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First Things @ First

If you ever wondered what separates people like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Grant, Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Graham, Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, Sally Ride, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Daniel Ruettiger (Rudy), war veteran Melissa Stockwell and many more from others, it’s the determination to press toward a goal that is deemed worthwhile and rewarding.

There are many in our world who want to be the best, who desire to be noticed or who would like to excel but with the passing of time lack the determination to see it through. It looks good on paper or sounds good in conversation but the principles of putting it into practice is often deemed too demanding or difficult. The same might be said of a lot of people who identify themselves as Christian, today.

Many know or have heard over the years while at a church gathering that as believers, as disciples of Christ, we are to daily press toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). There are many who decide to follow Christ at camp or during a revival campaign or even at a worship service who simply lack the determination to excel in the practice of holiness. The call to holiness requires the disciple of Christ to live a separate and sanctified life in this world. Yes, you read that right. This is required IF you are set apart for His purpose having been redeemed by His grace through faith.

I recall an occasion, while in school when I lacked the will and determination to do what was desired of those in authority over me and what was required of me as a student. I recall it being on a sunny spring afternoon in 1975 while practicing for a track meet. The coach laid out a series of sprints and longer running assignments to help prepare us for what was coming at the next competition. This was not unusual. What was different on this day was my response. Let’s just say, my heart was not in it. I was seventeen years old and thought most every adult was dumber than a rock concerning what was best for me. On this day, I didn’t want to join my teammates in the challenge of required assignments. As a 'know it all' seventeen-year-old, I had a better idea that would be just as good, if not better for me. Along with a friend of mine, (because ‘wimps’ love company) the decision was made to run through all the assignments for the afternoon, but we decided that we would only run them at half-speed. We would do the assignments but with a heart of rebellion directing every stride. That attitude would prove to greatly diminish our overall effort.

My buddy and I proceeded to jog through the 220-yard dash and the quarter mile assignment. The same was true for the half mile and each time we completed the assigned task; the coach would mark our time. Others on the team were pushing hard and passing us by on the track. However, me and my friend just continued coasting along, even poking fun at those who were giving a much better effort. I just wanted to check the box and get through it so I could get done with this 'dumb' practice thing and go on to something else I thought more important. Oh, my buddy and I still expected to run on Saturday at the competition, but this was just practice. In my foolishness, I had convinced myself that this didn't really count for anything! Truth is, I would have been upset had the coach benched me for that stunt, even though that is what I deserved!

Looking back on it, I regret deeply my decision that day and more importantly the influence that it had on my teammates. I saw afterwards that I forfeited more than I realized that day through my personal choices that left an impression on those around me. You see, in 1975, I was a starter on every team sport I played on at Maysville. Not because I was that good, mind you but because there were so few of us to pick from. What I didn't see then that I see much more clearly today is that my position on the team came with a higher calling and greater accountability.

I don’t think I will ever forget crossing the finish line of what would be the next to last assignment for the day and hearing my coach say, ‘guys, this is not doing you any good at all.’ Coach didn’t threaten us with more assignments, as some do. He just recognized that our decision to coast through practice would have an impact on Saturday's competition and ultimately the team's success.

As I look back on it, it was a really dumb decision. A choice that simply lacked the determination necessary to train my mind and body in the rigors of striving for excellence. On that day there was no desire to push through the obstacles for the opportunities that lay ahead. No desire to put in the time required to endure the pain and discomfort that comes from pushing yourself past the point of comfort. My decision that day was born out from a heart of rebellion to authority. And that attitude undermined the necessary determination that resolves to be first at practice and last to leave. The determination to shoot one-hundred extra shots on the basketball court, not because you are required to or even requested to but rather because you need to in order to get better at what you decided to do. The determination to do what is required so you are better positioned to do what is requested of you.

O.S. Hawkins, the author of the Believer’s Code revealed something I had honestly never thought about until a few days ago, even though the story is familiar. The text came from Jesus' teaching on going the second mile. You can read about it in Matthew 5.

