In 1829, a British scientist by the name of James Lewis Macie Smithson left a legacy like few others in history. Smithson was childless, so his will stipulated that everything he had would go to his nephew, Henry Hungerford. However, if Hungerford died without heirs, the fortune would go to the United States to establish an institution in Washington, D.C., dedicated to “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”
Hungerford died six years later in 1835 without leaving any children, and the U.S. government used the money to establish The Smithsonian Institute, arguably one of the wisest expenditures in history. Without ever knowing it, James Smithson left one of the greatest legacies of modern times.
Most of us won’t have the chance to leave a vast sum of money to the U.S. government. For one thing, any vast sums we might earn are going to be taken from us in taxes before we die! But the greatest of legacies aren’t usually monetary; they’re relational. They’re values and character molded into younger lives. I want to talk to you about that today.
I want to talk to you about your legacy. I want to stretch you beyond your own family.
Some of you will leave great legacies through the lives of your children. That’s good. That’s very good. My greatest ambition in life has been to raise children who love God with their whole hearts and make a difference for Him wherever they go.
But I don’t think that’s enough. I want my life—and I want your lives—to count for more than two to three children related to us by blood. I want to encourage you today to think about a legacy to a generation.
When He was 30 years old, Jesus intentionally approached 12 younger men and invited them to follow Him so they could become like Him. And they did.
Jesus Christ, who never raised a child of His own, did more to influence future generations than any other human being, because He purposed to leave a legacy in the generation after His own.
A few years later, the Apostle Paul said to a church full of people on an isthmus in Greece, “Imitate me” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul was in his 50s when he wrote that. He was reaching down to another generation.
Toward the end of his life, Paul wrote to his younger friend Timothy, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” 2 Timothy 2:2
This was a true example of one generation influencing another, influencing another, then influencing another.
Regarding the women of Crete, Paul told another younger-generation mentee named Titus,
“Teach the older women to…urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind…” Titus 2:4:
and a whole list of other things that would enable the younger women to leave a legacy to an even younger generation.
This concept of strong family members leaving a legacy to following generations is so important to God that King David actually had one of his court musicians write a song about it 3,000 years ago.
Turn in your Bibles to Psalm 78, and I’ll show it to you.
This is a psalm of Asaph. Asaph and his sons wrote at least 12 of the psalms in the Bible, possibly more. This psalm, which is called a “maskil” or an insight-giving psalm, could be called, “The Psalm of the Next Generation.” Let me read some of it to you.
Psalm 78: 1-7
1 Listen, O my people, to my instruction; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old,
3 Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us.
4 We will not conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord , And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.
5 For He established a testimony in Jacob And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers That they should teach them to their children,
6 That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children,
7 That they should put their confidence in God And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments,
Read v. 6 out loud, would you?
It’s a generational commission: Pass a baton. Pass the faith on to the next generation.
This is biblical Christianity: one generation teaching another, modeling for another, loving another. I think it’s one of the great joys in life. These young adults and many others are the future legacy of this church.
I want to talk to you about How to Influence the Next Generation.
If you are going to influence the next generation, you’ve got to…
1. Play your part in your own generation.
Serving in your generation will give you the credibility you need to be listened to by the next generation.
The Bible says in Acts 17:26:
“from one man he [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”
Did you know that you are living in the exact time and the exact place God wants you to?
He wants to use you here and now. God has a plan for you among your peers.
The Bible says in Acts 13:36:
“When David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep. . .”
Our primary calling is to our own generation. Job No. 1 is to influence your peers.
But that’s not enough. I love what the writer of Psalm 71 says:
“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation.” Psalm 71:18
Do you see what he’s saying? “God, don’t let me die before I pass on the faith to the next generation.”
2. Care about the next generation.
I love the next generation. You know how you can tell if you love the next generation? You pay attention to them. You notice the things that interest them, the things they’re thinking about.
