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Showing posts with label Holiness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holiness. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

We Are Samson

You know, when I was a kid around 4 or 5 years old, my favorite superhero was the Hulk.  I was the third in my family, so when I was 4 or 5 years old, my sister was 4 years older than me and my brother was 8 years older than me.  So I think the Hulk was the perfect – I didn't think about it at the time.  Now looking back and reflecting on it, I realize I was the weakest in the family, right.  I mean I couldn't do anything and they were smarter than me, older than me, bigger than me, stronger than me.  They could pretty much make me do whatever they wanted, and plus I had a terrible temper at the age of 4 or 5, and they were controlling of me and i couldn't do anything about it and it just frustrated me to no end.  To be able to just get angry and turn green and to have muscles pop out of your body, your eyes turn red, and to scrunch your muscles and have your clothing burst off of you, that would be awesome!  I would've loved to do that when my brother was sitting on top of my chest and tickling me.  It would've been awesome.

In the Bible, there is actually a famous character, a hero of the scripture, who was a real life strongman.  His name was Samson.  His full story runs for three chapters, from Judges Chapter 13 all the way through 16, and he was an amazing, interesting person. He was so strong that one day he was on his way to a party and a lion jumped out of the bushes and attacked him, and he wrestled the lion to the ground with his bare hands and grabbed it by the jaws, and ripped its jaws open and killed the lion.  That's how strong he was.  Now another time, some Philistines in a village made him very angry and in order to get revenge, he went out and he captured 300 foxes, and he tied their tails together and tied torches to their tails, and lit the torches on fire and sent the foxes running through his enemies' farm and destroyed their fields, caught everything on fire.  Now I don't even know how you do that.  I don't even know how you catch 300 foxes to start with, let alone tie their tails together.  That's a fascinating story.  Of course, the people that owned those farms were very angry.  So they came to his village and with an army of 3,000 soldiers and said, "You give us Samson or we're going to destroy you!"  And so, what do you think the leaders of the village did?  Well, they took Samson and they tied his hands behind his back, and they sent him on out there to face the soldiers.  As soon as Samson saw the army, he ripped off the ropes binding his hands.  He didn't have any weapons so he looked down on the ground and there was the skeleton of a dead donkey.  Samson reached down and grabbed the jawbone and he killed a thousand of the soldiers that were coming to deal with him.  The rest of them ran off.  So that's an amazing feat!  I don't know how in the world you do that.

One time, Samson snuck into one of the Philistine cities and he visited with a lady for the evening. Some soldiers came to her house and planned to ambush Samson when he came out in the morning, but Samson knew they were out there.  So in the middle of the night about midnight, he snuck out a back window and he went to go leave the city.  Well, the problem was, it was a walled city and at night, they closed the gates so you couldn't get in or out.   So Samson got to the gates and saw they were locked and closed, and so what did he do.  He's the strongest man in the world.  He just walked up to the gates and he ripped them off of their foundations, and he carried them up a hill and threw the gates down and he went on home.  This is an amazing man filled with God's strength.

Now Samson wasn't strong for no reason at all.  God had a purpose for giving him his strength and Samson was born in a very difficult time in Israel's history.  It was in the period of the Judges.  Judges 17:6 tells us how it was. It says,  "It says in those days, Israel had no king.  All the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes."

Now Israel didn't have a king.  They didn't have a monarch.  They didn't have a king and queen to start with.  The reason was because they didn't need one.  God was their king.  God was directly their king.  So God had given them the law and God had delivered them from Egypt and slavery, and he said you don't need a king.  I'll be your king and you just follow, and you ask Me what to do.  What better king could you possibly have than God?  I mean He's not the kind that's going to let power go to his head.  He's not going to use you or abuse you, or anything.  He's going to be a good king.  But it says they had no king.  And I never thought about this,before studied for this message.  They had no king.  Not only did they not have an earthly king, but they didn't treat God as their king either.  You know, God was their king, but they didn't listen to him.  Now if the king tells you to do something, you better do it, right, because there's going to be consequences if you don't.  So these people didn't do what the king did.  What did they do?  It says they did whatever seems right in their own eyes.  They did whatever they wanted to, regardless of what their king, God, said.  They had no king.  They had no earthly king and they weren't allowing God to be their king.  So they were in a real mess and that sets the stage for the story of Samson.  This is when Samson was born.  The part of the story I want to read today is in Judges Chapter 13 in Verses 1-5.  

