Grace for Gold
Inspired by the guts and glory of the ongoing Olympic games, I recently drifted back to relive my favorite Olympic moment from childhood. Before Michael, Ryan, Missy and Gabby, there was Mary Lou.
In Los Angeles, 1984, Mary Lou Retton became a national hero for becoming the first American gymnast to win Olympic gold, ever. I was eight years old and totally star-struck. As I watched the replay of the all-around competition on You Tube, I was struck by the relationship between Retton and her coach, Bela Karolyi.
Just a few years earlier, Karolyi had defected from Romania. Although he was Retton’s personal coach, Karolyi was not the official Team USA Coach so he didn’t have access to the event floor. He was forced to stand behind a barrier and watch his star pupil from afar on the most important night of her life. As Mary Lou dazzled the packed house on rotation after rotation, she ran back and forth to her beloved trainer on the sidelines. Each time, Karolyi pulled her tiny body up in his arms and embraced her with pride and joy.
The last rotation was vault, and Retton needed a perfect 10 to upset the decades-long reign of the Romanians, Russians, and Ukranians. If you recall the moment, you remember that Retton nailed that vault and made Olympic history. This time around, the first thing I heard when Mary Lou stuck the landing was Bela Karolyi erupting into ecstatic shouts, then barreling over the barrier and scooping her up in his arms. After being restrained by security, he began shouting, “10! 10! 10!” Their exchange moved me to tears and gave me a beautiful picture of our Lord.
He is not only our Maker, Ruler and Judge but also our Personal Coach, Protector and Biggest Fan. He can’t be down on the floor with us, but he’s given us everything we need to win and one day he’s going to come across that barrier, arms outstretched and running towards us in exuberance. I long to see that! I want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Don’t you?
Jesus is the “Author and Perfecter” of our games (Hebrews 12:12), and he’s rigged it so that we can win! First, he’s given us a perfect example by scoring a 10 in every event with his own blood, sweat and tears. And his Spirit’s in the arena to supply grace – when our strength runs out, his bridges the gap. His power is perfected in our weakness, and that’s by design. He also judges us with great mercy – our errors don’t count in the final analysis, thanks to his sacrifice at the cross. No deductions for poor form!
Hebrews 11, the hall of fame for world-record holders in faith, is proof that God generously awards gold for heart no matter how wobbly the effort. He doesn’t seem to remember the failures of the faithful on that final scorecard. And those men’s and women’s sins weren’t minor hops out of bounds, mind you – they were all out face-plants. Yet God beams with pride at their victories, calling them “men of whom the world was not worthy” (11:38).
With God, faith wins gold every time. That means trusting in his character and promises in the dark of night, living life by his out-of-fashion Word, obeying when it doesn’t feel good. God grants gold for those who perform as if their citizenship lies elsewhere, who act like they belong to another country. No matter our imperfect form or the injuries we’ve sustained that might leaving us limping towards glory, God is not ashamed to be called our God (Hebrews 11:16). He celebrates every triumph. And the rewards given at this life’s closing ceremony are only the beginning of a new era, one filled with “things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Let’s go for gold, teammates! We really have nothing of worth to lose.
"For of his fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace" (John 1:16).