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Christ gets the last word

By Charles Qualls

Don’t you have that friend, family member, coworker or neighbor who always has to have the last word? That’s not always a bad thing. My mother, for instance, is the queen of the Deep South “Good-bye.” Or as I call it, “The 30-Minute Goodbye Ceremony.” We’ll start to say good-bye on the phone or in person, and to her it’s just a yellow light but not a red light. Five subjects later, we try saying Good-bye again. There’s another kind of last word. The person who simply can’t let you get in the last word.

Then, there are the last words of the heart, the Spirit and of life! They’re different, and usually memorable. Did you know that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said with his dying breath, “Best of all, God is with us”? Henry Ward Beecher used his last breath to say, “Now comes the mystery.” Jesus, according to the Gospels, said variously “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” and he said, “It is finished,” talking about way more than just his own moment of death, perhaps.

Richard B. Mellon was a famous multimillionaire. He was the president of Alcoa, and he and his brother Andrew had a little game of tag going. The weird thing was, this game of tag lasted for seven decades. When Richard was on his deathbed, he called his brother over and whispered, “Last tag.” Then, he died. Poor Andrew remained “it” for four more years, until he died.

We spend our lifetimes inundated with words. So many, we often don’t notice some that should be more memorable until time and perspective cause us to look back and realize they were someone’s very last.

In Ephesians 1:15-23, the apostle Paul opened his letter to the Ephesians with a hope of reassuring them. He also wanted them to focus their lives around their faith. When my mind reflects back to our own trip there, we walked on the streets of no ancient biblical city that indicated wealth, power and capability quite like Ephesis. Its grandeur, even now in ruins, tells a story. They had it all at Ephesus when Paul went there.

Except that even for the wealthy and capable, life still does what life sometimes does. They were not impervious to the forces that could overwhelm any one of us, at any moment. They had money, commerce, culture, grand inspiring architecture all around them. They were one of the most powerful port cities in all the world at the time. Still, Paul knew that those who were open to it needed the unique hope and salvation we can find in Christ.

Among Paul’s words here, we notice him making the case for Christ’s elevation and place within all that is. Then, he refers to “the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Writer Brian Erickson says in his notes on this passage, “Paul does not intend for us to relegate Jesus to a heavenly throne that has no weight on earth.” Jesus is able to bring to us resources that fill us like nothing else we try will.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work though. Jesus’ power in our lives is supposed to transform every allegiance, every relationship and our understanding of life and death. Christ’s place in eternity demands our attention in the here-and-now. It demands to get to shape our living, our believing, our hoping and our understanding as we live. I see people try to do it the other way around all the time. Truth be told, we all do somehow.

I see people try to strain their faith through their living, but that’s just backwards. I see people try to let their beliefs, their biases and their prejudices shape their faith, but deep down as Christians — they know better. I see people try to cope with what life throws at them, and re-word their faith in light of their pain. That won’t ever hold up when we need it most.

What is it in your life you’re always letting get the last say? Who is it you’re always letting get the last word in your life? Do you have someone who would like to get the last word? You bet you do. It’s our Lord, Jesus Christ. Mari Wiles, a neighboring minister says it this way. “True Thanksgiving is appreciating that God has, is and will work in our life and our neighbor’s life.” This Thursday, give thanks for hope through God in Christ.

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is the pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.