While staying in a hotel in a small town I noticed that the church across the street was having a service. People were jammed into the church with a standing-room-only crowd of both young and old flowing out onto the sidewalk. When I noticed a hearse by the curb, I realized it was a funeral. And given the crowd, I assumed that it was the celebration of the life of some local hero—perhaps a wealthy businessperson or a famous personality. Curious, I said to the desk clerk, “That’s an amazing turnout for a funeral; it must be for a famous person in town.”
“No,” he replied. “He wasn’t rich or famous but he was a good man.”
This reminded me of the wisdom of the proverb that says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches” (Prov. 22:1). It’s a good idea to think about what kind of legacy we are leaving for our family, friends, and neighbors. From God’s perspective it’s not our resume or the amount of money we’ve accumulated that matters but rather the kind of life we have lived.
When a friend of mine passed away, his daughter wrote, “This world has lost a righteous man and in this world that is no small thing!” It’s that kind of legacy that we should be seeking for the glory of God.
The email from the student in my college writing class expressed urgency. It was the end of the semester, and he realized he needed a better grade to participate in sports. What could he do? He had missed some assignments, so I gave him two days to complete those papers and improve his grade. His response: “Thank you. I’ll do it.”
Two days—and the deadline—passed, and no papers appeared. He didn’t back up his words with action.
Jesus told about a young man who did something similar. The boy’s dad asked him to do some work in the vineyard. The son said, “I will, sir” (Matt. 21:30). But he was all talk and no action.
In commenting on this parable, Matthew Henry concluded: “Buds and blossoms are not fruit.” The buds and blossoms of our words, which breed anticipation of what we might do, are empty without the fruit of our follow-through. Jesus’ main application was to religious leaders who spoke of obedience yet refused to follow through with repentance. But the words apply to us as well. It is in following God “with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18)—not in making empty promises—that we honor our Lord and Savior.
Our actions in obeying God show Him more love, honor, and praise than any empty words we might say to try to appear good.
Charles Ponzi’s name will be forever associated with the financial fraud scheme he elevated to a way of life. After some minor financial crimes and brief times in jail, in early 1920 he began offering investors a 50 percent return on their money in 45 days and a 100 percent return in 90 days. Although it seemed too good to be true, the money poured in. Ponzi used money from new investors to pay prior investors and fund his lavish lifestyle. By the time his fraud was discovered in August 1920, investors had lost 20 million dollars and five banks had failed. Ponzi spent 3 years in prison, was later deported to Italy, and died penniless in 1949 at the age of 66.
Visitors to a zoo were outraged when the “African lion” started barking instead of roaring. Zoo staff said they had disguised a Tibetan mastiff—a very large dog—as a lion because they could not afford the real thing. Needless to say, the zoo’s reputation was sullied and people will think twice before visiting it.
According to an African fable, four fingers and a thumb lived together on a hand. They were inseparable friends. One day, they noticed a gold ring lying next to them and conspired to take it. The thumb said it would be wrong to steal the ring, but the four fingers called him a self-righteous coward and refused to be his friend. That was just fine with the thumb; he wanted nothing to do with their mischief. This is why, the legend goes, the thumb still stands separate from the other fingers.
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden (1910–2010) believed that character is far more important than reputation. “Your reputation is what you’re perceived to be by others,” Coach Wooden often told his players, “but your character is what you really are. You’re the only one that knows your character. You can fool others, but you can’t fool yourself.”
We call it the Integrity League, but it’s really just a bunch of guys who get together at lunchtime to play basketball. We call fouls on ourselves, attempt to avoid angry outbursts, and simply try to keep everything fair and enjoyable. We are competitive and we don’t like to lose—but we all agree that integrity and honesty should control the atmosphere.
In November 1963, the same day that President John F. Kennedy was shot, another leader died—Clive Staples Lewis. This Oxford scholar, who had converted from atheism to Christianity, was a prolific writer. Intellectual books, science fiction, children’s fantasies, and other works flowed from his pen with a strong Christian message. His books have been used by God in the conversion of many, including a politician and a Nobel Prize-winning scientist.
During the 2012 US presidential campaign, television coverage of speeches and debates often included “fact checking” by analysts who compared the candidates’ statements with their actual records. Were they telling the truth or manipulating the facts to their advantage?