The 30th Olympic Games have finally kicked off, but a single word of the introduction during the opening ceremony reverberated in my mind. Over the coming competitions we will see athletes rise to the top of the podium to claim Olympic gold, while so many others look on in disappointment and defeat. We will hear stories of wins that came by tenths and hundredths of a second, and even a decimal point of difference too fine for the human eye to detect. These athletes will give their very best in a moment to win the highest prize and obtain global recognition, but their success did not happen in that moment.
What many observers fail to understand is the commitment the Olympic athletes make to take them to the top. It is commitment to a single word: Repetition. Imagine a young girl running across a strip of floor, launching off of a spring board into the air where multiple acrobatic flips, twists and turns happen in the blink of an eye, and then coming down to land on both legs without a single hop. The score lights up, and we see she has scored a perfect 10. The audience cheers and she takes the top of the stand where flowers, recognition, and Olympic gold are hers. What so many people do not truly understand is that this is not the first time she has executed a perfect 10.
Over many days, weeks and years she has trained her body to perform the moves. Day in and day out she runs, hits a spring board, flies through the air, lands, and then does it all over again. For many hours in the day she will run, hit a spring board, fly through the air and land. She will do this again, and again, and again, and again. Weeks will pass as she hones her skill. Competitions will verify who among her class is truly the best our nation has to offer. Around the world, such competitions will take place. Then, when she has proven to be the best in the nation, she will be chosen to compete against the very best that the rest of the world has to offer. Run, jump, fly, land, repeat.
At some point during the Olympics, she will be asked to run, jump, fly, and land one last time. If she can do it flawlessly one more time, only then will she win Olympic gold. The whole event itself is over in seconds, but years have brought her to this moment. Success, however, will never be determined in a moment. Success was determined long ago, in her day to day struggle to run faster, her every day refinement of jumping off the springboard exactly correct, the honing of each of her muscles as they tighten to move her body spinning and flying through the air, her synced coordination as she unfolds her body to land perfectly, and her will to commit to the arduous task of repetition. Run, jump, fly, land, repeat.
The recognition for winning in the Olympics is not really a recognition of a single moment on a single day of victory. What we are really recognizing are the years spent in the patient repetition of perfection that comes on display in a moment, but a perfection that had always been there day after day.
It reminds me that life is a marathon. If we are to find success as a parent, if we are to find success on the job, if we are to find success in marriage, we have to remember that our success will not be found in a moment. Success will be built into our lives through patient repetition of doing what is right, and only recognized in fleeting moments. How do you build a successful marriage? How do you train children do to what is right? How do you find success in your Christian life? You build it each and every day with each decision you make. You forge it with patience, and a commitment to the repetition of excellence.
Hebrews 12:1 " . . . run with patience . . . " Run, jump, fly, land, repeat.
Maybe you have one, and maybe you don't, but we all know what a marking wall is. A marking wall is a place in some houses where, once a year on their child's birthday, they line them up and "mark" how tall they are at that age. My wife and I were talking about how fast our girls seem to be growing up when my youngest walked into the room. "Her back and her legs just seem to be getting longer all of a sudden," my wife said. So, we took our 5 year old who is about half-way to 6, lined her up on the marking wall, and saw that she had literally grown almost as tall as her older sister at 6 years old. At this rate, she'll actually be taller than her older sister was by the time her 6th birthday rolls around.
None of this seems possible. "She has always been so little," I think to myself. Compared to her older sister, she is still little, but according to the marking wall, she is growing . . . and fast. The marking wall greets me as soon as I walk in from work. I actually look for it. There, over the past four years since we've moved in, is a record of how much our children have grown, and a somewhat painful reminder of how small they once were. It reminds me to enjoy them right now, because right now is not going to last very long.
Sometimes, just being kids, they can get on your nerves. It's a part of life. You get in a routine, you're trying to get things done, you're working on a project or an email or some other important piece of progress that is going nowhere, and then they jump into the middle of it all. I've gotten frustrated at them, and so has my wife at times. Our youngest loves to come where you are, if you're sitting, climb up behind you if you're in a chair, climb up on your back and look over your shoulder and then after watching for about 2 seconds say, "What are you doing?" She does this constantly, and one time I remember getting frustrated as I tried to type an email and my swivel chair kept rocking and moving as my daughter tried to find footing to pull herself up.
