New identity

New identity

All around me are old buildings with new names.

My wife and I, celebrating the arrival of spring, have driven to a quaint, historical town in the heart of Amish country.  The main street is lined with charming shops housed in old buildings -- some dating back to the 1700s.  The contrast between the venerable architecture and the trendy signs is striking.

I’m particularly interested in names today.   More specifically, I’m looking for new names on old structures.  I happily notice the Hotel Sturgis sign crowning a storefront that now houses coffee and knickknack shops.   A historic plaque for what was originally a house belonging to the Phillips family now touts “Therapeutic and Facial Wellness.”  Whatever that is.

Isaiah, of course, is the source of my rumination on names.

The nations will see your vindication,
    and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.

No longer will they call you Deserted,
    or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah
(“my delight is in her”),
    and your land Beulah
for the Lord will take delight in you,
    and your land will be married.  (Isaiah 62:2, 4)

For years, this practice of the Lord renaming people in Scripture has fascinated me.  Examples exist in both Testaments.  There are memorable ones: Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah.  Simon becomes Peter.  And less remembered ones: Solomon becomes Jedidiah (2 Sam. 12:25).  There are many more.

What’s in a name?  Coming from the Lord, it’s a statement of identity, of truth that he knows that often can’t be seen by the person being named.  For the people of Israel, coming back from captivity to the ruins of their homes, Deserted and Desolate must have seemed about right.  But God had a different view of them.  They are not alone, bereft.  He is with them.  He is devoted to them.  Delighting in them.

Like this Zest! sign, God’s names are emphatic and positive.  They declare a joyful reality.

For God wants the truth of how he sees us to illuminate our entire being.  Think of it: if every time he gently called to us, he used our new name, how that would transform not only the way we think about ourselves, but about him!

Before leaving the town, I stop at a massive stone church and contemplate its cross.  Because of his death and resurrection, Jesus has given me new names.  Forgiven!  Redeemed!  Restored!  Delighted in!

Someday, when in his presence, I’ll know the secret name he has just for me, written on a white stone (Rev. 2:17).  But for now, I need to embrace the new names he has given to his people.

And stop listening to the ones given to us by the world.

Father, we gladly receive the new identity you give us in your Son.  Help us to learn your new names by heart and live in that reality.

Reader: What’s the best (or funniest) name you’ve ever been given by someone?  If you email me with it, I’ll tell you the worst mangling of my name I’ve ever gotten on an official letter.  It’s a doozy.

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.