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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » John Bradshaw » John Bradshaw - History of CHEATING in the Olympics; How Christianity is Misunderstood

John Bradshaw - History of CHEATING in the Olympics; How Christianity is Misunderstood

John Bradshaw - History of CHEATING in the Olympics; How Christianity is Misunderstood

This is "It Is Written". I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. Every four years our planet conducts an extravaganza, a festival in which are celebrated both sporting excellence and pharmacological ingenuity. Every Olympic Games in the last few decades has been roiled by scandals involving performance-enhancing drugs. Weightlifters and cyclists and boxers and runners and swimmers, and on and on, are frequently found to have violated the Games' very strict anti-doping regulations. This kind of cheating first reared its ugly head during the Olympic Games in the mid-1970s.

In 1976, a swimmer on the U.S. Olympic team in Montreal, Canada, was expected to bring home a collection of gold medals. It was her second Olympics. She'd been at Munich in 1972, where she'd won a silver in a relay. However, she wasn't as successful in Montreal as people expected. She didn't go home to a slot on the lucrative celebrity speakers' tour. She didn't get her face on the side of a Wheaties box. And she didn't get a contract with a sports clothing manufacturer. She should have, and she would have, except for one thing. Shirley Babashoff came up against the buzz saw that was the East German Olympic swim team. In Munich, in 1972, the East German women won five medals in the pool, two relay medals and three individual medals, no golds. The United States and Australia dominated the women's swimming events in Munich.

Australia's Shane Gould won five medals herself. Shirley Babashoff was 15 at the Munich Olympics. To rule the pool in Montreal, she'd have to get past the East Germans, who, over the previous four years, had improved immensely, unbelievably, really, and promised to be a major factor, and they were. In 1976 the East German women won 11 of the 13 gold medals up for grabs, setting world records in seven events and setting two Olympic records. It was thought that Kornelia Ender, who went home to East Germany with four gold medals, had achieved what she achieved by hard work, through rigorous training, and by maintaining a good diet. Even she believed that. But the East German women became a force like none before and none since because of something called State Plan 14.25. State Plan 14.25 was part of a desperate attempt on the part of the communist East German government to demonstrate to the world the superiority of East German communism.

One expert on East German doping called State Plan 14.25 "the Manhattan Project of Sports". Athletes were force-fed performance-enhancing drugs. It made them potent in the pool but did a tremendous amount of physical and emotional damage. Gerd Bonk, the world-record-holding weightlifter, who won silver in Montreal behind the Soviet colossus Vasily Alekseyev, spent the last three decades of his life in a wheelchair owing to kidney failure, brought on by anabolic steroid use, many believe. In fact, Bonk's consumption of anabolic steroids in just one year is the greatest consumption ever documented. One West German journalist joked that a West German farmer could fatten up a whole stable of cattle with the drugs Bonk consumed. The drugs were distributed far and wide. Even teenage figure skaters were plied with performance-enhancing but often body-destroying drugs. Females who took the drugs often developed male characteristics.

A man who used to swim for an elite American college team told me personally that he had friends on the 1976 Olympic swim team who told him this story. He said several U.S. women in the changing room in Montreal were alarmed to hear a deep voice. Going to investigate, they discovered the deep voice belonged to an East German female swimmer. "What a deep voice you have," one of the American women said. The East German woman looked at her and said, "We didn't come here to sing". Shirley Babashoff and every other non-East German female swimmer was ripped off by East Germany. She and others were deprived not only of their chance of a lifetime, of the just rewards of the years of discipline and training, but also of the money they would have earned by being Olympic champions. And the media didn't understand what was going on, branding Shirley Babashoff "Surly Shirley" because of her demeanor at the pool. She knew it was cheating that kept her from winning gold medals.

It would be awhile before this scandal became general knowledge. She did win four silver medals and a gold in the relay, but, strangely, that's not considered real success when the world is expecting you to win gold. She returned home from the Olympic Games and eventually took up a job delivering mail for the U.S. Postal Service. She essentially wasn't heard from in public for another 40 years. And it wasn't just East Germany that was cheating in 1976. Although he denied it, it's believed the great Finnish athlete Lasse Virén, who won the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters double on the track in 1972 and 1976, was almost certainly blood doping at the time. The thing is, it wasn't illegal then.

