Monday, November 11, 2013

A Rose by Any Other Name

"A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches
and favor is better than silver or gold."
Proverbs 22:1
About ten years ago I wrote a Bible Study on the book of Daniel for the youth in our church. I loved the book so thought I would work through Beth Moore's Bible Study, Daniel: Lives of Integrity, Words of Prophecy. I had forgotten how meaningful, powerful, and how relevant it is. In the first chapter of Daniel we meet four young men who were probably taken captive by Babylon at the age of fifteen. The king of Babylon had requested that the young men who were taken captive be men who didn't have any physical defects and be men who were handsome. The king also requested they have an aptitude for every kind of learning, be well informed, and able to quickly learn so they could learn the language of Babylon and be qualified to serve in the king's palace within three years. What these young men must have experienced, must be similar to what Amish young people who leave their homes and culture for a period of time and go out into the world so they can choose for themselves if they want to continue in the traditions and faith of their parents. But the big difference is that Daniel and his friends didn't have the opportunity to return to their home land. They were educated in the literatures of the land and the pagan religions.
Each of the men that had been taken had been given names by their parents that reflected Jehovah God. Daniel's name meant "God is my judge." Hananiah means "God has been gracious." Mishael means "Who is what God is?" and Azariah means "God has helped." I can so relate to this because when I was having my children, I lived in the South. Our pastor taught verse by verse, explaining the meanings of Greek words and names to us. My husband and I chose names for our children either from the Bible based on their meaning or named them after people who had Godly qualities that we admired and desired our children to have. We took the responsibility of naming our children seriously just as the parents of these four young Jewish men must have. Their names reflected the faith and hope of their parents. Everywhere the young men went they would have reminders that the God who had created them was the only rightful judge, was gracious, was a helper, and was greater than all of His creation. Some truths these young men would need to hold on to when they were taken to Babylon, a land filled with temples used for pagan worship. To the Jewish people, names indicated their identity with their God.
The educational process was designed to acclimate the captives to their new land, new culture, new laws, and new religions so that they would serve long term in the new land. The Babylonians had no intention of sending them home and they wanted them to view Babylon as home, not Israel. They had no intention of letting the four young men bear witness of their God and changed their names to reflect the pagan gods of Babylon. Daniel was renamed Belteshazza, which means "Bel will protect." Hananiah was named Shadrach, which means "inspired of Aku." Mishael was given the name Meshach, which means "belonging to Aku." Azaraia was given the name Abednego, which means "servant of Nego." I can't help but wondering if the reason God protected and revealed His power through these four young men was to show Babylon that no one can change the identity of those who truly belong to Him.
As I read the Scriptures, I often ask God to show me the relevance of what I am reading to my life. So, when I noticed I was getting very angry that these young men were given different names I had paused to think on it for a couple of days before I could identify why I had such an emotional response to the renaming of these young men. There were several reasons I could identify. First, I imagined those parents choosing their names as carefully as my husband and I, and it seemed like the Babylonian leaders were arrogantly saying it didn't matter about the dreams of the parents or the plans that God had for these young men. Had my sons been captured when they went to war, I think it would have crushed my heart to find out that they had been given new names in an attempt to give them a new identity.

Second, my anger came from the permanence indicated by changing their identity and that part of me that wants life to be fair was triggered. I wanted the young men to get to go home.

Third, it reminded me of some of the most beautiful women I know who were given horrible names either verbally or through abusive actions or abusive inactions.
With the help of some of the support group leaders in the Passionate Heart Ministry, I put together a list of names or identities that we have either struggled in the past with or that we have observed with in our groups. The names are not pretty and to be honest they are hard to read. However, I will share them here to make a point. The names include" Ugly, Fat, Bad, Stupid, Attention-Seeker, Emotional-Wreck, Crazy, Unstable, Too-Much, Invisible, Lonely, Untrustworthy, Incapable, Embarrassing, Too-talkative, Liar, Stupid, Broken, Diseased, Crazy, Disgusting, Lazy, Prostitute, Satan's Daughter, Manipulator, Pedophile, Evil, Worthless, Unlovable, Too-Much, Not-Enough, Unseen, Unheard, Weird, Different, Out-of-Place, Alone, Unsuccessful, Difficult, Smart Ass, Little Brat, Hell-Raiser, Whore, Voiceless, Insignificant, Unplanned, Interruption, You-can't, Too-Needy, and Trouble.

