Monday, August 11, 2008

Winning -when you are waaay behind

Last night Nancy and I were watching the Summer Olympics from Beijing; it was cool to see President Bush sitting there in a casual blue denim shirt and just looking like a boy from Texas, with no fanfare.

We watched the women's gymnastics and agreed with the Russian commentator and Bob Costas that the USA was "robbed", we remarked on how good all the athletes looked and I admitted that I did finally appreciate sports of this caliber. There was good humor, wisdom, frank assessment and what they call real "sportsmanship", noted by the fact that the Chinese were very appreciative of their long-standing rivals, the Japanese. It gladdened my heart.

Another event came up: the Men's 400 Meter Relay in Swimming. The prime contenders for the gold? The French. When asked what they thought their chances were against the USA, they replied, "We will smash them!"

And ladies and gentleman, they set out to do that very thing. They hit that water like men on fire. The commentators went nuts as it was shown how FAST these guys were swimming - they were SECONDS faster than the world record. Pay attention, please: not hundredths of a second, not tenths of a second, FULL seconds ahead of the World Record.

Even a sports moron like me was flabbergasted, as I watched them digitally put up the moving line for the world record on the screen in real-time, and you could see the French were full body lengths ahead of it!

But so were a few others - not exactly full body lengths, but a length or half-length. In other words, the French boasting was spot-on - they were amazing -but everyone "brought their game" so to speak.

We watched in awe as the USA chased them, stroke after stroke, lap after lap, always behind, always close. The French were going to win this four man relay, it seemed certain.

Yeah. I gave it away, didn't I? Well, let me tell you what I saw. I saw the USA not give up and kept pushing. And then I saw on the final lap, in the last 20 meters the most amazing thing a sports fan could ever see - the stuff you see in movies but never in real life, in real time.

I saw the USA close that gap, stroke by stroke, and I began screaming. I began shouting and I became a sports geek in two seconds. Or should I say .08 seconds? Eight-hundredths of second?

Cause that is the amount of time the USA beat the French in that last arm stroke.

On the video replay, you cannot tell the difference. It looked like synchronized swimming, the perfection of the contact with the pool wall timer. If you tap your middle finger and index finger on the table at the same time, you could not be closer. By that amount, the French were beaten out of the gold medal. By that amount, they were humiliated for their words.

Now you may expect a "do better, try harder, you could lose by eight-hundredths of a second!" sermon. Naw. I save such stupidity for Arminians and co-dependent pastors who think its their sovereign duty to whip the flock into shape.

No, the lesson here is: no matter how hot and talented you are and how sincere and how powerful you may be, God can show you up. He can humble you.

And those who refuse to be intimidated by boasting, who stay true to what is in front of them to do, who stay faithful, will kick your a** in front of millions of people.

I know. A pastor shouldn't say "a**". But I didn't, so there. (Could be "ant" or "ark" or "awl" or "art"...)

What's the message for today? Jesus. And winning from behind.

I love this little scene, because, like the simplicity of the most powerful leader in the world, and the victory of the USA team, (even though the women got robbed), it says VOLUMES about staying true and not letting what the world says stop you.

John 20:15-17
"Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

Jesus said to her, "Mary..."
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

Jesus said, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father! Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' "


Don't get religious - just look at the human drama for a second. Mary is crying - she thinks someone stole Jesus' body: she's been robbed! She's upset enough at watching the man she loved most in the world get beaten to death, but even worse, some #$%$% stole his BODY! So she's crying (having someone disinter your loved one would cause the same reaction in you I suspect).

Then Jesus shows up. Tenderly, gently. He knows she's broken-hearted, and He must comfort her, because she didn't know He'd win like THIS!

She shouts "TEACHER!" Jesus has to pick her fingers off of His robe ("Don't cling to me" is the better translation.) He's grinning at her. He loves her. He's calming her down. He's saying, "Mary -its O.K. baby. We won. Go tell our other friends who are scared and frightened its all O.K.!"

We cling to what WAS. We cling to our LOSS. We cling to what everyone else SAYS.

Then reality hits as to Who really wins. The one who refuses to surrender to pride or lies or boasting by men. That one who does such things wins.

Or, as one ex-slave serving in the Union army said, as he walked by his former master locked up in a stockade:

"Bottom rail on top now, Mass'er!"

Amen, brother. Amen.

(Go for the gold simply by remaining on task. You'll get where you are heading, I promise.)

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