THE POWER OF GOD’S PEACE

Friends,

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.  And not only this, but  we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;  and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;

Romans 5:1-4 NASB

How many of you don’t have any tribulations in your life?

For those who raised your hands, thank you for your honesty.  For the rest of you, you need to work either on your ability to tell the truth or your ability to see life clearly.

We ALL have trials through which we have to walk.  Admittedly, some are bigger than others, but in this fallen world, as a result of the disobedience of the human race to the will of our Creator, we all experience the difficulties of this life.

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul talks about the best resolution of these difficulties of life.  He says that our justification by faith, which is a gift of God, produces peace WITH God.  It reconciles us to him.

Justification is that part of our initial sanctification that gives us a clean slate with God.  When we talk about God being able to forget our sins, this is that act.  He wipes our scoreboard of shortcomings and downfalls clean, and gives us a fresh start.

Why do we then have peace with God?  Why shouldn’t we.  After all, He no longer holds anything in the past against us.  We have a fresh start.

Now, that isn’t all that happens when we come to Him in repentance, but that’s the part we want to talk about here.

Because, Paul goes on to cite a very significant benefit of this peace with God; we now get to exult, be happy, even celebrate, when trials and difficulties come our way.

OK, I get why some of you kind of lost the train of thought here.  You got distracted by the ridiculous notion that you would ever actually celebrate your most difficult circumstances.

For generations, Christians have tried to justify this language.  I’ve heard some of the old saints stand up in testimony services and literally thank God for the problems in their lives.  I appreciate the model they were trying to portray, but they kind of missed the point.

No one is actually celebrating difficulties in their lives.  And, it’s kind of disingenuous to “give God credit” for our problems.  Let’s face it, the cause of most of our problems was either the bad decision we made or the bad decisions made by someone else that affected us adversely.  God is going to say “thanks, but no thanks” for giving Him that kind of credit.

So, if it’s not literal celebration, what exactly DOES this mean, and why does the peace of God make it possible.

You’ve probably heard someone pose the questions, “What would you do if you knew for certain that you could not fail?”  Most of us hear that problem and immediately think of things like business ventures or investments that could result in riches, or maybe taking a chance on some relationship opportunity where you wouldn’t be turned down (looking at you single guys right now…admit it).

But, think of it this way.  With all the ups and downs of life, including the obstacles that really prevent you from being the person you’d like to be, what if you could be certain that all you had to do was walk through those problems, and you wouldn’t fail.

Before I came to Christ, I was fearful of going to hell.  I’d heard old preachers expound on burning eternally enough times to give me pretty consistent nightmares.  But, even after coming to Christ, I still lived in a kind of fear, because what if I failed?  What if after receiving His forgiveness, I still didn’t live a righteous life because of my own stupid decision.

And, believe me, I’ve made a few really stupid decisions in my life.

But, unlike my early years of Christian life, I’ve begun to be learning about the peace of God in my life.  Now, every time there’s an obstacle, I determine to just walk on through it.

And, why not.  I can’t really fail.  This life is a passing thing.  I’m living it for the God who wiped my slate clean.  How would He not catch me when I fall now, after all these years of never failing to do so.

There’s a great song from DC Talk, entitled What If I Stumble?  As I contemplated writing this, I listened to it again.  Here’s the chorus:

What if I stumble what if I fall?

What if I lose my step and make fools of us all?

Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?

What if I stumble and what if I fall?

You’re not alone, and when the going gets tough.  You are protected by the peace of God.

Continue on.

Always praying for you,

Your Older Brother,

Pastor Joe

THE LONG ARC OF THE KINGDOM

Friends,

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.  Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.  Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.  For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.

