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The text we are reading this morning precedes the text we are going to unpack. Please stand as we read God’s Word from Hebrews 12:1-3:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Silent Prayer

The writer of Hebrews is stressing the importance of perseverance, of keeping on, of being focused and moving forward in our spiritual lives. The passing of time, the moving from month to month and year to year, the advancement of a calendar doesn’t mean someone is advancing in their faith. As Christians we must take the approach that we aren’t just biding time and waiting on heaven, but we are actively running a race. We are actively on a mission. We are pursuing a course that God has ordained for us. The writer says each of us has a race to run, one that has been “marked out” specifically for us.

Getting started isn’t hard. I remember about six years ago I had the thought, “I’d like to learn how to crochet.” I went and bought yard and crochet needles. Check. Step one accomplished. I mean, you can’t learn how to crochet without yard and crochet needles. But that is not only where I started; It is also where I stopped. I did nothing more about the pursuit. For many of us, every Monday is a new start to a diet or the effort to change a habit. It’s convenient that Monday comes every week because most of us need to start over about every seven days as the diet or habit changed usually ended in 48 hours. Opening a new bank account isn’t hard at all. It can be a lot of fun. Sometimes there is an incentive or prize you can obtain just for opening a new account. But diligently working to save money and put it into that account isn’t as easy. How important is perseverance in the life of a believer, and in what things are we to persevere? The writer of Hebrews outlined at least thirteen things in the thirteenth chapter. Turn there with me.

Hebrews 13:1 “Keep on loving each other as brothers.”

Keep on Loving-One wouldn’t think Christians would have to be told to persevere in an attitude of love. Isn’t that basic? Isn’t that a “given?” Obviously not or it wouldn’t be expressed so emphatically and wouldn’t have been placed first in the lineup of commandments in this passage. The writer wasn’t addressing a love problem. Apparently, those who received this message were already doing a good job loving one another as family. The writer knew, however, how critical that was in order for them to continue to work together to advance the Gospel, so he told them to keep on loving.

Unity and love are foundational to our witness and mission. We are doing a good job of loving one another. I am told repeatedly by newcomers how welcoming, authentic, and non-“clicky” this church is. When people express a need, to the best of our ability we try to meet it. When we are aware of a hurt or challenge, even when it is unexpressed, we try to reach with arms of comfort and prayers of support. Those who attend a small group, Sunday School or who are part of a group like our Young at Heart for those 55 and older or our CWC, for example, easily make friends and connections that become sustaining relationships which enhance them relationally and refresh them spiritually.

That doesn’t mean we all agree on everything. In fact, there are lots of things I am sure we disagree on. Take end times theology, for example. Some people believe the book of Revelation is to be read and interpreted literally which leads them to believe that Christ will set up an earthly kingdom here and reign for one thousand years at some point. Some people believe Israel will play a key role in the return of Christ and that when Jesus comes again He will come to a mountain in Jerusalem. Some people believe there will be an intense time coming called “The Tribulation” which will last for 7 years in which a religious/political figure, known as the Antichrist will mark people for his kingdom and persecution will intensify in every corner of the world. Some people believe in a rapture where Christians are removed from the earth before that intense Tribulation happens. Others think Christians will suffer through the seven years and prove their faithfulness to God during the time of suffering and then be raptured. Some people believe a horribly violent battle called Armageddon will take place which will be provoked by the antichrist and during the battle God will pour out His wrath on the earth and humankind, creating the largest genocide the world has ever seen.

I happen to believe what has been historically believed by the Church of God and what was historically believed by Christians from the fourth century until around 1900. I believe the book of Revelation is filled with highly symbolic language. Therefore, I don’t take Revelation 20:4-6 literally, but figuratively or symbolically. I don’t personally believe in a literal thousand year reign of Christ on the earth because two other places in Scripture, II Peter 3:8 and Psalms 90:4, they both say a day with the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day which imply to me simply that God does not dwell in the reality of time the way we do.

I believe that the millennium described in Scripture started with the work of Christ and takes up the entire time period between Christ’s work, or at the minimum started when the Holy Spirit was poured out on all people and that it will conclude with the return of Christ. I don’t believe in a secret rapture for Christians or a literal mark of the beast. I believe we have been in a period of tribulation ever since Christ took on Satan in the flesh. There are wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, and persecution happening all over the world, which are biblical signs of the end of times and sin has a lifestyle has become increasingly accepted over time.

