What’s in a name?

A person’s name is an important thing.  An unusual or inadvertently humorous name can have life-long implications.  Years ago there was a college football player named Happy Feller.  I can imagine his life has been a long series of humorous quips and giggles.  You don’t have to look very hard to find a “Ben Dover” or “Brock Lee.”  So sad.  Dick Butkus (butt-kiss) was fortunate to be a fearsome all-pro linebacker or he would have been subjected to unmerciful teasing.

loserIn the old days, a person’s name often derived from their occupation or location.  Thomas the carpenter eventually became Thomas Carpenter and Alan of Gentry became Alan Gentry.  In the Bible people were often given names that had meanings.  Abraham meant “father of many,” which was appropriate because he is considered the father of the Hebrew nation.  Abraham’s nephew was Buz, which means “contempt.”  If you think that’s bad, in the New Testament we read about Damaris whose name meant “heifer girl.”  Ouch!

Some people are given nicknames owing to their personality or some rare attribute.  Earvin Johnson was Magic with a basketball.  Ironhead Heyward was a battering ram with a football.  Jesus nicknamed Simon “Cephas,” which translated means “rock” in Aramaic.  We call him Peter.  He later became the rock of the early church.

I knew a guy in college who was called “Fat Daddy.”  He was neither fat nor a daddy.  There was another guy who was known as “Skylab” because he was high most of the time.  (Note: you have to be a certain age to remember the space craft called Skylab.)

The name Jesus is translated from the original Yehoshua, which is sometimes shortened to Yeshua.  The translation is very complicated, but it basically means “salvation,” which is a great name for someone who saves people from their sins.

Your name is the first gift given you by your parents and it remains yours forever unless legally changed.  Sometimes a person’s name can take on a specific or greater meaning.  George Orwell’s name is now used to describe an entire dystopian perspective: “Orwellian.”  It’s hard not to think of disease when we remember Lou Gehrig.  We all know what a Casanova is.

The word “Christian” means “like Christ.”  That’s a bold statement to make about anyone, especially yourself.  It bothers me when a company refers to itself as a “Christian business,” or they use the little fish symbol in their advertising.  It’s like they are using Jesus to personally endorse their company.  “I’m the son of God and I buy all my fishing gear at Slim’s!” Unseemly, don’t you think?

I am a Christ follower and I am trying to become Christ-like.  If I lived 500 years ago I would hope to be known as Steve the Christian or maybe just Steve Christian.  But this is the 21st Century and no one refers to me as Steve the Christian, which indicates I have work to do.  By the way, I have no idea what my actual surname means, but my kids have suggested “cantankerous grouch.”

“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” – Isaiah 43:1 (ESV)


When I am alone and singing, I sound great!  Someday I will be discovered by a talent scout or rock group in need of a front man.  Yet, when I sing in the presence of others, there is wincing followed by unkind comments.

I am conflicted.sing-loud

The sad truth… I have no vocal talent.  In fact, my wife and kids openly mock me.  I smile as if my singing is just a joke, intentionally self-deprecating to elicit laughs.  Inside I weep, my inner Rod Stewart crushed by the knowledge that I have no talent.  At all.  Whatsoever.

Well, what do they know.  Their singing sucks, too.

The unintended consequence of my family’s ridicule is that I am very self-conscious during worship time at church.  I have been conditioned to keep quiet, lest I draw the ire of other worshippers.  If people hear my caterwauling, I might get the stink-eye, that ugly expression people make when someone says something inappropriate or they smell flatulence.

So, I’ve learned to keep quiet.  A friend once told me that if you are embarrassed to sing, simply mouth the words “watermelon” over and over.  It looks like you’re singing but you’re not.  I tried this for a brief time but soon realized she probably told me that as a prank to make me look stupid.

We are told in Scripture to worship.  Psalm 98:4, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.”  But my voice is not joyful noise, it’s annoying, like my schnauzer’s howling.  This raises the question; can we worship in non-musical ways?

Sure.  Prayer can be a form of worship, and unlike singing, I pray pretty good.  So, I often pray silently while others are belting out “Great Are You Lord.”  This, of course, makes me look pious to others, and that satisfies my Christian ego, but I question my own motives.

