January 7, 2008

Spiritual Steroids
By Pastor George Van Alstine

There’s a lot of negative attention these days on baseball, America’s “National Pastime.â€? Pitching star Roger Clemens has been all over TVs and newspapers with indignant denials that his record-breaking career has been aided by injections of performance enhancing drugs. His case is just the tip of a gigantic iceberg, for the Mitchell Commission report has named over eighty past and current Major League players.

What’s the fuss? What’s so bad about using these drugs to improve your performance as an athlete? There are three issues that are mentioned as concerns:
(1) Competition is unfair because users of these drugs have an unequal advantage. This is the basis for questions about baseball records with asterisks and eligibility for the Hall of Fame.
(2) The positive effect of sports figures as clean role models is compromised, and young people are influenced to cheat and lower other moral standards.
(3) The user ultimately suffers physical and emotional harm from prolonged use, with possible damage to various important organs, compromise to reproductive functions, and mental health issues, such as depression.

This is a big, big problem for baseball, and it’s not likely to be resolved very quickly. What may have started fairly innocently with the use of simple stimulants, has escalated into a multi-million dollar industry in which trainers and medical doctors act as enablers, as designer drugs become more and more sophisticated.

Paul’s New Testament letters include many references to the self-control and intense training athletes of his day had to endure to achieve their goals. He compares this highly-charged competitive spirit to the kind of approach believers in Christ should take in the cultivation of their spiritual lives. The strength to endure persecution and the skill to witness effectively in stress situations do not come to believers automatically. They are developed only through consistent, rigorous training, as the follower of Jesus takes seriously the challenge to be his disciple, putting aside many other diversions.

In our day, Christian leaders have developed some “betterâ€? strategies than those offered in the New Testament. They have developed Spiritual Steroids of a variety of types. We are told how we can use shortcuts to become prime spiritual athletes by following certain Christian stars, by participating in the latest supercharged spiritual event, or by following the newest fad in how-to Christian books. Avoid the sweat and strain. Be a super-Christian after one injection.

These Spiritual Steroids are harmful for the same three reasons as performance enhancing drugs are:
(1) Users seem to be as advanced in the faith as those believers who consistently follow the less-dramatic but Christ-ordained training program for disciples, but they really aren’t.
(2) As role models, they mislead younger believers into following the same shortcuts.
(3) In the end, they are left unhealthy, misshapen, sometimes even hollow inside.

There is only one true training program for disciples of Jesus, and it is long, hard and continual. No shortcuts. No Spiritual Steroids.

Is there an asterisk next to your name in God’s Book of Life?