Finishing Strong (4 of 4)

Series: A New Normal

II Timothy 4

If you have your Bible, please turn to 2nd Timothy chapter 4, 2nd Timothy chapter 4. We’re going to look at the last chapter that Paul ever wrote before he was executed, beheaded, under the persecution of Nero.

Now we’ve been in a series the last several weeks on change. We’re calling it, ”A New Normal.” And all of us have trouble, to some degree or another, with change. But change is a part of life. You try and fight change; you lose, because change comes into every life. And the longer you live, the more you will experience change.

Just the change of getting older takes place the longer you live. I ran across this article, a little humorous article that was written some years ago about growing old. It says this: Do you realize that the only time in our lives when we like to get old is when we’re kids? If you’re less than 10 years old, you’re so excited about aging that you think in fractions. ”How old are you?” ”I’m 4 ½” You’re never 36 ½. You’re 4 ½ going on 5. That’s the key. You get into your teens. Now they can’t even hold you back. You jump to the next number. ”How old are you?” ”I’m going to be 16.” You could be 13, but you’re going to be 16. And then, the greatest day of your life happens. You become 21! Even the words sound like a ceremony. You become 21! Yes! But then, you turn 30. Oh-oh – what happened there? Makes you sound like bad milk. He turned. We had to throw him out. There’s no fun now. What’s wrong? What changed? You become 21. You turn 30. Then, you’re pushing 40. Stay clear. Stay over there. It’s all slipping away. So you become 21. You turn 30. You’re pushing 40. You reach 50. You make it to 60. Then, you build up so much speed, you hit 70. After that, it’s a day-to-day thing. After that, you hit Wednesday. You get into you 80s, you hit lunch. My grandmother won’t even buy green bananas. It’s an investment, you know, and maybe a bad one. And it doesn’t end there. Into the 90s you start going backwards. ”Well, I was just 92.” Then a strange thing happens. If you make it over 100, you become a little kid again. ”Look at me. I’m 100 ½” – the funny thing about aging. And everyone knows as you age, life changes. Someone has well said, ”Getting old is not for sissies, because it’s hard to get old.” I read one guy, and he said this: ”You know you’re getting old when happy hour is a nap!” That’s true.

Well, how do you finish life strong as you age? As you go from a, a kid to a teenager to a young adult to a mature adult and to a very mature adult. How do you finish strong? See, that’s the goal that God wants for you and for me – to handle change and handle the new normals that come to every life, to handle those in stride and to finish strong. See, in the Bible God describes life in many terms. But in one of the terms it’s a race. And He wants us to finish strong. ”Let us run with endurance,” the Bible says, ”the race that is set before us.”

Now don’t ever get the idea that the race is a 100 meter dash. It’s not a sprint; it’s a long-distance race. And if you’ve ever watched in the Olympics or any kind of track and field events, when they do the long-distance races that go around the track, there’s always a special time in that race. It’s called the bell lap. When you hear the bell lap, that means these guys who’ve been running around this circle for 15, 20 laps, or whatever it is, 30 laps, I don’t know in some of those races, and now it’s the bell lap. This is the last lap. And the last lap….everybody gets on the edge of their seat when it’s the bell lap because it’s like okay, because during, at the bell lap, that’s when you push through the fatigue. And you push through the pain, and you push through all the aches and pains, and you push through that inner desire that says ”I’m too tired. Let’s just quit.” And you push through and you go strong all the way to the end. That’s what God wants for you. That’s what God wants for me. And that’s what Paul had as he writes this last letter, 2nd Timothy, this last chapter, chapter 4. He was telling Timothy, ”I have finished. My life is about over. I can see the finish line. And, Timothy, I’ve finished strong, and I want you to finish strong, too.”

