James Merritt - Eternal Echo
What we do in life echoes in eternity. I believe that is absolutely true. Say, "Why do you believe that"? 'Cause every one of us have living inside of us a soul. The body dies; the soul doesn't. The soul is eternal and I believe every eternal soul can make an eternal impact. I really do believe that what we do in life echoes in eternity. As a matter of fact, somebody else put it this way. Our fingerprints don't fade from the lives that we have touched. They really don't. I absolutely believe that's true. I want my life to speak long after I'm gone. If that's the desire of your heart, Paul says there are three simple things you can do every day of your life. You can. And I guarantee you, you will leave an eternal echo. We're going to see what those three things are very quickly.
Number one, serve God's people. If you want to leave an eternal echo, if you want your life to count, serve God's people. "Now," we're in Acts 20:17, "Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them, You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time, from the first day that I set foot in Asia". Paul gathers these leaders together in Ephesus and he says, "Look, I was with you three years. My life was an open book. I was very transparent. I ate with you. I slept with you. I worked with you. I fished with you. I taught the Bible to you. I led many of you to Christ. I baptized many of you. I wept with you. I laughed with you. We went through many things together. You know the kind of life that I lived".
And then, he kind of sums up his entire ministry in one sentence. He says this in verse 19; he said, "I was with you, serving the Lord with all humility, and with tears, with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews". Paul said, "You know what I did for three years. I spent three years serving God. I spend three years serving you. I spent three years serving the church. I made my service of God a priority and the primary thing in my life". And so I just want to just kind of add, it's kind of, not really an afterthought, but just a reminder God did not put us here to be served. God put us here to serve. As a matter of fact, the only person that ever came through this life and deserved to be served was Jesus. And yet, Jesus even said this about Himself; He said, "For even the Son of man", why did He say even? He says, "Look, I realize I deserve to be served. If anybody should have said, 'Hey, you serve Me,' it was Me". But He said, "Look, even I did not come to be served. I came to serve".
You see, we're never more like Jesus than when we are serving somebody. That's why if you want to be a partner with us in our church, one of the things we tell you when you sign up, we say, "Look, if you're going to be a part of our church, you've got to find a place to serve". You've got to discover what your spiritual gift is. You've got to get it on your passion. You've got to go to a place of need. You can't just sit on the sidelines. You've got to get into the game. We want you to serve because we want you to live a life that will be remembered. We want you to have an eternal echo. That's why every morning when we get out of our beds, the first thing we ought to say is, "Lord, I'm here to report for duty. You bring somebody into my life today that I can serve, you bring a need into my life that I can meet, I will serve that person. I will meet that need".
Now, let me tell you why that's so important. I read about this guy the other day, I just want to see if you recognize his name; his name is Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq. 'Kay? How many of you know exactly who that is? Oh, come on. Nobody? I didn't either. And it's amazing that we've never heard of him. Say, "Well, why"? Well, he lived about 700 years ago and he holds the Guinness World Book of Records for having more slaves in his court than any other ruler in history; not just in his country, in his court. Every day, 24/7, 70,000 people were required to report to work. He had 70,000 people in his court. He could call on any one of them at any time to do anything and they had to do it. And yet, nobody's ever heard of the guy. In fact, any mother that would name a guy like this has problems. Okay? But think about it. You won't be remembered for how many people served you. You will be remembered for how many people you served.
Serving's a big deal. Serving is so important. As a matter of fact, Paul even put this in stronger, much, much stronger language when he says, "I serve the Lord". The words that he used in the Greek language is the word to be enslaved to. Now, there may be some people that said, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. I don't want to be a slave to anybody". Can I just say this to you? Being a slave to Jesus is not a negative thing. Now, let me tell you why I know that. When you get to know the Jesus that I know, you don't have to be a slave to Him, you want to be a slave to Him. There is no master like Jesus. There is nobody to serve like Jesus. And so, if we want to live with an eternal echo, we need to remember we are a slave to one and a servant to all. Every day I get up, I'm a slave to Jesus and I'm a servant to everybody else.
