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When Victory Is Defeat And Defeat, Victory

Philippians 4:10-13

Sometimes in life, things may not be what they seem. Sometimes what seems to be a victory is, in fact, a defeat. And what seems to be a defeat, turns out to be a victory. Let’s consider that together…

Grant Teaff is the head football coach at Baylor University in Texas. He is a wonderful Christian man, but he does possess a rather twisted sense of humor, which sometimes gets the best of him.

Once, for example, he received a call from one of his former players. The man told Coach Teaff that he was now running the family ranch and the coach was welcome to go hunting on the ranch anytime. So one day, Coach Teaff asked one of his assistant coaches to join him in a hunting trip to this former player’s ranch. When they arrived, Coach Teaff went up to the ranch-house to let the fellow know that they were accepting his invitation to hunt. The man said: “Coach, I am glad you have come. You are welcome to hunt as much as you like, but there is one problem that you can help me solve. Did you see that old mule in the pasture out front? That mule has been with us for thirty years and just this morning the vet called to let me know that the mule has an incurable condition and needs to be destroyed. Well Coach, I hate to ask you to do this, but, since I do not think I can do it myself, I would sure appreciate it if you would shoot the mule for me.” Coach Teaff replied: “Well, I have never done anything like that before but if it will help you, I will do it.”

As Coach Teaff returned to his car where his assistant coach was waiting, he got the idea for a joke. He put an angry frown on his face and he said to his assistant: “Can you beat that? I help that guy get through college and now he will not let us hunt on his ranch. Well, I will show him a thing or two. I am going to shoot his mule!” The assistant coach cried out in shock: “Coach, you would not do something like that, not you!” Coach Teaff snapped back: “You just watch me.” Teaff then picked up his gun out of the back seat, walked over to where the mule was standing in the pasture and—Bam!—one shot dropped the mule. Then behind him, Teaff heard two shots—Bam! Bam! He whirled around and saw his assistant coach holding his gun. Teaff cried: “What did you do?” The assistant coach said: “Let’s get out of here, Coach, I just got two of his cows!” It started out as a joke but it ended up being a jolt.

That is often the way it is in life, isn’t it? We think we have accomplished some great victory or goal or triumph and before our very eyes, it turns into a defeat. Or we think we have suffered some defeat or loss, and suddenly, somehow, it becomes a significant victory. Often things come to us in disguise.

In Rudyard Kipling’s classic poem “If,” a father is delivering instructions to his son about the secrets of successful living. One of those secrets is this:

If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same…

That’s good advice. For truth be told, sometimes triumph comes to us masked as defeat, and defeat comes to us disguised as triumph. So many times they come to us looking like each other.

Two Old Testament stories illustrate the point.

Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son, but Joseph’s brothers resented that fact. So, as you know, they sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt. There Joseph was put to work for a man named Potiphar. Joseph’s talent and hard work caught the eye of Potiphar so he soon rose to executive status. Then Joseph caught the eye of Potiphar’s wife. When Joseph rejected her advances, he was framed and thrown into prison. There he became known as an interpreter of dreams. That ability of Joseph’s caught the eye of Pharaoh, and as a result Joseph soon became the Prime Minister of Egypt. Then a great famine engulfed much of that region of the world. Joseph’s skill and vision spared Egypt, but Joseph’s family was starving, and they came to Egypt seeking food. When they encountered Joseph, he showed them great grace and mercy. He said: “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” What looked like a defeat, being sold into slavery and thrown into a dungeon, turned out to be a great victory for Joseph.

Next, David was at the height of his power and his eye fell upon another man’s wife. Her name was Bathsheba. He attempted to gain her for himself by sending her husband off to war, thinking that the man might be killed. That did not work. Finally, David had to resort to murder to get rid of Bathsheba’s husband. David then took her for himself and thought he had won a great victory. But four things happened. First, the prophet Nathan told the whole ugly story to David’s court, thus bringing deep shame upon the king. Second, the son that Bathsheba bore to David died. Third, a strain of moral madness moved into David’s family which corroded it for generations to come. Fourth, the great dream of David’s life to build a glorious temple to the Lord was denied him. So what appeared to be a triumph was in fact a terrible defeat. Often in life, triumphs end in defeats, and defeats end in victories.

Now because it is true that sometimes victory is defeat and defeat is victory, there are three principles worth remembering…

Principle No. 1. The nature of any circumstance that comes our way is relative to the perspective from which we view it.

I have always loved the story of the Norwegian father and son who were out fishing in their small boat. Suddenly a fog bank surrounded them and they were lost at sea. While they were struggling to find their way, back on shore, the kitchen of their little house caught fire. The wife and mother tried to stop the blaze, but it raged out of control. The house burned to the ground. Just as the last pieces of wood fell into ash, the father and son made it to shore in their little boat. The woman cried out to them: “We have lost everything! It’s gone!” Neither of the men made any response. She asked: “Didn’t you hear what I said? Everything we had is in ashes.” The father looked at her and said: “A few hours ago we were lost at sea. Then we saw a golden glow in the sky. We decided to row toward that glow. The flames that burned our house saved our lives.” The perspective from which you view things is important.

