Friday, 11 November 2011

Lest we forget.

A different Remembrance day

11/11/11.  93 years since the beacons were first lit, the nation stopped and silence fell to mark the anniversary of the end of the First World War.  No doubt all across the country people are writing about today, I was going to.  I was going to write about sacrifice and courage, about the nobility of these men and other great heroes.  However there is no doubt in my mind that many people will and that they will do it far greater justice than I ever could.  Also it occurred to me that maybe tales of great valour are not what everyone needs to hear.  On a day when people consider great men, and remember their heroism, let us consider them, and remember their humanity.  Turn with me now to Hebrews 11, the heroes of our faith and let us learn what manner of men (and women) these were.

By faith?

4By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain…
 5By faith Enoch was taken up…
 7 By faith Noah... constructed an ark…
8By faith Abraham obeyed…
11By faith Sarah herself received…
20By faith Isaac invoked future blessings…
21By faith Jacob… blessed each of the sons of Joseph…
22By faith Joseph made mention of the exodus…
24By faith Moses… refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter…
29By faith the people crossed the Red Sea
31By faith Rahab… did not perish…”
Hebrews 11 4-31

These are the heroes we aspire to be, and measure ourselves by.  What mighty folk these must have been, to be lauded in such a way here.  Surely they were paragons of virtue, the like of which we cannot be.  Let us look at some of them now.

A man of great virtue in a time of great evil.  God called him and he answered, he suffered mockery, endured to the end what must have seemed like folly.  He lived through a flood that wiped out everyone he knew apart from his family who were saved by his steadfast obedience.  And then what?  He went out and got drunk.

          “20Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. 21He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent.”
          Genesis 9:20-21

It’s a bit of an anti-climax, but compared to some of these other heroes it’s not too bad.

Abraham and Sarah
Abraham! The patriarch, father of the nations through whom all would be blessed.  So full of faith he gets mentioned twice in the list!  And yet he’s a coward and a liar, more concerned with his own safety than anything else.

11When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, 12and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.”… 15And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house.”
Genesis 12:10-20

He would rather let another man take Sarah to be his own wife than risk his own skin.  Rather trust his own lies than the God he follows.  And then, a few chapters later he does it again!  And Sarah, well she just laughs at God when He promises her a child.  Some faith.

Moses, the shepherd of Israel, leading them from slavery into freedom – so many great works were done by him.  Well where do we start? Murder?

11One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. 12He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”
Exodus 2:11-12

7The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 8“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” 9And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
10Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.”
Numbers 20:7-11

The people were grumbling (again) and Moses was fed up to the back teeth.  So he ignores God’s instructions and starts whacking the rock with a stick in frustration.  Why did God even bother with him?  It’s not like he was any good at his job, he originally refused to even speak in public without Aaron around…

And the Israelites themselves? Don't even get me started.

Great faith?

The heroes mentioned here are flawed and full of failings, so imperfect and sinful.  I’m not bringing these things up to slander their name, to slag them off for being absolutely useless.  I merely want to remind us of this fact:  These heroes are human to the core.  So often we forget, do we not?  We see them as giants; they were but men, standing on the shoulders of a giant God.

We forget so often that these men and women failed.  They were, like us, hopeless specimens of humanity

Truly Inspirational

So then, if our heroes are broken, what have we left to cling to?  Who should inspire us?  What stories do we remember in the times when we need encouragement, something from which to draw strength?  The answer is simple.

Noah, the drunkard.  Lying Abraham, the coward.  Angry Moses, the murderer.

Those are the people we should look to as our inspirations.  Yes they are broken people, yes their lives were wrecks half of the time.  But oh the grace of God shone through their faults all the more!  Groucho Marx once said:

“Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light.”

If I may rephrase that here: blessed are the broken, they let out the light.  God’s grace is never seen so strongly in the life of those who’ve 'got it all together' as it is in the lives of the broken sinners who cling to Him for grace.  So if I can start to wrap up here with these two great lessons we can learn from these broken heroes:

1.     Be realistic.  So often we become discouraged because we’re struggling.  So often we are overcome by all our faults and failings, we think we should be so much better than we are.  These men weren’t, they were full of flaws and God used them anyway.
2.     Be honest.  Admit your flaws, admit when you failed, tell people about it.  Don’t hide behind a mask – God works through brokenness.  And yet, don’t think you’re worse than the people around you.  You’re not.  You’re not worse than Abraham, David, Noah, Moses, your minister, or me.  We all struggle, we need to stop pretending we don’t and start struggling together.

I couldn’t find a place to say this, but I feel it’s important.  Having read Hebrews 11 and read everything I have to say here please, don’t make the mistake of thinking that these men were chosen for great works because of their great faith and that if only you could gain such faith you too could be used by God. Yes, by faith these folk did great things.  But here is where we so often go wrong.  We think that they had great faith to do such things, they didn’t.  Look at Abraham and the fact that he lied instead of trusting God to protect him.  Or Sarah, laughing at God’s suggestion that she would have a child, and trying to do it her way instead by using Hagar as a surrogate.  Heroes of the faith are not those who have great faith.  Rather, they are those who have faith in a great God.  As I’ve quoted countless times:

“Strong faith in a weak plank will get you wet, but even weak faith in a strong plank will get you over the river”

Jesus said that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we would be able to move mountains.  It is never the size of our faith that matters, but what we have that faith in

Lest we forget

So then, my final words.  Do not ever think that you are too small, too faithless, too broken for God.  Whether it is your sin that ensnares you, or the sin of others to you that has brought you down God has a plan for you, a purpose.  Look at the people whom God has used!
Noah was a drunkard,
Moses was a murderer,
David was an adulterer,
Rahab was a prostitute
Jacob was a cheat,
Joseph was abused and abandoned
Moses couldn’t do public speaking,
Aaron was a wimp,
Samson was a womaniser,
Jeremiah was celibate,
Elijah was suicidal
Samuel was adopted,
Ehud was left-handed,
Gideon couldn’t make up his mind,
Barak had to be led around by a woman,
Jonah ran from God,
Naaman had leprosy,
Bartimaeus was blind,
Hezekiah was a whiner,
Saul was very tall, Zaccheus too short,
Abraham was too old, Timothy too young,
Job was bankrupt,
Matthew was a tax-man,
Paul was too religious,
Peter was too violent,
Daniel was a vegetarian,
John the Baptist ate bugs
The disciples all fell asleep,
And Lazarus was dead!

We must constantly remind ourselves what manner of servants our God calls.  Don’t expect too much from yourself or those Christians around you.  To put this in the simplest words I can, and if you take nothing else from this post remember this:

We are small people, with little faith, in a big God.

If we are to continue in the Christian life we must remember we are all human.  Grace is not for the blameless, but for the broken.

And so I have written this.

Lest we forget.

<<This is not what I meant to write when I sat down to write a blog post called ‘Lest we forget’.  Sometimes I have a great idea for a blog or a talk or something but God has a different one, it’s quite annoying – I was talking at CU once before we went out for Hot Chocolate (funnily enough on Hebrews 11…) and I had no idea what was coming next.  I was probably just babbling…  Still, what can you do eh?  Sorry it’s been so long, I’ve been busy.  I’d love to write more regularly but no promises!
Also, the list of folk that I've quoted above is edited from a few others I found on the internet :)>>

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