How will you be remembered?
It’s a simple question that defies a simple answer. After you are dead and gone, after you’ve lived your 40 or 60 or 80 years, when your time on earth has come to an end, when you are here no more, how will you be remembered? What will you leave behind as the legacy of your life? When they talk about you, if they talk about you at all, what will they say?
Let me sharpen the question just a bit. What will the people who knew you best say about you when you’re gone? We all know that casual acquaintances can say what they want, and it doesn’t really matter because they never really knew us. But you can’t fool your children or your spouse or parents or your closest friends. They know the truth because they’ve lived with you so long and seen you in so many different circumstances. What will they say about you as they walk back to their cars while your casket is being lowered into the ground? How will you be remembered?
The Elvis Presley Bicycle Race
His name was Spencer Louis Schreiter. I never knew him but my brother Alan did. Spencer was a 59-year-old hematologist in Tupelo, Mississippi. A few months ago he had a physical and they gave him a clean bill of health. I think I would have liked him because he was an avid bike rider. He died while riding in the Elvis Presley Bicycle Race in Tupelo. It was a surprise because he had seemed to be the picture of health. Alan talked with a police officer who saw it happen. Spencer was riding along just fine, then he slumped over and was gone. Just like that. He was born in Normal, Illinois, moved to Jackson, Mississippi, played basketball at Ole Miss, served in the Air Force, became a hematologist, joined Covenant Life PCA church where, along with his wife, he taught senior high youth. Those senior high students were the honorary pallbearers at his funeral. Spencer’s death shook Alan up because they worked together in the same hospital. Spencer was a bikeaholic. “He died doing what he wanted to do.” Alan repeated that over the phone several times. When Alan told me the story, he was sitting in his cabin alone. Spencer’s death made him think hard. “If I died right now, how would I want to be found? What do I want to be doing? If I had to die, what point of integrity and character would I want to have?” Then he talked some more and mused over his own life: “I could die out here. If they found me, what would they say about me? How would I be remembered? I don’t want to be remembered that there were a lot of bad things going on in my life.” Alan was working out with some other doctors and they were talking about Spencer’s death. Everyone had an opinion but the room got quiet when my brother said, “God called him home. God will call you home when the time comes.” Then my brother wrapped it up by saying “When it comes to integrity and character, I want something to stand for.”
How will you be remembered? For the Apostle Paul, that was no idle question. When he wrote II Timothy, he was in prison, in chains, in Rome, under a sentence of imminent death. His days were numbered and the numbers were quickly running out. He didn’t have five years left and he probably didn’t have five months to get his act together. The grains of sand had nearly all slipped from the hourglass. Death by beheading was not far away. Paul knew he would never get out of prison alive. That’s why he said, “I have finished my course.” For him the race of life was almost over. Only one thing was left to do: Send a message to his young prot�g�, Timothy, and give him a final word of encouragement. Then he could face his death with grace and courage.
By the way, how is Paul remembered today? He was put to death by that sadistic madman, Nero, the exalted emperor of the Roman Empire. Nero was the most powerful man in the world. Who was Paul, really? Just some Jewish preacher who claimed to be a follower of Jesus. A nuisance and a troublemaker, but he was nothing in comparison to mighty Nero. Soon the emperor would order him put to death. But that was not the end of the story. Two thousand years have passed, what does the world say now about Nero and Paul? Men name their dogs Nero and their sons Paul.
Two Pieces of Advice
Here is Paul’s succinct advice to young Timothy: “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (II Timothy 2:1-2). Samuel Johnson once famously remarked that, “When a man knows he will be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates the mind wonderfully.” If you know you’re about to die, you don’t waste time and you don’t waste words. You get right to the point. Paul gives Timothy two pieces of advice:
1) Be Strong.
2) Pass it Along.
This is what we must do. This is our calling, our challenge, our mission from God. Be strong in the Lord. Stand strong in the grace of Jesus Christ. When times are tough, be strong. When you feel like giving up, be strong. To be strong speaks of moral courage in the face of unrelenting opposition. To be strong in grace means that you don’t rely on yourself when times are tough, you rely on the Lord alone. That’s the moral qualification. Then there is one specific piece of advice: What I have taught you, you must teach others. Pass it along. Don’t keep the truth to yourself. But note what he says: Entrust the truth to “reliable men.” Why does that matter? Aren’t we supposed to teach everyone? Yes, we are supposed to teach everyone. But along the way, we are to find those people who are trustworthy and faithful and we are to invest heavily in them. Find the reliable men and pour yourself into them. Do the same with the reliable women. Do it so they will be qualified to teach others also.
