A Passion for Winning

Several weeks ago many of us sat glued to our TV sets as we watched the Super Bowl. During the game you could see the desire for winning on the faces of the players on both teams.

You could see the passion for winning on the faces of the spectators in the stands. It was as if at that moment nothing else really mattered to the players and to the fans, but winning.

I'm a big Maryland basketball fan and as I watch the team play I can see the desire to win is prevalent on the minds of the basketball players and their coach Gary Williams. So much so that Gary's passion for winning drove him to the hospital several years ago.

The students get into the game so much they are whipped into a frenzy when a long three-point shot is made or when a slam-dunk is hammered home.

Well I too am a very competitive person, although I would like to think I've calmed down over the past 10 years or so.

But before my calm period took hold I was very competitive in all sports participated in. One of the sports I enjoy playing is volleyball. Before Susan and I had kids we used to play on a co-ed volleyball team together.

Now one lesson I learned was, a husband and wife playing on the same team may not be such a great idea, but nevertheless we did. Well one night we were playing a very good team and winning the match was key for us getting into the playoffs. That night I was playing pretty hard, looking to spike the ball at every opportunity, wanting desperately to not only win, but to dominate the other team. I was obsessed with winning; to the point I was diving on the floor after balls and so on.

During a time out Susan strongly suggested I calm down reminding me, "it was only a game and that the goal was to have fun, not just to win the game."

I immediately fired back and said, "If winning doesn't matter then why are we keeping score." Well the rest of the night is a blur now, but I'm sure the conversation didn't end after that time out. And it was probably a long ride home as well.

The point is as humans we have a deep passion for winning, perhaps to varying degrees but we like to win. We are competitive in all aspects of life whether it be sports, business, bingo, war, you name it, we want to win!

We want to be viewed as winners, and successful in the eyes of our peers and friends. And of course this need to win leads some to unethical and immoral practices, cheating, and so on, just so one can say they've won.

You may remember Tanya Harding who used force to try to rid herself of her competition in Olympic ice-skating. And every year we learn of athletes who take steroids to get that slight edge, which hopefully will take them over the top.

Politicians, bent on winning, use negative practices to tear down others during debates or campaigns. Leaders of the world's countries suppress the messages of reform out of fear of losing personal power. So like many aspects of life, winning can be either a positive or a negative experience.

Well today I want to focus on winning as presented to us by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians.

Paul, in our Epistle reading today expressed a clear passion for winning. His passion was not self-focused, but rather included making all people winners in the eyes of the Lord.

In his mind, Paul was running a race against time. He believed the second coming of Christ was close at hand, and that people needed to be moving towards Christ immediately in order to receive eternal life.

This was such a passion of Paul's that he became, "a slave to everyone." To the Jews he became like a Jew, to win the Jews for Christ. To those under the law he became like someone under the law, to win disciples for Christ.

To those not having the law, he became like them so they might receive Jesus. To the weak Paul became like them to help them become strong in Christ.

Paul became all things to all people so that some might see the light of Christ and be saved. And just so there's no confusion, when I say Paul became all things to all people, I mean Paul sought to understand the people he met so that he could be more effective ministering to them.

Can you imagine what God's kingdom would be like if we approached spreading, proclaiming, and living the Word of God with the same passion that we have for winning sports events or reaching the top in our business endeavors.

In the context of first Corinthians, Paul offers us several important principles for ministry, which we ought to employ as individuals and as Christ's church. And these principles are every bit as important today as they were in the time of Paul.

The first principle calls us to make others feel accepted. Sometimes this can be a difficult thing to do. I think it's safe to say that we don't purposely go out of our way to make people feel unaccepted or unworthy. At least I'd like to believe that's the case.

But nevertheless, the truth is sometimes we do, whether we realize it at the time or not. We may not realize we are being exclusive or unaccepting, but to others it may seem that way, and we need to be aware of these circumstances.

If we're not careful we can become so interested in developing what Tommy Tenney calls a "comfortable cult." Meaning we are at ease with our comfortable building, our comfortable pews, and our comfortable circle of friends, to the point where we forget about the hundreds of discontented, wounded, and dying people who pass by our comfortable church every day.

And frankly, if we ignore these folks and don't keep trying to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ, then God sure wasted a lot of blood on Calvary.

Are we a welcoming church? Do we accept others as they are? The second principle involves getting to know others and being sensitive to there needs and concerns.

