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Jack Graham - Choosing Success Over Failure

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    Jack Graham - Choosing Success Over Failure
TOPICS: Jack Graham: Choices, Choices, Success, Failure

I always think about the greatest coach of all time, certainly in basketball. One of the legends in American sports history and that is Coach John Wooden. Many studied his strategies and coaching skills. But what many do not know is that when he graduated in the eighth grade, or really graduated from the eighth grade, his father who was a strong believer in Christ, a strong gentleman a common man but with uncommon strengths. His name was Joshua Wooden, he gave his young son two dollars and a card, and on this card are basic principles for living. They're almost proverbial, they're principles for life. And at the top of the list are these words: Be true to yourself. Because when it's all said and done, when we choose character, we choose success.

Be a great person! Attempt and achieve greatness in your life. Be a person of faith! Be a person of wisdom, of discipline, of integrity, of honor, of humility and compassion. And all of these lessons that the great Coach Wooden learned from his father Joshua, we can learn in God's Word as God coaches us. This is one of the reasons that I read daily the book of Proverbs. I read other passages, but I always read Proverbs because this is the way we learn how to live skillfully. One of Wooden's favorite poems that he often shared with others, including his athletes, written by Henry Van Dyke. It regards character: "Four things a man must do if he would make his life more true: to think without confusion, clearly; to love his fellow man sincerely; to act from honest motives purely, and to trust in the God of heaven securely".

So in Proverbs 22 and verse 1, as we think of the good name of this good man Wooden, verse one says: "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold". That's success! Wooden's father gave him a tripod really of incentives, very simple things that ended up in the teaching strategy of Coach Wooden himself. Triples that he shared with his coaches, a pyramid of success that Coach Wooden developed. But his father told him as a young man, blaming, cursing, hating, doesn't help you; it hurts you. And then he gave him two sets of threes. "Never lie, never cheat, never steal". That's three. "And don't whine, don't complain, don't make excuses".

That's wise counsel. And if you're a parent worth your salt, you want to teach and coach your children well. You want your children to grow up with this kind of counsel and advice, to live life God's way. Proverbs is based upon life experiences, and this homegrown, homespun kind of down home wisdom that you hear that I just quoted is so very practical and that's why we love little simple things that just challenge us to be at our best. I believe this is one reason why we love the Proverbs, because it is straight up and straight on. And we can learn, God's children can learn life and lessons that we will never forget, because God's wisdom is never forgotten. Once you learn it, it is unforgettable. And we should never stop seeking, we should never stop growing, we should never stop praying for the wisdom of God. Because wisdom is so much, is worth so much more than money, and a good name, a great character is greater than anything you earn or can achieve.

Shakespeare's Hamlet put it this way: "This above all, to thine own self be true". When you are honest with God, you can be true to yourself. And when you're true with yourself, you can be true and faithful with others, including your family, your friends. Faithfulness with others comes from being ourself, and being ourselves comes from our faithfulness to God. What it means to be true to yourself is not to be self-absorbed, it's not to be preoccupied with self, but rather it is to live by the core values of our convictions, our principles, our faith, that we keep our promises, that we live by our word, that you can trust our signature. I'm often asked, "Pastor, how can I pray for you"? And typically I say pray that I will be faithful to God and His Gospel and that by the power of His Spirit, I will live what I preach. And I need you to pray for that because no man can live all that he preaches except by the power of God and the prayers of God's people.

My pastor used to say, "If you only preach what you can live, you wouldn't be preaching very much"! God has called us to live an impossible life. This is why in Christ we have the ability to live the life that God has given us. But truly pray for me, that I will not only believe what I preach but live by what I preach. That's character. Be true to your commitment to Christ. Be true to your commitment to your church. Be true to your commitment to your witness, you influence, to be a person of moral and mental strength, to be bold and courageous and convictional, resilient in the hard times, robust in your devotion! Refuse to lose your conviction! Never compromise your principle or betray your beliefs. Always be loyal in life. That's character. It includes one of the most important lessons that we discover on our coaching board this morning in Proverbs, that is we don't do this alone.

If you're going to win, if you're going to be successful, while there are great teams that do not win, it's not always the best teams that win; it's always the teams that play the best that win. And I will never forget the little dilapidated sign on the walls of Eastern Hills High School in east Fort Worth when I was playing ball. It's a well worn sports Cliché: TEAM, together everyone accomplishes more. What's true on the athletic field is especially true in life. If you want to be successful, you're always going to accomplish more together. We are better together. Famed Christian psychologist and counselor, Gary Smalley, has written: "Life is all about relationships. The rest is just details".

