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.