Tag Archives: Olympics

True Olympic Competition: Freedom Versus Control

By Eugene C. Scott

The first competitive event of the 2012 Olympic Games in London was the Opening Ceremony. London versus Beijing. It was no contest. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games Opening Ceremony stomped the 2012 London Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.

2008 Beijing

The Beijing ceremony, directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, cost over $100 million using 22,000 performers, including 2,008 precision drummers, 1,800 marshall arts specialists, 900 men under boxes to simulate keys of movable type, and countless children. China also used technology to prevent rainfall on their 43,000 piece computer enhanced fireworks show.

“With all the technical complexities involved, the opening ceremony was 100 times more difficult than making a movie, he [Yimou] said, adding that such a performance was unprecedented in the world,” wrote Zhu Yin for the news agency Xinhua.

Most people agree with Yimou, saying the 2008 opening was the most spectacular ever, and maybe, ever to be. Even Danny Boyle, the director of the 2012 ceremony said he would not try to compete with them.

2012 London

This year the Opening Ceremony cost only $42 million using 15,000 performers including 12 horses, a village cricket team, some sheep dogs roaming around, 70 sheep, 10 chickens, 2 goats, 3 cows, and 10 ducks. Oh yeah, they used real clouds above the stadium and Mr. Bean was there. The show looked disorganized and scattered, on purpose. One blog reported, “So disappointingly for anyone looking for rows, there haven’t been any.”

Perfection versus Imperfection

China wanted to prove something to the world. Uniformity and technology were the Beijing watchwords. China achieved this precision and uniformity by having performers practice their movements for up to 15 hours a day wearing diapers because they were not allowed to take breaks. Even the children practiced for that long. The final rehearsal was 51 hours long with few breaks and only two meals and no shelter from the rain.

In 2008 perfection came at the cost of freedom and with a great deal of coercion and manipulation. After the 2008 games, Yimou told the press that no other country, except possibly communist North Korea, could do a better opening ceremony.

Why? Because they could. In the West, Yimou said, no one would put up with how China treated its performers.

In Britain, however, the opening ceremony told stories, stories by and about imperfect people. Shakespeare, Harry Potter, Mary Poppins, James Bond, Queen Elizabeth, even Mr. Bean.

Kid’s wiggled, people missed cues, the whole thing played out slow and uneven. We were “trying to make you feel like you’re watching a live film being made,” said Boyle.

And the Winner Is

For me the London Opening Ceremony was the better. But the competition was not between Opening Ceremonies but rather between two opposite philosophies. Freedom versus control, machine versus human, uniformity versus individuality. I took a course in drama and theater in college. The professor assigned us to go and view both a movie and a live theater play. He asked us then to evaluate and discuss them in class. He pointed out that in a movie every shot, every word, every move was directed and choreographed. Movies, though well-done and exciting, are farther away from reality than a live show. The excitement, tension, and drama in the live play came, in part, from the possibility of someone missing a line or ad-libbing. The play was more real in its imperfection.

Living Spiritually Demands Freedom

Still I delude myself in my desire for predictability, order, and control in my life. I yell, “Why?” at God when things beyond explanation befall me. I want God to do away with disease and discomfort. And if God won’t, then I hope technology or government will.

The comparison between these two ceremonies reminded me of how we so often look for formulas and systems to help us get our lives under control. To help our lives make sense, have order. But by definition life cannot be controlled and still be life. It becomes something else, an automaton.

Spiritual life more so. No matter what any pastor (me included) or book has told you, there are not seven steps, five keys, or ten secrets to a fulfilling spiritual life.

Living spiritually is living in the freedom of loving God and being loved by God. It is leaning into the mystery of what the next breath of life holds. It is embracing the imperfection of human life while pursuing a perfectly loving God. In short, it is “watching a live film being made.”


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Exercise Naked

Did you know that two thousand years ago, Olympic athletes were required to compete naked? The Greeks enjoyed the aesthetic aspects of athletics, so they preferred watching the sculpted human body in competition–unobstructed by anything.

