My dad, Paul Burleson, died on Cinco De Mayo (May 5, 2024).

He was the pastor of some of the largest evangelical churches in Texas and Oklahoma. He grew up in poverty and abuse, became the pastor of the fastest-growing evangelical church in Texas when I was a teenager, and served on the Fullness Magazine Board with James Robison, Jack Taylor, and Jim Hylton.

My mother, Mary Burleson, now leads my dad’s non-profit, Vital Truth Ministries. She transcribed a message my father preached entitled “Few Christians End Well” and has permitted me to publish it on this website. His words resonate with all of us in this age of church scandals. It’s not how you begin that matters; it’s how you end.


“Few Christians End Well”

Paul Burleson



“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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” – Hebrews 12:1-2

In Hebrews 12:1-2 we read, Wherefore seeing we are encircled about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that does so easily beset us and let us run with patience the race that is set before us looking unto Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith and who for the joy that was set before him was willing to endure the cross while he was despising the shame of it and is set down at present at the right hand of the throne of our Heavenly Father.


Who Is “The Cloud of Witnesses”?


A few words by way of background. This phrase in Hebrews 12:1, “cloud of witnesses,” is interesting.

I remember the first time I heard it when I was eight or nine years old. I didn’t attend church regularly, but I visited this church not far from our home. I remember one particular Sunday when I went to church; the preacher was preaching from Hebrews 12:1.

And with very dramatic and graphic language, he described what he thought the cloud of witnesses was a reference to the people in heaven. It’s as if they were looking over the battlements of heaven down on this earth and watching all that we are doing.

He said that when you face difficulties, remember that everybody in heaven is watching you and encouraging you, like “Come on, keep on, you can do it,” and so on. I remember having the strangest feeling of walking out of that building that day, thinking everybody in heaven was watching everything I was doing.

I don’t know if people in heaven are watching us, but I doubt it. I don’t know how you could be happy in heaven watching this mess that’s going on down here.

But I know that the phrase cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12:1 is not a reference to people in heaven but to the people in Hebrews 11.

The writer of Hebrews has just described men and women, many of them by name, who faced difficulty in Hebrews/

Many of those folks lost their lives because of their faith in their God. And what the Hebrews writer says in 12:1 that we are encircled with this great cloud of witnesses, he’s referring back to Chapter 11 to the men and women he had described.

It’s important to note that the root word for the word “witness” is the word “martyr.” Most of those in Hebrews 11 were martyrs for their beliefs. So, he says, “Seeing that we are circled about with that great cloud of witnesses, let us also go on when the going gets tough.”

Another thing in this verse that is important to understand is when it says, “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” A better word for patience would be the word “endurance.” The writer says, “Let us endure in the race of the Christian life.” The writer of Hebrews already knew that often it’s tough to be a Christian. Have you been saved long enough to see that being a Christian is not easy too often?

There is a teaching abroad in our land that I don’t think is true or biblical, and those two are synonymous. And that is when you live close to God, full of the Spirit, and by faith, everything will be wonderful, and you’ll never have any problems. If you have issues, such as your spouse leaving you, your kids rebelling, you losing your job, or you getting sick, if you have enough faith, then all those problems will be solved, and everything will be wonderful. The only problem with that is it’s not true.


There are Three Kinds of Suffering in the Bible


If I understand biblical material, I see that there are possibly three kinds of Christian suffering that Christians need to be aware of.

  1. One is what I call a Jesus kind of suffering. This kind of suffering is due to devotion to the Father, and it’s still true today that if there is a true devotion to the claims of Christ in your life, you’re going to face some difficulties. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in education, the business world, or your family; you will face problems when there is true devotion to the Father. There is Jesus’ suffering because of devotion to God, our Father.
  2. Then there is the Job kind of suffering. This is the kind of suffering that is caused by development. In other words, God went about developing the life of Job, and one of the main criteria by which he developed him was suffering. I remember my amazement when I discovered that God initiated the conversation with the devil about Job. I always thought the devil initiated it. And one day I was reading the book of Job and the first chapter verse nine hit me like a brick. “And the Lord said to the devil, ‘Have you considered my servant Job?’ I thought briefly, “Lord, wouldn’t it have been better to keep quiet?” But God instigated that conversation with the devil about Job. Now why? Because God was going to use suffering to develop Job’s faith.
  3. Then there’s the Jonah kind of suffering. This kind of suffering is due to disobedience.  God loves us enough that when we disobey as His children, there is a chastening thing in circumstances that will bring us back to Him. A writer, A. W. Pink, says, “You need to always deal with your sin as a Christian, so that when suffering comes, and it will, you need to know it’s the Job kind of suffering instead of the Jonah kind.”


