Saturday, December 31, 2016

Vision Clears In A Grateful Heart

Daily Gratitude Year 4-Day 366: Today, I am grateful VISION CLEARS IN A GRATEFUL HEART. 

Can it be that we are at the end of 2016 and four years of daily gratitude? 1461 days of starting the day with a grateful heart. From a 31 day challenge in January 2013 to a daily ritual. Sometimes, it is quick and simple. Sometimes, it is more. Today it is a reflection.

This year's big lesson for me has been: "Vision clears in a grateful heart." 

My "one little word" for 2016 was "Vision". Habakkuk 2:2 is a verse that has grabbed my heart and won't let go. It is a good thing.

And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.-Habakkuk 2:2

I am not a runner... but I am a writer. I want to run the course set before me with energy, stamina and hope. I have spent some time in 2016 illustrating my faith through Bible Journaling and other doodles. I've journaled my gratitude for his little blessings and the big ones. Writing things down helps me remember to be in awe of his presence in my ordinary days.

The physical act of writing... more than typing... makes things stick in my head and my heart. Recall improves when we write things down. Add a little art by mixing font, color or simple drawings... and what clicks in my head seems to stick in my memory a little better. For those who saw War Room... a post it note is a great way to "write the vision; make it plain" on post-it notes. They come in many colors! 

How has my vision cleared? My physical eyes need stronger readers. I have graduated to a 2.25 or 2.5. Obviously, my eyes are a little weaker, but gratitude helps us see things that the eyes often miss. 

Helen Keller wrote so beautifully: The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart. 

She was blind. Her vision was clear. 

A scripture I have loved for most of my life is Hebrews 11:1.

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." 

It is the beginning of the famous "Faith Chapter" in the book of Hebrews. The letters to the Hebrews were a passionate call for the Jewish (Hebrew) people to see Jesus with new eyes. They knew the scriptures. They could quote the prophecies, but many could not see clearly that the Messiah had come. God was with us.

Perhaps... more than 2000 years later... it is easier to see the obvious fulfillment of God's promises through Jesus. I don't know. I did not live 2000 years ago. (Which is good. I'm a huge fan of indoor plumbing.) I have often thought, I might have been blinded to the truth, too.  I might have missed my the star, the manger, the man, the Messiah, the torn veil, the cross and the message.

Jesus came... not to abolish the law... but to be the fulfillment that would free us once and for all time... from our load of sin debt. The debt we could not seem to pay off. 

The catch? We simply have to sincerely seek to be forgiven and accept the life-changing gift of His pardon. Our names added... by His blood... to the Lamb's Bood of Life. (I envision an old quill pen and a bottle of blood red ink.) What is the evidence? We cannot walk away unchanged. 

Some say that "seeing is believing". Jesus offered a blessing on future believers... on us... that John records in John 20:29- "Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Well..."Good morning, Earworm." He is singing old hymns today. I tell him they are not my favorite -but he has a mind of his own. He is singing "Power in the Blood" (Would you be free from the burden of sin? There's power in the blood, power in the blood.) and "Be Thou My Vision" (Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;). These old songs do have big soul value. "Be Thou My Vision" is truly, a favorite of mine (Glad and Rend Collective's versions). 

Good stuff. Right?

Those who see clearly... not with their eyes... but with the soul deep knowledge of the truth in Jesus. He is the Way. He is the Truth. He is the Life. He is the Light of the World. He is our vision... even when we cannot see clearly with human eyes.

Gratitude clears our vision of the things of this world so we can begin to experience the wonder of his love... his care... and his provision. If we can see him, and only him... HE is enough. (I think I am know next year's one little word)


Friday, December 30, 2016

A Treatable Heart Condition

 Daily Gratitude Year 4-Day 364: Today, I am grateful for a treatable heart condition.  

I have come to believe that gratitude is a treatable heart condition that directly impacts our vision. What we feel in our hearts can change what we see with our eyes. 

One of my favorite quotes is this: "Remember that everyone you meet has a story that would break your heart."  Do we see others with hearts that allow us grace, because we know each one has suffered pain, shame, loss, disappointment or broken dreams? 

It is so easy to become frustrated, irritated and disengaged from "our neighbors". Loving our pets is easy. Loving people is hard. 

Still, the clear instruction in multiple gospels is to "Love your God" and "Love your neighbors... all of them." It is a heart condition that impacts our soul vision. It is easy to obsess over what isn't right... or fair... or as it should be. We are called to go... to love, to do and to be. 

