Saturday, August 05, 2006

a taste of the Kingdom

I watched some of the Ironman Triathlon competition this afternoon. Sometimes in life you get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes God delights to reveal what His Kingdom is really like. And sometimes we are blessed to be able to be there to see it. That is what happened to me this afternoon watching these men and women race.

The Ironman Triathlon is a grueling race. It is one of a kind and maybe the most difficult endurance race every created. This triathlon starts with a 2.4 mile swim, continues with a 112 mile bike ride and then finishes with a marathon (26.2 mile run). It is an honor just to finish.

In fact, most of the racers simply want to hear those words on the loud speaker when they cross the finish line. Better than any prize or medal, the announcer simply says your name and then says, "You are an Ironman!" That is all they want to hear. Years of training and dedication come down to those simple words. It is a shadow of something even greater that is yet to come. Someday we too will cross the finish line of life and hear those words, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" And its all worth it just to hear those words from our heavenly Father.

But this race reveals an even deeper truth. Jesus said, "...many who are first will be last, and the last first." (Mark 10:31) And we see this truth shine bright in the final hours of the day. The heroes of the race are rarely the ones in front. They get their cheers and are celebrated as the champions they are. But the real cheering is reserved for after the sun goes down. The ones who have been racing for 15 plus hours are the ones who are the real heroes.

Each have their own story. One man decided to race at 80 years old. It was almost midnight before he crossed the finish line but he did finish. His grandchildren were there to give him a hug. Another lady had been racing all day on just one leg. She was born with only one leg and had to learn to compete with a prosthetic leg. Can you imagine? 2.4 miles in the water, 112 miles on a bike and then a marathon to finish it. She did all of that on one human leg and one metal alloy leg. She also didn't finish until almost midnight.

And finally, a man named John Blaze. John was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. This is a degenerative disease that attacks the upper and lower motor neurons. Eventually, the brain is unable to send any signals through to the muscles. Despite all of that, John finished. As he crossed the finish line and fell to the ground the announcer called out for all the cheering crowd to hear, "John Blaze, you are an ironman!!"

Indeed, he is an ironman. And so were all the others who pushed through into dark hours of the night, never giving up hope that they would cross that finish line. These are the heroes of the Ironman Triathlon. While the racers who finish first get smiles and cheers, the ones who finish last get a standing ovation and a crowd moved to tears.

The power of that midnight moment makes sense. It is a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. It is a taste of what is already breaking through on this earth and of what is yet to come. In these moments we don't just see the truth of Jesus' words, we feel them in our bones. Maybe that is why the apostle Paul said that he would only boast in his weakness. He knew Jesus was right. The last will be first.


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