Hebrews 12: 1-2: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, 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.
This cloud of witnesses. That is a list of people from chapter 11 and others in history who have persevered for the sake of the gospel. What is the purpose of this cloud of witnesses? What are they witnessing? My guess is that they are our examples, a way for us to lifted up when we don’t want to keep fighting for the gospel and when we don’t want to persevere through persecution anymore. They are there as our own personal pep squad when sin and circumstances are trying to distract us and weighing us down.
The people in the OT overcame a lot of odds and huge obstacles because God was faithful. Most of these people lived flawed lives, did a lot of things that are not much different from the way we would be. They were sinners same as us, in need of an intervention from God for their sin like us, but they chose to act and move in faith when God gave them instructions to act. The whole purpose is to encourage us and let us know that God uses people like us to do great things in His name.
We can’t become tied up in sin and always be concerned about our circumstances. We cannot dismiss our selves as being useful instruments for the purpose of the gospel and for the purpose of bringing glory to the name of the Father. This cloud of witnesses had doubts, fears and sometimes unwillingness to obey but they did and God used them in mighty ways. What usually holds us back is the excuses we make blaming the situation we are in. What it really comes down to is if when we said we would follow Jesus did we really mean it.
This great cloud of witnesses is there to encourage us and enable us to see that people no better than us can do great things for God, and enable us to stay the course as we fun the race for the joy that has been set before us. Don’t be shortsighted in your quest to follow Jesus. Look beyond the misery and pain for the joy to come.
It seems that Hollywood has moved on in its ongoing indoctrination of the television viewer. It seems that in most of the new TV shows that are aired they have to throw sexual intercourse and sexuality into our faces. They must show that the act of sexual intercourse, both heterosexual and homosexual, as being a normal part of everyday life. They must show as it not being unnatural to jump into bed with someone no matter what sex they happen to be, and it appears they are trying to incorporate it into every show.
It has become almost impossible to watch television. I was watching a new show, Backstrom, which looked interesting. I had to stop watching halfway through the second show because the portrayal of homosexuality as being a possible dalliance for a straight man was ridiculous. It is was just seemed ludicrous to me that the assumption is that all of the show’s audience is cool with that premise, that Mr. or Miss or Mrs. average has already accepted the possibility and the Hollywood writers treat as a fact. It is the same tactic used for the theory of evolution. You keep saying over and over that it a proven fact, a norm, and eventually it becomes so because all those who push it won’t stop saying it is.
And the heterosexual side of the equation is not much better. Sex is just a natural process, like brushing your teeth or eating a meal or sleeping. Two people meeting and it is never awkward afterwards. When a person is offended by the other there is never any backlash like, “I can’t believe is had sex with you” or “It sickens me that we spent the night together”. Nothing. They would be more offended if the person belched in their face than they would it they were used by said person for a night of sex.
I’m sure Hollywood believes the scenarios they portray in their scripts are meant to believed to be different facets of love. It is not anywhere close. It pure lust and mutual masturbation. A true sexual experience can only be had when the two people, man and woman, love each other. Love is not deciding between two women or two men. Love is not having sex with one person while a relationship in which you are involved is in limbo. It does not add up when you tell someone you love them and can’t do without them, then have a fight and then pretend it is perfectly okay to hook up with someone in a bar in the in-between time.
I guess I am getting tired of Hollywood telling what passes for love, and that if I do not agree that homosexuality and today’s concept of “free love” then I am not normal. I am tired of Hollywood telling me that I should envy all those men on TV who are sleeping with a different in every episode. My flesh would if I did not adhere to the gospel and submit myself to Christ so that I am not being conformed to the way the world thinks. And I pray that if you are a family member with me in the family of God that you are not falling for the garbage that Hollywood is throwing at us.
I wonder if faith is misunderstood. We seem to have a misconception of what the meaning of faith is currently in the church. Faith has become something magical that can heal us when we are sick, make us wealthy when we are poor, make us popular when we are unknown, make us whatever we want to be without much sacrifice on our part. Faith is the coin we drop into the slot machine when we want something more. We pull the handle and wait for the dials to stop spinning, except when the dials stop on something we are not willing to accept we smash the side of the machine believing that it is broken.
That is not how faith works. I am not entirely sure how it works or why it even works because that is in realm of understanding that God only possesses. But I think I do understand that faith is necessary for every aspect of our lives. Faith is necessary for when we are sick, whether the Father’s will is for us to recover or remain in our illness. Faith is in our finances. We need not give money to certain preachers because they tell us they only can give us a special blessing. Faith is demonstrated by our tithing to our church and believing that God will meet our needs. We are not all promised to be made wealthy but He does promise to supply to us what we need.
