Tuesday, December 31, 2013

When the Game is Over

                The end of a year is always a time to pause and reflect upon the journey that we are taking. As we look back, we can evaluate our progress or lack thereof. As we look ahead, we can plan our strategy for the future. But there is a time coming for every one of us when our journey will end and the game will be over. The final score will be tallied and it will be determined if we were winners or losers in life.

                This time of the year is the culmination of the college football season. For many teams, their season has already ended, but for a few, what happens in the next week or so will define their whole season. Throughout the season, the coach has made innumerable decisions, some good and some bad. Each decision has changed the outlook of the game and the season. As long as there is one more game to play, there is still a chance to have a positive impact on the outcome. When the final game is over, there is no going back and changing the outcome. So it is in life.

                God placed me in another uncomfortable place recently. I was called to the hospital to sit with a family as they waited the outcome of their loved one’s battle for life. I tried to give as much comfort as I could, but mostly I listened as the family talked about their loved one. They reflected upon the journey he had taken and the decisions he had made. They pleaded for a little more time to be put on the clock. I left with the outcome still hanging in the balances. As the patient was whisked away on a medical helicopter, I met the doctor in the hall. “I don’t think he will make it.”

                On my way home, I reflected on my experience. I was unable to give that family any lasting hope, because, as far as I could determine, they had chosen to play the game without God on the sidelines. In football, if the game is close at the end, there is always the chance for a Hail Mary pass and a spectacular catch in the end zone to turn defeat into victory. Unfortunately, there are very, very few Hail Mary passes at the end of life. As the final seconds tick off the clock, the cumulative decisions of a lifetime determine the final score.

                Many people begin asking the most important life questions at the very time when it is too late to act upon them. Many people live their lives without conscious thought about God, then wonder where He is when the end of the journey looms large in front of them. Some do find that the door of life is still open to them, but many more sink into overwhelming doom; the weight of their life decisions pulling them away from God instead of toward Him.

                The hope that Christ offers us needs to be embraced now, in the present. It is not a safety net that we leave unused until the end of the game. True hope for the future is shaped and formed by the multitude of positive decisions we make throughout the entire game. It is not something that can be grasped in desperation in the final seconds.

                Jesus is holding out hope for all who will receive it. But a person must take advantage of the opportunity before them. They cannot put off their decision, expecting to get another chance later. In a football game, there are only a limited number of opportunities to score. A good team makes the most of every opportunity. They may not get another one. So it is in life. Isaiah made that clear in Isaiah 55.

                Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. Isaiah 55:6-7

                The Apostle Paul picks up the urgency of Isaiah’s words in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2. As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.

                In a football game there is a limited number of plays to be called. Each decision combines to determine the final score of the game. So it is in life. Each of us has a limited number of decisions that we can make. Each decision shapes us for our eternal destiny, each one plays a part in the final score. For when the game is over, there is no going back to change things.

                We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:20-21

                As we move into this new year I want to challenge you to ask yourself the question, who is calling the plans in my life? None of us knows what this next year will bring, but we can face it with confidence, if we have put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. The clock is ticking, the game is winding down. If we have put our faith in Christ, the outcome is not in question. We have already won.

                For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

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