Starting off our 2nd Heroes of Faith series, Pastor Terry talks about how heroes are complete flaws and all.
I know this might take a few of us by surprise, but just in case anybody is wondering, this is not a church for perfect people. I just need to point that out because if it was, to be honest, we would have to get up out of our seats. I’d have to walk off this platform right out the door, this would be empty. In fact, I was thinking about putting up a sign. Cause the truth is, it’s like saying that everyone’s welcome to come. I had this idea of no perfect people allowed because we’re all in need. That’s not an excuse for not challenging ourselves in pursuing growth and holiness of the biblically aligned life. I do get that. I hope that’s what the vast majority of us are contending for. I am not the one who assumes that everybody has stepped across the faith line, opened up their hearts to Jesus, and welcomed Him in.
I think that the majority of us probably have, that’s obvious. At the same time, there are some of us here who are on the verge of making that step. Our hearts are warm. We’re being drawn. God’s beginning to speak to us. We’re hearing His voice. Our heart is opening. There is one thing I need to say though and this is the truth. I know this is said a lot. I know it’s said as like a throw-away line. If it’s said casually, it can almost come across as Christian jargon because every group has its jargon or language. I do believe this. The truth of the matter is that all of us at our best are sinners in need of grace. We always will be. We may be healers in Jesus’ name, but we are wounded healers at best. I was thinking about this phrase, that came to my mind, “we are at our best, worse than we should be, and less than what we could be.” I’ll say that one more time. This is for all of us who would follow Him. We are at our best, worse than we should be and less than we could be. That is why we will always need a great savior and how thankful we should be that we have one.
I’ve heard people say, “I don’t want to go to church because it is full of hypocrites.” We’ve all heard that. First, let’s not be hypocritical. Let’s ask God to help us not to do that. That’s like someone saying, “You know what? I’m not going to the gym, because there’s a whole bunch of people there who are out of shape. We still go. I get it, but the point is we’re all in process. No matter where we are in our Christian life in our walk with Jesus, we all have areas. We all have areas where we struggle. We struggle to live the way He would want us to live and follow in the path that He has for us to follow. There is stuff that we carry, the baggage of our past. We have stuff that’s unique to who we are that we are trying to fight through.
Sometimes, someone will say to me, and they are very sincere, this happened on Saturday night, “I don’t know if I feel comfortable coming to church because I don’t feel like I have my act together.” They say I don’t want to be hypocritical, so I’m not going to come till I get my life in order. For one thing, I respect part of that. But let me tell you, this is not a place for people who’ve got it all together. In fact, if you want to get down to it, this is a place where we get better. It’s not like we are coming here to get good enough. We’re coming here to receive His goodness, that is enough. That’s a very different thing. That’s what Jesus basically said, who are open, the poor. He was using different types of people who He identified as being on the outside, who were hurting, who had been stripped away of things.
Jesus talked about the sick and those who were more marginalized. He said, “Blessed are you, the kingdom is open to you.” He says in some ways you’re more blessed than those who don’t even recognize their need. Who have created things that prop up and put on a veneer that causes them not to be able to recognize that need. It’s important to God that we recognize there are always going to be times where He’s going to try to remind us that this is a place where people are not perfect. I hope that we want to grow with flaws and all. That we’re people who genuinely want to follow Christ again with humility and authenticity.
I was reminded of what one of my favorite authors said. His name is Gordon MacDonald and he’s advancing in his years. He’s written a number of books that I’ve found life in. One of the books that he wrote a few years back was called Mid-Course Correction. He starts talking about certain concepts, speaking about growing through our weaknesses. One of the things he started talking about was the idea of cultivating a growing edge. He also said at the same time, you want to make sure that you are holding onto a vital optimism. Those are two phrases that stuck out to me. This idea of a growing edge means that you’re talking about not just settling in and contending for growth in your life. This vital optimism has to do with the belief that God’s got some good things ahead for us.
