What’s in a Name, Part II

In college, I took a class called “Family Studies,” which mostly focused on identifying and resolving family conflicts through counseling.  One of our assignments was to create a family tree, but not a typical family tree that confines itself to names, important dates and marriages.  Using different colors and symbols, we had to mark on this family tree all divorces, infidelity, prejudice, abuse, illegitimate children, addictions and other “isms” (alcoholism, workaholism, etc.).

Talk about depressing.  My family tree was a colorful display of what I would call “generational sins.”  There were recurring problems, hitting generation after generation and tracing back to every branch of my broken and pitiful familial oak.  Even the innocent people like my mom, who made decisions to break the hold of these sins on our family, were impacted anyway by the actions of others, wrapped up, entangled and choked through sins by association.

Then I read the statistics in the book about these hand-me-down burdens.  The numbers were clear.  My life should have been marred by abuse, alcoholism, marital infidelity, and divorce.  My marriage doomed.  My kids hurt.

Yet, God’s grace has a way of showing up in statistical anomalies.

Have you ever surveyed your past, maybe your own sins or maybe the baggage you carry from the family’s closet skeletons?  Have you looked back and thought, “God can’t use someone like me, not with what I’ve done or where I’ve come from?”

Or, have you been breathlessly in awe of God’s blessing and asked like King David,”Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me thus far?” (2 Samuel 7:18, NIV).  That’s my whispered prayer sometimes as I thank God for a husband so faithful, kids so healthy, life filled to the brink and overflowing with God’s goodness.  “Who am I and what is my family?”

Some women are loathe to abandon their maiden names when they marry.  They hyphenate or simply decline to visit the Social Security office for a name change, wanting instead to preserve their own family heritage or identity.  That wasn’t me.  When I married, I was eager to take on a new name, to be grafted into a new heritage and allowed to flourish as a branch on a new family tree, so simple and beautiful in its unbroken state.

One of the first things I did as a newlywed was carry my marriage license and birth certificate to the Social Security office and wait in an unending line for one man in a little window to process my paperwork.  Finally, they called my number.  I hopped up and smiled as I pushed across my papers.  This balding little man glanced up at me and said, “Got married, eh?  What did you do a stupid thing like that for?”  Ignoring his jibe, I waited patiently for him to finish and then triumphantly walked away from his desk with a new name (and saying a few prayers for his wife!).

Here I sit today at my kitchen table, Bible open once again to Matthew 1 and it strikes me that Jesus’s family tree was no impressive oak, stately, strong and unharmed by conflict and sins.  Instead, like mine, his genealogy is the story of redemption poured out one generation after another.

I survey the names, their stories so familiar.

  • Tamar, who dressed up like a prostitute and tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her (Genesis 38).
  • Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2:1).
  • King David himself, adulterer and murder (2 Samuel 11) and Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, the adulteress.
  • Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, who “did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites . . . He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, arousing his anger” (2 Kings 21:2, 6).

That’s not exactly a family tree to tack up over the mantle piece with pride.  Unless . . .

Unless you’re God, who wants to remind us:

  • That He has “called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light” (2 Peter 2:9).
  • That “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.  The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV).
  • That it is a “great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1, NIV).

God does not define us by statistics or confine us because of our sins. He is forever making us new, redeeming and restoring what has been broken and destroyed.  Through our salvation we are removed from heritages of sin and brought into a new family.  Slaves no longer, we have been adopted as sons and daughters into the family of Christ.  The genealogy that Matthew ended with 42 generations connecting Abraham to the Messiah, now continues on with us.  Our names now listed in the line of Jesus, our stories now entwined in the heritage of grace.

So, we struggle against sin, taking a stand for holiness and refusing to allow shame from our past or brokenness from our family tree to impact our children and continue unhindered through the generations.  By this struggle and through His grace, we overcome and we are promised in Revelation 2:17, “To him who overcomes, to him I will give  . . . a new name” (NASB).  This time, it’s a name we don’t have to stand in line for or receive from a crabby man at the Social Security office made tired by government bureaucracy.  No, this new name will be bestowed on us by God, marking us as His own special and beloved children.


Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

What’s in a Name, Part I

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10

It’s been years since I’ve seen the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, but there’s one scene I’ll never forget.  Overweight, middle-aged, unhappy housewife Evelyn Couch finally has had enough of letting people walk all over her.  Two young and sassy women zoom their sports car into the Winn Dixie parking space for which Evelyn was so patiently waiting.  Laughing to themselves, they yell back at her, “Face it, lady, we’re younger and faster.”   At first, Evelyn looks like she’s just going to drive away and allow herself to be beaten down once again.