Let’s look at it. 2nd Timothy chapter 4. Paul says, ”I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and by His kingdom; preach the Word. Be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort with great patience and instruction; For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate, they will heap up for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry, for I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge will aware to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Paul was getting ready to have his head cut off, and he knew it. He was on death row, and he sensed in his heart that this was it for him. And he was going to die. And he was ready to die. And he had tattooed on his wrist, ”Winning!” He knew that he was winning before Charlie Sheen ever came up with that. Paul said, ”I am winning. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. And I’m winning. And I can the see Lord right at the tape, at the finish line, and His arms are open wide, and He has a reward for me.” What a beautiful picture. And Paul had that. And Paul wanted Timothy to have that. And God wants you and me to have that.

So here’s our question: What will it take for you to finish strong, to finish strong, so when the bell lap’s comes, you are kicking it into high gear and you’re not coasting in, or you’re not just sitting down on the track crying because life is changed and you don’t like it? That’s no way to finish a race. That’s not what God wants. What will it take for you to finish strong? Notice with me three encouragements from this passage.

Encouragement number one: You will need to stay committed to the Word of God. If you want to finish strong, you must stay committed to the Word of God. Paul starts this last chapter, ”I solemnly charge you, Timothy, in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead; Christ Jesus, who is the judge of all men.”

John 5:22. Jesus said, ”The Father judges no one. He has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” Who sits as judge of every single person who has ever lived? Jesus Christ. He is the Judge. He is Savior and He is Judge. And Paul said, ”I solemnly charge you….” This is very serious. ”I testify solemnly. I am solemnly warning you, Timothy, because you’re going to have to do business with the Lord Jesus Christ one day. He’s going to ask you to give an account. So I solemnly charge you, preach the Word, preach the Word of God.” It is so critical. It is so important. He’s not saying, ”Timothy, preach pop psychology. Timothy, preach political correctness. Timothy, preach feel-good little sermonettes that tickle the ears of your hears that tell them what they want to hear. Don’t tell people the truth Timothy just tell them myths and fables.” No, that’s not what Paul said. ”Preach the Word.”

Now we have lots of people today who don’t preach the Word. But God’s command to Timothy was to preach the Word, because it’s the Word of God that is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. It’s the Word of God that is able, James says, ”…to save your souls.”

Second Timothy 3:16. This Bible says that, ”All Scripture is inspired by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” All Scripture is literally, when it says inspired by God, all Scripture is literally God-breathed. It’s the breath of God. It is the Word of God.

Have you ever been talking to somebody and they’re talking to you about something you don’t want to hear? And you just say to them, ”Save your breath. Save your breath. I don’t want to hear what you have to say. Save your breath.” Because we know that breath means your words. So if you save your breath, there are no words. You have to have breath in order to make words. Save your breath.

What is the Bible? What is the Word of God? It’s the breath of God, the very breath of God. And it is so powerful. It is living, and it is active, and it makes all the difference in the world. And Paul told Timothy, ”You preach the Word.”

Now what does that mean to you and to me today? Because you say, ”Well, Jeff, I’m not a preacher, so this doesn’t apply to me.” Well, it definitely applies to me, that I’m to preach the Word, but it applies to all of us, that we are to believe the Word. Believe it. Preach it, so that people can hear it, so that people can latch onto it, and so that people can believe it.

Somebody asked me not too long ago, they said, ”Pastor Jeff, what do you think is the biggest problem facing the church today?” I said, ”I think the biggest problem facing the church today is the biggest we’ve had since the dawn of civilization, and that is an attack on the Word of God.” It’s no coincidence that the first thing that the devil ever uttered to a human being was this: ”Indeed, has God said you shall not eat from any tree of the garden?” The devil took the Word of God, twisted the Word of God, added a question mark to the Word of God to try to get Eve to doubt the Word of God. And that’s what the devil is always doing, to try and get people to doubt the Word of God, to try and get preachers away from preaching the Word of God so they would preach little sermonettes, so they would preach feel-good, little tickle-the-ear messages, so they would preach messages that are not rooted and grounded in the Scripture, so they would preach pop psychology. Preach the Word! It’s the Word that makes all the difference in the world. And the devil has attacked the Word. And the devil will tell you, ”Well, you know, obviously, the Bible isn’t true. You can’t really trust the Bible in this area and this area and this area. I mean, surely we’re in 2011 here. I mean, you can’t believe the things in the Bible.”

