Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Last Word


There is something powerful about “Last Words”. I often say that first impressions are important but last impressions are lasting impressions. Last words matter because Last words last …

How a life or a journey begins does not tell the whole story. Rather, as with each movie, we judge a life or a relationship or even a holiday on how it ends. The highest honors are most often reserved not for how a person lives their life but rather for how a person gives their life.

Even God waits until the end to judge.

Matthew 12:37  "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."

Therefore great care should be taken to insure we protect our last words and end our story well. The only problem is … we don’t know when the end will be and if the words we are saying right now might be the last words we get to say in this life to that friend, family member, stranger, and our enemies or even to God.

Before we end 2016 and draw any final conclusions, let’s look at some last words from the Bible to see if we can discover a pattern to follow.

When I think of someone who had a hard life and a difficult journey my mind runs to Job. At almost any point in the 42 chapters of Job a person could stop and be sufficiently and reasonably depressed for Job. However, those difficulties didn’t have the last word. What was the last word?

Job 42
15  In all the land were found no women so beautiful as the daughters of Job; and their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers.
16  After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations.
17  So Job died, old and full of days.

What put Job on his road to a better day? His attitude and his decision to not let trouble and problems be his last word. Job acted like the man he wanted to be instead of the way life and others described him. He defined himself instead of letting disappointments define him.

Job 42
10  And the LORD restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.
11  Then all his brothers, all his sisters, and all those who had been his acquaintances before, came to him and ate food with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversity that the LORD had brought upon him. Each one gave him a piece of silver and each a ring of gold.
12  Now the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning …

Job decided his future and acted like the person he wanted to be instead of the way others saw him.

Another person I think about when I think about not allowing the problems of life or any one moment have the last word is the Apostle Paul. If you are familiar with his life and ministry you know how many things he suffered. He was beaten numerous times, shipwrecked, jailed, stoned, run out of town after town, maligned, threatened, distrusted, betrayed and even lost his best friend over an argument. Paul was acquainted with hardship. When he was about 62 years old and in prison in Rome under Nero waiting to have his head chopped off we hear an account from Luke which constitutes the last words in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles:

Acts 28
30 ¶  And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him,
31  Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.

That’s not the picture of a prisoner who has been defeated by life but a man who is living in victory. Why? Listen to what we consider Paul’s last words which he writes to Timothy from this Roman prison:
2 Timothy 4:22  The Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Grace be with you. Amen.

Paul is definitely not your ordinary condemned prisoner. He is an encourager who prays for the grace of God to be with Timothy. Paul’s last words are meant to encourage us all. And, we never hear from him again!

The last word in Psalms also gives the upbeat message which runs through the entirety of the Bible:

Psalms 150:6  Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!

Even the last words of the Apocalypse leaves us with a word of hope and encouragement:

Revelation 22:21  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

As 2016 comes to a close without respect as to how the year unfolded for you personally, professionally or politically, perhaps we could harness our hurts and focus our hopes on a better and brighter day for next year. Let’s not be defined by what we have seen in the past but rather let’s begin speaking grace and leave others with some better last words than perhaps the past deserves. Our future depends on us not our problems.

What if the words you speak to others today are the last words they hear or the last words you speak? Would you want them to be words of hope or words of hurt? How do you want to be remembered and how do you want to remember the last encounter you had with them?

We leave tonight together with the last word some of you will hear from me this year. Therefore I’ll go on record and declare that although 2016 had its difficult and disappointing moments, hurts and hardships were evident for many and some experienced great losses that left us empty and wanting. Nonetheless we are at peace and we have a growing hope for the future that outshines the past. I pray grace and peace be multiplied to you in the coming year and may the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all. Amen!