BLOG: The King's Way at Queen Way

BLOG: The King's Way at Queen Way

"The King's Way at Queen Way" is a new blog containing Bible articles. The blog is maintained by Casey Head, the evangelist at the Queen Way church of Christ. To access the blog, click here.

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Clapping After a Baptism

Friday, May 01, 2015
When I first moved to Sparks two and a half years ago, I was taken off guard one Sunday when the church began clapping after a baptism. I remember feeling very uncomfortable at the time because for the eight years that I had been preaching (at the time), clapping after a baptism was something that denominations and liberal churches did...not us.

 

But that was two and a half years ago.
 
While it's still hard for mepersonally to clap after a baptism (because it feels awkward for me), my position has changed. Now, instead of cringing when folks clap after a baptism, it's something that makes me happy and that I wish more congregations would do.
 
The issue of clapping after a baptism came up in a recent discussion, so I'd like to address the issue briefly here. I hope that you will consider these thoughts with an open mind.
 
First of all, why is it that some brethren oppose the practice of clapping after a baptism? There are four reasons that I have come across over the years.
 
Clapping after a baptism is a denominational practice. There is a fear that if we begin clapping after a baptism like the denominational folks do that we are on a slippery slope that will make us look more and more like the denominational churches. It's worth noting here at the beginning that this doesn't make it wrong. Are we ready and willing to condemn all other incidentals and practices that originate with denominational churches? I bet we'd have to give up a whole lot more than most people recognize. Secondly, I question whether it originates with denominational churches at all. Sure, denominational churches may clap after a baptism, but don't people clap in a number of settings? Weddings. Sporting events. Political rallies. Concerts. Graduations. Maybe instead of assuming that churches that clap after a baptism are imitating denominations, we should assume that people are just...being people...and reacting to a joyous occasion in a way that seems normal and instinctive.
 
Clapping after a baptism is a reflection of emotionalism. Those who make this objection are basically saying that we don't want to become like the Charismatics and Pentecostals. Clapping today, jumping over the pews and speaking in tongues tomorrow. Really? Of course, when pressed on whether or not it is wrong to display any emotion during the assembly or in response to a baptism, those who make this objection will acknowledge that it is okay to do so. By acknowledging such, they have given up the argument. Their opposition to clapping after a baptism becomes completely subjective.
 
There is no authority for clapping after a baptism. But is it an act of worship? Not at all. It's simply an emotional, joyful response to one of the greatest things we can witness in this life - the salvation of a soul. I'm reminded of the person who says "that's right" in response to a point during the sermon, or the way a congregation may laugh in response to an anecdote or joke told during a sermon. These aren't acts of worship; they are natural, emotional responses to what is taking place. More on this in just a moment.
 
We shouldn't clap after a baptism because we might offend certain people. Those who make this argument often appeal to Romans 14 or 1 Corinthians 8 to say that if something is a matter of liberty, we should be willing to give it up for others. "If it bothers someone, we just shouldn't do it" often becomes, "It could bother someone, so it's safer to just avoid it altogether." But that's NOT necessarily what either of these passages teach. In Romans 14, Paul tells those on BOTH sides to be more tolerant of the different views of the other side. The weak is to bear with the strong and the strong is to bear with the weak. Over in 1 Corinthians 8, Paul is telling us that we should be willing to give up our liberties if using our liberties will cause another brother to stumbleNeither passage is telling us that we must give up our liberties simply because a fellow Christian "doesn't like it" or "feels uncomfortable about it." We have to be big boys and girls. Unless clapping after a baptism causes another brother to stumble, we need to be patient and longsuffering with each other in this.
 
Now, I'd like to make a few points in favor of clapping after a baptism.
 
In Luke 15:10, we're told that "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." In both Acts 8:39 and Acts 16:34, there was rejoicing following baptisms. I think we'd all agree that celebrating a baptism is completely normal! It should bring us great joy. Now, the question at hand is, "how can we express that joy?" In some churches, there may simply be a few smiles and handshakes or hugs afterward. In other churches, the congregation may let out a hearty "amen." Many of the churches I've associated with over the years respond by singing a hymn. And in some churches like the one here in Sparks, folks may express their joy by clapping.
 