But did you know that the Bible tells us to exercise naked?

Join us in today’s daily Bible conversation to discover why…and how.


Jeremiah 33:1-34:22
1 Timothy 4:1-16
Psalm 89:1-13
Proverbs 25:23-24


Jeremiah 33:1-34:22. Jeremiah 33 offers a peculiar prophecy. It begins as a promise of destruction and concludes with a promise. Beginning in verse 14, God promises that the lineage of David will be re-established as “David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel” (verse 17). The reign of King David’s throne came to an end with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., but remember that Jesus came from the line of David. And to this day, Jesus still reigns.

1 Timothy 4:1-16. Paul advises Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16). Admittedly, some people can get overly rigid in their theology, but what we believe really does matter. Injecting our opinions into our theology is dangerous. In my experience, theological renegades easily become heretics. Many young pastors, in the effort to be accepted and respected by their peers, sacrifice doctrine on the altar of cool. Perhaps that’s why Paul gave this instruction to young Timothy.

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“Train yourself to be godly,” Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:7b-8. “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

The Greek word for “train” is gymnasia which means “to exercise naked.” This hearkens back to the ancient Olympics. While most commentators avoid this word picture for reasons of propriety, I think something gets lost in the translation.

Notice these words from the writer of Hebrews:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1 (NASB)

To be honest, when I train—either running or weight lifting—I try to wear as little as possible. Of course, I dress appropriately, but running 6-8-10 miles or lifting weights over my head wearing a jacket and jeans doesn’t work.

The Greek word for “godliness,” eusebeia, means both an internal and external piety. In other words, it’s a deep inward devotion to God that is reflected in our everyday life.

It’s important to point out that godliness and righteousness are not the same. When we confess our sins to God and trust in Jesus to forgive us, we are made righteous. Our sins are forgiven and we’re brought into a right relationship with God. Godliness, however, is the process of bringing the spiritual reality of who we are (righteous) into congruence with how we think and act.

To become godly men and women, we must first realize that godliness doesn’t naturally occur on its own. It requires exercise and training. And we can only do this by exercising naked—throwing off every encumbrance that hinders our walk with God. This includes ungodly habits, compromising relationships and influences, and death-giving ways of thinking. We replace these destructive habits with life-giving habits that look like the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

The pursuit of godliness also requires that we eat healthy. Generous amounts of Bible study, meditation, and supplements of spiritual reading (especially the classics) will give us the energy we need.

Why do we do it? Because it brings benefits to us both now and in the life to come. I love being in shape. It helps me think much clearer and it gives me greater endurance. In the same way, godliness frees me to live with a clean conscience, to think as God would think, and it gives me the strength to say “no” to my flesh. And it also prepares me for the life—the true life—to come.

Best of all, training ourselves to be godly isn’t an end in itself because it launches us into a fuller relationship with God.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What spiritual exercises have you found most helpful?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.


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What It Takes To Make A Difference

Last Monday and Tuesday I spent all day volunteering for a local high school’s back to school registration. Part of my job was to invite the 1600 students and their parents to sign a thank you card (on a poster board) for the teachers. Tuesday night after registration was over, I looked over the four poster boards and began reading the thank yous. Suddenly my eyes welled up with tears as I realized the difference the staff was making in the lives of the students. Suddenly I realized that many of the school staff had chosen their profession to make a difference.

All of us are wired to make a difference. Everyone wants a funeral with lots of people standing up telling stories about the difference we made in their lives. I’m wired that way too.

In today’s reading, you’ll learn about what it takes to make a difference.


Nehemiah 7:73-10:39
1 Corinthians 9:1-10:13
Psalm 33:12-34:10
Proverbs 21:11-13


Nehemiah 7:73-10:39. With the completion of the wall, the people now gather to listen to the reading of the Law (perhaps Leviticus and/or Deuteronomy). The people were religious, but they weren’t acquainted with the sacred book upon which their faith rested.

