Lessons When Your ‘Clicker’ Goes Bad

Clicker

For the past few years, I’ve used a “clicker” to control the PowerPoint slides when I preach. In the old days I had to wait for the guy in the sound booth to advance my slides, but no more!

Being in control is exhilarating, so it’s no wonder I love the PowerPoint clickers. Best of all, they eliminate the need to rely on anyone else to help me while I preach. I can do it all by myself, and I like it that way.

When I was preparing for a ministry trip in Ohio a few months ago, I purchased a fancy new clicker that had a longer range and some additional bells and whistles. I couldn’t wait to use it for the first time, and I shared my excitement with the church where I was preaching.

“This will be the first time I use my new PowerPoint clicker,” I told them with pride. “I love these clickers, because they allow me to be in complete control. It’s so cool not having to wait for the slides to move and not having to rely on anyone else.”

But when I pushed the button on my new clicker, nothing happened. The slides wouldn’t advance. Something was wrong with my beautiful clicker, and I had absolutely no ability to change what was on the screen.

But of course, I’m always looking for a “prop” to illustrate my messages, so I didn’t miss a beat.

“Well, I guess my defective clicker is a parable about life,” I said sheepishly. “We all like to think we’re in control of the events in our lives, but control is just an illusion. Only God is fully in control, and we must patiently submit to His sovereignty.”

Since then, I’ve concluded there are some things we can learn when our “clicker” goes bad and we can’t change the slide on the screen.

Although I’ve never thought of myself as a control freak, the defective clicker revealed how much I’ve been seduced by a misguided pursuit of control. It also exposed my dysfunctional quest for self-reliance, never wanting to feel dependent on anyone else. The Bible says God created us to live in community and cooperation, mutually dependent on one another to fulfill His purposes (1 Corinthians 12). Yet that is hard for independent folks like me.

Perhaps, like me, you’re more of a control freak than you’d like to admit. If so, I encourage you to buy a PowerPoint clicker—but make sure it’s one that works.

With a functional clicker, you’ll be able to move your slides forward and backward to your heart’s delight. You can even use the included laser pointer to emphasize what you’re trying to say. I’m sure people will be impressed!

However, let me warn you against false expectations. You still won’t be able to control your spouse, your kids, your boss, the weather, the stock market, or most other circumstances in your life.

But you still might find the clicker helpful. Even if you’re unable to control anything else in your life, you hopefully can at least move your PowerPoint slides.

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The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back

camel-1a

Have you ever reached the breaking point? Sometimes you can see it coming, but often it sneaks up and catches you unaware.

Running late to the office on a recent Friday morning, I was carrying my laptop computer case, a huge glass of iced tea, and an apple as I left my kitchen. At the last moment, my computer case slipped, causing me to spill a large portion of the iced tea.

Although this was an incredibly minor event, I reacted as if it was the end of the world. I was irate at myself, not just for spilling the tea, but for reacting in such a dramatic and childish way.

What had just happened? An old proverb immediately came to mind about “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

This was a busy morning, capping off a busy and stressful week. I seemed to go from one deadline to another…one meeting to another…one emergency to another…and one friend after another who needed my listening ear and words of encouragement.

I had handled the load so  well all along the way—until my rush to get to the office caused me to spill my tea.

Like the camel in the proverb, I had seemingly been doing an admirable job of carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. One responsibility after another was loaded on my back, and I accepted each one without flinching or complaining. In fact, I carried the heavy load as a badge of honor, smugly concluding that few people could do what I was doing.

But my perspective was rudely jerked back to reality when I spilled my iced tea. It suddenly became obvious that I’d unwittingly allowed myself to approach dangerously close to the breaking point. The tea incident was as insignificant as a piece of straw would be to a camel—yet it shattered the illusion of my invincibility.

Camels are known for their ability to carry heavy loads for long distances. We celebrate their knack for going many weeks without the need for water.

But even a camel has a breaking point.