Personally, I think if we're going to clap and holler when our team scores a touchdown or we bowl a strike or our child accomplishes some great feat (like learning to ride a bike or graduating from high school), it's absurd to suggest that we cannot clap after a baptism...which is far more important and special. 
 
If the Scriptures do not specify how the angels express their joy or how those early disciples rejoiced, is it not left up to us to decide how to express ourselves here?
 
But the one passage that really jumps out at me is 2 Samuel 6:16-23. This is the story about the return of the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem during David's reign as king.
"Now as the ark of the Lord came into the City of David, Michal, Saul's daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart." (2 Samuel 6:16).
Did the Scriptures authorize David to leap and whirl on such an occasion? Of course not. This wasn't an act of worship as much as it was an expression of pure joy. David was overwhelmed with emotion to see the ark of the covenant make it to Jerusalem.
 
The end of verse 16 says that Michal despised her husband in her heart. This led to a confrontation between her and David in verses 20-22. 
"Then David returned to less his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, 'How glorious was the king of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows shamelessly uncovers himself." (vs. 20)
Michal's point was twofold: (1) David was acting more like the base fellows than the king, and (2) his actions served as a bad example to those who witnessed him. Isn't this similar to the argument that many make against clapping after a baptism? We're acting more like the denominational churches. We should be more dignified. We should consider our example.
 
But notice David's response in verses 21-22...
"So David said to Michal, 'It was before the Lord, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the Lord. And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor."
Mic drop.
 
David's point was that even though his actions may have appeared undignified to Michal, it wasn't wrong for him to openly express his spiritual joy and excitement before God. For her to seek to squelch  his joy or judge his expression of joy was wrong. The text makes this clear.
 
Clapping after a baptism isn't an act of worship. No one is suggesting that we should clap during our singing or be filled with "Holy Spirit laughter." It is simply a natural expression of our sincere joy following a very special and joyous event. Just as the angels rejoice when a sinner repents, we should rejoice as well. If some do that by clapping, we cannot condemn them for it.
 
I personally wish that we were all like David in that we had such joy and emotion within us that we could not help but express it regularly. This is why I like to see a church respond with emotion following a baptism, whether it's a hearty "amen" or clapping. I actually wish we'd all jump up and shed tears of joy and clap and whistle.
 
But my main point here is not to tell you how you must react, just that we must refrain from judging those who react by clapping.

Why Are Racism & Police Brutality Wrong?

Thursday, April 30, 2015
Unless you've been living under a rock, I'm sure that you're acutely aware of the rioting that recently took place in the city of Baltimore. And I'm sure that you're aware that this rioting was a response to yet another alleged instance of police brutality against an African American individual. Every major news outlet has been reporting on this almost unceasingly for the past week. There have been memes, videos, and blog articles related to these events shared on Facebook and other social media websites ad nauseum.
 
I'd like to address the greater issues of racism, police brutality and rioting for a moment from two totally different angles. I think this is important.
 
Let's first of all consider these issues from the standpoint of brute naturalism. This is the belief that there is no reality beyond the natural world. There is no God. There is no heaven or hell. There is no metaphysical force or entity that determines truth in some kind of absolute way.
 
In light of brute materialism, let's consider a few questions:
 
On what basis can we argue that racism is absolutely wrong or immoral?
 
 
Most of us are indignant when racism is expressed. But why? 
 
We're told that morality is subjective and that every individual has the right to determine his/her own moral truth. Women have the right to abort their own babies, right? Two men have the right to engage in homosexual relations, right? We're constantly being told, "Don't push your values on me." If this reasoning is really valid, then not only CAN'T we condemn the racist beliefs of others, we can't even argue in any objective manner that their racist beliefs are inferior to our non-racist beliefs.
 
