Like it or Not We Live in a Warzone

1 Peter 5:8-11 (NLT2) 8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 9 Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are. 10 In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. 11 All power to him forever! Amen.

No one wants to live in a warzone. No one wants to live under the threat of violence. However, not wanting to live in a warzone will not make the war go away. Once there is a war the only way to get away from it is to move away, be recalled by the commander or win the war. (We might also lose the war but the war we are fighting cannot be lost.)

Thankfully, in America we are not in the kind of warzone that puts our physical lives at risk. Nevertheless, we are in a warzone and the enemy is actively trying to “kill, steal or destroy” us.

John 10:10 (NKJV) 10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

The thief in this scripture is the one with whom we are at war. He is here in the world. He comes for one multi-faceted reason. He wants to kill. That means if he can, he wants to take your physical life. We do not face guns and bombs in America, but we face sickness, accident, suicide and many other things that can take physical life. He also wants to steal. He may take your home, your family or your livelihood. What he really wants is to take you from your active relationship with Jesus in the body of Christ. Finally, what he really wants is to destroy. He wants to destroy your testimony, your faith, your family and anything else that will take you out of the war between him and God.

You can pretend he is not in the world. You can pretend that you have no enemies. The Bible teaches you have three. The world, the flesh and the devil. We can ignore them, but they will not ignore us. We can choose to live an ineffectual life with no impact for the kingdom. Keeping our head down in this way may keep us from being attacked, but it will not get us out of danger. We live in a warzone called the world and the only way we will get away from it is when we go home to be with the Lord or when the final victory is won. We are fighting for the souls of men, women, boys and girls. We cannot quit and we cannot fail.

Most of those who read this have never lived in a physical war zone. We live comfortable lives for the most part. Sometimes the war on terror may intrude or there may be some kind of mass attack, but that is not every day. It happens, we get all worked up and in a few days, we go back to the way things were.

There are those in the world who know what it means to live in a warzone. You may say you are a non-combatant, but the bullets are still in the air and the bombs still fall. You may say you do not want to fight but the war still finds you. There is no escape. There are people caught in the middle of terrorist groups or civil conflicts. Sometimes the so-called armies even take children by force and turn them into soldiers.

We may not think that is the case for us and in the flesh it is not. However, we do not war in the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:3-4.) In the spirit the battle is raging all around us. The thief is working to kill, steal and destroy. He is opposing everyone who names the name of Christ. He is taking our children, stealing our wealth and opposing our ministry. If we attempt to rise up in righteousness or faith, he is there to attack. If we commit to prayer, study or evangelism, his weapons will be arrayed against us. We are in a warzone that we only escape with death or victory.

Let me ask another question. In a warzone, who is the safest person? Is it the one who runs from the war and hides? Most of the time the enemy will find a person who is hiding. If the hider is found, he is more vulnerable than anyone on the battlefield. Is it the one who goes to the enemy and tries to reason with him? That might depend on the enemy. However, our enemy will not listen to reason. Today, we see people like ISIS who kill everyone and anyone who will not bend to their will or who they consider a threat. The penalty for compromise is either death or slavery. As for me, I would prefer the former to the latter. However, there is another way.

The safest person on the battlefield is the one who is trained and equipped to fight the war. Today, soldiers of the most developed countries have powerful weapons and effective body armor. They have armored vehicles that can withstand more of the enemy’s firepower than ever before. We have heavy weapons that are pinpoint in their accuracy and completely irresistible to the enemy when used correctly.

If I am living in a warzone I want to be trained and equipped like our modern soldiers. If I am walking down the streets of Afghanistan, I want full Kevlar body armor. I want to be carrying every weapon at my disposal and I want to know how to use them. If I am driving around Afghani roads, I do not want to be driving a Toyota, I want an armored Humvee, personnel carrier or better yet an Abrams battle tank. None of this guarantees I will not be hurt or killed but it makes me more dangerous to the enemy than he is to me.

If we want to live in the most safety possible in our war-torn world we must be trained and equipped in the things of God. Paul says so in his letter to the Ephesians.

Ephesians 6:10-13 (NKJV) 10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

We live in a warzone. We cannot pretend we do not. Pretending will not make it go away. We can live in this warzone without fear. We have armor that can protect us. We have weapons that are not carnal but that are mighty through God and able to pull down the strongholds of the enemy. There are still casualties in this war. People do lose their lives and people do reject the saving power of grace in the Gospel. Nevertheless, if we are equipped and trained, we can fight and win even when it looks like we cannot.

I wanted to spend more time on the scripture above, but, as is often the case, I got sidetracked. Let me at least point out a few things from these verses. First, we must stay alert and watch out for our enemy. His greatest weapon is deception. If he can convince you he is active in the battle, he has you where he wants you. Second, remember that he goes around like a roaring lion. That is not to say he is not dangerous. The Taliban, ISIS or any of the other enemies we may face today are no match for the might of a modern military. They win by deceiving and undermining. They are dangerous, but in many ways, they are like roaring lions. They make a great deal of noise, but their power is very limited. It is the same with our enemy, the devil.

