Perhaps one of the hardest things that I have done as a parent is to choose a name for my children. I can remember sitting for hours looking through name books trying to choose the perfect name. Emily and I used to go out on dates to the book store and spend the entire date perusing the baby name section in hopes of stumbling across that perfect name.
We would try different names and combination of names in hopes that something would just sound "right" when it rattled off of our tongue but that was really hard to do because . . .
Emily would find a name that she really loved but it would remind me of someone else with that same name and I honestly didn't have found memories of that person. And we couldn't have a child named after someone who I had bad memories about because right off the bat they would carry with them a bad stigma that they didn't deserve.
But sometimes, I would find a name that I really loved but it would be the name of an ex-boyfriend of Emily and we certainly were not going to have any of that in our house. Need I say more?
And just when we would begin to settle on a name, we would find another one that just seemed more fitting . . . and on and on and on. And we had the benefit of knowing the gender of our child. I can't imagine the struggle people go through when they don't know the gender.
I'm a telling you, choosing the right name is one of the hardest things I have had to do as a parent.
But why is it so difficult to choose a name? Because names are significant - not just because you are stuck with it for your entire life but because a name says something about a person.
For example, my oldest son's name is Paden. Paden was my great grandmother's maiden name. So, to use the name Paden signifies that Paden, the boy child, is from the lineage of the Paden's. And by using this name, my son carries with his name a rich family heritage.
For those who don't know, Paden is Paden's middle name - which is another significant thing about names in our family. Hestorff's go by their middle names.
My name is Matthew Sam,
My Brother Tim's name is Robert Timothy
My sister Anna's name is Kristen Anna
Benjamin's name is Matthew Benjamin.
And Paden's name is Robert Paden - which is yet another significant name because both my Dad and Emily's dad were named Robert. And a month before Paden was born, my father passed away.
And so to be named Robert Paden is very significant.
You see, names for us in our culture, carry with them stories and heritage and for that very reason, names are significant.
Names in the ancient world were also significant. Not just because they said something about that person's heritage but also because they said something about a person's nature and character and so it was very important to choose the right name. In fact Proverbs 22:1 points out the importance
"a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches"
And so in scripture we find names like . . .
- Isaac - laughter
- Daniel - God is my judge
- David - beloved
- Ezekiel - God strengthens
- Leah - weary
All of these names help tell the story of the individuals. They give us a glimpse into their lives. They tell us something about that person's character and help us understand what they are about . . . what they stood for . . . what they were known for. This is why sometimes in Scripture we find that God changes a person's name. For example . . .
- Abraham was born with the name Abram which meant "high father" but God changed his name to Abraham meaning "Father of many" for that is what he was called to be.
- After Jacob wrestled with God, God changed his name to Israel meaning "having power with God".
- Jesus changed Simon's name which meant "God has heard" to Peter which means "rock"
- I would imagine that Jesus called him Simon at the times that he was not acting like the rock God called him to be. The same is true for Jacob. God continued to call him Jacob to remind him of his past and to remind him to depend on God's strength.
So as you can see, in the ancient world, names were very significant and so, it probably doesn't come to you as any big surprise that there are a lot of names used to describe Jesus.
One of those names is "friend".
When you hear the word friend, what do you think of?
Perhaps you think of a particular person or a story.
You might think about a group of people or interconnected relationships
Maybe you think of characteristics and traits like,
- Someone being there for you, supporting you, hanging out with you.
- Someone you can tell anything to.
- Someone you can always rely on no matter what happens.
Whatever you think of . . . the reality is that we have a lot of expectations of our friends. One of my favorite authors - anonymous - describe friendship like this
"Friends are God's way of apologizing for our families"
It is a big responsibility to be someone's friend. Isn't it?
But what happens when a friend lets you down?
- When they don't live up to all the expectations?
- When they aren't there for you?
- When they don't support you?
What happens then?
This is exactly what happens in the 11th chapter of John.
Read John 11:1-6
Here is Mary, clutching the hand of her dying brother Lazarus. Singing songs to calm his fears and pressing a cold rag against his forehead to ease the fever. She is trying to be comforting and nurturing in the face of death.
But in all of her outward comforting and nurturing and her calming presence, deep inside she was wondering "where is Jesus?" She was there when he had healed all those people in Palestine so surely he would come to heal the one he loved, because he was her friend.
But it had been two days since she and Martha had sent an urgent message to Jesus letting him know that he needed to be there and he hadn't even bothered to reply. If Jesus was really her friend . . . then where was he? Wasn't he supposed to be there for her? Wasn't he supposed to support her? Doesn't their friendship mean anything?
But nothing . . . not a word . . . Jesus let them down. In fact, our scripture tells us that Jesus intentionally let them down. And so, he failed the test of friendship.
Has this ever happened to you? Has Jesus ever failed the test of friendship?
- He wasn't there when you really needed him - when you were really struggling with life
- He didn't come to your side like you have seen him do for so many other people
- He didn't answer your prayers - not even the one prayer that was so important to you.
And instead of feeling like you have a friend in Jesus, you have wondered "does he even know that I exist?" Because if Jesus is really our friend, than isn't he supposed to live up to the expectations we have of our friends? Honestly, at times he feels more like an enemy than a friend.
And yet, Jesus calls us friends. In fact in the New Testament this term friend is used 28 times to describe the relationship between the believers and Jesus. But how can it be? How can Jesus be a friend when he doesn't live up to the expectations of a friend?
Perhaps the problem is our limited understanding of what it means to have Jesus - the son of God - call us his friend.
The Greek word translated as friend is Philos - which is related to the word Phileo - which means "to love". It is also related to the word Philema, which means "a kiss". In fact, the early Christians used to greet each other with a holy kiss, signifying their close relationship.
And in John's gospel, Jesus not only calls his disciples "Philos" or friends, but he defined his friendship with them by what was to be the greatest act "Phileo" - to love
John 15:13 says "greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends".
Jesus defined this word "Philos" (friend) by living out "Phileo" (to love)
You see, Jesus doesn't always live up to our expectations because his friendship is not defined by our expectations. His friendship is defined by his great love for us.
What do you do when it feels that Jesus is not there for you when you need him? We hold on, we endure, we keep praying and we remember how the story of Lazarus ends.
And in the midst of our journey of faith we begin to realize that we are not friends with a man but with God, whose thoughts are not our thoughts and whose ways are not our ways and whose "Philos" is not defined by human expectations but by a great act of "Phileo".