Thursday, July 26, 2012

Olympic Gold PLUS a Crown

For today's "giving up the good" I am not going to focus on something I have given up, but I am going to remind you of a great example of this principle/practice.

Any athlete who succeeds is going to tell you that there were many good and bad things that fell by the wayside in the pursuit of their goal.

Based on world population and the number of athletes competing in the London 2012 Olympic Games, you have a 0.00000257142857% chance of becoming an olympic athlete. You don't just wake up on July 26, 2012, and decide that you are going to run tomorrow, July 27, 2012, in the Olympic games.

No. It takes YEARS of practice. Years of hard work. Years of pain. Years of sacrifice. Years of focusing on your goal to be one of the 18,000 competitors. Years of giving up good for the best.

If you are at all familiar with the Olympics, you will have heard of Eric Liddell. In 1981, Chariots of Fire, was released, chronicling the Olympic journeys of Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams.

I love this movie. The score is amazing. The story is inspiring. The sound quality is not quality. (But I hear they just re-released a digitally remastered version. Hopefully that cleans up the sound)

But, the movie tells just a smidgen of Eric's life. And the funny thing is, while his Olympic experience is the focus of the movie, it was not the focus of Eric's life. I am betting if he could see this film, he would laugh at it's emphasis.

The reason I think this, is because, while Eric didn't get up one morning, and decide he was going to run in the Olympics the next morning, he actually had a very short running career. Being an Olympic athlete was not his end goal.

Eric was a well known rugby player for his MK London boarding school. He won honors on the rugby field all four years of high school. He also ran track and field, and tied with his brother in many events. But in sports, his first love was rugby.

After almost a year off from sports, Eric started running in college for fitness. He cleaned up all the races he entered in the summer between his first and second years. In the fall of his second year, Edinburgh University, his Alma Mater, assigned him a trainer. They figured Eric was good enough to have a shot at the Olympics.

During the Olympic trials in July of 1923, Eric won the 440 yard race-after having been pushed over during the race by the favored competitor. A reporter congratulated him, and commented, "You have achieved your greatest desire. How do you feel about competing in the Paris 1924 Olympic games?"

The fact of the matter is, Eric did not consider competing in the Olympics his greatest desire.

Eric's greatest desire was to glorify God.

Eric's goal was to return to the country of his birth to tell the Chinese about God's love, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

And everything Eric did, or didn't do, lined up with those two things-glorifying God and returning to China.

Eric ran while in college and for the Olympics because he had this period of time that he had to be in college anyhow to train for China.

Eric ran because when he ran he was running for God. He was running to bring glory to God. He felt his running brought God pleasure because God had made him fast. He ran fast, and then with God's help he ran faster.

He made the decision not to run on Sunday during the Olympics because he wouldn't sacrifice his faith for the glory of winning. He was not willing to give up the best for the good.

He endured a whole lot of flak for that decision. The movie portrays him finding out about the Olympic trials being run on Sunday on the boat over to France. In reality, he knew for six months that he wasn't running. As did everyone else.

He endured six months of flak. He was called unpatriotic. He was blasted by the high and low. For six months. Giving up the good for the best. His aim was God's glory.

We all know that he won. And God was glorified. "He who honors Me, I will honor."

Eric graduated from Edinburgh University a week after the Olympics. He was Scotland's favored son. Their first gold medalist.

But his eyes were still on another prize.

He attended one year of seminary, and continued running, but in the summer of 1925 he told Edinburgh and London goodbye, and left on the proverbial slow boat to China.

Eric also gave up a fruitful ministry in Edinburgh and London. While he was a student, because of his athletic and Olympic fame, his presence drew huge crowds to gospel campaigns. He would speak forth the message of God's love to thousands of people at a time.

Many people probably encouraged him to stay in Britain. "Look at the ministry you have. God is using you here."

But he gave up the good for the best. God's glory, and God's call on him. A call to China.

Eric gave up most of his running for the last 20 years of his life. The 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam were played without him.  As were the 1932, 1936, and 1940. He did participate in the 1928 Far Eastern Games held in China. His 440 yard time tied exactly with the Olympic winner that summer.

Eric had a fruitful ministry in China at a school. He was a science teacher and he started an athletic program there. Years passed. He married Florence. He fathered three beautiful girls-the last one of whom he never met because of WWII. He gave up the good...
in China

Eric died in February of 1945 of a brain tumor in a Japanese interment camp. He died at the very young age of 43. He died in the prime of his life. He paid the ultimate price.

We could say, "what a waste! Why did God take him so young? Why did he give up his athletic career, and even the ministry opportunities that opened for him?" Was it truly giving up the good for the best?

All I can say, is that I pray my personal giving up the good for the best is as fruitful. That my giving up the good is as glorifying to God. That my giving up the good leaves a worthy legacy to the generations of believers that follow me.

Eric's choice to not run on Sunday during the Olympics in order not to dishonor God, put him in the National spotlight. Eric's win for the glory of God put him down in the annals of time. Eric's choice to serve God as a missionary in China bore fruit for eternity. Countless people have been saved because of that decision.

The music from Chariots of Fire has been the theme of the Olympic ads this year. There is a special museum exhibit in London that just opened this month to honor his life. Communist China calls Eric their first gold medalist, and they are making a museum of one of the buildings he was imprisoned in. His grave in China is a national monument. That is truly an amazing thought if you pause and consider all the implications of that.

Yes, Eric ran well. Both for the Olympics and for life. He can truly say with Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith...there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness." 2 Timothy 4:7-8

He won the gold, but the Lord, the righteous judge, is going to give him a crown. He is going to hear, "well done, thou good and faithful servant."

How about you and me? What good are we giving up for the best of running our race for God's glory?

The goal is not just to give up the good, but to replace it with the best.

What best are you aiming for?

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