This time from Greece, the home of Mt. Olympus and the home of the games themselves.
Can you imagine what a thrill and honor it would be to carry your nation's colors in the processional around the stadium.
The glamor events are the one hundred meter sprint and the four by one hundred relay along with a few other events. But the event that to my mind typifies the Olympics is the marathon.
Twenty six miles of pain and fortitude.
It's a great analogy for life.
Life has moments of incredible adrenaline for the emergency or the big moment, but life is not so much a sprint as it is a long distance run.. I think this is what Paul had in mind when he writes in Philipians:
And I think this is what is meant in Hebrews:
I've never run a marathon or anything close to it, except in living, but I have heard that at a certain point in the race, runners hit a point where the body just wants to quit. It is only through determination and training that the successful athletes can push beyond that wall to finish.
In Good to Great, Jim Collins writes:
The coaching staff of a high school cross country running team got together for dinner after winning its second state championship in two years. The program had been transformed in the previous five years from good (top 20 in the state) to great (consistent contenders for the state championship on both the boys' and girls' teams).
"I don't get it," said one of the coaches. "Why are we so successful? We don't work any harder than other teams. And what we do is just so simple. Why does it work?"
He was referring to their simple strategy: We run best at the end. We run best at the end of workouts. We run best at the end of races. And we run best at the end of the season, when it counts the most. Everything is geared to this simple idea, and the coaching staff knows how to create this effect better than any other team in the state.
For example, they place a coach at the 2-mile mark (of a 3.1-mile race) to collect data as the runners go past. Then the coaches calculate not how fast the runners go, but how many competitors they pass at the end of the race, from mile two to the finish?.
The kids learn how to pace themselves and race with confidence:
"We run best at the end,"1.
You know there is a whole culture about aging and retirement.
Somehow the number 65 is either a curse or a golden threshold, depending on your point of view.
It is good that we are able to say to those who have endured and carried the load for many years that they can now cease from the labor of having to earn a living.
But do we have the courage to say, "you can still run best at the end."
Retired persons have the wisdom and perspective on life that youth does not.
Age often brings a patience we lack when we are young.
And retirement means we have the discretionary time we did not when we had to seek a paycheck.
And there is a wonderful opportunity.
We may not have all lived as well when we were young as we might have wished.
But the last stretch of the race gives us the opportunity to find the path again and set our minds on racing home to the Father.
I remember a riding stable just west of Calgary. The horses were tough customers, and a challenge to ride.
They knew the trail which wound through the Alberta foothills like the back of their hooves. But when we came round a certain bend, there was a stretch of level ground leading back to the barn and rest and food. As soon as they turned that last corner and saw the barn, every horse set out at a gallop and there was nothing the riders could do but hold on. They were going home and that was it.
I hope God allows me the opportunity to be like that; pin my ears back and race straight to the Father's home.
I want to go out praying for someone else, though that may not be possible.
I want the last years to be the best years.
If you are in retirement, think about what finishing well means.
You can reorder your priorities and your time in ways that prepare you for the finish line.
You can invest yourself in things that matter, to yourself, to others and to God.
About 80 miles into the race, the air pockets in the soles of Lee's running shoes blew out, apparently from the heat. Lee was left with almost nothing to protect the soles of his feet as he ran over the sand and jagged rocks. Although he carried a backpack of provisions, it contained no extra shoes. His feet were blistered, his body exhausted from the 100-degree-plus temperatures. His eyes burned from the sand and sweat.
Facing another 30 miles to run that day and 40 more miles over the next three days, Lee refused to quit. The only sight ahead of him was the miles of desert, and the massive dunes he would have to overcome, but he pressed on. Three days later, Lee finished the race in the middle of the pack of 600 other runners.
Joey Lee was running for a reason. His young wife, Allison, had died almost a year and a half earlier after a long battle with cancer. Lee was running in memory of his wife and to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
Ignoring the mental and physical obstacles he faced, he finished the race. Afterward, when asked what kept him going, he replied, "I just thought about Allison a lot. This is nothing compared to what she went through."2
I think remembering why you do it is the key.
For me, its because I remember that the end of the race is the threshold of my eternity and I want to enter my Father's eternal presence running my best.
There is a tremendous analogy in the Biblical text:
The marathon ends in the stadium. The runners battle pain and fatigue then the stadium comes into view. They know it is filled with thousands cheering them on. Regardless of where they finish, every athlete who enters the stadium and finishes is cheered.
