Born To Lose, Or Twice-Born Winners?
My guess is that you are familiar with the old couplet that goes like this:
Sticks and stones may break my bones,
But words will never hurt me.
Of course, that’s a lie. The truth is that words can hurt, and they can hurt very deeply. So what do we do when we are ridiculed or scorned or derided or rejected? Sometimes we make what can only be described as a dumb mistake. Sometimes we mangle the language we’ve been speaking since we were children. Sometimes we are ignorant, and make that conspicuously obvious. Sometimes we choose to take a different path through life from those who are around us. Or sometimes, in a more serious vein, we take a stand for our faith in Jesus Christ, and we find that there are those who turn against us.
Several years back, I met a man on an airplane, and since then we have become better acquainted. His name is Lem Clymer. That day on the plane, he told me that he had just been forced to resign as President of Holiday Inns. The Holiday Inn Board of Directors was at that time preparing to move the company into gambling casinos, particularly in Atlantic City, New Jersey. As President, Lem Clymer worked vigorously to stop that initiative. He thought he could win. Instead, he lost. The Board then forced his resignation. He told me that it wasn’t even the losing that hurt so bad, and it wasn’t even the losing his job that hurt so bad. What really hurt, he said, was that when he told them that he had taken his stand on this issue because of his faith in Jesus Christ, they laughed at him. That’s what really hurt!
So what do we do when people laugh at us? What do we do when we experience the sting of rejection? What do we do when we are scorned or ridiculed or derided or ignored? It’s not a frivolous question. It demands something more than a frivolous answer. Therefore, I want us to open the Scriptures and try to frame a response …
The first and most obvious suggestion for what to do when people laugh at us or reject us or ridicule us is to join in the laughter.
After all, there are some things we do which are quite laughable. In those instances, when the only damage done is to our pride and dignity, then it doesn’t hurt us to laugh at ourselves. After all these years, you know by now that the last thing I want to do is to look like a fool. But it has happened. I remember once I was on the platform with some other ministers at a great service of worship at the Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina. The service was proceeding with great dignity and majesty. Because there were people involved in the leadership of that service, folding chairs had been placed up on the platform for us to sit in during the service. The chair to which I was assigned was placed in front of a door. What I did not know was that on the other side of that door was a three-step down to the sound booth. What I also did not know was that my chair was collapsible. So here in the midst of this very dignified service, I got up to speak, finished speaking, went back to my place and sat down, and right there, in plain view of God and everybody else, my chair folded up and I fell over backwards, feet, arms, and robes a-flying, through the door, down the steps, and into a heap on the sound booth floor. The majestic dignity of that service was shattered by gales of laughter, and my own sense of dignity suffered a puncture from which it has never fully recovered. But it did me good then, and it does me good now to laugh at myself because of it. The Bible says: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine”— and part of having a merry heart is the willingness to see the humor in oneself. Yes, sometimes laughing at ourselves is just the dose we need. It balances our very human tendency toward pride and conceit.
Of course there are times when the laughter directed at us is derisive; it’s mean; it’s cruel; it’s meant to hurt more than our pride or our dignity. It’s meant to put us down, or brush us off, or break our spirit. That leads me to say then …
The second suggestion for what to do when people laugh at us or reject or ridicule us is to remember who we really are.
If we are ever laughed at in derision, it puts us in some very good company. Job, described in Scripture as the finest man living in his time, said: “I am laughed at and derided every day.” King David said: “All day long my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse.” Jeremiah records that not a day went by in which he was not ridiculed. Elijah was laughed at by little children simply because he was bald! Now all of these people, though derided and laughed at and rejected, still persevered in their faith. They lived out the words of our text in Psalm 119: “This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life. The arrogant utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law.” They could not be stopped by the scorn of others. That’s worth remembering.
I think of Babe Herman whom many of you will remember as a great baseball player for the Brooklyn Dodgers. However, in one game early in his career, at a critical point in that critical game, Babe Herman stole second base. Unfortunately, the bases were loaded at the time, and so Babe Herman and the man on second base were put out—and everybody laughed.
Or I think of Edward Dickinson. A few years back, the National Academy of Arts awarded him second prize for painting in a national competition. A few weeks later, they discovered that they had judged his painting of being worthy of this award, while it was hanging on the wall upside down! Everybody laughed.
Or I think of Emmanuel Leutze, who painted the classic picture of George Washington crossing the Delaware. You remember. Washington is standing up in the center of the boat with his men rowing, and up in the bow another man is holding up the American flag. Unfortunately, that flag, as the symbol of our country, did not come into being until a year after the incident in which Washington and his troop crossed the Delaware. When that error came to light, everyone laughed.
