Winning And Losing

Clayton_Kershaw_2010This past week has been filled with sports for someone like me who follows most sports and cheers for the teams in the LA area. Oh, and a Denver Broncos fan, too.

We had two teams in the Major League Baseball playoffs, USC football played on Saturday and a few hours later UCLA played as well. Then on Sunday the Broncos played in the afternoon.

The results of the eight games were mixed. First the Angels, after losing the opening game of their series against Kansas City in overtime, got swept out of the playoffs. Next the Dodgers, after taking a 6-1 lead behind the probable Cy Young Award winner, Clayton Kershaw, ended up losing their opening game, 10-9.

At the same time, USC lost the game against Arizona St. after leading most of the way when they gave up a “hail Mary” touchdown as time ran out. UCLA, having crushed Arizona St. last week, faced Utah. They trailed most of the game, took the lead late in the fourth quarter, then gave up a field goal in the last seconds and lost.

So when does the winning start? Well, the Dodgers came back in their game two and won to even their series with St. Louis. Then the Broncos came through yesterday to hand the Arizona Cardinals their first loss of the season. Still, that’s a lot of losing in just a short period of time.

But here’s the truth about winning and losing: it’s transient. The team that wins in February will begin a new season in September and have to do it all over again. There is no permanent winner—at least not when we’re talking about sports or business or the lottery or contests or anything else you might expect to find a winner.

The Heisman Trophy winner receives the accolades for his accomplishment, but the next year either returns to school or starts a career as a rookie football player or as a newbie in a different field. In other words, people won’t pay him for life because he won the Heisman Trophy in 2014.

In that respect, wins and losses are equal. Once they are over, they are memories. Sure, wins are most likely happy memories and losses may be painful, but here’s the truth. What lasts is what a person learns through the experience.

Players can learn more through the experiences of winning and losing then can fans, I would think. Fans are emotionally invested but incapable of affecting the outcome of a game. Maybe the greatest lesson for a fan is to hold games loosely. After all, only one team will walk away as the World Series champs.

Most teams when they celebrate with a parade down their city streets end up making some sort of statement about the next year—usually something like, Let’s do this again next year. In other words, they understand another season awaits in which the just-completed championship win will mean nothing.

So why do we try to win video games or chess matches or employee-of-the-year prizes or bridal-shower games or . . . you name it? Winning validates our abilities or our emotional connection or city association with a team. But because of the nature of winning and losing, we’re quickly right back where we were, wondering again if we’re good enough, smart enough, talented enough.

As the fans of the New England Patriots. After getting blown out by Kansas City a week ago, fans and media pundits were questioning whether or not their highly touted coach and quarterback could still get it done. Was Tom Brady over the hill, they asked? Would the coach consider a change at that position? Of course all those questions went away when the Patriots dominated Cincinnati Sunday night.

So what’s the point? Winning and losing are both temporal. They need to be held with an open hand. A false view of winning leads to pride and a false view of losing leads to despair, which is really the flip side of pride. Both are exaggerated views of self.

The only thing that lasts is what we do for the kingdom of God. The rest ends up being the wood, hay, and stubble Scripture says will burn up. The eternal things are good works as simple as giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty stranger.

Those things God promises to reward, and His “well done, good and faithful servant, last for eternity.

In the end, the only winning that matters is that which Jesus Christ accomplished in His work at the cross where He triumphed over sin and death, over His enemies, over guilt and the law. As Corrie ten Boom loved to say, Jesus is Victor.

Being His follower is the only sure thing out there. We can’t be sure if we’ll have a job tomorrow or if we’ll arrive home safely after work or if we have cancer cells growing in our body or will get bit by a mosquito with West Nile Virus or will fall and break an ankle or a wrist trying to stop our fall. We expect things to go the way we consider “normal”—without glitches or interruptions or anomalies. And God graciously gives us what we need day after day, even as He gave manna to the people of Israel six out of seven days for forty years!

But there are those days when we’re out of water or a river separates us from where we’re going or giants are in the land or thick walls obstruct us from what we plan to accomplish. In those instances, we need to keep our perspective. God is still the Victor. The circumstances that appear daunting or even “terminal” do not change who God is or what His Son has done.