Judges 13:1-5
1Again the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord handed them over to the Philistines, who oppressed them for forty years.
2 In those days a man named Manoah from the tribe of Dan lived in the town of Zorah. His wife was unable to become pregnant, and they had no children. 3 The angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife and said, “Even though you have been unable to have children, you will soon become pregnant and give birth to a son. 4 So be careful; you must not drink wine or any other alcoholic drink nor eat any forbidden food. 5 You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and his hair must never be cut. For he will be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. He will begin to rescue Israel from the Philistines.”

The Nazirite Vow
Now notice this baby (who was to Samson) would be a Nazarite from birth.  What is that?  In Numbers Chapter 6, we read what a Nazarite is.  The Nazarites were a very special, holy order among the people of Israel.  Normally, a person would say I'm going to dedicate maybe the next year of my life to God.  I want to be a Nazarite and so I'm going to do nothing in the next year but serve the Lord and do everything for him.  However, some people, and Samson was one of them, would decide to be a Nazarite for their entire life.  Here we have this baby that's about to be born and God says this child is going to be super special.  He's going to be a Nazarite his entire life.  Now Nazarites had certain rules they had to follow that showed everyone they were holy, that they were specially set apart by God.  Number 6 tells us the regulations.  First of all, they were not allowed to have anything that was produced by the grapevine.  It wasn't just wine, it was anything.  They couldn't have any wine.  They couldn't have vinegar, because vinegar also comes from the grapevine, couldn't have any grape juice, (no Welch's for Samson).  They couldn't eat grapes, couldn't have any raisins, nothing at all coming from the grapevine.  And because Samson was so special, not even his mother was allowed to have any of those things while she was pregnant with Samson.  So none of those elements, molecules, chemicals, whatever went into his body even in his prenatal form.  Nazarites were not allowed to have anything at all that was intoxicating.  And of course, this is the one that you know about Samson if you've heard the stories before:  a Nazarite was not allowed to cut their hair for the entire time of their vow.  So if you were a Nazarite for 1 year, you weren't allowed to cut your hair for a year.  Here's the thing, you couldn't even brush your hair as a Nazarite because if you brush your hair, it pulls out some of your hair, right.  Now Samson was to be a Nazarite for his entire life.  So from the time he was born, he never cut his hair and I assume never brushed his hair.  (Some people think Samson kind of looked like one of those Rastafaris from Jamaica with the dreadlocks because what happens to your hair you don't ever brush it, it gets matted up and turns into dreadlocks.  And that makes sense because if you read it says he had seven locks of hair.  How in world do you have seven locks of hair?  Well, I guess if they've all matted together into dreadlocks maybe you'd have seven of them, and seven is the perfect number.)  And the Nazarite was not allowed to go near any dead body, was not allowed to go to a funeral.  Even if their mother or their father, or their grandparents died, brother, sister, they weren't allowed to go to the funeral because they couldn't be around a dead body.

Nazarites made a promise, a special vow that they were set apart for God.  Samson was set apart to be that way his entire life.  So you would think Samson would be a particularly holy person, wouldn't you?  He would be like a monk, right?  Well, that was what he was supposed to be.  This is the key that you don't need to miss: Samson is a symbol for what Israel is supposed to be.  You know, Israel, the whole nation was supposed to be a holy, royal priesthood.  That's why they had all these funny laws in the Old Testament about what they could eat, and what they couldn't eat, and how they were supposed to live, and all their festivals, because God was trying to make this whole nation to live in such a way that they were strange.  He wanted all the people around them to look at them and say, "That's a peculiar people.  There's something different about them."  Israel was supposed to be God's holy people.  Their whole purpose was to be to point toward the holiness of God.  They were set apart as a royal, holy priesthood for God, and that's what Samson was his whole life.  He was a symbol for the whole nation of Israel.  And here's the most important point today:  if you believe in Jesus Christ, if you dedicated your life to follow him your whole life, we are supposed to be a holy people.  We are supposed to be a royal priesthood and our whole purpose in life is the point people toward our holy God.  Now we do that maybe a little bit different than they did in the Old Testament (and please don't start thinking you've got to not cut your hair!).  But how do you live your life?  The various ways you live should point people to God. 

