Win, Lose, or Flawed

How clearly can we define "wins" and "losses" in this life?

I know.  I know.  Many reading this are in the state of Minnesota and have no desire to talk about painful losses right now.  This past Sunday the Vikings lost in one of the more painful ways that I’ve seen in recent sports memory.  Believe me when I say, I understand.  Nearly the exact same thing happened 2 years ago — same guy, same ridiculous mistake — only that time it was my team.  It stung.  In fact, it still stings a little when I think about what could have been.

It got me thinking more about “losses” in this life and how we cope with them.  We often like to look at this world as though it’s sort of a big game.  And if that’s the case, there has to be winners and losers.  In fact, we look at it so much like that that we may even be tempted to label people as real “losers”.  A flaw in this logic arises, however, when we realize that there isn’t some massive scoreboard floating around to help us figure out who indeed is “winning” at life and who is “losing”.  To a certain extent, it depends on your definitions.  Some might say that the the one with the largest bank account is winning or the one with the most impressive career, the one with the most attractive spouse or the one with the best-behaved and most accomplished kids, the one who lives the longest life or the one who lives the fullest life.  Who determines what winning in life really is?

Much of our happiness, satisfaction, and contentment in life is determined by that abstract feeling of whether we perceive ourselves in good shape or not, i.e. whether we’re winning or losing.  Universally we’d agree it’s important then.  But again, how do we determine whether or not we indeed we are victorious in life?

In the great “Resurrection Chapter” of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul writes  “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:55-57).  In any game, you cannot really tell who the winner is until the final whistle is blown.  Although life is significantly more important than a game, that principle remains the same.  No matter how we may define “win” in this lifetime, when death comes, we discover who truly has the victory and who does not.  It’s as simple as Paul writes — whoever believes in Jesus holds the trophy that Jesus won through his victory on the cross.  No one who witnessed Jesus’ body hanging there lifelessly during his crucifixion would have defined that as a win — but it was.  It meant eternal paradise for all who see Jesus as God’s Son and our Savior.  And in recognizing that win, we learn that mankind’s definition of “win” (wealth, sex, fame, etc.) is probably more flawed than we could imagine.

Clearly this information about “winning” helps us eternally, but the icing on the heaven cake is that it undoubtedly helps us in this life as well.  If I have the knowledge that when the whistle blows I’m guaranteed victory, will I get as upset during the game about a fumble (e.g. job loss) or an interception (e.g. home foreclosure) or a sack (e.g. illness)?  It doesn’t mean I have to like these things.  It doesn’t mean these things won’t sting.  But it does mean that I can keep plugging through life with all the confidence of a “winner”.

Christians are happiest when they don’t let the world dictate to them what a “win” is, when they understand that they already have the victory in Jesus.  Any professional football player will tell you that the Super Bowl ring is why they play the game.  When we’re in focus, we realize the certainty of the crown of eternal life is what makes life worth living.

What Was God Thinking?

No one missed the story last week.  It was the most devastating natural disaster the world has seen in years.  Even the Indonesian tsunami in 2006, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or, for that matter, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 paled in comparison when looking at the death tolls.  In recent history, this is the BIG ONE. 

Amazingly, it seemed that almost as big of a news story last week as the Haiti earthquake itself, were the comments made by 700 Club founder, former presidential candidate, and famous televangelist Pat Robertson.  To say Robertson’s take on the devastating 7.0 earthquake in Haiti was controversial is to put it mildly.  Citing some folklore from Haiti’s history, Robertson suggested that the trouble that the nation of Haiti has faced over the past couple hundred years (not just the recent earthquake) is a result of a pact made with the devil at the time of Haiti’s liberation.   

You can see Robertson’s comments for yourself at this link:

A brief historical background: Robertson’s comments were based on the widely-discussed 1791 slave rebellion led by Boukman Dutty at Bois Caiman, where the slaves allegedly made a famous pact with the devil in exchange for victory over the French.  This history, combined with the horrible state of the country, has led some scholars and religious figures over the centuries to believe the country is cursed.  In their opinions, the most recent manifestation of the curse was last Tuesday’s (1/12/10) earthquake. 

