What’s in a Name?

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means “God with us.”  Matthew 1:23

 

The prophet long ago delivered a wild prediction — a virgin giving birth.  And an even wilder promise — God is with us.

What about the circumstances of a virgin bearing a child requires a name like Immanuel, God with us?

The promised nearness of God… God approaches the pure and innocent.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  The untainted, unjaded, unscathed heart welcomes God, believes the hope of “God with us.”  God has not abandoned us.  He is near.

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But history passed thousands of years from the time Isaiah uttered those words to the day God fulfilled them.  The people waited, hoped, longed for the one who would come and ransom them from their captors.

And they didn’t always wait well.  They grumbled.  They succumbed to outside pressures and forsook the calling to be God’s people.  In their waiting they grew impatient, they wandered, and became enslaved.

I’m know something about waiting.  Having been pregnant three glorious times, I know the build of anticipation, the hopes and fears of all the months of changing body and growing life within.  I know the thrill of birth, the joy of the actual arrival… and the new set of hopes and fears that come with the bundle of energy called “baby.”  Immanuel showed himself each time; God was with us.  He is still with us providing the wisdom and patience to see these boys into men.

But the waiting I’m learning about now won’t culminate in a new little boy to love and care for.  It’s a different kind of waiting with new anxieties and fears.  It’s a waiting for direction, clarity, a path to be revealed that is good and honors God’s call on our lives.  So far, Immanuel has been silent.

What if we get to the end of this year in Orlando and Immanuel has stayed silent and the path elusive?  What if we come to the end of this journey without clear direction as to what’s next? What then?

I guess we can take a cue from the way Mary and Joseph handled the challenge of being the couple God selected to fulfill this wild prophesy.  Notice the pronoun — “they named him Immanuel.”

Even in the prediction, God promised the unity of mind that the couple would need as they found themselves in the midst of God’s plan.  They would need to rely on each other as they walked the difficult road ahead of them.  And they would need the promise of His presence.  “God with us” — we are not alone.

O Father, as you reveal your plan to us, as we wait with expectation, give us the fatih to walk in obedience, hand in hand.

Thank you for the promise wrapped in your name, Immanuel.

Weeds

Weeding usually requires heavy duty equipment — small shovel, gloves, clippers.  But, some weeds in my garden are simply sprigs growing where they shouldn’t be.  Just a single spike headed straight for the sky, but ugly and unwelcome.  Invariably, I underestimate the tug needed to loosen the roots, roots that reach down deep into the earth, entwined, enmeshed.  What seemed to be a only a sprout on the surface turns out to be much more beneath.

Asking the Lord to make what is cloudy clear is kinda like weeding.  I saw this truth unexpectedly reading King David’s story.

“During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years.  So David sought the face of the Lord.” (2 Samuel 21:1)

I wonder: why three years of famine before David sought the Lord?  Or had he sought the Lord throughout those years, and only after three did the Lord reveal the problem?

God’s answer bears even more questions.

“It is on account of Saul and his bloodstained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.” (2 Samuel 21:1)

On the surface, how strange an answer. Saul reneged on a promise to spare the Gibeonites and instead tried to annihilate them, so decades later, God is causing a famine in Israel.  Dry, barren ground for David because of an overly zealous predecessor.

Really?  How is that David’s problem?

But, with humble obedience, the king calls on the Gibeonites and asks what he can do to ease their injustice.  Hesitating at first, the Gibeonites ask for seven of Saul’s descendants they can kill and leave on a hill exposed “before the Lord” (v. 9).  With that tragic deed done, the Lord answers the prayers for the land (v. 14).

What?  This story is my Bible? Can this be right?  Is God responding to human sacrifice?

Frankly, after reading this, I have to sit for awhile and really ask the Lord if I need to proceed.  Do I really need to journal about this passage, Father?

I can’t escape his gentle prodding to put pen to paper and write.  Slowly, lessons emerge.

1.  Sometimes when I seek the Lord to fix, the problem is merely a symptom of something deeper.  Sin is like an infectious blood disease.  The place of initial wounding isn’t always the place where pain shows up.

David sought the Lord because of famine, the surface need that drew him to seek the Lord’s face.  But the real issue God wanted to address went much deeper.  David had inherited this sin, aged and steeped through generations.  Once David acknowledged the root issue and dealt with it, God resolved the surface problem with the land.

2.  God cares deeply about injustice.  Saul’s injustice toward the Gibeonites had been festering for decades.  Evidently, in God’s kingdom, injustice isn’t stamped with an expiration date.  This story graphically portrays the truth of God that the sins of the fathers impact the sons and grandsons.