Samson’s Tragic Shortcomings
Now Samson, you would think, was a very holy person.  However, he had some tragic shortcomings.  If you read those chapters, you will see a man that doesn't look very much like a holy person.  Let me tell you some of his shortfalls.  First of all, he was incredibly spoiled and incredibly rude to his parents.  If you read the way he talked to his parents, if I ever said that to my mom, she would've slapped me until my head turned around backwards!  Samson was disrespectful to his parents.  

He was also a gambler.  You know, the story where Samson killed the lion?  He killed the lion and he went to the party.  A week later, he came back to the another party and as he's on the way, he says "I'm going to pull off and see the dead lion.  now remember, a Nazarite wasn't' supposed to be around any dead bodies, but he says "I'm going to go see this carcass of this lion that I killed".  Inside the carcass, he finds honey bees.  They made a nest inside this lion carcass.  so here's this holy man who's not supposed to touch any dead bodies, not even go to his parents' funeral, and he decides to eat some of the honey out of the dead carcass!  Gross!  he goes to the party and he comes up with this strange riddle about what  he's done.  He tells the men at the party like says, "I bet you you can't answer my riddle."  So he's gambling.  He says, "If you can't answer my riddle, you have to give me 30 new sets of clothes.  If you figure it out, then I'll give you 30 sets of clothes."  Well, the men go to Samson's fiancĂ©e and she tells them the answer to the riddle.  She betrays Samson and he ends up losing the bet.  So he's lost now in his whole gamble.  

Now most people would say all right, I learned a lesson.  I'll never do that again! But instead, what does Samson do?  Well, he's short tempered and violent so he goes out and he says fine.  He goes to another Philistine village and he kills all the people in the village and he takes their clothes and gives them to cover his bet!.  So not only is he a gambler and rude to his parents, he's also violent, he's short tempered, he's a murderer and a thief.  That's your holy man for you.

Another time, Samson spent the night with a prostitute.  That doesn't sound very holy.  Samson had a terrible weakness for women--pagan women.  Although Samson was born into the world to deliver the Israelites from their Philistines oppressors, Samson always seemed to fall for Philistine women.  , He never chose women with good character who loved God.  If he didn't choose women of good character, he must've had something else in mind.  His first wife was a pagan Philistine woman.  We already heard she betrayed him and cost him an expensive bet.  Their marriage only lasted a few days and then she married someone else.  Then he fell in love with another pagan woman, one they made a movie about, "Samson and Delilah."  Another pagan Philistine woman who didn't believe in the Lord God of Israel.  She wasn't a woman of very good character either.  She betrayed Samson for money.

You know and if you read the story of Samson and Delilah (it's in the 16th chapter of Judges), You think: "Samson, you're just not very smart!"  Delilah comes to samson and she says,  "Tell me what's the secret of your strength.  How could people subdue you?"  Well, that ought to be a red flag right there, but he's so dumb!  He tells lies to her and I think he said something like, "If you tie me up with a bowstring that had never been used before, then I won't be able to break it."  She ties him up with these bowstrings and the Philistines come in and Samson breaks loose.  You would think he learned his lesson and put her aside, but he doesn't.  He keeps her and she keeps nagging him to tell her how to subdue him.  That would be your clue this is not the woman for you, but Samson's a fool.  He just keeps right on going.  How many times do you think she tricked him?  Four times she tricks him and finally on the fourth time, he actually told the truth and said, "If you cut my hair, I'll be as weak as any man."  So she cuts Samson's hair and the Philistines capture him.  Fools repeat the same mistake over and over.  Samson was a fool.  He was captured and the Philistines.  They gouge his eyes out and they make him a slave.  They chain him to a gristmill and make him grind the grain in the dungeon.  So the strongest man in the world ends his life chained to a gristmill, milling out grain for the pagan prison.

Now what a tragic story! What a terrible waste of potential!  I mean imagine if Samson had followed God's call in his life.  He could've led the Israelites to freedom!   He could've changed the world.  Instead, he used his great powers for his own selfish indulgence.  God still used Samson despite his failings.  He did kill a lot of Israel's enemies.  He was a constant bother to the Philistines--a thorn in their side.  Even in his death, he killed Philistines.  Because Samson was a slave, the Philistines thought they would make sport of him.  They were having this big feast in the temple of Dagon and they took Samson out of the dungeon and (I guess) they made him dance for them or something.  They're like, "Ha, ha, ha!  You were killing all of us and look at you now!  You're weak and you're blind, and you're in chains, and we've beaten you!"  However, Samson hair had grown back a little bit.  So after he gets done dancing or whatever, he puts his hands on the pillars supporting the roof to rest.  And as he's leaning against the pillars, he prays, "Oh, God, strengthen me one last time."  He presses with his amazing strength against the pillars and the entire roof of the temple collapses in on the party.  It kills 3,000 people!  God used Samson, but can you imagine what God could've done if Samson had cooperated with God?  Who knows?  We'll never know because Samson didn't fulfil his noble, holy, God given from birth calling. 

