Your Legacy

Author and speaker Alex McFarland tells the story of a man named John Fleming. Fleming lived a quiet, unassuming life in a small town. He was well liked and considered a faithful member of his church and a loving father and grandfather. When he died, over 500 people came to his funeral. Before the service began, folks were coming to the daughter and sharing story after story of how her father had helped them in a time of need. She had no idea of the extent of (her father’s) generosity or that he had helped so many people in their times of need. The stories filled her grieving heart with joy as she settled into a pew at the front of the church. When the pastor began to offer his remarks, he lifted up John Fleming’s tattered and worn Bible and said, “Our dear brother John was a believer in Jesus Christ. Not only did he read and believe this book, but he also put it into practice in his day-to-day life. The impact the Bible made on John Fleming’s life is evident by your presence here today.” 

It is a normal thing for most human beings to think about their legacy. What will you leave behind? What will be the crowning achievements of your life? Every day, we are adding content to the stories that family and friends will recall about our legacy. I’ve listened to folks recount these stories. Rarely are the brand of clothes folks wore ever mentioned. Neither bank accounts nor house size find their ways into the recollections of people’s lives. What are remembered are the stories of character and personality. The influence that folks have had on their family, the neighbors and their community are the things that are remembered. Eventually, even those are forgotten. As the years go by, the name on a granite tombstone becomes a stranger to the world. Ultimately, your faith in God through Christ and the impact you have on those who follow you are the only legacy that is eternal. Solomon writes, “My child, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and humanity” (Proverbs 3:1-4). 

Even if you have some regrets, a good legacy is reachable. The Bible is full of stories like Moses who committed murder, Sarah, who could not believe God’s promise, King David, also a murdered and an adulterer, the Woman at the Well, who was unlucky in love, Peter, who denied Jesus, and Saul, yet another murderer and enemy to the Body of Christ. These saints all had lost their way, but through God’s mercy, which has been fully revealed in Christ, they discovered the path that led them to be remembered as people of integrity. If you stumble, don’t dwell on all of the troublesome details. Make God’s grace the emphasis of your testimony. Let your humility before a holy and loving God the lesson that was learned from the experiences. Too often, we tell ourselves that we can’t do something or be a good witness because of a past mistake. 

When we turn to God with humble and grateful hearts, God is able to take our broken testimony and restore it to a legacy that glorifies Him. The early church understood the prophet Isaiah’s words to be the foreshadowing of Christ who came “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…to comfort all who mourn…to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning, a mantle of praise in place of discouragement” (Isaiah 61:2-3). 

Don’t let your past paralyze you. The church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners. It is a place with people at different points in their spiritual journey. None of us are better or more holy. Our holiness is not because of our deeds, but because of what Christ has done. As I said in this past week’s sermon, the robes of righteousness we wear are not our own, they are Christ’s. He has given them to us. He has given them to us for a reason. Allow your testimony to be the testimony of God. With God there is hope. With God there is salvation. With God there is peace. With God there is joy. With God there is meaning. Our legacy is God’s hand in our lives and God’s hand touching others through our lives. 

Practice Makes Perfect

“Hey, what are you doing?”

To be honest, I didn’t even hear him the first time. He continued, “You kinda weirded me out. You were just sitting there staring off into space. You ok?” I chuckled and nodded my head. “Yes, I was just thinking,” I replied. “What were you thinking about?” he asked. I should’ve told him what I was thinking. I wanted to be thinking about the topic for this week’s Christian Echoes article. What I couldn’t stop thinking about were all the folks with whom I had been involved over the past few days.

Several weeks ago, I started planning a new sermon series. We have an interesting situation at First Christian Church. Our weekly attendance has declined, but our monthly attendance has increased by over 30%. That means we have more people coming less frequently. Statistically, our congregation has about 540 unique individuals who attend at least once per month. That is up from about 354 per month five years ago. Because of this change in attendance patterns, we have been thinking and praying about how we can best disciple the increased number of people more effectively with less time.

I recently rediscovered a book on Christian practices I read a few years ago entitled Practicing Our Faith by Dorothy C. Bass. This rediscovery spurred me to begin drafting a new sermon series, Practice Makes Perfect. In my preparations, I had read several sources but kept coming back to Bass’s book. In the preface, Bass recounted how she wanted to write a timely book that would relate to all kinds of people in encouraging readers toward a deeper spirituality.

Today is the day I write my article. It takes several hours of research, thinking, writing and editing to get it where I want it. Unfortunately, my plan for today didn’t unfold as usual. It has been a day of one situation after another. Some of the people into whose lives I was thrust are members of our congregation and others are not. I worked with two families who lost loved ones over the past few days, a working homeless couple, and an addict trying to get treatment. Before I knew it, the day was gone. And still, I had not written my article. I made my way to a local coffee shop and sat down, opened my computer and stared at a blank screen. I picked up Bass’s book and began to read the preface again and noticed that she was sharing about her time in a mountain retreat center. I read about the problems that are all too common in my life and, most likely, your life as well. She talks about juggling athletic practices, children’s schedules, friendships, household chores and frustrations at work. She concludes: “We yearn once again for a way of life that is whole, and touched by the presence of God.”