But faith is most important on our outlook on life and society, and how we act accordingly when adversity comes our way and we face trials, persecution and possibly even physical harm. Look at the people of the bible. God used those who had faith in His ability to conquer armies, tear down walls, overthrow empires, raise the dead, face the fiery furnace and den of lions. He also had some remain in prison, Jeremiah was locked in stocks in the temple courts for his prophecies, Isaiah walked naked for three years, Hosea married a prostitute, Jonah was in the belly of the fish. In the NT, most of the apostles faced imprisonment, public beatings and floggings, rejection by their own people, homeless, shipwrecked, chased out of town. But they never wavered in their faith that all that happened was for the glory of the One they served, not their own.
Faith is simply trusting God, believing that all that He has said is true and will never return void, and being willing to respond to and act on His calling, and doing it for His glory. We may die, we may lose all that we have, but whatever He calls us to do we must be ready to persevere through the circumstances and obstacles that will be set before us to impede our walk by faith.
The gospel is not limited to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb, although He is the central focal point. The gospel is not limited to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The scope of the gospel is not limited to Paul’s letters or the rest of the New Testament. The gospel was preached throughout the Old Testament. Most preaching concerning the gospel is done from the New Testament but the message of the gospel began long before that and man was not the first to preach it.
The first preaching of the gospel was in the Garden of Eden when the Angel of the Lord told Adam and Eve the seed of the woman would birth a Savior who would redeem man from the sin they had just committed and were going to pass down to their offspring. Adam and Eve believed that the coming of the Redeemer would be soon and waited for Him. Perhaps they misunderstood the meaning of the seed of a woman because women do not produce the seeds of reproduction, only men. All the same, the preaching of the gospel was begun by God in the garden.
It was not only the promise of a coming Savior, God also set the precedent for the washing of sins. He shed the blood of animals to make clothing of skin for Adam and Eve, a symbol of necessity of the blood of animals to cover man’s sin. And as we see throughout the OT that the blood of animals was not enough. If it was then the promise of a coming Savior would not have been necessary. The blood sacrifice of animals was only a temporal covering, a precursor of the eternal sacrifice that would be necessary for forgiveness from an eternal Father.
The gospel began in the garden of Eden. All the necessary tenets and aspects are there. The promise of a Savior of all mankind, the devil doing his best to thwart God’s plan by luring man away from God, the resemblance of the sacrifice of someone and the necessity of blood to cleanse away sin, all that is revealed by God in His confrontation with Adam, Eve and Satan in the form of the snake. The entirety of the bible can be considered a gospel message because it has to do with our Heavenly Father’s eternal love for His creation and constant presence and intervention in the affairs of man to demonstrate His love, culminating in the death of His Son on the cross for the sake of all of humanity’s sin.
The gospel begins in Genesis and will end with the fulfillment of the events in the book of Revelations. The time to believe the gospel is today because once the clouds unfurl like a parchment it is much too late.
My church was doing a sermon series title “Come As You Are”. At some point they decided to take down a tab on their website. This tab explained what they believed as a church, their core, fundamental beliefs regarding the gospel, and other orthodox beliefs about the bible, God and the like. They removed it from their website because they did not want people, who were interested in coming to the church, to not come because they did not conform to the beliefs listed on the site. They did not want anyone to feel intimidated or unwanted at the church because they were not sure what they believed.
I agree with the premise of wanting people to feel welcome. I agree that the doors of the church should be open to anyone who wanted to attend. It is all about Jesus and all about bringing people to a repentance and to receive forgiveness for their sins. We want people to come to believe the gospel and believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation. But what happens after that is also important. They do need to be educated in what it now means to be a part of the body of Christ and the family of God.
Jesus just didn’t die to make our lives more bearable. He did die for the guilty, the broken, the malcontent, fornicator, homosexual, thief, murderer, liar, the sluggard and depressed. He did die for people who are in all types of states and stages in their life. But He also died for the sin that causes all of that. He died so that we would not need to endure the wrath of His Father. When He was on the cross he went through everything we should have and some of us will. But there are other truths about the bible that should be taught as well because they were are important and are part of the gospel as much as the cross is.
