Perish In The Past, Or Flourish In The Future

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For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11-12, NIV

It is better to flourish in the future than to perish in the past.  Way back in 1980, the US men’s Olympic hockey team won gold and on the way defeated the heavily favored Russian team in Lake Placid. It’s called the “Miracle on Ice.”  It’s great history, but it’s just that: history. This year, gold was not won, and, to add insult to injury, the US men’s team was crushed 5-0 in the bronze medal game by Finland. While it is great to cherish choice wins, it is ours now to anticipate future accomplishments.

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Some people live in the past. Some people feast on the former. Some people banquet on the by-bygone and long gone victories of yesteryear. They can’t get past their past.  They relive the memories and reminisce on the recollections of days and weeks and months and years gone by.  Just like rocking in a rocking chair, it gives them something to do but it gets them nowhere. 

Some athletes dwell on disappointments. They begrudge a referee’s bad call or bemoan a teammate’s dropped ball. They can’t let it go.  It festers and blisters and rots and rakes and molds and holds the degenerating soul in a state of atrophy. On the other side of the coin, some athletes are prone to relish the memories of thrilling turnarounds and terrific triumphs. And well they should. But the downside is that they tend to live, and only live, in the past.  And if you live in the past you will perish in the future.  

Some athletes will flourish in the future. They know they are building and boosting, enhancing and advancing, forming and framing all future victories, even with some current defeats. They are learning how to fail, so that in the end, they will not have failed to learn.  Backwards and forwards, inside and out, on the upside and on the down low, they learn from their mistakes, so that they can teach others their successes.

If we don’t focus on our future, we will perish in our past.  The Apostle Paul said “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14

So press. Press on. Press now.  Stop living in the past. Forget about the falls and the stalls, the trips and the slips, the oops and the bloops. Your yesterday is gone, and your tomorrow is to be determined. Look onward and forward and heavenward. Forget the former years and the former tears. One day, “God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4, KJV).

We will flourish in our future, when we press past our past. Yes it was painful; yes it was hurtful; yes, it was distressing, and many times it was oppressing, but it’s in the past: it’s OVER! You’re still here and what’s coming is better than what has been; your future is brighter than your past, and your best is yet to come.

Simply The Best

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Do your best to present yourself to God . . .  2 Timothy 2:15, RSV

God gave us His best.  Throughout the scriptures, we see example after example of how God saw to it that His children would be and get the best.  Pharaoh gave Joseph and his father the best of the land, the land of Goshen.  Years earlier, Jacob gave his favorite son Joseph a robe of many colors, or what we could call, a beautiful, fashionable garment.  The New Living Translation calls it “the finest robe.” Centuries later, when the prodigal son came home, this father also gave this son “the best robe.”

God gave us His best. He gave us His Son Jesus. And Jesus, in turn, gave us his best; he gave us His life and He gave us His death.  God’s love for us is not half-hearted or half-witted; it’s not half-baked or half a–ed (you know what I mean!). God’s love for us is the best. It’s simply the best. Thank goodness God gave us nothing but His best!

In Christ we see and have the best. The incarnation was God’s idea. It was simply the best inspiration for the worst altercation; the problem of man’s rebellion and sin and shame. Thus, the totality of Christ’s life, death and resurrection was an astute and adroit assembly, not an absurd or asinine aggrandizement.   

To be the best, you must beat the best. In order to be the best Christians, we need to know what we believe, and why we believe it.  Debate only clarifies God’s nature.  God’s cost-benefit analysis, i.e., the risk He took in creating man and the mitigation of that risk by sending His Son to redeem mankind from sin and evil was, of course, sheer, Divine genius.  It wasn’t a brainless, bubble headed scheme; it wasn’t a cockeyed, crazy,  cuckoo conspiracy; and it certainly wasn’t a daffy or dipsy design; it was simply the best that God could do. Simply the best.

But in order to get the best we must give our best.   Take if from our darling Olympic ice dancers who just won the best prize. After 17 years of difficult training, Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the ice dancing gold medal. It wasn’t a fluke win or a happenstance victory. Davis and White put the time in. They practiced and they prepared; they trained and they strained; they did their homework and laid the groundwork for a historic, first time victory for themselves and the grand ‘ole US of A.

 

So let’s follow the example of Meryl and Charlie. They started early and trained late.  They had parental support and mutual admiration.  They had exotic mystery and dramatic flair. And it paid off. And it will pay off for you and for me. They Did It! They gave their best, and so did our Lord, and so should we.

