Thursday, December 28, 2006

From Swagger To Stagger

The Pittsburg Steelers bulldozed their way through opponents into a National Football League SuperBowl championship last year.

This year, they didn't even make the playoffs.

The Indianapolis Colts team won 13 straight NFL regular-season games last year, seemingly with ease, then collapsed against the mediocre San Diego Chargers. The Colts started off the 2006 season with 9 straight wins, exhibiting more flashes of greatness.

Yet now, their hopes for a bye before the playoffs start depend on at least one other team.

After winning two Masters Tournaments and a PGA Championship, Phil Mickelson made such an egregious error on the final hole of the 2006 U.S. Open that he groaned "I can't believe I did that. I am such an idiot!"

Not exactly the sort of statement one would want to hang his legacy on.

From the defeat of the NBA's Lakers at the hands of the Detroit Pistons to the knockout of Mike Tyson by a then-unknown Buster Douglas, the sports world is replete with such tales of catastrophic cave-ins.

What is it that causes such devastating crash-and-burn by some of the greatest men and women in their respective fields?

The same thing that causes preachers to stumble: we forget how we got here.

After winning the 1999 PGA Championship, Tiger Woods then won six of the next ten PGA majors, establishing himself as one of the greatest in the sport. He fired his swing coach, Butch Harmon, and promptly went into a downward spiral, not winning a major for almost a three-year drought. It wasn’t Harmon that was playing the game, true...but it was Harmon who coached Tiger to the #1 spot in the game.

Many preachers fail not because they are tempted to sin, but because they forget their beginnings. We are cautious enough---and well-rehearsed enough---to quickly state "I give God all the glory" when someone makes a kind remark about our ministry. Yet the harsh reality is that we all tend to dip our hand in the till from time to time.

God bestows upon His servants honor from time to time; scripture even states "Give honor to whom it is due". There is quite a difference, however, in allowing God to honor us (however He chooses) and attempting to share in His Glory. God flatly states, "My glory will I not give to another."

Notice that scripture states in Rom. 12:3 that "...every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly..." This does not mean we are to grovel as abject failures. It does point out, however, that we are to keep things in proper perspective. We should be proud to be called to serve God, but always mindful that, except for His grace, we would be as hopelessly lost as the wretch clutching a wine bottle in the gutter.

The short walk from swaggering to staggering begins when we forget how we got to where we are, regardless of where that may be in our personal life or ministry. Some have been allowed to reach lofty heights of recognition, yet they still maintain an humble spirit. Others, strangely enough, may find themselves wallowing in obscurity, unknown to anyone but their own community, yet God is unable to promote them to greater ministry, because they feel they've reached these accomplishments (however small they may be) all on their own merit.

Certainly there are few (if any!) that would negate the necessity of prayer and study, of keeping in touch with God. However, there seems to be a trend to lean on the feeble crutch of technology, a reliance on reading extracurricular materials, rather than a total dependence upon God and His Word. Let us never forget that time spent with God is how we began this journey into ministry!

I was once moved in the Spirit to scribble in the margin of my bible these words: "No man is so strong as the one who is helplessly dependent on God." The apostle Paul was a man who had everything to brag about, yet his attitude was "I count all things but dung, that I may win Christ." In spite of all he had to proffer his hearers---a rich Hebrew heritage, Pharisee credentials, and even "third-heaven" spiritual revelations---Paul never forget his Damascus experience.

Have I forgotten mine?

Oh to be so consumed with "winning Christ" that nothing else matters! Yet I fear that failure will not be the enemy to destroy our preachers nearly so much as success will.

It is but a short journey from confidence to collapse. If we ever forget that it is God who brought us to this point, we will discover that our swagger dissolves with lightning speed into the pathetic stagger of a helpless cripple with nothing to offer.

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