The 2008 Olympics in Beijing certainly illustrated “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” as well as any competition, perhaps better. Even those who were not usually sports fans watched and cheered for their country’s athletes, but there were two events that were especially hard for USA fans to watch. In the men’s and women’s 400-meter relays, both teams were disqualified for dropping the baton. High hopes were dashed when Darvis Patton tried to hand the baton to anchor Tyson Gay and it fell to the wet track. Less than 30 minutes later, the same thing happened in the attempted handoff from Torri Edwards to anchor Lauryn Williams. The men stopped running, but Lauryn went back, picked up the baton and ran to finish more than 6 seconds behind the Belgium winner.
When interviewed afterwards, none of the runners could explain it. “I don’t know what happened” was a common reply, but all four runners had to step up to share the blame. You can be sure the film will be analyzed thoroughly and great efforts will be made to keep this from happening again. Eight runners, their coaches and a whole nation were terribly frustrated and discouraged.
Passing the baton is a great metaphor for what we do in a wide variety of circumstances, in our families, in our careers and in our churches. Whatever it is that is valuable to us is what we deliver to others, especially our children, our grandchildren and those who look to us for guidance. Christian believers don’t have to ponder long to know it is their faith in Christ and its predictable obedience which they want to pass along, with all the blessings which follow. We know the words of Paul to fathers in Ephesians 6:4 about our children. “Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” How are you doing in passing that baton?
A tragic example of another dropped baton can be seen in the story of Richard F. Scruggs, one of the best known plaintiff lawyers in Mississippi. He was sentenced in June 2008 to 5 years in prison for conspiring to bribe a judge for $50,000 in a fee dispute hearing. Friends describe him as a charming man who dressed impeccably, a phenomenal lawyer. His brother-in-law is Trent Lott, former Republican senator, and he is well connected to both political parties. One said, “The sad thing here is that he didn’t need to cheat the system.” Other lawyers were involved and they were sentenced as well, but the really sad thing is that Richard’s own son, Zachary, was also involved and pled guilty. The judge who handed down the sentence to Scruggs called his crime “reprehensible.”
What strikes me as especially tragic in this story is the impact this father had on his son. From highly respected and well recognized in his legal profession, he fell to become a prison inmate and he took his son with him. Surely it wasn’t for the money; he probably has plenty. But, I’m guessing the blinding pride of winning somehow justified the crime, at least temporarily. Did he pass the baton successfully? If he did, it was the wrong baton.
Not one of us is immune from such temptation and such sin. We have no stones to throw! But, we must hear the challenge to stay the course. Despite setbacks, losses in the courtroom or elsewhere, or any other obstacle, we must hold firmly to our faith in Jesus Christ and pass that faith like a baton to others who run the next leg. The Olympic relay runners will have other chances to redeem themselves in other races. I pray Richard Scruggs can do the same, by the grace of God, and I pray each of us will not drop the baton of faith, for our children, colleagues and fellow Christians.
Article copyright (c) 2009 by Charles G. Mickey. All rights reserved.
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