Sunday, November 20, 2016

Men of God: What Will They Say?

OK, I want to begin with a rather morbid thought. When you die, what would you like to have displayed on your tombstone? I know: we are less than a week from Thanksgiving! You are in the mode of considering the things in life for which you are most thankful. The last thing you want to think about this week, of all weeks, is death! But entertain the thought for a moment. Long after you and I have departed this earth, our tombstones will remain. Even after our children and grandchildren are gone, there will be our tombstone, a single stone block with a message about our life, the only clue future generations might have as to who we were in this life. So, the message on your tombstone is REALLY important! And some folks, before they died, knew this to be true. So, they planned ahead! Here are a few real tombstones out there—in case you are looking for any ideas:

Here lies good old Fred. A great big rock fell on his head.

Died … From not forwarding that text message to 10 people.

I made some good deals and I made some bad ones. I really went into the hole with this one.

Here lies Henry Blake. He stepped on the gas instead of the brake.

Joel Dermid: My loss but your gain.

Merv Griffin: I will not be right back after this message.

Rodney Dangerfield: There goes the neighborhood.

There is actually a reason I am starting with tombstone epitaphs. There was a guy who lived a long time ago. His life was so influential, he even made it into the Bible! Imagine making it into the Bible! We are still reading about his life centuries later. But before you get too envious of this guy, let me read to you his tombstone epitaph.
Joram, Ahab’s son, became king of Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat, Judah’s king. He ruled for twelve years. He did what was evil in the Lord’s eyes, but he wasn’t as bad as his father and mother. (II Kings 3:1–2 CEB)
So, here is a guy who lived nearly 3,000 years ago, and this is what we know about him. “He wasn’t as bad as his father and mother.” Well, that is just fantastic! Would anyone choose to have that message blazoned across your tombstone?

We do learn a bit more about Joram in the third chapter of II Kings. We learn, for example, that the apple did not fall far from the tree; he was a lot like his father. If you recall, there is a story in I Kings 22 about his father, Ahab. There was an occasion when Ahab went to war with Aram. But before he went to war, he invited King Jehoshaphat of Judah to join him. At this point, Judah was likely a vassal state of Israel. So, Jehoshaphat didn’t have much choice! Nevertheless, the two of them set out to go to war together against Aram. But before they set out, they decided to consult some prophets. Instead of initially going to the prophet of Yahweh, Ahab suggested they consult his own personal prophets, because they always told him what he wanted to hear. Eventually, at Jehoshaphat’s urging, they also brought in a prophet of Yahweh, who told them not to attack. But, they attacked anyway, and Ahab was killed.

In this story, in II Kings 3, Ahab’s second son, Joram does just about the same thing. He sets out to attack Moab. He invites Jehoshaphat, who is still King of Judah, to join him. Again, they decide to consult prophets. And again, Jehoshaphat suggests they also talk to a prophet of Yahweh. This time, the prophet happens to be Elisha. This is a strange story, really. Two times in this story, in verse 10 and again in verse 13, Joram says:
Has the LORD brought us three kings together only to hand us over to Moab? (II Kings 3:10 CEB)
Ironically, nowhere in the text do we get the impression that Yahweh brought them together to do anything. They build a coalition. They go to war. And as an afterthought, they inquire of Elisha. And Elisha tells them to go to war! But, they are finally defeated! There are many different ways to read this text. But one clue as to what might be happening comes back in I Kings 22, the chapter that tells of the time Ahab did this same thing.
Then Micaiah said, “Listen now to the Lord’s word: I saw the Lord enthroned with all the heavenly forces stationed beside him, at his right and at his left. The Lord said, ‘Who will persuade Ahab so that he attacks Ramoth-gilead and dies there?’ There were many suggestions until one particular spirit approached the Lord and said, ‘I’ll persuade him.’ ‘How?’ the Lord asked. ‘I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets,’ he said. The Lord agreed, ‘You will succeed in persuading him! Go ahead!’ So now, since the Lord has placed a lying spirit in the mouths of every one of these prophets of yours, it is the Lord who has pronounced disaster against you!” (I Kings 22:19–23 CEB)
It could be that Yahweh allowed this coalition to move forward in order to bring judgment on them. We do know this much for certain: God was not pleased with Joram. Whether his final defeat was a result of God’s judgment or not, we know that the best thing anyone could say about Joram was: “He wasn’t as bad as his father or mother.” And that is not exactly a glowing endorsement. But here is the thing about Joram: He WASN’T as bad as his father or mother. In other words, he did some good things. The Bible tells us he actually removed the sacred pillar of Baal that his father had made. This no small feat! Remember, his mother, Jezebel, is still alive. Do you think she approved? Remember how powerful she was? Remember how scared Elijah was of her? It took great courage to do that! He was not as bad as his father or his mother. But as this story shows us, folks, “not as bad” is not really good either.

