What Will Your Legacy Be?

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to interview Steve Green here on the blog, and now I'm thrilled to share a guest post from his dad, David Green.

David Green is the founder of Hobby Lobby. In 1970 David borrowed $600 to buy a molding chopper, set up shop in his garage at home, and started making miniature wooden picture frames. Today, Hobby Lobby employs more than 32,000 people, operates 750 stores in 47 states, and has become the largest privately owned arts and crafts retailer in the world.

David has a new book, Giving It All Away, that shares his incredible heart, vision and legacy, and it is my prayer that his book causes all of us to deeply think about the legacy we are leaving behind...


I believe that God has placed us on this earth to work, to earn, and to care for those he has entrusted to us. Yet I also believe that we are put on this earth to give, to devote ourselves to a radical brand of generosity that changes lives and leaves a legacy. To paraphrase God’s words to patriarch Abraham, we are blessed so that we can be a blessing.

But what do we mean when we talk about being blessed?

In our culture, this might be interpreted as financial blessing. And certainly finances can be part of it. I believe, however, that the blessing God talks about encompasses so much more. Since I have been exceptionally blessed in my life, I have determined to give exceptionally as well. And what about the other ways in which I’ve been blessed?

Family
Friends
Talents
Freedom
Education
I could go on. I’m sure you could too.

When I consider all of the blessings I’ve been given, it’s hard for me not to pause and thank my Lord and my God. His heart is generous. His blessings are wide and rich.

People may know my name now, but I started out like any Joe. Humble beginnings, working hard. But, as God would have it, my story took a turn. It was a turn marked by a faith that pushed me to my limits. Through it all, I learned to trust, and that trust led me onto a path of generosity. I look forward to telling some of the story of this journey in the pages of my book.

My second purpose is to offer the lessons my wife, Barbara, and I learned while trying to fashion a legacy for those who come after us in our family.

And there it is: legacy. What is a legacy, anyway?

The dictionary gives two definitions. First, a legacy is an amount of money or property passed to someone in a will. Second, a legacy is a thing handed down by a predecessor. I want to use the second definition because I believe it includes everything—from belief to right action to finances. You and I possess so much to hand to our predecessors, things seen and unseen.

My story begins in the unseen things.

God took me on a wild trip that landed me where I am today, in the land of seen things—my company, Hobby Lobby. But God has taught me that with great wealth and power comes great obligation to the next generation. Knowing this, I have worked through my legacy plan more than once and have finally landed here, writing you my thoughts on the matter.

This is the story I want to recount in my book Giving It All Away. My hope is that others can learn from it and that perhaps our generation can begin doing what few generations before us have done well: pass a true legacy on to those who follow us.

I realize that running a billion dollar company doesn’t exactly make me just one of the guys from a purely financial standpoint. Money tends to separate us in our culture, and that’s unfortunate because I’m just like you. I get up every day, spend time with God, kiss my wife, eat some breakfast, and go to work.

I’m just a man. I started my career working retail, stocking shelves. I got married and started a family. I’ve lost sleep wondering about the future of my wife and kids.

David Green, founder of Hobby Lobby

David Green, founder of Hobby Lobby

Now I’m entering that area of the baton exchange, and I want to do it well.

I want us all to do it well. I want my grandchildren to grow up understanding that generosity begins with an attitude that extends into every aspect of life, not just money. I want them to understand that today begins their legacy. Because if there’s one thing I’ve discovered, it’s that true wealth encompasses all of life.

That’s the big idea. I believe we can chart a course for our lives and our families that allows us to think beyond one generation. We can outline our vision, mission, and values. And we can live that out through our generosity. These ideas will allow us to stay rich for generations—not just in a monetary sense but in a values sense.

Some of you reading this are standing in shoes similar to my own. You are nearing the end of your life, wondering how to finish well and leave a legacy that will bless your family and those they interact with for generations to come. Some of you are just starting out in life, taking your first steps toward those dreams and plans.

Whether you’re at the end or the beginning of life, I want to challenge you to do three things:

  1. Work with all your heart, for God and not for men.
  2. Hold those plans lightly, because you really have no idea what the Lord has in store.
  3. Consider now what you want your legacy to be. It is not too early to begin.

The decisions you make today will affect the legacy you leave behind. Whether you are a young business man who has found himself encountering what the world sees as success both in career and family life, or a young woman who recently graduated and has no idea what is in front of you, today is the right day to make your decisions in light of the truth that God owns it all. Live your life in this world while investing your wealth in the next.

When I was growing up, we didn't have much artwork in our house. Money was tight, and our family got along with just the basics of life. Knicknacks, frills, and family photos were not to be found in our simple home.

But there was one plaque on the wall I have never forgotten. It was a short poem:

Only one life
’Twill soon be past
Only what’s done
For Christ will last

In my teen years and for quite a few years into my adulthood, the words of that poem stirred up guilt inside me whenever I remembered them.

Assuming that “what’s done for Christ” meant work done as a pastor with his flock, as an evangelist on the street corner, or as a missionary to remote tribes in Africa, I felt defeated because I knew those were things I could not do. Not until my late thirties did I discover the joy of giving to God’s work and come to realize its lasting value.

Until recently, I had no idea that those lines were actually part of a longer poem with a very interesting story

It was written by the son of a wealthy British family, Charles Thomas (C. T.) Studd, who lived from 1860 to 1931. His father had made a fortune producing indigo dye in India. Charles and his brothers attended the best schools England could offer, first Eaton and then Cambridge, where Charles became, as some have called him, the "Michael Jordan" of cricket. Charles represented his country on the national cricket team and became a household name in Britain. He knew that when he turned twenty-five years old, he would inherit a large sum—some $25 million in today’s dollars—from his father’s estate.

Yet by that time, God had touched his heart and called him to service overseas. He started out in China, where he married a young Irish woman of like mind. Together, they gave away their entire portion of the Studd fortune to such ministries as George Müller’s orphanage, D. L. Moody’s Bible school in Chicago, the China Inland Mission, and the Salvation Army. From that point on, they trusted God to supply their needs.

Ten years of work in China were followed by six years in India, where Studd’s father had become rich. C.T.’s health was not the greatest by then, and neither was his wife’s. After India, he pressed on for another twenty-one years in the heart of Africa until he died and was buried there at age seventy. His passion was to share the gospel with those who had never heard of Christ.

C. T. Studd was a man who did not let family money distract him from what was truly important in life. History tells us that his children caught his values system. Three of his daughters married Christian leaders. Some two thousand Congolese showed up for his funeral in July 1931.

I will never be the speaker and writer he was, but I am just as committed to the goals he exemplified. Of the various scriptures under the glass on my desk, this is perhaps the most compelling in my heart and mind:

“This and this only has been my appointed work: getting this news to those who have never heard of God, and explaining how it works by simple faith and plain truth” (1 Tim. 2:7–8 The Message).

I hope they put that verse on my tombstone. Through the efforts of the company God has allowed us to build, I want as many people as possible to come to know Christ as Savior. Fortunately, if God blesses the values and financial arrangements that I’ve described in this book, then there is no reason my work will not go on long after I’m gone.

I can think of nothing that would make me happier.

 

This is an excerpt from Giving It All Away…And Getting It Back Again by David Green with Bill High. Copyright © 2017 by David Green. Used by permission of Zondervan

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David Green is the founder of Hobby Lobby, the largest privately owned arts and crafts retailer in the world. He is soft-spoken, passionate about his faith, and dedicated to his family. David & his wife Barbara are the proud parents of two sons and one daughter, grandparents to ten, and great grandparents to eight.