Revive Our Hearts Podcast

If I Could Do It All Over Again, with Jon Gauger, Day 4

Joni Eareckson Tada: A regret? Let’s see . . .

Leslie Basham: If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?

Joni: . . . will they ever show the uncensored version of Joni? Not the clean-cut version that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association filmed some years ago, but I wonder what the uncut, uncensored version would look like?

Erwin Lutzer: If I could do it over again, I would spend an awful lot more time investing in the lives of my children!

George Verwer: I think the thing, looking back, that I should have worked on more (I thought I was working on it!) is the whole area of patience and the sins of the tongue. I did declare war on that, worked on it, but I think that’s been my area of failure. I’ve also hurt my wife at times. I’m just so quick, sometimes, to react. 

Gail MacDonald: I think I would do more exercising and more praying.

Josh McDowell: One thing, if I had it do over again, I might expand my level and number of friends.

Michael Easley: Before I came to Christ, I was stupid. I was licentious; I used drugs; I did about anything you could do. I know I’m forgiven; I know I’m cleansed. I know am seen through the work of Jesus Christ, but if I could go back and talk to that stupid teenage kid and say, “Don’t be licentious. Don’t do drugs. Don’t make these stupid choices you made.”

Ravi Zacharias: I think what I would probably say is to the young: Take life seriously early. Don’t wait until the strength of youth has gone by. Don’t underestimate the shaping of the soul early in life.

Kay Arthur: I can’t change the past. There’s not a thing I can do to change the past. It is done. It is over. It is promised to be used of God to make me into the image of Jesus Christ—and so, why would I go there?

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of the daily devotional, The Quiet Place. It’s Monday, January 9, 2017.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: We’ve been talking over the past few days with Jon Gauger, who is a longtime staff member, radio producer, and co-host with our friends on the other side of Lake Michigan—our friends at Moody radio.

We’ve worked together on projects in the past, and it was a joy to be a part of this little project—that turned into a big project!—that you did, talking with different Christian leaders about this subject: If I could do it all over again.

You recorded interviews with twenty-eight leaders. I somehow had the joy of being among that number. It was a great exercise for me to think about these questions. You recorded those interviews; we’ve been playing the audio from some of those in this series.

And then, you’ve compiled the best of those, or the most helpful of those, into a book called If I Could Do It All Over Again: Christian Leaders Share the Most Important Lessons of Their Lives. Thank you for joining us over these days on Revive Our Hearts.

Jon Gauger: Thank you for letting us share something of the journey that we’ve been on with so many of these Christian leaders, yourself included, and for kind of peeling back the layers to see what’s really going on in their lives.

Nancy: I know that many of our listeners will want to have a copy of this book. It’s available. I’m so thankful that you’ve compiled this—it’s just such a great idea—to learn from the wisdom of others. You said these people had to be fifty or older.

Some of them were into their eighties, or perhaps even older, so we’re listening to sages, to some wise people who’ve learned some lessons hard ways. All of them point us back to the Scripture, point us back to Christ, point us back to His grace.

This has been so, so good—listening to people like Michael W. Smith and Joni Eareckson Tada, Tony Evans, Ravi Zacharias, Kay Arthur, and others. I love getting this up close and personal glimpse. Some of these things that you asked me aren’t things that naturally come out in my books, so I’m glad you caused me to think about these things.

Jon: Nor would I be comfortable having those questions asked of me, to be honest.

Nancy: Well, let’s see what we can do about that, now that you’re in the hot seat there!

One of the questions you asked (and I want to combine a couple of these questions today) that have to do with considering eternity—thinking about the end of our lives . . . In fact, Scripture encourages us to do that. Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (NASB).

So, thinking about the end of our story, what comes after the hyphen in the dates we lived. Mine’s going to be 1958 to whatever comes after the hyphen. Thinking about that last date of our lives is an important thing in helping to live in the “hyphen” perio.

What do we want on our tombstone? How do we want to be remembered 100 years down the road? I was just talking with you about how the founder of our ministry is buried in a cemetery not too far from here. He died at the age of forty-three from a brain tumor.

His tombstone, his marker, is a testament and testimony itself, talking about how knew God, he loved God, he believed God, he lived and died to the glory of God. Now, he didn’t have time to say what he wanted to be on his tombstone, but that was the testimony that was left that his team said afterward: “This is what summarizes this man’s life.”

So you asked people, what do they want on their tombstone? You actually unearthed (no pun intended) some interesting tombstones that people have (not things that these Christian leaders said, but things you discovered).

