Category Archives: Church

So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

For All the Saints[1]

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 . . . (Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV)

People put a lot of effort into cultural observances and celebrations. Halloween seems to be one that tops the “effort” list, given the decorations, costumes, parties, and the annual “trick or treating” of kids (small and large) going door to door. According to one source, Halloween’s origins date back to an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain which was held on November 1, a date when it was believed the souls of the dead returned to their homes. People would light bonfires and wear costumes to hopefully keep the ghosts away. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as “All Saints Day,” a time to honor all followers of Christ who had passed from this life to the next.[2]

God condemns calling on dead spirits and other occultic practices (Leviticus 19.31; 20.6; 20.17; Deuteronomy 18.10-12), but He does call us to remember those who lived faithful lives and left a godly legacy as a lasting testimony. In fact, an entire chapter in the New Testament – Hebrews 11 – calls to remembrance the lives of “saints” who lived and died “in faith.”  To the Jewish recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, the names Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and Moses would remind them of what it meant to live a life of faith and trust in God.

At the end of Hebrews 11, the writer makes this interesting statement: “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Hebrews 11:39-40 NKJV). It seems that there is a connection between the people of God in the past and those living in the present; between the work God has done in the past and what He is doing now and will do through believers in the future. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that the people of God in the past are “. . . so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1 NKJV) who should serve to motivate us to faithful and godly living.

Bishop William Walsham How’s hymn “For All the Saints” helps us celebrate the memory of the lives of our forebears in the faith and make the connection between their experiences and ours. The first stanza simply affirms the God-honoring lives they lived.

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

The “saints” of old left an example of looking to God and trusting in Him whenever they encountered troubles or trials.

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one True Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

The people of God – past and present – have a common destiny and form a “blessed communion” and “fellowship divine.”  Those in the past are now enjoying the great reward of being in the presence of their Lord and hearing his “. . . well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21 NKJV). Such is the hope that the people of God in every generation have – “the calm of paradise the blest.”

Oh, blessed communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine,
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

But there is more. There is coming a day when the glory of King Jesus will be on full display. “And behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him” (Daniel 7.13-14 NKJV).

But yonder breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

These saints “triumphant . . . in bright array” will form “. . . a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hand, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7.9-10 NKJV).

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

The ancient Hebrews remembered Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, David, Elijah, and many others. Today, we remember Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and Wesley. We remember those whose witness for Christ affected us personally and profoundly. For me, I remember my grandmothers Leota Neely and Ada Rabon. What a glorious hope! What a wonderful destiny! Let us live today and every day following the notable example of those who have gone before us, keeping our eyes on King Jesus and the prize that waits ahead for us.

Enjoy this video which gives a compelling visual illustration of each of the verses of this hymn.


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[1] WORDS: William Walsham How (1864, 1875). MUSIC: Ralph Vaughn Williams, 1906.


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Lord’s Day Praise and Supplication

Almighty Father,

Your children are here before you this morning.

Some of us are rejoicing. We’re coming off of weeks that have seen good success in our work, or blessing in our finances, or happiness in our relationships.

But some of us are hurting. We haven’t had success in our work, our finances are near collapse, and our relationships with our children or spouse is a mess.

Father, as well, some of us are grieving. Our hearts still hurt so badly over the loss of a loved one that we don’t know how we’re going to make it into the next hour.

But we’re here Lord – here before you – here crying out to you in our joy or in our pain – because you are the only source of blessing, and you are the only source of help and hope.

Father, thank you for Jesus.  He revealed you to us.  He died to ransom us from bondage and slavery to sin.  His resurrection from the grave gives us our hope of salvation – both now and for eternity – and hope that the pain of today will one day give way to eternal and endless joy.

We thank you, too, for the gift of your Holy Spirit to teach us all that we need to know about you – to equip us to love and worship and serve you – and to sustain and strengthen us when our faith grows weak and almost fails.

Father, the heavens above and the earth below shout the glory of your wonderful works.
There is no place on earth where the language of creation does not give you praise, so that only those who have hardened their hearts will refuse to believe this evidence and turn their hearts away from you.

