Paul strikes me as the kind of guy who woke up in night sweats from intense dreams. I imagine that as Paul continued to change, the subject of said supposed dreams changed as well.
I imagine him, when he was still living out of his perfectionistic and performance mentality, waking up fearing failure and exposure of weakness before the Pharisaical leaders. Then I imagine him sitting bolt upright in bed after having detailed flashbacks about his life of persecution of the Church that he grew to love and serve.
I imagine that towards the end of his life, his nightmares moved to fears of not finishing well the life that his dramatic Damascus encounter with Christ began.
While the nightmares of Paul are conjectures, it is known fact that Paul was deeply concerned with finishing well, with completing to the end the course that God had so clearly and deliberately given to him.
But I do not count my life of any value nor as precious to myself, I only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24.
Lately I have been reading 2 Timothy and fighting to read it imaginatively as the letter it was in truth: the last letter of a dying man to his protege and son in the faith.
As I read over Paul’s constant and stirring urgings to timid Timothy to take courage and steadily stay the course marked out for him as a young pastor and the one to whom Paul was passing on the kingdom baton, they came to life.
One can feel the waves of relief radiating out from this personal and poignant letter. Paul, by God’s sustaining grace, had reached the end faithfully. He had done it. His worst fears of not finishing faithfully were assuaged.
As for me, I feel that the last drops of my life are being poured out for God. The time for my departure has arrived. The glorious fight that God gave me I have fought, the course that I was set I have finished, and I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:6-7 (JB Phillips translation).
While I am so thankful that Paul’s finishing well is recorded in the Canon of Scripture, I am also grateful that we have living examples of Pauls all around us, those running well to the end the course that has been marked out by them.
As I was reading 2 Timothy, I could not help but think immediately of a pair of heroes of the faith that I am privileged to know, even if only on the out skirts.
Dick and Liz Kaufman have not yet finished their race, but they have recently turned the corner into a new stretch. Our church, Redeemer Encinitas, recently declared Dick Pastor Emeritus.
On a double date with them over Christmas break, we inquired what in the world this actually meant. In a very typical Kaufman response, Liz told us through a huge grin, “I think it means something about your toes being close to the grave.”
While their toes are not as close to the grave as their joke made it sound, it was such a joy to celebrate the way they faithfully finished their official ministry course so well. In a world and a culture that love to talk big and start strong, Dick and Liz, by the grace of God and through great discipline in community, have maintained a steady pace over decades of ministry.
If you ask them questions (which you would be a fool not to do if you are ever with these treasures of experience and grace), you will likely watch as their brains run through a verifiable Roladex of stories of God’s faithfulness. Their ministry lives were not lived in ivory towers of ideas but in the mess of real life with real people.
Paul prodded Timothy to stay the steady course, “to preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2).
When I sit across from Dick and Liz or watch them from across the room, I see ordinary people who have done just that. It is an added bonus that they did so with a joy and levity that are contagious.
If you ask them the secret to their long and successful ministries, from New York to California, they would say, “You just share the gospel.” They would share stories of trial and error attempts to gather the neighborhood to hear the gospel from pot lucks to kids camps. They would probably, through peels of laughter, tell you the story of the neighbor who came to faith and then hid a gospel tract in her husband’s sandwich where he would be unable to avoid reading it.
The thing about Dick and Liz that compels me most is that they are not done. They live in a high rise apartment right in the thick of downtown San Diego and they are still looking for “open doors, “ as they say, to share the gospel with neighbors.
They are goofy and down-to-earth but maintain a gospel urgency and centrality to their lives that begs others to get on board and join them. They have taken aging and degenerative diseases in stride by the power of the gospel. They are heroes to me and the countless others who have known them or know them now.
I wish you could know Dick and Liz, but I have a feeling that you have you have a couple like them in your area who are silos of stories of God’s faithfulness through ordinary people and an extraordinary gospel message. By God’s grace, they exist, and they have a wealth of knowledge and perspective to pass on to us. They probably look like an ordinary couple or a quiet widow(er). If you don’t someone who is finishing strong, it is well worth your intentional pursuit.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings to closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Romans 12:1-2
Here’s to knowing and emulating those who are finishing strong.