But, then she remembers that she didn’t want to be Evelyn anymore.  She wanted to become “Towanda.”  A new name for a new boldness about life.  Exotic and exciting, the name Towanda empowers Evelyn.  Instead of driving away and letting the girls have the parking space without a fight, Evelyn smashes into their car over and over and over again.  When they come out screaming, she says, “Face it girls, I’m older and I have more insurance.”

Now, it’s no doubt that she went a bit overboard with the “Towanda power” and for the sake of your car insurance rates, I don’t recommend enacting vengeance on any parking space thieves you encounter.  Yet, one thing is certain–there’s power in a name.

That’s why instead of glossing over Jesus’s genealogy in Matthew 1 (like I usually do), I recently took the time to read it and ponder each of the names listed there.  Essentially, the Bible is the story of God’s activity among humanity, but it is told in the individual stories of people—broken, messed up, sinning people just like you and me.  As we learn about these people, we ultimately learn about God.  Eugene Peterson wrote:

“The biblical fondness for genealogical lists is not dull obscurantism, it is an insistence on the primacy and continuity of people.  Each name is a burnished link connecting God’s promises to his fulfillments in the chain of people who are the story of God’s mercy

As I read through the list of Jesus’s earthly ancestors, there are names I readily recognize, such as Abraham, King David, and Solomon.  These are the flannel board characters that made it into the Sunday School curriculum in my churches growing up.  The famous ones with stories we’ve heard hundreds of times.

Then, there are a few names I only remember because I recently read through the books of 1 Kings, 2 Kings and the Chronicles.  Not-quite-so-famous guys, their stories are in the Bible, but they don’t typically get covered by preachers or teachers in the Biggest Hits method we often use to teach Scripture.  These are guys like Asa, Hezekiah, and Josiah.

Finally, there are the names on this family tree that I simply don’t know anything about at all.  Who are Azor, Zadok and Achim anyway?  How do these men fit into Scripture and into the heritage of Christ?  What part do they have to play in the greatest ministry of all—the bringing forth of our Savior and Messiah?  Maybe the scholars know and have written commentaries and heavy academic books about these mystery men.  But, a simple Jesus-girl like me, sitting at the kitchen table with my Bible?  No, they are empty names to me.

But, they are not empty names to God.  God values the famous platform ministries that reach thousands of people seated in arenas and the millions of people who read the Christian books on the New York Times Bestseller lists.  He blesses their service and receives glory through their efforts.  They are the well-known ones, who might have ended up on a flannel board had the Bible been written during our lifetime.

Yet, in our small churches across the country, whether urban or rural, there are people serving every day who may never achieve the worldly definition of ministry success.  Nevertheless, their every act of self-sacrifice and the pouring out of themselves for the sake of others is witnessed by God and is valued by Him.

I recently saw a well-known speaker at a women’s conference.  Her speaking and teaching that weekend blessed me and assuredly ministered grace and encouragement to the sanctuary full of women who had gathered to hear her.  During the question and answer time at the end of the weekend, someone asked her, “Do you ever meet one-on-one with women, especially to mentor them?”  With so much grace, she said no.  Between her precious family and the already pressing demands on her time, meeting one-on-one wasn’t possible.  But, she shared with them her website and her blog and newsletter and encouraged them to connect with her that way.

God calls some people to minister from afar to the masses.  Others he calls to meet face to face with family, friends, community and church members because God loves individual people with unique needs that can sometimes only be met by personal contact.  Someone needs to actually cuddle the babies in the church nursery.  No bestselling book can replace a nursing home visit.  The Christian rock bands at music festivals cannot have lunch at the high school with some teenagers who need a positive role model.

No ministry is too small to matter to God.

Hidden away in another genealogy in 1 Chronicles 9:31, we read that “a Levite named Mattithiah, the firstborn son of Shallum the Korahite, was entrusted with the responsibility for baking the offering bread” (NIV).  A one-liner in Scripture.  His chief job was baking bread to be used as an offering in the temple.  Others in this long genealogy were gatekeepers, guards, officials in the house of God, and caretakers of all the holy instruments used in worship.  But, Mattithiah was a simple baker who was “entrusted with a responsibility.”  And what he did mattered.  Without Mattithiah, the offering table would be empty of an element of worship.  His ministry, however small, was essential to his faith community.

God has entrusted all of us with gifts, talents and passions that He’s called us to use for His glory and as a blessing to others.  He has uniquely designed us for these jobs and placed at our feet opportunities to serve, whether in our own homes, our churches, or neighborhoods.  “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

And so we must “serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2) and remember that “Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance.  It is Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:23).  We might never make it onto a flannel board, but God’s definition of success isn’t how famous we were or how many people we touched.  Instead, He simply desires for us to obey and serve Him where He has placed us with the gifts and passions He has given us.


Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King