Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Training Camp

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

-- 1 Corinthians 9:25

There’s something strangely appealing about rooting for the underdog. So maybe that helps to explain the lasting popularity of Rocky and its many sequels.

If you’re one of the dozen or so people in America who have never seen this modern-day cinema masterpiece, Rocky is essentially the Old Testament story of David and Goliath set in run-down 1970s Philadelphia. Rocky Balboa is a washed-up, down-on-his-luck boxer who gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight the reigning heavyweight champion of the world named Apollo Creed. The match is simply a stunt dreamed up by Creed’s public relations machine, and no one gives Rocky (played by Sylvester Stallone) much chance of surviving the fight’s early rounds.

No one takes the match seriously. Except for Rocky. And as he begins to prepare and reaches milestone after milestone, even his skeptical girlfriend, co-worker and trainer begin to believe there might be at least a glimmer of hope.

Rather than the dramatic – but somewhat unrealistic – fight scene, the footage of Rocky’s unorthodox training regimen is arguably the best part of the movie. We see the blue collar boxer working out in the local meat processing plant, strengthening his body by drinking (yeech!) a raw egg breakfast cocktail and then building his endurance by jogging through the mean streets of Philadelphia. The sequence ends triumphantly as Rocky races up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, raises his arms in victory and surveys his beloved City of Brotherly Love.

At first glance, good’s ability to triumph over evil is Rocky’s lesson for movie-lovers. But the less obvious New Testament message is the value of training and discipline in our lives. As Christ-followers, we need to develop and use the gifts and talents that God has given us to make a positive difference in our community and world. For instance, we’re called to explain the basis of our faith to anyone who asks us. But how can we answer questions from a neighbor or co-worker if we don’t set aside time each day to read and study the Bible and know what we’re talking about? This type of spiritual training is also a great way to grow closer to God by develop the ability to listen for His voice. And in turn, it helps us to discern right from wrong when faced by those modern day scenarios that are so rarely black or white.

Rocky Balboa’s chilly, early morning jogs through Philadelphia’s rugged streets also remind us about the critical need for endurance in our spiritual journey. The road we travel as Christ-followers is anything but straight and easy. As Jesus advises, “Enter through the narrow gate. The gate is wide and the road is wide that leads to hell, and many people enter through that gate. But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to true life. Only a few people find that road.”

Rocky is much more than a classic underdog tale: it also conveys a key biblical principle. It was the blue collar boxer’s steadfast adherence to a grueling diet and training regimen that helped him become a great champion. Likewise, it takes focused training, discipline and endurance for Christ-followers to become the great faith-driven people God envisions us to be.

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