Are You ‘Prepared’? [v114]

AUGUST 2008

WHAT ARE YOU PREPARING FOR?
In just a few weeks the 29th Olympiad will begin in Beijing—which will be the culmination of over six years of ‘yeoman’ effort and meticulous preparation.

Four years ago, the country of Greece, in preparation for the 28th Olympiad, invested almost $2 billion (US ) for infrastructure, and an untold amount of human effort to ‘host’ over a million people from 32 countries for the two weeks—the largest price tag up to then.

The Chinese recently announced that their investment in the Games will be about $40 billion (US) on infrastructure and related venues!!! (all spent with the goal of showing the world that it is a modern country that has grown into a political and economic powerhouse—but sadly, their human rights policies have changed little).

All that being said, I am even more amazed by the athletes—and the PREPARATION they have gone through to get to be at this level of ‘mastery’. Some of them have ‘trained’ for decades, and others have “fantasized” about getting to the Olympics since they were adolescents. Even more than that, for some of them this was their third or fourth time back—in that elusive “quest for the gold.”

To even be considered for a place on a team, most world-class athletes spend many hours a week in various aspects of ‘training’. This includes being ‘obsessed’ with what they eat, spending an ‘inordinate’ amount of time on physical fitness, and increasingly these days, putting a greater focus on their psychological ‘makeup’.

Roger Bannister, who in 1954 became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes, trained for about 35 minutes a day. It was noted recently by an Olympic coach that for today’s athletes, “that’s barely considered a warm-up.” These days, athletes train, depending on their ‘specialty’, from 20-60 hours per week! (up to 8.5 hours per day!)

What would motivate someone to this kind of daily, long-term ‘sacrifice’ with a very scant chance of ‘ultimate’ success?

Tom Dolan, a 400M individual medley swimmer that competed in the Sydney 2000 Games, gave his insight about this back then. “This is what I’ve been dreaming about for six years. There’s been a lot of ups and downs…It’s the dream of every athlete to win the gold medal, break the Olympic record, break the world record, and I did it.”

Though not a primary focus, financial rewards can also be a motivator. Another swimmer Michael Phelps, who competed in the last Olympics, was ‘rewarded’ with $8 million for making a bigger ‘splash’ than Mark Spitz did when he won a record seven gold medals at the 1972 Games in Munich. That’s how much only ONE of Phelps’ sponsors, Speedo, paid him for breaking Spitz’s mark ($1M for each gold medal).

But as enticing as that is to anyone, especially the then 19-year-old, Phelps said that his motivation goes well beyond the money. He noted that, “It’s about doing something no one else has done before.”

[This reminds me of the ‘attitude’ Neil Armstrong had after he returned from being the first to step on the moon: “The single thing which makes any man happiest is the realization that he has worked up to the limits of his ability, his capacity. It’s all the better, or course, if this work has contributed to knowledge, or toward moving the human race a little farther forward.”]

So, it all comes back to expanding our “limits” with preparation. Phelps’ coach said that, “This is a kid who spends five hours a day in the pool, seven days a week, 365 days a year. He’s even in the pool on Christmas morning. I can’t chase him out. He just loves being in the water. He seems most at peace there.” Wow!…that’s a commitment to preparation!

In the world of competitive sports, many very good and promising athletes will compete for a title and even dream of obtaining the prize. However, relatively few will pay the price of the intense physical training and years of preparation that must take place prior to the competition.

Even with all the preparation and desire for ‘perfection’ in any sport, it is useless unless one has the desire to “complete the course.” In any contest, the important factor is not how many begin the competition, but it’s who finishes the race that wins the ‘prize’.

After all the years that go into the training of a successful athlete, the actual competition or test of endurance, however, is often decided by a matter of only seconds—and it some instances, hundredths of a second.

One of the ‘premier’ events of the Games, the marathon, requires much preparation and endurance. It is said that this event ‘started’ when Pheidippedes, a Greek man, was involved as a ‘soldier’ in a war in 490BC. The Greeks were fighting against the Phoenicians, and it was imperative for the news of this to get back to Athens. Pheidippedes ran the whole way from his home town of Marathon, where the battle had taken place, to Athens, 22km (26 miles) away. He gave them the news of the victory and then dropped dead. Though we don’t know how long it took him to complete the run back then, in the last Olympiad, Italy’s Stefano Baldini withstood the 86 degree heat and a very difficult course to win the Olympic gold medal in a time of 2 hours, 10 minutes, and 55 seconds (I’m thinking that would take me a least most of a day!). But, after all that time and distance, he passed the to-be second place finisher in the very last mile and won by only 34 seconds (a couple hundred meters)!