I had a lady tell me one time; she was getting ready to go with her boyfriend to Cancun for a little trip. And I said to her, ”That’s wrong.” She claimed to be a Christian. I said, ”That’s wrong. You’re going to shack up with him in Cancun? That’s wrong.” And she told me, she said, ”Get with it, pal. This is the 80s.” I said, ”I don’t care what year it is.” Hebrews chapter 13: ”Let the marriage bed be undefiled, for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Sexual immorality is wrong. I don’t care what year it is. I don’t care what year it is. See, people say, ”Well, you know you’ve got to take the Bible and you got to look at it with an intellectual brain. And, surely, God didn’t mean certain things that He said. I mean, come on, Genesis. Of course that’s not how God created things.” And we believe, ”Oh, oh, you know we believe that God created, ultimately God created, but He did it through evolution. Everybody knows that. Don’t you know that, Jeff? That is a proven fact.” Oh, it is, is it? I thought that was called the theory of evolution? You know what evolution is? Evolution is man’s best guess once they throw out the idea that there is a God. You have to come up with something if there is no God, so what is there? Well obviously, there’s evolution.

I was watching Ben Stein in the movie, ”Expelled.” And he was interviewing Richard Dawkins, the great scientist and an intellectual and the guy that just hates the concept of God, a renowned atheist. And he was interviewing him. And he said, ”Well, where did everything start?” He said, ”Nobody knows. No one knows. Science can’t answer that question. Nobody knows.” He said, ”Well, who made it all?” He goes, ”Why do you suppose it’s a who? Why does it have to be a who?” He said, ”Well, where did it come from then?” He said, ”I don’t know. Nobody knows.” And Ben Stein got Richard Dawkins, to say, ”Perhaps we all started as some kind of slime on the back of an alien that came to this planet.” And Ben Stein said, ”You know, I thought I was talking to this guy about science. It turns out we were talking science fiction.” That’s just amazing, that guy. You see, once you throw God out, God does not exist. So what do you come up with? You come up with some other plan, some other program that will prove God.

God’s Word is true. How did God make the worlds? He spoke them into existence. If Richard Dawkins wants to know where it all started, ”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” BOOM – Genesis chapter 1, verse 1. And God didn’t say He did it through evolution. He said He spoke it into existence. And God did not say that it took Him six geological ages to do it. He says He did it in six days.

Now some of you look at me and you say, ”Boy, Jeff, you need to be quiet about that because we sure don’t believe that.” Well, let me tell you something. It’s very obvious that that’s how God did it. Exodus chapter 20, in the Ten Commandments, it says this: ”Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall not do any work. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. The LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Now we know when we read that that God is not saying, ”You shall work for six geological ages. And then, in the seventh geological age of your life, you can rest.” That’s absurd. God says, ”In six days you shall work, six 24 hour days, and on the seventh day, the Sabbath day, that is your rest, because that’s how I did it. That’s how I made and created everything you see. I spoke it into existence.” God could have made it in six seconds if He had wanted to because He’s God, and there’s nothing too difficult for Him. And, see, people look at the Word of God and they say, ”Well, you know, obviously, Genesis isn’t true.”

Let me tell you something. If you start throwing out Genesis – ”Genesis chapter 1, aw, just a story, Genesis chapter 2, obvious just a story, Genesis chapter 3, talking snakes, come on. No, that never happened. There never was an Adam. There never was an Eve. There never was a Garden of Eden. And it really doesn’t matter, does it, Jeff that we throw all that stuff out?” Hey, listen. If Genesis chapter 3 is a myth, then John chapter 3 is a farce, because John chapter 3 says, ”You must be born again.” But there’s no reason to be born again. If there was no fall, there’s no reason to be born again. And, see, when you start ripping the Bible apart, you find that the whole thing collapses.

