De·rail [dee-reyl] . 1. to cause (a train, streetcar, etc.) to run off the rails of a track. 2. to cause to fail or become deflected from a purpose; reduce or delay the chances for success or development of:
Arnold Swarchenegger, Lance Armstrong and Joe Paterno. . .what do these names have in common? The answer to that question would depend upon when you asked it. If you asked that question in 2009, you might likely say that Swarchenegger, Armstrong and Paterno were all role models and men of accomplishment. They achieved success and acclaim in various walks of life.
Swarchenegger gained notoriety first as a champion body builder, then as a movie star and lastly as the two-time governor of California. Armstrong won admiration as the winner of seven consecutive Tour de France races. He became an inspiration for many as he competed while battling cancer. His “Live Strong” foundation has done much to raise money and create awareness for cancer research. Joe Paterno was the highly successful and respected Penn State football coach. He preached integrity, hard work, and academic excellence to his players. Known affectionately as “Joe Pa” to the Penn State faithful, he was admired not only for his success on the field, but for the graduation rate of his players as well as his philanthropy on behalf of the university.
Instead of asking the question in 2009 let’s ask the question today in 2012. What do the names, Swarchenegger, Armstrong and Paterno have in common? You might think of a phrase used in another context in 2 Samuel 1:25, “how are the mighty fallen!” Swarchenegger, admitted to fathering a child with a member of his household staff resulting in his divorce from Maria Shriver. Armstrong, was formally charged with blood doping by the United State Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and suspended from competing in cycling and triathlon events. An independent investigation of Penn State’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal revealed that Paterno and other school officials buried the crimes instead of exposing them, for fear of damaging the reputation of the university and its esteemed football program.
Armstrong, Swarchenegger and Paterno are just a few of the names of great men strewn through the annuals of time who lost their way and became derailed. The Bible adds its own names to this list. Sampson, the mighty judge of Israel, fell prey to the wiles of Delilah and ended his days blind and imprisoned by the Philistines. David, the king of Israel and “man after God’s own heart” committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband murdered. Peter was not only one of Jesus’ twelve disciplines but also a member of the “inner three” along with James and John. Yet Peter, who said he would defend Jesus to the end, denied ever knowing him.
Why did these great men and even those lesser lights among us become derailed? The simplest and most obvious answer is that we’re all are sinners. Romans 3:23 states, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (NIV). Christians are not exempt from this truth. While we are given a new nature, we still struggle with the sin nature that we were born with. Paul sums up this frustrating battle with sin in Romans 7:21(b), “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (NIV).
The sin that derails manifests in myriads of ways. Tasting success after having labored long and hard to achieve it, some let their guards down. They feel a sense of entitlement and seek to enjoy the spoils and trappings of success. This is what occurred with David. Scriptures indicate that he first spied Bathsheba bathing nude at a time when kings go out to war. David was in the wrong place at the wrong time. What was David doing home at the palace? He previously achieved a string or military victories and felt his personal presence was no longer needed on the battlefield. David rested on his laurels.
Some become derailed not by losing sight of their purpose but rather becoming so consumed by it that they are willing to do anything to achieve it. They lose their moral compasses and come to embody the phrase, the “ends justify the means.” They fear losing what they fought so hard to gain that they’ll go any means to preserve the wins. This was the motivation of Lance Armstrong and so many other high performance athletes for using banned performance enhancing remedies.
How do we successfully fight and win the battle against derailment? How do we become upright once becoming derailed? I’ll address these topics in my next post, “Remaining Upright.”