I turned 39 years old this past May. It seems like yesterday I was 19 and ready to take on the world. I had dreams, plans, and ideas and a forever in which to fulfill them. I thoroughly believed I would do something to change the world. But then, life happened.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like the carpet of dreams was pulled out from under my feet causing them all to tumble down into a useless heap. It wasn’t quite that dramatic. But, reality has a way of biting. But, for me even reality was okay. I had a steady girl, a good job, my own car, and my own pad. I was saving money. I looked around one day and realized I was living the American Dream!
But then, my perspective changed. Rather, I met God and he changed my perspective. I’ve spent time discussing how I came to know Jesus, so I won’t bore you here with another rehash. Needless to say, several years after were a constant dogfight of me trying to understand grace, live in it, cling to the Dream, and hang on to reality.
During these dogfight years (which haven’t entirely subsided), I got married, changed jobs, went into ministry, and had kids. The having kids part is sort of the main focus of this blog, at least in a sense. Getting back to the initial sentence in this piece, I looked around this past May and found myself at almost 40 years old, almost fifteen years married, a part-time youth pastor, part-time banquet set-up guy, semi-eternal student… and the father and daddy of two precious children.
Of late I’ve been dealing with life insurance and the fact that I’m almost “over the hill.” This has led to much introspection on my part, as well as “outrospection” (surely not a real word).
I have an 8 year old son and a 1 year old daughter. I love them dearly. They are, earthly speaking, my most cherished possessions (along with my wife). When Jakob was born eight years ago, I noticed a shift in my priorities. I realized that I don’t own a lot of stuff, and the earthly inheritance I will leave them will be meager at best. That weighs on me somewhat. I’d love for them to be “set up” when they reach college age. Hopefully, I still have a few years left in me, so we’ll see how that goes.
As a parent, a Christian parent in particular, I often think about what type of legacy I will leave for my children. To that end, I want them to understand and embrace what Peter wrote:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:3-8).
I first want to leave them a legacy of saving faith. Of course I can’t save my own children, but I can be faithful to teach them Jesus. Not the sanitary blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Sunday School Jesus, but the God of Glory and Savior of mankind. I can’t do this apart from showing them that Jesus is the center of God’s grand scheme of things, and that they are not. I want them to know that works, church attendance, keeping the ten commandments, or their own self-assurance cannot save them. Only Jesus can. Therefore, they must repent and believe in him, lest they perish.
I do not want my children growing up to believe that repeating a prayer, signing a card, raising their hand, or taking a brief swim in the church baptismal equals biblical salvation. My experience in student ministry over the years has taught me that those things are more to placate parents who refuse to wait on God’s grace than actual salvation.
I want my children to know that if their faith rests in anything — anything — other than Christ alone, then they are without hope and utterly doomed.
I pray that God visits both of them with the grace and faith that leads to salvation. It’s a gift, not of works, so that I, nor their mom, nor their grandparents, nor their church leaders, nor anyone else can boast in it (Ephesians 2:9).
I want to leave them a legacy of grace. In my understanding, grace is a gift of God. It cannot be earned, added to, subtracted from, or manipulated. God was gracious to us in giving his Son for us when we were far less than deserving (Ephesians 2:3-5). I want my children to understand this, and to live it.
While living a life of grace, I want them to know they cannot simultaneously live a life of legalism. It won’t work. Paul said it wouldn’t (Romans 11:6). I don’t want them believing in unbiblical concepts such as “do this and get this” from God. God has given us more than we need. Our obedience is motivated by love (which came via grace), not the promise or denial of reward.
Should they ask from God? of course? Should they expect from God? Certainly. Should they use grace to test God? Never.
I want to leave them a legacy of service and sacrifice. In the culture in which they presently live, my children hear about how much they deserve and how much they are owed. Whether it be opportunities, rights, or, wealth, or influence, the culture says they deserve it. I suspect it’ll only get worse.
Serving self is placed high above serving others in our culture, and often even in the church. Contrast this to the biblical view, which says that servant-hood and sacrifice is the highest calling we have, because we are to imitate Jesus (Matthew 20:28). Unfortunately, we are often taught — either implicitly or explicitly — that God is here to do for us, that we should do for ourselves, and doing for others is optional.
I want my children to serve because Christ served us. I want my children to sacrifice because Christ sacrificed for us. May they never see it as an option, but as a normal, integrated dimension of the Christian life.
I want to leave them a legacy of eternity. I want my children to understand that what they do in the here and now echoes in eternity. I want them to know that this isn’t all there is. They have something much better to look forward to, and it isn’t streets of gold and mansions. It’s being with their Lord.
As Peter said, I want them to have a “living hope.” I don’t want them to be small-minded about God or his kingdom. Things may be hard, things may be rough, failure and disappointment will surely come, but hey, it’s going to be okay. They should look ahead to better things (Hebrews 10:34).
I want them to understand that the things in this life can be ripped away from them. Nothing here is certain, so they’d be wise to hold to the things of earth with a loose grip. However, what they strive for is “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” And that inheritance is secure as surely as God himself is secure.
Final thoughts. In addition to the things I outlined, I’d add a love for the Word, the ability to not take one’s self so seriously, and a respectable work ethic. I realize as a parent, I’m as prone to fail as I am to succeed. I often pray that my children will see me with eyes of grace, past my failures and my flaws, to how much I love them. I often pray that what they learn from me, that it glorifies God and God alone, and that by sheer grace, they will overlook the less than exemplary aspects of me.
Now, I’ll ask you: What kind of legacy are you leaving for your children? What about the legacy you’re leaving for the world around you? How about the legacy you’ll leave as it concerns your testimony of Christ in you?
We should all labor and strive to leave a legacy for our children that glorifies God. It’s fine to want to leave your children money, land, homes, etc. But, do we understand (and will they) that those things cannot be compared to the spiritual legacy we leave them?