[The following is the text of a sermon preached in our church on Sunday 24th February 2019]
Who remembers the television show “This Is Your Life”?
My first recollection of it is being hosted by Mike Willesee in the 1970s.
My deep research into this on Wikipedia informs me that it began in 1975 with Mike Willesee. Digby Wolfe hosted the second season in 1976, then Roger Climpson to 1980. It was rested for 15 years until the Mike Munro era until 2005, and finally Eddie McGuire hosted a very short season in 2011.
If you’re not familiar with the program, the idea was that some celebrity – someone in the public eye would be at a restaurant having dinner, or at some small-scale event. The host would walk up to the celebrity, introduce themselves and then say “This is Your Life”.
These celebrities may be sports people, television stars, politicians, artists, musicians, scientists, authors – people generally recognisable as having made a contribution to Australian society. People we may loosely label as “famous”.
The celebrity would then appear before a live audience and the host would relate aspects of the celebrity’s life from childhood to the present day. Often there would be photos or videos, and the host would play a recording of someone’s voice that the celebrity would try to recall. It may have been a high school teacher, or their best friend from 30 years ago. The owner of this voice was then brought on stage to continue the reminiscences.
And so the show would progress and more and more of the history and the achievements of this person would be presented. The raft of family, friends and acquaintances on stage would grow.
The idea of the show was to celebrate and remember and thank the person for their contribution in their chosen field over many years.
It was essentially a recognition of the legacy that this famous person had made and was leaving for us less-famous people.
Just to complete the nostalgia trip, some of the people to have appeared as celebrities on the show over the years were Slim Dusty, Pro Hart, Marjorie Jackson, Sir William McMahon, Dick Smith, Billy Thorpe, Ted Noffs and Nicholas Shehadie. But there were hundreds.
But why are we talking about legacy? The word "legacy" is one of the four principles or ideas that Resonate Church considers are good characteristics of a church or people of God.
These four attributes that Wayne has identified and named are Live, Love, Lead, and Legacy. The idea is that members of Resonate Church should seek to be people who live, love, lead and leave a legacy consistent with the gospel. Mark has spoken on Living and Loving in recent weeks; and Wayne spoke on Leading last week. Today we finish looking at these fours topics as we consider this idea of Legacy.
We’ll get some biblical input and give some thought and prayer into what we can leave for those coming after us, and what it can look like.
A legal legacy, a bequest left through a will usually comprises material goods – money, property, shares. That is a valid legacy but it is out of scope for us today.
Instead I think Scripture speaks in terms of our character and the example we have set. As Paul says, “Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.”
Rather than think in terms of legacy, we could equally use the terms blessing or heritage. What sort of blessing or heritage or example or character or legacy do we want to leave behind and to pass on to those coming after us?
I want to jump into some Scripture, though, because my opinions are only my opinions and I may be wrong.
Could you grab a Bible please? If you don't have one with you there are some spares up the back.
Part of the reason to encourage you to have and read from your Bible is so you can check up on me – that the Bible really says what I say it says, and partly so you can make an association between the written word and my spoken word. It aids concentration, memory and can turn you into a really nice person!
Please turn to 1 Corinthians 3 beginning at verse 10. Let me read verses 10 to 15 from the Christian Standard Bible:
10 According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one is to be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each one’s work will become obvious. For the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. 14 If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will experience loss, but he himself will be saved — but only as through fire.
I want to spend some time pulling these verses apart because they inform this idea of legacy.
This particular passage is in the context of church planting and discipleship. The church in Corinth had been planted by Paul during his second missionary journey recorded in Acts 18. Apollos subsequently spent time in the city teaching – building on the work that Paul had begun.
The church in Corinth was long on spiritual gifts but short on spiritual maturity. They were arguing about which disciple they followed – some preferred Paul, others Apollos.
It was the perfect opportunity for Paul to declare his own credentials, but instead he says he builds on Jesus. He's not interested in competition, he's interested in completion. He wants to build the church on Jesus using appropriate methods and materials.
Paul, in using a building analogy really does start from the ground up. He begins with the foundation which is Jesus.
Everything we do, everything we consider building must be based on Jesus – his word, his requirement, his will, his plans.
It reminds me of Jesus’ words about building in Matthew 7 (verses 21 to 27)
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’ 24 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. It collapsed with a great crash.”
Rock or sand? Your choice.
Jesus’ warning indicates that there can be plenty of activity in his name – miracles, prophesy, deliverance. The activity isn’t the important thing. The foundation is the first and critical element. The way we build is important. What we build is important. What we build with is important.
