"How come you ripped your goggles off after that race Michael?" the interviewer asked after Michael Phelps won another gold medal. "Was something going on there?"
"My goggles filled with water as soon as I dove in the water," the superstar stated matter-of-fact.
"So you swam the entire race unable to see?" the commentator was incredulous.
His silence spoke volumes. There was no opportunity to adjust them once the race started. He finished with gold and broke another world record. Surprising?
Later we learned his coach purposely stepped on his goggles at a meet two years ago and broke them. It may have seemed like a senseless gesture then, but it sure makes sense now.
"That's what a good coach does," the gym trainer told me this morning while he monitored his trainee's water exercises:
“Years ago at Cherry Island when Tiger Woods was in the youth circuit, I was on the green when he and his dad showed up to practice. Tiger dumped a bunch of balls out of the bag and spread them around the ground preparing for practice.”
“’Oh, no you don't!’ His dad walked from one ball to the other and planted his foot on top of each one pressing it firmly into the earth. ‘There's no easy lie around here,’ he said shaking his head from side-to-side.”
‘What does that mean?" I asked the trainer.
"It means Tiger was going to have to get his club underneath the ball because it was wedged into the dirt. He didn't get easy hits."
Each ball was a mini-trial. His dad wasn't making practice fun. He was making it hard.
And look what he produced?
What is God, our coach, producing in you and me? Do we question his love when the hardships come? How does a good father train up his child?
In 2 Timothy Paul writes a letter to his protégé Timothy, from prison - a Roman dungeon. He is preparing to pass him the torch, the stewardship of the gospel:
"You then my son be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 2:1)
The strength he described was from God. Timothy would be empowered by grace, a divine gift (grace, Gk-charis) we all possess in Christ. He told Timothy to entrust the gospel to reliable or faithful men who will also be qualified to teach others. Timothy did his job.
We have received the torch. It has passed through many hands down through the ages.
Today, in 2008, we are entrusted with the gospel. Are we running the race? How are we handling the hardship? Are we sharing our faith shamelessly as Paul admonished Timothy in some of his last words before he was beheaded?
"Keep reminding them of these things" (2 Timothy 2:14) he told Timothy.
So we are reminded to be dedicated as soldiers, diligent as farmers, disciplined as athletes. Training isn't easy. The Master himself had a grueling race on earth. Jesus never said it would be easy, but he did say "all things are possible." And today he coaches us from His vantage point, knowing how to instruct us best and encourage us on our individual course, from his seat at the right hand of the Father.
"Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs - he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly anyone who competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules." 2 Timothy 2:3-5