Tag Archives: suffering

A Question of Where

As we all endure a seemly endless barrage of bad news, including hurricanes in the south, wildfires in the west, racial unrest throughout the country and a pandemic across the globe, some may be wondering where God might be found in all of this.   It may be tempting to think that the creator and designer of all we know and sense is somehow detached or disinterested in the travails besetting the inhabitants of our little planet.  It might be rationalized that God has bigger things to address than the challenges we are currently being forced to endure.  In the fog of uncertainty, it is only natural to wonder why God seems still and silent.

It is the same feeling that the first followers of Jesus experienced and are recorded in Mark 4:35-41.  After engaging with a crowd of people earlier in the day, as evening approached Jesus felt it was time for him and the twelve to cross the Sea of Galilee.  While they were sailing a furious squall develops and nearly swamps the boat.  Can you imagine being one of a dozen people in a fishing boat, at night, in the middle of a lake, at the height of a high-wind thunderstorm?  What would you shout to God, who is peacefully sleeping (and apparently oblivious) through this life-threatening ordeal?

‘Teacher, is it no concern to you that we are perishing?’ Mark 4:38

I have to wonder how many times, in the crucible of distress, I have thought the same thing.  It is a natural human reaction to the difficulties of life.  Is it, though, a reasoned reaction for a person of faith to express?

The disciple of Jesus refers to Jesus as ‘teacher’, which is an accurate title for him.  But, I wonder, what meaning or relationship the term ‘teacher’ conveys.  It is natural to see Jesus as a guide, an instructor, or as a trainer.  Certainly, the scriptures give ample examples of the teachings Jesus conveyed, including the lessons taught just prior to their departure on this sea cruise.  But the primary role of Jesus was not teacher, for he essentially restated the doctrines and commands of the Old Testament, albeit with uncommon authority and unexpected application.  Jesus’ primary role was to show humanity the love of the Father though the giving of his life as a ransom for many.  If we are unable to see our relationship with Jesus as anything more than instructional, we will be blinded to his divine salvation.

The disciple of Jesus then asks him if our destruction is of any concern to him.  If we are expecting our relationship with Christ to be essentially functional – telling us what we need to know and how we are to act – then it will come as no surprise that we question his unwillingness to offer support when our lives are not working as we think they ought.  However, as any parent knows, apparent inaction is not a lack of concern but an opportunity for maturity.  Is it no concern to you that your baby keeps falling over as it learns to walk?   Is it no concern to you that your child may make bad choices as they go out with their friends?  Jesus’ response to the men in the boat with him is telling – ‘Have you still no faith?’  Our life is a concern to Jesus, as is our growth.

Besides, that boat was never going to sink.  Jesus made his dwelling on earth so that he would save his people from their sins.  Dying in a boating accident was not part of the irrevocable plan of God.  Despite the howl of the winds or the height of the waves, the lives of the boaters were never truly in jeopardy.  We would be wise to remember the promises of God as we respond to the pains of the world.  Those who know Jesus as the beloved Messiah can rest in the promise relayed by someone who happened to be in the boat that night, for Peter wrote, ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)

As I endure this season of suffering, I pray my response will be, ‘Lord, thank you for the opportunity to grow and fulfill your purposes for me.’

Time for Change

It is amazing how fast time flies!  This weekend, for half of my children, will mark the end of Summer and school vacation.  My daughter will begin her new school year (teaching remotely 443 miles from her 5th grade students) on Monday and my middle son will move into his on-campus apartment for the Fall semester on Wednesday.  Our youngest son has been blessed with an academic reprieve, for his remote learning classes will not resume for another three weeks.

In many ways it seems like forever since David came home – theoretically for his freshman year’s Spring break – on March 5th, since 6th grade classes moved on-line for Joshua beginning March 16th, and since Rebekah’s truncated senior year of college and student teaching moved to remote and she drove home from Washington on March 17th.  As an added blessing, throughout the Spring and Summer we have also seen our oldest son an average of twice a week.  I cannot imagine another season of life when we will have this much shared time together.  But now, the times, they are a-changing.  The passage from August to September, for me this year, will be bitter-sweet.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: […] a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance….   Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 (NIV)

As I contemplate the change of season – meteorological and metaphorical – it causes me to pause and posit what the coming days may bring.  What will be the activity of this new time and season: weeping, laughing, mourning, dancing?  Are the days to be filled with disaster or delight, or some combination of both?  My guess: as it has been over the first 240 days of 2020, it will be for its remaining 126.  There have been and there will be those whose days, like mine, are filled with more laughter than tears and there are those whose days are filled with just the opposite.

