The Game of Life

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Seeking Signs,” based on Judges 6:36-40. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: Ecclesiastes 9:11 (NLT)I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.

By Chuck Griffin

I play backgammon, mostly online with other people. The game can be maddening―your moves are limited by rolls of the dice, and dice are fickle.

It is quite possible to lose at backgammon while making no obvious mistakes. Chance simply smacks you down. Of course, on the other side of the board, your opponent benefits from the randomness, having made some mistakes but rolling three doubles in a row, or some other combination that looks like wizardry.

Skill does remain important. Players who understand the principles of risk management and employ them early in the game win more than they lose. Mostly, they keep themselves positioned to take advantage of good rolls while minimizing the impact of bad rolls.

If your only exposure to backgammon is a James Bond movie, I should add that I don’t play for money. I wouldn’t want a district superintendent to get the wrong idea! I also have never worn a white dinner jacket during a game. Actually, I’ve never worn a white dinner jacket.

I do utter the occasional Homer Simpson “Doh!” or Charlie Brown “Aaaaargh!” after an unlucky roll, but I love the game because of the way it mimics life. I think the author of Ecclesiastes would soberly appreciate backgammon—the fastest, the strongest and the wisest don’t always end up winning.

My mind sometimes drifts to theology as I play backgammon. (A drifting mind will quickly put you on the bar, by the way.) At times, I’ve wondered whether it’s possible that original sin corrupted the holy math underlying creation.

The devil certainly seems to be in the dice some days, a miniature expression of the way evil impedes our progress through illness, accidents and other unwanted events.

If that’s true, then we can think of salvation this way: God loaded the dice to work to our advantage. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross rigged the game of life completely in our favor, even though we do not deserve to win.

Perhaps you don’t like my comparing salvation to a heinous act like cheating, but in his own way, Jesus went just as far, describing himself as a burglar plundering the house of a strong man, Satan.

There’s nothing wrong with cheating sin and death out of victory, our prize being eternal life.

Lord, help us to see the tremendous advantage you offer us through our belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As we better understand the eternal life we are given, help us to offer your saving grace to others. Amen.

Troubled Church

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 Corinthians 6:1-11 serves as an excellent reminder of how far churches can drift from their reason for existing.

It is a very old problem, reminding us of the lament in Ecclesiastes 1:9-11. “History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, ‘Here is something new!’ But actually it is old, nothing is ever truly new.”

The young church in Corinth was troubled, although probably no more troubled than large portions of the American church are today, constantly struggling with the secular pressures around them. Gordon Fee, in his 1987 commentary “The First Epistle to the Corinthians,” wrote that the Corinth of Paul’s day “was at once the New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas of the ancient world.”

Paul was blunt about how the Christians in Corinth kept jumping with both feet back into the world, rather than living as people bound together in Christian discipleship. They sued each other when they had disputes—Paul said it would be better for them to accept injustice than to provide such a poor witness about the church to nonbelievers.

Paul also left a list of sins, many of them sexual in nature, that were creeping into the church from the world.

Paul was making a straightforward point. The church should be different. We should be distinguishable from what is going on around us. Once we blend into the part of our culture that does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, our ability to act as witnesses to Christ’s redeeming, life-change work in the world vanishes.

We should not cut ourselves off from the world—Jesus’ mandate for the church at the end of Matthew makes that clear. But the holy nature of the church, which is dependent on the holy nature of the individuals within, has to be maintained.

We are the primary way the Holy Spirit is at work to move the world toward a complete relationship with God. We are to permeate the world, not vice versa.

As church members, it’s good to always be asking, “How different are we from the world? Do we stand together in holy ways, changing our own lives and then the people around us?”

Lord knows, we need more people willing to treat the church as their primary, life-altering community, studying God’s word together, worshiping together, and holding one another accountable in loving ways. Do that as a church, and others will notice.

Lord, where we are weak, give us a renewed vision of what it means to be a church. Amen.