This story has caused me to really think practically this week. I think our world, even our church, is filled with folks just like Joram. We may do some good things, things that take courage. But at the end of the day, our faith, our courage, our dedication to God is just not that deep. And we can make ourselves feel better with statements like: “Well, I know I’m not perfect …” “But I’m not as bad as …” Church, here is my challenge to you this morning: Don’t settle for being “not as bad as …” Why not try to live a life that earns a better tombstone epitaph?

There are other, better epitaphs in the Bible. The guy who teamed up with Ahab and Joram, Jehoshaphat, the Bible says about him: “He did the right things in the LORD’s eyes.” Now, there is a great legacy! What about David? It is said about him, “He was a man after God’s own heart.” Now, there is a legacy! After John the Baptist died, Jesus said about him: “There has never been a man born of a woman who was as great as John!” Wow, there is a legacy!

Reading this story has caused me to think about my own legacy. I hope I have many more years on this earth. But when I am gone, what will they say about me? What do I want people to remember about me? Again, what would you want written on your tombstone? This week, as I was reading this text, I thought about the legacy of two members of our Glenwood family. I asked Betty Brooks’ family to tell me what they remember about Betty. Connie, Betty’s granddaughter remembers Betty’s “unconditional love for her family.” Connie said Betty had the “good kind of pride,” that sanctified pride in her family. She said Betty was a cheerful, joyful, giving person. And finally, Connie said she will always miss her grandmother’s presence, wisdom, kindness and laughter. Wow, what a tremendous legacy! Betty’s daughter, Betty McKinney, said she will always remember her mom’s patience, hospitality and generosity. And I love the other thing Betty said about her mom: She had a great sense of humor, almost to a fault (it would usually manifest itself in shady ways). Lindsay also commented about Betty’s sense of humor: “Even when Betty’s mind was fading, she could still light up a room with a hilarious joke!” Ike might have summed Betty’s life up best: “The legacy she leaves can be seen in her two daughters, grandchildren, and their far-reaching Christian influences that will continue forever.”

How is that for a tombstone epitaph? I’d take it!

I also asked Joe Moore’s family to tell me what they remember about Joe. Scot, Joe’s son, said he will always remember his dad’s unselfish giving! Can you think of a more admirable quality in our stingy, entitled world? What a tremendous testimony about Joe! Anita, Joe’s daughter-in-law, said she will always remember Joe baptizing their two sons, Chance and Charlie. Wow, what a tremendous memory! Wouldn’t you love for that to be this world’s lasting image of you? Standing in the water, welcoming someone else into the family of God? I also asked Damaris to tell me about Joe:
He told me several weeks before he died that when I wrote his obituary, I should not make him anything he was not! In my book I think this says volumes about him. Joe was real. He really liked people for who they really were and did many, many good and generous things for others but NEVER wanted to put himself in the spotlight. If he gave his word, he never wavered. He always gave credit for his blessings to “Skychief” as he called God and he loved me deeply. He always put me at the top of the heap, regardless. He was nowhere near perfect, but my did he ever honor his commitment to me and the boys. I could go on and on and on and on. But I guess you can pretty much tell he was a true man, and I respected and loved him for his genuineness.
What will they say about you when you are gone?

In his book, Thinking for a Change, John Maxwell writes:
If you are successful, it becomes possible for you to leave an inheritance for others. But if you desire to create a legacy, then you need to leave something in others. When you think unselfishly and invest in others, you gain the opportunity to create a legacy that will outlive you.
The best thing God could say about King Joram was: “He wasn’t as bad as his father or his mother.” That’s not much of a legacy. I pray your legacy will be different. I pray you will follow in the footsteps of Jehoshaphat and David and John the Baptist and Betty Brooks and Joe Moore and countless others. And maybe a good way to start is by taking Maxwell’s advice: Invest in others! Start with your spouse and your children. Don’t just tell them what you hope to leave behind, live it. And because we live as God calls us to live, may our legacies further the mission of God long after we have joined those who have gone before us.

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