Thursday, March 31, 2011

Leaving a Legacy

I originally began this as a post about Victorian philanthropist Dr. Thomas Barnardo and how God sometimes changes a person's plans. And then a guest minister said something a couple days ago--something that made me really think. That is, something that made me really think God was prompting me to change my plans about this post.

It seems God has a sense of humor.

I may come back to Barnardo in the future, but for today, I want to consider the spiritual legacies we leave behind. Perhaps the minister's words hit me especially hard this week when we are making our first college visit with our 16-year-old son. I've seen the statistics about American young people turning away from Christianity, and I'd be a fool not to feel concern for my children.

The major part of my ancestory is from France. The Huguenots fled persecution rather than renounce their beliefs. Even the act of leaving France carried the death penalty for those who were caught. It's a rather humbling inheritance. Have I passed on a legacy of faith strong enough to stand against the world's influences, one that would risk exile or even death?

Ronald Reagan once said, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same." The same can be said for faith.

Bible (in Dutch) that belonged to the the author's great-great-grandmother. After the family fled France, they spent several generations in the Netherlands before immigrating to America.

The Bible has a lot to say about inheritances. Abraham waited 25 years for his promised son who would inherit his wealth and lands. The book of Joshua describes in detail how that inheritance was to be apportioned among Abraham's various offspring. The law contained elaborate provisions to protect a man's legacy--the story of Ruth is based around the concept of the kinsman-redeemer.

But God never intended an inheritance limited to material wealth. Over and over God instructed the people to pass His words to future generations, to "your children and their children" (Deuteronomy 6:2, NIV). The ancient Israelites understood these commands literally. They didn't venture beyond the boundaries of Israel to share God's words with anyone other than their own tribe--when they shared His words at all, that is. Unfortunately, sad examples abound of Godly people who failed to pass a spiritual inheritance to their own children: Samuel, Eli, David, Hezekiah--to name only a few.

Jesus expanded the commandment to share our faith beyond one's family when he sent his disciples to "teach all nations." All nations. You can't get more encompassing than that without a starship and universal translator.

But how tempting it is to be just like the Israelites of old, defensively huddled behind our church walls, preaching to our choirs when we need to be like Paul. Have you ever considered that Paul had no biological children? And yet, he left a spiritual legacy across the globe.

How many of the following people can you identify?
  • Johann von Staupitz
  • Edward Kimball
  • Karl Gutzlaff
  • Samuel Davies
  • Christoph Beta
  • George MacDonald
  • Isaac Milner
  • Mordecai Ham
Chances are, you won't find many of these people mentioned in a high school history book, and yet each of them had a profound impact on the world.

Johann von Staupitz was the priest who instructed a tormented monk named Martin Luther to read the scriptures and look to Jesus for his salvation. Edward Kimball was a Sunday School teacher for a boy named Dwight L. Moody. Karl Gutzlaff was a missionary to China whose writings captured the attention of David Livingstone. Samuel Davies was an evangelist during the Great Awakening whose words influenced a young Patrick Henry. Christoph Beta was a university student who invited his hard-drinking friend Georg Muller to a prayer meeting. George MacDonald was a 19th century writer whose works reawakened a belief in God in a 20th century atheist named C.S. Lewis. Isaac Milner was William Wilberforce's tutor--their lengthy discussions about faith contributed to Wilberforce's conversion. And Mordecai Ham was the evangelist at a North Carolina revival when Billy Graham dedicated his life to Christ.

Yes, we need to be mothers like Monica (Augustine) and Susanna Wesley (John and Charles Wesley) who set examples of strong faith to their children. Unfortunately, in our fallen world many of the people we know don't have Godly parents to mentor them to spiritual maturity. Others we meet in our fractured world may have moved to new cities or states or even countries, far away from their family and community.

Is God calling you to be a spiritual mentor to someone? Perhaps it is the overwhelmed single mother in your neighborhood. Or maybe the child who will never go to Sunday School if you don't offer to take him. Or  it could be a lonely serviceman or college student away from home for the first time.

It occurs to me that if we take our faith to the world, we will have less to fear from the world's influence on us and our heirs--biological and spiritual.

C.J. Chase writes for Love Inspired Historicals. Her debut novel, the winner of RWA's 2010 Golden Heart award for best inspirational romance, will be available in August under the title Redeeming the Rogue. C.J. lives in the swamps of Southeastern Virginia with her handsome husband, active sons, one kinetic sheltie, and an ever-increasing number of chickens. When she is not writing, you will find her gardening, watching old movies, playing classical piano (badly) or teaching a special needs Sunday School class. You can read an excerpt of her book at:


  1. A wonderful and challenging post, CJ! I especially like how you wrapped it up. The more we influence the world, the less we have to fear their influence.

