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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Encouraging Examples

Maybe it happens to all of us at one time or another. You've made a commitment for Christ, and you're doing what you imagine is your level best to submit to and obey Him. Still, there are those days when you really feel as if you're missing the mark.

I'm always encouraged when I read the Apostle Paul's dilemma in Romans 7:15-24, where he talks about not doing the things he wants to do, doing the things he doesn't want to do and finally exclaiming what a wretched man he is. That totally resonates with me. I thought I was the world's worst sinner, until I found the Apostle Paul had already claimed that title (1 Timothy 10:15).

I am encouraged by that because I find solace in the fact that my own human experience is not unlike that of spiritual giants like Paul. I mean, if there's hope for him then there's hope for me too!

Nevertheless, there are days when I am examining my ways and testing them (Lamentations 3:40) and not liking what I find. Maybe there is a time in our human psyche when we want to walk away from unrighteousness and ungodliness. Unfortunately, they are not easily abandoned.

So I tend to smile when I read stories about spiritual heroes in the Bible like Paul whom were good and righteous people, but whose sinful nature and spiritual poverty are clearly evident. This week I stumbled upon three such stories. The spiritual giants are Noah, Abraham and Lot. Let's take a look at the spiritual poverty that these men revealed despite their righteousness and calling from God.

Noah was the last righteous man on earth. Literally. God told him to build the Ark, and then destroyed all of the entire human race --- except for Noah and his immediate family. They were the only righteous ones left. Still, we find that after the flood, life settled into something of a routine where Noah got so drunk that he passed out naked. His children found him. One of them gossiped about it, and the other two covered him up without looking. When he sobered up and learned what had happened, he cursed the son that had seen him in his naked, drunken state and gossiped about it. It was definitely not really one of old Noah's best moments!

Abraham was God's chosen man to bear a whole new nation through whom God would save all of mankind. He was definitely a righteous man of amazing faith. Unfortunately he repeatedly lied and told the government that his wife was his sister ... opening the door for other men to claim her as their wife. Apparently Abraham did this because she was so beautiful and he feared he might be killed to get at her. So he willingly gave her up. Let's see: liar, coward, didn't trust God to take care of him. These aren't really some of father Abraham's best character traits.

Lot, Abraham and Sarah's long-awaited miracle son, was told by God's angel to flee Sodom and Gomorrah with his immediate family (wife and two daughters) because they were the only righteous ones left and God was fixing to destroy everyone else. God told them not to look back, but Lot's wife looked back and was instantly turned into a pillar of salt. (I imagine Lot was a bit ticked at this.) Anyway, Lot then takes his daughters and moves into a cave, becoming a recluse. He was afraid, so he stayed in the cave. Finally, the daughters were so desperate, that they each got their father drunk, had sex with him, and bore him children. If you missed that, this was incest. Again, it's not the best picture of the only righteous man God could find in the cities He'd had to destroy.

Source of Encouragement
So why are these tragic glimpses of such men's lives encouraging? I guess mainly because their level of unrighteousness and spiritual poverty were revealed well after God identified them as holy and righteous. God made them holy. He didn't vaporize their sin nature. He didn't remove their challenging circumstances. So there was still plenty of room for them to fail, displease God and exhibit their own human failures. But God said they were holy.

Did you know that holy people - declared so by God Himself - could still be liars, cowards, drunkards, etc.? Even in the Old Testament, as Paul explained in the New Testament, we aren't holy or unholy based on what we do or what we experience. Rather we are holy because God says we are. He makes it so. So when God declares you and I holy, nothing we can do or experience will change that. Because it's not based on what we do or don't do. It's based on who He is.

I have to say that's just about the most encouraging news ever. So when I face those times that I don't feel so holy, I can look at these heroes of the Bible and see that their holiness was never defined by their behaviors and actions. It's defined by God. And my holiness today? It's also defined by God. So nothing that I do can change that. Wow!

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