Stefan can tell you about family trees. He makes his living from them. He inherited a German forest that has been in his family for 400 years. The trees he harvests were planted 180 years ago by his great-grandfather. The trees he plants won't be ready for market until his great-grandchildren are born.

He's part of a chain.

"Every generation must make a choice," he told me. "They can either pillage or plant. They can rape the landscape and get rich, or they can care for the landscape, harvest only what is theirs, and leave an investment for their children."

Stefan harvests seeds sown by men he never knew. Stefan sows seeds to be harvested by descendants he'll never see. Dependent upon the past, responsible for the future: he's part of a chain. Like us. Children of the past, are we. Parents of the future. Heirs. Benefactors. Recipients of the work done by those before. Born into a forest we didn't seed.

Which leads me to ask, how's your forest? As you stand on the land bequeathed by your ancestors, how does it look? How do you feel? Pride at legacy left? Perhaps. Some inherit nourished soil. Deeply rooted trees of conviction. Row after row of truth and heritage. Could be that you stand in the forest of your fathers with pride. If so, give thanks, for many don't.

Many aren't proud of their family trees. Poverty. Shame. Abuse. Such are the forests found by some of you. The land was pillaged. Harvest was taken, but no seed was sown. Perhaps you were reared in a home of bigotry and so you are intolerant of minorities. Perhaps you were reared in a home of greed, hence your desires for possessions are insatiable. Perhaps your childhood memories bring more hurt than inspiration. The voices of your past cursed you, belittled you, ignored you. At the time, you thought such treatment was typical. Now you see it isn't. And now you find yourself trying to explain your past.

I came across a story of a man who must have had such thoughts. His heritage was tragic. His grandfather was a murderer and a mystic who sacrificed his own children in ritual abuse. His dad was a punk who ravaged houses of worship and made a mockery of believers. He was killed at the age of twenty-four... by his friends.

The men were typical of their era. They lived in a time when prostitutes purveyed their wares in houses of worship. Wizards treated disease with chants. People worshiped stars and followed horoscopes. More thought went into superstition and voodoo than into the education of the children.

It was a dark time in which to be born. What do you do when your grandfather followed black magic, your father was a scoundrel, and your nation is corrupt? Follow suit? Some assumed he would. Branded him as a delinquent before he was born, a chip off the old rotten block. You can almost hear the people moan as he passes, "Gonna be just like his dad."

They were wrong! He wasn't. He reversed the trend. He defied the odds. He stood like a dam against the trends of his day and rerouted the future of his nation. His achievements were so remarkable, we still tell his story twenty-six hundred years later.

The story of King Josiah. The world has seen wiser kings; the world has seen wealthier kings; the world has seen more powerful kings. But history has never seen a more courageous king than young Josiah.

Born some six hundred years before Jesus, Josiah inherited a fragile throne and a tarnished crown. The temple was in disarray, the Law was lost, and the people worshiped whatever god they desired. But by the end of Josiah's thirty-one-year reign, the temple had been rebuilt, the idols destroyed, and the law of God was once again elevated to a place of prominence and power. The forest had been reclaimed.

Josiah's grandfather, King Manasseh, was remembered as the king who "killed many innocent people, filling Jerusalem from one end to the other with their blood" (2 Kings 21:16). Josiah's father, King Amon, died at the hands of his own officers. "He did evil in the eyes of the LORD" (2 Chronicles 33:22 NIV), reads his epitaph.

The citizens formed a posse and killed the assassins, and eight-year-old Josiah ascended the throne. Early in his reign Josiah made a brave choice:

"He lived as his ancestor David had lived, and he did not stop doing what was right" (2 Kings 22:2 NCV).

He flipped through his family scrapbook until he found an ancestor worthy of emulation. Josiah skipped his dad's life and bypassed his grandpa's. He leapfrogged back in time until he found David and resolved, "I'm going to be like him."

The principle? We can't choose our parents, but we can choose our mentors.

