(Preached at FBC Nitro, 2/5/2012)
Just a few weeks ago, the Internet and sports channels were buzzing with stories about Tim Tebow. Tim Tebow, in case you may not be aware, is the quarterback for the Denver Broncos. He is very open about his faith in Jesus Christ, and giving God the glory for anything he accomplishes. Tebow-mania was at a high point immediately after the Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime. In game after game Tebow’s talent shined. In game after game he gave God glory and thanks for all that happened. Tim Tebow was a winner, and everyone likes a winner, everyone wants to be on the side of a winner. The tide of popularity kept rising – then came the Bronco’s game against the New England Patriots. Tebow fans may not want to talk about it, but we need to talk about it. Tebow and the Denver Broncos were routed 45-10 by the Patriots. I searched for articles about Tim Tebow after this game, and had a tough time finding anything. Tebow was now a loser by most people’s standards, and the media turned its attention elsewhere. I then located one single piece by Yahoo Sports:
Midnight came, the Denver Broncos had left their locker room and only one player was left in the corridors of Gillette Stadium. Tim Tebow wore an untucked pink dress shirt and a matching tie hanging loosely around the neck. He looked more like a teenager outside a high school dance than a national sensation. A frigid wind blew between the concrete walls, everybody huddled in coats except for the man himself, who smiled despite a lack of outerwear.
He never changed, that’s what the Broncos players came to notice about their quarterback who’d become a story like none of them ever lived through before. Even as the wind howled and people in coats shivered, Tebow smiled and chatted with a young man named Zach McLeod who’d suffered a traumatic brain injury while playing football.
Tebow embraced McLeod’s family and friends. He posed for pictures. He blinked as each camera flashed. Even on his worst night, time stood still.The New England Patriots had trampled him, flummoxing his team 45-10 in an AFC divisional matchup with changing defenses. They’d swarmed through his line and knocked him to the ground. Late in the game, as the Patriots’ fans sang “Teeeeeee-boowwwww. Teeeeeee-booowwwww,” he had been sacked as often (five times) as he had completed passes. And given that New England quarterback Tom Brady threw six touchdown passes, it was a damning statistic.
And now he was about to leave the stadium with as many unanswered questions as when he’d arrived. The best sign the Broncos have that this is the quarterback they can move forward with came in this hallway, where he stood in the frigid air, behaving as if it wasn’t the worst day of his life.
“Oh yeah, he’s a resilient guy,” linebacker Von Miller said as he dressed in the warmth of the locker room. “He’s a very consistent guy.”
There is no shame in being crushed by the Patriots in the playoffs. The list of quarterbacks who have suffered similar fates in this building in important games is illustrious. More will walk away broken, but their tests always were measured in how they came back.
This is how it will be with Tebow as well.
He smiled as he talked about the future. He told of getting to the offseason and working hard in weight and workout programs. He talked of stability and consistency and about meeting the biggest challenges and surviving. He said that toward the end of the game, quarterback coach Adam Gase and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy told him to look around the stadium, at the emptying seats, the joyous Patriots players, the scoreboard glowing with a bitter defeat.
They said he should “take it all in.” Absorb this defeat. See what it looks like. How it feels. Understand the moment and be better prepared to handle it next time.
Tebow’s answers afterward offered no great insight into his thinking. Then again, what could he say? The Patriots had given him nothing. The holes on this Broncos team – inexperience and a lack of playmakers – were exposed, and unlike last week when he found ways to take advantage of Pittsburgh’s aggressive defense, Tebow generated nothing against New England. It was sack after sack. Incompletion after incompletion. And a whole lot of handing the ball off.
…As the group in the hallway finally broke up and his parents gave him hugs, Tebow pulled his bag over his shoulder. The wind continued to blow and it seemed even colder than moments before. He smiled quickly then turned and disappeared behind a fence, toward the team bus and a future almost as uncertain as when he arrived.”
In that moment, Tim Tebow was the loser. Yet in his consistency and in his compassion in the midst of defeat, he glorified God in a way that no victory could accomplish. It’s strange that in our society being called a loser is the ultimate insult. We may even hear people saying, “Call me a liar or call me a cheat, but don’t call me a loser.” In our society we want to win. Winning means we are a success. Losing means we suck. No one wants to be a loser. If we are brutally honest, the saying, “it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” doesn’t mean anything to us. What matters is winning. The thing is, we all play the role of a loser at one time or another in our lives. What we need to see from our Scripture for this morning is that God uses losing in a far more powerful way than He does winning. When it comes to following Jesus, there is tremendous power in losing. So when you are loser, what next? Based on our passage, there are at least three things God offers us in the midst of loss.
Most scholars believe Psalm 51 was written immediately after Nathan had confronted David about his sin with Bathsheba. David thought he had won in a major way – he privately lusted after another woman who wasn’t his wife, he sent for her and had sex with her outside of marriage, then pulled off what he was sure was the perfect cover-up for his “indiscretions” – he arranged for her husband to be killed in battle, then once he was dead he took Bathsheba and married her. To everyone else but David and Bathsheba, things were great. David continued to be heralded as the winner, being the victor in battle after battle for Israel. Then God speaks to the prophet Nathan, and Nathan confronts David about his sin. David is crushed. The image of a winner has suddenly been lost. He is now transparent as an adulterer and a murderer. In the depths of this loss and grief over the horrible sins he has committed, he writes Psalm 51.