Even a camel must maintain proper margins or risk an eventual breakdown.

Right when you think the camel has unlimited capacity, the final straw causes it to reach its limit.

If you are getting close to the breaking point, you are surely not alone. Countless people today are living on the edge, brutally overloading their body, mind, and emotions.

Even though some of our responsibilities are unavoidable, I’ve concluded that many of the burdens we carry are completely unnecessary—the result of our unwillingness to say “no” when we’re in danger of reaching our breaking point.

Two thousand years before I spilled my iced tea that Friday morning, Jesus was reaching out to help me and you shoulder our heavy loads:

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light  (Matthew 11:28-30).

When was the last time you experienced this kind of peace and rest? You don’t have to wait until you spill your iced tea before you accept Jesus’ amazing offer. Cast your heavy burdens on Him today, and you’ll breathe a whole lot easier.

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My Misguided Venture into Organic Gardening

Tomato

Two months ago, I enthusiastically ventured into the world of organic gardening. It was a very modest beginning, planting a small tomato seedling some friends had given me.

I was scheduled to be out of town for a week, but I fully expected to see some tomatoes when I returned. However, no such luck. The seedling had grown, but no tomatoes could be found.

My friends assured me this was normal. “Tomatoes don’t grow overnight!” they explained with a grin.

Despite their explanation, I was disappointed to have to wait so long for tomatoes to appear on my plant. I had planted it in good soil, with plenty of sunlight and water. Why was it growing so slowly?

As I’ve reflected on the source of my disappointment, I think it may stem from the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” one of my favorite tales as a child. When Jack’s “magic beans” were thrown on the ground one night, he woke up to a HUGE beanstalk the very next morning.

How cool was that?

Even better, Jack was able to capture a goose that laid golden eggs during one of his trips up the beanstalk. His magic seeds enabled him to get rich—and to get rich quick!

So now you see why I was disappointed that my tomatoes got off to a slow start. I was comparing my experience to Jack’s beanstalk, not realizing that normal seeds require patience  in addition to good soil, water, and sunlight.

The Bible has a lot to say about seeds, growth, and harvests. Yes, we’re promised that we will reap whatever we sow (Galatians 6:7). But we’re also warned against “growing weary” in our seed-sowing, “for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart”  (v. 9).

It’s sad that most of us live in a world of microwaves and fast-food drive-throughs instead of seeds and harvests. We expect instant gratification and immediate results. And if the tomatoes don’t appear right away, we’re tempted to quit watering the plant.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve planted some things and are still waiting for the fruit to come. Let’s not lose heart! Let’s keep watering and fertilizing the seeds, confident of a positive outcome down the road.

No, I can’t promise you overnight success and a huge beanstalk tomorrow morning. But God has promised that if you’re faithful to do your part, in “due season” your harvest will surely come.

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Captured by the Green-Eyed Monster

cute furry alien

I never thought it would happen to me. I can’t remember ever envying someone who had a bigger house…a faster car…a higher salary…or a corner office. Nor did it bother me that I wasn’t part of the envied “1%.”

So it shocked me recently when I found myself in the clutches of the Green-Eyed Monster—a term originating in Shakespeare’s play, Othello: “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

A number of events the past few months confirmed that I’ve been afflicted with this terrible disease. Although material things still aren’t the focus of my jealousy, several incidents pushed other  buttons that brought out the Green-Eyed Monster in me…

  • I ran into an old friend who now preaches in churches and conferences around the world. In contrast to his apparent success, I have very few open doors for ministry, despite my love of preaching. It puzzled me that he’s had so many opportunities, when I was sure  I could preach as well, or even better.
  • I spent time with a man who, like me, is a ghostwriter for other authors. I found myself extremely envious of the fact that people were actually reading  the books he wrote (in contrast to my books, read by hardly anyone). And in addition to being jealous of the best-selling books he was producing, I groaned as he boasted about the huge fees he received for each book, exponentially higher than my rates.
  • I read about a pastor a few hours away who was impacting thousands of young people through a church he planted. At my advanced age, I’ve concluded that the only reason to live is to find ways to pour my life into the next generation. Convinced that it’s a waste of time trying to change Baby Boomers, I’m frustrated that I don’t have more opportunities to disciple young believers.

