Pastor’s Blog Wk 5.6.19: Finish Strong

I have often said, “it’s not about how you start but how you finish.” Have you ever decided to read a book, start a project, a new business or go on a diet? At that very moment we tend to find motivation, but just as quickly as we decide to embark on that journey – it dies. The diet fails, the business never gets off the ground, we don’t get past the second chapter of the book and our project is left incomplete. I heard a quote a while ago and it said, “Commitment is doing what you said you would do long after the emotion you said it in has left.” We are living in a time where loyalty and commitment are becoming a thing of the past. Not just loyalty to anything, but to the most important foundational principles of life. It’s difficult for me to hear Jesus say, “when I return shall I find faith left in the earth” (Luke 18:8). After 46 years of living, I have seen the de-evolution of committed, faithful and trustworthy people. 

It wasn’t that long ago when a handshake meant something. People made agreements and a simple touch of the hands would solidify that commitment. Those were honorable times. We shared a mutual respect for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Today we see a dark contrast between those days and today. What’s happened? Why is there such a lack of faithfulness today in just about every sphere of society? I believe the reasons are multifaceted, but let me take the time to highlight just a few. 

First, “God designed us to live through our heart and not our intellect.”The heart is governed by morals. There is one, and only one Supreme moral law giver. When you encounter that Supreme law giver and accept him, you also accept His nature, which is comprised of His moral code and value system. His nature is just and morally perfect. If we adhere to this codependent relationship with Him we take upon ourselves His nature and character, then whatever you believe in your heart, is what you become. It will drive your actions and reactions in life. If how you believe determines how you behave, then our actions can quickly tell on us. In other words, the depth of our relationship with God will extend into our daily living.

The apostle Paul was devoted to his Hebraic heritage and a belief system that even caused him to persecute the early Church until his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. After this encounter his name was changed from Saul to Paul and his life was drastically altered into the image of his savior. The piercing of his heart with the Gospel transformed his life. In a letter he wrote recorded in Philippians 3, he is expressing the contrast between the two worlds he found himself in and in verses 3-4 he says, “I was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” 

But in verses 7-9 he said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” Paul’s encounter with the Christ radically changed the way he lived. When you truly encounter God and He begins a work in you the Kingdom will first be made evident in your decisions and your wants. Jesus supernaturally changes your want. Conversion first happens at the moral level. Your moral conduct is transformed. Being saved is not the same as conversion. Many people get saved because they want fire insurance. In essence they fear the prospect of Hell but when you are converted, Hell fears you.

Second, “At the Cross you surrender who you are, to who He is.”You make a decision to cease to exist. Your desires become His, your wants become His, your dreams become His. You die to yourself and you pick up the cause of the Cross and you follow him. The prodigal son was always a son, but he left saying, “give me” and he came back saying, “make me.” God is looking for a “make me” attitude. The world is teaming with people that are screaming to God, “GIVE ME!” God only responds to “make me.” The Pharisees said to Jesus, “give us a sign,” and he responded by saying, “a wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign but none will be given to them except that of Jonah. (Matt 12:38-39)

Thirdly, “Faith without works is dead.” The Apostle Paul once again brings these heart matters to the surface when he says in James 2:14-18, “My dear brothers and sisters, what good is it if someone claims to have faith but demonstrates no good works to prove it? How could this kind of faith save anyone?”For example, if a brother or sister in the faith is poorly clothed and hungry and you leave them saying, ‘Good-bye. I hope you stay warm and have plenty to eat,’ but you don’t provide them with a coat or even a cup of soup, what good is your faith? So then faith that doesn’t involve action is phony. But someone might object and say, ‘One person has faith and another person has works.’ Go ahead then and prove to me that you have faith without works and I will show you faith by my works as proof that I believe. You can believe all you want that there is one true God,that’s wonderful! But even the demons know this and tremble with fear before him,yet they’re unchanged—they remain demons.” The Apostle puts this subject to rest in this one paragraph. He is essentially saying that true conversion brings about behavioral changes that compel you to action. If God is love and if love dwells in an individual, it brings him to a place of submission to the work of Christ. He is a bond servant to the Lord. He claims God as his Lord and Savior. Lordship always precedes Savior in a truly converted saint. 

Finally, “Don’t just finish what your start, but finish strong.” The Apostle Paul responded to a gospel of suffering. Acts 9:16 says. Iwill showhimhow muchhemustsufferforMyname.”

The cross is not a comfort of life, it’s a new life. The alter is where God alters us. It is where your desires die and where His desires are awakened in you. Where something ugly dies and something beautiful is born. That’s the Gospel he answered to. In 2 Cor. 11 we know just how much suffering he went through, as recorded in versus 24-27, Five times I’ve received thirty-nine lashes from the Jewish leaders.25 Three times I experienced being beaten with rods.Once they stoned me.Three times I’ve been shipwrecked;for an entire night and a day I was adrift in the open sea. 26 In my difficult travels I’ve faced many dangerous situations: perilous rivers, robbers, foreigners, and even my own people. I’ve survived deadly peril in the city, in the wilderness, with storms at sea, and with spies posing as believers. 27 I’ve toiled to the point of exhaustion and gone through many sleepless nights. I’ve frequently been deprived of food and water, left hungry and shivering out in the cold, lacking proper clothing”. 

Paul who authored 13 books of the New Testament, many times behind bars and suffered beyond our ability to fully comprehend, finished strong. He writes in 2 Tim. 4:7-8, “I have fought an excellent fight. I have finished my full course and I’ve kept my heart full of faith. There’s a crown of righteousness waiting in heaven for me, and I know that my Lord will reward me on his day of righteous judgment. And this crown is not only waiting for me, but for all who love and long for his unveiling.” I often meditate on the meaning of life and why we are here. We are here to serve God and serve one another. Many times it is easy to just quit and live for myself and my family, but that wouldn’t honor the one who gave us everything. You see, even God himself manifested His love for us through the act of sacrifice. “For God so loved the world that He gave.” (John 3:16) Love is action. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) 

So do not quit this journey of faith, stay in the race. Soon our heavenly Father will give us rest from our toil and we shall reign with Him throughout eternity. Stand therefore, be courageous, ever abounding in good works, loving your neighbor as yourself and never neglecting your first love. God bless!