given on Sunday, February 23, 2014
Are you tired of all the news from the Olympics? Has the coverage interrupted every morning and evening viewing routines? Has the social networking pieces driven you to consider life as a hermit? Or have the Olympics left you inspired?
Regardless of how the Olympics have affected your life these past two weeks, there are stories that inspire men, women, and children regardless of nationality, education, or income. The dedication these athletes exhibit often causes the viewers to pause and reflect on just what it takes to become an Olympic athlete.
Consider this: An Olympian is born with natural abilities and then discovers a passion for a sport, commits oneself to that sport, and begins a lifestyle of training in order to compete with, not against, others with the same passion. Is it possible for Christians to become Olympians, too?
Romans is a manual for Olympian Christians. Paul is the master coach who can guide the newest Christians into a lifestyle that exemplifies all the qualities Jesus demonstrated in his three years of ministry. Never having met these newest believers, he felt akin to them and wanted them to have all the skills needed to compete against the non-Christian influences existing in the world.
Paul himself was an Olympian Christian. As a convert from Judaism, he quickly transferred his leadership skills to coach the earliest Christians. He was worldly, knew several languages, understood the Old Law, and quickly learned—along the side of the road—how God made a difference in ones life. Paul committed himself to the Greatest Commission, trained himself and others how to live as a Christian in a predominantly non-Christian world. He demonstrated grace in the most difficult of situations.
Despite all the media hype that has surrounded the 2014 Olympics, buried in and among the stories were examples of Olympians and their distinctive qualities of commitment, training, and grace. Whether the story was about the challenges, the successes, or the outreach of these Olympians, they model the key traits Christians should model, too.
Paul, in Corinth and planning to journey west to Spain, heard of the new church in Rome. He wanted to visit there but was unable to do so at that time, so he wrote this manual as encouragement to the Roman church. He was committed to the growth of the Christian faith:
14 I have a duty both to Greeks and to non-Greeks. I have a duty both to wise people and to foolish people. 15 So I really want to preach the good news also to you who live in Rome.
16 I am not ashamed of the good news. It is God’s power. And it will save everyone who believes. It is meant first for the Jews. It is meant also for those who aren’t Jews.
17 The good news shows how God makes people right with himself. From beginning to end, becoming right with God depends on a person’s faith. It is written, “Those who are right with God will live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4) (the NIRV)
Today’s Olympian Christians share the same sense of duty or commitment. The Good News must be shared so others can discover the grace of God.
Olympian coaches work places them in situations that may not be the most glamorous positions and the media often overlooks them. They are selfless, devoted to the athletes, yet demanding and encouraging all at the same time. Paul coached from his own experience but also by seeing the talent in those newest Christians there in Rome. As a coach, he was there to assure them of the New Law, to encourage them when they experienced a setback, and to guide them into the Christian lifestyle that would lead to the gold medal of eternal life. Paul was an Olympic Christian.
To become an Olympian, one must discover the gifts God has given them and then commit to the rigors necessary to continue developing and improving those skills to handle all the challenges. Training is never-ending. Training comes in a variety of forms reading, studying, practicing, and competing. The best coaches experience this regimen; demonstrate success, and then turn to share knowledge with others.
Paul’s story is an example of learning, too. Being raised as a Jew, he knew the Old Law, and demonstrated how good he was at maintaining that law by seeking and persecuting the earliest Christians. He knew the Old Law, but until he was struck blind on the road, he could not see a different way of believing in God. He trained, he studied, and he practiced. When he had a life-altering experience, he was awakened to ‘see’ a different way of living and became committed to teaching others whether Jewish or Gentile. His knowledge trained the first Olympian Christians around the ancient world.
As a coach, Paul’s letters guided the early church into the structure of durability that has allowed it to grow into a global community. The durability of Christianity is evident in every mile around this globe. Christians continue training regardless of the successes and the failures. Olympic athletes continue that quality of training, too.
One of the most inspiring stories shared by the media is that of a paraplegic athlete. This young man is a model of grace and determination. Evan Strong was featured on the NBC Nightly News, Thursday, February 20. This young man had his leg amputated, but he refused to let it stop him and he is now competing in the Paralympics coming up in two weeks.