John 4:34-38 NASB

Some time ago, there was one of those meaningless controversies when some words of President Obama were taken out of context to prove a non-existent point.  He was talking to a group about all the people who had gone before them to pave the way for the success they were enjoying today and, included in his remarks, was the phrase, “…you didn’t build this.”  He was, as anyone who bothered to check, referring to the existing societal structures that had made the current business success of his listeners possible, but those who would like to constantly create conflict didn’t bother to share all that.  They just said that the President wasn’t giving business people proper credit for all they’d done.

The actual point is a cultural observation that is true in almost every segment of life; we are the fortunate heirs of those who came before us.  Our every advancement really is a partial product of what we inherited as much as it reflects what we ourselves have done.

That’s true in the Kingdom work, as well.  At any given point in the process of sharing the Kingdom, we are not so much inventing anything new as we are extending the work of those who came before us.

Jesus was making that very point in this passage.  He spoke to those who were spiritually “sitting around” waiting to go to work after some anticipated future event.  He told them to open their eyes and recognize that there was work to do right now.

In an illustrative sense, He was saying that He knew that his listeners hadn’t done the actual planting, but that because someone else already did, there was even now a harvest that needed to be gathered.

In our ministry work, the same is clearly true today.  Those who went before us, that “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Romans 12, did a lot of planting before we arrived on the scene.  Others came along and watered, helping the previous work to grow and mature.

And now, here WE are, in position to do some reaping where we did not plant.

But, there’s another truth buried in here, as well.  There are those who will come after us, and we need to be planting something for them to harvest.

Too often, we fail to enter into a difficult task because we realize that it will take more time than we personally have to bring it to completion.  We use that as an excuse not to plant those seeds.

But, the older I get, the more I’m beginning to be learning that much of what I do has very little to do with me seeing a harvest from it.  For the most part, I’m planting seeds for my children, and their children after them, to harvest.  That harvest will likely come after I’m not longer on this earth.

But, that’s the nature of the Kingdom.  It is a long term work that spans many lifetimes.  We experience gain because eothers were faithful before us.  Others who live after we’re gone will experience gain because of what we do.

IF, we are faithful.

Be faithful.

Continue on.

Always praying for you,

Your Older Brother,

Pastor Joe

KEEPING THE FAITH

Friends,

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith

II Timothy 4:7 NASB

The words of this simple verse are actually pretty important in the whole scope of the ministry of the Apostle Paul.  They are a part of the last portion of the second pastoral letter from Paul to his closest protégé, Timothy.  In a sense, this is kind of his closing though of instruction.

He’s just given Timothy some great advice for his ministry, a “solemn charge” to be ready already to preach the Word.  This is much more than an admonition to be “Biblical” in his teaching; he’s charging Timothy to share Christ with those in his congregation.  This is very real Kingdom stuff.

And then he speaks the words in our current verse.  Paul is saying that his “race” is about finished.  He’s handing off the baton of ministry to his successor.  And, he closes it by saying that he has kept the faith.

I know that most of you are a long way from finishing the course of your life, including the work of ministry that He created you to accomplish.  In reading this verse today, we’re not saying that we should all pack it in and hand off all the hard work to the next generation.  This is, for most of us, a very future kind of thing.  We’re not ready to say it now.

But, there is a lot of “now” involved in this statement of faith.  It’s really the gist of what Paul is trying to say to Timothy.

Yes, he, Paul, HAS about come to the end of his course, but he is offering these words to Timothy not so much about himself, but as a part of a greater admonition that Timothy should be doing the things he needs to do in order to be able to say this when it’s his turn.

Probably, when we come to the end of our lives, we’ll all want to be able to say that we accomplished something.  Everyone wants to have a legacy.

And, if we’re actually followers of Jesus Christ, we want that legacy to include, prominently, the fact that we were successful in doing the work He assigned to us.  We’d all like to be able to honestly say we fought the good fight for Christ, and that we kept the faith.

But, you can’t wait until the end to start keeping that faith.  You have to actually plant the seeds of it right now.  That’s why, in my opinion, this verse is so important to us today.  This is our alert, a handy reminder, that if we want to be able to make this great statement of faith at the end of our lives, we need to be doing some of that good fighting and faith keeping right now.

