Church is for winners. Right?
Coffee is for closers and you should always be closing. The legendary Glengarry Glen Ross quote is top-of-mind (most likely because I am drinking coffee, thus I am a closer, right?) and it certainly encapsulates one of the most confusing aspects of attending church. The stereotypical church is filled with winners, that is, with those who have it all together, those who have overcome, those who are more than conquerors. So, we're talking about winners. What you are telling me is that church is for winners, right?
Not so fast.
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The Overcoming Story
I grew up in a church culture that held fast to the verses in the Bible that proclaimed that "we are more than conquerors" and that being with Jesus is being on the "winning side." Many fiery preachers proclaim that they had "read the end of the book" and we are victorious in the end.
Hooting and hollering often followed.
In my Pentecostal upbringing we believe that the Holy Spirit empowers Christians to go complete Christ's commission to make disciples. The Greek word for power in Acts 1:8 is frequently emphasized as a dynamite-like power which breaks down strongholds and disrupts the establishment. It is meant to stir up activity from passivity. Think of it as a sacred 5-hour energy shot. Practical spirituality at its finest.
And why not? This world beats people down. The odds are stacked against all of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. A message of empowerment yields hope for the hopeless. Is there power in positivism? Envisioning yourself as a winner makes you one, right? Believe and you will achieve.
I guess preaching what sells makes you a winner too.
Everybody wants to be a winner.
I'm pretty sure that few people want to be labeled a loser. And those that embrace the loser label may have ulterior motives or are merely exploiting a sociological niche. We don't get in to business to fail. We don't play sports to lose. We don't start churches and websites so that nobody will read them. All of us want some modicum of success. We set goals and try to achieve them.
Striving toward and achieving goals that are commonly and collectively held by a group can bond people to each other. Winning even becomes attractive to those who feel like they never win. They join successful groups to become winners by association. This happens is grade school all the way through adulthood. Political science hinges on this principle. If you can gather a small mass of voters and make the candidate look like the prevailing person then more voters will be attracted to them despite the candidates putrid history of racism, sexism, and greed. People so desperately want to be associated with winning they abandon their once heralded principles. Sad.
Now, this sociological phenomenon has not escaped the church and its selective emphasis on topical sermons. Preaching and teaching the ultimate triumph - both now and throughout eternity - is a strong magnet to all who yearn to be winners. The Osteen Empire, the prosperity gospel (Crefflo Dollar, Robert Tilton, et. al), and the Rapture Enthusiast all extrapolate their ideals through the idea of success and being on the winning team. It certainly is popular. But is it accurate?
The Bible is Full of Winners
If you went to Sunday School then you are probably familiar with these stories. They are portrayed as stories of triumph and are applied that the same power is available to all of us today.
- Noah built the ark
- Joseph rose to power in Egypt
- Moses successfully led the Exodus
- Joshua and Caleb took down Jericho (not Y2J). Rahab was a big winner in this story, too!
- David slayed Goliath and won many battles
- Elijah called down fire from heaven and defeated the prophets of Baal
Certainly there are times when those who are obedient to God overcome some pretty insurmountable odds and emerge victorious. But do these stories provide adequate proof that should build our lives upon the idea that if we follow God we will always be winners?
The same Bible is full of losers.
Lets take the same characters and look deeper.
- Noah got drunk and was raped by his son
- Joseph could not overcome some ridiculous accusations
- Moses messed up and was not allowed to enter the Promised Land
- David ended up a murderer and committing adultery.
- Elijah was so scared of Jezebel he hid in a cave.
The same people who win are also the same people who lose. I refuse to believe that you can read the entire Bible and proclaim that we are guaranteed to exclusively win and never lose. Even God's chosen people, the Israelites, spent hundreds of years in the cycle of sin, slavery, solitude, and salvation (read about it in the book of Judges). 'Round and 'round they went. Sometimes winners and sometimes losers. Always God's people.
The Church is for winning and losing
Here is an often forgotten tenet of Christianity - the admission of being a trapped loser. Jesus' saving power comes at the admission of him being the Christ, the Messiah that came to save us when we could not save ourselves. The power of sin was an enslaving master and its chains could not be broken by any other means or methods. Sin goes beyond addiction recovery and relational mending. It is at the core of our identity and humanity - and we need rescued from it.
Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection is the event that allowed all of us to be moved from slaved to saved. It is overcoming and it is a victory. We need to rejoice the fact that the victory of sin has been won!
But we are not the winners. At least we cannot claim to be, because we didn't fight the battle. Jesus did. He is the victor and we get the fringe benefits. And since Jesus' arrival here on earth, his Kingdom is being established in the beautiful tension of now and not yet.
Our identity as winner and loser is also stuck in this same tension. We have been redeemed but still wrestle with the chains of our own sins and the sins of others while we await Jesus' glorious return. We have won, ultimately, but we will continue to lose until that day. The command to rejoice with those who are rejoicing and weep with those who are weeping serves as our reminder of the tension between having won and feeling loss.
Coffee is for closers and those who can't close.
I haven't closed a single deal and I count myself as the least qualified person to give spiritual guidance. My failures are numerous and continuous. Yet, I am enjoying my coffee as I type these few words (ok, its more than a few).
Empty Church will always strive to be a church that embraces our winning and losing. A place to confess our sins and praise our triumphant Savior. To live in the pain of now and look forward to the glory that is being revealed in us - both presently and moving forward in eternity. We will proclaim that Jesus' power can break your chains, but we will remind you that you still will feel their effects. We will deal with life together. It's not the greatest marketing message, but we feel it's the truth.