Thursday, November 13, 2008

Don't Blow Your Lead

Last week Jo Anne and I went to the Newport Beach Temple for the first time in some time because of various difficulties we have been dealing with.  One of the Temple workers came up to me and said, "It is so good to see you here."  I responded with, "It's good to be seen!"  In my mind I was also saying, "It's better to be seen than to be viewed!"  And then yesterday I had some surgery done on my pressure sore.  While the doctor was performing the procedure she noticed a spot that looked suspicious and decided to do a biopsy.  As she was working away I thought, "Better to be the subject of a biopsy than an autopsy!"

As challenging as life can be at times, I am still happy to be around.  I am one person you will never hear complaining about getting older.  I will take every day I can get, realizing the precious gift mortality is.

Life is particularly good at this time of the year if you are a sports junkie like I am.  We have college football, college basketball being initiated, and the NBA season beginning as well.  I suppose my love for sports is evidence of a misspent youth; however, it surely does add an enjoyable dimension to my life.

Many years ago I heard President Joe Bentley, president of the Newport Beach Stake at the time, give a talk to the youth about how important it is not to "Blow our lead," in life.  He was alluding to how frequently in the NBA one team will have a 20 or even 30 point lead and almost unbelievably lose the game at the end. 

I have already seen this phenomenon occur in the NBA several times this year -- in fact I observed it almost happen last night to my beloved Los Angeles Lakers.  The Lakers were playing the New Orleans' Hornets and had a 21 point lead most of the game, but almost ended up getting beat in the fourth quarter.  They were very fortunate to barely win a game they should have won easily, and almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as teams do who "blow their lead." 

Why do basketball teams blow their lead so frequently?  There is probably no easy answer, but I think human nature, being what it is, they become complacent, depart from the fundamentals that built their lead in the first place, and quit playing with intensity.  In most cases, I observe that they quit playing tough defense.  There is not a great deal of glory in playing defense.  It requires constant and consistent hard work and is not nearly as fun or glorious as launching a three pointer that splashes through the net to the applause and cheers of the crowd.  However, teams that don't continue to play hard-nosed, in-your-face defense, usually end up blowing their lead and often times losing the game.  In basketball as in life, to ultimately win the prize -- the game or eternal life -- we must endure to the end and not "blow our lead!"

I have always been intrigued by the lives of three characters in the Old Testament -- Saul, David, and Solomon.  Each of them was given an "early lead" in life.  Of Saul it was said that he was "... a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people."  [1 Samuel 9:2] Anointed by Samuel to be the King of Israel as a young man with the promise of a long and productive life ahead, we know that he "blew his lead" through pride and disobedience, was filled with jealousy and hatred toward David, and eventually died an ignominious death as a miserable old man.

Samuel the Prophet was inspired to anoint the young boy David to replace Saul as the next King of Israel.  We read of David, "... Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he. Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward...." [1 Samuel 16:12-13]

Whoever was given a bigger lead as a young man than David?  He had the faith to go forward to slay Goliath.  He was a great poet and musician, as well as a powerful warrior.  He loved the Lord and was loved by the Lord.  Our heart aches for David as we observe him through the pages of history "blow his lead," in his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the slaying of her husband.  How could you have done it, David?  I know why -- he quit reading his scriptures and praying, [he quit playing defense and departed from the fundamentals of his faith] and undoubtedly was also lifted up in his pride.  And so this boy of such promise and infinite potential blew his lead and ended his days in misery and heart ache.

David's son, Solomon, was a sweet and humble young man who loved the Lord when he began his reign as King of Israel, as evidenced in the following prayer he offered to Jehovah. "And now, O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in... Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people?" [1 Kings 3:7, 9]

Solomon was blessed with wisdom.  He loved the Lord and built the great temple.  Under his direction Israel flourished as never before; but, even great Solomon eventually "blew his lead", as we all know.  He forsook Jehovah, married many "strange women", allowed the worship of false gods in the kingdom and eventually died a hollow shell, and but a shadow of his former humble and wise self.

Surely the Lord could have called men to be kings of Israel that would have endured faithfully to the end.  I believe there is a great lesson in his not doing so, however.  I call it the "Two Faces of the Three Kings of Israel."  Those two faces are the natural man and the spiritual man we are all capable of being.  Birth, the privileges we receive in our youth, our infinite potential as sons and daughters of God mean nothing if we do not, day by day, do those things that enable us to not blow our lead, give in to the natural man that is always lurking just beneath the surface, and endure faithfully to the end. 

We, who have been given so much, must never grow complacent, quit playing intense defense and "blow our lead."

As I give patriarchal blessings to the youth of our stake, I am overwhelmed with who they really are and of their infinite potential.  Just coming for a blessing is evidence of the great lead they have been given in life already.  I hope many, if not all of them, will never "blow their lead" which they need not do if they will continue to play intense, consistent defense and never grow complacent.  At what age can we afford to abandon the fundamentals of life that strengthen faith, and to not play the game of life with intensity?


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