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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Last Words

 The last words have a deep meaning for those who are left behind.  Some say the last words are the truest words that a person speaks.  They become his legacy.  His last words immortalize what his life’s message contains for those left behind.    

When my Mother died, I sat beside her.  Her lips were silent, her last words were spoken by her faith and love for Jesus.  I knew what she wanted to hear….God’s Word.  She loved Psalm 37.  I began there and continued through the Psalms as she passed into the Presence of the Lord.  Now as I read Psalm 37, the words are like messages – last words – to me from Mother. (Grandma Daisy).  The Lord directs the steps of the godly.  He delights in every detail of their lives.  Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.  (23-24)

The last words become the message of a lifetime of faith lived so that all can see.  “Actions speak louder than words…”  This is a truism that is captured every day as the example of the faithful heart – a picture of obedience and humility.

Last Words.  Do we ever know how to time our last words, so that they are truly our last words?  Can we cover a duplicitous life with pious words at the last moment, and have them believed?  When our tongue is silenced in death, our lives still speak.

I think of Apostle Paul, and wonder why God chose him to speak.  He was born of the Tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee of Tarsus (present day southern Turkey) and mentored by Gamaliel.  Did Paul have any idea as to the reason God gifted him with strength, wisdom and endurance in his early life?  He had knowledge of philosophy and religion.  He was able to debate learned scholars of his time.  Did Saul (Paul) have second thoughts while persecuting Christians?   Is it any wonder that the disciples distrusted him after he condoned stoning Stephen? It took a bright light and blindness to make Saul stop in his tracks.  It was ‘cold turkey’ change of thinking from the heart out, and a change of name.  As he groped in the darkness of being blind, did he realize the bright light of the gospel that would shine in his life soon?

In Acts 9, we read, Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest.  He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains. As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him.
Purpose of God for Paul:  Acts 9:15:16 - But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel.  And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

After three missionary journeys, prison, persecution, floggings, shipwrecked three times; he knew hunger, thirst and cold,  Paul continued to preach Christ with passionate commitment to God and Jesus Christ.  He was imprisoned in Rome and there was killed.  II Corinthians 11:28 attests to his commitment in spite of the hardships he endured; And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 

The early life Saul lived was erased by the life Paul lived.  This gives hope to all of us to understand that we, too, can know Jesus and be changed.  He is the author of almost half of the 27 books of the New Testament.  He had the gift of clear thinking and communication.  What would his last words be?  What could they be?

Beginning in I Corinthians we see his concern and devotion to the followers of Jesus in every country to which he travelled.  Paul does not mince words. He encourages the faithful.
*  I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.  I Corinthians 16:21-24
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.  All God’s people here send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  2 Corinthians 13:11-14
* From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen. Galatians 6:17-18
* Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. Galatians 6:23-24
* After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.” I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.  Colossians 4:16-18
* Dear brothers and sisters, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.  Galatians 6:18

* Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness. May God’s grace be eternally upon all who love our Lord Jesus Christ.  Ephesians 6:23-24

* Now all glory to God our Father forever and ever! Amen. Give my greetings to each of God’s holy people—all who belong to Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send you their greetings.  And all the rest of God’s people send you greetings, too, especially those in Caesar’s household. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.  Philippians 4:20-23
Paul’s concern was his brothers and sisters in Christ.  His last words show the heart of a loving Shepherd who knew his beloved and wanted to share Jesus Christ with them.  What will our last words be?  How will others remember us?  Do our lives point to Jesus Christ?


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Third Verse

The Favorite Hymnal sits on my bookshelf reminding me of singing in church, the way it used to be.  My first memory includes sitting by my Dad’s side on the short pew in the back of the church in Clinton Ok.  His leg crossed on his knee made a perfect holder for the hymnal.  He pointed at the verses, and showed me at the tender age of six years old, how to follow the verses. 

Then came a succession of song leaders who intoned from the church platform, Page Number 61, lets sing the first, second and fourth verses.  Then came the introduction to the hymn on the piano and voices sang out the lyrics.  But never verse three.

Contemplating this, I wonder if the lyricist could save time by writing  Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah for the third verse.   Of course, a hymn is NOT complete until we sing the last verse.  A.W. Tozer commented on this anomaly.  I suppose it is not of vast importance that the third stanza is so often omitted in the singing of a hymn, but just for the record let it be said that the worshipers are deprived of the blessing of the hymn by that omission if, as is often true, the hymn develops a great Christian truth in sermonic outline.  To omit a stanza is to lose one link in a golden chain and greatly to reduce the value of the whole hymn.”

Out of curiosity, I wondered what would be missing from the ‘golden chain’ if the third verse of Paul’s writings were omitted.  I listed the third verses and was astonished. 
First the verbs:  give (grace, peace), thank (God, in prayer) and remember (you).  One of these third verses is very dear to me.  When I consider those I have met and known for a short period of time, those who have so blessed me, Philippians 1:3 speaks to me.  I thank my God every time I remember you.”  The stanza of a poem says -  “Wherever I go today, Help me leave heart-prints!  Heart-prints of compassion, Of understanding and love.”

Apostle Paul made many journeys, telling of his faith and the grace of God through Jesus Christ.  How many times Paul remembered those who left heart-prints on His Heart as he preached Christ.  How do those we meet in our life-journey remember us?  What is the bottom line of remembering?  Love.  And all those attributes that are a part of love that include joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.  Love isn’t love until we learn to forgive.

Who is the Giver of Grace and Peace?  God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  (Galatians 1:3)  And this is how you know people. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.  Matthew 7:20

How do we want people to remember us?  Is there a standard of behavior?  I once heard a pastor say, God speaks only one language – Truth.  Do we speak the same language as the One whom we profess to follow?  I Thessalonians 1:3 gives a pattern of life -- work of faith, labor prompted by love and endurance inspired by hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

My personal Hall of Faith contains saints who have encouraged me and have given me hope through the years.  My grandparents and parents, first of all, are in my Hall of Faith. I include my children, too. Then a myriad of others, those I have worked with and prayed with who by their fruits, became my example and my understanding of how faith grows.  Those are the ones I cherish in the faith.  As 2 Thessalonians 1:3 says We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.
 Then I read Ephesians 1:3 and agree with Apostle Paul – 
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.  Every spiritual blessing does not include worldly riches, but the assurance we have in Jesus Christ.
 Paul was shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned and threatened during his ministry. He began his ministry blinded.  Paul was blinded, just as we are blinded by the aura of the world’s faux glory.  When our hearts awaken to the reality of living in Jesus, we truly are alive.  It never grows old to hear the story of Jesus, the truth of His amazing love. I give thanks for the Third Verses that Paul wrote.  They give me insight to Paul’s heart and to his incredible faith in Jesus Christ.  I thank you, Lord for your Words; and how they fill me with hope. You have become a Light, a Presence in my life. I give thanks every time I think of you. I echo Paul’s words in Philemon 1:3, to those who read these thoughts….Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Galatians 1:3 - Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
Philippians 1:3 - I thank my God every time I remember you.
Colossians 1:3 - We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,
1 Thessalonians 1:3 - We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 1:3  - We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.
Titus 1:3 - and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior,
Philemon 1:3 - Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul’s Third Verses:
I Corinthians 1:3 - May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
II Corinthians 1:3 - All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.
Ephesians 1:3 - Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.