Jon: Right. Nancy, you and I—these days—are accustomed to tombstones that pretty much just say the name and the dates of the life, and that’s it. But historically, tombstones have been intended to convey much more than that.

A couple of my favorites would include: “Here lies on an honest lawyer;that is strange!”. . . a guy named Sir John Strange, who lived from 1696 to 1754.

From a cemetery at Bristol, England’s Bath Abbey: “Here lies Anne Mann. She lived an old maid, and she died an old Mann.”

Nancy: Great!

Jon: In Woolworth churchyard, there’s a couplet here: “As I am now, so you must be; Therefore prepare to follow me.” Now—added by his widow—“To follow you I’m not content, unless I know which way you went!”

Nancy: Pretty important there. Makes you think.

Jon: We should throw in one more. Consider the—as I put it—prodigious progeny of William Stratton, who lived in central London: “Here lies the body of William Stratton of Paddington, buried 18th day of May, 1734, aged 97 years. Who had, by his first wife, twenty-eight children, by his second—seventeen, was own father to forty-five; grandfathered eighty-six; great-grandfather to twenty-three . . . in all, 154 children.”

Nancy: Wow, that is a lot of kids!

Jon: This is kind of a neat one. For nearly fifty years, Henry Clementshaw served as a church organist for the Wakefield parish church. His epitaph reads in part:

“Now like an organ robbed of pipes and breath, its keys and stops are useless made by death. Though mute and motionless in ruins laid, yet when rebuilt—by more than mortal aid—this instrument, new-voiced and tuned, shall raise to God—its Builder—hymns of endless praise.”

Nancy: Oh, I love that! It reminds me of Dr. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (now Crew) who, as he was dying with a lung disease, hooked up to oxygen, just kept saying that to his final breath he wanted to be praising the Lord. And then he knew that for all of eternity, he would be doing the same.

Jon: Wow. Nancy, a little bit of interesting trivia on this book. The very first conversation we recorded was with Dr. Tony Evans. The date he had available to him was a date that we were going to be out of town, out at our camper.

We knew we wanted to capture the audio of Dr. Tony Evans in our studio; my audio, we would have to record with a little portable recorder. No problem. I’ve got a recorder and a mic. The only problem was, the weather wasn’t cooperating—lots of rain in the area.

I thought to myself, Where can I go to get away from this rain sound? Well, there was a church down the road. I thought, They’ve got an overhang there. I’ll park under the overhead and record with Dr. Evans there. Well, it wasn’t quite sufficient. But across the street there was a cemetery and an overhang of trees adjacent to the fence that outlined the boundaries of that cemetery. 

I parked under there, perfectly absorbing the rain sound. But how strange, in a way—and ironically perfect—to think that, here we are talking about “if I could do it all over again,” looking at life and the end of life—from the very perspective of a cemetery! Interesting.

Nancy: I find that is often a really good place to think about our lives—to think about where we’ve been, where we are, where we’re headed—to think about eternity, which we don’t think about often enough.

So when you asked people to answer this question, “What do I want on my tombstone?”—you were really asking them (and you’re asking us) to reflect on, “What do I want to be the sum total, the measurement, the at-the-end-of-the-day statement about my life?”

I’m so glad you asked all of us that question. You’ve recorded many of the answers here in the book, but I want our listeners to hear a montage that our team has put together of several of the answers from these different leaders: “What do I want on my tombstone?”

Nancy: This is author and pastor, Gary Chapman.

Gary Chapman: What would I like on my tombstone? You know, years ago I went to the cemetery and found the grave of a lady named Lottie Moon, who served as a missionary in China. For Southern Baptists, she became the lady for whom they named the annual missions offering—The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. I went there, and frankly, I was a little surprised that it was a very, very small stone.

And on the stone were the words, simply these words, “Faithful unto death.” And I wept, and I said, “God, that’s what I want. To be faithful unto death.”

Nancy: And, of course, these are the words from Jesus to the church at Smyrna from Revelation chapter 2. George Verwer, president of Operation Mobilization also finds what he would have written on his tombstone encapsulated in Scripture.

George Verwer: First Corinthians 15:58: “Be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, [knowing that] your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (KJV). But that’s probably too long for a tombstone. I’m not sure I’m going to have a tombstone . . . but maybe, just the words “Keep going!”

Nancy: Many of the leaders you interviewed, Jon, hope they will be remembered by their relationships—especially with God and family. Here are just two of them: Josh McDowell and Ron Hutchcraft.

