The Olympian Quest

Have you ever watched the spotlight pieces during the Olympic games that talk about the athletes’ lives and backgrounds?  Those spotlights are one of my favorite things about the Olympics, especially when they’re about athletes from other parts of the world.  You get to learn a bit about where they come from and the sacrifices they’ve made to reach their goals.  They tell the stories of dreams born in childhood, and nurtured through years of intense training and preparation, until the day they become a reality.  Sometimes the story is a happy one; sometimes it’s bittersweet.  Sometimes the ending is everything the athlete hoped for; sometimes it’s heartbreakingly tragic.

I remember watching the 1992 Summer Olympics as a kid.  My favorite sport was gymnastics, and my favorite gymnasts were from the Romanian team and the Unified Team of the former Soviet Union, as well as some of the American girls, of course.  I remember a particular bit of drama surrounding two of the Unified Team gymnasts, Tatiana Gutsu and Roza Galieva.  Tatiana was the favorite to win the individual all-around gold medal, until a fall from the balance beam in the qualification round took her out of the running.  The next qualifier in line was her teammate Roza, a slightly younger, slightly less experienced gymnast, who had performed beautifully during qualifications.

Image:  Foto Libra

However, on the night of the all-around final, the Unified Team coaches replaced Roza with Tatiana, claiming that she was injured.  Both girls were just 15 years old.  Neither had a choice in the matter.  Their coaches felt the pressure to bring home gold medals for the countries of the now-broken Soviet Union, and Tatiana was their best chance.  So with one crushing decision, Roza’s dream was sacrificed while Tatiana’s received new life.

Have you ever considered what it really means to be serious about something?  Ask any gymnast who competes at the Olympic level, and she (or he) will tell you of sacrifices made and dedication to hours and hours of countless repetitions of awe-inspiring skills.

In Russia, little girls start training at age five or six, sometimes younger. Around age 11, they try out for the junior national team in hopes of being one of the few out of hundreds of other girls to become the next generation of rising Russian gymnastics stars.  Those who make it live at Round Lake, the team’s training base outside of Moscow, for several months out of the year.  They train eight hours a day, except for a shorter training period on Saturdays, and Sundays off.  During their 16th year, gymnasts try out for the senior national team.  Hundreds of girls from across Russia come together to compete for a spot on the senior national team, but only a few can make the cut.  These chosen ones have the opportunity to compete at the highest level on the world stage; and from them the cream of the crop, the top five (and three alternates) will participate in the game of games: the Olympics.

These girls are constantly working towards that goal.  Everything sacrifice they make and everything they do is done with that goal in mind.  They follow a strict diet, abstaining from certain foods and moderating their calorie intake, to maintain their “optimum weight.”  Warm-ups, running, stretches, weight training and conditioning are part of their daily lives. They live with coaches, physical trainers and therapists, choreographers, and teammates most of the time, visiting family members on free weekends or holidays.  These girls will sometimes even compete with pain, if the injury is a minor one.

And why do they do all this?

What is the reward for such dedication and sacrifice?

Image: Unknown

A round gold-plated medallion that says they have conquered the world.

I love the metaphor Paul uses in 1 Corinthians, likening our walk with God to athletes training for a competition.  Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to gymnasts and their stories.  Like them, we as followers of our heavenly Father are striving for a prize.  A prize of more lasting value than a medallion.

Our prize life eternal with Jesus in His country.

How dedicated must we be if we would win our prize, how focused on our goal?  Well, consider what God’s Word says about an athlete’s dedication:

“All athletes practice strict self-control.  They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.  So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step.  I am not like a boxer who misses his punches.  I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.  Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”  1 Corinthians 9:25-27, NLT

Like athletes, we fight daily our own human tendencies that would disqualify us from the prize.  We are daily training our minds on Jesus, doing everything with Him in view.  It’s a lifestyle.

This summer, thousands of athletes from around the world will take the Olympic stage.  All their dreams, goals, sacrifices, training, and efforts will come down to a few short moments before the London crowd.  For some, the dream will die tragically when it’s barely begun.  Only one can win in each event.

Each day, you and I take the stage before the universe in the race of our lives.  How well have you been training?  How will you perform before the world?  Will they see Jesus in you?  Because that’s why we run this race.  We become more like Jesus, so others can see Him in the way we live and accept Him as their Savior, too.Although in the Olympics only one is crowned the victor and given the gold medal, in this race, all of us can be crowned and receive the prize.So maybe we should take the words of Hebrews 12 more seriously to heart:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.”

Pure Milk

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“Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” – 1 Peter 2:1-3

“The pure milk of the word.”  Sounds like God is prescribing a healthier diet for His kids.  No more indulging in the unhealthy junk food of ill will, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and evil speaking about others, which includes gossiping.  Instead, only the pure word of God.

