Discover the Name

November 20, 2011

Do you like your name?  And if you do now did you always like your name?   As a teenager how did you feel about it?   I heard two Jr. High girls talking in a mall once and one asked “Do you like your name?”  To which the other replied, “No I hate my name” and the first girl said, “Yeah I hate mine too.”  I think it’s a fact of life that most of us hate our name at some point in our lives, probably because of the way our parents abuse it, “Dennison Vance you get in here right now you have some explaining to do”  
Yep my first name is indeed Dennison, I was named after my father’s uncle.  But I have never gone by Dennison and other than times when we had a supply teacher in class or when my parents thought I had misbehaved I have never been called Dennison.  That’s not a hundred percent true, Austin White called me Dennison when he was little.
Had I been born 32 days later my name probably would have been Stephen because a month and a day after I was born my Grandfather Stephen was killed in an industrial accident. 
But my name hasn’t been static, for the first 18 years of my life I went by Denny, when I went away to college I thought it was time to grow up so I started going by Den.  D.e.n.  just one “n”. 
I had an interesting conversation with a person in Australia just before we moved home in 1994, they asked what Den was short for and I told them, they asked me how Dennison was spelled and I told them.  And then they asked “well shouldn’t Den have two ‘Ns’?”  To be truthful I had never thought about it before.  So when we arrived in Bedford to start Cornerstone in August of 1994 I became Denn with 2  “ns”. 
When I went to work at my first church in 1981 I discovered for some people my name was simply “Pastor”  in 1984 we added an addition to our home and the name he called me was “daddy”  a year and a half ago I got a new name and it was “grampy” as opposed to the times Angela simply refers to me as “grumpy”.  A pastor friend of mine was asked if he ever woke up grumpy and he replied “sometimes and sometimes I let her sleep in.”   But that is a different story.
But I am really not defined by my name, I like it now, it’s different, kind of like me.  But I think that the Bard was right when he said William Shakespeare   “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”    Which might be why Gertrude Stein wrote “A rose is a rose is a rose.”
Some people are very proud of their names, in particular their surname, I have a friend in Truro by the last name of Wallace who lays claim to a relationship with William Wallace of Brave Heart fame.  But that is really outside of our control isn’t it.    It was the Czech author Milan Kundera who wrote “We don’t know when our name came into being or how some distant ancestor acquired it. We don’t understand our name at all, we don’t know its history and yet we bear it with exalted fidelity, we merge with it, we like it, we are ridiculously proud of it as if we had thought it up ourselves in a moment of brilliant inspiration.”
And that was all said to lead into our message this morning.  Our scripture begins with an interesting story.   Jesus and his apostles have come to Capernaum and Jesus is teaching them a lesson about the Kingdom when John suddenly bursts into the room let’s pick up the story there.  Mark 9:38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”   Remember a couple of weeks ago I spoke about the 12 Apostles and mentioned how Jesus had nicknamed John and his brother James “The Sons of Thunder”?   It was John who wanted to call down fire from heaven to burn up a village in Samaria that didn’t welcome Jesus and his followers and now he is forbidding someone from doing good in Jesus name. 
And we really don’t know what the issue was.  Maybe John thought he was doing the right thing, he might very well of thought that the guy was out of line, he didn’t know him so he assumed that Jesus didn’t know him and that he didn’t know Jesus.  John may have thought that when Jesus said “Follow me” that he was only talking in the physical sense, that you could only follow Jesus if you could see him and be with him in the here and now.  If that was the case then Jesus’ followers would never have been able to expand past that a few hundred people isolated in a particular point in history.
And really we don’t know who the guy was.  Some have suggested that he might have been one of John the Baptist’s followers who heard John talk about Jesus and call him the “Lamb of God” and took John’s words to heart.  Others have speculated that he may have been one of the seventy-two that Jesus sent out in  Luke 10:1 The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.   Because apparently the Demon thing fell in the job description because when they came and reported back to Jesus we read Luke 10:17 When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!”   So maybe John just didn’t recognize the guy, or maybe he was just some fellow who had heard Jesus speak bought into his message and laid claim to it. 
