19 years ago, on March 3, 1993, Jim Valvano accepted the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award at the ESPY’s by giving the now famous speech you can watch above. Valvano was nine months into his battle with bone cancer at the time. He died 8 weeks later. This speech is still one of the best speeches I have ever seen. Motivational, funny, touching, and profound. Included in this speech is his famous quotation, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” This statement would prove a fitting motto for his Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research that has raised over $100 million to date.
I share this speech with you today because I think there are some parallels between Valvano’s story and the story of the original audience that received the book of Hebrews. I also think there are some parallels between Valvano’s speech and the book of Hebrews itself. Here is what I mean:
The original recipients of the book of Hebrews were in the midst of a difficult time. In 10:32-35, we learn that the recipients of this book were experiencing persecution because of their faith in Christ. This hardship (which included imprisonment, public reproach, having their property plundered, etc.) had led some in their faith community to consider abandoning their faith in Christ and retreating into obscurity. Similarly, Jim Valvano was in the midst of a difficult time. He had been diagnosed with a fatal form of metastasized bone cancer, and was headed for death. It is interesting that when we see the video of Valvano, we can sympathize and empathize with his plight. We feel his pain. We connect on an emotional level. However, sometimes we fail to connect on this level when we read the book of Hebrews. Since the Scriptures are in black and white print and not living color video, we can make our reading of the text academic and emotionless. In reality, however, we must connect emotionally with the Hebrews if we are to understand fully the message of this book. We need to understand that their temptation to forsake their faith had nothing to do with their indifference, boredom, or crowded google calendar. Their temptation to wander came out of a fear of self-preservation and a desire to avoid pain.
To this group that was struggling, the message from the book of Hebrews is clear: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up!” This message rings clear from chapter one through chapter thirteen of this book. If the temptation was to bail out on their faith, the author exhorted them many times over to instead anchor themselves ever stronger to the Rock of their Salvation. They were admonished to “never give up.” Jimmy V’s speech is powerful because of the position that he was speaking from. His charge to “never give up” gets our attention because his enthusiasm in the speech (in spite of his circumstances) shows he is practicing what he preaches. In a similar way, the book of Hebrews is ultimately written (in a Divine inspiration sort of way) by Jesus Himself, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (12:2).” Jesus message to “never give up” gets our attention because He had lived it out.
I go through this today because each of us experiences great difficulty in life. The particulars of our difficulty differ from person to person. For some in the world today, (like the original recipients of the book of Hebrews) their trouble consists of persecution because of their faith in Christ. For some, their trouble is headlined by poverty or medical malady or relational meltdown or even the untimely death of a loved one. We all experience pain and sorrow. Because of that, we have a temptation to give up. We have a temptation to bail out on our Savior and walk away from our faith . . . feeling it doesn’t work. However, this is not the course of action God desires for us.
In his work “My Utmost for His Highest,” Oswald Chambers says this about suffering, “Sorrow is one of the biggest facts in life; it is no use saying sorrow ought not to be. Sin and sorrow and suffering are, and it is not for us to say that God has made a mistake in allowing them.” Also, in his famous work, “The Problem of Pain,” C.S. Lewis adds, “God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” In our suffering and struggle, we are not to fall away from Christ, but to anchor to Him, as it is in the moments of our pain that we can often hear God the most clearly.
This reality is something I am counting on personally in this most recent season of my life. As many of you know, my wife Kimberly is experiencing end stage renal failure right now, and will undergo a kidney transplant on July 30. This most recent trial causes pain, fear, confusion, etc. to well up inside me. However, in the sovereignty of God, He has led me to rest in this letter to the Hebrews all summer. Though I do not know the answers to the why questions I have right now, I do know the answers to the what. We are to anchor to Him in the midst of this storm. He has plans to use this for our advantage and according to His plans.
This Sunday at Wildwood, we will be continuing our study of the book of Hebrews by looking at 12:5-11, and understanding more about maintaining our anchor in the midst of hardships. In light of my life experience, this passage is shouting to me through God’s megaphone, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” We hope you can join us in either our 9:30 or 10:50 services this week as we look into this great passage together.