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How to leave a legacy

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Ruth 4:13-17

Alfred Nobel’s brother died, but the press got confused and ran his obituary instead. It was titled, “The Dynamite King,” since he invented the explosive, and described the mass destruction dynamite had caused. Nobel was horrified. Then and there he determined to change things. In his last will and testament, he deeded his great fortune to establishing an award honoring those who work for peace and harmony in the world. The Nobel Peace Prize was the result.

We all want to leave a legacy. We carve names into granite or marble tombstones, and in tree trunks and wet concrete. We want to outlive ourselves, to be remembered well.

But there are better ways. We can determine today what our legacy will be. In fact, we must.

Start now

Ruth was a Gentile, thus hated by the Jews. And worse, she was from Moab, and they hated the Moabites most of all.

Moab was the son of Lot and one of his daughters; the name Moab means “from father,” a permanent reminder of his incestuous beginnings.

When the Jews came through on their way to the Promised Land, Moabite women seduced them into immorality and idolatry. 24,000 Jews died in the judgment of God which resulted. They never forgave Moab.

The Law commanded that no Moabite would ever enter the worship of God (Deuteronomy 23:3), and that the Jews would be perpetually at war with Moab (Deuteronomy 23:6).

And Ruth was from Moab.

She was not the last person to feel excluded from the people and plan of God, was she?

Maybe you feel on the outside of life, looking in. Maybe you’re new to our city, or your circumstances. Perhaps you have problems no one knows about, and it seems no one cares. There are many ways to be Moabites today.

No one would have thought Ruth could leave a legacy of eternal significance, would they? But she did. So can you. So can I.

Believe that God believes in you. You cannot alter your past, but you can bring your past to the altar. Today.

God wants to use your life, right now. Become intentional about your life, your future, your contribution to God’s kingdom and world. If he could use Ruth, he can use you. If you would leave a legacy that matters, start now.

Experts agree: the best way to predict the future is to create it. It has been truly said, Where there’s no gardener, there’s no garden.

At Yale University in 1953, the graduates were asked how many had clear, written, substantive goals for their lives. Only 3% did. Twenty years later it was discovered that this 3% had accomplished more than the other 97% combined.

Begin writing your obituary, determining your legacy, right now.

Invest with God

Where do you begin? With God. Remember Ruth’s statement of faith, in the famous KJV rendering: “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” (1:16).

Ruth is turning from her pagan, Gentile gods to the true God of Israel. And she is definite about it. The Hebrew literally says, “Your people my people; your God my God.” No questions or reservations—absolute, unconditional commitment to the God of Israel. And only now, her life began to build an eternal legacy.

God promises the same to us: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and everything else will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

And our eternal God can make your life to have eternal significance, no matter your circumstances today.

John the Beloved Disciple was Jesus’ last living apostle, sent to the penal island of Patmos to isolate him and silence his witness. It didn’t work.

As John was sailing to the Alcatraz of the ancient world, he won those on the boat to Christ. Then the soldiers assigned to him. Then the other prisoners. He started a church which has met on Patmos for twenty centuries. When I visited there on a Sunday morning, we saw that church still worshipping in the cave where John lived.

God can give our lives eternal significance. Only he can.

So, how fully are you investing in your relationship with him today? When did you last spend an hour listening to him? Walking with him? Worshipping him? Are you asking him to make your life significant? To use you for his purposes? To establish an eternal legacy through you?

To leave a legacy that lasts, first invest in your relationship with God.

Invest in people

And then invest in people. Souls are the only eternal reality in our world. People are all that matters forever. Charles Spurgeon’s advice is still sound: “Those who loved you, and were helped by you, will remember you when flowers are withered. Carve your name on hearts, and not on marble.”

See Ruth’s example: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God” (1:16). She will invest in God, and then in the people of God. And she did.

And so Ruth gave up her homeland, her security, her safety. As a despised Moabitess, she traveled to the land of her nation’s worst enemies. Why? Because her first commitment was to Naomi. Not to her society, or culture, but to this suffering person before her.

She chose to put people first. And the results have been eternal.

What people? Start with your family. They are your highest and first commitment under God, your first and most significant legacy.

1 Timothy 5:8: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” This is true financially, but spiritually as well.

Every parent’s first legacy is our children. And those without children can extend their legacy through people as well. Through spouses, nieces, nephews, friends, co-workers, extended family, fellow students.

When our work is done, our businesses gone or run by others, our possessions and achievements forgotten, who will outlive us? Who will continue our legacy? People, with our families first.

Whose lives are you intentionally influencing right now? Who is on your list of legacy-builders? Do you have such a list? When will you make one? Ruth chose Naomi. In whose life are you investing today, for eternity’s sake?

You need a strategy for leaving a legacy. We all do.

Bob Buford’s story is well-known to many of us. A Tyler cable executive, he determined that he wanted his life to be not only successful but also significant. And so he made a “half time” career change, investing the majority of his time and resources in the creation of a network to bring ministry leaders together from around the globe. Leadership Network is today the largest and most effective such ministry in the world.

I want you to read the book he wrote about all this. Half Time: Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance is a practical guide for creating your legacy, determining your lasting significance in life.

You can start right now. Ask God for the next step in his strategy for your legacy. How will you invest more fully in your relationship with him? With your family? With other people and their eternal souls? What is your plan? What will you do now?

Conclusion

Here’s the result of Ruth’s faithfulness to God and people: Ruth had a son named Obed, and “He was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:17). God made this Moabite woman the great-grandmother of the greatest King in Israel’s history.

And in Matthew’s genealogy of the Messiah we read in 1:5, “Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth.” Ruth became an ancestor of the Lord Jesus himself.

Now Jesus invites us to remember his legacy, and to continue it. To come to the Table which reminds us of his death for us, and to carry the news of his love to people across our community this week. To love God in gratitude with our heart, soul, and mind; to love our neighbor as ourselves. To continue his legacy by building our own.

When worship is done today, where will you begin?