Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Leaving a Legacy

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that whose who believe are children of Abraham.

                        Galatians 3.6-7

Dynastic Mystiques

A friend and I talked about the Kennedys last weekend, as many did, saying how sad it was to lose Eunice and Teddy 14 days apart. “The real tragedy is none of the grandkids met their stature. I guess this ends the dynasty,” he said. I didn’t buy it. Every socially conscious American under 60 is a Kennedy, I told him—everyone who owns responsibility for the disadvantaged and disabled is an heir to their legacy. When you peel away the money, glamour, and scandal, passion for freedom and justice rests at the core of the Kennedy mystique. Rising to the occasion forced them to rise above privilege, tragedies, and deficits. Their perseverance inspired millions to do the same. And as poorly as they often behaved, the integrity of the their beliefs was never at issue. It held them together and survives in we who are bound by similar beliefs.

In Galatians 3, Paul cites another dynastic mystique that molded millions of lives despite its family’s flubs. Quoting Deuteronomy, Paul says Abraham “believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (v6) He doesn’t go into Abraham’s dalliance with a maid, their illegitimate son, the nephew who slept with two daughters, the grandson who stole the family fortune, the great-grandkids who sold their little brother into slavery—none of that. Abraham’s unswerving faith is why he’s revered as a righteous man. His legacy outgrew his family, entitling all who believed to claim his lineage, regardless of ethnic origin or social status. “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith,” Paul writes in verses 8-9, “and announced the Gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

Epic Proportions

Abraham actually didn’t appear to accomplish very much in his lifetime. For the most part, he wandered around, looking for a spot to raise children he didn’t have. The longer and farther he roamed, the older he and his wife got, until their childbearing years elapsed. But Abraham was driven by a promise. God told him he would father a nation. His heroism springs entirely from his confidence in God no matter how it flouted conventional wisdom. His wife even laughed at the idea of having a child and parenting a people. Still, reaching old age without a son in his arms or a country in his possession wasn’t enough for Abraham to give up. He kept going, and going, and going. At the age of 100, his child arrived.

Before his grandchildren were born or the promised territory fell into his hands, Abraham died. Yet to the end, he believed God. And God honored Abraham’s faith. “It was credited to him,” Paul explains. God owed Abraham. So it turns out, while Abraham left the world with little to show for in measurable terms—one son—his accomplishment reached epic proportions. His legacy continues to this day. What we believe goes back to Abraham, who invested all of his trust to yield an inexhaustible fortune of faith.


Sometimes God calls patriarchs like Abraham. Sometimes he endows entire generations, much like the Kennedy sons and daughters. Either way, he equips them with long-range vision that looks beyond lifetime achievements to focus on leaving a legacy. It’s altogether possible the work they start won’t—can’t—be completed in one generation. But their all-consuming belief it can and will be done is credited to them. Long after they leave the scene, God continues to honor their commitment. Their faith legacy multiplies with each generation until it exceeds their family’s needs and spills into common trust accessible to everyone.

Writing to first-century Christians, many who live as outcasts and wanderers among their own, Peter says, “You are chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2.9) If we believe that, we can be that. Changes we long to achieve may not be ours to enjoy before we leave. Christian acceptance we pray for may not come in our time. Nonetheless, faith in God’s promises and what He’s chosen us to do must not fail. In closing, Paul encourages the Galatians: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest of blessings if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6.9) Our work here will be finished in time and on time, if not for our sake, then for that of future generations. Living only for ourselves, looking only for our good, means nothing we do will outlast us. Leaving a legacy is how we create change that endures.

We may not complete the work we’re chosen to do, yet for the sake of those to come, faith in God and our efforts must not fail.

(Tomorrow: Give ‘Em Something to Talk About)

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