Since his comments, liberals and conservatives alike have been calling for Robertson’s head.  I can’t tell you how many comments I’ve heard (radio, TV, internet, and word of mouth) suggesting “no respectable Christian leader I know would back Pat Robertson’s comments.”  Although it’d make for great blogging, sorry, I have no intentions of being the first to get in his corner.  My encouragement to Pat Robertson would be to check Jesus’ comments from Luke 13:1-4.  In this paragraph from Luke, Jesus references two incidents (historically unknown to us) that were known to the people to whom he was speaking.  Jesus’ listeners were under the impression that those who suffered the mentioned misfortune must have done so as a result of extreme sin.  This was the common worldview of the ancient world (e.g. Remember in the Old Testament when Job went through excruciating pain and his “friend” Eliphaz reasoned that Job must have really done something severely evil to tick off God.)  Jesus says here in Luke 13 that the misfortune of those people who’d suffered calamity was not a result of them being worse sinners than anyone else.  The calamity had come upon them for reasons unknown to anyone but God. 

Therefore, Pat Robertson really has no right to authoritatively say that the nation of Haiti had this coming to them as a result of the curse from some devil pact.  Likewise, he had no right to say that Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on the sinful debauchery of Mardi Gras in New Orleans or that the terrorist attacks at 9/11 were God’s judgment on our country.  He doesn’t know that, period.  Unless he can sell it to me from God’s inspired Word, I ain’t buying it.  Remember, this is the same guy who prophesied a massive tsunami to hit the U.S. in 2006 and a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in 2007.  When neither happened, he conveniently claimed that people must have prayed and God intervened and spared us.  Point is, I think he’s discredited himself  and his direct line to God in a number of ways in the past.  So, we probably shouldn’t be listening now. 

That said, there’s part of me that takes issue with the countless liberals and conservatives calling Robertson arrogant and unloving for his assessment of the earthquake in Haiti.  As arrogant as it is to suggest that you know why God allowed the earthquake in Haiti (as Robertson did), isn’t it equally arrogant to suggest that you know that that is NOT the reason God allowed the earthquake?  To anyone caught up in lambasting Robertson, I’d like to ask if you’ve received a revelation from God that the earthquake in Haiti had nothing to do with the country’s strong Haitian Vodou tradition (a combination of voodoo and the Roman Catholicism that West African slaves were forced to convert to when they were brought to Haiti in the 16th century)?  Do I know without a shadow of a doubt that God didn’t intend for Hurricane Katrina to be a wake-up call to a region that made millions selling sin in the streets?  Do I know that God didn’t intend to work through an economic recession in our country, that it might be a wake-up call concerning materialism?  Do I know that the 9/11 attacks weren’t a wake-up call to a country that was warmly and quickly embracing ecumenism and the tolerance of all religions as equally leading to God?  These things are hidden from me.  I can’t say yes or no because God hasn’t revealed to me “yes” or “no”.   

Look, I have no interest in defending Pat Robertson.  His statements sound pretty ridiculous.  More importantly though, he’s clearly going beyond what Scripture says.  This is our first indicator that he’s someone whose influence we should avoid.  However, the Bible does indicate that God is the one who causes/allows natural disasters (Here’s just a couple of references – Job 9:5, 28:9, Ps 18:7, 77:16-18, 97:3-5, Isa 2:19, 24:20, 29:6, Jer 10:10, Nahum 1:5, Heb 12:26).  For us to say the earthquake in Haiti did NOT happen because of this or that really isn’t ours to authoritatively say either.

Ultimately, I think many are missing the point.  Anytime  a disaster like this hits, we are reminded that we are a part of God’s creation and that he is the LORD of that creation.  It’s rather foolish to speculate why God allowed the earthquake and the devastation.  Who’s going to figure it out?  For that matter, it’s also a little foolish to speculate what aren’t the reasons God allowed it.  It’s not ours to know. 

What’s really imporant right now?  A reminder of repentance for all mankind would be a good start.  Relief is needed.  Prayers are needed.  The news of a Savior from eternal devastation is needed.  Christ said that earthquakes were one of the indicators that the end is near.  I can’t pick God’s brain and  I have no clue when that end is coming, but I do know there are lost souls in Haiti and around the world that need some comfort right now.  For a world that seems out of control, we present the God who is in control.

Planning Their Own Nightmare

Marriage may not be an option for millions of Chinese men.

The Associated Press today released news of a recent study conducted in China that indicates some unfortunate info for Chinese bachelors.  Due to strict family planning regulations, China will face a shortage of nearly 25 million women for the eligible Chinese men throughout the next decade.  In some provinces in fact, the numbers are almost 1.5 boys to every girl in the 1-4 year old age range.  The results could be absolutely devastating socially.  Lead researchers are indicating that men with lower incomes and lower social status are going to encounter extreme difficulty in the battle to find a wife, which could inevitably lead to crime — abductions and the trafficking of women.  How sad is it going to get for these lonely men and how dangerous is it going to get for this country?

