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“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care” (1 Corinthians 3:10).

When I was young, my parents would allow me to provide input into where the family would go for vacation. For a period of several years, I would often reply – “Washington, D.C.”  Of course, one of the places you must visit on a trip to the nation’s capital is The Smithsonian Institute.  In our naivety we did not realize that The Smithsonian was not just a building, but actually many. Collectively called the Smithsonian Institution, this world-renowned museum and research complex in the District consists of numerous museums, galleries and a zoo. The Smithsonian came about as a result of a bequest provided by a British scientist who never visited the United States and therefore aroused significant attention on both sides of the Atlantic. James Smithson died in Italy in 1829, leaving behind a will with a peculiar footnote. In the event that his only nephew died without any heirs, Smithson decreed that the whole of his estate would go to “the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Six years after his death, his nephew, Henry James Hungerford, indeed died without children. In 1836, the U.S. Congress authorized acceptance of Smithson’s gift, amounting to a fortune in excess of a half-million dollars. After a decade of debate about how best to spend this bequest left to America from an obscure English scientist, President James K. Polk signed the Smithsonian Institution Act into law on August 10, 1846.

These days, boundless opportunities exist for those who have the means to establish a bequest. Most organizations to which one belongs would be blessed to have a portion or all of your estate deeded in their direction at the time of your passing.  Many such organizations have well established ‘legacy societies’ and planned giving staffers who will offer various funding opportunities in exchange for your donation.  Truth of the matter is that everyone leaves a legacy whether they plan to or not. Everything we say or do leaves the imprint of our lives on those around us. As long as there is breath in our body, there’s an opportunity to leave a negative legacy of despair or a rich legacy of hope. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Jesus sets the challenge for us to leave a legacy not of material possessions but of spiritual hope.  While there is nothing wrong with leaving our remaining estate to causes which would benefit God’s people, like Jesus – David realized the importance of passing on a spiritual legacy as well. When he was on his deathbed, he called on his son Solomon who would carry on his reign as king, saying: “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9).

If you had godly parents, you were no doubt deeply affected by their faith. Parents have an awesome opportunity to bestow a spiritual legacy to their children. Proverbs 13:22 says that “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.”  An inheritance is not limited to money. It also includes character qualities like integrity, trustworthiness, and holiness. This spiritual wisdom can be passed from generation to generation and enables you to stake your claim on your descendants similar to the great apostle: “I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children are following the truth” (3 John 1:4). What a shame it would be to focus on an earthly bequest and not leave behind what you have learned on your faith journey in this lifetime. While carrying out a successful financial strategy to leave something behind for those you care about may be important – the most important thing we can pass on to others is the riches available to those who love God through the sacrificial gift of His Son, Jesus. It would seem that without a doubt there is in fact no greater legacy.

REFLECTION: Take stock of where you are right now. Do you want to leave a legacy for the Kingdom of God but feel hindered or inadequate? Are you waiting for something to fall neatly into place, thinking only then God can use you? Consider the words of Paul to his faithful student in 2 Timothy 2:2 – “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”  Do this, and the spiritual legacy you leave behind will be rich indeed.


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