As you read this, your gut reaction to it, might be to judge these women as losers or unhealthy people. But these women are all beautiful women, many of whom have been raised in the church or are attending church now and who are very capable women. To glance at them on a given Sunday morning, you would never know that those are words that they have been called or that they have come to believe about themselves because of the actions (bullying or verbal, physical, emotional, spiritual or sexual abuse) or inactions (a lack of care, lack of protection, or lack of nurturing). It hit me the other day that just as the names of Daniel and his three friends were changed to names by an enemy in an effort to change their identity, the Enemy has tried to change the names of the daughters of the King of kings to keep them from bearing their Abba's image. It takes great courage for us to face the fact that we have assumed a false identity of lies and have forgotten to replace it with the truth of who God says we are.

With the help of the same leaders the names or truths that God says about us are: Beloved, Accepted, Chosen, Beautiful, Loved, Treasure, Cherished, Worthy, Good, Graceful, Affirmed, Accounted-for, Adequate, Always-Enough, Captivating, Loved, Sought-after, Peaceful, Whole, Pure, Blameless, Equipped, Called, Strong, Planned, Image-bearer, Restored, Redeemed, Saved, Forgiven, Friend-of-God, Whole, His-Child, Blessed, Capable, Intelligent, Unique, Covered-by-Grace, and Sound-minded. Now this list is one that excites me! There is no pride in it, because we are those things because we are in Him. Each of us has to make choices, just like the Daniel and friends did, to live up to the original identity established for us by the Creator!

So how do we do this, when we have either been hammered with lies or have hammered ourselves with lies because of what we experienced. I think the answer lies in one word found in Daniel 1:8. The verse says that Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine. I can't help but think that Daniel's resolve went way beyond resisting the place food. I believe that this decision was one of many made on a daily basis to honor the one true God and to live up to the original name bestowed on him that served as a reminder of Jehovah.                                   
We can take several lessons away from this story about names. What kinds of names are we calling our children, spouses, or friends when we are angry, tired, or impatient?. What messages are we giving them by our action or our inactions? Are we doing all that we can to counter the culture and its messages or the bullies that call our children, spouses, or friends all sorts of horrible names? Finally, are we as adult men and women resolving daily to living out the truth of who God says we are or are we defaulting to lies the Enemy has told us. If Daniel and his friends had believed the names that the worldly Babylonians had given them and spoke over them on a daily basis, instead of the ones their parents had given them, they wouldn't have had the opportunity to survive in a lion's den or in a fiery furnace. If they had believed the false names, their witness would have been silenced.

Oh, the same Enemy is still active. He brings to memory the ugly names we heard in the past. He brings people into our lives who will reinforce them on a daily basis. He whispers them in our own ears daily, hoping that we will take over the job of abusing ourselves with those ugly lies. We have got to understand if we don't resolve to believe what God says about us, and resolve to take the ugly thoughts captive, we won't live up to the names God ascribes to us and our testimony will be silenced and God's image in us will be masked by the lies, and we will live as captives even though God has set us free. We all need safe people in our lives who understand the battle between the Truth and the lies of the Enemy. We all need to be and to have people in our lives who will remind us of the names that God ascribes to us, His people. For it is only in the believing of the Truth that we can truly be the people we were created to be. For it is only in choosing to believe the Truth that we can resolve to act, react, speak, and restrain from speaking out of who we want to be rather than who the Enemy has defined us to be. So, if you were asked what kinds of words you use to describe yourself, what would the be? Would they be the Enemies words or the Lord's? I hope it is the Lord's!

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!