“Red Letter Challenge: Being” – Hebrews 12:1-2
Easter 4 – May 12, 2019
Introduction: Weather or not
A couple of Sundays ago I introduced the Red Letter Challenge – the idea of taking the very words of
Jesus, the ones in red letters in your Bible, and putting them into practice in your lives, all so that
people in our world might change their impression of Christians, and by extension their impression
of Jesus Christ. Pastor Zach Zehnder of Florida distilled the messages of Jesus into five targets –
Being, Forgiving, Serving, Giving, and Going – and today we are going to address the first of those
targets – Being.
About 20 years ago, I was thinking about why people talk so much about the weather. Honestly, if it
wasn’t for the weather, some conversations would never start. The weather seems to be a segue into a
lot of discussions about all kinds of things – politics, sports, family, work. So, I wondered – what’s
the big deal about weather. And since I’m a pastor, I was aware that various weather phenomena are
featured in the Bible, in various different contexts, and with various meanings… things like a
rainbow, frost, thunder & lightning. Let me give you some examples:
It rained for 40 days and 40 nights during the Great Flood.
One of the plagues God sent on Egypt during the time of Moses was hail.
God took Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind.
God described His forgiveness for our sins as making us “as white as snow.”
Even in the New Testament we hear that during Jesus’ transfiguration a cloud enveloped them and
God’s voice spoke out of that cloud.
Talking about God’s impartial love, Jesus said that God sends rain on the righteous and the
Talking to Nicodemus about the unpredictableness of the Holy Spirit, Jesus compared the Spirit to
wind that blows where it pleases.
OK… so I decided to read through the Bible and take note of ALL the occasions where weather
phenomena are mentioned, and to catalog them to see if I could come up with some kind of
conclusions. I think I got up to 1 Kings in the Old Testament, and then my plan kind of fizzled out,
and I never completed it. But there were hundreds, yes hundreds, of occasions where weather was
mentioned, and my one and only conclusion was that WE talk a lot about weather because GOD
talked a lot about weather.
1. 92% don’t finish
Why do I mention this? Well, it turns out that people are pretty good at starting things but not so
good at finishing. In my study, I was motivated at the start, but didn’t have the endurance, the
stamina, and the will to finish. According to Jon Acuff’s book called “Finish,” 92% of people don’t
finish the goals or resolutions they set out for themselves. 92%. That’s depressing. I didn’t finish
my study, because I am one of the 92% of people that don’t finish things they start.
We kicked off the Red Letter Challenge a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t want you to start and
fizzle out quickly. Jon Acuff would say that 92% won’t complete this challenge – I don’t like that.
The stakes are way too high for us. After all that Jesus has done for us, after He’s lived, died, and
risen from the dead to absolve the sins of the world – my sin, your sin – and offers us eternal life,
well… I want to finish, I want to be the absolute best representation of Him that I can be. I want to
go all-in for Him. He’s my Savior, He’s my Lord, and I can’t wait to represent Him in this world, to
this world. I want to finish!
We heard a couple of weeks ago that we don’t represent Christ well. We heard that non-Christians
describe Jesus followers as hypocritical, judgmental, bigoted, old-fashioned, irrelevant, etc. We also
identified that one of the major issues for us as Jesus followers is we don’t have clarity on what it
looks like to follow Jesus. So from those Red letters in the Bible, Pastor Zehnder identified 5 main
targets that we are going to shoot for. Let’s say them together: Being, Forgiving, Serving, Giving,
2. Target # 1 – BEING with Jesus
For each of the next few weeks we’re going to talk about one of those targets each Sunday. And we
start with Being. And this is really the one that everything else hinges on. Why? Because our doing
flows from our being. Jesus is going to ask us to do a lot in this challenge, but before we do anything,
we need to understand that Jesus does not invite us into a religion, a “check-the-box-if-you-got-it-
done” system, but He invites us into a relationship. Let me say that again. Jesus invites us into a
relationship, not a religion.
As we embark on this challenge, this 40-day journey, you need to know what to pack. You need to
pack the right things. You look at the weather forecast – yes the weather – and you pack accordingly.
