Monday Over Coffee: "Trials"

Published October 2, 2023 by Greg Funderburk

My uncle, Larry Funderburk, is an attorney and was my law partner for a long time. One of his main clients was the Werner Ladder Company. For many years whenever Werner was brought into a lawsuit, they’d call Larry to defend them. One of these cases involved a ten-foot aluminum step ladder and a man named Boyd who claimed he was on the ladder when one of its side rails bent, causing him to fall and sustain an injury. Werner, on the other hand, contended the ladder was strong and what must have happened was that Mr. Boyd had lost his balance causing the ladder to tip over and that the side rail bent only when he fell on top of it.

The Werner Company sent a young engineer down from headquarters to help Larry try the case and was keen on the idea of Larry, in a dramatic courtroom presentation during trial, demonstrating to the jury the strength of the ladder. He proposed getting a ladder identical to the one in question, and—in the presence of the jury—to cut deeply into two of the ladder’s braces which were designed to give it strength and stability, then to proceed to saw the side rail in question half-way through, as well. With that done, the young engineer then proposed having not one, not two, not three, but four people climb up onto the ladder to show it wouldn’t collapse even in this drastically compromised condition.

Larry said, “No way. We’re not doing that. It’s way too risky.” But, the engineer wouldn’t take no for an answer. Finally, against his better judgment, Larry relented, got the judge’s permission for the demonstration, and the next day, moved the equipment into the courtroom. You can imagine how the jury began leaning forward in their seats as the representatives of the defense sawed the braces through, then cut the side rail. The chamber grew quiet when the engineer then asked Larry’s co-counsel, a man who weighed 250 pounds, up on to the ladder. Then the engineer himself climbed up, then he asked the court reporter up, and finally, with three people already on the steps of the ladder, he motioned to Larry to come on over. Larry, mind you, was never in favor of any of this in the first place but hiding his nervousness, rose from counsel’s table and stepped up on the ladder with his heart pounding. If the ladder collapsed, they’d not only lose the case but his legal career, marked until now by sober professionalism, would be remembered only for one of the most embarrassing courtroom blunders in the history of Texas jurisprudence. As the seconds wore on, I was told, you could hear a pin drop in the courtroom. They remained there for several minutes, but the ladder held. They finished the case, and the verdict came back in their favor.

Trials bring things to a climax, to a place of clarity, to a moment of truth. That’s what they’re meant to do. And there’s a moment in Scripture that’s like that. Jesus had been arrested, and the high priest, Caiaphas, stepped forward and, face to face with his Galilean nemesis, asked a question: “Are you the Messiah?” 

Now there’s a moment of truth. If trials are meant to bring things to a climax, a place of clarity, a moment of truth—it has arrived here. The jury is sitting at the edge of their seats and surely you could’ve heard a pin drop if there were such a thing. 

We all face trials. We all face hurdles and challenges. We all from time to time are confronted with what seems like a clarifying moment of truth in which we need to gather all the fortitude we have inside us to do what we must. 

When you’ve arrived at such a moment and your heart is pounding, and you’re not sure if your ladder, your courage, your spirit, will hold, remember Jesus’ answer to the chief priest’s question at his own moment of truth. When you don’t feel nearly strong enough against the day, when you’re lost, fed up, confounded, when you’re at the brink and looking down into the abyss, pretty certain that you’re not strong enough, recall the very words Jesus spoke in his: “I am.”

God—Give me strength and courage to contend with the world, to battle exhaustion, and to endure the trials ahead. Help me to recall—when I wonder if You are present with me—to remember Christ’s words: “I am.” Amen. 

— Greg Funderburk