The whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa is one of the enduring mysteries of my generation. The Teamsters boss and organized crime figure disappeared in 1975 while meeting with reputed mobsters. Many attempts to find him—alive or dead—have ensued over the years.
Now the FBI has completed a search of a former landfill under the Pulaski Skyway in Jersey City. This after reports that Hoffa’s body had been delivered there in 1975, placed in a steel drum, and buried with other barrels, bricks, and dirt.
However, “Nothing of evidentiary value was discovered during that search,” according to an FBI spokeswoman. She added: “The FBI will continue to pursue any viable lead in our efforts to locate Mr. Hoffa.”
Most people familiar with the story presume that Jimmy Hoffa died in 1975 or some time thereafter. He was born in 1913; if he were still alive, he would be 109 years old.
As a result, while I’m grateful for the FBI and others who seek to enforce our laws, I’m glad I’m not tasked with finding the remains of a dead man. To the contrary, followers of Jesus are called to serve the cause of a living Lord.
However, we are to be just as persistent in our calling as the FBI has been in theirs. And even more so, one could argue, since the stakes of our obedience are eternal for us and everyone we influence.
How can we choose persistence in faithfulness, whatever the cost?
“A good soldier of Christ Jesus”
Second Timothy 2 is a clarion call to spiritual perseverance. The chapter begins: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). “Be strengthened” means to keep on being empowered. “Grace” refers to “unmerited favor,” the power and help which God has given you.
Now stand in this strength, not in your own. In his Spirit, in his power, and not your own. And lead others to do the same: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others” (v. 2). This is the process by which the kingdom grows through multiplication until we make disciples “of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)
Paul continues: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” to “please the one who enlisted” you (vv. 3–4). “Share in suffering” is literally “take your lumps” in the Greek. The one who “enlisted” you has been your leader from the time you entered his army until now.
We are not to get “entangled in civilian pursuits” (v. 4)—the phrase describes a soldier who gets his weapons tangled up in his clothes. “Civilian pursuits” keep a soldier from fighting in the battle into which he has been sent. In other words, stay on purpose.
Changing the analogy, we are to compete as an “athlete” (v. 5)—the Greek is the word for a professional athlete, not the amateur for whom athletics are merely a hobby. This is to be our full-time work, the passion and focus of our lives.
We do this to be “crowned”—this is the stephanos, the victor’s wreath given to the winner of an athletic contest. We are to compete “according to the rules” that relate to our training as well as our competition. Greek athletes had to state on oath that they had fulfilled ten months’ training before they were eligible to enter the contest. Similarly, those who wish to run in the Boston Marathon must have a time low enough to make them eligible.
Now Paul quotes one of the first hymns in Christian history (vv. 11–13):
- If we “died” with him (the Greek word is a completed action, referring to our salvation experience), we will “live” with him (present tense, here and now).
- If we “endure,” we will “reign” with him.
- If we “deny” him, he will deny us. Paul refers to a person who claims not to know Christ as Savior and Lord. If we do not accept his salvation, he cannot save us.
- But if we are “faithless,” he is still “faithful.”
Finding the courage to go on
Here we find the courage to go on: the risen, living, active Christ will reward our faithfulness to his call, both now and in eternity. And he will help us fulfill it. He will give us his power, if we will fulfill his purpose. And we will pay any price, make any sacrifice, because the reward he gives is worth all it costs and more.
When Jesus Christ is real in our lives, we find in his power and reward the courage to go on. When we believe that he is alive and real, that he is empowering and rewarding us, everything changes.
Martin Rinkart buried four thousand people in his city during the Thirty Years War, including several members of his family. That was the year he wrote the hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.”
Terry Anderson, a Christian journalist taken hostage in Lebanon for seven years, wrote of his experience: “We come closest to God at our lowest moments. It’s easiest to hear God when you are stripped of pride and arrogance, when you have nothing to rely on except God. It’s pretty painful to get to that point, but when you do, God’s there.”
When I went to Malaysia as a summer missionary, my pastor gave me a devotional book inside which he had written the words, “The will of God never leads where the grace of God cannot sustain.” That sentence got me through the jungles of Borneo.
A smashing life lesson
A great violinist was due in a particular city. The newspaper reports written in advance of his concert, however, devoted most of their attention to the original Stradivarius violin he would play. The morning of the concert, the local paper even carried a picture of the great instrument.
That night the concert hall filled with people, and the musician played at his best. When he concluded, applause thundered.
Then the violinist raised his instrument over his head and smashed it across his chair. It splintered into a thousand pieces. The audience gasped in shock.
The violinist explained: “I read in this morning’s paper how great my violin was. So I walked down the street and found a pawn shop. For ten dollars I bought this violin. I put some new strings on it and used it this evening. I wanted to demonstrate to you that it’s not the violin that counts most. It’s the hands that hold the violin.”
No matter how smashed your violin may be, the hands that hold it count most. Hold onto those hands, for they are holding onto you.