When the Director Yells ‘Action’

Imagine you’re on a movie set.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. The director yells “Cut.” The angle wasn’t quite right. Adjustments are made and they try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. This time he fumbles a phrase. The director yells “cut” and they try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. Again, the director yells “cut.” We’re getting a shadow. Let’s try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. “Cut, cut, cut.” The words were right, but there’s something missing. We need to feel it more. Let’s try again.

The director yells “action.” The actor delivers the line. The director yells “cut.” Not bad, this time. I think we can use this one, but let’s do a few more, just in case.

It can be exhausting, saying the same words again and again, expressing the same emotion again and again, striving for the same result again and again.

This is why Randall Wallace, screenwriter of Braveheart, said that the most exciting day of your life is your first day on a movie set, and the most boring day of your life is your second day on a movie set. Making movies is tedious work.

Is it worth it? Any actor would say, “Yes!”

Our lives are made up of one take after another, one attempt after another to do our job and meet our obligations and fulfill our purpose with excellence.

How many takes does it take to get it right?

It takes as many as it takes.

Sometimes it all comes together on the first try. And sometimes you have try again and again and again.

Others see only the end result. But we know what was left on the cutting room floor. We know it’s not always as easy as it looks.

Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Every day is a new day. A new take. A new chance to get it right, to deliver the performance of our lives. This day deserves the best you have to give.

Are you ready?

“Action.”

And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. (2 Thessalonians 3:13)

Hebrews 10:36

Which Will It Be?

In a boxing match, when a fighter is too beat up to continue, what does he do?

Instead of getting back into the ring when the bell signals the next round, he tosses in his towel. The towel admits defeat. It says, “I quit. I lose. I’m done.”

But there’s another phrase from the world of boxing to consider.

In the good old days, it used to be that spectators at a boxing match would be invited to come out of the stands and have a go at one of the pros.

In the noisy, smoke-filled arena, some courageous man would make it official by throwing his hat into the ring. The only way to get it back was to step onto the canvas and take on the champ.

In other words, to throw your hat into the ring was to accept a challenge from which you could not back down.

I think you know where I’m going with this.

Each day, in every area of your life that matters, you hold in one hand your hat, in the other hand a towel.

Each day, by your actions and your attitudes, you throw one or the other into the ring.

It’s either your towel or hat.

Which will it be today?

Make it your hat.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:36)

Settling in for the Long Haul

When John Grisham got the idea to write his first novel, he was a practicing attorney with a heavy caseload and the full-time obligations of family life.

He had a story that he wanted to tell, but there was no easy way to get it done. He knew he couldn’t crank out a novel in a few short weeks, like Stephen King and James Patterson seem to do.

So he decided to do what he could: he would go to the office an hour early each day and write one page.

One page a day. This way, he could finish his first draft in about a year.

And that’s how it played out.

The book was called A Time to Kill. It found its way to a publisher, became a best-seller, and then a popular movie, and it launched an impressive writing career.

This happened because John Grisham made the intentional choice to settle in for the long haul, focused on doing today what needs to be done.

This means that on the days he didn’t feel like writing, he wrote anyway.

And when he wasn’t sure what should happen next in the story, he kept on writing.

When countless agents and publishers said “No thanks” to his first round of queries, he continued to write.

He settled in for the long haul.

There’s a verse in Proverbs that speaks to this.

Steady plodding brings prosperity; hasty speculation brings poverty. (Proverbs 21:5)

It may not seem all that exciting, but if you have any hope of accomplishing what you hope to accomplish, or any hope of becoming the person you hope to become, today just might be mainly about plodding along.

Practice Days

In his book Today Matters, John Maxwell talks about asking legendary basketball coach John Wooden, who had won 10 NCAA championships while at UCLA, what he missed most about coaching.

Wooden’s response?

PRACTICE.

He missed practice the most.

He said, “What you do in practice determines your level of success. I used to tell my players, ‘You have to give 100% everyday. Whatever you don’t give, you can’t make up for tomorrow. If you give only 75% today, you can’t give 125% tomorrow to make up for it.'”

Much of what we’ll do today could be labeled ‘practice,’ though we’re more likely to call it preparation: preparing for the next meeting, the next message, the next service.

It’s amazing how much life consists of getting ready. Wooden’s words remind us that we don’t have the luxury of coasting through these “non-game days.”

Even our practice days deserve 100%.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. (Colossians 3:23)

Gratitude-Inspired Excellence

In 2015 Duke University head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski implemented a powerful strategy that would give his players an extra motivational push as they prepared for March Madness.

He designated a special team ball, and asked everyone — coaches and players — to sign the ball with the names of those who had helped them get to where they are in life. They wrote the names of coaches and teachers and pastors and parents and friends and family members, until dozens of people were represented.

And then they took it with them everywhere: team meals, airplane trips, in the classroom, in the locker room.

