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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sermons: Shim Habte, October 30, 2011, Finishing Well Before God

A man who runs marathon year after year was asked, “How do you keep doing it?” He said,” I stand at the starting line and I tell myself, ‘there is a finishing line.’”
Another man who planned a 1,000-mile hike with his son studied the stories of those who accomplish their goals and those who fail. He found out that those who fail only anticipate a positive outcome, but those who succeed calculate the difficulties and prepare for it. Ninety percent of the people who aim to finish a 500-mile hike do not finish because they fail to prepare for the worst situation. But the professor and his son finished the 1,000 mile trip tired and bruised, but they finished. – Rev. Ray Pritchard.

When John Wesley was asked to explain the spiritual strength of the early Methodists, he replied, “Our people die well.” But in order to die well, you have to finish well. Our text tells us how that happens. We learn from Paul’s message what it takes to reach the finish line, or how to finish well.

Every beginning can have a good or a bad ending. The secret is to keep one’s eye on the prize.

1. Paul finished well by doing his God-given assignment: He preached the Gospel of Christ to all people (Acts 20: 18-21). “With all humility and many tears I did my work as the Lord's servant during the hard times that came to me because of the plots of some Jews. You know that I did not hold back anything that would be of help to you as I preached and taught in public and in your homes.”

2. He had a clear understanding of his assignment. Paul said in Romans 1:14-16, “I have a responsibility both to Greeks and to those who don’t speak Greek, both to the wise and to the foolish. That’s why I’m ready to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. I’m not ashamed of the gospel: it is God’s own power for salvation to all who have faith in God, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Paul served the Lord without compromise.3. He lived what he preached. He was selfless—he put others first, like his Lord. In Acts 34-35, Paul reminded God’s people how he lived: “You yourselves know that I have worked with these hands of mine to provide everything that my companions and I have needed. I have shown you in all things that by working hard in this way we must help the weak, remembering the words that the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.’”

Paul was telling his fellow Christians that giving is a God-like act. God loved, and he gave his son to save humanity from the terminal illness called sin: 2 Corinthians 5:21 - “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” So if anyone who received God’s love but doesn’t participate in giving in some way, they live contrary to God’s love. Giving proves our love.

4. Paul finished well by preparing leaders to care for God’s people: Acts 20:28, 31. Since this was his last meeting with the leaders of the churches, he looked with them at the present situation and his anticipation about the future. He gave them instruction lasting over six hours. A young man died in the service, but thank God Paul brought him back to life (see Acts 20:7-10). However, Dr. Luke gave us few lines of summary, “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.” Paul was compassionate –our Lord is called a man of sorrows.

5. He equipped people by teaching them God’s truth - Acts 20:20, 21, 26. In his own words, “I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus…. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you.” Paul repeated what he taught to remind them. He did not want them to be surprised. As their spiritual father, he prepared them to be faithful and it included warning.

6. He warned the church about discerning falsehood, Acts 20:29-30: “I know that after I leave, fierce wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock. The time will come when some men from your own group will tell lies to lead the believers away after them.” Everyone has the responsibility to know truth from falsehood—it’s like knowing the road signs. Failing to know does not spare us from being held accountable. The proof is the ticket one gets and the fine that follows. God wants us to finish well, and he has given us the instruction manual to follow: the Bible. King David said this about God’s word in Psalm 119:105, “By your words I can see where I'm going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path.”

7. Paul finished well by facing suffering as service to Christ - Acts 20:22-24. These were Paul’s departing words to his church and its leaders, “And now, in obedience to the Holy Spirit I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit has warned me that prison and troubles wait for me.” He was willing to go to Jerusalem to share Jesus despite facing suffering.

8. His one goal was to finish well before God. Suffering wouldn’t deter him. His word shows what was driving him, “But I reckon my own life to be worth nothing to me; I only want to complete my mission and finish the work that the Lord Jesus gave me to do, which is to declare the Good News about the grace of God.” When you hear such commitment and sacrifice, what do you hear God saying to you? Paul loved the Lord more than his life, because he knew that Jesus loved him so much that He gave His life for him. That’s what Paul said in Galatians 2:20,” I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Paul knew that he was loved and guided by God to the finishing line, so he went with joy where the Lord led him. As today’s hymn reminded us, “Trust and obey, there is no other way to be happy in Jesus!”

9. He knew what was waiting for him in the presence of his Lord. Paul’s triumphant words of victory, 2 Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.”

Jesus affirms Paul’s hope in Rev.2:10. “Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you --- But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.”

Paul always kept God before his eyes, and at the end of his life he left us an example to follow. The God who enabled him to finish well wants to help us to do the same.

1) Applications - What can we take home from this message?
a) Let us Love the Lord Jesus as Paul loved him and serve him with gladness.
b) Let us keep the main thing as the main thing—pleasing God as a goal.
c) Let us not give up on God who loved us and gave his Son to save us.

Paul’s farewell word is good for us to hear as we finish the service, “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” When Paul finished speaking, the response was love expressed with tears, “They all cried as they embraced and kissed him good-bye. They were sad most of all because he had said that they would never see him again,” Tears expressed the depth of love. Even Jesus wept hearing about the death of His friend Lazarus. Then He raised him from death. Love is the real power of life. Love and finish well before God!

Pastor Shim Habte, 1st United Methodist Church,
544 N. Shasta St. Willows, CA 95988 Ph. (530–934–3190)