Finally, remember that you are not alone. All over the world this battle is being fought. In many places, people are giving their physical lives for the gospel. Even if we are blessed to live where that is not happening to us, the war is still being fought. We are all together. Remember those who fight in ways we do not have to and pray for them. Fight the battles in front of you. God will never abandon us. He his always there whether the war is hot or seems cold. Even when it seems like a defeat, God will strengthen you, support you and put you on a firm foundation of victory. The only ways to lose are to quit or ignore the fight altogether.

War or Peace: What does the New Testament Say 2

2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (NKJV) 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,

We are currently attempting to answer a question in this space that I believe is very important for the future of the church. That question is, “Are we currently a peacetime church or a wartime church?” War is certainly the worst blight on human history ever conceived. No one wants war. Every one of us want to live in peace, harmony and tranquility. Although certain cultures glorified war, individuals are always devastated by it. Why has it been impossible over the millennia of human history to illuminate this terrible thing.

An argument can be made that we live in the most enlightened era in history. The types and volume of communication available to us make the world a smaller and smaller place. Globalism is a philosophy that many believe must be the future of man. Nevertheless, there is probably more active warfare than at any time in history with the possible exception of the world wars. Jesus spoke of a time when there would be “wars and rumors of wars.” To me, that description fits our day perfectly.

War is a part of humanity because of the fall of man in the garden of Eden.

Genesis 3:15 (NKJV) 15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.”

This short verse sets in motion human history. There is a conflict that is ongoing from which all other conflict flows. This conflict is not really about natural things at all. It is a conflict in the spirit. In discussing WW2, I mentioned that this terrible war was not really about land or resources. It was a manifestation of the spiritual conflict between darkness and light, good and evil. It is the conflict between God, his son Jesus who was the seed of woman and the devil who led man into rebellion in the garden. Until that war ends, man will never be free of war in the natural.

How can we cooperate with God to bring the spiritual war to a close as soon as possible? How can we minimize the damage to ourselves, our families and the people around us as this battle rages? Even when there is peace in the natural, the spiritual war continues and will continue until Jesus comes again. Some would say that bringing this war to an end is up to God alone. I would agree that he has a timetable and things will happen according to that timetable no matter what we or the devil may do.

On the other hand, we are co-laborers and joint heirs with Christ. We are God’s children and he has a part for us to play in the resolution of this conflict. Most important is the fact that this conflict cannot end until the full number of people who can be saved and restored to God’s family is reached. That job has been given to the church and the church alone. If we do not lead people to Jesus, they cannot come.

I think the first thing we must do is accept the fact that we are at war. That was why God was so upset with the prophets who cried “Peace, peace” in Ezekiel 13. Israel as a whole had been at war for many years. The northern kingdom, called Israel, had already gone into Babylonian captivity. The southern Kingdom of Judah was now under threat. Ezekiel heard from God that they would be attacked. The other prophets said, “No. God will not let this happen.” However, God never said that. Those words came from their desire.

I do not know what would have happened if Judah had accepted Ezekiel’s prophetic insight. I do not know how much the words of the false prophets contributed to Judah’s eventual downfall. There is scriptural precedent to say that things like the fall of Judah could be averted. God declared that Nineveh would be destroyed but when they received the words of Jonah’s prophecy they were preserved. I do know that a war cannot be won if it is not fought. It will not be fought if the voices that matter to the people convince them there is no war. When a people under threat refuse to fight, they are vulnerable and easily conquered. Judah fell.

I say all of that to say this. Are we a wartime church or a peacetime church? Should we just try to build ways to peacefully co-exist with the world or are we still called to “triumph” over the world.

2 Corinthians 2:14 (NKJV) 14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.

The rest of this space today will be taken up by quotes from the New Testament. I am going to refrain from commenting. After reading them, answer the question for yourself. Are we at war or at peace? We must order our lives according to this answer.

John 16:33 (NKJV) 33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

1 John 5:4 (NKJV) 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith.

2 Corinthians 2:10-11 (NKJV) 10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.

1 Peter 5:8 (NKJV) 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

James 4:7 (NKJV) 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

2 Corinthians 10:5 (NKJV) 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

1 Corinthians 15:57 (NKJV) 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 6:13 (NKJV) 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

2 Timothy 2:1-4 (NKJV) 1 You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 3 You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. 4 No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.

This is just a sample of verses that tell us the church of the New Testament is a church at war. We are not in a war fought with guns, or bombs or spears. We are in a war fought with the power of a love the world has never seen. Nevertheless, it is a war. We must think like warriors. We must have the commitment of soldiers. The church is a family. This is most important. It is a team called together to do a job. It is also an army. We cannot escape that fact if we honestly read the New Testament. What is the point of this war? I believe Paul said it very well as he nears the end of his life and writes to his son in the faith. What do you say?

2 Timothy 4:17 (NKJV) 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.

War or Peace: What does the New Testament Say?

2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (NKJV) 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,

In our last post we asked the question, “Are we living in a time of War or peace in the spirit.” We began by looking at what God said to the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 13. In this chapter God is speaking against prophets who were prophesying things that God had not shown them. The northern Kingdom of Israel had already gone into captivity. The southern Kingdom of Judah was considered the more spiritual of the two, but now they were under attack. Ezekiel knew by revelation of God that Judah was going to go into captivity as well. This is not what Ezekiel wanted nor what God wanted. It was the result of choices Judah made which brought them to that place.

