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Names Do Count
July 30, 1995

HOSEA 1:2-10

There is a name I love to hear,

His Name is Wonderful,

Philippians 2:9-10, God gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend.

Acts 2:21, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Truly, as we have just sung, There's Something About That Name.

Names do count. Names have power. We are saved by the name of Jesus. By calling on the name of Jesus, we receive, we participate in Jesus' power. It is as if the essence of Jesus is captured in his name.

There's something about every name. The naming of a child in Bible days, as it was with Native Americans, was a highly significant event. The ancients believed that the name influenced the person. They believed we become what we are named. The name Jesus (pronounced Joshua or Yeshua in the Old Testament) means to save people from their sins. Jesus became his name. Jesus was powered by his name. He expressed and lived the meaning of his name. Ellie and I have two granddaughters. One is named for my mother, and the other is named for her grandmother on the other side of the family. In their physical characteristics and in their personality, they resemble the grandmothers for whom they are named. Perhaps, we are seeing the similarities because we are looking for them; but, perhaps we do become what we are named. Perhaps the naming of children should be taken very seriously.

When Rebekah bore twins, the younger was holding the heel of the older son, as if the younger were trying to take the older's place. So, they named the younger son Jacob which means to supplant, to take the place of. The older who was named Esau, after being gypped by Jacob twice, said, "My brother is well named!" Jacob became his name.

The ancient Hebrews took naming very seriously. Hosea must have caused quite a stir in Israel when he named his children, Jezreel, Not Pitied and Not My People! Can you imagine going through life with names that express the displeasure of God! Hosea was trying to make a statement. He had an unfaithful wife who was called a wife of whoredom. They must have wondered if the children were really his; but, Hosea stood by his wife, continued to love her, and used the relationship as an example of God's faithful love towards Israel. God's people were unfaithful. They worshiped other gods. They assimilated their neighbor's culture and religion. They forgot the commandments. They forgot their uniqueness as children of God.

Hosea preached judgment. Hosea could see the handwriting on the wall. He saw their neighbor Assyria (called Syria today) become stronger while Israel became weaker. In a period of 25 years, Israel had six kings. There was instability, unrest, assassinations, insurrections, and the weakened nation eventually fell to Assyria. Hosea tried desperately to call his people to repentance. He even named his children such horrible names so the people would wake up. He hoped that when they saw Not Pitied walking down the street, the people would hear the warning, that God's mercy, God's pity, would no longer sustain them. He hoped that when they saw Not My People walking down the street, the people would hear the warning that God was very disappointed with them, and would not prevent the enemy from destroying them.

I wonder what those names did to the children. What effect did the names have on their psyche, on their self-esteem? For names do have power. Watch what you call children. Watch what you name them, and what you nickname them. Do not use names casually or capriciously. Watch out for names like Dummy, Stupid, Mean, Holy Terror, or You'll Never Amount to Anything, because people often become what they are named.

A retired school teacher in my Manteca congregation told of an experience he had while teaching in a small northern California town. The principal wanted to expel Bill, a ninth grade boy who was a behavior problem and a very poor student. Bill had no mother. His father was a tree faller. Bill drove a lumber truck and earned more money than his teachers, so he was not very motivated to learn. Charles had him in algebra and general science and Bill showed a little interest. All the other teachers agreed with the principal, and named Bill the Dumb Tree Faller's Kid. They also named him, He Will Never Amount to Anything. Charles disagreed with the teachers and with the principal, so Bill was not expelled, but for the following year, no other teacher would have him in their class. For the entire year, the only classes Bill took were taught by Charles. Charles refused to name him Dumb.

Bill eventually graduated from high school with the highest grades in the class. He went to Chico State where he received the highest grades in the history of the school, in math and physics. He was given a full-time instructor's position while he completed his masters degree. Then Bill went to the University of California in Berkeley where he worked on his doctorate while teaching full-time. He again received the highest grades in computers and physics. Bill is now the successful owner of his own electronics company. He kept in touch with Charles over the years, and gives Charles the credit for his success, because Charles believed in him. Bill told Charles, "I wouldn't have gone to school if it hadn't been for you."

Charles refused to name him Dumb. How many children and youth are lost because they are given names which lead them to inferiority, failure, inadequacy, and dumb.

The ancients also believed that naming a person's name gave you some of the person's power. They believed that by knowing someone's name, you can influence them, you can have power over them. When you call a person's name, what do you usually receive? Their attention. In a sense, you have claimed some of their power. Have you noticed how successful salespeople have learned the technique of calling you by name, and working your name into the sales pitch? By naming your name over and over, the pitch becomes very personal, and eventually influences you. You are softened by the naming of your name, as the salesperson gets power over you.

The ancients believed they were surrounded by divinities who exercised tremendous influence over their lives. They believed that when a divinity was named, when their name was invoked, then the power of that divinity could be called upon to protect and bless the invoker. Notice in our worship service, after the opening hymn, I give the invocation. I am invoking the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, calling on God to receive our worship and to bless us. Before I give the sermon, I invoke the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, calling on his name, asking for Christ's blessing.

In the early days of the Old Testament, God resisted the invocation because the ancients used it as if it were a magic formula. God would not give his name. Jacob wrestled all night with the Lord, asking "Tell me your name!" Jacob was trying to get power over God, but Jacob was refused the name. After the wrestling match, God changed Jacob's name to Israel which means one who struggles with God.

Moses wanted to know God's name. God spoke to Moses in the burning bush and told him to go back to Egypt and free the slaves. Moses said, "But, they will want to know your name. They will want to know who sent me." The answer was evasive, "Tell them I am who I am," which is spelled YWH in English. We pronounce it Yahweh. The King James Version misspelled Yahweh and it came out as Jehovah. God was eventually designated by what he did, The God Who Led You Out of Egypt, and by his people. God was known as The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and in the New Testament, God was differentiated as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament, the Sanhedrin--the Jewish Council--quizzed Peter and John after they performed a healing. They asked, "By whose name did you do this?" They answered, "In the name of Jesus." To name the name of Jesus identifies which god, which power we are invoking. The God we worship, the God we follow, is the one we pray to in the name of Jesus. To pray to God in the name of Jesus means to invoke the power, wisdom, and spirit of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Don't be timid about praying in the name of Jesus. There is power in naming the name of Jesus. All who call upon the name of Jesus will be saved.

Names do count. We often become what we are named. And, secondly, calling a person's name gets their attention, and, particularly with Jesus, gains their power.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris