I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:7-8
This weekend I watched news clips of a Penn State crew removing the statue of the once beloved Joe Paterno from outside of the school’s football stadium.
That image, coupled with the NCAA sanctions, which were handed down moments ago, cap one of the saddest falls for any man I can remember.
Joe Paterno, a man who was the face of a football program and, seemingly, a pillar of character and decency, fell from that perch in less than ten months. It is a tragic, sad and awful story of how it is possible to undo an entire life with a few bad choices.
In Paterno’s case, the choices he made were not only bad they were reprehensible and criminal.
The question for us: How can we avoid a similar outcome?
I do not want to build my entire life and watch my own hands tear it down. I want to leave this earth to be with Jesus knowing I ran my race well.
How can I finish well? Here are some ways:
First, to finish my race well I must be ever mindful that I am a sinner and have the ability to destroy my own life.
I am a sinner just like Paterno. This sobering reality keeps me grounded, humble and clinging to Jesus.
Although I am saved and have been declared righteous by God through the sacrifice of Jesus, I am still broken and my heart is still desperately wicked. In all of my actions there is still the stain of my sinfulness so I can never fully trust myself.
I must trust the Holy Spirit and God’s grace to keep me from the sin I am capable of.
I heard Ravi Zacharias say once, “The best of men are men at best.” Paterno illustrates the sad reality of this truth.
First Corinthians 10:12 states, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” As a sinner, I need to be ever watchful of my frail condition lest I think I am more than I actually am and suffer the consequences.
Second, in order to help keep me from destroying my own legacy, I must remind myself that I am not an island.
It was not Paterno who committed the acts of child abuse it was his friend and co-worker. Paterno’s sin is one of omission directly tied to his circle of relationships.
The people I have around me are either drawing me toward Jesus or drawing me away. There is no middle ground. Like physical fitness, I am either getting more or less fit all the time.
I need to be vigilant in keeping those closest to me, who have the most influence, those who can help me walk with Jesus. If I sense even the hint of a problem it must be addressed. Paterno refused to confront his friend and it destroyed him.
Third, in order to keep my legacy intact, I must bear in mind that my last day is more important than my first day.
The truth is that it matters more how you finish than how you begin.
On my last day I want to be loving Jesus, loving my family and loving my neighbors. How do I plan to get to that day? I can get there by making choices in concert with my goal and not the moment.
In every decision I make I must consider whether or not that decision is moving me toward or away from where I want to end up.
Joe’s statue, made of metal, once stood tall as a symbol of individual greatness, now leaves an empty platform outside Penn State’s Beaver Stadium.
But, as NCAA president Mark Emmert so astutely pointed out, “hero worship” and a sports culture that enables a “too big to fail, too big to challenge” mentality is unhealthy…and, as exemplified here, can go terribly awry.
What I see in Joe Paterno is everything I see possible in me.
I also see an admonition to cry out for grace as a sinner capable of the same wickedness. This side of heaven we will never reach a point where we are invincible. We must stay connected to others who will help us remember this.
And, we must never forget that our legacies are more impacted by what happens on the last day of our lives, than what happens on the greatest day.
What do you think?
– Eric Creekmore, Lead Pastor