Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I Have a Goodly Heritage

Have you ever heard that song? "I have a goodly heritage...."

I was reminded of that again and again this past week, as we spent time with our relatives in North Dakota and Minnesota.
So many people complain about their family - how the grandparents are trying to undermine the parents' wishes for their children's lives, how the cousins are bad influences, how the aunts and uncles are bad examples.... And it is sad that so often their complaints are true.

Knowing the families that many of my friends have, I find myself supremely blessed to have such a huge, wonderful extended family... To have grown up with aunts and uncles who have ALL stuck out their marriages, some now nearing three decades - not because they married perfect people, but because they believe that marriage is a forever covenant for better and for worse. To have Christian grandparents that have encouraged me in ways of Godliness and right. To have aunts and uncles who have had a vision for their families, for their children, and who have imparted to them a legacy of love for the Lord Jesus Christ. To have cousins that inspire me and say, "What has the Lord been teaching you?" or "Did you hear about the three girls that got saved last week?!"

There are 35 cousins on my dad's side, who we spent our weekend with. Every time I looked around the room, crowded with happy young people and children, I had to think of what this side of our family might have been, if it had not been for the grace of God.

None of the seven siblings grew up knowing more about God that the Christmas story and going to a Lutheran Sunday school as little tykes. As they grew up in the 60's and 70's when drugs, alcohol, free love, and rebellion were what most young people were all about, my dad and his siblings started down that same ugly path of destruction.

Thank God, their only sister went away to college and shared a room with a sincere Christian girl, who wasn't too shy to talk about things of eternal importance. Aunt Laila came to know and love the Lord, and came home to her family with the wonderful news of her salvation. None of the guys back at home were exactly excited about their sister's new religious fanaticism and brushed her off, hoping she would get over it.

My dad, as the firstborn in his early twenties, was well set in his head-strong ways of rebellion, the hippie culture, drugs, and finally atheism, deciding the taste of religion he had had as a child was for "old fogies." When his younger sister pled with him to think of his eternity, to study the Bible, he loved the opportunity to argue until she had nothing more to say and would go away in tears, convinced that the Bible was true, but unsure of how to make him understand. His pride kept him there until the day she brought him a book entitled, "The Difference Between Christianity and All the Other Religions of the World."

That night, up in his bedroom, he finished the book and realized the truth - Christianity was different - it was the only "religion" that said that men being sinners were hopelessly lost, trying to get heaven on their own merits. Dad knew he was a sinner, and when he had tried Buddhism and other eastern religions, he had realized that he would never make it, because try as he might, he could never attain perfection. Christianity was the only religion that said, "You can't make yourself good enough." And it was the only religion that provided a way of atonement for sins that could not be earned, only freely accepted by those humble enough to ask.

That night my dad slipped to his knees and humbled himself before the God that he had so long dismissed and mocked. And from that day, my dad became a new man. He was at the local assembly of believers every time there was a meeting, a Bible study, anything he could attend to learn more.

And as my dad and Aunt Laila continued to share with the family what God had done in their lives, and to live in a radically new way, one by one, the other siblings too came to know and love the Lord. Of course, the great change in the North Dakota farmhouse influenced their parents. Dad's mother re-dedicated her life to the Lord. His father was not so quick to realize his need of a Saviour - he felt he had always lived a good, moral life. His children prayed for his salvation for several decades, and it was finally about three days before he died, that he placed his faith in the finished work of Christ, rather than his own good works.

Several years ago, at a family reunion, each of the siblings shared their testimonies, in the order that they had become Christians. As I listened to them each tell of how the Lord had worked in their own heart in individual ways until every one of them came to a saving faith in Jesus, tears came to my eyes as I thought of the goodness of God, that brings man to repentance. How unworthy I felt that God should save each member of my dad's family and bring them to where they are now.

And how grateful I am that they had several neighbors who prayed fervently over the years for the salvation of the family who lived in the white farmhouse near Prosper, North Dakota.

May I see a vision for my neighbors as big as dad's neighbors saw for their's. And may I have faith to believe that God can transform more families around me - not one or two members, not only families whose children are still young - but families like the one my dad came from. May I have faith to believe that my neighbors could be the next generation of faithful fathers and mothers, missionaries, preachers, and soul-winners.

The family from the white farmhouse has spread out across the country, and as we witnessed last week, the first descendant of these siblings to marry, married a Godly young man and they have set out to save souls, disciple Christians, and plant a church.

Congratulations, Olivia and Josh! May the Godly heritage continue in your children!


Laurel said...

Oh Mary! What a blessing! I read it out loud to Jonathan, though I had to stop and collect myself several times. What a testimony to the goodness of God. You really need to send this in to be published!

Jill said...

Just found your blog and though I realize that this is an old post, I'm am so blessed by the godly heritage you share. Looking forward to getting caught up!
In Christ,