If you want to influence the next generation, you must care about the next generation. Once you care about the next generation, then you. . .
3. Teach a few (in the next generation).
Teach a few of them. Most of us won’t be able to take on hundreds like some youth pastors do, but if we care, we’ll find a way to teach a few.
Psalm 145:4 says,
One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.
Illustration: Charles Simeon was called to pastor Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, England, in 1782. Back then, each of the pews had a little door on it.
Wealthy members of the church would buy their own pews. Most of the members of the church so strongly disliked Charles Simeon that, on Sunday mornings, they would arrive at church 15 minutes early, lock the door to their pew, and leave.
But the students of Cambridge loved Simeon. They came and stood in the aisles to listen to him. For seven years he packed the aisles with college students before the older generation began to come and sit in their pews.
Simeon started inviting these students to his house every Friday night. They would have tea, and then he would teach them well into the night, answering their questions about God and ministry until midnight.
By the time of his death, approximately one-third of the ministers of England were men who had been influenced by Charles Simeon.
Most of us won’t be able to do that. But if we are going to influence even some in the next generation, besides serving ours and caring about the next and teaching a few, we need to…
4. Invest in two or three.
Friends, I’m pretty sure this financial crisis we’re in is the biggest financial challenge of our generation. But listen to me: It will pass.
Ten to twenty years from now, many of us will have more than we ever imagined we would. I’m confident of it. But just as the purpose of our lives is not to be lived for ourselves, the purpose of our money is not to simply take care of our own.
Psalm 49:20 says:
“Human beings who have wealth but lack understanding are like beasts that perish.”
Nobody wants to be like a beast that perishes.
During the last Olympics, the U.S. men’s 400-meter relay team looked like they could win the gold or silver medal. Our first runner had done well, and our second one had done well. But when the exchange came between the third and fourth runner, Darvis Patten and Tyson Gay, do you remember what happened? One of them dropped the baton, and we came home without a medal. The team was disqualified.
The next day, all our hopes rested on the women’s 400 relay team. Do you remember what happened to them? Same thing.
Dropping batons happens a lot in sports. Let’s not let it happen in our church.
There’s a Chinese proverb that says,
If you want to be happy for an hour — take a nap.
If you want to be happy for a day — go fishing.
If you want to be happy for a month — get married.
If you want to be happy for a year — inherit a fortune.
If you want to be happy for a lifetime — help someone.
That’s true, isn’t it? If you want to be happy, help someone. Leave a legacy. Pass on the baton.
Let me close with a story. You can decide whether it’s true or not. It’s a story about creation.
On the first day, God created the dog and said, “Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of 20 years.”
The dog said, “That’s a long time to be barking. How about only 10 years, and I’ll give you back the other 10?” So God agreed.
On the second day, God created the monkey and said, “Entertain people, do tricks and make them laugh. For this, I’ll give you a 20-year life span.”
The monkey said, “Monkey tricks for 20 years? That’s a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back 10 like the dog,” and God agreed.
On the third day, God created the cow and said, “You must stay the field all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer’s family. For this, I will give you a life span of 60 years.”
The cow said, “That’s a tough life, and you want me to live for 60 years. How about 20, and I’ll give back the other 40?” And God agreed again.
On the fourth day, God created humans and said, “Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I’ll give you 20 years.”
But the human said, “Only 20 years? Could you possibly give me my 20, the cow’s 40, the monkey’s 10, and the dog’s 10?”
“OK,” said God, “you asked for it.”
So that is why for the first 20 years we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves.
For the next 40, we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next 10, we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren, and for the last 10, we sit on the porch and bark at everyone.
I think we can do better than that, don’t you? Let’s pass a baton. Let’s leave a legacy. Let’s influence the next generation by serving ours, caring about theirs, teaching a few, and investing in two or three. Deal? Deal.
Dr. Greg Johnston preached this message at The Grove Church as part of the “Building Strong Families” series.