Monthly Archives: July 2012

Olympic-level Training in Faith

Olympic competition began Wednesday, including a 4-2 win by the U.S. women’s soccer team over France. The schedule of events explodes after today. Friday evening features the spectacle of the London 2012 Summer Olympics, with appearances by luminaries such as Paul McCartney, David Beckham, perhaps Muhammad Ali, and many more. Even if you don’t watch many events in whole or in part, all media will be overflowing with reports of Olympic winners, Olympic human interest stories, Olympic fashion critiques, and any other Olympic-related subject imaginable.

When I was involved in teaching preaching, a habit common to many southern “preacher boys” was the overuse of sports stories as sermon illustrations. I have heard numerous people since my days at seminary say that their minds seem to fog up when they hear a preacher begin to tell a sports-related story in a sermon. Those worshippers want to hear about living their faith in terms more relevant to them than sports. Preachers often would do well to utilize illustrations connecting with a variety of activities in order to engage as many people as possible with the gospel. Sports stories offer such easy insights into struggle, discipline, overcoming obstacles, and ultimate victory that many preachers find them nearly irresistible for making a point in a sermon.

Actually, preachers who use sports analogies in sermons are in good biblical company. Bible texts employing images from sports are not very numerous (which should suggest a good frequency of use to preachers) but they do communicate clearly the elements of commitment, discipline, and dedicated effort involved in living an active life of faith in God.

As the Olympics are so pervasive, ubiquitous, wall-to-wall, and inescapable in the coming weeks, constant reminders will be present to recall biblical injunctions to strive for excellence on our part of living by faith. God’s grace always precedes our efforts and remains the source of our faith. Still, the kind of focus, commitment, and sacrifice, along with a keenly developed spirit for reaching the goal that Olympic athletes demonstrate can translate into our lives to spur our dedication to living the lives God desires of us. Imagine what the world might be like if followers of Jesus immersed themselves in Olympic-level training in faith!

Here are some of the Bible passages you might keep in mind as you encounter Olympic events:

. When extreme physical exertion and inevitable incidents of fatigue determine the results of an event:

Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind. (Isaiah 40:28-31 MSG)

. When watching any track and field event, or perhaps a human interest story about years of training in order to reach the heights of Olympic performance:

Do you remember how, on a racing-track, every competitor runs, but only one wins the prize? Well, you ought to run with your minds fixed on winning the prize! {25} Every competitor in athletic events goes into serious training. Athletes will take tremendous pains-for a fading crown of leaves. But our contest is for an eternal crown that will never fade. {26} I run the race then with determination. I am no shadow-boxer, I really fight! {27} I am my body’s sternest master, for fear that when I have preached to others I should myself be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 JB Phillips)

. When watching athletes stand on the awards podium to receive bronze, silver, and gold medals and see clips of how they reached that place of honor:

Do you see what this means-all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running-and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed-that exhilarating finish in and with God-he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (Hebrews 12:1-3 MSG)

. When you think that Olympic performance is possible by only a few, remember that everyone can participate at the level for which they are gifted – but all efforts should be our best:

Take time and trouble to keep yourself spiritually fit. {8} Bodily fitness has a certain value, but spiritual fitness is essential both for this present life and for the life to come. {9} There is no doubt about this at all, and Christians should remember it. {10} It is because we realise the paramount importance of the spiritual that we labour and struggle. We place our whole confidence in the living God, the saviour of all men, and particularly of those who believe in him. (1 Timothy 4:7b-10 JB Phillips)

You are on your own for making other associations between Olympic events and your faith. Maybe you can imagine that the Olympic pool is a 50 meter long baptistery. You might pray for people to be as eager as an Olympic swimmer to dive into the baptistery in your church in celebration of their commitment to follow Jesus. Create your own sports analogy for faith! But remember, commitment, discipline, training, sacrifice, and visions of reaching the goal kindle the heart of every Olympic athlete. What lights the fires of faith in your heart for living out your faith in God?

– J. Edward Culpepper

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