by David Phelps
"Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person." - Mother Teresa
As some of you may know, we had an unfortunate incident during our recent family vacation. Our car broke down and the garage took advantage of our predicament and the fact that we were away from home. It took almost all our money and we were forced to cut our vacation short. After we got back, I learned that our pastor, Allen's wife, Cheryl, and their two children, had to go into the hospital that same week. It made me realize that things could have been a lot worse for us.
Major and minor disasters happen to all of us at one time or another. Our faith shows in our response to them. If we throw a big fit or make a scene every time something goes wrong, people notice; if we don't, they notice that too. Iíll be the first to admit that this isnít easy for me. I want things to go my way as much as anyone else. But we are called to do better (Gal. 5:19-22; I Pet. 1:5-8).
Vince Lombardi, the great Green Bay, Wisconsin football coach, is famous for saying "Winning isnít everything, itís the only thing." But he also said, "The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules . . ." In other words, it does matter how you play the game. Christians have known the same thing for a long time. "'What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?'" (Mk. 8:36-37 NIV). Itís better to lose with God than to win without God. Life is a game, and the way we play it makes a difference: For us, for the other players, and for the people in the audience.
Everyone loses sometimes. Even Vince Lombardi lost occasionally during his career. He didnít want to, he didnít like it, but he lost. The difference is in the way we handle it when we lose, or win. If we win graciously, with faith, humility and dignity, it makes an impression. If we lose in the same way, it also makes an impression. Many of our sports figures set a poor example: They win gloatingly, arrogant in their triumph and lose with poor grace, pouting and throwing tantrums. And yet both outcomes are inevitable. We can lose and still be a winner or we can win and still be a loser. It depends on how we win or lose.
When Jesus was on the cross, one of the thieves who was hanging next to him could tell he was who he claimed to be. The thief said to him, "'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'" (Lk. 23:42 NIV). In the same way, the people next to us can tell whether or not we are who we claim to be.
And when Paul and Silas were in prison, they didnít bemoan their fate. Instead, they prayed and sang hymns (Acts 16:22-25). All the other prisoners were listening to them, even though it was the middle of the night. Their witness was so powerful that their jailer asked them, "'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'" (Acts 16:30b NIV). Afterward, that same night, he washed the wounds they had received when they were flogged. He and his family were baptized, and he took the two of them to his own home and gave them a meal (Acts 16:22-34).
When someone asked me about our vacation, I said, "It was like a trip in an elevator. It had its ups and downs." If we can handle the "downs" as well as we handle the "ups," people around us will take notice. We play the most important game of all when we serve God. The contest is for the souls and lives of everyone around us. And yet, in the end, we are promised the victory, over sin, evil and death (I Cor. 15:56-58; John. 16:33). Jesus suffered the ultimate defeat, death on the cross, and won the ultimate victory, the resurrection, so that we could be victorious with him (I Jn. 4:4-10). With victory assured, we need to recruit everyone we can, and ask them to join our winning team, Team Jesus.
"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." (I Jn. 5:1-5 NIV.)