Ezekiel was not a popular prophet. He told Judah the truth about what was coming. There were many who were saying, “God says there is peace. There is nothing to worry about.” The problem is that God had not said any such thing. They were seeing visions of what they wanted, and the bible says they were “hoping the words would be confirmed.” God wanted peace for his people, but God will not declare something through his prophets that is not true. God ultimately says that the direct opposite will happen, and by that the people will know who God really is.

God did not destroy Judah. God allowed destruction to come on the wall the prophets built with weak building materials. When they declared peace when there was no peace, they made the people weak not strong. God said that wall was going to fall. The wording is interesting. God described a storm that would cause the false walls of protection to fall. This is very similar to what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 7.

Matthew 7:26-27 (NKJV) 26 But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

Neither Jesus nor Ezekiel is saying this to cause people to fear and lose hope. They both want us to understand that we have a great ally in our times of war. His name is God almighty and if he is for us, we cannot lose no matter who the enemy is or what the battle may entail (Romans 8:31.) However, people react very differently in times of war than in times of peace.

I am 65 years old which means I did not live through WW 2. I was born very late in my parents lives so they did live through that terrible time. America during those years was far different from America today. I remember their stories of rationing. Most things were in short supply and each family had coupons for gasoline, milk, butter and most other staples. Meat was especially difficult to obtain. Cars were not manufactured so there were no new automobiles available during the war years.

It is hard to imagine an America like that. I am sure there were those who complained and took advantage of the situation. By and large, everyone was part of the war effort. They understood what was at stake. They knew that a great evil was present in other parts of the world and that our men and women were dying to keep that evil from coming to our shores. There were few if any protests. People saved cans, tires and anything that could help with the war effort. If it could be used or converted to war materiel, it was collected and given to the government. Even women saved their worn-out stockings so they could be converted into the material from which parachutes were made.

There was a military draft, but many simply volunteered. Even the draftees, though they may not have liked being drafted, largely understood the necessity of their participation. The United States of America had one focus during that time. They were committed to winning the war against evil and oppression that bound and destroyed so many people. They were fighting for humanity.

There have been some parallels in our time. The attacks of September 11, 2001 produced a wave of patriotism and unity that was similar to that of the WW2 years, but far shorter in duration and with little real sacrifice, except for those who served in combat and their families. It is hard for us to imagine an America where we have such a focus on accomplishing a goal that we will sacrifice gladly our surplus or prosperity and our comfort. That is the difference between a people in time of war and in times of peace.

What does the New Testament have to say about the church in relation to war or peace? If we read the book of Acts, there is no doubt that we are reading about a wartime people. They were hunted. They were persecuted. They were dying for the sake of the Gospel. Yet we see them continuing in the faith. We see them preaching the Gospel to the degree that their testimony was that they turned the world upside down.

In my most recent study of this book I was looking for keys to having the kind of ministry they had. I expected to see the gifts of the Spirit in operation and I wanted to know how they operated in them. I expected signs and wonders and I wanted to know the things they did to unlock them. I found gifts of the Spirit and miraculous signs. I did not find a method for how to achieve them in my ministry. I found a people for whom nothing was more important than the mission. I found a people willing to sacrifice everything to tell others about their relationship with Jesus Christ. They were even willing to die if necessary. I found a wartime church.

What about today. Times have changed. At least in America we are not suffering persecution. We can preach when we want to. I know that culture and society is against the preaching of the Gospel outside the walls of our churches, but there is really very little stopping us compared to what those in the first church faced. Nevertheless, do we need to be as committed to the goal as they were? No one is killing us for preaching Jesus. They may not like us, but they are not firing us nor taking our homes or businesses for sharing our faith. I know some have lost a great deal for taking biblical stands on morality or righteousness, but that is just a few.

If we are not at war, I might agree that we do not need to be as dedicated as those in the book of acts. If we are not at war, it makes sense to be less extreme so people will be more willing to listen to us. If we are not at war, we do not need weapons. We do not need to speak in militant terms. Jesus was not militant, was he? I think you will find that the Bible does not support that kind of thinking.

Our scripture today uses terminology that you will find throughout the New Testament. In our next post I am going to quote many of these verses with as little as possible commentary. Paul says that he wars, not in the flesh but in the spirit. Nevertheless, Paul was warring. He goes on to say that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. Our warfare is different than the natural warfare we saw in WW 2, therefore, our weapons are different. That does not change the fact that we, the church, are at war.

Once again let me say that our fight is not with people but with evil. Our fight is not for territory but for the souls of men, women, boys and Girls, all of whom God loves with an everlasting love. Jesus said in Mathew 16:18 that the gates of hell could not prevail against the church. Gates are defensive structures not offensive ones. We are called to break down these gates. Why? Because people are bound behind them. We are at war with those who keep them bound. We must fight Satan and all he represents so that the people in our immediate world can be set free. We must once again answer the call and become a wartime church. The war will only end when everyone that God knows can be saved, is saved. Then Jesus will come, and we can all celebrate.

War or Peace: What Days do we Live in?

Ezekiel 13:10-11 (NKJV) 10 Because, indeed, because they have seduced My people, saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace–and one builds a wall, and they plaster it with untempered mortar– 11 say to those who plaster it with untempered mortar, that it will fall. There will be flooding rain, and you, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall tear it down.