Thou Shalt Get Back Up, Again

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For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity. Proverbs 24:16, NIV

Get back up again. That should be the theme song for these 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. There have been more spills and chills and bangs and clangs and crashes and smashes that it seems more like a Saturday morning roller derby than a world-class sporting event. Nonetheless, the athletes certainly have learned life lessons; our take away from watching is that we have benefited from lessons learned.

The first life lesson is, after a fall, get back up again. And mind you, the question is not if you fall, it’s WHEN you fall, because life, like the slopes on the downhill, can be steep, and the ice on the ice rink can be sleek.  So don’t fail to learn the lesson – get back up again. Get back up and finish what you’ve started, because someone out there is watching and waiting and wanting you to get back up again.

Jeremy Abbott learned the lesson.  A U.S. champion, Jeremy fell hard on an attempted quadruple toe loop Thursday in the men’s short program at the Olympics, yet he managed to finish the routine.   Abbott crashed to the ice on his first jump and slid into the padded end boards, staying down for an extended period, clutching his right hip. He looked like he wouldn’t get up, and his coaches moved toward the ice rinks entry door to mollify their maimed man.

Jeremy Abbot learned the lesson and got back up again. In fact, Jeremy taught the rest of us, indeed the rest of the watching word, at least three lessons. First, he taught us that we are all prone to fall. Second, it’s easy to stay down after a fall. Third, it’s not easy to get back up.  But get back up he did. When Jeremy fell, it was a hard fall, and we all held our collective breath wondering if he would get up again. But get back up he did.  

Since we are all prone to fall, we should all resolve to get back up.  It should be in our constitution: “Thou shalt get back up, again.”  After a tough and tortuous fall, it would have been understandable for Jeremy to solicit the sympathy vote. Just lie there, have everyone feel sorry for you, and skate off the ice into obscurity. Not so.

Even though he was hurt, his side was aching and his back was throbbing, he got back up again. His pride was gnashed and his medal hopes were dashed yet he got back up and completed his program. Abbott, 28, struggled to his feet and, to the surprise of many and the applause of the crowd, resumed skating. And he performed quite well, hitting the rest of his elements.  In fact, his performance after the fall was BETTER than it was before. It was as if he got a shot of adrenaline from falling and determined to finish despite the dejection and the apparent defeat of his fall.

When his music stopped, the four-time champion drew a huge ovation from the fans. He hit himself lightly in the head while shaking it, as if to say he couldn’t believe what had just happened. The partisan Russian crown threw flowers onto the ice, and warmly welcomed him into what seemed like a winner’s circle. He won, not the ornamentation of a medal, but the reputation of master, a person who has the ability and power to endure a tragedy and turn it into a triumph, a person who has endured shame and will now go on to certain fame, because he determined to get back up again.

Jeremy Abbott

So Get back up again, and encourage anyone who falls to get back up again, too. Use Jeremy’s example of courage to get back up, again.  One Tweetter said that Jeremy “showed true grit and strength after that awful fall. Proud of you! So admirable.” #nevergiveup.

Making History

Medal Ceremony - Winter Olympics Day 6

Everyday, we have a chance, we have the opportunity, we have a shot at making history. We have before us the choice of being history or making history; of being victims or being victors; of being the ones who just talk or being the ones who are being talked about.

Three young American boys just made history.  Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper swept the podium in men’s slopestyle skiing Thursday, putting on a spectacular show to provide the U.S. team with a jolt from a mountain whose vibe is more spring break than Winter Olympics. Yes the warm weather is making history, but the athletes are putting their stamp on these winter Olympic Games as well. The podium sweep was just the third for the U.S. in Winter Olympics history, joining men’s figure skating in 1956 and men’s halfpipe snowboarding in 2002.

Making history is no easy task.  It takes dedication and determination; it takes timing and technique; it takes the help of your friends and the hope of your hometown, and all came together for these three heroes.

 Joss Christensen soared to gold in the sport’s Olympic debut, posting a score of 95.80 on Thursday to beat teammates Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper. “I am shocked,” Christensen said. “I am stoked to be up here with my friends. Joss Christensen’s gold medal validated the coaches’ decision for adding him to Team USA. “It’s crazy,” Goepper said. “I think it’s going to give the U.S. a lot more confidence, and it’s going to get a lot of people really excited.”  The Americans were certainly fired up.

