The legacy of you

1 Kings 15, Joel 2:12-32

If someone constructed a likeness of yourself, what would it look like? Would you be someone awesome? Or would it look like the head of an evil empire looking on at his millions from winning way too many baseball games?

Yesterday, I watched a video about sex. Sex is an interesting topic. I’m sure most warm-blooded humans would agree.

The video was somewhat dogmatic, in all its sincerity. It purposed to re-establish the definition of sex, which undoubtedly has been skewed over the course of history, as something that God has ordained as an activity between a married man and woman.

I it’s no mystery that sex is a casual activity to most people today.  It’s expected that you will lose your virginity before you graduate from high school. Having sex with multiple partners in college is normal, and if you’re not sexually active in your early 20s, something is wrong with you.

I suppose it’s easy for me as a Christian to say this is “dumb,” because the church culture and the Bible is pretty hard on people that decide casual sex is okay. I subscribed to that doctrine not long after I became a Christian, and I managed, for lack of a better term, to save it for my wife.

Insert obligatory applause from the Christian community here.

But what now excites me about this accomplishment, if one would define it as such, is how it’s going to work for my daughter.

If you have kids, you inherently want them to be awesome people.  Parents readily say, “I hope they don’t do the same dumb stuff I did when I was a kid.” And we instruct them with all the wise words we know to prevent them from making poor decisions.

And then they grow up and they start getting  minds of their own.  We lament the poor attitude those teenagers have, this generation’s declining moral proclivities, and then they run off with someone and do things behind your back that you never really thought they’d do at such a young age.

But we forget that we did the same things at the same age.  We slept around, we “fell in love,” and then had our hearts broken. We made mistakes — some of which we’re still bearing the fruit of today.

And we say to the kids, “Why didn’t they just listen to me?”

It’s because they copy you.  They see your daily behavior, and this is primarily how they learn. We blame the media, the school they go to, the friends they hang out with, but at the core, it’s what they’ve seen at home.

My two-year-old daughter is already copying me. I think it’s funny to throw paper wads at the cats every once in a while, or sometimes I’ll toss stuff at them to get them to stop using the couch as a scratching post. Now my daughter throws things at the cats and laughs.  Whoops.

But the cool thing is, she’s going to know that both of her parents “waited” until marriage.  I expect her to do the same, not because I’m going to spend the first several years of her life hammering the concept into her head, but because she’s going to have an example in us that it’s possible and good.

We read about the kings in the Bible, about their triumphs and failures, and what’s interesting to me is how the writer references the father in the context of the king’s obedience or sin. In a modern context, this seems bizarre — does it really matter what pops did before them? Shouldn’t these guys be responsible for their own activity?

Indeed, but they’ve picked up the habits of their predecessor. My mother and father split when I was 13, and I’ve only seen my dad sporadically over the last 20 years, but what my wife finds very odd is how similar we are — the way we stand, walk, shake hands, hug, and even speak are all nearly identical. I don’t “remember” any of these mannerisms, but they’re somehow imprinted.  There are behaviors I seem to have avoided, by the grace of God, but there are certainly other similarities that linger that I’d rather not have, and that I fight off daily.

I think these kings couldn’t help themselves. They succumbed to the same ever-present temptations their fathers did; their fathers refused to destroy the garbage in their lives, and the kids just kind of picked up where they left off.

We can blame the kids all day, but really, we should be examining ourselves first. What kind of legacy are we establishing with those who look upon us?

We could “try harder” and be really sorry — and many of us are really sorry and try harder, and it doesn’t seem to work — but in the reading in Joel today, we’re given a rather astute command that gets the job done, every time:

“Now, therefore,” says the Lord,
“Turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
So rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness;
And He relents from doing harm.

Note that it says, “Rend your heart.” Back in the day, when someone was really upset, they’d rip their clothing. I guess it’s better than hitting a wall or throwing a social media fit, in some ways. But what God is asking for us to do is internal; we must humble ourselves from within, to the point of significant change toward the likeness of Jesus.

This should not be a one-time thing, but a constant leaning. I’m convinced that the average self-proclaimed Christian expertly checks in at church each week and posts up nice inspirational Christian jargon on Facebook, but completely ignores the condition of their hearts on a day to day basis. This is precisely why the tail end of verse 17 exists:

And do not give Your heritage to reproach,
That the nations should rule over them.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”

Israel is supposed to have a reputation of following God, but lately the other nations think it’s all frivolous because they can’t stop worshiping other things or making poor decisions. Does this sound familiar? Do people around you, your offspring or otherwise, really think the Jesus you claim to worship is a big deal to you because you’re consistent? Why should they say, “Where is their God?” Honestly, they really shouldn’t.

Your legacy matters. Every decision you make is creating a pattern, a timeline of events, that someone else is going to observe at least a portion of. Others may not want anything to do with it, but they might also copy some of that behavior, much to your chagrin.

We must recognize the importance of our legacy.  It doesn’t have to involve a perfect record of behavior, but it should be a life that noticeably points to the Lord.

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