In the moment of greatest frustration, I suddenly remembered the marking wall. It hit me like a lightning bolt, "The day is coming all too soon when she won't be little enough to climb up the chair." My oldest is already there. At 9 years old, my oldest is half-way out of the house, and will soon be seeking a life outside of this place she has called home. Where did the last 9 years go? So, I look over at my youngest who has her tongue sticking out as she tries to pull her weight up, and I reach out to grab her, and pull her up behind me so she can watch. She quickly climbs up my back to where she can see what I'm doing, and like clockwork, 2 seconds later she says, "What are you doing, Papa?"
I hope I am doing right by them. I hope I am keeping a promise I made to God when they were born. I would hope that I would be known as Abraham was known by God, Genesis 18:19 "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, . . ."
As I mentioned last week, I took my daughter with me on the J.S.U. campus because I wanted to show her how easy it could be to walk up to total strangers, have a conversation about salvation, and walk away without embarrassment, confrontation, or hurt feelings for anyone involved. As it was particularly hot that day, we stopped by a fast food restaurant to get a cold drink and just talk about what had happened. I asked her about what she thought about the reactions of the different people and how important it was to share our faith with other people so they can decide for themselves whether or not to accept Jesus as their Savior.
She then asked me about the 10 Commandments, why we should know them, and what if someone had never heard about them before. In so many questions, she basically was asking if someone would go to heaven or hell if they had never heard of Jesus or salvation. It had me thinking, because for many people out there, the 10 Commandments I listed are not the 10 Commandments they grew up with. I know some Catholic friends whose list of 10 Commandments differ only slightly. In a conversation in Texas with a friend years ago about the 10 Commandments, he told me that the Bible actually has thousands of Commandments, and that the passage in Exodus Chapter 20 just highlights 10 of them.
I don't think I've had the 10 Commandments memorized until now, for the simple reason that I do not need them for salvation. My salvation is not based on my works, because I am depending by faith on the work of Christ on the cross and His payment for my sin. My actions on earth are worthless regarding any attempt to attain my own salvation, however, my actions on earth should still reflect Christ in me. The purpose of the 10 Commandments though was to be a schoolmaster (Galatians 3:24-25) for anyone who thought they could be good enough to get into heaven on their own merits. While we all may think we are basically good people, the Law of God shows us that we are condemned by our own actions.
Let's take it a step further though, say someone has never learned or does not believe in the 10 Commandments of any sort. Say you meet someone who does not believe in any law, whether made by God or men, and that they only believe in the moral right and wrong of their own mind. What then? The Bible tells us this person is still condemned in their own mind, even if they have never heard of God, Jesus, the 10 Commandments, or anything about salvation. It is basically the old question, "If someone never hears about God, will they still die and go to hell?" The answer is emphatically, "YES!" The question is, where then does their condemnation originate?
Romans 2: 14 - 16 explains quite clearly that people who do not have the Law of God, or the 10 Commandments, or anything else, will by their own nature show the Law of God written on their hearts by naturally trying to do what the Law already says. For example, if we went to the deepest most remote place on earth and found a people group who had never been in contact with anyone else on earth, had never been talked to about God or salvation, and had never been educated about the laws of God or men, what do you suppose we would we find regarding fairness and justice? Do you think they would have a way to deal with someone who stole from them? Do you think they would have a system of justice to deal with someone who came into their midst and randomly began to murder individuals in their camp? I'm pretty sure there would be a very swift reaction!
Furthermore, if we could sit and talk with these people, we would quickly find that they had collectively created and agreed to a system of rules and laws that pretty much exactly mirror the laws of God regarding right and wrong. What's more, anthropologists who have been able to actually go to such people groups in the past, have repeatedly found a system of penance to some idol or god where they worship seeking peace for their guilty conscience, but finding none and constantly going again and again, over and over, year after year. Why? Because guilt of conscience never goes away until the penalty is satisfied.
Now, forget some random people group, how about you? Maybe you know someone or you yourself have no belief in God or any form of moral code written by God or men. So, how about the moral code of your own heart? If you were to make up your own list of right and wrong, what would it look like? Would you care if someone stole from you? Better write that down! Would you care if someone lied about you in a way that caused you to lose your job or some other form of personal or financial harm? Better write that down, too! Anyone who says they have no moral code and no list of "right" and "wrong" is a liar and would quickly be disproven the moment anyone walks up to them, grabs their wallet, and begins to take their money. Everyone I have ever met has a very strong sense of what is "fair" and what is "right and wrong" in their own mind. Just go to any playground and watch children play and you will see that this sense of fairness is ingrained in each of us, not something we have to be taught.
