During the Olympics, the world stops to watch top athletes compete in various sporting events. Spectators and athletes alike have one goal in mind: Bring home the gold for their country. As the United States cheers on Michael Phelps as he wins yet another gold medal, has anyone stopped to wonder what comes next? What lies ahead of a young man who has achieved his dream and then some? What, if anything, is there beyond the gold?
I recently had the opportunity to be a part of a sports ministry outreach in a low-income neighborhood in East London during the Olympics. The idea was to use the energy and excitement behind the Olympic Games to run a sports camp for the kids nearby. The theme of the camp was “More than Gold”.
Throughout the week, we coached these young athletes in various sports and spent time getting to know them. We discussed differences between American and English language and culture, drank our fair share of tea, and played endless games of table tennis and badminton.
Yet what amazed me the most was how open the kids were to talk about their lives and dive into deeper levels of conversation despite the difficult situations that surround them.
My favorite part of the camp was a time in the afternoon called, “Grill a Christian”. Only 60% of the kids at the camp regularly attend church. The other 40% come from different faith backgrounds or are agnostic. This Q&A time allowed kids to ask the leaders of the camp any question they wanted about matters of faith and Christianity. While questions were all over the board, there seemed to be a consistent theme around who Jesus is and why Christianity is different than other religions.
Brief side note: Many European countries (such as England) have been accurately described as post-Christian. Most Europeans believe in some higher power but that’s as far as they go. Defining that higher being or a human’s relationship with it is blatantly undefined. Religious tradition is a part of the culture or environment in which they grow up but it holds no more significance to their lives than receiving presents when celebrating holidays.
The most difficult part when talking to people about Christianity in this setting is the idea of having an active faith. They are not ignorant of the Church. Yet there is a disconnect to how faith actually affects their lives (Check out James 2:14-25). Being a Christian is more than going to Mass on Christmas or an academic exercise of studying the Church of England in school. It’s more than rules and traditions. (We can relate to that here in America too, but Europe seems to be even further along in this mentality).
Back to the “Grill the Christian” part of the camp.
What was interesting was the genuine interest in who Jesus is and why that should matter. Among other backgrounds, Muslims athletes attended the camp. They understand (maybe even more so than Christians) the whole being-a-good- moral-person idea. They get the concept of God, sin, heaven, and hell.
But WHY JESUS?
Really, that’s what Christianity hangs on. Jesus’ resurrection makes Him more than just another good man who came to earth, lived a moral life, and made claims about God.
1 Corinthians 15 comes to mind:
“…and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…(v.14)
“…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…(v.17)
“…if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (v.19).”
If Jesus was just a decent guy who came to earth, did some nice things, ruffled a few feathers, and was then killed, Christians are a bunch of ignorant fools.
But, if Jesus is who He says He is, and He really did rise from the dead, we have something worth investigating.
It is Christ’s resurrection that sets Jesus apart from the prophets or figures of other faiths and proves that He is God. Paul’s account in 1 Corinthians goes on to mention the people who are eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. Literally hundreds of people saw and interacted with Jesus after He died. Many went on to die for their conviction in this. Who would die for something they knew to be a lie? The kids at the sports camps began to think about this.
So now the Olympics are over, the kids who attended the sports camp are heading back to school, and here I am back at my desk in the States. What does any of it mean?
Jesus’ resurrection changes the game.
Having a God who sees us in this broken world, drowning in our sin, and has compassion on us is worth cheering about. Sending His own Son into the game of life to defeat the previously unbeaten opponent of sin, death, and the power of the devil is the mark of a true MVP.
The fact that Jesus’ victory on the cross takes away the eternal punishment I owe because of my sin and instead grants me eternal life gives me hope and a purpose that’s worth far more than gold.