God made us to live in relationships. Relationship with God, relationship with one another. And therefore, He has given us faithful friends to support us, strengthen us, shape us in life. Proverbs 17, verse 17. If you're going to be successful, you're going to need these kinds of team mates. "A friend loves at all times; and a brother is born for adversity". Underscore in your Bibles that phrase, as I have done: at all times. A friend's loves is loyal at all times, supporting, strengthening, encouraging, equipping, even confronting and at times cutting. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend". Chapter 27 of Proverbs, verses 5 and 6: "Better is an open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend".

If you have a friend that loves you enough to confront you when you're wrong, to care about when you've messed up and to challenge you to do better, "You're better than this.", then thank God for friends like these! My doctor looked at me two years ago and said, "Jack, you've got cancer". I didn't want to hear that message, but he was a faithful friend to tell me the truth so I could go and get help. I had a surgeon cut me, yeah, cut me, but he cut me, not to hurt me, but to help me, to get the cancer out! That's a friend indeed. Friends endure. They're not fair-weather friends. They're faithful friends. Friends last.

Let me tell you what a friend is: a friend is the first one to walk in and always the last one to leave when you need them the most. That's friends. I hope you have a friend like that, or friends like these. Maybe the question should be, are you a friend like this? Are you a friend who is the first one in and the last one to leave? Life can fall apart. Proverbs 18:24: "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother". And when life falls apart, we need some friends who will help us put life back together, who will stick like glue to help us hold together.

You know, I have many acquaintances through the years, wonderful acquaintances, people that I have known through the years, but I have a handful of friends. It's not because I don't want more friends, but you have to spend a lot of time to have friends like these. Friendship will cost you. You must invest in those kinds of friendships. Friendships typically don't happen on the short term, but on the long term, and so you have to take care of your friends. You have to take care of friendship. And so while there are many wonderful acquaintances, all of us have a few friends, I pray, that will stick to us and stay with us and stand by us in the most desperate and even the darkest of times.

Everybody needs a friend! I mean everybody! Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto! And we all need friends like these. This is why God gave us the church, that we are a family of friends. And I guarantee if you look around this room many of us could name some of our dearest friends in life, some of our dearest friends on earth. Of course, this is a sea of people this morning, many of whom you do not know, but if you will invest in being a friend, you will find a friend. If you will give yourself to others you will find friendships galore. Proverbs 18:24a tells us "He who would have friends should show himself friendly". You can walk into a big congregation like this one and sit at the back and shrug your shoulders and walk out the door and say, "You know that's the most unfriendly church I've ever been in". Or if you show yourself friendly and put a little effort into it, getting acquainted.

You say, "Well that's not my deal. I'm, you know, I'm shy. I'm not a forceful person". That's okay. Everybody can smile. Everybody can show themself friendly. Everybody can have friends. If you're looking for friends, even though many churches today are typically under attack, and sometimes for good reason, I guarantee you God's people, the friends of Christ will be there for you when nobody else will. Look in chapter 4, verses 9 and 12. We'll put it on the screen for you. "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him", and then I love this, this ender, "a threefold cord is not easily broken".

When I sit down with young couples planning marriage, I always show them this verse because this is a proverb, this is a principle that is so important. "A threefold cord is not easily broken". A threefold cord is you, your mate, and God tied together, strengthened together. And this is what makes life stick together. This is what makes a successful marriage, a successful business. I could talk long and hard about the whole business association and affiliation. You need to make sure in these relationships that you can count of the trustworthiness and the wisdom of people with whom you work. Friends will deepen your enjoyment and your employment in life and a true friend will challenge you to be at your best. Valuable friends shape you and sharpen you. We often share with men but it applies to all of us.

Proverbs 27:17. "Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another". Proverbs 27:9, "Oil and perfume make the heart glad and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel". How many of you are here today because of the earnest counsel of a friend? How many of you are in Christ because of the earnest witness of a friend? Are you a friend like that? Are you a friend that sticks closer than a brother? Some of you are here today, when were away from God, a long way from God, but a Christian friend didn't give up on you, kept praying for you, kept calling you, kept encouraging you and believing in you when you didn't even believe in yourself; restored you to Christ and to the church. You're here today because of a wise counsel of a friend. Be very careful how you choose your friends. I believe it's true.