Significantly, the ball’s existence wasn’t public knowledge. It wasn’t intended to attract outside attention. It was intended to challenge the team to perform with gratitude-inspired excellence throughout the remainder of the season.

It worked.

After the Blue Devils had won yet another national championship, everyone whose name had been written on the ball received a special note: “Thanks! You were with us every step of the way!” [You can read more about Krzyzewski’s gratitude strategy here.]

YOUR GRATITUDE LIST

There are, without a doubt, at least a few people in your life for whom you could say, “I thank God every time I think of you.”

What if you were to make a memento — a whiteboard, a blank page in the back of your Bible, or even a porcelain coffee mug — and cover it with the names of those who have helped you become the person you are?

What if you made it a point to live each day in pursuit of gratitude-inspired excellence?

Can you imagine the kind of championship you might win?

Nothing To Do With Anything

Jim Abbott grew up dreaming of playing baseball with his friends, even dreamed of someday playing in the major leagues, but the dream was considered all but impossible.

The reason? Jim was born with only one hand.

Still, every day he would practice throwing a rubber ball against against a brick wall, quickly shifting his glove to his hand to catch the rebound. In the process, he developed speed, strength and accuracy.

Soon, he was good enough to play Little League ball with his friends, in spite of his handicap.

And then, good enough to stand out as a top level pitcher in high school.

And good enough to lead the University of Michigan to two Big 10 championships, where he was also named the nation’s best amateur athlete.

Even good enough to be drafted by the California Angels in 1989.

A few years later, while playing for the Yankees, he experienced the highlight of his career: He pitched a no-hitter against the Indians during the ‘93 pennant race.

In a post-game interview, he said…

“When the final out was made, a lot of things went through my mind. The only thing that I didn’t pay attention to was my handicap. It had nothing to do with anything.”

Today there may be so-called limitations in your life that you’ve let yourself believe are holding you back … but, ultimately, they have nothing to do with anything.

That’s because we serve a God whose power knows no limits, and whose grace can sustain us through whatever life brings our way.

Even the circumstances that appear, on the surface, to be impossible — they have nothing to do with anything, because we serve a God whose power has everything to do with everything.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. (2 Corinthians 4:2)

Confronting Procrastination

Confronting Procrastination

Jackson Brown, author of Life’s Little Instruction Book, once said, “Where there is a hill to climb, don’t think that waiting will make it any smaller.”

Waiting, in fact, tends to give hills the time they need to become mountains. For every challenge that accidentally becomes manageable by benefit of procrastination, 999 just get bigger.

There are items that were on everyone’s to-do list last week that didn’t get done. Things important but not urgent. They didn’t get done because that dreadful, demanding, take-no-prisoners last minute hasn’t confronted us yet.

But you know and I know these items could have been — and should have been — marked off the list.

Surviving or Thriving?

Elbert Hubbard said that postponement is the father of failure. It’s also the best friend of mediocrity. The things that we postpone most often are the things that define the line between surviving and thriving — the things that mark the difference between eeking out an average existence and experiencing the fullness of the abundant life.

This includes getting serious about a closer walk with Christ, following through on a ministry opportunity, putting a business idea into action, taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle, making an effort to strengthen a struggling relationship. And so on.

The only thing that stands between you and God’s blessing in any of these areas is inertia. The sooner you move, the sooner the windows of heaven can open.

Joshua once asked the people of Israel, “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?” (Joshua 18:3) He then outlined a simple action plan to follow for their progress.

His idea worked.

How Long Will You Wait?

Maybe we should follow Joshua’s example. You might have 50 things nagging you right now, and there’s no way you can get to all of them this week, but you can knock out one or two — and maybe more than a few.

Take a look at your list. Which items represent a “possession” that you are certain God wants you to take — a victory you are certain he wants you to claim? Put these items at the top, and scratch out a plan that moves you in their direction.

And then, take the first step.

Waiting won’t make the hill any smaller, but start moving in its direction, and you’ll discover the hill doesn’t look nearly as big up close as it did from a distance.

So how long will you wait before you begin to take possession of all that God has given you?

The Role Call of Responsibility

I love reading Nehemiah 3. It’s a list of everyone who finished their part of the Jerusalem Wall project: Eliashib and his fellow priests rebuilt the Sheep Gate, the sons of Hassenaah rebuilt the Fish Gate, Joiada repaired the Old Gate, and on and on.

If Hebrews 11 is the roll call of faith, Nehemiah 3 is the roll call of responsibility.

One verse in particular sticks out.

The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors. (Nehemiah 3:5)

And I especially like the way the KJV says it: “…but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord.”

Have you ever worked with someone like that?

Someone who could pinpoint the problem, who could observe the work around them, but was of no real use in bringing about a solution?

Someone who saw themselves as being just a little above the hands-on effort required to finish the task?

British General Alan Brooke said, “It is child’s play deciding what should be done as compared with getting it done.”

