Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Famous Last Words

I recall the final staff meeting of a retiring pastor at one of my former churches. On the cusp of retiring from ministry, the man's final words were ones of bitterness, anger, and a frustration that his retirement package wasn't as large as he'd like.

His last words?

"I'm looking forward to having more time in my garden."

That was the legacy he left behind. A spiteful old man who would rather pull weeds out of the dirt than shepherd people in the ways of Jesus. God, help meI don't ever want to become that way, I thought. Whenever I leave, allow me to leave with grace.

The past few weeks leading up to my departure from Arizona have been an emotional rollercoaster. How does one say goodbye to the people I've shepherded for years?

I wondered how leaders in the Bible did it, what they chose to say to the people they loved as they were leaving. Here's what some of them said:

Moses: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them." (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

Joshua: "Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:14-15)

David: “The Spirit of the LORD speaks by me; his word is on my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: 'When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.' For does not my house stand so with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. For will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire? (2 Samuel 23:2-5)

Paul:  "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up 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 also to all who have loved his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:1-8)

Jesus: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

All their final words lovingly call the people to action, inviting them to love God with their entire being. These are the kinds of words I want to leave behind in people's ears.

Choose life.

Fear the Lord.

God loves you.

Live out the Gospel.

Make disciples.

Trust Jesus.

Amen.

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