We still wrestle with the same problem today. People have faith, but they aren’t knowledgeable of the Word of God. That’s the job of the pastor, they assume. But that wasn’t true of Ezra. Read closer what the New Bible Commentary says about Ezra’s approach to the reading of the Law:

Ezra not only responded at once to the people’s request (8:2), but he chose to do so not in the temple courts, but in an easily accessible place (8:3) and in full view (8:4) so that none should be barred from attending. Moreover, he chose to associate lay people with him in the enterprise (8:4). It seems that he was anxious to avoid any impression that the law was the private preserve of the religious professional.

What a great insight!

As the people listened, they began to weep because they understood the extent of their transgressions. Yet Nehemiah tells them to celebrate “for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 9:10). The people grieved their sins, but Nehemiah reminded them that they were forgiven. They should celebrate the love and grace of God.

So should we.

Psalm 33:12-34:10. A theme we read in Scripture over and over again (could God be trying to drive home a point?) is the importance of trusting in God. Trust is just another word for “faith.” In Psalm 33, the psalmist describes the futility of trusting in armies and horses. Instead, he writes, “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine” (Psalm 33:18–19).

To say that “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him” means that God acutely understands the needs of those who fear him, and is ready to respond. I can’t make a formula out of it, but God responds to our acts of trust in him.

And what did trust in God look like to David? Read Psalm 34. While hiding from Saul may not seem to indicate trust in God, the fact that David kept his heart soft toward God tells us that he trusted that God was in control—in the midst of a very embarrassing season of his life.

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Every two years the city of Corinth hosted a series of athletic games similar to the Olympics. In fact, the Isthmian Games in Corinth were second in popularity to the Olympics in Athens. Whereas a wild olive branch was given to the winner in Athens, a pine garland was given to the winner in Corinth.

Paul wrote that everyone competes in the race, presumably in the bi-annual Isthmian Games, but only one person wins the prize. “Run in such a way,” he exhorts his readers, “as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

What is the prize? The crown that will last forever—something that a pine garland can’t offer. It’s eternal life, but the context tells me that the crown is embedded with gems that represent the difference we’ve made in the lives of others, especially for the gospel.

And how are we to run?

Paul uses the word “slave” twice in 1 Corinthians 9. He writes, “I beat my body and make it my slave” (verse 27). In other words, the healthy, disciplined life prevents us from being disqualified. It’s the life of holiness and self-discipline. Keeping our passions under control.

But then he makes another interesting statement: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Corinthians 9:19 italics added).

So Paul makes his body his slave, and makes himself a slave to everyone. He explains further,

To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:22–23

Years ago, I enrolled in a video course taught by motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. He said something that I’ll never forget: “In order to get what you want, you need to help everyone else get what they want.” Sounds like making myself a slave.

When we serve people, we earn the right to be heard. It gives us credibility.

If you want to make a difference, serve the people around you. Make yourself a slave to everyone. Help them paint their house. Drive them to the doctor. Volunteer at school events.

Making yourself a slave to everyone also opens their hearts to you. Proverbs 18:16 says, “A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great.”

And isn’t that what Jesus did for us?

On the night Jesus was betrayed, John makes an interesting observation: “Having loved his own who were in the world, [Jesus] now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1).

The full extent of his love looked like a cross, but immediately after these words, Jesus washed the disciples feet.

When we make ourselves a slave to everyone, we begin to look like Jesus.

And we also begin to make a difference in our world.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Describe a time when someone served you. How did it feel? What difference did it make in your life?
  3. How might God be calling you to make yourself a slave to everyone?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.

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Strength To Finish The Race

Taking his place on the starting line at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Derek Redmond was brimming with confidence. The British record holder in the 400 meter run, Redmond had battled through injuries and had finally positioned himself to win a medal. After posting the fastest overall time in the first round and winning the second round, he now lined up for the semi-final.

As the gunned sounded, Redmond began sprinting around the track. He looked fast enough to qualify for the medal round, perhaps even win a medal.

But halfway through the race, his hamstring snapped. He came to a screeching halt and then fell to the ground, wincing in pain.

