David Jeremiah - Finish: You're Not Done Until You're Done
If you ever get into an unfortunate scrape, you might hire Frank P. Luciano to represent you. He's a razor-sharp attorney in Hackensack, New Jersey; just across the Hudson from New York City. You could spot Luciano in the courtroom daily dressed in a dapper suit with a pocket square, chopping his hands in the air defending people in trouble. He does it with energy and effectiveness. Luciano has been defending clients for quite a while. I mean, 45 years ago, a local newspaper claimed he was the city's busiest criminal lawyer. 22 years ago, the same paper called him a consummate showman and New Jersey's oldest active attorney. Today, Luciano still waxes eloquent before judges and juries at the age of 97.
Luciano doesn't rest on his laurels. He said, "This is a very consuming profession, and it's taken a lot out of my life". He said, "I'm constantly involved in preparing cases, and it's a tremendous strain both mental and physical. Physical because when you go to trial your whole being is obsessed with trying to help the person you represent, and it places your body and mind under tension". When he was asked about his future, Luciano said, "I hope God lets me continue doing this. I don't want to retire. I don't want to go to Florida. I just want to do what I'm doing".
Personally, I kind of like going to Florida, but otherwise I feel the same. I hope God lets me continue doing what he's called me to do. My name isn't Archippus, but I take the one verse addressed to him in the Bible just like it was written to me. Here's what it says: "Tell Archippus, 'See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.'" Yes, your role may change, your assignments may evolve, and your situation may alter. You may have to make adjustments, but even so one thing won't change.
As long as God leaves you on this earth, he has ongoing work for you to do. There's no expiration date to the principles of this message. You never retire from the Christian life. You never drop out of God's will. There are countless barriers, men and women, to finishing well, and I'm going to talk to you about five major ones today 'cause I want us to learn how to finish well. But rather than talk to them like barriers, I want to share them with you as challenges. I want you to think about the rest of this message like we're in the locker room and we're getting a pep talk delivered to all of us before we head out of the tunnel for the second half of the game. So here are those five things.
Number one, to finish well, you have to stay focused till you're finished. One of the great finishers of the Bible was Solomon, King David's son. In fact, I discovered when I was researching this that the word finish is connected with Solomon a dozen times, especially with his building of the temple. So I went through with a yellow pad and I made a list of all the references associated with Solomon finishing assignment to build God's house, and I noticed something that escaped me in all the many times I've read the story. It's interesting how just one little word can escape you and it can mean everything.
Solomon was not only a finisher; he was a total complete absolute finisher, and I want you to notice this as I run through these Scriptures together.
Number one, 1 King 6:22, "He finished all the temple".
6:38, "The house was finished in all of its details according to all its plans".
7:51, "So all the work that Solomon had done for the house of the Lord was finished".
2 Chronicles 5:1, "So all the work that Solomon had done for the house of the Lord was finished".
2 Chronicles 7:11, "Solomon successfully accomplished all that came into his heart to make in the house of the Lord".
When it came to building God's temple in Jerusalem, Solomon finished it all. He left nothing undone and that's because, I believe, his father prayed him into this environment. Listen to David's prayer and his challenge to Solomon before David walked off the scene and Solomon took over. 1 Chronicles 28:20, here's what he said: "Be strong", Solomon, "and of a good courage, and do it. Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God, my God, he will be with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you until you have finished all the work for the service of the house of the Lord".
We have to finish it all. We don't get to stop part of the way. Most of the way doesn't work. Almost all the way isn't enough. God wants us to finish it all. Don't say, "Well, I'm almost there", and then you walk away and you leave it not quite done. There's not anything more discouraging to you than to spend all of your time and all of your energy to get almost all the way and then walk away before you get done.
Here's the second thing about finishing life. Stay resilient about retirement. I don't think anything's more controversial in the lives of people like me than retirement. I hear it all the time. Somebody always brings it up. And I'm going to tell you that the second key to finishing well is to approach the topic of retirement with resilience and with some sanctified resistance. I remember reading about a wife who said to her retired husband, "What are you going to do today"? He said, "Nothing". She said, "But you did that yesterday". He said, "I know, but I'm not finished yet".
Someone said that a husband's retirement can become a wife's full-time job. Many people you see have followed the general expectation in America and the western world, that when we reach a certain age we retire. It's just what we do. Retirement has become the final rotation in the cycle of life. Just like we ask children, "What do you want to be when you grow up"? We ask adults, "What do you plan to do when you retire"? And seldom do we hear the value of retirement plans questioned and certainly not the value of retirement itself. But what does the Bible say about this?