Is racism wrong because it demeans our fellow man? If this is your argument, please explain why it is absolutely wrong to demean our fellow man? Becauseyou don't want to be demeaned? So you're advocating compassion and empathy? Great. Now please prove from nature that compassion and empathy are superior to harshness and selfishness. Lions eat their young. Wolves will fight with other packs over territorial rights and food. Sure, there are examples in nature of what we call 'moral' behaviors, but there are also examples in nature of harsh and selfish behaviors? What makes the former better than the latter? Why can we appeal to the positive examples to make moral claims but not the negative examples?
 
The point is, there is no argument from nature - from brute materialism - that we can make to justify or condemn racism. If this worldview is true, then morality is totally subjective, and there is not a single logical argument that we can make to condemn racist behavior.
 
On what basis can we condemn police brutality?
 
Atheists often argue that morality is determined by our culture and/or government. If this is true, how can police brutality be condemned at all? If it's true that "might makes right," how can we condemn the "might?" We can't have it both ways.
 
Along these same lines, how can we condemn the slave culture that was prevalent in this country until the mid 1800s? If that was the culture then, then it was right and moral for them! And if morality is determined by culture, wouldn't this make the women's rights movement, the civil rights movement as well as the LBGT movement all inherently immoral? After all, these were all counter-cultural movements of the time.
 
Another approach - seeing through the lens of Christianity...
 
Christians contend that there is a supreme Creator who defines truth by His very character as well as the declaration of His will. Because this Creator is higher than us and over us all, His truth is objective and absolute. 
 
Regarding racism, our God is diametrically opposed to it:
"And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth..." (Acts 17:26)
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28).
"For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation...and that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father." (Ephesians 2:14-17)
Christians can explain why racism and brutality are absolutely wrong. We've all made made in the image of God. We're all His offspring. And even though there are national, ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic barriers that divide us, through Jesus, those barriers are broken down and unity is achieved through Him.
 
So not only can we explain why racism, brutality and rioting are wrong, we can offer a real solution. At the foundational level, we can make an appeal to commonality through the gospel.
 
Atheists can disagree with our standard all they want, but the fact is, we can make a logical appeal to a standard of moral truth that offers an analysis of the real problem as well as a solution.
 
Conclusion
 
The cries of atheists and even political and social leaders who demand change (without appealing to God as a standard) will continue to ring hollow and prove ineffective. The problem of racism will never be solved and riots like the one that took place in Baltimore this week will continue to happen as long as we leave God out of the picture. This is because they're only holding other people accountable to their own subjective reasoning. "Who are you to tell me what to do?"

 

But also, we might ask why, apart from an absolute standard of morality and social justice, so many people feel so outraged at racism and brutality? These feelings cannot be merely traced to personal views, family traditions or cultural beliefs, because these are all subjective standards. What is it that cries out within us that these things are absolutely wrong?
 
I believe it is because we know - we inherently know - that "all men arecreated equal."
 
Our appeal to an absolute standard, our inherent indignation, and our pleas for equality and brotherly love are all explained by the gospel.
 
Jesus is the answer.

Christianity - Against All Odds

Thursday, April 23, 2015
Throughout human history, a number of powerful civilizations have dominated various regions of this planet. The Sumerians, Egyptians, Syrians, Assyrians and Babylonians all reigned over northern Africa and/or Mesopotamia at different points in history. Persia, Greece and Rome all controlled regions that extended far beyond Mesopotamia. We could talk about the mighty Chinese Empire. Then there were the Mayans, Aztecs and Vikings. Many of the western European countries have long histories of prosperity and domination as well. 
 
Each of these nations had its own unique culture and religious system. Sure, some of them were influenced by their predecessors, as in the case of Greece and Rome, but they were all still very unique in their forms of government, their cultural identity, and again, their religious beliefs. From the worship of Ra and Osiris in Egypt, of Zeus and Aphrodite in Greece, of Odin and Thor among the Vikings, to Itzamn in the Mayan Empire, every ancient civilization worshiped, in most cases, a broad pantheon of gods. They had elaborate systems of religion that included holy days, sacrifices and priesthoods.  Every major empire in history was very religious, often merging their political, cultural and religious identities into one.
 
