Paul’s Last Requests​

Paul’s Last Requests—October 27, 2019—DBC—Dr. Denny
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Introduction:  Paul Gussman was dying.  He had a good life.  He was a famous tv announcer and writer.  He wrote the pilot episode of Days of Our Lives among other shows.  As he became ill, he said he wanted his last words to be memorable. In his final moments, his daughter reminded him of this and he gently removed his oxygen mask and whispered, “And now a word from our sponsors.” 

Background to Text:  And as we move to our Scripture today, I can almost hear Paul’s last words, “and now a word from my Sponsor.”
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2 Timothy 4 is perhaps the most intimate glimpse we will ever have of the great old apostle.  There should be a veil over this passage.  It’s so private as death always is.  In our last moments, we don’t people peeking through the door whispering.  It’s a time for the last and final thoughts before the curtain falls.  And yet Paul manages from his death bed to put it all in this personal letter.  And so this morning we will all step into his hospital room and watch the great man die.  We listen to his final requests and learn from a saint how it all works.

  1. Come to Me Soon—(2 Tim 4:9). “Make every effort to come to me soon.”

If you listen closely and hold your ear next to the letter, you can hear the sound of people leaving. And the sad truth is that Paul died alone.  It’s a somber note to sound after the symphony has ended that was his life.

First Demas left him.(v10)–  So tragic.  We don’t know a lot about Demas but we know this:  he deserted his friend, mentor, and guide in his last days.  “For Demas, having loved this present world has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.”  No farewells.  No thank you’s.  No warm handshake or tears of sorrow for the suffering apostle.  Nothing but a swift exit from the stage.  Demas deserted me.

But more left.  Crescens slipped away to Galatia—Titus went to Dalmatia—Tychicus sailed off to Ephesus.  Some of these went on Paul’s command; others just left.

It’s a sad thing to die alone and the apostle was almost alone in his last hours.  Only Luke remained.

*A health care aid in a geriatric ward told this true story.  He said that as he made his rounds, he noticed a woman so frail and old that she looked dead.  But when he stepped to her bedside she suddenly motioned to him.  The aid came and put his ear next to her mouth and heard her sigh these final words.  “I just wanted to say ‘good-bye’ to someone.”  She died a few days later.

Can you hear Paul’s last request?  It is much the same as the old dying woman.  Paul with a weakened voice says, “Make every effort to come to me soon.”

  1. Bring my Cloak (2Tim 4:13)—Paul’s second final request was a simple one: “Bring the cloak which I left at Troas…”.

On September 19, 1952, a much-beloved character was born.  You all know him.  He lives even to this day.  His birth was most unusual.  An artist named Charles Schulz picked up his pen one morning and made a few bold strokes in his sketchbook.  And before long he had a little boy sitting with an innocent expression sucking his thumb and holding very closely a blue blanket.  When Schulz was asked about him he said, “Linus, my serious side, is the house intellectual, bright, well-informed which, I suppose may contribute to his feelings of insecurity.”  One time when Lucy snatched his blanket away and buried it Linus nearly had a breakdown.  He dug up the neighborhood for days trying to find it until Snoopy finally dug it up.

We get attached to things and in a similar ways, Paul was attached to his cloak.  He didn’t want to leave it at Troas, but the weather was hot then and the cloak was heavy.  So he left it with Carpus, a dear friend and told him to guard it with his life.  But now that winter is coming and Paul is alone and dying in a cold Roman cell, he wants it.  It’s one of his final requests.

Why the cloak?  Perhaps it brought back fond memories of his journeys to the church’s over all those years of endless traveling.  Over many years and three separate long missionary journeys, Paul had the cloak. He wore it when men and women fell on their knees trusting Christ as their savior and he wore it at banquets and long road trips between towns.  It was a link to his accomplishments. He wanted it back now.  He was cold and he needed warm memories. 

  1. Bring the Parchments– τὰς μεμβράνας  (2 Tim 4:13)—The Greek word is membranos (our word for membrane.  These are documents made from leather skins.  Paul found great comfort in his book and parchments.  But why these parchments?  Perhaps they were some personal letters he had not finished writing yet or maybe they were some of the letters to the churches that he wanted to read over again.

