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Underdogs and Impossibilities (published in The Tribune 7/21/12)

posted Sep 7, 2013, 1:17 PM by Fccea Webmaster
It's almost Olympics time again -- the time when champions emerge from unexpected places.

Four years ago, Michael Phelps was going for a record eight gold medals in swimming, but he needed help from teammates in the 4x100 meter freestyle relay.

Phelps swam the first leg, but by the time the fourth US swimmer, Jason Lezak, entered the pool, he was a full body length behind the favored French team. And Alain Bernard, swimming anchor for the French, was a former world record holder at 100 meters.

At the turn, the lead had grown and everyone, including the US TV announcers, had conceded the race to France -- everyone, that is, except Jason Lezak. With history on the line, Lezak dug deep. Almost imperceptibly he began to gain ground.

With just a few meters to go, victory still seemed out of reach. But with a miraculous lunge at the finish, Lezak touched .08 second ahead of Bernard. He had swum 100 meters in 46.06 seconds -- the fastest time in history for that distance.

Lezak said later, "I'm not going to lie, the thought crossed my mind: no way am I going to do this. Then I told myself that's ridiculous, I'm racing for my country here, I can do this." By thinking beyond himself, he pulled off the impossible.

Such feats are a constant reminder that when we are aiming for something bigger than ourselves, amazing things can happen. The Bible constantly reminds us that we were made for something bigger than seeking our own comfort.

Isaiah 43:7 tells us we were made for God's glory, not our own. The Bible teaches that mankind is the pinnacle of creation in that we were made in the image of God (defined by our self-consciousness, sense of morality and God-consciousness at a minimum). That image is damaged by mankind's rebellion against our Creator, but it is not obliterated.

In fact, it is subject to a glorious restoration by faith in Christ. God reminds us in II Cor. 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." The old that passes away is the never-ending but ultimately futile search for meaning in serving self. The new that comes is the opportunity to contribute to something bigger -- to be part of God's plan "to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph 1:10), by fulfilling the potential of the image of God in us.

Don't believe it? Well, let's pay an early morning visit to Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee in late AD 25. Several fishing vessels come ashore and the men begin to unload their catch. They reek of fish and sweat and sea water. The language is pretty salty as well. They are bringing to market the catch of the day, drying their nets on nearby rocks, thinking no further than doing the same thing next day. They expect nothing more out of life -- ever.

Our tour guide says, "See those four guys? Over the next 40 years, those guys are going to turn their world on its ear. The emperor himself will know of them, and the faith they help establish will outlive the Roman Empire. Those guys are going to change the world."

You'd have replied, "You're crazy! Are you kidding me? Those guys? Not possible. They're just poor, uneducated fishermen!" Right! Uneducated, unrefined fishermen, who met Jesus Christ who urged them to something bigger than themselves. And so Peter, James, John, and Andrew -- and a few others of their kind changed the world.

So as the Olympics start, I wonder, what underdog will emerge. But I also wonder, what unknowns are out there changing their world by living up to the image of God in which they have been created? There is a challenge worth taking on.

Dave McNeff is pastor of the First Congregational Church of Eaton/Ault