As I’ve looked back at these three incidents, I see a pattern. For the most part, the Green-Eyed Monster didn’t rear its ugly head because of envying people’s money or status—instead, I envied their impact. The most important thing in my life is still to impact the world for Jesus, and I was jealous of those who were doing that more effectively than I was.

There’s a lot you could psychoanalyze in my perspective. Some of my friends have pointed out that I’m much too performance-focused. They’ve confronted me about basing my self-image on my accomplishments rather than on God’s unconditional love for me.

I’m sure my friends are correct in their observation. I’m praying for the Lord to remedy this.

But in each of the three incidents that triggered my bout with envy, something later happened that put everything in an entirely different light…

  • I heard reports that my preacher friend had virtually begged  one church to have him come and speak. This greatly offended the pastor, and made my friend seem like a real jerk, desperate for honorariums. Perhaps his life isn’t so great after all.
  • The ghostwriter did a book project for a ministry I know in another state, and his work was deemed to be substandard. The man also turned out to be very difficult to work with, a real turn-off for the ministry that had hired him for the project.
  • The pastor who built such a successful outreach to young people was revealed to have a serious alcohol problem. The board removed him from his pastorate until he could get help, and for now his ministry is over.

Isn’t it strange that we often envy people who don’t have such a great life after all? We’re jealous of the image they project, but things look entirely different when the curtain is pulled back.

Because of these experiences, I’m no longer envious of the three men who triggered my Green-Eyed Monster experiences. I would rather be me  than them.

Yet I’m still struggling with envy of another kind: I’m “envious” to be more like the person God created me to be. I want to be more like Jesus (Romans 8:29, Luke 6:40), and more like the Jim Buchan envisioned by my Heavenly Father when He created me.

One more thing…

A few years ago, I was telling my friend Bernard about all the things I didn’t like about my life. I thought I had made a pretty good case for why he should feel sorry for me, but Bernard was much too wise to fall into that trap.

“Jim, don’t you realize that millions of people would gladly trade places with you?!” he said.

How ironic. Despite my complaints and my envy of others, millions of people would be envious if they saw the life God has given me. I guess one of the best ways to slay the Green-Eyed Monster is to be grateful for the life I already have.

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The Downside of Being a Goal-Setter

goal setting 2

I’ve been a goal-setter for as long as I can remember. Whenever I got a “B” on my report card, my dad and I would sit down and come up with a plan for getting an “A” the next time. And when my batting average fell below 300 on my middle school baseball team, we would spend extra time hitting balls in the batting cage.

After I gave my life to Christ at age 18, I found Bible passages that seemed to endorse my enthusiastic approach to goal-setting. I quickly embraced Paul’s statement about forgetting the successes of the past and pressing on toward a calling that was always “upward” (Philippians 3:3-14).

I also was influenced by motivational speakers and self-help gurus who warned that “If you don’t set a goal, you will hit it every time,” and “People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan.”

But now, at this advanced stage in my life, I’m rethinking my approach to goal-setting. I find myself disregarding the promotional emails I receive every from authors wanting to sell me on their “revolutionary” new approaches to better goal-setting.

Maybe I’m just feeling too tired for all of this goal-setting hype. But some recent events in the lives of other people have also given me quite a wakeup call. Could it be that my goal-setting approach has been off-balance all these years?

When Perry Noble was removed as pastor of New Spring Church because of alcohol problems, some of the “back story” really caught my attention. Perry clearly was an amazing goal-setter, and this helped to make him wildly successful. His church was one of the largest in the country, with 30,000 people over 17 cities.

