• The BaptistWay lesson for Oct. 6 focuses on Hebrews 11:1-2, 32-40; 12:1-3, 12-17.
Joe Dirt is an over-the-top comedy about a redneck janitor searching for his parents. Perhaps the most endearing quality of the film is Joe’s consistently positive outlook. In spite of his goofy mullet, tacky clothes and trashy facial hair, he comes across as a genuinely nice and positive guy. Watch the clip below to view his response when asked how he can remain so upbeat after losing his parents and girlfriend, and getting stuck with the job of working as a school janitor.
“You gotta keep going. What am I gonna do, quit? It’s not an option. You gotta keep on keepin’ on. Life’s a garden, dig it. You make it work for you. You never give up man, that’s my philosophy.”
Not a bad philosophy, but certainly a cliché philosophy that offers no hope in anything other than one’s self. In fact, the reason it strikes viewers as funny to hear this statement come from his lips is because Joe’s determination to “keep on keepin’ on” has only gotten him into trouble.
Chapters 11 and 12 of Hebrews offer a much deeper hope that rests in something bigger than ourselves—faith. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (v. 2). This statements points to faith as having a dual perspective—looking forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises and looking up to the unseen reality of God’s presence. Through these perspectives, the author is able to launch into what is known as “the faith chapter,” by recalling a long list of Old Testament examples demonstrating how faith looks in real life.
This chapter ends in a peculiar way—noting all the trials these great examples faced, as well as the fact that “these were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” (v. 39). You won’t hear this kind of faith touted on a talk show or written about in some of the most popular books. It is a faith that knows its ultimate hope is not on a prize, possession or certain measure of earthly success. It is a faith concerned with God’s goals over humanity’s.
This is a tough truth to stomach for the committed follower of Christ. We prefer to think God wants us to be happy, experience a painless life and enjoy everything we do. “God is good,” we reason, “so why would he not want good things for his people?” He does; it is just that his definition of “good” and ours may differ. His definition of good involves his offer of salvation to the world. This is the understanding behind the author of Hebrews’ assertion that all the Old Testament characters who lived by faith are made perfect “together with us” (v. 40). God has and is taking the faithfulness of his people across history and using it to bring about his perfect will.
At the graveside of every funeral, I almost always close with the Lord’s Prayer. I do this for several reasons: (1) its familiarity allows the family to have a participating part in commending their relative to the earth; (2) it is difficult to know what else to pray at this point; (3) I hold out a small hope that someone will be captured by the words and be reminded Jesus commanded his disciples to pray for God’s will above our own.
For people who view Jesus as a benign, heavenly figure only concerned with their happiness, this can be difficult. I once took a Sunday night church group through a book titled Jesus Mean and Wild by Mark Galli. It focused heavily on the Gospel of Mark and some of the tough things Jesus said and did toward the religious elite. It was not a favorite study of the group. In fact, one person refused to come until we were finished. They did not like the idea that Jesus would be opposed, and even might come across as mean, to people who favored their heart’s desire over God’s.
While faith in this kind of Jesus may be more difficult to stomach, it is one of substance and incredible implications. Chapter 12 begins with an admonition: “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” (v. 1). This is drastically different from Joe Dirt’s admonition to “keep on keepin’ on” or to simply “make life work for you.” “Everything that hinders” also can be translated as “weights” and vividly portrays how living for ourselves over God can pull us down.
Thankfully, when we find ourselves down and out, our model is Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith” (v. 2). We can keep on being faithful because of his faithfulness. Theologians across the board agree with this. They may not agree on the way this is achieved—predestination versus free-will—but they agree Jesus cannot be taken out of the equation.
What philosophy is influencing the way you persevere through life? Are you simply trying to “keep on keepin’ on,” or are your eyes fixed on Jesus?