Do you remember when Peter, James, John, and Andrew were fishing on the Sea of Galilee? They had not caught anything. Jesus came along and said: “Put your nets out on the other side.” That was a big job—to haul in those wet, heavy nets and then cast them out again. But the four men yielded to the persuasive power of a new perspective. Their catch was immense. And they cried out: “Wow!”—in Aramaic, of course. But there and then, they discovered that you can capitalize on your catastrophes if you look at life from Christ’s perspective.

Principle No. 2. The nature of any circumstance that comes our way is relative to the use we make of it.

John Wooden was for many years the head basketball coach at UCLA. He wrote a book entitled, They Call Me Coach, and included in that book is this line: “Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.” That is a wise word. If we misuse a good circumstance, then the results will be tragic. On the other hand, if we use well a bad circumstance, we can bring forth something good and beautiful.

I have always admired Tom Dempsey. He was the kicker for the New Orleans Saints. In fact, he still holds the record for the longest field goal ever kicked—67 yards. No one has ever come close to breaking it. Yet Tom Dempsey was born without one hand and with only half a right foot. Now how does a man like that kick a football better than anyone else ever has? The answer is his attitude. Tom Dempsey is a believing Christian. He has a Christ-centered, Christ-empowered life. The word “can’t” is not a part of his vocabulary. He believes that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. He is living proof that when we let Jesus Christ take control of our lives, then we can turn even the bitterest tragedy into the brightest triumph.

Principle No. 3. The nature of any circumstance that comes our way is always relative to time.

Did you hear about the minister who went to make a visitation evangelism call? He rang the doorbell and a voice inside said: “Come in.” He tried the door but it was locked. Feeling that perhaps the person could not get to the door, he went around to the back door. He knocked. The voice said: “Come in.” He tried the door. It was open. He stepped in. He found himself in the kitchen, and he found himself face-to-face with a snarling German Shepherd dog. Panicked he looked around for help and saw a parrot sitting on a perch. The parrot was saying “Come in. Come in.” Well, the preacher was so angry and so afraid that he cried out: “You dumb bird, is that all you can say?” Whereupon the parrot called: “Sic him! Sic him!” You see, when the preacher was locked out, he thought he had a problem—but that is when things were good. When he got in he thought things were going well—but that is when he was in trouble! Time changed the whole situation.

A few weeks ago, I was on a plane leaving Charlotte, North Carolina. As we pulled away from the gate, a hard, blowing thunderstorm broke. The pilot stopped the plane and said over the intercom: “We are going to wait here for a few minutes before continuing our taxi due to the storm, but remember that it is the nature of storms to pass.” That is true. In life storms come, yes, but in time those storms pass. Sometimes we have to let time pass, sometimes we have to wait to see things as they really are.

So it is true, sometimes victory turns out to be defeat and defeat, victory; but when you remember the three principles, it can make a difference in your life…

Look at what happened at Paul. This letter to the Philippians was written while he was in prison. He writes: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” He goes on to say that he could be content simply because Jesus Christ was living in his heart. It was his faith in Christ that led him to understand that situations that look like defeats can be transformed into victories. It had happened in his own life.

He could look back to his own education at the University of Tarsus, then graduate school under the leading teachers of the day in Jerusalem. He walked where prophets and kings had walked before him. He sat at the feet of Gamaliel, the greatest of all teachers. Paul learned everything there was to learn about the law, but the law enslaved him. It frustrated him. This education which most people would have coveted, was in fact a great burden to him. It led him to be revengeful in his spirit toward others. It led him to bloody persecution. It led him to be a co-conspirator in the death of Stephen. What appeared to be a triumph—this magnificent education of his—turned out to be a tragedy.

But then came the Damascus Road experience when he was knocked into the dust by a light brighter than the Syrian sun. Groveling there, he heard the voice of Christ saying: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He got up blind, and was led into the city where he intended to go as a proud conqueror and persecutor, but instead entered it as a stumbling, helpless dependent, a defeated shell of a man. He was put into a room apart. There in that room, confronting what appeared to be an awful defeat, he not only regained the sight of his eyes, but insight in his spirit. As a result, everything he ever lived and wrote after that is nothing but an explanation of what happened to him there—that the God who was big enough to throw him down in anger was also big enough to lift him up in love. It looked like darkness—it was really light. It looked like defeat—it was really victory.

You see, it was on the strength of his own experience with Christ that he was able to say in Philippians: “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content. I can take both triumph and disaster and treat them both just the same.”

My friends, many times the things that come to us in life are not what they first seem. Many times, apparent victory turns out to be a defeat, and what appears to be a defeat is transformed into victory. So measure the things that happen to you from a new perspective—the perspective of Jesus Christ. Use the things that come to you for a Christ-like good. And remember to think of things not in terms of minutes or hours, but in longer and truer terms. If you do that, then by the power of the Christ who strengthens you, no matter what happens to you in life, you will be more than conquerors through Him who loves you…

To God be the glory!

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