What’s Your Name?

namesSuch a simple question, really.  When we ask it today, we use the answer to differentiate people with whom we are familiar.  It was different in Jesus’ day.  Names were given because of their meaning, not because of popularity or uniqueness.  Learning someone’s name gave insight into the person’s character.

So it was at the time Jesus and his disciples crossed the lake of Galilee to get to the region of the Gadarenes.  Beginning in Luke 8:26, we find a demon-possessed man living naked and alone among the tombs, totally out of his mind – the very reason Jesus made the journey.

This is where my observation differs from what’s been taught.  I’ve heard the man referred to repeatedly as Legion, as if that was his given name.  That is what came out of the man when Jesus asked, “What is your name?” Though the man’s mouth and vocal cords were used, it wasn’t the man who answered, but the demons, and it was the name the group of demons took for themselves.  But it wasn’t his name.

In addition, because this passage has been read incorrectly over the years, a method has been established among those in spiritual warfare.  Before casting it out, you command the demon to give its name; for instance, lust, anger, depression, greed, etc.

With these two observations in mind, take your time and read verses 29 and 30:

For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man.  Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.  Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”  “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him.

To whom does Jesus ask the question?  The demons responded, but they spoke out of turn.  He spoke only to the man – the one who housed the demons.  He wanted to converse with him, to find out who he really was.  He didn’t need the demons to give their name.  Besides being unimportant to Him and what He would do, He understood their nature as liars, with no truth in them.

“What is your name?” Jesus asked the man.

Knowing this man was possessed, Jesus loved him – so much so that He asked his name.  He didn’t ask how the man came to his current, horrible state, nor did He make conditions for setting him free, such as sinning no more. He simply asked his name.  When the demons responded, they were cast out.

Can you see it as I do?  Jesus looking with such love directly into the man’s eyes even as they glared at Him with demonic fire?  Undeterred, Jesus loved the man to freedom as He watched the demons leave, enter the pigs, and drown in the lake.  What love!

We’ve so often made the demons the focus of this story.  Or the pigs that rushed into the lake once the demons entered them.  But we missed the heart of Jesus!  His freedom-producing love was for a totally lost and undeserving person.  Just like each of us, with different issues.

So, what was this man’s name? I think I will call him Unconditionally Loved.

What’s your name?

Listen to the Trees

What’s that sound?  It’s a groaning and straining, even crying, coming from a nearby fruit tree.  I didn’t understand it the first time I heard it, but have discovered over time it was the sound of extreme exertion.  Those trees are working hard to produce more and sweeter fruit.

Okay, so this is all just my imagination at work, but it paints a good word picture.   As long as a tree is in good ground, getting water and nourishment through the soil, as well as sunlight and seasonal changes, it will produce fruit.  It just receives what is provided from its surroundings, and production occurs.  It’s how it was designed.

This silly illustration enhances a simple reality check for me recently, dealing with church growth.  It isn’t tied to one church group or denomination, but is at work in the great majority of the church, at large.  When most of us refer to church growth, we are normally interested in ways to increase the numbers attending services.  To help with it, much of our time, effort, and finances are spent on resources and seminars written or produced by large (in number) churches.  We’re looking to man’s ways for increase, and when one style doesn’t work for us, we charge ahead to the next one.  (This is when the sound of the struggling tree gets pretty loud.)

Maybe, just maybe, we’re never going to have success this way.  Maybe, just maybe, our idea of success isn’t God’s idea of success.  Maybe, just maybe, God doesn’t need our help.  After all, the church is the body of Christ.  The body of Christ.  Not our body, but Christ’s body.  When we are born again, we are brought into His body by the work of His Spirit.  Why do we think He needs our help to grow His body – even to grow individually?

John 15:4-5  AMP  4 Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. [Live in Me, and I will live in you.] Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in (being vitally united to) the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me.  5 I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.

The fruit tree simply abides in that which gives it life, receiving all it needs to grow from a tiny seed into a full-grown tree.  Likewise, we abide in Christ, the One Who finished completely the work needed on our behalf.  As we abide in Him, we receive from Him all we need to become full-grown followers of Christ, producing fruit that brings Him glory.  Simply through abiding and receiving.  No self-effort required.

If we really believe God is able to grow His church, it messes up a whole lot of our plans and programs.  We will find that when we look only to the One Who gives life and life more abundantly, there will be church growth – no doubt about it.  He will draw through us.  But it will never be due to all our self-efforts and best of intentions.  It will be when God alone is glorified and magnified – the One Who gives us birth and fully sustains us.

The next time you find yourself trying to figure out what else you can do to “grow the church,” stop and listen to the trees.  The sound you don’t hear will remind you to let God grow His church as you dwell in Christ.

Matthew 16:18 NIV  And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

What do you hear?

Photo by Sura Nualpradid

My Neighbor . . . and Yours

Looking at the world map strategically situated across from my quiet-time chair, my eyes focus on Japan, and I begin to pray for the people there again.  The familiar tug in my heart reminds me to follow through with the decision to send money to help in natural ways, as well as in prayer.  The people of Japan are my neighbors.

Waiting at a busy intersection, the needy person on the median catches my attention while making his way down the line of stopped cars.  Fumbling in my purse, I find a fast food card I keep for just such situations. Trying hard to make eye contact as I reach out with the card, I tell him Jesus loves him.  I just ran into another neighbor.