Though most of us will never participate in an Olympic Games, we all prepare for many things. Arielle and Tyler, as well as most kids, are preparing to go back to school. But why should they bother? (They tell me that they’re having too much fun during this summer). Why should we parents continue to ‘persuade’ our kids that they should do this? (Arielle and Tyler tell me they can think of many reasons why they shouldn’t have to go back).

Well, for one, as Arielle mentioned to me recently, high school was for “developing social skills.” She is probably right about that, but I pointed out to her that it’s not the ‘primary’ reason to go to school. To me, an education is chiefly an institution for the preparation of people in the ‘foundational’ methods of developing knowledge or a skill—learning how to learn—and to be ‘ready’, beforehand, for what the ‘future’ will present the graduate with (I’m sensing that Arielle has changed her ‘tune’ after her first year in college!).

Being prepared is a good trait to develop…and it so happens to also be the “motto” of an organization that focuses on developing our next ‘generation’—the Boy Scouts. The idea is that all Scouts should prepare themselves to become productive citizens and to ‘serve’ other people. It suggests each Scout be ready in mind and body for any struggle, and to meet with a strong heart whatever challenges might lie ahead—in other words, to be prepared for ‘life’—and to live happily and without regret, knowing that you have done your best.

Most of us want to do our best and, therefore, plan ahead for the ‘things’ of life—some of which will, gratefully, never come to pass. We prepare for catastrophic problems by buying all kinds of insurance. We prepare for retirement by investing in stocks, funds, and a 401K. We even prepare for death by buying “life” insurance. But how many people prepare for what’s ‘beyond’ death?

Some say that there’s nothing beyond death and that they’ll take their chances. Then why prepare for anything in life? Why not just take your chances? Because, more often than not, it pays to prepare.

Whether preparing for retirement that lasts maybe 20 years, or for a career that lasts 40-50 years, it ‘pays’ to be prepared. (A college grad, on average, will make about a million dollars more in income during their career than the high school grad). Without any preparation at all, one would lead a miserable existence. So what type of existence will one lead if one does not PREPARE for his or her ETERNITY? Life lasts maybe 80 years, but “eternity” lasts much, much longer.

So you may be thinking, how should I ‘properly’ prepare for my eternity?

Well, if you remember, I created a web site a few years ago that summarizes the book, “The Purpose-Driven Life” ( http://www.spiritedesign.com/pdl/ ), and some of those concepts presented in it relate to what I am discussing here: Life is preparation for eternity.

God put you on this earth to ‘prepare’ you for what you’re going to do the rest of eternity with Him. This life is not all there is. This life is the “dress rehearsal.” It’s the “warm up lap” around the course before the ‘real’ race begins.

The Bible tells us that, “When this tent we live in, our body here on earth, is torn down, God will have a house in heaven for us to live in, a home that He Himself has made which will last forever” [2 Corinthians 5:1].

That sounds great to me, but just as the ‘wise’ athlete makes diligent preparations prior to running in an Olympic final, the same is true in the spiritual ‘race’ God wants us to ‘win’. We will never reach our fullest potential for Him, and ourselves, until we are willing to make the preparations and sacrifices that are necessary for running the ‘race’.

In the sporting ‘world’, in order to even qualify as a contestant, one must learn to cast aside anything detrimental to his ‘training’ program. Similarly, in the Bible, the Apostle Paul cites examples of certain ‘pitfalls’—things we must learn to “flee” from. Some are ‘blatant’ sin, while others are simply “weights”—but both, if allowed to continue, will deter our ‘progress’ and eventually prevent us from crossing the finish line victoriously. [1 Corinthians 9:24-27]

The writer of the Book of Hebrews reinforces the concept by saying, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” [Hebrews 12:1]. Thankfully, he doesn’t just leave us ‘hanging’ there wondering how we can do this. In the very next verse, he says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” [Hebrews 12:2]. Steely focus without any extra ‘baggage’.

