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A Look Back: What’s In A Name

Read John 10:14-18, 25-30

“But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you. O Israel, the One who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine.” (Isaiah 43:1 NLT)

Have you ever given much thought to your name? Just the other day I was in a conversation with someone who was talking about how her granddaughter just started to write her own name. Instantly, I was transferred back to when my daughters were first able to write their own names. I remember what a milestone it was to see them do that. What’s more, this conversation also caused me to reflect on my own name, and the moment I was first able to write it. Indeed, I am not sure I remember when I first was able to write my own name. I definitely remember learning to write, and then learning to write in cursive, but I am not sure I remember when I first wrote my own name: Todd.

Then I began thinking, “What is Todd? Who is Todd? What is it that a Todd is supposed to do? How is a Todd supposed to look? How is a Todd supposed to act? What makes a Todd a Todd? What makes me more a Todd than I am a Howie or a Jonathon or a Leonard?” Now this may sound silly to you and, indeed, it feels a little silly writing those questions down; however, have you ever stopped to think about how you got your name and what makes you fit that name, or what makes that name fit you?

The truth is, I am not sure I can fully answer that question. My name is Todd because my parents chose to name that. The name Todd actually comes from my dad’s side of the family. I was named after my grandma’s maiden name. Her name was Jeanette Elizabeth Todd before marrying my grandfather and becoming Jeanette Elizabeth Lattig. For the first few months, I had no self-awareness of any  name. Over time, I learned that those people who are always holding me and feeding me call me “Todd”. Eventually, at some point, I started answering to that name and claiming it to be my own. No doubt, if someone asked me when I was a Toddler (ironic…I know) what my name was, I would say, “My name is Todd.” And eventually, I began to write my name as a way of marking whatever I was writing it on as being “mine.”

So, here it is that I am, indeed, a Todd. But what does that say about me beyond what name I go by? In reality, we are so much more than our names; yet, truth be told, we invest all that we believe we know about ourselves into those names. And others do the same. If you were to ask one of my family members or friends who Todd is, they would no doubt shower you with all they thought that I am. But that would be who they believe this Todd to be…that would say nothing about every other Todd out there.

While we may identify ourselves by our name, and while we may associate our characteristics, strenghts, flaws, personalities and other things with that name, the truth is that our names do not really define us or who we are. Rather, God does define who we are and calls us according to that definition. So whoever you, the reader, are, you are so much more than the name and all the things that you attribute to that name. You are more than you could ever imagine. No matter how well you think you know yourself, and no matter how much others think they might know about you, God is the only one who knows EXACTLY who you are and all that you are capable of. God knows your possibilities and your full potential…and God is calling you, not only by NAME but according to WHO YOU ARE, to reach your full potential. All you need to do is TRUST IN GOD, and take the step forward to answer that call…knowing that God will guide you each step of the way.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus of Nazareth, John 14:1

Lord, reveal to me who I really am and guide me to what it is I am really called to do. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: The Beast Within

Read Luke 15:11-32

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT)

Just recently I sat down to watch the remake of the Wolfman. Of course, the original 1941 Wolfman starring Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Bela Legosi and Evelyn Ankers will always be one of my favorite monster movies ever; however, with that said, the 2010 remake of that film does pay homage to it, all the while adding its own twists and spins.The root of the story is the same. Larry Talbot returns home after his brother dies suddenly and horribly. Upon getting home Larry ends up getting bit by what he believes is a wolf, and when the moon shines full and bright in the sky, things begin to get a bit hairy for Larry (pun totally intended) as well as for the village. In the remake, which is where the film departs from the 1941 storyline, we learn that Larry and his father, who is cold and quite distant, had a falling out years earlier over the death of Larry’s mother (among other things). Since that time, Larry had distanced himself with his father and his family (including his brother), and did not wish to return…that is until he learns of  his brother’s death.

When he does finally return he is not welcomed warmly, as is the case in the story of the prodigal son; rather, his father greets him coldly and indifferently. Clearly both father and son have a resentment toward one another and the result is, in the end, catastrophic. In more than one way, the fact that Larry ends up turning into a werewolf serves as a metaphor the hatred, bitterness, anger and unresolved hostility that is caged up inside of him. That is all being said as a matter of observation, without affirming or denying the justification he had to be angry, bitter, and hateful of a father who, in many ways, failed him from his childhood onward.

The truth is that we all have the beast that lies within us beneath the surface, don’t we. For most of us, we are able to supress the beast, to keep it locked away, and to move our lives forward in a positive, constructive and meaningful manner. Yet, there are some who have truly been beaten up in life, or at least the feel as if they have, and it is very hard for them to move beyond what has happened to them. It’s not right, or wrong, it just is. The problem is that, when we are unable to move beyond our past, that past comes back to haunt us and that is when that inner beast comes out in full force.

