The love that transforms

At the World Athletics’ Championships two great athletes completed outstanding careers. Usain Bolt is the first person to hold both the 100 metres and 200 metres world records. He has won 8 Olympic gold medals and 11 World Championships. He is the only sprinter to win gold medals in both the 100 metres and 200 metres in three consecutive Olympics. Mo Farah is the most successful British track athlete in modern Olympic history, winning gold medals in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Between 2011 and 2017 he won 10 successive global finals. It has been a delight to watch both men run.

At this World Championships, however, Usain won a bronze medal in the 100 metres and Mo won a silver medal in the 5,000 metres. Both were disappointed and the sports’ commentators spoke as if they were “failures” when they had won world championship medals; something most athletes only dream of doing. After completing a lap of honour, Usain said, “It’s really sad, I’m saying goodbye to everything.” From now on Mo wants to be known as Mohamed. He said, “I just feel like Mo is done. I need to forget about what I achieved and what I’ve done.”

The story of South African long jumper, Luvo Manyonga, is remarkable and encouraging. He won the gold medal at the World Championships. Just 3 years ago his life was very different. Luvo grew up in poverty in Mbekweni township. His mother, a domestic cleaner, raised him on her own. Luvo was an outstanding young athlete winning the world junior championship in 2010 and the All-Africa Games’ in 2011. However, the prize money disrupted his life. He started using tik, a recreational drug commonly used in the townships, and as a result gave a positive drug test in competition. He described his drug-taking as “hooking up with the devil.” He admitted taking the drug for non-performance-enhancing reasons and was suspended from competition for 18 months. The lower sentence was based on his “exceptional social circumstances.” Luvo underwent drug rehabilitation and was greatly helped by two new coaches.

After winning the World Championship gold medal, Luvo knelt by the side of the long jump pit and gave thanks to God. When he was interviewed by Gabby Logan, he told her he was a Christian and that Jesus had changed his life. What a wonderful encouragement this is. When we fail, as we all do, we can find new life and hope through experiencing the transforming love of Jesus.

Jesus destroyed the devil’s work

Last Sunday evening I saw a number of children dressed in Halloween costumes calling at houses for “trick or treat”. Some of the children were very young and were accompanied by their parents. It was the first dark evening after the clocks had been put back and these little ones and their parents were identifying themselves with the power of evil. No doubt they saw it as just innocent fun, but it is a sign of the spiritual naivety of our society.

The power of evil is very real. The Bible tells us that the reason why Jesus Christ came into this world was “to destroy the devil’s work.” The devil opposed Jesus from the moment of his birth until he died on the Cross. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he experienced a period of intense temptation by the devil over a period of 40 days. Jesus triumphed over the devil during this period and throughout his life. By his death on the Cross he won the decisive victory over sin, death, hell and the devil.

The evidence for the devil’s work is only too plain in our society today. Faced with the many temptations he presents to us we fail again and again. The lives of many people are spoilt, and even destroyed, by drink and drugs, greed, gambling, sexual immorality, violence and terrorism. At every point the moral law of God is denied and undermined and the tragic consequences in people’s lives of this new “freedom” is only too easy to see. We are told that there is no need to say no to any pleasure we want and the late night scenes in city centres bear eloquent testimony to the consequences. Nothing the devil offers is free. He seeks only to steal, kill and destroy.

By contrast, the power of Jesus Christ transforms lives. In the Gospels we read of a man called Legion who was possessed by many evil spirits. He had succumbed to the powers of evil and they were destroying his life. He lived in the tombs and cried out day and night, cutting himself with stones. No one could subdue him or help him.
One day Jesus came to where Legion was and commanded the evil spirits to come out of him. Legion’s life was transformed as Jesus set him free. Jesus still sets people free today by destroying the devil’s work in our lives.