The importance of the creation story in Genesis, that all that is recorded in the bible must be viewed as actual, historical events that the hand of God moved through to show His love and power. There are just so many aspects that need to be taught as fact and as necessary to strengthen a new believer’s faith. It would be a disservice to allow a new convert to remain ignorant to the truths they should know and to remain in the misconceptions they held before they believed. I understand the church does not want to turn anyone away because they don’t want to feel pressure to conform, but they also need to be instructed in the truth at some time in order to strengthen their faith in their Savior.
I struggle with my competitive nature. I see that, in regards to sports, I could have perhaps accomplished more. I don’t say that for sure because like most of the other areas in my life I tended to be lazy in practice and building up my skills. So now I have my own kids and I do not want them to miss the opportunity I missed. I want to push them into sports, as many sports as I can manage so they can excel. I want them to have the same desire to compete that I have. And I can see why so many parents spend their weeknights and weekends running from one practice to a game to a tournament.
But I also read in the bible that I should not conform to this world. It may not seem obvious that I would be conforming to this world if I was running my kids all around southern New England but am I not chasing the same ideals of the secular parents that are doing the same thing for their kids? Would I be any different than a non-Christian? I could see me convincing myself that the reasons for doing so, for neglecting God and the church in pursuit of my dreams through my kids, to spending cold Sunday mornings stamping my feet, all bundled up sipping hot coffee or chocolate, that what I am doing is different simply because I am a Christian.
It is so difficult to maintain our focus our eternal matters. It is so easy to get caught up chasing the dreams of the world and the earthly rewards that could come with them. But we are called to go through a transformation. We are told not to pursue worldly things for they are empty and worthless in respect to God. I know some will criticize me for what I am saying, that playing sports is good for the kids and such, and it is, to a certain extent. But I draw the line when earthly, temporal pursuits conflict with eternal realities. When something else becomes a priority over worshipping my Lord and Savior, it is time to reevaluate my life and the effect my choices are having on the eternal future of my kids.
I know I cannot guarantee that through my obedience to God by raising my kids His way that they will be saved. But I know that my obedience will plant a seed in them, and maybe instead of competing in sports and being consumed by worldly pursuits they will endeavor to pursue God.
Listen, this life one pitfall after a dense jungle after a steep mountain. It is not easy because we are sinners saved by grace living in a fallen world. We do need pep talks from time to time but we also need to be told the truth about ourselves. This is world is the way it is because of us. All of the bad that happens is because of us, and powers and principalities that our sin has enabled to flourish against us. Our decision to rebel against the Almighty has rendered His creation into decaying mush. We are lost until He finds us, and that is the first thing we need to hear, and to be reminded of often.
Christ came to die for sinners. He came to our aid because no one else could. He died because sin could not persist forever before the Father. A day of reckoning is coming for those still in their sin but God, in His tender mercy and grace, sent His Son to offer a way of salvation to the whole world and let those who accept this free gift into His future Kingdom.
Our ears want to be tickled with sermons of how good your life can be here, a good job, beautiful dream house, new cars, vacations, all that can be had, if you put your faith into action and God will bless you, and be blissfully unaware of the horrors of society. We are not to encourage each other with this message. We have redeemed, our ransom has been paid, and we have been given a new residence. We are not to ask God to help us establish our kingdom here, and comfort each other with our success calling it “God’s blessings”. We are to look forward to the coming kingdom of Christ and are to comfort one another as Christians with the knowledge that Christ is coming back to get us and bring us to place that is beyond anything we can build here.
Jeremiah 29:11: 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[b] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Let’s look at this in light of the Watoto mission. The African continent is a mess. If a country is not being torn apart by a civil war then it is probably being ravaged by famine, disease epidemics, poverty or all of the above. In the middle of all this, women and children are being abused and killed indiscriminately. All of this can be attributed to man’s lust for money and power, and the devaluing of life in general. Into the void step the missionaries of Watoto.
These women and children were without any reliable source for food, water, shelter, clothing and, least of all, hope. They enter into the Watoto community and they are transformed by the love of God put into action by His servants. They are taught in a school. They are taught skills such as farming, carpentry, ranching and other skills that will enable them to reach sustainability in the community. They are no longer aimless, nameless victims wandering through villages looking for anything to keep them alive. They have become dignified and important to a community because someone put the love of Christ into action.
The people of Watoto are not wealthy by the world’s standards. They are not dot.com moguls or financial geniuses with enormous bank accounts. The plans that God had for them were for their welfare and hope for their future. They may not have prosperity in material wealth but they are certainly prosperous. They may not have an abundance of wealth but they are wealthy in Christ. They were without hope but now they have found their hope in Christ.
