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Begin at the End
June 7, 1981

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

2 TIMOTHY 4:6-8

Most decisions we make are short range. What do we eat? What do I wear? What shall we do today? Where shall we go on vacation? All decisions are important for each decision has a consequence. And that consequence in turn becomes a stepping stone in the process of the next decision, and the next consequence, and the next decision. Every decision is consequential. But rather than starting at the beginning of the decision, begin at the end. Begin at the end and work backwards. Rather than making decisions in the light of the previous decision, decide where you want to be at the end and then back up and make decisions that bring you to that end. 

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy at the end of his life, and as he looked back on his life, because he had attained and reached his goals, he wrote of a great satisfaction, a feeling of fulfillment. Paul wrote to Timothy and said, “The hour has come for me to be sacrificed.” He knew he would be dying for Christ. It was the custom in the Roman religion of that time to pour a cup as a symbol of sacrifice and Paul, in a sense, was pouring out his life as a sacrifice. The hour has come. And as he looked back on his life, as he looked from the end, he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have done my best in the race, I have run the full distance, and I have kept the faith. And now there's waiting for me the prize of victory, the crown of righteousness.” 

Set the goals you want to attain, and then back up and make decisions that will bring you to the fulfillment of those goals. That's the process by which you can live a satisfying and fulfilling life. But also very important then is the content of that goal, is the content of that end. When you leave this life, what kind of legacy will you leave behind? What kind of epitaph will be written or said about you? What will people say about you when you leave this life? And what would you like that to be? What would you like to have remembered about you? 

I followed an old truck the other day. An old man was driving this old truck. And on the back of his truck he had this sign, “Evil to they who evil do by word or deed.” Now that wasn't some long haired kid, he was an old man. I immediately knew two things about the man. I knew that he didn't know much about the English language, but of course, that isn't important anymore. We used to pride ourselves on how well we could speak the English language, but now it's difficult to tell an educated person from an illiterate person the way we slaughter the English language. Well, he slaughtered it in that sign. I also knew about him that he was no Christian. He was the opposite of Christ. For Jesus said, “Do good to those who persecute you. Return good for evil.” Would you like to leave that kind of an epitaph? Evil to they who evil do? Would you like that said about you? 

Shirley Edwards tells of a family camping trip they went on. Devon their son brought along a friend. A stranger, a youth in the distance fell down fell flat on his face and Devon's friend said to the family, “If you don't see him, you don't have to help him.” That's a modern philosophy of non-involvement. If you don't see him, you don't have to help him. Would you like that said about you at the end of your life?

Contrast those epitaphs with the ones we heard yesterday at Libby Fong’s funeral. You remember Libby Fong who sang in the choir with her family. She sang in our choir before her husband Leo was appointed to St. Mark's Church and they went to serve that church in Stockton. She died at the age of 36. Cancer ravaged her body. She couldn't see. She'd lost her hearing and she was in terrific pain these last several months. But what was said about her yesterday, she ended her life with people saying she had given her all. She was persistent and determined to do what God wanted her to do. And she willingly gave up her all. She believed in her family. She believed in her marriage. She believed in the mission of her church. She believed her church would grow and reach out to its community, and she gave everything she had to the Sunday School and the choir. 

Gloria told me that within the last couple months, they had a series of meetings at the church, and Libby committed herself to making cookies for the evening meetings. Her eyesight was so bad, she used a magnifying glass to see the recipe. Her hearing was so bad she couldn't hear the timer go off on the stove and most of the cookies were burned. But she didn't know they were burned because she couldn't see. She never felt sorry for herself. She did what she had to do. She did what she wanted to do. And that's what was said of her. 

When you leave this life, what do you want said of you? What kind of legacy will you leave behind? Begin then at the end and work backwards. Make decisions that bring you to that end. Let me ask us all a question to help you determine what kind of end you seek, a question that will help you look at your life and see where you're going. What are you willing to die for? A few weeks ago in Pam's sermon she used a quote which impressed me very much, a quote by Glendon Swarthout from his novel Where the Boys Are, characterizing the youth of this generation as being very shallow. He has one youth say, “We (that is youth), we have everything but the one thing without which human beings cannot live— something for which to die.” 

If there's nothing important enough for you to die for, there's probably no reason for you to live. Probably nothing is important enough in your life to live for if you won't die for it. People are dying for causes today. Bobby Sands made the headlines in Ireland as he went on a hunger strike so believing in that cause that he died and three others have followed suit, dying from starvation. That is dedication. Would you die for such a cause? Would you die for any cause? Would you die for honor? Would you die for your name? Would you die for your country? Would you die for Jesus Christ? Christ calls you to give your all, yo give all that you have. Sometimes Christ asks us to die. More people die for the name of Christ in this world today than ever before in history. More people are martyred, dying for what they believe in. Christ doesn't always ask us to give up our physical lives, but Christ does call us to give up and to sacrifice. 

When I was in high school, I was the president of the youth group in my senior year. My birthday that year fell on Sunday. My parents said, “For your birthday, we want to take you to Minneapolis to a nice restaurant for dinner.” Well, I love to go places. I love to eat. I love to go to nice restaurants. But it was a Sunday night and I was president of the Methodist youth fellowship.  I had quite a struggle. Should I go with my family or should I go to church? I decided I must go to church. I was the president. It was my duty. It was my responsibility. And so I went to church and they went to dinner without me. Can you believe that when I got to church that evening, the kids had a surprise birthday party for me! What if I had not gone? Christ calls us to make decisions and give up things. 

A few weeks ago, a woman in our church came to me and said, “I believe in the music ministry of this church and I want it to continue. I will give my life savings of $1,000,” which she had been saving for a trip. She said, “I will give that.” I said, “We're not the kind of church like the TV preachers that take everything you've got. Let God call you. Let's wait and see how the money comes in. If not enough comes in, let's meet again.” Well, enough money came in so she didn't have to give her savings, but she did tithe and gave $100 which is biblical. But, she was willing to give it all. 

And when you willing to give it all, Christ says, when you lose your life, you will find it. That's the paradox. When you give it all away, it all comes back. Christ may call you to leave and to move to the mission field. Christ may say, “I need you somewhere in this world.” Did you read the Brockway’s letter in the Epistle? Beautiful letter. Les, Margaret and the kids have left comfortable St. Lucia, where they lived in a beautiful suburb of Brisbane. They left their comfortable surroundings and went to the middle of nowhere— Darwin in northwest Australia, the outback—to work with the Aboriginals in a hot, terrible climate with insects and bugs. They took a big cut in salary so Margaret has to work. This might be a mission cause someday for our youth groups to send some money to their project. 

When you are willing to give because Christ calls, in return you get your life. Paul said, “I have fought the good fight. I've kept the faith. And now there's laid up for me a crown of righteousness, the prize of victory.” The German philosopher Nietzsche wrote, “They who have a why to live for can bear with almost any harm.” As Libby did, she bore her cancer because she had a why to live for. 

As you kids get confirmed today and as the rest of us look at our lives, begin at the end. How do you want to leave this life? What kind of a legacy do you want to leave? Work backwards, giving it all to Christ.

© 1981 Douglas I. Norris