In blood doping, red blood cells are injected into an athlete before competition, increasing the amount of red blood cells in the athlete's system, thereby increasing endurance. They are the athlete's own red blood cells, extracted previously. Now, Virén's story comes close to home for me. The runner who finished second to Virén in the 5,000 meters in Montreal was a New Zealander, Dick Quax.

Stories like this are everywhere in sport, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa in baseball; Marion Jones on the track. Sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner still holds the world record for both the 100 meters and 200 meters. She won three gold medals in Seoul. But Flo-Jo died young at the age of just 38, and while there's never been any proof presented, many people believe she was using or had used performance-enhancing drugs. The big story of the Seoul Olympics was Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter who was disqualified after winning the 100 meters for his use of stanozolol, an anabolic steroid. Of the eight men in that race, six tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs during their careers. A book by the late Richard Moore called the men's 100 meters final in Seoul "the dirtiest race in history".

Carl Lewis, who was promoted to gold after Johnson's disqualification, tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs at the U.S. Olympic trials. We could talk about the Russian team being largely disinvited from the Rio Olympics in 2018 or the Russian Paralympic team being completely excluded from the Rio Paralympics. And why was that? Cheating. A state-sponsored drugs cheating program. So, why do people do it? And what can be learned from this from a biblical point of view? I'll tell you how this relates to you in just a moment.

Thanks for joining me on "It Is Written". Cheating in athletics through the use of performance-enhancing drugs has become part of the sporting landscape. In the early 2020s, more than 60 athletes from Kenya, including a Boston Marathon winner, had been suspended from competition due to doping. So, why do people do it? In the early days of using EPO, which Lance Armstrong used, 20 young Belgian and Dutch cyclists died, according to "The Guardian". Lance Armstrong rode his first Tour de France clean. He turned to cheating because he knew that if he didn't cheat, he'd never win the famous race, which was awash in cheating. He wasn't inherently dishonest; he simply realized that if he wanted to win, he needed to play by the same rules, or break the same rules, as his opponents. In other words, Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Kornelia Ender, Ben Johnson, and so many more had one thing in common: Their best wasn't good enough.

Now, the reason I bring this up is because there's a profoundly important spiritual parallel. When the apostle Paul wrote his first letter to the church in Corinth, he used this interesting descriptor. This is 1 Corinthians 9, verse 24: "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain". He's alluding to the ancient games, and he says, although many run, there's only one winner. So, if you're going to run in the Christian race, run to win, he says. It's like legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing". Now, substitute the word "salvation" for "winning," and you're making a pretty good point. Let Paul's words sink in.

In Christianity, if you're going to run, run to win. Ben Johnson ran, and he was afraid his best wouldn't be good enough to beat Carl Lewis. And truth be told, it probably wasn't. Lance Armstrong wouldn't have won a Tour de France against the drug-fueled European cyclists because his best wasn't good enough. He'd have been cycling uphill. So, if you are running in the Christian race, is your best good enough? Now, let me answer that for you. The answer is, no. No, it isn't. There are some profound statements in the Bible that help us see the depths of our brokenness. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God". And exactly three chapters later, Paul writes that "the wages of sin is death". We've all sinned, and therefore we all deserve death. Our best? Not so good.

Back in Romans 3, verse 10, quoting from Psalm 14, Paul says, "As it is written, 'There is none righteous, no, not one.'" Every last human being on earth is a broken sinner. And no matter what you think of yourself, that includes you. We want to go to heaven, but heaven isn't for sinful people. Who's it for? It's for holy people. It's for righteous people. You can't get to heaven without righteousness. And yet the Bible tells us very directly that "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." That's Isaiah 64:6.

