Today I went to a poker night/fundraiser for my church's men's retreat. I was pretty excited to talk with some godly men, eat food, maybe try some beer (big mistake), and try my hand (literally) at some poker. The $20 buy-in went straight to scholarships for the retreat, but the chips still represented "dollar" amounts so we could pretend we were real high rollers. I was fairly confident going in; I had a decent grasp of the probabilities behind the hands and the last time I'd played poker with friends, I'd won everything. This time was more normal. I soon realized that I had no idea what I was doing and that the game was more about reading people (which I'm hopeless at) than reading probabilities. Eventually I just started going all in to go out with a bang instead of a whimper. The biggest reason I hate competition is that after I lose, I just feel like I wasted my time. I got much more out of the time I spent talking with and learning from some older men than I did from that game.
But I know that life isn't like that. I just finished Don Miller's latest book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, which challenged me to view my life as a story that God is writing, filled with real significance, real tension, real sacrifice, real fulfillment. And I realized that life is kind of like a game of poker--the more you risk, the more you're rewarded. And yet it's not in that the reward is assured, and it doesn't consist in time or money or care or whatever you put in, it's something eternal and ultimately more satisfying than anything we could achieve by holding onto our resources. The real losers aren't the ones who lose have lost everything; they are in the perfect position for the gospel to turn everything around. The real losers are those who stand to gain everything from the bottomless wellspring of life if they would just stand and claim it, and yet risk nothing, gain nothing.
Perhaps the best Biblical example of someone who risked everything for Christ and gained infinitely more was Paul. He was a big Jewish leader with power, prestige, and respect. I would compare him to a senior United States senator with serious clout over the course of the nation, a perfect image, perfect home life, perfect everything. In modern terms, Paul had it made. He gave all this up to be beaten, insulted, imprisoned, and rejected, often by the very people who had looked up to him before. But he says it was all worth it. (Philippians 3:8) I want to discover for myself how this can be true.
The truth is that in God's economy, in the end everything really does matter. The way you go through school or your job matters. The way you treat your friends or your family, today, matters. How you spend your day (and the use of 'spend' is not accidental) matters. What you do first thing in the morning or last thing at night, when no one else is watching, matters. The point isn't to live a "better" life, but a lasting one that trades the temporal for the eternal.
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