By Dennis R. Carlson
Seventh-day Adventist Christian parents seek to pass o their faith in God and life values to their children. Everything that we own on earth is temporary and will eventually disappear; in contrast, our faith and values create a strong character in our children, which is eternal.
Forbes magazine supports this parental focus of passing on “values and life lessons” with facts from a survey.1
“When asked ‘What’s most important to pass on to the next generation?’ the No. 1 answer, offered by 74% of respondents, was: ‘Values and life lessons.’” The answer “financial assets or real estate” came last. In between were “instructions and wishes to be fulfilled” and “personal possessions of emotional value.”
Chris Heilmann, chief fiduciary executive of U.S. Trust, supports passing down values as the key element of our legacy: “I’ve been in this business for 41 years
Passing on our faith and our values is the most important asset that we can leave for our children and grandchildren.
working with families, and from my experience, if wealthy people are faced with a choice of being able to hand down their money or their values, but not both, they’d want to hand down their values.”2 Passing on our faith and our values is the most important asset that we can leave for our children and grandchildren.
Shift From Tradition to God’s Way
Ellen White, the messenger of God, wrote these words about our material legacy: “Let it ever be kept in mind that the present selfish system of disposing of property is not God’s plan, but man’s device. Christians should be reformers.”3
How should we correctly understand these words? Ellen White is upholding that the commonly accepted way of planning is not of godly origin. What is it about the traditional way that is not in line with how a Seventh-day Adventist Christian should “dispose of property”? Is she suggesting an alternative?
“The Lord would have His followers dispense their means [property] while they can do it themselves. Some may inquire, ‘Must we actually dispossess ourselves of everything which we call our own?’ We may not be required to do this now; but we must be willing to do so for Christ’s sake. We must acknowledge that our possessions are absolutely His, by using of them freely whenever means is needed to advance His cause.”4
I struggled with these statements, contemplating how to understand what God is seeking to communicate through Ellen White. However, I had to acknowledge that her words echoed what the apostle Paul wrote: “Now the time has come for me to die. My life is like a drink offering being poured out on the altar. I have fought well. I have finished the race, and I have been faithful” (2 Tim. 4:6, 7, CEV). Seventh-day Adventists should be reformers with respect to the directives in their estate plans.
Recently, I read a book written by David Green, CEO and founder of the Hobby Lobby retail store chain, that enlightened me about the implication and application of doing things God’s way. The title caught my attention: “Giving It All Away ”; and the subtitle, "... and Getting It All Back Again,"5 was even more intriguing.
A Living Example
Hobby Lobby stores are a national arts and craft chain located in the United States. David and his wife, Barbara, started the business in 1970 with a $600 loan. Today, there are more than 800 stores in 47 states, more than 32,000 employees, and an estimated net worth of $7.1 billion. Hobby Lobby is now one of the largest privately-owned arts and crafts retailers in the United States.
The Green family members are committed Christians and seek to honor God in everything they do in their personal lives and their business. Their dedication to God took them to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case related to their opposition to distribute abortion medications to employees.6 The family chose to risk losing their business rather than compromise their Christian faith and principles. This decision was made unanimously by all members of the family: parents, children, and grandchildren were included.
The family has been successful in implementing biblical instructions: “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (Prov. 13:22, NKJV). David and Barbara Green received their faith and values from their parents. They have been successful in passing these values on to their children, who, in turn, have passed them on to the next generation. David Green calls these various generations G-1, G-2, and G-3; and now the G-4 generation is being born.
In their early lives, the Greens created a conventional estate plan prepared by an attorney following normal legal traditions
After a while, David Green felt uncomfortable with the way this plan would work. He and Barbara (G-1) made this a matter of prayer, seeking to find God’s wisdom for how they should create a plan that would give all the glory and honor to God. So as their children (G-2) grew older and started to take over key positions in the business, they called a family meeting (comprising G-1, G-2, and G-3) to discuss their estate plan. As a result, the family jointly and unanimously decided to do exactly as the book title says—to give all of the business away. They created a charitable trust that would legally own all the assets.
All family members have a job in the business if they are willing to be faithful stewards and work hard to contribute to its success. Even David Green, who
Seventh-day Adventists should be reformers with respect to the directives in their estate plans.
began the business, now only gets a salary since he no longer owns the company. The family members control the charitable trust. In the future, if selling the business seems like the right thing to do, the family will not receive anything since all the proceeds will go to support several charitable ministries whose mission is to focus on Scripture and share Jesus Christ. This is an inspiring application of total commitment of believers: “God’s servants are to make use of every resource for enlarging his kingdom.”7
So, you could say they have given it all away . . . and have it all back again abundantly. This explains their exceptionally generous life. Hobby Lobby gives away 50 percent of its profits each year to a list of Christian charities. Interestingly, this idea originated with David and Barbara’s children (G-2), challenging their parents to try to out-give God. They were the lead donors behind the creation of the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.8
God will guide you just as He guided the Green family if you diligently seek His wisdom for the plans that you make for your family.
1 Forbes magazine May 31, 2013.
3 Counsels on Stewardship, Section 14, Chapter 62, p. 328.
4 Ibid., p. 324.
5 Green, David; High, Bill; Giving It All Away . . . and Getting It All Back Again (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan–HarperCollins), 2017. ISBN 978-0-310-34794.
7 White, E. G. (1933), An Appeal for Self-supporting Laborers to Enter Unworked Fields, p. 11. Associated Lecturers’ Bureau.