Be a Spiritual Champion: "Get Over It To Get on With It"

The closing ceremonies come tonight. The '04 Summer Games, or at least their highlights, have thrilled and inspired us. Even, touched our hearts. Then too, injury, disappointment and defeat have shared the stage with triumph and exhilaration. We've learned a lot about being champions. That's good. After all, we've been challenging each other to become spiritual champions. We've been learning how to run for the Gold, which is the prize of our faith, life everlasting in the Lord, Jesus Christ! But there's a place we haven't visited, and an intimate Olympic wonder we've missed here at Nichols-Bethel. All the networks have missed it too. It's been happening in the Olympic Village every day. But it's gone completely UNreported. So lean forward. (Really. I'll wait….) Listen while I fill you in. This is good stuff. And absolutely essential to champions. Especially spiritual champions. Here it comes! When the African athletes greet each other on the streets, or in the square, or in the dorms, they share this wonderful, characteristic, traditional greeting from their homeland. (Are you leaning? Are you listening?) Here it is: How are you? I'm well if you're well! That's it. "I'm well if you're well." Do you get it? Do you see the spiritual truth here? It's key to healing and to health. Wellness, body and soul, is shared. We need to know about this in our souls, our families, our churches, our workplaces, our communities.

Check out the white insert (center) in your morning bulletin. There's the full text we've been reading from Hebrews 12. And an outline of the messages we've been sharing. And at the bottom, p.1, a little fill-in section on today's message. (Now's the time.) See, I wanna lift the hard truth today that in our spiritual life, as in the Olympic Games, tough times come to us all. We can write it down: running with Jesus, we all get injured now and then. When we do, we need to get over our injuries to get on with our spiritual race. How? First, identify your injury, and set up a program of rehabilitation. Second, enlist the very best healer/trainer available. Third, submit yourself to Christ's regimen for healing and wholeness. Then, once restored, run for the gold. This is the stuff… of champions!

Nobody runs through life or faith forever uninjured. (Da! Tell us something we don't know.) The thing is to identify the injury and rehab the hurt. The thing is to get well and get goin' again. Our Bible text gives us some pretty straight truth:
…Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,
and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may
not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace
with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will
see the Lord. Hebrews 12: 12-14
The hardest hurts feel like they're from heaven itself. "God, I prayed so hard, but it still went wrong." "In Jesus' name, how could you let this happen, Lord?" "Why? Why me?" Our lesson gives us good counsel. Strive for peace… and for holiness… especially in the hardest hurts. Begin by clearly identifying the injury. Express the pain; trust it to God the Father and Christ the Son. Watch the Olympics. Some athletes don't attend to their injuries when they happen. They trap the pain inside. They don't recover. Others let it out. They recover their peace and their possibilities for victory. Paul Hamm, crashes, lets it out, regroups. He can push for the prize. The tall, Russian young lady seethes… to a secondary finish.

Spiritual champions can talk to God about their pain, even when they want to lay it at heaven's own door! We're brought up to believe, "You shouldn't question." Not God, anyway. But Jesus gives us the better example from the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken…?" (Ps. 22) Are you struggling today? With illness, anger, hurt, heartache, depression, loneliness or rejection? Wanna have it out with God? Jesus instructs us from the cross. If this is where you are, go home and read the Psalms from 20-29. You'll know you're not alone. And you'll get relief. Check out Moses in Exodus, letting it all out with God. Jump over to Job. Especially the last ½. See what happens when we open ourselves to God. Name the pain, even to God. Find him mighty to heal.

There are other hurts, but the same rules apply. Families feud. Church folks fight from hurt, anger and misunderstanding. Communities and neighbors fit and fuss. Real people know real pain in every case. Heaven weeps! Identify the injury. Get clear about where it hurts. And why. Like physical pain, emotional and spiritual pain radiate. Your leg hurts because your spine's pinched. You're angry because you took the saying the wrong way. The hurt's been carried, not communicated… for a dozen weeks…or years! It's time. Rehab the hurt! All the hurt! There's a program!

Remember the guy at the healing pool 38 years? In pain. Want. Wracked. Jesus knows he's acknowledged the need. Now he needs a rehab program. Step one. Jesus asks, "Do you wanna be healed?" Our rehab starts here too. Always. Jesus asks, "Do you wanna be healed?" If you do, Jesus will put you in the pool. Or make it unneeded. He has enough power on his own. But first, we have to want wholeness. And second, trust Jesus can give it. And he will. Third, we have to allow him to set the way and the time it takes for the healing. One needs only a word from Christ. Another requires him to bend down and write a prescription in the dust. (Remember the harlot-forgiven?) One needs a paste of spittle and dust to see again. Another, just a blink of an eye. Somebody'll get told to take up their bed and walk because their sins are forgiven. Somebody else'll have to go like the leper and show that he or she is clean. But it's pretty likely, it'll never take Jesus 38 years! Or even ½ as long as you and I hold a grudge. Or embrace a wound to spite another, but hurt ourselves more! (I remember the fella at Hughes UMC, Wheaton. 'Wouldn't come to church. Nor his kids. Nor grandkids. 'Mad at the pastor who didn't come to call….Whew, not me, the other pastor. Not the Sr. pastor I'd left at the office. The other one. Retired. 15 years ago! Three generations cut off from the Body of Christ over a call never requested, thus never received. True! Do you wanna be healed? Trust Jesus to do it. His way. On his schedule, not ours. It's likely much quicker, for mercy's sake!)

Don't mess around. Get the best healer/trainer you can. I know him by name. Permit me to give you a referral. (People write on blank slips) His name is J E S U S! We've just said and shown what he can do. To tweak the old song just a little, "It is no secret what Christ can do. What he's done for others, he'll do for you." But he won't do everything, most likely, because it's hardly ever good-treatment-that-lasts. Like the Olympic trainer, Christ the Therapist of Our Souls will say there's work for us to do too. A regimen for restoration. Of our souls, families, church, community. We've been talking about it for weeks now. Let's go through some of the exercises. (With thanks to David Mains.)
Learn the lives of the faithful: Bible folks, ancient church folks,
folks right around you who can show you what it looks like to "run with faith the race that is set before us"! Accept their challenge to "take time to be holy".
Learn to win your struggles with evils and trials by striking fast. Most temptations are won or lost in the first ten seconds.
Eliminate elements in your life that keep you from more important spiritual priorities. (Have you taken action there yet?)
Find pleasure in overcoming sin-greater pleasure than what you know by giving in to it.
Keep track of your progress. See how a short list of victories does wonders for your faith.
Make Christ your first morning thought and last evening word.
Make Christ your training partner all day long. (Keep him in the music you hear. It's a good place to start.)
Expect to be disciplined. Locate something not right in your spirit God needs to correct. See God using it to make you more holy. Bend to the training of your soul. Surrender.
Realize rehabilitation, like going for the gold, the life of faith, isn't necessarily easy, but it's eternally valuable.
Practice putting the good of your loved one, your family, your neighbors and your church ahead of personal pain.
Remind yourself when you hurt: There is something I can do! I have Jesus as my trainer, and his specialty is healing broken lives and restoring broken relationships…from here to heaven.

In the Olympic Village, among a little segment of that special community, there's a wonderful greeting among some of those who are running for the Gold. "How are you?" they ask when they meet. And they answer, "I'm well, if you're well." Surely we who run for Christ, the Great Physician of the Soul, can muster the same greeting. …Not harboring our hurts, but giving them up, and giving ourselves over, to each other, and to him. That's how we get to be spiritual champions. It's the Gold for which we run!

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