Winning and losing both, even in things as trivial as MLA playoff games, give us an opportunity to remember what’s eternal, what real winning looks like (that would be the sinless Son of God hanging on a cross for our benefit).

And you thought watching sports was just a fun thing to do! 😉

Published in: on October 6, 2014 at 5:47 pm  Comments Off on Winning And Losing  
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Suffering Humiliating Losses

women's basketball_2009_free-throwIn my playing and coaching days, I’ve had my share of humiliating losses. A handful pop into mind without any effort. There was the college basketball game I played in against our arch rivals. At 5’6” I was my team’s center, going up against a girl who was 6’1” or 6’2”. As I recall, the final score was 72-12.

Of course, the losses I’m talking about weren’t on a big stage with millions of people watching. In fact, there are probably more people who learned about the humiliating loss I just mentioned from reading this blog post than from watching in the stands that day.

Not so for my poor Denver Broncos who suffered one of the all time humiliating losses yesterday in the Super Bowl. After having set records for points scored and touch down passes in a season, they managed only eight points.

Tim Tebow could have added to his reasons for being glad he doesn’t have a contract (see Super Bowl commercials), that he doesn’t have to deal with humiliating Denver or Jet losses. (See Denver’s 2011 round two game against New England and New Jersey’s entire 2012 season.)

In some ways, all teams, except the champion Seattle Seahawks, suffered humiliating losses since they either didn’t make the playoffs or ended their season on a loss. Oakland, for example, suffered a humiliating season, as did the Houston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jets didn’t do much better, and Buffalo is . . . well, Buffalo—always promising and improved, but rarely reaching the playoffs.

But the playoff teams, from New Orleans and San Francisco to New England and Kansas City, all ended in a bitter loss that will stick with them throughout the off season.

Be that as it may, losing from the first snap in the Super Bowl has got to be a record. I wonder what the Christians on the Broncos are thinking. What does God want them to learn from this experience?

I know when I was playing and losing, I was mostly happy just because I enjoyed being on the court. I never intended to play college basketball. We didn’t have a team in my freshman or sophomore year, and most of us had no experience other than p. e. We had coaches that specialized in softball, so we weren’t getting a great deal of instruction. The point being, I was having fun even when we lost. The humiliating loss was harder to take, but I could say at the end that I tried my best and certainly none of us quit.

As a coach, the humiliating losses were ones that surprised me. I thought we were going to play better and didn’t.

There were some other really lopsided losses, but those were in a tournament when my high school freshmen went up against stronger, older teams, and it was clear we were over matched and probably should never have been put in the tournament in the first place. Those were easier to take, especially when the opponents started giving my girls pointers right there on the court during the game! 😉

I remember one coach when I was coaching middle school who used a full court press even when her team was up by thirty points. Those losses didn’t feel humiliating as much as infuriating. Their coach then wondered why the team she faced in the playoffs went into a ball-control stall (we didn’t play with a shot clock) even though they were down by fifteen points. None of the other coaches had trouble understanding. That other team was doing their best to avoid a humiliating loss. They could take a loss because the opponent was better. They just didn’t want to lose by thirty points or more.

Here’s what I take from blowout losses: they may or may not be humiliating. Whether they are or not depends on why you’re playing, who’s watching, how much effort you gave.

For the Christian, I think it’s key to keep in mind that we are always to be playing (or working) for God, that He is the one who is watching, that He is the one who will strengthen our weakness (in other words, when we’ve done our best, God can turn our effort into whatever success He wishes).

First, we are to serve God. Ephesians 6:7 says, “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” This was not addressed to athletes but to “slaves,” those in the Greek culture who were indentured servants to work at the behest of their masters. But the masters weren’t to be the ones these Christians worked for. God was the one for whom they worked.

Paul elaborated in his letter to the Colossians:

Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. (3:22-24)

There you have it in a nutshell. Our efforts should not be for the applause of people but because we revere our King eternal. He’s the one watching and He’s the one supplying the strength. And this is true for us work-a-day folks as much as it is for athletes.

Published in: on February 3, 2014 at 6:31 pm  Comments (1)  
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It’s Inspiring To Lose?

Al Davis, the former owner of the Oakland Raiders, was famous, not just for his knowledge of football and his iron-fisted rule of his team, but for his attitude toward winning. His statement “Just win, baby,” was his version of the adage “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

The Raider theme during their short stay in Los Angeles was “Commitment to excellence,” but seemingly Davis ranked winning even higher. Lots of athletes and coaches, and even fans, do.

