August 1997 — Sara Faye and I enjoyed 30 hours in a car together this past weekend, driving from our home in Houston to attend niece Leslie’s wedding in Huntsville, Alabama, then back again to Texas. Three of my five siblings were there, plus Mom and stepfather Joe from Ohio, and we spent some fine time catching up all around. Sunday morning, I preached at Winchester Road Church of Christ as guest of my brother Henry, father of the bride, whose pulpit ministry God has blessed the past couple of years by doubling the size of his congregation from 55 to more than 100. Besides preaching, Henry coaches, sells cookware and raises purebred swine. Brother Robert also preaches, in the adjoining county where he resides and works. Our extended family doesn’t get together often, but we love each other very much. Family ties spring from deep roots.
Although the wedding was in Huntsville, we spent the night in nearby Athens, Alabama, where I grew up. Nestled on a plain between Appalachian hills on three sides, Athens is county seat of Limestone County, Alabama, to which my great-great-great-grandfather and middle-namesake William Fudge migrated about 1800 from South Carolina. Limestone County, Alabama seems almost sacred to me, and I find it emotionally incredible that the name of “Athens” actually appears so inconspicuously on any standard highway map or atlas. My roots also go deep in North Alabama, whose rivers, woods and red soil I love as King David loved well-water from his beloved Bethlehem (2 Sam. 23:15-17).
Sunday I preached verse by verse from Hebrews chapter 10, concerning the perfect sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered once for all for the sin of the world, by which offering he sanctified and perfected for all time those who come to God through him (Heb. 10:10, 14). I thrill to preach about Jesus’ atoning work, a finished work because it is all-sufficient and everlasting, and I cry for joy every time I expound it. We believers are pilgrims of faith, says this ancient and unknown author of Hebrews (chap. 12). As such, we stand in a line of faithful people reaching back to righteous Abel (chap. 11). This family of faith provides roots deeper than family ties can, and the heavenly country to which we are going draws us homeward more strongly than the most cherished earthly birthplace (Heb. 11:13-16).
I praise God for earthly families — before us and after us — immediate and extended. I praise God for birthplaces and all they mean to us mortals formed from the soil. But I praise God most of all for the family of faith, which is as old as the human race, and for that eternal country God is preparing, in which our hearts and souls will find the perfect satisfaction of truly being home.