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Fourth Quarter

I went to the 1968 Orange Bowl after buying a ticket from a scalper at the front gate in Miami.  It was worth it. Number two Tennessee played Number three Oklahoma. The Volunteers missed a 43 yard field goal attempt with seven seconds remaining. Oklahoma won 26-24.   Football games can be won or lost in the forth quarter. Such is life. But with life, when the clock runs out and you die, there is no overtime, and there is no beating them “next year”.  I want to finish well.

My first Quarter involved a lot of fumbles and off sides and injuries.  It also was, exciting. It began shining shoes on the Boardwalk in Coney Island in the 1950’s. It was like growing up in Disney Land. PS 100, and Ebbets Field, riding the Cyclone and the subway was normal. Then West Babylon High, Yearbook Photographer, Barn Fires, Sock Hops, and making Banana Splits while working for Carvel on Sunrise Highway. Next the New York Institute of Photography in Manhattan and then a stint as a MACV combat photographer in Vietnam. All that in the first Quarter or before I was twenty years old.

In the Beginning of the Second Quarter, at the age of 21, I came to faith, where God helped me understand life was something greater than the Orange Bowl and I was not in the stands, but on the field.  Life was great, I had the ball, but life was serious.   Working for a Commercial Photo Studio, helping Junior High Kids through their growing pains, Coffee House Ministries, Billy Graham Crusades, Teen Challenge, Rescue Missions, the Second Quarter was more exciting than the First.

Off to a Christian College, getting married to the love of my life, becoming a father all before “Half-Time” gave a sense of joy and happiness, if not putting points on the scoreboard. Setting off Like Moses to be a missionary to New York City, with no mission board, money or support, only to see God work, and part the waters was, as the American Express would say, "Priceless." In Offense and Defense God was with us on the field. Being the Pastor of an inner-city church by the age of thirty seemed normal then, but now I raise my eyebrows in astonishment.  What was the coach thinking? The Second Quarter was power packed wonderful and exciting.  Then came Half-Time, Mid-Life. I don’t remember any Locker Room pep talk from God, but I knew I was sore and tired, and the Ref seemed to miss some of the cheap shots I had to endure.  If During Half-Time, the marching band was strutting their stuff I never saw it.

The Third Quarter was played as a free spirit if not a free agent and required an appropriation of some of God’s promises, like “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” It meant packing up our little family and moving from a thriving, bustling City that never Sleeps to minister to a small group of believers in the middle of Iowa. I could not see the score board from there, and with a population of 1,200 very few people in the stands reminded me it was not about fans, it was about faith and faithfulness. It was about moving the ball forward and holding the line when necessary. Then it was off to be the Director of a Bible Institute for Micronesians on a Pacific Island and some mission work in the Philippines. Although all part of the same game, some told me I was playing with the second string because my teammates were not part of the Big Ten or Large Franchise, but for me that was the best part. Being a resident Bible teacher and itinerant preacher, sharing the wonders of God’s Greatness and Grace and just going through the open door made it clearer than ever who I was playing for.

That brings me to the Fourth Quarter. I have had a wonderful life, a wonderful wife, and my daughter loves God with all her heart. What more can one ask for? But the game is not over. The Bible says that the days of our years are threescore and  ten; and perhaps by reason of strength, they [may] be fourscore years. I personally was surprised when I crossed the "seventy" year line. Having said that I realize that many games are won or lost during the final minutes of the Fourth Quarter. The Fourth Quarter is no time to rest on your laurels, or to let down your guard. As a matter of fact, we cannot see the scoreboard while we are on the field, but we can drop the ball, miss the kick, and get turned around and run the wrong way if we are not careful. I want to be careful, and faithful, hopeful and helpful. If God pulls me off the field and asks me to warm the bench, I want to cheer just as loud for God and be grateful. If he wants to send me in for one more play to kick a field goal, throw or catch a Hail Mary, or play defense for a brother, I want to do my best until the trumpet or the last whistle blows.   id