Each of us have differing experiences and unique contexts in which we navigate the challenges and charms this life has to offer.  Because of this reality, we must allow empathy, the ability to feel for another without feeling as another, to be our guide when interacting with one another.  We all have grieved a loss (of life, of livelihood or of liberty) at some point this year and we all have needed compassion.  We all have enjoyed a blessing (through nature, through new life, or through neighbors) during this pandemic and we all have appreciated companionship.  Each of us will also continue to shed tears of sorrow and tears of joy in September and beyond, and we all must allow others the space to express themselves, unrestrained, before us.

The coming days, for me, will be tough as we transition from life fully together toward life beginning to move us apart.  The coming days, for you, are likely to be different emotionally.  I am glad we have each other as we rejoice together and as we grieve together.  There is a time for everything, just like the weather in New England.  If you are unhappy with what is occurring around you, just wait a minute with a friend.

Defining Love

Like an estimated 102 million other people, I watched the Super Bowl a few week ago.  It was a great end to the NFL season.  However, what will remain with me for much longer than the play on the field was a particularly moving commercial that ran relatively early in the broadcast.  Paid for by New York Life, it began by stating that the ancient Greeks had four words for love.  According to the advertisement:

  • “Philia is affection that grows from friendship”;
  • “Storgé – the kind [of love] you have for a grandparent or a brother”;
  • “Eros – the uncontrollable urge to say ‘I love you’”; and
  • “Agapé, the most admirable – love as an action; it takes courage, sacrifice, and strength.”

Maybe it was the mention of ancient Greek, a language with which I wrestle for comprehension every week.  Maybe it was the powerful visuals of the varied aspects of love.  Whatever the reason, I was captivated by the commercial and its message: that love takes action.

Fast-forward twelve days to today, Valentine’s Day, the (inter)national holiday celebrating love.  I wonder, in light of this commercial, which love we are celebrating as we exchange cards?  Are we appreciating the love of our friends, or our family, or our ‘significant other’, or those who sacrifice to provide all that we require?  It is likely that today will be, to some degree, a recognition of the first three loves, but especially focused on our romantic loves.  Restaurants will be patronized, florists will be utilized and confectioners will be supported.

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7

At the same time, there will be many celebrating Valentine’s Day in other ways and in other places.  They will visit the nursing home and spoon-feed their mom supper.  They will drop by a cemetery and pull the weeds around their husband’s marker.  They will assist their daughter into a transport van and accompany her to physical therapy.  They will sit in the hospital with their 8-year old son as he undergoes treatment for leukemia.  These are the ones who will be demonstrating agapé love today, and tomorrow, not because it is Valentine’s Day, but because that is what ‘love as an action’ looks like.

I hope that everyone who is reading this has a Valentine, someone who will say to you today (with accoutrements or not), “I love you”.  I hope you will enjoy a Whitman Sampler or a Reese’s heart, a nice candle-lit prix-fixe dinner, or a bouquet of lilies.  I pray even more that everyone who is reading this today has someone who has shown them agapé – that sacrificial, surrendering, willful emptying of themselves for the sake of another.  I am blessed to know that kind of love.  I pray you are as well.

Happy St. Valentine’s Day (or in Greek, ευτυχισμένη ημέρα του Αγίου Βαλεντίνου)!

Any Given Sunday, on a Thursday

I had the great privilege last Thursday of joining my oldest son in celebrating his birthday by going to Gillette Stadium in order to watch the Patriots compete against the New York Giants.   Neither of us had ever seen the Patriots play anywhere other than on television.   It was, in many ways, an unforgettable experience.  We got to see Tom Brady’s completion to Sony Michel, making him the quarterback with the second-most passing yards in NFL history; we got to see a punt blocked and passes intercepted;  we got to see a win and the team we root for remain undefeated.  We got to see it all.  And it was glorious…mostly.