*Do you have any old letters or cards someone in a shoebox that you have kept all these days?  When you take them out and see the handwriting, It is easy to imagine the handwriting them as if it just happened.

*I found such a letter from my mother recently.  I had written her a poem about August many long years ago.  And then I forgot about it.  But one day I received a letter from my mother.  She was an artist and she had painted all over around the lines of the poem, pretty leaves falling from trees.  It brings it all back.

Paul said, “Bring me my letters, bring me the parchments. 

Conclusion:

Paul’s final request is unspoken.  He utters it silently to the Lord.  Just before he died he turned his face toward heaven and with the greatest anticipation whispered, And bring me the crown of righteousness

Waiting for the Whirlwind

Waiting for the Whirlwind.2 Kings 2: 11-14–June 30, 2019—DBC. Dr. Denny

Introduction:  I’m going to start with a question and I don’t want you to stretch the truth (like fish stories—I caught one this. Big).   Just be honest.  Ready?  How long did it take you to run your last marathon?  The fastest marathon was set in 2018 at 2 hours, 1 min and 39 seconds by a Kenyan.  The slowest marathon was set in 2003 by Lloyd Scott who took 6 days, 30 min and 56 seconds. (He was wearing a 130 lb. deep-sea diving suit and he said he got food poising and so he had to keep stopping to go the bathroom and it took him forever to get out the suit etc.).
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Background and commentary:  This morning we will follow Elijah who walks a marathon to his whirlwind departure from this world.  The distance he travels from Gilgal to the Jordan River is about 26 miles so I wanted to put it into perspective so you could understand how this amazing story unfolded.  This is a tale of life and death and since we all only have so many years and days allotted to us by God we want to make the most of the days we have.  But make no mistake:  we will all do what Elijah did on this last day of his life.  We will walk one day to the very edge of life and then we will be gone, swept up in a final exit to eternity. 

  1. Gilgal to Bethel—8 miles. Elijah lived such an incredible life.  He was a man of enormous spiritual power.  He had command of nature like Jesus did.     *Once after years of famine, he stood on the edge of Mt Carmel that looked out over the Mediterranean sea and called for rain.  He bowed his face to the ground between his knees and prayed for rain.  After each prayer, he sent his servant to the edge of the cliff to peer out over the sea scanning the horizon for a cloud.  7 times Elijah bowed and prayed and on the seventh time the servant reported back.  “I see a cloud, so tiny, so distant, like a small hand.”  Run for your life shouted Elijah and before they knew it the clouds were black and torrent fell from the heavens.  Elijah sprinted the 17 miles back to safety in Jezreel.

But in our story today God has whispered an electrifying statement into his ear—“Elijah.  Today is your final day.”  Just as He will whisper to you one day. When Elijah hears this private message from the Lord, he sets in motion his final activities.  He calls Elisha his prophet in training and asks him politely to remain while he travels to Bethel about 8 miles southeast.  It is as I see it an act of profound kindness to the younger prophet.  He doesn’t want to alarm him or frighten him by telling him that today he will die.  He simply asks to remain at Gilgal while he makes a quick trip to town.  It is difficult to watch a loved one fade away and often little is said in the last hours. Elijah too feels a sense of solitude and silence and he wants to walk alone.  But Elisha will have none of it.  He won’t leave the prophet’s side who makes no objection to the young man following him.

When Elijah arrives at Bethel the school of prophets in the town run out to see him for somehow they know what is about to happen.  They don’t approach the venerable Elijah for his a man you don’t confront without permission.  Instead, they run to Elisha with their chatter and speculation.  But Elisha refuses to entertain them.    It is a solemn day and he won’t have it disturbed by gossiping students.  “Quiet!” he shouts to them.  “Hush!” says the Hebrew text.