Now I told you that Samson was a symbol for the holy people of Israel.  They followed the same pattern throughout their entire history.  They never seemed to really fulfill the holy calling God had given them.  Samson is also a symbol for Christians because Christians are called to be holy.  We're called to be set apart and special for God.  We're called to be a royal priesthood.  

Our Connection
The Apostle Peter in 1st Peter 29 says it this way.  For you are a chosen people.  You are royal priests, a holy nation, God's very own possession.  He's talking about those who believe in Jesus Christ; we're incredibly strong.  We are the strongest force the world has ever known.  Of course, we are powerful because we have great influence as we are united in our beliefs and in our desire to reach out and change the world.  When we work together, nothing can stop us.  

The Christians in the New Testament were a tiny minority in a world that was completely turned against God, a world that was so turned against God, they crucified the son of God.  The earliest Christians were a tiny minority and it seemed like everybody wanted to kill them, and yet they were so powerful they were able to change the whole world.  The Roman Empire that crucified Jesus converted to Christianity within 300 years.  That's amazing!  That's more amazing than anything Samson did and we are part of that royal priesthood.  

We have faith and power and influence in our society.  Unfortunately, we are oftens like Samson.  We waste our power.  We don't use our power for good.  We get distracted.  We lose our focus.  We live our lives chasing after our own dreams and our own indulgences.  We use our influence and our power and the freedom that God gave us for our selfish pursuits.  We need to remember.  We need to learn the lesson of Samson and not waste our power, not to waste our God given opportunity.  We need to speak up, not be silent, to share about our loving savior, to encourage our community, to live up to the principles of God.  We need to speak up and be united in our voice, but at the same time, we also have to be careful how we speak because so often those Christians who are not silent speak in a voice that is judgmental and is mean and pushes people away.  So when we speak, we have to be careful that we speak the truth uncompromisingly, but we speak it in love. We are Samson, but let us decide to be a better Samson than the one we see in Judges.

So as I close, I want to invite you to see the power of God.  You don't have have long hair.  You don't have to follow all those rules of a Nazarite.  God set us free from all of that, but He set us free so that we could be holy.  He set us free so that we could make disciples of Jesus Christ and continue to change the world as Jesus started 2,000 years ago.  So I invite you today to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God--the same Spirit that made Samson the strongest man who ever lived and makes you incredibly strong to live your life today.  Perhaps you have never decided to follow Jesus Christ.  You never decided to let him be your Lord and savior.  I invite you today to pray and ask him to be your Savior.  Perhaps today, you have been a Christian for some time, but you have not been empowered.  You never felt the power.  If you have felt the power, you use it for something less than holy.  So today, I invite you to receive the power of the Holy Spirit and to use it for God's purposes.  Use your Christian power wisely.  We are Samson!  Amen.

Monday, October 30, 2017

What is a Saint?

            One of the most popular holidays in America is Halloween.  And why shouldn't it be?  It's great!  You get to dress up in costumes and have all kids of fun; and there's free candy!  What's not to like?
            What most people don't know is that we wouldn't have Halloween without a lesser known Christian holiday called All-Saint Day on November 1st.  Halloween (AKA All Hallows Eve) is the night before All Hallows Day (AKA All Saints Day), the day we honor and remember all the Christian saints who have gone to Heaven to be with the Lord.
            In my church, we often recite The Apostles' Creed to remind everyone what we believe.  There are two statements in the cred that are confuse people.  First we say, "We believe in the Holy Catholic Church."  However, we are not saying we believe in the Roman Catholic Church.  The word "Catholic" means universal.  We believe in the holy universal church that is made up of every person who calls Jesus Lord and Savior--regardless of which denomination they belong to or which local church they attend.  The Holy Catholic Church is the universal church of Christ that has existed throughout all time and we believe in that Church.
            A second statement in the Creed that is little understood is this:  "We believe in the communion of saints."  Many people struggle to know what that means.  What is the communion of saints?  Even more basic, what is a saint?  And the answer to that inquiry is the theme of this blog.  So let us start our investigation by going to the Word of God where Revelation describes a scene of the saints gathered for worship in Heaven. I will make some of my own comments (in italics) about the passage as we read through it.

