A Theology Of Losing

A few Saturdays ago I sat in a local school gym watching my 12-year-old grandson play basketball. A lady behind us had a son on the other team, apparently. She was very obnoxious in the way she yelled out during the game. Her team won. As we left, I jokingly asked my son-in-law which of us needed to slap her.

I almost did this many years ago when my son was playing high school football. He was quarterback that day and a lady kept yelling for her team to “get him,” “knock him down” and “kill him.” It was all I could do to restrain myself and at least not offer a tongue-lashing.

Obviously, some folks take children’s sports very seriously, not remembering all players on the field are boys and girls as important as their own children.

But it’s true that many adults take sports quite seriously, too.

A pastor I know always gave an exhortation on the Sunday before Alabama’s Iron Bowl game. He told the congregation that half of them would be disappointed the next weekend, but they needed to remember it was just a game and must respect those with other loyalties. I was so impressed by this, though I graduated from one of those schools, that I’ve spoken this exhortation most years myself.

Another bothersome thing is our theology of winning. How often do we see a player having a good game, scoring a touchdown or hitting one out of the park and then thanking God for this victory? Whereas we’re to honor God in all things, does this mean that the losing team experiences God’s disfavor? Is God always on the side of winners? Doesn’t he have compassion for everyone whether we win or lose?

The late Yankees great Yogi Berra was coaching third base one day when he saw a player kneel before entering the batter’s box, and another player make the sign of the cross.

“Hey, why don’t you guys leave God alone and let him watch the game?” he shouted!

I’m convinced we need a theology of losing, for sometimes we lose. People of faith don’t always win, and people of character don’t always excel. And sometimes we learn valuable lessons by losing.

We should respect all who subject themselves to the rigors of competition. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is better to try great things, even at the risk of failure, then to know neither victory nor defeat.” There’s honor in striving. Athletics is supposed to teach us how to reach beyond our limits, how to work as a team and how to be gracious whatever the outcome.

God, the master teacher, has lessons for us in winning and losing.

A New Year in God's Word

It’s always interesting to note the celebrities we lost in the last year, and 2018 witnessed the passing of several. These include evangelist Billy Graham, President Bush 41, Sen. John McCain, journalist Charles Krauthammer and musicians Roy Clark and preacher’s daughter Aretha Franklin who taught us how to spell r-e-s-p-e-c-t!

These deaths remind us of those who made an impact with their lives and remind us of our own mortality.

One way we can brush up our influence is to resolve to be better in the new year. About half of American adults make resolutions, but most are broken in a few months. For believers, a better way is the covenant. People of faith made covenants to the Lord throughout biblical history. The difference is the covenant is a faith-promise that asks for God’s help in making it happen. A covenant is seen as a binding relationship of dependence on God.

A worthy covenant is to promise to spend time in scripture. Three things may be helpful.

First, begin with a readable translation, of which there are many available at bookstores. Several websites offer electronic copies of the Bible with 30 or more translations. Even our friends the Gideons who have placed Bibles in many places have online scripture now!

Second, make a plan. Unless we schedule time for them, many good intentions fall aside. Some call a scripture-reading appointment a “quiet time,” and this is a good descriptor. In our busy and often noisy world, a time of quiet to commune with God is welcomed. Most denominations offer devotional guides or suggested daily readings. One plan, “Reading The Bible Through,” asserts that reading three chapters each day will take us through the scripture in one year. Many like to keep a prayer list or prayer journal with them during Bible reading.

Third, consider technology. Several websites have apps that can be downloaded to one’s phone for reading. One site I’m familiar with has daily reading suggestions. Another site allows one to download audible copies of scripture. This way we can hear the word of God while driving or working. This method is probably closer to what the personalities of the Bible did since copies of scripture were rare in those days. This is why the Bible doesn’t exhort us to “read” the word of God but to “hear” the word of God (James 1:22).