Now, here's the problem. I haven't told you anything you haven't heard. You know, we talk about this quite a bit in our church and I know many of you, "Okay, I know, Pastor. I'm supposed to serve. I've got to get all... You say it every Sunday, 'Get out of the sidelines, get off the bench, get into the game.'" Then the question is why is it so hard to get people to serve? Why are people so reluctant to do that? Well, Paul gives two reason and he's right. There are basically two reasons why people won't serve like they ought to. Number one, some people are too proud to serve. Listen to what Paul said. He said, "I serve the Lord with great humility".
You have to humble yourself to serve. And I'm just being honest. There are certain jobs in the church that some people think they're just too good to do. I've heard people say this. I'm not going to call any names, but I've heard people say this. I've heard people literally say, "Look, I have changed my share of dirty diapers as a parent. Don't ask me to serve in the nursery. I ain't doing that no more". Or, people don't say this, but here's what they think, "I'm not going to sweat my rear end off out there in that parking lot, parking cars in July; and I'm not going to freeze my rear end off out there in December". "I run a company". "I'm an attorney". "I'm a doctor". "I'm this". "I'm that". "That is beneath me". Paul said, "You know, there are people like that". I just want to say this, if Jesus was willing to wash dirty feet, and if Jesus was willing to die on a dirty cross, who are we to say we're too good to do anything for God's people? Who are we to say we're too good for any job that the church might have?
I remember, I was in India about, this has been about 14 years ago. I was in India with Steve and Ruth Noland. They were missionaries back in India. And we were in Calcutta and one of the places I wanted to see was Mother Teresa's place, where she served, the Missionaries of Charity's house. And so Steve kind of warned me about, you know, what I was getting into, and so we drove up there and we got out of the car. And I never will forget it. I was probably as far as from here to this platform here to this pulpit, if you want to call it that. I was not that far from the door and you could already smell the stench of disease and death and sickness. I mean, it was almost nauseating.
And I remember a story that I read at one time about Mother Teresa. There was a newspaper reporter that came over from New York to interview her, to see what she did. And he was shooting her as she was working on this leprosy patient. There was a leprosy patient there and the leprosy had totally eaten this man's nose totally away and all there was, was just a big gaping hole there with pus and infection and it was just, he said as he knelt down to get a close-up picture, the stench of that was so overpowering he almost literally threw up right there on the scene. He said it was terrible. He said when the shoot was over and they kind of got away, he said he looked at Mother Teresa and he said, "Mother Teresa, I wouldn't do what you do for all the money in the world". And she looked at him and said, "Neither do I". But everybody knows who Mother Teresa is. And 100 years from now, people will know who Mother Teresa is. You know why? She served God's people. She understood what it was to be a servant.
Some people are too proud to do it. Some people are too scared to serve, because Paul went on to say this; he said, "Look, I serve the Lord with tears in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents". Paul said, "Look, I knew if I get out and served God's people and I told the truth about what God had to say and I knew and I did what God told me to do, I'd have people who tried to kill me, I'd have people that want to beat me up, I'd have people want to throw me in jail". Now, here's the good news. We don't have to worry about that. We don't have to worry about being persecuted or being murdered or being hurt. But I'll tell you what scares us about serving.
Now, wait a minute. If I serve, that'll cost me some time. And if I serve, that'll cost me some effort. And if I serve, that may cause me some discomfort because if I serve, I may have to get my feet dirty. I may have to get my hands dirty. Well, let me let you in on a dirty little secret. You're exactly right. If you're going to serve Jesus, it's going to cost you time, it's going to cost you effort, it may take you out of your comfort zone, and you may have to get your feet dirty. So I'm just not going to, I'm not going to sit up here and sugarcoat anything. It costs to serve Jesus, but it pays to serve Jesus. And I'll tell you what I've learned. It pays to serve Jesus a whole lot more than it costs to serve Jesus, 'cause if I've learned anything about serving Jesus, I've learned this, the reward of serving Jesus is infinitely greater than the cost of serving Jesus.