  1. Bethel to Jericho—Our final day is often a journey revealed only in moments. Elijah stood in Bethel awaiting direction.  Then God says to him:  “Go down to Jericho.”12 miles down the mountain—a descent of nearly 3000 feet to the Jordan valley.  But once again he urges Elisha to remain behind.  Again the young man refuses and shares the journey with the dying man.  *So many times I have been the young man walking to the brink with an older person. So many times I have been by the bedside or said a final prayer not long before the whirlwind came and took them away.  It is a sacred time and Elisha wanted to share it and Elijah was happy for the company.  And once again when they arrived at the town of Jericho flocks of religious students rushed to see the prophet chattering and squawking.  Elisha told them to “Hush!”  It is a quiet time.  Be silent.”  And so once again Elijah waited for God to guide him on for even a journey’s end is often unclear. We don’t know if we will leave in the morning or at noon or in the long night’s reverie.  But then as always, God whispers the words we need.  He is there with us on in our last hours and He shows us the way.
  2. Jericho to Jordan–And so he says to Elijah, go down to the Jordan. And Elijah one last time tried to spare the young prophet of the sorrow of the final departure.  But Elisha says no.  I will not leave you.  And so the final 6 miles down to the Jordan commences.  The two prophets walk alone until their feet wriggle in the river’s edge. Off to the right in the distance, they see Mt. Nebo where Moses stood and glanced longingly oat the promised land and then died, forbidden to cross over.  They remembered that it was at this very place the Ark of the Covenant had parted the river as the Israelites crossed into the Promised land led by Joshua. But now the journey takes them back across into Gilead where Elijah was born.  He is going home.  He knows the mountains in the distance and he remembers the history of this very place.

Then, in an explosive moment in time, Elijah took off his mantle and struck the river which shuddered at the command and split apart instantly.  The two men walked across the dry river bed as their ancestors had done.  And then Elijah turns to Elisha and makes a profound statement.  “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.”  This profound moment brimming with intimate generosity displays for us the heart of the old prophet.  Such love and kindness he offers to the young man.  Ask me for something.  Anything. And it shall be yours., he said to him.   What would you ask for in such a rarified hour?  Elisha doesn’t hesitate for a second.  His request comes from a heart of gold who only intent is to honor the prophet and God.  “I want to like you, he says.  Just give me a double portion of your spirit.”  And the old man was shocked but pleased.  “If God wills it when I am gone it will be so.

  1. The Whirlwind—Suddenly as they were considering the request, walking casually along away from the Jordan, a chariot of fire pulled by a team of fiery horses separates the two men. Elisha falls back enraptured at the sight before him.  The great whirlwind spins the chariot of fire heavenward and within seconds it is gone and Elisha is left behind hearing only the sounds of the desert wind blowing softly against the mantle that lay at his feet.

Conclusion:  One day your whirlwind will come for you.  Will you be ready?  Will your final day be filled with kindness, generosity, happy remembrances?  This can only be so if you have faith in Christ who died for you on the cross.  Don’t let your whirlwind catch you by surprise. Make your peace with God now.

Lucky Penny

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The claw marks on the front porch said it all–Owl.

And Penny was missing. She’s an indoor cat and hates to get her paws dirty. Each morning brings a feline routine that begins in front of her mirror grooming, getting the whiskers just right, fluffing up the hair on her elegant tail, etc. Toss her outside, and she’ll hate you for life.

But Penny was missing, and the ominous owl talon marks stretched from the door to the front steps. Off an on all night long we called from the porch our hands clenching the railing, our eyes searching the dark yard for any sign of movement. Our somber pleas blended with the distant voices of pond frogs and crickets who hadn’t seen her.

I tried consoling my wife while standing on top of the claw marks so she wouldn’t see the traces of nature’s cruelty. “Something has happened to her,” she wailed. Unable to summon a wise Greek proverb relevant to this emergency, I merely shrugged. “She’ll be fine. She’s just exploring.” Even I didn’t believe that.

After a fitful night of difficult sleep, I woke early and stepped outside. No Penny. The claw marks were fresh and deep. I pieced the crime together in my mind. The owl had studied her patterns of peering through the screen door. He had timed Penny’s brief dalliances with the outside world, her ever so short and tentative excursions a few paces from the door onto the porch.

He had watched, veiled behind pinecones and hunger, lurking. And as Penny played with a cricket just beyond the safety of the den door he struck, his threatening talons striking the jugular and dragging her across the rough boards into the upper branches of the marsh pines.

Just as I was preparing myself to call the undertaker, I saw a little paw flicker in the tall grass. And then came whiskers, a smirk, and a sarcastic trot past me into the house. I stood stunned.

I thought of asking her what happened, and fleshing out the power of needless fear, but she was in no mood for light chatter.

David R. Denny