Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rules of the Game

The Olympics were on tonight at my house. Just before I turned off the TV for the night, Bob Costas reported on speed skater Sven Kramer. He skated 25 laps in record time, the race of his life. Yet he walked away without a medal. He was disqualified because at the last minute his confused coach accidentally directed him into the wrong lane. Even though he posted the fastest time of all, by 4 seconds, and finished believing he'd won the gold medal, he had made the wrong lane choice, consequently breaking one of the basic rules. There was no do-over. There were no second chances.

After I heard this story, I thought of the terrible pain caused by well-meaning yet wrong advice from his coach. I thought of the agony they both were feeling, having made such a costly mistake. Sven acknowledged that though his coach was wrong, it was ultimately his own choice which lane to pick, and he had picked the wrong one.

While watching these competitions, it can start to feel like winning an Olympic gold medal is the ultimate in life. It is, after all, the culmination of years of hard work, training, sacrifice, and mental/physical conditioning. To be a champion among champions is no small feat. However, it's sometimes easy to forget that there is a finish line that is far more significant than that of a Vancouver ice rink.

As we run this race of life, we make choices all along the way - what to live for, what to believe in, and what is worth dying for. These choices are so important because we only get one race - one chance to pick our lane that will take us to the finish line. If we make the wrong choice, it could cost us eternity. Finding the truth and figuring out who to trust can be tricky at times. We can sometimes trust good-sounding advice from people we love, like Sven did, but that can ultimately lead us astray. Well-meaning doesn't equate with truth.

The truth clearly set forth by Jesus of Nazareth is that he is the only way to God the Father in Heaven. Claiming to be the only way to heaven is a bold statement. Many consider it too bold and radical. It sounds intolerant and narrow-minded. After all, couldn't there be other ways to heaven?

The bottom line is that God makes up the rules of the game, not us. He made this earth, this universe, the sun and the stars. As the author of life, he carefully forms each human being, knitting together our DNA, giving us the free will to choose him or choose our own ways. We don't have the right to call the shots. Only he does.

Still, how can we trust that Jesus wasn't just some Jewish teacher who lead a great life and made some audacious claims in the process? Why stake my eternal life on this particular man?

Aside from perfectly fulfilling ancient prophecy, living a consistent and sinless life, and performing countless miracles, Jesus backed up his claim as Savior unlike any other religious figure in all of history. He predicted that he would be executed and then would defeat death itself. He promised to come back to life. And he did just that. His resurrection and empty tomb were unstoppable proof of his identity: Jesus is the Son of God. He appeared repeatedly in a resurrected body not only to the disciples but also to over 500 other witnesses.

Saul of Tarsus, an educated Jewish Pharisee, was fiercely opposed to the message that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah and zealously went on a mission to persecute all believers - until he became one himself. Seeing the resurrected Jesus transformed him to the point where he became a new man. Renamed Paul, he wrote much of the New Testament and then went on to dedicate his life, suffering great hardship, to tell all people the good news of how to be saved.

That's Paul's testimony of Jesus. My own testimony is woven into this blog. I have experienced challenges as small in life as not making the junior high volleyball team (twice) when my best friend did, to catastrophes as great as losing my home, possessions, and health due to toxic mold. I have endured mysterious symptoms that eventually left me disabled, misunderstood, and chronically ill. I have walked through losing a career that I fought hard to achieve. I have felt the brutal sting of a father's cruel words, betrayal, and eventual rejection. I've seen first-hand the ravages of dementia and strokes as well as heart and kidney disease in my grandparents, losing them piece by piece over many years. I have also been a victim of crime. All this and more, yet through Christ I have always had a solid Rock on which to stand. Through him, I have been empowered to overcome things that seemed insurmountable, to endure what seemed unendurable, to achieve what seemed impossible, and in Him I will continue to trust all the days of my life. He has proven himself faithful and real to me, not because he removed my pain, but because he has seen me through it.

If there is a choice you can make in life that will make your eternity safe and secure, wouldn't you want to make it? If you could win the ultimate salvation - that of your very soul - simply by following the right path, wouldn't you want to begin today?

Investigate for yourself the veracity of the words of Jesus. Sincerely ask God to show you the truth. Jesus claims to be "the way, the truth, and the life." He proved his power and authority by conquering death itself. He continues to prove himself through the miracles of changed lives. In this race, where the stakes are so high, ultimate victory comes only by being in his lane.

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
1 Corinthians 9:25
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