Editor’s note: Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine challenge radio listeners to consider “How will people remember you?” in the FamilyLife Today series “The Profound Power of a Legacy.” The following interview is adapted from that series.
Dennis: All of us are given a legacy. All of us are called by God to leave a legacy. If you had to summarize, Bob, the legacy that you were given as a man by your mom and dad and your family, how would you describe that?
Bob: It is hard to summarize it and put it in just a few words. When I think of the legacy I have received I think of some of the character issues that were built into my life. I think of some of the relational development that happened when I was growing up. I think, for example, about things like my mom being very big on telling the truth.
Dennis: Do you hear your mom’s voice today?
Bob: Oh, I can hear it in the back of my mind saying, “Always tell the truth.” It is a part of the legacy that I was given.
Dennis: I did some reflecting on the legacy that my parents left me. It was a good legacy, not evil. My dad was a good man. He was kind. He was generous. He didn’t cheat people. He paid his bills on time.
Sometimes I think when we consider the concept of legacy we think there has to be something high and mighty and noble. Well, certainly it needs to be above the muck and the mire of those matters that are sinful, but sometimes it is just good qualities of a solid character.
Bob: Would you say that the legacy that you received from your parents was intentionally transmitted or was it more caught than taught? Was is just them living out their lives in front of you and you observing, or were they purposeful about what they did?
Dennis: That is a good question. I don’t think my mom and dad ever had a planning meeting or a couple’s getaway where they talked about our family’s mission statement and what they were going to try to leave to the next generation. They just lived it and did it. It was caught.
But it was also taught; both my mom and dad taught Sunday school and taught the Scriptures to young people.
I think as they lived their lives they were very real people who lived authentic lives; there just wasn’t a lot of plastic or veneer. What you saw in them was really who they were.
Bob: Do you think it gives couples an edge if they do approach this subject with a little more intentionality, a little more purposefulness?
Dennis: Yes, and that’s why I wanted to talk about this. All of us are in the process of leaving a legacy to the next generation. Now the question is, “What is that going to look like?”
Bob: What do you want to be remembered for when you are no longer around?
Dennis: Right. And to this point, Bob, I believe the family is a legacy factory. It is the incubator where relationships are forged, and where the truths from one generation are passed down to another. It is the most powerful place where a legacy can be shaped and given to the next generation.
As we talk about legacy, the word that we instantly go to is inheritance. We think about how much money we want to leave the next generation. I don’t think that’s the right question.
Now I don’t think it’s wrong to leave an inheritance to the next generation. The Proverbs [Proverbs 13:22] say a good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children. But, I think the scope of our legacy should go way beyond money, materialism, gifts, and property that is passed down from one generation to the next. I think the most important legacies that are left are those in the heart—character, fun, memories, people who loved each other—where there were relationships that were meaningful; a life that was lived on purpose that had a sense of mission.
Bob: The heart of it all is our spiritual legacy—our spiritual identity, our spiritual relationships. Everything flows from that, doesn’t it?
Dennis: It does. I want to share three assumptions that I make as we talk about legacies.
First of all, your legacy is not about you. It should be all about God, and should be all about honoring God. The Scriptures talk about glorifying God, reflecting Him, and showing the world what He’s like.
Second, every legacy is going to be, unfortunately, marred by sin. But a part of your legacy can be how you handled your sin. When my kids were little, I would obviously discipline them when they made mistakes. They weren’t blind—they could see when I made a mistake. Many times I would get down on one knee and look at my sons, or one of my daughters, face-to-face, and I’d say, “You know what? I’m sorry I failed when I did (such and such). That was wrong. Daddy wants to be a better dad than that. And, I want you to forgive me.” We need to demonstrate to our kids how to handle it when we fail.
