Famous Last Words, Week One — “The Overachiever’s Overachievement” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Was the first “prepared” one in three weeks;
  • Imagined a conversation with Paul and Timothy in which the apostle tells his son in the faith that he’s going to “win the New Testament!”
  • Concluded with a precious photo from pandemic of a young Good Shepherder lifting his bible during home worship;
  • Led to this bottom line, modified from a teaching I’ve overheard before:  What if your greatest achievement isn’t SOMETHING YOU DO but is SOMEONE YOU RAISE?


So one thing I guess most of us are a little skeptical of or even frightened of is OVERACHIEVERS. You know the ones I’m talking about. When you were in school, they were the first ones to raise their hands when the teacher asked a question. Call on me! Call on me! When you did sports, they were the first ones to show up to practice and often the last ones to leave. Just a little more! Just a little more! When you’re at work, they’re the first ones to kiss the new boss’ … hand! Great to have you hear, sir! Just great! Overachievers and if you’re honest they intimidate you AND underwhelm you.

It’s funny. It took one of these personality tests awhile ago, one that defines some people as peacemakers and others as perfectionists and then still others as loyalists. Guess what category I fell under? Achiever. Which means my bent, my natural, UNREDEEMED wiring is to define myself by what I’ve done. Tennis in one life, preaching in this one, writing, whatever. I’m Talbot Davis, have I told you how many tennis trophies I won? Whatever it is, my natural inclination, especially if I’m not self-aware is that I AM WHAT I HAVE ACCOMPLISHED.

But here’s what’s true: the very reason we call them OVERachievers is that all of us – virtually – want some level of achievement. We want to accomplish something in life. You don’t have to test out on that personality survey to long for that. For some of you it’s to build a business. For others, it’s not so much to build a new business but to get a promotion in your current job. Others, it’s to coach that team at SCAA, to win that championship. A few of you, it’s to get that girl, to nab that guy, to win that prize. You want to achieve SOMETHING even if you’re not motivated by overachieving like some others. Because here’s something else I know is true: no one here, at a high school graduation party, ever raised a glass and said: “Here’s to a life of underachieving! May you be blessed with everlasting mediocrity.” Said no one ever. There are overachievers because most of us, at least, want to be achievers.

If anyone could vouch for overachievement, it was Paul. In one of his OTHER letters, he describes himself this way:

though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

A lot there, both in terms of his Ancestry.com and his own achievements. It’s almost I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth AND I pulled myself up by my bootstraps! So it would make sense, as he nears the end of his life, as he takes stock over his time on this planet, that he would put into writing almost a survey of his achievements. In his final letter to his closest confidante, Timothy, he’d let it rip: “Yo Timothy look what we did! Mostly me, but we too! Started 17 churches, wrote 13 letters (and get this, Tim, I’ve heard RUMORS that a few years from now the church is gonna collect all of these writings together, you know from people we know like Mark and Peter and turn it into what they call the New Testament … and guess what? I WIN!!! I’m gonna win the New Testament, T! I’ll have WAY MORE books than anyone else! Oh, that Peter with his ego he’s gonna be so flustrated! But man, that’s gonna be my legacy, my greatest achievement ever.” That’s how I would write it and that’s what I’d expect from overachieving, let me give you my resume, Paul.

Except that’s not what you get at all. 2 Timothy, Paul’s famous last words, never becomes a memoir of achievement. From the first to the last, it’s something much different. Look how he begins:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

Oh, what an odd way to start a farewell memoir. Instead of putting his name in lights, he immediately focuses the spotlight on God and his frank surprise that his apostleship was always GOD’S idea before it was his. And I love Jesus’ “promise of life” there because it comes in the middle of a culture of death.

And then 1:2:

To Timothy, my dear son:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

My dear son … tender, affectionate, relational. Which is interesting because they WEREN’T related. They were in the same Traveling Gospel Entourage but they were not blood kin. There’s more in 1:3:

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.

Guess what? You have very likely been that very person for someone else. Maybe it was a grandmother or a mom or a dad or a SS teacher or a pastor. But your presence here today is very likely an answer to someone else’s prayer. I KNOW 100% for sure that before I was saved my older sister Charlotte who’d been walking with Jesus for 10 years by that time, prayed me into salvation. She prayed me up here. If you have a living relationship with Jesus Christ, someone, like Paul with Timothy, prayed you to that place. Glory to God.

And in 1:4 we see that emotion and connection was reciprocal:

Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.

When did this happen? We don’t know, but likely at a departure where Timothy realized Paul was likely going to be executed for Christ and he’d never see him again. And then this beautiful genealogy, not of Paul, but of Timothy:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

We know from Acts 16 – the bible is SUCH A COOL LIBRARY! –that Timothy’s father was not a believer and yet the maternal line of faith got him where he is. And look how Paul describes it: that faith “now lives in you also.” I love that. It’s like this balloon (blow it up). The balloon doesn’t have air; the air has the balloon. The balloon only has shape and life because the air gives shape and life to the latex! It lives in the latex. That’s faith! Timothy doesn’t have faith as a possession; he is the possession … faith has him.