MacDonald starts talking about how when we get into our 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60’s he starts walking through the decades and possibly even heading into even years past that. He says there is a real tendency at times because of the disappointments in life or the overwhelming responsibilities in life to lose our growing edge and to stop believing in a vital kind of optimistic approach to living. He says that it can affect us deeply. He says one of the things that really hurts us is when we start to experience failure and that failure begins to wear us down. We begin to feel defeated around it. We feel like there are certain areas that are never going to change in our lives and we stop growing. One candid moment in his sharing was how in a particular season of failure he was feeling. MacDonald says it was not the last failure by any means. “I’ve failed in certain working relationships. I’ve failed to live up to an intellectual standard I once said for myself.” That’s a very insightful, reflective thing to say. Basically, he’s saying, I haven’t kept my intellectual edge. I’ve stopped reading. I’ve stopped growing. I’ve stopped contending. At least not the way I should. That happens when we start getting worn down by life. We lose some of that vitality.
You’re going to feel his lament in his words. “Thus far, I feel like I failed to achieve the level of spiritual maturity that I actually believe is right for a man of my age.” He’s looking there sitting and saying, “God, I feel frustrated by where I’m at, I feel like I should be further along than I am. Somewhere along the way, I let myself get stuck.” But then he rallies and says. “This is what I won’t do. I’m not going to permit these failures to stop me from a continuing reach to grow and overcome the limitations, the weaknesses that those failures have disclosed.” In other words, just because I’ve been less than what I believe I should be or what God wants me to be. I’m not going to let that defeat define me and be depressed by all that has been squandered or even lost.
By God’s grace he says,” I’m going to contend for growth and improvement in the very areas my failures have revealed as limiting weakness.” That’s an attitude shift. That’s why he calls it a Mid-Course Correction. That’s saying, “I’m shifting my approach. I’m not going to write it out in defeat or write it out in a passive voice. It won’t make a difference anyway, resigned, defeated, discouraged.” This is a big part of what we’re talking about. It’s okay to struggle with stuff. God does His best work in our weakness. God’s strength is revealed to be its most beautiful when we’re at our weakest. You understand that. All of God’s heroes, as we’re going to see were flawed people. If you set aside Jesus, there’s not one person that was referred to in that passage of the hall of faith that wasn’t flawed and struggled.
Paul talks about it in 2 Corinthians 4. I’m just going to refer to that. We can see in the 7th verse, we’ve got this amazing thing. God lives in us he says, but the creator of the Universe is the same creative power that shows up in our lives. Paul says, “God puts this amazing power into fragile clay jars like us.” He describes us as like clay jars. What is a clay jar? It would be like a vessel in his day, a pot that contained things. In their day, those things could be broken so easily. He was saying, you want to really know what the truth is, we’re fragile, more fragile than we realize. We’re like jars of clay. The amazing thing is we have this capacity to contain something of the creative power of God in our lives and yet we’re weaker than we realize.
The next passage is in Hebrews 11. Hebrews 11 is the chapter where a lot of the heroes of the older Testament are referred to. I know it’s a different time. It is a more patriarchal, violent age, and culture. I get all that. It was clearly before Jesus. Certain things hadn’t even developed yet. At times, it can almost feel like it doesn’t fit into a modern context. I want to say that in Hebrews 11, all of us who would follow Jesus are reminded that there’s something we can learn from some of these people who lived and evidenced heroic faith. There’s something about the merging, the unifying principle of faith, that if we can look at these lives, we will find that they will strengthen our capacity to live a life of faith in the unique situations that we find ourselves in. In the early part of that 11th chapter, Paul talks about certain people whose names most of us will immediately recognize, people like Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Sarah, even someone more obscure like a Rahab. They are names that are mentioned are examples of their faith. Towards the end of that chapter, Paul makes some fascinating assertions. I am going to read through it fairly rapidly, but it’s poetic and expansive. It speaks of valor, bravery, and the endurance of unimaginable suffering.
