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The Olympics of Faith

August 8, 2016

“. . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.”  (Hebrews 12: 1b-2a).

Round 1 of the men’s 400 meter race will be run this Friday in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic games. The movie Chariots of Fire documented Eric Liddell’s stunning victory in that race in Paris in 1924. But we remember Liddell for the race he didn’t run. He refused to run in his best event, the 100 meter race, because the qualifying heats for the race were scheduled for the Sabbath. The psalmist reminds us “All your commands are trustworthy.” (Psalm 119:86)[1]. Liddell thought so. “Eric took the Lord’s command seriously, that we are to observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Holy simply means ‘separated unto God.’ As he saw it, running in the Olympics on that day was out of the question, and Eric would not compromise on what he believed God had commanded.” (Metaxas, 7 Men (2013) Thomas Nelson, p. 66). Paul Tillich reminds us that “. . . faith leads to action. . . “ (Tillich (1957) Harper & Row, p. 117). Metaxas suggests that we wouldn’t even know who Liddell was if he hadn’t taken that stand—if he hadn’t put his faith into action. He is remembered because he did not bend to the tremendous pressure exerted on him by the British Olympic Committee and others.

The theme running through the Scripture texts is the importance of speaking the truth, and ensuring that your actions are consistent with that truth. Jeremiah tells us not to listen to the prophets of the day who are just spouting what they think we want to hear and not the truth. “They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.”( Jeremiah 23: 16).

Liddell spoke the truth when he was asked how he managed to win a race in 1923, after being knocked down by another runner: “The first half I ran as fast as I could. The second half I ran faster with God’s help.” (Metaxas, 7 Men, p. 65). Liddell must have been inspired by the twelfth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrew Christians: “. . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:1b-2a). The epistle text describes many Biblical heroes of faith who were tested during their lifetimes, and tells us that they are “the great cloud of witnesses” whose stories can encourage us and spur us on to persevere against great odds. (Hebrews 12:1). We are inspired by those who have gone before us—those who, like Liddell, have been knocked down but have gone on to win the prize.

Nick Vujicic is an example of another Olympian of faith who put his faith in action. Nick was born without any limbs; he has no arms and no legs. His second book, Unstoppable, includes photos of him surfing, with his wife on their wedding day, and on travels to the far corners of the earth.  He is an evangelist and motivational speaker who founded the non-profit organization, Life Without Limbs. Nick’s story is one of many incredible stories of people who put their faith in action despite the many obstacles in their paths.

The gospel lesson describes the conflict that sharing the gospel can bring: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12:51). But there is hope: Jesus said “I have come to bring fire on the earth . . .” (v. 50). The fire is the fire of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit—it is a fire of hope, not of judgment. As Liddell learned, sharing the gospel can bring conflict, but ultimately eternal peace for those who accept the Holy Spirit into their lives.

Nothing is wasted in God’s economy. He will use every struggle that you endure to his glory if you put your faith and trust in him. Paul assures us that “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). I remember hearing a taped sermon preached many years ago, about the good that can come from the problems that beset us. The pastor said “I got problems, you got problems, all God’s children got problems. But guess what? God specializes in problems. He uses people with problems to work miracles. If you have a problem, you are the lucky candidate for a miracle! No problem . . . no miracle.”

We recently saw the movie Miracles from Heaven based on the true story of the Beam family, whose daughter was cured of a rare life-threatening digestive disorder after a terrible accident. While her survival of the accident and consequent complete cure of her illness were certainly bona fide miracles, her mother realized later that God had been with them throughout their trials, providing everyday miracles to ease their suffering along the way. We put our faith into action when we allow God to use us for his purposes, recognizing that he is with us even in our suffering. We don’t know why God doesn’t immediately remove our troubles, but we can be assured of his help along the way if we act in faith.

Be an Olympian of faith who inspires others. Run the race with perseverance and cross the finish line of life with your eyes fixed on Jesus.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan




[1] The Scripture texts for the Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost are Psalm 119:81-88; Jeremiah 23:16-29; Hebrews 11:17-31; 12: 1-3; Luke 12: 49-53.

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