Editors Note– this is a sermon that I presented at the NHC Nursing Home on 9/19/04. I hope you enjoy….
I was recently shopping in Wal-Mart when I found a shirt that I really like. It has an image of the cartoon character Popeye and it reads “Strong to the Finish.” I really like that motto taken from the theme of the cartoon show. Strong to the finish. An important concept illustrated all around us. I love watching the Olympics, especially swimming and gymnastics. You see it there in Micheal, how many times did the other swimmers jump out to early leads but Micheal was strong to the finish and won 8 medals. You saw it in the Romanian gymnastic team, the Americans were favored but the Romanians were strong to the finish and took the gold. I recently watched the mini-series Band of Brothers about Company C of the 101st Airborne, they were involved in every major battle from D-Day to Eagle’s Nest outside Berlin. They were strong to the finish and because they were, the world is free from the horrors of the Nazis. “He’s Popeye the Sailor Man, He strong to the finish.”
Today, we need more Popeyes. We need people who are strong to the finish. Whether it be people who can fight through the adversity of Hurricane Ivan or the pain of day-to day life, we need Popeyes. Whether it be people who will serve God to the very end, or people who are willing to give up their lives in pursuit of the advancing Kingdom of God, we need more Popeyes. Before we get all down on ourselves, we need to remember that the Church and the world have always needed more Popeyes. Listen to these words written by the apostle Paul from a jail-cell in Rome to his “son in the faith” Timothy:
“You’ve been a good apprentice to me, a part of my teaching, my manner of life, direction, faith, steadiness, love, patience, troubles, sufferings–suffering along with me in all the grief I had to put up with in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. And you also well know that God rescued me! Anyone who wants to live all out for Christ is in for a lot of trouble; there’s no getting around it. Unscrupulous con men will continue to exploit the faith. They’re as deceived as the people they lead astray. As long as they are out there, things can only get worse. But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers– why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another–showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. I can’t impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder. Christ himself is the Judge, with the final say on everyone, living and dead. He is about to break into the open with his rule, so proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple. You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food–catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you–keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.You take over. I’m about to die, my life an offering on God’s altar. This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting–God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming.”
Imagine Paul is in prison. This is not so unusual for him, many of his writings come from one jail cell or another. Yet this time is different. Somehow, Paul can sense that the end is nearing for him. Who knows how much time he has. At anytime his jailer could come in and take him away. Away to be be-headed or stoned or crucified. To meet his end in a fashion that will not be pleasant. It is all Paul can think to send one last letter, and plead for one last visit from the man Paul has long considered the son that he never had. The man in whom he has poured into for decades. A man that has been to three different continents with him. A man that has been a true friend, a true disciple, a true comrade. And listen to the passion in his voice as he gives this one last message to his friend. Be strong to the finish. Observe the situations around you. Continue in what you’ve learned. Be able to instruct others. Be persistent. Act with utmost patience. Endure suffering. Fight the good fight. Finish the race. Keep the faith. Be strong to the finish.
You may be sitting there and saying to me, “Matt, what do you know? I am tired, my feet are tired, and the road lonely. I don’t have the energy to get the bathroom, much less run a race. Life has passed me by. Leave me alone.” I say to you today. Be strong to the finish. As long as there is breath in your body, let there be a purpose in your heart. For listen to Paul in prison, it is God that put me here and I will complete his purposes. It is God that put you here. You may not like it and you may be mad about it. But the God who created heaven and earth has you I his hand and he has placed you where you can best serve him. Be strong to the finish. Maybe you need to be an encouragement to those around you who have given up hope. Be strong to the finish. Maybe you need to be a light to your sons and daughters, to remind them to be the men and women you raised them to be (or should have raised them to be. Be strong to the finish. Maybe you just need to be a friend to God and a prayer warrior for him. You will stand before your Lord and your God. And I pray that these may be his words to you, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest and the place I have prepared for you.” Be strong to the finish. Finish the race. Fight the fight because one day maybe sooner, maybe later.