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  • Dane Bundy

The Power of Biographies in Unearthing Legacies

A shovel with a blade that is a book. A kingdom is on the blade.

Over the past couple of years, I have developed a growing interest in biographies. The first biography that truly captivated my imagination was Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs. The second was George Lucas by Brian Jay Jones. Recently, I have made my way through biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Jonathan Edwards, George Muller, and Francis Schaeffer.

Biographies fascinate me because they unearth people’s choices and dreams, allegiances and legacies. These stories are about kingdoms, of this world and the next.

Lincoln's life left me contemplating the power of suffering. For some, it corrodes like rust on metal, but for others, it carves like a chisel to wood. The sea of troubles shaped Lincoln, helped harness and direct his ambition, and drove him to fight for human dignity rather than self-interest.

Jonathan Edwards, considered one of the greatest American thinkers of all time, paralleled Benjamin Franklin in a fascinating way. Born three years apart, they "represented two sides of the same coin in the emerging American culture during the American Revolution" (Marsden 2). Though products of the same old Puritan heritage, they responded to this tradition in very different ways.

"Franklin," writes George Marsden, "embraced the progressive culture of his day with a vengeance, so much so that he forsook family, religion, and region to seek his own fortune" (4). We might say that Edwards forsook many of the same things but to seek the spread of the gospel, not fortune. Edwards burned for the glory of God, and it almost feels like his story was cut short.

On the verge of the American Revolution, Edwards died at 54, whereas Franklin went on to live until 1790, dying at the age of 84. Both were revolutionaries and pioneers with very different allegiances.

George Muller's story is deceptively simple. He spent his life caring for Bristol's orphans, over 10,000 of them, as a way to show that God answers prayer. George was so convinced that God would provide his needs that he refused to ask for money, even though he was tasked with feeding a multitude of children. Jesus said, "But seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). And what things are these? Food and clothing. Although God often waited until the 11th hour, Muller and his orphans never went without food or clothing.

Last week I stumbled upon the story of another great man: my grandfather. While flipping through one of his old notebooks, I discovered a handwritten note entitled "Discussion with the Lord," dated November 8, 1970. It was a declaration of allegiance, a rejection of living in his own strength and for his own glory; it was a commitment to seeking first the Kingdom of God from that day forward.

He was 36, just a little younger than I am now.

In the letter, my grandfather wrote tangible ways to put God first in his life. Every day he said that he would do the following:

  • Read the Bible;

  • Spend time in prayer;

  • Commit himself to God and walk consciously in His presence.

He then concluded with a powerful declaration.

I'll quote it for you: "I hereby rededicate my life and ambition to You, and ask that You take complete control of my life and direct me to whatever place and type of services You want for me. My plans and hopes for an engineering career are Yours to reshape, redirect, or completely change if You wish. I want You to call the shots completely."

I'm not sure what precipitated this "Discussion with the Lord," but God did something in his life to shake him up that day. It’s what God does with all of his children. He wrestles with us through the night until we're hanging upside down and our idols are slipping from our pockets. It’s nights like these that show us what our hearts treasure most, where our allegiances lie.

From the time of this note, my grandfather lived five more decades. His life proved he was a man of integrity. What he said in that note, he meant. His children and grandchildren, colleagues and friends watched it unfold around them.

Whether our lives will be read in a book or in a journal or through the memories of our loved ones, we will leave a legacy. And this legacy will answer the question: Whose kingdom did we pursue–ours or God’s?


Dane Bundy is President of Stage & Story and Director of Fine Arts at Regents School of Austin, a classical Christian school in Austin, TX.


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