I love what it says in Romans chapter 3 and verse 4: ”Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar; as it is written, that you might be justified in your words and might prevail when you are judged.” Every word of God is tested. Proverbs chapter 30, verse 5. I believe every word from God. Now, obviously, there are things in the Word of God that are exaggerated. And God makes it an exaggeration. He presents it like that. Just like in literature, we would use certain words that would be exaggeration. Everybody knows, ”Aw, you’re pulling me leg.” You know, the Scripture uses some things like that, euphemisms and things like that. So, we know when we talk to people, we don’t take everything they say and say, ”Oh, that guy was really jerking on my leg.” No! And the Bible uses language like that. So you have to understand the Bible correctly. But I want to tell you something. The Bible is true! And God says read it, and God says believe it, and preach it.

We have people today that are on television that are on radio, big churches, and they don’t preach the Word. I don’t know if they even believe the Word. One big pastor just wrote a book, very popular book now. It came out March 15th. It’s called ”Love Wins.” And in the book he basically says, ”You know, we’ve heard all this stuff about hell and God is going to cast people into hell.” And he said, ”Surely, God wouldn’t do that. And just this small few people are going to go to heaven, and all these millions and billions of people are going to go to hell. Is God less compassionate than we are?” And he presents this whole argument. And, basically, he says, ”In the end, love wins. The love of God wins, and it’s going to win over every person, and everybody is going to end up in heaven, primarily, mostly, anybody that wants to.” You know, he’s real fussy on that stuff. It’s heresy! The Bible doesn’t teach that. God is a God of infinite compassion. God came to this earth in the form of Jesus Christ, the person of Christ, because you and I are in trouble. We are sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore. Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more. And the lifesaver came and said, ”Trust in Me. Grab onto Me. I will save you.” And that’s the message of the Bible. It is not that love wins. It’s that Jesus saves. And if you’ll put your faith and trust in Him, He will save you. And He died for you! You can trust the Word of God.

You know, you don’t have to be really smart to figure out something. If there is a creation, there’s a Creator. And if there is an intelligent design, there is an intelligent designer. I mean, a kid could figure that out. You can be 4 years old and figure that out. Look at my watch. Suppose you were watching my watch and saying, ”Jeff, I wish you would watch your watch more.” And, you’re looking at my watch. You say, ”Man, that’s the coolest watch, Jeff, who made your watch?” I said, ”Nobody made it.” You say, ”Nobody made your watch?” I said, ”Nobody made it. I don’t believe in watch makers.” You say, ”Well, where did your watch come from?” ”Parts just co-mingled together. You know, this watch used to be button. Then it was a compass. Then it became a pressure gauge. And then, it became a watch. And who knows what it will be a million years from now.” You say, ”That’s stupid.” Yeah, it’s really stupid. You have to have 10 times more faith to believe the monkey story than you have to believe the Word of God. ”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So, believe the Word. Believe the Word. Preach the Word and believe the Word as it’s preached. And receive the Word. And don’t have a Bible and just put it on your shelf somewhere. Read it, receive it, believe it, and do it. Do it! What good does it do to say, ”I believe the Bible,” but then, you don’t do what it says? Peter Lord was quoted as saying this: ”What we really believe we practice and all the rest is just religious talk.” Do the Word.

James chapter 1, verse 22 in the New Living Translation says, ”But don’t just listen to God’s Word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourself.” Do what it says.

John chapter 2, verse 5. Mary said to the servants at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, ”Whatever He (speaking of Jesus), whatever He (Jesus) says to you, do it.”

Jesus said in John 13, verse 17: ”If you know these things, you’re blessed if you do them.”

Jesus said in Matthew chapter 7, verse 24: ”And everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts upon them will be compared to a wise man who built his house upon the rock.” To do what the Lord says.

