NAMES 

Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he looked the sorcerer in the eye. … Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. [Acts 13:9,13 (NLT)]

great blue heronIt’s a common misconception that Saul became known as Paul when Jesus transformed the Christian hater into a Christ follower on the road to Damascus. Saul, however, was always named Paul. As a Roman citizen, he would have had a three part Roman name. While we don’t know the first two parts, the third (the cognomen) and commonly used name was Paullus (which becomes Paul in English). As devout Jews, however, his parents also would have given him a Hebrew name. They named him Saul, a good name for a boy from the tribe of Benjamin (King Saul’s tribe). Understandably, when among Jews, Saul would have used his Hebrew name and Luke, the writer of Acts, refers to him as Saul until Acts 13, about fifteen years after his conversion. Saul (and Luke) started using his Roman/Gentile name of Paul around the time he moved further into the Roman Empire on his first missionary journey. As he moved into Gentile territory, Paul’s Roman name was more appropriate. The Apostle was not alone in having both a Roman and Hebrew name. One of the candidates to replace Judas had two Jewish names, Joseph and Barsabbas, along with the Roman one of Justus.

Although Paul’s name was given to him by his parents, sometimes a new name was forced upon someone. When Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of the land, he gave his new second-in-command an Egyptian wife and the Egyptian name of Zaphenath-paneah. In honor of Babylonian gods, King Nebuchadnezzar gave Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah the names of Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Sometimes, it was circumstances that changed a person’s name. When the widowed Naomi returned to Bethlehem, the grief-stricken woman called herself called Mara, meaning “bitter.” After destroying the altar of Baal and cutting down the Asherah pole next to it, Gideon became known as Jerub-baal, which meant “Let Baal defend himself.”

In some cases, it was God who did the name changing. These name changes often described someone’s character or calling. In Genesis, Abram (“exalted father”) became Abraham (“father of a multitude”) and Jacob, the “heel-catcher” or “deceiver,” became Israel, “God’s fighter.”  Jesus changed Simon’s name (meaning “he has heard”) to Cephas, the Aramaic word for “rock.” Since the New Testament was written in Greek, we know Cephas by the name of Peter, also meaning “rock.” Although Peter wasn’t rock solid during Jesus’s life, following the resurrection, he fulfilled the promise of his name by becoming the rock upon which the new church was built.

In actuality, most of us go by more than one name. My personal favorite is the one my grands use for me: “Nonnie.” Some people say they don’t care what they’re called, as long as they’re called for dinner. As for me, I don’t care what you call me as long as God has my name written in His Book of Life!

All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. … And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. [Revelation 3:5,20:15 (NLT)]

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PUTTING IT IN PERSPECTIVE

I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. [John 16:20-21 (NLT)]

baby boyOn the night He was betrayed, Jesus forewarned the disciples of the grief and fear they’d encounter in the days ahead. In his short parable about labor and delivery, Jesus prepared the remaining eleven disciples for the emotions they would encounter over the next three days: their anguish and despair as He hung upon the cross, died, and was buried. For His followers, those three days would feel like an eternity of hopelessness. But, as happens when a woman beholds her newborn baby after hours of painful labor, their despair would turn to joy when they saw the resurrected Christ!

At the time, no one could have convinced me that I would forget the pain of my long labor and medication-free delivery but, when I held my first-born, I did. All women do (or every baby would be an only child)! Those first six months of sleepless nights spent comforting that colicky boy seemed endless; I didn’t know how I’d endure them but I did. Yesterday, he celebrated his 50th birthday and the 24-hours he spent making his way into this world make up only 1/18,251th of his life and just 1/26,406th of mine! Even the six exhausting months he spent crying in my arms every night are only 1% of his life and less than .7% of mine! While putting my labor and sleepless nights into perspective, I realized my fractions are wrong because I can’t determine the true length of my life; rather than ending here on earth, it will continue forever in God’s heavenly Kingdom.

