Do you live your faith with the bumper rails up or down?
If you are a bowler, you know what bumper rails are.
Bumper rails are retractable barriers that raise out of a lane’s gutters. They prevent the ball from falling out of the lane, keeping it in play. They help young children learn the game without being discouraged.
That said, I am a terrible bowler. My highest score is a 78. Sadly I often need bumper rails.
Watch me bowl, and you’ll see my bad form. My swing veers left. Most of the time, the ball ends up bouncing into the gutter or the next lane.
But when I use the bumper rails, I feel great. I finally knock some pins down. But you and I know that that’s not real bowling. In a real game, my score wouldn’t really count.
Faith of Corinth: Bowling with the Bumper Rails Up
If the apostle Paul were a bowler, he might call the faith of the Corinthians as one with bumper rails up (2 Corinthians 8:7-15). Listen to how Paul starts off:
You are the best in everything, such as faith, speech, knowledge, total commitment, and the love we inspired in you
But he qualifies this praise by comparing them to the faith of nearby Macedonian churches:
Be the best in this work of grace…by mentioning the commitment of (your sister churches), I’m trying to prove the authenticity of your love also.
The Corinthians had a great faith. But Paul saw them living their convictions in a bubble. Like being in a bowling game with the bumper rails up.
The Corinthians lived in a world of plenty. Everything they needed was within reach. In such a world, it’s easy to praise God for your blessings when you don’t have to worry about money or food on the table or a house to live.
But their sister churches dealt with extreme poverty every day. They could’ve seen their circumstances as an excuse for a lack in faith in Christ. And yet, they demanded for the privilege — not to be served — but to serve others.
Compared to the well-off Corinthians, these churches led lives of “surplus of rich generosity”. This was the kind of faith Paul wanted to see in the Corinthians:
I assure you that (your sister churches) gave what they could afford and even more than they could afford, and they did it voluntarily.
For Paul, it was not how much wealth or goods that they shared, but how much they’ve allowed their faith to stretch them.
Now think for a moment about your faith. Do you often live your life with the bumper rails up? Do you only walk along paths that are safe and secure, never challenging, never stretching your faith?
Or do you tend to live your life with the bumper rails down? Do you put your full trust in God, no matter where he might lead you—even if he takes you in directions you don’t want to go?
Faith During the Boston Marathon Bomber Sentencing: Bowling with the Bumper Rails Down
In the midst of the many big happenings in the news, there is one big story that seems to have been forgotten: the sentencing of Dzokhar Tsarnaev (pronounced Joe-HARR tsar-NAH-yev). You might know him better as the Boston Marathon bomber.
As you recall, Dzokhar and his brother set off homemade bombs near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. They did it out of some sick sense of justice against the U.S. Government.
3 people died; one of them, a young boy. 200-plus were severely injured. 17—all of them active, outdoorsy types—were made amputees as a result of the blast.
This week, the judge sentenced Dzokhar to death. And after two years, the victims of the bombing got to have their say against the man that changed so many lives forever.
As you would expect, many were still angry. One said: “I regret ever wanting to hear him speak”. Another who lost her leg said she was not giving a victim impact statement:
To do that I would have to be someone’s victim. I’m definitely not yours, or your brother’s. It’s so funny to me that you smirk and flip off the camera because that is what I feel we do to you every day we continue to succeed, fake limbs or not
What I found amazing is that many chose to forgive Dzokhar. One survivor said to him:
I forgive you and your brother. My hope is someday soon you will be brave enough to take complete responsibility for your actions
And there was the family of the boy who died who pushed for a life sentence. In their eyes, paying death with another was not the answer. They said at the sentencing:
He chose hate. He chose destruction. He chose death. This is all on him. We chose love. We choose kindness. We choose peace.
For those that chose to forgive, it wasn’t easy. These people had every right not to forgive. But they did anyway.
This took great faith to do so, trusting that a higher power is in control. I pray that all of here can do away with the bumper rails in our lives that keep us from having a great, deep faith.
As we reflect upon Paul’s challenge to the Corinthians to stretch their faith, beyond their comfort zone, I give you these questions:
- Can you love those that hate you or don’t care about you?
- Can you forgive those who don’t deserve mercy?
- Can you pray for those who don’t share in the same God as you?
Jesus did. And as followers of Christ, so should we. That is faith. Amen.