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Finishing Strong

By |2022-12-31T01:33:12-05:00December 31st, 2022|

At the age of 103, a woman named Man Kaur competed as India’s oldest female athlete during the 2019 World Masters Athletic Championship in Poland. Remarkably, Kaur won gold in four events (javelin, shot put, 60-meter dash, and 200-meter run). But most astounding: she ran faster than she ran in the 2017 championship. A great-grandmother running into her second century, Kaur showed how to finish strong.

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, a younger disciple, of how he’d entered his concluding years. “The time for my departure is near,” Paul wrote (2 Timothy 4:6). Reflecting on his life, he confidently believed he was finishing strong. “I have fought the good fight,” Paul said. “I have finished the race” (v. 7). He wasn’t confident because he’d calculated his impressive accomplishments or surveyed his vast impact (though they were immense). Rather, he knew he’d “kept the faith” (v.7). The apostle had remained loyal to Jesus. Through sorrows and joys, he’d followed the One who’d rescued him from ruin. And he knew that Jesus stood ready with a “crown of righteousness,” the joyful finale to his faithful life (v. 8).

Paul insists that this crown isn’t for an elite few but for “all who have longed for [Christ’s] appearing” (v.8). As we head into a new year, let’s remember that Jesus stands eager to crown all who’ve loved Him and may we live to finish strong.

Using Your Voice

By |2022-11-15T01:33:03-05:00November 15th, 2022|

Since age eight, Lisa had struggled with a stammer and became afraid of social situations that required her to talk with people. But later in life, after speech therapy helped her overcome her challenge, Lisa decided to use her voice to help others. She began volunteering as a counselor for an emotional distress telephone hotline.

Moses had to face his concerns about speaking to help lead the Israelites out of captivity. God asked him to communicate with Pharaoh, but Moses protested because he didn’t feel confident in his speaking ability (Exodus 4:10). God challenged him, “Who gave human beings their mouths?” Then He reassured Moses saying, “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (vv. 11–12).

God’s response reminds us that He can work powerfully through us even in our limitations. But even when we know this in our hearts, it can be hard to live it out. Moses continued to struggle and begged God to send someone else (v. 13). So God allowed Moses’ brother Aaron to accompany him (v. 14).

Each of us has a voice that can help others and change the world for the better. We may be afraid. We may not feel capable. We may feel we don’t have the right words.

God knows how we feel. He can provide the words and all we need to serve others and accomplish His work.

Opportunities to Shine

By |2022-10-31T02:33:11-04:00October 31st, 2022|

In March of 2020, while walking his dog in New York City’s Central Park, Whitney, a retired financial expert, saw trucks, stacks of tarps, and white tents, each bearing a cross and the name of a charity he’d never heard of before. When he discovered the group was building a field hospital for his fellow New Yorkers with COVID-19, he asked if he could help. For weeks, he and his family pitched in wherever they could, despite differing faiths and politics. Whitney stated, “Every single person I’ve met has been a genuinely nice person.” And he applauded the fact that no one was paying them to “help my city in our hour of deep, deep need.”

In response to the tremendous needs resulting from the coronavirus pandemic,  unlikely partners in service were brought together, and believers in Jesus were given new opportunities to share Christ’s light with others. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His followers to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds” (Matthew 5:16). We shine Christ’s light by letting the Spirit guide us in loving, kind, and good words and actions (see Galatians 5:22–23). When we allow the light we’ve received from Jesus to shine clearly in our daily lives, we also “glorify our Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

This day and every day may we shine for Christ, as He helps us be His salt and light in a world that desperately needs Him.

Beyond Words

By |2022-10-18T02:33:19-04:00October 18th, 2022|

Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) is one of the church’s most celebrated defenders of the faith. Yet just three months before his death something caused him to leave unfinished his Summa Theologica, the massive legacy of his life’s work. While reflecting on the broken body and shed blood of his Savior, Aquinas claimed to see a vision that left him without words. He said, “I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings seem like straw.”

Before Aquinas, Paul too had a vision. In 2 Corinthians, he describes the experience: “This man [Paul himself]—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and hear inexpressible things” (12:3–4).  

Paul and Aquinas left us to reflect on an ocean of goodness that neither words nor reason can express. The implications of what Aquinas saw left him without hope of finishing his work in a way that would do justice to a God crucified for us. By contrast, Paul continued to write. But he did so in the awareness of what he couldn’t express or finish in his own strength.

In all of the troubles Paul encountered in service to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:16–33; 12:8–9), he could look back and see, in his weakness, a grace and goodness beyond words and wonder. 

Finish Strong

By |2022-05-13T09:06:05-04:00May 13th, 2022|

As I enter the final few minutes of my forty-minute workout, I can almost guarantee that my instructor will yell out, “Finish strong!” Every personal trainer or group fitness leader I’ve known uses the phrase a few minutes before cool down. They know that the end of the workout is just as important as showing up for it. And they know that the human body has a tendency to want to slow down or slack off when it’s been in motion for a while.

The same is true in our journey with Jesus. Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus that he needed to finish strong as he headed to Jerusalem where he was certain to face more persecution as an apostle of Christ (Acts 20:17–24). Paul, however, was undeterred. He had a mission and that was to finish the journey he’d begun and to do what God called him to do (v. 19). He had one job—to tell “the good news of God’s grace” (v. 24). And he wanted to finish strong. Even if hardship awaited him (v. 23), he continued to run toward his finish line—focused and determined to remain steadfast in his journey.

Whether we’re exercising our physical muscles or working out our God-given abilities through actions, words, and deeds, we too can be encouraged by the reminder to finish strong. Don’t “become weary” (Galatians 6:9). Don’t give up. God will provide what you need to finish strong.

