INTRO.- ILL.- A man was discussing his tennis technique with a friend. He said, “My brain immediately barks out a command to my body: ‘Run forward, and fast.’ It says, ‘Start right now. Drop the ball gracefully over the net and then race back to position.’”
His friend replied, “And then what happens?”
He said, “And then my body asks, ‘Who, me?’”
Brethren, when it comes to most forms of exercise, tennis or whatever, our bodies often ask, “Who, me?” And most of us have found that we as we age our bodies keep asking more and more, “Who, me?”
ILL.- Several years ago my son Shane and I had an Olympic set of barbells in our garage. If you put all the plates on the bar it would weigh about 310 lbs. One Sunday evening we were getting ready to go to church and my daughter and son-in-law were visiting with us. In fact, he was going to preach Sunday night and it was a good thing.
Shane, Chris (my son-in-law) and I were in the garage and I decided I would deadlift that 310 lbs. I thought, “I can do this, because when I was 28 years old I could deadlift 435 lbs.” I bent over that weight and strained and tugged several times and my body said, “Are you crazy or what?” Needless to say, I did not lift that weight, not even a little.
As much as we hate it, as we age our bodies don’t respond as well as they once did. And most of us are not into any kind of exercise except for that hand-to-mouth exercise that we get at the dinner table. We’re pretty good at that, but it’s not an Olympic sport!
However, the Olympic spirit is in the air but not as much as expected. The 28th Olympiad in Athens is not being attended very well. Sounds almost like church or some churches.
Some are calling it the games no one attended. The last I heard only about 3.2 million tickets out of a total of 5.3 million have been sold. One problem is that the Greek people don’t make much money.
An average income in Greece is around $1,000 a month, about 40 percent of which goes to rent the typical apartment. That doesn’t leave the average Athenian with the money for $80 ticket to a big event. Contrast that with what we Americans make and can spend.
ILL.- One man from L.A. said, “We came in from L.A. and our plane tickets cost $1,700 each. We are staying with family and don’t have to pay for a hotel. We went to the Opening Ceremony, so each ticket for that was 950 euros ($1,172). We never expected anything so amazing. It’s worth it; I mean it’s something (my son) will remember for the rest of his life.” Total: more than $8,000.
You know what I think? I think that America is very blessed even though not many Americans have $8000 to spend on anything, much less on a trip to the Olympics.
As far as TV viewing is concerned, I read that NBC’s prime-time coverage Sunday, Aug. 15th, averaged 15.4% of U.S. TV households.
NBC’s three-night prime-time average of 14.1% of U.S. NBC says Olympic viewership, including cable, is up 11%.
A LOT OF EYES ARE ON THE OLYMPICS THROUGH THE MEANS OF TELEVISION. And if you haven’t watched some of the events, I’d encourage you to do so just for the sake of being an American patriot.
The most important thing about the Olympics is people. People from all over the world, competing in a sport they love and have talent in. Most of them are people just like us. They’ve just been blessed with a different talent than what we’ve been given.
We watch in admiration and appreciation. We may even be somewhat inspired to do more in life, to work harder, etc. Inspiration often produces motivation. When someone does a good job, they inspire us to do the same. And we give thanks to God for being alive and being a part of this world of abundance.
PROP.- God uses athletics in His Word to describe the Christian life. Life is like the Olympics in many ways. Let’s consider:
1- The sports
2- The training
3- The spectators
4- The rules
5- The rewards
I. THE SPORTS
I don’t know how many different events or types of sports there are in the summer Olympics, but there are plenty...something for everybody to watch and enjoy.
ILL.- I saw a survey one time where people were asked what was their favorite summer Olympic sport. 45% of the people surveyed said they liked the gymnastics the best. But, of course, that was before the track and field events had even started. Some Olympic events are mentioned in Scripture and do remind us of the Christian life.
Eph. 6:12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Wrestling is something I really don’t enjoy very much. At least, not the professional kind. It’s more entertaining and craziness than wrestling, from my viewpoint. But Olympic wrestling is the real stuff. And the wrestling match we’re involved in is the real stuff too. Paul said that we are in a wrestling match with the powers of this dark world, namely Satan.
ILL.- Preacher Vance Havner once said that Teddy Roosevelt had a little dog that was always getting in fights and always getting licked. Somebody said, “Colonel, he’s not much of a fighter, is he?” The Colonel replied, “Oh, yes, he’s a good fighter. He’s just a poor judge of dogs.”
Brothers and sisters, if you’re a poor judge of dogs, you’re going to get licked. Although I’m not talking about dogs. I’m talking about Satan. If you think he’s a pushover, you are the one who is going to get pushed over! Satan is a lot stronger and wiser than you are. And there is no way in the world that you are going to whip him by yourself.
James 4:7 “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” How do you resist the devil?
I Pet. 5:9 “Resist him, standing firm in the faith…”
How do you resist Satan? Go to church regularly, faithfully. Stay in God’s Word. Pray without ceasing. Get involved in some kind of Christian service. Do anything and everything that deals with your Christian faith. That’s how to resist the evil one! When you fill your life with the good things of God there will be no room for the evil.
RUNNING. The Christian life is similar to running a footrace.
I Cor. 9:24 “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”
II Tim. 4:7 “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
To most people, long distance running is running a mile. But that’s child’s play. Running a mile is just warming up.
Of course, in the Olympics we have all kinds of distances for running. There are the sprinters who run the 100 meters, 200, 400, etc. There are the milers, the 5k runners, the 10k runners and there are the marathoners who run 26:2 miles.
I really wish that the Christian life was just a short sprint. Personally, I think it would be a lot easier to finish if it was, but it’s not.
The Christian life is more like the marathon race. It’s a long race. A hard race. And it’s one thing to enter a marathon but it’s another thing to finish the race. And there are many people who jump on the Jesus’ bandwagon but never finish the race. There are many people who walk the church aisle, confess their faith in Christ and are baptized into Christ but eventually they drop out of the race for some reason or another.
In marathon running it’s called “hitting the wall.” And that’s when the runner basically runs out of gas. And life is full of “hitting the wall” experiences: death, divorce, disasters like hurricane Charley, etc.
The Christian life is a tough act. Life is a tough act. WE NEED TO GIVE SUPPORT TO ONE ANOTHER AS BEST WE CAN, NOT THE LEAST WE CAN!
ILL.- In the 1968 Mexico Olympics, Steven Akhwari of Tanzania fell during the marathon. Bloody and limping, he entered the stadium so far behind that only a few thousand spectators remained. He was asked by reporters why he continued to run. Akhwari said, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race. They sent me to finish the race.”
Let’s set our minds and hearts on finishing the race and helping all others to finish as well.
II. THE TRAINING
I Cor. 9:25 “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training…”
Training to compete in the Olympics is hard work, especially in certain foreign countries. Many athletes dedicate their whole lives to that one thing. They may spend hours every day training for their sport. IT’S TOUGH PHYSICAL AND MENTAL WORK.
ILL.- Many years ago (in the 70’s and 80’s) America had some fast marathon runners, but not any more. I think American runners are just as talented as other runners, but it seems that we lack one key ingredient to compete with the best in the world. IT’S CALLED HARD WORK! We affluent Americans are somewhat fat and lazy in many things, sports included. We just don’t want to work hard in order to accomplish our goals! And it takes hard work to get anywhere in life!
ILL.- I remember the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, when Dan Gable, wrestler from Iowa State University, won the gold medal. He never lost a match. I know one reason why. In preparation for the Olympics he worked out 8 hours a day. He lifted weights, he ran, he wrestled, you name it and he did it in order to improve his wrestling. He was in tip-top shape. He did his homework. He trained hard.
What about us in regard to the Christian life? How much training do we perform? Or any at all? What are we talking about? How does a person train themselves spiritually? Through Scripture and prayer. These are what build us up in the faith and make us able to live the Christian life. If you want to excel in living the Christian life then you must do your homework. You must train hard spiritually.
III. THE SPECTATORS
Heb. 12:1 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…”
For the most part, the spectators are those who are in the grandstands watching the athletes perform and perhaps cheering them on.
Everyone needs to be a cheerleader of sorts, because we all need encouragement in this tough course called life. What if? What if no one ever said anything good to you in life? Like, “I hope you have a great day” or “You look nice today” or “What you did was very good” or “Thank you for what you did” or “thank you for serving, etc.”
It’s hard to function without encouragement or praise.
ILL.- I heard about an old elder one time who had served in his church for many, many years. Finally, one day someone said thank you to him for something he did. He broke down and cried. He said, “You know I’ve been an elder in this church over 30 years and this is the first time anybody ever said anything good to me.” What a shame!
When was the last time you said something encouraging to someone in the church for their service, no matter how small it was?
No one should serve the Lord for praise or to receive praise, but everyone needs encouragement to keep on serving.
Something else about spectatorship that we need to be reminded of. There is a time to watch and there is a time to get involved in the game.
