Fathers: Leave a Legacy

This upcoming Lord's Day I will preach on the subject of parenting from Ephesians 6:1-4.  I have been challenged, convicted, and encouraged this week by a John Piper sermon on the legacy his earthly father.  In this sermon, Fathers, Bring Them Up in the Discipline & Instruction of the Lord, Piper makes a list of 11 impacts of legacy.  Each one of these are impacts that we, as father's,  should aspire to make. The remainder of this blog is an excerpt from that sermon.

1. There is a great, majestic God in heaven, and we were meant to live for his glory not ours.

Most of these truths that I will mention are rooted in my memory of particular texts that were branded on my mind at home. Few texts were more often on Daddy’s lips in relation to me than 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” I am sure that in heaven some day the Lord will make plain the unbreakable chain of influences that led from that verse when I was a boy to the mission statement of this church: “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.” This won’t be the only influence you will see of my father on that mission statement.

2. When things don’t go the way they should, God always makes them turn for good.

Even more prominent in my growing up was the presence of Romans 8:28 in our family: “God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.”

I have several vivid memories of this truth. One was in 1974 when I rode with my father in the ambulance from Atlanta to Greenville with my mother’s body in the hearse following behind. They had just been flown in from Israel where Mother had been killed in an accident and Daddy was seriously injured. All the way home, for three and a half hours, he would weep and talk and weep and talk. He was 56. They had been married 36 years. And when he talked it was Romans 8:28. I remember the very words: “God must have a reason for me to live. God must have a reason for me to live.” In other words, God governs our accidents and makes no mistakes.

I will never cease to be thankful that I heard and saw the truth of Romans 8:28 in my father’s life, “When things don’t go the way they should, God always makes them turn for good.”

3. God can be trusted.

How many times did I hear the words of Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.” And Philippians 4:19, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

I can see us as a family when I was just a child. We were all (Mother, Daddy, my older sister, Beverly) sitting around a card table my parents’ bedroom folding letters and stuffing envelopes which would be sent to pastors asking them to consider having my father come lead their churches in evangelistic meetings. This was Daddy’s life—he was a full time evangelist—and our livelihood. The answers to these letters meant bread on the table and paid bills. Then we prayed over these envelopes and Daddy closed in a spirit of utter confidence: God will answer and meet every need. He can be trusted.

He told me more than once of a financial crisis when I was six years old in which he almost lost everything. And he said that God used Psalm 37:5 to sustain him and bring him through: “Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him and he will act.”

And so I saw and I learned: God can be trusted.

4. Life is precarious, and life is precious. Don’t presume that you will have it tomorrow and don’t waste it today.

My memory of my Father’s preaching was that he always began with humor but within seconds he was blood earnest and talking about heaven and hell, and sin and Christ and life and death. One text above all others rings in my ears with terrible seriousness. He squinted when he said it and his mouth pursed tightly the way it does after you taste a lemon: “It is appointed unto men once to die, after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27) It made a huge impression on me as a boy.

The motto on Daddy’s college wall was, “The wise man prepares for the inevitable”

The plaque in our kitchen when I was growing up was: “Only one life ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”

The stories of wasted lives tumbled from his mouth:
“During a South Carolina [campaign] a lovely high school senior attended every night but refused to accept Christ. Shortly after the crusade while driving her car over a treacherous railroad crossing, she was killed instantly by a freight train she failed to see coming.”
“While in a Pennsylvania campaign, I witnessed a whole town shaken by the sudden deaths of six young men. Driving home from an afternoon football practice, they failed to stop at a major intersection and were struck broadside by a heavy truck. Six were dead within three hours.”

“I’ve seen babies die in their mothers’ arms. I’ve seen little boys and girls struck down before their lives had scarcely begun. I’ve witnessed men die in the prime of life and others at the height of success.” (Menace, pp. 49-50)
He told story of a girl who said she would give her life to God when she was old. A wise old woman sent her a bouquet of dead flowers, and when the girl expressed offense, she said, “Isn’t that the way you are treating God?”

And most memorable of all to my young mind: The old man saved in the eleventh hour of his life weeping in Daddy’s arms: “I’ve wasted it. I’ve wasted it.”

5. A merry heart does good like a medicine and Christ is the great heart-Satisfier.

That’s a quote from Proverbs 17:22. My father has been the happiest man I have ever known. Here is the kind of things he said in a sermon called “A Good Time and How to Have It.”
“Right from the start, let’s get one thing straight; a Christian is not a sour puss. I grant you that some of them look and act that way, but you simply can’t blame God for it.”
“Some folks seem to have been born in the objective case, the contrary gender and the bilious mood.”