The traffic getting to the game was heavy.  We followed the back roads, knowing the highways would be crammed.  As we approached Foxboro, we were greeted with brake lights and orange cones.  We crept, along with hundreds of other cars, toward the parking lots.  Finally, we arrived in Lot 50, a quarter of a mile walk from the stadium.

The costs attributable to the game (tickets, parking and concessions) were substantial.  We paid $30 for parking and much more for second-market tickets.  We walked past the concession stands and decided to take a pass of a $10 malt beverage.  There was over-priced fare at other stands as well as team merchandise at the Pro Shop kiosks.  We could have easily dropped $1,000 during the night.

The comfort level of the seating was lacking.  We had to walk to our 3rd tier seats, zigzagging along the access ramps and climbing the stairs of our section.  After we adjusted to the perspective from being so high, we crammed our legs into the plastic formed seats.  Sitting in the elements (the weather was windy but dry that night), we were surrounded by every kind of fan – everyone from the loud and obnoxious to the quiet and casual.

The quality of what was presented was spotty.  The game itself was average.  There were an equal number of good and poor plays.  The Giants are not a team of great talent, and they played as expected.  It was a good game, but not much of it would be highlighted on SportsCenter.

The time involved in participating was excessive.  We left the hose at 4:30 and returned home at 2 in the morning.  While we didn’t tailgate, we could have (the parking lots open 4 hours before kickoff).  The game was a wonderful three hours or so.  The inching along in the parking lot to get onto route 1 was a frustrating 90 minutes.  It was a long and glorious night.

The experience was wonderful.  I got to spend time with someone I love doing something we love together.

… not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:25 (NIV)

Why is it that 65,000 people can withstand the traffic, the cost, the time and the discomfort of a mediocre football game, but cannot do the same for a worship service at a local church?  I understand that the two experiences are not the same for many – our NFL experience was a once-in-a-lifetime experience – but I am puzzled that so many (especially season ticket holders) would risk rain and snow and spend large amounts of money and time to watch men play a game instead of attending a worship service.  Why is it that some would relish the petty annoyances of traffic and parking lot gridlock while others will not tolerate a longer message and a service extended past 12:15?

Thanks for letting me rant.  If you ever choose to come to Calvary, I promise that the parking will be free.

“Right Here in River City”

As I mentioned in my previous post, we will be moving next weekend.  It has been a trying three years at our most-recent residence.  There have been sweet and wonderful times (three years of birthdays and Christmases, living under the same roof with a wide variety of pleasant co-renters and celebrating a graduation), but the preponderance of our memories will likely be less than stellar (terrible neighbors, ubiquitous ride-share vehicles blocking the driveway and  a year-long aroma of cannabis in the stairways).  Within the cookie-cutter walls of the cookie-cutter Dorchester triple-decker we had our fair share of joy and love, despite the near-constant attacks seeking to steal them.

All this is, I suppose, the facts of life.  As the ‘80’s television theme song told me each week: “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life, the facts of life.”  Those who have more cultured tastes may also know the words of a Longfellow poem: “Thy fate is the common fate of all, into each life some rain must fall….”  Life is a mix of pleasantries and unpleasantries, of dreams and nightmares; our only hope is that the good outweighs the bad and the sun outlasts the clouds.

Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  2 Corinthians 4:16-17

Paul tells us that our light and momentary troubles (which in the previous sentence is connected to ‘wasting away’) are achieving, or more literally working out, an all-surpassing glory.  Paul is saying, in essence, that the difficulties of our earthly existence are preparing us to fully enjoy the abundant life given through Christ.  Honestly, this concept frustrates me, mainly because I do not see my troubles as light and/or momentary; I see them as the contrary.  Being accosted by neighbors is not a light affliction and being bombarded by the cacophony of weekend partiers is not a momentary problem.

I can only assume that Paul is speaking comparatively and not qualitatively.  I can only reason that when we focus on the glorious future the Lord has secured for us, our everyday difficulties will seem insignificant.  When I set my eyes on the place that Jesus has prepared for us in His Father’s house, the troubles I have with my earthly dwelling are meager and the troubles I have with my neighbors are fleeting.

I have no idea what we will find in our new habitation, so we may be jumping from the frying pan and into the fire.  While I hope that is not the case, for I know that this new house will not be my final home.  And while I hope that the good days far outnumber the bad, I know that some trouble will follow me, as if I had boxed them up and drove them to the new address myself.  But I also know that they will never be too heavy or too long that I will be overcome, and what awaits me over the horizon, many years from now, will one day outweigh them all.

The Way of Lament

In recent days I have been wondering what the appropriate response might be for a follower of Christ to have in addressing the pressing concerns reported through news outlets.  I have been asking myself what Jesus might do and say in the aftermath of mass shootings (and the correlated issues of gun-ownership and our cultural love of violence) or child detainment at the borders (and the correlated issues of asylum and systemic racism).  My response cannot be simply adding a hashtag to social media posts or offering “thoughts and prayers” – although thinking about these issues and praying for their rightful resolution is a good first step as long as other steps follow quick behind.  But where are my feet to fall?

There are two things I know:  that I cannot do nothing and that I cannot rely on political powers to legislate a solution.  If I have learned anything from expositing the “One Another” passages of the New Testament each Sunday this summer, it is that God commands us to care deeply for one another, so doing nothing in light of real suffering is not an option.  I have also learned that soundbites and speeches rarely foster compromise, so waiting for Washington is also not an option.  I have decided instead to turn to God and His word to find wisdom in this time of need.

Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament.  Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.  Psalm 5:1-2 (NIV)

According to the Dictionary of Bible Themes, a lament is “a song of mourning or sorrow.”  The scriptures are rife with lamentation, typically taking a particular form: a crying out in sorrow, an acceptance of evil, an acknowledgement that things are not following God’s will and a trust that God will ultimately be glorified.  I reckon that the right response is to offer up to God a lament, just like David, Solomon, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Amos did in their day.  We, as the people of God, need to cry out in mourning, acknowledging that these acts of violence and exclusion are not part of God’s created order and accepting that God is our only hope of resolution.

“Lord, hear my cry.  Weapons of war have been amassed by individuals with the sole intent of bringing havoc and harm.  Small but vocal portions of Your creation are intent on dividing us through irrelevant distinctions and minimizing the intrinsic value of all those who bear Your image.  This is not what You desire; our hearts are broken because Your heart breaks over our sin.

“Lord, hear my cry.  I seek Your beauty and Your glory in these days.  I know that You are close to the widow and the orphan, and that You have regard for the plight of the sojourner.  I long for my spirit to reflect Yours.  I know that You desire that Your children repent and turn away from evil.  I know that we who are inhabitants of Your kingdom are aliens and strangers in this foreign land.  Enable us to turn from our sinful ways and honor Your purposes for us.

Lord, hear my cry.  You alone can change the human heart.  You alone can turn us from hostility to hospitality.  You alone are our hope.  Help me to no longer rely on human strength or invention to solve what only You can make right.  And while I wait for Your hand to make all things right, equip me to obediently carry out Your redemptive plan among those with whom You have blessed me.  In the name of the Lord, I pray.  Amen.”

Nail’d It!

Recently, I have been watching a captivating show on Netflix called “Nail’d It!”  According to the streaming service’s website, the program is described in this way: “Home bakers with a terrible track record take a crack at re-creating edible masterpieces for a $10,000 prize.  It’s part reality contest, part hot mess.”  Here is what happens during each 30-minute episode: three amateur home cooks, with limited time, resources and experience try to copy baked goods worthy of Pinterest created by professional bakers with unlimited time, resources and experience.  The facsimiles never quite match the originals, but that is what makes the show so delightful.  The home bakers work so hard and fail so often, incurring the good-natured ribbing of the diverse panel of judges.  Yes, the end-products are woefully awful in comparison, but they are also delightfully ambitious.

This show appeals to be because it turns a particular cultural fascination on its head – capturing perfection through a post on social media.  There are millions of selfies that go unposted because of some imperceptible flaw that the sole picture posted does not contain.  There are hours devoted to staging furniture and furnishings so that uploaded photos of real estate are displayed in the best light.  We rarely expose our sub-par efforts, let alone our failures, to the scrutiny of public opinion.  Unless it is perfect, we are left to assume it is without value.  Social media has created a cultural expectation of quality where ‘good’ is rarely good enough.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15

I think Paul would have a tough time adapting to our culture, replete with social media’s expectations of perfection.  When he wrote to Timothy, he encourages him to give his best effort and, therefore, never feel needless shame.  He did not say that Timothy should cover the façade of life’s messiness with a veneer of superficial perfection, pretending that he could master every aspect of life and ministry.  Perhaps there is a blessing in knowing that we cannot do everything perfectly, but that we can always do our best.  Life is not expected to look like a magazine photo-shoot.  Life is often troubling to look at and imprecise, and that should be okay.

