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James Merritt - What Legacy Am I Going to Leave?

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    James Merritt - What Legacy Am I Going to Leave?
TOPICS: Legacy

If you brought a copy of God's Word, I want you to look at the New Testament, hit Matthew and go right, and you'll go to a book called 2 Timothy. I want you to turn to 2 Timothy 4. Let me begin by telling you a story. When Teresa and I had our first child, a long time ago, medical technology was not what it was today. So you had to wait until the child was born to determine whether it was a boy or a girl, nobody knew, we didn't know. So from the time that Teresa got pregnant with our first child, I'm gonna be very honest and upfront, I would have been happy with a boy or a girl but I prayed for a son. I wanted a son. I grew up with two brothers, I never had a sister, I was kind of afraid about trying to raise a daughter. And so I just said, "Lord, I really would like to have a son".

Well, it was also back in the day when the father was not allowed to go back to be with the wife, and so I'm in the waiting room while Teresa is in there having the baby. And I can still remember, I mean, I'm on pins and needles in that waiting room. And the nurse walks through the door, I jump up, and she said those three words I wanted to hear more than anything else in my life. "It's a boy". Now there were times I lived to regret that, but I did pray, I said, "Lord, thank you, it's a boy".

Now as you go through life you're gonna find yourself wanting to hear certain words that could really change your life. For example, you're a high school senior, and you wanna hear that college say you've been accepted. Or perhaps you have met the love of your life and you're going to propose, and you wanna hear her say, "Yes, I'll marry you". Or you have gone to the doctor and they've done some blood work and they're concerned and you're waiting on the lab report. You wanna hear two words, "It's benign". Or perhaps you're on trial for a serious charge and you wanna hear the judge say, "Not guilty". You're a tax payer. You wanna hear the IRS say, "We owe you a refund". Well, if you're a Christian, if you're a follower of Jesus, there are three words I would think you wanna hear more than anything else you'll ever hear in this life, and you really only need to hear them one time. And those words are "Well done, good and faithful servant".

When you think about it, what else would you want to hear? Now there are many things in life, you know, we don't get to decide. For example, I was telling you about these babies we just dedicated. We don't get to decide when we were born, where we were born, who we were born to. We don't get to decide how tall we are. We don't get to decide what athletic ability we have. We don't get to decide the makeup of our DNA or the color of our eyes. We don't even get to decide whether or not we die. Now some people may choose when they die, they may choose how they die or where they die, but we don't get to choose whether we die. We are all going to die. And that's why we're in this series we've been calling "What Says You". And we've been asking I believe the three most important questions everybody has to ask and answer about our past, our present, and our future.

And here's the good news. We do get to make the three most important decisions. We do get to exercise the three most important choices that will determine the persons we're going to become, the lives that we're going to live, from its beginning to its ending and beyond. Now if you're just joining us for the first time and you've missed this series, the first question we said we have to ask and answer is this. What Lord am I going to love? Everybody worships somebody, even the atheists worship something. Nobody worships nothing. So we said the first and the most fundamental question we have to answer is this. What Lord am I going to love? And we said Jesus said we oughta love the Lord God, the God and Father of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, love him with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.

Then we said, once you have answered the first question, that will then let me know how you're gonna answer the second question, which is, what life am I going to live? We said last week the only life worth living, at least in my opinion, the only life worth living is a life that's lived under the authority and the lordship of Jesus. But that raises now the third question. And the answer to the first two questions will determine the answer to the last question. What Lord am I going to love? What life am I going to live? That will determine what legacy am I going to leave. So in other words here's what I'm asking you today. You dieD today. What words would be on your gravestone? What words would be your epitaph? What would people be saying about you after you're gone? What impact, what influence will outlive and outlast you?

