Tag Archives: Names

Names #6: Changing Names

CT PreachingThis is the last post in this short series about names in the book of Genesis. I know that whole idea might sound strange, but it’s something I’ve been rolling around in my mind for a while, because I’m convinced that our names matter more than we think they do. I think our language to describe the world and ourselves matter a lot to God.

That why Genesis talks a lot about names. Because a name is a story, and if we don’t name well, we might not tell the story we are wanting to tell.

For example…

Did you ever wonder why God changes people’s names?  Does this strike anybody else as bizarre? And it happens all the time in the Bible, especially in Genesis. Like when God comes to Abram and Sarai, these people who’ve had their names for 70 years, and he’s like “Let’s add an H” in there.

Or what about Jacob? God comes to this guy who is one of the worst heroes in ancient literature (He’s kind of a jerk, he’s selfish and he’s always trying to get ahead) and God tells him that he’s going to change his name to Israel.

To which I would say, can’t we go with something that sounds more normal like…Gary or Robert?

But I’ll come back to this.

One of my very good preaching friends is a guy named Charlton. Charlton is a young preacher and one of the best ministers I know. He and his family are some dear friends of ours, and I trust him implicitly. A year and a half ago, Charlton was serving at a large church that we both care about, when he had a moral failure that hurt him, his family, and the church that he was serving.

It’s something that we all know we are very capable of, but Charlton had the misfortune of being a very public figure when his life imploded. Meet my friend Charlton:

My name is Charlton. I spent most of my life investing in, upgrading, and polishing my name. In high school, my efforts were awarded with the title, “Mr. Integrity.” I continued to build on my reputation in college with the “Mr. LCU” crown. A few years later, my alma mater invited me back for the cherry on top: the “Young Alumni Award.” The constant attention I paid to my name was paying off, so no one was surprised when I devoted my life to full-time ministry. I was the “type” of person you would expect to do ministry. I could hear them in my head, “Charlton is perfect for ministry!” I had worked hard to be.

As my years in ministry increased, people became more aware of the cracks in my name, so I worked harder to seal them – an exhausting and futile exercise. Eventually I gave up and let all the secret dark places of my heart rise to the surface. I made a series of sinful choices with a blast radius that affected hundreds of good people. The explosion left those closest to me emotionally dismembered. In that moment the “Charlton brand” went bankrupt.  All the effort, energy, time…meaningless. This launched me on a three-month journey to utter brokenness. I had shattered my life and was helpless to put the pieces back together. Continue reading Names #6: Changing Names

Names #5: The Towers We Build

In the 18th century, there was a Spanish philosopher named Miguel de Unamuno who came up with one of the best questions to illustrate the human condition. This was the question: If you had to choose between creating amazing works of art that would last forever and would make the world a better place, but you would remain anonymous; or you could become a famous, world renown artist and painter but your works would be totally forgotten. Which would you choose?

Insignificant fame or Anonymous blessing?

So this is a series on a small theme in the book of Genesis. Namely, that Genesis cares a lot about names. Apparently the Bible cares a lot about the language we use to describe the world and each other.

Last week I talked about how after the fall in Genesis, Adam and Eve try to find their own names, independent of God. But what happens when that stops just being a problem for a couple of people and starts to be the way the whole world operates?

Just eight chapters later, Genesis tells us about how the how the whole world was speaking the same language. And they all got together because they wanted to build a tower. Which actually sounds like a pretty good idea. I mean we build towers all the time. But Genesis is telling us something here. They are trying to exceed the limitations of being human. They are trying to be gods.

The real reason they wanted to build a tower was because they wanted to “make a name for themselves.” (The actual Hebrew here is Donald Trump).

Now think about this for a second. They aren’t actually concerned about the project they are building. Their real goal is to be important. Their real goal isn’t the tower, but to justify their existence.

And God doesn’t like that goal at all.

So God comes down, and confuses their language, in a little project called “Let’s Stop Talking” God takes back their ability to name each other…Not because God is cruel but because only God can make a name great.

But what’s fascinating about this story to me, is that just a few verses later, God is going to approach an elderly, barren couple and ask them to leave their home and family and scatter (the very thing that people of Babel were afraid of). And then God tells them this:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

The very thing that the people of Babel wanted, God was going to give Abraham and Sarah as an act of grace.

Most of the time when I hear people talking about the Tower of Babel, they are talking about whether it really happened or not. The truth is, the Tower of Babel is a story that happens all the time. Continue reading Names #5: The Towers We Build

Names #4: Curses and Poetry

So this is a short series about names in Genesis, and more specifically about why the Bible seems to make such a big deal about names and the language we use. It’s why names matter more than we think they do.

The other day I was talking with another preacher friend of mine, who is a minster in another state, and we were talking about church work and about the different ways that church volunteers serve.  And ultimately the conversation turned to how bad preachers are at getting people to volunteer. Not that we can’t get people to volunteer, that part is easy, but that preachers aren’t that good at getting people to volunteer in ways that help the volunteers just as much as the people they are serving.

The temptation of preachers, or bosses, or anyone who cares about a certain project is to use people. 

I’m going to let you in on a dirty little church leadership secret.  If you have pride…I can get you do almost anything. But it will almost never turn out well.

Let me explain:

One of the more interesting things about the book of Genesis is how it starts. If you’re familiar with the Bible at all, then you probably know that Genesis chapter 1 is the story of God creating the world. But what you might not know is that Genesis 1 is written as a poem. It’s got a rhythm, it’s got beat and a cadence.

Genesis 1 is about God doing the work of creation, but he does it with a song.

He makes the universe like he’s writing a poem.

And then the crescendo, the climax of this song is when he makes Adam and Eve. God passes on to them things that he doesn’t give the other parts of his creation, he asks them to name and create with him. In other words, he let’s them sing along.

Now if you are familiar with this story, you know that this doesn’t last long. Adam and Eve are placed in the Garden of Eden and they are given permission to do anything they want, the only prohibition God gives them is that they can’t eat from one tree. They can do anything, and remember they’re naked at this point, it’s like God is making it easy on them to think about other stuff. But they do the one thing we probably all would do, they disobey, they fail to trust God.

And this is the story that we’ve been living out ever since.

But what’s really interesting about this chapter, is that after Adam and Eve disobey God comes to them and curses them. But some of the Rabbi’s don’t refer to this section as curses, they say that God is now observing the way that reality has now changed. If you haven’t read this chapter recently go back and take a look. Because it’s pretty fascinating what God actually tells Eve and Adam.

To Eve, he tells her that her desire will be for her husband.  A few years ago, I had someone point out to me that this word desire is the same word we might translate as “lust.” Which changes that sentence I think. Because to lust is to want something out of someone that they can’t give you. And now Eve will want something from Adam that he isn’t able to give her.

This is the Rabbi’s point. Adam and Eve used to know who they were. They were, after all, actually named by God in just the previous chapter. In other words, He used to tell them who they were. They used to get their identity from the one who made them. But now that the relationship has been broken, they’re just naturally going to look somewhere else. And Eve is going to look to her relationships.

God isn’t cursing them…he’s just telling them where they are going to try and get their names. Continue reading Names #4: Curses and Poetry