An unforgettable image that is seared in my memory bank from 9/11 was the firemen and police officers who ran INTO the burning buildings… as hundreds were running OUT! These civic servants risked their own lives and in many cases… gave their own lives… to save someone else. They are true national heroes who finished the race of life and faith well. They served the public good…. with excellence…. until their last breath.
There is not enough written today about finishing well. There are volumes of articles and books on “how to start” …a new weight-loss program, a fitness regimen, or a new way to keep your mind and memory sharp. Starting well is critically important. However, finishing well is even more important. Finishing every task with excellence is an art that every disciple of Jesus Christ must master…if we want to glorify God.
“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” Hebrews 12:2
God calls every one of us to finish every task…every day…with excellence…because if you think about it, every task and every day…COULD be our last. The fireman who sprinted into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, did not know that they would not come out alive. They were simply doing their job…with excellence. God calls us to do each thing we do…relationships, schoolwork, jobs, volunteer work…each thing we do…with excellence!
A few Sundays ago, after a worship service, a woman named Gretchen told me, with deep emotion, how loving her Father and Mother were to each other in their 60+ year marriage. Gretchen described how tenderly her Dad cared for her Mom to the very end of her life…night and day…as her mother deteriorated and finally lost her battle with Alzheimer’s. Gretchen admired her Dad for “loving her Mom to the end.” He finished his race as a husband well! Finishing a long race well is one of the ways we can glorify God in our life.
In his brilliant book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson laments the lack of interest in our society in obedience over the long haul and in finishing well: “Our attention spans have been conditioned by thirty-second commercials. It isn’t difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. In our kind of culture, anything, even news about God, can be sold if it is packaged freshly, but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market in our culture for religious experience; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.”
Read Peterson’s words again…S-L-O-W-L-Y. Savor them. Their implications are life changing. God wants us to commit our entire lives…all of us… to Jesus Christ for the long haul…even when we don’t feel like following …or when we don’t want to pursue the way of holiness. The cumulative impact of obedience over the long haul is a powerful witness to the gospel.
In the meantime, God has a race that He is calling every one of us to run. The key is running our race of faith with excellence…and not comparing our race to someone else’s race. In Suzanne’s and my life, I am working hard to finish with excellence my final few months as the full time Executive Director of Macedonian Ministry, and my final year as a fulltime staff member of MM, before I retire at the end of May of 2018. I want to faithfully run this race and make a solid hand off of the baton of leadership to my wonderful successor, Rev. Mark Ramsey in January of 2018. You are going to love Mark and will appreciate his many gifts!
Please remember that the best way that we can “finish the race” is to live faithfully in union with Jesus Christ, so that, someday, when we enter God’s Kingdom, we will receive the “crown of righteousness” that Jesus Christ gives to us when he will say those seven words… “Well done, my good and faithful servant!” And…once we receive the crown, we give it back to Jesus. For all praise, honor, and glory belongs to Him…forevermore!
- What is a race in your life right now that God is calling you to finish well…with excellence?
- What is the barrier to giving all of your life to Jesus Christ?
Where were you on September 11, 2001?
I was the pastor of a congregation in mid- town Manhattan, in New York City, a few short miles from the Twin Towers, on that tragic day… and saw with my own eyes the devastating impact the terrorist attack had on countless people. Over the next few days, weeks and months, I kept encountering individuals in New York who lost family members, friends and office colleagues on that horrific day. As people packed into our sanctuary at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church on September 11 and the days following, I handed out Bible bookmarks with 50 Bible passages that I believe that everyone ought to know. These passages brought comfort to New Yorkers trying to make sense out of this devastating tragedy. (Read the full story of one of my poignant experiences on September 11, 2001, and for a copy of the Bible bookmark.
A Year in Review
Exactly one year ago today, September 11, 2016, I invited you to join me in a 52-week discipline. I took many of the 50 Bible passages that I gave to my Fifth Avenue Presbyterian congregation on September 11, 2001 and added some devotional thoughts, and reflection questions. This became the basis for this weekly devotional that I have been sharing with you for the past 52 weeks. Today is my last weekly devotional in this one-year series. I hope you have enjoyed these weekly devotionals as much as I have enjoyed putting them together.
The Macedonian Ministry Insights that you receive each Tuesday will continue, as always, but this is the last of my Sunday devotionals. Now that this year of weekly Sunday devotionals is completed, I would love to know your feedback. I have heard from some of you in person, but I would love to offer the opportunity for anyone who would like to write me a note to my personal e-mail to do so. (email@example.com) I would love to know how this weekly devotional has been helpful to you, or to others to whom you have passed it on. I would also like to know any other topics, or Bible passages that you would like me to include if I do this again sometime. Thanks so much for considering this request.