This is a quality that bosses want in their employees, and that ministries need in the their workers: the ability to get things done.

Effective leaders can do more than diagnose the problem. They know how to take the necessary steps to make the problem go away.

Are you ready to “put your neck out” to get the job done?

Choose Your Chair

As a teenager, Luciano Pavarotti had more than one good idea about his future, and more than one option to pursue.

He loved sports, and dreamed of being a football goalkeeper (what others would call a soccer goalie).

He loved teaching, and was attracted to the security this profession offered.

And, of course, he loved to sing.

When an elite professional tenor offered to take him as a student without cost, Pavarotti faced a decision: Which future should he choose?

His father said to him, “Luciano, if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair.”

Pavarotti later told Guideposts: “I chose one. It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera. And now I think whether it’s laying bricks, writing a book — whatever we choose — we should give ourselves to it. Commitment, that’s the key. Choose one chair.

Of all the words written by the Apostle Paul, perhaps his most powerful phrase is: “But this one thing I do.”

Everything about Paul’s life pointed in one direction. Everything he did led him to one chair. His prize was doing what God had called him to do — to know Jesus and to make Jesus known.

Life is a reverse of the game Musical Chairs, in which there are more players than places to sit. You have lots of chairs to choose from. Those who live life best are those who have the courage to choose one chair.

Have you chosen yours?

Who Needs a Team?

On May 26, 1959, Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Harvey Haddix accomplished something no one else in baseball has accomplished. He pitched 12 perfect innings in a game against the Milwaukee Braves.

It was enough to set a record, but it wasn’t enough to get a win.

The score was tied at zero in the bottom of the 13th when the Braves’ lead off hitter reached first on an error. Two batters later, Joe Adcock knocked in the winning run.

The Braves took the game, 1-0. And Haddix took the loss. The Pirates had men on base all afternoon — more than a dozen altogether — but they couldn’t manage to get anyone across home plate.

And so, with no help from the offense, Haddix’s brilliant record-setting performance wound up in the “L” side of the ledger.

Nothing Takes the Place of Teamwork

Today many leaders are convinced if they themselves can maintain a certain level of brilliance, it will be enough to guarantee the success they’re looking for.

While brilliance won’t exactly work against you, it will never take the place of teamwork. You’re not enough by yourself.

Whatever it is you’re trying to do, you can’t do it alone. You need a team — a team of team players.

Solomon wrote…

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up… Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:10, 12)

I encourage you to remind those on your team today that you’re committed to doing your part, that you’ve got their back, and you’re thankful that they’ve got yours.

Life Takes a Team

Today’s reading is an illustration from a sermon I preached back in the nineties … and the principle is still true.

On July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, he was the focus of attention for the entire planet. Even today, his is the name most associated with the moon voyage. His statement “One small step for man…” will never be forgotten.

What often is forgotten, however, is that the Apollo expedition succeeded because a team of committed individuals sacrificed day and night for years to make it happen. Neil Armstrong was only one of 218,000 people involved.

He may have gotten most of the recognition, but he would be the first to tell you that it was a team effort.

The County Fair.

There’s a story about a horse-pulling contest held at a county fair.

The second place winner pulled a sled of 1000 pounds.

The first place winner pulled a sled of 1500 pounds.

But when the two horses were teamed up, together they pulled 4000 pounds of weight.

Life is a team sport. God intends for us to work together in order to achieve success.

It’s as Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

And as Solomon said…

“Two can stand back to back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Do you want to accomplish more each day? Resist the temptation to go it alone. Look for ways to help those around you pull more weight.

Walk On

The day before Walter Carr was scheduled to begin a new job working for a moving company he found himself facing a dilemma: His car broke down and he had no way of getting to work.

Or, rather, no easy way of getting to work.

He realized his only option was to walk the 20 mile distance from his home to the job site — the home of a family he was to help move.

After sleeping a few hours, Walter left at midnight, expecting the walk to take about 8 hours. At the half-way point he stopped to rest. When police officers stopped him for a routine check, Walter told his story.

Intrigued by Walter’s determination to get to work on time, the officers gave him a ride to the jobsite — after taking him to breakfast.

The client family, as well as his co-workers, were impressed with his determination.

And so was his boss, the moving company’s CEO. So impressed, in fact, that he drove from his home in Chattanooga to have lunch with Walter Carr.

While Walter walked the half-hour distance to his lunch meeting, his boss waited for him — along with the clients, the Pelham police, and his co-workers. When he arrived, his boss gave Walter the keys to a Ford Escape SUV.

The clients said their family will be inspired by him whenever they have tough times. “He’s like the poster boy for no excuses. He’s just got this deep faith, he wasn’t alone.”

There will always be times when you can easily (and understandably) get out of doing what you know you need to do. Or … today you can choose to walk on.

For we walk by faith, not by sight…(2 Corinthians 5:7)