WHAT IS LEGACY?

A good friend recently asked me in a phone conversation if I had any Bible references about legacy. She was leading a break-out session at a conference and wanted to include Scripture in the discussion. I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head, but I’ve been thinking about the subject since we talked.

One of the first things I did was look up the word in the dictionary and found that the first definition of legacy is “a gift by will especially of money or other personal property.” I knew passing on wealth was a part of legacy, but didn’t think of legacy as only, or even primarily, about it. When I consulted two Christian authors I was surprised—and disappointed–to note how much they wrote about money and wealth in their discussion of legacy.

Two and a half years ago when I stepped down after 30 years as pastor of Discovery Christian Church, I was honored by the theme promoted for my last Sunday “Celebrating a Legacy.” I can assure you the church body was not celebrating any financial gift I was giving as I left!

My preferred understanding of legacy is the second part of the definition as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” And the reality is what is transmitted or received can be either good or bad. The definition gives the illustration of a negative: “The war left a legacy of pain and suffering.” I’m confident all of us are aware of situations in which people have been hurt by damaging legacies passed on to them.

There are also many illustrations and avenues of positive and good legacies transmitted and received. I love the report of author Dave Ramsey who wrote “My grandfather left me an inheritance of character and wonderful memories.” I also appreciate his usage of the word inheritance to refer to something other than money and wealth. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that all of us are leaving and are going to leave a legacy. While wealth, education, and job or career are factors, legacy is about so much more.

To me, the most important aspect of a good legacy transmitted and received by those who follow is a person’s example. For the most part, one’s example is unintentional and far reaching. There will no doubt be some specifics that stand out to those impacted by our legacy, but there will also be innumerable incidents that don’t stand out, but have an accumulated impact.

Drawing from Ramsey’s comment, more than money and wealth, our most important legacy is about our character. And our character is shown by things such as how we treat others (including family, friends, strangers, those in need, our critics, and our enemies), how we respond to our mistakes (admitting and learning from them or denying and repeating them), and how we deal with problems. Again, in my mind, it’s about our example.

Understandably, we usually don’t think much about legacy until we realize we are getting older. Then, of course, we can’t go back and do it all over. What we can do, however, is use the realization to become more intentional from then on.

Jan and I moved to Texas in December to be closer to and more involved with our two grandsons. Interestingly enough, our home in Texas (not the one pictured above) is on Legacy Parkway. Is that prophetic for Jan and me?

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THREE TAKEAWAYS FROM THE CROSS

As we come to Good Friday and think about the cross, I want to share three truths about ourselves, about God and about Jesus from one of my favorite authors: John Stott.

“First, our sin must be extremely horrible. Nothing reveals the gravity of sin like the cross. For ultimately what sent Christ there was neither the greed of Judas, nor the envy of the priests, nor the vacillating cowardice of Pilate, but our own greed, envy, cowardice and other sins, and Christ’s resolve in love and mercy to bear their judgment and so put them away. It is impossible for us to face Christ’s cross with integrity and not feel ashamed of ourselves.

Secondly, God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension. God could quite justly have abandoned us to our fate. He could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing and to perish in our sins. It is what we deserved. But he did not. Because he loved us, he came after us in Christ. He pursued us even to the desolate anguish of the cross, where he bore our sin, guilt, judgment and death. It takes a hard and stony heart to remain unmoved by love like that. It is more than love. Its proper name is ‘grace’, which is love to the undeserving.

Thirdly, Christ’s salvation must be a free gift. He ‘purchased’ it for us at the high price of his own life-blood. So what is there left for us to pay? Nothing! Since he claimed that all was now ‘finished’, there is nothing for us to contribute. Not of course that we now have a license to sin and can always count on God’s forgiveness. On the contrary, the same cross of Christ, which is the ground of a free salvation, is also the most powerful incentive to a holy life.”

Taken from The Cross of Christ by John R.W. Stott, pp. 83 and 84; pub. by IVP, 1986.

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WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

One of the ways we might call someone down when we think they are out of line is to ask them, “Who do you think you are?” Parents sometimes ask that of their children, a teacher may ask that of a student, and a supervisor might ask it of a subordinate. It’s clearly not a question seeking information, but an expression of disagreement with something said or done. More than that, however, it is an attempt to put someone in his or her place. During the final week of Jesus’ life leading up to His crucifixion a group of Jesus’ critics asked a similar question for the same reason.

