Saturday, June 28, 2014

24-Karat Friendship

By Alan Smith

    As the Winter Olympics come to a close, I am reminded of a beautiful story from past Games.  Those of you who are even mildly acquainted with Olympic history will recognize the name of Jesse Owens.  At the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Owens was the United States' response to the German leaders' claim for "Aryan superiority."  He achieved international fame by winning four gold medals; one each in the 100 meter dash, the 200 meter dash, the long jump, and for being part of the 4x100 meter relay team.
    However, you may not have heard the story behind his long jump competition.  It was a competition he seemed certain to win.  After all, the year before, Owens had jumped 26 feet, 8 1/4 inches -- a record that would stand for 25 years.  But at the 1936 Olympics, he was almost out of the long jump shortly after qualifying began.  Owens fouled on his first two jumps.  A third foul and he would have been out of the competition.
    As he walked to the long-jump pit, Owens saw a tall, blue-eyed, blond German taking practice jumps in the 26-foot range.  Owens felt nervous. He was acutely aware of the Nazis' desire to prove "Aryan superiority," especially over blacks. At this point, the tall German introduced himself as Luz Long.
    "You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed!" he said to Owens. Then Long made a suggestion. Since the qualifying distance was only 23 feet, 5 1/2 inches, why not make a mark several inches before the takeoff board and jump from there, just to play it safe?
    Owens took the advice from his stiffest competition and qualified easily.  In the finals that afternoon, Jesse Owens won the gold medal with a jump of 26-5½. The first to congratulate the Olympic record holder was Luz Long.
    Owens said, "It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler.  You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn't be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment."
    I wonder -- in the church, do we more often view ourselves as competitors who are trying to do better or look better than the next guy, or as friends who are there to encourage others to accomplish what we know they can do (even if it surpasses our efforts)?
    What great value there is in having (and being) a real friend.  Solomon said, "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor.  For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.  But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up." (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
    Indeed, woe to the man who doesn't have a friend -- someone he can talk to, someone he can lean on, someone he can pour his heart out to.  Writer Patrick Morley has made a stinging observation.  He said that while most men could recruit six pallbearers, "hardly anyone has a friend he can call at 2:00 A.M."
    Let me ask you, "Do you have a friend you can call at 2:00 in the morning?"  More importantly, are you that kind of friend to others?  Solomon said that "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." (Proverbs 17:17).  Who do you have in your life that you can turn to without hesitation in the midst of adversity?  Who do you know that can confidently turn to you?
    We need to be reminded by the example of Luz Long that we were not created by God to compete with one another; we were created to encourage and exhort one another.  God intended for us to be (and have) friends.
     Have a great day!

- Alan Smith, author of the popular "Thought For Today," and minister for the Fayetteville Church of Christ in Fayetteville, NC, may be contacted at alansmith.servant@gmail.comA

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