What’s in a name?

Rascal, learning his name
Rascal, learning his name

An amazing thing happened today. I was headed out of the kitchen this morning, coffee in hand, when Michael was bringing the dogs in from their morning constitutional in the backyard. The older dogs bolt in, pawing at my legs, happy to see me for the first time this morning. And little Rascal, the puppy not more than 3 months old, runs in, clumsily trying to keep up. Michael calls him to follow, “Rascal, come on, this way.” The pup, wandering around the living room, still dealing with his youthful attention deficit, looks up from the latest object of curiosity, and tears after Michael as fast as his little legs will carry him.

It was that look, that lifting of the head when he heard his name, that struck me as so amazing. You could almost see the mental processes in action. Those two syllables, that unique combination of sounds, slowly absorb into his brain: “That’s me, this is who I am”. And little by little – over a surprisingly short period of time – he completely identifies with that word. “I am Rascal.” Now, whenever Michael or I call out that name, his ears perk up, he turns his head, and most of the time he comes to us; he runs to the sound of his name. The whole process of forming his identity is founded on this one basic recognition of his name, that that is who he is. And from this point on, for the rest of his life, his actions, his future behavior and the expectations he’ll conform to, will be influenced and directed by that label.

Are we any different? From the time we are children, we hear words, names, describing us. And like Rascal, over a period of time (not so long), we begin to identify with them: that is who we are. Depending on what those words were and who spoke them, our lives begin to be directed, our paths become set.

What would our lives be like if we were called what God calls us, if our identities were wrapped around his view of us? What could our lives be like if we started calling ourselves by those names?  — Son or Daughter of the Most High God.  Royal Priest.  Holy One.  Apple of God’s Eye.  Beloved of the Master of the Universe.  Joint-Heir with Christ Jesus.  Blessed One.  Successful.  Excellent of Spirit.  Good Worker.  Trustworthy.  Compassionate One.  Walking Love.  Peace Under Any Circumstance.  Grace Under Fire.  Stress-Free.  Channel of God’s Power.  Righteous.  Blood-Bought.  Future Promise.  Light of the World.  Salt in the Workplace.  Acceptable in God’s Sight.  Good Neighbor.  Healer.  Speaker of Kind Words.  Faithful Steward.  Encourager.  Delight of the Poor.  Relationship Builder.  Loyal Friend.  Joyful.  Confident in the Lord.  Forgiver.  Reconciler.  …  You fill in the rest.

If we’re to change our world and live an extraordinary life, we need to dump the old names, the old descriptions, and to stop answering to them. Like a puppy absorbing his identity, we need to retrain ourselves to conform to a new image, new names. And no matter what situation we are in at any given moment, we need to see ourselves as God sees us. We need to perk up our ears, lift our heads, and run to that new name. “Hey, that’s me.”

Just something to consider …

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Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. (Gen 2:19)

Sometimes Dogs get Distracted

I got irritated with my dog Zack this morning.  The morning was cool and breezy, and I was enjoying the quiet with my coffee outside on the patio.  Zack, being the loyal companion that he is, was out there with me, sometimes prowling the yard, chasing the squirrels off our fence, sometimes sitting next to me, ears up, muscles preening, so proud and regal.  The rest of the household was still asleep.  It was such a tranquil setting, just me and my dog, and my random thoughts and half-prayers.

You have to enjoy those moments when they come because situations never remain the same, and Michael and the other dogs began their morning routine.  Zack’s been guarding a tree, trying to scare a squirrel out of it, and I call him over to lavish a few more moments of affection on him before the day gets into full swing.  But hearing the stirring inside the house, knowing that the other dogs were about to get their morning doggie biscuits, Zack ignores me, dives through the doggie door and runs to the kitchen to make sure he doesn’t miss out on anything.  Normally so obedient, he didn’t listen to my command this time.  He was too distracted by his primal competitiveness over food, too driven by instinctive urges to satisfy his appetites.

It’s not like he was starving or anything. I’d already given him two biscuits not even an hour earlier — one more than he normally gets.  And didn’t he know by now (especially after I’d already been so indulgent with him), that I’d probably give him another snack anyway when we went back in?  But the thought of the other two dogs getting something he wasn’t, and that natural drive to have more, overrode his normal willingness to obey and his desire to be with me.

