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It is a wonderful thing to have a good ending. Sometimes we may not have a great beginning. But the good news is that we can get in the race and finish it well. It is better to have a great ending than to have a great beginning, only to crash and burn at the end. (And it is even better to have a great beginning and a great ending.) Your best days should not be behind you; they should be ahead of you.
The problem is that some people live in the past. Sometimes people will say to me, “Hey, Greg, remember the Jesus Movement? Those were great days.” Yes, those were great days. But that was 40 years ago. I thank God for what He did in the past. I am excited about what God did yesterday. But I am also looking forward to what God will do tomorrow. And this should be true of all of us. There should be constant growth in our lives.
The moment you begin to neglect your growth is the moment you will contribute to your decline.
I read an interesting article about a personal trainer who had a lot of overweight clients. He had never struggled with weight before, having always been in great shape. Nor had he ever had a problem with overeating. Because this trainer found it hard to sympathize with his clients who were struggling to lose weight, he decided to gain 70 pounds so he would know what they were going through. He chronicled his experience on his website, complete with before-and-after photos.
He said it was kind of exhilarating at first, because for the first week, he was eating like crazy but wasn’t seeing any effects on his body. He was still looking really good. But after a couple of weeks, the first things to go were his abs. Then rolls of fat started appearing, and soon he was feeling lethargic and dull and depressed. Now he is in the process of making his way back to his previous weight. But he said it is a lot harder than he thought it would be.
What a perfect picture of regressing spiritually. At first, as you go back to some of the old ways, it might be a little bit exhilarating. You may have gotten away with something, and the world didn’t end. But then the problems come. The depression starts. Then the repercussions are there. And you wonder how you can get back to where you were before.
In the book of Revelation, Jesus addressed a church that was spiritually sick, the church in Thyatira (see Revelation 2). The problem was they were tolerating open sin. So he focused specifically on the word “tolerance” with this church.
Isn’t that the watchword of the day? You can be anything but intolerant. I believe that all of the strong Christians I know are very tolerant. They have a worldview that comes from their study of Scripture and from their faith in Jesus Christ. And when people who hear what they have to say disagree with them, what do they do? Do they have them killed? Of course not. Do they assault them physically? Of course not. Do they scream in their face? No, they don’t do that either. They accept the choice someone makes, even though they may not agree with it. That is tolerance.
But the tolerance of today has been redefined, because when people tell you to be tolerant, they are, in effect, telling you to not only accept something, but to approve it and even validate it. They are saying, “You have no right to say that your version of truth is any better than anyone else’s version of truth. Therefore, you should accept and embrace what they believe, just as you embrace what you believe. And if you don’t, you are intolerant.”
I have found that the most intolerant people are the ones who talk the most about tolerance. They don’t allow me to simply accept something but not agree with it. They want me to endorse it.
Nowadays if you don’t agree with something, you have a phobia. To take a stand is defined as hate. Conviction is called fanaticism. Truths the church has believed for centuries now are regarded as discrimination.
But Jesus essentially told the church in Thyatira, “I am intolerant of this sin. You are allowing sexual immorality into your ranks” (see Revelation 2:20). Immorality was going on in the lives of those who professed to be believers. But you cannot be a Christian and try to live in two worlds. There are no exceptions.
When a church is tolerant of sin, when it stops moving forward spiritually, it becomes a sick church, and eventually a dead church. That was the case with another church, the church in Sardis. And here was Jesus’ prescription for spiritual recovery: “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God” (Revelation 3:2 NIV).
This church in Sardis looked good on the outside, but the fire was gone. So Jesus essentially told them, “Wake up! Stay with me – there is still hope.”
And he says the same to those today who are tolerating evil, who have gone from a little compromising to full toleration and rationalization of it. It’s time to wake up.
If you are winning a 10-lap race and suddenly bow out in the ninth lap, do you still win? No. You lose. You are the same as someone who never entered the race at all. So we must finish the race. It is not enough to start the race well. It is not even enough to run it well in the middle. We have to finish what we have begun.
We are all in the race of life. And we must run it to win.