The Opal Tower in Sydney is testament to that.
Jesus says in verse 21 that “only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven will enter the kingdom. And we only know his will if we are in relationship with him and listening to his voice.
But let us return to 1 Corinthians 3 and our discussion about building materials - verses 12 and 13:
12 If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, 13 each one’s work will become obvious. For the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work.
Is Paul proposing that we all down our Bibles and head off to Rocky River or Hillgrove for some gold mining; or to dig up some marble and cut it into building blocks? No. He is setting up a contrast. The first three building materials – gold, silver and stone were durable, and being difficult to obtain, valuable.
The last three building materials he mentions: Wood, hay and straw literally grew on trees or in the fields so were easier to obtain but also much less durable.
And the most important point is that the testing and proving of this building work is undertaken by fire – so those last three are out.
The fire of God judges and purifies!
What Paul is saying is "use the materials that are appropriate for the intended purpose and the desired lifespan". For God’s Kingdom work, the criteria is durability and high value.
If you want to contribute to building the kingdom of God then Jesus can be the only foundation, the rock. And the only materials that will survive God’s testing and purification are gold, silver and stone. A kingdom built on sand and with wood or hay or straw will not stand.
Equally so the choice of building materials for our legacy should also be gold and silver and valuable stones because our legacy should point people to the kingdom of God. We can create a legacy that can last into eternity by choosing to build on the right foundation and with materials that are both in demand and durable.
Does that make sense – that if we want to create something valuable and long-lasting that we would build on a proper foundation with materials that will stand the test of time?
Scripture makes so much sense – particularly when viewed against the values and logic of this world.
It was pretty easy to figure out that Jesus is the foundation – because Paul tells us as much. But what of the building materials? What are the spiritual equivalents of gold and silver and stone? These are the things that survive the fire of God's judgement on the believer.
Let us turn to a later chapter in 1 Corinthians. As I’ve mentioned the church in Corinth had some issues. Many people claim the main problem was an over exuberance in the gifts of the Spirit. But I think the real issue was that they were underwhelming in their exhibition of the fruit of the Spirit.
Many non-Pentecostal and non-charismatic believers jump on 1 Corinthians as proof that the gifts of the Spirit are overrated. But that's not what Paul says. At no stage does he remonstrate an over-use of the gifts. He wants more prophesy, more speaking and interpretation of tongues. But even more he warns and encourages them to see the fruit of the Spirit built into their lives. He doesn't write to tear down the gifts. He writes to elevate the fruit.
And in chapter 13, that chapter often quoted and used at weddings, Paul writes that gifts – tongues, prophecy, words of knowledge and supernatural faith count for nothing if not accompanied by love. Reading 1 Corinthians 13:8-13:
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. 13 Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love — but the greatest of these is love.
And he doesn't just write about love. He includes two other characteristics or attributes – faith and hope. He says these three remain. But when do they remain, what do they remain from, what do they survive or outlast?
When the perfect comes (in verse 10), when we see God face to face, not as in a mirror dimly (verse 12) that is when faith, hope and love remain. It is when this world has been renewed, when the judgement on the ungodly and the unwise has been passed, when we are in the perpetual, eternal presence of God that faith, hope and love remain.
The gifts are for now; the fruit is eternal.
Does that sound like a legacy that Paul is talking about? Does that sound like the kind of legacy you want to leave for any and all who come after you? I hope so!
I think the building materials we should be looking to construct a legacy from are faith, hope and love. Two of these, faith and love are fruit of the Spirit. To be honest I don’t know why hope also isn’t a fruit of the Spirit.
Our legacy is to be built on Jesus and based on Christian character – best seen in the fruit of the Holy Spirit that has grown in our lives. I think that is where our legacy focus needs to be.
In what ways can our faith, hope and love, our Christian, Holy Spirit-built character survive?
Children and grandchildren and great grandchildren if we have them and if they have spent time with us should have a sense of our walk with God.
Prayer is another way that our legacy, our heritage, our faith can be imparted and available to our descendants.
In 2 Timothy 1:5 Paul tells Timothy:
I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am convinced, is in you also.
Was that coincidence or just good luck that the same faith Timothy's grandmother Lois had, and Timothy's mother Eunice displayed just happened to land on Timothy? Absolutely not. By the same token I am aware that some godly people, in this room and many other rooms have children who have either not embraced or have subsequently rejected this same faith.
