. . . It’s How You Finish

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Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

Ecclesiastes 7:8, KJV

Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.  NLT

In 2012, the Philadelphia Eagles went 4-12 in Andy Reid’s final season as head coach. One year later, Charles “Chip” Kelly is the head coach and he totally turned the team around: the Eagles went from worst to first, and won the toughest division in the NFL.  The Eagles were like the eagle – in the end, they mounted up, and soared.

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The Eagles began the 2013 season 1-4, and lost Michael Vick, their mobile, franchise quarterback to injuries. The Eagles ended the season 7-1, and are much improved on defense AND can boast having the League’s rushing leader, Sean McCoy. In the end, the Eagles beat the Dallas Cowboys, 24-22, and won the NFC East in the process. The turnaround happened in a year, in a blink. The reward is a home, wildcard playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field against the New Orleans Saints.

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.  “It was an outstanding coaching job,” said owner Jeff Lurie, speaking of the Eagles’ head coach. “But I think the main thing was outstanding leadership, outstanding handling of an NFL team coming in, in every way — showing leadership, motivation, class at all times, understanding where the players are coming from, instituting a new offense and defense, hiring great people.”

The ragged start and the rising finish of my Eagles this season epitomized the axiom, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” and gave further proof to the Biblical truth professed by the wise and noble Solomon, the son of David, the preacher who penned these words: “Better is the end of a thing. . . ” (Ecclesiastes 7:8). 

It’s not how you start. “The text expresses the general principle or doctrine, that by the condition of our existence here, if things go right, a conclusion is better than a beginning. The fruit is better than the blossom; the reaping is better than the sowing; the enjoyment than the reaping; the second stage of a journey to the happy home is better than the first; the home itself than all; the victory is better than the march and the battle; the reward is better than the course of service; the ending in the highest improvement of means is better than being put at first in possession of them. In all this we see is conditionally, and not absolutely, that “the end is better than the beginning.” (John Foster, The Bible Illustrator OT).

So it’s absolutely how you finish. Don’t worry about those who seem to be ahead of you financially, socially, professionally, politically, or even spiritually. God is the one who keeps score.  He is the “One great scorer” (See “How You Play the Game, July 15th Blog):

When the One great scorer comes

To write about your name

He writes not that you won or lost

But how you played the game…

In the final analysis, God, the “One Great Scorer” writes how you play the game and how you finish the game.  Because it’s not how, or even where, you start – it’s how you finish. Good starts are great, and great starts are good, but not everyone can start fast. So do as Nelson Mandela did (December 6th Blog); forget about your start; focus on your finish, and finish the year strong.

Backwards and Forwards

XII FINA World Championships - Diving

At the end of the year, as we prepare to dive into 2014, we are in the midst of what is, and what was, and what is to come.  The photo shows an Inward dive which begins with the diver at the end of the springboard with her back to the water. The diver is facing backwards, but the end result is that she will be moving forwards. This is the position we find ourselves in: at the end of our springboards, facing backwards as we prepare to dive forwards.

At the end of the year, most everyone, and athletes more than most, look backwards and forwards.  We look back over the past year’s accomplishments and achievements, and forward to the coming year’s promises and potentials.  Sports teams and athletes look back at what could have been, and look forward to what may well be.  As believers, we should do the same. We should be well versed in the already and the not yet; what has happened and what is yet to occur. 

To know something backwards and forwards is an idiom which means “to be extremely well-informed about something.”  As people of faith, we should be extremely well-informed about what God has done, what He is doing, and what He is about to do.  Looking at past victories helps us to long for future triumphs. We must be well versed and “well informed” about something. And that something is our faith in God.  We are to be “rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith” (Colossians 2:7), so that we can take root downward and bear fruit upward.

Backwards and forwards covers where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.  It includes going from strength to strength, from victory to victory and from glory to glory.  Thus the “Theology of Sports” covers and includes both the theology and the philosophy of sports.  Theology and philosophy include life and love; passion and pathos; winning and wanting to win; losing and hating to lose.  “Correctly understood, theology and philosophy are inextricably intertwined.”

