Monday, August 29, 2011

Encumbrances



Last week, in the accountability group I gratefully attend, I was trying to discern whether my actions were sinful in a certain instance that I was sharing and one of the men, who is a dear brother, pointed out something new he learned from a sermon by John Piper on Hebrews 11:39 - 12:2. Basically he said that even if something isn't sin, but may lead to sin or otherwise do anything to weigh us down in our race, we should avoid it or get rid or it. What I tend to focus on when I read 12:1 is the word "sin" and that that was from what I needed to be disentangled. And I do! However, what I often neglect to pay attention to, and what Piper and this man showed me, is that "encumbrances" can also entangle and I need to be rid of them as well. What are "encumbrances"? Here Piper explains:

"So the main point of this text is the one imperative: RUN! (12:1). Everything else supports this - explains it or gives motivation for it. Run the race set before you! Don't stroll, don't meander, don't wander about aimlessly. Run as in a race with a finish line and with everything hanging on it.
To this end, verse 1 says, "lay aside every encumbrance, and sin which so easily entangles us." I remember the effect this verse had on me as a boy when I heard someone explain that we must lay aside not only entangling sins, but "every encumbrance." That is, every weight or obstacle. Things that in themselves may not be sins.
This was revolutionary. What it did (and I hope it does the same for you) was show me that the fight of faith - the race of the Christian life - is not fought well or run well by asking, "what's wrong with this or that?" but by asking, "is it in the way of greater faith and greater love and greater purity and greater courage and greater humility and greater patience and greater self-control? Not ; Is it a sin? But: Does it help me run! Is it in the way?
As a boy I was mightily helped by having my very categories changed in the way I lived my life. I commend it to you young people especially. Don't ask about your music, your movies, your parties, your habits: What's wrong with it? Ask: Does it help me RUN the race!? Does it help me RUN - for Jesus?"

I love the way Piper changes the focus of the questions we ask ourselves regarding our Christian walk and the things that we are engaging in. "Not; Is it sin? But: Does in help me run! Is in the way?"



I think it might be a good exercise to think of some of the activities we engage in. Maybe we can riff off of some of the things Piper lists above (music, movies, parties, habits, etc)  and ask, what are some things that, while they are not sinful of themselves, can become encumbrances or weights that hinder me or slow me down in my race? For me, the computer and my iPhone, while of themselves not sinful, can become hindrances if I get too consumed with them to the point that they are taking me away from time with the Lord in prayer or even times of fellowship with family or friends. (This doesn't necessarily mean we should get rid of our computers if we let them take up too much of our time, it means we get rid of the desire to be self-serving and replace it with a desire to serve others.) Another example would be my love of reading. I read my Bible and I love to read theology and doctrinal works. I also like to read classic and modern works of secular literature. There have been several occasions throughout my life where I have really wanted to read a certain classic, but I knew there were words or descriptive scenes in these books that would hinder my walk. For me, I see the great value of walking with Christ and I don't want anything to hinder that walk so, with this perspective, I can forgo reading certain books even though they may be classics.  


I'm sure if I thought about it for awhile I could come up with several of these. I am not necessarily recommending that we go on a big "encumbrance" search. However, it is good to ask ourselves questions as these things come up or when others ask us about our activities or how we are using our time and resources. I have noticed that this happens best in Christian community so it is important to be in fellowship (actively and intentionally sharing our lives) with other believers in just the way it happened in our accountability group. 

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