The prevailing theme at my Mom’s funeral this week was how she finished strong. I have been thinking a lot about that topic. A recent conversation came to mind with a person who could not let go of past failures, bad decisions, and missed opportunities. My Mom’s life drove home a very important fact. God does not care about yesterday. His focus is on today and how we live and respond in this moment. How I wish that we could wrap our minds and souls around that as well. We too often live in regret of the past and fear of the future. Neither place is God’s will for His child.
Christians believe that Jesus forgives us. It is a simple act of faith. Nothing that we can do to earn or work for this forgiveness. It is a gift of grace.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
Americans have a cultural value of working for and earning what we get. The salvation that Jesus taught is an enigma to our culture. Surely we must do something to earn it. We often struggle with other aspects of the gift of grace. We are, Jesus says, forgiven. But we cannot forgive ourselves. We cannot forgive others. God no longer sees our past sins. But we still live in the past. I have seen that real forgiveness releases the past and allows us to live today. I have made many mistakes in my past. But I am praying that I can continue to learn that God cares about what I do today. You plan for tomorrow but you live in this day. That is all we are guaranteed. And frankly, the rest of this day is not sure. So I join with Paul as he write this to the church at Philippi.
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. NLT
I pray that I will finish strong. Allow me to take Paul’s athletic metaphor and put it into my world. For twenty three seasons I have directed Major League baseball games. I am the faceless guy (actually I have a face, it just isn’t on camera) that selects the camera shots that you see during a televised game. Over the years I have learned this valuable spiritual lesson from the National Pastime. I have learned how important it is to be a good closer. In baseball parlance the closer is the pitcher who comes into the game in the last inning to protect the lead and finish off the win. It all comes down to the closer. If he does well the collective efforts of nine position players and the pitchers that proceeded will have a happy ending. If the closer fails all of that effort is wasted. So what is the spiritual lesson learned from a baseball closer?
Closing out well is critical as a follower of Christ. Sadly that is not a given. Many great men of the Bible did not finish well. They allowed the efforts of many around them to end in frustration and anguish because they did not close well. The honest portrayal of human success and failing is something I love about God’s Word. It is one important aspect that makes the Bible unique and real. The Bible does not spin the failures of godly men and women. Would you write a book attempting to persuade others to your beliefs and choose to have it detail many adherents who failed miserably? With all due respect to Mr.O’Reilly, the Bible is the original “no spin zone”. The successes and failures are equally displayed. Men with great stories still managed to not close well. Examples? How about the story of Saul? How sad to hear words like this at the end of your journey.
“How foolish!” Samuel exclaimed. “You have disobeyed the command of the LORD your God. Had you obeyed, the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your dynasty must end, for the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart. The LORD has already chosen him to be king over his people, for you have not obeyed the LORD’s command.” 1 Sam 13 NLT
Imagine when the prophet came to Eli and proclaimed this dire message. What a kick in the spiritual gut this must have been.
“Therefore, the LORD, the God of Israel, says: The terrible things you are doing cannot continue! I had promised that your branch of the tribe of Levi would always be my priests. But I will honor only those who honor me, and I will despise those who despise me.
I would be willing to wager (note to Spiritual Hall Monitors – a figure of speech – no actual wagering will occur) that Saul and Eli were planning on closing well. They had moments of great leadership and fellowship with God. But they couldn’t close. You know that Saul’s story ended in madness. The results for Levi’s sons were horrific. His family needed a man who could start well, stay strong, and close it out with integrity and faith.
I want to finish strong like my Mom. I want to close this journey with an effort that honors the One who was willing to finish for me. Paul understood athletics. Sports can be a good metaphor for life and he knew that well. At the end of my life race I have a couple of options that I could hear.
a) You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. Gal 5
b) You have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the faith. (Paraphrase of 2 Tim 4)
I choose b) for the words I want to hear. Author Kenneth Blanchard says, ‘There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.’
That is why I hold myself so accountable. I am committed to this journey with Jesus. And I accept no excuses in my own life. I will fall at times. But I intend to get right back up and follow Jesus faithfully. Regular readers of these ramblings (all six of you know who you are) know that I am a big fan of song lyrics to portray messages. Songwriter Mark Schultz is a brilliant writer/composer/storyteller. His song Time That is Left is rumbling through my mind as I sign off.
What will you do with the time that’s left?
Will you live it all with no regret?
Will they say that you loved till your final breath?
What will you do with the time that’s left?
And what will He say when your time has come?
And He takes you into His arms of love
With tears in His your eyes will He say “well done”?
What will you say when your time has come?
Pray that you will close well. Like my Mom.