One of the more redemptive aspects of “Nail’d It!” is that the judges place a value on presentation, but they also value taste.  If it doesn’t look pretty but is delicious, the judges may still declare that entry the winner.  Mastering the fundamentals of baking counts for something.   Mastering the fundamentals of life and living counts, too.  This is true when it comes to relationships, service, ministry, faith, communication, compassion and about a million other things.  There is something deeply biblical in that.  Life does not always look pretty but treating the ingredients of life and living properly will, at worst, make it palatable.  Handled properly, it may even be delicious.

The cake with the elevated teapot is not the norm.  The photo of the beachside sunset is not typical.  The brochure with all the smiling faces is probably not real.  But the simple cake, the salt air and the full spectrum of human emotions are what life is composed of…and often times it is delicious.

Making the Grade

My family and I missed church on Sunday – skipped church, actually – and did something else that morning.  We all still got up early, donned our ‘Sunday best’, shared breakfast together and drive to the Matthews Arena on the campus of Northeastern University.  It was there that we remained for the next four or so hours, along with the other friends and family members of the 2019 graduating class of Boston Latin Academy.  After a regal processional, greetings from dignitaries, speeches and special presentations from students, and addresses from the Suffolk County District Attorney and the school’s Headmaster, we finally saw our son (and brother and grandson), David, receive his High School diploma.

While it may sound like boasting, the truth is that my children, including David, are (extremely) bright.  That being said, education has not come easily for David.  In second grade he was referred to and treated for dyslexia at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Health Professions’ Speech, Language and Literacy Center and shortly after that was diagnosed with ADHD.  Still, despite these difficulties, David showed sufficient aptitude to warrant acceptance into one of Boston Public School’s exam schools.  Throughout his time at BLA, David experienced academic highs (honor roll and advanced placement) and lows (a month-long drudgery called summer school).  As I watched he who has become a young man graduate from High School, my thoughts brought me back to the frequently frustrating times we endured together over the past 13 years as a result of homework or clinic work or parent-teacher conferences.  Those frustrations seem to have disappeared as I witnessed him hide behind his diploma, victorious.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.  James 1:12

The Bible says that those who withstand the trials that test us will be awarded the prize.  I witnessed that, first-hand, on Sunday.   I’d like to think that David’s days of testing are through (I’d like to think that about myself as well), but I know that for all of us, each day brings with it their challenges.  There will continue to be peaks and valleys along his path, but now he has evidence that hard work pays off and perseverance has its rewards.  He has tasted victory, and I hope that will whet his appetite for the next chapter (pursuing a BS in computer science at Fitchburg State University).  I could not be prouder of David than I am right now…he is an overcomer!

We all have things that do not come easy: education, relationships, socialization, coordination, just to name a few.  Fight through those things, persevere and battle with all the strength and resolve you can muster, knowing that they may never be mastered but they can be overcome.  Remember that there will come a day that we will receive the just compensation for enduring the necessary struggles that accompany our successes.  And, after you’ve endured and come out the other side, I hope there is someone there to witness it and cheer for you.

On behalf of my family, we say ‘thank you’ to all who helped David achieve this significant milestone.

Bee Perfect

Last Thursday night, I was captivated by a contest televised on ESPN: the 92nd Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.  Let me say that I am not an advocate for the cultural predilection toward presenting  “participation awards” (the ubiquitous practice of giving everyone on the team a trophy, regardless of the score); both winning and losing has the ability to build character and excellence ought to be recognized.  So, as I began watching the ‘evening finals’, beginning with round nine where sixteen children were still competing, I was very-much looking forward to seeing a champion crowned and the other 15 children cheered as they walked off the stage, defeated but undaunted.