Derek Redmond, however, was determined to finish the race. Rising to his feet, he began hobbling to the finish line. Race officials ran to help him, but he waved them off. Then a man jumped the bleachers toward the injured runner.

It was his father.

Security guards tried to remove him from the race, but Derek’s father refused to leave. Then the 65,000 spectators rose to their feet to cheer Redmond on.

Together, arm-in-arm, the two finished the race.

About this time into 2010, I can imagine you may have grown weary in reading through the Bible this year. Perhaps you bit off more than you could chew (which is probably the case for me!). You might even be questioning whether you should continue. What you need is encouragement to finish the race.

Which is why today’s reading it so timely.


Genesis 46:1-47:31
Matthew 15:1-28
Psalm 19:1-14
Proverbs 4:14-19

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Genesis 46:1. Jacob grew up in Beersheba, so this was an opportunity to make his final  pilgrimage home before leaving for Egypt.

Genesis 46:31-33. Joseph was quite unlike his passive grandfather Isaac. Instead of letting the chips fall wherever they may, he instructed his family about what to say to Pharaoh, which worked brilliantly.

Genesis 46:34. The Bible Background Commentary explains the reasoning behind Joseph’s instructions: “It is unlikely that native Egyptian herdsmen would be detested by other Egyptians. Joseph’s advice to his father is both a warning about Egyptian attitudes toward strangers and a piece of diplomacy in that they would claim independent status (they had their own herds to support them) and show they were not an ambitious group who wished to rise above their occupation as shepherds.”

Genesis 47:21-25. The New Bible Dictionary adds a different perspective on slavery in Old Testament times: “Slavery in OT times was very different from the harsh exploitation that was involved in the Atlantic slave trade of more recent centuries. OT slavery at its best meant a job for life with a benevolent employer.” Job security!

Matthew 15:1-20. This is an extremely convicting passage of Scripture. Basically, Jesus is saying that the state of the heart is more important than our actions.

Matthew 15:2. Nowhere does the Law say that people must wash their hands before eating—although I’d like to add that I think it’s a good idea!

Matthew 15:12. I love this verse! After Jesus challenged the Pharisees, the disciples pulled Jesus aside and asked him, “Did you know that you just offended the Pharisees?”

Psalm 19:1-6. This psalm is so rich, it’s hard to know what to say and what not to say. The first six verses point to nature as evidence of God’s existence. “Look around you,” David seems to be saying. “All of nature declares the magnificence of God.” Theologians refer to this as “General Revelation.” This means God’s existence, character, and moral law can be known through his creation.

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Look at Psalm 19:7-11. Most Christians detest the word “law” in reference to Scripture. They think of it as a list of dead rules, but that isn’t how David and the other psalmists viewed it.

To them, the Law is dripping with life. It gives life. Practically all of Psalm 119 extols the virtues of the Law. The beginning of each stanza in Psalm 19:7-11 refers to the Law (even the phrase “fear of the Lord” in this context). In this passage, David describes four benefits from soaking in the Law—God’s word:

  1. The Law revives the soul. When you’re feeling burned out or spiritually empty, it slakes the deep thirst within.
  2. The Law gives wisdom. It provides wisdom for making decisions. Even people without a lot of common sense can become wise by meditating on it.
  3. The Law brings joy to the heart. When a morsel of God’s word becomes real in our lives, it brings us joy.
  4. The Law gives light to the eyes. It gives us God’s perspective into everyday living.

Let me add another twist to this: The law, the word, has become flesh—and his name is Jesus. By spending time in the word, you’re creating space for Jesus to speak to your heart. Actually, you’re spending time with Jesus.

So if you’re already feeling worn down from the new year, be encouraged. Investing your time in the living Word will give you the wisdom and strength you need to follow Jesus throughout 2010.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. In what ways do people nullify the word of God by their traditions (Matthew 15:6)?
  3. In what ways do you nullify the word of God by your traditions?
  4. Describe a time when God used Scripture to breathe new life into you.

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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