Now listen. When we preach God’s Word, when we come to God’s Word, when we receive God’s Word, know some things about God’s Word. It brings verse 2, reproof. It brings rebuke. It brings exhortation. And the true preacher of the Word of God preaches the Word of God, so there is reproof. That means conviction. That means sin is exposed.

So there’s rebuke. Well, you ever get rebuked? You ever come to church and you get rebuked, and you get hit with a Scripture right upside the head? And the Lord says, ”You’re in sin there and you need to shape up. You need to get that out of your life.” Sometimes we don’t like that. You know what another word for rebuke is? It’s the word censure, C-E-N-S-U-R-E. That’s what they do to politicians, people in government, when they get out of line, they publicly reprimand them. They get censured. They get rebuked.

And then, there’s exhortation. Exhortation means ”encouragement.” And so, when we come to the Word of God, and my desire for every church service where I’m preaching, I want it to be a time where there’s conviction and there’s encouragement; where you go, ”Oh, that, that just hit me right here. Boy, God just shined His light in those areas in my life. I’m holding onto bitterness, and I’m gossiping, and I’m doing this, and I’m doing that.” And the Lord convicts. But then, you get encouraged. And God wants to do something great. And the Lord still loves me. And He wants to take that and He wants to turn that around for good. And He wants to work in my life. There’s a balance.

Sometimes some preachers, they’re just all conviction. You leave the church and you just feel horrible. The guy feels like, ”I did a good job. That guy, he slid under the door after he left here. He just feels like he can’t do anything right.” There’s just conviction. There’s supposed to be conviction balanced with encouragement. So you, feel it. ”Oh, man, I just, I feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit in my heart and then, God encourages me.” And the Lord sticks out His hand and said, ”You’ve fallen. Take My hand. Let’s walk some more, because I love you and I have a plan for you. And My blood washes white as now.” And if you walk in light, as He Himself is in the light, you have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.

What do you need to finish strong? You need to stay committed to the Word.

Second encouragement: You need to stay not only committed to the Word of God, but committed to the work of God. Look at verse 5 in the New Living Translation. ”But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the good news, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.”

Every Christian is called to a specific ministry. There is a ministry that God has given you. There’s a ministry that God has given me. Timothy was a pastor. He was a pastor in Ephesus. Paul had started that church and then, Timothy was there in Ephesus, and that was his ministry. That was his specific assignment from God. God has called me to preach the Word. God has called me to be a pastor. That is His specific assignment for me. What has God called you to do? What’s He called you to do? See, 1st Timothy, or 1st Peter chapter 4, verse 10 says, ”Therefore, as each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” The moment that you trust Christ as Savior and Lord, and the Lord comes into your heart to live in your heart and you become born again, He empowers you and He gifts you with a special spiritual gift. And He wants you to employ it. He wants you to use it to serve other people.

Now there are all sorts of different gifts. Some have the gift of teaching. What are you doing with your gift? Some have the gift to communicate the message of the gospel in song? What are you doing with your gift? Some with music, what are you doing with your gift? Some in the area of service, what are you doing with your gift? You love to do things behind the scenes. Are you serving at all? Some are called to work with children, and they have a gift for that, and they have a knack for that, and God enables them to do that. What are you doing with your gift?

Larry and I visited a lady in our church who just had her kidney removed just last week. She had her kidney removed, and it was cancerous, but it was contained. And so they took that one kidney out. She said, ”Well, you have two kidneys. You only really need one.” I said, ”That’s true. You don’t want the one to go bad, you know. I mean, it, once you take the one out.” But she has one kidney and she’s just praising the Lord. And she said, ”Man, surgery went good.” And then, she said this: ”I can’t wait to get back on my feet to get back to church to take care of those babies.” She said, ”You tell Grace that I’m going to be back. They have somebody filling in for me, but don’t let them get comfortable in my spot because I’m coming back, and I want to take care of those babies.” I thought How awesome is that? See, she has a ministry. She wants to fulfill her ministry. She wants to carry out the ministry God has given her.