I can just imagine that even if I showed up at a marathon in ultra-light shoes and running shorts (no excess ‘baggage’) and properly focused mentally, I would still ‘poop out’ long before the finish line—because I have not prepared properly for it.

So, if I want to complete a marathon, I must be willing to undergo training. In fact, I must subject myself to a very intensive training program. I would need to be willing to let an experienced runner design a whole training regimen that would seem in many ways irrelevant to the race. Taking my own physique and physical shape into account, he would design exercises carefully calculated to produce pressure and strain on various muscle groups. By ‘cooperating’ with this frustrating and sometimes agonizing training program, I would gradually become ‘hammered’ into shape for a marathon. The biggest reason why I and others are unable to run a marathon is not because they are physically incapable of it, but because we are unwilling to undergo the necessary preparation.

This is the same for someone wanting to ‘prepare’ for eternity. The ‘discipline’ of Bible reading and study might be ‘painful’ right now—but its ‘reward’ is “out of this world!”

Again, the writer of Hebrews has some good advice: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” [Hebrews 12:11].

This is kind of the Biblical ‘version’ of the weight-lifter’s motto: “No pain, no gain.” Of course, discipline is not joyful, but sorrowful (it wouldn’t be called “discipline” if it was easy to take). But God wants to use this to transform your character so you can fulfill His purpose for your life—and in my humble opinion, a goal valuable enough to warrant any amount of pain necessary! Just like in any sport, only those who ‘submit’ to the training reap the benefit.

Another related matter is that many people focus on the initial ‘speed’ of their progress, but overlook one far greater factor—one evident in successful athletic competition—to ‘endure’ until the end.

At the beginning of a marathon, runners feel strong and energetic. The gun sounds, and they take off. Sixteen or so miles into that marathon, though, they no longer feel energetic. Blisters begin to rub raw, and it feels like a ‘knife’ has lodged into their side. Their legs turn to ‘mush’, and their muscles ‘scream’ in pain.

This happens in life, too. We get down the ‘road’, and there’s pain involved. We say, “This hurts too much, I’m going to quit.” But sometimes the race God ‘guides’ us to run is filled with pain. Remember that God didn’t ‘ask’ you just to begin something short-term and stop. He wants you to keep running and be a great ‘finisher’.

At the 1968 Olympics, an hour after the marathon’s winner crossed the finish line, Tanzania’s John Stephen Akhwari limped across the finish line, injured in a fall early in the race. Asked why he didn’t quit, he said, “My country did not send me 7,000 miles to start this race. My country sent me to finish.”

You may ‘succeed’ in the race of life, gain all the material things you want on earth, become the admiration and envy of others, and yet die not a step nearer Heaven—and far away from God.

Jesus asked, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? [Mark 8:36].

We recognize that in every ‘walk’ of life we must run a ‘race’—achievement is by effort. The prize is gained by striving. The student must “scorn delights and live laborious days” if he is to gain the coveted diploma or degree. The artist must practice long to perfect his art. The skill of the craftsman, the ability of the executive, and the capacity of the worker are not gained without effort.

Consider the words of this verse by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

“We have not wings, we cannot soar; but we have feet to scale and climb, by slow degrees, by more and more, the lofty summits of our times.

The mighty pyramids of stone that wedge-like cleave the desert airs, when nearer seen, and better known, are but gigantic flights of stairs.

The distant mountains, that uprear their solid bastions to the skies, are crossed by pathways, that appear as we to higher levels rise.

The heights by great men gained and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”

Step-by-step we can make any journey. The Scripture says, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired and weary and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…and those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint” [Isaiah 40:28-31].

So, let me encourage you to honestly accept the ‘challenge’ that the God of the Bible has set before you: to believe that His Son became the “once-for-all” sacrifice for all of your sins; that He wants to help you through this ‘race’ we call “life”; and wants to “prepare a place [in Heaven] for you” to spend the rest of eternity with Him!

This is the promised ‘reward’ for running the ‘race’ successfully—“to get a crown that will last forever” [1 Corinthians 9:25]. There is NOTHING more valuable in this world than this—no other praise, honor, or “crown” compares!