"Being" can be hard. Be salt. Be light. Do what is right. 

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33

The world is full of trials and tribulations. Choosing to be content in our circumstance is a powerful choice. We have a responsibility to change what we can. We need to be a part of the solution and not the problem ( a salute to fair trade businesses and the consumers who shop them). We can claim a piece of His peace and share it. 

The media inundates us with a flood of messages and images about more... more... more. More stuff to fill our homes, more drugs to make us feel better... and more troubles we didn't even know we had until we see there is a new problem solving product. 

Those who have cleaned out a closest this season know there is freedom of less.
Those who have managed to lose a few pounds instead of gaining know the joy in being less.

Those who have experienced the joy of giving know it is sweeter than recieving.
Those who find "peace in me"... from the source...always have a reason to smile. 
Those who choose heartfelt and soul deep gratitude for the "enough" they are granted know peace. 

"Lord... help us to be content, full of gratitude and blessed by our daily bread from your hand. Grant us joy in sharing it. Fill us with a sense of awe and wonder for each day that we have enough and some to share. Thank your for being present and being our portion. You are so much more than enough." -Amen

Today, I am grateful for a treatable heart condition. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Scandalous Love

 Daily Gratitude Year 4-Day 363: Today, I am grateful for "scandalous" love.

Scandalouscausing general public outrage by a perceived offense against morality or law

Yes, Jesus exhibited scandalous behavior... according to the male dominated laws of the day. He did it over and over. The John Ortberg message "You are more" explains clearly why only the woman was about to be stoned in the courtyard on the day Jesus intervened (John 8).The man had committed no crime... according to the law of the day. What? 

Double standard?  Yes. The law of the day? Absolutely. 

In Jesus day, women and children were property. Rules for sexual behavior and fidelity were different for men and women. Infanticide was common then... and it still is today. Only boy babies were desired. Girl babies were often left to die. Electricity and technology may change how we live... but the human heart still has a darkness that has remained since we first found ourselves in the garden... naked and afraid. Until we invite and nurture the transforming light of God's love, we cannot be free. 

I found this quote from Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)... a woman. She wrote in English (so it is not translated)... and I was struck by the simplicity. 

"Between God and the Human there is no between." 

No between? Jesus' work on the cross included the ripping of the veil into the "Holy of Holies". No more separation. Unlimited access to the One True God, through prayer, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. One of my Bible journaling friends just did a page on that very thought. God designed us for a "no between" relationship. She noted that we are the ones who put up and invent the "betweens". 

Why? I am sure there are many reasons. One of the big ones is that God's presence can seem... well... scary. It should. We are to be fearful, but not afraid. Close friends... but without losing the awe or respect for who he is... the great I AM. 

Earworm is quoting CS Lewis again..."Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  Thank you, Earworm. CS Lewis explains it well. 

How do we enter into his presence? Do we avoid it? Do we put up a "between" for safety? Jesus came that there need be no separation. God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are three... and that we can be continually in His presence. Jesus echoes this when he promised the Holy Spirit: 

"even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. -John 14:17-19

As I sit here with my morning coffee... it is a ritual I savor. French pressed, a splash of cream and the first sip is a soul sip. Pure delight! Today, it is my favorite White Christmas blend. Nothing comes between me and my morning coffee. I am committed to that relationship so deeply that if I run out of time at home, I find a place to buy a cup. Nothing comes between me and my coffee. 

Do I seek that kind of intimacy with the Holy Spirit? Is that the naked desire of my heart? Do I itch for that first prayer of the morning like I jones for my first cup of coffee? I want to. I don't always. I am a work in progress. 

David prayed - "Create in me a clean heart. Renew a right spirit in me." Jesus taught this lesson in the Sermon on the Mount: "
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."- Matthew 5:6

Satisfaction comes from hunger and thirst?  It is another example of the "flipped" way that Jesus changed the world. To hunger and thirst for Him creates a very really feeling of satisfaction. He is our daily bread.

We live in a world hungry and desperate for love. It is desperate for true LOVE. The world misses that "God is love". Sexual intimacy is confused for real love. Women... children and babies are sold into slavery to feed the hunger of a depraved world. Yet, there is no satisfaction found. The perversions grow bigger and harder to satisfy. 

