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by Mark Schnell, Elder, Boston Church of Christ
Few things are more encouraging than enjoying a get-together of extended family where everyone shares a common love for God and His church. Can you imagine sharing a Thanksgiving feast, and during dessert everyone takes turns proclaiming the good things God has done for them? How about a family camping trip, where every morning and every evening is marked by a time devoted to prayer, singing, and sharing? Too good to be true? Maybe, if you haven’t invested in God’s plan for families. However, if you faithfully put into practice the spiritual principles of the scriptures, this can be a reality for you and your loved ones.
Consider the family of Abraham. The foundation of the nation of Israel was built upon four generations of men who loved God and lived by faith. In the New Testament book of Hebrews, the famed chapter of faith (11) opens with recollections of this extended family of faithful men and the wives and children that supported them. Now a cynical person might write this family off as having benefitted from excessive favoritism by God. After all, God did make a promise to Abraham! However, it doesn’t take long to review the history of this family and see the extraordinary challenges that they endured: jealousy… hatred… discord… slavery… deceit… sacrifice… famine… rape… murder… to name just some of the problems that plagued this family. In good times, but especially in times of testing, a lasting legacy of faith carried them back to God. The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines “legacy” as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past. This amazing family passed its faith down from generation to generation.
Spiritual legacy is not simply the stuff of Old Testament legend. Generational faith is highlighted in the New Testament as well. While still only an adolescent, Timothy distinguished himself by the potential that came from generations of faith before him. From prison, the apostle Paul wrote to his young disciple, recalling the qualities that caused him to ask Timothy’s family to allow the young man to accompany him on his missionary journey. Of special note was Paul’s recognition of the impact Timothy felt by having a Godly mother and grandmother.
To the single moms who are reading this article, your role in building a lasting, spiritual legacy can’t be understated! It is important to note that Timothy’s father was a Gentile, proven by Paul’s need to obtain permission to have Timothy circumcised prior to their mission. As valuable as it is to have a strong man of God as a father, a lasting legacy does not require it. Throughout the scriptures, God highlights special women of faith whose love for The Father has made the difference in the lives of great men… and women of faith. A lasting, spiritual legacy is very hard to build without women as strong links in the chain!
At the time of this writing, I find myself married nearly 33 years to Lisa Sullivan Schnell, the eldest daughter of Thomas and Joan Sullivan. I am the eldest son of Ervin and Janet Schnell. When I was only five years old, my father saw a man reading his Bible during lunch break, and he was moved to ask the stranger to show him how to read the Bible. That initial step of faith resulted in the studying and baptism of my dad and mom, my dad’s brother and his wife, as well as their parents. I was raised in a family that loved and worshipped God.
Meanwhile, Tom and Joan Sullivan raised their three daughters to worship God. At the time, they did not know the truth, but they required their daughters to attend a church, even when they went off to college. Following her graduation from college, Lisa took a job at Chevrolet, working in the same department as Erv Schnell, my dad. My dad urged Lisa to study the Bible, something she knew in her heart she needed to do. So, she tried several offerings from various denominations (she wanted to do it on her own!) Not seeing the truth taught in those places, she finally asked Dad, “Ok, you better show me!” Not only was Lisa baptized, but she shared with her family, and her parents and sisters were all united in baptism! For the record, Edward Schnell was father to Ervin, who was father to Mark, who is father to Steve. Erv was a restoration preacher, I serve as an elder, and Steve is a campus evangelist. The Schnell legacy includes four generations… and counting!
Building a lasting, spiritual legacy requires two important ingredients: mustard-seed faith, and extensive forethought. We need faith to believe that the principles of God are necessities in this life, and that they will work in this generation and in generations to come. And, we need forethought… advanced planning… mindful intent… to keep our family focused on God and the truth in every circumstance.
To build a legacy, we need to help our children to see that God is real, all the time. As we are driving in the car, my wife Lisa will spot some geese or herons flying, and she will assert, “God just smiled at me!” When you experience a waterfall, enjoy a rainbow, or view a valley of Autumn leaves, don’t simply say, “That’s awesome!” Rather, acknowledge our God by exclaiming, “Isn’t God amazing!” When you are successful in working on a project, or in overcoming a challenge, don’t respond as the world does by saying, “That was lucky!” Or worse, “I’m smarter than I thought!” Instead, give God the credit by saying, “Thank-you, Father!”
Don’t hide your lamp under a basket. Share your thoughts and words with your family. Start the day with prayer. Don’t just recite an obligatory list of requests… talk to your Father! Look for ways to thank God. Schedule regular times for Family Devotionals. Invite the neighbors. These are times to teach your family that God is real.
Aren’t you glad that God never takes a vacation? Why should we take a vacation from Him?? Whether Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, vacations, or even Saturdays, give God the glory, and always put His kingdom first. Children that live their early lives hearing, feeling, and believing God will find it hard to doubt Him when they become young adults. The children who experienced only religion and not the perfect Father are the ones who are most easily tempted to walk away from what you’ve tried to teach.
There are so many other practicals to consider: family dinners (without TV), shared bedtime prayers (on your knees), bringing the kids on errands so they can learn how to share their faith, revered family traditions (with God at the center), invest precious vacation time in trips to Kingdom events, to name just a few.
And finally, model your faith for your kids. Learn how to lead, and then lead with all your heart. Read the scriptures, as well as books on raising faithful children… read – read – read! Extend grace whenever you can.
The faith-based singing trio, Philips, Craig and Dean perform a song on fatherhood that includes the chorus, “I want to be just like you, ‘cause he wants to be just like me. I want to be a holy example for my little boy to see.” That’s what building a lasting, spiritual legacy is all about… imitating The Father for our kids, so that they’ll want to imitate us. Start building your own legacy… or continue it!
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