I recently spent some extended time in my hometown. On the last night of my stay, my parents opened up some family history books. Two hours later, I had a much clearer picture of what my ancestors were like. Some of my discoveries were incredibly interesting when viewed through spiritual lenses. Here are a few highlights:
• My great-grandparents (Ebenezer and Annie Brown) founded a Presbyterian congregation in rural Manitoba.
• Another set of great-grandparents (Robert and Belle Atkinson) had family devotions every night, shaping the spiritual life of my grandmother and her sisters.
• One great-grandfather (George Bambridge) was born into an aristocratic family but, in Downton Abbey -like fashion, was disowned for marrying a commoner and moved to Canada, penniless. His youngest son (my great-uncle Ernie) was a devoted follower of Jesus and spoke at my wedding reception. Ernie's wife continues to encourage and generously support my ministry with Cru.
• My great-great uncle (William Scheel) attended Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. He became a pastor and, along with his brother and their wives, was a missionary to the Yup'ik people of Bethel, Alaska.
• William's sister (my great-grandmother Minnie) put her kids to bed and soothed them to sleep by playing hymns on the organ every night. Minnie was married to my great-grandfather (Alex Downey), an alcoholic who would go on two-day benders (perhaps to escape from the organ music). His son (my Grandpa Doug) would have to go to the bar and drag him back home. This caused my Grandpa to warn my Dad of the dangers of alcohol abuse and the importance of being a loving, responsible family man.
• My great-great-great aunt (Agnes Brown) was a devout Christian and gifted poet. Here's a sample of her poetry:
It will not matter when I die
How soon I am forgot.
Or if the spot where I shall lie
Be marked by flowers or not.
If I but reach that blissful shore
Beyond the pearly gate
And meet with those who've gone before,
Who for my coming wait.
For then I'll lay life's burden down
No more to weary be,
But claim the robe and glittering crown
That is laid up for me;
And when I see my Savior's face
In Heavenly beauty shine,
Whose radiant smile of love and grace
Shall light up even mine...
And so I journey here below
Mid scenes of toil and strife,
Cheered on by hope for I would go
To reach that better life.
And when I'm called from earth away
I'll shout for gladness, when
I've reached that land of lasting day,
For naught will matter then.
If you haven't already, invest some time in finding out about your spiritual heritage. Perhaps you come from a long line of devoted disciples of Jesus. If so, celebrate and continue their vision. Or maybe you're the only Christian in your family: your lineage is full of people apparently distant from God. If that's the case, determine today to leave a rich spiritual legacy. Pray for your relatives and your descendants, that they would know and serve the Lord and make a difference in the world. And be encouraged that, as a child of God, you are part of the most important family of all.
* Photo courtesy of Gwenda Brown Dunning.
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