Again, the inherited nature of sin… the infection keeps growing till it’s brought to the light and dealt with, leading to restitution and reconciliation.  David’s question

“What shall I do for you?  How shall I make amends so you will bless the Lord’s inheritance?” (2 Samuel 21:3)

is a hard one to ask.  But from this story, it’s clear that God honors the question — and the obedience that follows the answer.

3.  Sin costs.  Even though I have trouble stomaching the killing of Saul’s grandsons to appease those his treacherous acts wounded, I do see a lesson for me today.

To bring restitution to one the wronged, sacrifice and even “death” may need to occur.  Trying to make things right should cost me something — my sin cost Jesus his life.  In my experience, seeking reconciliation with those I’ve wronged will at least cost me my pride.  I’ve come to know a godly humiliation.  It’s painful, but healing.

David models the extremes to which God might ask us to go to make it right.  The heart of the man or woman that is willing to go there honors the Lord… and the Lord’s blessing follows.

 

So are these lessons for me today?  Now?  In this new place called Orlando?  I don’t know.  I do know that Mel and I feel like we’ve experienced a “drying up” of ministry, like the fruitfulness has waned, a famine of sorts.  We are ready for a new harvest.

So, following the pattern of this passage, we are seeking the Lord’s face.  Actually we are learning to seek his face in a community of others who are doing the same.  We don’t know what the Lord will reveal.  But we are willing to go where he leads.

Right now we are waiting… and weeding.

 

 

 

The Road to Orlando

Summer mornings in the south begin with cool mist hugging the ground.  Recently the road to Orlando gave us two such mornings.

Day 1 – leaving grandparents in Texas, we welcomed the morning drive with song – Steven Curtis Chapman’s The Great Adventure.  Five voices sang,

Saddle up your horses,

we’ve got a trail to blaze

Through the wild blue yonder

of God’s amazing grace…

It’s a song that captures the reason we are moving to Orlando – to seek God’s grace in the adventure of following his call.

The road led through new places for our family:  New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile, Tallahassee.  Adventure holds promise in the names of the towns and cities it takes us.

 

Day 2 – leaving behind a business class hotel filled with summer vacationers, again the morning broke with song.  This time, we chose Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.  With mist heavy in draping trees, the woody, bouncing melody spoke to my spirit.  I can’t help but hear the bidding,  “Awake.  Arise.  The day holds promise and life.  Join in the dance.”

Melodies and harmonies soar and entwine; I realize how God is calling us to respond to his work in our lives with similar abandon.

On the road in front of me, the sun tries in vain to pierce the haze and merely casts a warm glow.

The day advances.

The road stretches before us.

 

Adventure awaits.

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The Usual Place

Certain details get to me… like, when a picture frame hangs crooked on the wall, or when boys’ dirty shoes lay abandoned at the bottom of the stairs — for days, or when stains on my husband’s favorite shirt refuse to come out.

In my quiet time, I’ve been hanging out in the book of First Samuel.  The relationships between the characters interest me.  Chapter 3 recounts the memorable evening in Samuel’s life when he hears the voice of the Lord for the first time.  I’ve always loved Samuel’s response: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”  But right now, in this phase of my life, chapter 3 gets to me because of what it says about “place.”

“One night Eli… was lying down in his usual place… and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.”  1 Sam 3:2-3

Eli is an old man.  He has had a tough go at being Israel’s high priest.  Unable to control his sons, they disgraced him and themselves in their sin.  His eyes are “weak”… maybe symbolic of the years he’s looked the other way because of his sense of failure and inadequacy.

The detail that sticks out to me is that he slept in his “usual place” — evidently outside the temple, removed from the presence of the Lord.  Because of shame?  Maybe.  But it’s sad to me that with all his failure, Eli kept doing things in the “usual” way.

He didn’t move closer to the Lord.

He kept his distance.

Young Samuel, on the other hand, drew near.  Scripture records that he “grew up in the presence of the LORD,” he “ministered before the LORD,” and he slept “where the ark of God was.”  Even though Samuel hadn’t heard the voice of God yet and didn’t recognize it at first, he positioned himself to hear.

I wonder, did Eli think he could keep doing the same things he had always been doing and yet find different outcomes?  Didn’t he see that sticking with the usual places would most likely produce the usual outcomes?  Would God have had His own message for Eli that night if Eli had been near to receive it?

I feel like this is why our family needs to move to Orlando… to step outside the usual places in our ministry, church, friendships, so that we can connect with God in a new way.

 

So that we can recognize His voice when we hear it.

It’s hard for all of us in our family to leave the places we’ve always known and have grown to love.  But, I can’t deny the growing sense within me that some of these places have too firm a hold on our hearts — or mine at least.  In God’s desire for me to experience the fullness of living out the story He’s called me to, He’s gently prying open my tightly gripped fingers and is asking me to trust Him a new place.

I so want to hear Him call, and I so want to respond like Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening…”