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“[John] said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”  (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:23-27).

Sal Mattson appropriately died on Good Friday. His legacy is partly captured in the University of Tennessee campus newspaper:

Campus evangelist passes away | The Daily Beacon

If you have not watched (I know the video drags quite a bit but it really is worth watching)  and read the links above, what I say next won’t have near the impact that it should. At least not the impact it had on me.

My brother attended Sal’s funeral. He described it as a joy-filled celebration despite Sal living only 53 years and leaving behind a wife and 5 children. There was much rejoicing over Sal’s homegoing and His Savior. The stories told there magnified what we learn from the links above. He gave his life to preach the Gospel from a sidewalk on the rabidly secular campus of a state institution of higher education. What we might not know is how he was treated by those he ministered to. His eulogists’ shared how Sal was often reviled – cursed, mocked, and even spat on. But he never uttered a harsh word, instead, we are told, he looked lovingly at his nemeses and kept pleading that they hear and believe.

One such account symbolized his self-denying, cross-bearing pursuit of rejecting everything that might hinder knowing and following his Savior. I paraphrase:

“One day a group of students was particularly cruel to Sal, saying and doing terrible things. Profanity laced names were thrown his way and objects were hurled in his direction. One of the group was convicted enough about this injustice that he returned to apologize for the group. And he did. Sal’s response? ‘Thanks, but it’s OK. Let’s talk about your salvation.’ The young man soon professed Christ and returned often to visit Sal as he continued to stand and preach to an unwlecoming audience. The boy sometimes stood by his side in an attempt to deflect the insults and harassment.”

Sal was so committed to evangelism that the weekend before his transition, weighing only about 70 pounds and moving in and out of consciousness, he telephoned his father-in-law to share the Good News. I’m sure that the man’s profession of faith was a very powerful and meaningful going away present for the dying evangelist. Think about it – the last task Sal Mattson accomplished was to share the Gospel and hear a loved family member say “yes” to Jesus.

And when was the last time we told someone about our Savior? Would that be the most important thing on our mind as we were wasting away with cancer and our death imminent?

I wish I were more like Sal Mattson than I am. Really, I desire to be more like Jesus – for He truly is the ultimate example for Sal, for me, and for you. So often we sit in our comfortable pews, we serve on our committees, we attend our Bible studies and “Christian concerts,” we blog, we give back a portion of God’s provision, we pray, we read our Bible…we do most of “the right things.” But do we give ourselves? All of ourselves…like Sal did. To Jesus and others, that is. More importantly and clearly, do we give like Jesus did? 

So I think it only fitting we conclude this tribute to Sal and his Savior with Christ’s own words. I think they are quite appropriate:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Please know we can only live like Sal did, and like Jesus wants us to, when empowered by Him and His Word and not through self-effort alone. We must be compelled by loving Christ because we know He first loved us, and how much that cost. So, in the end, it is not Sal or us who gets the glory…it’s the Savior. And I’m convinced Sal would have it no other way.

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“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is 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” (2 Timothy 4:5-8). 

This year I turn 50 (God willing) and will be eligible to become a member of AARP. Please don’t start some morbid celebration because I’m quite sure I won’t join – it seems hypocritical to be a member and not retired and I am not emotionally ready to cope with such a label as “retired” (or even being called a 50 year old – my gracious, that’s half a century). Nevertheless that number – “the big 5 0” – is enough to cause me to pause and ponder the brevity of life and the probability that I’m on the downward side of my stay on this planet. I have no deluded fantasies about riding off into the sunset. That may be because I really can’t ride a horse without expecting injury and major surgery. It also may be that I still believe that I have a legacy to improve upon. Paul finished strong and I want to as well. 

Paul’s encouragement, in his last days, to young Timothy tells me several things that we need to do to be confident that our departure is one of peaceful resignation of a job well done. This reminds me of Jesus’ words, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21, 23). Oh, how I long to hear those words and enter into His happiness. Can we think of anything greater than that?  But that requires faithfulness. Paul says to Timothy, But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (verse 5). This means clear, biblical thinking, enduring the trials and challenges of serving Christ, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus, and being fully committed and devoted to what God has called you to do. Paul rejoices (v. 7) that he has “kept the faith”. 

Finishing strong for Jesus also means self-denying sacrifice. Paul’s life was ‘poured out” (v. 6), spent completely for the cause of Christ. In other words, he was all used up for the glory of God. There was nothing left in the tank that had not already been consumed in Paul’s obsession with serving his Savior. Paul chose to burn out rather than rust out because his Lord was worth the expenditure of Paul’s’ life itself. Leaving a legacy for our Lord includes fighting the good fight until the end (v. 7). Paul was in a war for his King. It was a war that required endurance until the end no matter the pain or consequences. Soldiers do not quit but press on despite the danger and the obstacles knowing that their great leader will captain them to ultimate and eternal victory (1 John 5:4, I Corinthians 15:57). As Paul nears his departure from this earth he knows that He will be rewarded “on that day”.  

Paul’s motive is unquestionable. It was his love for His Lord and desire to be in His presence. He “longed” for Jesus’ appearing. He was compelled to leave a legacy that demonstrated and magnified the One he both lived for and died to gain (“for me to live is Christ and to die is gain – Philippians 1:21). Paul yearned for the presence of his Savior. And a crown awaits all those with the same passion. 

But for me to have this type of confidence as I near my departure and enter into my Jesus’ presence I must be obsessed with “seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). That was the way Paul was and that was his legacy – faithful to His Jesus, sacrificial in his living, used up for the cause of Christ, and enduring as a warrior until he drew his last breath. Is that my legacy? Is it yours? Will we be able to greet our Savior with such a disposition and resume? In order for me to do so I must finish strong. As I said, I have a legacy to improve upon. I beg that God’s Holy Spirit moves in me in such a profound way that I can complete my race with the same confident attitude as Paul. I pray for the surrender that will allow His power to enable me to finish strong! No matter your age, will you come along with me? For the sake of our Lord and our legacy, will you?

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