In light of these facts, it's beyond incredible to me that of all the religions of the ancient world, the one story that has not only survived, but dominated, the world, is the story of the Bible. The three Abrahamic religions - Christianity, Judaism, and Islam - comprise over 55% of the world's population, with Christianity (in all its various forms), claiming 2.2 billion adherents today.
 
I'd like to focus for a moment on Christianity itself.
 
Christianity began nearly 2,000 years ago in the city of Jerusalem, a relatively small city in the land of Israel. Israel is less than 11,000 square miles in size, making it not much bigger than New Jersey!
Of all the powerful empires in history, how amazing is it that the world's largest religion (by far) originated in such a small, obscure place?
 
But that's not all...
 
Christianity is based on Jesus Christ, a man that was not a king, dignitary or even military leader. He wasn't the son of someone rich or famous. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus was born to a modest, unimportant family from Galilee, and that He never had riches or power.
"For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him." (Isaiah 53:2-3).
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey." (Zechariah 9:9). 
"Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.' And Nathanael said to him, 'Can anything good come out of Nazareth?'" (John 1:45-46)
In terms of his economic and social status, Jesus didn't have anything going for Him! He was a peasant. He was from a part of Israel that even the Jews mocked and denigrated. What's more, He didn't seek power through political means or by force.
"Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Matthew 22:21).
"Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed to the mountain by Himself alone." (John 6:15)
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus' time was spent preaching, serving others and performing miracles. And while the number of His disciples at times swelled, His message turned a lot of people away, and angered the Jewish leaders. Most notably, His life came to an untimely end when the Jewish people cried out to the Roman authorities, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" and He was executed on a cross, an excruciating, humiliating death for anyone to endure.
 
It's truly astounding that this obscure peasant from Galilee with no economic status, political connections or even widespread popularity, and whose life ended on a Roman cross, inspired a movement that spread like wildfire throughout Israel, followed by the Roman Empire, and finally, the world!
 
It might make sense for Zeus to attain this fame and notoriety, or Odin, or Ra, or Shiva. These gods and goddesses were touted by kingdoms that actually had some real influence in the world. These gods and goddesses had ornate temples, were worshiped in many cases by government mandate, and prompted the movement of mass amounts of wealth. These gods and goddesses promised guardianship over the sea, rain for crops, fertility, political power and a number of other things that mankind has always deemed important.
 
Most of these suppose deities have faded from relevance, having been relegated to history books.
 
But not Jesus.
 
If you're a skeptic, perhaps you're thinking that, while Jesus may have existed as a man, He was never anything more than that. His disciples either lied about His resurrection from the dead, or were loony, and the "Jesus legend" began in earnest.
 
But who would fabricate such a story as this?
 
At the time, the Jews wanted freedom from Rome. Jesus didn't promise that. The gospel accounts make it abundantly clear that Jesus wasn't the Messiah that the Jews expected. He was from Nazareth. He defied the religious authorities. His own family thought He was crazy. But most importantly, Jesus was crucified and the Jews believed that "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree" (Deut. 21:23). Jesus crucifixion made Him a cursed man - and no Messiah of Israel could be cursed! The Jews certainly wouldn't fabricate such a story!
 
Maybe the Gentiles amended and perpetuated the story of Jesus. Historically, we know this wasn't true, but neither could it be true. The Gentiles mocked the monotheistic faith of the Jews, viewing them as a primitive, rebellious people. On what logical basis would they promote a crucified Savior? Beyond that, the concept of bodily resurrection was not widely believed among the pagans. So, once again, it is illogical to argue that the Gentiles perpetuated the story of Jesus.
 
I'm reminded here of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23:
"For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness."
One might argue, "Well, people believe lies all the time!" This is true! But are people generally eager to suffer and die for what they know is untrue? While it is true that many throughout history have bastardized Christianity by turning into a political force, the early church was born and thrived in the midst of persecution, first from the Jews and then from the Romans.
 