What has God given you? You know, one of the great ministries that people can have, and they don’t even realize it, especially as they get older, the ministry of prayer. Prayer is a powerful ministry, to be a prayer warrior. I want to tell you on our television broadcast, we had 172 calls come into the prayer line in the last 6 days, and we have 5 people that are handling all those calls. And, see, they call in. They leave their prayer request. And then, we listen to those calls. And then, if they leave a phone number, we call them back and we pray with them. And we let them know we care about them. And 5 people to do 172 calls is pretty tough. We need people that love the Lord and that can feel comfortable talking to somebody about the Lord and praying for folks. And you’re not there to counsel. You’re just there to pray. But, man, that’s a great ministry. And God is no doubt, calling some of you. ”That’s what I want you to do to get involved and to use what I’ve given you for my glory.” Every Christian is called to a specific ministry.

He says to Timothy, ”Fully carry out the ministry God has given you.” And every Christian is called to share Christ. He says, ”Work at telling others the good news.” In the New American Standard it says, ”Do the work of an evangelist.” That’s part of the deal. That’s part of finishing strong.

I am committed and holding fast to the Word of God and to the work of God. And a big, big, big, big part of the work of God is to seek and to save that which was lost. Jesus said in Acts chapter 1 and verse 8: ”But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses….” We’re to witness for the Lord with our life and with our lips. With our life, the way we live, and with our lips, what we say, what comes out of our mouths? And, you know, the sad truth is, some people they’re on the bell lap and you know what they’re doing? They’re in love with this present world, and they’re holding onto this present world. Verse 10 of chapter 4, Paul says, ”For Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.”

Some of you are like Demas. You love this present world. First John chapter 2 says, ”Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. For if any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” You love this world? Are you living life and everything is focused on this world?

Do you remember when Lot, who got so entrenched in this world, when the angels came and said, ”Lot, you’ve got to get out of here because God is going to destroy this place.” And Lot hesitated. ”How can I leave this place? My whole life is in here. Everything I have is in Sodom and Gomorrah, and that’s where I’ve put down roots.” And so he hesitated. They had to drag Lot out of there, his own wife, she turned back. They said, ”Don’t turn back.” And she turned back longing for her old life in Sodom. She was turned into a pillar of salt.

Do you love this present world? Is your life so tied up in this present world? Listen. You can’t be a witness for Christ. You can’t shine for Christ the way the Lord wants you to if you love this present world, if you’re life doesn’t match up with what God wants to do in your life to shine for the Lord Jesus Christ.

How about the things that come out of your mouth, is there gossip, slander? Are you one that loves to stir up trouble? The Bible says, ”He who loves transgression loves strife.” Have you ever met people that just love strife? They just love it when there’s a problem somewhere. They just love to stir the pot. What does that tell you about that person? They love transgression. ”He who loves transgression loves strife.” God hates it when people spread strife among brothers. What’s coming out of your mouth? We’re to be a witness and fulfill our ministry, and do the work of an evangelist, and lead people to Christ through our life and through our lips. And it is so important. Gandhi said this: ”I would have become a Christian had it not been for all the Christians that I knew.” If somebody watched you for a week, how you lived, what came out of your mouth, would they walk away saying, ”I would become a Christian had it not been for so-and-so that I watched for the last week who claims to be a Christian.” Or would someone look at you and say, ”Man, I didn’t know anything about this Christianity. But if it’s anything like what this guy is living out, what this lady is living out, that’s what I want, that’s what I want.” Do the work of an evangelist. Every Christian is called to share Christ.

Every Christian is called to stand strong when the going gets tough. ”But you be sober in all things, endure hardship…” He says in the New Living Translation, ”Don’t be afraid to suffer for the Lord.” Do, endure hardship in the New American Standard literally means suffering, to experience suffering, to suffer evil.

