A Turtle on a Gatepost
OCTOBER 20, 2021
I’ve spent most of my life looking for someone to put up on a pedestal.
And God has spent most of my life destroying those pedestals, reminding me that no one belongs up on a pedestal except for him.
Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of people I admire. There are a lot of Christians I look up to because they’re more committed than I am, know more than I do, and are more faithful than I could ever be. But every time I try to make them more than sinners in desperate need of God’s grace, God takes great delight in showing me the truth about my heroes.
It is very dangerous to worship at any altar other than God’s . . . and it’s incredibly stupid when we do.
My friend and mentor, Fred Smith, used to say that we shouldn’t pick a hero until he or she is dead. That’s wise. When someone is dead, what they did and didn’t do is settled. If someone isn’t dead, the story isn’t over yet . . . and you might be in for an unpleasant surprise.
Frankly, though, it’s dangerous to have a dead hero, too. I’ve given up reading “puff” biographies of famous Christians. The truth is always something quite different. They do Christians a great disservice. They have created non-existent people whose examples don’t inspire excellence . . . only despair. In fact, if you’re reading a biography of a “great” Christian that doesn’t tell you about the bad as well as the good, burn that book. It’s a lie that will only make you feel guilty.
I remember when I found out that Donald Grey Barnhouse was jealous of Billy Graham, Charles Spurgeon went through months of depression, Martin Luther was anti-Semitic in his writings, and the list goes on. Each time one of my heroes fell off the pedestal, I was devastated. That is, until I realized that God was teaching me something important.
God uses sinful and flawed human beings.
After all, they are the only ones he has to use.
Whatever you think about the Bible, it doesn’t contain “puff” biographies. God has been very careful to allow us to see both the greatness and the smallness of people in the Bible. Throughout the Bible, we encounter heroes of the faith who have major flaws, serious sin, and embarrassing failures. Adam and Eve messed it up for themselves and the rest of us. Noah was a drunk. Abraham offered his wife in return for his own safety. Sarah offered her female servant to Abraham so he could have a son. Jacob was a con artist. Moses was a murderer. David was an adulterer. Jeremiah was a big time failure. Rahab—a relative of Jesus—was a prostitute. Paul was contentious. Peter was a hypocrite.
Can we talk? Our spiritual family is not one to brag about.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that we are to rejoice in, praise, or emulate sin. God forbid! However, we aren’t doing ourselves or other Christians a favor when we pretend that anyone is exempt from the need for redemption. In fact, the size of a problem can be measured by the degree to which we must go to remedy that problem. In the case of our sin, God resolved the problem by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross as our redeemer. Frankly, if we could be as good and as faithful as some suggest, God would have just sent us an instruction manual.
Most Christians are not as bad as they could be.
As a Calvinist, I don’t have a very high view of human nature. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Most of the world’s really stupid and destructive political, educational, and social movements were based on the false anthropological view that human beings and human situations are perfectible. They aren’t.
But while the Bible is the story of flawed human beings, it is also the story of how God used those flawed human beings in some exceptional ways. The bad news is that sinful human beings are . . . well, sinful and human. The good news is that human beings sometimes accomplish things beyond what we would expect.
Paul wrote, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10).
It’s important to remember two things.
We are not anybody’s mother and certainly not a reasonable facsimile of God.
And God takes very ordinary and flawed people—when they know they’re ordinary and flawed—and changes the world. That way, God gets the praise and the glory.
As my friend once pointed out, whenever you see a turtle on a gatepost, you know it didn’t get there by itself.
God isn’t interested in great people (there aren’t any). God is interested in available people.
So, don’t tell God how fortunate he is to have you. It will only make him laugh. Just tell God that you’re available . . . and then watch what wonderful and surprising things he will do through you.