Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
September 6, 2020
Finding the Strength to Finish Well
In these fourth quarter years of my life I have pondered often the need to finish well the journey of life. I do not want to finish poorly so, before the horn sounds the game’s end, I keep asking for the wisdom to get it right. Examples and connections come to mind.
Examples are important. Some are good, some bad. God blessed me with several excellent examples of how life ought to be lived. My Dad was the first. His example of integrity has influenced every day of my life. The pastor of my teen years, Si Mathison, was another. His joyful spirit inspired me to say, “If that is what a real Christian is like, then I want to be one!”
The example of several other pastor friends helped shape the direction of my life. Some were older; some were my peers. In each one I saw a genuine love for Christ and a servant heart that I wanted to emulate. As much as anyone, Paul Duffey exemplified for me the kind, humble, loving way a pastor may live out his retirement years. Griffin Lloyd inspired me to seek a deeper life in Christ. Red Hildreth’s homespun preaching stirred me to become a more persuasive preacher.
Poor examples are valuable, revealing mistakes we should try to avoid. The Bible’s King Solomon is an interesting example. For many years Solomon served God well, providing wisdom lessons that found a place in the Bible. For much of his life Solomon was a good example. The problem is that, despite his great wisdom, he did not finish well. His life ended in disgrace.
Why did Solomon not finish well? The Bible explains it simply: “his wives led him astray.” We find this sad commentary in First Kings, chapter 11: “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” How do we explain Solomon’s failure? Perhaps his power as the king intoxicated him to the extent that he ignored God and made his own rules. The sad result is the story of a man who had it all but lost it before crossing the finish line.
For a great example of one who endured to the end and finished well, we can find no better example than that of the Apostle Paul. After enduring severe persecution, incarceration and hardship, Paul sat chained in a Roman prison. Aware that his execution was imminent, Paul could have moaned about how God had deserted him. Instead he wrote these inspiring words to Timothy:
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Connections are as important as good examples. The ultimate connection is, of course, our bond to Jesus. He is the Vine; we are the branches. God’s plan, shared with us by Jesus, is that we bear fruit as his disciples. That happens only if we remain connected to Jesus. His explanation is very clear: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Here is much more than the key to life; there is no life in the Spirit apart from union with Christ.
The connection to Jesus results in other life-sustaining relationships. All who are in union with Christ make up the “koinonia,” the Christ-centered fellowship of believers. So when we belong to Jesus, we belong to everyone else who belongs to Jesus. This dynamic fellowship of those for whom “Jesus is Lord” is the very heart of the church. All of every race and nation are welcome to share the life and joy of this greatest of all connections. Love for Christ and one another is the distinguishing mark of this fellowship.
The richness of this fellowship became apparent to me while traveling and meeting with groups of Christians in other nations. In South America, Central America, India, Nepal, China, Africa and Europe, I discovered this remarkable fellowship of love among those who were connected to Jesus and to one another. In each fellowship I was welcomed as a “brother” by the believers in each family of Christ followers.
The Bible never suggests that the Christian journey is a “Lone Ranger” experience. Jesus needed Peter, James and John and the other apostles. Paul needed Barnabas, Silas and Timothy. We all need other believers in our lives, people to whom we may turn for wise counsel, encouragement, guidance and, sometimes, correction.
For more than a decade I have met monthly with six other retired pastors (now meeting on Zoom). What began as a casual lunch meeting became a sacred bond. Our fellowship reinforces our gratitude for the grace of God and our hope for the future of the church. The “presence” of these servants of Christ in my life spurs me to keep the faith and not falter in the last lap.
Two men with whom I served as pastors in one church, Earl Ballard and Jimmy Allen, became “brothers” in the richest sense of that word. Our continuing relationship illustrates the remarkable value of connections. My bond with these two pastors is a continuing source of joy, inspiration and encouragement in all the seasons of life. I thank God for the sacred connections that strengthen me to keep the faith, fight the good fight and finish well!
Finally, I must acknowledge the incredible significance of the scriptures in my journey. These key verses inspire me to stay the course:
Matthew 11:28-29 – Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…. I found that I must “come to Jesus” daily! Going to Jesus constantly is necessary for me to stay in all circumstances yoked to Him. His rest provides the strength to take the next step. Going to Jesus daily, in prayer, in holy communion, in reading and digesting the scriptures, opens my heart to receive his grace. He called me to serve Him and promised to be with me to the end. He is faithful. I can count on that!
Ephesians 3:32 – And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Kindness always honors Christ. Tenderhearted kindness is the trademark of His servants. And life is impossible without forgiveness.
Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. When I surrendered to Jesus, I became alive to God. I live in Christ. Christ lives in me. Outside of Christ, there is no life. Living in Christ is the only way to live!
Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. This my “life verse” and it reminds me that in Him alone can I find the strength to remain a “good and faithful servant.” His strengthening presence empowers me to serve Him.
To finish well, as a servant of Jesus, I must remain connected to Him, to my friends who are fellow servants of Jesus, and to His Living Word which provides my soul with bread for the journey. Of one thing I am certain: I cannot finish well in my own strength. I must have help. But, thanks be to God, that help is available! Perhaps nothing expresses this truth better than these words introduced to me by my wife Dean, my dearest fellow servant of Jesus:
O Christ I cannot do without Thee!
I cannot stand alone;
I have no strength, no goodness
Nor wisdom of my own.
But Thou, O blessed Savior,
Art all in all to me,
And perfect strength in weakness
Is theirs who lean on Thee.
Until then, Glory! + + +