Josh McDowell: “He followed Jesus, loved his wife, and spent time with his children.” If you are a true follower of Christ, you will love your wife and you will love and spend time with your children.

Ron Hutchcraft You know, my dad’s just says, “Husband, father.” That would be good. I love David’s “tombstone”—if you could put it that way, in Acts 13:36. It says: “David . . . served the Lord’s purpose in his . . . generation [and then] he fell asleep . . .” [from NASB]

That’s a pretty good tombstone for anybody—he served the Lord’s purpose in his generation. Is there any better reason for life?

Nancy: The space available on a tombstone is limited to just a few words. Pastor and author, Dr. Tony Evans, knows what he would like those words to be.

Tony Evans: “He knew God and helped others to know Him, too.”

Nancy: For Pastor Michael Easley, those few words are an expression of humility.

Michael Easley: You know, Vance Havner, I think, said it best, so I can’t improve on Vance Havner, where he said, “Just a preacher.” I think at the end of the day, we’re just tools, we’re just servants, we’re just hands and feet to the gospel. If I could be used and just know that I was faithful to the task . . .

Nancy: Here's Pastor Colin Smith.

Colin Smith: “He was upright; he was devout; he sought after Christ, and the Holy Spirit rested upon him.” These are the four things that were said of Simeon. If that was said of me, I’d be so very, very grateful.

Nancy: Finally, many use the words on their tombstone to remind others that there is life beyond this life. Here is Dee Brestin, Ravi Zacharias, and Joni Eareckson Tada.

Dee Brestin: I always liked what James Dobson said his mother wanted: “I told you I was sick!” But, no, I don’t want that. I already have my tombstone, because I will be next to my husband, and it’s, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21 ESV). Because our lives are so full because of Christ, and yet, the best is yet to come.

Ravi Zacharias: Definitely, what I would want on my tombstone is what I put on my mother’s gravestone, and I saw it on my grandmother’s: John 14:19, “Because I live, you also shall live” (from NKJV).

And I will just put a postscript beneath that, “Little did I understand how marvelous the depth and breadth of what life actually meant, until I found Him.”

Joni Eareckson Tada: When I was little and growing up, and when it was time for the family to go to bed—when lights would be turned out—we would hear called from around the house: “See you in the morning! See you in the morning!” I would say that to my sisters as I went off to sleep. I think I might like that on my tombstone: “I’ll see you in the morning!”

Nancy: These are many evangelical leaders who were interviewed by our guest today, Jon Gauger, filling us in on what they'd like on their tombstones. Now, when we come back on the next Revive Our Hearts, I’m going to share with you my answers to Jon’s question—some of which, Jon, you included in this book—and I’m going to tell you what I think I want on my tombstone.

That’s hard for a writer to choose just a few words, but there is a phrase that I think I would like to be on my tombstone, and I’ll share that on the next Revive Our Hearts. But my question to you, as our listener today, would be, “What do you want to be on your tombstone?”

And not so much what are the words, but what is the heart of how you want your children, your grandchildren, your friends—those left behind—how do you want them to remember you? What do you want to be the statement of your life?

And whatever you want that to be, can you then ask God for grace to live the kind of life today that will result in that being the tale that is told of your life? These are important things for us to think about!

Well, Jon, as you closed these interviews—and in the final chapters of this book—you asked these Christian leaders what is one thing they can’t wait to do in heaven—speaking of eternity, life beyond the gravestone, knowing that the gravestone is not “it.” The body goes down in the ground, one day to be raised—for those who have faith in Christ—but, when we go to spend eternity in heaven with Christ, what’s one thing we can’t wait to do?

Now, I was a little embarrassed after our interview by my answer—because the first thing I said to you was, “I can’t wait to be free from email!” And I thought later, What a nerdy answer that was!

I said more than that, and I’ll share the “more than that” on the next program, but it was kind of a top-of-mind thing. I must have had my Inbox really overflowing that day. But in a sense, we do anticipate—in heaven—being free from the burdens, the concerns, the labors of this life.

But you were really trying to press into, “What are the things we want to be done with, and what are the things we anticipate about eternity in heaven?”

Jon: For me personally, I am weary of a couple of things. I’m weary of the struggle of sin; I’m weary of constantly having a battle. I’m weary of seeing, observing, or partaking in fractured relationships.

I’m weary of going to funerals of great people. I’m more than ready to be done with that! And in heaven, there will be none of that! I think those, for me, are things I’m looking forward to about heaven.

