1 Corinthians 9:24-27

When To Settle for a Tie? (Hint: Never)

Yesterday NFL fans witnessed two examples of courageous coaching — one that paid off and one that didn’t.

Both happened in overtime.

When the Tennessee Titans had a chance to kick a field goal to guarantee a tie with the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Mike Vrabel chose instead to go for it on 4th and 2. The try was successful and a minute later Marcus Mariota threw a game-winning touchdown pass.

When the Indianapolis Colts had a chance to punt to secure a tie with the Houston Texans, coach Frank Reich chose to go for it fourth down, in an effort to continue the drive and keep the hope of victory alive. The fourth down effort failed; Houston capitalized and kicked a game-winning field goal with seconds left.

Inevitably, one will coach will be praised and the other will be criticized, because that’s what analysts get paid to do between Sundays.

However, I love both decisions. And I especially like what losing coach Reich said in his post-game press conference. When asked about the risky decision, he said:

“I’ll address it now: I’m not playing to tie. I’ll do that 10 times out of 10. That’s just the way it’s got to roll.”

(As an aside, you may remember Frank Reich as the quarterback who led both the greatest college comeback and the greatest NFL comeback in history. He’s nothing if not competitive.)

Jesus once told a story [Matthew 25] about a servant who was entrusted with an amount of money, who — instead of risking an investment — chose to bury it in the sand. The servant later reported back to his master, saying (in effect), “Here’s the money you gave me. I didn’t earn anything with it, but I didn’t lose any either. Let’s call it a tie.”

Interestingly, the master in this parable called the servant “wicked and lazy” — because he was unwilling to take a risk.

In a letter to the church in Corinth, Paul said…

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24)

Paul is saying: Don’t live your life half-way. Don’t settle for a tie.

Fulfilling God’s call on your life sometimes involves risk: the risk of failure, the risk of opposition, the risk of hardship. But the reward, it cannot be denied, is worth more than the risk, always. The prize is worth more than the price, always.

Maybe there’s an area of your life where you’ve been tempted to settle for a tie — to run with the pack instead of running with the best. Now is the time to ask yourself:

What courageous decision do I need to make? What can I do today to run in such a way that I can win the prize?

A Living Example

A Living Example

Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)

Paul wrote these words to Timothy because Timothy’s age appears to be the one thing most likely to hinder him in ministry.

Chances are, it was more of a stumbling block to Timothy than to anyone else. Regardless, it was an obstacle that could be overcome with action: Being a living example of the person God calls  us to be, Paul said, will get you past whatever whatever limitations you may think you have.

If Paul were writing to you today, how would finish this verse? “Don’t let anyone look down on you because …”

Because what?

Because you’re old? Because you’re different? Because of your race or gender? Because you lack education or financial resources? Because you have a past? Because you’re less than perfect?

Which things, real or imagined, stand between you and your ability to be the leader God has called you to be?

Today is the day to put them aside. Focus instead on being the person God called you to be. Focus instead, today specifically, on being an example for others.

In spite of your perceived limitations, you can still show others how this life is to be lived. As The Message phrases this verse…

Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity.

Whatever your limitations may appear to be, they cannot stand in the way of your commitment to be a living example of God’s presence in your life.

Philippians 2

A Chance to Make a Difference

I read an interesting story in the Tampa Bay paper a few years back. It’s about Andy Law, a young man living in Hudson, Florida.

One morning, as Andy was reading the daily news over coffee, he came across a story that shocked him. Joseph Prudente, a sixty-six year old man in nearby Beacon Woods had gone to jail — for the crime of having a brown lawn. No kidding. A brown lawn.

Joseph had received notices from the local homeowners association that his grass wasn’t green enough for community standards. Facing health problems and struggling financially, Joseph overlooked the notices. He could barely make his mortgage payment; lawn care was a luxury beyond his means.

So the homeowner’s association did what was in their power: they filed a court order against him and had him arrested — without the option of posting bail.

Here’s where Andy comes in. He had troubles of his own. His business was failing, he was on the verge of losing his own house, and he was considering bankruptcy. But as he read Joseph Prudente’s story, Andy decided that something must be done.

He began calling friends to help out. Soon the Prudente’s yard was full of working volunteers.

During the day, others dropped off gifts. Another man came to repair the sprinkler. Andy borrowed some lawn equipment and convinced a nursery to donate sod.

By sundown, their work was done: the yard was covered with new green grass, trimmed with red mulch, flowers, and the sprinkler was working again.

As the work was completed, there was a sudden, thick downpour. Joseph’s wife, Jennifer, stood in the rain with her arms open wide. “Our luck is changing,” she said.

The next day Joseph was released from jail. Though he still faced fines and court costs, he is now a free man  … as long his grass stays the right shade of green.

From my perspective, this story is more about Andy than it is about Joseph. Yes, it’s outrageous that you can go to jail for having brown grass, and I realize there are those who will see only this aspect of the story.

