I’ve been thinking a lot about the legacies we leave. This past summer my mother moved into an assisted living facility. I helped prepare and sell her home, as did my sister, Debra. She and I were each given a box of items my mother had collected over the years. My box contained some of my grandfather’s possessions that I thought had been lost forever. I discovered two watches, three knives, some old coins, his straight razor with a pearl handle, and a variety of other items of little worth outside their sentimental value. And then I found two things that I consider to be priceless. Two things that gave me further insight into a man I called “Popsi.” His real name was Arlie Joe Downing. Everyone who knew him called him Joe. What were those two items? I’ll tell you in a bit.
A “carburetor man”
My grandfather led a simple, humble life. During the Great Depression he and my grandmother lived in a tent city, as did many Americans. In time, he learned a trade and became an expert at repairing and building carburetors. He and my grandmother ultimately were able to buy a small house and raise one daughter, my mother Millie.
The first of those two priceless items I found was my grandfather’s ordination certificate. I knew that Popsi was a Christian, a church-going man who loved God and served God at his church, University Baptist in Abilene, TX. What I didn’t know is that Popsi served as a deacon. The back side of his ordination certificate is signed by his ordination council – about 30 men who examined his beliefs, character, and family and affirmed him being called to serve the church in the role of deacon.
A Sunday School leader
This is the one I think I’m most proud of! In that box of treasures, I found an old church newsletter from 1980. There, on the front page, were my grandparents. In a section of the newsletter labeled “Sunday School,” a short article featured my grandparents. It was part of a longer article that detailed the work of their Sunday School class and department. While Popsi was not the department director, he and my grandmother, Ida, provided much needed leadership and support. The church had a practice of monthly training and planning meetings for the adult Sunday School.
This is a facet of Popsi’s life that I didn’t know about until this past summer. I was thrilled to learn that not only was Popsi a hard-working, simple, godly man, but he was also a deacon and a Sunday School leader in his church. I must confess that I shed a few tears as I sat in my mother’s house and read through these documents. Popsi has been dead for almost 26 years, but it was like I got to meet him all over again.
The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith. – Billy Graham
Leaving a lasting legacy
As I’ve pondered my grandfather and his life, I am thankful for the legacy he left to me and our family. There are three truths about leaving legacies that I would like us to consider:
- A godly legacy doesn’t require you to be up front. When I think about Popsi, the man I remember was kind, gentle, humble, god-fearing, hard-working, and simple – simple in the fact that simple things made him happy. He may have been the most content person I’ve known. He worked hard, had strong, rough hands, and was thankful for simple things like family, meals, friends, and his church. Popsi was not an up-front leader. He quietly served behind the scenes, and I bet he had the spiritual gift of helps. He’d have given you the shirt off his back, but you wouldn’t find him directing much from the front of a room. That’s good news for many Christians who don’t feel they are up-front leaders. God can do great things with even the quietest of people! We may be surprised how many behind-the-scenes leaders have piles of treasures in heaven.
- A godly legacy doesn’t require you to toot your own horn. Popsi never talked about being a deacon. Nor did he talk about his leadership role in his Sunday School department. He just “did his thing” and went on. He didn’t call attention to himself. He just served. He just loved people. He knew his real reward was in heaven. I love people in the church who quietly serve, knowing that God sees all and rewards all in His own time and way. If you feel that no one notices your hard work for God through your church, be encouraged that God sees everything you do – even the little things – and keeps a very accurate record.
- A godly legacy can have untold impact. I doubt that Popsi ever thought much about the legacy he was leaving as he served as a deacon and Sunday School leader. He just lived his life the way he thought would be pleasing to God. Little did he know that he and my grandmother would influence my mother like they did spiritually; mom turned out to be a strong Christ follower who also served the Lord her entire adult life (even today at age 82 she plays the piano for her Sunday School department, and for nursing homes in the Abilene area so that residents can worship God without having to leave their facilities). Little did Popsi know that my mom’s influence on my sister and I would help make us the people we are today. Debra is a pastor’s wife, and I serve millions of people worldwide through my team’s work at LifeWay. There’s just no way for Popsi to have even begun to imagine the impact he and my grandmother would have on our family, and how our family would be used by God to bless others through full-time Christian ministry.
What kind of legacy are you in the process of leaving? If you don’t like what you see, there’s time to change it and honor God with the rest of your life! Hopefully, though, you can see some of the impact you are having on others around you as you continue to serve the Lord.
If you are a Bible study group leader, thank you for serving God through your church’s Bible teaching ministry. You’ll never know how significant you are on this side of heaven, but hopefully one day you’ll see the fruit of your labor!
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