In contrast... intimacy in "holy matrimony"... was designed to be a God sealed "blood covenant". Designed to be a partnership of three... with giving and receiving.It can be a oneness of spirit that honors God and our mate. Time makes it more precious. Better. Sweeter. More cherished. It is something to be celebrated.    

It is funny to think that Jesus was thought scandalous because he respected men, women and children. His called his disciples... men, women and children... based on their hearts and not their sex, race, bank account or position. The ripples of his time here are still being felt. 

Jesus message that all are loved, wanted and worthy is still life changing. His scandalous love is still changing lives for those brave enough to say "yes" to his call. 

Today, I am grateful for "scandalous" love.

Dressember Day 29:

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Woeful, Worrisome... Arrogance?

Daily Gratitude Year 4-Day 361: Today, I am grateful for "new eyes" on anxiety.

This quote from "The Soul Doctor" caught my eye.  Is my worry arrogance? 

Oh... the anguish of being a first born who was trained to feel responsible for the world around her. First born children hear these messages often:
"Take care of you sister and brother." 
"You are the oldest. You should know better." 
"Let the younger ones go first... you can wait."  
"Take care of it... you're the oldest.". 

That sounds pretty awful when I re-read it. It wasn't abuse. It was training and expectations. Mostly, it was good. The goal was to teach me to nurture and tend to those you are younger, weaker or less experienced. It was never intended to be a burden.

Mama Ina Mae was the oldest of seven... and then ten children. I only had two younger siblings and a pack of cousins younger than me. I learned so much being in the power position of firstborn! I am grateful for the lessons,  but the downside is that I sometimes display an irrational sense of responsibility over things I cannot control. Type A and Chief Worrier. 

Let's face it. I can make enough poor decisions... and I do... on my own. I don't need to claim anyone else's poor choices. 

What if... worry isn't simply anxiety... but disobedience and arrogance toward my Lord? Is a lack of trust in the God of the Universe unintentional pride? Eek!

Let's examine God's Word (I am looking at the ESV version today in a quick search):
"Fear not"- 34 times
"Do not be afraid" - 33 times
"Not fear" - 63 times
"Do not be anxious" - 8 times
"No fear" - 73 times (Nike... not so original)
"Be not fearful" - 1 time (Jeremiah 51:46)

I found 212 scriptures (ESV) that instruct us to not be afraid. I am sure there are more... but that is a quick search in one translation. (I have heard there are 365.)  The message is clear. God speaks clearly to the problem of fear and worry. 

Can we resist it and have the anxiety flee? Sure... in theory... we can flee the evil of anxiety and resist it, but that is easier said than done! We must know The Word...know His Word and intentionally apply it to our lives. Jesus said,

"And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?"-Matthew 6:27

Only the Lord can extend our life dash or our height. Right? He has a design plan... and he can alter it, but our worry is such... wasted... energy. I know this... because I am a worrywart. It's not pretty! 

We can intentionally choose to place our worry at this feet. My worry... for me... is a sin. It demonstrates a lack of trust in His goodness and His provision. 

He is sovereign. He is good. He is patient. He is waiting. Yet, I often cling to my bag of worries like they are precious, sparkling gems.  They are my dirty little secret sin (not so secret anymore).

Worry makes the air heavy... and it is hard to breathe.
Worry makes everything more stressful.
Worry weighs on our spirit... on our souls.
Worry becomes a lifestyle that is hard to break.  For me... and I am pretty sure I am not alone.

"To wait upon the Lord" was an instruction to make us eager and aware that God is up to something. Experiencing peace when God seems silent is an act of trust. Trust exercises are popular these days, because trust is essential for those who work in teams. Does God need our trust? 

He does say, "I am a jealous God." What things become our idols? What things do we trust more than we trust in His provision? Trust is way of saying, "I love you." It is intimate. Lack of trust tears down intimacy.  

The 40 years the Israelite people wandered in the desert with Moses...  God was waiting for them to trust in Him. Manna every morning. More quail than they could eat. Shoes that didn't wear out. "Tap water" from a rock. How many times and how many ways did he have to prove himself? 

He was for them. He was with them. Still, the minute they were left unattended, the found idols to build and worship. How many times... am I just like them? (Rhetorical question ... no need to answer.)

When we learn to wait on the Lord... we exhibit trust. 