  2. Last year was interesting for me because several young women in their twenties asked me to mentor them. It really helped me to define my audience in my writing ministry. Not surprisingly, I taught Sunday School to this same generation of girls when I was a teen, and then led them in youth group when I was in my late twenties.

    I have been thinking more about my own kids lately, though. We have devotions everyday, but when I homeschooled we had longer Bible classes. With them all in public school now, I need to find extra opportunities to train my youngest in the Word.

  3. Great reminder of what is really important- loving people and pointing them to Jesus. Now that's a win/win life. Thank you C.J.

  4. Great post, CJ. My Huguenot ancestors fled France, as well, and went to England.

    I think I'm in a position now, where I hope I'll be able to be a spiritual mentor to a young woman who is not really at a place to "hear" right now. I'm praying all of our conversations will be seeds that will one day bloom. :-)

    Dina, am I understanding correctly that you taught these same women since you were a teen and they're now in their twenties? That's incredible.

  5. No, different sets of women. But all born from about 1978 to 1988.

  6. That is so awesome, Dina. I think you're a born teacher.

  7. Suzie, I agree.

    C.J., great post! Years ago, my oldest son was in a Bible-memorization-focused program at church. Well, he was frantically trying to memorize a verse as I drove to church. For some reason, I interrupted his process to ask, "Matt, do you have any idea what that verse means?" He admitted he didn't but that it didn't matter because his teachers weren't going to ask him what it meant, only ask him to recite it.

    I was rather peeved.

    I understand the merit of scripture memorization, but knowing a verse but not knowing what it means or its significance is like giving a child a sword that they're too small to yield properly.

    My oldest daughter likes the Twilight series. I've watched the movies, and we've discussed what it says about love. When she gets to talking about the movies with her friends, she repeats things I taught her. Not because she blindly follows what I say, but because we've discussed it enough that she knows what SHE believes and now she takes that belief and uses it to share God's truth about love to her Twilight-loving friends.

    One of her friends said, "Jerah, I cuss far less because of you."

    Little influences add up.

    "The more we influence the world, the less we have to fear their influence."

    Well said.

  8. Great post, CJ. I didn't know anyone on your list but I certainly know the people they 'touched'.

    I always say my grandmother's legacy was her faith. She became a Christian as a young girl - the only person in her large family. Not even her parents believed. And yet 3 generations now know Christ because she opened her heart to Him.

    Thank you, CJ. I'm so glad you joined the Inkies.

    Anita Mae.

  9. Hi, Lisa. I find the world kind of scary as a parent. There are just so many more temptations than even when I was a teenager/young adult. But then I remind myself that the Christians of the first century church lived in a society every bit as decadent, and they turned it upside down. I've realized that as a parent, my job is to train my children to have a first century mindset.

    Dina, interesting that you find you relate to women of a specific generation. Have you done a post on that? It might be an interesting exploration for everyone to examine where their "natural" mission field is.

    Thanks for stopping by, Cheryl. Oh, those words about reaching people are so easy to say and so difficult to do. I was glad when I found that link between MacDonald and Lewis in my research. (Lewis never met MacDonald, who died when Lewis was just a boy.) How good to know our words aren't in vain, and shy writers CAN make a difference.

    Suzie, a Jewish Christian friend and I were comparing notes earlier today. We both had ancestors who were persecuted and had to flee Europe, and yet, God worked that persecution for good. Our families both came to America and were spared the wars in Europe during the past century.

  10. Great post, CJ. What an essential reminder. I loved the list of mentors and spiritual advisors. (And moms!) Sometimes I forget that my words and actions may be planted as seeds of faith. Or I'm nurturing seeds someone else planted. Thanks!

    Suzie, you and I may be related. My Huguenot ancestors fled to England, too, and then to New York.

  11. Gina, I know teenagers are often maligned in our culture, and some probably deserve the bad rap. But I'm finding I'm really enjoying my oldest now that we can have deep discussions about life and faith and such. Some days, the teacher (me) is now the student when he says something profound.

    Thanks, Anita. I reconized the name of George MacDonald, but it wasn't until I was reseaching the conversion stories of some famous Christians that I found out about his influence on C.S. Lewis. And I knew a bit about von Staupitz -- but I can never remember his name. (Have you seen the movie Luther with Joseph Fiennes in the title role? Pretty good movie. And a GREAT soundtrack.)

    Susanne, I didn't realize we had so many Huguenots here. I have it on both sides. On my mom's, they went to Germany, then to American in the 1700's. On my dad's, they went to the Netherlands and stayed until the 1800's. Something like 1/4 of all U.S. presidents also have Huguenot ancestory.

  12. Oh, CJ, that's so interesting about the presidents. When I did the "famous people you're related to" on, there were a few presidents listed. But I'm not sure I believe the accuracy of that little feature. But it's fun anyway.

  13. I always send too fast. Wouldn't it be funny if, somewhere in our family tree, you and Susie D and I were distant cousins?


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