In an age of so little perseverance I find these words ringing in my ears like the background music on an elevator. Fight the good fight; keep the faith; finish the race.
I can’t count how many times I heard Pastor Arnold Lastinger speak these words of challenge into my life. As a young man with no experience I probably rolled my eyes, but as time has passed this holy background music has become more like the soundtrack of a timeless movie. (Yes, I downloaded the Star Wars movie score in anticipation of Episode VII. Thank you, John Williams.)
On December 8th, Pastor Lastinger went absent from the body and present with the Lord. What a soul-marking moment it was for me, as I watched him worship until the end, using his dying breath and waning strength to lift his hands to the God he longed for.
Several days later I flew to Mississippi where I spent time with another one of my heroes, John Perkins. Due to his age and health concerns his daughter makes clear that he needs boundaries on his schedule. Yet when he starts talking about Jesus and justice and the greatness of God, he just won’t stop. I’m serious. One night, after hours of conversation, I had to plead with him to go home and go to bed, as it was approaching 10:00. As we finished, he invited me to be a part of the Bible study he was leading the next day. At 5:30 the next morning. I’ve never heard of a Bible study at 5:30 in the morning. But sure enough, there he was, long before the sun would rise, leading a room full of men through Romans 9. It was like watching a child opening a present on Christmas morning. Joy. Energy. Wonder. 85 years of age and he is still burning.
A week earlier, I listened as Pastor Lastinger described his peace and contentment and anticipation of heaven. “It’s all true,” he told me. “When I preached funerals in my 20’s I thought I believed it. But 50 years later I realize, it’s all true. And it works,” he explained with a peace I can’t explain. But then I heard something else: his longing for his Savior. The closest comparison I have is like a bridegroom getting ready for his honeymoon. He was longing for Jesus. On his deathbed he was still burning.
I want to burn till the end.
In an age of so little perseverance these two men stand tall. Their voices have weight. And their entire life has become their message. Neither has tried to stay relevant, and that is part of what makes them so. Their transcendence is their relevance. Oh how it has fed my soul to be exposed to men whose lives carry such a rare grace. Some things can only be said after years. Or decades. Or a lifetime. And the only way you get this kind of gravitas is to persevere. To endure. To finish your race.
What a lesson for young leaders.
I’ve heard it said that it takes 20 years to make a man or woman of God. But I’m starting to think it takes a lifetime. In a culture that bows before the shrine of youth and worships to the tune of the latest one hit wonder, it becomes difficult to discern when timeless words are being written and the truest lives are being lived. But I long for this.
Did these men give me clues about how to persevere? Sure. Both would tell me stay curious. Keep learning. Figure out how to handle your pain. Set up accountability relationships to deal with temptation. But at the end of the day both of these men most fed me because of their obsession with Jesus. I would meet with Pastor Lastinger seeking wisdom, and it was there. But in the middle of a lunch meeting he would break down in tears when he began to speak of Jesus. I flew to Mississippi seeking justice, and it was there. But what I found most was a man dripping with the Author of justice.
Finish well, my friend.