Summary: Dominant Thought: True faith in Jesus sees beyond testing to the grace and reward of Jesus.
Have you been watching the Olympics? There’s something about watching those great struggles that makes us want to do better at things, doesn’t it? If those 16 year old kids can do that, surely I can at least drink more water every day, or something!
Tuesday night, we got to watch as Michael Phelps jumped in the pool to race in the men’s 200m butterfly. It was the 4th time he has been in that Olympic race in the finals. He was definitely a favorite to win. Phelps was ahead of everyone most of the race, followed by South Africa’s Chad Le Clos. By the end, he was half a meter ahead of le Clos, but with three meters to go, he glided into the wall instead of finishing strong, something Olympic swimming bronze medalist Steve Parry says "is a ridiculous error.” Phelps lost the gold by .05 seconds.
Phelps should have known better. In the 100m Butterfly, 4 years before, he won it by .01 of a second against Milorad Cavic of Serbia! (see powerpoint picture) Phelps is the one on the left. He won – 1/100th of a second!
Bob Costas interviewed Phelps, asked what went wrong Tuesday night – just hours after becoming the Olympic athlete with the most medals ever. Phelps said, “Um… It’s probably the finishes I’ve done in workout. It ended up coming out here. There are times I go slow into the wall or touch lazy and it showed.”
Phelps raced a great race, ahead of all the others, but he didn’t race strong to the finish.
In his book Finishing Strong, Steve Farrar starts out by telling the stories of 3 young preachers. All 3 were drawing crowds of multiple thousands in 1945. You’ve heard of Billy Graham. But you probably haven’t heard of Chuck Templeton or Bron Clifford. All 3 were similarly popular. But, by 1950, Templeton had abandoned his belief in Jesus and left the world of ministry. By 1954, Bron Clifford had left his wife and children and turned to alcohol. He died of cirrhosis of the liver in a scrubby motel outside of Amarillo, TX.
Then, he tells the story of another young preacher, John Bisagno. John was over at his fiance’s house one night for supper. After dinner, his father-in-law to be, Dr. Paul Beck, was talking to him out on the porch. Dr. Beck had been a faithful minister for many years.
“John,” he said, “as you get read to enter the ministry, I want to give you some advice. Stay true to Jesus! Make sure that you keep your heart close to Jesus every day. It’s a long way from here to where you’re going to go, and Satan’s in no hurry to get you.” He continued, “It has been my observation that just one out of ten who start out in full-time service for the Lord at 26 are still on track by the age of 65. They’re shot down morally; they’re shot down with discouragement; they’re shot down with liberal theology; they get obsessed with making money…but for one reason or another, 9 out of 10 fall out.”
20 year old Bisagno was shocked. He couldn’t believe it. He tells how he went home and wrote down the name of 24 young men who were his peers and contemporaries – young men in their 20’s who were sold out for Jesus, trained in the ministry, burning in their desire to be used by Him; men committed to make an impact for the Lord in their generation. 33 years later, Bisagno still had that list of names. All but 3 of them were now crossed off.
Farrar goes on to say, “In the Christian life, it’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish.” That’s what that whole book is about then. It’s not just about preachers. It’s about followers of Jesus Christ. It’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish.
Goals are great for life. They press us ahead. But all of us have a tendency to slow down as the goal approaches. For racers, the way to overcome this is to set a goal that’s somewhere past the line. I suppose that’s harder in a swimming pool, but on the track, that’s how it’s done. The runner focuses on a point somewhere past the goal line. That becomes the goal, so that they remain strong and give their best to the very end.
Sometimes we slow down in our "race." We know the end is near, or else we have just located our goals too short of the end. The result is a slowing down. We slack off. We let Satan's obstacles get us behind. I don't know all of the obstacles that you will face in your life, but I know that many people have, by trust in Jesus, overcome some terrific difficulties.