Monday, August 11, 2008

Spiritual Olympics

Nothing is for Free

Those of us who have seen the Beijing Olympics 2008 opening ceremony on the 8th of August would have been wowed by the spectacular display of Chinese pride, Li Ning’s sensational flight to light the Olympic torch and the pompous pyrotechnics all around. Reported to cost more than US100 million dollars, this single event drew in more than a billion viewers worldwide. The whole event was directed by the famous filmmaker, Zhang Yimou. No expenses were spared to put China on display for the world to see, that the middle kingdom has come of age. Even the date was deemed auspicious. The Games began on the 8th of August, 2008 at exactly 8pm.

On a smaller scale, the Olympians have been known to invest huge thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into their preparation for the games. In an article, “What price glory?”, two athletes were compared side by side with one thing in common: Their sacrifice to get to compete for the gold medal.
“The bills for coaching, training facilities, tournaments and other expenses easily add up to tens of thousands a year. For young American athletes, that financial burden falls squarely on their parents; for Chinese youth, the government picks up the tab - if they're good enough.

Either way, the Craig and Luo families have learned it takes gold to make gold. And both have sacrificed much along the way to make their daughters' Olympic dreams possible. To get to a similar place, though, they've taken very different journeys.”
Nothing is for free. Sometimes, we watch the Olympics on TV, and we envy the fame and glory that the winners of the respective events get to receive at the medal award ceremony. That one moment of glory disguises the tremendous sacrifices put in by the athletes, their families, friends, sponsors and many supporters. We can also forget that for every one medal winner, there are many others who have paid the price for competing in the event, and went home without winning anything. Many vie for the gold, but only one gets it. Many seek the glory but only the best and the fittest receives it. How unfair can it be for the hardworking, the multi-talented young ones, to be deemed ‘not good enough’ for the grand prize?

The apostle Paul is one who is most aware of the cost of competing to win.
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. (2 Tim 2:1-5)
The Christian is compared to as a soldier and also as an athlete. The common themes for both soldier and athlete are the components of FED (Focus, Endurance & Discipline). The ‘prize’ or the ‘crown’ referred to in verse 5 is referred either to the wreath of victory or the prize given out to the champions during the Greek games in those days. The origin of the Olympics is from Greece, so this verse in 2 Timothy holds a special meaning for Olympians, especially those who are Christians. Do we need to participate officially at the Games in order to compete? No. There is a long running spiritual marathon that Christian believers have been called to run. Like the athletes we see on TV, Christians are called to invest heavily in their spiritual walk. It is not necessarily always money, though monetary terms are considered a common quantifiable. Some of us will pay lots of money for training and education to equip others. Some will spend lots of hours to keep relationships warm and healthy. Yet, some will venture into lands far away to reach out to various rural people groups needing to hear the gospel. For every single one of them, the truth is that the spiritual race demands hard work, faithful endurance and to obey the rules of the competition. The rules are enshrined in the Word of God, like the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and many others in the Bible. In the Spirit of the teachings of Christ, we compete in the world stage by observing the rules of the game. No cheating. No drugs. No corruption. No devious forms of cheating or breaking the rules. No dishonesty. These are the rules. What good will there be for one to win the world, using dishonest means? It will soon be found out, and the net result is shame not only for oneself but the family as well. Look at Marion Jones (took drugs to win 5 medals at the 2000 Olympics) and Ben Johnson (took drugs to win the 100m dash at the 1998 Olympics). They brought not only humiliation to themselves but embarrass the countries they represent. It is one thing to win the gold medal. It is yet another to win it in fairness and with integrity. Not all of us are called to win the games at the Olympics. Not all of us will get to stand at the podium to receive the medal. Yet, all of us are called to run the race of our lives, in integrity, in truth and in love.

Nothing is for free. It will cost us something, and for some, it will cost us everything we have. The key to willingness to give it all up is not simply winning the prize. It is not even the expectation of getting the results according to the amount of investment we put in, for some will inevitably fail to reap the required results. For the Christian, it is essentially the faithfulness to endure all hardship in order to glorify God. Love is the fuel that will sustain the journey. Love is the compass to focus our drive for excellence. Let love provide the faithfulness needed to stick to our stated paths. Let love form the discipline for us being a good soldier or an athlete. While nothing is for free, all things can be FREELY given. That is what love is all about. Love is not love until it is freely given away. In Christ, we see the greatest love ever known.

My readers, compete aggressively with a prize-driven mentality and a God-led integrity. Run earnestly and be willing to pay the price to get a chance to run the race. You may not win every earthly battle or competition before you. You may not even come close to qualify for the finals. However, it isn’t finished until it is finished. It will not end until the kingdom of God fully appears in all its glory. Yet, there is an interesting twist about running and winning the race. This is best demonstrated by telling the story of love, which can also be referenced here.
“A few years ago at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100 yard dash. At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win.

All, that is, except one boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy. They slowed down and looked back. They all turned around and went back. Every one of them! One girl with Down's Syndrome bent down and kissed him and said,"This will make it better."

All nine linked arms and walked across the finish line together. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes.

People who were there are still telling the story. Why? Because deep down we know one thing. What matters most in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What truly matters in this life is helping others win, even if it means slowing down and changing our course.”
As we compete to win, remember that whether we win or we lose, it is love that makes everything meaningful.


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