FINISHING WITH YOUR TORCH STILL LIT?
The Greek Olympic games originally started with a race, an unusual race, one that did not have the goal of being the first to cross the finish line, but actually to be the first to cross the finish line "with your torch still lit!" This race was called the "lampadadromia". The winner had the honor of "lighting the Olympic Torch". In His own words, Jesus, in the Book of Revelation, more or less exhorted His Church to give heed to their passion and devotion in the last days to ensure that their witness did not find itself "non existent" when it was needed most. In Matthew 26:12, warning about the coming trend of the last days, He warned his disciples that those days would be days where "the love of many would wax cold". He told the Church of Ephesus that the dangerous process was already in germ form because they were "losing their first love" (Rev. 2:4). By the time he addressed the last of the seven churches, Laodicea, all he could say was they were much further down the road in their departure from spiritual life and zeal, for now they "were lukewarm" and nauseating to their Lord, who was about to "spew them from His mouth!" Our Lord's words were a prophetic exhortation to us to keep a constant vigil on our heart to insure we keep the spiritual fires burning and not go the "way of waning" predicted of the majority in the last days.
What do we need to be watchful about in these last days to prevent the fire from flickering? Jesus, if we take a close look at His words in Matthew 24:12 said, the major cause of the "love of many waxing cold" was the ever "abounding trend of iniquity"-(anomia=lawlessness). We all know that fires only continue to burn brightly when they are stoked, fueled and fanned. A fire that is neglected will begin to wane and eventually go out. It is a process. It is like the sink-hole complex. Gradually underground river begins to dry up. That leaves a hollow cavern. Then with the continued weight above ground causes a slow sinking and shifting process. Then collapse and disaster. The same is true of the fire in a Christian's life. The fuel feeding the flame dwindles. Soon the flame grows smaller and weaker. Then in flickers, goes out, only leaving a glowing ember that is growing cooler by the moment. John Wesley wrote his mother Susanna Wesley to ask her to define sin for him. She wrote back, "whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself". James said it a little differently, "whatever divides the mind...and should be done and is not done is sin"(James 1:7 and 4:17). Paul said it this way "whatever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). In other words the Christian has to "keep fueling his mind and heart with spiritual things" to fan the flame. To become distracted with worldly, sinful, or even non-edifying things can take away the spiritual edge, and lead to the reduction of our first love.
Several years ago I had a Pastor friend teach me how to play racquet ball. In teaching me to play in competition with him I asked him to "go slow" and "take it easy on me". Without hesitation he let me know, in no uncertain terms, he would never do that! He could never do that! To do that would reduce the level he had become skilled at playing at. I thought that I would never learn to play- with him teaching me! Actually he was one of the best teachers I could have ever had. He taught me not just how to play the game, but the way the game "ought" to be played. We know that in order to live healthy and productive lives we need to practice eating healthy meals every day. We are what we eat. We can develop good eating habits with balanced nutritious diets. Keeping that appetite trained and balanced is essential to strength, energy, and proper weight management. Nothing is more detrimental to our health than to desert healthy eating habits for one filled with junk food. It not only will hurt our health, but will dull our appetite for good healthy food. The same is true in the spiritual realm.
One story that expresses this truth is that of Russian author Fyodor Dostoevesky. He was twenty-five and had already captured the hearts of Russia with his novel Poor Folk. Fame quickly went to his head. He drank immoderately and partied wildly. He carelessly criticized the Czarist regime. You did not do that in Czarist Russia. He was arrested in St. Petersburg and sentenced to death by firing squad. It was a cold December morning. Dressed in a white execution gown, he was led to the wall of the prison courtyard with the others. Blindfolded, he waited for the last sound he would hear, the crack of a pistol echoing off the prison walls. Instead he heard steps, and then the announcement that the Czar had commuted his sentence to ten years of hard labor. He was so taken by the moment he suffered an epileptic seizure, something he would live with the rest of his life. In prison in Siberia he was allowed only a New Testament to read. There he discovered something more wonderful, more true than his socialistic ideals. He met Christ, and his heart was changed. Upon leaving prison he wrote to a friend who had helped him grow in Christ:
"To believe that there is nothing more beautiful, more profound, more sympathetic, more reasonable, more manly, and more perfect than Christ. Not only is there nothing, but I tell myself with a jealous love, that there can be nothing. Besides, if anyone proved to me that Christ was outside the truth and it really was so, that the truth was outside Christ, then I would prefer to remain with Christ, than with the truth". Oh how he loved Jesus!
When he was released from prison he returned to civilian life. He wrote feverously his prison memories-The House of the Dead. Then he wrote Crime and Punishment. These were followed by many other works. But his Church attendance became non-existant. He stopped reading his Bible. He neglected Christian fellowship. No Christian took him under their wing for discipleship. He began to drink, only moderately at first. Then gambling occasionally. Gradually he lost all appetite for spiritual things. Excessive drinking and compulsive gambling soon squeezed the Christ he had loved so from his life entirely. He died penniless and wasted. He left prison with his flame lit. He died with nothing more than smoldering embers. That is the danger of the trend Jesus warned us about in these last days. Jesus formula-Remember at all times that first love. Repent if you sense any change in the "passion for Him" and Return to those earlier days. To neglect, even briefly, is to start a slippery slope that can end in spiritual disaster. Run the race! Keep Your Flame Burning Brightly!