*I listened to a message by Greg Boyd out of St. Paul, MN from 2002 called Knowing Your Name that changed my life. Last Sunday I was asked to speak at the Walter Hoving Home in Garrison, NY and I felt very strongly that this message is the word that God wanted me to share. I got permission from Greg to use a lot of his material, but I also wanted to post my message transcript on my blog for anyone who, either hasn’t heard the original message, or the one that I delivered on Sunday. Enjoy.
I’ve worked at New York City Relief for almost 4 years now. As many of you know we drive a retrofitted school bus into struggling neighborhoods with the goal of bringing hope to folks who are hopeless by offering a free delicious meal and new socks, while building relationships and connecting people to resources and programs that could change everything.
Every Friday and Saturday we park on E 125th street and Park Ave, right underneath the Metro North train tracks. This specific spot is across the street from the largest methadone clinic in NYC. We are 2 blocks away from Marcus Garvey Park, which has been in the papers over the years for being the setting of, at best suspicious, and at worst, criminal activity. This also happens to be the location where a shuttle drops people off who are staying at probably the worst, most dangerous, most drug-infested shelter for single men in NYC: the Ward’s Island shelter. To make things more interesting, for many years the hotel that is on the corner functioned as an hourly hotel that was frequented by men and women who struggled with addiction and who would make a few dollars by “renting” a room for a short period of time. So needless to say, this spot can be pretty interesting, even from 10 am – 2 pm when the Relief Bus serves.
I was there a few years back when one of our guests started having an interesting conversation with another guy who had also come by for some famous Relief Bus soup. The one guy, probably around 35-40 years old, maybe 225 pounds of muscle, was making a public service announcement about the other dude, who was maybe 55-65 and probably 150 pounds soaking wet. The announcement went something along the lines of, “do you see this guy? Don’t trust him. Last night I saw him leaning up against a police car talking to the cops!”
Now I was relatively new at the time and didn’t quite understand what he was saying. The older gentleman, however, knew exactly what was being communicated. The younger, bigger guy was calling him a “snitch.” He was naming him as someone who couldn’t be trusted and should therefore live in isolation from the community. He was naming him a “rat.” A “narc.” A “punk.” Knowing this, the old guy proceeded to punch the younger, larger man in the face.
I was literally standing next to the guy who was punched so I immediately started trying to talk him down. I pleaded with him to let it go. To take it somewhere else. To ignore the punch he had just received. To turn the other cheek. Surprisingly, he agreed! He said to his assailant, “the Relief Bus just saved your a**.”
He started to walk away when the older, smaller guy decided he hadn’t made himself clear: he hit him again. The big guy started trembling a little bit. I could see his restraint quickly wearing off. I tried to get the one doing the punching to move on before he ended up seriously injured or worse.
He swung again and managed to land a 3rd blow on the bigger, younger man.
Before I knew what was happening, he had picked the old guy up, threw him against the bus, and then had him on the sidewalk, slamming his head into the cement. While I was trying to figure out how to dial 911 with my new smart/idiot phone, Sean Ballentine, one of our outreach leaders who was just volunteering at the time, leaped out of the serving window and pulled the big guy off of the older dude before he killed him. Then the big guy ran off before the cops arrived.
I didn’t know that by warning the general public that this old guy talked to the police, the younger, bigger guy was effectively naming him a “snitch.” A “rat.” I didn’t know he was actually labeling him with a name that would follow him around wherever he went and could actually determine his ability to function and even live within his community. Knowing what was at stake, the old guy had 2 options:
- do nothing and potentially risk being mistrusted or even ostracized by everyone he depended on for friendship, community, and even drugs, for passively affirming the name he was being given,
- OR risk getting seriously maimed or injured by putting his reputation on the line and attacking the larger, younger, stronger man giving him this new name.
See, in our culture we all have names that are given to us by our parents, like Josiah, Sean, Rebecca, Erika, etc… But these names don’t really mean anything. They are not significant because they don’t define who we are. What is a “Rebecca” anyway? I’m willing to bet, my name, Josiah, doesn’t carry weight for any of you. Why should it? It’s a tag. A hook to grab my attention. It is a series of consonants and vowels that when spoken together indicates someone’s reference to me.
The name Josiah does NOT epitomize my essence. It doesn’t communicate a message or an allegiance. It doesn’t designate me or allocate me into a certain group or belief system. My name does NOT define me.
But Josiah isn’t my ONLY name. We all have names that we carry with us without even realizing it. Just like our parents gave us a tag or a title, growing up we all were given names that are significantly more powerful. We all carry around old names, and old identities, that not only catch our attention, but that determine the very trajectory of our lives. We all have name-tags written on the surface of our hearts and minds that affect everything we do, say, and believe.
Just like the names we were given by our parents, these names were also given to us by other people. The name “snitch” is not a name that this older gentleman was willing to receive.
For those of you who don’t know, I was raised in Yaounde, Cameroon. That’s literally in the armpit of Africa. My parents were missionaries and so we spent the bulk of the first 15 years of my life over there. Now in Cameroon, there really wasn’t a whole lot to do but play outside in the heat and go to school. The one national TV channel they had would only start showing ANY programming at around 6 pm. So when we moved to Pennsylvania when I was in 5th grade, I was shocked to find cable TV that provided endless entertainment for hours and hours on end.
I also should mention that we moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania. In addition to the endless TV options, I was also amazed to find the joy of chocolate and Reeses’ Penutbutter cups. Combining these two realities, over the course of my 5th grade in Hershey I managed to gain a lot of weight. My family moved back to Cameroon when I was in 7th grade and I’ll never forget my first conversation with the gentleman who had guarded our house when I was in Cameroon prior to my two year, chocolatey, TV marathon. I walked up to him and I said, “hi, Earnest!” And I kid you not, he replied, “Joe, you are too fat!”
