Why I Trust The Cloud of Witnesses

In past weeks I’ve shared the news of some Christian leaders recently turning away from their faith.

In the Western World, we’ve seen a macro-version of this over the past two generations–especially in Europe and among young people. Some call it the “Great Turning Away” that the Bible predicts.

These reports jar us–even cause some doubts in our hearts.

For the next three weeks I will share a “Faith Trilogy” on who you can trust to stand firm despite the defections. Here is Part 1:

Why I trust the cloud of witnesses.

Faith Trilogy 1 – Why I Trust the Cloud of Witnesses

I can think of at least three reasons you can absolutely trust in the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. They form a strong three-legged stool of faith beneath you and a three-strand cord that can’t be broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

The first leg of the chair includes billions of people.

Though turning away from other religions is far more common than those who turn away from Christ, defections happen in every generation–starting with the first. The Early Church dealt with this problem and gave specific teachings why some people turn their back on Jesus (e.g. Hebrews 6:4-6, 2 Peter 2:20-22, 2 Timothy 4:10).

More importantly, believers in all time periods have focused strongly on those who give their lives to Christ for a lifetime–even through persecution and death–because of their trust in God.

They make up a vast cloud of witnesses.

“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… ” (Hebrews 12:1).

Just as courtrooms use evidence and witnesses to reach verdicts (the truth about a crime), so our faith is similarly built. Biblical faith is not blind-sighted. We believe because there is more credible evidence for the truth about Christ than anything else.

In other words, we trust because of the witnesses–the evidence. I wouldn’t base my life and eternity on anything else.

Hebrews 11–the “Hall of Faith–gives a short list of the witnesses of God’s salvation. They include:

  • Noah, the most righteous man in the pre-Flood world.
  • Abraham–the incredibly obedient father of faith.
  • Moses – a great deliverer and law-giver who met with God face-to-face.
  • David – one of the greatest kings of all time and a “man after God’s own heart.”

We could add some New Testament giants:

  • Peter – the fisherman who became the pillar of the Church and was crucified upside down because of his unswerving faith in Jesus of Nazareth.
  • Paul – one of the most brilliant intellects of history–whose letters and writings have impacted the world more than any other.

There are the other heroes of history including Augustine of Hippo, Patrick of Ireland, Boniface of Germany–and billions of others, some well-known and others little known–who put their faith in Christ and impacted the world for good.

Could this array of “witnesses” ever be produced by a false god, false ideas, and a charlatan Messiah? Would any of them have laid their lives down for a lie?

What about the Muslim religion? Islam has nearly 2 billion followers. But its numbers come primarily from forced conversions and birth. Where are the character-filled heroes? Where are the godly examples of faith, hope and sacrificial-love?

They almost exclusively exist in the cloud of witnesses who believe in God and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Every Jesus follower also possesses a personal group of witnesses whose faith impacted theirs. My personal “cloud” includes Steff Steinhorst who brought me to faith and Gary Bannister who taught me to follow Him. Blythe Harper helped deliver me from demonic bondage and Roly Houghton, Rev.Dave Jacobsen, Bill Thompson and Noel Hunt taught me to love the Bible.

Loren Cunningham inspired me to pursue the Great Commission and Leland Paris imparted the burden for revival in America. Dozens of YWAM leader/friends show me daily that God is alive and well–and at work around the world.

One of the smartest businessmen I ever met–Harry Conn–taught me the uniqueness of the Christ’s atonement. A humble engineer–Gordon Olson–led me to trust in the blessed character of God and His kingdom. Steve Watkins shepherded me as a young follower of Jesus and Keith Warrington helped me find my destiny.

Today, I am surrounded by family, friends, co-workers, missionaries and others I’m acquainted with who all witness that faith in Christ makes me right with God and brings eternal life.

This cloud of witnesses, both in heaven and on earth, is overwhelmingly–if I keep my eyes clear and in pursuit of the truth.

Other godly witnesses whom I’ve never met also instruct me.

John Cooper, songwriter and lead singer of Christian rock band Skillet, shared a powerful apologetic recently on the trend of high-profile Christians renouncing their faith.

Here is a sampling of his witness:

“What is happening in Christianity? More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once ‘faces’ of the faith are falling away. And at the same time, they are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?) as they announce that they are leaving the faith.”

“I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance… basically saying, ‘I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it. Therefore, I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people to my next truth.'”