Ezekiel 13:16 (NKJV) 16 that is, the prophets of Israel who prophesy concerning Jerusalem, and who see visions of peace for her when there is no peace,’ ” says the Lord GOD.

We have spent a great deal of time recently studying Hebrews chapter 11. I call this chapter God’s Hall of Fame of Faith because it looks at people who might be called heroes of faith. The thing about heroes is that they are produced by battle.

There are domestic or peacetime heroes. Firemen, for instance, run into burning buildings and save people from fires. That is heroism. We all know stories of ordinary people who did extraordinary things. There are people who have pulled others out of car wrecks and saved lives. They are heroes. Space does not permit us to give examples of all the kinds of heroes in the world. I think a person who takes care of his or her family when times are difficult is a hero. There are any number of heroic things we do in life that I believe God honors. Especially when faith in God is a part of the heroic action.

That said, the greatest number of recognized heroes in any given culture manifest during times of war. Although I do not see anything innately glorious in warfare, the courage and sacrifice by people put into these hellish situations must be celebrated. What their sacrifice purchases for us must be appreciated. Warfare produces heroes and that includes heroes of faith.

If we think about it, even domestic heroes face war. The fireman is at war with the fire. The one who acts to save another in a dire situation is at war with their own fear and the situation before them. Even the everyday person that heroically stands for their family, their faith and righteousness in an unrighteous world is at war with their own flesh and the things opposing them.

Everyone wants peace. As Christians, we have access to a peace that passes all understanding.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV) 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

This peace is yours and mine today no matter what we may be facing. It is an inward peace that comes from our relationship with Jesus. We can know this peace by faith when the whole world is at war around us. There are testimonies of Christian soldiers who felt this peace even in the middle of battle. However, as important and powerful as this peace is, it is inward peace not outward peace. It is peace in the middle of a war zone. It is ours and the world cannot understand it.

What people want is a world at peace. They want there to be outward peace. They want everyone to just get along. That is a noble goal, but what are we willing to pay for such peace. In 1938 Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister of Great Britain, returned from a meeting with Adolph Hitler. He held in his hand a signed paper guaranteeing that if the area of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland was given to Germany, Hitler would demand no more territory. Chamberlain declared that this signed paper ensured “peace in our time.” Of course, the Czech people in that territory would not have peace. More important, Hitler was an agent of evil. He had no intention of keeping his word. Chamberlain’s actions were well intentioned, but his declaration of peace opened the door to the suffering of World War 2.

In many ways he was like the prophets in today’s scripture. He was crying “Peace, Peace” when there was no peace. I believe there are those in the church doing the same thing. They honestly believe that if we just get along with the world, everything will be fine. We can have peace if we just stop projecting such extreme stances. If we cannot save them, we should at least not offend them. If we make friends of the world, or at least its people, we can eventually introduce them to Jesus. This is partially correct. We are not at war with the people in the world. The problem is that we are at war!

WW 2 was the greatest conflict in the history of man. It encompassed the whole world. It had the highest stakes of any war ever fought. It was not really about land. It was about who and what controlled humanity. Evil had grown to a point where it began to believe that the world could be taken and controlled by it. Evil was personified by a few men, but make no mistake, WW 2, like no other war before was about good vs. evil. I believe it was a manifestation of God verses the devil. We were not at war with the German, Italian or Japanese people. We were at war with an ideology that controlled them. We are not at war with the people of the world. We are at war with the same ideology of evil today. It is, and always has been a war of the spirit even when it manifests in the flesh.

Crying peace in a time of war is deception. It is wishful thinking. That was Chamberlain’s problem and it was the problem of the prophets in this chapter of Ezekiel. This was a difficult time in Israel’s history. They were under attack and they were going into captivity. There was a war. Ezekiel was a wartime prophet.

Those who prophesied “Peace, Peace” were well intentioned. The bible says in Ezekiel 13:6 that they prophesied but they had not heard from God. They said “God said,” when God did not say. This verse tells us they “hoped the word would be confirmed.” They prophesied what they wanted, indeed what we all want. They wanted freedom from war, and they hoped it would happen. However, when God’s leaders say God has spoken something he has not, they make the people vulnerable to the attack of the enemy.

There is an interesting thing that the Lord says in verse 10. He says the Israelites had built walls, but they had used “untempered mortar.” Walls are for protection. They thought they had protection, but there was a problem with their building material. Untempered can mean something that is not moderated or uncontrolled. However, the Hebrew also means foolish or unsavory. It was foolish for these prophets to say there was peace when there was no peace. They were at war and the people needed to know that.

The Amplified Bible says that these prophets are building a “flimsy” wall. Instead of covering the wall with something that would strengthen the people, this translation says the prophets were “whitewashing the wall. Whitewash adds no strength. It just makes things look better. We cannot afford whitewash in a time of war.

I think to understand untempered we must understand the word tempered. In the case of steel, it means to improve the hardness and elasticity of it by reheating and then cooling it. Untempered mortar is mortar that is not the right consistency. In both cases it is a material that has been made stronger by working it until it is as strong as it can be. To preach peace in a time of war does just the opposite.