Jesus is our “backwards and forwards.”  He is our alpha and omega, our first and our last, our beginning and our ending, and everything in between. Jesus is our theology and our philosophy. “Traditionally, theology is defined as “faith seeking understanding.”  Philosophy is indispensable to theology because it articulates the questions that theology answers. And, from a Christian perspective, philosophy needs theology, for the final source and substance of wisdom is the God who has reveled himself to us in Christ.”

Jesus is our faith and our reason.  Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, and the cause and effect of our reason.  “Faith and reason are thus the two ‘wings’ on which the human spirit rises to contemplate truth. God has placed a desire to know him in our hearts so that we can also come to know the fullness of truth about ourselves. It is marvelous to learn by firsthand experience that ‘all truth is God’ s truth’ and that one cannot pursue truth sincerely in any field of endeavor without coming eventually to fall – backwards and forwards – into His arms.” (Excerpts from Professor H.S. Horton-Parker, Regent University)

From Strength To Strength

Remember The TitansThey go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:7, New International Version

To go from strength to strength means to become better and better or more and more successful.”  This is God’s game plan for His people. To become better and better; to become more and more successful; to become more and more like Him.

Our ultimate goal is to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The NLT translates Psalm 84:7 this way: “they will continue to grow stronger and stronger and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.” This is the picture of the people of God. This is the report of the redeemed of the Lord. This is the story of the saints.

Remember the Titans is the American sports drama based on the 1971 segregated T. C. Williams High School football team.  The film centers on the true story of African American coach Herman Boone portrayed by Denzel Washington, as he tries to unite a racially divided team in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Alexandria, Virginia during the early 1970s. It is a top ten feel good sports film.  If you haven’t seen it, watch it.  It’s worth it.

Herman Boone went from strength to strength. Boone is a black head coach who is hired to lead the school’s football team.  Actor Will Patton portrays Bill Yoast, an assistant coach making a transition to help out Boone. The real life portrayal of athletes Gerry Bertier and Julius Campbell, played by Ryan Hurst and Wood Harris, appear within the harmonized storyline and vividly portrays individual effort and collective strength. Although Bertier could not play in the title game due to injury, the team goes on to win the State Championship.

Remember the Titans explores civil topics such as racism, discrimination and athletics.  The individual team members, the coaches, and the entire team collectively get better and better and stronger and stronger as the season wears on, as they conquer the hurdles that stand between them and the ultimate goal; a united, unified, unmitigated and unadulterated championship team. 

My Eagles have gone from strength to strength.  They lost to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7, way back on October 20th, 17-3.  It was an ugly loss as ugly play plagued an even uglier game which the Eagles coulda’, shoulda’, woulda’ won had they played to their potential.  Quarterback Nick Foles played erratically in his first full game of the season, as the Eagles went down to a Cowboys team that really wasn’t that good.

Now, on the verge of winning the NFC East, my Birds are poised to do the unexpected; win the Division Title  which no one, and I mean NO ONE, expected them to.  Nick Foles and the Eagles indeed have continued to grow stronger and stronger this season.  Now, it’s time to finish strong and seal the deal.

So remember the Titans and remember what we are to do as saints; we are to go from strength to strength;  we are to grow stronger and stronger as we long to appear before our God.

Expect The Unexpected

Eagles v. Bears

Eagles 54 – Bears 11?

There are some games that turn out contrary to what most expected going in. Some contests have a final score wildly different from what the prognosticators predicted. And some match-ups don’t look like much on paper, yet they have outcomes outlandishly opposite our best hopes or worst fears.  Some nights, everything turns out right (or wrong) depending on which sideline you stand on.

As a believer in the God of the Bible, I’ve come to expect the unexpected. This is true in my spiritual life as well as my natural life, and my “sports life” as well.  Last night, with the entire NFL world watching, my Eagles did the unexpected. Not only did they defeat the favored Chicago Bears, they walloped them. The final score was 54 to 11, and, as they say in the sports biz, “it wasn’t that close.” The Eagles did just about everything right, and the Bears did just about everything wrong.

God is the God of the unexpected. He unexpectedly allowed Elizabeth to give birth to John the Baptist at a very old age. God unexpectedly chose the Virgin Mary to be the mother of our Lord. And He unexpectedly chose shepherds to be the first recipients of the message of the birth of Christ. God is full of surprises.

