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Children's Sermon: Live as a Champion

Preparation
Decorate your children's sermon area to resemble an Olympic atmosphere. Make a torch by wrapping an empty paper towel roll in aluminum foil and filling with red, orange and yellow tissue paper. Make a flag out of posterboard or foamboard. To make the Olympic logo, trace circles from a large bowl or dinner plate. Make a laurel crown out of green garland or green construction paper. Make your area look fun!

Key Passage: 1 Corinthians 9:23-27
"I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified."

Manuscript
So I did a little decorating for a recent event that took place. Can anyone guess what it was? That's right! The Olympics! Did any of you get to watch some of the games? Yeah? What's was your favorite Olympic sport to watch?

I finally got to see some of the events. I think my favorite part was watching Epke Zonderland from the Netherlands win the gold medal on the high bar in men's gymnastics. I remember watching it on TV with my family. We all literally said "WOW!" right out loud. I never had seen anyone do so many flips off of a high bar. I thought, "I wish I could do that." Right? Has anyone ever thought something similar after watching some amazing sporting feat?

Well, the thing is, if you want to be an athlete, you've got to train as an athlete. You can't just go out and do all these flips, run 26 miles or swim faster than anyone. No, you first have to learn how to do what you want to do. Then you have to practice until you're good. Then you need to practice until you're the best. The Olympic motto is, Citius, Altius, Fortius, which means "Swifter, Higher, Stronger." Only the best win.

I read a story from a book called The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Elderidge, and it goes like this:
"A 19th-century Scottish discus thrower lived in the days before professional trainers and developed his skills alone in the highlands of his native village, making his own discus from the description he read in a book. What he didn't know was the discus used in competition was made of wood with an outer rim of iron. His was solid metal and weighed three or four times as much as those being used by his would-be challengers. This committed Scotsman marked out his field the distance of the current record throw and trained day and night to be able to match it. "For nearly a year, he labored under the self-imposed burden of the extra weight, becoming very good. He reached the point at which he could throw his iron discus the record distance and traveled south to England for his first competition. When he arrived at the games, he was handed the official wooden discus — which he promptly threw like a tea saucer, setting a new record, a distance so far beyond those of his competition that no one could touch him. For many years he remained the uncontested champion."

This athlete didn't just go out and throw a discus. He didn't settle for going out and practice until he could match the world record. No, he trained harder than anyone else had ever before. That's how he became the winner—by training hard enough that he became the best.

So what does this have to do with God? Everything! Paul used an athlete as a metaphor for how we are to live our lives. You see, Paul was writing a letter to his fellow Christians in Corinth, explaining how he takes every opportunity to share the gospel with others and how his life was similar to a sporting event he was training to win. Here's what he wrote:

"I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified."

Paul was saying how athletes exercise control in everything—they train day in and day out so they can be the best; which is what we should do. We have so much more at stake. In Paul's time, Olympians won laurel crowns, crowns made of olive leaves. Think about it: After a time, the crown would wither and die. We, however, are working for something greater—a crown of eternal life. We're not running the race of life to win something that will rust or fade. No, we're running our race of life so when we stand before the Lord, we will hear Him tell us: "Well done, good and faithful servant." The trophies and gold medals of today won't compare to what's in store for us. Now that's a win—to have the Lord pleased with you and how you lived!

How do we please the Lord? (Ask the kids, and let them answer!)

Right! We train ourselves by practice—doing what God wants. Instead of telling lies, we speak with honesty and integrity. Instead of stealing what is not ours, we practice giving to those in need. Instead of being angry, we forgive others. Instead of cursing, we speak with kindness and compassion on our lips. Instead of being jealous, we are grateful for what we have. These are just a few of the types of things we have to do to train ourselves to live honorably.

Francis Chan said, "The thought of calling himself a Christian without being a devoted follower of Christ is absurd." As followers of Christ, we need to train ourselves to live in such a way that other people will see our love for God and come to know His truth. We need to treat other people as Jesus would have treated them, and we need to love other people as Jesus loves them. So let's live our lives without wasting a single moment: Let's run to win!

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