Today is all about packing the right things so that we don’t start out and fizzle – like the 92%. We
want to finish.
Hebrews 12:1:2 says, “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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of
We are called to run the race of faith and life, and we will finish our race when we keep our eyes on
the Author and the finisher of our faith! Looking at Jesus is the most productive thing we can do. As
we look to Him, He will lead and guide our steps.
On several occasions, Jesus would give His disciples different ways to be with Him:
Abide in my Word: John 8:31
Pray earnestly: Matthew 9:38
Worship the Lord Your God: Luke 4:8
Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest: Mark 6:31
When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face: Matthew 6:17
Let us eat and celebrate: Luke 15:23 (Remembrance)
The Sabbath was made for man: Mark 2:27
All of these are organized around the theme of being with Him. Jesus wants us to be with Him. He
wants us to spend time with Him. Because as his followers Jesus is going to ask us to do a lot of
stuff for Him. But before you can do those things, it’s important to know why you’re doing them –
and who you are doing them for. Following Jesus means both being with Jesus and doing the things
3. Better at BEING? Or DOING?
Some people are better at being than doing. They like the whole idea of spending time with God, but
they never do anything. Jesus said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord,’ and not do what I tell you to do?”
James says in his New Testament letter that “faith without works is dead.” Paul wrote to the
Ephesians that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” Words
without action were never acceptable to Jesus.
On the flip side, there are others who enjoy doing, who think just being is boring. It’s not productive
and we want to get things done! So we busy ourselves in life, and even in the church with doing
things, and we rarely just relax and rest in God’s presence – reading the Bible, praying, meditating,
praising. It’s easier to do than to be. Doing produces measurable results. But if we don’t spend time
being, our doing won’t be as productive. If we don’t spend the time resting in God and learning from
Him, we’ll quickly burn out and our activity will become more about us than about Christ. You see,
if we cannot trust Him in the calm of His presence, we will never be able to trust Him in the pursuit
of His purpose.
Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Many of us don’t know how to be. We know
how to do. But we struggle with the being. Before we do what Christ asks us to do, we need to be
4. Spiritual Disciplines
This “being” really could be synonymous with spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are good
habits that allow you to more closely connect to Jesus. These disciplines have been practiced for
centuries by those who follow Jesus.
Here’s how I see this playing out in my life:
When I spend my time with Christ, I can’t wait to start doing what He says.
When I come to church and worship Christ it gives me the fuel I need to keep going in life, to be
encouraged and blessed and recharged for the week.
When I read the Bible, its truths take root in me and pretty soon, like the prophet Jeremiah, it
becomes like a fire shut up in my bones that I cannot contain. I just gotta share it!
When I pray, there’s a peace that comes over me.
When I rest and remember all that He’s done, gratitude overflows from my heart.
When I fast, I learn to lean on God more in times of struggle and remember He’s my provider.
When I honour the Sabbath, I remember that it’s not about me. I am centered on the one who created
If you truly want to follow Jesus well, it starts with your quiet time with God, your being time.
Many people think that if they are having a problem doing the things that Jesus asks, that they have a
doing problem. That if they aren’t loving, they just try to grit their teeth together and say, “I need to
be more loving.” Or if they are having a problem being generous, they pull up their bootstraps and
say, “I’m just going to give more.” But God doesn’t invite you into a pull-up-your-bootstraps or grit-
your-teeth-together relationship. He invites you into a relationship to come and be with Him and rest
with Him. If you are having a problem doing what He asks, you probably haven’t been with Him
like you should.
They say “show me the top 5 people you hang out with and I can tell you a lot about yourself!” If
you hang around with drug addicts, the wrong crowd at school, or people with bad language, you
start acting like them. If you want to act like Jesus, it is imperative to hang with Him and with His
5. Make Jesus a priority
You might say, “I just don’t have time, I’m too busy.” Many people exaggerate how busy they really
are in this world. A study showed that in 2017-18 Canadians spent almost 10 hours a day on some
kind of media. Of course, a lot of that is work time on the computer. But if we limit that study to TV
– on average people are watching more than 3 hours of television a day and for seniors that number
jumps to 5 hours a day. That’s not kids… that’s adults! Busy-ness is not only a time issue. It’s a
priority issue. People are filling their lives with things that ultimately cannot give them rest. Jesus
says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to ME, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Why is being with Him so important? Because when we spend time being with Christ, our doing for
Christ is so much more effective. The more you are with Christ, the more you understand what He’s
done for you and the more you can’t help but want to do things for Him.
