the olympics with other eyes

I enjoy sport and so there is no time quite like the Olympics. But I am also a Christian wanting to participate in the mission of God in the world. I try to watch the Olympics with other eyes...

Watch the flags - and intercede  
With the incomparable Operation World alongside, an anthem here and a flag over there is an incentive to learn about how it is for God's people in another land. The quietness and solemnity of a flag-raising ceremony is the perfect time to intercede for the countries on the podium. Pray for freedom and openness among its people. Pray for justice, compassion and integrity among its leaders. Pray for grace and courage for its church.

Watch the spectators - and worship
There is nothing quite like being among some raucous spectators. Cheering. Applauding ... and let's face it, worshipping. Yes, the athletes are worthy of praise. But let the mind drift across to 'I praise you because I - and especially those athletes - are fearfully and wonderfully made. I know that full well.' Swimming like a fish? Running like the wind? Admiring how one body can win a 100m race, while a quite different one wins the marathon, or the weightlifting? It is amazing. But let's not fall victim to humanity's compulsive behavioural disorder: captivated by the creation and forgetful of the creator.

Watch the athletes - and pursue excellence
I'll always remember an early Board discussion soon after I started as a principal. We were settling on the core values and the word 'excellence' came up. Strong, loud voices spoke out against embracing such a value. I was dumb-founded. I understand the rationale better now, but it was so alien to me at the time. I had been fed on an older spirituality: 'Just as I am, young, strong, and free; to be the best that I can be.' Still I see nothing wrong with the pursuit of excellence, starting with character and in dependence on the Spirit as I seek to remain in Christ ... and Olympic athletes goad me along that way.

Watch the press - and transcend
Regular readers of this blog will know that I find overheated patriotic fervour to be offensive. Oh, I'll cheer for the Kiwis - afterall, I do have a pulse. But the American press getting stuck into a 16yr old Chinese swimmer? Waking up to a NZ headline yesterday, stating 'Awful Aussies'? Shame on you. A plague on both your houses - and plenty of plaque on your teeth (only because plaque sounds like plague, it must be said). God does not see national borders and so we should be very careful how we view them. Passports mean little to him. Participating in the mission of God is about being a 'committed internationalist' and the Olympics are a good time to practice.

Watch the unity - and smile
The Olympics are an incredible display of unity - bringing diverse, even warring, peoples together. What about the London pool where anyone from any nation can have a go without needing to reach a qualifying standard? It has united the strong and the weak who have had a go, flailing away as everyone patiently waits and cheers. I love it - but I smile quietly. Despite what the academics say, nothing comes close to building unity quite like people transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ who take Ephesians 2 seriously, as the walls of hostility come down because of the cross. In troubled country after troubled country, objective eyes will uncover followers of Jesus praying and working hard for reconciliation and justice - facilitating a unity that sport can only ever dream about.

Watch the closing ceremony - and anticipate
That unalloyed joy among diverse peoples at an Olympic closing ceremony is something to behold. I love it. But God is in his heaven saying 'that's cool - but you ain't seen nuttin yet'. God may be blind to national borders, but he loves cultures and delights in languages. I've been studying Revelation. Did you know that variations on the fourfold 'nation (not today's nation state, as I understand it), tribe, people, language' occurs seven times in the letter? The 'four' signals that the whole entire world is covered. The 'seven' signals completeness and perfection. There will be a fullness and a perfect completeness about those who gather for history's closing ceremony. Bring it on. I can't wait. (No - on second thoughts, I can wait. I will wait and participate in God's restorative mission as I do so).

[PS: The Opening Ceremony was absorbing. Although the terms mean less and less, they are still being used and so can I suggest that London was as postmodern as Beijing was modern? London had humour (Mr Bean anyone?); iconoclasm (remind me again, who jumped out of the plane?); protest and dissent in its history-telling; subversion (who was it that lit the cauldron? who formed two lines under the stadium as the flame arrived?); a fuzzying of real and unreal (was that Winston I saw waving? how about Bean inserted next to Eric?); spirituality (was that really Abide with Me being sung?) ... and it goes on and on].

nice chatting



Ben Carswell said…
Thanks again for this Paul - intrigued by your "God may be blind to national borders, but he loves cultures and delights in languages." comment. I'd need to do a bit more research into the word translated "nation", but I've been thinking about it in light of Col 3:11 - is God blind to just national borders, or are nations important, but not our understanding of them?

Comments at your dad's funeral (along with living in the US & NZ!) were helpful in challenging my tendencies towards patriotism/nationalism. Interestingly, I was speaking on Rev 7 passage & reflecting on this yesterday at Lincoln Uni CF.

Hope you have an encouraging time with Dunedin OCF tonight! Ka kite!
Josh Irving said…
Among other things, this post reminded me to brush my teeth! Thanks, Paul ;)
Kaitlyn Ng said…
awesome thoughts. Thanks Paul. :)
Paul said…
I hope you are still brushing your teeth, Josh.

Keen to dialog further with you on patriotism, Ben - even in the post-Olympic British glow! It is an honest question and searching and I am surprised how little theological grunt I hear for it - and yet how common it is among Christians.

Also - just finished Liddell biography #2 on your recommendation - Complete Surrender. I was surprised how much new information it contained and was very pleased to read it. Thanks

sorry for delay - from Hong Kong


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