 
In my view, it is ignorant for a person to contend that such a culturally-antagonistic, easily-disprovable, foolishly elaborate story that often resulted in persecution and martyrdom could catch so quickly and rip through the world like wildfire despite being false.
 
The same cannot be said of Zeus, Ra or Odin. How is this true?
 
Seeing Christianity in this kind of historical context is, for me, a faith builder.
 
I'd like to close with these two quotes:
"I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him." -Napoleon 
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
The Egyptian, Mayan, Persian and Roman Empires have faded into obscurity. The gods and goddesses that were front and center in these once-mighty empires have likewise been buried in the annals of history. But a peasant from a country the size of New Jersey who suffered an untimely and humiliating death on a Roman cross nearly 2,000 years ago has somehow managed to captivate the world. While there are no longer any active temples to Zeus or Baal, there are assemblies of Christians worshiping Christ and being transformed by Christ the world over.
 
As Paul told the Corinthians, the message of the cross is foolish to the world. That's right. It's so foolish that a person can't help but give it a second look.

Distinguishing Between Sound Doctrine & Idle Talk

Thursday, April 16, 2015
Have you ever been in a Bible class or even an informal Bible discussion where brethren began arguing over something that you didn’t feel was worth arguing about? Or have you ever heard a preacher or Bible class teacher say something that you disagreed with and wondered to yourself, “Should I say something, or just let it go?” 
 
If you’ve been in the church for any length of time, you probably answered both questions in the affirmative. This is a common struggle. 
 
In 1 Timothy 1:3-11, Paul helps us to distinguish between what he calls “sound doctrine” and “idle talk” – what is worth arguing about, and what isn’t worth arguing about. 
 
Paul opens this passage with a warning to Timothy, “Remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (vs. 3). The implication is that there are doctrines (teachings) that, together, constitute God’s standard of truth. This would be the Word of God (John 17:17; 1 Cor. 4:17; 14:37; 2 Thess. 2:15, et al). Any doctrine that is not firmly rooted in God’s word is not to be taught, according to Paul.
 
But Paul is even more specific in verse 10 when he speaks of “sound doctrine.” The word sound literally means, “to have sound health…figuratively to be uncorrupt.” Of course, for a doctrine to be considered sound, it must be rooted in Scripture, but it’s important to understand that even scriptural doctrines can be misrepresented, twisted or muddied. In 2 Peter 3:16, we learn that “some things [are] hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” So when assessing a doctrine, we have to not only ask, “is it rooted in Scripture?” but also, “is it the intent of Scripture?” Does it fit the immediate context? Does it harmonize with the overall teachings of Scripture? 
 
Paul doesn’t stop here in his description of “sound doctrine.” In verses 4-5, he gives us two additional qualifications. 
 
In verse four, Paul writes that any teaching needs to promote “godly edification.” To edify is to build up. There are many details in Scripture that may be true, but are they edifying? Do they encourage us in our faith? Do they draw us closer to God? If we are rambling on about something that has no practical value whatsoever – and especially if we’re arguing about it – we need to stop and refocus our discourse on that which edifies.
 
Then he adds in verse five, “Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith.” The purpose (goal) of any teaching should be to enrich our capacity to love. Even Jesus affirmed that the entire law hinges on the two commands to love the Lord and to love your neighbor (Matt. 22:36-40). Any doctrine that does not deepen and enrich our love for God and our fellow man in some way is not a doctrine worth arguing about.
 
By way of contrast, Paul discourages discussions that “cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith” (vs. 4). He calls this “idle talk” (vs. 6) and alludes to teachers who “[understand] neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (vs. 7). Is Paul speaking here of pointless rambling? Is he speaking of esoteric dialogue that cannot be grasped by the common man? Or is he speaking of the tendency some have to try to explain the unexplainable (Deut. 29:29; Psalm 131:1)? Yes, yes, and yes!
 