The third assumption is that your legacy will involve steps of faith, and courageous acts, but it also will involve sacrifice. You and I were in a meeting earlier, here at FamilyLife, and we asked our staff, “What’s the greatest step of faith that you’ve ever taken?” One of the men stood up, and told the story of how he had prayed the prayer of Jabez—the prayer asking God to bless him. And he had prayed that prayer, something like 27 or 28 years before. He said, “You know what? Stepping out to obey God not only brought us enormous favor and benefits, and blessings upon us as a couple and as family, but it also modeled for our kids what sacrificial steps of faith look like.” And he said, “I have no regrets.”
You just need to know that as you hammer out your legacy, it’s going to involve sacrifice. Your kids need to see that the choices you’re making can cost you something.
Bob: All right, so we need to remember that God is at the center of our legacy. It should be about Him. That sin is going to mar our legacy. And that our legacy is going to involve faith, and steps of courage, and sacrifice.
Dennis: As you think about the elements that compose a person’s lifetime, in leaving a legacy, how would you explain that to our listeners?
Bob: There’s one word that comes to mind, for me, and that is value. It’s really a question of what you have valued in your life. Because the legacy you leave really is a reflection of what was important to you.
We all invest our time and money in whatever’s important to us. So when I think about my legacy, it’s going to be a statement of what was important to me. People are going to remember—maybe what I accomplished or what I stood for or what my character was like … all of that is a reflection of what really mattered to me.
Dennis: I think your legacy begins with the fear of God. It doesn’t begin with something that you do, in terms of a task; it begins with a spiritual relationship with almighty God. In fact, Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” A little bit later in Proverbs, it says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
That’s how we learn how to live—when we put God at the center. We recognize who He is, and because we have a reverential awe—that’s what the fear of God is—because we have a sense of the almighty grandeur of God and that our lives are lived in His presence. We evaluate even the smallest of decisions of how we treat people, and how we’re living our lives. Therefore, I want to please Him, so I really want to obey Him, and live my life so that He’s nodding in approval.
Bob: Now you could have said it all begins with having a relationship with Jesus or with the Lordship of Christ, but you said it begins with the fear of God. Why did you pick that aspect of our relationship with Christ as the beginning point?
Dennis: Well, that’s where the Old Testament starts. It is within the context of the fear of God, that the love of God makes sense.
Number two in how you leave a legacy is: Your legacy is determined by who your master is. I go back to the Old Testament for that one as well. Exodus 20:3 says, “You shall have no other God before me.” There is to be only one God in your life.
The person who wants to leave the most effective legacy is the one who makes a decision, as early as possible in his or her life, to become a bond slave of Christ; to give Him the rights to your life, to totally relinquish all rights of your life to Him.
That means whatever He wants you to do with your life, you do it. You view life through His eyes. You view your life, your money, your possessions, your talent, everything that you have—even your family—you view it through His eyes. You say, “I want my life to reflect how the Master wants me to use it.” Now, what is that for you? What does He have for you?
I believe He has a unique plan for every person. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which He prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
When Barbara and I were first married, that first Christmas that we were together, there in our little house, in Boulder, Colorado, we sat down and signed over a contract and a title deed to our lives. I believe that act of surrender in 1972 did more to determine our legacy than any single act or decision that we’ve made since then. Because it set a course for who it is that we are serving here and what our lives are going to be about.
Bob: Like what the North Star is for everything.
Dennis: Yes. Is it all about me, and self, and getting to the top of the heap? Is it about getting my name in lights? Or my name on a book, on a radio broadcast? That’s not life. Now, if God calls you and He equips you to do those things, and that happens in your lifetime, it can be a part of the plan that God has for you. But the issue is, “Who is your Master?”
Right now, what is your life about? Money? Stuff? Family? Influence? Politics? Power? Accumulation? Net worth? What’s your life all about? I think, Bob, we live such a fast-paced life that we don’t take enough time to examine our lives, and to have others from the outside speak truth into it. And to say, “If you’re not careful, you’re going to leave a legacy of selfishness, where the idol of your life has been yourself.”
To me that’s the definition of a wasted life.
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