Ironclad Convictions

During the 1924 Olympics held in Paris one young man was recognized as much for what he didn’t do as for what he did.

            They called him the ‘Flying Scot’ and he was Britain’s Golden Boy.  If anyone could win the country a gold medal he could.  But Eric Liddell went from Golden Boy to turncoat because of his refusal to compete in the 100 meter, since the finals for the event were to take place on Sunday.

            Despite the opposition Liddell stuck with his decision and switched events.  Instead of competing in the 100 meter he would enter the 400 meter.  Many thought this an absurd decision and held very low expectations for success.  The two races required vastly different strategies and technique.

            But the strategy paid off for Liddell.  Not only did he win the 400 meter, be he also tied the Olympic record for the event with a blistering time of 47.6 seconds.

            It is hard for many of us to understand why a man who was nearer a sure thing in one race would give all that up and risk embarrassment just because of what day of the week an event’s final was scheduled to take place.  Why would a man willingly face the ridicule of being called a traitor by his own countrymen all over something as petty as a day?  Why would a man devote his life to a race and then shortly before the dream became a reality throw it all away only to begin a new rigorous training program in an event so foreign to him?  Like the British officials who coined the ‘Flying Scot’ a traitor, other adjectives like ‘crazy’ and ‘not all there’ come to our minds.

            But when you look at what was behind Liddell’s decision it makes things clearer.  Eric was a devout believer in Jesus Christ.  Everything he did in life he did for Jesus Christ, including running.  When it came to making choices the driving force was his relationship with God through Jesus Christ and not his advancing of a talent, or gaining the applause of others.  His god was God and not his giftedness.

            Still for some of us this is utter insanity and flies in the face of what we consider common sense.  Why would anyone do something like this and give up so much?  Couldn’t he have honored God and raced in the event he had trained so hard for?  What kind of God would require such a thing as giving up your dream?  What we must realize is we’ve only heard half of the story, and though at this point it seems Liddell gave up so much, in reality he gained far more than he ever lost.

            Liddell may have voluntarily removed himself from the 100 meter competition but his entrance into the 400 meter competition resulted in a gold medal and a share of the Olympic record that stood for several years.  His exploits inspired the Academy Award-winning film, “Chariots of Fire”, and all this began because a man chose to stand on his convictions and live by them.

            As a young boy I used to play a game with my friends called “What If” in which we would take the situation we were in and try to imagine all the possible outcomes.  This was one of my favorite games because it stretched my imagination to all kinds of fascinating places.  I realized through that game that there is no limit to the possibilities in the realm of “What If”.

            I’m sure Eric Liddell played a round or two of the “What If” game as he was making his decision to not run the 100 meter.  Only he knows what he thought the various outcomes would be, but I would daresay he never imagined it would end up like it did.

            The ‘Flying Scot’ chose the reality of putting God before his running and the sacrifice ended up being far less than the reward.

            How about we play one round of  “What If” right now and you fill in the blank.  What if I (insert your name) __________ put God before __________ (choose something of value to you)?  Would you be willing to sacrifice all that is important to you for Him?