Revelation 7:9-17
After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar,
“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
    and from the Lamb!”
            Notice the parallel here between this scene in Heaven and the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday a week before his crucifixion.  In both stories, there are palm branches.  In both stories, people are praising Jesus.  On Palm Sunday, the people had high hopes for what Jesus, the Messiah would do for them.  They believed Jesus would drive out the Romans and set up an earthly kingdom according to their worldly wishes.  When Jesus did not fulfill their expectations because his plans were different, the people of Jerusalem rejected Jesus and crucified him.  But in this vision of Heaven in Revelation, the people know who Jesus really is and they submit to his plans as Lord rather than expecting him to conform to theirs.  They worship Jesus in spirit and in truth for who he really is.  He is the Lamb of God! 
            Notice also, that the saints are clothed in white robes.  They are innocent.  We will see as we continue to read that their innocence--their white robes--is not a result of their own holy character; it is possible because of what the Lamb has done.
11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. 12 They sang,
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
    and thanksgiving and honor
and power and strength belong to our God
    forever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the twenty-four elders asked me, “Who are these who are clothed in white? Where did they come from?”

14 And I said to him, “Sir, you are the one who knows.”

Then he said to me, “These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.
             The Greek used for "great tribulation" could also be translated "great suffereing" or "great ordeal". This life is full of suffering--both in good times and in bad times. Of course we know there is suffering when we go through trials, when we face sickness or someone we love dies. But there is often suffering in good times as well, for prosperity often makes us lazy and apathetic and leads us away from God--and this is another kind of suffering, maybe even worse because it so sinisterly leads us astray from the source of true joy.
            We see here why the saints who have died and gone to Heaven are innocent and wear white robes.  It is possible because they have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus, that was shed on the cross.

15 “That is why they stand in front of God’s throne
    and serve him day and night in his Temple.
And he who sits on the throne
    will give them shelter.
16 They will never again be hungry or thirsty;
    they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun.
17 For the Lamb on the throne
    will be their Shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of life-giving water.
    And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
            The saints worship and glorify Jesus because all the suffering is over.  True goodness has come.  The saints have the reward graciously given to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ the Lamb of God. 
A Saint Isn’t What You Might Think
            There is some confusion about saints, probably because of the way the Roman Catholic Church has put some saints on a pedestal.  The Roman Catholic Church has a whole process for determining who is a saint.  They base their decision on a rigorous investigation of a person's life.  Roman Catholics are venerated as a saint only if they lived a particularly virtuous life and have at least miracles associated with them.  If Roman Catholic authorities determine a person to be a saint, then people can pray to them and ask them to intercede for them with God.  So in the Roman Catholic tradition, for instance, people can pray to St. Mary or St. Teresa.
            There are serious problems with this way of thinking and practicing the Christian faith.  First of all, it is not biblical, for the Word of God clearly teaches that no one is good; all innocence is brought by God.  Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly states, "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it."  Therefore, it is preposterous to consider any person a saint (or even more saintly) based on the virtuous life they've lived.  No one can be called a saint because of their own actions.  As Isaiah 64:6 says, "We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags."
            More important, why would we want to pray to a saint when we can pray directly God?  We do not need anyone--on earth or even in heaven--to intercede for us.  Jesus, the Son of God, the Lord of Lord, the King of Kings, our friend, our redeemer, our brother, our Savior himself interceded for us to God.  Who could possibly be better than him?  Hebrews 10:21-22 – "And since we have a great High Priest [Jesus Christ] who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him."  Why would we choose an inferior person to intercede for us when we already have Jesus? 

What, Then, Is a Saint?             Saint is the word the New Testament writers most often used to describe Christians—the people who believe in and follow Jesus as Lord and Savior.  In the King James Version, the word "Christian" is only used 3 times by New Testament writes to describe the people who follow Jesus.  Instead, they used the word "saint" 62 times.  Today, we call Jesus followers Christians, but in the New Testament they called them saints.  So, quite simply, a saint is a Christian.
            The Greek word for saint means set apart, separate, and holy.  As I have described in previous blogs (look here), holy means different and set apart for a special purpose.  Saints are chosen to think different, act different, look different, sound different, and be different from the world.