What Jesus was saying is… prioritize Him – find ways to be near Him, to learn from Him, to sit at
His feet. Do the things that will get you close to Him.
Come to worship God regularly and make it a priority. Don’t schedule worship around baseball or
football or hockey. You say, no, Jesus is more important than the Vancouver Sun Run. You come to
Read the Bible. Intentionally schedule time in your day to be with Jesus, follow a reading plan to
read the Bible in a year, get a daily devotional app (that’s Godly use of your phone!). You
intentionally be with Christ.
Get in a home group or a Bible Study group of some kind. This life and relationship with Christ is
too hard on your own. You have to do it with other people.
Pray. Start with one minute if you’ve never prayed. After a while move to two minutes. You can
begin with a prayer book, and then move to praying from your heart. You can write down your
prayer requests if you need help focusing. You can journal it. You can download an app that will
remind you when to pray.
Listen to worship music on the Christian radio station, or put your favourite hymn or worship CD in
your car while you’re driving, or on your phone when you’re out for a run (but not that run on
Sunday morning during worship).
Observe the Sabbath. This day is not for work. It’s a day to rest and to connect with God and His
people. So plan some alone time with God, some silent time. Phone’s not in the room. Screens off.
It’s just you and him.
If you prioritize Jesus in your schedule, then you find rest, just like He said. You’ll be able to not
just start, but finish. Isaiah 40:30-31 says: “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men
stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings
like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
There it is…when we be in Jesus, when we rest in Jesus we find the energy, the stamina, the
endurance that we need to not just start, but finish!
6. God sent us to finish!
Hebrews 12 said, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” While competing in the
marathon in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, John Akhwari of Tanzania cramped up due to the high
altitude. He had not trained at such an altitude back in his country. At the 19 kilometer point, there
was jockeying for position between some runners and he was hit. He fell badly, wounding his knee
and dislocated that joint plus his shoulder hit hard against the pavement. He continued running,
finishing the race an hour after the winner. The sun had set, there were few left in the stadium. A
television crew was sent out from the medal ceremony when word was received that there was one
more runner about to finish. [Let’s watch the end.]
As he finally crossed the finish line a cheer came from the small crowd. When interviewed later and
asked why he continued running, he said, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race;
they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”
God did not send you, He did not send me, He did not start this church only to see us fall short and
give up. He sent us to finish what He started. God will complete what He started. That’s what Paul
wrote to the Philippians: “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it
on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
He will finish the work he has started. He went all the way to the cross, not holding onto anything
except the hope and joy set before Him. He gave everything until he uttered the words, “Tetelestai. It
is finished.” Our God is a finisher! He finished by giving it everything that He had. He gave it all
so that we can give it our all.
If He has started in you a new relationship with Him, He has given you enough grace and will give
you enough grace to see it all the way through.
If He has started you in a marriage, He will give you the strength, reconciliation, and forgiveness
needed to bring that marriage through all the ups and downs to the “as long as we both shall live”
If He has blessed you with children, He will give you the direction, purpose, and vision for raising
If He has started you in recovery, He will give you the power needed to combat the temptations of
If He has started this church to reach a city for Jesus, He will give us the power, the people, and the
resources to make it happen.
If He has started a movement where people put His words into practice and change the picture we are
representing of Him to the world, He will give us the strength to finish.
He’s a God that finishes. No matter what happens. They tried stopping Him. They put Him on a
cross, nailed Him there, and buried Him in the ground. “You are done. You are finished.” And God
said, “No, no, no, I’m not done yet. You don’t get to tell me when I’m finished. I’ll finish this on
my own strength.” And He rose from the dead, defeated death, sin, and the devil and now welcomes
us into redeeming and restoring the world with Him. Come on, let’s be His people, and let’s do this.