By Pastor Charles Simpson
I was still in my twenties when I pioneered a new church in the South Bronx. We were a daughter church to Times Square Church in Manhattan, which was far enough away to give us our own identity, but close enough to strongly support us. To have their financial support was huge, but the greatest blessing in being their first “daughter” ministry was being invited to the pastoral fellowships and the weekly pastors prayer meetings in the church office conference room. One of those prayer meetings is forever etched in my memory:
We were sitting around the conference table, when suddenly our Senior Pastor, David Wilkerson burst into the room, obviously quite upset. He walked to the conference table and leaned on his fists and bowed his head in intense silence. He didn’t want to explode in anger, and yet his volcano of frustration was obvious. He said, “I just got off the phone with the wife of a well-known minister. If I said his name, you’d all know him. He’s hooked on pornography and his poor wife doesn’t know what to do. She’s looking to me for advice. Last week the son of a mega church pastor told me his dad is hooked on drugs and has a mistress on the side. I get one or two calls like this every single month from relatives of these so-called mighty men of God. Do they not have any fear of the Lord in their hearts?”
I don’t know about anyone else in the room, but I was utterly shocked. Pastor Dave sat down at the head of the table and began to weep as though these people were his dear family members. “Lord Jesus,” he cried out from the depths of his soul as tears freely streamed down his face, “Lord, please help this sister I just spoke with. Guide her, and help her husband get free from this addiction.” Not a trace of judgment or anger; just pure concern.
For six years I personally and weekly heard Pastor Dave (Author of The Cross and the Switchblade) preach some very strong sermons. Behind the scenes, he would weep over the sins of the Pentecostal/charismatic church. Then he would blast a prophetic trumpet with an intensity and a love that was supernatural. It didn’t take much to discern that he was a modern-day prophet who had God’s burden and God’s perspective, carrying in his soul a revelation of “the Personhood of God.” Pastor Dave understood and felt God’s broken heart over our sins against Him. For instance, the Lord wept through Jeremiah the prophet as He suffered the pain caused by the spiritual adultery of Israel.
Commenting on Jeremiah 2:32, Pastor Dave wrote: The Lord asks: “Can a maid forget her ornaments or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten me days without number…” The Lord has put His pain in Scripture for all the world to see! He has said openly, ‘My people neglect Me for days on end!’ Every generation has read about it. Yet, why would the Lord tell the whole world about such neglect? Shouldn’t lovers’ differences be kept quiet? No—He wants us to know how hurt He is! He tells the whole world because He is so heartbroken by our behavior! Jeremiah was weeping with holy tears that weren’t his own. Indeed, this prophet actually heard God speak of His own weeping, broken heart.
Pastor Dave taught that when we take the precious gifts of God and use them for our own selfish desires, that is the epitome of spiritual unfaithfulness. He hated the prosperity message propagated by the Word of Faith camp from Tulsa, Oklahoma. To take the precious gift of faith and use it primarily to gain personal wealth is, in a prophet’s eyes, nothing less than spiritual prostitution. (To be fair, there are some balanced “Word of Faith” churches today. Kenneth Hagin, a few years before going home with the Lord in 2003, summoned his followers to Tulsa to correct some of the excesses in the movement he spearheaded. Those corrections are documented in his book, The Midas Touch, A Balanced Approach to Biblical Prosperity.)
The Lord taught in Matthew Chapter 7 (verses 3 to 5) that if we first take the plank out of our own eye, then we will be able to see clearly to successfully remove the specks from our brother’s eyes. I saw this in Pastor Dave’s life. God blessed him with many gifts of the Holy Spirit, one of them being the supernatural gift of faith. When he was a twelve-year-old boy, he prayed the prayer of faith over his dying father, and the Lord answered that prayer and instantly healed him of bleeding ulcers. As a young pastor, he would pack out his church in Pennsylvania on Sunday evenings, supernaturally moving in the gifts of the Spirit such as the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom. One day the Lord rebuked him saying, “David, My gifts are not given to create a circus atmosphere. From now on, you will primarily use these gifts in private.” And years later as he found himself on the gritty streets of New York City, wondering how to minister to the addict in front of him, God would sometimes give him a supernatural prophetic word which would awaken hope and faith in the surprised hearts of the hearers. Even years later, as Pastor Dave and I sat on the platform at Times Square Church, I saw those giftings were still in operation. He said to me, “Charles, see that young man on the front row? His name is Joey. I talked with him last night at the Port Authority Bus Station at 3 am. He’s a runaway from California. I told him God would heal him from the anger he’s been carrying ever since his father died ten years ago.”
