Personal Heroes and the Lessons They Provide
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings
for us… For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so
that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have
hope. (1 Corinthians 10:11, Romans 15:4)
Other than the Bible I think I read more biographies than I do any other kind of literature. The stories of Congregational ministers always draws my interest and indeed I picked up a couple of new ones this summer at used bookstores. I also have two heroes whose writings I read on a daily basis. They are Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Jimmy Carter. A selection of daily readings from their writings has been printed and I read each of them every day. The book of Bonhoeffer excerpts is entitled I Want to Live These Days with You. This is a line from a poem he wrote to his parents from prison just six months before he was executed by the Nazi’s. The daily readings are taken from the collection of his writings and are arranged by theme. Many of them are thought-provoking and I find myself searching through the index to try and find out what he wrote next to complete the thought. Bonhoeffer never fails to inspire me even when I am not sure of his meaning or intent. We lived his commitment even when it cost him his life.
The other daily devotional that I read is entitled Through the Year with Jimmy Carter. These brief readings are taken not from his published works but rather are from the Sunday School lessons that he taught between 1977 and 2011. They are arranged into four sections: Launching, Growing, Serving, and Maturing. I believe I have read all of the books Jimmy Carter wrote, and there are a lot of them, but this is probably my favorite. It is so because it reveals in a very personal way how devoted he is to Jesus and how his faith impacted his everyday life both inside and outside his political career.
The Bible gives me a host of biographical accounts of heroes of the faith, most of which are very brief. I will mention three of my favorites. I am a big fan of Manoah and his wife, whose name isn’t given in the text. Their story is told in Judges 13-16. They are the parents of Samson. I happened upon these two when I went looking for stories of good parents in the Bible and discovered that most of the parental accounts illustrate what not to do rather than what to do. Manoah and his wife are told to parent an exceptional child but are given only two pieces of information when they ask for some kind of instruction. (“Lord, I beg you…teach us how to bring up the boy” – Judges 13:8). The directives they are given are, in my paraphrase, to eat right and live right. That’s pretty general and I think every serious parent wants more assurance about what to do and what the results will be. God doesn’t provide either but entrusts his precious children into the care of fallible human beings who are simply to do the best they know how.
My second Biblical hero is Baruch, the scribe of Jeremiah. He doesn’t have a prominent role in the spiritual, social and political struggle of the nation during the days prior to the exile. He simply writes down what the prophet dictates to him. His writings are not original with him but they do contain the very words of God. When King Jehoiakim read them he ripped them up and burned them in the fire (Jeremiah 36). Jeremiah then called in Baruch again to have a do over, and the dictation began again. I am sure Baruch felt that his role was insignificant and he probably had higher expectations for his career path. But God spoke to him and reminded him not to “seek great things for yourself” but to remember that “wherever you go I will let you escape with your life” (Jeremiah 45:5). This has always been a good reminder to me of the role that God has called me to as a small church minister.
Abraham is my other influential hero although not particularly from his biographical story as recorded in Genesis 11-25. Rather I am particularly fond of the summation of his life in Hebrews 11. There I read that despite the promises of God to him that he would be the father of a great nation and have a wonderful homeland and be a blessing to the entire world, he never saw the fulfillment of those words. Instead, he had but two sons who didn’t get along and he never owned any land except the cemetery plot where he buried his wife and where he was also laid to rest. But he is described as the great person of faith because although he “did not receive the things promised…he saw and welcomed them from a distance…living as a foreigner and stranger on earth…and longing for a better country – a heavenly one.” And then this is the key statement, “Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called his God, for he has prepared a city for him” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
My heroes teach me to commit myself to God even in the face of certain death (Bonhoeffer), yet to consistently strive to practice my faith in the everyday world of private and public life (Carter). They also teach me to rest my biggest failures, those of being a good parent, into the hands of the one who entrusted his children into my care knowing that they are still under his care (Manoah). I am also seeking to rest content in the place God has put me and not be concerned about my reputation or my legacy (Baruch), but to continue to hold on to God’s word trusting in him above all other circumstances (Abraham). The desired result of applying these lessons is to have God not be ashamed of me.
Who are your heroes and what are you learning from them? Why not share your stories with someone. See you in Worship.