(…continued) In I Corinthians 10:11 Paul is referring to some Old Testament examples, listing several examples of disobedience and punishment. Paul then said, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us.” These are examples of what not to do. The Bible also, like Larry Elder (in yesterday’s meditation), tells stories of good examples. Paul is pointing to examples of temptations that were not resisted, and the unpleasant consequences that followed. But then Paul concludes the section by saying “God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” And just as we can be warned by the examples of those who have failed to meet life’s challenges, we can be encouraged and strengthened by reading and hearing about the examples of those who have endured and persevered and held up under life’s challenges. People like Elder’s doctor and Sam in the toll booth inspire us with their courage and dignity and strength. In the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews there are listed many good Biblical examples, and the writer says again and again that they were able to do such great things “by faith.”
The Bible encourages us to follow good examples, and it points to Jesus Christ as the most perfect example. This is not to say that anyone can even approach the kind of perfection that Jesus displayed, but we can look to him as an example of how life can best be lived. Philippians 2:1-2 says, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love (as Jesus), being one in spirit and purpose.” Look to Jesus as an example for life, says the New Testament, and also, we might add, look to those around you who in their lives display the kind of love and service and obedience and care that Jesus lived and taught. There are many things in the circumstances of our lives that we cannot choose, but we can choose how will respond to those circumstances; and, we can choose the kind of examples we will try to follow.
There is another lesson we can learn from Larry Elder’s stories. Everyone has their crosses to bear in this life. You know very well your own trials and tribulations, but you probably do not know what kind of crosses those around you are bearing. Larry Elder had gone to that doctor for many years, yet he never knew what heavy burdens that he went home to each evening. The Pennsylvania Turnpike commuters who line up at Sam’s booth for a smile and a kind word each day have no idea about the story of disappointment and pain that brought him to that job in that toll booth. And that Wal-Mart greeter might look like just another old lady to you, but she might be bearing her own cross with strength and dignity; perhaps going home to an invalid husband, or a sister with Alzheimer’s disease, or two grandchildren she is raising because her daughter is in drug treatment again. The main joy in her life just might come from her job and the occasional friendly person who doesn’t just grab the cart and look past her, but has a kind word and a cheerful smile for her.
Larry Elder’s on-line column is set up so that people can respond with their own comments. Most of the time those comments are not worth reading, and I usually don’t bother with them. But after reading this column I had a hunch that many people would be writing stories of their own. I was right. Many folks, from all over the country, responded similar accounts of such everyday heroes. They are all around us. In fact, we all, somewhere along the line, are challenged by life’s afflictions, and we are given the opportunity to respond with courage, commitment, duty, and most of all, faith.
Matthew 16:24 — Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
I Thessalonians 1:5b-7 — You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.
Philippians 2:1-2 — Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
Almighty God, you gave your Son as a sacrifice for sin and a model of the godly life. Enable us to receive him always with thanksgiving, and to conform our lives to his; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
—Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, page 74