Charles "tremendous" Jones used to say this: "The person you're going be in the next ten years typically is going to be made up by the kinds of books you read and the friends you choose". The Bible says many things about not being in the bad company of people that don't know and honor God. Proverbs in particular says Proverbs 13:20, "A companion of fools will be destroyed". It warns us, listen to this, the Bible say stay away from rebels, rebellious people. Stay away from rebels, stay away from drunkards. How's that work for some of the parties that some people who even name Christ attend? Stay away from drunkards! Stay away from the immoral! Stay away from the greedy! All in the scriptures, Proverbs 13:20, "A companion of fools will be destroyed". Who you are will end up being basically who you hang out with the next few years of your life. And that's a strong word to you who are teenagers today and college students and young adults. Choose your friends wisely if you want to be successful. Thank God, Jesus is a true friend. He is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. He is our elder brother.

I was always taken back by the idea that I could be a friend of God. When I was invited as a sophomore in high school, because I was a Christian athlete, to go across town in Fort Worth and deliver my first sermon, what would be my first text? You want to know what my first text was? John chapter 15 when Jesus said to His intimate band of believers, His core disciples, He said to them, "I don't call you slaves or servants anymore. I call you my friends". That was my text. It was a terrible sermon but it was a great text. I prepared about forty-five minutes worth and got done in about twelve minutes, I think. But Jesus laid down His life for His friends. Jesus is a friend of sinners. That was not a complement; it was an accusation hurled against Jesus by His enemies. He is a friend of sinners. But aren't you glad that Jesus is a friend of sinners, that he has reconciled us unto Himself.

Jesus said, John 15:13, "No greater love has any man than this, but that a man would lay down His life for His friends". Jesus befriended you. How? You were not a friend of God. Not because you were so likeable or wonderful or lovely. As a matter of fact we were estranged from God, enemies of God, facing the wrath and the judgment and the hell of a holy God. The wrath of God! So Jesus who is the friend of sinners, God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. On the cross took sinful man with one hand and holy God with the other hand, and at the cross grace and truth and mercy and justice met, and Christ did for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and that is connect us with God. A relationship that is now reconciled. While we fail to live successfully because we live sinfully, while we fail to live righteously, He did what we could only dream about doing. We are now therefore His friends, and we live in peace with God! We have peace with God! We have peace with others, and yes, we have peace within.

Listen to the way the Scripture puts it in Romans 5:6-10: "For while we were still weak at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though for perhaps a good person one would dare even to die. But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by His life". Spiritual truth. We are saved by His death. Sin is broken but we are saved by His life. Jesus is Lord. Therefore, this is a living relationship. There's nothing deader, dryer than religion, and there's nothing more alive than to be alive in Christ. And when therefore, if you want to live successfully, choose Christ and the character that Christ can give you of integrity and morality and authenticity.

There's so much phoniness today in the world. So much hypocrisy, even in the church. You know what hypocrisy means? The actors of the first century, the Greek actors would wear masks to play all the parts and Jesus chose that word out off the stage of His times to say, "If you are wearing a mask, that's hypocrisy". Be true to God; be true to yourself; be true to your core conviction as to who you really are, not what you say you are. Put down the mask. Proverbs says if we cover our sins, He will not forgive us. If we cover our transgressions. But if we confess them and forsake them, we'll find forgiveness. That means be honest with God! Integrity. You know what that word means? You see the word integer there? It's a mathematical term; it means whole, to be whole in body and soul and spirit.

Character cannot be compartmentalized. You can't say a person is a great person, much less a good person if they have sections of their lives that are negotiable with the world. Character is not disposable; it is non-negotiable. And if my character, now listen to me and we're wrapping up, if my character is duplicitous and dishonest, in the end I can never be successful! Never! Because eventually duplicity is discovered. "Be sure your sin will find you out". Your sin will find you out, the family will find you out, your friends will find you out, you'll find yourself out. If I'm not trustworthy, if I'm not who I say I am, if I don't keep my promises, if my signature really isn't worth much, I will eventually be seen as manipulative and phony and hypocritical and this is not winning!

Character commits itself to honesty over personal gain, to principle over expediency, to sacrifice over selfishness, to surrender and purity over pleasure. And one last thing, character is more than reputation. A good name is to be sought. A good reputation is a good thing. But note the difference. Reputation is what I'm supposed to be. Character is what I really am. My reputation is how I am viewed without; my character is how I am viewed and I view myself within. Reputation is what people say about you; but character, that's what God sees, says and knows about you. When it's all said and done, your character is the sum total of the choices and the decisions that you have made in life. Choose well.
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