By Ward Shope
Several months ago, I sat speaking to my 91-year-old mother about family history. Over the years, I’ve heard bits and pieces about names and events of relatives long ago. Many colorful stories still linger in my mind regarding people I never met, and yet who had an influence on who we are today. I heard stories of “Baboo” and “Faff”, who of course were not actually named that, but are the only names I’ve learned. I heard stories of how my mother’s relatives moved from Tennessee to Oklahoma to take advantage of the Homestead Act, only to be chased off their claim by some men with guns. Since my mother is not prone to embellishment about anything, I’m fairly certain the stories are true.
As we begin our study of the book of Acts this fall in worship, I feel much the same about this history. The colorful stories picture the tensions of life and death, commitment and love, guilt, forgiveness and second chances. One of the heroes is a man nicknamed “Rock”, or Peter as we call him. But his real name was Simon and Peter wasn’t really a name in those days. There’s a story of an early persecutor who changed his mind about Jesus. Because others were waiting to kill him, he was lowered in a basket through a hole in the wall so that he could flee to safety. A woman named Tabitha died before her time having been full of faith and good works. She was jolted back to life by the power of God.
These stories in Acts are our family stories. Maybe we don’t think of them as family. But if it’s true that we are all children of God through our faith in Christ, and that we are who we are today because they were who they were centuries ago, it’s not hard to draw the line. Their stories are part of ours, unembellished, full of heart and soul, giving life to those with ears to hear and encouraging us onward in our trek of faith.
Nor do our family stories end with them. Amazingly the church started from Jesus, passed on to 12 men, and now is present in almost every place in the world. In 1980, I prayed with others for Albania, where no single believer was known to be present. Today, I worship with an Albanian every Sunday, and the are many other Albanian believers. We hear of Christians today thrown into jail for their faith, and are amazed to hear how the prisoners there become believers. We hear how a woman of faith and good works in our community died before her time and how her witness continues to jolt the spiritually dead to life now.
These are our family stories. Flesh and blood can only take us so far. The family that Jesus brings into existence is the only family that will pass beyond the grave. The book of Acts reminds us of who we are related to, and to whom we belong. As we listen to the colorful life-giving stories this fall, make them your own family history.