So what hope do we have? We're not good enough to go to heaven. Most of us realize that we're not all that we ought to be. We see rough spots in our character. And what's the common response to seeing things in your life, in your heart that shouldn't be there? What's a very common response when you realize that your best isn't good enough for heaven? It's really common for people to say, "I'll try harder. I'll do better. I'll take it more seriously. I'll do my absolute best". And that's an absolute disaster. And why is that? It's because we don't have a thing that's worth giving to God. Our righteousnesses? Filthy rags. That's not to say we shouldn't do right. Of course, we should. But our own righteousness is not worth anything. In fact, Paul said that his righteousness was no better than manure, "dung" in the King James Version. That, he said, is all that his self-righteousness was worth: manure.

So what's the solution to this, for people who are not good enough for heaven? Here's what I want you to remember. Jesus never asked you to be good. He did tell us, however, to be holy, but mentioning that makes it frightening for many Christians, because who in the world would stand up and say, "I am holy"? Well, don't worry because Jesus made a promise that has got you covered. You'll find it in Luke 11, and I'll start in Luke 11, verse 11. Jesus said, "If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent"?

That's easy to relate to. It isn't hard for parents to spoil their kids because parents want to give good things to their children. They want to provide for their children. Watch where Jesus goes with this now. Verse 12: "Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion"? That's almost funny, isn't it? Jesus was dealing in the absurd to make a very, very, very important point, one He does not want you to miss, because, remember, according to the Bible, your best is not good enough.

Here's verse 13: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him"? And there it is. God promises you the Holy Spirit. He promises the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks. It's that simple. "How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him"? And what is this gift? The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Godhead and brings the personal presence of Jesus into your life. First John 3, verse 24 says, "And by this we know that He abides in us, by the [Holy] Spirit whom He has given us". Our best can never be good enough. Humans are broken, fallen, unrighteous. But when you accept Jesus, something powerful happens in your life.

Jesus comes into your life through the Holy Spirit. And rather than you possessing the Holy Spirit, it's really more accurate to say, the Holy Spirit possesses you. When Jesus enters your life, when the Holy Spirit comes into your life and brings the personal presence of Jesus into your life, Jesus comes in with... well, what? When Jesus enters your life, He brings His holiness. He brings His obedience. He brings His life-changing power. He brings His righteousness. And what kind of righteousness is that? It is perfect righteousness. When you request the gift of the Holy Spirit, when you surrender to God, God gives you the life-altering gift that is the only thing that can prepare you for heaven. God gives you Jesus' own righteousness, and with that, you are qualified for heaven. So, how can you experience the power of the Holy Spirit? I'll tell you that in just a moment.

I meet people who are worried they'll never be good enough to go to heaven. And they're right. You'll never be good enough to go to heaven. But when Jesus comes into your heart, that changes everything. And He doesn't come into your heart as a performance-enhancer. Jesus doesn't take your best and then add to it. He comes into your life to make you new so that He can live His life in you. So that He can work in you "both to will and to do for His good pleasure," as Philippians 2:13 says. "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ".

That's Philippians 1 and verse 6. He comes into your life; He starts the work; you surrender to Him and allow Him to do His will. He continues that work; He finishes that work. You cooperate. You surrender. He does the work. You are not modified; you are re-created. When you come to faith in Christ, the old you dies. Paul wrote to three churches, the Romans, the Ephesians, and the Colossians, about the "old man" or the "old person". That's who you were before Jesus came into your life.

What happens when you accept Jesus is that the old you dies and you are born again. It's one of the reasons so many people struggle in their faith because they never allow the old them to be put to death. They don't experience a death to the old life. Faith in God wasn't given to make you a good person. Both the world and the church are full of moralists, people who will talk about Christianity without ever being remade by Christ. They'll quote the Bible without ever understanding Matthew 4 in verse 4: "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" Discussing people who "walk in the vanity [or futility] of their mind," Paul wrote, "that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness".

This is what that power of the Holy Spirit accomplishes. He makes you new. This is what Jesus was referring to when He spoke to Nicodemus about "being born of the Spirit". It's that heavenly power that, like the wind, you can't see, but you can see its effects. No one alive can be good enough for heaven. That's why Jesus died on the cross. He bore your sins, and dying as a perfect sacrifice, He gives you His righteousness, His goodness. At the cross, Jesus said, "I'll take care of your sin. I'll give you a new heart. I'll make you pure". That sin you're carrying around? Jesus died for that. Why would you carry it with you everywhere you go? That guilt you've been feeling about mistakes made in the past? Why carry that guilt?

