In his book, Confessions of a Winning Poker Player, Jack King writes, "Few players recall big pots that they have won - strange as it seems - but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the tough, outstanding beats of his career." I first heard this quote in my early teens, when I saw the 1998 film Rounders. It starred Matt Damon as Mike McDermott, a law student who pays his way through school playing poker, struggling to figure out to which world he truly belongs. It's a great film, full of great quotes like this one. My father and I often call each other just to quote this movie (thanks, in no small part, to John Malkovich's truly laughable Russian accent). But this quote in particular has always stuck with me. It's such a specific and vivid reminder of the human brain's propensity to see, focus on, and relive the negative, often at the expense of all our positive experiences.
I think about this quote a lot. This morning I've been thinking about how the gospel would interact with this quote, with the idea it represents. My father told me once when I was a little boy, "Son, we are sinners being saved." As I've become a man, I have grown to love the freedom I've found in the mysterious tension of following Christ. Of the battle for the world and for history being won while another rages actively inside me. Of being a saint, reborn in Christ, and a sinner, dying in my body. Of being declared righteous, holy, and set apart, and yet naturally behaving in ways that display my kinship with the perishing, and needing to confess, repent, and ask forgiveness. Of living in a kingdom come while I await a kingdom yet to come. Being a Christian is the insanity of floating in a thousand empty spaces while being constantly filled by the infinite. And I love it. I love not needing to have all the answers, not needing to get out of the tension, not needing to fully understand this God I follow and love and serve. I love knowing that I was saved, have been saved, am saved, am being saved, and will be saved, all in one bright and beautiful act of grace, mercy, and sacrificial love.
But sometimes I feel like we don't do a good job of clinging to the gospel in this tension. Instead, we (as human beings love to do) swing the pendulum to the side we find most comforting. "I'm just a sinner saved by grace!" we sing. Or, conversely, "I am a new creation, born again and free from the power of sin!" When the truth is, we're both. And being both is so crucial, because few Christians recall the awesome, regenerative power of the gospel - strange as it seems - but every Christian can remember with remarkable accuracy the tough, outstanding pain of his life. Being both means we never stop needing the gospel this side of heaven. Not just once or twice or however many times it takes to see the truth of it, but daily. The gospel must become repetitive in our lives. Like the soothing comfort of our hot morning coffee or the gentle caress of our cool bed sheets, the gospel must become a daily refuge.
In three weeks, Carly and I will mark the second anniversary of the death of our unborn son, Manuel Dedal Morales. I've been thinking a lot about him lately. And I've been thinking a lot about Jack King's quote lately, and marveling at how heavy my chest gets when I think about Manny, how my eyes hurt, how a lump forms in my throat that I can't choke down, how my arms ache to have held my little boy, and how hard it is to remember all the incredible good that God worked from the pain of his loss. I'll need the gospel every day for the rest of my life, but I'll need it especially bad these next three weeks. Every day. I'll need to be reminded that Christ's death was a sacrificial act that took God's punishment for my sin upon Himself so that I could be free. That Manny's death was not a punishment for my addiction. That I will be reunited with my son in the presence of our Father. That I have hope. And that God works all things to the good of those who love Him.