The reward of serving Jesus is infinitely greater than the cost. We get a lot more back in serving Jesus than we give up in serving Jesus. So I just want to kind of encourage all of us this morning. If you're here and you're not serving somewhere, start serving. Just find a place. If you don't know where to serve, come see me. I'll give you a job before this day is over. And if you are serving, don't ever quit. Die serving. As long as your health will let you, never quit looking for a place to serve. Never quit looking for people to serve, because when you serve God's people, you will leave an eternal echo. That's one thing you can do every day.
Here's another thing, number two, speak God's truth. Speak God's truth. Paul wanted to be remembered not just for how he served, but what he said. So he says this to them in verse 20. He said, "You remember how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable and teaching you in public and from house to house"? Paul said, "You remember? I was never afraid to speak up for the truth. I was never afraid to stand up for the truth". Yeah, truth sometimes may be hurtful, but I'll tell you I've learned this, if you'll speak the truth at the right time, in the right way, to the right person, it's always helpful. And whenever you speak, you should speak God's truth. Paul said, "Look, I did it publicly, I did it privately. If I was in Athens, I spoke the truth. If I was on Mars Hill speaking to professors and philosophers, I spoke the truth. If I was in a little bitty house with a small group, I spoke the truth".
Same way we do it here. We speak the truth publicly every Sunday, right here. And then we gather together in homes and classes and other places and we speak the truth privately. That's what we do. We speak and share God's truth. And then, Paul gets really specific. He said, "Let me just", he said, "I've talked generally. Let me get real specific". He said, "I was always testifying, both to Jews and the Greeks, of repentance," don't hear that a lot, "of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ". Paul said, "Look, I share the same truth with everybody. I don't play favorites. Nobody gets a free pass. I don't worry about political correctness. I don't care if you're a Jew or you're a Gentile. I don't care if you're a conservative or a liberal. I don't care if you're a moralist or an atheist. There are no favorites. There are no exceptions when I tell you I'm going to tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
I'm not going to pick or choose certain truths about God or about sin or about salvation. I'm going to tell you the truth about what God says about how you can have a relationship with Him". And then, he goes on to say in verse 27, "I didn't shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God". Now, let me just kind of stop, just parenthetically, and say this; particularly if you're a guest of ours this morning, you need to hear what I'm about to say. This is important for you. One of the things that should always distinguish our church is we're going to preach the whole will of God. We're going to preach the whole counsel of God. If the Bible addresses and issue, we're not going to be afraid to address it. If the Bible talks about something, we're not going to be afraid to talk about it. We're going to say what the Bible says about it and we'll just kind of let the chips fall where they may. So if the Bible speaks to it, we'll speak to it.
Now let me tell you what I just said to you. That means we're not for everybody. The Bible's very plain, that one day we're all going to stand and give God an account for every meaningful word that we said. And not only are we going to give an account for every meaningful word that we said, we're going to give an account for every word that we should have said but didn't. We're going to give an account for every truth that we should have preached but we didn't because we were too politically correct, because we were afraid if we did somebody might walk out, because we were afraid that if we did we might not attract certain people that we're trying to attract.
Now, let me just say this. I want to make this very plain. I think you've come long enough to know I don't go out of my way to offend anybody. I don't try to use inflammatory language. I don't go out of my way to pick on anybody. Okay? I really don't try to do that. At the same time, the cold hard truth is not every truth that we're going to preach is going to be popular. It's just not. And it may not always be productive, at least for what we would like to see, but I have one obligation up here, just one, and not just to you but to God. I have to be true to God's truth. I have to be true to what God says. Look, I'm not in management; I'm in sales. I'm just the messenger boy. That's all I am. And one of these truths that the Bible very clearly teaches is if you want to know God, it doesn't matter whether you're a Baptist, Methodist, Buddhist, Hindu, Republican, Democrat. It's irrelevant.
