A Few Thoughts about Leaving a Legacy

Everyone leaves a legacy of one kind or another.

One person may strive to create a positive legacy that will bless those left behind. Someone else might not think about that at all, seldom considering what people will say about them when their bodies lie six feet under, or their ashes have been scattered on a mountaintop. 

Even so, they still leave a legacy, proving they inhaled air and consumed calories.

Have you baby boomers noticed how many pop songs from the 50s and 60s have been resurrected to sell everything from soap to soup? I’m thinking of a particular TV commercial with a familiar pop song from the early 60s. As the steaming soup is lovingly ladled into the white bowl, we hear Ricky Nelson crooning, “There’ll never be anyone else but you for me, never ever be, just couldn’t be anyone else but you.” 

I wonder what Nelson would think about his voice and hit song being used to sell a can of soup? Would he have wanted that to be part of his legacy?

Sometimes a person’s life has had such great influence that we honor their legacy with statues and monuments. The heads of four American presidents, chiseled into granite on Mount Rushmore, are a testimony to their legacies. 

I hope their faces will remain fixed on that South Dakota peak. I use the word “hope” because the dynamite that helped carve their images in the granite could also be used to deface them. Nothing here on earth is guaranteed to remain forever. In the past year, statues of once-admired people were ripped from their pedestals by our present “cancel culture.” Some people want to carry that even further, purging positive statements about historical figures such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson from history books.

Throughout history, great world leaders have created monuments to authenticate their achievements—and supposedly assure their legacies. 

King Herod, for example, using forced labor, constructed The Herodian, Masada and Caesarea Maritima. Any one of these accomplishments is testimony to his once greatness (and cruel vanity). 

The Herodian is a palace-like fortress constructed on a 400 feet high cone about ten miles south of Jerusalem. The top of the hill is surrounded by a five-foot thick circular wall that encloses a second wall of similar thickness, designed to provide Herod a safe retreat if threatened. The fortress was initially seven stories high and was intended to be a permanent monument to the evil king’s legacy.

Jewish Zealots captured the fortress in 66 AD. The Herodian fell into disrepair through the centuries. Even Herod’s tomb was violated. Today, excavation is revealing marvelous details of a supposedly-secure fortress in the desert.

Herod also constructed another fortress in the Judean desert. Masada (or fortress), like the Herodian, boasted of amenities including swimming pools, saunas and cisterns. Once considered unconquerable on its high plateau 1,330 feet above the nearby Dead Sea, Masada has become a tourist attraction. People come to see where 960 Jewish rebels committed mass suicide, denying the Roman army the satisfaction of killing them on April 15, 73 A.D. 

Caesarea Maritima, constructed on the shore of the Mediterranean, served as Herod’s winter palace. Boasting a harbor large enough for 300 ships and an aqueduct—much of it still standing—that brought water from springs over ten miles away. The fortified town also boasted of a sewage system flushed by the tide. The hippodrome seated over 20,000, where onlookers viewed chariot races or bloody gladiatorial combats.

Today, each of these magnificent monuments to Herod’s legacy is an archaeological ruin. I wonder what Herod would think if he could know what has happened to them. Herod is better known for slaughtering all the innocent two-year-old and younger boys in Bethlehem.

How could it be otherwise for a man like Herod, so paranoid that he killed his own wife and sons, believing them to be a threat to his rule? 

I realize Ricky Nelson’s legacy is greater than one popular song resurrected for a TV ad. But the very fact that those lyrics—once celebrating devoted love—have become a 15-second commercial for soup illustrates that our legacy must be built on something greater than statues or songs. These things will pass away like the Herodian and Masada.

The greatest legacy we can leave is to have invested in things of eternal value: people. Things we have done for or invested in other people create lasting legacies, impacting generations to come, and perhaps reaching into eternity.

Resources and time wisely invested in helping others in Jesus’ name will never be wasted. You can’t say that about money left in banks or retirement accounts after our passing. No matter how much we accumulate, it will all be left behind for others to invest wisely or to waste. Jesus spoke to this in His parable of the foolish farmer. He had filled up his granaries to the max and we ready to kick back and enjoy a leisurely retirement. But all too suddenly, his time was up, and he found himself facing his Creator. 

Words that resonate with and reinforce a lasting legacy are often shared at memorial services, describing how the deceased’s life impacted other lives by their generous sharing of time or resources.

Perhaps the best counsel on how to live life and leave a lasting legacy is captured in these words from an old prophet:

“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?” 

(Micah 6:8)

If you want to see God’s perspective on leaving a legacy that will influence generations to come, take a look at Psalm 112.

When our last breath has been expelled and others gather to grieve and remember, what will they say? What will be our legacy?

No matter where you are in your lifeline it’s not too late, with God’s help, to make a difference.

Starting now.