James Merritt - What Difference Do I Make?
There are some questions that we all have to answer eventually that are going to determine the very significance of our lives. For example, is it more important that I make money or that I make a difference? Is it more important that I make a living or that I make a life? Is it more important that I get what I want or give others what they need? In other words, you're gonna find yourself from time to time, if you take life seriously at all. And oh, by the way, you're gonna do this more often as you get older. There's a question you're going to ask yourself, and this is the question you have to come to. What difference do I make you? You would be surprised how often a pastor asks that question. You would be surprised how often a guy like me, who does what I do. You get discouraged, you get deflated, things don't always go like you want them to go. Things don't always happen the way you want them to happen. Things don't move as quickly as you want them to move. And you sometimes wonder, what difference do I make?
Now, I've met a lot of people in my life, but I'm gonna tell you one person I've never met. And I'm gonna tell you somebody you've never met and you'll never meet them and I'll never meet them. I have never met a person exactly like me. And you will never meet someone exactly like you. Now, for sure, there are people that we meet and they are very close and appearance and preference and their likes and their dislikes. But you dig deep enough and no one is exactly like anyone else. We're all unique and we're all different. Here's my question, why is that? Why is it just like snowflakes? No one person is exactly alike. I believe there's a divine reason behind it. God has made us different so that we can make a difference. God has made us different so that we can make a difference.
And by the way, it don't wanna make a difference to you that you're making a difference. I'm absolutely convinced, I'm not a psychologist, but I really believe this. I think the number one reason why people commit suicide and take their life is because some way, somehow, they have finally convinced themselves, "My life makes no difference". It doesn't matter to anybody or anything, whether I live or whether I die. And it really ought to be important to you to make a difference, realizing that your time on this earth to make a difference is not only relatively brief, we never know when it's going to end. I read the other day about an Uber driver and it was his first day on the job, he had never picked up anybody in his life. So, he picks up his first passenger for his first ride on the first day, they're driving down the road and without warning, the passenger in the back seat leaned over and tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Excuse me, sir".
Well, when he did, the Uber diver screamed, lost control of the car, nearly hit a bus, jumped the curb, stopped just inches from going through a plate glass window at the grocery store. Well, everything was silent for a moment. And then the driver said, "Man, you scared the daylights outta me". And the passenger shaking like a leaf said, "Man, I'm sorry, all I did was tap you on the shoulder, and I just said, 'Excuse me, sir.'" Well, the Uber driver dropped his head. He said, "You know, it really wasn't your fault". He said, "You see today is my first day as an Uber driver, for the past 20 years I've been driving a funeral hears".
Now, you like that Teresa, okay, good. One of these days death's gonna tap you on the shoulder and death is gonna tap me on the shoulder. Excuse me, sir, excuse me, ma'am, your time's up. We don't know when, we don't know where, we don't know how, but that tap is surely going to come. And when it does, the only question at that moment that's gonna matter to you is this, what difference did I make? So, I believe there are two things that determine what difference you make, and to what degree you make a difference, two things, what you know and who you know. Those are the two things gonna make a difference in you and will determine what kind of a difference that you make. And I'll tell you why I believe that.
As I've studied history, I believe outside of Jesus Christ, there's never been anybody that's ever lived that got a bigger bang for their book out of the life that they lived than a man by the name of Paul. I don't believe anyone's ever lived who had a more productive life, who got more out of their potential, who had a greater long term impact than this man, 'cause lemme tell you what this man did. Without any internet, without any radio, without any television, without a cell phone, without any computers, without any kind of modern technology whatsoever, he takes a little seed called the gospel and he took it as far as he could, as long as he could, planted it everywhere he could. And the result was an explosion of Christianity that is now a worldwide faith that is still thriving 2000 years later. And every time I think about what this guy did with no money, no manpower, no staff. And he caused Christianity to explode. You gotta ask yourself the question, "How did you do that? How did you pull that off? How in the world did you make that kind of an unbelievable difference"?