If you want to know God and you want to have a personal relationship with God, you must repent of your sin and you must put your faith in Jesus Christ alone, period. End of discussion. It's not up for debate. It's not up for discussion. That's what God's word says. And I'm going to be honest. I face a temptation every other pastor in this country faces right now. I do. I have to battle it. Shy away from the controversial parts of the Bible. Just preach the parts of the Bible that are easy to swallow, popular, make you feel good. Sanitize the sermon. Massage the message. Avoid the cross. Let's talk about the love of God; let's don't talk about the holiness of God. Talk about heaven; let's don't talk about hell. Let's talk about forgiveness; let's don't talk about repentance. Let's talk about grace; let's don't talk about judgment.
Years ago, there was a big news story, you may or may not remember it, about a man named Rodney Courtney. If you don't let me just refresh your memory. Rodney Courtney is in prison. He was convicted of diluting the medication of cancer patients in order to make a bigger prophet. Over a period of nine years, he diluted an estimated 90,000 prescriptions of medications that affected over 4,000 patients and 17 patients died of cancer that should not have died because they took a diluted form of chemotherapy and it killed them. And he was in prison for 30 years because he diluted life-saving medication to the point it couldn't help anybody.
There's a lot of things I ought to be guilty of and there's a lot of faults I have. I am not going to dilute God's truth for anybody, anytime, anywhere. I'm not trying to sound arrogant. I'm not trying to be mean. I don't mean it that way at all, because listen, it is one thing to dilute medication, that's one thing; it's an entirely different thing to dilute God's truth. And if we want to leave an eternal echo, we've got to speak God's truth and stand for God's truth. We've got people that come here; they knew, some of these probably know who I'm talking to right now. We don't agree on certain things. We don't agree on certain lifestyles. We don't agree on certain teachings. We don't agree on certain things the Bible says. But they come here.
You know why they come here? I've had conversations, 'cause they know two things: I love them and they know I love them; and number two, they're going to hear the truth. They don't have to agree with it, they don't have to like it, they're going to hear the truth, 'cause one of these days, I'm going to have to stand before God and I don't think if I stand before God and God says, "Well, why did you dilute that? Why didn't you touch that? Why didn't you say that"? I don't think political correctness is going to win the day. I just don't think that's going to happen. Okay?
So if we want to leave an eternal echo, we've got to serve God's people, we've got to speak God's truth; here's the last thing. We're done. We've got to share God's grace. Now, I want you to listen to this. If you'll just stay with me just a couple more minutes, I'm going to share with you one of the most amazing things I've ever heard anybody say about themselves anywhere, not just in the Bible, but all my life. This is unbelievable. Paul knows the road he's about to take is not going to be easy. There are going to be speed bumps, there's going to be potholes. As a matter of fact, he already knows, and this is why they're so sad, he already knows, "Look, I'm about to leave you and I'm probably going to go to one of two places, either the prison or the grave. They're going to put me in jail or they're going to kill me".
You say, "Well, how did Paul know that"? Because, listen to how he found this out. "And now, behold, I'm going to Jerusalem, constrained by the spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me". Now, I know you know this. If the Spirit tells you something and you know it's the Spirit of God, take it to the bank. So Paul says, "Okay, this is what's going to happen to me". You go, "Okay, so why didn't Paul say, 'Man, I've got a headache. Oh, I just remembered I've got to be down at the mall tomorrow.'" Paul said, "No, I'm going". How in the world could he do that? Look, you better listen to this. This is going to be one of the most amazing things you're ever going to hear anybody say in your life.
