Sunday, July 15, 2012

Training Camp

For physical training is of some value, but godliness 
has value for all things, holding promise for both the 
present life and the life to come.
-- 1 Timothy 4:8

Whether it's college football or just about any other competition, there's something appealing about rooting for the underdog. It just seems right for the Little Guy to beat the odds and win. So maybe that helps explain the lasting popularity of Rocky and its many sequels.

Released in 1976, the movie Rocky is essentially a re-telling of the Old Testament's David and Goliath story...but set in run-down 1970's Philadelphia. The main character (Rocky Balboa) is a washed-up, down-on-his-luck fighter who gets his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight the reigning world heavyweight champion (Apollo Creed). The match is merely a publicity stunt dreamed up by Creed's handlers, and no one gives Rocky (played by Sylvester Stallone) much chance of surviving the bout's early rounds.

But Rocky does take the match--and his chances--seriously. So as he begins his training and reaches milestone after milestone, even his skeptical girlfriend, co-worker and trainer begin to see that there just might be a glimmer of hope.

The movie's focus on Rocky's unorthodox training regimen is arguably more interesting than the dramatic--but unrealistic--blow-by-blow fight scenes. We see the blue-collar prizefighter working out in the local meat processing plant, strengthening his body by drinking raw eggs and then building his endurance by jogging through the mean streets of The City of Brotherly Love. 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 hometown.

At first glance, Rocky's lesson might be good's ability to overcome evil. But the less obvious New Testament message--revealed through the fourth chapter of 1 Timothy--is the considerable value we can derive from focused training and discipline. For the struggles we face along our faith journey, this means Bible study, discipleship, service and prayer.

Every Christ-follower is called to develop and use the gifts and talents God has given them to make a positive difference in their homes, community and the world. For instance, we're called to explain the basis of our faith to anyone who asks. But how can we respond to a neighbor or co-worker if we lack the discipline to set aside time each day for Bible reading and study? This type of practical spiritual training is also a great way to grow closer to God because it develops our ability to hear His voice. And in turn, it helps us discern right from wrong when faced with questionable situations where our heart tells us one thing but our head says another.

Rocky Balboa's early morning wintertime jogs through Philadelphia's backstreets and alleys also remind us about the critical need for endurance along our own spiritual journey. The road we travel as Christ-followers is anything but straight, smooth and easy. As Jesus advises us, "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 teaches a key biblical principle. Here, we witness a journeyman boxer's steadfast adherence to a grueling training regimen. The process was anything but pleasant. But it paid off by helping him defeat his seemingly invincible opponent...and become a champion. Likewise, it takes focused training, discipline and endurance for Christ-followers to become the deep, faith-driven people that our Creator dreams for us to be.

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