Question now is, with the rules, laws, or moral code of your own mind, have you ever broken any rule of your own mind? If you say yes, and every honest person must answer in the affirmative, then you are guilty by the conscience of your own mind as it bears witness against you, even as your own thoughts accuse others of breaking the laws in your mind, while at the same time making excuses for yourself. It is the Law of God written on your own heart! In this way, everyone is already guilty before God. That is why everyone needs a Savior, whether or not they have ever heard of the salvation available through Jesus Christ.
Last week I talked a little bit about 2 questions I went around asking people, and said I would publish the results of those conversations this week, but before I do, I wanted to ask you if you could have named 10 brands of beer, or if you could have named the 10 Commandments. For those of you who couldn't, or have trouble naming the 10 Commandments, there is a rather easy way of remembering them. Just Remember that the first 4 of them have to deal with our relationship with God, 1 has to do with our parents, and 5 are straight "thou shalt not" short phrases. Here they are in the same order as they appear in the Bible in Exodus 20: 1-17:
Commandments regarding our relationship with God.
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.
Commandment regarding parents.
5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
The last 5 "thou shalt not" Commandments
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
10. Thou shalt not covet.
Now for the results. Again, this was a very informal survey which prodded random people to come up with two separate lists of ten. I was dressed casually with nothing in my hands but a notebook and my daughter who is 9 years old at my side. When approaching these groups of people on the J.S.U. campus and other places, I invited them to either take the two question survey as a group and pool their knowledge, or elect one person to speak for the whole group. Each group said they would answer together, but when I asked the first question one person would begin the list of beers and become the unofficial spokesperson for the whole group with others in the group chiming in only a few times.
Within the groups and even individuals I polled, everyone was able to name 10 brands of beer regardless of background, sex, or age of the people being asked. Think about that for a minute. I'm not saying this would be true with everyone, but out of the groups and individuals I talked to, every single person in the group said they would also have been able to name 10 brands of beer, and every individual I talked to one-on-one was able to name 10 brands of beer.
Within the groups and individuals I polled, there was some variation on their ability to come up with the 10 Commandments. The people I talked to ranged in their ability to come up with the 10 Commandments from 5 to 7. Some people were only able to name 5, while the highest percentage of people were able to name 6, and only a couple of people were able to name 7 of them. However, no one was able to name all 10 Commandments either on their own or as a group despite several of them admitting to having memorized them at some point in their past.
I then asked them what percentage of people would be able to name 10 brands of beer vs. the 10 Commandments, what they thought of the percentages they gave, and what those percentages said about the people who could name 10 brands of beer but could not name all of the 10 Commandments. I was strictly asking for their own opinion in a conversational way that invited them to make their own judgements. Here is a sampling of those conversations.
Outside a fraternity on the J.S.U. campus, I talked to a group of three guys. Brandon, Charles, and Zack agreed to be polled as a group. Charles came up with the list of 10 beers on his own but expressed some regret as soon as I asked him to name the 10 Commandments. "OK, now you're starting to make me feel bad," he said as he then started his list eventually coming up with 5 on his own and a 6th came with some help from the other two with him. During the conversation, Charles mentioned that he had grown up Southern Baptist and said, "This is a Christian based fraternity. I know I'm standing here talking to you with a beer and a cigarette in my hand, but I still believe in God." When I asked him how often he shared his faith, he admitted that he did not share it very often. When I asked him why, he basically responded that he was afraid of not having the answers to someone's questions, or giving the wrong answers and looking foolish.
At one of the apartments where there is an outdoor pool, I approached two other groups. One of these groups was able to come up with 7 of the 10 Commandments, but when asked about what percentage of the J.S.U. campus would be able to name 10 brands of beer vs. the 10 Commandments, one of the groups, Jennifer, John and Ashley, said that probably 100% of the campus could name 10 brands of beer, but felt only 20% - 30% might be able to name all of the 10 Commandments. When I asked her why she thought this to be true, she said "Because students think more about beer than God." I thanked her for her honesty and candid response. In her opinion, it is the reality she sees, and she just gave her opinion on her own environment as she saw it which I found very interesting.
In one of the last groups I talked with Noel and Megan. Noel said she was a Christian, but when I asked her about how often she shared her faith and why she might not share her faith more often, her response was that people see the way she lives and when they understand about where she came from and what she had been through, then they would understand her and her faith in God. I did not probe any deeper, but it sounded like she had a very compelling testimony and a great story to tell.
