You Can’t Lose
His name was Cyprian. He is one of my great heroes in the faith. He was born in Carthage in North Africa… not converted until he was middle aged… lived so faithfully then that ultimately he was elected Bishop of Carthage… arrested by the Romans… threatened with death by execution if he did not renounce his faith in Christ… refused to renounce that faith… went with a song on his lips into the arms of his Savior. Cyprian. He is indeed one of my heroes in the faith. On the day before he was put to death because of his belief in Jesus Christ, Cyprian wrote these words. Listen. “If I could stand on a mountain and look out over all the wide lands, you know what I would see: Brigands on the high roads, pirates on the seas, men being murdered in amphitheaters to please applauding crowds, selfishness and cruelty, misery and despair under every roof. It’s a bad world, an incredibly bad world, but in the midst of it, I have found a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They are despised, and they are persecuted, but they care not. They will overcome the world. These people are called Christians, and I am one of them.” Just to listen to the words of Cyprian brings a lump to my throat for here was one facing death for his faith in Jesus Christ and still he could write, “I have found a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They are despised, and they are persecuted, but they care not. They will overcome the world. These people are called Christians, and I am one of them.” Great Cyprian had incredible courage because great Cyprian had an incredible Christ.
I want to suggest to you today that those words, written by Cyprian so long ago, in fact parallel both words and experience of the great Apostle Paul—words he wrote to the Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Notice please, Paul did not simply say, “I can do all things.” No, he didn’t say that. In fact, had he said that, we would have laughed him out of court. How utterly absurd that any human being could ever say, “I can do all things. I can master any situation or circumstance I encounter in life.” No one can say that. And Paul certainly did not say it. Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul was not asserting his self confidence. He was asserting his Christ confidence. And he wants us to understand that we can do the same thing. He wants us to know that our Christ stands ready to give us the strength we need to lead triumphant and victorious lives. If we put our confidence not in self but in Christ, then, in life, we cannot lose. Let me show you what I mean.
Through Christ, we cannot lose in the circumstances of life.
Disappointment is an inevitable part of the human experience. Heartache and heartbreak, sooner or later, come to all of us. No one wins all of the time. Wallace Hamilton once said, “Every person’s life is a diary in which he or she means to write one story and is forced by circumstances to write yet another.” That’s so true, isn’t it? Back when I was a boy, one of the things I used to love to do was to crawl up into my granddaddy’s lap and have him read to me. He frequently would read to me from that marvelous collection called Aesop’s Fables. I remember one of those fables in particular today: the fable of a mighty oak tree growing side by side with a humble reed at the edge of a river. The mighty oak tree regarded himself as being vastly superior to the humble reed. In fact the mighty oak would say, “You are so poor and pathetic. You bow and bend before every wind. Humble reed, you should stand straight and tall like I do. No wind will ever make me stoop.” Then one day, a furious storm broke. The wind was raging at gale force. Suddenly the mighty oak’s stiffness became his undoing. The wind snapped off the branches. The wind cracked the trunk. The great tree fell into the river. But the humble reed, though it would bend under the force of the wind, would not break. So after the storm passed, the oak tree was gone, but the humble reed still stood. That, I believe, is the message of the Christian Gospel. The stiffness of self confidence simply cannot stand in the face of the storms of life. Those who put confidence in themselves will have their experience snapped off by the gale-force winds of challenge and difficulty. But those who put their confidence in Christ, while they may bend in the blowing of the wind, will not break. Yes, Jesus Christ gives us the strength to endure even in the midst of the storms of this life. When we put our confidence in Christ, we cannot lose.
Remember please, that: Milton was struck blind; Beethoven lost his hearing; Sir Walter Scott was lame, as was Lord Byron; Elizabeth Barrett Browning spent most of her life as an invalid; Louis Pasteur became a paralytic; Steinmetz was crippled; Helen Keller was blind and deaf; the Apostle Paul wanted to take the Gospel to Spain, but he ended up in a Roman prison; and Jesus got a cross. But were they defeated by the circumstances they encountered? No! No! A thousand times No! They transformed their tragedies into triumphs. They would not look backward in resentment. They would not look inward in self-pity. Instead, they looked forward in faith, and they went on to overcome the obstacles which were a part of their experience. Through Jesus Christ, you and I can do the same.
I love the way Chuck Swindoll once put it, “God never used anybody greatly until He allowed them to hurt deeply and fail miserably.” When you and I put our confidence in Christ, no matter the circumstances we encounter in life—when we put our confidence in Christ—we cannot lose. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
And we cannot lose in our service to God.