Well, here's the good news. In a book called Philippians, the third chapter, Paul tells us three things that he knew that allowed him to make an eternal impact with his earthly life. And by the way, if you're a guest of ours today, we've been kind of making our way through Philippians. We've been calling the book Joy Ride, this series Joy Ride. And can you think of a greater joy? Think about this, can you think of a greater joy than to come to the end of your life and be able to say to yourself? I made the greatest impact I could. I made the greatest difference that I could. I was used by God in such an unbelievable way. You say, "Man, I don't know of anything that would make me more fulfilled when it comes down to what you know and who you know". And here's the good news, the three things that Paul knew we could know, and the same impact he had in our own way, in our own life, we could have. What are those three things?
Number one, we must know the supreme person of Jesus. We must know the supreme person of Jesus. I've heard this said many times and you have too. It's not what you know, it's who you know. You know what, that's true. It's not what you know, it's who you know. Paul is looking back on his life and all the people he had met, all the things he had learned, all the things he'd accomplished. And he adds it all up, and then he makes this incredible statement. Philippians 3:7, listen to this. He said, "but whatever were gains to me, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ". What is more? "I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord for who's sake I've lost all things. I consider them", we're gonna come back to, to this in a minute, "I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ".
Number two, what Paul is doing. In effect, he's looking at his life like he was an accountant. So he is got all the things on one side that he thinks are his assets, and then he is got all the things on the other side that he thinks are his liabilities. So he's got all the things he thinks were gains and profitable in his life. And then he takes it all, and he thinks about his life before he knew Jesus and then after he knew Jesus, then when he compared all that he had before he knew Jesus and all that he had after he knew Jesus, when he compared that, guess what he did, with everything he thought was a big deal, everything he thought was important, everything he gave his life to, everything he spent his money on, look what he did, he moved all of it from the asset column to the liability column. He says, "You know what? Compared to knowing Jesus Christ, everything I thought was so important, everything I thought was a big deal, it was a total loss".
By the way, that word loss is only used one other time in the New Testament, it's using the book of Acts where it describes the complete loss of the cargo of a ship that ship wrecked and the ocean. In other words, here's what Paul said. Paul said, "I went back to my life before I knew Jesus, and I looked at all those things I thought were so important, all those things I thought should be at the top of my list, all those things I thought were such a big deal and all those things that I gave my life to, and then I compared it to knowing Jesus. And you know what I did with all that stuff? I threw it overboard, is a total loss, unimportant". In other words, he said, "I took everything I thought was important, and then when I compared it to knowing Jesus, I realized it was all unimportant".
So let me ask a personal question. How about you? What's on your list? Well, what do you have in the asset column of your life? What do you think are those things that are gained to you? The things that are most important, the things you think life is all about. Maybe it's your academic achievements or your athletic trophies. Maybe it's your financial stability, your job title. Maybe it's your artistic gifts or your physical beauty. Paul said, it doesn't matter. If Paul is right and you don't know Jesus Christ, it is a total loss. The 20th century novelist, CS Lewis, he made one of the best statements I've ever heard in my life. He said this. He said, "He has Christ and everything else has no more than he who has Christ alone. He who has Christ and everything else has no more than he has Christ alone".
In other words, you know what Paul was really saying, get this in your mind. Paul was saying, everything is nothing without Jesus. Everything is nothing without Jesus. And Paul, Paul, everything I've ever conceived, everything I've ever achieved, everything I've ever received in life. He said, you know what it was? He calls it garbage. Now, pray for me right now 'cause I'm embarrassed to tell you what that Greek word means. It's only used here in the New Testament, and you're gonna find out why when I tell you what it means, okay? In fact, it's a word that you would've never used publicly 2000 years ago, you would not have used it in mixed company. What that word literally means, you're ready? It means bodily excrement. We'll call it buffalo chips.
Paul said, everything you have, everything you think is important, everything you think is a big deal, everything you think gives you meaning and purpose and status in life. He said, if you don't know Jesus, it's just buffalo chips. In other words, here's what he's saying. Take your titles and your treasure, your position and your possessions, your awards and your achievement, your trophies in the trophy case, and the car in your garage, he said, if you do not know the Supreme person of Jesus, you are totally bankrupt. And by the way, the word for know, when he talks about knowing Jesus, he's not talking about intellectual knowledge, that word refers to personal, private, intimate, experiential knowledge.