Yet it turns out that Perry wasn’t satisfied by this incredible achievement. In fact, he wasn’t even close to his ultimate goal of having a following of “100,000 or more.”

Wow. A goal for New Spring to grow to “100,000 people or more.” This was goal-setting on steroids. Although I’ve tended to be driven by ever-higher goals, I’ve never driven myself anywhere near this extent.

A friend pointed out to me that Perry Noble probably wouldn’t have reached 30,000 members in his church if he hadn’t aimed at 100,000. Perhaps so. But I’m wondering if he also wouldn’t have had a problem with alcohol…

So I’m working on a new approach to setting goals. Here are some of my preliminary thoughts for your consideration:

  1. Make sure you involve God in setting your goals. A few years ago, one of my divorced friends set a goal of “finding a new wife in the next 12 months.” Although I’m sure his intentions were good, the result wasn’t. He should have spent more time consulting with the Lord before setting such an audacious goal.
  2. Make sure you’re looking to God to help you reach your goal. Even if you have a correct, God-given objective, you’ll end up frustrated if you try to attain the goal through your own strength and ingenuity. The Lord not only wants to show you His will, but He also wants to work through you to accomplish that goal (Philippians 2:13).
  3. See your goal through the dual lenses of quantity and quality. Numerical goals are important, but too many leaders and churches judge their success only on the basis of numbers. Hey, wouldn’t you tend to feel successful if your church had 30,000 people, like Perry Noble’s? Yet Jesus saw things much differently. Knowing that the crowds would come and go, His central objectives were to (1) do the Father’s will and (2) pour His life into some true disciples (John 8:29, John 6:60-71). Even after three years of Jesus’ ministry, only 120 people showed up for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
  4. Resist the urge to compare yourself to others. If you compare your church to the size of Perry Noble’s, you will undoubtedly get depressed. No wonder the Bible warns us against comparing ourselves with others (2 Corinthians 10:12). Listen to me on this: If you’ve been faithful, you’ve been successful. But even as I encourage you on this profound truth, I know there will be many times when I’ll need people like you to remind me to apply this principle to my own life.
  5. Healthy things grow, but they don’t grow by striving. I’ve visited many churches that have done well in gaining numbers, but there’s clearly a spirit of “striving” in the air. The pastor, staff, and volunteers all seem entirely exhausted and burnt out—a symptom that they’ve achieved their objectives with self-effort rather than abiding in Christ and waiting on the wind of His Spirit (John 15:1-5, Isaiah 40:28-31).

So, I wish you happy goal-setting, my friend. But don’t forget that the Father loves you, no matter what your earthly achievements may be (Matthew 3:16-17). Remember to cease striving, always recognizing that He’s God and you’re not (Psalm 46:10). And if, like Perry Noble, you’re dealing with personal issues behind the scenes, take time to disengage from the rat race. Get the help you need so you can finish well.

One more thing…

My son Ben is finishing his final college class this week. The past few years, I’ve been telling him not to worry about grades. “Just shoot for a ‘C’ Ben!” I regularly say.

Despite my encouragement not to sweat the grades, Ben has been getting “A’s” lately. He tells me goal-setting is a good thing, and perhaps he’s right. But I’m really not so sure anymore.

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What to Do When the Brook Dries Up

 

brook dried up 2

One of the most baffling experiences in life is when you’ve sincerely endeavored to follow God’s will, only to find that His provision seems to be drying up. Yet this is something experienced by just about everyone at one point or another.

Even the prophet Elijah faced this. The Lord had given him explicit instructions to go to the Brook Cherith, “And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there” (1 Kings 17:2-7).

There’s an old maxim that says, “Where God guides, He provides,” and this was Elijah’s experience for many days as he sat by the brook. Plenty of clean, cool water to drink, and the ravens brought him bread and meat twice a day. It was a pretty nice life, carefree in every way.

