Most of mankind is a sucker for a good story—we are drawn in and mesmerized by both the ability to tell a story (think Hollywood and the quality of a movie; set, actors, special effects, etc…) and the depth of the story being told (the individual’s loves, struggles, pains, and “hopefully” theireventual triumph). The heart pulls toward these things for several reasons. The foremost would be our need and love of community. The book of Genesis states that God created man “in His own image”—that concept of “image” has been debated for years by brilliant theologians, so I will not try to sort much of that in this post. I will say this, at a minimum, that “image”contains the idea and ability of “consciousness” and the element of a creature made for community—both of which fine-tune us for the recognition of a great story.
The power held within a “word” must also be brought to light in this time of reflection. God spoke and things happened, “and God said, ‘let there be light,’ and there was light.” Jesus Christ was noted in John 1 as the “Word of God.” The Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16 would also remind us that “All Scripture is breathed out by God...” Jesus Himself, following and preceding a long line of Jewish Rabbis, would be a masterful story teller. He is not only “the Word” but He is also the greatest story-teller to touch feet on earth.
It is with this backdrop that the last couple sermons have come to light. Hebrews 10-12 uses a mixture of the individual’s story (chapter 10), historical examples (chapter 11), and a gentle push toward a brighter future because of the power held within each example of faith and God’s power to work through it—especially in that of Jesus Christ Himself, the “author and finisher (perfecter) of our faith.” Can a story really carry that much power? Can a story propel us into new heights of personal devotion and commitment? Could it even be possible to anchor one’s life to a story? I believe the answer to all three questions to be yes. Think back and maybe you, like me, can think of some stories that move your soul. The Braveheart movie comes to my mind—love, devotion, freedom, and a character that could not be bought all strike me as characteristics worth emulating. Even being a fictitious representation of a historical figure, it still carries tremendous weight within the realm of reality. Amazingly, it is a story written in the midst of fallen humanity and all the repercussions of sin that come with it—death, war, betrayal, adultery--that’s the appeal. Not that the story and its characters are perfect but that the story and its characters are real in the sense that life is accurately represented in this story of fiction. Could God do the same things in “real” men and women? A better question would be “has God done the same things in men and women?” The answer is a beautiful, uplifting, broken, and pain-filled “YES!” It is in that thought that the last couple weeks I have asked us to look back at those that have come before us—faith filled trailblazers, temporary failures, “dusted off and set right” saints for us to consider, copy, and borrow faith from when it is needed.
Hebrews 11 would call out men and women like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, among others to draw us close to their great stories and push us past them for even greater work. In essence the passage would say, “You are surrounded by greatness (humanly speaking), so rise to the challenge and live like it.” God works through real men and women, the Church’s history also shows that message. Last Sunday we talked about 4...
Annie Johnson Flint wrote the poem, “He Gives More Grace.” It is one of the most beautiful and inspired earthly writings I have ever heard. The first and fourth verses are as follows:
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
His pow’r has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!
Such an amazing piece of work would be expected to flow from some beautiful scenic spot, maybe a cabin or condo on the beach, from some life full of health, wealth, and unaccustomed to struggle. But those thoughts would be entirely false with regards to this masterpiece of the soul. Annie was twiceorphaned by the end of high school. She was crippled with arthritis during her junior year of high school. She spent most of her life incontinent and in constant need. That majestic poem was written from the bed of someone that could not care for their basic needs (food, shelter, cleanliness), penned with crippled hands, and forged with tears. This Christian woman knew something of God’s grace, mercy, and the power of His presence. She experienced God. Right in the middle of an earthly hell, trapped inside her own body, she knew peace, joy, and contentment like few will ever know it. God uses the broken, He molds in the pain, and then He leaves her as an example of what He can do. I am without excuse.
We experienced the story of Corrie ten Boom. This woman and her family were Nazi resisters and Jewish sympathizers in WWII. The ten Booms hid and funneled out as many Jewish people as possible through their jewelry and watch shop. The Gestapo eventually busted them, arresting 35 people in the same day, and threw them into prison. Corrie’s elderly father died quickly, her sister also died in Nazi custody, and her nephew died soon after release. She also found out that the reason for their capture was the betrayal by a Dutch citizen that had set a trap and stolen $600.00 from them in the process. Corrie ten Boom had every reason to hate, every reason to desire revenge, every reason to live the rest of her life hid in a corner somewhere, tightly wrapped in a spiritual “fetal position”, and distrusting every person to cross her path.
Instead, she chose to forgive. She chose to be used. She chose to love instead of hate and because of that God used her all over the world to share His message. One of her “earthly” rewards must have been the knowledge that the man that had betrayed her and her family was convicted with such intensity by her love and Godly reaction that he too became a Christian. Like the soldier at the cross turning to Jesus and calling Him “the Son of God”, this Dutch citizen was won to Jesus by the hands and heart of the person he had despised and betrayed in a most evil way. Corrie would state, “we never touch the ocean of God’s love as much as when we love our enemies. It is such a joy to accept forgiveness, but it is almost a greater joy to give forgiveness.” Those words were not written by some Joe Schmoaround the corner talking about someone that bumped your car or blew their leaves on your lawn—those words were etched by a woman that had walked through the fire of Nazi torture and come out the other side more like Jesus than many before and many after her. She would also state, “When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, He Himself will give us the love with which to do it…” She had been filled and supplied by the hand and heart of God almighty. I am without excuse.
We spoke of William Wilberforce.; a man frail in physical stature but as sturdy spiritually as one could be in the face of evil men in an evil time. He was one of few that stared down the slave trade in Britain during the late 1700 and early 1800’s. His Christian conviction shoved him into the realm of deep political disdain but he was not deterred. He understood the beauty and fleeting nature of human life, “This present scene, and all its cures and all its gaieties, will soon be rolled away, and ‘we must stand before the judgment seat of Christ.’” And again, I am without excuse.
Lastly on Sunday morning we spoke of George Mueller—a man so close to God he relied only his prayer life to supply all his needs. Never soliciting a dollar from any man, not only did God care for Mueller’s personal needs but God also made a way for over 10,000 orphans to be cared for by Mueller run orphanages. Mueller’s journals are amazing testimonies to God’s care and provision—many entries have preserved and published. They are a treasure trove of prayer, answers to prayer, and devotion to a good King. Mueller died like he lived; he had no money for a headstone and so a spontaneous collection of was taken by those orphans he loved and care for so much. God provided, yet again, what Mueller needed. The headstoneinscription is a magnificent testimony to a life well lived—“life” may actually be too loose a term. Mueller’s existence was more a work of art—he was a blank canvas that God painted a supernatural picture on. His prayer life was a picture of what God can and wills to do when we are entirely dependent on Him.
These men and women are more than headstones to marvel at—they are living stones meant to speak to our lives and be useful to us right now. More on that concept next week…
Questions for reflection:
1. What testimony is God creating in my life that will live on when I’m gone? A personal example is my own—I pray that God is creating in me an encourager that edifies and builds up everyone I come in contact with. I’m praying to be a “Barnabas” (son of encouragement).
2. What testimony above is one that you need to learn from right now? The idea of strength in adversity—like Annie? The idea of forgiveness beyond circumstance—like Corrie? The idea of strength in the face of adversity and evil—like Wilberforce? Or the steadfast conviction that God will come through for you—like Mueller?
3. Think of some personal greats that have lived with you in your past—name them and thank God for them. I remember the husband and wife that started bringing me to church. A Youth Pastor that was influential in my love of Scripture and the seriousness nature with which to handle it. I remember a former pastor that changed an entire state (and the world) by a vision for Christian education and the mentality that if it was God’s it should be “better.”