In working with all of the different folks today, I got caught up in the immediate needs. Most folks weren’t dealing with soccer practice, ballet class or water cooler gossip. Most were more interested in a place to stay before the coming rain storm hits or looking for a place to shower before going to work, reluctant to use services at The Neighborhood. One just wanted a few moments when his hands wouldn’t shake as his body screamed for another drink.

What was I thinking? Good question. I was thinking about how to speak the Gospel to a world with vastly different immediate needs. Some suffer from self-loathing or grief, and although they have a home and job, they are begging me for answers to make the pain stop. Others suffer from addictions and extreme poverty and are begging me for answers to make the pain stop. Is one pain worse than the other? Rich or poor, addict or temporarily down on one’s luck, I agree with Bass. I believe the answer is a life “touched by the presence of God.” But, what does that look like? Whatever your situation, I pray you’ll gather with us over the next four weeks as we are reminded that Practice Makes Perfect.

Equally Honest…Different Approach

I am a minister in a part of Christ’s church known as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Every other year, we gather for a General Assembly with delegates from all over the United States and Canada for worship, education, and the dreaded business sessions with its Resolutions.

Throughout my years of ordained ministry, I have grown more certain in my opinion that Resolutions at General and Regional Assemblies polarize folks far quicker than any sermon. Nevertheless, we find ourselves focusing more on Resolutions than hearing the Gospel proclaimed in the Service of the Word. Folks will ask me if I am “for” or “against” a particular Resolution. My answer is, “I’m against Resolutions.” They have no enforceability, as congregations have the right and responsibility to govern their own life and mission, own their own property, and call or dismiss their own clergy. Statistically, they only reflect the opinions of folks with the means or interest to attend said Assemblies and, I would suggest, do not reflect the diversity of the members of Christian Churches throughout North America. Even the debate time allotted for Resolutions is so severally lacking there, it functions more like a straw poll.

Still, I’m not the kind of preacher who gets worked up over these things. It is the curse of being a student of history. In the ongoing effort of making sure my home and office Libraries are somewhat contained, I am once again trying to cull books. In that endeavor, I stumbled across a book entitled The Disciples in Kentucky by A.W. Fortune. Fortune was a professor and dean at the College of the Bible, the forerunner of Lexington Theological Seminary, and Preaching Minister at Central Christian Church in Lexington for over 20 years. Published in 1932, his book outlines the history of the Christian Church In Kentucky beginning at Cane Ridge in Bourbon County, Kentucky. As he sketches the brief summary of Christian mission during the 100 years from 1832 to 1932, he touches on the debates between key leaders and institutions. Fortune hides very little of the rancor among the early founders of the Missionary Societies, Transylvania College and The College of the Bible.

Most historians consider Fortune a key player in helping to marginalize the leadership of J.W. McGarvey, President of The College of the Bible and Fortune’spredecessor, of sorts. McGarvey had been the preacher at Main Street Christian Church, the forebear of Central Christian Church. Although McGarvey was rather rigid, he was instrumental in securing the financial support for the founding of our own First Christian Church in Ashland. He traveled relentlessly around Kentucky, preaching and meeting with women’s groups to secure donations to support our church in the early years. Because of that, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for him.

Some of the debates that are outlined by Fortune in his book are not that different than the ones we currently deal with in the life of our church locally, regionally and throughout North America. How should the church balance the call to evangelism with the need to care for the poor? What was the role of music in worship? How should local churches determine the qualifications for leadership as “bishops” (or elders), deacons? Is the role of the preacher to reach converts (grow the churches) or spiritual development (primarily, care for members)? What are the best ways to combat the “lack of spiritual fervor” among Christians (a perception that church members were not excited and motivated to be involved in mission and ministry)? “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Even in the midst of bitter differences, those early Christians in Kentucky maintained unity. How? “There were two different interpretations of the church which inevitably came into conflict. There were those who believed the church should move on with the world and adapt the spirit of the New Testament to conditions that were ever changing. They held that, when not forbidden by the New Testament, they were free to adapt their program to changing needs. On the other hand, there were those who believed the pattern of the church was fixed for all time, and the fact that certain things were not sanctioned was sufficient ground for rejecting them…both sides were equally honest, but they had a different approach to these issues that were raised,” (A.W .Fortune, The Disciples in Kentucky, pp. 364-365).

“Equally honest…different approach ” is a helpful phrase in avoiding the pitfalls of division. Ecclesiastes also says, “And though one might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand-threefold cord is not quickly broken” (4:12). Perhaps, if we considered that our opponents are not “demonic” after all, but they simply have a different idea of getting to the same place, we would be better off. Can we be “equally honest,” and consider that there may be a “different approach?”