YOU CAN CREATE A GODLY HERITAGE!
STEPHEN M. CROTTS
“The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, yea, I have a goodly heritage.” Psalm 16:6
Folk singer Mike Cross has written a song called “Old Paint Peeling.” The words go like this…
“I was just sixteen, the oldest son, when my mama called to me.
She said, ‘Here’s ten dollars and your daddy’s watch, and the Bible of the family. Now the mule’s been sold, I’m feeling old, and we’ve got to find another town, You better leave and find you a better life before the family drags you down.’
“She was singing. (chorus)
‘Old paint peeling and the rats are squealing, the well’s gone dry as a bone, Crops are picked, I’m feeling licked, and we got to be moving on.
Old paint peeling, rats are squealing, and there ain’t no time for school.
I never wanted you to be like your old man, growing up a fool.’
“I took that money and I ran away, but I stopped to see that girl of mine.
I gave a preacher ten dollars just to tie the knot, right after we crossed the state line. I got a job sharing crops for a rich Georgia farmer.
I was young and I was strong.
I tried to find a better life, but it weren’t no time before the kids started coming along.
And they were singing…” (chorus).
“Years went by going town to town working hard to keep away the cold. The children had to help me get the crops in: I was getting old!
Then one night I heard my wife calling to my oldest son’
She said, ‘Here’s ten dollars and your daddy’s watch,
You better leave before the rising sun.’ She was singing…” (chorus).
My, but isn’t that how it is! One generation passes what it is and isn’t along to the next generation. Former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm said, “Future historians will see best the multiple factors that led to the decline of America. But I suggest one of the major factors will be the failure to replace ourselves with enough stable children born to families with the ability to raise successful children.”
What Gov. Lamm is talking about is heritage and our failure to receive it, embrace it, enrich it and transmit it. Thousands of years ago the prophet Jeremiah observed that his own people had loosened their hand from their heritage, let it fall and shatter. And it looks like we are doing the same. So, today, let’s pause and look to Christ, our own heritage, and our own grip on things.
WHAT IS A HERITAGE?
First of all, what is a heritage? The Hebrew word for heritage means, “something occupied, a possession, inheritance, estate, portion, or heirloom.” Basically, a heritage is something that remains after you, something you pass down to future generations.
When the sun sets, it does not suddenly grow dark. There is an afterglow in the clouds, at times very beautiful. And when we die, we do not suddenly cease to exist on earth. There is an afterglow of influence. And that influence is our heritage. A heritage can be spiritual and take the form of God-fearing habits we’ve passed along to others. It can be intellectual in the form of education. It can be emotional—good self-esteem, music appreciation, security. It can be a willful legacy—discipline! It can be physical—good looks, health, wise dietary habits. And our legacy can be material—houses, land, money, and the like.
The fourth commandment in Exodus 20:4-6 teaches that the heritage we engender can affect people in our family to the third and fourth generation. Just stop and consider how many people that is. If I wed and have three children and so on through four generations, there will be nearly 200 people in my immediate legacy. That makes you and me quite the pastors of prosperous flocks! Actually Exodus 20:6 says your faithfulness can bless literally “thousands.”
Take Abraham as an example. A simple desert shepherd was told by God, “Look toward the stars. So shall your descendants be” (Genesis 12). And so it is that we ourselves should be careful how we live. For we, too, are creating a legacy that will affect the lives of hundreds of people as yet unborn.
A BAD EXAMPLE
With this in mind, let’s take a moment and look at some examples of bad heritages.
The book of Ruth introduces Elimalech, the head of a Jewish household that included wife Naomi, and two young sons. During a time of severe famine and judgment, Elimalech, whose name in Hebrew means “My God is king,” actually left Israel to live in present day Jordan. There his two sons married foreign wives. Then Elimalech died. And soon his two boys died also. Thus he left a wife both widowed and bereft of her two sons as well. Not much of a heritage!