Interestingly enough, the Bible has only one example of retirement. I'll tell you where it is. It's in Numbers chapter 8, verses 24 through 26. Here's what it says: "This is what pertains to the Levites: From 25 years old and above one may enter to perform service in the work of the tabernacle of meeting; and at the age of 50 years, they must cease performing this work and shall work no more. They may minister with their brethren in the tabernacle of meeting to attend the needs, but they themselves shall do no work".
While the Levite tabernacle workers were instructed to retire at age 50, they weren't put out to pasture, to spend the rest of their lives twiddling their thumbs and gazing at the sundial. No. They were charged to minister to the younger Levites who took over their jobs. They became mentors and advisors. Today, we would probably call them consultants. So no, I'm not saying you shouldn't take advantage of your Social Security income or pension benefits, but you might want to avoid the word retirement. You don't have to continue in your profession until you're in the 90s, but if you do leave your job, remember retirement is simply God's way of freeing you up for further service.
Here's the third thing I learned. Stay connected to your calling. Romans 11:29 says this: "The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable". That means you can't undo them. If God calls you, he's not going to uncall you. The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. Os Guinness had something to say about this. He said, "I think it's important to realize that we can retire from our jobs, but we can never retire from our calling". Calling gives us our sense of task or responsibility right up to the last day we spend on earth when we go to meet the caller. I think that gives life incredible value, and therefore the prosperity of finishing well is that we continue to have a sense of responsibility and engagement that makes every day we live enormously important.
So to finish well, consider maintaining a connection between what you did before you retired and what you do after you retire. Someone has said your career is what you're paid to do, your calling is what you're made to do. Now, you may not have a career that's transferable into your post-retirement life, but if you're a follower of Christ, you have a calling. You have a gift God has given you, an ability for service. So just keep using it for the Lord. Use it in a different context, in a different environment, but don't stop doing what God has called you to do.
When Jesus had finished his work on earth and was about to be crucified, resurrected, and return to heaven, he prayed this prayer about his life. John 17:4, he said, "God, I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which you have given me to do". Read that verse carefully. Jesus didn't finish all the work there was to do; he finished the work that he was given to do, and that should be our prayer. "Lord, help me to finish the work you have given me to do". If you do that, you're going to live a full and exciting life.
Here's number four. Stay vigilant after your victories. Finishing well, going all the way to the end, staying in God's will and in his plan and in his purpose and in his blessing all the way to the end demands vigilance. We can't let our guard down, especially after new adventures or fresh victories. I think that's what got King David into trouble. He got into trouble with Bathsheba because he had achieved great success, he had won every battle against all of his enemies. The Bible says his world was at peace because of him. He had created great peace in Israel. And then after all those victories, he got careless.
Listen carefully to the words that describe what he did. 2 Samuel 11:1, "And it happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, but David remained in Jerusalem". King David should have been leading his people, serving as the head of his army, but instead he stayed home. He felt he was at the point in life where he could relax some and let others bear the burden of war. He'd paid his price. He wasn't where he should have been and he wasn't doing what he should have been doing; and he was celebrating his victories without vigilance, and the rest is history. His sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah is a stain on David's life. And while God forgave David and restored him, that one moment of carelessness, that one moment when he lacked vigilance, that one moment became part of David's biography. I don't know if you've ever read this verse before.
I remember reading it and kind of being astonished by its wording. 1 Kings 15:5, here's what it says: "David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and had not turned aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite". You see, what happens is when we get to the top and we experience the greatness of God, if we're not careful we let down our guard, we relax, and we allow the enemy to move in in the most unlikely time. And I know that's happened over and over again to so many people I've talked to. I believe there's two verses in the Bible that we should all memorize and always keep before us. They tell us what to do in order not to fall, and they captured this vigilance-after-victory warning. Proverbs 16:18, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall". 1 Corinthians 10:12, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall".
So here are these challenges as we prepare to go out for the second half of life: stay focused till you're finished, stay resilient about retirement, stay connected to your calling, stay vigilant after your victories, and finally stay ready for redeployment. Make sure that you're ready for God to redeploy you in any way that he chooses. Always be looking forward to what the Lord has next for you. Folks, it doesn't take a deep dive into secular history or the Bible to discover that many great things are accomplished by people who are past the age of retirement.
Pianist Comedian Victor Borge, the Clown Prince of Denmark, continued to delight huge audiences until his death at the age of 91. As I speak to you today, Singer Tony Bennett is 93 and he leaves his heart not only in San Francisco, but in many other cities where he continues to go every year and sing. 90 year old master Cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he kept practicing 8 hours a day, and he said, "I think I'm improving". Pearl Buck, the famous writer and the daughter of missionaries to China, said, "I've reached an honorable position in life because I am old and no longer young. I am a far more useful person than I was 50 years ago or 40 years ago or 30 or 20 or even 10". She said, "I have learned so much since I turned 70".
