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What Do You Want On Your Tombstone?

What Do You Want On Your Tombstone?

I’m not the type to sit and ponder death for hours on end. Unlike Billy Crystal’s character in When Harry Met Sally, I tend to spend a bit more time on topics that live above the underground. Meaningful, eternal topics … like sports and women. So you can imagine my surprise when death popped into my head while I was happily thinking about a woman. Actually, I was lying in bed, thinking of questions to ask her the next day that would show my contemplative nature when my subconscious blurted out: What would you want your tombstone to say?

At that point, I obviously had to think it through. I was lying in bed thinking about death, with no hope of falling asleep anytime soon. I came to a conclusion: I would want my tombstone to say: He loved God; he loved people. That’s it. Well, perhaps a word to two about how my beautiful bald head lit up a room, but basically just the love thing.

In the book of Revelation, John says to the church of Ephesus, "I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love" (Revelation 2:2-4).

He goes on to say that if they don’t repent, He will remove their lamp stand (church) from its place. From what I hear, there is no existing church in Ephesus today. It’s amazing (and tragic) that this church could be “doing for God” so much, but still lose sight of why—or for whom—they were doing it. Truth be told, it also makes me wonder how easy it might be for the same to happen to me. Unfortunately, I am afraid it would be pretty easy.

C.S. Lewis said that the Church exists for no purpose but to draw men into Christ, to make them "little Christs." He claimed if that isn’t happening, all the Bible studies, missions, service, etc., are simply a waste of time.

In the book of Luke, we read of Jesus’ visit to the home of a woman named Martha. It says, “She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her’" (Luke 10:39-42).

Certainly, Martha was not carelessly wasting time. She was diligently serving the Lord. But she was neglecting something far more important: cherishing His presence. Service is important. Yes! Scripture says we were given spiritual gifts for the edification of the body (1 Corinthians 12:7). But it seems that we can often urge one another to serve with no perception toward Whom we are serving, and with no consideration of why we serve our Lord. It becomes another task, another activity in our society of movement.

How much time do we waste in the name of noble activity? Or perhaps the better question is how often do we choose service of obligation over unrestrained adoration of the Father. Are we Mary, or Martha? Have we chosen the better thing that will not be taken away? If it can be said of me—"He loved God, he loved people"—then I guarantee it may also be said, "He served others." But saying "He served others" does not guarantee the former.

[James Gottry has spoken to many youth about character and good decisions, and has appeared on MSNBC to argue in favor of abstinence education. He also maintains a website,, that is visited by almost a dozen people every day (including his family of course).]

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