Obviously, to sit at the feet of Jesus, to see Him in His fullness and His glory . . . what could that be like?

Nancy: You interviewed twenty-eight Christian leaders. We don't have time to hear them all, but here are the responses of a few of them.

Gail MacDonald: After seeing the Lord and all my family, I want to stand in line and see all of my dead book mentors, because I never had one that walked around in my lifetime. I’ll probably start with Mary Slessor or Amy Carmichael or Sarah Edwards then Jonathan Edwards. 

Joseph Stowell: The first thing I want to do in heaven is go see Jesus. Because I really don’t know what heaven will be totally like . . . When I grew up, I was an avid New York Yankees fan. Mickey Mantle, who played centerfield and who was the homerun king—number 7—was my hero! I heard that in the hospital, just before he died, he accepted Christ. I couldn’t believe it! I was going, “No way! Mickey accepted Christ!”

I had always stood outside Yankee Stadium at the players’ door with my dad hoping to see Mickey come out—hoping to get Mickey’s autograph. It never happened. So, maybe, after I just bathe myself in the joy of fellowship with Jesus, I might look for Mickey and get his autograph.

June Hunt: I’ve thought about this. I want to ask God to reveal to me all the times that He intervened, when I had no idea that He was involved. And then I want to thank Him for intervening in my life in ways that I had no knowledge of, and, therefore, was unappreciative.

I want to say, “Thank You Lord for all you’ve done for me—that I didn’t realize on earth—that I have experienced.”

Kay Arthur: All I want to do is hear from God, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” That’s all I want to hear from Him. I want to be pleasing to Him. Paul said, “I have as my ambition, whether in the body or out of the body, to be pleasing to Him.” 

Tim Keller: “Heaven is a world of love.” That’s Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon. When your teenagers would say, “I’m going out with my friends,” and I would say, “Where to?” And they would say, “Well, we don’t know. Out.”

Do you know why they said that? They said it because they didn’t care where they were going, as long as they were with these friends. And if you know how important love is, it is so much more important than what you do. Who you do it with is much more important than what you’re doing.

So if heaven is a world of love, perfect love—absolute—and there’s nothing more delightful than to feel love and to be giving love and to having it be answered . . . If you think about the two or three moments in your life in which you felt the most loved and the most delighted and the most blissful—the most over-the-top—and then you multiply that by three billion . . . then I’m starting to figure out, “Okay, this must be like what heaven is like!” The idea of going to see somebody, having a conversation, asking three questions . . . that just seems trite. I think heaven’s going to be way better than that somehow.

Tony Evans: I'd like to see a video replay of some of the great events in the Bible, like the opening of the Red Sea or the Jordan River. 

Jan Silvious: One thing I can’t wait to do in heaven is to see Jesus, and to see Him in His glorified body . . . to know that I’ll recognize Him because of the scars in His hands . . . but, just to see Him! And of course, you think of heaven and you think of all of the many, many exciting things that are going on there right now. 

Then also there are the people you want to see. But I just want to see Jesus and look at Him and just say, “Oh, it is You! And those scars are real. And that’s why I’m here!” And That means a lot.

Joni Eareckson Tada: Well, I’ll tell you, most people think—or at least they assume—that I will jump up and dance and kick and do aerobics and be so excited about my new glorified body. Oh, my goodness, how wonderful it will be to have a body with hands that work and feet that walk and knees that bend and a back that arches and hands that can be lifted high!

But I think what I am most looking forward to in heaven is having a new heart! I cannot wait to feel—I mean really feel—what it’s like to not have a sinful thought, a rebellious inclination, a tendency to pity myself or growl or grumble or complain. I can’t wait to see what it feels like to have a heart free of sin. That will be heaven for me.

Colin Smith: To see Christ, for sure. That’s gotta be the first answer there. The glory of Christ, fully seen, fully perceived . . . “Now we see in part.” That’s gotta be the answer to that question.

If you start talking about the new heaven and the new earth, and the glories of the new creation, there’s all kinds of stuff that is going to be a joy. But it’s hard to imagine what it’s going to be, because we can’t fully discover that.

But to see Christ and to full see His glory has got to be the answer to your question.

Harold Sala: Sit at the feet of Jesus. Naturally, I have a lot of loved ones who are there, and I have a host of friends—but it is to be in the presence of the Lord. And I hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” That is the only thing that counts!

Nancy: Well, Jon, this has been a really thought-provoking series of programs for me, and I’m so thankful that you interviewed these leaders and that you have compiled their responses in this really helpful book, If I Could Do It All Over Again.