Just like the “kick” of the gold medalist of the last Olympiad’s marathon had at the end of his race, God wants you to be able to ‘sprint’ across life’s ‘finish line’, finishing strong.

I so much want for you to hear these words directed to you from the ‘lips’ of God when you reach Heaven: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” [Matthew 25:23].

Don’t merely observe from the ‘grandstand’; don’t just turn out to jog a couple of ‘laps’ each morning. Prepare diligently—your ETERNAL ‘resting place’ DEPENDS upon it!

(If you would like to investigate further what it really means to “believe”, visit the following link:
http://www.thesearchformeaning.net/sfm_pres/sp_q10_d1_1of10.html ).

[Excerpts from: Steve Wilstein; Scott Pitoniak; Gary DeLashmutt;  J.C. Andrews; Graeme Codrington; Craig Brian Larson; Rick Warren]

“Gassho”
(Romanization of “Blessing” in Chinese) …
Mark

LIFE’S DEEP THOUGHTS (v116) for AUGUST 2008
If you have a ‘neat’ story or some thoughts about an issue or current event that you would like me to try to respond to, I would be glad to give it a try…so, send them to me at: mbesh@comcast.net

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OLYMPIC ‘TRIALS’

http://home.datacomm.ch/marco.fernando/fla/bozzetto/olympics.swf

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PRAYER IS PREPARATION
Prayer is an agreement between God,
Our Saviour and me and you
It’s assurances and promises
Of which we know God Will Be True,

It’s the offer of Our Loving God
In Jesus Christ here today
To Keep In Touch With Him
And have our needs met every day,

It’s that promise that whenever we call
In Jesus’ Name, any time of night or day
He will hear in Loving Grace and Kindness
And Send The Answers, on the way,

So keep prayer, with you as an important part
Of your life to be
Keep In Touch With God, In Jesus’ Name
Preparation For Eternity.
[Richard Dottery]

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RUN THE RACE
A puppet skit (Ronnie and Don)

R: What are you reading?
D: I’m reading from the Bible, Hebrews 12:1-2, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
R: Well I’m ready to run.
D: Run what?
R: Run with Percy.
D: Percy who?
R: Percy Verance.
D: Oh Ronnie, “perseverance” isn’t a person. It means to keep going when things are hard or difficult.
R: Well they’re hard at the moment. I’ve been training twice a day for the last week…and I’m also on a high fiber diet! I’m getting ready for the next Olympics. I just haven’t figured out which event I should enter.
D: Ronny you can’t just compete in the Olympics after training for one week. Athletes train for months or years on end.
R: Is that painful? …on your end?
D: Did you realize there is only one difference between “go for gold!” and “go for God!”
R: No “l”
D: It makes all the difference who you put first in your life. Gold or God.
R: …and running with Percy.
D: That’s right. Who knows maybe one day there might be a “puppet Olympics” and you could be in it.
R: If I keep on training…I might even carry the torch.
D: (aside) You could just use your nose. {Ronny has a bright red nose}
R: You can talk. Well I’ve got to run…can I say that?
D: Would you like to join us in saying “The Peace” with us today.
R: Like passing the torch?
D: OK Ron—“Go for God…and also with you!”
[Don Stott, http://www.Eliab.com]

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DEEP THOUGHT:
As the Summer Olympics end, I think of a champion wrestler who keeps a poster on the wall of his basement where he works out with weights. It shows a man straining to lift a weight, sweat fairly bursting from a grimacing face, veins bulging on his neck. The captions boasts a old proverb: “There are two kinds of pain: the pain of discipline and the pain of regret. The pain of discipline weighs only a few ounces; the pain of regret weighs a ton.”
[Jim Rohn]

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Hope you enjoyed some of these insights—share them with your friends and colleagues—so we can have a larger ‘pool’ to receive from, and more to share with! Also, remember to include your name as the “source,” if some of this wisdom is of your doing—I would like to give credit where credit is due!

“…In a race all the runners take part in it, but only one of them wins the prize. Run, then, in such a way as to win the prize. Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline; he does so in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever” [1 Corinthians 9:24-25].

Mark

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Disclaimer: All the above jokes & inspirations are obtained from various sources and copyright are used when known. Other than our name and headers, we do not own the copyright to any of the materials sent to this list. We just want to spread the ministry of God’s love and cheerfulness throughout the world.

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