The ninth round of words was perfectly executed – all 16 mastered the words they were given.  Then, over the next 5 rounds, eight participants misspelled their word and exited the competition.  At that point, the remaining eight spellers broke the system, correctly spelling the next 47 words.  It was announced at one point that they were running out of words and, after a few more rounds, all those still spelling would win.  After a total of 20 rounds, the directors of the bee declared all the remaining contestants the winner of the competition.  Rishik Gandhasri, age 13 (who spelled ‘auslaut’), Erin Howard, 14 (‘erysipelas’), Saketh Sundar, 13 (‘bougainvillea’), Shruthika Padhy, 13 (‘aiguillette’), Sohum Sukhatankar, 13 (‘pendeloque’), Abhijay Kodali, 12 (‘palama’) Christopher Serrao, 13 (‘cernuous’) and Rohan Raja, 13 (‘odylic’) all walked away with the $50,000 and the trophy as champions of the National Spelling Bee.

This was not, in any way, a participation award.  It was a pronouncement of excellence, as each one perfectly executed the task before them.  These eight great spellers finished the competition without error and were declared the winner.  The unfolding of this competition reminded me of the words of Paul to the church in Corinth:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.  1 Corinthians 9:24

These young competitors all expected that there would be only one winner and they prepared accordingly.  They competed to win the prize and they finished the competition in first place.  They won – they all won – together, giving one another High-fives and cheering on one another’s correct (always correct) efforts.   The rules of the competition did not change, only the fact that many finished perfectly, together.

In many ways, I saw a glimpse of the heavenly in the very early moments of May 31st.  The conclusion of the spelling bee reminded me of the concluding moments of life: we are diligently competing for the prize, surrounded by our fellow competitors, when the director of the race, the Lord Almighty, states that all who cross the finish line first will be declared winner.  At that moment, we interlock elbows and all step across the finish line together, all securing the prize.  We celebrate one another, realizing that we are not competing against the other runners, but the course itself.    All those still standing at the end will receive the prize.

One last word to spell:  H-A-L-L-E-L-U-J-A-H!

Losing After Winning

It was supposed to be the fastest two minutes in sports, but the Kentucky Derby turned out to be the longest 20 minutes in horse racing.   As a way of providing a quick recap from the race that took place a couple of weeks ago, here is what the stewards of Churchill Downs officially recorded:  the lead horse, Maximum Security, strayed from his lane and impacted the progress of another horse, War of Will, which in turn interfered with two others, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress; because of this infraction, Maximum Security was disqualified and considered not to have participated, and the second place finisher, a horse named Country House, was declared a winner.  Earlier this week, ten days after the race, the owners of Maximum Security filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the disqualification.

I have an insufficient knowledge of the rules of thoroughbred racing to posit an opinion about the merits of the disqualification or the lawsuit.  Was one horse’s veering from its path into the path of another sufficient cause to force the forfeiture of the substantial purse and the even more substantial legacy that goes with winning the Kentucky Derby?  I cannot say.  But then again, hypothetically, was my traveling ten miles over the speeding limit, along with everyone else, sufficient reason for a state police officer to cite me for speeding?  Hypothetically again, was my fabrication about a little thing like coffee consumption sufficient cause for people to question my truthfulness?

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.  1 Corinthians 9:27 (ESV)

Call it what you will: a competitive edge, a social construct, an ethical dilemma or a way of doing business; if it is unlawful, unethical or ungodly, it ought not to be done.  Those who do these things are in danger of disqualification.  Paul’s advice: stay in your lane.  He tells us the secret to his spiritual integrity – if it takes away from the message we are telling or tarnishes our witness to the gospel, it is not worth the price.  When we step over the line, we risk everything: it is possible that we could also forfeit our reward and forgo our legacy.

The antidote for disqualification is discipline or, as other translations put it, beating our bodies.  We need the Holy Spirit to ride us like a righteous jockey, coaxing us with the crop to continue running on the right track and spurring us on to expend our greatest effort and achieve God’s goal.   We need the Word of God to be a faithful trainer, strengthening us through resistance exercises and building our endurance through running the course.  We need the Church to be a constant companion, challenging us when we are slogging through the mud and encouraging us to finish the race.

We are so much more than racehorses.  We, who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, are children of the Almighty and we ought never do anything that might jeopardize our birthright – the crown of life reserved for the victor.  Trust the Holy Spirit, the Word of God and the Church to keep us on track and finish the race properly.