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Ted Schroder, August 6, 2006

I recently reread a book on finishing well that I taught as the basis of a class in 1998. It is HALFTIME: Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance, by Bob Buford. I wanted to review the book to see how I was doing on my application. I looked up my file of class notes and discovered a page I had written entitled: My Idea of Destination - Of Doing What I've Already Dreamed of Doing. It was fascinating to see how so many of the ideas I had committed to paper have been realized over the intervening years. The exercise of self-evaluation is valuable in identifying where you are, where you want to go, and what you need to do in order to get there. As we age there is a continuing need to feel valuable, and to do something significant with your life. Bob Buford has written a sequel to his book, entitled FINISHING WELL: What People Who Really Live Do Differently!

How can we finish well? How can we remain feeling valuable?

"God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience, inherit what has been promised." (Hebrews 6:10-12)

The writer had condemned those who had not finished well. There were people who had been enlightened, received the gifts of heaven, shared in the Holy Spirit, tasted the goodness of the word of God, and the powers of the age to come, who fell away from the Church, and abandoned the Gospel. They began well in the faith, but had turned away for one reason or another. They were an embarrassment to Christ and caused him to suffer more on the Cross.

He then contrasts the lives of such people with those who do finish well using the metaphor of farmland. "Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned." (Hebrews 6:7,8)

The life of every one of us produces a crop. The land that receives the blessing of God produces a crop that is useful for those who farm it. The land that is in danger of being cursed produces a crop of weeds that is worthless. We are producing a crop through our lives. That crop needs to be useful not worthless. Bob Buford chose for his epitaph 100X. He took it from the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. He wants to be remembered as the seed that multiplied a hundred times. "I want to be a symbol of higher yield, in life and in death. Saint Augustine said that asking yourself the question of your own legacy - What do I wish to be remembered for? - is the beginning of adulthood. That is what I have done by writing my own epitaph." (p.18)

Hebrews goes on to say that he is confident of better things for those he is writing to than those who had fallen away. God will remember their good work, their love, and the help they have given and are giving others. People may forget what we have done for them. Children may forget all that their parents did for them. Congregations may forget all the good work that people have done in the past. Isaac Watts wrote,

"Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day."

But God will not forget. "God is not unjust; he will not forget your work..."

That is why we are called to finish well - to show the same diligence to the very end. The standards and work of the past is to be continued to the very end of our lives. That means putting forward our best effort at every stage of our lives. It means avoiding laziness - being sluggish. Instead imitate those listed in the gallery of faith (Hebrews 11), who through faith and patience inherited what had been promised.

How do we do that? For me it means revising my core life goals, and to answer some of the questions Bob Buford poses:

1. What do I want to be remembered for?
2. How much money is enough?
3. What do I want to be doing with my life ten years from now?
4. Am I living a balanced life? What are the important elements in my life that deserve more time?
5. What is the primary loyalty in my life?
6. Where do I look for inspiration, mentors, and working models?
7. How am I doing in my needs of self-realization and community?

Bob Buford's mentor was Peter Drucker, the guru of American management. He taught that the answer to the question, "What do I do now?" is to set your sights on achievements that really matter, that will make a difference in the world, and to set them far enough ahead of where you are today that the journey will be demanding but worth the effort. He said, "Make your life your endgame. Finishing well, and how I want to be remembered, those are the things that matter now. Making a difference in a few lives is a worthy goal. Having enabled a few people to do the things they want to do: that's really what I want to be remembered for. I see more and more people who have done well in their work and career, but in my experience, they end up in one of three groups. One group will retire. They usually don't live very long. The second group keeps on doing what they've been doing, but they're losing their enthusiasm, feeling less alive. The third group keeps doing what they've been doing, but they're looking for a way to make a contribution. They feel they've been given a lot and they're looking for a chance to give back. They're not satisfied with just writing checks, they want to be involved, to help other people in a more positive way." And they're the ones who finish well.

Tennyson, in his poem Ulysses, wrote about the old warrior returning home after the Trojan war, no longer the young man, but still able to hold his own and finish well. It speaks for all those who have done much, seen much, and yet have some ways to go before they can enter into their heavenly reward.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Amelia Plantation Chapel
Amelia Island, Florida.

An audio version of this presentation is to be found on http://www.ameliachapel.com.

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