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            On July 5, 1994, my son Christopher and I attended "Game 44" of the World Cup.  Bulgaria was pitted against Mexico and the stadium was completely full.  Over 70, 000 fans gathered to witness the first game to go into overtime, and sudden death in order to determine the winner.  The atmosphere was amazingly electric and we were blessed to watch the shoot out in the front row!

            The World Cup, The Super Bowl, The World Series, The Stanley Cup, and the Olympics all have one thing in common.  They are the premiere game that determines the best of the best in their given sport.   If you've been able to attend one of these championships, you can't help but be captured by the energy of cheering on your favorite team and the instant familiarity you have with the thousands of others who have come to do the same.   It is why many teams in many sports consider their fans to be "the twelfth man".

            The Christian walk can feel like an intense athletic competition.  We are met with opposition, temptation, trials, challenges and obstacles in our daily lives as well as milestones, victories and the satisfaction of a job well-done.  If you've ever tried to face the challenges alone, you know how discouraging and detrimental that can be.  And who wants to celebrate a victory by themselves?  It's so much better to celebrate with others who understand your joy and want to celebrate with you.  Most importantly though, knowing there are others who surround you with encouragement and love, no matter what part of the journey you're on, is like the team whose "twelfth man" cheers them on to victory in spite of the tremendous obstacles they face to win.

            This is the imagery that the author of Hebrews is reminding us of when he writes that we have a "great cloud of witnesses" watching us as we run the race of faith in Hebrews 12:1.   Not only do we have fellow believers here on earth to help us take on the challenges of the race, but we also have those who have gone on before (take a look at chapter 11 if you want to know who some of them are), sitting in the bleachers of heaven, and rooting for us to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith (2 Tim. 4:7).

            Have you ever noticed that Paul often closes his letters with greetings from the believers with him to those who will receive it?  Paul is reminding them all that they are in the "faith walk" together and face the same challenges.  The same is true for us.  Whether you are a well-trained athlete or not,  you may be facing a competitor this week.  That adversary could be as simple as managing your time better or as deep as overcoming an addiction.  Remember, you are not alone in this challenge.  There is a "great cloud of witnesses" gathered around you to cheer you on.  Draw on the strength and enthusiasm of your "twelfth man".

Ann H. LeFevre                                                                                                    1/16/2011

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