Yet, it is not the story of his competing that captures the Olympic spirit, but what he does on a daily basis. The report does not reveal whether he is a Christian or not, but he is a living example of an Olympian Christian. He grants grace to others and lives his life exemplifying the vary traits Jesus asks of us. Strong never allows the amputation to stop him and now works to assure other amputees from toddler to adult that an amputation does not limit them.
Paul, whether he was walking along the dusty paths of the Mediterranean region or sitting in a jail cell, never waivered in his devotion to God. Olympian Christians read Romans and learn how to live the principles, how to handle life challenges, and how to share God’s grace with others:
Romans 12: 2 Don’t live any longer the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed. Then you will be able to test what God wants for you. And you will agree that what he wants is right. His plan is good and pleasing and perfect.
3…Don’t think of yourself more highly than you should. Be reasonable when you think about yourself. Keep in mind the amount of faith God has given you.
6 We all have gifts. They differ in keeping with the grace that God has given each of us. Do you have the gift of prophecy? Then use it in keeping with the faith you have. 7 Is it your gift to serve? Then serve. Is it teaching? Then teach. 8 Is it telling others how they should live? Then tell them. Is it giving to those who are in need? Then give freely. Is it being a leader? Then work hard at it. Is it showing mercy? Then do it cheerfully. (the NIRV)
If the Olympians return home recognizing that the commitment and training they practice throughout their athletic careers can sustain them in their entire life journey, then they are living out the same expectations God asks of us. Evan Strong may not recognize how he exhibits Christian love, but we can see it in his actions. He demonstrates grace and love for others. He does not see a handicap; he sees the potential. Paul’s manual Romans 12, defines God’s love that we are to demonstrate:
9 Love must be honest and true. Hate what is evil. Hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other deeply. Honor others more than yourselves. 11 Never let the fire in your heart go out. Keep it alive. Serve the Lord.
12 When you hope, be joyful. When you suffer, be patient. When you pray, be faithful. 13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Welcome others into your homes.
14 Bless those who hurt you. Bless them, and do not call down curses on them. 15 Be joyful with those who are joyful. Be sad with those who are sad. 16 Agree with each other. Don’t be proud. Be willing to be a friend of people who aren’t considered important. Don’t think that you are better than others.
17 Don’t pay back evil with evil. Be careful to do what everyone thinks is right. 18 If possible, live in peace with everyone. Do that as much as you can.
19 My friends, don’t try to get even. Leave room for God to show his anger. It is written, “I am the One who judges people. I will pay them back,” (Deuteronomy 32:35) says the Lord. 20 Do just the opposite.
“If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
By doing those things, you will pile up burning coals on their heads.” (Proverbs 25:21,22)
21 Don’t let evil overcome you. Overcome evil by doing good. (the NIRV)
Olympian Christians are committed, they train by reading and practicing, and they show grace and love to others. They see the potential in others, not the limits. They grant grace to others regardless of circumstances, and they do whatever they can for all that they can whenever they can. Olympian Christians know what Paul meant when he wrote in Chapter 8:
31 What should we say then? Since God is on our side, who can be against us? 32 God did not spare his own Son. He gave him up for us all. Then won’t he also freely give us everything else? . . .
37 No! In all these things we will do even more than win! We owe it all to Christ, who has loved us.
38 . . . Nothing at all can ever separate us from God’s love because of what Christ Jesus our Lord has done. (the NIRV)
For the last two weeks, the Olympic spirit has modeled the lifestyle Christians must use to become medal winners, too. We are to be committed, to train, and to demonstrate God’s grace to one another. Turn to the coaches in your life, whether in the Bible or among your Christian family, and check yourself. Do you need more commitment, more instruction, or more practice? Maybe you need to compete, get out in the world’s arena and live it. Give 200% and see what a difference it can make in your life while making a difference in others’ lives. Go for the gold, God’s gold of life eternal.
Dear Father and Coach,
Thank you for the hundreds of Olympian athletes
who demonstrate commitment, training, and grace.
Thank you for the gifts you give each of us
to use as ways of sharing the Good News of Jesus.
Thank you for the coaches in our lives
who teach us your law and train us in ways to live.
Thank you for the opportunities provided each of us
to practice loving one another.
Thank you for your unending grace
even when we fall, tire, or injure our self or another.
May we commit ourselves today and everyday,
to continue training and practicing
in order to share your grace with the world. –Amen