It was the week of Passover and the roads were crowded with people going to Jerusalem. On Palm Sunday Jesus entered the city riding on a donkey with crowds cheering and spreading their cloaks and palm branches before him. It resembled the entrance of a king and must have reminded some of the messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Certainly Jesus’ enemies noticed.

Then early in the week Jesus entered the temple and turned over the tables of the money-changers quoting Jeremiah 7:11, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it ‘a den of robbers’” (Matthew 21:13). This action also got everyone’s attention, including his critics—who were not at all pleased.

Only Matthew reports that after this Jesus healed some who were blind and some who were lame. “But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant” (Matthew 21:13). Matthew doesn’t record it, but this must have been “the final straw” because Mark tells us that after the money-changers episode, “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at this teaching” (11:18). And so they questioned him.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include this incident with only minor differences. Mark tells us the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders came to Jesus in the temple and demanded of Him, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you authority to do this?” (11:27 and 28). One of the things they had to be referring to by “these things” was Jesus throwing out the money-changers; but they were also no doubt going back to the way he had entered the city on Palm Sunday and everything else he had done since then.

They asked Jesus two related questions. They wanted to know what authority he had, and they wanted to know who gave it to him. In other words, as suggested above, “Who do you think you are?” They knew that to do what he was doing required some kind of authorization, and they knew they hadn’t given him that authority.

From these gospel accounts, it’s not immediately obvious what was behind this line of questioning. Perhaps they thought Jesus would claim the authority of the Messiah. He had certainly done and said things that suggested he thought he was the Messiah. But if he made that claim overtly the question was still relevant: who gave him that authority? Not only that, they might accuse him of blasphemy as they did a few days later when he was before the Sanhedrin.

Throughout his ministry Jesus had taught and acted in his own name and with God’s authority. That’s why his disciples followed him and crowds came to hear him. As a teacher Jesus was not like the other “official” teachers of the time. After Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew tells us “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (7:28b and 29).

As always, Jesus’ response to their questions was masterful. At this point he was not yet ready to directly tell them he was the Son of God, so he responded with a question for them. “Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!” (Mark 12:29 and 30). On first reading, Jesus’ response seems evasive, but it really wasn’t. Is was the same basic question they had asked him, but Jesus’ question was not about himself, but John.

Jesus’ question of his questioners put them on the spot. All three accounts tell us they argued (Matthew and Mark) or discussed (Luke) with one another their two possible answers, neither of which worked for them. They had not accepted John’s message so they said to themselves, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’” (Mark 11:31). But because of John’s popularity they reasoned among themselves, “But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet’” (Matthew 21:26).

New Testament scholar Alan Cole suggests Jesus was not trying to trap them, but to give them the opportunity to admit they were wrong and acknowledge that both John and Jesus were legitimate. But they resolved their dilemma by giving the only answer they thought they could: “We don’t know” (Mark 11:33a). That answer, of course, did not help them, but it served to authenticate Jesus.

Note that Jesus did not deny he had authority, but responded, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (Mark 11:33b). Many in the crowd that day, as well as Jesus’ critics, knew he approved of John as a true prophet. And John had approved of Jesus as a prophet and much more. If John’s authority came from heaven, then so did Jesus’ authority. Commentator R.T. France affirms, “No one who heard Jesus’ response could fail to understand the implied claim to continuity between his ministry and that of John, and therefore to a divine authority for it.” But in the way Jesus handled the exchange, those who questioned him could not use it against Him.

It is telling that these critics were unwilling to answer Jesus’ question. Even though they thought they knew the answer, they pleaded ignorance. But their non-answer was an expression of fear; not fear of bodily harm, but fear that the people would lose respect for them and their position. Ironically, their unwillingness even to answer Jesus’ question probably also resulted in loss of respect for them among those witnessing the exchange.

You and I know not only who Jesus thought he was, we know who he was and is. And we know where He got His authority. He was and is the Son of God.

(Adapted from chapter 10 of my book “Questioning Jesus: Considering His Responses.” Feel free to leave a reply below and/or share this post on Facebook and other social media.)

 

DO YOU NEED THIS?

Although I’ve never participated in Ash Wednesday, like many Christians, for many years I have focused my devotional life in a variety of ways during Lent. As we approach Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, I have been intensifying my focus. Earlier this week I read something that has given me a fresh challenge during these last two weeks of the season.

I was reading a 2004 college commencement address by Dallas Willard and his definition of repent got my attention. He said “Repent means to change the way you’ve been thinking and acting.” I don’t know about you, but given that definition, I need to do some repenting.

