By Roger Alford
Perhaps you heard about the city slicker who bought a cattle ranch out West. Friends who came for a visit asked the name of his spread.
“I wanted to call it the Bar-J,” the city slicker said. “My wife favored the Suzy-Q. My daughter liked the Flying-W and my son preferred Lazy-Y. So, we’re calling it the Bar-J-Suzy-Q-Flying-W-Lazy-Y Ranch.”
“But,” the visitor asked, “where are all your cattle?”
“Well, none have survived the branding,” he said.
Being branded with a name like that would be tough on a cow, no doubt. The Bible makes clear that we all ought to be concerned about having good names.
“A good name is to be chosen over great wealth; favor is better than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1).
There’s a story from long ago about two brothers who were caught stealing sheep. Their punishment was to have the letters “ST,” short for Sheep Thief, branded into their foreheads.
One brother was so embarrassed and humiliated that he left for parts unknown.
The other decided he’d stay in his community and try to win back her neighbors’ trust. He did all kinds of good deeds. When someone needed a helping hand, he was the first to step forward. He became widely known for the kindness he showed to others, and, many years later, a visitor to the community asked a local resident what the “ST” on his forehead stood for.
“I’m not sure,” the resident said, “but I think it must stand for saint.”
I’m pleased to know that, in rural America where we live, our neighbors are familiar with the idea of forgiveness and redemption. We can make poor choices that bring reproach to our names. But like the young man branded with the “ST,” we can restore our names by living differently.
That’s why I so appreciate the promises of Scripture that we do not have to continue as the men or women we once were. Forgiveness is ours for the asking. Christ is able to make us brand new.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
If the poor choices you’ve made in the past have you branded with a name that’s as hard to bear at the Bar-J-Suzy-Q-Flying-W-Lazy-Y Ranch, just remember there’s hope for change through Jesus, “the name that is above every name.”
Roger Alford of Owenton, Kentucky, is a Southern Baptist preacher and a veteran journalist with more than 30 years experience with newspapers in the South and Midwest. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.