Firmly Resolved

I came across an inspiring story of a young woman who took a stand for her faith in Jesus Christ. This story did not originate from some foreign country in which individuals must hide their relationship with Jesus Christ behind closed doors and it is not a story from centuries past. This story took place just a few years ago right here in the United States of America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, and let me say that in my opinion the story of this young lady epitomizes both of the these values. Megan Chapman was a graduating high school senior at Russell County High School in Kentucky. At the outset of her senior year she had been elected to the chaplaincy of her class. This position had traditionally had the privilege of delivering a prayer at graduation but this year things looked as if they were going to turn out somewhat different. The Wednesday before the graduation proceedings the ACLU filed suit to stop the prayer, and on Friday morning a federal judge issued an order barring the high school from conducting prayer in conjunction with the graduation ceremonies. In this order Megan was actually specifically named as being barred from praying during the graduation. With graduation taking place on Friday night it appeared as though prayer had effectively been removed from yet another part of the fabric of America. Yet, while all these official court proceedings were taking place the senior class officers of the high school had met on Thursday and decided that Megan should not only deliver the prayer at graduation but she should also be the one to deliver a message to the graduating class and everyone present. This group of seniors was determined to have prayer as a part of their graduation so throughout the day on Thursday they had passed out bookmarks containing the Lord’s Prayer, not fully aware of what would take place on Friday. With the realization that her name was specifically sited in a federal lawsuit I can only imagine the incredible pressure that Megan must have been facing. With just hours until graduation she had a critical decision to make, would she stand for Christ in spite of these circumstances and possibly face federal charges or would she comply with the court order and keep silent about her faith in Christ? I’ve asked myself multiple times since reading of Megan’s account what I would have done, though I can’t be one hundred percent certain my prayer is that I would have done the same thing she did. Just three hours before the graduation ceremonies were to take place Megan was contacted by a group of evangelical lawyers who informed her that the court order could only prevent her from praying and not from sharing her personal testimony or a religious message. So Megan prepared to take her stand. With 3,000 in attendance the senior class of nearly 200 students opened up the ceremonies by all standing together and reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Before the students could even conclude the prayer the entire high school gymnasium was enveloped in applause. This was followed up by Megan stepping up to the podium. She had brought a poem with her to the podium but felt as though God was leading her to share a message instead. The message included her personal testimony of her faith in Jesus Christ, her confidence in the peace and guidance of Christ and a desire that everyone present would know Christ as she knows him. There were several instances during Megan’s message in which she was interrupted by applause and cheering as the crowd displayed their support of her decision. I thank God that most of us have not had to face such adversity as followers of Christ, but I also know that God’s Word tells those of us who are followers of Christ that we should be ready for such adversity and expect it. If you were faced with a similar choice with similar severe consequences potentially facing you how do you think you would respond? Would you respond as Megan did and stand boldly for your faith in the midst of adversity or would you quietly give in to the pressure and remain silent about the one who gave everything that you might have life? My prayer is the Megan’s story encourages each of us to have faith in God that there is no adversity too severe that He cannot carry us through and turn such situations into opportunities to proclaim His great message of salvation.

Fear

            Fear is one of the most powerful influences driving our lives, and to varying degrees we all stare it down on a regular basis.  It is an influence that both draws and repels us.  We hate the fact that we are fearful and try to avoid those things which send a chill down our spine and cause us to freeze like a deer in the headlights, but at the same time we are almost hypnotically drawn to those things that strike fear in our hearts as though there is some hauntingly attractive quality about them.  It is almost as if we are puppets and fear is holding the strings, pushing away and drawing us back at its own demented impulse, and to varying degrees we find it painfully enjoyable.

            Fear is the thing that drives much of the amusement industry.  These puppet masters expend immense amounts of brain power and financial capital to perfect the art of pushing human beings just beyond the boundaries of their fear threshold.  Then we pay them for entrance into these ‘amusement’ parks just so they can take us to the brink, and we walk away calling that fun, further cementing our demented relationship with fear. 

            The same is true of several of the movie and television genres of the day.  Whether it be a ‘thriller’, ‘suspense’, or ‘horror’ puppet masters are once again sent to task with the goal of weaving a yarn that will take movie goers or couch potatoes just beyond the limits of their fears with the purpose of the audience walking away feeling entertained possessing what could almost be labeled a sense of satisfaction for sitting through the entire experience.

            Of course, these are controlled environments that give us a sense of power over our fears, a fact we must not overlook.  We are fine with our fears as long as we feel as though we are in control of the puppet strings, because then there is no overwhelming sense of imminent danger for us.   But what about those things we can’t control?

            Fear of the flu seems to grow each year since the outbreak of the avian flu just a few years ago and now with the H1N1 strain this year.  People wear medical masks and governments are hard at work on possible vaccines for fear that at any time the threat could become an epidemic if we human beings did not stay one step ahead.  Responses to such things vary.  Many are forced to face a fear that is beyond their control along with the questions in their lives they may not be ready to answer, so anxiety heightens.  Others just laugh and sweep such threats under the rug.

            The current instability in the Middle East and other parts of the world has stirred up chilling fears in many that rival those that suffocated many during the days of the Cold War.  Once again the threat of nuclear war is wreaking its havoc. 

            Still a greater fear, on a national level was stirred nearly a decade ago on the fateful day in September, 2001.  The reality that terrorism could invade our borders, hit many with a crippling force that has left many fearful to this day.  And though all were not crippled by fear all were impacted.  Thankfully, the fear drove many people to action, but even this action has at its roots fear, the fear that if something wasn’t done the same thing could happen again. 

            On a regular basis each of us is faced with situations and realities that force us to stare down our fears to varying degrees.  We are continually reminded that regardless of the marvels of medicine, we all must face our finiteness.  And ultimately, most fears we face find this reality as the source of their power.  They remind us we are not invincible, we are breakable and one day the system is going to shut down.  It may be in our sleep or while we are awake.  It may be long and painful or it may be short and painless, but we all will face the reality one day. 

            Jesus was keenly aware of the crippling power of fear in our lives.  It was something for which He wanted us to have the right perspective.  His comments concerning fear are both a source of contemplation and, for those who know Christ, a source of comfort.  He gives us valuable insight into the proper handling of fear when He says, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, fear Him who can kill both soul and body in hell.”  God is not a puppet master seeking to profit from our fears, but the reality is that our Creator desires a relationship with us that only comes through a right relationship with Jesus Christ.  And if that is a relationship you are missing then all other fears in your life are child’s play.

Information Overload

Have you noticed how we analyze everything?  You can go on the internet, pick up any newspaper or switch on the radio or TV and inevitably you will find someone analyzing something.  Whether you are interested in an analysis of something as significant as the inner workings of the human heart or as insignificant as the evolution of the Oscar Meyer Wienie Whistle, if you look long enough and hard enough you will find the information you are looking for and then some.  It is nothing short of an understatement to say that we live in a culture that is running on information overload. 

            Even as I write this I recognize how much I am a victim of this very thing.  As a matter of fact, the whole reason I’m writing about our bent toward analysis is because of a recent incident in my life.  Not too long ago I turned on my computer and decided that I would check out the results of the NFL draft.  All I wanted to see were the results, but as I jumped on the web I was instantly sucked in to the editorials of multiple sports analysts who had already rated the draft according to various criteria complete with complex grading systems.  Before I knew it I found myself reading column after column on which teams made out the best, which teams missed their opportunities, which players would shine and which players would flop.  What started out as the innocent desire of a sports fan turned into a mind numbing experience of over analysis.  I realize I have no one to blame for this but myself and I feel like at this point I should be saying, “Hello, my name is Mark Simpson and I am an information junkie.” 

            As mind numbing as my experience was it really is a window into the heart of our society.  We are driven by information and analysis.  We want to know and understand everything around us.  Though I could give a variety of opinions as to why this is the case they would be nothing more than opinions.  But what I know for certain is that information flies through our lives at a speed faster than light.  The information on the internet is changing by the hour and sometimes by the minute, a barrage of books are published each day and hit the shelves of bookstores worldwide both virtual and actual, entire networks have been created for radio and television that are devoted to the news and analysis of newsworthy events and newspapers are printed weekly and even daily all in an effort to keep us up to date and informed.  And the thing that drives all of these mediums is the fact that we keep listening, watching and buying. 

              Now those of you who happen to be sharper than the average bear are probably saying to yourself, “Wait a minute Mark, you’re guilty of the very thing you are talking about, right here in this article and every week you write.”  And to that I would have to concede.  I am not only a victim of information overload I am also a contributor.  Once again I feel like I should be saying, “Hi, my name is Mark Simpson…”  But my point here is not that this steady stream of new information and analysis is all bad.  Were it not for our innate desire to know and understand we would still be in the dark about how to treat many of the illnesses for which we now have vaccines and simple cures and that is just one of a multitude of things that have resulted from our pursuit of knowledge.    

            My point is, there are some things we cannot fully know no matter how much information comes down the pipe.  What struck me most this morning as I found myself in the vortex of information overload is that when it comes to God there will never be an over analysis.  We could spend an infinite number of lifetimes solely gathering information and analyzing God and we would only scratch the surface.  Knowing God is not about gathering all the facts, analyzing them and giving them a grade like a sports analyst.  Knowing God is about faith; the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  Waiting for the verdict to in come about God is an exercise in futility.  Because no matter how much we think we know about God there will always be more we don’t know.  Though information is a beneficial and important element in coming to and knowing God, faith is, and will always be the critical element.

seeing it when we believe it

seeing-it-when-we-believe-it-graphic1message title:  seeing it when we believe it

message text: Hebrews 11:1

message date: 03.29.09

We throw the concept of ‘faith’ around quite a bit, but do we really know what we are talking about?  More important, do we know what God is talking about?   This teaching examines two elements of faith found in Hebrews 11:1 and what they mean to our everyday life.