That which remains

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David Epps

Almost everything built by man will someday disappear. Oh, there may be a few relics, artifacts, and ruins left behind. The coliseum in Rome, the Pyramids, The Great Wall, the foundations of ancient European cathedrals come to mind. But few things endure. Entire kingdoms rise and fall, nations change borders, most nations have and will disappear altogether, given enough time.

For a long time, I was concerned with my legacy. In my last church I saved every sermon tape in the church archives. I have kept many, if not most, of my sermon booklets and notes. I carefully framed my degrees, certificates, and awards and put them on walls. And what has happened to all those?

The sermon tapes at the church I had served for 13 years were about to be put in the dumpster so I retrieved them. Since then, they have been in boxes in a basement for 22 years. My sermon notes over the years are stacked on a shelf and will probably be thrown away soon. Many of the framed items of which I was so proud are in boxes in a storage unit and have been for some time.

No, not much remains afterward. What, then, does remain on the earth? Here is what I have concluded that does remain — that which does survive us: (1) Our family, and (2) The influence we have had on others.

If we have biological children, it is likely that they will survive us. I have had three sons. Thus far, I have 13 grandchildren, one of which was stillborn and is with the Lord.

Since the youngest is not quite 2 years old, it is probable that I will not live to see all my great-grandchildren born to these 12 and their spouses. Barring a catastrophe, my family will survive me. They will live because I lived and they will have life because I had life.

My maternal grandfather, Roy Luster, had three daughters and died at the age of 24. Yet his legacy survives. But another man, Charles Duckett, who had no biological children, married my widowed young grandmother, raised the infant and toddler daughters to adulthood and became the only maternal grandfather that the six children born to those sisters would have. His legacy lives in me — and in my brother and cousins.

There are mothers and fathers, other than biological. I know a couple who were house parents in a Baptist children’s home. I am familiar with many men and women who have been surrogate parent figures, aunts, uncles, and the like, to many children who were lacking relationships and role models. Their families and the importance of the influence is no less real.

Then there is influence. And we all have it. We have all received it. I was once asked to name the five adults in my youth who were the most influential on my life other than my parents. I named my grandfather (see above), a Methodist pastor named Fred Austin, a Senior High Sunday School teacher named Jean Bridwell, a football coach named Cecil Puckett, and an English teacher named Jean Massengill.

But it takes looking back to understand and realize these things. If you had asked me who most influenced me when I was a teen, I would have said my friends, classmates, fellow athletes, and girls I dated or were friends with. No, we have to have some distance between then and now to appreciate who really helped shape our lives.

That which will remain is the family, biological and otherwise, you have built over the years and the influence you have had on others. These relationships — even if interrupted — will last into eternity. There will be times when someone you have forgotten about will come to mind and you will, perhaps, pray for them. You may never know why they came to mind nor why you prayed for them, but God knows.

What will also remain is the influence that people have had on you and the influence you have had on others. In the latter case, you may never know about how profound your presence and words have been in the life of another.

Several years ago, a young mother visited our church. I knew her from a previous church I served. In that church, she was a member of the youth group. After the service, we talked for a bit. She had moved away, was married, and was now a mother. She had returned to visit family and decided to come to church.

She said, “I wanted to tell you that, if it hadn’t been for you — what you said to me — I wouldn’t be alive today.”

I have no memory of that conversation. Yet, whatever it was, whatever was said, evidently had a profound effect, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Influence.

In the early 1980s, I met a young man, a new Christian. He had been in the rock’n’roll lifestyle — drugs, sex, and rock and roll — before being converted to Christianity. He was directed by someone to attend the college and career group which I led at a large church in western Colorado. I asked him to join our worship team and play his guitar.

He declined, explaining that the guitar had been his god and he had laid it down forever. A bit later, I asked him to reconsider if God would allow him to pick up his guitar again and use it only for God’s glory. A few weeks later, he accepted.

That young man put together a worship team that help that group grow from 18 to over 175. The band cut an album which, to my surprise, they dedicated to me. Just a few years ago, I discovered that this man is now the pastor of one of western Colorado’s churches. And he still plays the guitar. Influence.

In the cases of Reverend Fred Austin, Jean Bridwell, and Cecil Puckett, I had the honor of writing an article about each of them and their influence on my life. By the time the articles were written, they were all in their 80s and I sent them a copy.

I wanted them to know that their lives mattered to me and to my development. Jean Massengill and my grandfather had articles written about them too, but they did not live long enough to read them.

Most pastors look with envy on the mega churches and their leaders that seem to get all the press and the attention. Mega churches and mega ministries do a very good work. But those buildings and those men and women will all pass away into the mists of time. What will be their legacy?

The same legacy that will be yours and mine, if we are to have one: the family and the influence we have on others.

We will have a legacy whether we try to or not. Whether it is a good one that benefits those who come after us or it is one that makes people want to forget us is entirely up to us.

Either way, our legacy will remain.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee. He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]