What’s the assignment He’s given you?  He gives all of us work to do if we’re following Him.  What’s yours?

And, how are you keeping the faith right now?  What specific things will you do today to make that steady investment of faith keeping that leads to this good end in life?

Don’t wait.  Don’t let the cares of this life take up all your time.  Get to work now.

Do some faith keeping today.  It’ll pay off in the end.

Continue on.

Always praying for you,

Your Older Brother,

Pastor Joe

UNCHANGING

Friends,

God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent;
Has He said, and will He not do it?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

Numbers 23:19 NASB

This should be easy.

God doesn’t lie; He always keeps His word.

We’ve already talked about this concept a little, so we shouldn’t have any problem grasping it here.

But, there’s another level to this, more easily seen when we look at the first half of the verse in the NRSV:

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.

Truthfully, this has been a puzzle to some, because they look at the God of the Old Testament and then they look at the God f the New Testament and they thing, “Wait a minute; maybe He DOES change His mind.”

Or, could there be another explanation for this?

This is a good place to talk a little about the contextual nature of Scripture, or learning to understand how to read the Bible.  WAY too often, I see people quoting the WORDS of Scripture but using those words in a Western thinking 21st (OK, often a 20th) century understanding of the word. It’s as if those words carried all the same contextual meaning in the days of the Babylonian exile, about 2600 years ago, in the middle east area we now think of as Iraq and west into what is now modern day Israel, among a group of people who spoke ancient languages that are no longer spoken in our time, even if there are languages that go by the same label, as they do today in California, or wherever you live.

Here’s the thing.  They don’t.  Those were different people living in very different circumstances with a VERY different concept of the world around them.  They didn’t have access to the scientific explanations as to why a lot of things are the way they are.  They lacked the perspective of being able to review a broad expanse of history ranging over a very broad portion of the earth in which to gain a better understanding of why things are as they are.

And, they wrote about God within the contextual understanding of how they perceived Him.  No, God wasn’t leaning over their shoulders whispering, “Hey, write it this way.”  He inspired their understanding and, within their best attempt to illustrate what they perceived, they wrote the words of Scripture.

Were those understandings perfect?  No, how could they be?  That’s why we don’t spend all our time spinning our wheels in the endlessly hopeless pursuit of proving that every word written in Scripture was without error.

Think about it, if you were being held to every opinion or perception you had when you were 5 years old, how serious would anyone take you right now?  Santa Claus isn’t real (I apologize here to anyone who was careless enough to hand this to their small children to read; this is adult stuff, people).  Most of you didn’t grow up to be major league baseball players or princesses or whatever you thought was going to be your future in your incompletely formed childish personality.

God was seen in the earliest parts of recorded understanding primarily as a God of judgment.  Don’t think so.  Trying reading that creation narrative again.  One strike and you’re out.  OK, it was a very BIG strike; I get that.  But, a God of judgment, nevertheless.

Throughout most of the OLD Testament period, He came to be viewed more as a God of mercy.  He still judged you and what you did, but He gave you a method for clearing your slate, atonement, by way of animal sacrifice.  A God of mercy.

But then, in the fullness of time, He came directly into the realm of the creation in the person of Jesus and revealed Himself to be a God of radical grace.  Yes, there was still a right and wrong, but now His mercy took the form of an ultimate atonement that He provided one for all to everyone who believed in Him.

Grace is that attribute that perfectly dissects judgment and mercy.  Judgment says you were wrong and have to pay the price.  Mercy says you were wrong but get to pay a lesser penalty.  Grace acknowledges fully the price of judgment and then removes it entirely from our account.

AWESOME!

So, did God CHANGE there?

No, He became more fully revealed to us.  He is as He always was.

And we are the recipients of great grace.

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.

Continue on.