Pastor Dave would wander the streets of Manhattan all hours of the night, looking for that one lost soul to minister to. His prophetic gifts were real and genuine, even though they probably never were caught on film. He didn’t care. At least ten times in the six years I worked closely with him he gave me personal prophetic words about things only the Lord and I knew about. Even so, the greatest gift Pastor Dave carried was the gift of faith. His son, Gary, wrote in his Dad’s moving and insightful biography, “The DNA of Teen Challenge is faith for souls, and that comes from the gift that was in David Wilkerson.” That statement speaks volumes to me. Pastor Dave did not use his giftings to create a huge TV Empire, although he could have. Instead, he birthed great ministries such as Times Square Church and Teen Challenge. After having worked at Brooklyn Teen Challenge for over six years, I can testify the thing that makes it the most successful drug rehabilitation ministry in history is simply…faith. Teen Challenge Centers (now over 1,100 in 110 countries) are permeated with faith: faith in God, faith for souls, faith in God’s delivering power to break every chain of addiction! Even those students who come in with zero faith, us staff members tell them, “We will believe God for your victory until your faith begins to grow!” When Jesus saw the faith of those who brought the paralytic to Him, He then forgave and healed him (See Luke 5:17-25). By faith they carried one unable to make it on his own to Jesus. What a godly way to use our God-given faith!
Through the precious gift of faith (although sometimes abused by misguided and self-centered believers), God’s people… conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies (Hebrews 11:33-34). As we look closely at Hebrews 11 (the Faith Hall of Fame) both its context and its contents point to the fact that the writer is not primarily teaching believers how to name and claim their earthly blessings. Yes, some Old Testament saints by faith obtained impressive victories. Others, by faith, obtained the ability to endure severe persecution without denying God.
Continuing from Hebrews 11: There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them (35-38).
The original recipients of this sermon in the first century did not need to learn how to name and claim a new chariot for their garage. They needed to be encouraged to remain faithful to Christ even if severe persecution would sweep away their chariots, their garages and all their earthly possessions including their very lives! Hebrews Chapter 11 is so rich that one could write a book on each of these Heroes of Faith. I will make three points that relate to the subject of focusing in on heaven:
1. The first two people mentioned, Abel and Enoch, set the tone for the rest of the chapter.
2. The two most respected Old Testament leaders (Abraham and Moses) both show us what the preacher wants us to primarily focus on regarding faith.
3. The “world to come” (Hebrews 2:5) is to be embraced now by faith to the point that it is even more real to us than the things we can hear and see and feel.
1. Abel and Enoch set the tone for the whole chapter. Going way back to the beginning of Genesis, we see that Abel and Enoch lived by faith and lived victorious lives. One was victorious, although unjustly murdered, and the other was victorious while escaping death altogether:
By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. By faith Enoch was taken from this lifeso that he did not experience death: “He could not be found because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:4-6).
Gareth Cockerill wrote, Abel and Enoch establish a pattern for all the heroes who follow. Sometimes, as in the case of Abel, people suffer for their faith without temporal deliverance. At other times, as in the case of Enoch, God brings great deliverance in response to faith. For most, the life of faith is a mixture of suffering and triumph.
2. Abraham’s and Moses’ victorious lives were based on the fact that their focus was on the heavenly prize awaiting them.
By faith he [Abraham] made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God….All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (9-10, 13-16). Abraham’s faith was clearly rooted in the world to come. And not only was Moses’ faith also rooted in the world to come but through his example, we find an important key to becoming so heavenly minded that we can endure anything:
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward (24-26).
Doubtless, Moses was looking to the heavenly reward. Notice how the things of heaven became that real to him: By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible (27). Moses saw the invisible God! The eyes of Moses’ heart looked upon his Lord. Jesus is the one who makes heaven, heaven. David declared, “In the presence of the Lord there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:7), which could be described as a foretaste of the future heavenly joys awaiting us. A key to becoming heavenly minded in a good and healthy sense is to experience the presence of the Lord often and to behold His beauty with the eyes of our hearts. David also declared: One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple (27:4). The heavenly “reward” became more desirable and more valuable to Moses than all the treasures of Egypt because he beheld Him who is invisible to natural sight.
