What’s in a Name?

A name can either give us hope or leave us feeling hopeless.

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I was the last one into the classroom that day, strolling into Mr. Sonato’s fifth grade English class, head down, and determined that everyone should know that I felt as bad as I looked. As I walked by the teacher’s desk, making my way to that desk/chair combo with yesterday’s gum stuck underneath, I remember him saying, “Chin up Tom; it’s going to be a great day!” I also remember thinking about how very wrong he was. In my mind, I had nothing to be thankful for, no one to be grateful to, and no reason to smile; I was unloved-or, so I felt.

At school the day before, I had some interactions with my classmates at lunch that excited me with potential. The conversation started with me lamenting about my home life, specifically that my Mom remarried, and while my Step-Dad Rob gave her his last name, he left me feeling like a third wheel. While my last name used to be a source of pride, it became a constant reminder that I was unwanted, hence unloved. But, there in the lunchroom that day, my friends told me that Rob could adopt me and then I would have his last name as well. On the way home, I considered that either Rob didn’t know about this “adoption” thing, or he felt that I didn’t want his last name, so the excitement built as I walked up to our driveway, knowing that soon I would trade those excuses in for a new name!

Listening to my new Sha Na Na album while waiting for my Step-Dad to get home from work, I rehearsed my lines like a nervous actor auditioning for the role of their life. Over and over again, I went over that future conversation until I heard that back door open, and Rob walk down the hall to his office. There I stood, in the doorway of his home office, stomach in knots, mind racing, palms sweating, and without any introduction, I just blurted it all out. Something like, “Dad, you and Mom have the same last name. I have been thinking a lot about this, and I want you to adopt me so that I can have the same last name too. Can I have your last name?”. Bent over his suitcase, opened on the guest bed, he didn’t even look up; he just replied, “No. I don’t think that would be a good idea.” We went back and forth, me begging for his name and explaining what it would mean to me, and him refusing to budge with the conversation ending with his triumphant and stern, “I said no.” 

There was a group about 2,000 years ago also excited about a name; in fact, they stood at the edge of their city ready with shouts of acclamation as Jesus Christ entered through the gate. They shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38, ESV-emphasis mine). And, there were those in the crowd that asked the Father to rebuke them, to which Jesus replied, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40, ESV). Jesus was saying those folks had every reason to be excited about a name, especially considering what that name could do! Later, some of these very people would even take on that name, in pride, proclaiming themselves Christians. And, God Himself cemented their desires by adopting them as His children (Ephesians 1:5).

I did end up being adopted and receiving a new name; it was just from a different Father. In the book of Revelation, God says that He will give His children “a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” (Rev. 2:17, ESV). This new name means that I no longer have to feel unwanted, unloved or awkward as not fitting in or belonging. That is why I wear this new name as a badge of love, a token of acceptance, a trophy of grace, and a display of what the power of love can do.

Scripture:  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” Rev. 2:17 (NIV)

Question: Have you ever felt unloved, unwanted, or out of place? 

Prayer: Father, this world has a way of making me feel unworthy, and I certainly feel out of place, like I don’t belong. Please remind me today that you went through so much that I could have a home, know I am loved, and never feel unwanted again. Thank you for my new heart and my new name. May I be most focused on your Name and all that you have done for me. I love you, and thank you for loving me. In the Name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen.

Eyes of Love

Very rarely does love reach down, grab you, and shake you to the core.

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Very rarely does love reach down, grab you, and shake you to the core. When those moments come, we must be willing to recognize and embrace them. Else we risk standing on the other side of love carrying bags of regret wondering, “what if.” 

Growing up, I had heard of the love that God had for us all; that He sent His Only Son to die and rise for us.  I’d driven by the church buildings constructed to celebrate that love and changed the channels when television evangelists asked for more money to spread that love. But I had never had that life-changing, earth-shattering love from heaven overwhelm me like others. The truth is that I had too many excuses for God’s love to take the next exit; as if my life were that dilapidated town unworthy of a tourist visit or even a pitstop. Those excuses quickly turned into the stones I used to construct a wall that would hinder anyone from ever getting close enough to love me.

Apparently, I had left some cracks in that wall because someone snuck in, unannounced, unplanned for, and unexpected, yet there she stood, my heart in her hand, and there it remains almost thirty years later. It was this same girl that introduced me to God and His love.

Now let me do something that should not be done in writing, breaking chronological order. But we will be back; let’s just take a step away to another story before we wrap things up.

There stood Laurie and me in a pet store in Massachusetts, we were about to start our lives together, and I felt it necessary to buy a dog. Laurie on the other hand thought it a bad idea and had so many reasons or excuses why dog ownership shouldn’t happen. The apartment we were in did not permit pets, we were in the military and they could station us somewhere that may not allow animals, we couldn’t afford anything with four legs and breathing, and the list of excuses went on and on. Sure, they were valid and reasonable, yet I was determined. So, while Laurie was on the other side of the store, I quietly asked the manager to let me hold the little Yorkshire Terrier that Laurie had been eyeing. Dog in hand, I walked up behind Laurie, tapped her on the shoulder, and when she turned around, I placed that dog in her arms. As soon as she looked into that dogs’ eyes, Laurie let out a sigh, and an hour later, we went home with Adidas and a monthly dog payment! What happened to all of the excuses? They went away when Laurie looked into the eyes of love.