One of the hardest things about it all is that China really has no one to blame but themselves.  In the 1970s China was fully recognizing the strain that their massive (and increasing) population was having on the country’s resources.  They began severely regulating birth rates.  With many families preferring male children, the termination of pregnancies involving baby girls skyrocketed.  And here China sits, about to suffer the consequences. 

Now I’m by no means the first person to condemn responsibility in family planning.  The Catholic Church for a long time has said no to any form of contraception.  The rest of Christendom, by and large, has not, since the Bible does not.  There are many considerations to take into account.  That said, one technique of family planning that clearly violates biblical principles is abortion.    China’s “one-child policy” introduced in 1979 has undeniably not only allowed but encouraged abortion.  Supposedly having gender-specific abortions is illegal in China, but the reality, as today’s press release indicates, is that it is highly common.  It is estimated that over 250 million infants (including a lopsided number of baby girls) have been aborted in China since 2000.  Imagine that — “a United States” has died since 2000 largely because of government-enforced regulations. 

I’m sure I don’t have to convince too many reading this that abortion is wrong.  God is clear in the Bible that 1) Murder is wrong (especially children who cannot defend themselves), Lev. 18:21; and 2) Children while in their mother’s womb are truly, fully humans with souls (Psalm 45:15, Job 31:15).  Although we’re tempted to scoff at some of the “primitive cultures” we find in the Bible with their “child sacrifices”, we need every now and then to take a sobering look at “sophisticated” man today.  Child sacrifices are still made.  Granted, it isn’t to Molech, god of the Ammonites, or Baal, god of the Caananites, or Marduk, god of the Babylonians, but to “wealth” and “national advancement” and “convenience” and “comfort” and “I just don’t want it”.

From a logical standpoint (and this may sound strange) but I think I “get it.”  You don’t perceive yourself as ready.  You have other plans right now.  Perhaps this is not the ideal environment to bring a child into.  Your country’s resources are limited.  A million “logical” reasons might exist.  Mankind has been rationalizing sin since day one.  The problem is that no moral/biblical reason exists.  If we’d take a field trip to an abortion clinic’s dumpster, we’d open it up to find how cold and ungodly pragmatism can be. 

It’s fascinating that 50 years ago, the average person was probably not talking about a fetus, or an embryo, or a zygote living inside of a pregnant woman.  It was a “baby”.  Through the confusion of semantics and cryptic language, the devil has convinced many it’s merely an “it” inside.  It might sound like somewhat of a strange connection, but 500 years ago, Martin Luther considered his greatest work the fact that he’d translated the Bible into the vernacular, the common man’s language, so that everyone would have access to the truth of God’s Word.  Through a language that no common man spoke, Latin, the corrupted church of the time had hidden scriptural truth.  Today too, truth of the life inside a woman is hidden through scientific language.  The embryo is a baby.  The fetus is a human.  The zygote has a soul.

We might not be able to save China, but we can control the way we view God’s creation inside a pregnant woman.  We share with others the truth of who he/she is.  We can pray that God make his will known.  We can vote accordingly.  We ask God to open the eyes of a world that has outsmarted and confused itself  into loneliness and murder with its graduate level terminology.  May God end the nightmare.

Can God Turn His Back on Us?

As a Michigander, you might expect that Michigan teams are where my allegiances might fall in professional athletics.  Not the case.  My dad was a Milwauke native.  He never insinuated that I had to cheer for Wisconsin teams.  He didn’t have to.  He was the alpha male in the pack.  I, the young cub, knew if I had hopes of one day leading my own pack, I too should “back the Pack” so to speak.  Consequently, for no indigenous reason whatsoever, I became a die hard fan of the same teams to which the man who taught me what sports were about was allied.  Enter the character who embodied the fun of professional sports more than any athlete in the modern era — Brett Favre.

I remember Brett taking over after Don Majkowski’s injury and leading the Packers to victory immediately.  He never looked back.  Brett was now on the path to one of the most legendary football careers in NFL history, a path that included a record three consecutive league MVP’s, two trips to the SuperBowl and one victory, and breaking just about every conceivable passing record.

It isn’t often that little old Green Bay, the country’s only community-owned professional sports team, or Wisconsin for that matter, can boast a personality that causes everyone in the country to say, “I wish we had that.”  Packer Backers cherished every moment of it.  Sunday after Sunday Favre would display his gunslinger mentality, his cannon arm, and his uncanny knack for turning nothing into something spectacular on the field.  Cheeseheads would beam with pride (imagine what it takes to cause someone wearing a 3 lb. foam cheese wedge on their head to feel proud).  Favre made Wisconsin sports relevant.  He made life for those in the dairy state (and transplants everywhere) exciting.  He was a legend and a hero.  He was treated like a god.