Corrie ten Boom once wrote something that I trust is familiar to many - "God has no grandchildren". Everyone in heaven will be there because of their own genuine faith, not by proxy or good luck or good works.
What other forms can a spiritual legacy take?
It can be written. I know many people here journal regularly. I'm one of those people. I sit down close to first thing in the morning. I will ask the Lord if there is something he would like to discuss with me. Often a Bible passage or book and chapter will come into my mind. It just appears. I open to that and read. And as I read I write down things that strike me – what I think it means, how it may relate to or inform a situation I am confronted with. And then after 10 or 15 minutes I'll turn it over to God and ask him what he wants to say to me about the issue. Often words will flow in my mind which I also write down.
I realise this isn't a sermon on hearing from God, so I’ll stop there, but I believe I am journalling my questions or observations on a passage or idea that God wants to talk about and he answers my questions or provides insight and revelation into the situation.
My journalling is interactive and maturing. God also reminds me of previous conversations we’ve had.
Now the content of these conversations is not up there with Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion or Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Bible, but they are a record and history and indeed a legacy of my developing relationship with God.
You know where this is going!
How would it be if my journals, my encounters with God were made available to my children? A bit scary, hey, for everybody.
What sort of impact do you think that could have on your children or nieces or nephews and their children?
Whilst I was working on this sermon the other day I was clearing out some files on my computer. I came across some files I had downloaded from a site a few years ago and decided to revisit that site. As I did so, and because I was writing a sermon on legacy I was struck by the title of an article on the site called “Leaving a Legacy”.
It was no coincidence. I want to read a fairly long but, I think valuable quote from that article:
"I get up before anyone else in the house. I help myself wake up by fixing a fresh cup of coffee and taking a shower. Then I spend some time praying for my family, my work, and special prayer needs. Then I open my Bible and read one chapter of the Old Testament. I then pick out one subject or one verse or one phrase or even one word that touches my heart, and then I write about it. (I sit at a computer which makes editing easy.) Sometimes I do a little commentary on the verse, and add my own insights into what it means. But then I make sure I explain why the verse means a lot to me personally, and how it touches my heart. (Time is short before I go to work, so I only write a paragraph or two, except on weekends when I have more time.) Then I repeat the procedure from the New Testament and do the same thing. I'm about halfway through the Bible now and I've written over 500 pages! I always back up my work, and every month I print out a hard copy so I'll have that just in case...I plan to present it to my children on their wedding day, in the form of a bound book. There may be three or four volumes!"
It's just an idea. No pressure!
And just in case you're wondering who would want to read what you had written, ask yourself this, "what value would you place on reading the journals of one of your parents or grandparents, or immediate ancestor about their walk with God?"
My parents didn't provide me with much of a spiritual legacy. They loved and cared for me emotionally and physically however. But my maternal grandparents were faithful, godly people. I don't know too much about them because they dies when I was young, but I would love to read journals of their relationship with God if they had kept them.
If you think about it, that's what a lot of the Psalms are – a record of the conversations and interaction between David and God that were subsequently set to music, and have been sung or recited for 3,000 years. That's a legacy! But David wasn't all roses. He committed adultery, he conspired in a murder, he disenfranchised his son, Absalom, and he nearly destroyed a kingdom by division. Yet a legacy remains. And we can perhaps learn as much from the bad as the good, but it's better to leave a good legacy.
Has that been helpful so far? To consider what sort of a legacy we can create or leave? To ensure it is built on the right foundation, Jesus, and from materials that remain – character that reflects Holy Spirit fruit.
I don’t want to leave us there. I don’t want this to be all theoretical. I want an opportunity for God to speak to us about our foundations and building materials.
Can we spend some time in prayer as I ask some questions?
Heavenly Father as we come before you in quietness and humility, can you speak into our spirits? We’re open to hear now, but we are also willing to hear later today, this week, next month about this idea of legacy.
I don’t know the right questions for you, and I certainly don’t have the right answers; but God has both.
Please take all the time you need to sit in the presence of the Lord. Don’t rush off. Today may be the day your foundation and building will be made clear.
If you would like prayer, come to the front and there will be people who can pray with and for you. We won’t necessarily know what you need. You may not know what you need, but again God does.
Perhaps we haven't started well, and perhaps we're not where we want to be with God today. But maybe we are and praise be to God if that is the case. But despite where we've been and where we are, we each have the capacity as jars of clay filled with the presence of the Lord to finish well, to leave a legacy of faith and hope and love for those who follow.
May it be so!