There are three kinds of suffering for different reasons:

  • The Jesus kind of suffering because of devotion.
  • The Job kind of suffering for development.
  • The Jonah kind of suffering for disobedience.

There is a kind of endurance for the believer, and the idea that if you live full of the Spirit and complete of faith and so on, you’ll never have any problems is not accurate because the Scripture teaches we will face difficulty. The writer of Hebrews knew that, so he’s encouraging the Christians he’s writing to, “You are encircled about with the people who continued to live when the going got tough, now I’m encouraging you to endure in the race of your Christian life.”


 The Christian Life Is a Race


Let us run the race with perseverance – Hebrews 12:1-3


Another thing by way of background is this: You will notice the writer of Hebrews calls the Christian life a race, and there is a sense in which it is.

The race of the Christian life is not to see if you’re going to heaven or not; that’s determined before you die. You trust Jesus and the work of Christ on the cross, and your eternity is settled.

The race of the Christian life is not to see if you earn salvation, but it’s so that when you stand before the Lord, you can hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The writer of Hebrews had begun to notice something I had seen, and maybe you have. And it’s this.

Few Christians seem to end well in their walk with God.

Few Christians end well! That’s why the writer of Hebrews is encouraging those Christians to continue in the race. He’s become aware that few end well in their journey with the Lord.


Examples of People Who Did Not End Well


We probably all know someone who has not ended well in their walk with the Lord. I remember when I was a student in college, there was a fellow who was the Billy Graham of the college campus. He graduated from seminary and became known as Southern Baptist’s rising star. His name was on everyone’s lips at the convention. At every conference, every convention, he was the speaker.

He was then called senior pastor at one of our large Baptist churches in the southeastern part of our country. He also became chaplain of the football team and chaplain of the state legislature in that capital city.

And then it happened.

After he committed adultery with a woman in the church, he was accused of a crime, and he left the city with his ministry, his marriage, and his reputation down the tubes. I remember grieving over his fall.

Then a few years later right outside Houston, a truck impacted his car on a curve out of control and they picked up pieces of his body to bury

When I read the article, I thought, “Another man and another ministry were not ending well.”


Few Christians End Well!


It’s not just happening now. It’s always been.

For instance, I could take you to Deuteronomy 34. I could show you that the Bible teaches that Moses, who pastored that large group of people in the wilderness for forty years, came to the verge of going into the land of Canaan. The scripture says God took him to the mountain, showed him the land that He had promised, and said, “Joshua, your associate, is going to take the people on in.

Moses died and was buried in the mountain, and Moses did not end well.

Now, he didn’t end well and couldn’t go into the land of Canaan because of the incident with the water from the rock.

Do you remember when the people were thirsty, God told Moses to strike the rock, and water came out? He did, and the people had water.

The second time, when the people were thirsty again, and God told Moses to speak to the rock, Moses was angry with the people he was pastoring, so he struck the rock in disobedience.

God gave water anyway, but Moses was not permitted to go in because of that disobedience after forty years of leading those people.

Somebody asked me one time:

“Brother Paul, what’s so bad about somebody striking the rock the second time?”

In First Corinthians 10:4, the apostle Paul says, “That Rock was Christ.”

It doesn’t mean it was Jesus, literally.

It means that it was a picture of our Lord. He was struck and smitten once on the cross, and from then on, you speak to Him, and grace and mercy flow from Him. But Moses did not end well in disobedience, just as that young man I knew from years ago did not.

Another example of “not ending well” is Eli’s story in I Samuel 4

Eli was the father of two rebellious boys, Hophni and Phineas. When the Israelites fought the Philistines, the scripture says Israel was defeated. They were crying, and some said, “Why are we defeated? We are the people of God. Why were we not victorious?” And they said, “It’s because we don’t have the ark of the covenant.”

So they were sent back to Jerusalem, and Hophni and Phineas, the two sons of Eli, went into the Holy of Holies and were brought out of the ark, violating 28 laws of God in doing it. They took that ark into the battle, and the Philistines defeated Israel and stole it. Hophni and Phineas were killed in action. When the message came to Eli, the scripture says he fell off his chair backward, broke his neck, and died, for he was an old man who had judged Israel for many years.

Now, I have a personal conviction that Eli didn’t die of a broken neck. I believe he died of a broken heart, and the broken neck was just a convenient way for his life to end. And Eli did not end well.