The least of them shall become a clan, and the smallest one a mighty nation; I am the Lord;  in its time I will accomplish it quickly. -Isaiah 60:22 NRSV

That is such a great verse. In its time... I will accomplish it quickly when it is time. Not one minute before the time is right. 

"do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. -Philippians 4:6

What a great verses to claim at the end of a year full of surprises. His timing is perfect! Those who learn to wait upon the Lord renew their strength. 

Today, I am grateful for "new eyes" on anxiety.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

New Eyes On Unanswered Prayers

Daily Gratitude Year 4-Day 360: Today, I am grateful for new eyes on "unanswered prayers".

I've seen the quote, "God answers all prayers. Sometimes, the answer is "no"."

Prayer was designed to be two-way communication between God and man. It is not a shopping list... or a Santa list. I is not even a "to do" list. Prayer was meant to be intimate and life changing. The "two-way" occurs when we take time to "wait upon the Lord" and listen. 

To "wait upon" is more active than passive. It is a time of alertness and eager anticipation of the answer. Sometimes, the answer is still..."No". Why?

As humans, it is easy to forget we are not the center of the universe. We have been told "you have to do what makes you happy". Sometimes, answering God's call means doing the opposite of what our humanness would dictate. It means tapping into the Spirit infused guidance God provides for those who know him as father, savior, brother and friend. 

We all miss the mark, because sin is still present in this world. No one is perfect. Temptation is tough.But, prayer is a place of sanctuary. In the silence, the answers come. Sometimes the answer is :"I know you don't understand... but in time... all things will be made beautiful." 

Yesterday's brokenness.
Today's heartbreak.
Tomorrow's tears.

He answers our prayers, but as God of the Universe with a hand on all things. It is so much bigger than my mind can imagine.

Jesus, too, experienced "unanswered prayer". On the Mount of Olives, he prayed, 

And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed,42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.-Luke 22:41-41

Whenever Jesus prayed... by example or in private. "Not my will, but yours, be done." This God-Man showed us the way to pray. He knew the cross was before him. You can't blame him for asking to be excused from the task. But, the answer was, "no". Actually, the answer was "your will is not my way". 

How many trials do we come up against... face to face... and have to accept that "His will means it is not going to be "my way"? Still, he makes all things beautiful in His time... not mine. 

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,-Psalm 103:1-2

I love this Psalm. May my soul not forget all his benefits

There is no life so broken he cannot heal it. There is no cross so heavy that he can't help us carry it ... beside us... with us, our Immanuel is with us. He is present and engaged, even when it feels like he is being silent. At times, it is the answer to prayer is the quiet strength that gets us through the most difficult days. 

Some "unanswered prayers" change the world. 

This year's lesson in gratitude is coming into focus. That is for day 365.

Today, I am grateful for new eyes on "unanswered prayers".

Monday, December 26, 2016

Be Born In Me

Daily Gratitude Year 4-Day 359: Today, I am grateful for the song, "Be Born In Me".

Francesca Bataselli sings it, but it was a the first song written by Nichole Nordeman for her project called "Songs from The Story". I am a huge fan of this project. Some songs never made the "hit charts" like this one, but it is full songs written from the stories we all know from Sunday School.  Familiar stories of those who found favor in the eyes of the Lord and survived tough times because God is greater than every struggle they ever woke up to face. 

This song, "Be Born In Me" speaks from the heart of a woman and a child. Mary was both. Listen to her version of "Thy will be done.". 

In Luke 1:38 , "And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Can we grasp her thoughts and emotions when the angel was gone?

These song lyrics do:

Everything inside me cries for order
Everything inside me wants to hide
Is this shadow an angel or a warrior?
If God is pleased with me, why I am I so terrified?
Someone tell me I am only dreaming
Somehow help me see with Heaven's eyes
And before my head agrees, my heart is on it's knees
Holy is He. Blessed am I.

(Chorus)Be born in me, be born in me
Trembling heart, somehow I believe that You chose me
I'll hold you in the beginning, You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle, make my heart your Bethlehem
Be born in me

All this time we've waited for the promise
All this time You've waited for my arms
Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected
So we might know that Love would go that far?

I am not brave
I'll never be
The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy
I'm just a girl
Nothing more
But I am willing, I am Yours

Trembling in the presence of an angel of God. Realizing that the promise of the scriptures was coming true in her and through her. Surely, she felt overwhelmed, unqualified and out of her league. She was engaged to a carpenter... a good man, but common. How could she be qualified to carry the son of God in her womb. Yet, she accept and says, "Be Born In Me". Her life would never be the same.

