I am always looking for an intriguing title that will inspire the reader sufficiently, and suspend judgment until the perceived truth is communicated. Having a somewhat cynical edge, I constantly struggle for those positive introductions. Communication has as much to do with the desire of the recipient as it does with the one “talking,” so bear with me.

Finishing well, does not mean that one becomes a pleaser, though daily attitude adjustments are critical. Again, avoiding cynicism and the need to please have always been a struggle given my commitment to truth telling.

Oftentimes, the title rejected might have been more appropriate for the truth declared? This morning I wrestled with a second title, one reflecting my observation of different cultures of religion, “Balancing Religion and Deception.” Religion is man’s attempt to communicate the God experience. Having now spent over sixty years observing a plethora of belief systems, though primarily Protestant, I am aware of the compounding fallacy that comes with institutionalization of belief. There seems a hidden “corporate pressure” to resist the allowance for personal interpretation of the tenants of the faith.

It’s as if we don’t believe God is big enough to entertain each and every one in a personal way, yet that was the gospel of Jesus. It was never about a movement, but rather a widow’s plight, an orphan’s needs, a grieving mother and even a prostitute caught in the throes of making her living.

Just yesterday I sat at a funeral in a rural Methodist Church, once known for camp meeting gatherings and revivals, listening to a Baptist pastor willing to own his denomination’s movement away from personal experiences with God. This always comes up at protestant funerals, ministers feeling the opportunity to somehow use the stark reality of death to persuade people to take a second look at their personal experience. This old-time message of a personal relationship with God is seldom offered in our churches, and for many is becoming even less tasteful at funerals. Perhaps that is the nature of the masses, preferring a generic brand of religion; a one size fits all?

All this was precipitated as I read Zechariah Chapter 7:5-11 this morning. I was confronted with the reality that this problem is centuries old!

“Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?’”

And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’

“But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets.”

Written in the sixth century before Christ, it sounds so similar to the social challenges now facing our own country. One of the most Christian countries and wealthiest in the world, I wonder if the political and racial divisions, the obvious classism could be the result of a religion practiced to the letter, while missing the Gospel and hope of a God more personal than institutional.

Why the earlier struggle with my title? Truth telling never is comfortable and as one ages, the temptation is to back away from the truth and let another bear the burden; yet, “finishing well” may have less to do with reputation and more to do with carrying the truth regardless of the cost?

2 thoughts on “Finishing Well

  1. John, this passage from Zechariah has been on my mind for several weeks now. I especially like Peterson’s version from The Message:
    4-6 God-of-the-Angel-Armies gave me this Message for them, for all the people and for the priests: “When you held days of fasting every fifth and seventh month all these seventy years, were you doing it for me? And when you held feasts, was that for me? Hardly. You’re interested in religion, I’m interested in people.

    7-10 “There’s nothing new to say on the subject. Don’t you still have the message of the earlier prophets from the time when Jerusalem was still a thriving, bustling city and the outlying countryside, the Negev and Shephelah, was populated? [This is the message that God gave Zechariah.] Well, the message hasn’t changed. God-of-the-Angel-Armies said then and says now:

    “‘Treat one another justly.
    Love your neighbors.
    Be compassionate with each other.
    Don’t take advantage of widows, orphans, visitors, and the poor.
    Don’t plot and scheme against one another—that’s evil.’
    Two things stand out to me.

    At the end of verse 6, God calls motives to question when he says, “You’re interested in religion, I’m interested in people.”

    And later when he emphasizes “Well, the message hasn’t changed” and reiterates the unvarnished message.

    God’s instruction from the beginning before Adam right through the birth of the Baby Jesus on that starry Bethlehem night to the cruel death of His Son at Calvary and His glorious resurrection has, is and always will be rooted in His passion for love that we are to emulate.

    It’s a BIG message, albeit a very simple one. When we miss that truth, all our other efforts are of zero value.

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