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Pharisees, Grace and the Olympics

Like most of you I have been glued to my TV on most nights this week watching the Olympics. Michael Phelps is amazing (Baltimore!) and the men's gymnastics team was refreshing to obsrve as they joyfully celebrated a bronze. Last night my heart broke for Alicia Sacramone of the US Women's Gymnastics team. The Pastor in me wanted to tell her best friend or a family member to remind her how much more valuable she is apart from being an athlete. At that level I'm sure it's difficult to see.

In the midst of the ups and downs of this Olympic season I cannot help but to consider the theme of grace and freedom.

While the opening ceremony was the absolute bar-none greatest show I have ever seen in my life, I keep reminding myself "But the people are in chains. They are controlled. This is a farce. It's a show. This isn't freedom." My heart breaks for 1/5 of the world's population being controlled by the few and powerful. This communist country has controlled everything including internet access for reporters, CGI fireworks and replacing a girl before the broadcast because she was "not pretty enough". So much for having an ideal above the Western mind.

When I see the gymnasts for the Chinese I see people who as one commentator put it "...were taken from their home at 3 yrs old and put immediately into a training program for this day."
Like chicken being sorted by weight at a Butterball factory, the Chinese people are afforded little to no choice for chasing their dreams. All for the sake of country. The outward appearance they are showing the world this week simply serves as a mask to cover the inward motives of men who control every move of 1/5 of the world's population. This is where I consider the Pharisees. They too wanted to control outward appearance. While China's socialism requires the people to do everything to benefit the image of a corrupt nation, the Pharisees required everything be done to demonstrate holiness no matter the condition of the heart. They traded inconsistency and freedom for perceived perfection and lies.

I'm a big fan of grace and freedom. Jesus came and destroyed the chains of captivity for us. No longer are we captive to holding only an outward morality. Because he cares so much more he affords us the opportunity under grace to pursue a holiness based on the motive of love. The US Olympians do what they do not because they were forced by their government and taken from their families at 3 years old but rather because they love the sport, competition and the joy of achieving things few others have ever done.

This week China appears to be beautiful. Every Chinese person I have observed on television seems to be performing their job with extreme accuracy. The precision and attention to detail are amazing. The appearance they give the world is stunning. But at what cost? A pure and pristine outward appearance is great but how much more amazing would these games be if they were hosted at the same quality by a free people?

Then the outward would match the inward.

At the end of the day when the last piece of trash is picked up and the last foreigner gets on a plane, China will still be China. China will still be a Communist nation using and abusing 1/5 of the world's population. The factories will re-start and the contaminated air will return. That is the Pharisaical nature on display. Pharisees care more about the outside of a person than the inside. They care more about what 'others' think of them than what God thinks. They care more about justice than grace. They care more about making much of self than making much of God. Laws and religion are a way to control people and make people feel worthless.

Grace is much different. To the Christian under grace we are able to see outward changes as a result of the inward change. We are able to find forgiveness when we falter and embrace our Father in Heaven as our "abba" daddy instead of an unforgiving cosmic police officer.

If you are a Christian I challenge you: Does your faith look more like China or the US? Do you emphasize the outward appearance of others or do you embrace the messiness of grace?

If you are not a Christian I want to challenge you to give God another look. The Jesus of scripture is a giver of freedom, not condemnation. Jesus laid the smack down on Pharisaical teaching. Jesus paid the punishment for sin and now sits as an advocate for anyone who calls on Him. He can be on your side. He wants to be on your side. If you accept him you will surely still make mistakes but you will find forgiveness. You will find love.

posted by Tally Wilgis @ Wednesday, August 13, 2008


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