But look where all this pile on from an overachiever gets us. His last words begin not with a survey of his accomplishments but a deep dive into his relationships. It’s about his spiritual fatherhood for Timothy and about Lois and Eunice’s literal maternality. And it lets you know what this overachiever’s ultimate overachievement really is. Not his resume!  His Timothy!! And it leads to a question I want you to ponder, percolate, place in your head for a long, long time: What if your greatest achievement isn’t SOMETHING you DO but is SOMEONE you RAISE?

Oh my gosh, what a season we’re in. Just emerging from a pandemic, waking up from hibernation, ready to start to conquering things again, and then this reminder that WHETHER YOU ARE A PARENT OR NOT (which Paul wasn’t!!!), your achievements will always be more about the generations you impact than the gold you accumulate. And especially if you are a mom or a dad and you tend at all to the kind of achievement-based identity (and sickness) that I do, then what a great time to do a re-set. To have Paul’s last words become the first words of a fresh season in your life.  What if your greatest achievement isn’t SOMETHING you DO but is SOMEONE you RAISE?

Now: parents, moms: maybe you feel like the mom of a 4 year old son who found herself pregnant (post Quarantine?). And the four year old was a great listener and overheard mom and dad chatting about it. A bit later mom takes four year old to department store (back open!) and a woman notices she is quite pregnant. And so she asked 4 year old: Are you excited about the new baby? “Yes!!” he answered. “And I know what we’re going to name it, too! If it’s a girl we’re going to call her Christina, and if it’s a boy we’re going to call it quits!” Yep, I suspect some of you feel that way, regardless of gender, especially after spending SO MUCH time together.

Yet I want to invite you to resist that. Because listen, moms and dads, grandmoms and granddads, AND PEOPLE WHO LIKE PAUL AREN’T PARENTS AT ALL: The Gospel … INCARNATION, INSTRUCTION, CRUCIFIXION, RESURRECTION, ASCENSION, COMPLETION … is an heirloom. A family treasure. And it is always under assault. People want to steal it out from your family tree. They want to rob it of its power, edit it out of relevance. The rest of 2 Timothy will be so much about the dangers from beyond the church AND WITHIN IT of false teaching. In the Gospel we have priceless treasure, the ultimate family inheritance and if we don’t tell it people won’t know.

I loved reading about that survey that said the children are much more likely to embrace the faith of their parents – have faith LIVE IN THEM! – if they know specifics of what mom and dad believe. Not a general “Man Upstairs.” Not a benign “Good Lord above.” Not even a vague “Higher Power.” No! We who love recovery here know that our Higher Power is in fact the Highest Power of them all, Jesus died, risen, reigning, and returning. No life skill, no budget savvy, no study habits, no baseball card collection, no coaching system for a college scholarship will ever be as valuable as that. What if your greatest achievement isn’t SOMETHING you DO but is SOMEONE you RAISE?

But hold on hold on hold on. What about you who aren’t parents? Remember: neither was Paul! And yet Timothy was his “dear son.” Can I tell you about our approach to student and kids ministry here? The only reason we have PROGRAMS is to set up the POSSIBILITY of relationship. Did you hear that? The PROGRAM is never the goal. The relationship that emerges from it always is. This was so vivid during Quarantine. I love this photo: AV  House Party. When they couldn’t get together physically, student ministry VOLUNTEERS (people like YOU!) hosted virtual LifeGroups via something called the House Party App. While the world was on lockdown our students were on lean in … and it was the volunteers doing it. People who knew that even beyond their own kids, there is a collection of other Timothys God has given them.  What if your greatest achievement isn’t SOMETHING you DO but is SOMEONE you RAISE?

That could be YOU. Sharing how you’ve been rescued, delivered, and now you’re moving to maturity. Our whole approach in ministry with the next generation is that in addition to mom and dad (or, in some cases, mom. Dad.) is that church is there to be ONE MORE VOICE in the life of that child. That’s what happens here. We don’t replace parents; we augment what they’re doing. We mobilize an army of loving volunteers who dig into the lives of kids and students and are that EXTRA voice of consistency, love, and faith. They’re ppl who know  What if your greatest achievement isn’t SOMETHING you DO but is SOMEONE you RAISE?

And moms and dads, can I share with you what I got right and what I got wrong? Right: both our kids walk with Jesus and married people who do. Awesome. Wrong: in retrospect it was less a matter of WOW God is incredible and more a matter of NO. Don’t do stuff that’s harmful. Don’t be governed by your impulses. Tithe for your own good. Thank God they followed that stuff! But I showed them God is useful & fell short in letting them know he’s beautiful. It’s not about behavior modification but Gospel saturation.

And I love seeing you all get it right. One of the undeniably good things God massaged out of the unbelievably bad pandemic was all the kids watching service with mom and dad in an interactive way. And this moment in particular


You know what those are photos of? Your ultimate overachievement. I can’t wait to see what THAT GENERATION will do with THIS TREASURE.  What if your greatest achievement isn’t SOMETHING you DO but is SOMEONE you RAISE?