James 1:22 “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.” Or be doers of the word and not spectators only. Watching and doing are two different things. Listening and doing are two different things. Sitting and serving are doing two different things. There is a time to get out of the grandstands and do something, get involved in the game, start serving in some form or another.
IV. THE RULES
II Tim. 2:5 “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.”
As some of you might know, there is a big blowup over two Greek athletes, two sprinters who would not or did not take a drug test. Both of them have now withdrawn from the Olympics.
One of them is Olympic 200-meter champion Costas Kenteris and the other is Sydney 100-meter silver medalist Katerina Thanou. They pulled out of the Athens Games on Wednesday, nearly a week after they missed a drug test and were later hospitalized following a suspicious motorcycle crash.
WHAT IS THE PUBLIC’S REACTION TO ALL THIS?
Waiter Tanagiotis Dimotulos said: “It is proof that maybe even the medals they have won in the past are tainted by drugs. I’m very disappointed because they put their athletic ambitions ahead of the ideals of the Olympics and sport in general.”
But civil servant Aristidis Gargas echoed the feelings of many Greeks. He said, “It has been a very dirty tale. They have been set up by someone and now we must wait to see who was responsible.”
Businessman Hiristos Papadopoulos said: “Justice has been served. It looks like they did something wrong because there is a Greek saying that says a clean sky is not afraid of thunder.”
If these athletes are found guilty of taking drugs in order to enhance their performances then they should be disqualified or else disqualify themselves.
Athletes don’t make the rules, just as we Christian don’t make the rules when it comes to the Christian life. We may try to make our own rules, but it doesn’t work. God makes the rules and we have to play according to them. Otherwise, we could be disqualified for the crown of life.
What’s the greatest rule that God has given?
John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The non-Christian world thinks we are bigoted when it comes to our faith in Christ, but it is God himself who made this rule. We only acquire the crown of life through faith in Christ, trusting in who He is and what He did for us on the cross.
This rule means that God gets the glory, not us. If we were to win the crown by what we did, we would get the glory and this is not how the game is played or finished. IT IS GOD WHO LOVES, NOT MANKIND. It is God who sacrificed and gave His very best, not us. He sets the rules. He gets the glory. However, when we play by His rules we get the crown of life, the joy of heaven.
V. THE REWARDS
Phil. 3:14 “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Obviously, the goal in the Olympics is to win the gold medal. Or any medal would be fine. We all prefer the gold, but sometimes we must settle for less.
ILL.- The young American swimmer, Michael Phelps, was being advertised before the Olympics as the next Mark Spitz who won 7 gold medals in the 1972 Olympics. They said Phelps had a chance to get 8 gold medals and beat Spitz’s record. The last count I heard was that Phelps got 6 gold medals and two bronze medals. All I know is….that ain’t bad!
The beauty of the Christian life, however, is that we are not striving to win a gold medal! All we have to do is finish the race and God is going to give us a crown of glory that will last forever! And it’s for everyone who crosses the finish line and no matter what place they finish!
I Cor. 9:25 “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get crown that will last forever.”
Rev. 2:10 “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
That’s the crown we’re shooting for! It’s lasting! It’s eternal! It’s never-ending! It’s glorious! Far better than any gold medal award here on earth!
ILL.- An executive hirer, a “heat-hunter” who goes out and hires executives for other firms, told this story. He said, “When I get an executive that I’m trying to hire for someone else, I like to disarm him. I offer him a drink, take my coat off, undo my tie, throw up my feet and talk about baseball, football, family, whatever, until he’s relaxed. Then, when I think I’ve got him relaxed, I lean over, look him square in the eye and say, ‘What’s your purpose in life?’ It’s amazing how many top executives fall apart at that question.
“I was interviewing a man one time, had him all disarmed, with my feet up on his desk, talking about football. Then I leaned up and said, ‘What’s your purpose in life, Bob?’ And he said, without blinking an eye, ‘TO GO TO HEAVEN AND TAKE AS MANY PEOPLE WITH ME AS I CAN.’”
Brothers and sisters, what’s your purpose, your ultimate purpose or goal in life? Our goal in life is not winning gold medals no matter what form that may take: making money, having fun, chasing after rainbows or whatever. Our ultimate purpose or goal in life should be heaven and to take as many people as possible with us!
ILL.- The songwriter said it well:
When all my labors and trials are o’er
And I am safe on that beautiful shore
Just to be near the dear Lord I adore
Will through the ages be glory for me.
When by his grace
I shall look on his face
That will be glory, be glory for me.
Brothers and sisters, run in such a way as to get the prize!