President Nixon worshipped at the First Baptist Church in Moscow while visiting Russia in the 70s and found one full hour was devoted to the reading of scripture since most worshippers didn’t own Bibl

We can be sure God will be pleased to help us with a covenant promise to read and obey his word.

Looking Back and Looking Forward

The Roman goddess Janus had two faces; with one he looked behind and with the other he looked forward. How fitting that the first month in the year is named for him. January is a time we evaluate what we have experienced and make plans about what we want to experience.

Looking back, we see a mixture of success and failure, prosperity and want, good choices and bad. We all experience bad things because that’s how life is. People we love get hurt or grow sick. And sometimes we get hurt or grow sick. As a friend of mine says, all it takes is one microbe to change our lives forever. We most often don’t understand why bad things happen to good people.

But sometimes we face bad things in life because we choose them. Every Christian knows the struggle the Apostle Paul described in Romans 7: the evil I want to avoid, I do, and the good I seek to do, I don’t do. Believers know God is working in our lives to make us more saintly, but we also know our basic nature is disobedience to the Lord. For this reason, we rejoice that we have a God of mercy. He doesn’t give up, but instead continues to patiently work in us.

So, we begin the new year with praise for the good and repentance for the wrong. And we look forward to a new chapter called 2019.

One way we can ensure it will be a good year is to make new covenants with God. The Bible is filled with covenants. God’s people made promises to God and asked his help to make them reality. We do the same in the new year ahead.

We can promise to have daily time of Bible reading and prayer. Some call this a “quiet time,” and in our busy world we all need this. We can promise to love our church more and support her worship and study times and her ministries. Every Christian is gifted in some way to minister, and we find fulfillment in discovering and using our unique gifts in ministry to others. And we can promise to be more faithful to God in our finances, moving toward the biblical model of the tithe to honor him.

And we can promise to be loving servants toward others. We often see on the highways how some have such short fuses! The slightest impediment brings a rash of anger. As followers of Christ, we must treat others with kindness. We should ask God’s help as we try to grow in people skills. We become more Christlike when we consider the needs of others greater than our own (Philippians 2:3).

Christmas Means A Change In Circumstances

A little girl found herself in the church Christmas pageant and sang the assigned carol with gusto, though in error: “While shepherds washed their socks by night / all seated on the ground / the angel of the Lord came down / and glory shown around / and glory shown around."

Actually, the shepherds “watched their flocks by night”—an important job in ancient Israel. The sheep provided food and clothing for the people, but the shepherds were assigned the lowest social class in Hebrew society. Their work prevented the ritual washings and regular Sabbath observance required by the Old Testament law and Jewish tradition. 

It’s interesting that the Christmas angels first brought news of the messiah’s birth to these men—the least in that society. God wanted all the world to know that Christ came not just for the educated and esteemed wise men who were at the top of  “the most admired” list, but also for the poor and the powerless shepherds who didn’t make the list.

Everyone is significant in the kingdom of God.

Some scholars believe there was another divine rationale in this saga of the shepherds.

Jewish rabbis kept a written record called the Mishna. The Mishna states that the flocks for the temple sacrifices were kept near Bethlehem. These flocks were used constantly for religious observance and the ritual ensuring forgiveness of sin.

Could it be that these shepherds in Luke’s narrative were the ones who kept the flocks used for daily sacrifices in nearby Jerusalem?  If so, it’s significant that they learned of God’s perfect lamb who came to offer a sacrifice for sin not for a day, but once and for all time.

The lives of these shepherds were never the same again. The gospel writer recorded that they went everywhere telling everyone what they’d seen and heard. Men of the pasture became preachers.

And so it is with all who believe God and trust in the work of his son. Their lives are transformed.

Some years ago a South Carolina bureaucrat sent a letter to a food stamp recipient in that state. The letter read, “Dear Sir, I regret to inform you that your food stamp eligibility will cease on March 31 due to your death. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances.”

 The message of Christmas is that our creator God hasn’t left us to live lives of despair. He took the initiative and provided the one who brings an abundance of hope. With his help, you and I can have a significant and improved change in circumstances.