We will look at this some more next time. However, let me remind you that our warfare is not against people (Ephesians 6:12.) It is against the forces that hold people in bondage and desire to control all of humanity with evil, sin and fear. In the midst of the war we can have peace. We can walk in an inner confidence born of our relationship with God. Indeed, this is the peace we offer to the world. It is our heritage, and nothing can shake it; not even when we face a time of war.

Heroes of Faith: What Must We Do?

Hebrews 12:1 (NKJV) 1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

In Hebrews chapter 11, we find a list of people and the characteristics that enabled them to do great things by faith in God. The last two verses of chapter 11 make a bold statement. The people listed here did receive recognition from God for what they did. However, there lives and deeds do not really stand alone. What they did was preparing the way for us. They never received the fullness of what God promised his people. The Bible tells us that their stories were not complete without us. To me, this implies that we can, and should, have the same capability to do great things in God by faith that they did.

Let me define great things. In this study we have looked at some of the greatest people in history. They did things that changed how the world looks today. What would the middle east look like if it had not been for Moses? Some may think it would be better and some worse but there is no doubt it would not be the same. That said, we also studied Abel and Enoch. Neither one did anything that changed the whole world. I believe their faith touched God and changed their world.

You do not have to travel the world, change governments, fight in wars or any such thing to be considered for faith’s hall of fame. Abel worshiped in purity. Enoch walked with God. Both were charter members of God’s hall of fame of faith. What you must do is live by faith, grow in the things of God and fulfill what God has for you to do right where you are. If we do that, we can be part of God’s hall of fame. Jesus said that the least who walk in and work to build the kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist who was the greatest of all prophets. What God really wants from us is that we walk in faithfulness and that we grow in our relationship with him. If we do that, we will make God’s Hall of Fame of Faith.

Where chapter 11 ends by telling us that we are called to complete what they began and receive the promise they never did, chapter 12 begins by telling us how. There is a great deal in this chapter and right now I am not sure if that is what I am going to be writing about in the weeks to come, but if I do not do anything else, I want to at least make the connection.

Whoever wrote Hebrews, and I think it was probably Paul, wants the believers of his day to know that they are a part of the story that was begun by those mentioned in chapter 11. Their faith and sacrifice set the stage for the next act in the drama that is playing out in the history of the world. This cloud of witnesses does not end with the Old Testament saints in chapter 11. There are many throughout the history of the church who played their part to bring us to where we are today. There are those dying right now because they refuse to renounce Jesus. They have become part of the cloud as have our fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers that have gone before us.

I travel a great deal in Africa. One of the things we must deal with there is ancestor worship. I do not have time to go into all the problems that poses in this post but let me be very clear that Hebrews is not talking about that. This great cloud is not to be worshiped. They are, however, to be remembered. We will see them some day. Will we be able to join them and say as Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7.) If we can, we will make God’s Hall of Fame.

What this cloud of witnesses must be to us is twofold. First it is a challenge. If they could do so much, we can do our part. We may not be called to lay down our lives or do mighty deeds for God. Nevertheless, we must look at them and remind ourselves that we cannot “drop the ball” in our generation. We must do what is required of us no matter what it may be. Greatness in the Kingdom of God is determined by the God of the Kingdom. They finished their race, we can and must finish ours.

They are also an encouragement to us. In a sense, they are cheering us on in our walk of faith. They stand as evidence that real human beings can do great things for God. Most will never be famous in the eyes of men, but we can be famous in heaven. That is the real goal for a Christian. Our Hall of Fame credentials may be raising our family for God, preserving the God given institution of marriage by staying faithful or just living as a Christian witness in our community.

Some will have the privilege of traveling to other nations and other cultures and preaching and teaching to those people. To God it is all the same as long as we walk by faith. There are no small and great destinies in God. We all receive the same reward when we stand before the master. For that which we have done well we will hear, “Well done good and faithful servant.” There is nothing higher.

This verse goes on to say something else that is important. The rest of chapter 12 is really telling us how to do this next admonition. He tells us to lay aside two things. One is the sins that so easily ensnare us. We all have such things in our lives. What is the sin that so easily ensnares you? It is the same as the one that easily ensnares me. It is the one you like.

Before you get offended, Hebrews 11:25 says there is pleasure in sin for a season. Each of us has something that we find difficult to let go of. In Romans 14:23, the Amplified Bible tells us that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. Paul is not speaking here from a law perspective. This takes sin out of the “do’s and don’ts realm and into the heart realm. If we walk by true faith, we will not walk in sin. Nevertheless, there are some things that each of us find more difficult to overcome because they tend to be pleasing to our flesh. That is just human nature.

I do not have to list them. You know what they are. Sin is anything that controls us or could lead us to compromise the things of God. What may be sin for me may not be sin for you. Paul says as much in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. We must each objectively look at ourselves and find those “sins that easily ensnare us.” Then we must ask God to help us lay them aside.

It might be easy if he was just talking about sins. He is not. He is also talking about weights. Weights are those things in our lives that hold us back from being all we can be in our faith. When we see an Olympic runner, they do not wear anything that is unnecessary. In Greece most athletes performed nude. This had nothing to do with eroticism. It was all about carrying as little weight as possible so they could run unhindered.