More impressive, however, is the fact that one young man, also down on his luck, put his own problems on the back burner long enough to make a difference in someone else’s life.

This is an example of Paul’s words in Philippians being put into practice: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

Maybe we should consider which of our worries we can put aside today, and how we can use our time and resources to make a difference in the lives of others.

Billy Graham

Billy Graham

Just heard that Billy Graham passed away this morning. He was 99. One of his best quotes…

“Someday, you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

The Greatest Use of Life

William James said…

“The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast us.”

The overwhelming majority of things we do during the day are profoundly temporary. Driving here or there. Having a meal. Watching TV.

Even at work, what we do is more often about fixing yesterday’s problems than realizing tomorrow’s dreams.

So how do we bring a sense of the eternal into each day? How do we ensure we spend our lives building something that will outlast our time here on earth?

The only two things that last forever are the Word of God and people. If you want to build something in your life that will last, look for ways to connect these two.

Look for ways to speak God’s Word into the lives of others. This involves more than quoting Bible verses, though that is certainly part of it. It involves bringing the presence of God into every conversation.

Paul said…

But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. (1 Corinthians 14:3)

This kind of prophecy doesn’t require a microphone or a podium. In fact, it’s most effectively done one-on-one.

Try it today. In every conversation, ask yourself, “How can I help this person experience experience more of God’s strength? How can I encourage him or her to keep pressing on? What words can I use to help them feel the comfort of God’s Spirit?”

It may require only a sentence or two, but every time you do this you’ll be building something that will last for all eternity.

Just Like New Year’s Day

I love New Years Day, not only for the bowl games and the black-eyed peas, but for the new beginning it represents. It’s a chance to press “reset.” You can close out last year’s books, leave yesterday behind, and look ahead with a fresh determination to the changes you know you need to make.

This is also why I love Mondays. It’s like a mini-New Year’s Day — and we get 52 of them to work with every calendar year.

Each Monday you can build on the success of last week, or you can wipe the slate clean and give it another go. Or, better yet, you can do a little bit of both.

Today, as you map out your strategy for the coming week, consider focusing on two areas.

1.) Is there a success can you build on? Is there an area in which you can set the bar a little a higher and demand a little more from yourself? Challenge yourself to move to the next level.

2.) Is there an area in which you failed to meet expectations? An area in which you could have done better, should have done better, but didn’t quite measure up? Rather than berating yourself, or throwing in the towel, give yourself permission to try again.
Dozens of items will find their way onto your to-do list this week; I’m encouraging you to zero in on two: one to build on and another to take back into the boxing ring.

Confronting both will keep you moving in the right direction.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

It’s Monday, friends. It’s like a mini-New Year’s Day. Time to press reset and press on toward the prize.

One Thing I Do

Two hundred years ago Anna Letitia Baurbald wrote, “The most characteristic mark of a great mind is to choose some one important object, and pursue it for life.”

The mark of greatness hasn’t changed. Those who are great pursue one important object — and they do it for life.

Paul said, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-13)

Paul also said, “Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24) He’s telling us that successful accomplishment of our ministry and spiritual ideals should always be our objective.

What one thing do you want to pursue for the rest of your life? I encourage you to follow Paul’s example: put the past behind you once and for all, get your eyes focused on your goal, and pursue it with all your heart.

Lessons From the Crowd

Living in the Nashville area, I am something of a Tennessee football fan — both the Titans and the Volunteers. (Actually, my first love is Oklahoma State football, but that’s not central to today’s post.)

Most football fans are aware that Tennessee lost a thriller to Florida last Saturday — a heart breaking loss.

A quick recap: When Tennessee tied the score with a minute to go, the game seemed headed for overtime. Then, just as time ran out, the Gators won on a 63 yard precision pass play that no one — especially the Vols — saw coming.

After watching the game live on Saturday, I watched it again on the SEC Network playback later in the week, glutton for punishment that I am .

And that’s when I noticed the point I want to make today.

It happened just moments before the winning play. Florida, at their own 35, had just run the ball up the middle for a short gain. Then they wasted some time on the clock before calling time out.

Of course, as I watched the playback, I knew what was coming next.

But those in the stands watching it live didn’t know what was coming next, and the Florida crowd didn’t like the play call at all.

When the clock finally stopped with nine seconds to go, the fans began to boo — loudly. It appeared to them that their team had squandered an opportunity.

As it turns out, the Gators had squandered nothing. On the next play they scored the game-winning touchdown and the rumbling boos were replaced with thunderous cheers and joyous celebration.

Now, here’s my point.

The booing before the winning play was loud. Loud enough to distract a less-than-focused team. Loud enough to rattle a less-than-confident quarterback.

But the Gators, to my chagrin, paid no attention to the noise from the stands. They just ran the next play and won the game in highlight-reel fashion.

There are some lessons to learn here.

