I got a little carried away last week.
I was preaching that passage from 2 Timothy 1 where Paul is reminded of Timothy’s sincere faith, a faith that lived first in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (vs. 5). I started thinking about how my own faith lived first in my mother, Mary.
And that’s when I got carried away.
I spent a full third of the sermon remembering how my mother shared her faith with me and my brothers and tried to make sure we “grew up Christian.” I talked about the way she gave us a Christian worldview, and taught us the Apostle’s Creed and the Catechism, and told us thrilling stories from the Bible, and sang the great hymns of the faith. I probably didn’t need to do all that. Most people probably got the point after the first illustration. But here’s the truth: that wasn’t the half of it. And I cut out of the sermon this whole paragraph about my father and his contribution to my faith:
My father the minister didn’t like to talk shop at the family dinner table but I watched him live his faith in ways that impact me still. I watched him use his body and his hands to help poor people. I remember how he used to roll his tongue to one side of his mouth and bite down on it when he was exerting unusual effort. I’ve watched him dig footers, and shove beams into place, and drive roofing nails as he and a group of volunteers built a house for a poor widow in West Virginia before Habitat for Humanity ever existed. I’ve seen him come in at the end of a day exhausted, with dirt under his fingernails, from trying to do what he thought Jesus wanted him to do.
And then I got to that verse where Paul tells Timothy, “Rekindle the gift of God that is within you though the laying on of my hands” (vs. 6), and I began to think about my father-in-law, Bill Treadwell, who preached my ordination sermon and was the first in line to lay his hands on my head as I was set apart for the Gospel ministry.
Bill was the one who invited me to work as a part-time youth minister at his church in Georgetown, Kentucky, when I was only 22 years old. He was the one who asked me after a couple of years of that if perhaps God was calling me into pastoral ministry. He was the one who took me to the seminary for my first visit and the one who was standing there to receive me when I came down a church aisle to answer that call. “Rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands,” Paul wrote to Timothy. I read those words on my personal 24-hour retreat and tears came to my eyes as I remembered Bill laying his hands on my head.
The sermon could have been so much longer than it was.
Because it wasn’t only my mother, my father, and my father-in-law who nurtured my faith, it was my brothers, my Sunday school teachers, my close Christian friends. The list goes on and on. When I asked the question in that sermon, “Where did you get your faith?” I was thinking about all those people. I could have talked all day.
But I was aware, even as I was preaching, of parents who did all they could to make sure their children “grew up Christian,” and whose hearts are now broken because their children are not, or at least don’t appear to be. “What about that verse?” they ask me, often with tears in their eyes, “the one that says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it”? (Prov. 22:6). “Well,” I say, “is your child old?” “Not really,” they say. “He’s thirteen. He’s having some doubts.”
Well, of course he is.
And he may have some more when he’s 22, or 37, or 56. We all go through times of doubt and crises of faith. I did. But I also believe those things we are taught when we are young stay with us and come back to us, often in the moments we need them most. Maybe if those children get old enough, and maybe—or especially—when they get close to the end, they will find that the faith of their fathers (and mothers) is living still.
May it be so,