let each other into each other’s lives. You open about your hurts and your problems and your needs. You hold each other accountable, and you really get in. That’s what verses 24 and 25 say you dare not miss out on. You could come to church every week and not do this at all. It might feel safer (no social risk); but it’s dangerous to your soul. You will be stagnant. You’re really not obeying what the text says unless you’re in a small group or unless you’re much more deeply cemented into Christian community. C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “Christ works on us in all sorts of ways, but above all he works on us through each other. We are carriers of Christ to each other.”
So let me ask you, Do you have a set of people around you who are actively thinking about how you can grow? And are you doing that for them as well? Do you have people in your life who aren’t just friendly to you, but can speak truth in love? Do they have that permission? Are you that intentional about helping each other? Are you listening to each other’s hopes and aspirations? Are you sharing your sins and your weaknesses and your strengths and your capabilities? Are you leaning in? If not, that is the invitation extended to you today.
That is what is going to help you move forward and help you grow and persevere in your faith. So lean in. Lean into your relationship with God because of what Jesus has done for you, lean into your relationship with others and spur each other on towards love and good deeds, and lean into hope because God has a good future planned out for you. Don’t lean away. Don’t be indifferent. Be intentional.
Here are four possible responses coming out of today’s message: