Team USA hasn’t won a gold medal in women’s Olympic cycling since 1984, but fans thought Mara Abbott was going to end that drought. With a 40 second lead on Sunday, Abbott was positioned to win the gold.
With 200 meters left in the race, Abbott thought her dreams were about to become reality, but the last 150 meters along scenic Copacabana Beach became a nightmare. Anna van der Breggen of the Netherlands, Sweden’s Emma Johansson and Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini had been chasing Abbott for most of the race, and the three of them passed the race-weary Abbott.
When bicyclists think of this race, will they remember Abbott for her effort or for her 4th place finish?
Fortunately, finishing in 1st place is not a prerequisite to pleasing God. In his letter to Timothy, Paul said: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing (I Timothy 4:7-8).
I applaud the effort, discipline, and dedication of Mara Abbott and Team USA; and, I cheer for you as you fight the good fight.
I can still remember Jim McKay’s famous tagline: “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” It was an invitation to stop what I was doing and to watch the weekly edition of ABC’s Wide World of Sports. McKay’s famous words went full circle this past Saturday in the world of horse racing.
Trainer Francis Campitelli was enjoying the “thrill of victory’ as he watched Homeboykris cross the finish line in first place. A short time later, Campitelli’s thrill turned to agony as his horse collapsed and died while walking to the stable.
This sad incident lends credence to Solomon’s observation in Proverbs 27:24: “Riches are not forever, nor does a crown endure to all generations.”
If you know anything about horse racing, you should know that fame and fortune can be fleeting; it’s a dangerous sport that is prone to deadly accidents. In 2012, the New York Times reported that each week 24 horses had died on racetracks from 2009 to 2012.
I doubt the Apostle Paul was thinking of horse racing when he spoke of the uncertainties of life; however, his statement is interesting: “Tell those who are rich in this age not to be arrogant and not to place their confidence in anything as uncertain as riches. Instead, let them place their confidence in God, who lavishly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (I Timothy 6:17).”
Paul’s words to Timothy were no aggrandizement of the truth; they were based on a statement that Jesus had made: “First and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also (Matthew 6:33 ~Amplified Bible).”
I’ll close with Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’ logic: “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers — most of which are never even seen — don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you (The Message)?”
When I hear a puzzling story or a comment about someone or some event, I wonder about the specifics of the situation and ask:
- What happened?
- What are the facts?
- What details am I missing?
The mention of the name Demas stokes the fire of my curiosity. Of the three passages that refer to Demas, two are positive and one is negative:
- Philemon 23-25: “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”
- Colossians 4:14: “Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.”
- 2 Timothy 4:10: “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.”
What happened to Demas? How could he go from being a co-laborer with the Apostle Paul to being classified as a Christian who went AWOL? Had his Christian experience been a mere dalliance with no true alliance to Christ?
Was Demas like the sunshine soldier that Thomas Paine spoke of when he addressed the difficult times in which he lived?
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country.”
Contrary to what many people believe, living a life of faith is not for the frail of heart. Paul suggests that it takes guts, courage and backbone:
- I Timothy 6:11-12: Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.
- 2 Timothy 2:3 “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
- I Corinthians 9:24-25: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”
- Hebrews 12:1-2: “we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
Demas dismissed the principled and dedicated life that Paul modeled, but a man named Jim Elliot embraced it. Sixty years ago, Elliot was martyred on the mission fields of Ecuador. A daily practice of his was to write in his journal, and his notes give a glimpse of his dedication to Christ:
- “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
- “Rest in this: it is His business to lead, command, impel, send, call or whatever you want to call it. It is your business to obey, follow, move, respond, or what have you.”
- “God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life that I may burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life but a full one like You, Lord Jesus.”
When you consider your life and the faith factor, what do you see. Is your Christian walk little more than a dalliance of dedication, or does it reflect a true alliance with Jesus Christ?
The craziness of March Madness was on full display this past week. Several upset-minded teams played the role of Cinderella as they danced their way to victory.
On Friday, the Panthers of Northern Iowa wore the silver sneakers and defeated the University of Texas with a dramatic half-court buzzer beater. On Sunday, however, the magic was gone and UNI lost to Texas A&M.
I’m not sure how many bible scholars play for UNI, but I do know they learned something about eternity—it never ends. With a 12-point lead and just 44 seconds left to play, UNI was already tasting victory.
Those final 44 seconds turned into an eternity of mishaps. With Matt Bohannon on the bench with a knee injury, UNI discovered the weak link in their lineup—no other player could fill his shoes.
The Panthers agonized for 44 seconds as Texas A&M intercepted one inbound pass after another, and their 12-point lead vanished. Evidently the Panthers Fairy God Mother had left the stadium 45 seconds earlier, and she wasn’t present when this Cinderella took a nasty fall.
The Panthers loss reminds us that a team is only as strong as its weakest link—the same is true for churches. This is why Paul encouraged Christians to help bear the burdens of fellow believer; to lift each other up in prayer; and to live a harmonious life in a coordinated effort to grow one another:
We are not meant to remain as children at the mercy of every chance wind of teaching and the jockeying of men who are expert in the craft presentation of lies. But we are meant to hold firmly to the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ, the head. For it is from the head that the whole body, as a harmonious structure knit together by the joints with which it is provided, grows by the proper functioning of individual parts to its full maturity in love (Ephesians 4:14-16 ~The Message).
As an individual part of the chain, are you properly functioning? If not, you just might be the weak link.
If you know anything about sports, you know that the Kansas City Royals just won a hard fought and entertaining battle on the baseball fields of Kansas City and New York; and, they have been crowned World Series Champions.
