“Too many people leave their legacies to what they die from, rather than what they live for.” So said my good friend David Jennings: Vancouver host extraordinaire, but also Board Chairman and corporate lawyer who has been round the block a few times when it comes to dealing with financial legacies. His thesis is simple. People who have led enriched lives and given countless hours of their time to Christian voluntary organisations, churches or mission organisations and who then die of a stroke / heart attack / cancer / name your disease, sometimes seem to forget the causes they were passionate about in life and, perhaps in the trauma of their final illness, leave their money to the chest heart and stroke foundation, hospice or research into cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s et al.
Now I would like to think I wouldn’t need to issue a qualifier here, but it is often impossible to make an argument like this without some folks implying that you are undermining the valuable work done by such agencies. I’m not. I simply want to make two, I hope, balancing points. Firstly, these organisations benefit from the legacies of thousands of people who have no interest in supporting specifically Christian charities, organisations and churches. For the Christian, there should be the question: “what can we do to help the people and further the causes that others will not be suppporting?”
I remember being particularly impressed on a visit to Saddleback church a number of years ago. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina they responded by saying: “Many other agencies are sending blankets and food parcels. There are unions and government agencies looking after many of those whose businesses have collapsed. There are lots of rescue packages available, but who will pay the salaries of the many denominationally unattached pastors in the poorest areas of New Orleans, whose families now face destitution?” So they decided to do what no-one else was doing and underwrote the salaries of these pastors for at least a year.
My second point is the one that my friend David made so well. There seems to be something quite anomalous if those who have been transformed by the Gospel of grace into viewing life with an eternal perspective decide, in death, to ignore the many kingdom enterprises they have given time and money to in life. In choosing to give money to “what they die from”, to quote my friend, are they in fact rebelling against the inevitability of human mortality like those “who have no hope” ? Is it consistent for those for whom church was a defining and central community in life, not to bless the Body of Christ in death?
We make much of being a blessing in the present. However, there is a way in which, through our financial legacies, we can bless the future and extend the Kingdom of God for generations to come. That is why, as far as Gwen and I are concerned we are determined after we have gone, and regardless of what carries us off, to ensure that those in the slums of Delhi, those from overseas seeking theological education, and those engaging in church planting enterprises in Ireland are blessed with what we leave behind.
Instead of seeking to push the boundaries of mortality back a fraction, how about ensuring that people are given hope through the message of light and immortality is sounded loud and clear throughout our needy world? Don’t give to what you die from; give to what you live for!