Saturday, March 7, 2015

Training Day

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

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the most popular attractions in the City of Brotherly Love. And it's not just because of the facility's impressive collection of masterpieces. Instead, many tourists flock there to reenact the iconic scene from the movie Rocky where the lead character (played by Sylvester Stallone) sprints up the museum's 72 steps Rocky Balboato complete the training regimen for his world championship boxing match. In January 2015, the Daily Mail website reported that three vacationers decided it was their turn to mimic The Italian Stallion. And once they had scaled the final granite step to reach the summit, they were shocked to run into no other than Sylvester Stallone himself, who was in town filming the next Rocky sequel!

Released in 1976, Rocky is essentially the Old Testament story of David and Goliath--but set in run-down 1970's Philadelphia. The protagonist (Rocky Balboa) is a washed-up, down-on-his-luck fighter who gets a 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 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 passes 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 workouts is arguably more interesting than the dramatic--but unrealistic--blow-by-blow fight scenes. We see the blue collar prizefighter exercising in a meat processing plant, strengthening his body by drinking raw eggs and then building his endurance by jogging through the city's mean streets. The sequence ends as Rocky races up the museum's steps, raises his arms in victory and surveys his beloved hometown.

At first glance, Rocky's lesson seems to be the ability of good to overcome evil. But the less obvious New Testament message--revealed through the fourth chapter of 1 Timothy--is the considerable value of intense training and discipline. In fact, every Christ-follower is called to develop and use the gifts and talents God has given them to influence their community and the world. 

An example is our mandate to explain the basis of our faith to anyone who asks us. But how can we respond without the discipline to set aside time each day for prayer, Bible reading and study? This type of practical spiritual training is also a great way for us to grow closer to our Creator by developing the ability to hear His voice. And in turn, it helps us to discern right from wrong when faced with one of those many real-life scenarios that never seem to be black or white.

Finally, watching Rocky Balboa's lengthy, early morning jogs through the city's winding streets reminds us of the need for endurance and perseverance along our own spiritual journey. The road we travel as Christ-followers is anything but straight, smooth and easy. And like the tourists who flock to The Philadelphia Museum of Art, there's no telling who we'll meet along the way.

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