Now, I’m sure that those 5 words in his mind were meant to be funny, polite, and endearing. But in my mind, I had just been named. No longer was I “Joe” or “Josiah.” I was now and forever there-after, “too fat.”
From that day on, I went on a rampage and played basketball every day for hours and hours without eating hardly anything. Every time I met someone new, I heard his words in my head, and I assumed that even if they didn’t say it, that’s what they were thinking. I had been named. Even though I grew a foot over the next two years, I still weighed 10 pounds lighter than I had been when I moved back to Cameroon. Throughout high school I was determined to exercise and work out constantly. But even with my rigorous athleticism, I remember looking at my prom pictures, and then even my wedding pictures, and only seeing “too fat” staring back at me.
So what about you? What’s your name? I don’t mean Sue, Betty, or Frank. I mean, what sentences, comments, or titles have you allowed to define your essence? What identity is written on the name-tag of your heart?
Maybe it was that 4th grade kid on the bus who called you ugly when you were in 3rd grade.
Maybe it was your mom, humiliating you in front of all your friends by telling them about how you wet the bed.
Maybe a boyfriend named you, “slut” or “whore” when he got bored with you.
Maybe your dad named you, “useless” or “stupid” because you weren’t the son or daughter he expected you to be.
What names, what identities, are you walking around with today?
We all have them. We all allow others to define us with their judgments and their words or criticism. We all surrender our lives to the prophesies spoken over us by insecure, abusive, and most importantly, FINITE human beings.
I’ve got good news for all of us: the IN-FINITE God who spoke the earth into motion and put the stars in the sky, wants to give you a new name!
It says in Genesis 17:1-5
1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” 3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.
In Matthew 16:13-19
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
And in Isaiah 62:2-4
2 The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. 3 You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4 No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah “one who delights the LORD.”
The good news is that God wants to give you a NEW name! He knows the names that you and I have been given, but that boyfriend or girlfriend does not have the authority to name you. Not even your earthly parents have the authority to really name you, that is reserved for your Creator alone.
Hear God telling you that “no longer will they call you Deserted, but you will be called Hephzibah, which means ‘one who delights the Lord.’” God takes delight in you. God adores you. Hear him tell you that whatever name you were given by some twerp on the school bus is canceled. It is no more.
Have you ever noticed how in the Bible the Church is referred to as the “bride” of Christ?
In ancient cultures, and even in our culture up until very recently, when two people get married, what does the bride do? She takes the name of her husband. If you have given your life to Jesus, you are a part of his bride. Jesus has given you his name. He has exchanged all those lies that were spoken over us, and he says, “you are a new creation.”
No longer are you called, “useless!” You are called “chosen by God for great works in Christ Jesus.”
No longer are you called “whore!” You are called “radiant bride of Christ!”
No longer are you called “guilty!” In Christ Jesus you are now called “forgiven!”
No longer are you called “ugly!” God is the only one who defines beauty, and he doesn’t make junk! Your new name is “beautiful! Flawless! Ravishing!”
My name is not, “too fat!” I am called, “beautiful” by my heavenly husband. My name is “attractive!” My name is “called by God to bring hope to the lost.”
The only being in the entire universe that has the authority to name you, to name me, is our God. And hear me when I say, He has given you a new name!
I’ve talked to so many people who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, declared allegiance to him, and even accepted his forgiveness, but still struggle with the pull of destructive behavior. Then we read things like in John 8, where Jesus says:
34 “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
And we say, “why am I not free?” Why do I still struggle with temptation? Why do I feel the pull of my flesh and my sin?
I’m convinced the problem is that while God has given you and I new names and new identities, our brains have trouble keeping up. Our brains are still wired to respond and identify with the old names. Our brains don’t line up with the new reality because the default programming is still in place.
It says in Romans 12:2
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
In the same way it always takes time for a new bride to get used to being called by her husband’s name. Have you ever noticed that? But a bride’s ability to get used to responding to her new name does not change the FACT that her name has been changed. It would make no sense for a new bride to think that she is less married, or to question her relationship to her husband, simply because she still turns her head when she hears someone say her old name. It takes practice. It takes time. It takes a daily decision to renew our minds so that we can be transformed. It takes a marriage for the reality of a wedding to become the NEW default setting in our minds.
Some people need to stop questioning their salvation based on the struggle in their minds with old patterns and old identities. If there’s a struggle it is precisely because you have been given a new name and your brain is fighting the transformation process. God says we are to be transformed by the “renewing of our minds.” The process of following Jesus always starts with a wedding ceremony. It starts when someone says, “I do” to Jesus and receives forgiveness and wholeness by choosing to surrender the old identity for the new one that God offers us.
Maybe you’ve never done that. Maybe you have been processing all this God-stuff with cynicism and fear. Maybe you think that your past some how excludes you from the family of God. Jesus died on a roman torture device, and was raised from the dead 3 days later, so that your past could no longer be held against you by the enemy of our souls. Your past, your mistakes, your screw ups, even your doubts, and your fears, do not negate the marriage proposal that Jesus is offering you right now. God wants to marry you. He wants to give you a new name. He wants to give you his name. Will you say yes?
But God doesn’t want to only give you His name for the sake of paper-work or legalities. God wants you to start identifying with the new name that He has given you. When you look in the mirror, you need to see the new name that God has given you starring back. When someone calls you by the old name, you need to just keep on walking. Because that old name is not who you are anymore. That old name is gone forever, and the only name that is left is the family name: the name of Jesus.
God wants to give you a new name. Once you say, “yes,” to Him, it’s time to start being transformed by renewing your mind day in and day out by waking up and remembering who you really are.
Grace and Peace,