These neighbors, around the world and around my city, are familiar to me – probably to you, too.  I’ve reached out to them with finances and in prayer.  Recently, though, I’ve become aware of other neighbors who have been right under my nose all along.  Their needs aren’t as obvious as those of the neighbors just described, but they are every bit as real.  Am I their neighbor?

Luke 10:29-37 NIV

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

As many times as I’ve read this story, never before did I notice that there is no reference to the beaten man’s financial condition.  Certainly, he had no money with him because of the robbery; thus, he had no way to meet his immediate needs.  The Samaritan asked no questions of him: about his financial health, reason for being on a road known for robbers, his beliefs, etc.  He saw the immediate need of his neighbor and did His part to meet it.  What other people am I to see as neighbors?

  • My neighbor is my friend, the one needing surgery, but having no insurance.  While this neighbor tries to save enough to cover it, the pain is intense.  I pray for God’s provision for my neighbor’s need, but do I have a natural part to play in helping to meet that need, as well?
  • My neighbor is the single mother down the street, struggling to be both father and mother to her children while working full-time.  Money is not the immediate need here, but time is.  Offering help with cleaning, cooking, or caring for the children could be just the gift she needs.
  • My neighbor is the widower in my church.  You know him.  He’s the one we try to avoid when we see him coming – the one who goes on and on about his late wife or his time in the war.  This neighbor’s immediate need is to have a friend – the kind who will let him talk, who will include him in their lives, who will welcome his approach as Jesus does.

My neighbors are much more varied, both in situation and needs, than what I’ve considered before.  It’s not that I’m to neglect those I’ve reached out to in the past.  It’s just that Jesus wants me to see even more with His eyes as I look at the people right around me.  Then He wants me to give more of myself to help meet their needs, even as He gave Himself for me.

Jesus, please help me see my neighbors, the ones who have needs I haven’t  considered before. Your heart beats with love and compassion for them, and Your desire is for them to experience Your love in the little and big things, as I follow Your Spirit’s lead.  Thank You, Jesus, for stretching me in this area, so more will come to know you.  All glory and honor belong to You!

The Radical Way of Jesus

While I might not agree with everything he has to say, what Bishop Michael Curry stated in his address to the recent convention of his NC diocese resounds within me.  I share some of the Winston-Salem Journal article here:

A church should not be concerned about its own life, but instead should follow the steps of Jesus . . . Jesus was trying to get us to understand that we need to move beyond our own individual self-interest . . . We need to go beyond our various ideologies and go where God dreams for us to be. . . The church’s goal should not be to build bigger churches, start a lot of new churches, or even fill up the pews.  I’m not convinced those goals are born of the gospel.  Instead, the goals should be to live, witness to, and share the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to make disciples . . .

You go, Bishop Curry!  Some of these statements are radical departures from “the way we do church” in 2011; yet, it sounds like the very heartbeat of our heavenly Father, as made clear in His Word.  Why should it be so radical, then, even to the eyes and ears of Christians today?  Have we bought into the world’s ways, the world’s ambitions, the world’s ideas of what constitutes success?  Have we become more competitive toward one another about which church or denomination is “best”, rather than competing against the devil for the souls of the people who haven’t yet believed and received Christ Jesus, their only hope of salvation?  Have we lost our focus, our purpose – which is truly to know Christ and to make Him known to others?

It’s time to break out of the four walls of the church (an overused cliché, but relevant here).  Maybe, it’s really time to break down those walls and not try to build newer, bigger, or better ones.  It’s time for us to realize that Jesus Christ came for a lost and dying world, tearing down walls everywhere He taught, that the world could know Him.  Why, then, do we insist on our walls, still believing we can reach the world for Christ with them?

Please don’t let this be just food for thought.  Let it become a catalyst for action.  We’re not going to make disciples – followers of Christ – of our Jerusalems, Judeas, Samarias, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), until we let go of the old way and do it Jesus’ way.

Whose Gain?

Kay’s glimpse into the obvious: Jesus’ motives were never mixed.  He never did anything for personal gain, only serving others for their gain.

Mark 10:45 NIV  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

As obvious as this seems, a recent application brought into focus how minimal my understanding really was, giving you another opportunity to learn from my mistakes, rather than your own.

As I tried to apply a marketing suggestion made at the recent writers’ conference, something inside was unsettled.  I would be doing something different from the norm for me, but I knew that wasn’t the issue.  Something about it just wasn’t right, or was something about me wrong?

The recommendation was to get involved with organizations that are pertinent to the subject of your book, these being places that would help its sales.  (Potential publishers really like the idea of books selling, for some reason. 🙂 )  During class, I began to think of places that fit this need for me, and included them on one of the many lists I made while there.

Only as I sat still with the Lord, praying about how to get involved with a particular group, did I see the problem.  It was I.  This wasn’t about getting involved because the Lord directed me to, or even because I had a burning desire to help.  I was considering this time-consuming activity only as a means to an end – to make contacts for publishing my as-yet unwritten book.  Yuk!  Yuk!  And, yuk again!  My motive was wrong, no matter how many would have been served.

When the Lord revealed to me the simple and obvious statements shared at the beginning of this post, the discomfort left and the pressure was eliminated – immediately.  Daddy didn’t tell me to do this now.  If He does later, my focus will be to serve for others’ gain – just like Jesus – trusting Him to take care of all my needs.

I think I need to apply this to everything else I do, as well.  Will you join me?