Communion of Saints
            In Revelation 7:9-17, we see the saints are gathered around the throne of God worshipping the Lamb.  When we gather on earth to worship, we join with them.  We call this worshipful gathering of all the saints--living here on earth and living in eternity--the communion of saints.  It's part of what we claim to believe when we recite the Apostles' Creed. 
            Isn't it a wonderful thought to reflect that we are one with the saints in glory--including the heroes of our faith and our loved ones who trusted in Christ and are know with him in heaven--as we worship God!  If there was ever motivation for regular Sunday worship, it is the idea that we gather together with our friends and loved ones and all the saints in glory to worship God each Sunday in the Holy Catholic Church.  Do you miss your loved one?  Then come to worship and know that they are with you in spirit.  You may not be able to see them or touch them in a physical sense, but they are living and worshipping God just as we are!  And there is even more...
            In Hebrews, the Word of God tells us the saints are cheering us on as we live our life for Christ in this world.  Hebrews 12:1 says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us."  The crowd of witnesses cheering us on are the saints in glory.
            This past week, I had the privilege of cheering on one of my church members, Kate Roberts, as she competed in a high school cross country race.  We stood along the side of the race route and cheered for Kate and the other runners as they ran.  I hope our cheering offered encouragement to the runners as they pushed their bodies to the limit.
            Long distance running is as much a mental struggle as physical.  As you run, your muscles begin to complain to your mind, "What are you doing to us?  Why are you doing this?  This is hard!  Just stop!  Give up!"  And your brain is saying, "No!  I'm gonna keep going!  Don't give up!  I can do this!"  And since it is a long distance run, you have quite a lot of time to have this internal conflict between your brain and your body.  And it has always encouraged me, when my body starts to wear me down with it's unending complaining, when I pass a group of spectators on the side of the race route who are cheering and shouting things like, "You're doing great!  Keep pushing!  You can do this!  Don't give up!  You're almost there!"  It gives me the encouragement I need to keep going.
            It's a beautiful image for the life of faith for it is a long distance run, not a sprint.  And there are a lot of tough hills to climb in this life and a lot of time to contemplate the internal conflicts within your spirit.  One voice says, "This is too hard!  Why are you doing it?  What's the point?  Why don't you just give up?"  And you just keep going, trusting that you can make it, that it's important, that there is a point to all of this struggling and hard work.  Isn't it good to know that as we run this race, the saint--both living on earth and those in glory--are cheering us on saying, "Don't give up! You're doing great!  Keep pushing!  You can do this!  You're almost there!"  And isn't it wonderful encouragement to know in that crowd are heroes from the Bible like Noah who had to build and ark, and Abraham who had a son in his old age, and Joseph who overcame slavery, and Moses who was floated on the Nile river as a baby, and even Christians who were tortured or killed because they believed in Christ?  And doesn't it inspire awe to know even your loved ones whom you have lost from this life are there cheering you on saying, "You can do this!  I made and you can too! Don't give up!  Keep pushing!"  That is the communion of the saints. 

The Take Home
            Let me give you a few take homes as I close.  Number one, you are a saint if you trust in Jesus.  You don't have to be perfect.  You don't have to be someone like Mother Teresa.  You don't get one of those white robes because you are particularly virtuous. You are saint because Jesus shed his blood for you.  If you trust Him with your whole heart and follow Him as Lord, he washes you white as snow and you become one of his saints.
            Number two, always remember:  we are one congregation with the saints in glory worshiping God together.  Don't miss out on the chance to gather with the saints on a regular basis for weekly worship.  Do you miss your loved ones who have passed away from this life to the next?  Do you admire the saints that have gone before you?  Then gather with them each week in the communion of the saints as we worship the one who redeems us from our sins and unites us in the hope of eternal life.
            Number three:  the saints are cheering you on throughout your life; be encouraged.  When you feel down or discourage, when the great struggles of life make you want to quite, imagine the saints cheering you--the Christian heroes from the Bible and history, and even your loved ones.  Hear their voices encouraging you and don't give up.  You can do it!
            Lastly, I want to give you the invitation.  If you have not already done so, join the ranks of Jesus' saints today.  You don't need a church committee to investigate your life and approve of you.  All you need is to bow your head and pray: "Lord, forgive me of my sins.  Wash me clean with the blood you shed on the cross.  I give you my life.  I will follow you all my days.  Amen."  Pray this from your heart and let the Holy Spirit help you live it and Jesus will give a white robe and call you saint.