I want you to listen. There's some of you here, I want you, you need to really hear this. You come to church regularly, you're very religious. You serve in the church. Maybe you sing on a praise team, maybe you play in the band, maybe you lead a small group, and thank God if you do all those things, and you give a tithe, man, you're checking off all the boxes, that's all well and good. But please what I'm about to tell you, it is one thing to believe in Jesus, it's one thing to hear about Jesus, think about Jesus, talk about Jesus, but it is an entirely different thing to know Jesus. Knowing Jesus is what makes you different. Knowing about Jesus, that will never move the needle in your life. Knowing about Jesus that'll never make a difference in your life. Knowing about Jesus will not make you make a difference in your life. But if you know Jesus, that makes all the difference.
Let me tell you something people don't realize. Do you know why that book was written? That book was not written so we would know about God, that book was written so we would know God. There's a big difference between knowing about God and knowing God. There's a big difference saying, "Oh, I believe in Jesus. I know about Jesus. I like to talk about Jesus. I like to think about Jesus". That is not knowing Jesus. So my question to you is this, and it's a hard question and you better get it right, do you know Jesus? Not the facts about Jesus, not the history about Jesus, not the story about Jesus, do you know Jesus? I was driving to church this morning and I was kind of going over my message in my mind. I almost had to pull over the side of the road. I got so happy in the Lord. I said, "Lord Jesus, I am so glad I know you. You know me. I know you intimately. I know you personally. I know you experientially. I know you in my heart".
And I'm telling you today, I'm not just blabbering this stuff out. Jesus Christ is more real to me than the skin on my hand and the air that I breathe, I know him. You must know the supernatural person of Jesus, the supreme person of Jesus. All right, here's the second thing. Get ready 'cause now we get deep. 'Cause there are a lot of you would say, "Oh I'm in, man," got that checked off. I know Jesus. Second question. Do you know the supernatural power of Jesus? Paul said, it's not enough just to know the supreme person of Jesus, we need to know the supernatural power of Jesus. Now listen to what Paul says and don't miss what a big deal this is. He says, I want to know Christ. Well, we all wanna know Christ. And a lot of you say, "Well I do know Christ, man". He says, "Oh no, no, no, no, I wanna go further". I wanna know the power of his resurrection.
Now you just let that sink in from moment. The greatest power the world has ever seen, the world has ever known, the world's ever heard of is resurrection power. You know why? It is one thing to have the power to kill somebody, it is another thing, totally different to have the power to bring that dead person back to life. And if there's not a computer, an engine, a chemical compound, there is no kind of power whether it's electrical power or nuclear power that can pull that off. Bringing a person back from the dead takes resurrection power. And what Paul is saying is just mind boggling. He said the power that God used to raise his Son from the dead is available to you, it is available to me. It is not just the power you put on a jar and stick up on a shelf somewhere. Paul said, this is the kind of power you ought to walk in. This is the power you ought to work in. This is the power you ought to worship in. This is the power you ought to witness by. You ought to be a living, breathing example of what it is to have the power of God in your life.
Now let that sink in for just a moment, because it's one thing to believe in the power that raised Jesus from the dead, but it's another thing altogether to know that power and experience that power in your daily life. This is why I get so frustrated with so many Christians. Jesus Christ didn't just die on the across and he didn't just come back from the grave so we would be saved. Now, yes, he did that. And I thank God that he did that, and that is the first step, but he didn't do it just for that. He sent his Holy Spirit to live in you and to live in me. And why did he do that? Because he knew something, I wanna tell you something that you probably don't even realize. The average Christian that I know, average run of the mill, dime-a-dozen Christian. If they're honest and you talk to them, you know what they'll tell you, "I know there's got to be more to the Christian life than this. I'm just not hitting on all eight cylinders in my walk with God".
