Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Don't Be a Hero

This is a blog post I wrote for my church website in September 2013 (High Pointe Church in Altoona, IA)

“How many times am I going to have to learn the same lesson?”  Ever been there?  You feel like you’re plugging along, only to catch yourself falling in the same area of temptation again. You find yourself drowning in worry, stress & anxiety again. You realize you’re doubting that God will provide for you again. I don’t know about you, but there are times where I find myself in these moments, and my heart just sinks. I feel like such a failure, and I wonder why God continues to be so patient with me. I convince myself that He is so ashamed and disgusted with my inability to learn from my mistakes & avoid them. In these moments, it’s almost as if I’m picturing Him as a frustrated teacher, slamming a ruler on my desk & raising His voice at me, “When are you ever going to learn?!” And it’s when I assume God is ashamed of me that I seem to distance myself from Him even more, telling myself the last thing He wants to hear is another broken-record confession from this slow learner. Am I alone, or can anyone relate?

While I have often found myself in the midst of that very cycle, only recently have I realized just how backwards that mindset is! Our inability to go on a “perfect streak” of following the commands of Scripture shouldn’t drive us down into a pit of guilt & shame. It shouldn’t cause us to consciously distance ourselves from God, fearing only to receive a harsh reprimand from Him. Instead, it should immediately push us to the gospel. But why doesn’t that happen?

I believe that we get caught up in a “heroes of the faith” mindset too often. We read & learn about characters of the Bible like Noah, Abraham, or Moses. We read about them in Hebrews 11 – the “Hall of Faith” – and see all of the incredible things they accomplished. We focus on their triumph & forget about their trials, and incorrectly our application is to “be like them.” But when we place people on a pedestal, and our aim is to “dare to be a Daniel,” to “be a hero of the faith like Moses,” or to “confidently slay our giants like David” – we only set ourselves up for extreme frustration when we can’t live up to the hype. When we read this passage and our application is focused on joining the “heroes of the faith” by emulating people, we completely miss the big picture of it all: The Person.

The common tie between all the characters of Hebrews 11 is that all of their accomplishments were made possible “by faith.” But what is faith? Was it their will to succeed? Was it that inner quality to put their heads down, grind it out, and find a way? Faith is only as good as the object it rests in. We can’t rely on “our faith” if it only rests in some inner desire to be good. Instead, their faith was an active trust; securely anchored, grounded, and placed in the subject of the entire book of Hebrews – Jesus Christ. The Great High Priest, who is better than the angels, better than the prophets, and yes – better than Moses. His once and for all sacrifice for sin did what the daily sacrifice of bulls and goats could never do (Hebrews 10:11-14). He is the one and only mediator between God and man, making peace by the blood of the cross. And when our faith is grounded in Him, we can victoriously claim Romans 8:1 – “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

So yes, I’m a slow learner when it comes to keeping all the commandments of Scripture. I fail miserably, and often. But so did Abraham – he had a lying problem. So did Moses – he couldn’t follow directions on whether to hit or talk to a rock. So did Paul, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament – he called himself the worst of all sinners! The thing is, we’re all slow learners, and we’ll never live up to the standard…but that’s the point! Instead of feeling defeat & shame, may it drive us toward the gospel & the grace of Jesus Christ! When we catch ourselves in the midst of anxiety or doubt, we shouldn’t feel like Jesus is rebuking us for “not getting it” – we should view it as a gracious reminder: that He is faithful in our unfaithfulness. He is perfect in our imperfection. He is strong in our weakness. Our identity & position before God the Father is based on the finished work of Jesus. It is a done deal – just as we can do nothing to earn it, we can do absolutely nothing to change it. “God accepts us on the basis of Christ's perfection, not our progress.” (Tullian Tchividjian)

In his book Glorious Ruin, Tullian also gives this encouragement to those of us who get discouraged when we fail:  “God doesn’t give us advice about how to overcome; in the gospel, Jesus has already overcome! …  Jesus is strong, so we’re free to be weak; Jesus won, so we’re free to lose; Jesus was a somebody, so we can be a nobody; Jesus was extraordinary, so we are free to be ordinary; and Jesus succeeded for us, so we are free to fail!”

Let’s abandon the defeat & discouragement found in the “heroes of the faith” mentality, and cling to this hope: Jesus is THE hero of the faith, so we don’t have to be one.

“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

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