Yet here’s the point I want to make. Each one of those individuals went on to do greater things than they had done before. They were not stopped by the laughter, the ridicule, the rejection. They had a view of themselves which was greater than the laughter which was directed at them. You see, when we begin to understand that we belong to God and that we are the children of God, then we begin to realize that the only court of judgement which really matters is the court of God; when we begin to grasp the fact that God loves each of us as if there were only one of us to love; when we begin to see ourselves in light of these truths, then the scornful, derisive laughter of others cannot touch us. The fact is, no one else can make you feel inferior unless you permit them to do so. Say it again, Sam. No one else can make you feel inferior, unless you permit them to do so.
Victor Frankl, the great psychiatrist is such a help here. He says that life is like a play, and we are the lead actor in our own play. The people around us are the supporting cast, and God is the audience. When you know that, when you know that your life is played to God and that God is for you, then what difference does it make if some bit player belittles you because of the way you handled a certain scene? What difference does it make if some understudy makes a smart comment about the job you are doing? What difference does it make if a stagehand guffaws when you blow a line? What difference does it make if a critic writes a scathing review of your performance? All that matters is the audience—and the audience is God. And the Bible tells us that when the curtain rings down on your life and mine, God will be standing and applauding with nail-pierced hands and crying out “Bravo!”
When we are confronted by the laughter and the ridicule and the rejection of others, we need to remember who we are by God’s grace, and we need to remember how God approves and blesses us with His applause. When people put you down, remember who you really are—a child of God. But there’s something else here as well …
A third suggestion of what to do when others laugh at you or ridicule or reject you is to remember that the one who laughs last laughs best.
And the last laugh belongs to God and to God’s people. The worst thing that can happen to us in this life is to have life taken away from us. The ultimate thing the world can do to us is to kill us. But even then, the last laugh belongs to God because He brings us with resurrection power to His kingdom forever.
We have just come through what’s called “Bike Week” at Daytona Beach, and here in Central Florida. We have been surrounded by literally thousands of people in unusual get-ups; usually black and leather, riding about on big, noisy, roaring motorcycles. I’ve been studying these folk. I don’t know why it is that so many bikers are covered with tattoos, but many of them are. And I don’t know why it is that some of them have tattooed somewhere on their bodies the words “Born to lose.” Check it out. You’ll be amazed at how many have that phrase among their tattoos. I don’t know why that is, but at least this much I do know: that kind of attitude is stamped on the mind long before it is ever tattooed on the body. But, dear friends, as Christians, such an attitude ought never to be ours. We aren’t born losers. We are twice-born winners!
The New Testament is filled with that truth. Words like:
“O death, where is thy sting?”
“O grave, where is thy victory?”
“Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“If God is for us, who can be against us?”
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Can death separate us from God? NO! Can life? NO! Can principalities or powers? NO! Things present or things to come? NO! Heights nor depths? NO! Any other creature? NO! In all these things, we are more than conquerors. NOTHING can separate us from the love of God, which is ours in Christ Jesus. That’s the laughter of God, and the laughter of the people of God. God always has the last laugh, and that laugh is always victorious.
So what do you do when people laugh at you, corn you, deride you, ridicule you, reject you? Well, sometimes if the laughter is valid, you laugh with them and learn. Sometimes if the laughter is cruel, then we remember that we belong to God, and that across our souls tattooed the words not “Born to lose”, but “Twice-born to win!” But best of all, we remember that God and the people of God always have the last laugh. We are more than conquerors …
By the way …
I have yet to mention my favorite passage about laughter in Scripture. It’s Job 39. There the Spirit is describing some of the great animals God has made. He comes to describe the horse. He says the horse is powerful and mighty. He says the horse is clothed with thunder. He says the horse makes great leaps and majestic snortings; that he paws the earth with his hooves, and rejoices in his strength. He says the horse does not fear the weapons of his enemies, and that conflict does not frighten him, rather excites him and thrills him and challenges him. And the passage of Scripture ends with this phrase: “When the trumpet sounds, the horse says ‘Ha! Ha!'”
We are to be the cavalry of God; strong in Christ, confident in thunder, snorting the majestic songs of the Lord, with no final fear of our enemies and no need to run from the battle; rejoicing in the struggle for His sake. And when the trumpets sound—whether they be the piercing trumpets of those who reject and ridicule us, or the sharp-toned trumpets of those who sneer and scorn—whatever trumpets they are, the last laugh belongs to the people of God. We are reined and ridden by God, and so we can say in the midst of the trumpets