Most of the time we think of repentance as something that is needed and takes place at the beginning of the Christian life. Both John the Baptist, as well as Jesus, called people to repent as they launched their public ministries. And on the Day of Pentecost, when the Church was born, Peter told those present they needed to repent.  Clearly there is an initial repentance in becoming a follower of Jesus; but I don’t think that’s the only time believers need to repent.

With Willard’s definition in mind, I went to an old book by William Barclay I remembered that had a brief discussion of repentance. In it he reports that repent “literally means an afterthought as opposed to a forethought. An afterthought, a second thought, is usually a changed thought.” It’s not as crisp a definition as Willard’s, but if you read it slowly it has some pop.

As I read Barclay’s description I could not help but think about Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal/Lost Son in Luke 15:11-32. In the story, after the boy had lost everything, Jesus tells us in verse 17 “When he came to his senses” he had a change of heart and decided to go home. Verses 17-20 paint a picture in Barclay’s words of an afterthought, a second thought, which was a changed thought. I think the boy repented.

The general understanding of repentance is that it requires three things: a recognition of having done something wrong, regret/sorrow for doing it, and a resolve to do better. I hope you see why I don’t think repenting is something limited to the beginning of the Christian life, but is needed throughout the Christian life.

Today through Easter Sunday seems to me like a good time to consider the practice of repenting. Beyond that, participating in the Lord’s Supper seems like an appropriate time. Would it be too much to suggest we give it some thought on a daily basis?

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SOME THINGS HAVE CHANGED

In a book published in 1985 that is new to me, the author declares “to note the obvious: some things have changed.” Yes, it is obvious; some things have changed. At the age of 66, and having recently moved from Southern California (after 32 years) to the Texas Panhandle, I’m well aware of much change in my life. And I am intrigued by this matter of change.

Change is inevitable. Yesterday I went to get my Texas driver’s license and had to fill out those four areas describing my appearance. My height, weight, and eye color are all still the same as my old license; but I changed my hair color from brown to gray. (I don’t mind my gray hair–at least I have hair!) Not only is change inevitable with our bodies and physical appearance, change is inevitable with almost anything and everything. We may not like it, but we cannot stop it.

A lot of change is good. Much of what we call progress is good change. In my life I have benefited, and hope to benefit in the future, from changes in the medical field. As Christians we want to change—we want to grow and be transformed into the kind of people the Lord has called us to be. Admittedly, the process of even good change can be uncomfortable, but we like the result.

Change often is good, but not everyone agrees whether certain changes are good or bad. Change that is progress to some is certainly not progress to others. Often a person’s perspective on whether social and cultural changes are good or bad is generational. I think it’s safe to say not all the changes are good, nor are they all bad.

I am most interested in changes in Christian theology and doctrine, understanding and interpreting the Bible, and living the Christian life. When I was in high school our youth group was split down the middle with regard to the question “Can Christians dance?” That may or may not be a question asked today, but I’ve always agreed with Tony Campolo’s answer: “Some can, some can’t.”

A couple of current high profile controversial issues in the larger Christian community, not necessarily related, are the role of women in ministry and the traditional view of sexuality and marriage. A variety of Christian leaders have changed their views on one or both while many have maintained longstanding positions.

I don’t think it is wrong for a Christian to change her or his mind about a particular issue, doctrine, or biblical interpretation. For years the magazine The Christian Century published a number of essays titled “How My Mind Has Changed.” And in 2010 a book titled How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership was published with multiple authors contributing.

I think there is value in the suggestion made by the author I quoted earlier that perhaps what we presently believe, as well as believed in the past, both need to be carefully rethought. Those two words “carefully rethought” get my attention. It seems to me a lot of changes are made that are not carefully rethought as well as some changes resisted without careful rethinking.

One thing we do know is that God does not change. Theologians call it the immutability of God. A.W. Tozer explains that means “He never differs from Himself.” Later he adds: “What peace it brings to the Christian’s heart to realize that our Heavenly Father never differs from Himself.” In his classic book Knowing God, J.I. Packer has a chapter entitled “God Unchanging.” In it he notes God’s life, character, truth, ways, purposes, and Son do not change. He summarizes, “This thought brings comfort as we enter into the perplexities of each day; amid all the changes and uncertainties of life, God and Christ remain the same.”

Some things have changed and things will continue to change. I gain comfort and peace from knowing God doesn’t. Don’t you?