“I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?”

“They say ‘I’m disavowing my faith but remember, love people, be generous, forgive others.’ Ummm, why? That is not human nature. No child is ever born and says, ‘I just want to love others before loving myself. I want to turn the other cheek. I want to give my money away to others in need.’ Those are Bible principles taught by [Jesus] who wants us to live by a higher standard which is not an earthly standard, but rather the ‘Kingdom of God’ standard.”

“Therefore, if Jesus is not the truth and if the Word of God is not absolute, then by preaching Jesus’s teachings you are endorsing the words of a madman. A lunatic who said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ How would you know ‘what is good’ without Jesus’s teachings? And will your ideas of what is ‘good’ be different from year to year based on your experience, culture trends, [popular] opinion etc. and furthermore will you continue year by year to lead others into your idea of goodness even though it is not absolute?”

Cooper’s witness reminds me of a good cross-examination–refuting the hollow arguments of the faith defectors (Proverbs 18:17).

His wise words add to the mushroom cloud of witnesses that Jesus is the way.

Root your faith in the abundance of evidence of changed lives. Though trust is ultimately not about numbers, be encouraged by the cloud of witnesses around you that shout out the reality of the loving God and his salvation found in Jesus Christ.

Next week I will share an even greater reason for faith.

It’s your GPS. It tells you where you are and where you’re going.

Stay tuned (and pass it on).

Life’s Crucial Question

Two events this week caused me to think about life’s important questions.

First, I had the privilege of leading the memorial service for a good friend. His sudden death at age 62, and a special ten minutes I shared alone with his body at the funeral home prompted some deep soul-searching.

The second situation was learning of another prominent “falling away” of a major Christian songwriter.  His reasons for rejecting Christ stunned and saddened me–again.

These two incidents remind us of the most important questions in life that each of us must answer.

One of them might be life’s most crucial question.

Life’s Crucial Question

If you’ve read my latest book, River of God: Where Religion Began and Why Grace and Love Will Triumph, you know it begins with the following hook:

“I’ve tried to write the clearest book on religion that’s ever been attempted. Why?  Because the most important question a person will ever ask in life is, ‘Is there a God to whom I must answer?’ If the answer to that question is yes, then the second most important question is: ‘How do I come into right relationship with him?'”

When I wrote those words, I believed they were the two most important questions a person could ever ponder because the answers would determine their eternity.

I still believe it.

Eternity is a long time–to state the obvious. How could anyone treat that subject casually or foolishly?

Not me. Too much is at stake.

Today, I add a third question to the above. It might be even more important than the others. But first, let me unwrap the incidents that prompted my thinking.

I wasn’t able to say goodbye to my friend, Tim Allen, before he died. He was riding home from work on his bike when he detoured toward an Urgent Care facility because something was wrong. He collapsed at the door–died almost instantly–and entered the portal of heaven. (He bled out due to an aortic tear.)

His heart rate at the end was 141 beats a minute. We know this because Tim was a math guy who wore a watch that showed his route, heart rate, and other things. When he fell, the last heart-rate reading showed “142.”

What a way to blast off into eternity.

A week later, a woman escorted me into a room where Tim’s body lay in repose. I stood by it for ten minutes, talking to him, thanking God for his life, praying and singing two stanzas of “Amazing Grace” over his body.

I later learned that his widow, Julie, at exactly that same moment, was singing the same two verses out-load in another place. Only God can create that type of “harmony” during troubled times.

As I gazed at Tim’s body, I half expected him to open his eyes and smile–including his very familiar chuckle. I knew it was possible. Raising the dead is nothing to the Living God. If He had chosen that miracle, He would have had to re-create Tim’s eyes–because Tim donated them upon his death.

That wouldn’t have been a problem for God either.

(Tim also donated 85 pints of blood in his lifetime–helping 261 other people to live. That’s ten gallons of blood–700% of his body total. What a gift.)

As I looked at my friend’s body, many comforting verses came to my mind: “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8),  “To live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21) and, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

And, maybe the grandest of all, John 11:25:

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will never die.”

That Scripture is emblazoned on the wall of George Washington’s crypt at Mount Vernon. Our first president believed its truth. It should be stamped on the heart of every follower of Jesus.

The second incident, reported by Gary Randall of Faith & Freedom, shared the tragic story of prominent Hillsong songwriter, Marty Sampson, who recently abandoned his faith.

