If you need me in the evening at any point in the next 15 days, you’ll have to pry me away from the Olympics. Carmen and I both love watching the Olympics. Thea was born during the 2016 Summer Olympics, and we watched them together in the hospital room. It’s even something we get our kids excited about, and we host kid-Olympics in our living room.
Tonight, we’re watching figure skating, and I have been thinking about what it must take to become an Olympic figure skater. The word that comes to mind is “Discipline.”
An Olympic athlete does not just spend hours each day working on their sport. They spend every moment of their lives working on their sport. Their sleep patterns, diet, exercise, and mental preparation precede even the hours spent in practice. Before a skater’s first triple Axel, they have been preparing in numerous other ways.
As a figure skater myself, I have found a much easier way to master my craft. Rather than worrying about getting enough sleep, choosing smart foods, exercising or even practicing, I have simply purchased a pair of ice-skates, which I will put on when the ice on the pond is thick enough.
I’m a figure skater – but I have never engaged in the disciplines of figure skating.
I suppose owning ice skates make me a figure skater much in the same way that having a bible app on an iPhone, or showing up at church on a Sunday morning, makes a person a Christian.
And even though I am certainly free to refer to myself as a figure skater, no one else is likely to make that mistake. And even though it’s easy to label ourselves as Christians without the disciplines of a Christian life, sometimes a label is just a label.
Last week the Grow Children’s ministry servants were in the kitchen when someone asked for a spatula. No fewer than three different tools were pulled from the drawers of the church kitchen, all labeled in the volunteers’ minds as “spatula.” A turner, a pastry server, and an actual spatula were all being referred to as spatulas. Labels, as it turns out, matter. If someone needs a spatula and you hand them a turner, it won’t be helpful.
The world does need Christians. The world needs people who are practicing the disciplines of faith and partnering with Jesus to participate in his now-and-not-yet kingdom. But no one needs people who are referring to themselves as Christians but are really something very different.
On car trips, VeggieTales’ “Silly Songs with Larry” are a regular hit with our kids. One of my favorite songs is called “Monkey,” and Larry teaches this musical lesson:
“If it doesn’t have a tail, it’s not a monkey
Even if it has a monkey kinda shape
If it doesn’t have a tail, it’s not a monkey
If it doesn’t have a tail
It’s not a monkey, it’s an ape!”
In John 13:35, Jesus teaches this non-musical lesson: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love is a Christian discipline. Along with being patient, kind, and all the other things you can read about love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, love denies itself.
Again and again and again, love leads us to deny ourselves. From a desire to have the last word to the temptation of the next compromising opportunity, love says “no” for the well-being of others. It doesn’t self-indulge. It doesn’t gain at the expense of others. It refuses to justify doing harmful things. It seeks to lift up and not to hurt. It sets aside time that could be used to do other things to grow closer to God through other disciplines, such as prayer, scripture reading, group discipleship, etc.
If it doesn’t have love, it’s not a Christian, even if it has a Christian kinda shape, or ice skates, or is one of many things that are wrongly labeled as a spatula.
Love is one of many Christian disciplines, but it is perhaps the most defining.
We are called to adopt more than a label. We are called to a adopt a new life. To die and be reborn.
Don’t be the guy watching the Olympics on the couch who refers to himself as a figure skater because he owns a pair of ice skates. If you call yourself a Christian, give your whole self to it. Give your time and attention to it. Grow in it. Let it consume every aspect of your life. Be sincere! Be committed! Be disciplined!