Naming God

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Throughout the month of August, we’re taking a close look at 23 verses of the New Testament.  They comprise Ephesians chapter one, which paints one of the Bible’s most comprehensive pictures of what it means for ordinary people to be “in Christ.”  
What’s in a name?
Valparaiso, Indiana, native Orville Redenbacher admitted that he was a “funny-looking farmer with a funny-sounding name.”  He also was tirelessly committed to creating the best variety of popcorn anyone had ever experienced.
It took a while.  Over several decades he and partner Charlie Bowman crossbred more than 30,000 corn hybrids.  Yes, you read that right.  They conducted more than 30,000 botanical experiments.  Their goal was to improve on the historic benchmark of popcorn kernels expanding to 20 times their size.
In 1965 they concocted a new kernel that expanded to 40 times its size.  It was time to go public.
They named their new product Red Bow – a nod to Charlie’s last name and Orville’s signature bow ties.
Sales, however, were flat.  The new popcorn cost twice as much as other brands.  No major company chose to invest.  Bowman and Redenbacher were reduced to selling their creation out of the back of a station wagon.
That’s when they hired a Chicago marketing executive to help them with branding.  As historian Rick Beyer tells the story, they paid $13,000 for this advice:  Name the popcorn after the funny-looking farmer.
“They came up with the same name my mother did for free,” the funny-looking farmer later said.  Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Popping Corn, despite its price, immediately became the top-selling brand of America’s favorite treat.
Names are not trivial.  They connote something of a person’s (or a product’s) identity, worth, and reputation.  Marketers are well aware of this.
Any car can get you to the grocery, but “Volvo” means safety.  Every watch tells time, but “Rolex” means expensive quality.  Any soft drink can slake your thirst, but only “Coca-Cola” is The Real Thing – even though Coke hasn’t used their most famous advertising slogan for decades now.   
And then there’s God.
God’s name represents his reputation.  His character.  His intentions.  “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1).  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:5).  We “hallow” God’s name by affirming that he has no rivals in the cosmos. 
Things get interesting when we consider the names associated with Jesus.    
Jesus (a first century rendering of the name Joshua) means “the Lord saves.”  Christ derives from the Hebrew word Messiah, which means “Anointed One” – that is, the true king.  Having launched the book of Ephesians with a single, spectacular run-on sentence (verses 3 through 14), Paul the pastor now downshifts into verse 15: “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people…” 
Paul calls Jesus “Lord.”  In fact, he calls Jesus “Lord” 180 times in his letters. 
This is a very big deal.  In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word kyrios (“Lord”) applies only to the one true God.  Now, in the New Testament, the same word describes Jesus.  Does this mean Paul is saying that Jesus is the one true God?
It took the brightest and best Christian thinkers more than three centuries to formulate an answer to that question.  The result was the doctrine of the Trinity – the recognition that the Creator God is one with regard to essence, but three when it comes to personhood (Father, Son, and Spirit). 
Just a few years after his resurrection, Jesus’ first followers – and Paul in particular – were not only using God-language to describe Jesus.  They were using Jesus-language to describe God. 
This matters more than we can imagine.   
It’s theologically correct to say that Jesus = God.  But the real revolution happens when we turn that equation around: God = Jesus. 
Most of us would admit that it’s hard to picture God.  Should we bring to mind a force-field, a king sitting on a throne, a blinding light, or an old man with a flowing beard like Michelangelo’s portrait of the Creator on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?   
Jesus gives God a face.  How does God respond to those who are hungry and poor, and to people who are crying out for help?  Read the Gospel accounts of how Jesus feeds the crowds and heals the sick.  What does God think about those religious stuffed shirts who only seem to care about keeping the rules?  Check out the ways that Jesus gives grace to people who are spiritually demoralized, but challenges the smugness of the Pharisees.      
When you want to think about God, picture Jesus.
In the words of biblical scholar N.T. Wright, he’s “the one in whom the identity of Israel’s God is revealed, so that one cannot now speak of this God without thinking of Jesus, or of Jesus without thinking of the one God.”
By calling Jesus “Lord,” Paul is elevating him to the highest possible place. 
As Orville Redenbacher learned, when we get the name right, good things follow.
And when we trust the right Name, life itself can become a treat.