Reading the Bible can be a worshipful experience.  Tithing, too.  These are great things that bring glory to God, but when I examine Scripture closely, I get the feeling that singing to the Lord is a non-negotiable. “Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!” (Psalm 96:1).  Not much gray area there; God wants singers.

Pleasing God is not the only reason to sing.  Singing can be a blessing to others when they see our sincerity, though they may want earplugs.  The sight of dozens or even hundreds of people singing together creates a mood that invites the Holy Spirit, which is necessary for real worship to occur.  Christian songs and hymns often reinforce truths about God that are powerful and motivating.  To sing these truths as praise to God is pleasing to Him and refreshing to our spirit, like health food for the soul.

When pride interferes with my singing, it is important for me to remember that the heart of worship is surrender.  God seeks total submission from His people, and that’s a good thing.  Total submission to God brings peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding.  Total submission is essential in our sanctification, a churchy-word that simply means being more like Jesus, and being like Jesus should be the goal of every believer.

I’ll bring you more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what you have required
You search much deeper within

Those are lyrics from Michael W. Smith’s song, “The Heart of Worship.”  God’s loves to hear his children sing, but the song is not the thing.  He seeks out heart.  That is something worth singing about, even if you get the stink-eye.

“Sing to the Lord, all the earth! Tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!  For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be feared above all gods.  For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens.  Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his place.”
  – 1 Chronicles 16:23-27


Saved from what?

Like the frog in the frying pan, lots of people are unaware they need saving.

Christians sometimes ask the question, “are you saved?”  The respondent, who is likely not a church attender, may be confused. Their honest response might be, “saved from what?”

frogExplaining salvation to a person raised in a post-modern, post-religious culture is a little like explaining pizza to a tribal herdsman in the African Sahara.  “Well, you start with dough, then add tomato sauce and lots of cheese, then some little slices of meat called pepperoni…”


Some “lost people” may have enough religious awareness to understand you are talking about hell.  Hell, according to popular culture, is the fictional place where bad people go when they die.  Other folks may think you mean saved from the devil, who is thought to have horns, a pitch fork and a goatee.  Why a goatee?  Because goatees are evil!  Some might mention sin, which non-Christians define as any activity that is fun.

So, in summary, to be “saved” means avoiding a make-believe place in the afterlife ruled by a cartoon character.  In the meantime, quit having any fun and follow Tim Tebow on Twitter.

Clearly there is an information gap.

Rather than jump directly to the salvation question, perhaps it is better to get some basic information first.  Do you believe there is a god?  If so, what is the truth about him?  This will inevitably lead to a discussion of Jesus, and that’s good because there is a lot to like about Jesus.  Getting someone to accept the premise that Jesus is the personification of the real God is essential to understanding the whole salvation thing.

But again, the question is, saved from what?  Matthew 1:21 states that Jesus “will save His people from their sins.”  More specifically, the consequences of their sins.

Ah, that’s the hard truth that atheists, agnostics, teenagers and even some Christians don’t want to admit – actions have consequences.  From God’s eternal, spiritual perspective, the consequence of sin is death, and not just physical death but “eternal death;” that is, eternal separation from God.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23

Everyone sins, therefore we all are separated from God.  Christians view this as a spiritual “law” in the same way physicists view natural laws, like the First Law of Thermodynamics (which makes a scientific case for a creator, by the way).  Fortunately, God is loving and forgiving.  He doesn’t want anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  That’s why Jesus came to live among people, to reveal God’s nature to us and take the punishment for our sins.  Once you have genuinely committed to follow Jesus, all your sins – past and future – are expunged (erased, gone).  You are completely and forever saved.

I rarely use the word “saved” when discussing my spiritual status.  I prefer to say that I am a Jesus Follower, because that’s what I’m trying to do – follow the example of Jesus.  Yes, I have been saved from the consequences of my sins.  I am a frog who realized the inevitable consequences of the frying pan.

“For God so loved the world, ithat he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:16-18 (ESV)