From Descendants To Ascendants

Last week, I talked at length about what the Bible has to say about God’s love for descendants, His and ours. I shared a ton of Bible verses from the Old Testament and the New Testament, with the crowning jewel (IMO) being from Acts 16, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved; you and your household.” I talked about how I have been moved to pray hundreds of times, in accordance with Acts 16:31, for my own family and descendants, my children, my grandchildren and even for generations to come. And from what I have read and heard over the years, I am not the only one who has made it a priority to pray for those who may come along after us. Thank you, Lord, for the blessing of family.

So, do these types of prayers work?  As always, I suggest we open up that dusty Bible and see what it has to say on the subject:

And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. [James 5:15-16 NKJV]

James, who was an apostle and also the half-brother of Jesus, seemed to believe that prayer can change things. It can heal the sick, or bring forgiveness for our sins (some, by the way, believe the two are “one-and-the-same”…many times, when Jesus healed someone, He would say, “Go, and sin no more”). So yeah, I believe it is biblically sound to believe that praying for our loved ones (even future ones) can bring about healing, be it from illness or sinfulness. Jesus has often been referred to as “the great physician,” healing all kinds of sicknesses, both physical and spiritual ones.

But, this week, I’d like to turn the camera around and focus not on the ones who come along after us, but the ones who came before…our ascendants (aka…our progenitors or ancestors). Afterall, if what we read from the Bible last week is true, how the people we share our heritage with led their lives, especially how they related to God, could have a huge impact on who we are and what we become in this crazy world. I do not believe in accidents, sad ones or happy ones. I believe, to some degree, in destiny. But, I also believe our ancestors may have been either a help or a hindrance for those of use who came after, whether they knew it or not, by the way they lived their lives and interacted with God (or not).

First, before I dig into that subject directly, a few weeks ago, I was talking to my daughter-in-law over a family dinner and the subject of our family tree came up. She suggested I try ancestry.com and she told me I could try it for free for two weeks (not doing a promo for that website, here, but it has been interesting, for sure). She said that if I had a fair amount of basic information on my Mom and Dad’s background, that I would be surprised by how much I could discover in just two weeks. And, believe you me, was she ever right. What I found out has been astounding.

While I was not able to go very far back on my father’s side of the family, I was able to go all the way back to the early days of our nation and beyond on my mother’s side. Both my Dad’s family and my Mom’s came to the Cleveland area (where they met) from Pennsylvania, but different parts (Dad came here from Uniontown, actually Star Junction, and Mom’s father came here from Nanty Glo, near Johnstown).  What I found out about the Jones family from Nanty Glo was truly amazing. My great grandfather, Evan Jones, married a girl named Jenny Smith, who I was able to trace back to the very first settlers in Pennsylvania, back in the late 1660s and early 1700s in Bucks County (near Philadelphia).

You might be saying, “Ok, Bob, that’s great!!! But, why are you telling us all this? What does that have to do with me or my descendants?” Good question, let me see if I can  connect the dots. But first, let me introduce you to a few of my new found ancestors, many of whom were Quakers who came here from England to escape the religious persecution that led so many to come across the Atlantic (many died along the way) to seek safety for their families and the freedom to worship God as they saw fit, without governement retribution. Pretty amazing stuff. 

Here are just a few of the God-fearing men and women from my family tree that may have had a hand in the forming of this nation:

WILLIAM SMITH (born 1669/England; died 1743/Bucks County, Pa.) He is said to be the second “white-man” to set foot (John Chapman was the first) in what we call Pennsylvania, today. He was a Quaker preacher who was actually imprisoned for his faith in England and escaped to the New World on a ship called “Welcome” with William Penn.

ROGER WILLIAMS (born 1603/England; died 1683/Chester County, Pa.) He was a Puritan reverend who is credited with the founding and establishing of Rhode Island and was an architect of the idea of “separation of church and state” (to protect the religious freedoms we enjoy today) that later became part of the Constitution and still protects “people of faith,” today.

MARGARET TYNDALE (1510/England): My 14th great-grandmother, wife of Rev. Rowland Taylor (who was martyred under Queen Mary) and brother of  William Tyndale (1494/England) who was credited with publishing the first English translation of our Bible, the Tyndale Bible. He was also martyred because of his faith.

And trust me, this is only a small sampling of the very brave and vocal Christian men and women who are part of my family heritage (on my mother’s side) who were paving the way for what became this “shining city on a hill” called the United States of America. And I had no idea about any of this stuff until just a few weeks ago.

