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FIRST-PERSON: Giving your family a legacy of faith

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–It was one of those tense moments which ultimately became a turning point in the life of a young building contractor.

If he backed away from his request, he would lose any of the profit originally anticipated. What’s more, it would cost him an additional amount sufficient to exhaust his resources and perhaps bankrupt his company. So now he had come to admit his mistake in drawing up the bid and ask for more money.

“Absolutely not!” was the terse reply as the signed contract was waved in his face. “This is your bid and your signature. We chose you over several others because of it. We trusted you to do your homework. You should have included a margin for cost increases. It’s too late now to change. You gave us your word.”

“It was that last statement that settled the issue for me,” the contractor recounted. “He was right. I did give him my word and I had to keep it regardless of what it did to me or my company.” Then he shared why keeping his word was of such importance.

“You see, I inherited this business from my father,” he said. “On more than one occasion I have seen him eat his profits and, in fact, go in the hole in order to keep his word. Dad would remind me that all we had to trade on was our integrity, and if we sacrificed that, we could not depend on the Lord to bless us. To him, it was more than a matter of integrity, it was a matter of faith in God. He often told us that when he took Christ as his Savior he also made him the CEO of his company. He never wanted to do anything that would give his ‘Boss’ a bad reputation.”

The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Family

There is no greater gift you can give to your family members than leaving them a legacy of faith. In his second letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul reminds his young protégé that the “unfeigned faith” which he possessed resided first in his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). They had passed on to him a legacy of faith. It’s impossible to give away something you don’t originally possess. As personal as salvation is, there is a sense in which we receive it as a gift passed along from God to us by others. Paul was reminding Timothy of his spiritual “roots.”

One winter, while away from home on our annual time together, Jeannie and I had a serious talk about what we most desired to leave our children. We both decided that the most important treasure we could pass along would be a legacy of faith. In fact, these words are recorded in my journal: “My greatest desire is that I would be a living illustration of God’s faithfulness to those who are simply willing take Him at his word.”

Before we returned home, we received word that our house had burned to the ground. We thought it interesting (in light of our discussion) that not one thing was lost in the fire that we felt it crucial for our children to inherit. We saw, in fact, that the manner in which we responded had the potential for even increasing the inheritance we wanted them to receive … a legacy of faith.

A Point of Beginning

Every legacy of faith has its point of beginning. I am blessed to be in a family which has in it several generations of preachers. At the most recent count there are 15 preachers spread across four generations. But as best we can tell, our family’s legacy of faith stretches back at least two more generations. It was then that a young mother on a train headed back east fell seriously ill. It soon became evident she would die. Calling her unbelieving husband to kneel beside the bench where she lay dying, she made him promise to give not only himself but their new child to God. The next Sunday in a small country church, a rough, angular man stood to testify. Holding his small a child in the air, he said, “Brethren, I have given my life to God and have come today to be baptized.” My father is named after that man whose wife’s plea marks the beginning point for our family’s legacy of faith.

“There was a beginning point for your faith,” Paul reminded Timothy. “It dwelt first in your grandmother.” With those words we are reminded that every legacy of faith has its point of beginning. Occasionally when telling our family’s story, I am confronted by someone who laments, “But I didn’t receive a wonderful heritage of faith.”

That simply means you have the privilege of being the first in line, the beginning point, for generations to come. What an awesome privilege! Have you thanked God for the honor? Are you passing along the faith God has given you? Our family is thankful for that young mother who in her dying moment passed along a legacy of faith.

It’s Under Your Watch!

Timothy’s grandmother made certain that the torch of her faith was passed to her daughter who then passed it to her own son. That is not always the case. On more than one occasion I have talked with parents whose own children “came to church faithfully” but have now “strayed from the faith.” Admittedly, we cannot discount the power of personal choice. After all, remember the prodigal son. Neither can we “pass the buck” when it comes to nurturing a growing sense of spiritual heritage. Churches don’t raise children … parents do! How is your family’s legacy of faith faring “under your watch?” Is it developing, or disappearing?

A legacy of faith is not “wished” into existence. It takes prayer, personal interest and participation. I sometimes get the impression that a few folks think they can just wake up in the morning, fall out of bed and pass along a legacy of faith. It requires much more than that! It requires what a friend of mine calls “finishing well.” A legacy of faith is like a flame. It requires “tending.”

Incredible Impact!

Timothy was the recipient of at least two letters penned by the apostle, Paul. Those two letters, inspired by the Holy Spirit, are some of the most significant letters in the New Testament. While we know little of Lois or Eunice, we know a great deal about Timothy. You cannot help but wonder if his mother and grandmother ever imagined that, one day, Paul would place his ministerial mantle upon Timothy. That’s the incredible impact inherent in a legacy of faith.

Years ago, when Jeannie and I were just engaged, I took her to visit my grandparents on my father’s side of the family. My grandfather took her hand in his, held it to his lips and kissed it. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “That’s an old Elliff custom … and I’m the old Elliff who started it!” But that’s not all he and my grandmother “started.”

My grandfather was a preacher who in his early days was a hard-hitting, Bible-thumping, barn-storming, brush arbor, exhorter of the brethren. Preaching up and down the border between Arkansas and Oklahoma, he often stirred such controversy that possees would be called out to protect him. On one occasion, in fact, the music for a revival was provided through instruments belonging to the “Anti-Horse Thief Band.” My grandmother, on the other hand, while a quiet and gracious lady, was the greatest soul-winner I ever knew, leading dozens to the Lord even in the year of her death.

When they were in their 80s, I began pastoring a small country church in a town near where they lived. Generally, as I made my way back to college on Sunday evenings, I would stop by their home with a carload of friends. There my grandparents would fix a late-night breakfast and talk about the Lord. It is impossible to relate just how formative those discussions were for my friends and me. We always left with prayer, encouragement … and full stomachs. My grandparents were determined that their latest days would be their greatest days … and they were!

The bottom line is this: Whatever you do, leave a legacy of faith and faithfulness. When Southern Baptists meet at next year’s Kingdom Family Rally (the day following the annual meeting in Phoenix), they will be launching a strategy for establishing just such a legacy in your own home.
Elliff is pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, in suburban Oklahoma City, and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • Tom Elliff