The famous coach of the Green Bay Packers (see above) is famous for saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.” I have heard that all my life, but the strange thing is that Vince Lombardi didn’t ever really say it. What he said was, “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.” Growing up in West Texas where high school football was king, and then with both of my brothers (and both of my wife’s) all going to the University of Texas at Austin, all I knew was either the joy of winning football games, or, to quote ABC sports, “The agony of defeat.” It is a skewed way to look at life and certainly not the way Jesus would have viewed it. I cannot say that when Arkansas wins football games, it doesn’t make me very happy because it does. During football season, I can sit at my computer late at night and follow the games on the internet (I don’t get to see them, it's text not pictures). However, I have learned over the years that whether or not my favorite team wins or loses has no effect whatsoever on my life. I have been an avid fan of Formula One since I was a teenager. I do get to see all the F1 races streaming live on my computer and have been rooting for Lewis Hamilton all year. I rooted for him all last year, but I was no help to him, and he finished second. The picture to the right is of Lewis winning the last race in Spain two weeks ago. He has won two races of the first five, finishing second in two and fourth in one, so he is second in the championship standings at present. But the real reason that I so admire him is that in two races last year he started dead last with twenty-one cars in front of him, and he managed to find a way to work his way up to third place and a spot on the podium.
That’s what Vince Lombardi is talking about in the quote above. Life knocks us to our knees on many occasions, but being on your knees is a good time to talk to God. You all know someone who was knocked down but didn’t give up or give in. Some of the most courageous people I have ever known were suffering from terminal diseases but made their lives into something truly inspiring. There was a Facebook post just yesterday of a young woman with two small children who was thrilled that she was going to be able to live for another ten months instead of just one. Can you imagine being excited that you had ten months to live? She is. What an inspiration. There is a very long list of those who refused to succumb and fought not for themselves but for others. A doctor who treated Ebola patients just died, but he said, right before he died that he would have done it again. Five doctors (four men and a woman) from Tanzania have gone to West Africa to help with the Ebola crisis knowing it was virtually a suicide mission (three of them have died). Lewis Hamilton’s personal life may not be something to emulate, but he showed me that not only would he refuse to quit, he fought back ignoring his team’s instructions and triumphed in the end. I can only hope that his season this year can be a metaphor for my own attempts to bring the light into this darkness that surrounds us. I have been knocked down many times here, disappointed many times, hurt by people back home, and danced with death--other missionaries in the same position have gone home to lick their wounds, but I have stayed. For me, it's just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, but letting God guide my steps. I fall often, but I always get back up and plod along. I've never been poorer, but never been richer. I've never had to suffer as much, but I've never experienced the joy I have here. It's nothing special, it's just doing what I know I've been called to do. I don’t have all the body parts I came with and have added nine very visible scars to a body that wasn’t anything to write home about it at its best. Regardless of my health or the pain I am suffering, I will do what God has asked of me. We don’t have to have stadiums full of fans cheering for us to be victors—we just have to allow God to guide our steps and to use our hands and our voices to bring His message of love, peace, and light to those who struggle in the darkness. Offering yourself to God’s service is winning in the grandest way possible even if no one ever knows about it. It is enough that God knows—and that you do.