I’m not completely insensitive; I know that this is a busy week – with the end of Q3 happening on Wednesday, and the start of Q4 signaling the last chance to make something out of a calendar year that started with a bang and has run for months as a bust – but this won’t wait.
You need to give some attention to writing your epitaph. Your death may be decades in the future; or, you might soon be a statistic on the CV-19 reports published every day in your local paper. The date of your departure isn’t knowable… but the eulogy offered at your memorial service is yours to draft, now. Covey says that highly effective people “begin with the end in mind.”
The Apostle Paul was at-risk when he wrote his last known letter (you’ve read it as 2 Timothy). Though he was in his mid-60s, it wasn’t his susceptibility to the plague that raised his threat-level; in prison for preaching Christ, the countdown to his execution was underway.
To prick your memory from last Monday, a replay of his comments to his spiritual son: “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Four bullet-points from the summation of his life-well-lived stand out. Last week, I noted the first: “I have fought the good fight.” Paul’s personal struggle wasn’t with sloth or addictive behaviors; the competitors in the tent industry weren’t his mortal enemies; the government of Rome didn’t represent his nemesis: his battle was with God’s opposition – Lucifer/Satan/the Devil/the god of this world – and the skirmishes with his forces were, for Paul, unrelenting. Anyone on mission from God will face God’s archenemy; if things go too easy for too long, it’s not a good sign…
This week, Paul’s second self-disclosure warrants attention: “I have finished the race.” Paul’s cell – while held for two years in Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast of northern Israel – looked out on the athletic arena where chariot races and track events were routinely staged. His letters would often use racing as a metaphor for his ministry initiatives. Over the course of 15 years, he was unrelenting as he pursued the course that marked his journey.
Paul’s apostleship was not a generic assignment to just “do good things” while portraying the image of an upscale craftsman with a dedicated customer following. His commission had been clear, given by the third person of the Trinity: “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:1-3).
Already active as a leader in the church at Antioch, God’s plan for Paul – and, Barnabas as well – was to launch them into a wide-reaching territory of countries, cultures and conflicts. For a mid-life man (he was about 48 when he stepped-out), the adventure of a lifetime was before him. Paul and Barnabas were called to go and evangelize Gentiles; Simeon, Lucius and Manaen were called to stay and disciple Christians; all were vital to the Kingdom cause.
Kingdom Calling: it’s about finding your race (100 meter sprint? high-hurdles? 4 x 400 relay? marathon?), and then finding your lane. Once there – and the starting pistol fires – run all-out, to win: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly…” (1 Corinthians 9:25-26). Dawdling has no place among the dedicated…
The grains of sand in life’s timer are running down for me, and for you. We’re writing the script for our upcoming eulogy. What do you want them to say about you when you’re finished?