Do You Understand That Few Christians End Well?


By the way, as I understand it, the emphasis of the New Testament is not on how you begin your Christian lif

It’s how you end up that the New Testament emphasizes.

Paul said, “I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.” The emphasis of the New Testament is not on how you begin but how you end, and it seems that few end well.

Our daughter Melody sings a song, and I don’t even know the song’s name, but there’s a phrase in it that says, “May those who come behind us find us faithful.”

The problem with Christianity today, at least that part of the body of Christ that I know, seems to me that few Christians are ending well.

I’m just being honest with you.

  • In the last few years, I’ve begun to wonder if there is anybody genuine.
  • Is everybody just playing games?

I think I’ve bordered on Christian cynicism.

I might have fallen into cynicism, except for one thing. In the last few years, God has shown me my heart, and I’ve begun to understand things about my commitment that need to be corrected.

If there’s anything that will save you from being cynical about other people, that would be to get honest about yourself.

My wife and I have determined that we will not leave our children much of a monetary inheritance.

But while we might not leave them much of a material legacy, Mary and I have determined the one thing we do want to leave them is the legacy of a mother and father who,o in the last years and months of their life, were more in love with Jesus and more in love with each other and more real and more honest and more open than any other time in our lives. We want to end well. We don’t want our children to have to pick through the bones and the skeletons that fall out of the closet when we’re dead and gone if the Lord tarries.

We want to leave a legacy of a mother and father who were as genuine with the Lord at the end of their journey as they were at the beginning.


The Need for a Course Correction



I’ve realized that I must make some course corrections if I want to end well. I was falling into a trap that the Lord spoke to me about. It is a very painful thing to be honest about and to work through, but by the grace of God, that’s going to happen.

My ministry, my message, is not primarily to people outside of Christ but to the body—the church. I guess you could call me an evangelist to the evangelized. If there’s ever been a time in my judgment when God’s people need to think of a course correction, it’s the day we live when so few are ending well in their walk with their Lord


Now, in Hebrews 12:1-2, the writer mentions three things: if we’re going to go on, if we’re going to endure, if we’re going to end well, if we’re going to follow the testimony of the example of those in Hebrews 11, we need to do these things. The first one is we’re going to have to remove every weight.


1. Remove every weight.


“Let us, therefore, remove every weight.”

Now, what in the world is a weight? Whatever a weight is, it’s not sin because the phrase says, “and the sin.”

What is a weight? 

Weight is something that at one time perhaps was a help, but it has later become a hindrance.

It’s something that is holding you down. It’s not something good or bad. It used to be a help and is now a hindrance. And do you know that often in the Christian walk, some things were a help back yonder that have become a hindrance now?

I’m going to be honest with you. I believe one of the most enormous weights in the life of modern Christians today is religious activity. Attending church, preaching sermons, singing in the choirs, playing in an orchestra, singing specials, teaching Sunday School, and being deacons and staff members have become some of the most enormous weights to authentic Christianity. It’s not because going to church, preaching sermons, or singing in the choirs is wrong. The reason they’ve become a weight in my judgment is because they have become a substitute for authentic Christianity, which is not what you do, but it’s who you are in relationship to God.

Christianity is a relationship, not a performance.

Do you understand that we could perform all the religious activities that we have performed at church and not even really be Christian at all because Christianity is not what you do on a Sunday? It’s who you are in relationship to the living God, enabling you to be who you need to be with other peopl

In other words, Christianity is a relationship.

Several years ago, I was pastoring in Fort Worth. One of the members of our church was Dr. Oscar Thompson. He was an associate professor of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and wrote a book called Concentric Circles of Concern.

Oscar Thomas had bone cancer, and he died from it prematurely in his early forties. One day, I walked into his hospital room in Dallas, TX. He rose from his bed with that inevitable smile that he always had and asked me that question he was famous for asking. He’d asked me a hundred times.

“Brother, Paul, what’s the most important word in the English language?”

Now, I knew because he had told me, but I humored him, and I said, “What is it, Oscar?”

He said, “Brother Paul, the most important word in the English language is not love, grace, forgiveness, or mercy.

The most important word in the English language is relationship.

“Because,” he said, “when you have a real relationship with God, it involves love and grace and mercy and forgiveness.

Then you can have a real relationship with others, which will also involve love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.”

I don’t think I understood Oscar in those days.

