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MUSINGS:

Lingering Fragrance

Experts At Conferences: Dunces At Crusades

Doing More With Less

The Church Numbers Game

The Last Shall Be First

Jumping Without a Parachute

THE LAST SHALL BE FIRST

According to Matthew chapter 19, when Jesus told His disciples that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it was for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, the disciples were astonished!  They obviously nurtured the false notion that the rich, famous, well-born, well-heeled and the powerful, would have priority seating at the wedding feast of the Lamb of God.  When Peter replied that they had left all to follow Christ and questioned what kind of an inheritance might be reserved for them, Jesus answered:

"I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first."

This last statement does not quite square with our common perception of things. We can't quite envision some prominent radio and TV evangelist who preaches regularly to packed-out auditoriums full of people week after week, with hordes of seekers crowding to the front to be saved, healed, or blessed in some other way, could possibly end up at the back of the multitude "which no man can number" surrounding the Throne of God in Glory.  Nor can we imagine some insignificant believer, who has never caught the eye of any religious journalist, and has never been lauded publicly from any sanctuary platform, could possibly end up with a "first" rating in the eternal kingdom. Along with the disciples we find this as being illogical and somehow, not quite right.

But the longer I live, and the more I observe life, the more I am convinced that what Jesus said is not only absolutely true, but it is just and fair. Many of our high profile friends have already received their reward in terms of public praise and recognition. Those who are commonly regarded as the little, the least, and the last people within the household of faith, but who have served God faithfully and quietly in relative obscurity, have a great eternal day coming, according to Christ's own promise.

No one can identify with any degree of certainty just who these last people are who shall end up being first. It is not our job to do so. However, from time to time we run into people who seem to fit into the category of "the last who shall be first."

When ministering in the 1984 Hong Kong Keswick Convention along with The Right Reverend Sir Marcus Loane, former Archbishop of the Sydney Diocese of the Church of England in Australia, I met two people whom I shall never forget. One was the blind lady, Lucy Ching, and the other was her faithful amah, Ah Wor. Lucy authored the book which records the remarkable story of her life, entitled, One of the Lucky Ones, published by Gulliver Books in Hong Kong. She dedicated the book to her faithful amah, Ah Wor, who had totally buried her own life in the task of caring for Lucy since she was a tiny girl. When I first met Lucy and Ah Wor, Lucy was approaching her upper years and was preparing to move to the United States. Lucy, along with many others who were attending the Keswick meetings, was attending a reception in the home of a wealthy family which provided an opportunity for the speakers to mingle and meet with the people. She was sitting on a sofa while this faithful country woman, her elderly, stooped-over amah, Ah Wor, was standing over by a wall, never taking her eyes off Lucy. She was ever on the alert to make sure Lucy was cared for and free from anything that would harm her. It was her life's mission. Ah Wor was one life totally immersed in the life and welfare of another individual. It is difficult to read this story without tears, but not difficult to understand why Lucy dedicated the book to Ah Wor. I shall not be surprised if I see Ah Wor standing front-and-centre in the Kingdom of God.

And then there was "Aunt Margaret" in Sydney, Australia. This short-statured, elderly, humble woman of God lavished her loving care upon our young people. Whenever our young people stood up to sing in our public services, there was Aunt Margaret standing alongside of them, singing away with no sign of embarrassment over the very obvious age difference. When a rather rough-looking biker happened upon our group and was in need of shelter, Aunt Margaret took him in under her own roof. Her one-eyed husband, Bill, did not object. People who lived on her street were fortunate to have Aunt Margaret as their neighbour. When anyone became ill on her block, they would find Aunt Margaret on his or her doorstep with a hot-cooked dinner in hand. Surely unassuming, humble, caring believers like Aunt Margaret shall be seated on the right hand and the left of the Master in eternity.

It was our honour to meet another choice, unassuming saint in Washington, D.C. Her name was Alma Large. Even though our church had a perfectly capable and faithful caretaker, she would quietly, and without fanfare, enter the church sometime before Sunday services, and make sure everything was in its proper place and dusted, all the way from the pulpit down to the pews and window sills. Nobody asked her to do this and most of our people were unaware of her behind-the-scenes service. Also, if anyone were moving into or out of our area, and in the midst of unpacking or packing up their belongings, or loading up a truck, on cue, Alma would roll up in her car and deliver a bag of prepared food. No one asked her to do this. No one was expecting her, or anyone else, to do this. She just did it, and as quickly and inconspicuously as she arrived, she drove away again, back to her place of employment. She had been a spinster nearly all of her life but in God's time God blessed her with a wonderful husband. She is now with Christ and I have little doubt that she who had served like Martha, is now sitting at His feet like Mary.

Of course, we cannot declare who are among the "first" in the kingdom who had once been regarded as the little, the last, and the least, but I believe we can recognize the spirit which must adorn such people.

Dr. Bill W. Lanpher was the Assistant to the Vice President for Church Ministries at the Nyack headquarters of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. One of his many duties was to keep the statistical records of our work and workers. In February of 1981, Bill received this unforgettable letter, a copy of which I have kept in my files for nearly a quarter of a century.

"February 21, 1981

Dear brother Lanpher:

            Thank you for your gracious letter of Feb. 18.

            Yes, I had noticed my demise from the 1981 Directory. Most of us normal human beings turn to the proper column of any new "this-includes-me" directory, phone book, list of appreciations, etc. to bask slightly in the appearance of that good name. And if we think we are newsworthy, we look on the front page or in the little "also ran" inside squib, but not in the Obituary Column!

            I presumed that there had been a mix-up in ratings and registers. My feelings were not hurt. I had no sleepless nights – I figured that this was normal since I had been left out before! In fact, my brother, I have played "second fiddle" to others in the First Place Will of God a number of times through the years. "Brother So-and-So was called; he declined; Howard was called!" It has been a delightful experience.

            I will join the *"Seventeen Club" and wait for the 1982 Directory. If it isn't there next year…I'll wait for 1983!

            Isn't the Lord wonderful! We glory in His Person and Presence!

                                                Forgivingly yours in Christ,

                                                J. Harold Howard"

(* Editor's note: there must have been 17 names missing in the 1981 Directory, hence the "Seventeen Club.")

If you were the Lord, wouldn't you want someone with such a spirit as this, sitting right next to you at the marriage supper of the Lamb in Glory?

Years ago, while ministering in New Zealand, I had occasion to visit Queenstown on the south island. There is a beautiful park there which features different species of trees brought and planted there from all over the world. Each tree has its own name-plate which gives its name and country of origin. Except for one tree, and it was the grandest tree of all in my eyes. I walked around and around the tree looking for a name plate, but alas, it was anonymous!

I am quite convinced that the grandest saints of all, those who will be first in the eternal kingdom, were among the least acknowledged, the least feted in this life. O what revelations await us on the other side! Even so come, Lord Jesus!