Listen. If you walk with God, you’re going to suffer evil. You’re going to experience hardship in life. There’s no getting around that so many of us want to get around that. We want to just kind of say, ”Hey, you know if I’m really right with God and walking with God, then everything ought to be just coming up roses for me. Everything ought to be hunky-dory.” Where do you read that in the Bible? Jesus said, ”In the world you’ll have tribulation.” You’re going to have trouble in this life if you walk with God.

Now you want me to tell you how you can get away from having any trouble and anybody coming up against you, and anybody giving you grief, and anybody persecuting you and saying bad things about you? Let me tell you how you do it. Do nothing – say nothing – be nothing. Determine in your life to be yogurt without a flavor. ”I’m just so bland I never say anything. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. I don’t want to say anything that will get somebody upset.”

Somebody asked me the other day, they said, ”Jeff, you ever think you’ll get out of hot water?” I said, ”Well, you know, I guess I could just try and pattern my ministry after Jesus Christ. Oh, that’s right. They crucified Him. I could just try and do what Paul did. Oh, that’s right. They cut his head off. Well, maybe I could just follow Peter. Oh, that’s right. They crucified him upside down.” Hey, if you’re really going to do what God wants you to do, the world is not going to like it. And there are going to be people in the church that aren’t going to like it. And Caiaphas didn’t like what Jesus was doing. And when Stephen stood up to preach, they closed up their ears and they rushed upon him and they murdered him. And in the world’s eyes, they said, ”Well, man, he shouldn’t have preach the sermon that he preached, telling them they were stiff-necked and hard-hearted.” Say, ”Boy, he could have had a longer ministry if he hadn’t gone there; if he hadn’t thrown that rock at that hornet’s nest,” Stephen could have. But, you know, when Stephen died, as he was dying he said, ”I see the Lord Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God.” Wouldn’t you love to have that? He finished strong. And Jesus Christ gave him a standing ovation for Stephen because he stood up for Jesus Christ. Man, I want to have a testimony like that. They said of Paul that he turned the world upside down when he came to Thessalonica. He was always in hot water. As a friend told me this morning, he said, ”Well, you know, it says in Revelation chapter 3, be hot or cold, ’cause if you’re lukewarm, God will spit you out of His mouth. It’s a lot better to be in hot water than in lukewarm water.” And some of you are in lukewarm water. And God says, ”I want you in hot water so you can finish strong, so you can finish strong.”

Hey, let people gripe. Let them complain. You and I need to walk with God and do what God says and let Him work out all the other details. ”Be a good soldier,” Paul told Timothy, ”of Jesus Christ.” Every Christian is called to stand strong when it gets tough. And the Lord says, ”Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me” (Psalm 23, verse 4).

And then, every Christian is called to invest in people. You know, it’s really cool in verse 9 through the end of the chapter Paul mentions 17 people. He’s on death row and he’s talking about people because people are on his heart, because people matter. People matter to God, and people mattered to Paul because they mattered to God. And if you’re going to finish strong, invest your life in people.

And then – encouragement number three: Not only do you need to stay committed to the Word of God. Not only do you need to stay committed to the work of God. But you can be assured of the reward of God, the reward of God.

Look what he says. ”For I’m already being poured out as a drink offering (verse 6) and the time of my departure is come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. And in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge will award to me on that day. And not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

The Amplified puts that verse this way: ”As to what remains, henceforth, there is laid up for me the victor’s crown of righteousness for being right with God and doing right, which the Lord the righteous Judge will award to me and recompense me on that great day. And not to me only, but also to those who have loved and yearned for and welcome His appearing, His return.”