And in the Apostle Paul's second letter to his protege, a young man named Timothy, he gives what turns out to be his last words. He writes his own epitaph. And what he says I hope will be true for all of us as we draw our last breath. Here's what Paul said, this is the legacy he left. "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith". Now I don't know about you. When I come to the end of my life, that's what I pray I can say. That's what I pray Teresa can say about me, that's what I pray my sons can say about me, that's what I pray my grandchildren would say, that's what I pray my church would say about me. I fought the good fight, I've finished the race, I kept the faith.

Now let me set up what's going on. Paul's in a Roman prison. As a matter of fact, these were probably the last words he ever wrote before he was beheaded. He knows the sun is about to set in his life because he says this in verse six. He says, "The time for my departure is near". A Greek word for departure is a very instant word, it literally is the word analysis, and it literally means to unloose or untie. You know, when you analyze something, you untie it, you separate it into its various parts. And Paul, he said this is kind of what death is like. As a matter of fact, this is the only time that word is used in the entire New Testament. It was used of a prisoner when the shackles were removed from him and he was set free. A farmer would use it at the end of the day when he would unloose or untie the oxen so they could rest. A soldier would use it when it would strike the tent because it would signify the battle was over and peace was ahead. A sailor would use it to describe when a ship would raise anchor and set sail for home.

Now what Paul said we all face that departure. Sometimes we're all going to strike our tent. Sometimes we're all going to set sail. Sometimes the shackles of this life will be taken off and we're all going to go home. So Paul says, "Okay, my departure, I'm about to cut lose, I'm about to leave this earth". And then he says this. "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering". One of the joys of knowing the Greek New Testament and being able to read the Greek New Testament is the unbelievable pictures that are painted there. The Greek word for poured out, you'll love this, the Greek word is spendomai. We get the word spend from that. He said literally, what he was saying was, "My life is already been spent, I've just about spent the last dollar on your life".

And you know that is so so important because what Paul was saying was every day of your life is just like money. And here's how it's like money. Just like money, you spend it. You're spending your time right now here. You could have spent your time somewhere else but you're spending it here, you're spending it right here, right now. I mean, right here. Every day of your life is like money. But it's not like money in another way. You can't save it. You can't stock it. You can't store it. You can't say, you know what? I'm not gonna live today, I'll move today till tomorrow. You can't do that. You can't say, you know what? I'm gonna move tomorrow to the next day. You have today and you have to spend it wisely or foolishly. And the way you spend the days of your life determines the legacy that you're going to leave.

So the question I wanna ask all of us today, but especially if you're a young person, what legacy do you wanna leave? What footprints do you wanna leave once you're gone? Well, if you follow Paul's advice, you could look back on your life at the end with no remorse, no regret, no retreat. You say, man, that's what I wanna do. Pastor, how can I leave a legacy that my spouse would be proud of? How can I leave a legacy my children would be proud of? How can I leave a legacy for my grandchildren? Hey, how can I leave a legacy that my great-grandchildren and great-grandchildren who I won't even live to see will one day talk about? Three things real quick.

Number one, be faithful to the fight. You wanna leave a legacy worth leaving? Be faithful to the fight. Here's the first thing Paul says. He says, "I have fought the good fight". Now both the words fought and fight come from the same Greek word, agon, and it gives us the English word agony. What that word literally means is it literally means conflict. Now there are some of you who are not gonna like what I'm about to say because you're meek, you're mild-mannered, you're shy, you don't like conflict. We all know people who absolutely hate conflict. I've known pastors who were not able to lead churches effectively because I've learned you're gonna have conflict.

If you're a leader, if you're gonna try to do things, if you're trying to accomplish anything, there's gonna be friction and you're going to have conflict. And the point that Paul is making is if you become a follower of Jesus you don't have a choice. You've become a spiritual soldier in God's army. What I've come to realize is that so many people give their life to Christ, they really need it, they've realized they're lost, they need a savior, he's the Savior, they repent of their sins, they place their faith in Jesus, they become a follower of Jesus. But what they did not realize at the moment that they did that, the moment they said, "Lord, I'm going to love you with all of my heart, all of my soul, all of my mind, all of my strength," they didn't realize at that moment you just got pulled into a fight.

