Summary: Good starts don't secure a strong finish. So what's needed to finish strong?
Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Have you ever noticed in life that a good start isn’t always enough? Now there is nothing wrong with a good start mind you, but it is often not enough to get us to the finish line, or to the winners circle.??And if you don’t believe me, ask the Atlanta Braves who won the first 2 games of the 1996 years world series against the Yankees in New York and then lost the series 4 games later.?Or you can ask the 1969 Baltimore Orioles, who dominated the majors that year winning 109 games but lost the World Series to the New York Mets in just 4 games. Or ask the Indianapolis Colts who went up 10-0 at the end of the first quarter of the Super Bowl only to lose the game 31-17. It’s not just the teams, it’s also the athletes: Then you have Tiger Woods, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Jose Conseco.
Good starts aren’t limited to professional sports or even athlete’s. It also includes politicians: President Bill Clinton, Senators John Edwards and Bill Jefferson, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Governor Edwin Edwards, Oliver Thomas, Dorthy May Taylor, all of who had good starts but failed to finish strong. You have businessmen like Ken Lay of Enron, Bernie Madoff, and Bernard Ebbers and Scott Sullivan of World Com. It also includes many pastors and ministers including: Jamaican born, New York based evangelist Rev. Paul Lewis, Marvin Gorman, Jimmy Swaggert, Jim Bakker, and many of the arch bishops and priests who have been accused of molestation or conspiring to cover it up. There is nothing wrong with a good start mind you, but it is often not enough to get us to the finish line. The bible is full of stories of men & women who had great starts for God - but who did not finish strong. King David, King Solomon, King Asa, Samson, Judas and many others. Dr. J. Robert Clinton, professor at Fuller Seminary, did a study of leadership in the Bible and determined that only 30% of them finished well.
It’s easy to look down on people like that we all have experienced the reality of good starts but failing to finish strong in our own everyday lives.? It may be a new diet or exercise program or on a project around the house, a class in school, a job in the church or in paying off some bills. We get out of that starting gate like hungry grey hounds chasing a rabbit but as time passes and the diet ends, the exercise stops, we fail the class, the job doesn’t get done and the bills are still where we left them. And we find out that there is nothing wrong with a good start -- it just isn’t enough. Trophies are given only to those who cross the finish line. There are no medals for 95 yard dashes.
Perhaps there was no one more focused on finishing the race of life and faith well than the Apostle Paul. In our Scripture today, Paul uses the analogy of a race for the journey of faith. The Church in Corinth was familiar with races. Corinth hosted one of the most famous of the Greek athletic events, 2nd only to the Olympic games.?Paul uses the picture of a race to point to another race - for we as Christians are running a race where we are called not just to start strong but finish well. There are several things we learn about the journey of faith.
First, we run with a purpose, not aimlessly. Very few New Orleaneans running in the Crescent City Classic have a realistic chance to compete and beat some of the best African runners in the world who come here to race but every one of the participants has a goal. For some, it is to win their age bracket. For others, it is to be in the first 100. For still others, it is to be in the top 500 and get a poster. But for every person, regardless of age, stature, training or physical shape, the goal is the same: to finish the race and finish it well. Finishing well can be a matter of perspective and personal taste. (Show funny pictures of costumes from the race) The same is true for those of us who run the race of faith for Jesus. It’s not enough just to start the race or even have a good start, it is to finish the race and finish it well.
Second, it requires a proper focus and that’s to run for the prize. Now here’s the thing about the CCC. Only one man and one woman will win but for the first 500, they receive a medallion and a poster and that’s the prize. People run in the race of life for fame or prizes or accolades, but we run for the prize of eternal life. And that makes all the difference on how you run the race. Rick Warren writes, “When you fully comprehend that there is more to life than just here and now, and you realize that life is just preparation for eternity, you will begin to live differently. You will start living in light of eternity, and that will color how you handle every relationship, task, and circumstance. Suddenly many activities, goals, and even problems that seemed so important will appear trivial, petty, and unworthy of your attention. The closer you live to God, the smaller everything else appears. When you live in the light of eternity, your values change. You use your time and money more wisely. You place a higher premium on relationships and character instead of fame or wealth or achievements or even fun. Your priorities are reordered. Keeping up with trends, fashions, and popular values just doesn’t matter as much anymore.”