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PRODUCING FRUIT

For the past couple of weeks I have been slowly working my way through a new book by Christopher Wright entitled Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit. I’m not necessarily recommending it, but reading it has challenged me once again to give some thought to just how the fruit of the Spirit is produced in our lives.

To refresh your memory if needed, the Apostle Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 and 23. He contrasts the nine qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with an undesirable list of “the acts of the flesh.”

While reading Wright’s book I watched a short video online by a pastor who suggested that telling believers the fruit of the Spirit is “character traits we should try to work on” is wrong. He emphasized “the fruit of the Spirit are [sic] the result of walking by the Spirit.”

In his introduction about the fruit of the Sprit, Wright declares “these are the qualities that God himself will produce in a person’s everyday, ordinary human life because the life of God himself is at work within them.” Later in the book, however, when discussing patience, Wright asserts “It is fruit, but at the same time we need to work at it. There is effort and struggle involved.” Those two statements seemed almost contradictory to me.

I then went to a commentary on Galatians by one of my favorite writers, John Stott, and read his observation that the fruit of the Spirit is “the natural produce that appears in the lives of Spirit-led Christians.” I then checked another commentator I like, and writing about love as fruit of the Spirit he noted it requires “deliberate effort” to never seek anything but the best for someone. These two statements also seemed somewhat contradictory.

How is the fruit of the Spirit produced in a believer’s life? Is it automatic? Does the Holy Spirit just make it happen? Or do we have a part to play? Do we have to put forth effort and work at it? We don’t completely understand how the Spirit produces His fruit in us, but it seems obvious we have a part to play.

I think the reality is, that in order to produce this “cluster of nine Christian graces” in our lives, we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit whom the Lord has given to live in us. Citing two phrases from the larger context of Galatians 5:16-26, Stott clarifies: “there is clearly a distinction between ‘being led by the Spirit’ and ‘walking by the Spirit’, for the former expression is passive and the latter is active. It is the Spirit who does the leading, but we who do the walking.”

We have a part in producing the fruit and the Holy Spirit has a part. The Spirit will not do it without our cooperation and we cannot do it without His help. I’d like to see more of this fruit produced in my life. How about you?

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A NEW HOUSE PRAYER

(Many readers know that in December Jan and I moved from Southern California to the Texas Panhandle to be closer to our two grandsons. On one of her visits in November Jan went house hunting and eventually decided we would buy a new house. The only problem was the new house was still to be built. They built the house in about three months and last Friday we closed. The truck with our belongings arrives today. This is the prayer I prayed last night.)

Heavenly Father,

As we move into this new house, our hearts are filled with gratitude for your blessings upon us. Occupying our own house marks the next step in the transition to this new chapter of our lives. What a transition it has been and will continue to be in the weeks and months ahead. You have been with us every step of the way and we pause to thank You as we take this next step. We also again thank You for the quick and easy sale of our house in Moreno Valley and for Rob’s outstanding work as our realtor. Having our son as our realtor was an extra blessing!

This will be the third new house You have allowed Jan and me to buy in our almost 43 years of marriage. We realize many never have the opportunity to buy a house at all, let alone a new one—and yet we have had the privilege of buying three! I am so grateful for and to Jan for taking the lead with everything in purchasing this house. (However, as You know, it only seems appropriate since I did it over 32 years ago when we moved from Philadelphia to California.)

Living with our daughter and two grandsons the last three months has been a wonderful experience. We will miss what we have enjoyed so much, but it’s time for us to have our own home. Having our own house, and being so close to them, will be the best of both worlds! We’ll probably visit more often than we should; and we look forward to regularly having the boys spend the night with us.

We ask You to watch over our possessions and us as the truck travels from California, things are moved in, and this house becomes our home. Help us both be patient (mostly me!) as we arrange our furniture, unpack the boxes, and set up the TV, computers, and other things I don’t understand.

Lord, we want our house and home to be a place of warmth, peace, and love—for us, our family when they visit, and guests we hope to welcome from time to time. We want to be good neighbors and servants to those in our development; and we want Your light to shine though us that others may see it and glorify You. Help us to be both wise in our witness and humble in our service.

Father, I certainly don’t know the future, but You do. This very well could be the last house we own. Not only do we thank you for our new home, and ask for Your blessing upon it and us, we also dedicate it to You. Like everything you have committed to our care, this house is also Yours. Help us we pray to enjoy it and take care of it. May it be a place where Your love is preeminent and Your name is always honored.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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