You just got drafted into an army. Because you just made three enemies that never go away. The world, the flesh, the devil. The world around you. The flesh inside of you. The devil before you. The world will try to control you. The flesh will try to corrupt you. Satan will try to crush you. And that's why when you give your life to Jesus you don't just become a saint. You become a soldier. And the problem is I've pastored a lot of people who follow Jesus and who love Jesus, and they're not even showing up for the war. They're back in the barracks, they're sound asleep, they don't even know a war is going on.

There was an Anglican bishop named J.C. Ryle who said something almost 200 years ago. It is as true today as it was when he first said it. It's kind of long but I want you to listen to what he said. It is still true. He said this over 200 years ago, still true, listen to this. He said, "There are thousand of men and women who go to churches and chapels every Sunday and call themselves Christians. Their names are in the baptismal register. They are reckoned Christians while they live. They are married with a Christian marriage service. They are buried as Christians when they die. But you never see any fight about their religion. Of spiritual strike, and exertion, and conflict, and self-denial, and watching, and warring they know literally nothing at all. Such Christianity is not the Christianity of the Bible.

It is not the religion which the Lord Jesus founded and his Apostles preached. True Christianity is a fight". And it is. And I'm watching more and more pastors and more and more preachers and more and more churches back away and say, "You know what? We just don't wanna fight anybody, we don't wanna fight anymore". We're living in a world right now that's doing everything it can to get us to believe a lie, reject the truth. The flesh will always try to get us to do what is wrong, not what is right. Satan will always try to get us to worship any god but the true God.

Now I wanna make something very plain. I don't believe we oughta go looking for a fight. I don't believe we oughta be trying to start a fight. That is not my heart at all. Here's what I've learned. If you make up your mind, I'm really going to follow Jesus, if you make up your mind, I'm really going to love Jesus, if you make up your mind, I'm really going to stand for Jesus, let me tell you something, you won't have to go looking for a fight, the fight will come looking for you. Can I get an amen to that? The fight will come looking for you. You don't have to go looking for a fight, the fight will come looking for you. And quite honestly, too many followers of Jesus are deserters. They live their entire Christian life, never fire a shot, never wield a sword, never take a stand.

Now, I don't sugarcoat anything and I'm going to lie. The battle is tough. The battle is tiring. The battle is traumatic. But I agree with something that Vince Lombardi, the great coach of the Green Bay Packers said, I think he was so right. He said, "I firmly believe that man's finest hour, his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle, victorious". Let me tell you one of the most amazing stories I've ever read in my life. I'm a history buff, I don't know if there's any of you who like history, I love history. I just got through watching on Netflix two different documentaries on World War II. They're old films that hadn't been discovered in color. I watched every one of them, from the beginning of the war all the way to the end, I kind of binge-watched them the other day.

I just could not get enough of them. But let me tell you about a Japanese soldier. His name was Hiroo Onoda. He had been stationed on the Philippine island of Lubang. He had been given orders that no matter what happened he was to stay and fight up to the very end of his life. Now listen to this. When Japan surrendered on September the 2nd, 1945, he didn't know it. Nobody told him. So for the next 29 years, he kept fighting. He lived in the jungle. He would raid villages for rice and meat. He would kill people that he thought were enemy combatants. And it wasn't until 1974, when his commanding officer finally located him and relieved him of duty, that he quit fighting.

Now listen to this, think about this. He became the last World War II combatant to surrender to Allied forces. 29 years after the war's already over. When he returned to Japan, reporters were waiting, as you could imagine, to interview this guy. And they asked him, "Why in the world did you keep fighting for almost 30 years"? He said one thing. "I was just carrying out my orders". We've been given orders to stay in the fight, to get in the fight, until God calls us home. Some of you have heard of Joni Eareckson Tada. When she had 19 years old she had a diving accident and became a quadriplegic. And nobody can really understand, I've read about her life, it's incredible, the physical battle she fights every morning just to get ready for the day. She's a quadriplegic, cannot move from the neck down. And it is a battle just to get ready to meet the day.

