Missy’s Medals. Our Crowns.

I love the summer Olympics and this year was no exception. I particularly enjoyed watching 17-year-old Missy Franklin swim her way to four gold medals. Her smile was as engaging as her athleticism. Yet what impressed me most about her was not what happened in the pool or that she got a congratulatory call from Justin Bieber. When I learned that she signed a National letter of intent to attend college (Cal, specifically) this mom of seven was pretty stoked.

I’m not suggesting it’s wrong for all gifted high school grads to go directly into professional sports. But I think it’s impressive when young people say no to invariable knocks on their door from sponsors — whose pockets are full of money to pass on — for anything else, especially more reading, writing and arithmetic.

Hopefully Missy will win more USA medals in 2016 to the delight of a watching nation and sponsors with contracts in hand. Maybe she’ll even buy her mom a new house. But she, like the rest of us, isn’t guaranteed that tomorrow’s plans will happen. As James warns:

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’ (4:13-15).

Sometimes decisions are really costly. Any number of unplanned circumstances could result in the 2012 Olympics being Missy’s first and last. If the Lord wills, she’ll collect more gold medals and get that house for her mom.

But His will is a secret right now for her — and for you and me.

Missy is young. I’m sure her parents and other trusted counselors helped her weigh the risks of delaying guaranteed millions now for hoped-for millions later. We, too, are making decisions all the time that affect the future in ways we can’t anticipate. The cost of following Jesus Christ is far more weighty than any glittering gold medal hanging around our neck. In contrast, He expects us to take up a rugged cross to follow Him (Matthew 16:24).

A gold medal is a symbol of honor and achievement while a cross represents sacrifice and death to self. Every time we say yes to something, we say no to a list of other things. (More on that tomorrow.) MIssy said yes to college and no to whatever she would do with hefty checks from sponsors. I hope she gets those checks someday because I want to cheer her on in 2016. But sometimes we believers taking up our cross means being willing to say yes to God now, not knowing what will happen in the future.

What decisions are you facing that feel risky, weighty or are requiring you to take up the cross of self-deinal? Maybe it’s as simple (but necessarily easy!) as committing yourself to a more consistent devotional life in 2013. Or perhaps it’s something scary like moving to be closer to the church community of which God has called you to be a part. Maybe it’s something weighty like enduring chronic illness or a loveless marriage. Whatever the cost or sacrifice, Jesus demonstrated to us that sometimes the joy before us can help us to endure (see Hebrews 12:2).

For me, the joy before me in our upcoming move must come from simply obeying God by fulfilling my helper design as Benny’s wife. One day I hope to have something to lay at His feet as a result. Not a gold medal. But hopefully a crown.

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