Paul said, ”Hey, because I held fast to the Word of God, I didn’t bail out on it, even when I got pressure against me. I held to the Word of God, and I preached the Word of God. And because I stayed true to the work of God, and I fulfilled my ministry, and I did the work of an evangelist, and I endured hardship as a good soldier for Jesus Christ, I am confident that there is laid up for me in the future a crown, a victor’s crown, of righteousness.” What does that say to you and to me today? It pays to serve Jesus. It pays to serve Jesus. ”Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” It pays. God sees. God notices. You can’t give a cup of cold water in the name of the disciple without the Lord saying, ”I’m going to reward that.” The Lord sees and knows and rewards. And it pays to serve Jesus. And it pays to be faithful. ”It is required in stewards (1st Corinthians 4 says) that a man be found faithful…” Jesus said to the church in Smyrna, ”You’re going to go through lots of trouble. There’s going to be a lot of difficulty, problems and hardships and suffering. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.” Be faithful unto death.

Paul was faithful until death, and he received the crown of life. He was winning. Are you faithful? You faithful? Is your life rooted in the Word of God? Do you believe it? Do you receive it? Do you do it? Are you fulfilling your ministry? Are you involved in the work of God? Are you letting your light so shine among men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven? Are you standing strong when it gets tough?

I’ll close with this story: In the 1968 Olympics that took place in Mexico City, there were 74 participants in the marathon. The man that won that race was from Ethiopia. His name was Mamo Wolde. He finished the race 2 hours, 20 minutes, 26 seconds, marathon. That’s pretty awesome to won, win a gold medal. But, you know, in the ’68 Olympics, marathon race, people don’t remember, really remember Mamo Wolde. They remember another guy who finished dead last. His name was John Stephen Ahkwari. John Stephen Ahkwari, halfway through the race he fell and he hurt his knee and he was bleeding badly. He had a bad cut on his knee. And his joint was dislocated. Most of the people would have just said, ”Quit!” Seventeen of the 74 participants in the marathon didn’t finish easily could have been 18. I mean, everyone would have expected John Stephen Ahkwari to quit, but he didn’t. And an hour after Mamo Wolde crossed the finish line, here came John Stephen Ahkwari into the stadium in Mexico City. And he was limping as he tried to run. And most of the crowd had gone home. They thought the race was over. But here he came. And as he made his final lap limping along the way with his knee bandaged, they began to clap for him. And he crossed the finish line. And they asked him this question: ”Why didn’t you quit?” And he said this: ”My country did not send me 5,000 miles to Mexico City to start the race. They sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”

There might be some people here today and you’ve been knocked down, and you are hurt, and you feel like you’re out of joint and out of sorts. And you’ve just sat down, and you’ve kind of quit. It’s time to get up. God didn’t save you just to start the race. He saved you to finish the race, the race that is set before you. And I want to ask you, no matter what happens, no matter what changes come into your life, will you determine today that you’re going to finish strong?

Father thank You that Paul finished strong, thank You that he passed the baton off to Timothy and from all we can tell Timothy finished strong. And, Lord, thank You that we have the opportunity today to finish strong for Jesus Christ, to hold to Your Word. You’ve said, ”But to this one will I look, the one who is humble and contrite of heart and trembles at My Word.” Lord, we know that hardships come. We know that in the last days difficult times will come. And for the man, the woman, the boy, the girl that walks with Jesus Christ, there are going to be insults and there are going to be slanders and there’s going to be gossip that is said about us and things and people that turn on us for whatever reason. Lord, we know because that happened to You, because that happened to Paul, because that happened to everyone who walked with You and really stood out for You. Lord, help us to be good soldiers for the Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to know, Lord, that when we go through major changes in life, that we don’t have to fear any evil. ”Cause when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You’re with us. And Your rod and Your staff, they comfort us. Lord, I pray that people in this room would have welling up inside of them the desire to finish strong, to do Your work. Lord, we love You. We praise You. I pray that You’d speak to hearts right now, people that need to make a decision to receive You as Savior and Lord, to follow You in baptism, to get things right so that they can be on the track, so that they can really finish strong and be committed to Your church. God, have Your way. I pray that You would draw people to come to the steps just to pray and just to say to You, from their knees, ”Lord, I’m all in. I’m going to finish strong. I’m going to hold to Your Word. And I’m going to hold to Your work. And I’m going to trust You for a great result.” We praise You, Lord Jesus. We love You.

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