Now let me tell you what she said, I love this. She said, "This is the only time in history when I get to fight for God. This is the only part of my eternal story when I'm actually in the battle. Once I die, I will be in celebration mode and a glorified body and a whole different set of circumstances. But this is my limited window of opportunity and I'm going to fight the good fight for all I am worth". Well, so am I, and so should we. You wanna leave a legacy worth leaving? Be faithful to the fight, and there's a fight going on.

Number two, be faithful to the faith. Be faithful to the fight. Be faithful to the faith. Second thing Paul said was, "I have kept the faith". I have kept the faith. I've kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7. The word for kept means to guard something, like an armed soldier would guard his post against every attack. He said, "Look, I have kept, I have guarded, I have defended, I have stood by the faith". You say, what does he mean by the faith? It's what the Apostle Jude referred to as the faith "once for all delivered to the saints". What does that mean? He was talking about the truth of God's Word, those basic fundamental doctrines and basic fundamentals that at least the Church has held for thousands and thousands of years. There's a word most of you don't know but let me teach it to you. It's called orthodoxy.

Ortho means straight, doxa means belief, straight belief. In other words, it's things that everybody as a believer should believe. They're non-negotiable, such as the Virgin birth, such as the sinless life of Jesus, such as the substitutionary death, such as the physical resurrection, such as the literal Second Coming, orthodoxy, such as there's only one way to heaven through Jesus, such as you've got to repent and believe if you want to be saved. William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, said this. He said, "The chief danger of the 20th century will be religion without holiness, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, and heaven without hell". He said that in the early 20th century, it's even more true of the 21st century.

And let me just say once again, I don't wanna sound winy, I'm not trying to complain. But I'm gonna be honest. There's an elephant in the room, we just need to see it. When I look at the church and I look at the culture, I see the culture influencing a lot more of the church than I see the church influencing the culture. That's what I see. That's what I believe. And a brilliant thinker I love to read named Os Guinness, some of you may know who he is, he wrote this, just wrote it about a year ago. "It is surely undeniable that only rarely in Christian history has the lordship of Jesus in the West been treated has more pliable, or has Christian revisionism been more brazen, Christian interpretations of the Bible more self-serving, Christian preaching more soft, Christian behavior more laxed, Christian compromise more common, Christian defections from the faith more casual, and Christian rationale for such slippage more spurious and shameless".

Nowhere is the faith we're talking about being challenged more than in the world of education. This blew my mind. There was a study that was conducted by Harvard University, George Mason University professors, and they found, listen to this, 52% of all college professors, 52% of all college professors regard the Bible, I'm quoting, "as an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts". That number increased to 73% when professors at elite universities, like Ivy League schools, were surveyed. Listen to this. The proportion of atheists and agnostic professors in America is three times greater in the universities and colleges than it is in the general population.

You say, so pastor, what are you saying? Here's what I'm saying. We've got a lot of educated fools teaching our kids. I'm not saying if you're a teacher you're one of them, I'm just being honest. Now I know there are people that are saying, and I hear this all the time, I get sick of it, I know people are saying, "Well, I wanna be on the right side of history". How many times you hear that? I wanna be on the right side of history. Let me tell you what I believe. I believe if you're on the right side of God and the Word of God, history will take care of itself. If you're on the right side of God and his Word, history will take care of itself. Woodrow Wilson once said, "I would rather lose in a cause that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in a cause that will ultimately lose".

I want to die being faithful to the truth of God and the God of truth. He said be faithful to the fight. Be faithful to the faith. Now if I haven't gotten your attention yet or maybe kinda touched you a little bit, let me get one last shot. Be faithful to the finish. Be faithful to the finish. Paul concludes, he says this. He says, "I have finished the race, I have kept the faith".

