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FIRST-PERSON: Leaving a legacy of faith

DEL CITY, Okla. (BP)–“I had a grandmother who was a believer,” a man once told me as he sat across from my desk, “and she was my favorite. I always wanted what she had. Do you think it’s possible?” As we shared for a few more minutes, he became the beneficiary of his grandmother’s legacy of faith.

There is no greater gift you can give to your family members than leaving them a legacy of faith.

When King Solomon stated that, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” (Proverbs 13:22), he was most likely referring to earthly wealth. That is good advice as far as it goes. It is unfortunate that in spite of leaving a sizable fortune for his grandchildren, Solomon was not in the end remembered for his faith. Sadly, the compromises of his latter years resulted in a divided family and a divided kingdom. Better for us all that he had focused on leaving a legacy of faith!

In his second letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul reminds his young protege 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.

My grandfather was a preacher who in his early days was a hard-hitting, Bible-thumping, barnstorming, brush arbor exhorter of the brethren. Preaching up and down the border between Arkansas and Oklahoma, he often stirred such controversy that posses 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 the very year of her death.

When my grandparents were in their “eighties,” 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 full stomachs, prayer and encouragement. My grandparents were determined that their latest days would be their greatest days, and they were!

My youngest brother, Bill, is the gifted pastor of the dynamic Summit Church in Little Rock, Ark. He is also our family’s poet laureate. This poem of his, read at a family reunion as a “charge” to our children, reveals the incredible impact of a legacy of faith:

God has done a wondrous work down through the family line, as one by one,
He’s called men out to walk with Christ through time.
And now the Lord has called your name, this heritage to share,
For He has passed this torch to you and on to those you rear.

Our God desires to multiply His work yet more and more,
Each generation gaining from the one that’s gone before,
‘Til growing tides of godliness like waves upon the shore,
Build tidal waves of praise to Him, both now and evermore.

And so your family from above watches from the heavenly stands.
The gathered wealth of all God’s done is placed within your hands,
To run the race with faithfulness, with holiness, with truth,
‘Til God’s work is perfected, and our family’s task is through.

The bottom line is this: Whatever you do, leave a legacy of faith and faithfulness.
This article is excerpted from the book, “Letters to Lovers,” by Tom Elliff, recently released by Broadman & Holman Publishers. Elliff is pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla., and chairman of the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life which, in conjunction with the SBC Pastors’ Conference and LifeWay Christian Resources, is inviting Southern Baptists to the SBC’s first-ever Kingdom Family Rally June 16 in Phoenix, Ariz.

    About the Author

  • Tom Elliff