Find the FAT People
Notice the four generations mentioned in one verse: First generation—Paul. Second generation—Timothy. Third generation—Reliable men. Fourth generation—Teach others also. This is the principle of spiritual multiplication. It is the only way to reach a world whose population now exceeds six billion people. Addition will never get the job done. If it depends on me alone, then the only people who will be reached are the people I can talk to myself. But I’m limited by time and space and energy and opportunity. If I want to make a difference in the world, I must practice spiritual multiplication. First, I must learn the truth. Second, I must find faithful men and women. Third, I must teach them. Fourth, they must go and teach others. What sort of men are “reliable men?” Here’s a little acronym that will help you. Find people who are FAT. That stands for
Find the FAT people and teach them to teach others also. Find them, teach them, and turn them loose. This principle works. Yesterday my wife, Marlene, and I were privileged to eat lunch with two Russian pastors and with the administrator of the Moscow Evangelical Christian Seminary. I’ll explain the reason for the occasion shortly. During the meal, we talked with Sasha, the gifted young man who teaches in the seminary and also serves as administrator. He told us that $4,000 pays for one year of school for a student—tuition, all fees, plus room and board. The need is great because there are only 300 Protestant churches in Moscow—a city of nearly 16 million. (Compare that to 58 churches in Oak Park, population 53,000.) Each year they turn down two or three students for each one they accept simply because they lack the money. Sasha told us how the church in Russia suffered greatly under Communism. Over 200,000 pastors were killed. He pointed to one of the Russian pastors at the table. His father was put in prison and then killed when he was only six months old. “They killed his father because he was a pastor.” And under Communism over 500,000 pastors and Christian workers were put in jail for their faith. A whole generation is gone, he said. They just disappeared, they were taken away and many were killed. Shasha took his finger and put it to his throat, saying that anyone who spoke up for Christ might suddenly be put to death. The church in Russia is struggling to catch up because the needs are so great. That’s why they started the seminary. Sasha started a church himself some years ago and it is still going today. “But I can’t do that anymore,” he said. Why? “Because my greater task is to stay at the seminary and teach these students to go out and do it. We lost so much under Communism, and the persecution continues in some places today. Our only hope is multiplication. If I start a church, that’s one church. But if I work at the seminary, we can some day send out hundreds of students to plant churches all over Russia.” That’s multiplication. It’s exactly what Paul has in mind when he tells Timothy to entrust the truth to “reliable men” who will be able to teach others also. It’s God’s plan for growing his church.
Trouble Brewing in Canada
These are difficult days in many places around the world. I believe that hard times are coming to Christians who live in the West. Moral conditions in America will continue to decline. This week I flew to Toronto to do an interview on “100 Huntley Street,” the leading Christian TV program in Canada. Christians there are greatly concerned because in the last two weeks, a Canadian court has essentially declared legalized gay marriage. Apparently millions of Canadians either don’t care or think this is a good idea. Let me add my two cents to the discussion: If we think this is just a Canadian problem, we are sadly mistaken. Gay marriage will soon “come south” to the United States. It’s not that far away—a matter of a few years, maybe sooner than that. When that happens, churches everywhere will have a choice to make, and so will individual believers. In the years to come, we are going to see things made legal that our grandparents could not have conceived possible. II Timothy 3 warns that in the last days, perilous times will come. I think they are already here—and they are coming.
That’s why Paul tells us to “endure hardship” in verse 3. Verses 3-7 offer us three images. The first is the soldier (verses 3-4). The soldier must endure hardship and doesn’t get entangled in the affairs of the world. The second is the athlete (verse 5). To win the prize, an athlete must discipline himself to play by the rules. If he doesn’t play by the rules, he is disqualified. The third is the farmer (verses 6-7). The farmer must focus on the future harvest. He can’t just plant the seed and walk away. He must plant and weed and water and wait. Let me summarize:
As soldiers, we must focus on pleasing the Lord alone.
As athletes, we must play by the rules God lays down.
As farmers, we must work with an eye to the future.