To have Hall of Fame faith we must lay aside the weights as well as the sins. Once again, I cannot tell you what your weights are. I can say that you have them. They are the unnecessary things in your life that keep you from growing in God. They keep you from doing what you know you should. Hall of Fame faith, and for that matter lives, require that we examine ourselves and lay aside the unnecessary if it keeps us from walking the way we should.

All of us can do this. We do not do it by law, we do it by faith. Read the rest of Hebrews 12. It will not be easy but verse 28 makes it worth it.

Hebrews 12:28 (NKJV) 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.

Heroes of Faith: What About Us?

Hebrews 11:39-40 (NKJV) 39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

We have spent a good deal of time in Hebrews chapter 11. Our goal has been to determine what qualities caused the people God speaks of in this “Hall of Fame” of faith to be worthy of inclusion. Each had qualities of character and lifestyle that enabled them to do great things by faith. All these people were Old Testament characters. What about us? Can we do the kind of things they did? The answer may surprise some of you.

In today’s verse we read something astounding. Remember, we are talking about people like Noah, Abraham and Joshua. Moses alone experienced miracles that no one else ever has. From the ten plagues of Egypt to the borders of Canaan, we see great and powerful manifestations of the power of God that have never been seen again. The only thing that could compare with Moses in the pure release of power would be the ministry of Jesus. Yet these two verses tell us that they were not the point of it all.

According to verse 39, they all obtained a good testimony, but they did not receive the promise. There was something more than what they did by faith. There was a promise that they never obtained despite the show of power they saw. What was this promise?

Verse 40 tells us that God had something better for us. They cannot be made perfect without us. The things they did were intended to bring about something that they could not experience in their lifetimes. It was for us that all the things they did by faith happened. Their faith accomplishments could never be complete without what we are given today. Moses was not the point of it all. Neither was Abraham, Joshua or Rahab. The prophets, priests and kings of the Old Testament were not what God was really after. There are many heroes in the Old Testament, and they are all worth studying. Yet they were not the point of what God was doing. Who was it all for? It was for you and me.

God’s desire was never to have a few people who could function at a high level of faith because of their exceptional character or unique abilities. God’s plan from creation was to have a family who would all be able to flow in his life and power. He put man into the earth, a place he created. He made man to be part of the earth, but the earth was not the source of their life. He put his own life in man and told him to rule the creation. How was man to do that?

Man was not to have dominion by his own might or power. He was not even to have dominion over other people. He was to have dominion over the rest of creation. Had man never sinned, there would not have been a few who ruled over everyone else. Each person would have exercised dominion over his own life and the world around him. Creation would have responded to them. Life would not have been a struggle against the elements. It would have been lived in harmony with the elements. That is what we see in Eden and I see no reason to expect that this would have changed as man fulfilled God’s command to “replenish the earth” with God’s children.

Sin changed all that because it changed the nature of man. What was the promise that the heroes of Hebrews 11 never received? What is it about us that completes all that God did in the Old Testament? Christianity is not just another religion trying to find relationship with “a higher power.” Christianity is the restoration of relationship between God and man through the eradication of sin and its penalty over God’s family.

Jesus came to die for our sins. He never committed a sin at any point in his life even though he experienced the same temptation every other human being suffered (Hebrews 4:15.) Therefore, the payment he made for sin could not be for himself. His crucifixion was our crucifixion. His burial was our burial. His victory over death, hell, the grave and Satan himself was our victory. His resurrection was our resurrection. All that is left to us is to say yes to God’s offer of salvation. We must choose life. God will never force us to be saved, but it is available to all.

Jesus foreshadowed what Hebrews 11:39-40 is saying.

Luke 7:28 (NKJV) 28 For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

This is an amazing statement. John the Baptist did no mighty miracles. He did not heal anyone nor cast out evil spirits as Jesus had. He neither parted waters nor walked on them, yet Jesus says he is the greatest of all the prophets. That means greater than Moses. Greater than Isaiah, Jerimiah and every other prophet that ever lived. Yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John.

Who is Jesus talking about? He is talking about all those who would believe in and receive the salvation that he was going to bring to the earth. He was speaking of everyone who has been born again because of his sacrifice. That is what it takes to be a citizen of the kingdom of God. It does not take religious discipline or great sacrifice. It does not take special gifts or callings. We are born into the Kingdom of God by being born again according to the sacrifice of Jesus.

All that was done in the Old Testament by every hero, prophet or king was leading to one thing. It was leading up to the sacrifice of Jesus that would open the door to the new birth. When a person is born again, his spirit is returned to the same condition as Adam’s. He is once again capable of walking in dominion. He is given the capacity for faith in God that Adam had. All the people mentioned in this verse were operating at a disadvantage because they were not born again.

On the surface it might seem that we must automatically have all the qualities we saw in the Heroes of Hebrews 11. Potentially that is absolutely true. We have been given all we need to walk in both life and Godliness (2 Peter 1:2-3.) That does not mean we are walking in those things. When we are born as humans, we have everything we need to be a fully functioning adult. I believe that the creator God created every person with gifts and callings that make him or her fully able to walk in the destiny God has for each one. Yet when they are babies, they are not walking in any of that.

