The Past, the Future, and Who We Are

July 9th, 2013
My mom's childhood home, built around 1850, now newly restored.

Over the weekend, while I was in North Carolina visiting family and friends, my Aunt Sue and I went to see the house where she, my mother (who died in 1996), and their other siblings grew up. This house was built just before 1850 by my third great grandfather, not too many miles from where the Battle of Bentonville happened in March 1865. When I was a kid in the early 1980’s, my mom took me to see the house, but by that time it had been abandoned. For years, the house was just too dangerous to go inside, so I never got to actually see the interior of my mother’s childhood home until last weekend.

In recent years, a history enthusiast purchased the property and he’s been restoring the old house. He happened to be there when we went to see it last Friday, so he took us inside and showed us around. The restored interior, of course, is now mid 19th century rather than mid 20th century when my mom was growing up. But the basics of the house are the same. And I left with a desire to explore my family history more.

So I’ve been doing exactly that.

When I was in middle school years ago, I started filling in my my family tree, but it was much harder then than it is now. Going to the library and navigating through spool after spool of microfilm just wasn’t very exciting for an eighth grader. So I never got very far. But now, with the help of specialty websites, public records databases, and the combined efforts of other people, it’s terribly easy (and addictive) to chase down one's ancestors as far back as we want to go. Finding out who and where we came from helps us figure who we are. At the very least, we develop an appreciation for how we arrived where we are now.

Our faith is a lot like that. Although it’s not as simple to create a Christian family tree, we have faith now because someone shared Christ with us at some point. Perhaps it was

  • our parents 
  • other relatives 
  • a friend 
  • a pastor 
  • a Christian author 
  • a missionary 
  • an evangelist 
  • a Bible teacher or translator

It could have been a number of people and circumstances that ultimately led us to faith in Jesus. And who knows what went on behind the scenes that led to us being born again? Who prayed for us along the way? The really exciting thing is, once we escape the bounds of time and get to eternity, we’ll see a much bigger picture of how everything came together. And we’ll probably get to talk to the ones who came before us in the faith. That's going to be fun.

When we start looking around in our family’s past, we’ll find some good things, but we'll probably also find a few skeletons. Bootleggers. Adulterers. Outlaws. The Christian family tree has some less than perfect sheep too. That shouldn't be a surprise.

As we explore the stories in our family tree, we'll probably discover some interesting facts. For example, my third great grandfather on my father’s side died in a Civil War battle near Kelly’s Ford, VA in November 1863. He had enlisted in the army in 1862, and was killed a year or so later. My second great grandfather (his namesake) was born in 1863. If my third great grandfather had been killed a few months earlier, I wouldn’t be here now, and neither would another four generations of my father’s side of the family. Every person we've all influenced (good or bad) would be experiencing a different life now, at least in some way. The smallest deviation in the timeline can change the course of history. (Haven’t you seen the Back to the Future trilogy?)

My main point is this—we shouldn’t become too focused on the past, but if we study it with the proper perspective, we’ll not only get a sense of who we are, we’ll also realize the importance of the role we play in the lives of future generations. The investments we make now (our time, our prayers, etc.), both in our natural and our spiritual families, will impact eternity.

That’s exciting, mind-blowing, and even a little scary.

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