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.
While attending seminary, I was working full-time. Add to that a chaplaincy rotation and an internship at a church. I was busy. When my father visited me, he said, “You’re going to have a breakdown.” I shrugged off his warning thinking he was of another generation, and he didn’t understand goal-setting.
I didn’t have a breakdown. But I did experience a very rough, dry season in which I fell into depression. Since then, I’ve learned to listen to warnings—especially from loved ones—more carefully.
That’s what Moses did. He was diligently working, serving as Israel’s judge (Exodus 18:13). Yet, he chose to listen to his father-in-law’s warning (vv. 17–18). Jethro had a different perspective than Moses. He wasn’t in the thick of things, but he loved Moses and his family. Perhaps that’s why Moses was able to listen to Jethro and heed his advice. Moses set up a system for “capable men from all the people” to take on the smaller disputes and he took the more difficult cases (vv. 21–22). Because he rearranged his work, listened to Jethro, and entrusted others to shoulder the load, he was able to avoid burnout during that season of life.
Many of us take our work for God, our families, and others seriously—passionately even. But we still need to heed the advice of trusted loved ones and to rely on the wisdom and power of God in all we do.
My mother shared with me how she chose not to attend college so she could marry my father in the 1960s, but she always held on to her dream of becoming a home economics teacher. Three children later, though she never received a college degree, she did become a nutritionist aide for the state of Louisiana’s health system. She cooked meals to demonstrate healthier meal choices—much like a home economics teacher. As she shared her dream with me after recounting the events of her life, she proclaimed that God had indeed heard her prayers and given her the desires of her heart.
Life can be like that for us. Our plans point one way but reality goes another way. But with God, our time and lives can be turned into beautiful displays of His compassion, love, and restoration. God told the people of Judah (Joel 2:21) that He would “repay” them for their lost or destroyed years—brought about by a “locust swarm” (V. 25). He also works to help us in the challenges and unfulfilled dreams we face. For we serve a Redeemer God who honors and rewards our sacrifices for Him (Matthew 19:29).
Whether we’re facing a devastating challenge or a time of unrealized dreams, may we call out to the God who restores and give Him praise.
No words. Just music and moving. During a 24-hour Zumba marathon amid the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of people from around the globe worked out together and virtually followed instructors from India, China, Mexico, America, South Africa, parts of Europe, and several other places. These diverse individuals were able to move together without any language barriers. Why? Because instructors of the exercise craze Zumba, created in the mid-1990s by a Colombian aerobics instructor, utilize non-verbal cues. Class instructors move and students follow their lead. They follow with no words uttered or shouted.
Words can sometimes get in the way and create barriers. They may cause confusion such as the Corinthians experienced, as noted in Paul’s first letter to them. It was confusion brought about by differing views of disputable matters pertaining to the eating of particular foods (1 Corinthians 10:27–30). But our actions can transcend barriers and even confusion. As Paul says in today’s passage, we should show people how to follow Jesus through our actions—seeking “the good of many” (10:32–33). We invite the world to believe in Him as we “follow the example of Christ” (11:1).
As someone once said, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” As we follow Jesus’ lead, may He guide our actions so as to cue others to the reality of our faith. And may our words and actions be done “all for the glory of God” (10:31).
In 1952, in an effort to prevent clumsy or careless people from breaking items in a shop, a Miami Beach storeowner posted a sign that read: “You break it, you buy it.” The catchy phrase served as a warning to shoppers. This type of sign can now be seen in many boutiques.
Ironically, a different sign might be placed in a real potter’s shop. It would say: “If you break it, we’ll make it into something better.” And that’s exactly what’s revealed in Jeremiah 18.
The prophet reminds us that God is indeed a skillful potter and we are the clay. Jeremiah visits a potter’s and sees the potter shaping the “marred” clay with his hands, carefully handling the material and forming “it into another pot” (v. 4). He is sovereign and can use what He creates to both destroy evil and create beauty in us.
God can shape us even when we’re marred or broken. He, the masterful potter, can and is willing to create new and precious pottery from our shattered pieces. God doesn’t look at our broken lives, mistakes, and past sins as unusable material. Instead, He picks up our pieces and reshapes them as He sees best.
Even in our brokenness, we have immense value to our Master Potter. In His hands, the broken pieces of our lives can be reshaped into beautiful vessels that can be used “best by him” (v. 4).
The little red rectangular box was magical. As a kid, I could play with it for hours. When I turned one knob on the box, I could create a horizontal line on its screen. Turn the other knob and voila—a vertical line. When I turned the knobs together, I could make diagonal lines, circles, and creative designs. But the real magic came when I turned my Etch A Sketch toy upside down, shook it a little and turned it right side up. A blank screen appeared, offering me the opportunity to create a new design.
God’s forgiveness works much like that Etch A Sketch game. He wipes away our sins, creating a clean canvas for us. Even if we remember wrongs we committed, God chooses to forgive and forget. He’s wiped them out and doesn’t hold our sins against us. He doesn’t treat us according to our sinful actions (Psalm 103:10), but extends grace through forgiveness. We have a clean slate—a new life awaiting us when we seek God’s forgiveness. We can be rid of guilt and shame because of His amazing gift to us.
The psalmist reminds us that our sins have been separated from us as the east is separated from the west (v. 12). That’s as far away as you can get! In God’s eyes, our sins no longer cling to us like a scarlet letter or a bad drawing. That’s reason to rejoice and to thank God for His amazing grace and mercy.