There are many hurting people in our community. I can't imagine what it must be like to be hurting and to not know Christ. Without Christ there is no hope, and I can't imagine living a life without hope.

Hope and Jesus go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other.

But there are thousands of people who live without hope, many walk or drive by this building with regularity. We need to be a beacon of hope, to be seen as a place where the spirit of the Lord reigns above all else, and a sanctuary where one can find peace.

To this end we need to better understand the needs of those in our community. This was Paul's goal as he sought to be like those he ministered to. He wanted to be more than just empathetic to their needs; he wanted to get to know them so he could be a more effective minister to them.

This is our mission, to understand the needs and concerns of those in our community so that we can be effective ministers to them, helping them come into a relationship with the hope of the world, Jesus Christ.

The third principle Paul's speaks to is the need to be looking for opportunities to tell others about Christ.

We live in a spiritually thirsty world right now. You can't tell me people aren't thirsty for God when they wear crystals around their necks, lay down hundreds of dollars a day to listen to so called gurus, and call physics to the tune of billions of dollars per year.

These folks are thirsty for spiritual meaning and are looking beyond the church to find it. Or worse yet, they are involved in a church and still can't find the depth of spiritual understanding and inspiration they seek.

We have a special message, we have the truth, we have the living water, which will quench their spiritual thirst.

We must create opportunities to tell others about Christ. And when opportunities arise we need to take advantage of them, not in a coercive way, but in a loving Christ-like way.

Christ didn't say if you feel like it pick up you cross and follow me, he said simply pick up your cross. Jesus didn't say if you feel like it go and make disciples, he said GO. In other words, helping others come to Christ is not just something we are to do if we feel like it, it's an obligation.

And our last principle calls us to live the faith we profess. It's just not enough to speak the words of faith we must live them. I'm convinced those who live the faith, and I mean really live the faith 24 hours a day, seven days a week, not just one hour on Sunday mornings, do more for winning disciples then any one single act we can engage in.

If you're wondering what you can do as a disciple to help win people to Christ, begin by actively living the Christian faith. As you do, God will lead you into ministry.

Our scouts here today strive to live by a higher standard, and pledge to live by the scout law. And as they live by the scout law they are very much living a Christian life.

Scouts strive to be: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. All very much Christian principles. We all ought to incorporate the scout law in how we live.

Paul's passion was centered on winning disciples for Christ. Paul's desire was to preach the word of God and to help people come to receive Christ before it was too late.

So as you can see winning from a Christian perspective isn't about crossing the finish line first, it's about helping others cross the finish line with us.

This past week I came across a great short story, which explains Paul's passion for winning very well. You may have heard this story before, but even so I think its worth retelling because it really puts winning, Paul's kind of winning, into perspective.

Every year thousands of athletes from all over the world gather for the Special Olympics. The fanfare, the celebrities, the music, the excitement are nearly as grand as the regular Olympics.

These athletes know what it means to give their best. They've trained for months and some for years, and they truly have a passion for winning. Several years ago, five handicapped finalists gathered at the starting line. Their hearts were pounding. Each wanted to win. The starters' gun went off and the athletes exploded from their crouched positions, and began running with all their heart. The crowd stood and was on there feet shouting and cheering as the athletes began their race.

Suddenly one of the runners stumbled and fell flat on his face. He struggled but couldn't seem to get up. A moan, and then a hush, fell over the entire stadium as the fans watched.

In the next moment, another child stopped running and reached down and helped the fallen child back up. The two of them finished the race together. This is what we are called to do as disciples of Christ.

In our desire to win the race of life we ought to stop, or at least slow down long enough to help others up, to help them run the Christian race with a passion, so that many might receive their heavenly reward.

Know that in the end God isn't looking for religious people; he's looking for people who have a passion for chasing after him. God wants people who want him, and want others to want him, more so then they want his blessings.

I believe this generation is on a road to revival, you can just feel it. This offers all Christians a great opportunity to win disciples for Christ.

Now we can simply choose to seek God's blessings and play with the toys we have been blessed with; or we can say, "No God, we don't just want the blessings; we want more, we want you, and we want others to know you.

We ought to move closer to God by asking him to touch our minds, touch our ears, touch our eyes, touch our hands, touch our feet, and touch our hearts so that we can develop a passion for winning life's race, and in turn can help others come to know the living God. Amen

Read other messages by Pastor Wade