Certain images are burned in my mind for as long as I have my mind. There is the wonder of flying in a helicopter over a volcano crater in Hawaii, seeing a mountain rise 20,000 feet out of Alaska’s inland passage, and looking down 6,000 feet upon the winding ribbon of the Colorado River from the crest of the Grand Canyon.
There are sad images too. On our last leg of a tour out West, we had to spend the night in Las Vegas in order to catch a plane back to Georgia. It was my first trip to Vegas and probably my last.
After dinner that night, I wanted to take it all in. I wanted to walk through the crowded Caesar's Palace Casino where we were staying. I wanted to walk the famed Las Vegas strip and see the lights and the sights. But, my wife, Joyce, wouldn’t go!
“I don’t like this place. I’m ready to go home. I’m staying in the room with the door locked. You can go if you want to.”
So, reluctantly and to be honest, a little afraid, I took off to see Sin City alone.
I saw a man lose $2000 in a matter of minutes at a Black Jack table. I saw another who had a big pile of chips gathered around him. His lucky night.
I left Caesar’s Palace and began my walk down the strip. I don’t care to write about many of the things I saw, but I was amazed at how many children were on the strip with their parents. Call me old fashioned, but I wouldn’t take a child to Vegas.
I hadn’t walked very far. Probably about a half mile when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted him. There in front of Harrah’s Casino. I stopped and tried not to stare or stand out among the thousands of people walking the strip.
He appeared well dressed. Neat, shaven, clean looking. He was sitting on the curb. His head buried in his hands. He shook. I ventured a little closer and heard him sobbing.
Next to him with arms wrapped around him was a woman. A good looking woman I might add. With a sad face and trying to be strong, she seemed to be trying to console him.
My pastoral instinct kicked in. I wanted to go over and talk to the man. But, I chickened out and thought it was perhaps in my best interests to leave him be.
I didn’t see much of anything on the rest of my walk. Oh, there was plenty to see, but I didn’t see it. The image of the broken man with the woman’s arms wrapped around him was all I could see.
I still see him, and my mind still wonders at what happened to him that night.
Perhaps he had lost his job and been laid off. Money became tighter and tighter for him. Did he go to Vegas needing money hoping to win the jackpot and have all of his money problems solved?
Did he gamble away all of his savings?
Was he completely flat broke now?
Sitting on a curb. Alone in the midst of thousands. Crying. In despair. At least he had one person who cared for him.
Who was that woman? His wife? Girlfriend?
And, what happened to them? How was the drama resolved?
I can only imagine.
I said a prayer for him. I knew God was in Vegas too. He’s everywhere.
"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast" (Psalm 139:7-10).
Yes, the Lord is everywhere. On top of the mountain rising out of the sea, in the crater of fire, and in the depths of the canyon. He also sits on the curb beside us when all is lost with his arms of love wrapped around us.
I suppose some go to Vegas with thousands of dollars to lose. If they lose, they have more where that came from. Win or lose, it’s an exciting and electrifying environment. It’s an adrenalin rush. After all, Vegas is billed as the Entertainment Capital of the World.
For others like the forlorn man sitting on the curb, they can’t afford to lose. They go to Vegas with a wish and a dream. The promise of quick riches draws desperate people to do desperate things. They can’t afford to lose, but lose they will. If gamblers didn’t lose, the casino industry couldn’t stay in business.
After returning to Caesar’s Palace that night, I saw another fascinating sight. An armed security guard was pushing a hand truck down the corridor.
I felt comfortable starting up a conversation with this fellow. He seemed cordial and affable. A smile on his face.
He was an African-American from New Orleans. He had been laid off and came to Las Vegas looking for work. He now had a good job, good pay, a steady income.
I asked him, “What’s in those crates you’re hauling?”
“About a million dollars.”
That’s the first and probably the last time that I’ve ever been that close to a million dollars.
We chit-chatted walking down the corridor together.
I asked him if he wasn’t afraid he’d be robbed hauling around all of that money.
“No,” he answered. “A thief would never get out of here alive.”
He came to a door, took out his key and opened it. “Well, here’s where I get off,” he said. “Nice meeting you.”
“Yea, same here,” I replied. “God bless you.”
“You have a blessed evening too, sir.”
I peeked inside before he shut the door behind him. It looked like a fortress. Other hand trucks full of cash were parked in the room waiting to ride the secret elevator to the basement where it would be loaded on to an armored truck and driven into a nearby bank’s citadel-like basement where it would be safely deposited.
There are few winners and many, many losers in Las Vegas.
When you think about it, it’s that way in life too. The deck is stacked against you. The house wins.
There is only one NCAA BCS football champion. One hundred nineteen teams are losers.
There is only one Heisman Trophy winner.
There is only one Super Bowl champion. Thirty-one teams are losers.
There is only one elected President. The rest are losers.
Only one gets selected for teacher of the year, salesman of the year, employee of the year. The rest are losers.
There is only one valedictorian.
There are forty-nine losers and only one winner in the Miss America pageant.
There is only one Most Valuable Player. One NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion. One Gold Medal. One World Series winner.
For one to be lifted up, many more have to be put down. It’s like a Las Vegas casino. There have to be many losers to have a winner.
Winners are an elite minority. Losers are a vast majority.
I’m in the majority. How about you?
I’ve never won much of anything. I couldn’t even make my high school baseball team. I wished, dreamed, and hoped. But all of the wishing and hoping couldn’t make up for my lack of skills that I had worked so hard to develop.