With child-like enthusiasm, baseball fans from near and far are descending on Kansas City today to celebrate with the Royals. They will savor the sweet taste of victory and delight as their team winds its way through the streets of Royals Town USA.
The language of sports has been spoken for thousands of years. Paul used the competition of the Isthmian Games as means to share spiritual truth. He also spoke of a parade of champions that features Jesus as the parade Marshall: “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us spreads and makes evident everywhere the sweet fragrance of the knowledge of Him (2 Corinthians 2:14).”
The parade route in Kansas City with be lined with thousands of spectators, and it will be a great time for adoring fans to shout out to their favorite players. The procession that Paul spoke of is one of triumph that calls you to more than a mere spectator. You are to be a participator and speak up for Jesus.
You are the means through which God spreads the sweet fragrance of His love and mercy. Wave your banner, and give thanks for the victory you have in Him.
You probably know what a putter is, but you might have some doubts about a put-er. A putter can be thought of as a person who is putting a golf ball, and it’s also the club that’s used to putt the ball into the hole.
A put-er is some one who “puts on” or “puts off” specific characteristics specified by the Apostle Paul:
- Be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man (Ephesians 4:23-24)
- Put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth . . . and put on the new man of tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering (Colossians 3:8-12)
The Putter loves golf; tries to get the ball in the hole; and, thinks being under par is good. The Put-er loves the Gospel; tries to stay out of ruts; and, thinks being less than par is bad.
Both have an eagle-like focus. The Putter scores an eagle when he’s two strokes under par. When the Put-er puts on the new man, his strength is renewed; he mounts up with wings like an eagle; and, he runs without growing weary.
Putter or Put-er: Are you one or the other, neither, or both?
It’s enough to make you cry! You know what I mean . . the stinging sensation when your eyes began to burn after jumping into a swimming pool. Up to this point, you may have attributed the red eyes and stinging to chlorine in the water. I hate to be the one who breaks the news to you, but chlorine isn’t the chemical culprit: It’s urine.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that when pool goers go in the pool, the urine binds with the chlorine and produces chloramine. Not only is chloramine an eye irritant, it is also a derivative of ammonia that can cause respiratory problems among some swimmers.
If you find the thought of little tykes tinkling in the pool a bit disgusting, think about your stream of sins from God’s perspective. Jesus said, “It’s what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution (Mark 7:20-23 from The Message).”
Are the habits that define you ones of pollution or purity? Are they mortifying to God or glorifying to Him? I encourage you to live a life that glorifies God by clothing yourself “with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Colossians 3:12).”
A show that was popular a couple of years ago was known for the five words that formed a single question. The question was the title of the show: Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
In the sermon this past Sunday, the message concluded with just three words that formed a single promise: “God is able!” You were asked to remember those three words and to think about them during this week. The five verses below will help you stay focused on this promise:
- When it comes to the subject of grace, “God is able to make all grace abound toward you (2 Corinthians 9:8).”
- Concerning the power that is necessary to live the Christian life, “God is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us (Ephesians 3:20).”
- Paul told Timothy that he could trust God, because “He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day (2 Timothy 1:12).”
- When hard times come, you should know that “Since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested (Hebrews 2:18).”
- A verse in Jude 24 summarizes these principles: “God is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.”
What are you doing to stay focused on these three words? I suggest that every time you open or shut a door, remember to say: “God is able.” If you do this, God might open a door for you.
Success and failure are the topics of many discussions. In the Proverbs, Solomon draws a contrast between the “God-loyal people” and the “wicked” and how they manage the difficult times they face:
“Don’t interfere with good people’s lives; don’t try to get the best of them. No matter how many times you trip them up, God-loyal people don’t stay down long; Soon they’re up on their feet, while the wicked end up flat on their faces.” ~Proverbs 24:15-16
When a person is successful, he hears the cheers of the crowd; however, when he fails, the whispers of the same people are heard as an agonizing shout. Failure is, however, a normal part of a person’s life.
With this in mind, let me share my Top Ten Failure Quotes:
- Failure is not falling down: It is staying down.
- “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be” – John Wooden
- “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” – Denis Waitley
- “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison
- “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
- “It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” – Zig Ziglar
- “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
- Try again. Fail again. Fail better. ~Samuel Beckett
- Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat. ~F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed. ~Lloyd Jones
When I think of a God-loyal person, I think of Tim Tebow. This young man had a stellar career as a college quarterback. When his professional career came to an abrupt halt, some people labeled him as a failure.
Tebow refused ti sit in a corner and sulk. He decided to invest his life in the lives of others, and he does this through the Tim Tebow Foundation that “exists to bring Faith, Hope and Love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.”
Tebow is a living example of Solomon’s words: “God-loyal people don’t stay down long; Soon they’re up on their feet . . . “
This has been one of those weeks where the minutes don’t drag on; they race by, and it there doesn’t seem to be enough time to get things done. When I realize I’m rushing from one project to the next, I try to slow down by spending some time in the Psalms.
One of the Psalms that helps me manage the pace of life’s dizzying race is Psalm 103:
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
3 Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
4 Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
5 Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
There are four things that I think about when I read this Psalm:
- I need to get the right start by saying : “Bless the Lord, O my soul”
- I need to take an inventory so I don’t “forget” my resources.”
- I need to total my assets or “benefits.”
- I need to see God at work: He forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, and satisfies.
- I need to gauge my power: I am “renewed like the eagle.”
I encourage you to read the Psalm again and use the list above as a guide. I hope it helps you as much as it does me.