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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Lessons for Christians from the Olympics

Americans define victory too narrowly. We marginalize the accomplishments of those who, through discipline, sacrifice and determination, push themselves to do their best. If athletes don’t win the gold, we patronize their PRs (personal records) or SBs (seasons bests) and think of them as also-rans.

But many of life’s most important lessons come when we don’t get first place. Way back when, before the Lord saved me, I was bodybuilder with huge ambitions. I wanted to be a national champion. After winning two state titles in Virginia as a teenager, my family moved to California. I was thrilled. I would get a chance to measure up against the best bodybuilders in the world.

I wanted to start small and get a firsthand feel for the competition, so I competed in the Mr. Teenage LA. I got third. I was crushed. My mind reeled in depression from the thought, how can I win a national championship when I can’t even win a city title! On the verge of quitting, something convinced me to give it one more try. After all, I told myself, now I know what the standard is. I just have to train a lot harder, and I might have a chance. A chance is all we all have. I competed in and won the Southern California championship, then the California championship, and then Mr. Teenage Natural (steroid-free) America. Wow! A national title, and earlier that year I almost quit.

The life-lesson I learned is that you can find a silver lining in losing if you look for it. For me, it taught me patience, it taught me to try harder and to know that I might not always win, but I can always strive to do my best. I’ve tried to live according to those lessons ever since.

The Bible often uses athletics as a metaphor for Christian living. The application isn’t that everyone will always be better than everyone else and win. The application is that all of us should strive to do our best for the Lord and to trust God with the results.

So here’s to all the Olympians who reminded us to discipline ourselves, to work hard to maximize our ability, and to marvel how God has made us so that we can do marvelous things.

And for Christians, let’s radically commit ourselves to live out Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Let’s live radically holy lives for the glorious crown that Christ will reward all those who finish the race. Olympians run for “a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:25).

P.S. Allyson Felix, daughter of co-author of Secret Sex Wars: A Battle Cry for Purity Paul Felix, won the silver medal for the 200 meters and the gold in the 4x400 relay (running the fastest split). Allyson, we are all very proud of your performance and especially your testimony for our Lord!

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