Jesus’s parable applies to more than those three days the disciples hid in a room following his crucifixion. It applies to the suffering and pain endured by all of His children (which often lasts far longer than 24 hours, 3 days, or even six months). Anguish of any kind seems interminable and unbearable but, when put in perspective, it is but a blip on our eternal lifeline. For now, we live in a world of tears, weariness, frustration, anxiety, confusion, disappointment, loss, fear, and affliction but, on the other side of this earthly life, there is a place without pain, sorrow, grief or tragedy! Although it’s of little comfort to those hurting, our present suffering must be viewed in the light of eternity. As heavy as the weight of our present pain may be, when put on a scale and weighed against the eternal joys of heaven, it is no more than a feather. That doesn’t mean anyone’s pain is small; it simply means that eternity is absolutely enormous! Let us remember—all that’s wrong in this fallen world is temporary and will be forgotten when we joyfully behold His face in eternity!

The best we can hope for in this life is a knothole peek at the shining realities ahead. Yet a glimpse is enough. It’s enough to convince our hearts that whatever sufferings and sorrows currently assail us aren’t worthy of comparison to that which waits over the horizon. [Joni Eareckson Tada]

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. [1 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NLT)]

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NEITHER OBSESS NOR IGNORE

Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you. For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape. [1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 (NLT)]

Martin Luther once compared human nature to a drunkard who, after falling off the left side of his horse, resolves not to make same mistake again. He remounts and then, overreacting, leans to the right side of his saddle only to fall off again. His point is that just because one side is wrong, the opposite extreme isn’t necessarily correct!

In Jesus’s time, the strict adherence of the Pharisees to the law was an overreaction to Judah’s exile and captivity in Babylon. Knowing that Jerusalem’s destruction and their deportation was God’s punishment for the neglect of His law, no one wanted to endure God’s wrath again. Hoping to safeguard the Torah, the Pharisees went to the opposite extreme by augmenting it with oral explanations and traditions in an effort to guard against any possible breach of law. Shifting from ignoring the law to obsessing over it, they went from disregarding both the Lord and His law to loving the law instead of the Lord.

Sometimes Christians go to extremes. Although both Biblical prophecy and Jesus’s own words tells us that He will return at an undisclosed time in the future, some churches and theologians are obsessed with the End Times and Christ’s Second Coming. They point to every earthquake, political upheaval, famine, natural disaster, or plague as signs of the Apocalypse and often seem more interested in looking for apocalyptic signs than looking to Jesus’s teachings. There even is a “Rapture Index” (a sort of Dow Jones average of End Times activity). As of mid September, the score was 184; according to the site, any score over 160 means “Fasten Your Seatbelts” because the end of the world is at hand.

Since the 1st Century, there have been various end-of-the-world prophecies based on everything from the dimensions of Noah’s ark, the millennium, planetary alignments, mathematical calculations, and secret numerical codes. With an error rate of 100%, those predictions haven’t been rooted in Biblical theology; nevertheless, many have come from Christians and are an embarrassment to the Church.

As a result, many churches and theologians have fallen off the other side of the horse by completely ignoring the issue of the End Times and Christ’s return. Some openly scoff at the prophetic words while others quietly ignore them. Let’s not forget that Christian doctrine is grounded in Scripture and it tells us that Jesus will return. The Athanasius, Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds (the summaries of our Christian beliefs) clearly state that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. Nevertheless, afraid of sounding like quacks or fanatics, many churches and pastors choose to ignore the Second Coming entirely.

End time prophecy is confusing but not completely understanding something, comprehending how it will happen, or knowing when it will occur doesn’t mean that it won’t take place. Although Jesus said He would return, He also made it clear that we are not to know the date. Whether or not we choose to believe or consider it; at an undisclosed and unknown time in the future, He will return. Rather than obsess or ignore, it’s time to get back in the saddle, sit squarely, and find the proper Biblical balance.

Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven. … However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows. [Mark 13:26-27,32 (NLT)]

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THE POTTERY SHOP

“Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.” So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over. Then the Lord gave me this message: “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” [Jeremiah 18:2-6 (NLT)]

hibiscusIn January, there will be an Empty Bowls event in our town. Attendees will purchase a bowl and then fill it with soup and bread donated by local restaurants. The money raised will help feed the more than 36,000 food insecure people in our county. To make that event possible, 4,500 one-of-a-kind bowls are made by local potters. Then, with the help of local volunteers, the bowls are painted and fired. Recently, several of us from church gathered to decorate some of those bowls. While we painted, I thought about the potters who made our bowls—how they formed and reformed their creations until they were just right. Varying in shape and size, no two bowls were exactly the same and, by the time they are painted, each will have a personality of its own. When their purchasers are done eating soup from them, they will be put to different uses. The ones embellished with paw prints or bones probably will be used by pets, and the others may be used for popcorn, nuts, cereal, loose change, or even soup!

In words found in Jeremiah and Isaiah, we see God portrayed as the potter and mankind as His clay (rather fitting since Adam was made from dust on the ground and clay comes from the ground). Picture God forming us in His heavenly pottery shop. As with the bowls we painted, each of His creations would be carefully crafted and one-of-a-kind. While our bowls were made of the same kind of clay, God would choose the best type of clay for each one of us. For those who will be severely tested in life, He would chose a clay that withstands high heat but, for those who will have to be especially adaptable, He would chose a clay that is more easily worked.

Once He’d selected the type of clay, God would knead and shape us. While the bowls we painted were all thrown on a potter’s wheel, God might choose to pinch us into shape, or roll long threads of clay and layer them. For one person, He’d combine flat slabs of clay but, for another, He might select a unique mold or use His wheel. No matter the technique chosen, God would continue shaping and re-shaping us until we were formed the way He wanted us. If we got lopsided, He’d prop us up and, if we tore, He’d put us back together. Because clay is malleable and capable of change, God can continue to fine-tune His creations. We might not enjoy all of that pinching, squeezing, molding and scraping, but it is for our own good.

The parallel ends here because the bowls we painted, having been dried and fired, couldn’t be reshaped. God, however, is never done working on us and we continue to be a work in progress until our dying day. Nevertheless, I picture Him with a paintbrush, making each of us beautiful in our own unique way. Moreover, just as the bowls we painted couldn’t complain that, rather than being painted with flowers they wanted polka dots or preferred candy apple red to sour apple green, we really have no voice in how our potter formed and embellished us. God is sovereign over his people; the creation doesn’t get to argue with the Creator!

How foolish can you be? He is the Potter, and he is certainly greater than you, the clay! Should the created thing say of the one who made it, “He didn’t make me”? Does a jar ever say, “The potter who made me is stupid”? [Isaiah 29: 16 (NLT)]

And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand. [Isaiah 64:8 (NLT)]

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JUST LIKE US

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing people what is wrong in their lives, for correcting faults, and for teaching how to live right. [2 Timothy 3:16 (NCV)]

St. Matthew - Cathedral of St. Francis - Santa FeWhen I was a child in Sunday school, we’d color pictures of David, Daniel, Samson, and King Solomon and sing songs about Zacchaeus, Noah, Joshua, and the trio with the fun names: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. As I learned their stories, they all seemed to be the Biblical version of super-heroes like Batman or Superman. Larger than life, invincible, almost indestructible, they seemed to overcome their obstacles effortlessly. Appearing perfect in their faith and actions, they weren’t people to whom I could relate. In reality, however, they were real people facing real challenges who sometimes made mistakes or struggled with their faith.

David may have killed Goliath, but he was an adulterer and murderer whose son died because of his sins. Rather than the strapping youth we picture, Daniel was an old man when thrown into the lions’ den. Samson was an impulsive braggart with incredibly bad taste in women. The wise Solomon disobeyed his father, erred in his choice of wives and over-worked and over-taxed his people. Zacchaeus was a corrupt collaborator and even the righteous Noah had a drinking problem. When singing about Jericho’s walls tumbling down, it’s easy to forget the faith it took for Joshua to obey God’s illogical plan of marching around Jericho with the Ark for seven days. That brave threesome were captives in a foreign land and defying an egotistic king; in spite of their words of faith, they had to have been shaking in their sandals as they faced that fiery furnace.

