17 April 2011

Finishing Strong (Hanging Up the Spikes)

(An Elderly Man)
2 Timothy 4:6–8 One of baseball’s greatest players was Lou Gehrig. Known as the “Iron Man” for playing more games consecutively than any other player except Cal Ripkin, Gehrig was stricken with an incurable disease, a painful shrinking of body tissue for which there is no cure, a condition later named Gehrig’s Disease. After fighting this health battle, he was forced to tearfully say farewell to his colleagues and friends at Yankee Stadium. Gehrig had to hang up the spikes.
That’s a reality for all of us at some point in our lives. Paul had reached that milestone in his life when he wrote to his successor, the young pastor Timothy. In fifty-two words this nearly seventy-year-old man penned his testimony and challenge. Writing from a dungeon, Paul’s words are timeless reminders of the power of a life that is lived well and finishes strong. [Read 2 Tim. 4:6–8 at this point.]
I. Confident
Because of his relationship to Jesus Christ, a person who finishes strong is confident in the face of death. Paul used the term departure as a picture of death (v. 6). It is a word that in maritime usage means “to weigh anchor by the loosening of the ropes.” It is also an army term meaning “to break down the tent and leave camp.” Paul saw himself as a man on a journey heading for the next stop. In his other writings, Paul described death as “at home with the Lord” in 2 Corinthians 5:8; “gain” and “with Christ” in Philippians 1:21, 23; and “fallen asleep in him [Christ]” in 1 Thessalonians 4:14.
J. Redford Wilson, who entered the hospital for what would be the last time, was told by the doctors that his chances of survival were small. “But,” they said, “surgery might help.”
Even so, the surgery itself contained risk and his chances were marginal. With steady eye-to-eye contact and a twinkling smile, Redford unshakably replied, “Either way, Doc, I win.”1
Death is a reality that must be looked squarely in the eye. Martin Luther said, “Even in the best of health we should always have death before our eyes. We will not expect to remain on this earth forever, but will have one foot in the air, so to speak.”2
Only Jesus Christ has the key to victory over death. He conquered death when he rose from its cold clutches two thousand years ago. Because Jesus Christ lives, he offers to everyone the opportunity to overcome death.
In the mid-nineteenth century, a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln went to observe what transpired at a slave auction. He saw black Americans being chained like cattle and auctioned off to the highest bidder. Eventually, a young woman was brought to the block, and bidding started. Lincoln put in a bid, which was countered by another. He bid higher and was countered again. Finally, he outbid all the others and the auctioneer proclaimed, “Sold!”
Then the slave traders brought the young woman off the block and set her at Lincoln’s feet. He reached down, unlocked the chains, and said, “You’re free.”
The emancipated slave looked at Lincoln with a quizzical look and asked, “What does it mean to be free?”
Lincoln responded, “It means that you can think anything you want to think, you can say anything you want to say, you can go wherever you want.”
The reality of her newfound freedom began to sink in and, with tears streaming down her cheeks, she said, “Then I will go with you.”
That’s what Jesus wants to do with us. He came to find us, to forgive us, and to free us from the power of sin.3 Finishing strong can only be done by a life that has chosen Christ as Savior and Lord.
To finish strong is to have a concentrated life. A concentrated life to the lordship of Jesus Christ results in a focused, centered life. Paul looks in the rearview mirror in verse 7: “I have fought the good fight.” The word fight comes from a word from which we derive our word agency. It’s the picture of an athlete in any contact sport leaving it all on the field—giving everything he has. It is to give a total effort.
Paul found many adversaries in his life: sin, guilt, spiritual oppression from demonic forces, violent opponents, physical problems, internal fears. Yet, Paul never failed to give his all. The time to do that is now. One of the greatest saboteurs of dreams and goals is that little word, someday.
Zig Ziglar tells the story of the man who went next door to borrow his neighbor’s lawnmower. The neighbor explained that he couldn’t let him use the mower because all the flights had been cancelled from New York to Los Angeles. The borrower asked him what cancelled flights had to do with him borrowing his lawn-mower. “It doesn’t have anything to do with it,” the neighbor replied. “But if I don’t want to let you use my lawnmower, one excuse is as good as another.”
The same is true for any person looking to put off the work that brings him closer to reaching his goals. “Someday when I have the time or money.” “Someday I’ll study up on that.” “Someday after the kids have moved out.” “Someday …”4 To finish strong is to give your best now.
