An Olympic Story: The Gold Medal Life of Eric Liddell

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Eric Liddell in Paris Olympic Games

Olympic athletes capture our attention and our hearts with the stories of their lives, their commitment and sacrifice, and their excellence in their field of play.  With the 2012 Summer Olympics quickly approaching, there is so much we can do to engage the children in our ministries!
If you’re looking for a short devotional, a quick children’s sermon, or a Sunday School lesson, introduce your students to the incredible life story of Eric Liddell, the 1924 Gold Medal Winner in the 400M track event in the Paris Olympics.   Liddell was not only a gifted athlete who held to his convictions, but he lived out his faith to the very end as a missionary in China who died in a Japanese internment camp.
As you teach your students about this incredible Olympic athlete, make sure to include original footage of his gold medal race or access the Chariots of Fire clip, readily available on YouTube.  Also, Torchlighters has produced a kid-friendly biography DVD of his life as a resource to utilize.  To add an element of fun, dress up as a runner and act the part!

Eric Liddell: A Gold Medal Life

Can you imagine being good enough to go to the Olympics?  Can you imagine dreaming about the Olympics, training for the Games, and then deciding not to compete in your best event?   This is the story of Eric Liddell.
Eric was born into a missionary family in 1902 – over 100 years ago!   His Mom and Dad lived in China and spent their lives teaching the Chinese people about Jesus.  Eric grew up going to a boarding school for missionary kids.  While he was at the school, he learned to love running and rugby.
Eric was one of those people whom you almost get jealous of!  He was such an incredible athlete!  His goal was to get to the 1924 Olympics in France and run in his best race – the 100 meters.  He trained hard to get in top shape and his country of Scotland was sure he would win a gold medal for them.
There was just one problem.  The heat – to decide who would make the Olympics – was on a Sunday and Eric would not run on Sunday.  Why, you ask?  He wanted to worship and honor God on Sunday, instead of competing in a race.
What do you think others thought of that?  I think it’s cool, because he lived to put God first.  But others thought he was ridiculous!  Some people made fun of him and others were angry at him; after all, they thought he would win Scotland a gold medal!  Without him, they didn’t stand a chance!
Well, instead of running in the 100 meters, he qualified for the 200 and 400 meter races, because the heats did not occur on Sunday.  No one expected him to come close to winning though.  On the day of the 400 meter race, an American gave him a piece of paper that had 1 Samuel 2:30 on it, “Those who honor me I will honor.”  This is one of God’s promises in His word.
Eric ran with that piece of paper in his hand and held onto this promise tightly.  He was a funny runner – he always ran with his chest sticking out and his mouth wide open.  Even though the 400 wasn’t his best distance; even though he had bad running form; even though he was not expected to win anything – Eric broke the existing world record and finished in 47.6 seconds.  He won the gold!  Not only that, but he won the bronze medal for the 200 meters also!!!!
Eric’s Olympic story is incredible!  But that isn’t the end of his story.  After the Olympics, Eric returned to China and served as a missionary there, teaching at a school and telling the Chinese people about Jesus.  He ended up marrying and having three children.  However, while he and his family were there, China was becoming a dangerous place.  It was no longer safe for his family to live there, so they went to live with family in Canada and Eric stayed in China to finish his work.
Not long after, the Japanese invaded China and Eric was sent to an internment camp or prison where he and 1800 others were held in prison for no reason at all.  Though the conditions at this place were awful, Eric did whatever was needed to be done with a great hope in his heart.  He worked hard telling others about Jesus, teaching kids, and organizing sports.  At one point, Eric had the chance to leave the prison, but he gave his chance up to let a pregnant woman leave instead.  What an incredible example of sacrifice!
Eric’s life story seems to end on a sad note because he never made it out of the prison. He was only 43 years old when he died.  But as we know, God is always, ever good.  Because of Eric’s relationship with Jesus, his death (a defeat) was actually a victory (a win) – He is with Christ today!  Eric finished his Olympic races well – but even more importantly – he finished life well!
His life lives the words found in Acts 20: 23- 24, “I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
Eric once said, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ.”
This gold medal life story teaches us so many things.  It teaches us about hard work and putting God first.  It teaches us to live a gold medal life in whatever God gave us to do.  It teaches us that following God isn’t always easy.  It teaches us that we are all missionaries, bringing people either closer to Jesus or driving them far away.
How are we going to live our lives today?  Let’s follow Eric Liddell towards a gold medal life!

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