The story is told of a New York City news team who uncovered the relationship between two men in their city. One was a homeless man on the streets who always slept over the steam vent beside one of the skyscrapers in the city’s business district. The other was a multi-millionaire business magnate whose company occupied one of the luxurious office complexes in the same skyscraper. The surprising connection between the two men is that they were brothers!
When the news crew interviewed the homeless brother, their main question was, “Why did you wind up here on the street?” Without taking even a second to think, the man blurted out an accusation, “My father was an alcoholic and a very abusive man. He doomed me to a life of failure.”
Next the team took the elevator to the top of the skyscraper and introduced themselves to the receptionist in the brother’s corporate office. After clearing all the formalities, they were ushered into the executive suite where they could interview the president. This time, their question was, “What was the secret behind your success?” Just as quickly as his brother had responded, he was ready with an answer, “I grew up in a home with an abusive and alcoholic father. That experience made me determined to make something out of my life.”
There is a powerful lesson to be learned here – the greatest influence in these two men’s lives was their father, and they knew it so well that they didn’t even have to think about it. The father left a legacy for both of his sons. For one, it was a legacy of doom; for the other, it was the challenge to go out and create his own destiny and start a whole new legacy.
One of the earliest memories I have is that of a preacher (In the middle of the last century in the Deep South, we never spoke of the “pastor” – only the “preacher.”) who asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I remember telling him that I wanted to grow up to be like Papa Timms, my grandfather. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned the backstory to my grandfather’s life and discovered that he – like the man in the Manhattan penthouse – had made a decision to change his family legacy.
When my grandfather was barely into his teens, he realized that his parents’ lifestyle was not one he could tolerate; so, he collected the few dollars he could get his hands on and walked out the front door of his father’s home to start a new life – one that would have no resemblance to the one he was leaving behind. And he did just that! Turning to God as his only source, my grandfather – Harrison “Papa” Timms – eschewed anything that even faintly resembled the environment that he grew up in. Holiness and righteousness were the non-negotiable standards that he and Carrie “Mama” Timms set for themselves and their eleven children. As cotton farmers in upstate South Carolina, they worked hard for every penny they were able to bring in and prayed hard for each of those pennies to stretch far enough to feed the family. Yes, working and praying were two things that they were good at.
Papa had a menial education, but Mama was functionally illiterate – having had to leave school at age ten to work in the cotton mill in order to help support her family. In fact, it wasn’t until she had reached the age to start receiving Social Security that she learned how to write her own name so that she could sign her check each month. Yes, life was hard for them, and you could say that all the odds were stacked against them – but they had their two buttresses that saw them through all the hard times – hard work and strong prayers.
In the early 1900s, an unusual phenomenon began to occur around the world. The most well-known manifestation of this phenomenon happened on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California, but there were similar occurrences happening almost simultaneously around the world – Africa, India, and the backwoods of the Carolinas. This phenomenon was the outpouring of the Holy Ghost (Back then, the term “Holy Spirit” simply wasn’t part of anyone’s vocabulary.) with all sorts of supernatural manifestations such as healings, speaking in tongues, and people falling under the power of the Holy Ghost. From this miraculous outpouring, the Pentecostal Movement was birthed and soon swept across the country and around the world. As soon as the revival flames touched the South Carolina foothills where Mama and Papa called home, this hard-working, strong-praying couple readily embraced it.
Those were the so-called “good old days,” when automobiles were a rarity, indoor plumbing was unheard of, electricity in the home was a luxury, and telephones, televisions, and most of what we consider necessities today weren’t even dreamed of. These were the days when “central heat” meant a coal-burning potbelly stove in the middle of the room and the most fashionable form of transportation was a horse and carriage. It was into these grim situations that the Holy Spirit fell. And fall He did!
He so mightily overpowered the hungry souls that the stories they left behind are almost unimaginable. Papa and Mama used to tell of times when people would “fall out under the power” and land on the red-hot stove but roll off without a single blister! They would talk about times when people would “swoon” – what we would call today, “being slain in the Spirit” – and be in a trance for four or five days. Their family members would have to pick up the affected brothers and sisters and put them on wagons or buckboards and carry them home to wait for them to eventually regain consciousness. Out of this fervent move of God in the lives of my grandparents, was birthed the heritage that I claim today as the legacy that has shaped my life and the lives of my whole family.