That pet store experience is the best way to describe what happened to me and my relationship with God. I had excuses, and they were valid and reasonable; I was damaged goods, unwanted, unworthy, rebellious; an angry young man that was unlovable. And there I sat in my unlovable misery in the back row of a church one Sunday, just to satisfy Laurie, waiting for the final “amen” so I could slip out and get back home. And then it happened. I don’t remember the sermon or song selection; I just remember the preacher presenting Christ in such a way that all I could do is look into the eyes of love. Every excuse went out the window when I considered how much Jesus Christ loved me.

Friend, perhaps you can relate to this story in that you have never allowed the love of God to overtake you because your past flaws have overwhelmed you. Maybe you have listened to the voices around you so long that you have believed yourself to be unlovable. Or, perhaps you have allowed the love of God into your life, but you struggle with believing that He forgives you, cares about you, or still wants to be with you. Why not take some time tonight to look into the Eyes of Love.

Scripture: “Jesus looked at him and loved him” -Mark 10:21 NIV

Question: Have you cleared a path for love to enter your life, or have you constructed a wall designed to keep it out?

Prayer: Father, please help me remember that your eyes of love never lose focus, that you long for me to gaze into your eyes of love and surrender. Help me understand that your love does not come with strings, nor do you love a future better version of me; you just love. May I open the door to that love into my life and allow it to disrupt and change everything. Thank you for loving me, and thank you for having patience with me. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen.

The Difference Between Doing Good and Being Good

You can never be good enough, but you can be enough

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Like many people, I grew up in an environment of works-based relationships, which led to years of being disillusioned, dissatisfied, and dysfunctional. I was frustrated and hopeless. When I was four years old, my dad had an affair that ultimately led to my parents getting divorced. Although I did not have the maturity to articulate my feelings, I can tell you that I believed I was at fault. I thought that perhaps if I were a better kid, my dad would not have walked out of my life to start another family.

A few years later, my mom started dating a new man. The first time her boyfriend came over to meet me, I rushed to the door, hugged his legs, and asked, “Are you going to be my new daddy?” From that point on, I was determined to do everything in my power to please him, to work so hard that he would never have a reason to leave me as my biological dad did.

Eventually, my mom married this man, and I quickly discovered that he was the smartest, strongest, and most talented man in my world. The bar was set high in this works-based relationship! My new dad was a third-degree black belt in taekwondo, so I decided to earn his love by taking karate lessons. Unfortunately, I was the clumsiest kid in the world—the one who often fell putting on his pants and occasionally fell going up the stairs! During one karate lesson, I attempted to do a roundhouse kick that I had seen in a movie, only to face-plant on the mat in front of all my classmates. I was so embarrassed that I quit studying karate.

My stepdad was also an Eagle Scout, so I joined the Cub Scouts and decided to work my way through to achieve the same rank. After a few months, our Cubmaster called my parents for a meeting to discuss my poor behavior. That put an end to my Scouting career.

My stepdad was also a bicycle racer—at one point, he was sponsored by 7-Eleven. One day, I visited his bike workshop and asked if he would train me. At my first race, as I waited with the group for the horn to blow, I proudly looked to the sidelines to see my mom and stepdad cheering me on. I think I made it one mile into the five-mile race before I pulled off to the side of the road and leaned my bike against a tree, struggling to catch my breath. I will never forget that old Chevrolet Chevet pulling over, my stepdad loading my bike on the rack, and the three of us driving home in complete silence as I sat in the back seat, defeated once again.

Since my stepdad held a master’s degree from Penn State University in acoustical consulting, my last effort was to excel academically. No matter how hard I tried, report card after report card came home with consistent D’s and the occasional C; always met with groundings and reprimands. After a fifth-grade parent-teacher conference confirmed to me that I was worthless, I gave up on that path as well. I realized I could never work hard enough to win my stepdad’s approval, acceptance, or applause.

Things didn’t get any better. Over the years, counselors lamented that I would never amount to anything. Teachers reviewed my work and declared that I was no good. Adults discounted me as worthless, and other children shunned me as damaged goods. In a world where doing good was rewarded, my trophy shelf remained empty.

I wasted many years of my life trying to do good to please those around me: my parents, family, counselors, teachers, bosses, and friends. All of these folks came at me from different directions and perspectives, their well-intentioned voices echoing the same sentiment: “Tom, do good!” And for many years, I felt like a failure for not living up to that expectation. I never dreamed that one day I could be good.

That day came when I was 21 years old in the back of the church in Massachusetts. I don’t remember anything about the pastor’s sermon that day, but I do remember, almost audibly, God saying, “Come as you are. I love you right now. I will never walk out of your life. Surrender to my love, and you will find that acceptance, approval, and applause you have been searching for all your life.” Nothing could have kept me from being the first to the altar that day, where I repented of my sins and finally found out what true love was. It was that day that I discovered that our relationship with God is also works-based; the only difference is that Jesus has done all of the works for us. And, now with God in us, it’s not so much about doing good because we are empowered to be good. That is the power of love!

Check out http://www.beingthebelieving.com for my new book!

Scripture: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” -Matthew 5:17 ESV

Prayer: Father, there are times that I still struggle to simply embrace your love and tines when I feel like I need to prove my love to you through my works. Please help me see that there is nothing I can do to cause you to love me any less, and there is nothing I can do to cause you to love me anymore. Father, today I just want to relax, let go, bask in your love, and breath.