Remember Rick Hanson and his Man in Motion marathon?
Rick is a paraplegic athlete from Vancouver. In the late 1980's he wheeled himself around the globe raising funds for medical research--much the same way Terry Fox, also from Vancouver, did.
In his book, Things Unseen, Mark Buchanan a pastor from Duncan, writes:
On May 23, 1987, Rick Hanson came home.
When he was still far away, many miles from Vancouver, people gathered to welcome him. As he got nearer, the crowd thickened along both sides of the highway: hundreds of people, then thousands, then thousands on thousands. They roared, clapped, cheered, and wept. They threw flowers. Rick moved with power and grace, effortless. He climbed Thermal Drive in Coquitlam, one snaking precipitous section steeper than the steepest part of the Great Wall of China, and did it with jaunty ease.
And then he headed toward B.C. Place. A capacity crowd of sixty thousand people?national and international dignitaries, rock stars and movie stars, television crews, family, friends, those lucky enough to get tickets?waited inside, delirious with anticipation. As Rick got nearer the stadium, the streets grew impossibly dense with people. Helicopters hovered overhead. Police in cars and on motorcycles flanked his sides. Other wheelchair athletes joined him, coming up behind like a legion of charioteers, flashes from their spinning spokes spilling down the roadway like fistfuls of tossed coins.
As Rick came over the Cambie Street Bridge, he could hear, even above the din of the crowd around him, the roar of voices coming from inside the stadium. A hurricane brewing. A landslide loosening. But not even that prepared him for what happened next.
Rick Hanson entered B.C Place. He swooped through the wide lower gates and glided out onto the stadium floor?and sixty thousand people went berserk. Leaping, dancing, blowing horns, whirling clackers, the air shrill with wolf whistles, exploding with applause, swelling with throaty shouts of welcome and triumph. Wild, raucous, hypnotic. Metal girders hummed like struck turning forks from all the noise burned into them. A roar to deafen, to open the ears of the deaf, to raise the dead. And every time it seemed about to taper off, a fresh wind caught it and carried it higher, louder, brighter, fuller. Such a great cloud of witnesses.3Wow! Wouldn't it be worth running with perseverance knowing you were going to have that kind of welcome?
You are, but better.
The people who cheered Rick Hanson were dignitaries, and ordinary citizens, but none of them had done what he did.
When we turn the corner onto the last stretch and see the stadium full of cheering spectators, Hebrews tells us who is going to be there:
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. (Joshua)
By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.
And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:
who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, (Daniel)
quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, (Samson) became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
Women received their dead raised to life again.( Elijah and Elisha) And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. (many Biblical heroes)
Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, (Jesus) yes, and of chains and imprisonment. (Paul & Timothy)
They were stoned, (Jeremiah) they were sawn in two, (Isaiah) were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented----
of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts (John the Baptizer) and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise.
All of these ready to cheer you on at the end.
How do you want to be finishing the race with these in the cheering section?
I want to finish well. I want to run the race well.
United States runner Marla Runyon has been legally blind for 22 years. Even so, she competed in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. In fact she qualified for the finals in the 1500 meter race. (Marla finished eighth, three seconds behind the medal winners.)
How does she do it? Marla can't see in color, and what she does see is just a fuzzy blob. In a race she just follows the blob of figures in front of her. She told TV commentator Tom Hammonds that the real difficulty was in rounding the final turn and "racing toward a finish line that I can't see. I just know where it is."4Yes, that is the hard part. Racing toward a finish line that you can't see.
But you believe it is there because the One who you want to please above all others has promised you,
"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
"And where I go you know, and the way you know."
Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?"
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.
Running this race has a simple plan.
Get to know the author of those words and put your life in His hands. He is the way, truth and life and knows where the finish line is. Faith is trusting in Him enough to follow where He leads you. That's what faith does.
1.Jim Collins, Good To Great (Harper Business, 2001), p. 206 , quoted in Preachingtoday.com
2. Greg Miller, Madison, Mississippi; source: www.clarionledger.com (4-18-04) ibid
3. Mark Buchanan, Things Unseen (Multnomah 2002), pp.148-149, ibid
4. Harry Hebert, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky; Bruce Bates, Cumberland, Rhode Island; from NBC TV
quoted in Preachingtoday.com
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