So don't give up on yourself too early. Don't deprive yourself of the many blessings God wants to bestow upon you in your post-retirement years. Change what you do if you have to, but don't stop serving the Lord because I believe one of the greatest unused talent pools in our churches are people who've come to a certain age and they have this mentality that's been forced upon them by the culture that says, "When you get to a certain place, you have to quit. You have to stop". But then they lose their sense of importance, their sense of value, and they lose the joy of their life. God gives us as many years as we're allowed on this earth, and we should try to make every one of them count for the kingdom.
Here's a couple of verses to encourage you. They sure have kept me on board. They were given to us by our gracious Father to keep us faithful throughout our lives. Don't forget what we learned earlier. If you're not dead, you're not done.
Psalm 92 says this: "The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree. He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the Lord will flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age. They shall be fresh and flourishing".
Isaiah 46, verse 4, "Even to your old age, I am he, and even to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear you; even I will carry you and deliver you".
And here's the special prayer that I have claimed for my life. Psalm 71:18, "Now also when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me until I declare your strength to this generation and your power to everyone who is to come". Yes, God uses us all the way through if we just make ourselves useful.
As I bring this message to a close, I want to tell you about one of the men in our congregation at Shadow Mountain. More than anyone I know, he has captured the concept of finishing well. Tom Heyer taught math at Helix High School for 40 years. He had received Christ as Savior as a junior at San Diego State and immediately began to teach. He loved his job. I remember meeting him at his school many years ago. I had gone to Helix to meet with a coach who was trying to help my son get a scholarship in football and he said to me, "You have a teacher that works here from your church".
And he introduced me to Tom Heyer. That was the first time I met him. He loved his students. I could tell that for sure. He wasn't just putting in his time. He helped start a Christian club on that campus that impacted many lives. He was a well-loved teacher, and he was really good at what he did. But in the summer of 2002, Tom Heyer was looking forward to beginning his 40th year of teaching. One morning during the summer as he and his wife Pam took their regular prayer walk together, God spoke to Tom and turned his life upside down. Here is how Tom put it. He said, "That morning God spoke directly to me. He told me it was time to set aside teaching because he had something else for me to do".
Since teaching had been his whole life, Tom had no idea what God was up to, but he was about to find out. After counseling with one of our pastors, Tom accepted the challenge to start a weekly men's Bible study. That Bible study called itself Fellows, and it's been going now for 18 years. Because of his leadership in that Bible study, he was asked if he'd be willing to take over the prison ministry at our church, Shadow Mountain Community Church. At that time, we had about 12 people who were involved in ministering to the prisoners of San Diego County.
Once again Tom prayed that he accepted the challenge, and what has happened since is truly remarkable. Today as he closes in on the 17th year of his leadership in this ministry, God has opened doors for ministry to everyone impacted by incarceration. He ministers to inmates, parolees, ex-offenders, spouses, children, other family members, even correctional officers and prison staff. According to Tom, the P in prison doesn't stand for prison, but it stands for people; people who God loves with an everlasting unconditional love.
Each week now at Shadow Mountain, 40 different team members go into eight different prisons, holding roughly 30 meetings a month with an average of over 600 inmates, men, women, and youth in attendance. At Christmas, a huge party is hosted for the children of incarcerated parents. Hundreds of children mostly with their mothers attend this party on our church campus. On the Saturday before Christmas, our event center is filled with families that would be forgotten were it not for this incredible ministry.
Several years ago, a young man in our church who'd been incarcerated was released, and he came to Tom Heyer and he told Tom how Christmas was such a hard time for prisoners. It was the lowest time, the loneliest time, the time when they felt so rejected and forgotten. And he asked Tom if he thought there was anything we could do to make a difference in their lives during this season, and the result of that conversation was the great Christmas card mail-out.
Last Christmas, hundreds of volunteers, some of them from our church but many of them just from San Diego, under the direction of Tom Heyer's Shadow Mountain prison ministry, got together during the holiday season and sent out over 15,000 Christmas cards to prison inmates. When God spoke to Tom Heyer on that morning walk in 2002, he ignited a movement that will live on long after Tom and I are gone. Today, the Shadow Mountain prison ministry is one of the largest church-sponsored prison ministries in America, and it all started in the life of one man who was retiring. And Tom Heyer was ready to be redeployed. Are you? Are you ready for God to use you?
You may think, "Well, I finally got to the end. Now I can"... no, if you're Christian, God has a right to your life. And if you will give him the opportunity to use you even in the days after you have finished your full vocational experience, you may discover that God will do the greatest things in your life at the end and all the things he's ever done in your life up until that point. How many of you know, sometimes, God saves the best till last? He wants to do that for you. He wants to do it for me. Let's commit ourselves to the fact that we're going to stay faithful until we're finished. Amen? Amen.