But when God wants to bring us to an important transition point, He often allows our “brook” to dry up. This is bewildering, because we’re certain the Lord has used the brook to provide for us in the past. We’ve been following His will, and it’s hard to imagine our carefree life ever coming to an end.

However, through no fault of Elijah, his circumstances began to change: “It happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land”  (v. 7).

Ironically, the brook dried up as the direct result of Elijah’s obedience  in telling King Ahab there would be no rain “except at my word”  (v. 1). Without rain, it was only a matter of time before the brook would run out of water—but all of this was part of God’s plan.

Perhaps you can relate to Elijah’s experience. Maybe the job that provided income for you and your family for many years is drying up. Or the thriving church that once nurtured your faith is now a lifeless pile of dry bones. Or perhaps you find yourself in a marriage that has grown cold and dry, with no solution in sight.

So, what can you do when your brook dries up?  How should you react when some life-giving stream of God’s blessing is no longer bringing you the provision and nourishment you need?

Here are some thoughts…

  1. Thank God for how He used the brook in past seasons of your life. Instead of cursing the dry creek bed, be grateful for the sustenance it once brought you.
  2. Be grateful that a new season—with fresh provision—is right around the corner. When your brook starts to dry up, you should get excited instead of depressed! Since the Lord has promised to be your provider in every season, you can look at the future with great anticipation.
  3. Let go of any false nostalgia about the “good old days” when the brook was full of water. Yes, God used the brook to bless you in the past, but now you can trust Him for even BETTER things in your future. Don’t let past blessings become an idol that hinders you from embracing the next season of your life.
  4. Listen for a new set of instructions. Elijah knew God had told him to go to the Brook Cherith—and Elijah had obeyed. But now it was time for some new instructions, which God was faithful to provide: “Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you’” (vs. 8-9). If you want a fresh start, you will need to listen for fresh directions from the Lord. The new instructions may cause you even greater bewilderment, and I’m sure Elijah wondered how some widow he’d never met was going to provide for him. Are you willing to trust God anyway?

Here’s a brief prophetic thought on this important message: The world is entering a season when many of the “brooks” we’ve been relying upon are going to dry up. It has never been more crucial to trust God and obey His instructions. If we do, the new season can be far better than the previous one. If we don’t, we could find ourselves sitting next to a dry creek bed, wondering what happened to the water and the ravens.

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The Ironic Thing About People-Pleasing

peoplepleasing Yes man

I’ve never met anyone who isn’t a people-pleaser on some level. Even my boldest, brashest, “tell it like it is” friends are secretly hoping to find some supportive audience for their message.

Although it’s a fact difficult for me to face, I’m clearly a people-pleaser too. I want people to like my sermons, my blogs, and even my wardrobe and my car. And I still want my kids, my friends, and my boss to admire me and think I’m doing a good job.

This realization hasn’t been easy. It comes after years of declaring, “I don’t care what anyone else thinks of me!” But now I have to admit that I still tend to evaluate myself by how other people are evaluating me.

I’ve concluded that the ironic thing about people-pleasers is that our mission is doomed to failure. We may succeed in pleasing some of the people some of the time, but we’ll never please all  the people all  the time.

So why do we insist on persevering in this foolhardy venture? Why not just drop the façade and acknowledge that play-acting is a dead-end road, inevitably leading to frustration and defeat?

This issue came up recently when I happened to be sorting through some very old family photos. I came across press clippings from the Columbus Dispatch when I was a child actor. Even though the reviews were over five decades old, I still wanted to read what the reviewers said about my performance! Oh my…

Like me, perhaps you’re still obsessed with your press clippings, job reviews, or comments on your sermons or blogs. You’ve given countless other people the power to be your judge and jury.

What a treadmill of futility this creates. Why can’t we just do our performances before an “audience of One,” like the Bible encourages us to do?

The apostle Paul wrote that his sole ambition was to please the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9). He said that if he was still seeking to please other people, he wouldn’t be a true servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).

