Who’s on First?: What’s In A Name?


This past week duringVacationBibleSchool, we had 5 exciting days of good times learning about the life of Jesus. We learned that:

Jesus had a family, we do too!

Jesus had a name, we do too!

Jesus had a home, we do too!

Jesus went to church, we do too!

Jesus served others, we do too!


A theme runs through the ‘Hometown Nazareth’ VBS material- the identity of Jesus. How do we know about the identity of Jesus? The same way that we know about each other’s identity- words and action.


A type of word that helps us identify people is names. Think about it, just outside, in the cemetery, you can kind of figure out family groups by the last names. Names signal heritage and relationship. Many times, parents name their children what they hope for them, especially in Bible times, as a sort of prophesy. Your names, first, middle, and last, say something about who and what you are. Who you belong to.


Names mean something. For example, Erica is the feminine of Eric and means noble ruler. My last name Lea can mean meadow or cow. Of course, I prefer the more flattering- meadow. Christopher means Christ bearer, someone who carries Christ. Christine means follower of Christ. Franklin means free man. Rachel, my sister’s name means ewe, like a gentle lamb and for the most part she lives up to it. Barbara [pastor] comes from barbarian and means strange or foreigner, but maybe that is an example of a mismatched name & meaning. Anyway- names mean something.


There is a recurring theme in the Bible that when someone encounters God, their name changes.

Abram à Abraham in Genesis 17 when God makes the covenant with him.

[Abraham means father of many nations- reflects covenant]

Jacob à Israel in Genesis 32 where he wrestles with God.

[Jacob = heel grabber, Israel = God fights]

Saul à Paul in Acts 9 when Jesus slaps him around in the blinding vision.

[Saul = prayed for, Paul = small or humble]- name meaning change most accurately reflects a proper change toward peace with God.


Here’s my question- Have you had a name change? When I was about 4 years old, I was adopted. I was saved from a tough situation into a loving, Christian family. Something in my life changed. I belonged to a different family, so my name changed. When I was older, I was saved in a different way into a different family- my name changed from Erica of me, myself, and I, to the Global Christian, Christ-Follower, Perseverance of the Saints for all Time, Jesus Christ Died For Me, So I Live For Him family. Have you had a name change? Do you belong to the Christ-follower family? Would anyone else know that you do?


James 2:17-20- “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?”


All 3 changes- name/words, actions, and attitude are made possible through the work of the Holy Spirit.


In the Bible, names mean something. Throughout the Gospels, people ask who is this guy- about Jesus? Both in a sincere, in awe, sort of way, and in a snarky who does He think He is sort of way. If names mean something, then it is worth paying attention to the names of Jesus. John the Baptist, in John 1:29, says “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” when he sees Jesus, Lamb of God = our sacrifice for all time. Mary visits Elizabeth in Luke 1 and Elizabeth calls her- the mother of her Lord, Lord = boss. The entire book of Matthew really pushes the identity of Jesus as the Messiah, the promised one in prophecies, the sent one. Throughout, there are subtle and not so subtle hints where Matthew wants to announce JESUS IS THE MESSIAH!!! Ephesians 1:6-8 says “So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” This means that Jesus is our redeemer, the One whom through forgiveness is possible.


John 3:16-17- “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” God’s one and only Son, sent by God the Father! Jesus is the Savior!


These are only some of the names of Jesus!


This past week I was known as Erica of the tribe of Asher. During VBS, everyone was divided into tribes, like teams. Mine was Asher. We not only called ourselves Asher, but we had a team cheer, and team sign, and team color to identify ourselves. We moved together. I could see from a distance- oh, yes that is one of mine over there! Actions help us verify that words are true. You know the saying, ‘actions speak louder than words’. Carolyn Wells wrote that “actions lie louder than words”. What do your words say? What do your actions say?


1 John 1:5-6- “This is the message He has given us to announce to you: God is light and there is no darkness in Him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness. We are not living in the truth.” John 14:6- Jesus says I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Apart from Jesus, we cannot live in the truth.


Too many times our attitude is like Gertrude Stein, who wrote “A rose is a rose is a rose”. We are content with what is, rather than looking for what could be. Meaning- it is what it is. Apathy. Translation-we are too content with what is. It is true that God loves us the way that we are now, but it is also true that God loves us too much to stay that way. We can come to Him right now and He will accept us. Romans 10:9 says that “if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

A theme throughout the Gospel of John is the identity of Jesus. Do we give Jesus the titles sincerely or sarcastically? Contrast John 1:36, John the Baptist, calling Jesus the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world, with John 19:19- the sign above Jesus reading ‘King of the Jews’. The difference is seen in our view of Jesus. Who is He in your life? If we call ourself a Christian, but do not have the attitude and words to match, we are like the officials who put up the sign- kind of mocking the name. My best guy friend is name Junior. Well, we call him Junior because he and his dad go by the same name. They kind of resemble each other and as of recently they work for the same company. They are clearly related. They are kin. The name Christian, means Jesus Jr., little Christ. We do not have to be perfect on our own- the Holy Spirit will guide us, but we must be open and willing to change- to be more like Christ every day.