Sixty Faithful Years
Jesus didn’t say, “Follow me and life will be easy.” He said, “Follow me, and life will be tough, but it will be worth it in the end.” Over 60 years ago God called John Sergey to bring the gospel to the Russian people. Long before I was born, John was burdened to preach the gospel in Russia. Back then, it seemed so hopeless, almost impossible. The iron grip of Communism held millions in spiritual captivity. Atheism was the official ideology of the Communist Party. During the days of Stalin, millions of people died and Christians were severely persecuted. Pastors were thrown in jail and often killed. Sasha told us yesterday that in those days, if you were a pastor, you knew at any moment you might be arrested. Pastors disappeared and did not return from jail for years, if they returned at all. But through the long years of darkness, John Sergey kept working to bring the gospel to Russia. He never lost faith that one day the doors would open and Communism would be relegated to the trash heap of history. He made some people angry by telling them that one day things would be different in Russia. As it turned out, he was right. Thirty-five years ago, he started preaching to the Russian people by means of Trans World Radio. Week after week through short-wave radio, his messages reached believers and unbelievers. And John Sergey, our John Sergey, became known all over Russia. And long before it was popular, he would travel to Russia to preach. He preached in Moscow and St. Petersburg (back then it was called Leningrad), in big towns and small villages. Everywhere he went, people knew him from his radio ministry. I saw with my own eyes the impact of his ministry when I traveled to Russia with John and his wife Helen in 1991. He was like a folk hero. The Russian people loved him because they recognized his voice from the radio.
John is now 85 and soon will be 86. His health has made it impossible for him to travel to Russia. He told me that he doubts he will ever be able to go back. But his heart is still there. Yesterday two of the most important leaders of the evangelical church came to Oak Park to make a special presentation. Pastor Alexie Bychkov and Pastor Vasili Kuliakov, along with Sasha from the seminary in Moscow, met in my office with several family members and several of the elders to present John Sergey with an honorary Doctor of Theology decree from the Moscow Evangelical Christian Seminary in recognition of his ministry to the Russian church for so many years. The Russians are a naturally eloquent people so both pastors made beautiful speeches for the occasion. Pastor Bychkov said that coming to present this doctorate was the crowning jewel of their trip to the United States. When the certificate was given, there was so much joy. Now when we see John Sergey, we can call him “Dr. Sergey” because he has earned it with 60-plus years of faithful service to the Lord and to the people of Russia. I thought to myself, “This is a crowning day of John’s ministry.” It’s a small foretaste of heaven, when the Lord will say to us if we are faithful, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord.”
The rest of the passage offers three motivations to encourage us to endure hardship and to stand strong in the grace of Christ. First, remember Jesus. That’s what he says in verse 8. Remember who Jesus is, and remember that he rose from the dead. Second, remember those who suffer for the faith (verses 9-10). It’s good for the soul to recall those who have paid a high price for believing in Jesus. Paul may be chained, but you can’t chain the gospel. Paul says, “It doesn’t matter what happens to me. Whether I live or die is no big deal. The only thing I want is to see the lost saved. If my going to jail will help others find salvation, then I would rather be in jail than be free.”
Third, remember your reward. Verses 11-13 are probably a fragment from an early Christian hymn. Here is my paraphrase of these verses:
If we die, then we live with him.
If we endure through hard times and never give up, then we reign with him.
If we disown him because of cowardice, then we lose our reward.
If we are faithless because of doubts or fears or love of the world, he will still be faithful to us because he cannot break his promises.
This is truly good news because it means that the worst our enemies can do is kill us. But if they kill us, we go to heaven where we will “live with him.” If we lose, we win! So go ahead and stand strong, be bold, live for Christ, endure hardship, stand up for what you believe. The worst that can happen is the best that can happen. Our future is secure because it doesn’t rest on us; it rests on the faithfulness of God.
“He Believed in Jesus”
So I come back to the basic question. How will you be remembered? What will people say about you after you are gone?
What kind of man are you? What kind of man do you want to be?
What kind of Christian are you? What kind of Christian do you want to be?
What kind of husband? What kind of wife? What kind of father? What kind of mother?
I think about what my brother Alan said to the other doctors after Spencer died: “God will call you home when the time comes.” He’s right, and that moment may come sooner than you think. You can’t do anything to cancel death. It’s coming whether you’re ready or not. Perhaps you’ve heard this old saying, “Only one life, ’Twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.” No one who serves Christ while they are alive will regret it when they are dead. And what about those you leave behind? A friend from Alabama sent me an e-mail with a tagline that makes me chuckle every time I read it: “When you were born, everyone else was smiling and you were crying. Live so that when you die, everyone else is crying and you are smiling.”
I’ve been thinking lately about what I want written on my tombstone when I die. If they can afford a big one, I’d like it to say something like this:
A pastor to God’s people
A preacher of God’s Word
He believed in Jesus.
It’s the last line that’s most important. If when I’m gone, they remember that I believed in Jesus, then I will not have lived in vain.
How will you be remembered? What legacy will you leave behind? Build your life on Jesus Christ and you will never be disappointed, and those who know you will be sorry to see you go. Amen.
Dr. Ray Pritchard is the founder and President of Keep Believing Ministries.