The Win/Lose Scenario (Or, When I’m Worried About Being A Loser)

What do you do when success for someone else means failure for you? David had to ponder this question a number of times, starting as a boy, when he fought off lions and bears to protect his flock.

This became a refrain in David’s life. Once he was anointed to be the next king of Israel, this roused King Saul’s jealousy, and Saul made numerous attempts on his life. The Philistines didn’t much care for David either. Sometimes his own people — even his own officials — betrayed him and fought against him. Finally, his own child, Absalom, came against him and drove him from his throne.

In each of these situations, there was no intention of creating a win/win scenario. Former friends and family members turned into mortal enemies. And for them to win, David had to lose. So David had to learn how to handle his fears, sustain his hope, stay strong in faith, and be courageous in battle.

If you read the Psalms that were composed during these periods in his life, a pattern begins to emerge in David’s prayers. He would often follow a version of this pattern:

  1. Lord, I see my situation. I am going to be real with you, God. This situation frightens me. It keeps me up at night. It gives me an upset stomach and high blood pressure. I struggle to calm my troubled thoughts, or to get this situation out of my head, or even to think about anything else.
  2. Lord, I see you. I know you are my God. You are my powerful Deliverer. You are my shield from harm. You have promised to be my Savior from sin, my protection in danger, and my hope in death.
  3. Lord, I see your goodness. We have a track record with each other, God. You have always been kind to me, and sheltered me from harm. You gave me strength to slay the lion and the bear when I was still a little boy — with my bare hands! That was not me, Lord. That was you. Remember what you did for me when Goliath came at me? You sent that very first smooth, round stone into Goliath’s forehead. Remember Saul? Or that time with the Philistines, when they were attacking me? Each time, you helped me. You protected me.
  4. Lord, I see your victory. Others may have their plans to see me fail — to see me stumble and fall. But you have victory in store for me. It may be earthly victory, Lord, if that’s your will. Or it may be eternal victory, if that’s your choice for me. One thing I know about you. You love me as your child. You have a special place in your heart for those who have been humbled. And you will see to it that in the end, justice is done. Because I am your child, I will rise victorious and your name will be glorified.

What a great pattern for any of us to follow when we find ourselves in our own win/lose situation. If you find yourself in that set of circumstances right now, can I urge you to find a quiet place, take several deep breaths, close your eyes, maybe even count to ten, and say,

“Lord, I see my situation… Lord, I see you… Lord, I see your goodness… Lord, I see your victory…

…May your name be glorified, Lord!”

“O LORD, I say to you, “You are my God.” Hear, O LORD, my cry for mercy. O Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer, who shields my head in the day of battle — do not grant the wicked their desires, O LORD; do not let their plans succeed, or they will become proud… May slanderers not be established in the land; may disaster hunt down the violent. I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy. Surely the righteous will praise your name, and the upright will live in your presence.” (Psalm 140:6-8, 11-13, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, December 11, is Esther 1:1 – 2:18, Revelation 2:18 – 3:6 and Psalm 140:6-13.

Header image based on "how I feel inside" by Tinou Bao, CC By 2.0

Unpredictable Outcomes

Trusting God, even when the outcome is unpredictable, is always the right move.

Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego were three friends of Daniel, a Jewish exile in Babylon. The four banished friends were devoted to the Lord, and trusted that God would take care of them.

They had needed to exercise that trust when Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, had drafted them into his royal service. They had been Jewish royalty and nobility. Now they would be servants of their occupier — the very one who had stolen their home from them. They trusted God to guard their footsteps. And that’s what God did.

Later, Nebuchadnezzar made an unreasonable demand of all his advisors, insisting that they should be able to not only interpret a dream he had dreamed, but even tell him what the dream had been in the first place. Daniel trusted God to reveal the dream and its interpretation. And that’s exactly what God did.

Then came an even greater test. Nebuchadnezzar made a huge monstrosity of an idol. Then he told all his officials to bow down and worship it. He ordered that anyone who would not bow down be executed by being thrown into a blazing furnace. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down, wanting to worship only the true God. They trusted God to protect them.

They did not know how God would protect them. They did not know what the outcome in this life would be. But they still trusted that God would deliver them — whether in this life or in the next.

This is true faith — to be confident that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. When we are not sure what the outcome in this life will be, we can still be assured that the outcome in the next life will always be far better than anything we can imagine or dream of.

Perhaps you are currently facing your own furnace right now. You don’t know what the outcome will be. But you can still remain confident that God is able to deliver you from that furnace.

And if he does not? He remains God — a God who wants the best possible eternal outcome for you. He is still your Savior and your Lord. And, through faith in Christ, you remain headed for everlasting life in heaven.

What does a Christ-follower do when the outcome is unpredictable?

They trust God. They put their faith in his grace and his power in all things. And they remain confident that God will deliver them — in this life, or the next.

“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Saturday, November 28, is Daniel 3:13 – 4:18, 2 Peter 2:1-22 and Proverbs 29:1-9.

Lord Jesus, forgive me for the times when I have allowed fear to take over my heart rather than faith. Grant me the trust in you that will give me great courage for the “furnaces” in my life. I want to worship and honor you — and only you — with all of my heart.