Isn't it true that every new parent feels overwhelmed by the responsibility of a precious, new and fragile life that is dependent on you for everything? Terrifying, right? 

Mary... and Joseph...stepped up to say, "Let it be as you have said." The rest is more history than mystery, but with a supernatural element. Child of God and child of man... this baby born in Bethlehem. He waits for each of us to say, "I surrender my heart to your will and your way." "Be born in me... I won't wait another day."

I am not brave
I'll never be
The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy

How I relate to that line! Take a step back in time and enjoy this video.  

Today, I am grateful for the song, "Be Born In Me".

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Lessons from Linus and the Shepherds

Daily Gratitude Year 4-Day 358: Today, I am grateful for lessons from the shepherds and from Linus. Let's lift our hands and our hearts in celebration that we can "Fear not!".

No automatic alt text available.Remember the song, "You better watch out. You better not cry. Better not pout I'm telling you, why. Santa Claus is coming to town." It scared some of us into good behavior from Thanksgiving through Christmas.
Again...I love the tradition of Santa... but Santa would be the first to clarify that he is not God...just a child of God and one whose character reflects his Lord's generous heart. Santa would point to the obvious difference. Santa... by tradition... sees our actions. The truth... knows our hearts. Big, scary difference!
The Lord sees you when you're sleeping because he doesn't sleep. He knows when you're awake. He knows your heart at the deepest, secret parts. Nothing gets by Him. He tried to explain this to the children of Israel.
Jeremiah 7:8-10 says-
“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?"
God wanted them to understand that he sees everything. Not just their "church face" and best behaviors when they arrive at His house. No. He saw it all.... the good... the bad and the really ugly. Nothing is hidden from him.
God tries to explain to them that it is not about going through the motions of "going to temple"...but a matter of the heart. Attending events at church a few times a year makes us "God fans" at best...but not on the team. Seeking His heart daily...makes us his people. It is a daily walk and an intimate talk with the coach... from sun-up to sun-down.
God knows we have the ability to "go through the motions". He created us with an amazing intellect for learning and an aptitude for imitation. Still, that intellect can be what keeps us out of relationship with him.
God tries to clarify his desire for a true relationship. He desires more than sin offerings and duty...but children who hear his voice and live in ways that bring him honor. In Jeremiah 7:22-23, God reveals His heart's desire:
"For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ "
Sound familiar? How about this paraphrase: "Love me enough to obey my voice and to make me your God. Then...walk in my ways so that your other relationships will be good. Love me. Love each other. It is how you can live well"
Again...the Old Testament meets the New Testament...fitting together like a puzzle piece. I love this stuff! You can't make this up.
God did not change in the 400 years between the two. He was simply present, ever watchful and quietly waiting for the time to be right. And, then the time was right.
Jesus didn't arrive looking for well educated, fancy folk. The Wise Men had to look beyond their learning and follow the star. They were forced to step outside of their wealth and "intellect" act in faith, to find the babe in the manger. He wasn't in disguise...just unexpectedly ordinary.
In contrast to the wise men, the humble, common shepherds...the farmers of the day <3 span="">... were the ones chosen. God sent His awe evoking angels to seek them out and announce the birth of the Savior...while they were still at work. Simple. Lowly. Common people. Busy with their ordinary day and third shift assignment.
Yet, they were the ones who received the gift of the big announcement and the angel choir. They were sought out and given guidance so that they might be the first to welcome the newborn King. It was an unexpected honor they received that night. Why them?
If you have ever worked with know the challenges. Sheep are easily led, skittish, curious and timid all at the same time. Sometimes, it seems they are just dumb. Shepherds must always be watchful and prepared for any new trouble the flock might find.
Sheep are not really dumb...just easily led. A monograph out of the U of IL school of Agriculture found them to be just below pigs and on par with cattle for intelligence. They are smarter than most thought. It is their tendency to follow the leader...any leader that emerges... that leads them into trouble and makes them look stupid. (Why is my ear worm quoting "all we like sheep have gone astray" in my head?)
Shepherds have to be committed, intuitive, watchful and resourceful. They can not be lazy, negligent or weak spirited. They must be strong enough to carry a sheep...yet, gentle enough to calm their skittish flocks. They collect wisdom along the way. In that light, could our God have chosen a better audience to announce the birth of the Messiah? this and imagine (or watch it here) timid, thumb sucking, blanket carrying Linus from Peanuts speaking these words. He even drops his beloved blanket to life his hands to declare these words: "Fear not". Some speculate that Charles M. Schultz planned it that way. :…
Luke 2:8-14 "And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!
This season...I hope to develop some shepherds skills and tendencies. I want to hear the angels sing. I hope to see His star through the decorated splendor. I long to find the manger in the madness.
Today, I am grateful for lessons from the shepherds and from Linus. I am grateful we can lift our eyes and hands to heaven...and our hearts in celebration that we can "Fear not!". For unto us, a child is born.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

What is in a name?

