Saturday, August 20, 2016

2016 Rio Olympics

These two weeks have been a little piece of what Heaven will look like, where there will be people from every tribe and nation present.  As the 31st Olympiad comes to a close, there are several memorable events, people, and situations to ponder from the 2016 Rio Olympics.

* Being an athlete takes commitment, exercise, time, and sacrifices.

* Athletes were quick to give praise, honor, and thanks to their parents, family, and coaches for the investments they have made in their lives.

* Any athlete can win on any given day.

* Even the best can have bobbles, falls, or missed balls.  It’s what you choose to do afterwards that determines your ability to compete successfully.

* What you may not be able to accomplish individually, you can contribute to and win as a team.

* Keep your eye on the goal/finish line and not on your competitor.

* Run with all your might over the Finish Line.  Finish strong.  Slowing down, when approaching the line, can cost you a medal.

* You have to be willing to give it your all, even if it means diving head-first over the Finish Line as Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas did to win the women’s 400 meters.

* It’s important how you treat, invest in, and speak to people.  Two Olympic swimmers were inspired by and had pictures made with Michael Phelps when they were children.  Katie Ledecky won 4 gold medals and 1 silver medal for swimming events in the 2016 Rio Olympics.  In turn, Katie is now taking the time to pose for pictures and sign autographs to encourage other swimmers.  Joseph Schooling, a 21-year-old swimmer from Singapore, also had his picture made with Phelps.  Schooling took the inspiration to heart.  He beat Phelps this week in the 100-meter butterfly, earning Singapore’s first gold medal in Olympic history.

* Sportsmanship is on display at all times.  New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin tripped and fell on the track in the 5,000 meter race.  American Abbey D’Agostino was running so close behind Nikki that she tripped and fell also.  Abbey told Nikki, “Get up, get up!  We have to finish!”  Abbey helped Nikki get up before she continued to run.  After the race, Hamblin said, “I am so grateful to Abbey for helping me.  That girl was the Olympic spirit right there.  I am so impressed and inspired by that.”

* You can win the most medals in history and still not be happy or fulfilled.  In 2014, Michel Phelps considered taking his own life after receiving a 2nd DUI.  Ray Lewis, an NFL linebacker, reached out to encourage him to get professional help then gave him Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life.”  Phelps told ESPN, “The book turned me into believing there is a power greater than myself and there is a purpose for me on this planet.”  Phelps said he “turned to Jesus Christ and was able to turn his life around.”  Michael credited 2 Corinthians 5:18 with helping him restore his relationship with his father.   “He has restored our relationship with him through Christ, and has given us the ministry of restoring relationships.” 

* There is a time to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

* Comparison is best left to the judges.

* Live up to your own standards.  “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps.  I’m the first Simone Biles.”

* Never give up.  Countries continue to train and send athletes even when they have never won.  This year was the first time for athletes from some countries to win gold or medal for their country.

* Several athletes took the opportunity to declare their faith in Jesus Christ.  David Boudia and Steele Johnson won silver medals in men’s synchronized 10-meter platform diving.  When interviewed, Boudia stated. “I just think in the past there’s just been an enormous amount of pressure and I’ve felt it.  It’s just an identity crisis.  When my mind is on this (the stadium) and thinking I’m defined by this, then my mind goes crazy.  But we both know that our identity is in Christ and we’re thankful for this opportunity to dive in front of Brazil and in front of the United States.  It’s been an absolutely thrilling moment for us.”  In his book “Greater than Gold: From Olympic Heartbreak to Ultimate Redemption,” Boudia chronicles how he came to the point where he no longer sought glory for himself but rather lived to give glory to God.

* Allyson Felix took silver in the 400 meter.  She makes no secret that she is a Christian.  Before her race she posted, “I praise God for it all.  I came to know Jesus Christ at a very young age…Faith leads my life.  That’s definitely the reason I run.”

* When interviewed Friday morning, U. S. wrestling gold medalist Helen Maroulis said that she was scared about competing.  Her pastor reminded her that she had God inside her and she didn’t need to worry.  She claimed that promise during the competition.

* For the first time in Olympic history, the U. S. women swept the 110-meter hurdles.  After the race, Brianna Rollins, the gold medalist told an interviewer, “I just kept God first and just continued to let Him guide me throughout the rounds.  We formed a prayer circle this morning and we just let His presence come upon us….  I want to break world records and win gold medals, but I also want to be known as the athlete who glorified God by reaching my full potential.”

* Your actions and words matter. 

* Athletes must be willing to overcome injuries and handicaps to develop to their potential.  Usain Bolt, considered to be the fastest man in the world, was born with scoliosis.  He has learned to compensate and run so as not to cause further injury to his back. 

* Sometimes you get second chances.  On the exchange of the baton on the women’s 4x100 relay, the baton was dropped.  The 2nd runner picked it up and continued to race.  When the heat was completed, an appeal was made since the 2nd runner was bumped on the track by another country’s athlete, thus causing the baton to drop.  When the film was reviewed, the U. S. women were given a second chance to qualify.  If they had quit and not finished the race, they would have been disqualified, and not able to formally protest the outcome.