I believe the Kingdom of God is not a future event as Jesus said He ushered in the Kingdom of God when He said that the Kingdom was at hand. I don’t believe it is a physical place, but that the Kingdom of God is within me as Jesus taught. I believe there will be a day when the Father turns to the Son and says, “Let’s do this,” and Jesus descends with the angels of glory. A trumpet will sound so loud that everyone stops in their tracks and falls on their faces in every corner of the globe to acknowledge Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

I believe Satan will be dealt with in such a public way that there can be no argument about who is the Victor of this battle that has been raging since the beginning of time. I believe the judgment takes place then and there as those who are alive in Christ are caught up to meet Him in the air and those who aren’t in Christ are told to depart. I believe the earth will be destroyed by fire and we will be in a state of paradise in a new space entirely.

“Now pastor, I think you just wanted to work some end times theology into a sermon. How can you tie that to loving one another?” Listen, what you believe about the end times doesn’t impact my ability to love you or work with you to see souls saved. You can absolutely disagree with me and me with you, but we don’t have to be disagreeable with one another. We may all be wrong! One day maybe you can tell me, “I told you so!” or more likely, Jesus will simply say when it is all over, “I kept you all guessing, didn’t I?” The bottom line is we aren’t going to fuss and fight over end time doctrine, hymns or choruses, jeans or suit jackets, what color the carpet should be, where the new building should sit or whether women can preach. 

There are some things, however, we will hold fast to. Christ is Lord. Salvation through faith in His sacrifice is the ONLY way to heaven. The Bible is the inspired Word of God and is perfect in its instruction for victory in life. We are to live holy as unto the Lord. We will hold on to the ordinances of baptism, communion and foot-washing because they were instituted by our Lord. We are going to reach our hands in fellowship to every blood washed one and open our hearts to every unwashed sinner. Red, yellow, black or white, all are precious to God and are welcome at TVCOG.

And if we disagree about something we will do it lovingly, respectfully, prayerfully and with the main goal of always glorifying God. If I have a problem with you and I can’t handle it between the Lord and me, I will come to you, and my door is open for you to do the same. For six and a half years we have lived and operated in harmony as a body. Let’s keep on church.

As we continue to grow, our love for one another must be inclusive of those God continues to send to be part of this fellowship. If you don’t know someone’s name who worships here, take responsibility and initiative to find out what it is, and go beyond getting names. Get to know those who are worshiping here. Everyone needs to feel welcome and a part of what is taking place. If you are new, don’t sit back and wait for someone to invite you to lunch or wait to join a class or study or to get involved in an area of ministry, take a risk and reach out. We won’t bite!  We are to keep on persevering in love.

Keep on Being Helpful Vs. 2 “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” First of all, I believe angels are absolutely Scriptural and real and are God’s emissaries in the world today. We are told to entertain strangers

Our proximity to the interstate gives us regular opportunities to ministry to folks who are homeless or who are creatively moving across the country.  Just this past week, someone stopped in to our Wednesday night service. She was a very friendly lady who stayed through our business meeting and church. She was hitchhiking and bus hopping to somewhere. She needed some help getting her belongings secured and secluded for the night as she intended to sleep outside somewhere safe. Pastor Thom and Mark Painter Jr. took her to the place where she had stashed her belongings. They were sort of near the interstate behind the guardrail. Although they offered her a hotel stay, she was most comfortable being tucked away behind some bushes. Before Thom and Mark took her to a place close-by where she would be out of sight, they took her to Sheetz, got her something to eat, and purchased a gift card for her breakfast and lunch the next day. She was very grateful. All she had asked for was the assistance with her things, and she received a whole lot more. Later in the week, I asked Thom if he thought she could have been an angel. Who knows?

Whether the person glows with heavenly light or glows because of what they have just snorted or smoked, we have an obligation to be helpful, hospitable, and kind. One reason we have started taking up offerings on Wednesday nights is so that in addition to funds we have budgeted for benevolence we can add to that assistance fund and also help missionaries and others on the front lines for the Gospel.