It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith, these people overthrew kingdoms. Paul rolls out, “ruled with justice, received what God had promised them, they shut the mouths of lions, they quenched the flames of fire, escaped death by the edge of the sword, their weakness was turned into strength, they became strong in battle, put whole armies to fight, women received their loved ones back again from death. Others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, their backs were cut open with whips, others were chained in prison, some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, others were killed with the sword, someone went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute, oppressed, and mistreated, they were all too good for this world. This very violent world of ours with all of this craziness and senselessness. Wandering over deserts and mountains. Hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”
Go back to that 34th verse. There’s a phrase that just stood out to me like it was neon. I believe it’s a foundational piece for us. Their weakness was turned into a strength. What a reminder that God is not limited by our weakness. How about this formula? Our weakness plus His strength equals the possibility for heroic faith. Our weakness, His strength makes possible heroic faith. Remember, this is important in the weeks ahead. All of God’s heroes are flawed. Look at the 32nd verse at those names. Some of us will recognize those names. Others won’t know who they are. He refers to Gideon and Barak. We wouldn’t have known that name, but now that name’s a little more recognizable. Sampson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel. If you do a study, every one of these heroes of faith was flawed and possessed a definitive weakness. As I reflect back on the darker places of their lives, I’m so thankful the Bible doesn’t only show us the good stuff. It’s real. It gives us insight into flaws and struggles because it’s real life.
The first four names are all mentioned in the book of Judges. Getting in Barak, Sampson, and Jephthah, that’s the seventh book of the older Testament. They were all deliverers called Judges in one of the darkest and most discouraging violent times in Israel’s history, but again, each one of them was flawed. Gideon a hero of faith was flawed and cowardly. He was hesitant, anything but courageous and brave, yet God used him. Barak, as one writer put it, had to be shamed into action. Jephthah becomes a cautionary tale of the dangers of being rash. Sampson was a man of incredible uncommon physical strength, weakness, and character deficiency. Even David, who is probably one of the most admired figures in all the scripture, the greatest King of Israel, the ancestor of Messiah. When they saw Jesus, one of the things they called Him, there He is, the son of David. It’s a messianic term.
David writes the Psalms out of his own life. Many of us live out of his pain and love for God. We live out of the rawness and realness of who he was. Even David, a towering figure of faith and love for God, a man who is described at certain times in scriptures, a man after God’s own heart has a weak side. His adultery with Bathsheba and the unconscionable treatment of her husband, Uriah. A shame stained for the ages. Then Samuel, who’s just thrown in on the back end there. This great prophet struggles as a father, his sons corrupt to the bone and filled with greed. So much so the people say, we can’t have him, we need a king. Your sons are so bad.
Every one of them had their flaws and yet all of them exercised faith in God and were used in exceptional ways to help Israel. What is there for us to learn? Here’s where I want to bring it together. What do we learn from where we’re going? What does this mean for us? Let me just put some things out there. Number one, our weaknesses, though discouraging, do not need to be defined. I look at this and say, all of God’s heroes, I look at them, I see them, they were weak at some point, and God still used them in amazing ways. This is something that should encourage us especially when we feel hamstrung or hindered by something we either lack or are limited by. An aspect of our life that we find very disheartening for us. That it is sometimes so hard. Do not be depressed about it. It might have something to do with our health. It might have to do with relationships, a relationship, relational status, loneliness, or hurt. There are things we struggle with. It might have to do with our self-image. The way we look. It might be a situation at our work, where we feel like our best days are behind u. We’re frustrated by what’s happening and we’re not getting the ability to move forward. We feel like we’ve been climbing the wrong ladder or struggling with stuff. We’re getting older. We’re not happy about it. It bothers us. There’s stuff. Stuff that can rip out our vital optimism.
I’m not just saying if we will move towards the Lord, we will find grace. We will find the power to prevail. I didn’t say it’s going to be easy because there’re some things we’re going to have to learn how to wrestle with. I’ll tell you why I think we’re going to do that, but that actually can be helpful. One of the things I’m reminded of is we’re told to follow the path of Abraham, The Father of the Faith. He’s called the Father of the Faithful because he left on a journey, not even knowing where he was supposed to go, and he walked by faith. He becomes a precursor, a forerunner of the life of faith. We’re all called to live the walk of faith. What is walking? You hear me say it, it is falling forward. Walking is falling forward. What God calls us to do is to move forward in faith.
