Finish Well

My only aim is to finish the race and complete
the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying
to the good news of God’s grace.
-Acts 20:24 (NIV)
THIS WEEK I WILL ATTEMPT TO COMPLETE my 7th annual ride of the Ohio to Erie Trail, a 320-mile bicycle ride of several contiguous trails linking the Ohio River to Lake Erie.  There are 12 riders in this year’s crew—most of us preachers.  The comradery and brotherhood alone are worth the trip.

In preparation for this undertaking, following a rather difficult spring and summer due to a broken leg, I have watched a number of cycling videos.  Those videos range from maintenance and fitness tips to Tour De France highlights.  The Tour De France is the premier, epic cycling race in the world.    This year’s Tour consisted of 21 stages (one stage per day) covering a total of 2,081 miles of grueling mountains in the Alps and Pyrenees.  There is never a shortage of excitement and horrendous crashes.

I also watched a humorous/tragic video of botched finishes, most of which came when the front runner, presuming he had won, throws his hands up in the air to coast across the finish line in victory, only to be passed by a more focused and determined competitor in the last moment—how tragic.  Or, throwing hands up in the air to cross the finish line, only to lose balance and crash before crossing—again, how tragic.  Tragic, yes.  But it happens more times than you would think possible.  Hence, the old saying, “Don’t count your chickens before your eggs are hatched.” 

There is another image from the Tour De France that is classic Tour.  The race for 2018 was comprised of 22 teams (approximately 100 riders).  Most of those riders move in a large shifting mass, called a “peloton”—cyclists traveling, at times, in excess of 30 MPH only inches apart.  When a rider goes down in the peloton he most often takes out scores of riders with him.

It seems that nearly every week there is news of yet another Christian leader who crashes out before the finish line.  When a Christian crashes out, it effects more than that person alone.  The spiritual devastation and fallout often take out scores of other believers and weakens or destroys ones testimony to the jeering world of spectators around us.  As Paul says, The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom. 2:24).   

The remedy for this is to never take anything for granted.  We have an “enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).  Instead, we should give careful attention to our lives and follow Paul’s example, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).

While the church is still reeling with the devastating news coming out of a Chicago mega church and the even more abominable news (if that is possible) coming out of Pennsylvania concerning the abuse of more than 1,000 children by “men of the cloth,” it should sound a clear warning call to us all.  Again, Paul warns us, Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

I am no longer a young man.  I am closer to the end of my life than the beginning.  Though I do not see the finish line, and have no plans of retirement, it is clear my finish line is in the not too distant future.  Many of my brothers the same age as myself are concluding their years of formal ministry.  One thing I do not want to do is crash out carelessly with the finish line in sight.  My aspiration is the same as the apostle Paul’s.  I want to finish the race, and I want to finish well.  I want to say, as Paul said, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

There is only one way to do that.  “Watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and others” (1 Tim. 4:16).  Pray for me brothers and sisters.  I am praying for you.  There is much at stake—the glory of God and the souls of men.

There was one other thing of note for me in this year’s Tour De France.  For the first time in Tour history the same rider came in last place in every stage.  Here’s the up-side:  the gritty young man from Austin, Texas, Lawson Craddock, crashed on day one breaking his scapula but went on to complete each stage, toughing it out through incredible pain.  This was nothing short of victory. The point?  If the enemy takes you out, don’t let him have the final word.  Humble yourself!  Repent! Get up!  Don’t quit!  FINISH YOUR RACE!