The Stresses of Church Work
Reflections on Midlife

My Farewell Address: The Meaning of Life

What does one say in a farewell address?

In biblical times, we have a record of parting words from people such as Jacob (Genesis 49:1-33), Joseph (Genesis 50:24-26), Moses (Deuteronomy 31:1 - 32:47), Joshua (Joshua 24:22-28), David (1Chronicles 29:10-20), Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20 and John 13-17) and Paul (Acts 20:18-25).

In modern times, we can consider the farewell speeches of kings, presidents and prime ministers, as well as sports personalities, actors and entertainers. Whether it's Michael Scott saying 'goodbye' on the TV series The Office, Truman exiting The Truman Show (“In case I don't see you, good afternoon, good evening and good night!”) or Bilbo Baggins's speech in Lord of the Rings at his 111th birthday party ("I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve!"), we all seek to say something meaningful in significant moments such as this.

I am 55 years of age and I see and feel things very differently than when I was younger. Life goes way too fast, kids grow up far too quickly, and as a result you start to ask questions about what it all means and what really matters. 

People have grappled with the question of the meaning of life since time began - whether it be Solomon, the ancient philosophers, or Victor Frankl and his associates in a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust wondering what they would live for ... if they survived. 

For me, there are three pursuits worth giving my life for:

1. Love God.

CSEach human being is born with longings and cravings for something or Someone beyond themsevles - for transcendence. C.S. Lewis once said,  “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

God is personal and if we seek him with all our heart we will find him. I first heard God speaking to me when I was 19 years of age as I meditated on the story of a young boy named Samuel in 1 Samuel chapter 3 of the Old Testament. It's one thing to know about God or even to study God but it is another thing to have a relationship with him. Some people find God within the walls of a church. Others find him outside of the halls of religion. After all, the whole world is a Temple where God dwells. We are each invited into the life of God who is Trinity - Father, Son and Spirit. Some days God is silent .... but God is always there. 

Jesus himself said that the most important commandment was to " love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind" (Matthew 22:37-38).

2. Love People.

Jesus went on to say, "A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:39-40). Jesus summarised over 600 Jewish laws into two simple practices: love God and love people. 

Elsewhere, Jesus gave us some good advice as to how to truly love people:

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12. NLT

We call it the Golden Rule: think about how you want to be treated, then grab the initiative and treat people that way, especially those who are different than you. If you are white, what would it like to be black? If you are straight, what would it be like to be gay? If you are an Australian citizen, what would it be like to be a refugee? If you are a Christian, what would it be like for a Muslim or a Hindu to move into the neighborhood? If you are healthy, what would life be like in a wheel chair? 

Sadly, in many parts of our world, Christianity has degenerated into primarily a ‘system of beliefs’ rather than a ‘way of life’ characterised by love. Jesus did not say, “The world will know that you are my disciples by your statement of faith”. In fact, the Bible isn't a theology book… it is a grand redemptive narrative - a love story of God at work in our world throughout history. People write theology - some of it is good and some of it isn't (because it doesn’t reflect God accurately). Even our creeds are inadequate. The famous Apostle’s Creed, often used as the marker of orthodox Christianity, doesn't even mention love or justice, two topics Jesus constantly talked about. It also has no reference to mission, something Jesus was passioante about in his farewell address (Matthew 28:18-20)!

So let's hold our beliefs, statements of faith, and creeds lightly. Don’t be too quick to push people away who see or believe differently. Try saying something like, “Help me understand.” But let's hold love very firmly. It is the mark of a true follower of Jesus.

3. Serve the World.

BoothIt is said that the Founder of The Salvation Army, General William Booth, once sent a telegram to officers around the world to remind them of the main focus of their work. The telegram contained only one word - "others." That single word captured the foundation for the entire organisation.

In the same way, God desires each one of us to discover, develop and deploy our gifts and talents for the benefit of others. The apostle Peter put it this way:

1 Peter 4:10. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. NLT

Life is not about YOU. Don’t end your life only to look back and find it was a SELFIE video!

When we look at all of the problems in the world today, it is easy to ask why God doesn't do something. But the prophet Isaiah tells us that God is actually waiting for us to act!

Isaiah 59:16. "God was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed." NLT

As they say in chess, “It’s your move!”

Chess

P.S. You can watch the video of the entire farewell service at CityLife here. My message starts just after the 59:50 minute mark.

See also Time to Say Goodbye

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