Now let me just stop and let's just talk for a minute. If you're a follower of Jesus, one thing is true of you just like it's true of me. You're in a race. You are not in a race against me. You are not in a race against somebody else. You're in a race against you. You're in your own lane, you're running your own race. I'm not running my race, you're not running my race and I'm not running your race. We're just running our own race. We're not running against each other, we're running against ourselves. Paul says, "Look, I have finished my race, the race that I am running". And notice something else. Paul didn't say, listen, he didn't say, I have won the race. He just said, "I have run the race".

You say, why didn't he say I won it? Because in this race, listen to me, every finisher is a winner. If you finish, you win. Because see, we're not like God, God's so unlike us. God is not concerned with how fast we run. God's concerned with how far we run. God's not concerned with how we start. God's concerned with how we finish. Quick question, how many of you ran track in high school? Raise your hand real high. Okay, some of you. Or maybe you know someone that ran track. So if you raised your hand, I've got a question. Did you ever hear of anybody winning the 99-yard dash? No, you won't. 'Cause it doesn't matter how fast you are at 99 yards. What matters is, did you run the 100 yards? It doesn't matter how fast you ran, what matters is how far you ran. You may run the fastest 99 yards in history, but if you don't finish that last yard, you lose. And this is the sad thing.

I've pastored a lot of 99-yard Christians. More than I care to admit. You say, what do you mean? Well, they used to be committed to the church. They used to volunteer. They used to tithe. They used to read their Bibles. They used to share their faith. They used to be involved. But they're gonna wind up losing the race, not because they were too slow, because they quick running. So your life is not a sprint, it's a marathon. And by the way, have you ever noticed something, just curious, anybody here ever run a marathon? Hold your hand up if you've ever run a marathon, anybody? Okay, you guys run marathons? Okay, you'll appreciate this. I've never run a marathon, okay? I have no desire to run a marathon. I love to watch people run marathons, I have no desire to run a marathon. But I don't know of any physical feat that impresses me more than people who've run marathons. I this is something I bet you you never thought about.

When someone says to you that they've run a marathon, there's a question you never ask that person. How fast did you run it? 'Cause you don't care. You know what impresses you? They ran the ripping marathon. They were crazy enough or bored enough with life, whatever motivated them, to run 26.2 miles. What impresses you about that person is not how fast, you don't care how fast they ran. You know what I found out? They don't care either. What matters is you finished it. For those of you who are into classical music, one of the most famous symphonies in musical history is one that was never finished.

The great Austrian composer Franz Schubert wrote the famous "Symphony No. 8 in B Minor". And I don't know anything about classical music but this is so interesting. It is now known as the unfinished symphony because even though he started it, he left it with only two movements. And even though he lived for another six years, he never completed the score. So he wrote an unfinished symphony. And when I read that I thought to myself, we're all writing our own symphony. I beg you today, listen to me, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, don't leave it unfinished.

Don't leave one note unwritten. You make sure you write that last note, you make sure you run to the tape, you make sure you die climbing and not coasting, you keep your eye on the prize. And by the way, you know why you oughta be faithful to the fight and faithful to the faith and faithful to the finish? Because there's a prize out there, there's something in front of you. Listen to what he winds up saying. "Now there's in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing".

Let me tell you something. There can't be anything like a king putting a crown on you. Who does that? What king does that? And yet he said, "One day, because I was faithful to the fight, faithful to the faith, faithful to the finish," he said, "one day the King of kings and the Lord of lords is gonna put a crown of righteousness on me". Now I understand our goal is not the crown, our goal is the King. But what greater legacy could you have for all eternity than for the King himself to honor you?