Have you ever given any real thought to what “food” we’re feasting on?  Are we feasting on envy, gossip, and deceit?  I’m not just talking about what we read or watch on TV or in movies either.  How about what we talk about with others?

All of us know in our heads that God does not approve of gossip, and we even say we don’t do it.  Maybe we listen to other people gossip, but we don’t pass it on…to anyone unreliable.  We don’t say things to be mean to others; we just say them because we feel someone else really should know…The list of reasons can go on into infinity.  But is it acceptable to God?  Is that the kind of food God wants us to partake of?

Besides repeating gossip, listening to it does nothing to help us grow spiritually.  Both only serve to strengthen ill will, deceit, hypocrisy, and envy.  And that’s what this text in 1 Peter is all about.  What will make us grow?  Will desiring that evil befall another draw me into a closer relationship with Jesus?  Will dishonest statements or misrepresentations of the truth help me to know the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life better?  Does focusing on the hypocrisies of others or even indulging my own make me a more genuine follower of Jesus Christ?  Will coveting another make me more content in all the situations God places me?  And can malicious words, spoken about someone else either by me or in my presence, help me to be more deeply rooted in the Savior?  Is this the kind of food that will root me and ground me in the love of God?

The only food we can safely eat is the word of God.  Feasting on the word of God will take away bitterness, hard feelings, ill will, covetousness, hypocrisy, selfishness, and all gossip and backbiting.

It also helps us discern between truth and error in what we hear in church or read in a book.  In the Bible, God gives us a lot of instruction about knowing the truth, knowing whether what you hear is of God or not.  He tells us to test the spirit behind each person who comes to us in the name of the Lord (1 John 4:1).  He says to examine all things and hold fast to the good (1 Thess. 5:21).  And those are just two examples, but clearly, God wants us to check things out against His word, instead of just buying into everything that comes from the mouth of a fellow human being just because he or she claims Christianity.  The Bereans were commended by Paul for not accepting his preaching without first testing it against the Bible (Acts 17:11).  So we are to know the difference between truth and error, and be willing to counter error with truth (James 5:19-20, Is. 58:1, Jer. 1:7, Ez. 2:3-5, and Ps. 40:10, to name a few).

When we feast on the pure milk of God’s word, we will be able to recognize and avoid hypocrisy, half-truths, and whole lies.  Just as an expert in recognizing counterfeit money studies the true to recognize the counterfeit, we who feast on the true will recognize the error when it comes.  The more we feast on the word of God, the less desire we will have for feasting on the sins, short-comings, and failings of others.  We will grow in Christ-like love, patience, and forgiveness towards others.  And we will clearly know the difference between speaking the truth as God desires and merely spreading gossip as Satan desires.

So the idea is this: get into the word of God.  Make that your food.  Leave behind the junk food and feast on the words of life and truth so you can grow up strong in Christ.

~ What do you think?  Email me at TheNarrowPathway@hotmail.com. ~

A Vibrant Life

What’s the essence of Christianity?  Think about your answer to that question for a moment.  What does it mean for you and me to be Christians?  Think of your answer to that too.  What does Christianity look like lived out?  Really consider that one.

After thinking about it, I’d describe Christianity as belonging to one person: the One who bought us back from death.  Real Christianity is not the result of a series of outward actions: the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the activities you do, the food you eat, the things you watch, etc.  The Christ-life starts inside, when you give Jesus your heart.  But it doesn’t remain there.  It moves out.  It changes every aspect of your life.  Yes, the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the activities you do, the food you eat, the things you watch, etc.  And it touches the people around you.

Remember Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed?  He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matt. 13:31, 32, NKJV)

A mustard seed is really tiny.  Yet for starting out too small to provide even a decent bite for a bird, it becomes home to many birds.  This is how our Savior works.  Jesus starts inside our hearts, forgiving us, changing us, transforming us, nurturing us from newborn babies until we’ve grown up into men and women fit for heaven.

Jesus told another parable along the same lines.  “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” (Matt. 13:33)  That little bit of leaven, mixed in with the bread dough can’t be removed.  It permeates the entire loaf.  The same with Jesus once we surrender our lives to Him.  He’s no longer a bystander on the edge of our lives, or a once-a-week visit to a steepled structure.  He’s real, living, present, active in every part of our lives.

This is what the Christian life looks like.  It’s dynamic, not static.

Now consider that in terms of the relationship between faith and works.

