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On becoming a castaway

By MICHAEL J. BROOKS / Guest Columnist

I saw it recently in 2 John—a letter so small Chuck Swindoll called it a postcard. John said the church mustn’t tolerate false teaching or false teachers or they’d lose their reward (2 John 1:8). John didn’t explain what he meant by reward, but it reminded me of his fellow apostle, Paul, who used athletic terminology to describe the rigors of the Christian life.

Paul said he disciplined his body like an athlete. He wished to run his spiritual race according to the rules and avoid being disqualified.

The familiar King James version uses the word “castaway” (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27). It’s hard to imagine Paul being “thrown out of the game,” but he insisted this could happen.

I’ve known a few castaways over the years.

I heard one of them on my iPod lately. He was at the top of the charts in Christian music, but then disappeared for a while. He’s back now with what a friend affectionately calls “the old guys” Bill Gaither brought together. This artist readily admits his fall into alcohol addiction. He was disqualified, but found his way back.

The late Bob Harrington, “The Chaplain of Bourbon Street,” was one of my mentors when I was a young person. His daughter, Rhonda Kelley, spoke on our campus years ago, and I had opportunity during one mealtime to delve into his story with her. She said her dad left his ministry and his family in 1978. He became a motivational speaker, using his gifts of communication and humor at business conferences and conventions throughout the nation. He drove expensive automobiles and wore diamond rings as symbols of success.

“The lavish lifestyle he was living wasn’t satisfying, and he knew the truth — he’d preached the truth for years,” Rhonda told me. “And another factor was that horrible night when Dad was mugged after a speaking engagement. He was in the hospital and thought he was going to die. He didn’t want to die in the condition he was in.”

A broken Harrington moved back to New Orleans in 1995 and checked into a rescue mission where he’d often preached as the “Chaplain of Bourbon Street.” And thus began a long process of restoration.

Several years ago we were planning an evangelistic event in Perry County, Alabama. Harrington called one of our committee members and asked that he be considered for evangelist. He explained that he wanted to go back to places he’d preached in the past, to ask for forgiveness and to proclaim the mercy of God.

We serve a merciful God, indeed. But it’s much better not to think we’re invulnerable and not to make foolish choices, disappointing God and others and becoming castaways.

Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.

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