In some ways, babies are barely human. They cannot walk or talk. They cannot feed, clothe or care for themselves. As they grow, they begin to develop more of the characteristics that will enable them to become productive adults. Many never do. They simply do not develop what they have been given. Some develop destructive behavior instead. It is the same where the things of God, including faith, are concerned.

Hebrews 11 ends by telling us that none of the Old Testament heroes obtained the promise of restoration to full sonship in God’s family. They did not have the new birth and therefore they had to fight their old nature to do the things by faith that they did. Potentially we do not. However, that does not mean we are automatically perfect. We must grow in all that God gives us in salvation. That does not mean it is not already ours. It does not mean we have to earn the kind of faith that can do great things. It means we need to grow in our relationship with God.

Hebrews 12 begins by telling us that we have a “great cloud of witnesses” watching us. He then tells us to lay aside the weights and sins that keep us from doing the things they did and the greater things we have the potential to do. The rest of the chapter tells us how. We will look at that next.

Heroes of Faith: What Can Hall of Fame Faith Do?

Hebrews 11:33-40 (NKJV) 33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again. And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented– 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

As we finish our look at Hebrews chapter 11, we see a list of things that people did by faith. This list is in addition to the specific things we know that the likes of Noah, Abraham and Moses did. Most of the things in this list we will not need to do. However, as we look at it, we can find parallels in our lives. All of these were done by faith. We can and do have that kind of faith. We need to develop it. We need to fill our hearts and minds with the Word of God. We need to give the Word of God first place and final authority in our lives. Nevertheless, we can do anything in this list and more.

Let me spend a few moments looking at some of these things. The first sentence in verse 33 gives us a list of things people did. It begins with, “who through faith subdued Kingdoms.” We are not going against natural kingdoms, but the bible speaks of other kingdoms that we must subdue.

Colossians 1:13 (NKJV) 13 He has delivered us from the power (kingdom) of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,

There are two kingdoms vying for control of the people in our world. One is the Kingdom of God, or Light, and one is the kingdom of darkness. We as believers are no longer under the power of darkness. Those who have never received Jesus still are. It is our responsibility to subdue the kingdom of darkness in our own lives and also its influence in the world. The most important goal is the deliverance of many more souls from the darkness into the Kingdom of “the son of His love.”

It goes on to say that they worked righteousness. We are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. That is our position and the spiritual reality of our relationship with God. However, this word also means doing right things the right way. In this context, since it says they worked righteousness, it means they lived in a righteous manner. It implies they stood for righteousness. When we do that, Jesus says we become salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-14.) We cannot live righteousness by law. We will fail every time. We can live it by faith.

The next thing it says in this sentence is that they obtained promises. The Bible is full of promises. Some of them for specific things like healing and others that can be applied in many areas of life. 2 Corinthians 1:20 tells us that they are all “yes and amen” in Christ. How can we obtain these “great and precious promises?” We obtain them the same way they did. By faith in God and his Word.

Finally, it says that they stopped the mouths of lions. I travel in Africa and have seen lions close up in the wild. I would not want to try to “stop their mouths.” The implication is to keep them from eating you. There is a lion we must overcome, and we must do it by faith just as Danial did in the physical lion’s den.

1 Peter 5:8 (NKJV) 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

The next section speaks of many things that involve warfare or fighting. Read through this list and ask the Holy Spirit to show you how these things would apply today. I want to focus on one thing. It says that by faith they were made strong out of weakness. You may not see yourself as a strong person. There may be good reasons for that. I have good news for you. You do not have to be strong in the flesh. By faith we can be made “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might (Ephesians 6:10)” Paul, in 2 Corinthians chapter 12, says that Jesus spoke to him and told him that in his own weakness he was made strong.

We all face battles in life. We may not be fighting wars in the natural, but we fight wars in the spirit. We fight battles in our personal lives, and we fight battles for the lives of others. We can become valiant in battle but not by leaning on our own strength. By faith we need to acknowledge that we cannot do what is necessary, but he can do it through us.

The list of things they did is powerful. It says here that women, and I believe what God will do for women he will do for men, received their dead back to life. Mark 16 says that believers will even raise the dead. If that is true, and it was Jesus who said it, anything short of that is possible.

The list takes a turn we may not want to see. It begins to speak of persecutions. Jesus said we would have them. It speaks of hardships. It speaks of being destitute. I believe that God desires his children to prosper and be blessed. I also believe that God has left us in this world because we are part of an army fighting a great war. It is the war for the souls of God’s children. In times of war things are not always easy.

In verse 36 it says that some refused to accept deliverance so they might receive a better resurrection. I have no idea what a better resurrection might be. I do know that they chose the eternal over the temporal. No one can do that by the flesh. It is only possible by faith.

There is a statement in verse 38 that says the world was not worthy of the people who went through these things. That is not a statement of pride or a “holier than thou” attitude. It is a statement of truth. They chose the Kingdom of God. The things of the world were simply not a priority and because of that, God saw them as hall of fame people. Most of them we do not know. We cannot simply choose to have that level of consecration. However, if we ever face a time when we need it, the only way we can walk in it is by faith.

There are two more verses in this chapter. These two verses tie the whole chapter together and indelibly connect what it says to you and I. We will end this series with them in our next post.

Heroes of Faith: What Shall We Say About the Rest?