God is the God of the unexpected. The devil did not believe the Scripture which prophesied of a Virgin conceiving and giving birth to Immanuel, God with us.  Our enemy did not factor in God using an unknown, unlikely and unsuspecting humble girl to be the mother of Jesus Christ. That old serpent could not prevent the coming of the Christ child, even though he used Herod to slaughter the innocents.

As a believer in the God of the Bible, I’ve come to expect the unexpected.  God is the God the unexpected and Christmas is the ultimate expression of this expected unexpectancy.  We should trust that our God will do the impossible, the improbable and the unexplainable in order to deliver His people from depression and dejection, and to save His people from oppression and suppression; He will go to any length and leave no stone unturned to save His people from the penalty, power and presence of sin.

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The Star of Bethlehem was an unexpected sign to the wise men of the expected coming of our Lord, and this song by the 2nd Chapter of Acts neatly sums it up:

 Heaven came to earth in a small package

For a child was born, a gift to man

Yes the living light came to the darkness

Wore the harness of mankind

 

Laid His body down to be sin for us

Gave His earthly crown so we could be kings

Yes He came to break the yoke of darkness

That would harness all mankind

 

This morning star of love still shines (and shines)

We buried Him within our sin but He rose again

 

Gave His heart away so we could find Him

Changed our night to day so we’d live in light

Tore the veil between the light and darkness

Broke the harness for mankind

 

This morning star of love still shines (and shines)

We buried Him within our sin but He rose again

 

Let our hearts rejoice in Christ our Savior

Let us come before His throne with praise

Let us pray for peace so we’ll break the darkness

Melt the hardness of mankind

   Artist: 2nd Chapter of Acts ,  Heaven Came to Earth

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, God pulls a fast one.  Just when you think you’re at the end of your rope and all hope is lost, God has a way of doing the unexpected. When the odds are against you and it seems that no one is with you or “for” you, God has a way of doing only what only He can do; He will step up and step in and set the record straight. God will do what is impossible for man but is totally possible for Him, because He is God.

This Christmas, expect the unexpected.

Rise To The Occasion

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Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him.  But let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.    Ps 68:1, 3, KJV

In the greatness of your majesty, you overthrow those who rise against you.    Exodus 15:7

The Louisville Cardinals won the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship after their star point guard Kevin Ware went down with a gruesome leg injury during one of the tournament games.  As he lay on the floor in obvious pain, his words to his coach and is teammates were “I’ll be OK . . . Just win the game.” His teammates compensated for his absence, rallied from double-digit deficits in almost every game, and rose to the occasion by defeating Michigan in a thrilling final.  Their motto was “Rise to the occasion.”

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God has an uncanny ability; He has the ability to rise to the occasion. God can and God will rise to any and every occasion, whatever the occasion may be.  He will rise.  When the children of Israel cried unto God because of their malicious and malevolent taskmasters, God came down and rose to the occasion.  When Leah was hated by Jacob and mistreated by Laban, God rose to the occasion. When wicked Haman plotted against the people of God and tried to rise against them to destroy them, God rose to the occasion.

God is omniscient, He is omnipotent, and He is omnipresent.  He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and everywhere present. There is no situation that He is not aware of; no confrontation that he cannot handle, and no place He cannot arrive at just in time.  He is the Almighty God. The Eternal, Everlasting God.  He cannot lie. What He says He will do, and He will do just what He says. 

God will rise to every occasion. Martin Luther King Jr. said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Where ever there is sickness or sadness, poverty or pestilence, oppression or repression, God will descend from the Heavens and rise to the occasion.

God will right every wrong. Every form of oppression will be overthrown, be it racism or sexism or ageism. God came to overthrow all “isms.”  God called Abraham at the age of 75 to debunk ageism; God called a woman called Deborah to be the Judge of Israel to debunk sexism; and God called a woman named Ruth, a Moabite from the other side of the tracks, to marry Boaz and be the ancestress of Jesus Christ to debunk racism.  The words of the great writing prophet are true:“Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:  And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed . . .” (Isaiah 40:4-5a, KJV).

