Sermons

Summary: Suffering, endurance, character, hope: the formula is not automatic. All depends on whether we learn to live in the resurrected Christ.

One of my friends begins nearly every conversation with the phrase, "You just can’t win.” "You just can’t win." One day recently he was wearing a long, long face. He had just gotten his car repaired, but some inebriated partygoer had slammed into it. He had just worked off his debts, but suddenly his roof had begun to leak. And he added to that a truly tearjerking account of how a relative had finally found a new job after a long period of unemployment, only to have that new employer go bankrupt. After I had listened to all of this, I was tempted to agree, "You just can’t win." "You just can’t win."

It does seem that life is set up for disappointment. Many of the things people give themselves to end up in disappointment. We put a lot of energy into some ventures, but they do not satisfy. They disappoint us.

You marry and have children, believing that there is going to be fulfillment and joy in those relationships. But one day you wake up to discover that the marriage is at best routine and that the children are not going to outthink Einstein or outleap Michael Jordan. That breeds disappointment.

You set your mind on rising to the top of your profession, so that you can be recognized and successful. But then you learn that your knowledge has become obsolete, that the college kid they just hired last week knows more than you do already. Disappointment and frustration.

You work hard and save your money, trying to prepare for those retirement years. But inflation takes the money and ill health steals the zest of those years. That means disappointment and frustration and sometimes bitterness.

And yet I’ve also noticed that there are also people who are able to live through all that disappointment with joy and excitement. There are people who, no matter how frustrating and disappointing it might seem, come out winners. They do not plead, "You can’t win." They do not complain, "Life isn’t fair". There are some who are able to reach down into some hidden resources and make sense of it all.

I have such a friend. I know a man who, though reasonably successful … not outstanding but at least reasonably successful … quit a secure job when he was in his late forties and returned to school to retrain and start on a new career. It wasn’t easy, paying the bills and hitting the books and being surrounded with all these bright and brash young go-getters in their twenties, but he stuck it out. He earned that degree, but then found that nobody wanted to hire him. He was too old in years, and at the same time too young in experience. So his first occasion for disappointment was that he couldn’t get a job. Yet it did not seem to get to him.

Finally that job opportunity did cane, and it was a tough spot. It was a task which involved taking over the messes left behind by several others who had had the job before him. It meant working long, hard hours for little pay and for very few pats on the back. It meant investing a whole lot of energy for very little immediate payoff. But he endured, he stayed with it.

After a few years, however, that job went sour, completely sour. My friend found that the people for whom he was working had just decided to get rid of him. That’s all. No charges against him, no wrongdoing, no question of his faithfulness to the job. They just didn’t like him. He challenged them too much, they wanted him out. And out he went. Fifty-plus years old and no job, no prospects. If anyone had had the right to turn cynical, this man certainly did. If anyone could have said, should have said, "You just can’t win", it would have been my friend.

I talked to him recently. He’s now working on a job with a six-month contract, with no guarantee that it will be extended. He gets very little salary. There are practically no visible results from his work at this point. It looks like a dead end. Any sane person knows that at his age, now getting close to sixty, he ought to plan for his retirement and take care of his financial security. In other words, he seems to be set up for another huge disappointment.

But do you know what he said? He said, "As long as I am where God wants me to be, I will not be disappointed." Hear that again, "As long as I am where God wants me to be, I will not be disappointed."

You say you can’t win? Oh, I think you can. Are you disappointed? It doesn’t have to be that way.

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