Paul also had concentrated on completing his work. “I have finished the race” (v. 7). Paul always kept his objectives in front of him. “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).
Many people start well but do not finish well. A prominent pastor listed the names of twenty-four young men who were ministering with him in their twenties. Thirty years later, only three of those twenty—four were still in the ministry.
Life is most fulfilling when it is filled with purposes. Purpose becomes the driving force of contentment. George Bernard Shaw expressed it this way: “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live … life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch, which I’ve got a hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”5
Finishing strong also means to play by the rules. Paul said, “I have kept the faith” (v. 7). Athletes in the Greek Olympic games took an oath to compete with honesty and integrity. There are several possible meanings to this term, “keep the faith.” Among those meanings is “keeping faithful to one’s commitment to Christ.” The person who finishes strong is the person who keeps the faith.
Modern culture knows little of this kind of life. However, it is a commodity that builds strong marriages, communities, churches, and nations. How does that kind of life become a reality?
Steve Farrar, in his book Finishing Strong, suggests that it’s done by four steps:
1.     Stay in the Scriptures. “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” (Josh. 1:8).
2.     Stay close to a friend. “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb. 3:13).
3.     Stay away from other women. “Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. Many are the victims she has brought down … Her house is a highway to the grave” (Prov. 7:25–27).
4.     Stay alert to the tactics of the enemy. “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around … looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1 Pet. 5:8–9).
A life that finishes strong resonates with the words of Josiah Gilbert Holland:
God, give us men, a time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;
Men whom the lust of fire does not kill,
Men whom the spoils of fire cannot buy,
Men who possess opinions and a will,
Men who have honor, men who will not lie.6
III. Contemplates
The strong finisher is the man who contemplates the future. “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (v. 8). The crown about which Paul writes was made up of laurel leaves formed into a wreath and presented to the victor in athletic events. Paul affirms that on “that day,” the day of the Lord’s return and at the judgment seat of Christ, he will receive this award. It is a reward the Lord will present not only to Paul, but to “all who have longed for his appearing.”
Someone has said, “Finishing is a rare and valuable commodity. Completing the task. Staying till the final whistle. Driving the last nail. Never walking away. No pulling back. No drifting. No waffling … finishes have certain qualities.”7
The world is looking for men and women who finish strong. Today as we admire and pay our respects to this man of faith, it’s a good time to examine our journey of life. Is there any change in lifestyle or attitude we need to make? Is there anything not settled with Jesus Christ or someone else that needs to be settled? How would we recap our lives? Could we say what Paul said in this powerful farewell?
When Sir Walter Raleigh laid his new coat on the ground so that Queen Elizabeth might walk without getting her shoes dirty, he knew that there is no price too great for royalty. Whatever he could do to honor the queen of England should be done. And whatever we can do to honor the King of kings should be done now.8 We can be like the writer to the Hebrews who wrote these words: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:1–2 NKJV). We should make it the priority of our lives to finish strong. And in some measure to be able to say to our Lord Jesus Christ, who taught us how to finish well: “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4 KJV).
To finish strong does not mean living a perfect life. Every man has his successes and failures. Guilt and regret must not dog the rest of your life. Solomon wrote, “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity” (Prov. 24:16). You can finish strong. Determine today to run the best you can.
1 Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 191.
2 Ibid., 185.
3 Scott A. Wenig, “Hide and Seek‚” Preaching, January–February, 2001, 27.
4 Les Parrott II, Rev., July–August 2002, 33.
5 Bob Buford, Half Time (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 32.
6 Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819–1881), quoted in Steve Farrar, Finishing Strong (Sisters, Oreg.: Multnomah, 1995), 75.
7 Stu Weber, Tender Warrior (Sisters, Oreg.: Multnomah, 1993, 1999), 206.
8 Erwin W. Lutzer, Your Eternal Reward (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), 160.
Henry, Jim: A Minister's Treasury of Funeral & Memorial Messages. Nashville, TN : Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003, S. 38

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