And I'm gonna tell you something, there's not a more frustrated person in the world than the person that knows the supreme person of Jesus, but they've never come to know the supernatural power of Jesus. I cannot tell you how many times I've shared the gospel. I wish I could tell you this. I've shared the gospel so many times with people, and I'll share with them, "Hey, Jesus loves you. You're a sinner. You need a savior. Jesus died on the cross. He came back from the dead. He wants to come. He wants to give you eternal life. He wants you to be saved". And I'll be talking to them, and I'm just absolutely convinced, man, they're going get saved, they're gonna give their life to Jesus, they're gonna be transformed right in front of me. And I'll say, "Would you like to do that"? And I can't tell how many times I've had people say this, "Well, I can't do that". "Why not"? "Man, I couldn't live up to that. I wouldn't last two minutes, and I'm not gonna be a hypocrite. I'm not gonna tell I'm gonna do something 'cause I know I just don't have the power to do it. That life's just too hard for me, I would fail in a heartbeat".
Now, I used to be real hard on people like that. I really, I used to, man, what a moron, let me, come on, man, get with it, okay. Then I realized, it hit me like a ton of bricks. And I wanted, I wanna apologize to those of you that I felt bad about because you have a point. So what do you mean? All right, well let's just get, let's think about this for a minute. So you're a follower of Jesus, you tell me you're a follower of Jesus, Yeah, I'm a follower of Jesus. You know Jesus? I know Jesus. All right, so you understand that this is the deal. Jesus said, if you're gonna follow me, you gotta turn the other cheek, you gotta go the second mile, you can't Sue a brother if he does you wrong, you can't take a person to court. And even if the people mistreat you, you gotta observe the golden rule, treat them the way you'd wanna be treated. And by the way, keep the 10 commandments.
Now, let's just be honest, if you think you can pull that off in your own power, you've got an ego bigger than a battleship. I got news for you, on your best day you can't pull that off. On my best day I can't pull that off. The truth of the matter is, it is impossible to live the Christian life apart from the power of God, can't do it. Now, I know there's these people out there, and I love them, they're, I call 'em these, you know, positive thinking popoffs. You've heard 'em, right? Oh, you can do anything. You know, if you can believe it, you can achieve it. Well, that sounds great, it's just wrong. There's just some things are you just can't do, there some things are just impossible.
Now, I don't care how positive a thinker you are, I'll give you an example. You can't dribble a football. Now you can't do that. You can't lift a bald headed man by his hair. You can't do that. You can't slam a revolving door. You ever tried? You cannot slam a revolving door. You can't do it. You can't twirl a baton in a mobile home. You can't do it. You can't get bubble gum out of a cashmere sweater. You can't keep spam calls off your cell phone, you absolutely can't do it. Well, there's something else that's absolutely impossible. You cannot live the Christian life apart from the power of God. But here's the good news. Paul says, if you know the God of power, you can live in the power of God.
You say, "Well, how do you get that power"? It's so easy. You know how I get it? I ask for it. I believe that I received it. I surrender to it, and I live like it is true. I've told you before, when I walk up to this platform, you know what I'm saying under my breath, I believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, I believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, I believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Let me tell you something. You may think this is crazy. If I actually did not believe I was not preaching right now in the power of the Holy Spirit, I'd walk off this stage. 'Cause I have tried it a few times in the flesh, and lemme tell you it doesn't work out real well. I tell the Lord, "Lord, fill me and thrill me or kill me. But I do not wanna get up there unless I'm preaching in your power".
And lemme tell you the truth, there is no sin in the world that has enough power to control anybody if you know the person of Jesus and you know the power of Jesus. So, let me tell you why this is not just pie in the sky stuff, let me tell you why this is not just theory. Let me tell you why I know this is true. Let's get real practical. You're a believer in Jesus, you do have the power to control your thoughts, you do have the power to discipline your body, you do have the power to persevere through problems, you do have the power to turn the other cheek, you do have the power to live by the golden rule, you do have the power to take the world by the tail and make it your slave and not your master.
Now the cold hard truth is, if you really wanna make a real difference in your life as a parent, as an employee, as a boss, as a son, as a daughter, as a neighbor, as a friend, as a citizen, you must know, you must show and you must grow in the supernatural power of God every day of your life. And here's the good news, if you want it, you can have it. I don't get outta my bed till I ask God and believe I have the power of God on my life. So, you wanna make a difference, a real difference, an eternal difference, you have to know the supreme person of Jesus, you have to know the supernatural power of Jesus. But then there's one other thing Paul said, and I have to be honest. In my flesh, I don't want to know this. And I'm gonna tell you in your flesh, you don't wanna know it either, but you'll never ever make the best and greatest difference you'll ever make if you don't know this, so get ready.