Daily Gratitude Year 4-Day 357: Today I am grateful for the gift of a name.

We just returned home from Christmas Eve service. The devotional was on "a name".  

Names have meaning.Many come from family members, relatives or the fact that your son was born in a car (Car Son... Carson...that is a wink to my friend Darla). 

My parents grew up very "churched". They were in services regularly, played the organ and held service roles, but it was really more of a club that they took very seriously, as they did the Masons and Eastern Star. It wasn't until Rev. Francis Lovell came and challenged them to a deeper understanding and relationship with Christ that things changed in our home. I was born before they knew true salvation... before it clicked that it wasn't about a "religion" but a "relationship."  Thus, my name is most interesting me. 

When Mama was pregnant, Grandma Mabel decided my name should be Melvina... after my Uncle Melvin. Mom resisted. Aunt Mary didn't name either of my female cousins "Melvina" and Mama wasn't going to either. She rarely bucked Grandma's demands, but a name is a commitment for a lifetime. Mama thought "Christine Marie" would please her, but Great Grandma Lindgren was a Christine Palm and it was "bad luck" to name me after a dead relative.  Mom and Grandma were butting heads. I have no idea where Dad was in this story... probably hiding in the barn like any smart man whose wife and mother are at odds. 

My birth was going to happen whether they had a name or not. When all was said and done, I was christened "Valerie Christine", not Melvina. This is evidence of my Mother's quiet strength of character. Grandma could be a little intimidating.  

So... back to the name... "Valerie Christine" means "Strong follower of Christ". Now, there are many days that I feel like a complete failure in the service of my Lord, but I love that my name speaks otherwise... and He greets me each morning with new mercies and grace. Every day, I get to try again.

Tonight, we reflected on some of Jesus names. Immanuel means "God with us" and Jesus is a form of Yeshua or Joshua. It is from the Hebrew root that means "rescue or deliver". He is our rescuer and our Deliverer. He is "God with us." He came to set us free and to deliver us from our sins... that we could be reconciled with the God who breathed into us our soul breath. 

Jesus came, not to bind us to certain rules and behaviors but to set us free. The heart that wants to know him with more intimacy finds that the things of this world become less appealing as the inexplainable peace and joy of the Holy Spirit whispers "I AM with you." "Be Still". "Peace, be still." 

On this night, over 2000 years ago... a first time mother and her unprepared new husband were about to experience the miracle of birth. Not just the birth of a child... but a God-child... and they would call his name Jesus as they had been instructed to do. 

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  Matthew 1:20-21

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.-Luke 1: 30-31

God sent an angel to each of them. He did not stutter as to what they would name the baby. The child would save his people from their sins. Jesus was the perfect name for this perfect son of God and man. He came to fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament. He came to rescue those perishing in sin. He came to bring healing, hope, light, love and truth. He came gently the first time... the second coming will be different. 

HaMashiach Yeshua... Jesus the Messiah...Jesus the Christ... The Lion and the Lamb, all in one. 

This past week, a student from the past shared his art with me... phenomenal art. He drew a lion that reminds me a Aslan form CS Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Aslan is a Turkish word for Lion. If I were to add a quote to the art, it would be this... "He isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."  - The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis

God raised a star in the sky to light the way to the manger. He came as a baby. He lived with us as a servant leader and teacher... until he took our place on an old rugged Roman Cross designed for the worst criminals and societies biggest failures.  He took my place... on my cross... and yours. Once and for all, he conquered death. He isn't safe... but he is good. He is the King, I tell you. 

His name is Jesus and he came to deliver us. He purchased our ransom and returns us to relationship with the Father... if we seek his face, confess our sins and ask him to be our King. 

There is power in the name of Jesus.  

Today I am grateful for the gift of a name.