Listen to what Paul said. "I do not account my life of any value, nor as precious to myself". He said, "The one thing most people live for, the one thing that people most think is most important, my life, me, make sure you survive, everybody else may die but make sure you get to the bomb shelter. Make sure nothing happens to you. Make sure you live as long as you can". Paul says, "That's not my attitude. I don't account my life of any value nor as precious to myself if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I receive from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God".
Now, listen to this. This is unbelievable. Paul said, "I've got the right perspective on my life". Most of you don't, but Paul said, "I've got it". Paul said, "I want you to do something". By the way, one of the reasons I love that phrase, when he says, "I do not account my life," that is an accounting term. I'm an accountant. I majored in accounting. That's an accounting term. Here's what Paul said. Paul said, "Let me tell you what I did and I want you to try the same thing". He said, "Get a ledger out and on one side of the ledger, right down the word life, and everything this life has to offer, everything this life has to give, write that down on one side of the ledger". He said, "Then on the other side of the ledger, write down the word Jesus and write down the word work and ministry". And He said, "Here's what you'll find". He said, "You'll find, if you put life on one side and you put Jesus on the other side, you'll find nothing on this side and everything on this side".
It's unbelievable. He says, "You know what I discovered? Life has no value, none. It means nothing if you don't know Jesus. And if you don't love Jesus and if you don't serve Jesus and you don't obey Jesus and you don't worship Jesus and you don't share Jesus, your life means nothing". I don't care how high of a ladder you get up, I don't care how big the house you built, I don't care how nice the car you drive, I don't care how wonderful the clothes you wear, your life means nothing if Jesus is not on that side of the ledger. So all I care about, my life means nothing. In other words, here's what he said. Anything without Jesus is worth nothing, but Jesus without anything is worth everything. That says it all to me.
He said, "Look, I've just got one aim in my life. I've only got one goal. I want to run the race that God's put me and I want to finish the work God's given me to do, even if that means it costs me my life, because", listen, Paul said, "What makes life worth living is not the living; it's what you're living for". And Paul said, "Listen, I want to finish the race I've been given to run, complete the tasks I've been given to do". And by the way, let me just say this. I just want to wrap this all up. You say, "Well, that was good for Paul". Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no. It wasn't just good for Paul. If you're a follower of Jesus Christ, listen up, we all have, we've all been given the same task. You say, "Well, what is that task"? Here it is: to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
Now, listen. I'm going to wrap this up. Listen. We're all called to different vocations. Okay? I get that. I was called to be a pastor. 'Kay? We were all called to different vocations, but we're all been called to the same work. We've all been called to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. We've all been saved by grace. We're all to serve by grace, and we are to share God's grace. And I'm telling you, nothing in this life will ever leave a greater, longer lasting, more eternal impact than when you take the grace of God that you've experienced and you share it with someone who has not experienced it because when they do experience it, their life will never be the same. And the reason why their life will never be the same is because they will be eternally changed. And for the first time in their life, they now have a soul that can make an eternal impact.
So, the amazing thing is that Paul says there's one thing more important that life itself. And I'm going to say it again. What makes life worth living is not just living, but what you are living for. What makes life worth living is knowing that I've given my life to a cause that is greater than I am. I've given my life to a cause that is so great it will last forever and ever and ever. And this is what blows my mind. This is what just, I can't get over it.
Paul said, now listen to this, Paul said, "I would rather go to my grave today testifying to the gospel of the grace of God than to live another 100 years and keep my mouth shut". And no wonder, the guy's been dead 2,000 years and we're still talking about him. No wonder. The guy hadn't written a word in 2,000 years and we're still reading it. So if you're like me and you would say, "Yeah, I want my life to make an eternal difference". Yeah, I do. And every day, God gives you the chance, you serve God's people. And every chance you get to opportunity, you speak God's truth. And every chance you get the opportunity, you share God's grace and you, your life will sound an eternal echo. Join James and Teresa Merritt