*** I also need to mention one very dear, sweet person from my father’s side of the family, his oldest sister and my Godmother, my Aunt Mary. She was a devout woman, kind and gentle, and I have always believed she was praying for me. She was very special to me, a great example of God’s lovingkindness and grace. Thank you, Aunt Mary ***

So, here is my question, “Did the bravery, outspokenness and willingness to face injury, or even death if necessary (not to mention the countless prayers they prayed for their loved ones and descendants), in any way contribute to the blessed existence I/we enjoy as Americans, today? I would have to say, “Yes, without a doubt.”  It would be very hard for me to believe that their courage and willingness to suffer for the Gospel of Jesus Christ had nothing at all to do with the blessings and protections we have enjoyed in this country for the last 200+ years or so.

During my time as a Christian, seeking to know God and the Bible better, and talking to many different people from many different backgrounds and beliefs, one question seems to be asked as much as any other I can think of, “Does anything that I do or say, or not, really matter?” There is a modern perception out there that we are all islands, not really connected to anyone else, at least not in any way that really matters. And, hence, if there really is a god or some form of higher power beyond the sky, he will deal with each of us on a “one-on-one” basis. Many think that nothing we say or do will effect anyone besides “little ol’ me.” I have heard that too many times to count. But, just as we talked about last week, that is not God’s nature. He is a God of relationships. We are connected to Him, He is connected to us and we are all connected to one another. I believe that everything we say and do certainly does have an effect on others, including those not yet present and accounted for…our descendants.

Remember from last week’s post, the verses where Moses recorded God’s commandments regarding “the sins of the father being visited on the children, even to the third and fourth generation” and how I said that if a loving God was willing to do that as a punishment for disobedience, how much more would He provide blessing and protection for those who lovingly obey Him?  This is not something that we should take lightly or overlook by saying, “That was then, this is now.” The Bible describes God as One who changes not.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. [Hebrews 13:8]

It is safe to say, then, if it mattered back then, it matters now. That is who God is. If what someone said or did was passed on to their descendants, in Moses’s time…ditto, now.

I believe that what we say and do, as parents, greatly influences (positively or negatively) our children and even our grandchildren…and beyond. Just as our genes determine things like hair color, baldness, eye color, height, weight, skin tone and even longevity…(i.e…our physical traits), I believe our actions and words have a similar “domino effect” on the personality traits of those around us, even their willingness to interact with God (or not). In fact, King Solomon wrote about this three thousand years ago in his Book of Proverbs:

Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. [Proverbs 22:6]

Many would say, “Ok, sounds good, but in the real world, it doesn’t always work out that way.” I hear ya…but if we were honest and took a real good look at how we raised our children, were we diligent in teaching them the things God would have us teach them (I am sure I failed often, in that area)? Or, did we teach them what we thought was important or right? Or worse yet, did we sometimes say, “Let them figure it out for themselves like we did. Our parents didn’t teach us much about that stuff. We found out the hard way, the ‘school of hard knocks,’ right?”

My point is, it all matters far more than we realize. Words have power and actions speak louder than words.  Throw a pebble into a pond and watch how that ripple effect spreads out to the areas around where the pebble hit. It didn’t just stop at the size of the pebble. Neither do our actions or words. They effect everything around them.

I was shocked to learn how many of my ancestors were deeply religious, even by how many were actually preachers. I had often wondered if the reason I developed a hunger for God was because I had ancestors who were praying for me, some even before I was born. I am confident, now, to say I have no doubt about it. And not just my Aunt Mary. I think there were many more.

I will leave you with these inspirational words from Pastor Joel Osteen. I believe they are very true:

I want to talk to you today about generational blessings. Every right choice you make, you are making it easier on those that come after you. When you live a life of excellence and integrity, being your best and helping others, those are seeds that will not only make your life fuller and more rewarding, but your children and grandchildren will be better off because of the way you live. No person lives or dies under himself. The choices you are making will affect your family line for generations to come. I want my relatives to do great things in life because of me, not in spite of me. Our children have enough things to overcome without having to deal with our negative baggage. Your life can either be a stepping stone for your family to go higher or a stumbling block that causes them to struggle. Negative things may have been passed down to you but God raised you up to put an end to it. You can be the difference-maker. We hear a lot about the “generational curse,” but there’s also something called a “generational blessing.” The Bible talks about how you can store up mercy and grace for your children and even future generations. I know, I am where I am today in part because of the way my parents and grandparents have lived. I am reaping a harvest from seeds that they sewed.

Are your descendants reaping, or will they reap, a harvest of blessings that you have stored up for them?

I think that is a very important question. One we should all think about.

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