Today’s challenge is for those of us who have a hard time moving beyond our past, beyond the hurts, the pain, the abuse, and/or the perceptions we have of those we feel have wronged us (whether they have or not). If you are a person who struggles with this, know that forgiveness is attainable. There is a God who has forgiven us of our past and that same God is calling us to forgive others as well. Forgiveness does not mean that we forget what has happened, or that we somehow pretend it didn’t. Nor does it mean what happened to us is okay, or we should somehow justify it. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we ignore when wrong is being done, nor does it remove the obligation we have to seek justice, as well as reconciliation.

It is also important to note that forgiveness is not just to the benefit of the ones we are forgiving, rather, it is a benefit for us…perhaps even more so than the ones we forgive. Forgiveness is our way of saying that no matter what others do to us, God still loves us and cares for us and we aren’t going to harbor anything against anyone. We are defined by God not them, and in that recognition comes a liberation that not only keeps the beast at bay, but eliminates it altogether. Remember that no one is without the need to be forgiven; therefore, no one is above forgiving others. Forgive and be set free!

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Lord, give me the strength to forgive, even as I seek to be forgiven, and move me beyond my hurts and pains to a life of joy and peace. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Seeing Beyond the Big Wig

Well, it’s summertime again and my family and I are on vacation. While we are away, I will not be writing any new devotionals; however, this is a great opportunity to look back at a couple of devotions that were written over the course of the past years.  I hope that though this was written in the past, that in it you may find a relevant message that God is speaking to you. So without further adieu, click here to read today’s devotion.

A LOOK BACK: Afraid of the Dark

Read John 1:1-18

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The night was dense, thickened by the looming darkness that fell swiftly over the land. A fog had rolled in off of the sea that night, a mist of death that shrouded the land like a linen that covers a grayish dead corpse from passers by.  The air was cut thin by an uneasy feeling, a horrid sense of despair that crept in one’s bosom and suffocated away the life.

There in the distance, I could make out a shape through the fog. I squinted as if to focus in and, the more focused I became, I began to realize that the shape was the body of my friend Lucy. Her figure was lying still on top of a marble bench in the cemetery outside of the abbey. A called out to her in hopes that she would hear me; however, she lay there motionless as if she were made of marble herself.

At the sound of my voice I noticed movement. Directly behind Lucy’s motionless body loomed a shadowy figure. It was hunched over her like a vulture that has come to eat the flesh of its prey. What looked like its head raised up and I could see, cutting through the thickened veil of mist, two beady, red orbs illuminating a path straight toward me. Terror overwhelmed me as I realized that its eyes, its terrible red eyes were fixed on me. It was at that moment that I felt the blood within me grow icy cold with the fear of death.

The scene above is one that is forever etched into my mind. It is my representation of a scene that I read in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where Mina follows a sleepwalking Lucy out to the chapel at Whitby and sees, for the first time, the shadowy monster we all have come to know as Count Dracula. There are lots of memorable moments in that book, and the truth be told that it is my favorite novel; however, there is no other scene in the book that stands so horrifying in my mind that that very scene.

What is it that makes us so afraid of the dark and of darkness? Is it that our sight and our senses are limited? Is it that what lies beyond our sight is unknown to us and, as we all know, we fear what is unknown? The fact of the matter is that, whether it be day or night, there is much to fear in this world. Evil exists, and its monstrous presence in this world can be experienced even in the seemingly safest of places. In fact, don’t let the light and your senses decieve you. You are no more guaranteed safety in the light of day than you are in the dark of night.  We live in a world where cruelty, depravity and hopelessness seem to rule.

Yet, we are not without hope for we know that evil does not rule. We know that God sent true light into the world, the light of life, and that life resides in each and everyone of us. We can give into our fears and close out the light of God, or we can open our hearts to that light and let it transform us into beacons of hope, healing and wholeness for the rest of the world. In Jesus of Nazareth we see such a light, in Jesus Christ we see the hope of God carried out in humanity and we see the frailty of evil.

Do not let your fears conquer you. Trust that the true light of God is within you and shine it out for the world to see. Live as Christ did in this world. Love God by unconditionally loving others. Remove your fear and your cynicism and be a sanctuary of hope, healing an wholeness for the people around you who desperately need it. Shine that light no matter how the world reacts. Know that not even death can stop that light from shining within you for it is the light of Christ who conquered death.

“What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Lord, help me to conquer my fear. Fill me with your light and through me, bring hope, healing and wholeness to those who need it. Amen.