Categories
endurance faithfulness metaphors Uncategorized

Spiritual Olympics

Neal Pollard

Well, as the Olympics pervade our attention and national and individual stories of overcoming odds and working hard to achieve greatness make the news over the coming weeks, I want to remind you that Scripture, in many places, encourages us as we are writing our stories which will someday be known by all. Paul, especially, draws on imagery that would have described the Greek Games that were popular in his time. They had been played for hundreds of years by the time of the first century.

  • We run a race that’s winnable, competitive, won by discipline, meaningful, purposeful, but also losable (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
  • We vie for that which requires forgetting the past, pressing in the present, and reaching for the prospective prize (Phil. 3:12-14).
  • We flex our discipline for godliness by exercising our godliness to help us here and hereafter (1 Tim. 4:7-8).
  • We must compete according to the rules (2 Tim. 2:5).
  • We can fight a good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith, and if we do we will be honored by the greatest giver of all (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

Your race may not be run in a huge stadium, be billed as an international event, be recorded in the history books of this life, or be seen all over TV and the internet, but the All-Seeing-Eye is watching. More people than you know are watching you run, both Christians and non-Christians. The stakes exceed that of these or any other earthly games and the reward is immeasurable! Best of all, whatever your physical shape, you can win this race! God is rooting for you!

gr-olympia-palaestra
The Palaestra 
Categories
perseverance Uncategorized

How Determined Are You?

Neal Pollard

Karoly Takacs has one of the most interesting stories in Olympic History. The right-handed pistol marksman and sergeant in the Hungarian Army was a world-class shooter, but was denied an opportunity to compete in the 1936 games since only commissioned officers could compete. That prohibition was lifted after these games and Takacs anticipated competing in 1940, but a faulty grenade exploded in his right hand during army training in 1938. Unbeknownst to the Polish public, Karoly began practicing shooting with his left hand. He showed up at the 1939 Hungarian National Pistol Shooting Championship, and when other competitors came to offer condolences about his accident, he said, “I didn’t come to watch, I came to compete.” In fact, he won those games. But, he was unable to compete in the 1940 or 1944 Olympic Games because they were not held due to World War II. By the time of the 1948 games, held in London, Takacs was 38 years old. But, he qualified and won the Gold Medal there. Then, he turned around and did it again at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. He barely missed qualifying in 1956!  For this, he holds a place as one of Poland’s greatest Olympic heroes of all time (information via Quora.com authors Ankur Singh and Swati Kadyan).

In the New Testament, God shows us how beautiful proper determination is. Starting with Jesus’ determination to save us from our sins, as we read about Him because of anticipated joy “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:1), we find the greatest example of resolve. But, then there was Paul. Before conversion, he was determined to exterminate the Christians (read Acts 26:9-11). After being won to Christ, he refocused his determination toward winning as many as possible to Christ (1 Cor. 2:2; 9:24-27) and he urged others to do the same (2 Tim. 2:1-6; Tit. 3:8; etc.). No one will make it to heaven without making a determined effort to do so. That does not mean that anyone will earn their salvation, but it just as true that no one accidentally goes to heaven. The way Jesus put it is, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). How badly do you want to go to heaven? What are you willing to give up in order to go there?

karoly

Categories
baptism salvation Uncategorized

Devon Allen’s Baptism

Neal Pollard

I will preface this by saying I cannot determine anything specific about the religion of Devon Allen, a remarkable college student-athlete at the University of Oregon. He is in the headlines now as a starting football player who qualified for the Olympics in track and field.  It was during his training and competition for the latter that he decided the time was right to be baptized. So he was, in the Willamette River in Eugene last Friday before the watchful gaze of family and teammates from his track and football teams. No less than ESPN reported on his religious quest alongside his impressive athletic achievements. The article ended with the proper sentiment, particularly if Allen was baptized in the right way for the right reason. It reads, “It was the right starting line for two different races” (Chantel Jennings, espn.com).

I am encouraged that Jennings found this newsworthy. I am encouraged that Allen thought baptism to be so important. I am encouraged that his friends and family showed up in impressive numbers to witness this act.

When even so many in Christendom go the extra mile in denying the importance and significance of baptism, Devon troubled himself to do it. We do not know, but he might have said what the Ethiopian said: “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36b). As he studied with Oregon football team chaplain, could he have been taught the New Testament truth that baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), baptism washes away sins (Acts 22:16), baptism reenacts Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6:1-4), baptism puts one into Christ (Galatians 3:27), baptism buries one with Christ (Colossians 2:12), and baptism saves one (1 Peter 3:21)? If he was taught baptism from the New Testament, these are the kinds of things he would have heard.

Regardless of Allen’s understanding about baptism’s function in God’s plan to save us, one who is taught in accordance with the several passages above and who has a good and honest heart (cf. Luke 8:15) will want to be baptized without delay (cf. Acts 22:16). Like the jailor at Philippi, they will submit to baptism even if it is the middle of the night (Acts 16:33). Like the 3,000 on Pentecost, they will demonstrate gladly receiving the word by being baptized (Acts 2:41). Thus, they will be saved.

My prayer is that Devon Allen understand these Bible facts and responded the way he did because he humbly accepted their truth. More than that, my prayer is that those who need to make the decision to be baptized will not let anything hinder them from doing what Jesus died to make possible for us all. May we ignore all rationalization that leads us to resist the act which, from a believing, penitent heart, washes our sins away.

102707-oregon-autzen-uoentrance1

Categories
Christian living Christianity

What Does 1 Timothy 4:8 Mean?

Neal Pollard

“The Battle of the Bulge.” It was not just a crucial conflict in a world war. It has come to describe America’s battle with its expanding waistline. Obesity is a national problem. Weight gain often seems inevitable.  “Dunlap’s Disease” is many man’s (and woman’s) problem.  Solomon is rebuking many of us when writes, “Put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite (Prov. 23:2)! A Christian’s body belongs to the Lord and must be properly maintained (cf. 1 Cor. 4:2; 6:19). One’s body can be harmed by overeating and being overweight as it can with alcohol and tobacco.

One tried and true way to prevent disease and bodily harm stemming from being overweight is exercise. Doctors say that no diet is complete without it! Proper exercise aids in the prevention and management of heart problems, diabetes, cancer, and several other serious conditions.

Many times, perhaps defending their own inactivity, well-meaning people cite 1 Timothy 4:8: ” For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” Their basic position seems to be that, since exercise “profiteth little” (KJV), they are justified to live out a couch potato’s life. Let us consider Paul’s statement.

THE VERSE IS SPEAKING COMPARATIVELY. The “little” in the first part of the verse is contrasted with the “all things” in the second part of the verse. Compared to godliness (i.e., God-likeness), which impacts one’s earthly and eternal existence, bodily exercise pales in importance. The same can be said of retirement efforts (Matt. 6:19-21), recreation (1 Tim. 5:6), household chores (Luke 10:41-42) and even work (John 6:27).  Yet, all of these are legitimate, even necessary, pursuits. So it is with bodily exercise.

THE VERSE REVEALS THAT EXERCISE DOES PROFIT. What does it do a “little”? It profits. It benefits. It gives advantage. The healthful benefits of exercise are well-documented. Some would contradict Paul and say it does no good at all.

THE VERSE WARNS AGAINST EXTREMISM.  The fitness craze can become fanaticism. Some seem to have made bodily exercise their god! They are obsessed. The Greco-Roman culture, to which both Paul and Timothy were regularly exposed, were extremists on this point. The Greek Games were the original Olympics. The gymnasiums and other venues showed it to be a constant obsession. Paul says such extreme devotion is ludicrous. So it is today!

THE VERSE WARNS AGAINST POOR PRIORITIZING. Anything put before service to the Lord is in the wrong place. It is possible for exercise (and gluttony, TV, video games, etc.) to come between one and putting God first. To this extent, any activity or pursuit is sinful (Matt. 6:33). If you spend several hours per week exercise and only a few minutes studying the Bible, visiting the sick and needy, praying to God, evangelizing, and doing Christian service, your priorities are wrong! If some gave as much devotion to godliness as they did bodily exercise, our churches would be much stronger!

But let us avoid abusing this–and any–passage! Paul is not denouncing exercise. To the contrary, exercise will improve us physically and mentally. It can improve our attitude and performance as a Christian. It must, however, be kept in its proper place. If we are going to be fanatical about anything, let it be our service to God as Christians (Rom. 12:1-2). That is the key to making everything, well, “work out”!

Categories
endurance heart self-examination

“Marathon Heart”

Neal Pollard

A protein called “troponin,” indicating heart damage, is typical with the majority of runners tested after running a marathon.  Malissa Wood, a Harvard-affiliated cardiologist who has competed in four marathons says that the danger comes in not training enough, running forty-five miles or more each week.  Her pithy summary was, “Use your head when you use your heart” (William J. Cromie, Harvard University Gazette, 12/18/06).   Elite distant runner and hopeful Olympic marathoner, Ryan Shay, died November 4, 2006, from an apparent enlarged heart aggravated by intensive athletic training.  The month before, an amateur running a marathon in Chicago, also dropped dead with heart-related problems.

It is no news flash when heavy smokers or extremely overweight people die of heart disease and heart attacks.  It is expected.  Yet, most of us are shocked to get the news that athletes capable of running ridiculous distances dropping dead.  That just seems to defy logic.  Aerobic exercise is supposed to be good for the heart.

The Bible uses the heart to refer to the center of a person, his or her feelings, thoughts, desires, will, and more.  We expect that people out in the world have spiritual heart problems.  The world’s world-view has self at the center, with no regard for a higher standard or authority.  So, it thinks, says, and does so much that naturally and destructively follows spiritual heart problems.

As Christians, we need to be careful to monitor our hearts.  That applies to even those who are regarded as spiritual giants, leaders, and ones seemingly impervious to heart problems like those seen in the world.  No doubt, David is the greatest Bible example of this.  As you recall, he was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22).  What a strong heart!  Yet, he had a nearly fatal fall while running his course (2 Sam. 12ff).  Have you ever known Christians who you never dreamed would commit adultery, be arrested on child pornography charges, abandon the church, steal money from a company or organization, be jailed, or something similar?  What happened?  They developed heart problems!

The good news is, spiritually, that intensive heart training will not result in catastrophe.  You cannot over-meditate on the Word.  You cannot be overly-engaged in prayer.  You cannot too actively combat impurity in your heart.  In fact, it is the way to spiritual survival.  There is likely still quite a distance between you and your finish line.  It is not a sprint.  It is more like a marathon, that race you are running (1 Cor. 9:26; Gal. 5:7; Phil. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:7; Heb. 12:1).  Spiritually, at least, you need a marathon heart!