But I’m in the fourth quarter of my ministry now. Everybody knows when you come to the fourth quarter of a game, you may have to make adjustments. You better find out what’s real and what’s not. What’s pretend and what’s not? And in this fourth quarter, I’ve begun to understand that Oscar was far ahead of his time. He knew what Christianity was, but most of us didn’t.

Christianity is not what you do. Singing in the choir, preaching sermons, and attending church will not cause God to love you more. Not attending church, not preaching sermons, and not singing in the choir will not cause God to love you less. He doesn’t love you based on how you perform. He loves you based on how Jesus performed on the cross, and He performed perfectly and wonderfully.

The problem is this.

Preaching sermons, singing in choirs, and attending church becomes when you know a real relationship with God, a grateful response because of that relationship. But it has become a substitute for that relationship in our day, not an appreciative response. And I believe religious activity has too often become a weight, a hindrance to being an authentic Christian, instead of a grateful response to God for who He is and what He’s done for us.

An excellent example is II Kings 18, which contains an interesting story about the prophet who was told to go down and destroy the brass serpent.

The brass serpent was the serpent that the Lord told Moses to create out of brass and put on a pole for all Israel’s children to look at and be healed. Serpents were biting all of the people and were dying, and they cried out to God, and He gave them this brass serpent for their deliverance. When Moses held up the brass serpent, the people looked and were healed.

Now, 540 years later, the preacher had to destroy the brass serpent. Do you know why? Because the children of Israel worship it instead of the God who gave it.

It’s straightforward to begin to worship a denomination or a church structure or to worship what you do in a religious activity instead of worshiping the God who has given us salvation.

There’s a big difference between worshiping these activities and making them express that love and worship of Him. I repeat, Christianity is a relationshi

Now, don’t hear me say that when you walk in faith, are full of the Spirit, and are living committed to Jesus, all your relationships will be all they ought to be. I’m not saying that. If I were to convince you that my marriage is everything it ought to be, Mary would show up and tell you the truth.

What I’m saying is this: If I have a heart for God’s reality, the evidence of it will be a heart that desires a real relationship with others. That doesn’t mean the others will reciprocate or that the relationship will be whole, but it does say Christianity is a relationship with God and with others. We’re going to have to remove the weights. Dealing with the things that hinder us from building relationships is the secret to going on.


2. Reject every sin.


The second principle the writer of Hebrews says is that we must remove the weights and reject every entanglement.

The word “sin” is the word entanglement. Like a barbed wire on a fence that catches your britches when you’re going over while you’re duck hunting or wherever you are going. Did you know that the Scripture teaches that many entanglements scare us as believers?

The writer in Hebrews says that to end well, I need to hear this for my own life.

I will have to be willing to remove every weight, things that hinder instead of help, or at least change the dynamic of my motivation for them so that they are different. I must also reject any sin that will ensnare and entangle me.

A modern-day example of this was evident to Mary and me when we visited a couple’s ministry called Restoration Village in a neighboring state. They ministered to women and children who had been battered and abused verbally, physically, and even sexually by the men who made up their homes, sometimes a husband, a father, or others. Their ministry was to help them put their lives back together. As we left, they told us that the majority of the abusers in their experience of counseling were nine times out of ten churchgoers, and many were very active in their churches doing religious activities.

Abuse of any kind is a sin; no amount of religious activity can cover up this sin in a believer’s life.

Too much of this is now being exposed in religious leaders, especially famous ones, and we are all to reject every sin! Sin entangles and hurts; to end well, we must reject every sin


3. Restrict your vision.


The writer of Hebrews lists a third thing. Not only must we remove every weight and reject every entanglement, but we must restrict our vision.

Looking unto Jesus.

Our focus of attention must never shift from the reality of Christ to anything or anyone else. He is the focus. What He accomplished is our focus. Who we are, according to Him, is our focus.

I remember watching the PanAm games in Mexico City several years ago.

Jim Ryan, a world-class runner, set a new record in that same race. In that same race, one of the runners fell and hurt himself, but he got up and attempted to finish the race, hurt and hobbling. Several minutes after the race was over and awards had been made, this young man kept running until he crossed the finish line.

The entire stand stood and applauded his finish. Do you know why? Because even the world recognizes the value of finishing what you’ve begun.

I’m in the fourth quarter of my life and ministry, however long quarters are. And I’m no longer interested in the applause of coliseums or congregations.

I want to end well so that when I stand before Jesus, I hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” There have been many times when I have fallen on my face, as have you, I’m sure. There are too many who are not ending well. I want to pick myself up, dust myself off, and continue with Jesus. And what I’m learning is essential for going on. I want to END WELL!

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