History was in the making. In conditions better suited for a spring break in the mountains than the Winter Olympics, the 22-year-old Christensen was by far the best. Each of his four runs scored in the 90s. His first run in the finals won the gold, and his second would have been good enough to win silver.

So make history. Moses made history when he stood up to Pharaoh.  Young David made history when he stared down Goliath. And Elijah made history when he challenged Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel. And you can make history too.  Dare to dream. Pursue your goals.  Stand up for what is right and for what is rightfully yours.

Determine to make history. Don’t get swept up by your circumstances or your negative emotions; be the sweeper. Be the one who the picks up the pieces. Be the one who gathers up the fragments. Be the one to make history, especially when no one else thinks you can.

Failing to Learn and Learning to Fail

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We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;  2 Corinthians 4:8-9, KJV

While it first appeared that Shaun White failed to learn, at his “post game” press conference, he proved that he’s learned to fail.  He is an accomplished snowboarder, and he had his sights set on Olympic Gold in the ½ Pipe Event.  He put all of his eggs in one basket and bet the house that he would win a gold medal in this one event. He did not. He didn’t even place, meaning he won’t go home with any medal, not even a bronze. Wanting to win is one thing; putting pressure on yourself so that you MUST win is another.

Winning is why we play the game. But isn’t there more to it than that?  The number of athletes that even make it to the Olympic Games are only a fraction of those who tried to qualify, and only a fraction of the Olympic athletes will medal. There are 98 events, and yet hundreds of hopefuls. Not every athlete will win a gold medal, much less any medal. As the Apostle Paul said, “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize?” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

Failing to learn is a loss and learning to fail is a win, and is a part of life.  Shaun White aptly said that “I’m more than a snowboarder.” And as Bob Costas states in the preamble to each night’s coverage, voicing a balanced perspective on the Olympics, the events are there for athletes to “earn chances to be remembered… most of all for their stories.”

Failing to learn is a negative and learning to fail is a positive. Two of life’s most important lessons include learning how to win and learning how to lose. Every athlete, better sooner than later, must learn these life lessons – we must learn how to win with grace and how to lose with honor.

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Shani Davis learned both lessons and has shown us how to win and how to lose. His non-medal finish in the 1,000 meter speed skating event stands as one of the most unfathomable results in Sochi: Davis had owned the event since the 2006 Torino Games, when he claimed the first of two Olympic gold medals in a row, and entered the 1,000 final as the clear favorite among a top-heavy list of skaters. “There’s no excuse,” Davis said. “I just didn’t have the speed I’ve always had.” A graceful exit indeed.

Failing to learn from life’s ups and downs would be tantamount to missing the point. We can and do learn from every experience and every occurrence; from every incident and every accident. We learn what to do and what not to do.  We learn what to say and what not to say. But we learn.  And failing to learn is worse than the failure itself.  We are not failures, but we do fail when we don’t learn from our mistakes and missteps; from our blunders and our boo-boos; from our goofs and our gaffes.

So learn to fail, because if we don’t learn to fail, we have failed to learn. At the end of the day, we learn that failure is actually failing to learn. And we fail when we don’t learn (and teach our children) that winning in life includes learning to fail.   

So learn that every swing of the bat won’t result in a home run; learn that every three-point attempt won’t be a swish; learn that every bowling ball hurled down the alley won’t be a strike. We stumble, but we regain our footing; we fall but we get back up again.  It’s called life.  And we learn how to live it by the games we play and the sports we watch.  

Spiritually speaking, the bottom line is this: it is our faith in Christ that gives the victory; it is only in Christ Jesus that we always triumph. And learning this lesson is the most important lesson of all.

We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, New Living Translation

Cheering From The Bench

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Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Rom 12:15, KJV

The Russian figure skaters did it – they won gold in the new team figure skating event.  They may have been under pressure, but they proved that they were the best of the best on the ice. They may have been under pressure to win, but win they did. They may have been under undue pressure to win the gold on their home ice, but they won, and they won together; they did it on the ice, and they did it cheering from the bench.

Along with eight teammates, Evgeni Plushenko, a 31-year-old veteran and Julia Lipnitskaia, a 15-year-old Olympic rookie, won the new event of team figure skating and lifted the host nation to its first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics. Together, they put Russia back atop a sport it once dominated.