Header image based on "furnace flame" by Graeme Maclean, CC By 2.0

Believing Is Seeing

Augustine of Hippo was a fourth and fifth century Christian theologian and philosopher. Viewed as one of the most important “fathers” of the early church, it was said of him that “he established anew the ancient faith.”

Augustine was well-known for his deep thinking. He once wrote: “Faith is to believe what you do not see. The reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” He may well have derived that thought from chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews. It’s a perfect summary of what that chapter teaches.

The truth, however, is that we may not see what we believe right away. And it’s important to know that sometimes we might not ever see the fulfillment of what we believe in this life at all.

This seems ridiculous to many. As humans, we like the tangible and the empirical. We want to see the evidence. And most of the time, if you want us to be truly convinced, we don’t want to just see it, but hear it, taste it, touch it, and if possible, smell it too.

Augustine thought like Moses. And that means he thought differently from the run of the mill person. When the book’s author describes Moses, he points out that he took great risks despite the fact that he could not physically see God. He could only see him through the eyes of faith.

Nevertheless, Moses gave up all the riches and power of being “the prince of Egypt.” He accepted being disrespected and mistreated. He chose the hard path with the people of God, rather than the easy path with their oppressive masters, the Egyptians. Even if it meant disgrace, it was disgrace for the sake of Christ, and he could handle that because he was looking forward to the reward that Christ would win for him.

Moses had the ability to look ahead and anticipate the good things that would come. He relied on God’s words and promises, not his own thoughts and experiences. He kept his eye focused firmly on the promised Messiah, and the forgiveness and eternal life he would bring.

Faith is like a set of binoculars. When you have faith in your heart you see things in a way that you haven’t seen them before.

How about us? Are we ready to trade the tangible for the intangible? Are we prepared to exchange the physical for the spiritual, the seen for the unseen? Are we open to seeing the future through the eyes of faith, and through the prism of God’s words and promises? Are we willing to take up the binoculars of faith so that we can see things we wouldn’t see otherwise?

If we are receptive, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, to trusting God and accepting trouble because of our faith, then we will persevere as Moses did. And like Augustine says, we will see what we believe.

We can’t physically see it now. But we’re good with that, because what we do see is God’s promises. And believing God’s promises is seeing our future and our reward very clearly.

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:24-27, NIV).

Lord Jesus, give me the same eyes of faith that you gave Moses. I want to believe so that I can see.

Our Bible reading for Friday, November 13, is Ezekiel 24:1 – 25:17, Hebrews 11:17-40 and Psalm 124:1-8.

Header image based on "Binoculars Portrait" by gerlos, CC By-SA 2.0

Faith Over Fear

When trouble comes, do you run away from it, or do you run toward it? Does trouble put you on defense, and cause you to back off, or back down? Or does trouble put you on the offense, and spur you to step up, and step forward?

These are important questions for a Christ-follower to answer. That’s why the author of the book to the Hebrews puts the question to his readers.

The Hebrews had started out early in their journey of faith by being the bold ones. They needed a reminder of this, so that they could rediscover their original confidence and endurance: “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering” (Hebrews 10:32, NIV).

The fact was, their boldness had begun to wane, and their faith along with it. Some wanted to make a u-turn and go back to the Judaism they had left. And that’s the whole point of this letter to them. What they now had was superior. Why shrink back from the challenges they were now facing?

Are you sometimes tempted to make a u-turn in life and turn the clock back to a time when you were not a follower of Jesus Christ? Or do you sometimes long for a time when believing seemed easier and you didn’t feel the need to take your faith so seriously — or to exercise it so strenuously? Are the challenges you face to your life of faith causing you to have second thoughts?

Through the letter to the Hebrews, the Holy Spirit reminds us to stand strong in the love and power of God, keep the faith, and claim the crown that Christ has won for us. We are not the kind of people who cut and run.

We are the kind of people who let faith rule over fear. And in the power of him who is faithful to his promises, we endure.

“But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved” (Hebrews 10:39, NIV).

Lord, I repent of the times I allow fear to cause me to want to cut and run, to shrink back and to abandon my faith. Strengthen me by the power of the Spirit through your word and sacraments. Make me bold and remind me that I belong to those who have faith and are saved.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, November 11, is Ezekiel 20:45 – 22:22, Hebrews 10:19-39 and Psalm 123:1-4.

Header image based on "Hebrews 10:23" by Church Iglesia, CC By 2.0

Trapped, or Taken Hold Of

The worst kind of trap is the one you never saw coming. The pain of being caught in the trap is compounded by the huge element of surprise and the question, “How did I get here?”

When I was 13, I was riding my bike over to a friend’s house and came out into a road from behind a fence. I had pulled this maneuver a thousand times. But on this particular day, there was a car coming on the road. At first, I thought I could beat it by passing in front of it. But the bumper caught the rear tire of my bike, spinning me off and mangling the back wheel pretty good. I had some pretty good scrapes and bruises that I got out of it as well.

I got caught. And I got caught by surprise. It was not fun telling my Mom what had happened.