Hawkins says, “Jesus taught about walking two miles carrying another person’s burden, and the first mile is often ignored. I have never heard a sermon about the first mile, only the second. The first mile is required, and that first mile can be tough. The second wind never kicks in on the first mile. Furthermore, it just is not as easy to enjoy the things we have to do as it is to enjoy the things we want to do. It is tough to walk the first mile. Ask any first-century Jew under Roman rule. When you are forced to carry an oppressor’s load, the first mile interrupts your schedule. Similarly, often the most difficult part of the Christian life is walking that first mile. Many want to play leapfrog: they want to enjoy the extras of the second mile, but they do not want to deal with the requirements of the first mile. That’s not how it works!

Hawkins adds this final thought, “there is something about us that resists this word. Don’t resist. Find your joy today not simply in doing the things that you WANT to do, but, first, in the things you are required to do, those things you HAVE to do. Doing what is required paves the way to rich reward.” end

As believers and disciples of Christ we never realize the blessing of the second mile until we finish what is required of us in the first. If you really want to excel in being all that God designed you to be, do the assignments that are required and do them with determination daily (James 1:22; 4:17). The mark of influence you leave on your ‘teammates’ will never be forgotten and your contribution to the cause of Christ will help 'the team' you decided to join to be successful in the assignments our Coach has laid out for us daily!

One final thought, I still remember some forty-five years later, the empty feeling I experienced that sunny spring afternoon when I heard my coach say, ‘guys, this isn’t doing you any good.’ Those words penetrated deeply in my soul. So much so that from that day forward, I don’t recall being long satisfied with anything less than being driven with determination in striving for excellence. Though I would never have admitted it that day, (too arrogant) my attitude sickened my soul. I had been raised differently. I knew that if my parents had seen that or heard that, they would have been extremely saddened, as a result. Many adults had invested better in me than what I was willing to give that day.

God has something to say about that as well. 2 John, verse 8 says, “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.”

While a genuine believer can never lose the salvation of his/her soul in Christ, every believer is subject to losing their reward. And all that is necessary for that to happen is a lack of determination in striving for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. It always begins with a decision to quit training and start coasting during practice, if only for a day. When that decision is made, all that was gained through weeks or even months of hard work and sacrifice begin to erode slowly but surely.

When you and I refuse to put in the required practice time in prayer, Bible study, personal discipleship, we may still cross the finish line but I can guarantee you from personal experience from my days as a know-it-all teenager that you will finish last IF that attitude persists. You will have nothing to show for all the effort put forth in days leading up to the finish. Such is the case for all who choose to strive for this world instead of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)!

Bottom line, you and I cannot ‘wimp’ out at practice and expect to be rewarded as a winner. When you train like a loser, you can expect to finish like a loser.

However, if you desire to be remembered for something great and rewarded accordingly, don’t settle for just a decision to follow Jesus. Be determined to follow Jesus! Be driven daily by His love for you and the life He has graciously provided and put His daily assignments into practice whole-heartedly!

Few, if anyone present in the spring of 1975 remembers that moment when I heard my coach say, 'guys, this isn't doing you any good.' However, God reminds me of it from time to time when the urge to 'coast' along crosses my mind.

Ask yourself today (or whenever you read this) regarding your effort in the 'practice' time of required training; 'is any of this doing you any good?' If so, then keep going, keep pushing yourself beyond what is comfortable. If the answer is uncertain, then an attitude adjustment is required IF you hope to finish well the race that is set before you.

The assignments are required of all who enter the race. And the Coach is watching every stride! Give your best to the Lord every day! He will provide all you need according to His riches in glory to see that you finish the assignments He has laid out for you to practice daily.

Be a determined disciple of Jesus and you'll be remembered and rewarded as a winner by those who come behind you!

God is for you! Finish well!

Pstr K

Hebrews 10:35-36

(ref. O.S. Hawkins; The Believer’s Code—pg. 207)