The answer is nothing. The question comes at the end.
The book of Acts ends with Paul under arrest and awaiting his execution. Also, he’s getting rejected by a good number of his fellow Jews in big-city Rome.
Not a very American-style end to a story. We like big, epic finales, here. If you’re going to die at the end of your story, we’d prefer it be with a massive soundtrack playing in the background. If you’re going to fail, we’d rather you do it in the second to last act, right before you figure out what it is you’ve been missing the whole time, and muster your wits and strength to vanquish him/her/it. We like flashy stories. Truth be told, we like stories where we’re the hero. A Paul sort of ending, all faith and obedience and quiet, doesn’t really resonate with us in 21st century America.
Next week’s e-mail will be the last, because next week’s church gathering will be the last. 11/29 will be our final fellowship. And it’ll be my third time saying goodbye to an ekklesia, a little body of Christ, a family, in five years. The following week, in a bittersweet twist of sovereignty, I’ll drive down to Kentucky to help some old friends do it themselves.
The first time I had to do a goodbye like that, I read and explained the God-wrought words of my brother (and father of sorts) Paul, in Acts 20. I read it to the sheep I’d been entrusted with. I tried to speak them like he did: With blood-earnest belief in salvation and sanctification and damnation. Paul’s sendoff had been about Jesus, and I’d wanted mine to be, too. I read Paul’s inspired farewell, explained it, and we’d cried and prayed together.
In Acts 20, not long before Paul got arrested and would face his very unglamorous, uncinematic death, he spoke this to the brothers of the church he’d planted in Ephesus:
“And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
May I crush our perceptions, yours (I’m guessing) and mine (I’m sure) here, by the power and truth of God’s Word? Paul thought the best ending to his story as Ephesian pastor was a simple call to obedience to Jesus Christ. He spent his last words to Christian family saying, with tearful and gut-level honesty, “Watch yourselves and follow Jesus.”
No fanfare. No majestic finale. Just a man who knew Jesus is real and that people live forever, either in Heaven or in Hell, based on where they stand with Him.
Paul spoke to the church’s leaders in his goodbye with full knowledge that this life is a vapor, a morning mist. And that soon, the sun will rise fully over those hills. And when it does, everything this world chased will vanish like shadows, and the One it rejected will be revealed for as wonderful and bright as He always was.
This life, just like this e-mail, is your second to last one.
So I commend you to God, entreating you to make it count.
Oh, and the question?
What would I have changed about my time with CrossBridge?
In a love bigger than my heart,