Always praying for you,

Your Older Brother,

Pastor Joe

CHOOSE LIGHT

Friends,

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.

John 3:16-19 NRSV

It’s so easy to assign this passage of Scripture to “Sunday School status,” that is, to think of it as being so simply that little kids can understand the whole thing.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Some have said that the entirety of the Gospel is found in these words, and while there’s some truth in that, it’s an oversimplification.  Because, there’s some more complex truth in this for us right now, today, in OUR cultural context.

Verse 17 says that Jesus did NOT come into the world to condemn the world, and yet we so often want to shake the Kingdom like a fist at the world and speak words of condemnation as if we were being spokespersons for the same God who provided us this statement.  We look at the people with whom we disagree and we try to claim the moral high ground using Jesus to stake our superior claim.

But, that wasn’t His mission, and if we truly want to be like Him, how can it be ours.

His mission was that the world would be saved through Him, literally that the entirety of creation would be restored to its original relationship with the Creator.  It’s pretty hard to see that mission being accomplished when we lead with words of scathing condemnation and separation.

Of course, the passage goes on to make note that the people of this world who select darkness over light will have condemned themselves in this great salvation attempt.  And, the writer of this Gospel account says that the decision point is the belief in the Son of God.

This IS the Word of the Lord, so we have to accept that this is truth.

But, we also have to understand what it means.

It means that this great salvation comes through accepting Him, not through accepting the stylized version of Him that we’ve woven through our human attempts to codify the “rules” of the Kingdom.  Too often, we substitute the words of our cultural adaptation of Christianity, even our own personal understandings of what Scripture “really” means, for the Spirit of God that is the ONLY reconciling agent between Creator and creation.

Believing in Him is not synonymous with subscribing to the doctrines and special rules of the Church of the Nazarene.  And, for you non-Nazarene’s and possible Nazarene haters out there who are giggling about that, it applies to you and your preferred theological statements, as well.  Repeating the words of some personal evangelism road to salvation (you know what I’m talking about) is NOT what gains your place in the Kingdom.

He offers eternal life to those who believe in HIM.

Here’s an idea: let’s try to see if we can get out of His way and begin to simply point the way to the cross where He can do His work in the lives of those He came to save.

Continue on.

Always praying for you,

Your Older Brother,

Pastor Joe

UNO IGLESIA

Friends,

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1-6 NASB

First, just let me admit one thing.  I’m kind of a church junkie.  That’s like the church version of being a gym rat.  You hang out there, you spend time thinking about the church and any time someone starts a conversation about the church, you want to get in on it.

I know that a lot of people think that’s because I’m a pastor and being at the church is kind of my job.  But, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  You can ask Miss Margie.  I’ve always been like that, even before I felt called into vocational ministry at the age of 40.

So, what happens in the Church is important to me, and I don’t just mean the churches I serve as pastor.  I’m talking about the Church with a capital “C.”

And, sadly, what I see when I look at the Church today is a complete lack of unity.  I’m not talking here about unanimity, where we all think the same thing.  I’m talking about unity where we are still One Church, even when we disagree.

And, we disagree about a lot.  The existence of the numerous denominational and non-denominational bodies points out to us that there are things on which we disagree.

And, that used to be OK, because if we were honest with ourselves, our points of disagreement were much smaller that the broad areas of consensus and agreement that existed within the Church of Jesus Christ.  But, I’m not sure that’s still the case.

I think that the primary reason for this is that the Church, the vessel in which Jesus invested all the power of heaven here on earth, that Body of Christ that He created and left in our hands when He ascended into heaven, THAT expression of the Kingdom of which He specifically called on us to be a part, is now a secondary consideration in the lives and minds of a lot of people who claim to be its heirs.

Their career goals, political ambitions and material possessions are their new gods and the Church is merely their power base for achieving the goals that are actually of importance to them. It’s become more about turf than Kingdom.  The Body of Christ has become a voting bloc rather than the mighty army of God assigned to fulfill the Great Commission.  It’s no wonder that we can’t find that unity of expression and purpose when we’re not even talking about the same things, anymore.