Now my question for you is, could you have done it? I'm not talking about naming 10 brands of beer or naming the 10 Commandments, I'm talking about having a conversation with a total stranger about salvation. I had no Bible or New Testament, and no literature of any kind. I had my daughter with me and a blank spiral notebook which I used to take notes as I talked with people strictly so I could recall those conversations later. In each of these conversations, I used the two questions as a launch point to talk to people I had never met before, outside in the open air, when they were already standing or sitting around talking with other people. Once the conversation was started, I used more questions about the 10 Commandments to talk to them about their own standing before God, whether they would be able to get into heaven with the guilt of sin on their life, and talked only very briefly about salvation.
You see, I'm still learning. "The Way of the Master" course is not over yet, but already I've had interesting conversations with total strangers who thanked me for coming up to them to talk with them. That's right. Not one single person was combative, or argumentative. It was the easiest conversation I'd ever had bringing up the topic of God and salvation with a total stranger, and each group or individual thanked me for taking the time to talk with them. Even better, my daughter was able to watch and listen and see how easy and even interesting it can be for someone to share their faith with others.
What about you, could you have done it? Before you say no, remember this: we are all tasked with the opportunity of going into the world to teach people about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you can have a conversation with anyone, you have all the ability you need to talk about the Gospel. Maybe you just need a little training or a point in the right direction. While I'd recommend "The Way of the Master" the truth is there may be other suitable programs out there that can teach you how to share your faith unafraid.
Whatever you do, do not allow yourself to be sidelined by fear. There are people out there who need to hear from you, people you will meet that will be truly grateful you took the time to talk with them, but you will never meet them unless you go.
Had a conversation with a co-worker on Friday a few hours before the day was over. I simply asked a question and now I'll ask it to you: Can you name at least 10 separate brands of beer? My coworker immediately launched into a list that within 30 seconds encompassed some names I was familiar with, and others I would not have recognized. How about you? Could you name 10 separate brands of beer? Think about it, and if you have someone else in the room, see how long it takes you to come up with a list of 10.
Now, after you have answered the question, were you able to come up with 10? If not, how many were you able to come up with? Whatever your number, I have another question I'll ask you that I also asked my co-worker: How many of the 10 commandments can you name?
That question was a bit harder. My co-worker began with "uh" and proceeded to list about 5 of them. My challenge to you is, can you name at least as many of the 10 commandments as you could brands of beer, or could you name more brands of beer than commandments? It is not a test, just a fun way of starting a conversation about God and salvation you may not have tried before.
Here's a couple more questions for you: Do you share your faith in God regularly with others? What is the main reason you don't share your faith more often? I've had several conversations on this topic over the past two weeks, and the answers vary. In the end though, everyone I talked with admitted they do not share their faith as often as they should. Seems there are easier things to talk about, and talking about God seemed a rather difficult topic to bring up. However, at the start of this article I've just shown you at least one creative and rather fun way to bring up the topic, and the idea did not originate with me.
There is an evangelistic study guide called "The Way of the Master" by Kirk Cameron (yes, that Kirk Cameron) and Ray Comfort that I am studying with a group of people at the new Redeemer church that currently meets at the old Rookie's in Oxford. On Sunday morning is the regular service, but on Thursday night's we've been studying "The Way of the Master", and it has already taught me ways to start conversations about salvation that are not nearly as confrontational as what I am used to. Actually, the whole idea is to present the good news of the Gospel in a relaxed, conversational way that brings people into a frame of mind to think about their eternity with an open mind instead of clamming up and being defensive.
As a Christian, this is extremely important to me. My life on earth is meant to glorify God, but if I cannot open my mouth to talk about the One who saved me, then everything else I do will be hollow. I can go to church, sing the songs, read my Bible, pray, and worship God, but I am not here to just enjoy the Christian life, I am tasked with the opportunity to share my faith so that others also may choose. Problem is, most Christians are too afraid of what others think or how such a conversation may ruin a good relationship or friendship. "The Way of the Master" study is showing me new avenues and approaches to doing so without losing a friend. In fact, time and again it has proven quite the opposite. In the conversations I've had so far, the people I have talked to have been rather appreciate that I took the time to be concerned about them.
More than just being a witness though, as a father to two daughters, I also know that my example will teach them. They are watching me, and from my actions they will learn. I can tell them how important it is to talk to others about their faith, but if they never see me do it, the message will come across that while I think it is important, it is not so important as to require any real action. Am I raising daughters who will fear to share their faith, or will I choose to raise them with enough confidence in their faith to be concerned more about others and start those conversations that will allow them to do so? As well, do I care enough about others to offer them a conversation about eternity, and allow them to choose Christ for themselves?
How about you?
UPDATE: after writing this blog, I took my daughter and hit the JSU campus looking to talk to at least ten people. I met with three groups of people giving them an informal survey. Stay tuned for next week's blog when I will publish the results of those conversations.