First. You can be one play away from an earth-shaking victory … and still get booed.

Second. Those booing you now might be cheering you soon. And vice-versa. Crowds tend to be fickle.

Third. Don’t let the grumbling from the bleachers throw you off your game — especially when you’re trying to correct a mistake. Simply do next what you know you’re called to do, and do it as well as you can.

Last, but not least — if you’re the Vols, cover the deep guy.

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

It Takes Two

John Maxwell tells a story about a young boy selling pencils door-to-door in his neighborhood for a nickel apiece. One prospective buyer asked him what he planned to do with the money.

He said, “I’m trying to raise a million dollars to help build a new hospital.”

The buyer said, “That’s a big job for just one boy, isn’t it?”

“It’s not so hard,” the boy said. “I’ve got a friend helping me.”

It’s amazing how much smaller even the biggest tasks become when you’ve got someone beside you. Too many times we tackle challenges alone and try to solve problems on our own — and ultimately we learn that working this way makes us vulnerable to discouragement and defeat.

When you accepted the call to ministry, or even the call to discipleship, you took on an enormous job. You can’t do it alone. It takes two, at least. You need someone to help you get the job done.

I challenge you this week to consider a few things.

• Take a minute to identify your partners. In each project, think about their role and your role, how you complement one another, and how you can build on one another’s strengths. Make it a point this week to focus on what’s right in the relationship, not what’s wrong.

• Take on a partner. In the areas where you struggle — personal, spiritual, career, ministry — ask yourself, “Who can I bring in to help me make this better?” Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, having a team member can get you there faster.

• Lend a hand. Is there someone you know in the midst of a massive pencil selling campaign? Maybe you can pitch in long enough to help them bring their project to the finish line.

Solomon talked about this idea in Ecclesiastes. He talks about how futile it is to work alone. He reminds us…

Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor. (Ecclesiastes 4:9)

More importantly, Solomon reminds us that working with a team helps one bounce back more quickly from defeat.

If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble. (Ecclesiastes 4:10)

Solomon finishes this thought by saying…

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 put your life in overdrive? Bring on a partner. Or two or three. See how much more quickly you move down the road of accomplishment.

The Willingness to Try Again

Albert Einstein once said, “I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent. Curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me my ideas.”

He’s saying, basically, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

He may have understated his intelligence and talent, but he does so to make a point: For more than any other reason, he was successful because he was persistent.

I’m no Einstein, but I can also say that whatever success I have experienced can be attributed to this same principle.

I can also say that my failures weren’t so much the result of a lack of talent or the lack of worthwhile goals; they were the result of quitting too soon.

Solomon said, “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” (Proverbs 24:16)

When I struggle with failure in any area, I have to remind myself several times a day that the difference between my being a wise man and a fool … the difference between my being righteous and unrighteous … is determined by my willingness to get back up and try again.

Have you fallen down? Has it happened more than once? If you’re like most, maybe you’re ready to throw in the towel. But remember this: if a good idea is worth one good try, it’s worth a thousand more.

Take another look at the goals God has given you. Then get up, and try again.

Too Soon to Quit

Too Soon To Quit

B.C. Forbes said, “History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.”

Or, as Norman Vincent Peale used to say, “It’s always too soon to quit.”

This is why Paul encouraged us…

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

The “proper time” sometimes takes a little longer to arrive than we like — until it feels like it will never arrive. This is when it’s time to engage your faith. It’s time to decide to dig in and stick around a little longer.

It’s never a good time to quit.

The Christian life — and more specifically, the ministry — consists of overcoming one setback after another. That’s because we’re in a spiritual battle and everyday we confront the enemy.

We may lose a little ground from time to time, but we will not lose the war. We have been promised victory — a harvest of righteousness — if we do not give up.

It’s always too soon to quit.

Thomas Edison

A Fresh Start

On December 9, 1914, fire swept through the factories owned by Thomas Edison in West Orange, New Jersey.

The damage totaled millions of dollars. Practically everything of Edison’s was destroyed, including journals and records of works in progress.

Since Edison was not a young man when this happened, many sent condolences and notes of sympathy, assuming the tragedy would prompt his retirement.

Edison’s response? “I am 67, but I’m not too old to make a fresh start.”

Neither is too late for your fresh start. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how how much you may have lost in the fires of the past.

Today is a new day, a fresh start is yours for the taking.

I have friends who entered the mission field in their sixties. And friends who have launched new businesses after retirement. Chuck Swindoll planted a new church in Texas at the age of 64. My own dear gray-haired mother became a novelist at the age of 73; she’s working now on her sixth book.

To be clear, though, today’s post isn’t about age.

It’s about having the courage to start the next chapter in your life, regardless of how the previous chapter came to a close.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19)

God is ready to begin something new in your life. A fresh start. He has forgotten the former things; you can, too.

This new creation will spring up soon.  Do you perceive it? Will you receive it?