Then there is King Hezekiah’s legacy described in 2 Kings 20:1-19. Hezekiah began to reign when he was 25 years old. The Northern Kingdom had already been destroyed by Assyria. And now Jerusalem and Judea stood alone as a remnant. The young king feared God, took Isaiah as his prophet and began to reform Israel. For 29 years he reigned. But late in his life he grew lax and materialistic and his heart was not true to the Lord. God told Hezekiah that his kingdom would collapse after his death and that his sons would be enslaved and castrated by the Babylonians. And what was the king’s response? He said, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?”
Then there is the heritage of Eli described in 1 Samuel 1-4. Eli, whose name means “uplifted,” had two sons, Hophni and Phineas. Eli as high priest wanted his sons to follow in his steps. He’d enjoyed the privilege of tending the ark of the covenant at Shiloh, had ministered to Hannah in the temple, and even helped train Samuel, the first prophet. Yet all the while Eli’s sons were blaspheming God and he did nothing to restrain them. Eventually they died in battle carrying the ark. Eli, you see, was so busy getting Israel ready for his sons that he forgot to get his sons ready for Israel.
Christian Life Magazine went back to the records of 1677 and traced the genealogy of an immoral man who married a prostitute. 1,900 descendants resulted from that union. Of these, 771 were criminals. Two hundred fifty were arrested for various offenses. Sixty were thieves. Thirty-nine were convicted murderers. Forty of the women were known to have venereal
diseases. These people spent a total of 1,300 years behind bars. They cost the state nearly 3 million dollars. As Proverbs 10:7 teaches, “The names of the wicked will rot…”
Did you hear about the man riding a bus? A fellow passenger accidentally stepped on his foot and was foully cursed. After that the man began to complain loudly that the bus was too cold. And when the bus became crowded, he refused to stand up and give his seat to a lady. When his stop came and he got up to exit, the bus driver looked at him and said, “Sir, you left something behind!” “What?” The man said, “I’ve got everything I came with!” “No,” the driver said, “you’ve left something behind. A bad impression.”
So many die and leave a bad impression. As Jeremiah 2:7 says, we’ve made our “heritage an abomination.”
A GOOD EXAMPLE
That—examples of a bad heritage. Now this—some examples of a good heritage.
Certainly King David was not a perfect man. His covering, adultery, murder, and lying show us that no heritage is untainted by sin. But still David was “a man after God’s own heart.” That’s because he could repent. And such pleases God.
King David has left us an example. His biography is included in the Old Testament. His poetry fills the book of Psalms. And among his children was Solomon.
To David God promised a heritage, that there would not fail to be a descendant of his to sit on Israel’s throne forever. And so it was that Jesus Christ was born to us through David’s line.
J. S. Bach is another example of a good heritage. A Christian, Bach lived in Germany in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s and worked for the church as a musician and composer. He fathered 20 children and his descendants dominated western music for 200 years. And even today his legacy enriches our lives as we listen to his works.
Then there is the Edwards family. Christian Life Magazine traced the genealogy of a Christian man and woman who wed in the late 1600’s. Three generations later Jonathan Edwards was born to become a revival preacher and president of Princeton University. There are 1,344 descendants in the Edwards legacy. Of them, 186 were ministers. Dozens were college professors. 86 were state senators. And there have been three congressman, 30 judges, and one vice president of the United States. All this, and there is not one record of an Edwards in prison, divorced, or on public welfare. As Proverbs 10:7 says, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing.”
WHAT IF YOUR HERITAGE IS BAD?
So, we’ve looked at what a heritage is, studied examples of both a bad one and a good one. Now lets ask, “What if the heritage you and I have received is a poor one?”
The psalmist said, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, yea, I have a goodly heritage.” (Psalm 16:6). But what if the lines have not fallen for your in pleasant places? Henry Ward Beecher said, “The first thing a man should do if he would succeed in life is to pick a good mother and father to be born of.” But what if your parents have been ungodly?