So here's my question and we'll wrap this up. What do you think your last words will be? What do you think will be and you deserve to be on your tombstone? What do you think your obituary will say? I haven't lived a perfect life and you haven't either, and I can't, you can't, I've tried to live a blameless life. But the older I get, the more I desire. When I die, if this is the way I go, I mean I really thought I was gonna die of a heart attack in Indianapolis when we won the championship, to be honest with you. You know I'd get that in there. But if I'm lying on my deathbed and I know, okay, the time of my departure is hanging, boy, I hope there won't be any remorse. I hope there won't be any regrets. I hope there won't be any retreat.

Because your legacy will not be determined, listen carefully, your legacy is not going to be determined by the money that you made. It won't be determined by the ladder that you climb. Not the positions that you held. By the stuff that you owned. By the places you visited. By the fame you achieved. By the honors that you won. By the power that you had. It will be determined by the Lord that you loved. It will be determined by the life that you lived. If I can summarize what I've been talking about for three weeks in one sentence, it's real easy to understand. If you will love right and if you will live right, you'll leave right. If you'll love right and live right, you'll leave right. If you love the right God and you live the right life, you'll leave the right legacy.

You know I referenced Os Guinness earlier in this message. I'll tell you this last story and we'll be done. One of my favorite authors, probably one of my top three or four authors, is a man named John R.W. Stott. He was an Anglican priest, never married, but he was an Anglican priest, he's one of the greatest preaches and theologians England ever produced. And I love, I've got everything Dr. Stott ever wrote. Well, he got cancer and he was dying, so Os Guinness flew all the way over to England to see him one last time. They spent an hour together. And at the end of that hour he asked Dr. Stott how he'd like him to pray for him. Dr. Stott's bedridden, barely able to speak above a whisper. And he said what were by all accounts the last words he ever said to anybody.

Listen to what he said. "Pray that I will be faithful to Jesus until my last breath". Pray that I will be faithful to Jesus until my last breath. So let me just tell you as your pastor. A lot of you pray for me, I hope all of you do, and I need your prayers. If you'd just pray one thing for me, this is all you need to pray for me. I wanna be faithful to Jesus till my last breath. I pray that with my dying breath the one name that will be on my lips is the name Jesus. That's what I'm gonna pray for you. Let's pray that we will be faithful to the fight, let's pray we'll be faithful to the faith, let's pray we'll be faithful to the finish, and here's what will happen. If God hears our prayer, and he will, and if God answers our prayer, and he will, then the first thing you're gonna hear when you walk through the gates of heaven is, "Well done, good and faithful servant". That is a legacy that will last forever.

Would you pray with me right now with heads bowed and with eyes closed? I just have a simple question. What Lord do you love? Be careful how you answer it. What Lord do you love? If it's your family, if it's your job, if it's your wealth, if it's your money, if it's your life, you're not gonna live the life you oughta live and you're not gonna leave the legacy you oughta leave. So my question to you who are watching right now online and those of you in this room, do you truly have a relationship with Jesus? Are you truly a follower of Jesus? Have you truly surrendered your life to Jesus?

If not, the next step you oughta take today, the next step you oughta take today is to go to God and admit you're a sinner, that you need a savior, that Jesus is that Savior, and you need to confess him as your Savior and trust in him and place your life in him and your faith in him. You need to get in the family of God. You need to get into the army of God. You need to get into the church of God. And that comes through a relationship with Christ. You know there's some of you here who may say, "I'm in the faith, I've got the uniform on, I'm in the fight".

Do you know the first shot you fire in that war? Can I tell you? It will surprise you. Baptism. Baptism. You say, why it's baptism? How does that fire a shot? Why do you think God wants you to be baptized? Right out of the shoot, first thing God wants, first thing God wants you to do, it's amazing. The first thing God asks you to do is not give money, not go on a mission trip. The first thing God says, "I want you to be baptized". Why? Why is that such a big deal, why? Because when you get baptized you're letting people know I've enlisted, I'm in the army, I'm in the fight, I'm for the faith and I'm gonna be faithful to the finish, I believe that Jesus died for me. That's the way you profess your faith publicly. Some of you have never been biblically baptized ever. I'm gonna encourage you today to take that next step.
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