This competitive, “winner-take-all” mindset accounts for the fact that we feel a need to demonize the “others” in our lives.  It’s become a zero sum game where there have to be losers in order to define winners.  We’re no longer focused on extending the love of God to them, or even to recognize that they might themselves already be the recipients of that love.

We need to return to a Kingdom focus where everyone we see is a person for whom Christ died.  We need to see the pursuit of the Kingdom as our single goal.

It’s OK to have various theological interpretations of Scripture that lead to a variety of denominational expressions of the Church, as long as we remember that we are One Church.

A few years ago my friend, Wilmer Guido, and I began to discuss the need for our Spanish speaking and English speaking congregations to recognize our common longer range goal, which was not to draw everyone to our personal language and ethnic context, but to draw them to the One Church where we were all working toward the same goal, without regard to the language being spoken or the food being served at the potluck.  We simply referred to that desire in Spanish, Uno Iglesia.

Today’s Lent Scripture meditation reminds us that there is One Lord, One Body and One Spirit.  We need to take a hard look at ourselves, not others, to determine if we continue to believe that.  We can’t fix everyone else.  We’re responsible primarily for ourselves first, in this context.

How about it for you?  Are you in?  Is it still Uno Iglesia in your life?

Continue on.

Always praying for you,

Your Older Brother,

Pastor Joe

HE KEEPS HIS PROMISES

Friends,

It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

“Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people. Remember, do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord.

Deuteronomy 9:5-7 NASB

OK, this one might be a little tougher to take, for some of us.  This is a passage about God keeping His promises.  It’s not actually a diatribe about how evil the world around us is, although some might choose to latch onto the words that sound that way.  This is about God and us, or more specifically, about God toward us.

God keeps His promises.

That sounds like something we might all be able to accept and believe.  After all, He’s God, for Go…..OK, maybe that wasn’t going the right direction there.  But, we accept that He’s God and we accept intellectually that He will keep His promises.

So, why do we not live like we believe it?

He said that He’d never leave nor forsake us, but at the least little setback in our lives, we start to complain about wondering where God is.  He promised that He’d provide for us, but we look at those bills we’re struggling to pay or that retirement we wish we had and are tempted to complain about all the money we’ve been giving to the church.

We often live like we think God is at the very least a little too slow in coming through when we need Him.

That’s on us, but it’s not really the thought I wanted to share today.

There’s another issue in walking out the belief that He keeps His promises.  And that’s found in the way we keep OUR promises, both to Him and to those around us.

We are, after all, followers of Jesus Christ, who is, Himself, God.  We call ourselves Christians which literally means “little Christs” or “like Christ.”  We carry within our selves the image of the Divine, so that the way we act reflects directly on the One we claim to represent.

Are you a little anxious about being told that you REPRESENT Him?  Get over it; it’s not about who you are or how good you are.  It’s Him working within you.

So, is He?  Are you keeping your promises in a way that would reflect well on God?

When you confessed and repented of your sins and told God that you’d live for Him, are you now doing that?

And, when you told that friend or other person you know that you’d be praying for them, did you actually do it?

OUCH!  This just got personal, didn’t it?

Every day, in every way, in everything you do, you are the walking, talking, living representation of Christ in His creation.  When you came to Him, you promised to love for Him.  And, following the principle of the blessing of the Covenant, you became blessed to BE a blessing so that He could bless others all around you. (You can check that out in Genesis 12, and yes, I know that wasn’t written directly to you and me, but it DOES represent that nature and character of God toward those who follow Him, so move on.)

Does God keep His promises?  The world will only know that by watching the way we keep ours.

Continue on.

Always praying for you,

Your Older Brother,

Pastor Joe

YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO

Friends,

With what shall I come to the Lord
And bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?
Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:6-8 NASB

We spend a lot of time in the Christian faith pretending we don’t know what we ought to do.

