From the Pastor's Pen
From The Pastor's Pen.....
In a couple of weeks, the world will watch the opening ceremonies of 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. It is certain to be quite a spectacle, as 91 nations enter the arena bearing their respective countries’ flags. The cultural distinctions of each country are celebrated, yet there is a unity of purpose and agreement on the “rules of the game” that is seen in few, if any, contests between nations. Many believers will find it somehow vaguely evocative of the gathering of nations to Jerusalem during the Millennial reign of Christ (Isa. 2:2-4). For a brief moment and place in time, the nations of the world come together peacefully to compete for athletic honors.
Although generally not a truly dedicated watcher of the Olympics (some folks plan their day around the events), I confess that I am looking forward to the Winter Games this year. For one thing, I really like snow, and the scenery is usually spectacular! What’s more, the Winter Olympics are just so much more exciting than the Summer Olympics. What could be more exciting than schussing down a nearly-vertical mountain of snow at 70+ mph with nothing but a couple of flimsy boards attached to one’s feet? What could be more breathtaking than sliding at breakneck speed down a flume of solid ice…on your back…with nothing between the you and the ice but a little luge not much larger than a cafeteria tray…or hurtling down a snow-covered ramp (that someone apparently neglected to finish!) just to see how far you can fling yourself out into thin air! And don’t forget curling, that sport requiring lightning fast reflexes and agility, where one guy sweeps with a broom while another guy tries to scoot a small boulder onto a bullseye painted on the ice (I assume all of this happens at blindingly fast speeds, because apparently, they have to show it in slow motion or else we would not be able follow the action).
Or something like that.
Seriously, though, in addition to (hopefully) bolstering a healthy sense of national pride, the Olympics provide us with illustrations of some significant spiritual truths about how to live the Christian life. Paul wrote of this in his first recorded letter to the church at Corinth:
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate [disciplined] in all things. (1 Cor. 9:24-25)
In the Olympics, there are three prizes to be won: The Bronze Medal, the Silver, and the Gold. Every athlete selected to compete strives to win the Gold. No athlete worthy of the name would be content to put forth a half-hearted effort, but rather will give the very best that he or she is able to muster. They will “lay aside every weight” and “run with endurance” the race before them (cf. Heb. 12:1). They will be disciplined in every aspect of their lives in order to excel in the one. They will know the rules, for “if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5). It requires not only discipline, but also practice, persistence, and patience. Whatever the cost, the chance to compete for the “Gold” makes all the work and sacrifice worthwhile.
If the effort put forth by Olympic athletes is worth every effort, every sacrifice, every moment spent in practice and study, then how much more is this “race” we call the Christian life worthy of our very best? Paul puts it all in perspective:
25 . . . . they [compete] to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Oswald Chambers speaks of this kind of effort as giving “my utmost for His Highest.” The Christ whom we serve, the cause we represent, the consequences of failure, and concentration on the prize, together compel us to settle for nothing less than giving our utmost. Of course, we all fall short of our best. Some days we fail to put forth an effort that is truly 100%. That is when, like any good athlete, we pick ourselves up, practice, and patiently persist until we get it. What I cannot comprehend, however, is how so many Christians who gladly bear the name can be satisfied with a mediocre, milquetoast approach to the Christian life, participation in church, and their relationship with the Lord. Folks who would never settle for mediocrity in their chosen professions or material possessions, are quite satisfied, it seems, to settle for a barely passing grade in Christianity 101. We would consider it scandalous if a member of the U.S.A. Olympic team, whether out of malice or laziness, willingly gave less than his best effort for the sake of the team. How much greater the scandal, then, when we who have been bought by the blood of Christ, who have had our sins forgiven, and have become possessors of everlasting life, settle for mediocrity in our walk with the Lord. Let me be clear. It is not our salvation that is at stake here, for we are saved by grace through faith…not of works lest anyone should boast. It is rather the reputation of our Lord before a world that is watching us to form their opinions about Him.
As we follow the 2018 Olympic Games this month, admire the athletic ability of those who have achieved excellence in their chosen sport. Be awed by the beauty of snow-capped mountains. Have a healthy sense of national pride as our team brings home the medals. But above all, let these games remind you to give your “utmost for His Highest.” After all the Christian life is no game, and the consequences are eternal.