The Watoto mission, and others like it, is the best example of the true meaning of this verse. Their welfare and future are found in their hope in Christ. They have found their wealth in the blessings, love and grace of God and His servants. Earthly prosperity means nothing if we are not rich towards God, and that is what the Watoto mission demonstrates.
Why does Paul make a distinction that we are chosen by God, adopted into His family? We are individually adopted into the family of Christ. We cannot be born into it because becoming a member of the family of God is not passed through heritage. It cannot be transferred by any earthly last will and testament. I believe the results of being born into a family chosen by God through heritage, is seen in the nation of Israel. When they weren’t chasing after the gods of the surrounding nations and whoring themselves at their altars, they believed they were above all other peoples. If the Old Testament is read closely one can almost see the sense of entitlement Israel had because they were a nation chosen by God to be the conduit of His revelation of Himself to His creation. We see sin of pride coming to a head by Jesus’ time in Israel.
Now the torch has been passed to the church. We were orphans but we were not abandoned. We chose to be orphaned and on our own. But our God is faithful. He did not abandon us. He did not turn His back on us when turned ours to Him. He remained loyal to man, created in His own image, while we were stabbing Him in the backside of His glory. We have forgotten that we have been adopted, not born, into the Kingdom of God. Some, who have been adopted, have taken on an air of entitlement. When we are not worshipping the gods of this world and whoring at their altars, we are demanding that God meet our materialistic desires. We want, no, not want, deserve to be rich, here and now, with big mansions, nice cars and all the toys we can get. It makes me wonder if we have learned anything from reading the history of Israel. Can we really live how we want and expect God to still bless us in return?
I am guilty of this. I wanted part of my heavenly inheritance now. I remembered, or was reminded by the Spirit, that I am adopted. Whatever is my inheritance is given freely to me by God. I did not earn it or was born into it. But when I was reborn in the Spirit, God was gracious and adopted me as an heir. I am undeserving and cannot earn anything I have been given by the Father. Adoption is an incredible concept because I was chosen, by God, to be an heir with His true Son through Christ’s blood. I pray that I never forget again.
I’ve been thinking and praying about some sermons about spiritual warfare, and also (as it happened) listening to the book of Daniel at the same time. I believe that not only are we involved in spiritual warfare individually, but also as a nation. What I am going to write is 20% political and 80% spiritual in its content. The current news headlines about the economy and bailouts are a diversion and smoke screen to cover the real threat to the spiritual welfare of this country.
We are under a two-way attack: an attack on the sanctity of life and an oppression of the human spirit. Both of these attacks are direct attacks on the sovereignty and will of God.
The attack on the sanctity of life is twofold. One is the change in the government’s in stem cell research. They are allowing for the “farming” of embryos for the purpose of research. This means scientists can develop embryos in labs for the sole purpose of research. The second is lifting the ban off late term and partial abortions. Just reading and thinking about how heinous this is makes me nauseous. How could anyone even perform these types of extermination? How callous must their soul be to do this?
Life is the most precious part of God’s Creation. Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” And in Psalm 139:14-16, “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…My frame was hot hidden from You when I was made in the secret place, When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained to me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”
The most revealing verse is Genesis 2:7, “Then God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” God gave Adam the very first intake of breath. It could be argued the God continues to provide every human their first breath of life since we alive according to and by His Will. Nothing in this world or universe happens without the Will of the Triune God causing it to happen. If God provided man with our very first breath after creating him, who are we to decide who lives or dies?
The second attack is the oppression of the spirit of man. The spirit of a human gives them their vibrancy and ability to be creative. The infuse of increased taxes, bureaucracy and entitlement programs either crush the spirit into despair, or dulls them to snuff out their creativity. Pharaoh and the Egyptians enslaved Israel and oppressed them brutally by giving them impossible tasks to perform, and punishing them when they didn’t reach their goals. For four hundred years the nation of Israel was enslaved. The mindset they attained from that period was so they would rather continue in slavery than face the uncertainties of the wilderness. This they would rather have despite having a very visible presence of God in their midst.
I believe it is time for the church to start fasting and offer supplication to God on behalf of the church and our country. Daniel is an incredible example of someone entrenched in spiritual warfare. He fasted and prayed for God to provide him understanding of his revelation. Gabriel arrived at the end of the 21 days. He told Daniel he was sent to tell Daniel the message on the first day but he had fight his way through the kings of Persia before he could bring the message. We ought to be this persistent in prayer in regards to ourselves, our pastor, our church, and our nation, and that God will manifest Himself. God considers our prayers of supplication a burning of fragrant incense on the altar.