Voices

Livestrong(er)

Unintended lessons on preaching and worship from an athlete who is perseverance personified

Issue: "Beyond hate speech," Aug. 20, 2005

Last month Lance Armstrong became not only the only man in history to win the Tour de France seven times but the first to be allowed a speech from the winner's podium.

Here's what he emphasized:

"For the people that don't believe in cycling, the cynics, and the skeptics, I'm sorry for you. I'm sorry you can't dream big, and I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles. . . . This is a great sporting event, and you should stand around and believe. You should believe in these athletes and you should believe in these people. I'm a fan of the Tour de France for as long as I live and there are no secrets. This is a hard sporting event and hard work wins it. Vive le tour, forever."

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If you consider the language and the tone of this brief speech, you might quickly come to the conclusion that it sounds "religious." After all, the word "believe" is used five times in the equivalent of one paragraph of writing. Three times we are told we "should believe."

Clearly, this was an evangelistic sermon, one seeking converts to the evangel or "good news" of cycling.

It was a kingdom-oriented sermon, dealing with cycling in its most royal format, the Tour de France.

It was an apologetic sermon, defending the cycling faith in the face of "skeptics" and "cynics."

It was a doctrinal sermon, stating clearly the deliverance that is available: ". . . there are no secrets. This is a hard sporting event and hard work wins it."

It was an eschatological sermon, ending with "Vive le tour, forever." Eternity.

It's not too much of a stretch to imagine how a Christian athlete-evangelist might use similar phrasing with a few word substitutions: "You should believe in God and you should believe in the God of the Bible revealed in Christ Jesus. I'm a fan of Jesus for as long as I live and there are no secrets. This is a gracious God and those who are saved are saved by His grace. Long live the church of Christ Jesus, forever."

My point here is not to call for that kind of language in sermons or to critique Mr. Armstrong, who doesn't aspire to be a Christian or even claim any organized religious leanings. And yet, his speech does echo the biblical account of creation, fall, and the need for redemption. Man was created to worship, and to serve that which we worship. To whatever or to whomever we ascribe ultimate "worth," to that person or thing we will be bound, bound to serve and bound to seek "blessings." Like it or not, we are all worshippers and servants. The only question is, What or whom do we worship and serve?

This sermon on the podium brings to mind some challenges for Christians, starting with this one: What might it look like for Christians in particular and the church in general to participate in our "religion" the way Mr. Armstrong participates in his? What kind of schedule, training, endurance, thought, and rigor might we assume in our drive to "compete well?"

Here are questions each Christian should answer: Of what or whom are you an evangelist? If you were to ask your friends and associates, your "public," what "good news" you tend to tout, what would it be? On behalf of what or whom are you an apologist? When and where are you willing to defend your beliefs?

And several more questions: What created things, whether places or things or people, do you treat as if they will go on forever? What are the doctrines that you spend your time learning, discerning, and espousing?

In other words, what "god" or gods do you serve? To what religion do you adhere?

Mr. Armstrong's speech illustrates the biblical truth that as humans we must worship something, and we must serve that which we worship, "worship" meaning "ascribing worth to," in an ultimate sense. Furthermore, we all know what it is like to worship and serve false gods, and we know the solution: It is only in union with the One who has worshipped and served His Father purely that we gain the security and wisdom to begin identifying and disengaging from the other "gods" in our lives.

-- Bill Boyd is a pastor in Austin, Texas

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