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Posted: July 26, 2012 9:13 p.m.

Scharf: Go for the Gold

"Go for the gold!" That was the motto of our soccer camp this past week. I'm sure you've heard it before, especially this year. It's a phrase that has been used to motivate so many Olympians. Why? Well, it keeps the goal in front of them. Have you ever read any of the descriptions of what Olympic athletes have to go through to actually hope to win a gold? Think of some of the world's famous gymnasts who leave home as early as 7 or 8 years old to train full time. Their parents give them up to the coaches who regimen their every minute focused on the goal of one day winning Olympic gold. They don't get a normal childhood. They give it all up to "go for the gold."

Or how about swimmers? A quick Google search will give you Michael Phelps' training schedule, and a quick glance at that will show why most people don't make it to the Olympics. His workouts are so intense, he has to eat 12,000 calories a day just to keep up with the calories he's burning. He's swimming 50 miles a week!

And he's been training since he was 7, just getting more intense over time. And when injury hits - he keeps the goal in mind. When he makes a foolish mistake, he keeps the goal in mind, and when he has a mental block he keeps the goal in mind and remains focused, faithful to the workouts so that he can bring home the gold. It is only by remembering why he is doing it that he can be faithful to such a grueling regimen. He's going for the gold.

Today - to Christians, Jesus holds the goal in front of us. In Revelation 2:10, he said, "Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:8, "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."

To us Christians who are in the middle of God's training regimen, God said what he does here: be full of faith even when times get toughest. This week at our soccer/bible camp here at church, we saw some of those trials and tests, things like:

• The Israelites being invaded by the Philistines, with their Goliath warrior (1 Samuel 17)
• The Israelites' faith being besieged by the lies of Baal (1 Kings 18)
• Jesus being rampaged by temptation (Matthew 4)
• Even death claiming a victory (Matthew 27-28)

But all week long, we saw God solving those problems, winning those victories. And what was the solution for all of those seemingly helpless situations, all those dead-ends of life? Just be faithful, be full of faith. Trust. David went without armor or great strength, just the help of the Lord. Elijah sat back and let the prophets of Baal do their thing, and then just folded his hands in prayer.

So take that home. You may not be facing off against an armed giant on a battlefield, but you've got your own Goliaths - maybe it's the bully at school or the boss that makes your life miserable, or maybe it's not a person at all - maybe it's the monster of sickness or disease, or the giant debt you feel like you'll never get out from under. What's God's coaching to overcome those giants? - "Be faithful," full of faith...even if it means death.

And you may not run into many Baal worshipers that you can challenge to a showdown today who are trying to change your mind about God - but that might be easier than what you face. You face Satan's more subtle lies that point you to yourself as your own master, that try to get you to bow down at the altar of your wants, your pride, your selfishness.

And as for temptations that Jesus faced, you square off against those same temptations of selfishness, pride and laziness every day. And all too often you fail. I know I do. Jesus' defeated every temptation - but not me. I haven't been perfectly faithful, even to the point of mild discomfort, much less death.

That crucifixion that Jesus suffered - that should have been mine. My sins deserved eternal punishment by a just God. Life was out of the question for what I had coming, much less victory. But Jesus was faithful. He was faithful to God's perfect law, destroying every temptation. He was faithful to God's perfect love, taking our place in the pain and suffering we deserved. He was faithful to his word, and he rose from the dead. Death could not hold him. So he rose and ascended into heaven to receive the crown he earned.

And now he promises it to us: "Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life."

Be full of faith. Trust in what he has already done. Trust in him. That's where victory lies. That's how David overcame the giant Goliath - not by might, nor by power, but by God's strength. That's how Elijah overcame the prophets of Baal - just asking God for help. That's how even Jesus himself overcame Satan's temptations - relying solely on the word of God. And that is how we defeat death. Like Jesus said, "Because I live, you also will live."

That's gold worth going for!


Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.

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