I’m moving forward. I’m falling forward in faith. That means that God’s not intimidated by our struggles. In fact, he’ll use them. Our obstacles are God’s opportunities. That is the truth. It’s His opportunity to show Himself as strong on our behalf. So we can know in incredible ways, the power of God. Remember, we all have breaking points, that’s just a fact. We’re all jars of clay. None of us are invisible. We can snap, we can crackle, and we can pop. That’s a fact too. I was thinking about it and what dawned on me about this message is how vulnerabilities and certain things can hurt us. They may not show up for other people and they’ll say, “What’s the big deal with that?” For us, though it’s such a struggle. We all have those areas, to use the hero analogy, susceptible to kryptonite. It just weakens us.
I was thinking about the game. We’ve all been watching the Warriors, most of us anyway. I was thinking about game two, and Kevin Love that’s the power forward on the Cavaliers. I was watching what happened to him. He gets a concussion. Some of us may recall that in that game, Harrison Barnes goes up, and in the replay, it looked like his left forearm just grazes the side of his head. The thing is, you see collisions all the time, people crashing on the floor, banging into each other. No one gets a concussion. So that’s why most people thought, “Oh, he is faking right now, clearly it was not that bad, wasn’t that bad of a collision,” but it hit him just in the right way, grazed his head so that he genuinely was hurt. He was out the entire rest of that game. He was out the next game, game two, and game three. He was back for game four.
The thing about it was it reminded me that certain things hit us. It may not look like it, but it affects us. I think, “Oh, that’s a big deal, wasn’t much of it, there’s been way worse stuff than that.” I know, but this thing hit me. It knocked me. It hurt me. Do you see what I’m saying? Some of us are tied to our dispositions, our past experiences, and the things that have happened to us or in us. When a certain thing hits us, it may not look like a lot to you, but it’s hurting me. I’m struggling. That is real. When I think about that, I think, “Lord, I know you want to renew us. I know you want to help us. You want to teach us how to prevail.” Last year I was in a spot where I was feeling a little discouraged about things. I wasn’t happy. One of the things I was saying to the Lord is “How am I going to fill this space? Because right now I’m not happy with what’s happening to me.” I was feeling discouraged.
I started reading the Psalms. Every day I would read one of the Psalms and I would write certain parts of it down. I would use it as a mechanism for strengthening myself in a very difficult space. One thing, when I came to the 18th Psalm, David is writing about his struggle. He’s trying to remind himself that God can help him. There are times when we’re saying, this is hard, this is hard for me right now to hold my line. Part of me wants to have a bad attitude, give up, yield, quit, do something self-destructive, whatever stuff flows into our minds. So much of the battle is right here in our thoughts. That’s why there is power in filling our minds with God’s Word, especially in critical times. I started reading the Psalms and said, “You know what? I need to do more than that.” I need to write things down as a way of hammering them into my mind. I need to repeat it. When I came to the 18 Psalm and David is talking about the Lord is my rock. He is my shield. He starts reminding himself who God is to him. That’s why I’m writing it down. This is who you are to me, Lord. Then he starts talking about the greatness of God. He gets to this one spot towards the end of that Psalm, where he starts saying, “Lord, you can help me with my struggle. I’ve got enemies on my left and on my right.”
Those are the things that I think confront us in this life that we struggle with. He says, “You will make my feet like the feet of a deer. You will teach me how to walk like a deer in high places where one misstep will cost me everything. You will teach me how to negotiate difficult places. Lord, you will give me strength that I do not possess. Who is my rock? You are my rock, Lord. You are my defender Lord.” Then he says, “You will teach my hand. You will help me to run through a group and you will open up a wide path for me. You will teach me how to prevail and you will make my arms so that it can bend a bow of bronze.” What he was saying was, “You will give me the strength I did not think I had.” He’s reminding himself of what God can do. In these moments, when we’re struggling, the unique blow that plays into all of our weakness is when we need to draw from the strength of God. Jesus said, Matthew 11, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, come to me, learn from me. I will give you rest. I will give you rest.”