And then the debacle of 2008.  After a superb season, the Packers made it to the NFC Championship game.  They hosted the New York Giants at home in freezing temperatures.  Brett looked like an old man the whole game and a costly interception(the one career-long  kink in the warrior’s armor) was the last image Packer fans were left with from an otherwise magical season.

Brett would announce in a press conference not too long after that he’d finally decided it was time to hang it up.  Having watched him in the NFC Championship game, I couldn’t blame him.  However, Brett’s retirement lasted all of, well until June rolled around and Brett said he still had the desire and skill to play.  However, the team had moved on without him.  General Manager Ted Thompson and Head Coach Mike McCarthy had already handed over the reigns of the Packers to the highly talented but unproven Aaron Rodgers, who had been being groomed for the past three years on the sidelines as Favre’s replacement.  It didn’t sit well with Favre.  Instead of sticking with his word, Brett still wanted to play.  More than that though, it was obvious that Brett wanted to stick it to Thompson, McCarthy and anyone associated with the Packers (including fans) and prove to them that he could still play.

So, Brett packed up his Wranglers and good ole’ Mississippi boy attitude and headed out to big New York City to play for the Jets.  It was no secret that Favre wanted to play in the same division as the Packers, with the Vikings, to take vengeance on the Packers, but the Green Bay organization made sure that wouldn’t happen.

After a season that started quite promising, Brett fizzled towards the end.  The stated reason was an injured shoulder.  Call it what you want, but he looked like an old man for the last four games of the season, just as he had looked at the end of the previous season.  Failing to make the playoffs with the Jets, Brett once again retired.  This time, Brett’s retirement lasted all of, well, until August rolled around.  The Minnesota Vikings came calling and desperately needed an experienced quarterback to “manage” a very good team.  Brett wanted a chance to exact revenge on all whom he had perceived to have written him off as too old to effectively play at 40.  At the time this is being written, Brett and the Vikings have beaten the Packers twice in the 2009 regular season.  With both teams in the playoffs, they could meet again.  The losses meant the division title this season for the Packers organization.  For Packer fans though, the reality is, the games themselves were heart-breaking.

It wasn’t really all that much about the score, or the loss, or the playoffs, or the season.  For me, it was about an icon whom I’d looked up to for the past 16 years having such an enormous ego and chip on his shoulder that he wanted to take the negative feelings of this bruised ego out on the Packers.  Frankly, I don’t care if it was a shot directed at Thompson and McCarthy, the blast hit all of us Packer fans.  For the Cheeseheads, to see Favre in Viking purple was to see a ‘god’ (I hope you understand I mean in the non-religious sense) turning his back on us.  It hurt.  It was utterly disenchanting.

It got me thinking, if a figure who I had so closely identified as being “on my side”  all my life could so decisively turn his back on me, could God do the same?

After thinking about it for awhile, I recalled numerous times in Scripture when God says the exact opposite.  Apparently God knew that sinful humans in a sinful world would be accustomed to getting betrayed and feeling betrayed by one another time and time again.  As a result, he goes out of his way to tell his people that he’s different.  He always makes good on his promises and he promises that he will never leave us.  Even God’s Name in the Bible, the one where we see all capital letters — the LORD — is a name that indicates to us that we have a God who faithfully keeps his covenants with his people, i.e. that he won’t turn his back on us.   When Moses is nearing death and about to pass the leadership of the Children of Israel over to Joshua, he makes a farewell address to the Israelites where he tells them that God will not leave them.  He says once to the Israelites and once to Joshua himself this message: “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).  If we think there’s a chance that maybe this is just a specific situation to the Israelites at the time and we want further proof of God’s refusal to ever turn his back on us, we can look at Christ’s own words.  The last recorded words in Matthew’s Gospel is a comforting promise from Jesus.  When he’s given the Great Commission and is about to ascend into heaven, he says, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

He’s not going anywhere.  God is more loyal than any friend, family member, or iconic quarterback with a big ego.  He doesn’t seek vengeance.  He seeks for all men to be saved through faith in his Son, Jesus, that all may come to the knowledge of his truth.  He has given us a choicel.  We have the ability, if we choose, to turn our backs on him.  But why would we want to?  The LORD will never turn his back on us.