All of us are called to serve God in our lives—to serve God with all we are and all we have wherever we happen to be. Now understand please, we cannot always choose the place of our serving, but we sure can choose the spirit in which we shall serve. We cannot always be guaranteed that we will be world-changing forces for the faith, but we certainly can guarantee that we can make an impact in the community or in the home where we live. All of us cannot be the Chair of the Board or the President of the class; all of us cannot be stars or soloist; all of us cannot be Governors or poets, but every single one of us can serve God right where we are. And we can trust the fact that, even though it won’t always be easy, through Jesus Christ in the end we cannot lose.
C. S. Lewis is another of my great heroes in the faith, and yet I have to tell you that C. S. Lewis, in his living even more than in his writing, has made an indelible impact upon my life. Let me share with you some things about the life of C. S. Lewis. Though he taught for thirty years at Oxford University in England—for 30 Years—and yet his colleagues on the faculties on the Colleges at Oxford University refused to grant him the status of full professor. You see, they constantly criticized him. They despised him for his belief. They went after him because he spent so much effort on Christian writing. They resented him. They ridiculed him. They rejected him. The one thing he longed for in his professional life was to be known as a full professor at Oxford University, and that honor was never granted to him by his peers on the faculties there. And for all of the pain in his professional life, there also was the pain in his personal life—the death of his mother whom he adored; the rejection of his father who turned against him; the sudden, tragic death of his life-long friend, Charles Williams; and then the agonizing death by cancer of his beloved wife, Joy. It’s absolutely amazing what he had to endure. He was looked down upon with disdain by his peers, and that disdain, believe it or not, continues among the faculties of Oxford University to this very day. There is no memorial to C. S. Lewis at Oxford University. The only indication that he ever taught there is a stone plaque stuck on the back wall of Magdalene College at Oxford University, and on that plaque are contained some of the words that he wrote. On the 100th anniversary of his birth just a few years ago now, there was not a single celebration of his birth or his life by Oxford University—many celebrations by Christians all over the world but none at the place where he served his Lord so magnificently. And yet, for all the criticism and opposition, for all the trial and tragedy, C. S. Lewis never once stopped serving his Lord in his life, and he served his Lord until he drew his very last breath. And I ask you to notice, please, that today not a single one of his colleagues on the faculties at Oxford University is remembered. No one within the sound of my voice can name a single one of those full professors at Oxford University during the time of C. S. Lewis, and yet the name of C. S. Lewis is loved, admired, respected, and treasured all over this world. Because he put his confidence in Christ, he did not lose. Through Jesus Christ, we can do the same thing. You know it’s true. I know it’s true. The real key to life is found not in what happens to us outwardly, but what happens to us within. That’s where the real battles of life are fought and won or lost—down inside each one of us. You and I cannot always choose the place where we shall serve our Lord, but we sure can choose the spirit in which we shall serve Him. And we can count on the fact that God will be with us and that God will lead us through to a life of triumph and victory. My dear friends, when we ourselves put our confidence not in ourself but in our Christ, we cannot lose. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Well, back when I graduated from high school, they wrote across the top of the graduation program this line: “They conquer who believe they can.” I cannot accept that. There are some people in this world who are far from God, and who believe the wrong things. And they will not overcome, they will not conquer no matter how hard they believe. No, if I could write that program for graduation, I would write at the top, “They conquer who, believing in Christ, believe they can.” You see, dear friends, there is nothing wrong with self-confidence as long as the self is resting in Jesus Christ. Christians who believe in themselves because they believe in Jesus Christ cannot be stopped. You see we have a God who is a God of power. The lightning that slashes across the sky—that’s God’s power and no one can master it or stop it. The wind blows wherever it will and we cannot see it—all we can see is what it does—that’s God’s power and no one can define it or describe it. The sea moves in great unending swells—the tide ebbs and flows all over the earth—that’s God’s power and no can control it or embrace it. Our God is a God of power, and God through Jesus Christ stands ready to send great jolts of power down into your life and mine. That’s why Paul wants us to understand that if we put our confidence not in self but in Christ, we cannot lose.
My beloved people, please hear me. I cannot eliminate the heaviness of life. Sometimes I experience it myself, but what I can do is this: I can assure you that God in Jesus Christ strengthens our backs when He does not lighten our loads, and I can assure you that Paul’s words are absolutely true. “We can do all things—all things—through Christ who strengthens us.”
We cannot lose.
He did it for Cyprian.
He did it for Paul.
He did it for C.S. Lewis.
He can do it for you, too.
He can do it for me.