Paul said, the third thing we must know is we must know the suffering passion of Jesus. Now, I wanted you to embrace yourself because Paul says something that I'll be honest with you, I don't like and I don't pray about, and don't pray for nearly as much as I could, and I should. But he said, you know what, if you wanna make a difference, not only must you know the supreme person and the supernatural power, you've gotta know the suffering passion of Jesus. I want you to listen to what he says. He says, "I wanna know Christ". Okay, I'm in on that, so do I, I wanna know Christ. "Yes, I want to know the power of his resurrection". Yeah, I wanna know that, I'm all in on that, sure. But then he says, "And participation in his sufferings". Yeah, I'm not. Yeah, I don't wanna know about that. "Becoming like him in his death, and so somehow attaining to the resurrection from the dead".
I want you to listen carefully, 'cause this will be the most important thing I'm gonna say in this message. I don't know what your biggest goal is for your life or what your biggest goal is for your child's life or your grandchild's life, I don't know. But let me tell you what God's number one goal is for your life. And lemme tell you what God's number one goal is for your children's lives. And let me tell you what God's number one goal is for your grandchildren's lives. God's number one goal for you is that you become just like Jesus. That's his number one goal. That's everything he's doing in your life is to make you just like Jesus. And here's the cold hard truth, if you're gonna become like Jesus, you don't just get to enjoy the view from the mountaintop, you have to endure the trouble in the valley.
Let me tell you something I've learned, you worship God on the mountaintop, but you walk with God in the valley. Did you hear me? You worshiped God on the mountaintop, but you walk with God in the valley. There's no such thing as they suffer free Christian life. If you're under the age of 30, let me just kind warn you of something, 'cause it's never been more true than it is today in my life, and it's gonna get more true every single day. In this day and this age and this culture and this society in which we live, if you make up your mind, you're going to stand for Jesus and you're going to speak truth, you're going to suffer. You are going to suffer, you're gonna suffer rejection, you're gonna suffer ridicule.
I don't care how much you love Jesus, how much you love others. Emotionally, you're going to suffer heartache. Physically, you're going to suffer problems and pain. But if you make up your mind, I don't care what the Congress says, I don't care what the polls say, I don't care what everybody says, I'm going with this. Then you're intolerant, you're bigoted, you're judgmental, you're narrow minded, you're fundamentalist. That just goes with a territory. It's just the way it is. And the point of the fact is, there is nothing that will focus you more on Jesus, draw you closer to Jesus, make you more dependent on Jesus and give you more of a desire to know Jesus than when you know his suffering passion. And I'm gonna be honest with you, I'm ashamed that I've not suffered more for the Lord. I'm just being honest. I mean, I don't think, I'm not sadistic. I'm not masochistic, I don't think you go outta your way to do it, but I'm gonna tell you this. This day and age in which we're living right now.
If you make up your mind, you know what? I'm gonna say what I believe God says is true, I'm gonna believe what God says is true, I'm gonna stand for what God says is true. And I'm gonna live based on what God says is true. You're going to suffer, you're not gonna get out of it scot-free. There's gonna be blood to be spilled if you're going to do that. But here's the good news, I am absolutely convinced that people are drawn more to a life that shows Jesus in the bad times than they are to live that speak Jesus in the good times. Now, both are necessary. And we ought to always say what we believe about Jesus. Let me tell you something. You will never have a stronger witness than when you go through suffering and you go through pain and you go through heartache and you go through sorrow and you go through rejection and you go through ridicule, and you still take your stand and say, "God is good. Jesus is my Lord, and I am not gonna desert him 'cause he'll never desert me".
So, I wanna close with a story. So everybody close your Bibles. Hey, I got 10 more minutes. I'm gonna let you out early again. This is going good for you guys. Okay, it must be in the water. I don't know, but listen, everybody look up here. I've had the privilege of meeting some unbelievable people in my life. Truly, truly incredible inspirational people. People that have so blessed me. People that they've come into my life that I had never even dreamed I would ever know or I would ever meet. I don't wanna point him out, I don't wanna embarrass him, but there's a man who's in our church, came this morning. I'm on worldwide television because of this man. This one man, God led him to me, God led him believe in me. He put himself out, he put himself on the line for me, and my ministry wouldn't be where it is today.