“Time for some real talk,” the Australian writer wrote in a since-deleted post on Instagram. “I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.”

“This is a soapbox moment so here I go … How many preachers fall? Many,” he continued. “No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.”

The “All I Need Is You” writer said he’s “not in” anymore and desires “genuine truth.”

“Not the ‘I just believe it’ kind of truth,” he wrote. “Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I’m keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others.”

Christianity “just seems to me like another religion at this point,” Sampson said.

I almost cried when I read these words. Pondering them, as well as the life and “graduation” of my friend Tim, reminded me what might be life’s most crucial question:

Who do you trust?

That question points the way to answering the first two critical questions (Is there a God? and how do I get right with Him?).

Chapter Three of River of God details the three “Sources” of truth-available to all human beings:

  • Voices of People – which are finite and change like the wind.
  • Voices of Deception – the devil and his angels and the “lies” they whisper into human hearts.
  • The Voice of God – through creation, conscience, and the special revelation of the Bible–a 66 book library, written over 60 generations, by forty plus authors who were inspired by Him.

Years ago, I learned to trust the Bible above all things. As I share in River of God, you can depend on the Bible’s veracity because of its unique continuity, circulation, translation, survival, prophecies, accuracy about history and its influence on the world.

The Bible offers more evidence for “reality” than anything else on earth. It is a time-tested compass that points us to the only Savior–Jesus Christ. He, too, stands head and shoulders about all other religious founders and leaders.

Gautama Buddha once said, “I’m still looking for truth.” Jesus Christ said, “I AM the truth.”

Big difference.

Note in Marty Sampson’s sad comments that he turned away because he had questions (we all do), and now trusts science and his feelings more than Jesus and God’s Word. Notice all the “I’s” of narcissism in his tragic falling-away announcement.

He has chosen to trust himself, his feelings, and other human voices–and it doesn’t “bother him” (facing God in eternity?) That’s sad and extremely dangerous.

I also have many questions. So did Job–whose book I’m reading presently.

But I learned from the Bible that my ultimate source of trust must always be in the character of God–His love, grace, justice, holiness, and perfection. He will give every person what they truly deserve–don’t worry about fairness. He also provided a way of salvation for sinners through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

A wise human being, like my friend Tim, hangs onto God’s character and His Book. The rest is shifting sand.

That’s not blind faith–it’s wise trust–to aid you in answering life’s most crucial questions.

 

E Unum Pluribus and the Politics of Destruction

I wonder how many people will note the Latin phrase in the title is backwards.

Some won’t see it because we don’t speak Latin anymore and others because we rarely use this American motto on our Great Seal any longer.

The mass shootings this week in El Paso and Dayton were horrific crimes by two individuals bent on evil. But the response to them was so divisive that it led me to ponder our inverted motto.

The politics of destruction are reaching a zenith in America.

A house divided cannot stand.

E Unum Pluribus and the Politics of Destruction

This summer I’m reading a 143-year old book called A Centennial Edition of the History of the United States: From the Discovery of America to the End of the First Hundred Years of American Independence by Benson Lossing.

It gives an uplifting and different perspective (from our current social justice bias) on our American heritage as seen through the prism of 1876.

Its view is true history–from those who experienced it.

The book describes the native tribes (Aboriginals) on the American continent prior to colonization–the majority of whom treated their woman like slaves while the men spent time hunting and warring against each other. Some tribes acted more peaceful than others. But overall, “noble savages” didn’t exist.

Just savages.

The most recent Indian tribes had inherited their land from very advanced races of earlier civilizations who died off probably due to disease and human sacrifice.

The Old World in America was not a pretty world.

When global navigation brought Europeans to these shores, they comprised a mixed bag of gold/wealth seekers (primarily the Spanish and French) and peaceful religious settlers like the Dutch (New York) Pilgrims (new England) and the Quakers (Pennsylvania)–most of whom got along with the Indians.

It was the “bad” (greedy) settlers that made life difficult in early America–on both their European cousins and the Indians.

Over time, people of faith ascended to prominence–from Massachusetts to Georgia–(including converted natives), and forged a new American identity based on faith, hard work, and biblical ideas of civil polity. Their national character was strengthened through spiritual awakenings, provided the spark for the Revolutionary War, and gave birth in 1776 to the most godly, moral, and free nation in history.