Hebrews 11:32-33 (NKJV) 32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,

We are coming to an end of our study of God’s Hall of Fame of Faith in Hebrews chapter 11. We have looked at the faith of some of the most powerful and familiar characters in the Old Testament. We have also looked at some that are barely mentioned and at one who was called a harlot. She was no one special except that she chose the God of Israel over the natural protection of the walls of Jericho. Nevertheless, each one of these people showed characteristics that we can emulate if we want to have hall of fame quality faith.

Now we come to the last few verses of Hebrews 11. The writer mentions some names that I might have considered worthy of inclusion in the detailed accounts earlier in the chapter. I do not think God is saying they did not do great things. We certainly should study their lives and their faith. We can and should learn much from them. As the writer says, there just is not time to detail them all. Why did God pick the ones he did?

I do not pretend to understand the answer to that question. What I will say is that the Bible was not just written by men. If we are going to accept the Bible as the Word of God, we must also accept that it was directly inspired by God himself. It is accurate to say that the Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible as he communicated it to man. That being the case, we must believe that God chose the people that he wanted us to look at more closely at this point in the Word of God. I know I have learned many things about faith and the qualities I need to cultivate to have great faith from them. Let me review a little.

As we looked at each individual, we did not really see a chronical of how to walk in faith. What we saw were the kind of people they were. We saw that a heart that truly worships God was necessary. We saw that to walk with God was important. It was not enough to ask God to walk with us. In Noah we saw that those who walk in great faith must go against the flow of the world in their generation. We also saw that it is not enough to talk about doing the will of God or even intending to do the will of God. To have great faith we must actually do what God asks.

Abraham obeyed without knowing where he was going nor how God would accomplish what he told him. He simply continued to believe and obey, even though it looked impossible for God to fulfill his word in Abraham’s life. In Sarah we found that even in the midst of the doubts we all have in our minds, we can still be a vessel for faith that will change the world.

Moses had a heritage of faith. That is important. On the other hand, Moses came to an age where he had to choose for himself what he would identify with. Would he identify with Egypt and its power or would he identify with his heritage and endure the rejection of the world. So it is with each one of us. Hebrews 11 says that Moses chose God over Egypt by faith. We must recognize that the only way we can overcome the temptation and pull of the world is by faith. This often means we must reject certain things in the world we might want. It means we may suffer persecution as Moses did. It also means we open the door for a faith that can change the world.

The last two in the detailed list were two people who were almost polar opposites in their walk of faith. Joshua was exhorted by God to be “bold and very courageous. He heard a word from God, acted on that word and saw the walls of Jericho fall. Hebrews 11 makes it clear that he did all of that by faith. To have hall of fame faith we have to be willing to be bold. We must be able to obey what God says no matter how it may look. When we do, it will often result in a quick and spectacular deliverance. You do not have to be anyone special to walk in bold and aggressive faith. You can do that!

Rahab’s experience was very different and more like what most of our faith walk will be like. Rahab also decided to act on what she believed. I would say her actions were bold in that she took a great risk by hiding and aiding the enemy of her home, Jericho. Once again, Hebrews 11 makes it clear that what she did, she did by faith. She was not moved by fear or personal gain. She did desire to be protected from what she knew was coming at the hands of Israel. However, it was her faith in the superiority of the God of the Israelites that caused her to act. The result was that she lost everything in the natural but gained life. That is the attitude we must have if we want hall of fame faith.

Once she made her choice and acted on it, she had no control over the outcome. All she could do was wait for God to keep his promise. That is most often our experience. The battle for Joshua was on the field. The battle for Rahab was in her mind and heart. That describes most of our faith experiences.

So, what about the others who at least obtained ‘honorable mention” in the Hall? We see Gideon who became a great leader of his people even though it seemed at first that he was fearful. We see a general named Barak. He was a man under the leadership of Deborah. It would not have been easy to submit to a woman, but Barak refused to take the lead even though Deborah wanted him to. God honored him because he was not afraid to stay in the place God put him and allow the honor to go to a woman because God had put her in charge.

We see Samson. He is a deeply flawed person. I am not sure I would even give him honorable mention, but even with his flaws, God says he did what he did by faith. Jephthah was the son of a prostitute, yet God raised him up to lead Israel at a time when he was needed. It does not matter who you are or where you come from, it is possible for you to walk in a faith that will help you to lead the people of God. I am not talking about having a title. I am talking about leading by an example of faith that will inspire others.

Finally, he mentions David, Samuel and the prophets. Books have been written about and by all of them. We might put them first in the hall of fame list. Certainly, we can read about their works, but God puts them all together. What we do know is that they were all people who put God first. David, even though he had flaws, was a man after God’s own heart. Samuel was dedicated by his mother to God at birth. He lived most of his life separated unto God and his service. The prophets, by calling and by nature, sought the heart of God. They were channels for what he wanted to tell Israel. It was neither their word nor their reputation that was important. Many suffered for their faith and others did strange things. All chose obedience to God over everything else.

All the people we see in Hebrews chapter 11 had an underlying character that enabled them to be a channel for a kind of faith that affected their lives and the lives of the people around them. I want that kind of faith. To get it I must have that kind of character.

What kinds of things will this Hall of Fame faith do? That is what we will look at next.