There is a new drug and alcohol treatment center for men in our area called “The Rock.” Just this past week, we have been asked to partner with the facility and help disciple those in the program. We are looking for ways to do so. Whether through our “Living Free” classes that help people deal with life controlling issues, our men’s group which provides great encouragement and support for men on their spiritual journey, our Sunday School program, our online discipleship tools, networking we might be able to do to help these recovering addicts find jobs, funds we could provide to get them set up in their own place, our counseling assistance through Pastor Thom, we have something to offer in support.

Yesterday, we entertained lots of strangers. People from all over this community received the love of God through acts of kindness. They made no request for a snow cone, birthday party, air freshener, box of food or hot dog, but God put a love and concern in our hearts that caused us to go looking for some strange people  (I mean strangers) to love on.

The point isn’t that we entertain strangers in hopes of entertaining angels, but that we make no distinction about who we will help based on their circumstance, appearance or bank account.

Keep on Supporting Those Who are Suffering Vs. 3 3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. This verse refers to those who are suffering because of preaching the Gospel. People are dying daily around the world because of their belief in Christ and desire to spread the Gospel. Believers in many countries are paying a high price for loving Jesus. Su Kim’s teacher promised her a special prize. “After your parents go to bed tonight, if you can find a black book at home, bring it to school tomorrow. But don’t tell anyone.” She was excited about the possibility of winning a prize, and looked diligently. Su Kim found a book – a Bible – and the next day took it to her teacher. But when she returned home from school her parents were gone. They’d been arrested by the North Korean police. Their crime was owning a Bible. After a frightening night home alone Su Kim became a state orphan. (http://hotsermons.com/sermon-illustrations/sermon-illustrations-persecution.html)

We must diligently pray for and work to support those who are suffering for the sake of the Gospel. Congressman Frank Wolf, a committed Christian from Virginia, has been an outspoken advocate for international human rights for the past 30 years. After visiting hotspots for persecution and human rights abuses from around the world, he was asked if America-especially the churches in America-were failing the oppressed peoples of the world. Wolf replied:

I meet many people [from around the world] who are baffled and concerned that the West doesn’t seem to be that interested in their plight. Three nuns from Iraq just came to my office. They said they feel abandoned. Half the Christian community in Iraq is now living in ghettos in Damascus, Lebanon, and Jordan.

I was in Egypt last month. The United States has given the Egyptian government over $50 billion [since the late 1970s]. And yet the Coptic Christians have been persecuted during that time. If you’re a Coptic Christian in Egypt, you can’t get a government job, and you can’t be in the military. They wonder why the church in the West hasn’t spoken out.

In China, you have roughly 30 Catholic bishops who have been arrested. You have hundreds of Protestant pastors and house church leaders being imprisoned and persecuted.

The church in Sudan has suffered persecution. In southern Sudan, 2.1 million people have died—mainly Christians. . . I had one woman tell me, “The West seems more interested in the whales than in us.”
(Interview by Susan Wunderink, “Q & A: Frank Wolf on Liberty for the Captives,” Christianity Today (11-17-11))
We must continue to pray for missionaries around the world and to send our financial support to them. We must also continue to care about people who are suffering because of political oppression or who are enslaved in any way. Setting at liberty those who are held captive is the heartbeat of Jesus. I was so challenged by verse 3 that I called Church of God Ministries this past week to ask if we had any Church of God Missionaries working to free people from human trafficking and was blessed to learn about a covert operation in another country where there is a café’ set up for women to come to in order to get something to eat for free and to get in out of the cold. While they are in the café’, our own Church of God missionaries talk to them about Jesus and offer them assistance to get out of the slavery of trafficking and out of the country, away from their captors. The main missionary who runs the café’ keeps her profile low and lives an almost disguised existence. My heart was so stirred by people who would risk their lives to provide that kind of help that I have decided that part of our offerings in August or September on Wednesday nights will go to provide support for that ministry.
“Out of sight” cannot be “out of mind” and “out of wallet” for us as Western Christians. We are to keep on supporting those who are suffering.