Or maybe there was a darker side to John’s comments because it was only a couple of dozen verses before that we read Mark 9:17-18 One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”
So maybe John was stinging a bit,  that this guy was doing what he hadn’t been able to do.   Just saying.   Or maybe John was like a some churches today, he had drawn a circle around his group and assumed that anyone outside the circle was wrong. 
We don’t do that do we?  I hope not, I hope our circle is big enough without being too big.    It was Edwin Markham who wrote  “He drew a circle that shut me out–  Rebel, heretic, thing to flout.  But love and I had the wit to win– We drew a circle that took him in.”  And if you are older than dirt you might remember the song called “Circles” by the Captain and Tennille which had the opening line “He drew a circle that shut me out He was afraid of what life was all about.”   Toni Tennille said the song was inspired by Markham’s poem.  There don’t say you didn’t learn anything today.
So maybe whoever the stranger was he was outside the circle that John had drawn.
Now if anyone had the right to be cranky that someone had been using his name it should have been Jesus.  But listen to his reply in Mark 9:39-40 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.
And if we just had that one scripture we would have to understand it to mean that anyone, that is anyone who lays claim or has ever laid claim to the name of Jesus should be considered a Christian or a Christian church.
Recently in the news in the US a prominent Pastor made a statement that caused an absolute furor in the media, he said that the Mormon Church, or Latter Day Saints as they prefer to be called weren’t Christian.  The secular media was aghast, how could that be, the Latter Day Saints profess to follow Jesus so how could another Christian say they were a cult. 
Actually the context of why the discussion was even happening was outside the scope of Canadian thinking, it was in relation to Mitt Romney possibly running as President and whether or not Americans would vote for a Mormon.    I can’t even imagine that would be a consideration about who would be President.  Oh well, different strokes for different folks I guess.
But there were a lot of people who condemned the Pastor who said the Mormons weren’t Christians.    And I’m sure that at least a few of those were thinking of this passage.
But like any other scripture it can’t be taken in isolation.  Because there are other scriptures that come into play as well, like when Jesus warned people in  Matthew 7:22-23 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
Or his warning in Mark 13:6 for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many.
So it appears that on one hand you have Jesus saying “if they use my name they are one of mine.”  And on the other hand he is saying “Be careful not everyone who uses my name is one of mine.”
So how do we balance this dichotomy?
We Need to Realize that His Name is Descriptive  Shakespeare said that if you called a rose by a different name it didn’t make it a different thing.  But by the same token calling something a rose will not make it a rose.
When the Gospel Writers talk about the name of Jesus they were talking about a very specific Jesus.  Jesus who always was and always is.  Jesus who is not only the son of God but is God.  Jesus who was born of a virgin, Jesus who lived a sinless life, Jesus who died on the cross, Jesus was raised from the dead and Jesus who will someday return.  That is the Jesus that is named in the Bible.  And churches around the world embrace that Jesus. 
If someone handed you a tulip and said it was a rose, you would know right away it was not a rose.  But only if you knew what a rose looked like.  However if you had never seen a rose it is conceivable you would think the flower you had been handed was indeed a rose and you might even tell other people it was a rose.
But would that make it a rose?
And so we have churches and those who are part of those churches who say “Here is Jesus, but he’s not the Jesus who was born of a virgin, because we don’t believe that.  And he’s not the Jesus who was the Son of God because we don’t believe that.  And he’s not the Jesus who was raised from the dead or who will return again.”   Then I would tell you that you are looking at a tulip and not a rose.
And so when Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, called Mormonism a “theological cult” he was correct.  Because the Jesus of the Latter Day Saints is not the Jesus of the Bible.  On the other hand I think Jeffress was over the line when he went on to declare “Evangelicals ought to give preference to a Christian instead of someone who doesn’t embrace historical Christianity.”   
I think history has shown that you just because you are a good Christian doesn’t mean that you will make a good national leader.  And vice versa.