Finally, I’d like to direct your attention to the transition in verse eight. Paul writes, “But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate…” and then goes on to list the characteristics of such people. This is in contrast with verse five which says that “the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart.” Honest, God-fearing people will receive and apply God’s truth eagerly! Those who stubbornly resist the truth, pervert it and diminish it are a real danger. Not only must we not waste our time arguing with such people; we must not give them the floor (vs. 3).
 
If a doctrine is rooted in Scripture, intended by Scripture, edifying and a means to deeper love, then it is worth discussing and even debating. When other motives and doctrines enter the picture, we must not “give heed” (vs. 4) lest the unity of the church be compromised.

A Cloud of Witnesses

Tuesday, March 03, 2015
I've been a Christian for 11 years and five months. I've been a gospel preacher for 11 years and two months. So 'faith' should come easy for me, right? Believing in God is a given, right?
 
Wrong.
 
I'm a human being. I live in a physical world. I live in a world that challenges my faith in Christ and constantly tells me that it's unreasonable to believe in something I cannot see or prove using clear, physical means. Not only that, but my flesh and spirit are at war, and my flesh (with Satan's help) looks for every excuse to justify sin and disbelief.
 
While there are times when my faith in Christ is strong, I would be lying to you if I said that I never have doubts. And let me tell you something, those moments can be very uncomfortable.
 
What do I do when my faith is weak?
 
Should I study my Bible more? Should I pray more? Should I confess my weakness and struggles to brethren who can encourage me, counsel me, and pray for me? Yes, yes, and yes.
 
But can I be honest with you about something?
 
I'm ashamed to say this, but these things don't always bring me fully back.
 
And this brings me to my main point...
 
What has helped me more than anything else has been the message of Hebrews 12:1-2.
"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, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
It's so easy to forget that men like Noah, Abraham, Moses and David really lived. Not only that, but these were real people who really believed in God. And they believed in Him so much that they were willing to sacrifice everything for Him. Literally.

 

  • Noah stood alone as a "preacher of righteousness" (2 Peter 2:5) in a very wicked world. 
  • Abraham was willing to leave his homeland and even sacrifice his only son. 
  • Moses "[chose] rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward" (Heb. 11:25-26). 
  • The prophet Obadiah risked his life for hundreds of other prophets during the time of the wicked, tyrannical Jezebel all because he "feared the Lord greatly" (1 Kings 18:3-4).
  • When Job lost everything, he said, "For I know that My Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.How my heart yearns within me!" (Job 19:25-27).
  • The prophet Jeremiah was cast into a dungeon for preaching God's word. "In the dungeon there was no water, but mire. So Jeremiah sank in the mire" (Jer. 38:6).
  • When Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego were called before the King of Babylon and commanded to worship his idol, they replied, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will be worship the gold image which you have set up" (Dan. 3:16-18). 
  • Jesus really died at the hand of Pontius Pilate!
  • Stephen, when his death was imminent, siad, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" (Acts 7:56). And when they stoned him to death, making him the first Christian martyr, he cried out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (vs. 59).
  • James the brother of John was killed with the sword (Acts 12:2).
  • And let's not forget the millions of Christians who were burned alive, made into human torches, fed to the lions, slaughtered during the Inquisition...and even the countless saints today who are being persecuted in foreign lands (watch this video).
No faith has radically transformed lives more than the Christian faith. No faith has inspired such deep, unwavering conviction as has the Christian faith. For thousands and thousands of years, men and women all over this world have believed so strongly in the God of the Bible that they have given Him their very lives...not to be rewarded with virgins in paradise, but just to be in the very presence of this God whom they love ardently and passionately.
 

What I take away from Hebrews 12:1 is that when my faith is weak, I can be inspired by the faith and conviction of untold millions who have firmly stood in the face of incredible adversity with the hope and love of God - the same God I serve - driving them onward and upward.
 
I am not alone.
 
I am surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses."
 
And boy...how incredible - HOW INCREDIBLE - it is to know that one day - ONE DAY - I'll be with all of them before the throne of God above.

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