That’s what Paul is instructing Timothy to warn his people about. Only the subject is not bicycle riding. It’s the love of money.

Paul points out that so many people pursue financial gain, thinking that it will give them peace of mind and fill up the hole in their heart. Others pursue wealth because it’s the “measuring stick” they use for determining their identity and self-worth.

There’s another way. Faith in Jesus can give us true peace and contentment. Faith in Jesus establishes our identity and self-worth as a blood-bought child of God, redeemed and adopted through the power of the cross and the empty tomb.

Pursue wealth as the source of our peace, the missing piece in our lives, the foundation of our identity and self-worth and we will find ourselves in the trap. We’ll discover we’re in the path of oncoming ruin and destruction. We’ll realize that our love of money just spun our heads around. We didn’t see what was around the fence, so only too late did we realize we were being foolish and our desires were harmful.

Love and seek money as our ultimate thing, and in place of peace, we’ll find ourselves pierced.

Instead, Paul says, pursue what God holds out to us. Seek the thing that Jesus is already placing into our hands. His righteousness, won via a lifetime of perfect obedience — and now his gift to us. Jesus sends us the gift of the Holy Spirit, who grants us faith, inspires us to love, spurs us on to endurance, and helps us to deal with situations in life with gentle restraint.

In other words, instead of seeking what you don’t have, pursue and battle for what Jesus has already given you. Take hold of that which has taken hold of you.

Ironic, isn’t it? The very best, most valuable things that you could ever fight to get are really already yours in Christ — and by faith they will be yours for eternity!

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (‭‭1 Timothy‬ ‭6:6-12‬, ‭NIV‬‬).

Lord Jesus, take hold of me, of my entire heart and mind. And lead me by the power of your Spirit to take hold of you, and all the blessings of godliness you have in store for me. Help me to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Strengthen me to fight the good fight of faith and to find peace, joy and contentment in all that you have given me.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, October 21, is Jeremiah 46:1 – 47:7, 1 Timothy 6:3-21 and Psalm 119:73-80.

Header image based on "trap" by royalty free, CC By 2.0

Vital Signs

When we are concerned about a person’s physical life, we check their vitals. Do they have a pulse? Can we detect breathing? Do their pupils contract when a light is shined in their eyes?

When we are wondering about a person’s spiritual life, we can look for vital signs, too. Do their eyes light up with the joy of their Savior? Does their prayer life have a pulse? Do they constantly breathe out complaints and curses, or gratitude and hope?

When the Holy Spirit lives inside of us, he lights a fire in our hearts. Fire will always produce heat and light. Faith, like fire, will always produce its effects, too.

Just like you can’t have fire without heat and light, so you can’t have faith without producing the effects of faith — effects like joy, prayer, and gratitude.

That’s why Paul encourages the Thessalonians not to put out the Spirit’s fire. Without the fire, you don’t get the effects of the fire. And without faith, you also don’t get the effects of the faith.

Life. Fire. Faith.

They all work the same way. Snuff them out, and you also snuff out the effects they produce. But keep them going strong and healthy, and you will always get vital signs that reflect that strength and health.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ’s Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19, NIV).

Lord, I know that when I sin and fail to repent, or when I lose touch with your word and sacraments, I move closer to quenching your Spirit. Help me to live a life of devotion to word and sacrament, and to repent of my sins daily. These will keep my faith strong and healthy, and bring me joy, gratitude, and an active prayer life.

Our Bible reading for Monday, October 12, is Jeremiah 25:15 – 26:24, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-28 and Psalm 119:17-24.

Header image based on "Lubbock Heart Hospital, Dec 16-17, 2005" by Mark, CC By-SA 2.0

Sorting Out Treasure from Trash

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” goes the old saying. But it’s equally true to say, “One man’s treasure is another man’s trash.”

We often treasure a good reputation, for instance. We want people to think highly of us. We want to be evaluated by our public persona, our outward acts of goodness, our abilities, our intellect, or our own righteousness.

As a former Pharisee, Paul certainly would have related to this self-actualized approach to life. In fact, such things had at one time been the apostle’s treasure.

But then Paul encountered Christ. He discovered how broken the Pharisee’s system of work-righteousness was, when compared to the grace and mercy of God. And he immediately recognized that he had to trash his old belief system and his former way of life.

Our true treasure is the righteousness of Christ — the righteousness that comes by faith. To toss our own righteousness in the dumpster and gain Christ is the only way to a restored relationship with God.

This is the very heart of the gospel, and the key to finding true peace. We can stop all the striving. We can forget about trying to bridge the gap sin creates by our own power or initiative. How ironic that our goodness gets in the way of our relationship with God just as easily as our sin does!

We have the joy of knowing that Jesus has already done it all. We can throw everything else out — our goodness as well as our sins — and simply focus on treasuring Jesus.

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:7-9, NIV).

Lord, give me the discernment and grant me the strength, so that my spiritual trash never gets in the way of my true treasure, Jesus!

Our Bible reading for Friday, October 2, is Jeremiah 4:10 – 5:31, Philippians 3:1 – 4:1 and Psalm 116:1-11.

Header image based on "Escaped Souls" by Kurt Bauschardt, CC By-SA 2.0