My flat tire taught me I had nothing left to spare

On Friday, July 4, most of the nation’s thoughts were drifting toward our independence,  the evening’s fireworks and just how many hot dogs Joey “Jaws” Chestnut would eat in 10 minutes at the annual “Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest”

Sixty-one, as it turns out.

While this year was rather uneventful, I was reminded of a July 4th that took place three years ago.

That morning I awoke in a more or less patriotic mood. To reflect my thankfulness for living in America, I took a few steps to honor my nation: rather than wear my usual black knit shirt and tan shorts to work, I donned a white oxford, tan pants and topped it off with an American flag tie.

Yes, I proudly served my country- one latte at a time- at Starbucks.

After I got in my car and began backing out of the driveway, I noticed something was wrong with the steering. I stopped, got out and looked. Sure enough, I had a flat tire.

Before changing the tire, I removed my shirt and tie. Then, feeling like an old Italian man in my undershirt and long pants, I began the process of taking off the old tire and replacing it with the “donut” spare.

My car had four lug nuts that secure the wheel. Three gave me no trouble whatsoever to remove; the fourth, though, didn’t like change and refused to budge. With increasing perspiration, I tugged on it with all my might.

At this point, I no longer felt I resembled an old Italian man; thanks to the freely flowing sweat, I smelled the part as well. I probably would have been more at home standing on a balcony, talking with my neighbors, and gesturing profusely with my hands.

After several minutes tugging on the wrench, something began to happen. Filled with hope, I gave one last pull and the lug nut came off.

Along with the stud.

Prior to this, I was mildly annoyed with the situation; after this, I was completely frustrated. Regardless, however, I got the spare attached and continued on my way to work.

All was well until I was halfway there and driving along a stretch of road where I could not pull over. I began to notice a slight vibration in the steering wheel which quickly progressed to active shaking. I continued at a reduced speed until I came to a side street.

I stopped the car and got out to look at the spare. The first thing I did was check the lug nuts; they were tight. Wondering what was wrong I stepped back and saw the problem- the spare was flat. Somehow I managed to get the car to the local Target parking lot. Unable to go any further, I called work and had a friend come pick me up.

One hour, two tires and a second car later, I arrived at my job.

Upon reflection, these events remind me of an episode in the life of Paul. In 2 Timothy 4 Paul wrote to Timothy: “Do your best to come to me soon…When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments… At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.” (4:9-16, ESV).

Worse than my being stranded in a parking lot, Paul was unable to leave the location he was writing from; after all, he was imprisoned in Rome and awaiting his death (4:6). His friends had either abandoned him or had gone to minister in other locations (v 10). The only person he had with him was his friend and physician Luke.

Yet he wasn’t ready to stop. He had a job to do as long as he was alive, and he needed Timothy’s help to do it.

Just as I needed a spare tire to get going that morning, Paul needed Timothy to bring him some “spares”- his cloak, his books and his copies of Scripture. We don’t know what happened to his original cloak or copies of Scripture. Perhaps they were confiscated by the Roman authorities. Perhaps, like my regular tire, they were worn out through constant use. Regardless, Paul could not continue in effective ministry without them.

Paul also needed a few choice people to help him stay strong until the end. I believe Paul’s need of human companionship is why he asked Timothy to bring Mark with him, so that the two of them could minister to him. Their ministry to Paul would be felt by everyone who Paul witnessed to and taught; as such, they were impacting the world for Christ by assisting Paul himself.

My adventures that day helped bring to life 2 Timothy 4. I gave my all but could not make it to work because my car could not go any further. However, since I still had a job to do, I called for help and received it. I was delivered to my destination and eventually my car was delivered to a mechanic who was able to repair the stud and replace the tire.

Paul was at the end of his life, but he still had a job to do. Unfortunately, he was not able to continue on without help so he called to his “son in the faith,” Timothy. Presumably, Timothy brought Paul the supplies he needed as well as the companionship he requested. As a result, Paul was able to continue in ministry until he died.

Like my car, Paul had nothing left to spare. Yet God met him there through the actions of a few friends and kept him going until he reached his final destination.

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Like so many in America, for the past two weeks I have been caught up in the World Cup soccer excitement.

When I say ‘caught up,’ I think I should clarify that I am not saying I don a multi-colored clown afro wig, drape myself in an American flag and paint my face red, white and blue.

At least, not in public.

Rather, I am enjoying the nightly opportunity to yell at, I mean encourage, some of my favorite teams as they play in the opening rounds of the tournament.

Now perhaps some of you were put off by my first sentence. “Excitement” you ask? “I’ve had more excitement watching paint dry on a humid day.”

Well pardon me, Tom Sawyer. I didn’t mean to distract you from the non-stop thrill ride of watching men in plaid knickers chasing a small white ball around a green lawn with metal sticks or men in hats and tight-fitting uniforms hitting a larger white ball with wooden sticks.

At its most basic, soccer involves a team of players working together to get the ball into the opposing team’s net while simultaneously preventing the other team from doing the same in their net. When one team manages to get the ball into the net, it’s called ‘scoring a goal’ and results in a point for the team who scored it.

Usually, when a goal is scored, the announcers who are commenting on the game shout “Goal!” Some regular viewers of the US Men’s Team may be forgiven for not recognizing this word as it hasn’t always been heard in a US game. The more enthusiastic announcers (read, Central and South American) will shout “Goooaaalll,” drawing the word out for several seconds, almost until their voices runs out.

Or they pass out from a lack of oxygen. It can go either way.

Thanks to the World Cup, I have been hearing the word “Goal” a lot. Every time I hear it, I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Philippians in the New Testament. In Philippians 3:14 he said, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul wasn’t speaking of a balanced attack on the Roman net. The goal he was referring to could also be translated “mark” and literally means the white line at the end of a foot race. Yet he wasn’t referring to a literal sprint or even a marathon; he was sitting in jail when he wrote this letter. According to the context, Paul was referring to the goal of life for the Christian disciple: the prize – spending eternity with Jesus.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is full of encouragement and joy. In chapter 1 he reminds the believers that he may die soon, as we all will, but not to despair. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” he said in 1:21.

That may sound strange to some. How can dying be gain?

According to the Christian gospel, dying is gain because Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection guaranteed that those who place their faith in Jesus will spend eternity with Him. How is that?

For the believer, Jesus’ perfect life, death and resurrection has satisfied a holy God’s wrath against sin. God no longer sees the sin but now sees the righteousness of Jesus. Paul said in Philippians 3:9 that he didn’t have “a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

The result of this faith is the “resurrection from the dead” (3:11) for the believer. According to Paul, Jesus is both the prize and the ability to win the prize. Therefore, Paul is pressing on, or not letting anything distract him from Jesus.

In this we can learn from the teams playing in the World Cup. The teams have one “goal:” to score as many points as possible and win the game. If they allow anything to distract them, the crowds, the noise, the heat, etc., they will not be able to win.

Similarly, Paul reminds the Christian that we are to have our focus solely on Jesus and not to allow anything in this life to distract us from our final goal: spending eternity with Jesus.

That’s a goal worth shouting about!

Now what do you recommend I use to wash off this face paint?

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