Tag Archives: Olympian

What a Difference Faith makes!

given on Sunday, August 7, 2016

Scripture connection: Hebrews 11:1-16, NLT

11 Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.

It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—“he disappeared, because God took him.”[a] For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God. And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. 10 Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.

11 It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed[b] that God would keep his promise. 12 And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.

13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. 14 Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. 15 If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. 16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Key questions: Why difference does faith in God make in my life?

  • What does faith look like?
  • How do I develop faith?
  • How does faith change my life?

 

Reflection: What a difference faith makes!

             Surely you have noticed that it is August and there is something decidedly different about this August—it is as green and colorful as though it were still May, right after the April showers when everything looks bright green with an array of rainbow colors glowing in the sunlight.

August in the Midwest typically looks quite different—brown, brittle grass. Tired, worn out gardens usually struggle with little color left from the annuals planted around the walks or in flowerpots. The only thing that seems to do well is the spindly okra soaking up the sun and thriving on very little water. But not this year. This year our late summer world is green and colorful.

What a difference God’s rain and sunshine make in our world today. Farmers and gardeners know that planting seeds is an exercise in faith. The conditions that surround the seed and seedling are critical to the entire growing process. During the growing season, conditions vary dramatically, but somehow the majority of seeds does germinate, grow, and mature. The yield varies depending on the quality of the growing conditions that nurtured those crops to fruition.

Faith is much like the seed we place in the ground. Faith begins as a tiny little idea that dropped into our lives at any time. Sometimes the seed is planted by accident and sometimes it is carefully, lovingly placed by parents who know the difference faith makes in one’s life.

Yes, faith makes a difference in our lives; what type of difference depends so much on the circumstances, the challenges, the failures and the successes. Faith becomes a powerful force yielding the greatest reward imaginable—salvation and the life eternal alongside Jesus Christ and a host of faithful souls including those who have made a difference in our earthly journey.

In Hebrews, the definition of faith is given: Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. The verse is used so repeatedly that it has become a cliché and possibly has lost its value as a life-changing principle. Still, faith makes such a difference in the quality of one’s life.

Unfortunately, many cannot identify faith in their own lives and struggle to figure out what makes life journey fruitful. The Old Testament stories that are included in Hebrews 11 provide evidence of how faith supports even the most faithful during the most difficult trials. The stories begin with Cain and Able and continue through even the books of the prophets.

Still understanding faith today is difficult. Because faith is not a product that one goes to a store or gets on line to purchase, faith sometimes fails to be planted in our lives. Maybe our parents did not plant faith’s seed because they were not equipped to plant and nurture that seedling. Perhaps the parents did plant the seed, but then the environment or circumstances interfered and the seed of faith sat fallow, not germinating but remaining as a faint promise.

Today faith is evident around us even though many argue that is not. Evidence of faith may not sound like the Old Testament or even the New Testament stories, but they are listed there, too. Consider the stories of the woman who had such strong faith in Jesus’ healing power that all she wanted was to touch his robe in order to heal. And her faith did heal her. Lazarus’s family believed and Jesus raised him from the dead.

Even the circumstances of the Last Supper paint a picture of how the brutal ending of Jesus’ life fueled the earliest Christians to band together and carry God’s message forward. Those disciples who shared the bread and the cup with Jesus certainly had their faith challenged, but despite the negative growing conditions, the church did grow.

Faith is essential to the quality of our lives. Faith is a seed sitting there just waiting to grow. We need to know that we are equipped to nurture that faith and encourage it to grow to fruition so God can harvest it when the growing season ends.

How does faith grow? The directions are sprinkled throughout the Bible. We must read and study the Bible in order to fertilize our faith. John Wesley was educated and still he struggled to understand how faith operated. His own brother served as an agent of change for Wesley. John and Charles were both raised in the church, and it took Charles’s recommendation to continue in reading the Bible and praying. And John did. He placed himself into a disciplined environment and continued his ministry right up until his personal moment of enlightenment referred to as his Aldersgate Moment when he felt his heart ‘strangely warmed.’

Life is going to challenge each and every one of us in ways that we cannot predict. Watching the Olympics opening ceremonies, I was reminded how unifying the games can be. The inclusion of a team of refugees is a testimony in faith. The discipline of Olympian athletes is often a quality reflected in their lives whether on or off the competition. The discipline carries them to the finish line and the refugees maintained that discipline even when they had no country, no alliance.

We have the tools to grow faith, we just must be disciplined enough to do it. Wesley explained that we are to practices the acts of piety and the acts of mercy to develop the fruitfulness of faith. We are to join in fellowship with other Christians to worship, to pray, and to serve together.

Faith is knowing that God is with us throughout the challenges in our lives and trusting that we will receive the ultimate reward. Faith is knowing that we can manage the ups and downs in life because God is with us always.   Faith takes work but it is easier to do when working together with others who believe.

Today we join together at the table to renew our connection to God through the bread and the cup. We are practicing the very same methods God taught the first disciples to strengthen our faith. May the ancient words from scripture, from the liturgy, from the hymns, and from those around us so we may find the peace, the joy, and the contentment that enriches our faith-filled lives.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving Father,

Thank you for the words of encouragement shared in the Bible.

Thank you for the guidance of the faithful surrounding us.

Thank you for your patience as we struggle to understand faith.

Fill us with the Holy Spirit as we share in the bread and the cup.

Fill us with the joy of knowing your grace and your love.

Fill us with the courage to battle the challenges to our faith.

May we take our faith and use it to share your grace with others.

May we demonstrate our faith so others may see it in action.

May we lead others to identify the power of faith in their lives, too.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen

 

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Are you an Olympian Christian?

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:  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.

 

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. Is it your gift to serve? Then serve. Is it teaching? Then teach. 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:

 

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.

 

Scripture says,

“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.

Closing prayer:

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

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