But even if we know better, people-pleasing is a hard habit to shake. For most of us, it’s deeply ingrained in our personality and psyche.

The Bible is filled with sad stories about people-pleasers. Adam seemed more intent on pleasing Eve than on obeying God. Aaron was so intent on pleasing the Israelites that he was willing to make a golden calf. Samson made the fatal mistake of trying to please Delilah. And although Pilate could find no fault in Jesus, he sent Him to crucifixion in order to please the religious leaders and chanting crowd.

I’ve discovered that one of the crazy outcomes of people-pleasing is that you’ll inevitably offend some people while trying to please others. It becomes an exhausting enterprise, because there’s always someone you have disappointed.

Surprising as it may seem, God is often easier  to please than people are (Matthew 3:17). Throughout His life, Jesus always sought to do the things that pleased His Father (John 8:29), and that would be a great objective for us as well.

After all, people-pleasing is an exhausting, never-ending, insanity-producing quest. We’ll breathe a lot easier when we only have One person to please.

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It’s What’s Under the Hood That Counts

Sonata

My 2011 Hyundai Sonata looks exactly the same as it did a month ago. On the surface it’s the same 100,000-mile car as it was then.

Yet here’s the strange story of why my car is worth more now than it was several weeks ago…

I got a big surprise when I took my Sonata to the dealer for some routine recalls. “You need a new engine!” the service rep told me, to my shock.

In the seconds that followed, I groaned at the thought of having to pay around $7,000 for a new engine.

But then came the amazingly good news: “The new engine is at our expense, with absolutely no charge to you,” they assured me.

As one more fortunate outcome, they said it would take about a month to get the new engine to the dealership. In the meantime, I got to drive a free, brand-new Toyota Camry from Hertz. And this was great timing, since I was about to embark on a weeklong ministry trip in Ohio.

When I got my car back, I found myself looking for the spiritual lessons in this story…

My Sonata is still a 2011 model, five years old. The body still has 100,000 miles of wear and tear, but overall is in pretty good shape. With a new engine, the car can be expected to run at least 100,000 miles more, probably a lot farther than that. The odometer hasn’t changed, but my car has a new lease on life.

I think there are some parallels between my Sonata and the contrast between our outer body and our inner spirit, which is the “engine” or driving force of our lives. Although people tend to dwell on outward appearances, it’s really what’s “under the hood” that counts (1 Samuel 16:7).

The apostle Paul contrasted the aging of our bodies with the renewal of our spirits: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16 NIV). In other words, even though we may not be able to keep our body from aging, God can renew our spirit and give us a new “engine” on the inside.

We’ve all met elderly people who are full of youthful joy and vitality on the inside. But there also are many people who have allowed their internal “engine” to age prematurely. Even though their body is still relatively young, they have lost their joy, their creativity, and their zest for life.

Are you a candidate for new engine—a new heart and spirit? If so, God offers a stunning “recall” you should take advantage of: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26 NIV).

That’s an offer too good to pass up, don’t you think? But as with my Hyundai Sonata, the new engine is only offered by the manufacturer. The One who made you in the first place is the One who now offers to renew you (Psalm 51:10-12).

And all you have to do is ask.

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The Cure for an Uneventful Life

lame man

Recently a friend texted me and asked how my week was going.

“Uneventful!” was my reply.

My friend texted back and said that sometimes “uneventful” isn’t such a bad thing. I guess he had a point, but in my case “uneventful” was pretty much equivalent to boring.

This got me thinking about one of my favorite stories in the Bible, the lame man who was healed in Acts 3:1-9. The chapter begins at three o’clock in the afternoon, as Peter and John are on their way into the Temple for a prayer meeting.

The part that intrigues me is that these mighty apostles had apparently had an uneventful day up until that point—and the day was more than half over.