Back on the farm, Papa had a pattern of going to the barn to pray every day. Of course, when you have eleven children, there is a certain amount of natural solace to be found in hiding in the barn – even without the supernatural consolation of spending the time with God. His prayer list included his entire brood and all who were to come into the family through marriage and birth. Now, when you start off with eleven children and they all marry and have children of their own, you can imagine how that prayer list must have grown and how much time he got to spend in that barn. But the important thing is that his prayers established a heritage and a legacy that reverberated far beyond that barn in Cheddar, South Carolina. When I was married in 1980, my wife was the one hundredth member to become part of the family and a name on Papa’s list – even though he had gone on to his spiritual reward years before. I have no estimation on how much more that list has mushroomed in the years since we passed that centennial mark, but I can say that the power of that prayer list has never waned no matter how many years it has been since Papa has been here to physically call out the names, how many names have been added since his pencil has fallen still, or how many of the descendants don’t even know about Papa or his list.
One of Papa’s requests was that none of his family would ever die without knowing the Lord – and I can say that, as far as I know, the Lord has honored that request. We have always seen any wayward members come back to the Lord before their deaths. The family tree has been blessed with an unusual harvest of preachers, Bible teachers, gospel singers, Christian writers, and missionaries. Additionally, even those who did not follow careers in the ministry have made significant contributions in their chosen fields of education and business.
You might have guessed that when Papa and Mama died, they didn’t leave behind a fortune to be divvied up among their children. But they left the greatest inheritance that anyone could ever dream of – the godly legacy that prepared the way for us to prosper in this life and enjoy the eternal blessing of the one to come!
When I think of the impact that one godly man can have on not only his family but all the future generations that his descendants touch, I’m reminded of another godly man with eleven children and his world-changing legacy. When a study was done on the heritage of Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan preacher from the 1700s, it was discovered that in one hundred and fifty years following his death, his family had produced one US Vice-President, three US Senators, four state governors, three city mayors, thirteen college presidents, thirty judges, sixty-five professors, eighty public office holders, one hundred lawyers, and one hundred missionaries.
A contemporary of Edwards, Max Jukes, has quite a different legacy. When it was discovered that the family trees of forty-two different men in the New York prison system traced back to him, a study was made that revealed that his family had produced seven murderers, sixty thieves, fifty women of debauchery, one hundred thirty other convicts, and three hundred ten paupers with over twenty-three hundred years lived in poorhouses.
In the concluding chapter of our little study, I want to share a poem that my Aunt Nora composed as a tribute to Papa. Her closing remarks confirm that Papa and the Wall Street multi-millionaire were worlds apart in the inheritances that they left behind even though both left unspeakable legacies for the future generations – an observation that reminds me of the life of King Solomon. Even though Solomon left behind massive sums of finances, “And the king made silver and gold at Jerusalem as plenteous as stones, and cedar trees made he as the sycomore trees that are in the vale for abundance” (II Chronicles 1:15), his money is long gone; yet, his influence lives on in his books of wisdom that remain and have been translated into almost all the languages of the world.
Even though Solomon acknowledged, “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children” (Proverbs 13:22), he was not actually talking about leaving money. At that time in history, there were rules that established that the inheritance had to go to the oldest son – prohibiting the division of the inheritance among siblings, not to mention across generational boundaries. He was saying that we need to leave a legacy of righteousness that can cause each generation to prosper and then have something to pass on after them. The majority of inheritances are gone – either spent or wasted – within six month of the death of the benefactor. But, a good man can leave an influence that makes a difference in the beneficiaries.
I understand that Solomon’s wealth was equal to that of the four hundred wealthiest men alive today. But where are Solomon’s trillions today? No one knows, but we still have his proverbs and all the other wisdom that can impact our lives and change the world.
One godly person can make a lasting difference and leave an enduring legacy. Join David, Solomon, the New York entrepreneur, and my Papa and make that decision today!