Cheering from the bench is as exhilarating as being in the game at the time of a win. Consequently, there’s no greater feeling than to rejoice with those that rejoice.  There’s no better picture than to see those who did not win rejoice with those who did.  There’s no grander celebration than to rejoice with those who have won a hard-fought victory.  Sure, the entire Russian figure skating team did their part, but the heavy lifting was done by their old hero Plushenko and their young heroine Julia. And remember, Julia is only 15 and this is her first Olympic games. No pressure, huh? “My main motivation today,” Lipnitskaia said, “was not to let the team down.” Oh to be so humble.

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Cheering from the bench shows that it’s not about any one person, or any one player, or any one participant. Cheering from the bench symbolizes solidarity and solidifies unanimity.   Cheering from the bench is fun to watch and even more fun to do.

Rejoicing alone is the antithesis of teamwork and team play. Rejoicing alone is selfish and self-serving, egocentric and egotistic, condescending and patronizing, all at the same time. Rejoicing alone is lonely and lonesome, isolated and un-integrated, remote and removed from the community which cheered and inspired and urged us on.

The Message Bible gives us this admonition from the Apostle Paul: “Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody” (Rom 12:15-16, THE MESSAGE).

So cheer from the bench. Shout and scream from the sidelines. Wave your banner from the wings. Rejoice with those that rejoice. Be happy for those who win, even if it’s someone you don’t like. Jump up and down as if you had won yourself. It’s the bible way. It’s the only way to live a truly happy, healthy life. The shepherd who lost one of 100 sheep went and got his friends when he found the lost lamb.  Likewise, the woman, who lost one coin in her house called her friends and neighbors to celebrate with her when it was found.

Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:8-10, RSV

No Pressure

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The pressure to produce, the pressure to perform, and the pressure to pull off a victory is no more evident in any sport than in the Olympic Games. Pressure means to compress or squeeze, as to alter in shape or size. It means to weigh heavily upon. 

While pressure may have positive attributes, unfortunately, the pressure to measure up to others expectations may lead to very unhealthy consequences. It is one thing to want to win; it is another thing entirely to feel you HAVE to win, especially for the wrong reasons.

Russia is under pressure, some of it self-inflicted. As the host country, Russia is under the gun, so-to speak, to win more gold medals than any other country because of their home ice, home slope and home snow advantage.  Why the stress? Why the strain? Why do countries, and the athletes themselves, put so much weight on winning?  Isn’t participation enough? Isn’t making the team a noble achievement?  Isn’t the thrill of sharing and contributing to the Olympic experience sufficient?  For some, apparently not.

American Sage Kotsenburg won the gold medal in the new event called “Slopestyle,” but he didn’t feel any pressure. While the course that chased teammate Shaun White to the apparent safety of the halfpipe took out its fair share of riders, Kotsenburg kept his cool in the finals.  He unveiled a new move he calls the “Holy Crail,” a move that makes it appear as if he’s spinning like a top as he rotates 4 times, grabbing the board behind his back in the process. “I’d never even tried it before, literally,” Kotsenburg said. “Never ever tried it before in my life.”

For Kotsenburg there was no pressure. He has spent most of his career on the sport’s second tier. When he captured the final Olympic qualifying event in California last month, it was his first win since he was 11.

Like Kotsenburg, we have no pressure. For the believer, we don’t have to worry about the pressure of performing, or the pressure of achieving, or the pressure of “doing.”  Ours is not a gospel of works, it’s a gospel of grace.  Instead of “doing” we only have to focus on “being.” Paul the Apostle told us that “in Him we live, and move and have our being;” that’s it – we “have our being” in Him. We don’t have to concern ourselves with fading or failing or falling short.  We don’t have to agonize over our performance.  We give our best, and He does the rest.

So we have no pressure. We don’t have to worry about what we’re going to eat, or what we’re going to drink or what we’re going to put on.  We don’t have to worry about what others think or what others say, as long as we put our faith and trust in Him. For our God knows what we have need of before we even need it.

So don’t worry. Don’t sweat.  Don’t lose any sleep over your situation or your circumstances.  God’s got it. There’s no pressure. There’s no problem He cannot solve and there’s no trouble He cannot resolve. God’s got the whole world in His hands;  He’s got the little bitty baby, in His hands;  and He’s got you and me sister, and you and me brother, in His hands.

Don’t worry, be happy, in Jesus.