This week our area of southwestern Ohio lost a true hero. While this article is never intended to single out individuals, this week is one time I would like to make an exception to that principle.
Though I did not know him for long, in the three-and-a-half years that I did know Billy Stephens, he made an impression upon me that I will never forget.
He was not a man who sought the headlines; he seemed content to let that privilege fall to others. I know this is trite, but if the dictionary contained pictures with its definitions, his picture would be found in two of the more prominent places there – under “wisdom” and “humility”.
I will never forget the picture that etched itself permanently in my memory the day I walked into the care facility where Billy’s wife, Marilyn, was a resident. As I entered her room, Billy was sitting by her bedside gently and patiently feeding her dinner, one bite or spoonful at a time.
For the next half hour or so I watched as he tenderly cared for his lifelong companion and friend. I watched him feed her, converse with her, and care for her in a wonderfully exemplary way. He was not putting on a show for me — this is what he did every day of his life!
In those moments, from this humble and wise man, I learned what it means to truly love your wife, and it was a lesson I hope to never forget.
With the news of Billy’s passing, I was reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul, when, near the end of his life, he wrote to his young disciple Timothy: “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” (See 2 Timothy 4:7)
He was talking about the importance of finishing well. Paul could see the end coming. He knew his earthly life was in its final stage, and he wanted to encourage his young disciple Timothy not to give up, and to keep on keeping on.
Contemplating the life of Billy Stephens has done that for me. Throughout his life, all he wanted to do was to honor God, and God Himself has proven to be faithful!
Finishing well is not so very much in vogue right now. After all, “winning is everything,” isn’t it? The only people our culture seems to honor are the winners, not the finishers. Whether it be the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis 500, or the Academy Awards or, yes, even the College Football Playoffs, only the winner gets the prize.
But God says in His word that the ones who run the race and finish will be given the rewards. “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8).
Paul was looking forward to being rewarded, not because he won the race, but because he finished it! In other words, God rewards finishers, not just winners.
Derek Redmond is a British runner who participated in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Barely into the 400-meter race, he pulled a hamstring and fell to the ground. Everyone thought he was finished, but much to the surprise of the spectators this courageous athlete slowly stood and began to hobble around the track.
However, even with such tenacity it was apparent that there was simply no way he could finish the race. Just as he was about to fall again, a man came out of the stands, put his arm around the injured runner, and assisted him all the way across the finish line. The stadium roared with approval as Derek Redmond completed his race.
The scene was a moving one, made even more significant by the realization that the one who came alongside Derek was his own father. Together, linked arm in arm, father and son crossed the finish line, as one.
Since moving to Florida, my bride and I are serving the Lord in a church which is geared toward ministry to those in the finishing years of their lives. The pastor of the church continually reminds us that “If you are not DEAD, then you are not DONE!”
The ministries of this church are designed to motivate each and every person who attends to see their lives as valuable to God. After each and every church service, all who exit the building pass under a sign which is designed to motivate each one of us to “Play Hard! Pray Hard! Finish Well!”
Derek Redmond finished that Olympic race that day in 1992. Billy Stephens finished his life race well in 2018. What I learn from God, from Derek Redmond – and from the life of Billy Stephens – is that, no matter what people say, no matter what I am encouraged to do, I need to keep close with God, to keep the faith, and fight the fight, and FINISH the race! That is a valuable lesson for each and one of us, isn’t it?
The point: FINISH THE RACE AND FINISH IT WELL!
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Times-Gazette. He is also the former Pastor of Port William UMC.