These early Americans created a oneness of heart and mind rarely found in sociological history. Fifteen hundred years earlier the Romans had achieved the same homogeneity through force and control. Ditto the Assyrians and Babylonians.

Americans accomplished it with faith and character.

Lossing celebrates the “miracle” of “E Pluribus Unum” (“Out of Many, One”) that made the USA a special nation.  E Pluribus Unum remains the national motto on our Great Seal –and one we’ve been proud to champion for over 200 years.

It’s quite an achievement.

Yet, in the 21st century, that miracle is being turned on its head into “E Unum Pluribus” (Out of One, Many). A movement to divide America has been building for some time, but it reared its ugly head this week in the aftermath of the mass shootings. We saw “identity politics” at its worst.

That spirit will destroy us if we don’t deal with it.

Jesus Christ, who possesses all authority in heaven and on earth, stated plainly:

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand” (Matthew 12:25).

Right now (I’m going to be blunt and precise) various social organizations are determined to divide and conquer the United States. This list is not exhaustive but highlights some of the main actors.

Demons

Most news accounts these days come from a secular standpoint which leave out the invisible spiritual world. In Lossing’s history (written from a biblical point of view), God’s sovereignty and Providence were reported along with evil during America’s formative years.

This week demonic voices inspired the mass shootings–but no one stated so. Why? You can’t understand politics or history without “looking behind the curtain.” Satan’s demons motivate human beings to hate, kill, and destroy each other (Ephesians 6:12). That’s the simple truth and most logical explanation of evil. Demons don’t function as causes of sin, but they act as invisible influences in disturbed people’s minds.

Progressives or Leftists

The battle for America consists of a worldview confrontation between biblical faith (our heritage and source of unity) and secular-atheist ideology which wants to destroy that history and change our future. Numerous politicians use the propaganda of identity politics–gender, color, race, community, grievance, issue, etc. to divide people and rip America away from its biblical moorings.

The Democratic Party’s primary strategy is to divide America into various grievance groups designed to create chaos in the nation. You heard different politicians this week shouting “racism,” and “white supremacy,” while carving the nation up from “One Nation under God” into multiple mobs that are mad as hell.

Presidential Candidates

If you’ve watched the two debates, it’s increasingly obvious that all twenty-plus candidates vying to run against President Trump  in 2020 stand for the politics of division. They never talk about or to Americans as a whole. They’re always championing races, sexual preferences, minority rights, progressive issues, illegals, criminals, and even other nations. Charges of “racism” now mean that we are wrong, they are right, and we will be forced to comply with their political directives.

Few of them mention faith–because that’s the one thing the mob factions want to destroy. “Divide and conquer” should be the official slogan of our current crop of presidential aspirants.

Mainstream Media

Other than the demonic world, the biggest megaphones for disunity come from the secular media (print, TV, and Internet). Many of them no longer seek truth, report the news, or give equal time. Rather, they pride themselves being cheerleaders of our nation’s demise by siding with the grievance groups against faith-based America.

A case in point. This week the New York Times initially gave an honest and unifying headline to President Trump’s speech after the mass shootings, “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism.” Hours later they buckled to progressive protests and changed the headline to read “Assailing Hate But Not Guns”–dividing America once again over the 2nd Amendment.

Professors & Universities

The first universities in the world (Paris and London) and in the United States (Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton) lived up to the university concept of promoting “wholeness” or unity among academic disciplines. Today, many universities do the exact opposite by championing diversity, gender confusion, safe spaces, little free speech and anti-American everything.

Business Moguls

Much of the division in America is strategically funded by progressive billionaires like George Soros and Tom Steyer–with every donation designed to empower various groups to bring down America’s “house” and replace it with a socialist tyranny. Big money fuels the chaos aimed at destroying us.

To sum up, our national motto–Out of Many, One–is being turned on its head in the 21st century. The forces mentioned are intent on making it Out of One, Many for the purpose of national suicide.

Pray passionately against this demonically-inspired conspiracy. If you are a citizen, reject the divisive hyphenated labels of where you or your family came from. Tell your political representatives to jettison identity politics. Minimize petty issues and maximize sharing your faith with great clarity and persuasion–through the power of the Holy Spirit.

May God use us to rebirth “One Nation under God”–our other national motto.

After all, we are Americans.

Period.