Oh belittled and beleaguered believer, rest assured that God will rise to your occasion. He rose to the occasion for Moses and the children of Israel when they needed a way out of Egypt and a way through the Red Sea.  God rose to the occasion for Elijah when he sent fire from heaven on top Mt Carmel. He rose to the occasion for Joshua and the walls of Jericho came ‘a tumbling down.  You can rise to the occasion just like the Louisville Cardinals did. And God will rise to the occasion for you.

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Work In and Work Out

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Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Philippians  2:12-13, KJV

I need to work out. Instead of dutifully going to the gym and participating in the fellowship of the gym rats, I’ve gotten lazy, both physically and spiritually.  Instead of doing what my personal trainer has instructed me to do, I’ve gotten listless, both mentally and emotionally.  I haven’t consistently applied the principles that would produce a productive and profitable preacher.  I haven’t worked out faithfully, I haven’t read my Bible consistently, and I haven’t sought the Lord earnestly.  

God needs to work in.  God needs to work in us. God needs to work in us love and joy and peace and longsuffering and gentleness and goodness and faith and meekness and temperance, which is self control.  But in order for God to work in (us), we need to work out.  Working out helps you to stay attentive to the things of God.  Working out helps you to stay alert for the wiles of the devil. Working out helps you to stay aware of  God’s plan and God’s purpose every minute of every hour of every day. 

The children of Israel worked out. They had to get their own straw when Pharaoh commanded his taskmasters to refrain from giving His people straw as had been the practice.  The Jews realized that the tide was going out and the wind was not blowing their way. “And the officers of the children of Israel did see that they were in evil case . . . (Exodus 5:19, KJV).  So instead of letting His people get lax and lazy, God fixed it so that “the more the Egyptians afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew.”  They worked out. And God worked in their situation.

So work out so that God can work in. Instead of waiting for “things” to work out, we need to be pro-active and progressive, not reactive regressive; we need to set the pace for others and not let others set the pace for us. Work out in the Word.  Work out on your knees in prayer. Work out in service to others. Work out so that God can work His good pleasure in you.

Work Ethic: A Family Affair

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God worked.  He worked for six days, creating the heavens and the earth, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea and the beasts of the field.  God worked diligently and deliberately. God worked efficiently and effectively and he expects us to do the same. God worked and I believe God worked hard and He worked smart. If He could, God would have come early and stayed late.  God would have worked overtime if He had to, to get the job, or “get ‘er” done. Yes God finished the work he had been doing and rested on the seventh day, but for six days, He worked.

Adam worked.  God made man to work.   “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).  Adam worked hard and he worked smart.  He was responsible for all of the animals and the tilling of the ground. Adam had and developed a work ethic.

Work ethic is a value based on hard work and diligence. It is also a belief in the moral benefit of work and its ability to enhance character. A work ethic includes being reliable, having initiative, and pursuing goals and new skills. Players and workers exhibiting a good work ethic in theory should be selected for better positions, more responsibility and ultimately promotion.

Rahab worked. She had faith, but was also  justified by her works. “Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” (James 2:25).   James goes on to say that “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (v. 17). Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” 

The Williams sisters have a solid work ethic.  A solid  work ethic has led Serena Williams to win an astonishing seventeen-time Grand Slam titles. The older Venus is a seven-time Grand Slam title winner.

The Williams sisters have worked for the honors they have achieved. Both sisters have had the honor of being ranked by the Women’s Tennis Association at the World No. 1 position. In 2002, after the French Open, Venus Williams and Serena Williams were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively. During the 2010 French Open, they became the co-world no.1 players in women’s doubles, in addition to holding the top two positions in singles tennis as well.

Williams Sisters

Because God worked, and Adam worked, and Rahab and all of the other mighty men and women of faith worked, we are to work as well.  “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26).  And here is the kicker: “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (v. 20).

So work hard and work smart. Pray. Fast. Fast and pray. Study the Word of God. Work at it.  Be diligent and deliberate, not haphazard and higgledy-piggledy; be efficient and effective, not jumbled and mumbled. Your spiritual hard work will pay off. And you will be able to “rest” from your labor, AFTER you work.  When we die to our selfish and sinful ways, our “death” will result in new life. Dying in the Lord is both natural and spiritual.  Resting is both natural and spiritual as well.

“Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them’ (Revelation 14:13).