It’s this idea to me. I am gentle. I am lowly in heart. You will find rest for your soul. The Bible is about the soul. It is about our minds. My mind, our thoughts. That’s where bring my mind Lord. I will give you rest for your soul. My yolk is easy. My burden is light, don’t carry this. You give it to me and you take what I have for you to carry. You don’t carry it that way. That’s going to kill you. Are we carrying things that He wants us to leave with Him? I tried that. Then do it again. Do it again. Do it again. I give it to you Lord, help me, strengthen me. Do you see what I’m saying? That’s what I’m talking about. Another thing I’ve come to see is that our obstacles can be an opportunity for God to grow our faith and our trust base.
Someone’s just like Jacob who’s wrestling with the angels of the Lord to obtain a blessing and embrace a promise of a new possibility. God does allow him to prevail, but he’ll always have a limp to remind him of the struggle. There are some things that as we wrestle with them, God will bring us through it. We will be a different person coming out of it. We may have a limp for the rest of our days, but we also will come out of it. He came out of it. God changed his name from Jacob to Israel. That’s the name that prevailed. He would never forget that time in his life. God opened up a new thing, but it was a product of a wrestling match and it left him with a limp. Do you see the metaphor?
The last thing we’ll say about this piece here is that God also uses that as an opportunity to forge our character. In the fire the metal is hot. That’s when the impurities rise out. When the heat is on, we’re either going to get bitter or we’re going to get better. I am not going to come out the same person. I’m either going to be worse or better. God wants us to come out better. It may be a long slog, but we are going to get better. Bitter is the older brother in Rembrandt’s prodigal son painting, sitting there when he should be rejoicing at his brother’s return. Sitting there aloof, angry, resentful, close-hearted, unwilling to participate, that’s bitter. Better is “Lord give me more, create an opening in my heart. Keep me soft. Keep me less judgemental. Give me more compassion and empathy, Lord, for others who struggle, teach me your ways.”
The Last thing we’ll put out there is God has placed into every one of us the seed of heroic faith. It only takes the faith Jesus said the size of a mustard seed to move a mountain. There are mountains that sometimes stand in the way of breakthroughs in our hearts. There are things that we’ve struggled with. You say, “Get out of my way, get this out of me.” I’m going to say that in the name of Jesus if there’s something that’s intimidating us, a mountain of despair blocking our path. Let us say with all of our flaws “In the name of Jesus, move. I come at this in the name of the Lord.”
I know I said that was the last thing. This will be the last thing I’ll say. Some things are going to be small and not be seen, but God will give us the grace to be heroic in ways that are seen and unseen. There might be certain things you do, certain simple unseen acts of spiritual heroism. A response to give something when God put it in our heart, a willingness to exercise, a level of restraint when a part of us wants to indulge, a willingness to move forward to where God wants us to go and not run away from what He’s asking us to be. A willingness to talk to someone about Jesus when part of us doesn’t want to do that. There are situations where no one will ever know. Some people will say, “Wow, this is pretty impressive. You know, the way you’re walking through that, I’m impressed.” That’s encouraging. There’s a lot of other stuff in our lives that we may do it for the Lord, no one will ever see it.
They may not know how hard it is for us. How much wrestling we’re doing to do it God’s way. Or how this is costing us something. But guess what? Heaven sees. I believe He says, “well done my daughter. Well done my son.” No one sees, but heaven sees. “Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.” Not perfect, but well done. Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, thank you, thank you for your promises. Thank you for your words. Thank you, Lord, that you see our flaws and limitations. Those aren’t the things that define us necessarily because your grace is amazing. I do ask Lord that you continue to help us in these places of struggle and out of the forged things in us that would have never come before, bind us to your grace in our weakness. Use the weakness to bind this to your grace, keep transforming our trust base, expand our faith. Even as we make this journey together in the days ahead, I ask Lord that you would expand things in our hearts with you. Give us courage, open up things for us, make our path wide, so we do not slip. This is what I pray. I pray this blessing and all this. Bless our time of giving. Bless the closing song. Bless what we’ve shared. Let it linger in our hearts. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen. Let it be so.