A real woman, the barren Hannah struggled with her sense of worth. Because of sibling rivalry, Jacob stole his brother’s birthright and blessing and Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Timothy’s youth made him timid and insecure, the publican Matthew probably had been a cheat and, to save his own skin, cowardly Abraham gave his wife to another man not once but twice! A weak leader, Aaron yielded to the people’s desire to make an idol of gold and Moses let his anger get the best of him. The great prophet Elijah prayed for death in the depth of despair and Paul persecuted Christians!

When we look at the heroes and heroines of the Bible with the eyes of an adult, we see real people who struggled with challenges, pain, and even their faith. In the midst of their difficulties, however, they met God and, through His power, accomplished incredible things. If God could use these flawed people to accomplish such great things, think of what He can do with you and me!

I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. …
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too. [Lesbia Scott]

Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us. The Scriptures give us patience and encouragement so that we can have hope. [Romans 15:4 (NCV)]

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ONE BOX AT A TIME

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. [Matthew 6:34 (NLT)]

Steamboat SkiA few years ago, while skiing, I got lost during a snowstorm and ended up on a double-black diamond run. In knee-deep powder, I faced a narrow steep trail that was covered with ferocious-looking moguls. Looking down at the daunting terrain, tears filled my eyes. Picturing all that could go wrong, I wanted to quit but, unless I planned on staying there until the spring thaw, I had no option. If I wanted to get to the base, I had to get down that run and so I prayed for guidance. Words spoken by a ski instructor came to mind: “You can get down anything if you take it one turn at a time.” While I couldn’t picture doing the whole run, I could picture making just one turn and so I made that turn. Then I made another and another and got down that intimidating slope simply by taking one turn at a time.

I thought about taking life one turn at a time as I looked at the pile of boxes in our garage. How will we fit them all into the pod and cars, let alone unpack them at the other end? Even though I know the answer, the task is daunting. Nevertheless, I know it can be done—one prayer and one box at a time!

Sometimes, looking at the big picture is overwhelming and we end up conceding defeat without even trying. For example, we have friends who desperately want to down-size but, apprehensive about the enormity of the task, still remain in the house they want to leave! When they wonder how to get rid of all their furniture, shred years of old files, clean out every cupboard, pack up and move, my answer is to do it one chair, one stack of paper, one shelf, one trash bag, and one box at a time.

It’s not just moving that can seem overwhelming. “How will I ever get through the terrible twos?” cries the frustrated mother; she does it one temper tantrum at a time. “How will I ever get the Bible read?” asks the new Christian; he does it one page at a time. “How will I get through several months of chemo-therapy?” asks the patient; it’s done one session at a time. How do we climb to the top of a mountain, get through a lifetime of sobriety, face the loss of a spouse, or endure chronic pain? We do it one step, one day or even one hour at a time. As insurmountable as any challenge may seem, it is merely a succession of small manageable bits and pieces. How do we do it? We do it one prayer at a time.

As He did with manna for the Israelites, God will give us what we need for the moment and that’s all we really need. We don’t have to become anxious about finishing when what we need to do is just get started and, once started, move forward, a step at a time. We aren’t alone; He’s right there with us and, when we tire, we can rest in God’s presence until He strengthens and restores us enough to continue. Our progress may not be fast or graceful and there may be a few stumbles or setbacks along the way. Nevertheless, with faith in every step, it will get accomplished, whether it’s one turn or one box at a time.

If you’re running a 26-mile marathon, remember that every mile is run one step at a time. If you are writing a book, do it one page at a time. If you’re trying to master a new language, try it one word at a time. There are 365 days in the average year. Divide any project by 365 and you’ll find that no job is all that intimidating. [Charles R. Swindoll]

God is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t worry. [Deuteronomy 31:8 (MSG)]

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