It can be based on the color of your skin or the countries where your family used to live. It can lead us to celebrate certain holidays and honor traditions that others ignore (Kwanza or St Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo). It can include individuals who did noteworthy things that make you proud, or infamous people that were the “black sheep” in your family tree. Your heritage may be scarred by the consequences of alcoholism, divorce, or mental illness. You may come from a family where hard work or education was revered, or you may come from people who were so scarred by their past that they passed down little more than the consequences of those wounds. But who you are now is influenced by the heritage of those who came before you. Eventually, as adults, we all must choose what heritage we incorporate into our future, and what heritage we leave behind.

In one of David’s prayers, he acknowledges that his most important heritage that was not inherited, but given by grace.

Ps 61:5 You have heard my vows, O God. You have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

 As I look back at all the second chances and mercy and grace that God has shown me, I realize that the most important way I define myself is not based on the people in my family tree or where my ancestors came from. Who I am when no one or everyone is watching, my self-definition, my understanding of what is and isn’t important – all are based on God’s faithfulness to me. God gave us the ability to read and access to his scripture and the stories of people in the past so that we might learn from them and be warned or inspired accordingly.

The power of God’s name defined some of the biggest heroes in the Bible. Moses asked God what it was. David fought to defend the honor of God’s name when Goliath insulted it. Paul promised that one day all would bow at the name of Jesus. When we choose to show respect to God’s name in how we live our lives, when we allow our relationship with him to have priority over our choices, we are given a heritage that is far greater than any we inherit from man.

I have relatives I barely know; I have brothers and sisters in the family of God with whom I share deep trust and perspective…and all the celebrations and tragedies and tedium of daily life. My family tree is what it is, for better or for worse. But there are others who share my faith in God but not my bloodline, who have stood with me for a time, who have influenced my choices and my hopes and dreams; they are as much a part of who I am as anyone on my official family tree. Whatever your past looks like, God wants to give you a present and a future where you belong to his family. He wants to “adopt” us into his family and make us “co-heirs” with Christ. But we have to choose. This heritage is based on our choice, not our birth circumstances. What vows have you made to God? What evidence is there in your life that you honor his name and his authority over you? May we all be defined by the fact that we belong to God.