The 30th Olympic Games of the modern era have begun. The Opening Ceremony for London 2012 was spectacular and was watched by more than a billion people around the world. Athletes from more than 200 countries entered the new Olympic Stadium. They have been training for many years and are now hoping to win a medal.
One of the best kept secrets of London 2012 was who would be chosen to light the Olympic Cauldron. The Cauldron is lit at the Opening Ceremony and stays alight until it is extinguished on the final day. For 70 days the Olympic Torch has been carried around the British Isles. Normally a great champion from the host country is chosen to light the Cauldron in recognition of their past success. At London 2012 it was done differently. Steve Redgrave, the great British rower who won 5 Olympic gold medals in successive Games from 1984 to 2000, carried the Olympic Torch into the Stadium. Steve then handed it to 7 teenage athletes, representing the future of British athletics, who lit the copper petals which converged to form the spectacular Olympic Cauldron for London 2012.
When athletes competed in the ancient Greek Games they could see a former great champion sitting at the end of the course watching the race. These great champions from the past were there to inspire the competitors to run their best and to do well. The early Christians were encouraged to think of the Christian life as being like an athletic race in one of those great Games and to see their Saviour, Jesus, as the one who is there to encourage and inspire them.
In the first century many Christians experienced persecution for their faith. Some were executed by Roman Emperors, like Nero. In Hebrews, Chapter12, the writer says, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Each of us has a race marked out for us. Life is often very hard and we may become weary and lose heart. How wonderful it is to know that Jesus, the risen Son of God, is able and willing to help us.
A British rider has won the Tour de France for the first time. Bradley Wiggins won the 99th Tour de France after riding more than 2000 miles, over 3 weeks, taking in some of the most beautiful scenery and highest mountain passes in France. Bradley has already won 3 Olympic gold medals, and hopes to win another one soon, but the Tour de France is his greatest victory. His success, and the way in which he achieved it, has been a great encouragement and example to many.
Bradley’s Australian father, who was an accomplished cyclist, deserted his wife and son when Bradley was just 2 years old. Bradley grew up in Kilburn in London and began learning to ride at the Herne Hill Velodrome when he was 12. When he was 18 his father, with whom he had had almost no contact, was attacked and killed in a drunken brawl in New South Wales. Following his father’s death Bradley decided not to waste his talent as a cyclist and to make his family a priority. He has continued to experience difficult times but has come through them to achieve a great success.
One of the factors which contributed to Bradley’s success in the Tour was teamwork. Every member of his team, Team Sky, rode selflessly in support of Bradley as their leader. One of the team, Chris Froome, who came second in the Tour, seemed to have a real chance of winning the race himself, but rode alongside Bradley on many of the key stages, including the demanding mountain stages. On one stage someone put tacks on the road and many riders had punctures, including the defending champion Cadel Evans, who was one of Bradley’s greatest challengers. Bradley encouraged the main group of riders to slow down to allow the riders who had punctures to catch up and not be disadvantaged.
We live in a world where selfishness is common. Many people think the main thing is to look after No 1. The Bible teaches us the importance of caring for one another. One of the greatest commandments is, “You shall love your neighbour, as you love yourself.” Jesus said, “So in everything, do to others what would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus exemplified this teaching in the supreme act of selflessness when he died on the Cross to pay the price of our sins.
An avalanche on Mont Blanc has claimed the lives of 9 climbers, including 3 from Britain. They were part of a group of 28 experienced climbers who were attempting one of the most dangerous ascents in Europe to reach the summit of Mont Blanc. One of those who died, Roger Payne, was the mountain guide for the party and had been the General Secretary of the British Mountaineering Council. He had taken part in more than 20 expeditions to some of the world’s most difficult peaks, including the notorious K2 in the Himalayas. His love of climbing began through his scout group in Hammersmith, West London, and he developed his skills in the Scottish and Welsh mountains. A friend said, “He loved the mountains.”
It is easy to understand why people love the mountains. The photographs of the rescue team at work reveal the awesome beauty of the Mont Blanc massif as it towers above them. The bright sunshine, the white snow and the rugged peaks give little indication of the tragedy which had taken place just a few hours before. Climbers will continue to climb Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps, to achieve an ambition and to experience the beauty of God’s creation.