I love to win too, and I enjoy watching the teams I cheer for win. Consequently, when the Denver Broncos, who I’ve been behind my entire adult life, went on a six-game winning streak, I was pretty happy. But the icing on the cake was that quarterback Tim Tebow, outspoken Christian, was engineering these victories, at least in part.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when the Broncos lost first to New England December 18, then to Buffalo last Saturday by the lopsided score of 40-14. Suddenly the march to the play-offs, led by the Christian kid who pundits were beginning to say was for real after all, was in serious doubt. But worse, Tim threw four interceptions, two that were run back for touchdowns. Tebow magic? Nowhere in sight.

But of course there never was any magic — just a young man playing hard, inspiring his teammates to do the same.

So what was his take on losing, especially two in a row, especially when he had such a bad game? From his press conference:

Something my mom taught me long ago, give the praise to the lord and give your disappointments to the lord, because that’s the number one way I can deal with it, because tomorrow I still get to celebrate my savior’s birth, and ultimately I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds my future and that’s something that gives me a lot of peace and a lot of comfort when there might be a lot of turbulence around me.

The sports wrap show I was watching aired the clip of Tim saying those lines, then the broadcaster sort of shook his head, and said, “Tim Tebow,” as if that’s all the explanation needed to make sense of something so unusual coming from an athlete programed to win.

But to Tim Tebow life is bigger than football, bigger than winning games. He sees the eternal picture and wants above all else to make an impact for Christ.

I wonder what would happen if more of us — bankers, waitresses, plumbers, librarians — would be as open about our faith as Tim Tebow is, win or lose.

Suddenly I don’t think that loss last Saturday was such a bad thing. Now fans know Tim isn’t a fair-weather Christian. Now reporters see how someone who believes Jesus Christ is his Lord and Savior, not his ATM, responds to adversity.

If you’re interested, here’s the entire post-game interview. Pretty inspiring.

Published in: on December 28, 2011 at 6:55 pm  Comments Off on It’s Inspiring To Lose?  
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Used To Losing

This weekend some football coach or player was being interviewed, and he said something like, Losing hurts more than winning feels good. This, he concluded, was what separated champions from the pack.

I don’t think so.

My mind went first to my growing up years. As the youngest in my family, I didn’t experience a lot of winning, whether it was board games or the outdoor games kids used to play, like Mother May I or tag. Later my family got a ping pong table, and playing that game became one of my all-time favorite activities, though I seldom won.

Why? Why would I play and be content to lose? Well, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t content to lose, I just did it very well. 😉

Actually losing pushed me to improve.

Later when I became a coach, there were losses my teams took that I knew were a good thing. By losing we faced our own vulnerability. We knew where we needed to improve. And we had more drive to get better.

Easy victories can be deadly, I think. They can foster pride. After all, how good am I if I won so convincingly with such little effort?

That kind of thinking is sure to bring defeat down the road.

Easy wins can also mask problems. How do I know where I am weak if what I am doing seems to be working so well? How do I know what area to spend extra time practicing and improving?

In many respects losing is like the suffering the Bible indicates will be a part of the Christian’s experience. This from Paul:

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Phil 3:8-10 – emphasis mine).

The point is, however, that losing or suffering is not to be without purpose. For me as a child, I learned with every loss. I grew in determination and steadfastness. Losses gave me something that winning couldn’t. So too with suffering.

In the passage above, Paul spelled it out clearly: he said he suffered the loss of all things “so that I may gain Christ.” Wow! Gaining Christ seems well worth losing out on some temporal pleasure.

Especially because I’ve left out the best part. I mean, being conformed to Christ’s death is the “taking up the cross” part of discipleship, but it’s not an end in itself. Here’s what Paul said next:

in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.

I know it may sound strange, but I’m thankful for all that losing I did when I was younger. I can’t help but think God has used it to help me understand His application of suffering. Not that winners can’t learn the value of suffering, too, but it might be a little harder for them, especially if they hate losing more than they love winning.

Me, I love the winning part and nothing can be sweeter than gaining Christ!

Published in: on September 26, 2011 at 6:20 pm  Comments Off on Used To Losing  
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