Seriously, people are always saying they don’t know God’s will for their life, as if that’s an acceptable excuse for not moving forward in the intersection of their faith and their life practice.  If I don’t know exactly what God WANTS me to do, I can just continue doing what I’m doing now until He writes something on the wall in blood, or speaks to me with a disembodied voice or some other supernatural transmission of His will to us.

And, it’s true that we may not know EVERYTHING He wants us to do at the very moment, but our inactivity is rarely driven by that lack of knowledge so much as an unwillingness to do the things we already DO know He wants from us.

That’s why I love this Scriptural passage.  Like many of the Old Testament prophets, Micah is speaking out against checking the box in worship, that is, going through the motions that seem easy as opposed to really moving forward in our lives.

Do you want to know God’s future will for your life?

Then get to work on the things you already know.

Micah notes in verse 8 three important steps.

To do justice.

To love kindness.

To walk humbly before your God.

There have to be a thousand ways you could apply those three pieces of direction in your life TODAY.  It’s not rocket science.  Look around you.

Is there injustice?  Take a stand against it, in God’s name.  If you don’t do it perfectly, He’ll see your heart and assist you.

Are there people in need of kindness?  Fulfill that need, insofar as it’s applicable for you to step in and represent God.  If you aren’t exactly perfect in doing it. He’ll know your heart and make your efforts worthwhile.

And, the last one ought to already be your everyday marching order.

Get to work.  Somewhere in that effort, you’ll see the hand of God and understand His voice in a way you’d have never expected.

Continue on.

Always praying for you,

Your Older Brother,

Pastor Joe

NEVER ALONE

Friends,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3 NRSV

On this second day of Lent, a lot of us are trying to adjust ourselves to the fasting commitments we made for this 40 days plus Sundays of Lent.  In the process, some of us are struggling a little bit and maybe wondering if we’ve made a mistake.

And, we’re kind of feeling in the spotlight because we made that commitment before God and now we feel like we have His complete attention.

And that can make you feel all alone.

In truth, one of the toughest parts of trying to live as a follower of Jesus Christ is the realization that you’re not perfect in the performance of living your life, either in front of the people around you or, more critically, in His eyes.

And THAT can make you feel really alone.

Hebrews 12:3 is great news for followers of Christ for TWO reasons.

First, you’re never really alone.  The writer of To The Hebrews reminds us here that we are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses.  In the context of this Scripture, following Hebrews 12, the recounting of the great heroes of the faith throughout the Old Testament, this would seem to refer only to those Scriptural giants.  But, of course, centuries have since past and there’s an even greater cloud of witnesses around us.

And, it doesn’t only apply to the Biblical figures.  It includes those personal giants of the faith that have made a contribution in our lives.

For me, that includes my dad, my first hero of the faith.  But, it also includes all those individuals whose lives have changed mine.  And, that includes more recent heroes like Rev. Ed Bass, Rev. Tom Betzer, Rachel Ruth, Nyla Wagoner and, most recently, Carole Biggs.  Their lives affected me while they were here and, according to this Scripture, their spiritual presence continues to be with me.

OK, maybe that scares you even more, as if you were being examined by even more people judging your actions.  But, there’s even more.

The writer also reminds us that Jesus is not only with us, He is our model to follow.  I know; you’re feeling here like that’s just one more example to which you can’t aspire.  But, there’s one more reminder here.

He knows exactly how you feel.  He experienced life just like you.  He knows how it feels.

And, as a matter of fact, so does that great cloud of witnesses.  Their example is not just a reminder that you’re not as good as them.  It’s a reminder that many before you have overcome everything you’re experiencing right now.

Don’t give up.  Don’t lose hope.  You’re not alone.

There is reason here for great hope.

Continue on.

Always praying for you,

Your Older Brother,

Pastor Joe