I think every young person begins their road of life with hopes and dreams. Ask a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’ve never known a child not to give a ready answer with a sparkle in her eyes.
I don’t think any child has aspirations to sit on the curb in Las Vegas broke and broken.
The path of success is marked out. Get an education. That’s the key. Work hard. Develop marketable skills. Network with the right people - successful people. Live in this neighborhood. Drive that expensive car. Dress for success. Some make it. Many more don’t.
No young couple plans for a divorce when they say, “I do.”
No new employee expects a lay-off after a year on the job.
No one purchases a stock expecting it to go down.
No one takes a drink thinking he will become an alcoholic.
No one puffs a joint hoping to become a drug addict.
No parent holds a new born baby believing that baby will be shot on the field of battle in some far away Middle East country.
Layoffs, breakdowns, breakups, difficulties, addictions, lost opportunities, death, and disability must be dealt with in various ways when hope is lost. Some ways are not emotionally healthy.
“I didn’t like that job anyway. The boss was a jerk. Something better will come along. We’ll make it somehow.” Sour grapes.
“I’ll get even with the ex. I’ll make life miserable for her. She doesn’t know who she is messing with.” Revenge and retaliation.
“I’ll never get over his death. How can I go on? Leave me alone.” Unresolved grief.
“What’s the use? Dad was right. I’ll never amount to anything. I’m not going to dream again. It’s too painful.” Despair and depression.
“There is no God. If he exists, then why are all of these bad things happening to me?” Anger and bitterness.
“I have to have another drink. I’ve got to have another fix to get through this.” Addiction.
There are more losers than winners. Most have lost someone or something dear. If they haven’t, they will, and many will lose hope. Many will refuse to dream again.
And of course, everyone eventually loses. Everyone. Even the winners. Death makes all a loser.
Life ends in defeat no matter how successful, how many trophies, or how much money accumulated. Everything and everyone has to be given up no matter how good the road has been.
I suppose giving up everyone and everything at death is easy for some. “I’ve lived a good life. I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve been fairly successful. All my dreams have come true. I have no regrets. I’m ready to go.” They were in that minority of winners and go out a winner even though they lose. They figure they made it through this life OK and conclude that they can make it through the afterlife all right too if there is one.
But, for us losers, we need real, solid hope. Not some pie in the sky hope. Not some dream to hit the jackpot. We need something or someone to put the sparkle back into our eyes of who and what God meant for us to be.
Hope doesn’t begin today and progress through the New Year or through the years, God willing, that might lie ahead.
Hope begins at the end and anchors us in the present regardless of the losses that can dash a person upon the rocks and sink his ship into the murky depths of hopelessness.
Knowing about Christ gives rise to faith to know Christ relationally. That faith then anchors to the hope of eternal life promised before the beginning of time through Christ (Titus 1:2-3). Faith goes up the stairs that love has made and looks out of the window into eternal life which hope has opened.
My hope rests on the eternal life through faith in Christ. He is already there at the end. He is ahead of me urging me onward and upward. The end determines the means to make it through every disappointment, failure, and loss.
At the same time, he is here with me now as my anchor to withstand the storms of disappointments, loses, defeats, and failure to reach for my goals and dreams. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).
Through his Holy Spirit, his Word (the Bible), worship, and good Christian friends, He is beside you and me speaking words of encouragement. He gives me strength to speak good words and do good deeds instead of pining away in self-pity and shame. I no longer feel the need for revenge and retaliation nor do I feel victimized any more by injustice, cruel treatment, or unfairness (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).
Others may see only a hopeless end, but the Christian rejoices in an endless hope.
Hope begins at the end. Making it to the end successfully where all of my hopes and dreams are realized doesn’t depend on my efforts. It depends on the victory Christ won.
You see, there can be only one winner. That winner is Christ. He alone is number one. All are losers except him because He alone is crowned victorious by the Lord God when he defeated all contestants in the game of life. He rose from the defeat suffered on the cross that killed him to live again. No one else can win that victory. He is the minority of minorities, Lord of lords, and King forever whose reign is without end. He is elite standing alone. All others are losers compared to his triumph over sin and the grave; over death and hell.
I may not have been good enough to make the high school baseball team, but through Christ, I have been chosen to be on the winning team that never loses.
Dream again. Hope again. Hope begins with the star at the end of the journey. Just ask the wise men. The star of hope marked the end of their journey. They followed in faith anchored in the sure hope that led them to the climax of their journey through the desert of perils. There, they gathered around the Giver of eternal life, bowed before Him around the manger, and worshipped him.
And one day, we too will have finished our journey through a sometimes hostile and discouraging desert to gather around the throne and rejoice forevermore. Victors. Winners. Champions. Nothing can stop us from reaching our victory at the end of life’s contest.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
Christ leads us to the ultimate victory and has an awards show scheduled for us when the final contest is over. The Apostle Paul was finishing his last contest and scheduled for execution. He eagerly looked forward in hope to the trophy, the crown of victory, that he would receive. All of those in Christ Jesus can, like Paul, look forward in hope to heaven’s awards banquet.
Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).
Here is the bright hope for 2012, 2013, 2014, and all of the years ahead that the good Lord might give you here on earth.
Blessed hope we have within us is an anchor to the soul,
It is both steadfast and sure;
It is founded on the promises of the Father’s written word,
And ’twill evermore endure.
- William G. Schell
Contact Pastor Dan White. firstname.lastname@example.org
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