Since Josiah chose David (who had chosen God), things began to happen. The people tore down the altars for the Baal gods as Josiah directed.

Josiah cut down the incense altars. Josiah... broke up the Asherah idols and... beat them into powder... Josiah broke down the altars. He cut down all the incense altars in all of Israel (2 Chronicles 34:4-7).

Not what you call a public relations tour. But, then again, Josiah was not out to make friends. He was out to make a statement: "What my fathers taught, I don't teach. What they embraced, I reject."

And he wasn't finished. Four years later, at the age of twenty-six, he turned his attention to the temple. It was in shambles. The people had allowed it to fall into disrepair. But Josiah was determined. Something had happened that fueled his passion to restore the temple. A baton had been passed. A torch had been received. Early in his reign he'd resolved to serve the God of his ancestor David. Now he chose to serve the God of someone else:

In Josiah's eighteenth year as king, he made Judah and the Temple pure again. He sent Shaphan... to repair the Temple of the Lord, the God of Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:8 NCV).

God was his God. David's faith was Josiah's faith. He had found the God of David and made Him his own. As the temple was being rebuilt, one of the workers happened upon a scroll. On the scroll were the words of God given to Moses nearly a thousand years earlier.

When Josiah heard the words, he was shocked. He wept that his people had drifted so far from God that His Word was not a part of their lives. He sent word to a prophetess and asked her, "What will become of our people?"

She told Josiah that since he had repented when he heard the words, his nation would be spared the anger of God (2 Chronicles 34:27). Incredible. An entire generation received grace because of the integrity of one man.

Could it be that God placed him on earth for that reason?

Could it be that God has placed you on earth for the same?

Could it be that God placed him on earth for that reason?
Maybe your past isn't much to brag about. Maybe you've seen raw evil. And now you, like Josiah, have to make a choice. Do you rise above the past and make a difference? Or do you remain controlled by the past and make excuses?

Many choose the latter. Many choose the convalescent homes of the heart. Healthy bodies. Sharp minds. But retired dreams. Back and forth they rock in the chair of regret, repeating the terms of surrender. Lean closely and you will hear them: "If only." The white flag of the heart.

"If only... "

  • "If only I'd been born somewhere else... "
  • "If only I'd been treated fairly... "
  • "If only I'd had kinder parents, more money, greater opportunities... "
  • "If only I'd been potty-trained sooner, spanked less, or taught to eat without slurping..."

Maybe you've used those words. Maybe you have every right to use them. Perhaps you, like Josiah, were hearing the ten count before you even got into the ring. For you to find an ancestor worth imitating, you, like Josiah, have to flip way back in your family album.

If such is the case, let me show you where to turn. Put down the scrapbook and pick up your Bible. Go to John's gospel and read Jesus' words:

"Human life comes from human parents, but spiritual life comes from the Spirit" (John 3:6 NCV).

Think about that. Spiritual life comes from the Spirit!

  • Your parents may have given you genes, but God gives you grace.
  • Your parents may be responsible for your body, but God has taken charge of your soul.
  • You may get your looks from your mother, but you get eternity from your Father, your heavenly Father.

By the way, He's not blind to your problems. In fact, God is willing to give you what your family didn't.

Didn't have a good father? He'll be your Father.

Through God you are a son; and, if you are a son, then you are certainly an heir. (Galatians 4:7 Phillips)

Didn't have a good role model? Try God!

You are God's children whom he loves, so try to be like him (Ephesians 5:1 NCV)

Never had a parent who wiped away your tears? Think again. God has noted each one:

You have seen me tossing and turning through the night. You have collected all my tears in your bottle! You have recorded every one in your book (Psalm 56:8 TLB).

God has not left you adrift on a sea of heredity. Just like Josiah, you cannot control the way your forefathers responded to God. But, you can control the way you respond to Him. The past does not have to be your prison. You have a voice in your destiny. You have a say in your life. You have a choice in the path you take. Choose well and someday — generations from now — your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will thank God for the seeds you sowed.

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