Leaning into God

By |2022-02-20T08:06:03-05:00February 20th, 2022|

Harriet Tubman couldn’t read or write. As an adolescent, she suffered a head injury at the hands of a cruel slave master. That injury caused her to have seizures and lapses of consciousness for the rest of her life. But once she escaped slavery, God used her to rescue as many as three hundred others.

Nicknamed “Moses” by those she freed, Harriet bravely made nineteen trips back to the pre-Civil War south to rescue others. She continued even when there was a price on her head and her life was in constant danger. A devoted believer in Jesus, she carried a hymnal and a Bible on every trip and had others read her verses, which she committed to memory and quoted often. “I prayed all the time,” she said, “about my work, everywhere; I was always talking to the Lord.” She also gave God credit for the smallest successes. Her life was a powerful expression of the apostle Paul’s instruction to the earliest Christians: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).

When we lean into God in the moment and live dependently in prayer, praising Him despite our difficulties, He gives us the strength to accomplish even the most challenging tasks. Our Savior is greater than anything we face, and He will lead us as we look to Him.

Perfect Like Christ

By |2022-01-29T08:06:03-05:00January 29th, 2022|

Perfectionism is one of the scariest words I know,” Kathleen Norris writes, thoughtfully contrasting modern-day perfectionism with the “perfection” described in Matthew. Modern-day perfectionism she describes as a “a serious psychological affliction that makes people too timid to take necessary risks.” But the word translated “perfect” in Matthew actually means mature, complete, or whole. Norris concludes, “To be perfect . . . is to make room for growth [and become] mature enough to give ourselves to others.”

Understanding perfection this way helps makes sense of the profound story told in Matthew 19, where a man asks Jesus what good he can do that will be rewarded in the life to come (v. 16). Jesus responds, “Keep the commandments” (v. 17). The man thought he’d obeyed all of them, yet he still knew something was  missing. “What do I still lack?” (v. 20) he asks.

That’s when Jesus identifies the man’s wealth as the vise-grip stifling his heart. “If you want to be perfect” (v. 21), He responds—whole, open to giving to and receiving from others in God’s kingdom—then he must be willing to let go of what’s been closing off his heart from others.

Each of us has our own version of this—possessions or habits we cling to as a futile attempt to control. Today, hear Jesus’ gentle invitation to surrender—and find freedom in the wholeness that’s only possible in Him (v. 26).

Our True Identity

By |2021-11-16T12:12:05-05:00November 16th, 2021|

First, the man selected a tackle box. Standing in his town’s small bait shop, he then filled a shopping cart with hooks, lures, bobbers, line, and weights. Finally, he added live bait and selected a new rod and reel. “Ever fished before?” the shop owner asked. The man said no. “Better add this,” said the owner. It was a first-aid kit. The man agreed and paid, then headed off to a day of not catching a thing—except snags on his fingers from his hooks and gear.

That wasn’t Simon Peter’s problem. An experienced fisherman, he was surprised one dawn when Jesus told him to push his boat into deep water and “let down the nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). Despite a long night of catching nothing, Simon and his crew let down their nets and “caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.” In fact, his two boats started to sink from the haul (v. 6).

Seeing this, Simon Peter “fell at Jesus’ knees,” urging Him to “go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (v. 8). Jesus, however, knew Simon’s true identity. He told His disciple, “From now on you will fish for people.” Hearing that, Simon “left everything and followed” Christ (vv. 10–11). When we follow Him, He helps us learn who we are and what we’re called to do as His own.

The Jesus Label

By |2021-11-07T08:06:04-05:00November 7th, 2021|

“Son, I don’t have much to give you. But I do have a good name, so don’t mess it up.” Those wise, weighty words were uttered by Johnnie Bettis as his son Jerome left home for college. Jerome quoted his father in his Professional American Football Hall of Fame acceptance speech. These sage words that Jerome has carried with him throughout his life have been so influential that he closed his riveting speech with similar words to his own son. “Son, there’s not much that I can give you that’s more important than our good name.”

A good name is vital for believers in Jesus. Paul’s words in Colossians 3:12–17 remind us about who it is that we represent (v. 17). Character is like clothing that we wear, and this passage puts the “Jesus label” of clothing on display: “As God’s chosen people . . . clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another. . . . And over all these virtues put on love” (vv. 12–14). These are not just our “Sunday clothes”—we’re to wear them everywhere, all the time as God works in us to reflect Him. When our lives are characterized by these qualities, we demonstrate that we “have His name.” May we prayerfully and carefully represent Him as He provides what we need.

A New Calling

By |2021-10-30T09:06:10-04:00October 30th, 2021|

Teenage gang leader Casey and his followers broke into homes and cars, robbed convenience stores, and fought other gangs. Eventually, Casey was arrested and sentenced. In prison, he became a “shot caller,” someone who handed out homemade knives during riots.

Sometime later, he was placed in solitary confinement. While daydreaming in his cell, Casey experienced a “movie” of sorts replaying key events of his life—and of Jesus, being led to and nailed to the cross and telling him, “I’m doing this for you.” Casey fell to the floor weeping and confessed his sins. Later, he shared his experience with a chaplain, who explained more about Jesus and gave him a Bible. “That was the start of my journey of faith,” Casey said. Eventually, he was released into the mainline prison population, where he was mistreated for his faith. But he felt at peace, because “[he] had found a new calling: telling other inmates about Jesus.”

In his letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul talks about the power of Christ to change lives: God calls us from lives of wrongdoing to follow and serve Jesus (2 Timothy 1:9). When we receive Him by faith, we desire to be a living witness of Christ’s love. The Holy Spirit enables us to do so, even when suffering, in our quest to share the good news (v. 8). Like Casey, let’s live out our new calling. 

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