Keep on Being Faithful to Your Family Verse 4: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” There is one place for the expression of sexuality, and it is in the confines of biblical marriage which is one man and one woman committed to each other exclusively for the rest of their lives. For the Christian, there is no other choice, no other option, no wiggle room, and no gray area. “But we are engaged and will be married in three months. Surely there is nothing wrong with us having sex.” That’s not what the Bible says. “But my spouse is working away from home for the next year. Surely a short affair couldn’t hurt anything.” That’s not what the Bible says. “But we love each other, and we are practicing safe sex.” There is no such thing. “It’s my body, and I can do what I want with it.” No Sir. No ma’am. “You were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body!” (I Cor. 6:20) I may sound “old school” or like I am “holy rolling” this morning, but I am simply telling you what the Word of God says.

Young people, commit your bodies to the Lord now. Make it an area of no compromise for your life. If you have already given in to sexual temptation, God can forgive you and give you a fresh start. You can begin again. You can repent and be cleansed. Don’t let it define you for the rest of your life. Learn from bad choices and strengthen your resolve to live in purity.

Husbands and wives, if there has been a compromise in your commitment, make a commitment to start fresh today. Decide to forgive whoever has stepped outside of the marriage. Seek whatever counseling may be needed. Renew your vows in a ceremony. It would be my pleasure to assist you.

Kids, if one of your parents has let your family down in this area I am sure it has personally impacted your life in a painful way. But the good news is it doesn’t have to destroy your life. It can be a turning point towards building a stronger family. Ask God to give you the strength to forgive and to be healed. And even if your family doesn’t stay together as you once knew it, you can choose how you relate to both parents and with God’s help you can find healing for whatever has been sabotaged by sexual sin.

God’s Word is encouraging us to keep on focusing on our commitment to our families and to live holy before Him.

Finally for today, Keep on Pursuing the Right Perspective for Living. ”Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.” There is nothing wrong with having money. Money isn’t evil. Most of us would enjoy having some more of it. However, living for money or the pursuit of money is idol worship. Being content with what we have demonstrates our trust in God and not in ourselves. I’m not saying don’t work hard or don’t pursue a good living or don’t invest your money wisely. When making money is the focus of our minds even though we already have the bills paid and the necessities of life, it has taken the place prescribed for God alone. And the pursuit of money can lead to the loss of the things that matter most. Your relationships with your spouse and kids can suffer. Your health can suffer. Your friendships can suffer. Pursue abundant life, that is your relationship with God first, your relationship with your family second, and your money-making efforts third. Most of us could live on less than what we currently live on. And most of us could spend more time on spiritual things and on building better relationships with our spouses and children.

Keep on persevering in the area of your priorities. It’s faith and family first. We’ll talk next week about the rest of the thirteen commandments from Hebrews 13, but let me ask you first, how well are you persevering in these areas?

Loving your brothers and sisters in Christ. When was the last week you showed another Christian you cared about them? Told them you were praying for them? Reached out to ask how they were or why they had missed church? Went out of your way to bless them?

Being helpful. How many ways do you seek to entertain strangers and show hospitality to those in need? Students, how many of you just offer to help around the house or do things to show appreciation for your parents and how much they do to provide for you? Are you discriminating against who you are willing to help? If you believe you are open to helping all people when was the last time you helped someone that was very different from you?

What about your support for those who are suffering? Do you know of someone who is living in deplorable conditions? Maybe children who aren’t being properly cared for or an elderly person who lives alone and doesn’t have what they need to properly care for their home, their yard or even to make meals for themselves? When we get ready to take the special offerings for those helping girls get out of a life of prostitution, what can you give?

Is your commitment to your family obvious through your actions or are you counting on your spouse and kids to believe your words alone? Have you failed your family in some way? Do you need to ask for forgiveness? Do you need to develop a strategy for a stronger Christian family life?

Where are your priorities? Is your commitment to Christ ahead of material possessions? What about your relationships? Are they are the forefront of your choices regarding money and work? What is driving you? The desire for more or the desire for God and close relationships?

I believe we are told to persevere in these areas because it is easy to accept the world’s way of thinking in all of these areas and slowly drift into a closed, selfish, “me-first” mentality. Let’s examine ourselves this morning, and be honest. If there is an area of compromise, let’s replace it with a tenacity to persevere. Let’s keep on, church, and all the more as we anticipate the return of Christ.

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