So I am left alone with my coffee.  Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect such restraint from Zack.  He is, afterall, a dog.  A few minutes later, after he’d sufficiently satisfied his impulsive urge, he comes back out and climbs hesitantly into my lap.  Not quite as confident, not as boldly, but still fairly sure of my receptivity.  And I hold him, petting him reassuringly.  I’m not annoyed any more; I understand.  I still love him as much as before he ran off.

Of course, this is exactly how we behave with God.  Sometimes we are so eager to spend time with him, so hungry for his presence.  And we tell him so.  But then some shiney object, some appetitite, some envy or sense of competition diverts our attention.  And suddenly we’re off, running to pursue it, completely forgetting (at least for that moment) that he was sitting there with us, enjoying our company.  And in our distraction, thoughtless of all the good things he’s already lavished on us.  Had we stayed focused a bit longer, we might have realized there was no need to chase after that latest impulse: he is planning to give us all the good things we need shortly.  Sometimes our attention span can be just as limited as a dog’s.

But God always welcomes us back, always desires for us to crawl back into his lap.  And even though our tails may be between our legs, and we hang our heads a bit, realizing we’d abandoned him so abruptly, he speaks reassuring words to us without any rebuke.   “I’m just glad you’re back.”  And there’s bound to be a treat waiting for us shortly anyway.

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The Lord said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted about so many things, but only one thing is necessary … ” (Luke 10:41-42)
Read Luke 10:38-42: Martha’s distraction

Walking on Water

I’ve had this little movie playing in my head this past week, that scene in the bible where Jesus walks across the Sea of Galilee, and Peter recklessly stepping out of the boat to walk to him. We all remember the story from Sunday School, I’m sure. After a long day of ministry, Jesus sends his disciples across the lake in a boat while he remains alone to pray. Late at night, seeing them caught in a storm, he walks out on the water to meet them. They’re all terrified at first, but then Peter wants to try water-walking too. (Matthew 14:22-33)

This scene fascinates me because it is saturated with spiritual truth, and so poignantly illustrates our often-times tenuous walk of faith. It’s a great visual reminder for me when I’ve lost my excitement about life and my optimism over where my life is headed. At a quick glance, the story suggests three points, three requirements, for walking in the realm of the extraordinary.

The first thing that strikes me is Peter’s audacity. The other disciples are still trembling in the boat, still recovering from their terror at the sight of what they think to be a ghost approaching them. And I’m sure they’re completely exhausted from their long day and straining at the oars in those rough waters. Peter alone overcomes his initial panic and exhaustion, and has the chutzpah to demand to do the miraculous, to be allowed to walk on the water also. “Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Many of us with our religious upbringing might cringe at such presumption: demand anything of Jesus? Wouldn’t we expect a rebuke for our lack of humility: “Hey, you are not me, just because I do this doesn’t mean you should”? Or, “settle down, just be quiet, stop trying to show off”? It is significant I think, and says much about the heart of Jesus, that he not only does not rebuke Peter, he actually encourages him. This is the first requirement. If we want the extraordinary in our lives, we have to have a shameless desire for it.

And Jesus calls Peter out: “Come.” This is the second requirement: getting God’s go-ahead, making sure we have the divine commission. Peter didn’t just jump out onto the water on his own, although that certainly would be consistent with his personality. He asked for Jesus to command him. At least he knew enough by then to wait until being given permission, and with that permission came the authority and ability. This is what separates presumption from confidence, and is the key to our success versus our humiliating failure. The divine command, the certainty that God wants it for us also.

Although we know that Peter does climb out of the boat, something we often overlook is the courage — even recklessness — it took to obey. And that’s requirement number three. Peter follows through. He climbs out of the boat and takes that first shakey step, putting his foot on churning water as though it were solid. And amazingly, it is! That took a lot of guts. And I’m sure the other disciples were just as surprised to see him succeed.

Unfortunately, most of us never get to that point in our own journies. We seldom experience that exhiliration and sheer amazement at doing something utterly unimaginable. Many of us will be like the other disciples, too tired, too worn out, or too intimidated by our circumstances to even dream of doing anything other than remaining in the safety of the boat. But Lord, give us the character of Peter! Give us the wild, unrealistic audacity to want to do impossible things.

Great achievement for the Kingdom requires bold dreams, the confidence of God’s will, and reckless obedience. And for me, this is the powerful message of this passage.

If you want to walk on water, you must first get out of the boat. And before that can happen, you have to have the chutzpah to ask.

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“The LORD appeared to Solomon and said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you'” (1 Kings 3:5).
“Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance …” (Psalm 2:8)
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7).Read Matthew 14:22-33