“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
I often use this medium to share things I feel the Lord is sharing with me. Most times they are original thoughts, other times they are powerful nuggets that I glean from others. Quotes from those who’ve gone before me in the faith, and those still living, are often things that greatly motivate me to live for Jesus, as well as books and sermons. In today’s blog I’d simply like to share something that has meant a great deal to me over the years. I have taken this short ‘writing’ off the shelf over the years and read and re-read it, probably hundreds of times. I pray it encourages you today to consider finishing well, as it has me so many times:
The year 1994 was a great year for the NBA draft.
Three players emerged from the ’94 draft who were destined for greatness: Grant Hill, Jason Kidd, and Glenn Robinson. It’s a rare year when there are three young players available who single-handedly can turn a franchise around. But ’94 was one of those years.
Hill impacted Detroit, Kidd revolutionized the Dallas Mavericks, and Robinson made Milwaukee a potential threat to every team in the league. And when it came time to give the Rookie of the Year award, for only the third time in NBA history the voting was tied. As a result, Jason Kidd and Grant Hill were named Co-Rookies of the Year. And Robinson was right behind them in the balloting, breathing down their necks.
The year 1945 was remarkable, too.
As 1994 was a great year for rookie hoop stars, so 1945 was an absolutely unbelievable year for rookie evangelists. In that year, twenty-seven-year-old Billy Graham came storming out of seemingly nowhere to fill auditoriums across America, speaking to as many as thirty thousand people a night. Graham was hired as the first full-time evangelist for Youth for Christ, and his reputation as a uniquely gifted preacher roared across America like a prairie fire. The rest, of course, is history.
You’ve heard of Billy Graham. But what about Chuck Templeton or Bron Clifford? Have you ever heard of them?
Billy Graham wasn’t the only young preacher packing auditoriums in 1945. Chuck Templeton and Bron Clifford were accomplishing the same thing – and more. All three young men were in their mid-twenties. One seminary president, after hearing Chuck Templeton preach one evening to an audience of thousands, called him “the most gifted and talented young man in America today for preaching.” [ William Martin, A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story (New York: William Morrow, 1991), page 112. ]
Templeton and Graham were friends. Both ministered for Youth for Christ. Both were extraordinary preachers. Yet in those days, “most observers would probably have put their money on Templeton” [ ibid – same as previous reference, page 110. ] As a matter of fact, in 1946, the National Association of Evangelicals published an article on men who were “best used of God” in that organization’s five-year existence. The article highlighted the ministry of Chuck Templeton. Billy Graham was never mentioned. Templeton, many felt, would be the next Babe Ruth of evangelism.
Bron Clifford was yet another gifted, twenty-five-year-old fireball. In 1945, many believed Clifford the most gifted and powerful preacher the church had seen in centuries. In that same year, Clifford preached to an auditorium of thousands in Miami, Florida. People lined up ten and twelve deep outside the auditorium trying to get in. Later that same year, when Clifford was preaching in the chapel at Baylor University, the president ordered class bells turned off so that the young man could minister without interruption to the student body. For two hours and fifteen minutes, he kept those students on the edge of their seats as he preached on the subject, “Christ and the Philosopher’s Stone.”
At the age of twenty-five young Clifford touched more lives, influenced more leaders, and set more attendance records than any other clergyman his age in American history. National leaders vied for his attention. He was tall, handsome, intelligent, and eloquent. Hollywood invited him to audition for the part of Marcellus in the movie “The Robe“. It seemed as if he had everything.
Graham, Templeton, and Clifford.
In 1945, all three came shooting out of the starting blocks like rockets. You’ve heard of Billy Graham. So how come you’ve never heard of Chuck Templeton or Bron Clifford? Especially when they came out of the chutes so strong in ’45.
Just five years later, Templeton left the ministry to pursue a career as a radio and television commentator and newspaper columnist. Templeton had decided he was no longer a believer in Christ in the orthodox sense of the term. By 1950, this future Babe Ruth wasn’t’ even in the game and no longer believed int he validity of the claims of Jesus Christ.
What about Clifford? By 1954, Clifford had lost his family, his ministry, his health, and then… his life. Alcohol and financial irresponsibility had done him in. He wound up leaving his wife and their two Down’s syndrome children. At just thirty-five years of age, this once great preacher died from cirrhosis of the liver in a run-down motel on the edge of Amarillo. His last job was selling used cars in the panhandle of Texas. He died, as John Haggai put it, “unwept, unhonored, and unsung.” Some pastors in Amarillo took up a collection among themselves in order to purchase a casket so that his body could be shipped back East for decent burial in a cemetery for the poor.
In 1945, three young men with extraordinary gifts were preaching the Gospel to multiplied thousands across this nation. Within ten years, only one of them was still on track for Christ.
In the Christian life, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish.
[ Taken from Steve Farrar’s “Finishing Strong” (published by Multnomah Books 1995 a part of the Questar publishing family) pages 3-5. ]