Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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In October of 1996, Uncle Joe was dying. I spent the last night with him in his home. During the night, the Lord visited me with a dream, in part of which he showed me a scene which I had witnessed the previous evening on television. It was a sea of people wearing red and gathered in the baseball stadium in St. Louis. The Atlanta Braves had been battling the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League Championship, and they had eliminated the Cardinals from the playoffs. But the scene Jesus showed me was one that I remembered seeing during that game as the television cameras showed the tens of thousands of the red-clad Cardinal fans cheering for their team. They were cheering on their team, but I knew they had lost. Then the word of the Lord came to me and said, "In this world, losers are the winners because they are more open to comfort from God."
The Gospel is for the poor because the poor feel their need of help from God. The Gospel is for the sick and diseased because they know they cannot heal themselves. The Gospel is for the lonely because they want a friend. Wealthy, popular, famous, and important people scarcely ever realize their great need of compassion from God. They are victims of what Jesus called "the deceitfulness of riches."
"How hardly shall a rich man enter the kingdom of God!" the Master proclaimed one day, to the very great astonishment of his disciples. Listen to these words from Paul (1Cor. 1:26-29). "You see your calling brethren, that not many who are wise according to the flesh, not many powerful people, not many of noble birth have been called by God; instead, God has chosen the foolish things of the world so that He might bring the wise to nothing, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to bring the strong things to nothing, and insignificant things of the world, and things despised has God chosen, and things that are not, that He might bring to nothing the things that are, so that no flesh might boast before God."
God showed me that night that He had blessed the Cardinal fans more than the Braves fans because He had made them sad, and their saddened hearts were more likely to hear His tender voice than were the people who had won and were celebrating.
But even that was not His point to me. Just a few feet away from where I was sleeping was my Uncle Joe, the best friend I had as I was growing up. We had always been "soul mates" before that term came into vogue. We thought alike, felt alike, and often acted alike, despite the 36 years of difference in our ages. He was dying, and he had been a loser by almost every earthly measure.
He was brilliant, but he had quit school at the age of 13 to work in the forest with Grandpa, cutting down trees with a crosscut saw and splitting the logs by hand. At the age of 17, while splitting up some kindling, Uncle Joe's ax handle caught the edge of the log as it came down, veered off and sliced off the end of his left thumb.
Dirt poor, he fell deeply in love with a local farm girl, but lost her to a young man from town who had a lot of money. Over 60 years later, just a couple of years before he died, he attended a funeral of someone in his home community and saw her there. No one but I seemed to notice (perhaps because I knew him so well) that he was more quiet than usual and not quite himself for several weeks afterward.
He loved his younger brother Raymond with a passion. More than that, he respected Raymond for his zest for life and willingness and ability to do the hard jobs around the farm for the good of the family. He and Raymond were the life of Grandma's large family with their perpetual antics, and Uncle Joe so very much wanted it never to end. "I have always wanted a friend who could go from this world into eternity with me", he told me on several occasions when I was young. Only later was I to realize that when he said that, he was always thinking of Raymond. When Uncle Joe finally surrendered to the love of God at the age of 36, Raymond did not follow him. Never. He died in his sins.
Uncle Joe was an exceptional baseball player, and when a Major league team sent for him from his Minor League team, they changed their minds when they learned that he batted left-handed instead of right. He lost interest and drifted away from the game.
Yes, Uncle Joe was a loser by any standard that we humans can possibly devise.
But that night, as I lay in slumber within sight of my dying uncle and friend, God revealed to me another standard, by which Uncle Joe might be judged in a different light.
He showed me that if Uncle Joe had stayed in school and not cut off his thumb in 1933, he would have been sent to the front when he was drafted during WWII. Instead, he was disqualified from front-line duty and spent the war years safely cooking on a hospital train. His great pain and disappointment at cutting off his thumb was but part of God's plan to give Uncle Joe a safe and happy life. By cutting off his thumb, he became a winner with God because in his life he got what God wanted for him rather than what he wanted. He wanted his thumb; God wanted his life.
He lost the girl of his dreams, but God had chosen a simple and good wife for Uncle Joe who would understand and serve him much better than that pretty little flirt who was attracted to money. When he lost his sweetheart, he became a winner with God because in his wife, he got the one God chose for him rather than what his own flesh desired.
In this world, the winners are the losers, and losers can be winners with God.
Uncle Joe lost his chance to "make the big time" in the Major Leagues, but if he had been flying around the country playing a game, he would not have gone to Florida to pick oranges. And if he had not gone to Florida, thoroughly frustrated with being a constant loser, he would not have attended a holiness tent meeting down there, and would not have surrendered to Jesus and been filled with the holy Ghost and fire. He felt like a loser because he didn't get to fly around the country and play ball in the Major Leagues with his brother Raymond, but God was waiting for him near Tampa under the folds of a little tent.
And then, God showed me that He had given me to Uncle Joe instead of his beloved brother Raymond. I was to be the friend who would love Uncle Joe both here and in the world to come. I am striving to live so that Uncle Joe and I can meet again and so that Uncle Joe will not again feel as if he has lost something precious to him. After Uncle Joe died, I called Uncle Raymond and tried to influence him to seek God so that he and his favorite brother would be together again, but he would not. It is wonderful to me to see now that God had long ago seen that Raymond would never surrender to Him and had given Uncle Joe a friend who would be a friend forever. So, in losing Raymond, Uncle Joe became a winner with God because he went to God with a broken heart, and God gave him the friend He wanted him to have. The closeness Uncle Joe and I shared in all things was a gift from God to us both.
In his sermon in 1968, my father, also a loser by earthly measures, said, "I'd rather be a loser for God than a winner for Satan." It would be eighteen years later, while sleeping near the bedside of my dying friend, that God would allow me to comprehend the precious and holy truth contained in my father's statement. In this world, the winners are the losers, for those who lose in this world are much more likely to seek God and receive His will for them instead of their own.