Does God Choose Winners and Losers?

player-praising-god

     I noticed last night at the end of the championship game between Clemson and Alabama that most, if not all, the Clemson players in the post-game interviews (including Coach Swinney himself) invoked God or Christ as the source for their victory.  Later, while I was reading responses to the game on one of the sports forums, a participant asked this question: “I wonder how anyone on the team who is not a Christian or a believer feels about that?”

     As a pastor, I am often asked my opinion on whether God “plays favorites” in sports or in any other aspect of life.  It certainly does not bother me for anyone to give thanks to God for any achievement, but to me the essence of faith, reflected in the teaching of Christ, is the ability to glorify God in the best AND the worst of times.  God does not pick winners and losers in sports or in anything else, and my proof for this in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Christ died for everyone, and in that act of unconditional love gave the gift of grace to all who accept it. 

     In pagan religions, the gods were always choosing winners and losers.  Even in Christianity, there is still a view in the fundamentalist/evangelical streams that if bad things happen to us, God is either punishing us or God is showing us that we lack faith.  While it is true that God “knows the number of the hairs on our heads,” Christ makes it clear that such deep knowledge of our lives is for the sake of love, not of judgment: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12: 1-7)

     In the reformed view of Christianity, glorifying God is sourced in what God has already done for us in Christ – not for what is happening to us while living our lives every day.  Winning and losing is a matter of perspective, defined by the values of the world or our personal values.  Of course, if I played football at the college or pro level, I would be thanking God after every game for simply surviving, but God did not choose Clemson to win this year no more than God chose Alabama to lose this year. 

    The message of Christ is simple – no matter our triumphs or tragedies, our successes or failures, our good days or bad days, God love us, and this is not just a cause for thanksgiving, but a call to share that love with those around us – no matter who wins. 

 

Dr. Mack Sigmon

New Wine or the New Year (Jan. Newsletter)

“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, so both are preserved.” (Luke 9: 14-17)

When Jesus speaks the words that are quoted above, he is responding to a challenge set before him by the disciples of John the Baptist in regards to fasting: “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus responds by describing his followers using two unusual images – “unshrunk cloth” and “new wineskins.” In both cases, Jesus is comparing the new life that he has come to offer to the old life represented by the “old time religion” of his day. The Pharisees totally centered their lives on obedience to the law; the followers of John the Baptist totally centered their lives on John’s baptism of repentance. The problem with both the Pharisees and followers of John is that they saw the law or baptism as the complete embodiment of all God was, is, or will be in the world. The God of the Pharisees and the God of the followers of John was not a living God, a God who could do new and surprising things – a God with whom believers could have a relationship. 

Jesus speaks of a new life in regards to those who follow him, a new life that he described as “new wine” in the gospel of Luke. In the John’s gospel, Jesus changes the ritual water of Jewish purification into wine at the wedding of Cana, which illustrates once again the new life that the Messiah brings into the world. God’s law and John’s baptism were stepping stones into the new life of Jesus, but life in Christ could not be categorized, summarized, or organized into something under the total manipulation of the sinful human heart. In Jesus, we are dealing with a living other, one with whom we relate in the same way we relate to the others we encounter in our lives each day. We never wake up each day saying. “I know exactly how my day will go… I know exactly who I will encounter.” Yet, we often view our Christianity as a static rather than a dynamic part of our lives. Yes, the church does run on a schedule, but we cannot schedule our encounters with Jesus Christ or the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. To say that we worship this hour on this day or we celebrate this season or we practice this sacrament does not mean we confine our Christianity to just those days, seasons, and sacraments.   

Authentic Christianity is about one’s heart-to-heart encounter with the living God – a  relationship more real, more profound, and more effective than the closest relationships we experience in this world, including husband/wife or parent/child. The “new wine” of which Christ speaks is the new life of living with Christ in the same way that the first disciples lived with their Lord – they spoke to him as he spoke to them; they learned from him every day; they observed the miracle of Christ’s love working in the lives of others, then they shared that miracle by living out Christ’s love in their lives.

As we enter the New Year, Christ invites us to become new wineskins, filled with the Holy Spirit and its meaningful life. Repentance is part of this, as is obedience to the law of Christ’s love and the practices of our worship, but both must only serve to lead us to the center of our faith – our living relationship with the Son of God. With Christ we cannot possibly know what to expect, but we can live in expectation, because every day, every moment, is new and different; every moment we are called to be more like our Lord than the moment before. This is a radical change in our way of thinking and our way of living. It means that we live to change the lives of others. Are we ready for the radical life of being a Christian in 2017? This community is going to need us more than ever – all of us, in all the ways that Christ calls us to serve. If we make this commitment, it will be so much more than a happy New Year – it will provide a joyous new wine for all the lives we touch.

                                                                                                              Dr. Mack