In his Second Letter to his younger protegee Timothy, the Apostle Paul encouraged him to review his family’s spiritual roots:

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” (2 Timothy 1:5)

He challenged him to “fan the flame” of his own faith and calling, as an extension of his three-generation heritage of belief in Jesus.

This is an inspiring story, and you are truly blessed if you are able to trace your own journey of faith back to previous generations within your birth family, as Timothy could. But many of us can’t do that. Some of us were raised in nuclear families where God was not often acknowledged and where church had no part; we came to the Lord during our college years, or through the testimony of the person we married. Others of us were raised by parents who seemed to be church-going Christians, but lived hypocritical lives and left us with spiritual wounds for which we’ve spent years trying to find a cure.

Actually, Timothy’s upbringing was not as idyllic as it might seem. It’s noteworthy that Paul doesn’t mention his father or grandfather. From Acts 16:1-3 we learn that Timothy’s mother Eunice was a Jewish woman who married a Gentile unbeliever. When Timothy was born, he wasn’t circumcised as Jewish law said he should be. This seems to indicate that there was family conflict over the marriage and how the child would be raised. When Eunice married her Gentile husband, she was disobeying Jewish law, so she was apparently not taking her spiritual heritage seriously. No doubt this led to a breach in the relationship between Lois (probably a widow by then) and her rebellious daughter. That’s the kind of family situation Timothy was born into. Sometime during his youth, however, both Lois and Eunice accepted Jesus. By the time Paul met the young man, his father had probably died, and the two women had been reconciled by their new-found faith. The Apostle seems to have become a substitute father-figure for him, since he several times refers to him as his “child in the faith” (1 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Timothy 1::2, Philippians 2:22).

Think about Paul’s own spiritual roots. We know that he was born into a successful Jewish family who raised him in a busy, commercial Gentile city. They saw to it that the young man had sound training in his Jewish heritage, and he was on his way to being a standout among up-and-coming Pharisees. Then he met Jesus in his dramatic Damascus Road conversion (Acts 9). The first person who helped Paul understand what all this meant was a Damascus believer named Ananias (Acts 9:10 and following). Other leaders in the Damascus circle of believers helped him take his spiritual baby steps. Then he apparently spent some time in Arabia, possibly meditating near Mount Sinai where God gave the Law to Moses (Galatians 1:17, Exodus 19-20). At some point, because of the pressure of persecution in and around Jerusalem, Paul returned to Tarsus, the city of his birth, and he spent at least a decade in the regions of “Syria and Cilicia,” before returning to Jerusalem to begin his worldwide ministry (Acts 9:30, Galatians 1:21).

How would Paul describe his own spiritual roots? Certainly he would give his birth family credit for his strong training in Judaism, but there’s no evidence that any of them became believers in Jesus. Would he say Ananias and the Damascus believers nurtured him in his early faith? Would he acknowledge the wisdom of some old spiritual hermit he met in the Arabian desert? Was there an anonymous extended faith-family he prayed and worshiped with during his quiet years in Syria and Cilicia? We’ll never know, but it’s clear that God brought just the right influences into Paul’s life at critical points that made him the person he could use for his pioneering gospel ministry.

I’m asking that all of us think about our own spiritual roots as we approach HOMECOMING 2013. It will be the theme of our celebration together. But your story is unique, and only you can tell it. Please give some thought to the various stages of your spiritual journey. I’ll write more next week about how you can begin to construct your own personal FAITH FAMILY TREE.

— Pastor George Van Alstine