Finishing Well

for the week of April 8, 2002
by Rubel Shelly

Barry Bonds is a home-run-hitting machine! The man who hit 73 homers last year to break the record set by Mark McGwire in 1998 has started the 2002 season in phenomenal style. In the first game of the new season, he led the San Francisco Giants to a 9-2 victory over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers by driving in five runs. And two of those five runs were homers. It made him the 75th player since 1900 to homer twice on Opening Day of a new baseball season.

So what did he do in the second game? He hit two more home runs. The 37-year-old Bonds joined Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews as the only players in history to open a season with a pair of homers. Yet Bonds knows there is something even more important than getting a season off to a great start.

"It's not how you start; it's how you finish," he said after game one. "We want to be in the race until it's over. It's early, one game doesn't make a season."

What Bonds said about his baseball season could just as well be said about life in general and certainly about spiritual life in particular.

Think of the sad history of Judas Iscariot. He was one of those privileged people who saw Jesus in the flesh, heard him teach, and saw the signs he did among humankind. He decided to follow the Son of God and was numbered among the earliest disciples. He was even chosen to be one of The Twelve. He went out two by two with them, healed sick people, and announced the coming of the kingdom of God. But nobody remembers him for any of those things. Judas is remembered for how his relationship with Jesus ended as the traitor-betrayer.

How anyone's life, career, or relationship with God ends is more critical than its beginning. Remember Jesus' Parable of the Soils? The shallow ground received seed that sprouted and grew quickly, only to wilt and die in the heat of the day. No less than the Apostle Paul used the imagery of athletic competition to say this about himself: "I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got. No sloppy living for me! I'm staying alert and in top condition. I'm not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else about it and then missing out myself" (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, The Message).

If you stumbled out of the blocks, don't worry! It's how you finish the race that counts. If you had all the breaks and got off to a great start, don't be cocky! In sports, career, family, and spiritual life, it's not how you start. It's how you finish.

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