So, first of all, when you are the loser, God offers clarity. Listen to David’s words,
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
There is no fidgeting here, no trying to escape his own responsibility. The important things in life have become crystal clear. One successful businessman shared his own story when suddenly he found himself confined to a hospital bed:
I came to realize that I no longer really cared for what the world chases after, such as how much money you have in the bank and how many cars are parked in the garage. As it says in Ecclesiastes, chasing after these things is like chasing after the wind, anyway. Suddenly the rat race became vanity to me, utter vanity. I felt naked before God. If I died, I would take none of the stuff with me. All that really mattered ultimately was my relationship with the Lord, my relationship with family and friends. If it weren’t for the loss of my health, I could have wasted the rest of my life chasing achievements and acquiring more transitory things.
God offers us tremendous clarity in the midst of our loss. When we are the loser, we find ourselves with a much greater ability to see things from God’s perspective rather than our own. The Apostle Paul says, “…I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 9-10).
Then, when you are the loser, God offers purity. Verses 7-12 of our passage say,
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
When we have victory after victory, when the good times are rolling for us, we tend to get sloppy. We let down our guard, our commitment to God loses its edge. We see it happen in David’s life in 2 Samuel 11:1. He gets lazy, he takes his eye off his focus on being a man after God’s own heart. 2 Samuel 11:1 tells us, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.” David was in the wrong place at the wrong time – kings were supposed to be with their troops in battle. David chose to lounge around the palace. He got sloppy spiritually. As it happened with David then, so it happens with us today. We back off our Bible reading, we find other things to do that are more important than going to church, we become too busy to pray. The victories for a time, we do well financially, academically, physically, emotionally, even relationally. We may not even realize we have gotten sloppy because the process is so gradual, but when the loss and pain hits, the clarity brings everything in focus and the cleansing of God follows. Not everything bad that happens to us is a result of blatant sin as was the case with David, but God offers purity in every trial we encounter and every loss we incur. David here could have shaken his fist in the face of God and lashed against Him for not allowing him to be like other kings and take married women and the lives of others at will. Instead David looks to God and asks for refinement in the midst of his pain. The next time you are in the midst of loss, or if you are dealing with some kind of loss right now, ask God to show you how you can grow from it. Ask God how He would choose to purify you through it.
Dr. Ben Carson is the director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive, for all of his accomplishments in pediatric neurosurgery. In his book, “Take the Risk,” he shares a story from his childhood that almost ended his career before it could ever begin.
One day, as a 14-year-old in ninth grade, I was hanging out at the house of my friend Bob, listening to his radio, when he suddenly leaned over and dialed the tuner to another station. I’d been enjoying the song playing on the first station, so I reached over and flipped it back. Bob switched stations again.
A wave of rage welled up. Almost without thinking, I pulled out the pocketknife I always carried and, in one continuous motion, flicked open the blade and lunged viciously right at my friend’s stomach. Incredibly, the point of the knife struck Bob’s large metal buckle and the blade snapped off in my hands.
Bob raised his eyes from the broken piece of metal in my hand to my face. He was too surprised to say anything. But I could read the terror in his eyes.
“I…I…I’m sorry!” I sputtered, then dropped the knife and ran for home, horrified by the realization of what I’d just done.
I burst into our empty house, locked myself in the bathroom, and sank to the floor, miserable and frightened. I could no longer deny that I had a severe anger problem, and that I’d never achieve my dream of being a doctor with an uncontrollable temper.
I admitted to myself there was no way I could control it by myself. “Lord, please, you’ve got to help me,” I prayed. “Take this temper away! You promised that if I ask anything in faith, you’ll do it. I believe you can change me.”
I slipped out and got a Bible. Back on the bathroom floor, I opened to the Book of Proverbs. The words of Proverbs 16:32—[“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city”]—convicted me, but also gave me hope.
I felt God telling me that although he knew everything about me, he still loved me… That because he made me, he was the only one who could change me… And that he would.
Gradually I stopped crying, my hands quit shaking, and I was filled with the assurance that God had answered my prayer. Uncontrolled anger has never again been a threat to me or those around me. God has provided and will provide whatever strength I need to control my anger.
When you are the loser, God offers purity.
Then, when you are the loser, God offers unity. Verses 13-19 of Psalm 51 say,
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
After the clarity and after the purity, we see David being re-united with the people of God to serve and to worship. He comes together with them once again. If you find yourself isolated from God’s people, you are most likely in trouble spiritually. God can use loss to get you back on track. Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” How often you meet together with God’s people for service and worship is a good indicator of where you are spiritually. We don’t want to admit it, especially if we have drifted from close ties with the fellowship, but throughout the Bible we see it. God Himself lives in community. He has designed us to live in a community of faith. It may be that only a loss will allow us to grasp just how important being joined together with God’s people is. When you are the loser, God offers unity.
There is power in losing, power that we will never experience in winning. Jesus says in Matthew 16:25, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” So if you haven’t experienced a significant loss lately, take an intentional one. Find something that is really important to you, and give it away to someone else. Lose a bag of groceries to a food pantry. Lose a debt someone owes you by forgiving it. Lose an hour during the week and attend Bible study. Lose some of your reputation by choosing to reconcile with someone who has slandered you. Also, for the things that are important to you, hold them with an open hand. Realize that the God who allowed you to find them may allow you to lose them. If and when it happens, let them go gracefully and experience God’s new work in you. Anybody can find the benefits in winning. It takes a man or a woman of God however, to find the benefits in losing. Will you be that man or woman today?