A mandate is an official order or commission to do something. That’s the noun. The adjective form is mandatory. Sometimes we don’t like mandates—including the ones God gives—but they are for our benefit.
Let the Weights Fall
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up (Hebrews 12:1 NLT).
Every spring, thousands make their way to Springer Mountain, Georgia, to begin a more than two-thousand-mile hike to Mount Katahdin Maine. The percentage of those who actually finish, however, is low. In fact, many drop out while hiking the access trial to the initial starting point. Those who continue usually find they must discard much of the paraphernalia they thought was necessary: heavy tents, extra clothes, excess food. Any item not absolutely necessary to completing the journey. Otherwise the weight will weigh down the person’s physical shape and in turn affect their emotional fortitude.
Since the inception of time, thousands of believers have walked the trail to heaven. All who begin finish, but many grow discouraged along the way, leading them to temporarily get off the trail or become emotionally and spiritually drained. Fortunately, they have many cheerleaders. All those who’ve made it are cheering them on from heaven.
I’ve never hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, but my daughter and I have completed the Foothills Trail that runs along the South and North Carolina border. On one such five day trek, we discovered we had taken too much. While we didn’t discard anything along the way, we determined we’d pack lighter in the future. Fifty pound packs make walking cumbersome—especially when hiking up steep inclines.
Many things can weigh us down as we attempt to live the Christian life. What they are, we discover through experience. When we’ve discovered them, we’re wise not to pick them up again and to stay away from anything or anyone who might encourage us to. These weights may be sins or simply innocent things that get in the way of serving God fully. Either way, they must go if they hinder our spiritual journey. God is perfectly willing to help us put them away; we must simply ask.
Love God’s Discipline
As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father (Hebrews 12:7 NLT)?
No child loves it, and I sure didn’t either. My parents believed in the rule: “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” I was never abused, but I was introduced to various measures of discipline. Dad’s black belt was reserved for those times when I was hatefully rebellious—not for little minor mistakes. More often than not, however, the discipline was taking something away: television privileges, going outside, a favorite toy, my bicycle, my skateboard. My takeaways may seem unimportant, but they worked just the same. What Mom and Dad took away for a certain period of time depended on what age I was. And the discipline worked. It got my attention and headed me in a different direction—at least for a time.
First century Christians had many things to draw them away from God. They faced persecution from foreigners and from relatives who didn’t believe in Jesus—relatives who wanted them to return to the Jewish customs. Idol worship was also rife. When they gave into any of these things, God sent discipline.
God disciplines me for the same reason my parents did. I’ve gotten off track in some area. The discipline will re-orient me if I don’t ignore it—which God cautions me against doing.
God’s discipline has purpose; it’s not a random act of cruelty. His discipline is not designed to discourage but to encourage. As painful as it might be, God’s discipline reminds us we’re his child. My parents didn’t discipline other parent’s children—unless they had permission. They were only concerned about me because I belonged to them, because my behavior reflected on them, and because they had a mandate from God to do so.
God wants holiness from us. And while we’re that in position through Jesus Christ, we’re not in practice. We often need a little stern, yet loving, guidance.
Walk Straight for the Crooked
Mark out a straight path for your feet. Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble but will become strong (Hebrews 12:13 NLT).
Children are vulnerable. Mine were. They believed anything I told them. After all, I was their dad, and surely I wouldn’t lie. If I told them I could catch them if they jumped from the roof of our house, they’d believe it…and do it.
I suppose I never focused intently enough on the fact that the path I walked before them was important. I just did the normal things any good parent should have done. Read them bible stories, said prayers with them, taught them to say grace before meals, helped them with homework, cleaned the house, helped with cooking meals, worked in the yard, helped others. As I reflect on those years, I now realize that in all things—large and small—I was walking a path before them, setting an example. They were weak, and I wanted them to become strong adults.
The church came into existence on the Day of Pentecost, not many days after Jesus’ ascension. He charged the early church with a worldwide campaign. For it to be effective, they needed to follow the straight path of obedience and morality.
As a parent, I didn’t want to mislead or confuse my children. I also wanted them to see how a mature adult should behave. Hopefully, I accomplished all three. As a Christian, I’m an example to other Christians who connect with me regularly. Misleading or confusing them is a serious matter God won’t be pleased with.
When we love God with all our heart—and show it by actions—we’ll give those in our circle of influence a straight path to follow rather than a crooked path. Acting out beliefs in our behavior should show a clear line of demarcation between right and wrong. Just as an adult should no longer behave in childish ways, so our Christian walk should evidence maturity and growth.
Live in Peace
Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14 NLT).
For most of world history, peace has been temporary. The United States of America began after fighting the Revolutionary War. In the twentieth century alone, World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict, and the Vietnam War were waged, not including the various campaigns waged against terrorism.
Wars are also fought in relationships. Millions of marriages have little or no peace. Parents fight and divorce…or just fight. Siblings rage at each other or their parents. Work places can also be places of turmoil. Regardless of how diligently we work to live at peace, the end seems to move further from sight.
There wasn’t much peace in the first century world either. Rome had conquered the known world and spread its Pax Romana (Roman peace) throughout the regions it controlled, but the peace was often enforced by a heavy-handed military presence. It wasn’t easy for Christians to live at peace with those who might martyr them because of their beliefs.
Living at peace with everyone requires hard work. I’ve walked through marital seasons where it required colossal energy to keep the peace. My parents didn’t always find it easy to live at peace with me when I was a teenager. There were times when I faced the same with my children. If I live long enough, I’ll probably walk the same road with my grandchildren. I’ve worked in some places where it seemed no one could get along for any length of time. Gossip, backbiting, arguing, cursing.
Knowing total peace won’t exist until Christ comes and ushers in the new heaven and earth doesn’t give us an excuse not to work for it nevertheless. At home, work, school, community groups, our country, and in the world, we should be a shining light of the One who desires peace with all people. When we couple this desire with a holy lifestyle, we’ll enjoy more peaceful relationships than we will otherwise.