At Calvary, Jesus died for your sin so that you could be free from that. You accept Jesus, and there's no guilt. He took care of that at the cross. Your best can't ever be good enough for heaven. So trust in Jesus, who died for you. Look away from yourself and trust in His goodness. Trust in the sacrifice He made for you at Calvary. When you do that, He gives you His righteousness. The Holy Spirit will come into your life. This is not a performance-enhancing drug; it's the third Person of the Godhead living in your life. The presence of the Holy Spirit brings salvation into your life and remakes you. You can't ever be the same again after allowing Jesus to live His life in you.

Let's finish with another track-and-field story. One of the greatest athletes of all time was Emil Zátopek, the Czechoslovakian who won gold in the 10,000 meters and silver in the 5,000 meters at the London Olympics in 1948. Four years later in Helsinki, Finland, Zátopek won the gold medal in the 5,000 meters, the 10,000 meters, and the first marathon he ever ran. It's inconceivable that anyone could ever do that again. Now, Zátopek was a character. Before they were married, he found out that he and his bride-to-be had been born on the same day. He said to her, "Maybe we could get married on the same day"? His running style was, was not exactly art. One journalist described his running as looking like "someone wrestling with an octopus on a conveyor belt". Another said that "it always looked like his next step would be his last". He wasn't bothered by the critiquing. He'd say, "I always thought the objective was to go fast".

And Zátopek did. He trained as though his life depended on it. And he had a personality that won him friends wherever he went. In 1966, Zátopek's life intersected with that of another great athlete, Ron Clarke of Australia, who set 17 world records. In 1965 Clarke set 12 world records in 44 days, but he never won the big one. He might be the greatest athlete to have never won an Olympic gold medal. In 1966, at the invitation of Zátopek, Ron Clarke ran in a track meet in Prague. Zátopek drove to the airport after the event and accompanied him all the way to the steps of the plane. Remember, this was 1966. When he gave the Australian a small package wrapped in brown paper, he said, "This is for you because you deserve it".

Clarke wondered if it was a message for the outside world or something his Czech friend wanted smuggled out of Czechoslovakia, which was behind the Iron Curtain back then. When his plane landed at London's Heathrow Airport, Clarke's curiosity won out, and he opened the package. Inside was one of Zátopek's own gold medals, one of the three he won in Helsinki 14 years earlier. He gave away one of his gold medals to a man he had only met once. And why? Because "you deserve it".

One day, Jesus is going to come back. We're going to heaven. And when we get there, according to what Paul wrote to Timothy, He'll give us, not a gold medal, but a golden crown. And why would Jesus do that? Because we deserve it? No, we don't deserve it, and we never will. Jesus said in John 16, "It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you". He said the Holy Spirit "would reprove", or convict, "the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment".

How do you receive the Holy Spirit? Remember? "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him"? God wants you to have the gift of the Holy Spirit. Ask for it now. Don't wait. Renew that prayer every day. Remind God you're willing to have Jesus move in and sin and self-righteousness move out. Tell Him you're willing for God to work in you "both to will and to do of His good pleasure". Jesus will give us the crown that He deserves. Not because we're good, but because He, through the Holy Spirit, has come into our lives and transformed us by His power, through His grace, and given us His righteousness. And that will be good enough.

Let's pray together now.

Our Father in heaven, in Jesus' name we come to You, thanking You that You have goodness to give, righteousness to share, a Holy Spirit who would live His life in us.

Friend, have you been trying to be good enough? Have you been experiencing the frustration, the futility of doing your best, thinking that will change your sinful heart?

Well, Lord, we know right now that what we need is a new heart given to us when Jesus brings His life into our own.

Friend, do you want that? Do you want that life, the life of Jesus living in your life? Would you open up your heart to Jesus now? Pray with me:

Our Father in heaven, give me Jesus. Create in me a clean heart. Take away my sin. I accept from You everlasting life. We thank You, dear Father, for hearing our prayer, and we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

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