The Bible teaches that our heritage can be cursed. Exodus 20:4-6 warns that this curse can come from as far back as your great grandfather. Things like the occult, idolatry, divorce
substance abuse and materialism can foully curse one’s descendants. The prophet Ezekiel put it this way, “The father’s have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on
edge” (Ezekiel 15:2).
We parents can bless or scar our heritage. Generations as yet unborn to us can be cursed or redeemed because of our choices. And so many of us have been victimized by our heritage. In Jeremiah 12:8 a Jewish man complains, “My heritage is like a lion in the forest.” He feels devoured by his lineage.
Yet we do not have to limp on with the curse of a godless heritage, die, and pass the rot on to yet another generation. The curse can be broken, the chains broken, and a new heritage begun. God says, “I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land” (Jeremiah 12:15). The Bible says, “Whatsoever is born of God is a new creation. Old things are passed away. Behold, all is brought into newness of life.”
How can this be? Jesus has given His disciples a ministry of binding and loosing (John 20:23). And the fact is by His authority we can remove the curse that clouds our legacies. So, though one cannot do anything about the heritage handed down to him, one can do everything about the heritage he hands down to others.
BUILDING A GODLY HERITAGE
All this brings us to the final point, a final question, “How can I create a godly heritage?”
Psalm 61:5 says, “Thou hast given me the heritage of those who fear thy name.” A good heritage begins when one begins to acknowledge God, to reverence Jesus Christ, to stand in awe of His holiness.
Next come vows, commitment. Psalm 61:5 teaches, “For thou, O God, has heard my vows.” And the result, he says, is to receive a godly heritage. It does no good trying to live the Christian life without commitment. And public vows and accountability in fellowship can certainly help foster maturity.
Then there is the word of God. Psalm 119:111 says, “Thy testimonies are my heritage forever; yes, they are the joy of my heart.” A good heritage begins with the fear of God, commitment, and making God’s testimony, the Word of God, ones blueprint for living. It’s real simple to sum it up—“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
And what are the results of this reverence for Christ? A godly heritage, an afterglow that blesses your children! Psalm 127:3 says, “Lo, sons are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” And did you realize that even single people can have spiritual sons and daughters? The single Paul spoke of “My child, Onesimus, whose father I have
become” (Philemon 10).
In 2 Timothy 2:2 Paul urges Timothy, “And what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” He speaks of four generations of ministry here, reminding us that we each can bear a spiritual legacy of children for generations to come!
Certainly Paul, single as he was, developed a Christian heritage that matched his words Timothy, Silas, John Mark, Onesimus, even the Praetorian guards were a part of his legacy. And even his letters became the book we call the New Testament. What a heritage!
But the results of trusting and obeying Christ is not just an afterglow of heritage in children. It also includes possessions. Psalm 135:12 talks about “land as a heritage.” And what a joy it is to be able to give our descendants a good head start in education, housing, and the like. Such is an inheritance of the Lord.
Church can’t also be an inheritance. Micah 7:14 commands us to “shepherd thy people with thy staff, the flock of thy inheritance.” A righteous man leaves a good church for his children to dwell in.
Success is also the promise of a godly legacy. Isaiah 54:17 says, “No weapon that is fashioned against you shall prosper, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servant of the Lord…”
And there is even the promise that a goodly heritage is ripe with witness. In Jeremiah 3:19 God says, “I thought how I would set you among my sons, and give you a pleasant land, a heritage most beauteous of all nations, and I thought you would call me. ‘My Father,’ and would not turn form following me.”
All this is in the heritage of the Lord!
Look to your heritage, my friend. None of us lives or dies to himself. For what we become, what we do, will effect those who live in our afterglow.
In William Shakespeare’s play, Twelfth Night, the very capable and single Oliva shows no interest in relationships, in establishing a legacy among God’s people, and an elder chides her for her selfishness and shortsitedness, saying, “To take such grace to the grave and leave no cup” is a crime of shame.
What about you and the cup of grace you hold in Jesus Christ? Will you leave the sweet wine of a goodly heritage in your cup for others to drink?
Stephen M. Crotts