And I'm so thankful for him. And I think about all the people like him that I've met, that I'm so thankful for and so grateful for. But I have to tell you, I've never met a more incredible or more inspirational person in my life than a lady by the name of Laurie Lanter. Most of you have no clue who that is. You never met her, and to your loss, I'm afraid. You didn't know her. Laurie was a longtime cross pointer who went to be with the Lord about a year and a half ago. She spent years, years and years and years in this horrific, debilitating, vicious battle with cancer. But every Sunday Laurie would show up at church, and she'd have a smile that would brighten the sun. And she always made it a point, didn't matter how long the line was, she always made it a point to come up to me. I mean, even toward the end of, when her body had grown weak and frail, she would come up to me, and I could tell her, you just don't even, you need to be in bed. But she'd come up to me and she'd put those skinny bony arms around me and hug my neck. She'd tell me how much she loved Jesus and how good God had been to her.
So six years to the month before she died, I got an email from her and it so moved me, it so impacted me, I kept it. And I said to myself, when I filed this away, I said, "Okay, the right time at the right place at the right time, I'm gonna share this email". So a year and a half later, Laurie, you're listening. I'm sharing this email. Here's what she wrote, "Apart from divine healing, Mike and I will remain at a war of sorts with this disease for the rest of our married lives. We hope that Christ will see Christ in us through each battle. Through our cancer experience, Mike and I are intentionally aware of something". Now listen to this statement, "That we are made for God, God is not made for us".
Boy, what a statement? That'll preach, right? We're not made for God, God's made for us, all right. Now, watch this. "We are where we are in this stage of our lives together for something greater than ourselves. Although we don't know what is going to happen next, we are," and boy I love this phrase, "Christ confident". Boy, I love that, we're Christ confident. "We believe that we qualified for this assignment of sorts". Now listen to this, "And that it is a privilege to be a good sufferer". A privilege, no, it's a pain to be a good sufferer. No, it's a problem to be a good sufferer. Not to Laurie. It is a privilege to be a good sufferer. Two years later, four years before she died, she sent this email. "I've been enjoying my status for many years, but the last four and a half years have been especially purposeful, alien status. Blessed enough, long enough to lose my hair for the third time. Blessed to experience sustaining grace mentally, emotionally and physically. Along with the joy of sharing the upside, the Jesus side of suffering in the life of the believer, I wouldn't swap lives with anyone I know. I am blessed to be me".
So the day comes and Laurie goes to the hospital for the last time. So her small group leader, who's also one of our deacons in our church. We get in the car and we drive to the hospital to visit her. So we walk in knowing the only reason she's in the hospital this last time is they're just getting her ready to go home to die. And nothing will focus your attention on what you're doing than when you know I'm going to see this person for the last time on this earth. I will never see her again here. We will never have another conversation. We walk into the hospital room, she's laying in the bed. And the minute we walked in, she sits up unhooks herself, struggles to get to her feet, takes her husband, puts her arm around him, shuffles over to us, gives us a big hug, gives us a big kiss. And then she says, I've been waiting on you, they had chairs ready.
So we go over to the corner of the room there and we're talking. And I told her in that conversation, I said, "Laurie, I am so frustrated". She said, "Why"? I said, "Because I came to minister to you and you're ministering to me". We talked a little bit longer, we joined hands, we had prayer. She got up, walked us to the door. And the last words I remember her saying was, she said, "I love you. I love Jesus. And I'm ready to meet the Lord". I got in that car. And I thought to myself, "Laurie, you touched more life sick than you ever did healthy. You touched more life down in the valley than you ever did on the mountaintop. You made more of an impact suffering with God in the valley than you did praising God on the mountaintop". And she reminded me, and I simply remind you of the difference that you will make when you know the person and the power and the passion of Jesus that will last for all eternity. That's why I say, all the time it's my favorite thing to say to people. There is nobody like Jesus, never has been, never will be. And there is nothing like knowing the person and the power and the passion of Jesus.