If you’re an old guy like me, there’s a fantastic message of hope here. Even if things have been relatively uneventful in your life up until this point, a miracle from God might be right around the corner. Hey, the day isn’t over yet, and you might be about to meet someone who would remain “crippled” without your prayers or encouragement. Perhaps it’s a waitress, a gas station cashier, or someone next to your cubicle at work, but you encounter lots of people who need a miracle from heaven.

Yet we also have to face the fact that some days—or months or even years—are seemingly uneventful. Remember how Moses spent 40 years in the backside of the desert, taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep? Life must have been pretty boring, to say the least.

Little did he know, but Moses was about to see a burning bush that would completely change the trajectory of his life (Exodus 3:1-22). In an amazingly short period of time, his life was rebooted—and he was 80 years old at the time!

When I view my uneventful life from the perspective of Acts 3 and Exodus 3, I realize a troubling fact: Often our lives are uneventful simply because we’re not alert to the divine appointments God puts in our path.

Countless people passed by the lame man every day, but only Peter and John recognized that this was an opportunity for the Lord to perform a miraculous healing.

And God didn’t address Moses from the burning bush until “the Lord saw that he turned aside to look” (v. 4). In other words, this pivotal event in the history of the Israelites might never have occurred if Moses had failed to pay attention to what he saw.

I’m convinced my life wouldn’t be quite so uneventful if I was more sensitive to God-ordained opportunities along my path. Even when it’s three o’clock in the afternoon, there’s still time for a life-changing event to change everything.

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Victory to Those Who Finish Well

Cavaliers

Congratulations to the Cleveland Cavaliers, winners of the NBA championship this week. It was quite a success story, especially since the team was down 3-1 before winning three straight games from the Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors had been the winningest team in NBA history in the regular season, winning an incredible 73 games and losing only 9.

But victory, in sports or in life, is seldom a matter of getting off to a good start. Rather, it comes to those who finish well.

Most NBA games are pretty boring until the fourth quarter, don’t you think? The clutch shots in the final minutes often make all the difference.

The Cavaliers played better than the Warriors in the final quarter. They finished well, and the Warriors didn’t.

Well, I find myself in the fourth quarter of life these days. From this vantage point, all the accomplishments or failures of the past decades will tend to be eclipsed by how the game of life ends. I’ve found that people tend to forget the opening moments but remember the game’s finale.

History is full of examples of this principle:

  • George Washington seemed like a hapless leader in the early years of the American Revolution. But then he won.
  • Abraham Lincoln was widely criticized and ridiculed during the Civil War. But then the Union forces won.
  • Richard Nixon won reelection by a landslide. But then he resigned in disgrace when the Watergate scandal and cover-up came to light.
  • TV preachers Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart were both extremely popular during the pinnacle of their influence. Yet most people today remember them for their moral indiscretions.
  • Apple founder Steve Jobs was booted out of the company at one point. But he achieved incredible success when he was asked to return several years later.

You see, it’s usually what happens in the fourth quarter that counts. That’s about all most people remember.

The Bible has a lot to say about finishing well. Kings like Saul and Solomon got off to a great start, but then got off track. In contrast, people like Peter and John Mark overcame momentary failure and finished the race with flying colors.

So, what does it take to finish well? Entire books have been written to answer that question.

The apostle Paul painted the picture of an Olympic runner who relentlessly pressed on toward the finish line, forgetting the successes and failures of the past (Philippians 3:12-14). In order to win the crown of victory, he recognized that he would need to run with purpose and self-discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Hebrews 12:1-2 points out that life is an endurance race rather than a sprint. In order to compete for the long haul, we’re told to lay aside every unnecessary weight and burden. We’re challenged to honestly and ruthlessly deal with sins that would hamper our progress. And, most important of all, we’re reminded to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

In order to finish well, we all will need God’s grace and the support and accountability of good friends—people who love us unconditionally, but who love us enough to speak the truth even when it’s uncomfortable (Ephesians 4:15).

Here’s the good news, even if we see the clock clicking down: There’s still time to achieve victory and greater impact before the final buzzer sounds.

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