3. The “world to come” is to be embraced now by faith to the point that it is even more real to us than the temporary things we see with our eyes.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family(Hebrews 11:1, 3, 7).
If our faith is in the things not yet seen, we can become so heavenly minded that we can successfully endure any and every earthly trial. I have seen within the lives of hopeless drug addicts, for them to be healed, first comes hope and then faith. Healing begins with hope. As they get around some of our students soon to graduate and they see God’s miraculous intervention in them, hope begins to rise in their downtrodden hearts. The Biblical definition of hope is so different than the worlds’. The world says, “I hope so,” which is nothing more than wishful thinking. Biblical hope is the joyful expectation of the future blessings of God! What a difference! No wonder Don Wilkerson (Co-founder of Teen Challenge) had posted on the wall of Teen Challenge:
Hope lives here.
Freedom is found here.
Changed lives leave here.
Don Wilkerson also said that he’s amazed how few sermons there are nowadays in our churches about the coming of the Lord. Have we forgotten altogether about what the Bible calls “the blessed hope,” the return of our Lord?
We wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).
Yes, we are to put our hope in God’s promise to be our present help in times of trouble. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble”(Psalm 46:1). And yes, we are to learn how to stand upon the promises of God so, like the heroes of faith we too can, by faith…obtain promises. But we miss so much of what Hebrews 11 has to say if we lose our blessed hope, the joyful expectation of the appearing of our Lord and the heavenly blessings to come. These original Hebrew believers this sermon was first written to were able to joyfully endure the plundering of their goods because they knew that in heaven their “goods” would be both better and permanent. Many of the heroes of the faith had their eyes on their better and permanent heavenly rewards, enabling them to forsake the things of Earth, if need be.
If we were to ask them, “How could heaven become that real to us today?” I believe Moses’ life would answer, “By seeing and being with the One who makes heaven, heaven!” As we spend time with our Lord, the “things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” To spend consistent quality time with God we must embrace, enjoy and maintain a clean conscience, which is the main reason why the New Covenant is now superior to the Old. I’m getting ahead of myself. But for those of you who like to look ahead, let me share the unfolding of this great Epistle to my soul:
As mentioned before, for decades this Letter to the Hebrews seemed to me like three different, unrelated sermons: one on the surpassing greatness of Christ (Chapters 1-7), one on the better New Covenant (8-10), and then one on faith (11-13). Greater, better, and faith. But how can we read this Epistle as one unified message? I have embarked on a journey of exploration, studying this sermon as a deep-sea diver would look for hidden treasure, or as a miner looks for veins of gold within solid bedrock. I have read and re-read this epistle in multiple versions and Study Bibles, and have done numerous Greek word studies. I’ve also read most of the highest rated commentaries on this Epistle. Through much prayer, meditation, and study I slowly began to see some wonderful truths. I found not only the answer to how this one sermon is unified but more importantly, I’ve received a deeper revelation of the person of Christ:
Jesus surely is greater than everyone and everything in the Old Covenant. Under the New Covenant, we have a Great High Priest who does many awesome things for us such as cleansing our consciences and ever inviting us into His presence where we learn of Him and walk in His ways. We live by faith in His very present help now and by faith in the heavenly glory He will gladly share with us forever!
Charles Simpson was born and raised in Tennessee, the eleventh of twelve children. After his conversion at the age of 17, he received a missionary call to New York City where he has spent most of his adult life, pastoring, planting churches, and working in Bible schools. While serving as the Pastor of Prayer at Times Square Church, he met and married his wife, Lynn. They have been privileged to work alongside great leaders such as David and Don Wilkerson, Michael Brown, Peter Wagner, Brian Simmons, Vincent Buonfiglio, Joel Sadaphal, and Russell Hodgins. Charles is currently the Campus Pastor at Brooklyn Teen Challenge and the Director of its School of Ministry. He also is the senior pastor of Oasis Christian Center in Long Island City, Queens, NY.
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