In Psalm 121 the psalmist reflects on the greatness and beauty of the hills. “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Walking and climbing in the mountains make us feel how small we are. The mountains tower above us. They were here before we were born and will continue after we die. We are all so vulnerable and life is so frail. We need help, but the mountains cannot help us.
The help we need comes from the One who created the mountains – the Creator of heaven and earth. He watches over us and never sleeps. He keeps our feet from slipping and keeps us from all harm. He watches over our coming and going both now and for evermore. Life in this world only makes sense in the light of eternity. When terrible tragedies happen and lives are lost there is One to whom we can turn. He understands our frailty and need. His Son, Jesus Christ, came into this world to demonstrate his love for us. This love is so great that nothing in all creation can separate us from it.
Over the past two weeks many people in Britain have been following the progress of Andy Murray at Wimbledon. Hopes were high that this year he would win the tournament, but Roger Federer narrowly beat him in the final. A player from Britain has not won the Wimbledon men’s championship since 1936. Immediately after the match Andy spoke emotionally about his appreciation of all the support he has received from his family, coach and team, and the crowd on the Centre Court. He knew that many people were willing him to win.
Our society puts great emphasis on success. We praise people who get to the top, but put little value on coming second. Television interviewers sometimes give the impression that winning a silver medal is a failure! Andy Murray played really well and lost to a man who is one of the greatest ever tennis players. There is no disgrace in that. Indeed the rise of Andy Murray to sporting excellence is cause for great thankfulness.
On 13 March 1996 Andy was a pupil at Dunblane Primary School when Thomas Hamilton entered the school armed with 4 handguns. He shot and killed 16 children, aged 5 and 6, and their teacher, Gwen Mayor, who was killed trying to protect the children in her care. Hamilton then committed suicide. Andy remembers taking cover in another classroom. He attended a youth group run by Thomas Hamilton and his mother gave him lifts in her car. Andy could so easily have died that day but, in the providence of God, he survived and has gone on to become one of the world’s best tennis players. Every year he is getting better and one day he may well be the Wimbledon Men’s Champion.
The determination of great athletes is a challenge to us all. They are single-minded in their determination to succeed and get to the top, even though their careers last just a few years. Do you have a goal in your life? There are more important things than success. The most important thing is the kind of people we are, rather than great achievements. The Apostle Paul was a man of great energy and determination. As a Christian he had one great goal in life which was to please God. He knew that one day, like us all, he would appear before God and nothing was more important than receiving God’s commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
The latest banking scandal, involving Barclays Bank, has led to the resignation of its Chairman. Their Chief Executive is also under pressure to resign. The scandal involves inter-bank lending rate-fixing, something few of us fully understand. The Bank has been fined £290m and has promised a root and branch review of its flawed past practices and a zero-tolerance policy to anything that damages its reputation. Politicians and leaders in the world of finance and business have condemned what has happened. Other banks are also being investigated.
It is strange that we should expect integrity in some sections of our society at a time when there has been a general rejection of almost all foundational moral principles. The Ten Commandments are not arbitrary rules which God has laid down, but establish the essential basis for personal morality and a healthy society. In recent years every one of those commandments has been undermined. God is no longer honoured and his Name and special day are treated with disdain. Honour and respect for parents is not taught or practised. The sanctity of life and of the marriage relationship has been set aside in favour of new moral “progressive” views. So why should we be surprised that some people steal what belongs to others, tell lies and covet money and possessions?
The systematic dismantling of moral standards in our society is very serious for us all. Some seem to believe that making more laws is the answer, but clearly it is not. We have never had so many new laws. Others appeal to the innate goodness of every human being and believe that education will solve all our problems. However, those involved in the banking scandal are highly intelligent and have enjoyed the best education, but still they acted dishonestly for their own gain.
The Bible presents a much more credible explanation of the problem we all face and of its solution. From the very beginning the Bible tells us that we are all flawed. We find it easier to break God’s laws than to keep them. We are not sinners because we commit sin, but commit sin because we have a sinful nature. For this reason God sent his Son, Jesus, into the world to be the Saviour of sinful people like us. He died, not for his own sins, but for ours. Through trusting in him all of us can find the forgiveness we need and the power to live a new life.