Thank you for the wonderful rain and the glory of the thunder that you sent to us yesterday.

Thank you for the gift of music – this great and mysterious means by which we express our hearts to you, and which also inspires and encourages us to know and love and serve you more.

Thank you for the songs of the birds this spring – reminding us that as you provide for them, you will also provide for our every need.

Thank you for the beauty of leaves and flowers – of fruit on trees and vegetables coming up from the ground – reminding us that resurrection life is a reality – that you raise what is dead and dormant to life and abundance.

Thank you for a night of restful sleep, renewing the strength in our bodies to wake up this morning, and to go about our tasks each day.

Thank you for the provision you have made for food and clothing and shelter.
You have blessed us abundantly, and in our abundance, we pray for our brothers and sisters around us – and around the world – who have needs that have yet to be met.
Open our hearts, Father, and let us be your hands and feet in serving and providing for our brothers and sisters.

We thank you as well, loving Lord, for minds that can think and choose and worship and pray.  We thank you for the gift of conscience that is used by the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and lead us into righteous living.

We ask that you keep our fears and trials and worldly concerns from distracting us from our calling to be your witnesses – your ambassadors – your “missionaries” in our personal mission fields.

Help us to represent you well – to be faithful witnesses to your grace and mercy and love and power – to faithfully reflect the image of your glory that you have placed within us by your Spirit.

And may we represent you well.  May others get a true picture of who you are and what you are like by the love and unity that they see among us.

Open our hearts to love and worship and receive you afresh this day.  Shine the light of your presence on us and illumine our minds.  Strengthen and empower us through our worship together today so that we might lift high the name of Jesus Christ in all we do and say.

And it is for his glory that we offer this prayer.


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Filed under Church, Daily Living, Prayer, Worship

A Vision for our Future

For six weeks this fall, I spoke to our congregation about what it means to take our church membership seriously.  I believe these messages were pivotal for our future growth.  Even though we have been around for 78 years, the six qualities that we talked about are vitally important to being a people God will use and bless.  In the messages, I said that as members of the Body of Christ – truly born again and possessing new life in Christ – and particularly as members of the family called Grace Chapel – we must:
  • Be functioning members – giving, serving, witnessing, seeking to be a blessing to other
  • Be a source of unity and not division – striving to keep the unity of the Spirit in an atmosphere of peace
  • Be selfless members – not insisting on our preferences or desires but seeking the good of others
  • Be praying members – praying for the leaders of the church, for the leading of the Spirit in all they do
  • Be members who influence – leading family members and others to fall deeper in love with the church
  • Treasure our membership – seeing it as a gift; humbled and honored to be a member
My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will continue to develop these six characteristics in each member of our church family, so that they serve as the foundation our life together as we move forward in the months and years ahead.
In the second week of the series, I talked about church members being a source of unity and not division.  In that message, I shared a video clip from a pastor in Alabama who, with his church leadership team, challenges his congregation to know the vision and mission that God has called their church to fulfill.  That is because the vision represents who they are as a church family.
For my church – Grace Chapel – our vision is to “Know Christ and Make Him Known,” and we seek to do this by growing in five areas: as worshipers, as disciples, in fellowship, through ministry, and through evangelism.  To illustrate this, hold up an open hand, and the five fingers will represent the five points of our mission to “Know Christ and Make Him Known.”
This pastor also challenges his congregation to be ministers and missionaries.  Each member comes to know their individual spiritual gifts, and then uses those gifts in service and ministry to and through the church.  This includes each member taking the initiative to make sure that everyone they know – everyone in their “circle of influence” – their “personal mission field” – has the opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and come to faith in Him.  You see, to be a Christian – to be a member of the Body of Christ – is to be so grateful for what God has done for us in Christ that we cannot keep it to ourselves.  Like Paul, we feel compelled to share it with others.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:13-15 ESV)
I want these words to ring true for every member of the Grace Chapel family.  Grow in worship as a daily part of your life.  Grow as a disciple – a learner – of Jesus Christ.  Grow in love and fellowship with the other members of this church family.  Grow in your understanding and use of the spiritual gifts for service God has given you.  Grow as a witness for Jesus Christ everywhere you go.

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