“Mama, that mule must have religion too, he looks just like Grandpa.” (Good Time, p. 7).
He preached another sermon called “Saved, Safe and Satisfied.” He said, “He is God. When you fully trust Him you have all that God is and all that God has. You cannot be otherwise than satisfied with the perfect fullness of Christ.” (Good Time, p. 48).
He said worldly Christians are like a cow with her head stuck through fence eating stubby grass on the highway while a beautiful green pasture lies behind her.

A merry heart does good like a medicine and Christ is the great heart-Satisfier. What a legacy of joy my father has left!

6. A Christian is a great doer not a great don’ter.

We Pipers were fundamentalists without the attitude. We had our lists of things not to do. But that wasn’t the main thing. Here’s what my father preached in a sermon called The Greatest Menace to Modern Youth.
Millions insist upon thinking that Christianity is a negative religion. You don’t do this and you can’t do that. You don’t go here and your can’t go there. To the contrary, the Bible constantly sounds the triumphant and positive note. “Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only.” . . . “Whatsoever your hand findeth to do, do with all your might.”
God wants us to be doers, not don’ters. A Christian who is only a don’ter is a sour saint who spread gloom wherever he goes. A don’ter is usually a hypocritical Pharisee. Years ago, I heard the late Dr. Bob Jones say. “Do so fast you don’t have time to don’t.” That sums it up.
That left an indelible mark on my life. We had strict standards, but I never chaffed under them. They were not the point. Enjoying Christ, doing good and loving people was the point. The rest was just fencing to protect the good field of faith and purity.

7. The Christian life is supernatural.

I have one precious DVD of my father preaching. It is a message on new the new birth. John 3:7 “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Becoming a Christian was not a mere decision. It was a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

And therefore he believed in prayer—crying out to God to do the miracle of the new birth. We prayed together every night as a family, because the great need in life is supernatural, divine power to live with joy—and that is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, not a work of our own.
I saw that my father’s work was not a human work. It was divine work. Impossible work. But with God all things are possible.

8. Bible doctrine is important but don’t beat people up with it.

At this point he admitted openly to me with grief that our fundamentalist tradition let him down. There was great truth, but too many of them were not great lovers. I can remember him saying: If they only understood Ephesians 4:15, “Speaking the truth in love.” So from as early as I can remember he showed me the importance of both right doctrine and the way of love. They must never be separated.

9. Respect your mother.

If you wanted to see Daddy angry, let one of his children sass our mother. He not only knew the command of God to honor our mothers; he also knew the extraordinary debt that every child owes a mother. Time and again he would compare true love not to married love but to mother’s love. He knew the price my mother paid for him to be away so much. Therefore, he would tolerate no insolence or disrespect toward her. I trembled at the fierce gaze in his eyes if I said something sarcastic to my mother.

10. Be who God made you to be and not somebody else.

My father was short, a good bit shorter than I am. But he was content and could joke about it. The one I remember is that he said he was part of a football team as boy, and the name of the team was “Little potatoes but hard to peel.” I think God delights to make short men great preachers. (Remember John Wesley!)

For me this contentment with being who God made you to be meant freedom. He never forced me or pressured me to be an evangelist or a pastor or anything else. His counsel was always: seek God and be what he has made you to be. And then what your hand finds to do, do it with all your might for the glory of Christ.

I close with one more truth, the central truth of my father’s life. This was what he preached and what he loved. So I will let him preach it one more time to you as we close:

11. People are lost and need to be saved through faith in Jesus Christ.

My father was an evangelist. His absence from home two thirds of the year (in and out, in and out) meant one main thing. Sin and hell are real and horrible, and Jesus Christ is a great savior. Here’s a direct quote from my Dad:
“In my evangelistic career I have had the thrill of seeing people from all walks of life come to Christ. I have seen many professional people saved. I have knelt with Ph.D.’s and led them to Jesus. College professors, bankers, lawyers, doctors. I have seen them all saved.

Then I have seen many from the other side of life come to the Lord. I have put my arm around drunkards in city missions and prayed with them. I have sat by the bedside of dying alcoholics and led them to Christ. I have seen the poor, the forsaken, the derelicts, the outcasts all come to the Savior. Yes, God takes them, too. Isn’t it wonderful that anyone who wants to can come to Christ.” (Grace for the Guilty, p. 111)
Perhaps you never had a father like that, but right now you hear your heavenly father calling, “Come home, come home!” Father’s Day would be a good time to stop running and come home.

I thank you heavenly father for my earthly father. What a legacy he has left to me and my children and grandchildren—and to this church. O, raise up fathers in this church with great legacies of faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.