Monthly Archives: January 2014

Strong to the Finish

“I’m strong to the finish

‘Cause I eats me spinach.

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.”

Spinach has had some bad press lately, with multiple reports of product recalls due to possible salmonella or e-coli contamination, but I don’t think it would have daunted Popeye the Sailor in the least. Rather than eating bagged, pre-washed spinach as a regular part of a healthful diet, Popeye always ate canned spinach – pulling the can out of his shirt and consuming it just in the nick of time. (How can Popeye’s Fried Chicken not serve spinach on its buffet or as an optional side dish?) Whenever Popeye, or Olive Oyl, or Swee’pea, or Wimpy, or Eugene the Jeep are in peril – which is often – or when Bluto is threatening, our hero always attempts at first to handle the situation by his own wiles and ordinary abilities. But he is never able to meet the challenge on his own. When Popeye is at the end of his rope he pops open the can of spinach and is immediately energized to prevail. The source of his strength is constantly at hand, although Popeye does not call upon its power until the situation is desperate. The perpetual question is, why doesn’t he eat the spinach earlier?

Popeye is a nice 75 year-old animated parable. He is a likeable, happy, kind character, in spite of his gravely voice. He does not look for trouble, but hardships continually find him. Most of us can identify with Popeye’s day-to-day life – trying to do a good job, surrounded by good friends and family, sometimes beset with dire problems and bullies. Like Popeye we usually try to face the challenges with our own strength, although we often are in danger of being swamped and defeated. We may wish for something as miraculous as Popeye’s can of spinach that can give us the strength to be “strong to the finish” and to stand victorious. Where is your can of spinach?

The Bible underscores our call to be strong to the finish. The writer of Hebrews retells the stories of faithful characters from the scriptures and his contemporary church, then extends the call to us: “Let us run the race that is before us and never give up. We should remove from our lives anything that would get in the way and the sin that so easily holds us back. {2} Let us look only to Jesus, the One who began our faith and who makes it perfect. He suffered death on the cross. But he accepted the shame as if it were nothing because of the joy that God put before him. And now he is sitting at the right side of God’s throne. {3} Think about Jesus’ example. He held on while wicked people were doing evil things to him. So do not get tired and stop trying.” (Hebrews 12:1b-3 NCV) Paul, too, gives his own testimony about finishing strong: “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 all about it and then missing out myself.” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27 MSG) When we begin a life of faith in Jesus and pursue God’s purpose in our lives we want to be faithful and strong to the finish, too.

We meet challenges to our faith along life’s way. Family and friends in danger, unjust treatment from someone holding power over us, situations not of our choosing, and plain old slipups threaten to overcome us. We try to persevere but our strength doesn’t seem to hold. Thankfully, God promises us more than a can of spinach, more than something we have to lug around and can be taken from us (Popeye, remember, is always losing his can of spinach). The challenges we face cannot be exhausted in an animated cartoon. We contend with physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual adversaries, but God has given us the right strength for any situation. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase may help some who recoil at military/armor images to apply God’s provisions more personally:

God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. (Ephesians 6:10-18 MSG)

Popeye and his spinach prevailed in more than 500 cartoons produced over 75 years. You and God’s grace can overcome challenges every day for all eternity.

What are your challenges today? Do you feel that you are facing almost insurmountable problems and that your strength is failing? The battle, the sprint to the finish, is not up to you in your own power. Jesus – who is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end – promises, “I am always with you until the end of time.” (Matthew 28:20b GWT) Are you conscious of Jesus being with you right now? Have you prayed for God to direct you to employ your own strength and to empower you where you lack strength on your own? Rather than waiting for things to get desperate and resorting to some gimmick hoping to survive, be strong to the finish because you have partaken of the Bread of Life (Jesus) from the beginning.

To tell the truth, I never did like spinach, anyway! Living bread is far more appealing!

– J. Edward Culpepper

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