* Worship occurs naturally when it is already a part of your lives.  The seven man rugby team from Fiji won their country’s first ever gold medal.  After their win, they stood together in a circle, with their arms on each others’ shoulders, and harmonized in song in both Fijian and English:
“We have overcome
We have overcome
By the blood of the Lamb
And the Word of the Lord
We have overcome.”
When it came time for the winner’s ceremony, in humility, each man knelt on both knees to receive their medal.

A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
Proverbs 22:1

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.
Corinthians 9:24

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Romans 12:15

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Welcoming Arms

For the first time in history, athletes without a country will be competing as a part of the Olympics.  They will be welcomed as team “Refugee Olympic Athletes” (ROA).  Plans were announced at the United Nations General Assembly in October.  After identifying 43 athletes, 10 were chosen for the team by the International Olympic Committee. The team consists of men and women refugees:  5 runners from South Sudan, 2 swimmers from Syria, 2 judokas from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and 1 runner from Ethiopia.  IOC President Thomas Bach stated, “By welcoming the team of Refugee Olympic Athletes to the Olympic Games Rio 2016, we want to send a message of hope for all refugees in our world.”  The refugees are staying with the other athletes in the Olympic Village. 

Yusra Mardini, a refugee from Syria, found sanctuary in Germany, after swimming through the icy waters of the Mediterranean and landing on the Greek island of Lesbos.  She and 20 other migrants were in a small boat that began sinking, after the motor stopped and the boat began to deflate.  She and her sister were two of the only ones who could swim.  They jumped in the icy waters and pushed the boat for three and a half hours until they reached land so the others would not drown.  Mardini stated, “I want to represent all the refugees because I want to show everyone that, after the pain, after the storm, comes calm days.  I want to inspire them to do something good in their lives.” 

During the Opening Ceremony, the Refugee Olympic Athletes walked into the stadium behind the Olympic flag.  They were welcomed with a standing ovation and cheers only exceeded by the ones for the host country of Brazil.  

 Photo credit: Andrea Creath

As the cameras pan the skies of Rio de Janeiro, one of my favorite sights is the art deco statue of Jesus, “Christ the Redeemer.”  Jesus’ outstretched arms seem to welcome all to the great city of Rio.  What a wonderful reminder that Jesus’ outstretched arms are available anywhere, anytime, to anyone as He offers welcome, salvation, solace, protection, and love to all.  As His followers, may we too be quick to have welcoming arms and hearts to those around us.

Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!
Psalm 90:1 (TLB)

Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
Matthew 10:40

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28

 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,
Philippians 3:20

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
I Peter 2:11, 12

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Olympic Spirit

The next two weeks will be full of joy, excitement, disappointments, heartaches, and pride for our athletes as they compete for the United States in the 2016 Rio Olympics.  Potentially world records will be shattered, underdogs will pull off an upset, and some participants will go home with medals after sacrificing much time and effort over the years.  For a few brief moments, we will all be on the same page as we cheer, “GO USA!”

Derek Redmond, the son of West Indian immigrants, gives a glimpse into the essence of the human spirit for an Olympic athlete.  Redmond is a retired British athlete who won gold medals in the 4x400 meters relay at the European Championships, World Championships and Commonwealth games.  In the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Derek had to pull out of the opening round of the 400 meters race 90 seconds before his heat, due to an injury to his Achilles tendon.  He endured eight surgeries to repair the injuries.

With renewed health, Redmond was able to qualify for and compete in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.  Just like other races, his father, Jim Redmond, accompanied him to the event and cheered him on from the stands.  Before the competition they had talked about the importance of ignoring the past disappointments, heartaches, and injuries and to concentrate on finishing the race no matter what.

Derek posted the fastest time in the first round and also won his quarter-final.  In the semi-final heat, Redmond hit his stride about the 250 meter mark and took the lead.  With 175 meters to go to the Finish Line, Derek heard a pop and realized his right hamstring had torn.  He hobbled, stopped, and then collapsed onto the track in writhing pain.  As the stretcher bearers approached, Redmond got up, waved them off, and began to hop to the Finish Line.  At the same time, Jim Redmond ran down the bleachers, hopped onto the field, and joined his son on the track.  At the final curve, he wrapped his arm around his son’s waist to give him support.  “I’m here, son.  We’ll finish together.”  With a stadium full of people cheering them on, a sobbing son put his arms around his father’s shoulders so he could complete the race.  A few feet before the Finish Line, Jim released his son so he could complete the heat on his own two feet.

Sometimes during the Olympics and life, gold medal moments happen at places other than on the medal stand.  I’m grateful for a Heavenly Father, a great crowd of witnesses, family, and friends who are here to cheer us on and encourage us in this race called life.  May we keep the goal in mind, our focus on Jesus, never grow weary or lose heart, and finish strong.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4