Sunday, 16 November 2014

Can you handle the truth?

“WHAT IS YOUR NAME?”

In case you didn’t hear me, let me say it again – a little more loudly and closer to your face. Uncomfortably close. In your space close. A ‘Jack Nicholson – “You can’t handle the truth!” close.

“WHAT. IS. YOUR. NAME?”
Before you answer me, let me explain something. I’m not asking in the sense of a customs agent’s question to a nervous traveler, or kid in the playground probing the unassuming visitor who has boldly climbed the jungle gym. I’m not asking for the name on your birth certificate or passport. I’m not even asking for the name on the sticker that says, “Hi, My name is _______”. That name is a label. Something your parents gave you when you were born and it just happened to stick.

My question goes deeper. It goes beyond the surface stuff that we politely engage in when meeting people for the first time or even the thousandth time when we can’t seem to remember names. It’s a ‘peel the onion back’ answer. The answer that conjures up emotion, either laughter or tears or nothing at all. The answer that opens your soul and forces you to answer the question yourself: “WHAT. IS. MY. NAME?”

As a teenager, I cringed when I was asked my name. I was embarrassed because I felt ‘Henry’ was an old man’s name – it was my grandfather’s name. For a brief period of time, I even tried to change it but it didn’t stick because when people used the name I didn’t respond! It wasn’t who I was – it wasn’t my identifier. In 1992, standing at the side of my dying grandfather, it was only then I felt proud and honoured to named Henry. It spoke loudly within me. I just had to grow into it. So, that’s what people still call me. Henry’s my name on my driver’s license. It’s who a telemarketer asks for. It’s what our pastor called me on my wedding day…”Henry, do you take Wendi…?” You get the point.
But hang on. We’re peeling the onion back. Eight months ago – or so – I started to read a biography by Eric Metaxas called Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Six months and 542 pages later I finished the book. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran minister who was eventually executed in the final days of WWII for his participation in the famous and unsuccessful Valkyrie plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. Bonhoeffer saw his efforts to undermine the Nazi regime as a cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. And if death was the penalty, then death was just the beginning of life. According to Bonhoeffer, being a disciple of Jesus was and is costly. Bonhoeffer’s opening in his book The Cost of Discipleship reads “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.”

Getting closer. One more layer peeled. In reading Bonhoeffer, I’ve been challenged to reflect on my own life and answer the question: “WHAT. IS. MY. NAME?” In other words, if I’m being truthful, then who does God say that I am? Has faith in Jesus defined who I am and has faith in Christ cost me anything? Am I Jacob – a deceiver? Peter – a rock? David – beloved?  Names in the Bible were not just a label as they are today. They are descriptive and telling. (Just read Hosea and see what God told him to call his kids!)

Well, about a month ago one morning, the onion was finally peeled. The tears flowed. In my prayers I was asking for God’s free gift of grace and peace and he kept asking me my name. Sometimes in my face.  But always gently. For many years, I’ve known my true name and identity but I wasn’t going to admit it and He knew it. I was holding on to something that got in the way of grace and it was going to cost me to fully embrace and enjoy his gift. Henry might mean ‘ruler’. But, my name was ‘broken’ on that morning and I was the furthest from being noble.
That day, God wrote the cheque. Jesus paid the price and, I cashed it through the help of the Holy Spirit. I couldn’t be wealthier. Today, my name means restored, recovered, revived, and renewed. And, I know it’s not going to end there because God’s giving me new names every day.