Throughout this series, we’ve been offering this resource to our listeners as our way of saying "thank you" when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. I hope that many of our listeners will take advantage of this opportunity to get a helpful and insightful book. 

It's one that makes us ponder our own lives, our own journeys. What would we like to have a do-over on? What would we like to do more of? What should we be doing more of? What should we be doing less of? How would we answer some of these questions?

So I want to ask you: What about your own life journey? Is it going to be shaped by the wisdom that you’ve heard about from these different leaders, from the wisdom of God’s Word that they’ve shared with us?

Or, are you just taking this in as more information, more things to hear, one more thing that you know in your head but maybe don’t do anything about it with your life. You know about it in your head, but are you going to do something with this wisdom that will make a difference in how you live your life moving forward?

Jon: Nancy, what you are sharing there is just so central—critical—to this discussion. The availability of wisdom really has nothing to do with whether or not that wisdom gets applied—at least I know that’s true in my life. 

I think of the story of Rehoboam in the book of 1 Kings (we talked about Solomon early on in one of the conversations here on Revive Our Hearts. Here is his son, Rehoboam), son of the world’s wisest man. He stood poised to become king in his father’s place.

But as our good Bible students know listening to Revive Our Hearts, there was trouble throughout the northern tribes. Jeroboam, a capable administrator under Solomon, said this to Rehoboam: “Your father was hard on us, like a heavy yoke. But if you’ll lighten our load, I can persuade all of Israel to support your kingdom.”

The unstated implication seems to be that there’s going to be big trouble if there aren’t some changes around. Rehoboam received similar counsel from the older men who had served his father, Solomon. They said, “Rehoboam, be gracious, go easy here.” But the arrogant Rehoboam rejected all this wisdom. He took an even tougher stance with the people.

And you know what happened? Devastating results! The kingdom split, the northern tribes spiraling into godlessness, the kings from the North going bad. None of this tragedy needed to happen. Why did it all go so wrong?

Again, it wasn’t a lack of access to wisdom. Rehoboam had it coming out of his ears. His father Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. The key was that Rehoboam collected good wisdom, but he failed to act upon it.

I hope that’s not the case with me; I hope that’s not the case with any of our listeners, Nancy.

Nancy: Let me just say to our listeners, if you’ve enjoyed this series and you want to think more about these important topics, these subjects that—they’re not the kinds of things you think about every day, in the course of everyday life—are the kinds of things we ought to pause every once in a while and consider more intentionally.

I want to encourage you to let us send you a copy of this book. We’ll be glad to do that when you make a donation of any amount to help support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. This is at the heart of what our ministry is about—causing people to think deep and right thoughts about God and about themselves and about God’s Word.

So it’s a great resource. When you make a donation to the ministry, let us know that you’d like a copy of Jon’s book, If I Could Do It All Over Again. The number to call is 1–800–569–5959, or you can visit us online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

You can read the transcripts from the last few days’ programs. You can post a listener comment and tell us your thoughts and how you would answer some of these questions. I did this on Facebook and Twitter over the last few days and got some really helpful responses from many of our listeners about things they would do differently if they could have a “mulligan,” if they could have a do-over. They shared some of their regrets, some of their life lessons learned. We don’t just learn from famous people—we learn from each other. I’ve done that, Jon, from listening to you.

I’m thinking about a verse, Hebrews 13:7, that’s kind of a New Testament counter to what you just shared with us from the Old Testament. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.” Not all leaders speak to you the Word of God. Remember the good leaders. 

These people that you interviewed . . . Now, the final chapter hasn’t been written on any of us, but so far, these are men and women who have proved to be faithful to the Word of God. And so, the Scripture says, “Remember them. Consider the outcome of their way of life.”

Consider how these principles, these truths, have impacted their lives—and they’ve shared with us out of their lives. And then it says, “Imitate their faith.” Don’t imitate them because they’re just following Jesus, but imitate their faith in Christ.

As they’ve kept their eyes on Jesus as they run this race, looking to the Author and the Finisher of our faith, so we’re challenged as we run our race to keep our eyes on Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of our faith.

Thank you for pointing us to these leaders who point us to Jesus. Because when it’s all said and done, when the story of our lives is told, when that tombstone is dropped in the earth over our cold lifeless body, if we have followed Jesus, loved Him, honored Him, obeyed Him, walked with Him, then the story of our life will be one that will pass on to the next generation. And they will be challenged and encouraged to consider the outcome of our way of life and to imitate our faith. May it be so for each of us.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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