Faith is important, nay vital (I couldn’t resist!)  But it doesn’t stand alone.  Jesus intended it to be mixed with works, yet never with the idea that your works are earning you a spot in heaven.  Check out these two contrasting yet complimenting passages:

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!  But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?  Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”  And he was called the friend of God.  You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.  Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:14-26)

“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.  Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.  Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.  Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” (Romans 3:27-31)

“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

“But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!  For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.  For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Galatians 2:15-21)

To make it even more interesting, add love into the mix.  Just reading 1 Corinthians 13 alone makes it clear that even the best works without love are empty.  Yet check out what Jesus said about the connection between love and obedience to His law: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15)  And He didn’t stop there; He repeated it again in verses 21 and 23.

Obedience is the outflow of love, not the other way around.  Obedience shows that we know God.  “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.  He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (1 John 2:3-6)

These passages are important because they help us understand how to live the Christian life as we prepare for life with our coming King.  Satan doesn’t want us to understand.  He doesn’t want us to be ready.  He wants us to be like the unfaithful servant in Matthew 24:48-51.  But God has made His truth known in His word.  So prayerfully take a look at these verses again and hear what God is saying to you.

My point is simple: by faith, the seed was planted in my heart and began to grow; the leaven was added to the lump of bread dough and mixed in.  The end result is a life of obedience to His will, the lifestyle of the King’s daughter in a foreign land.

The Basics ~ Adoption: Step 3

Step 3: Live Your Life Following Jesus

Once you receive Jesus into your heart and give Him your all, it’s important that you now walk with Him and the Father.  I know, you must be wondering what it means to walk with Jesus and walk with God.  Well, they both mean the same thing; after all, if you know Jesus, you know God (John 14:9-11).

Walking with Jesus involves getting to know Him more closely every day and obeying Him.  Let’s take a closer look at this obedience thing.

This is extremely important, because Jesus can see the end from the beginning.  He knows the future.  So when He tells you to do something or not to do something, it’s because He sees the future consequences, the end results of your actions, which you cannot see.  He’s not trying to take all the fun out of your life, as the world often leads us to think.  He would never take away anything that is good for you (Psalm 34:10).

As with any good family, there are rules for all those who would live in God’s Heaven, and of course, they can be found in the Word of God.  There are two general rules that cover everything (Matthew 22:37-40).  These are broken down into ten more specific rules (Exodus 20:1-17).  They are referred to as God’s commandments or the Law.  Other terms are sometimes used to describe them, such as the “will of God” or “God’s character”.  It is His will that everyone be saved from sin and know Jesus, the One who saved them (1 Timothy 2:4).  To be saved you must know Jesus and have His character.  This is also known as being like Jesus.  Which brings us to the next step.

The Basics ~ Adoption: Step 4

Step 4:  Grow in Christ

It is impossible for you to get to know Jesus and still be the same kind of person you were before you accepted Him.  Completely impossible.  Does that shock you?  It really shouldn’t.  Think about it.

Could you jump into a swimming pool full of water and come out completely dry?  No!  That’s impossible.  In the same way, it’s impossible to know Jesus without His character, His personality, His will, and His likes and dislikes rubbing off on you.  Once you start spending time with Him, you’ll certainly come to admire His perfect character.

And whomever you love and admire, you become like (2 Corinthians 5:17).  As you get closer to Him, you will learn to know His voice and the different ways He speaks to you.  You’ll find yourself sharing the deepest parts of your heart with Him and seeking advice from Him in every area of your life.  You’ll start bringing your decisions before Him, so He can help you make the best choice.

In case you didn’t know, your heavenly Father had a plan for your life since long beforeyou were born (Jeremiah 29:11).  He dreamt of your happy, desirable future for so long, that He is ready and eager to advise you on what to do to bring it about.  And don’t worry, He hasn’t chosen a future for you that you will dislike or find boring.  After all, who else knows the future, and knows and cares about your secret thoughts and your deepest desires?  So He knows what you’ll want way before you ever do.

But back to what I was saying before.  Your goal is to become a new person in Jesus Christ.  You already know about getting to know Him, but it doesn’t stop there.  Jesus wants an on-going relationship with you.  He doesn’t do temporary or short-term.  He does permanent. He wants to be connected with you and just keep getting closer and closer.

And how does it happen?  By learning about Jesus, contemplating Him, examining His character, surrendering your whole self (heart, mind, body, soul) to Him.  The “old you” will put up a great deal of resistance against the new character that Jesus is forming within you, but as long as you stay close to Jesus and surrender daily to His will, you’ll have all the help you need to get over the rough spots.

This is how you will become a new person, a person like Jesus.  Of course, you’ll still be a unique individual.  In fact, you’ll be more of an individual than you ever have been before.  An individual after God’s pattern, not the world’s.  Your personality will be unique, as well as your own favorite color and stuff like that, but you’ll possess Jesus’ qualities: love, kindness, compassion and sympathy, patience, gentleness, a forgiving spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23).  All the rough edges will be smoothed out. This character is a must if you are to live in Heaven.