Lifeway Research a Christian research firm in the states did a survey and found that among Protestant pastors 75 % disagreed with the statement that Mormons were Christians.    But hopefully most of us would agree with the president of Lifeway Ed Stezer who stated “Though pastors believe overwhelmingly that Mormonism is not Christianity, their opinions should not be confused with personal scorn for Mormons, A person can respect a religious group and even appreciate their commitment to traditional moral values without equating their beliefs with Christian orthodoxy.”
But understand that it’s not enough to claim the name of Jesus without claiming the Jesus of the name.
His Name Is Holy  This goes back to what we believe about Jesus, if we truly believe that he is God then his name deserves the same respect as the name of God.  And that takes us back to Exodus 20:7 “Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.   and we’ve talked about this before.  To misuse God’s name is to use it in a frivolous manner, to misuse Jesus’ name is to use it in a frivolous manner.  It’s not an exclamation, or a statement of surprise or anger.  It is a holy name and deserves to be treated as such. 
It’s not just a command about the way we speak, it’s also a commandment concerning the way we live.  When you call yourself a Christian then you are calling yourself a follower of Christ, you are in effect taking his name his name and attaching it to yourself and to your behaviour.   And when your life does not reflect your commitment as a Christian then you are misusing his name.  So, when you call yourself a Christian then live like the devil what does that say?  What are you doing to the name of Christ with the way you are living?
Not only is his name descriptive his name is holy, but more than that:
His Name Is Powerful  If you read through the book of Acts you discover that the early church depended on the name of Jesus.  It was in the name of Jesus that the message of the Gospel was preached, it was in the name of Jesus that people were healed, it was in the name of Jesus that tyrants were rebuked and it was in the name of Jesus that people found the strength to be martyred for their faith.
And there are great scriptures that we claim and hold unto to, scriptures like John 14:14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.   How often have we heard that promise, and how often have we claimed that promise?  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. Wow!  But did Jesus actually mean that you could ask for anything in his name and it would be yours?  That you and yours would never be in want, that you would never be sick that you could ask for anything in Jesus’ name and it would be yours?
That’s how it is preached sometimes and that is a heresy and a mockery of the words of Jesus.  Seriously you can’t just cherry pick verses like this and let them stand on their own.  You can’t just take a sentence out of the bible and look at it in isolation.  The very least that you can do is look at the verses that immediately surround that verse.   In this case we need to look at John 14:12-13 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.   What is it talking about here?  It is talking about doing what Jesus did.  That your prayers and your life would bring glory to God.  And you are thinking “Well sure Denn, but if I won the lottery that would bring glory to God.”  Do you really believe that? 
This goes back to the line in the Lord’s prayer that says “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  There is power in Jesus name and that power is living in Jesus name and means that we live in such a way that our requests are requests that Jesus would honour.  John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.   We like the last part.  Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.   But you can’t isolate that from the first part of Jesus statement and that is that you will bear fruit that will last, because that is what your requests are supposed to lead to.  When you pray for the power and desire to live the life that Jesus would have you to live, that power is there.   When you pray for the strength to resist temptation, that strength is there.  When you pray that you will be better able to bear the name of Jesus and that your life will produce the fruit that Jesus wants you to produce, that request will be answered.
As a young Pastor I thought that praying “Your will be done” was a cop out, that if we were truly to pray in faith, believing that whatever we asked for in Jesus name would happen that we were just given ourselves an out by praying “your will be done” because if our prayers weren’t answered then we could just say “well I guess that it wasn’t in God’s will” 
But what if we truly believed that God is smarter than us, and ultimately that God wants the very best for our lives, even if at this point in our lives it doesn’t seem that way? 
Sometimes we are like children who feel that we need every shiny new toy that captures our imagination and every cone of ice cream or candy bar that tickles our fancy and that doesn’t bring glory to God. 
But have you ever wondered what would happen if every prayer you ever uttered had been answered in just the way you wanted it to be answered? 
The power that is in the name of Jesus is the power to live as a new creation, the power to be a witness to his name, the power to bear the fruit that he would have us to bear. 
Paul wrote these words to the believers in the Colossian church, Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.   Now listen to how it is said in the New International Version,   NIV Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.