So this week, I have a few challenges for you-

1)     In the words of the famed philosopher, Popeye- the cartoon, not the chicken restaurant: I yam what I yam. Be what you are. If you call yourself a Christian, Jesus Jr., then you should resemble Jesus in action, word, and perhaps most difficultly- attitude! Be what you are in name, words, actions, attitude. To help us remember this, as you leave today you will receive a yam, also known as a sweet potato. If you don’t care for yams take one anyway and pass it along to a neighbor, co-worker, relative, or anyone not here and explain to them the meaning.


2)     Read through the Gospel of John. I hear that James Earl Jones has a fine recording of the Bible, as well. There are 21 chapters- 7 days- 3 chapters a day. I think the Gospel of John really asks the question- who is Jesus? And answers. I will be reading through it this week, so join me.


Don’t be like Nabal in 1 Samuel whose name means fool, but be like Nathan whose name means God has given. If you have encountered God like Abraham, Jacob, or Saul, and want to talk about what it means to change your name to Christian, if you have questions, are interested in what it means to be part of the Goshen family, come forward while we sing. We would love to talk with you.



The Uninvited Guest

It was about 11pm after a long day of soul searching, event planning, and reaching out to people at the church I’m working with for the summer when I sat down on the couch to watch some TV before going to bed. A little while later I saw a blurry flash in the corner of my eye. It startled me as there are lots of critters [bugs] that pop up in this log cabin, which is not regularly lived in. That would be a mighty large bug with some far distance for me to see in peripheral vision like that, I thought… I pulled up and tucked in my feet on the couch, and then worked up the courage to find what zipped by, in an effort to lower my heart rate. 


I crawled from the couch armed with a flashlight as the cabin depends a lot on natural light. The flashlight hit the critter just right and a brown/gray mouse scurried from behind the stairs to behind the fridge, about 10 feet away. I quickly grabbed a few essentials, called my neighbor who owns all of the property around, including the cabin I’m staying in, and stayed with her in the main house for a few nights until we caught the uninvited guest in a live trap.


There are certainly rodents in Texas, and ‘the city’, but this was my first up close and personal experience with one! I felt a combination of vulnerability and invasion. I did not know where the mouse went and I certainly didn’t want to find out by way of it biting me! I had staked my claim on the house for the summer and that mouse had come into my space!


If only I had this same horrified response to sin. Here’s what I mean- 1 Peter 5:8 says: “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” If I am a Christian, I believe the Bible, and strive for a holy life like Jesus Christ, then I should take this verse seriously. I should take sin, even temptation, seriously. I should be on the lookout and strategically avoid tempting situations, conversations, etc. Like many Christians, I am not as careful as I should be.


I am not suggesting a sort of legalistic crackdown, but instead a reconsideration or check on how comfortable we are in close proximity to sin or ‘almost’ sin or temptation. Like the mouse in the cabin, when we so much as see a blur of sin, get out! When you see the sin, do not fall into a trap of temptation and habit. Instead, make a trap to capture the sin through prayer and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and toss out the twisted mess! One of the best [or worst] lies is that you can get sin under control. What you have really done is hopefully joined the Holy Spirit in resisting what may come naturally to you in an effort toward something better- holiness. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can discern what is holy and what is not, what is pleasing to God and what is only pleasing to our self. True holiness is when what pleases God truly and deeply pleases us. Even so, do not let your guard down.


“God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.” [James 1:12-15]


Take some time for examen. Examen of Conscious is a great kind of prayer from St. Ignatius of Loyola where you consider a sort of high and low of the day. This is done best toward the end of the day or at night. Consider:

-when you sensed the most closeness with God and when you sensed the most distance from God

-what to thank God for and what to confess

-when you felt most alive and most drained

-the day’s high and low


Perhaps sin is most likely to happen when we forget that God is omniscient. If we are rightly focused on and acknowledging God’s presence throughout all of the day and night, then we are centered on Him and not ourselves, and less likely to be misled by sin and temptation. The point is not to do away with being God’s creation or necessarily human, but for our humanity to be perfected.


“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” [1 Corinthians 10:13]


How can we resist sin?

“Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.


Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.” [Ephesians 6:11-18]