This thing about your name on a Coke bottle is great! If you don’t like it, don’t take it badly. It’s nothing personal. Really, it’s not that they chose to ignore you or anything. It’s just that…well…how do I put this? It’s just that your name is Kiogora. If it’s any consolation, I haven’t yet found one with the name Ernest on it. I’m learning that if I lived in a place like Germany, the chances of finding one printed Ernest would be in my favour, together with names such as Heinz and Schmidt (Hail Hydra). The Share A Coke trend made me see just how humans love their names in good light. I’m sure that even you, yes you, who vowed to never drink Coca Cola after all those health campaigns was almost compelled to buy just one Coke when you saw your name on it- for shelving of course 😉 Even the Bible asserts that a good name is better than riches (Proverbs 22:1). Names carry a certain power and ambience. Mufasa makes the hyenas tremble; Rumpelstiltskin makes the queen depressed; Shrek makes Fiona blush and Humpty Dumpty makes Puss in Boots utterly mad! A name has power and an ambience. That’s why many Facebook account owners having taken to certain celebrities have hyphenated their profile names to accommodate their admiration. We associate Hitler with genocide and Mother Teresa with love. We associate Twain with good writing and Bonnie and Clyde with good thugging. We love it when people mention our names and good things come out of the mouths of the hearers. We misspell encyclopaedia all the time but we never misspell our own names. We love our names made. Matters of Coke aside, it’s not a bad thing in itself to work towards greatness of a name, however there is a downside. Making a name for oneself can be an idol. Followers of Jesus Christ ought to listen to this carefully.
In John chapter 3, Jesus’ cousin was doing a great thing for the Kingdom of God. He was baptizing people and preaching the coming of God’s kingdom. He led many back to repentance and he became very famous. If John wrote a book, it would be titled “Locusts, Honey and the Wild!” and it would be a bestseller. National Geographic would have called him the Tarzan of the desert. John didn’t strive to be famous, however. He simply did work that made him famous. John had quite the repertoire to build his name. He had his birth prophesied by an angel. He had several disciples and a huge following of the local people. Yet when Jesus came into the scene, John stepped down, remembering his role. He remembered that his duty was to prepare the way for the Messiah and not to take the spotlight. In John 3:30 he confessed (in reference to Jesus) “He must increase and I must decrease.” John had Jesus as his Lord. John’s ministry was fulfilled by Christ and in a sense also “overtaken”. He even ended up being jailed and beheaded. Yet in all this, we do not see John fighting for followers or telling Jesus, “I made you bro! I made you!” You see, he understood that in actual sense, Jesus made him. He relinquishes power to the greater name- Jesus. The attitude of Christ-increase-I-decrease should be embodied in the lives of Christians. In light of his Lordship, every believer should be willing to have God given praise and pre-eminence in everything.
You must be careful, however, Beloved, not to abuse this meaning. There are two extremes. Firstly, some will sacrifice excellence in the name of Christ-increase-I-decrease. In some Kenyan fellowships it sounds like this, “Listen to the words of the song and not to the voice.” What then follows is often a mediocre presentation justified by God-looks-at-the-heart applause. Excellence and order are by all means godly. Secondly, some will totally bash excellence in the name of idolatry. I read a piece last week where a certain blogger was ranting how Professional Sports is sinful. His argument was that the name of the player is highly glorified more than the Lord’s. While that can happen, it is prudish to think that one man’s idolatry means the whole batch is out. Shall we say the same concerning lawyers, doctors, teachers and professionals of others fields when they succeed? Does not the Lord take glory when his people represent his name? Did Daniel, Esther, Job and several others not grow in fame yet not idolize? Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Tim Tebow’s football career gives glory to God. Ben Courson’s career in Surgery gives God glory. Can these men idolize their careers? Yes they can. But Beloved, so can you idolize your not-so-in-the-spotlight career. Realize that anything in your life that doesn’t necessarily make headlines can even be your idol. You can idolize your spouse, You can idolize your morality. You can idolize your education. You can idolize your boyfriend/girlfriend. You can idolize your socio-economic status. And in all this God says that you shall have no other gods before him.
And it is mostly within the latter extreme of idolatry that making a name for ourselves displeases the Lord. Yet the Lord has a knack of making sure our heads don’t puff up when it comes to activities that may build a name for ourselves. He can take away the idol to show us its uselessness, like he did with Israel. He can frustrate our idolatry until we come to our senses. And when he sees it almost growing, he can nip it in the bud by taking care of it even before we realized it was an idol to make a name for ourselves. Let me give you a personal story that demonstrates this.
There are days I take hours to craft a piece for Pen Strokes. Naturally, I expect that since I put in more effort in the piece, the readership views and response will be greater than other posts that were put together in a measly 30 minutes. However, two of my most carelessly written pieces are the ones that have generated the most traffic to my blog. When I wrote What I have learnt in my first year of marriage, I was running late to catch the bus. I wrote it hastily and posted it only because I had not done my fortnightly post. I was fulfilling the reader’s expectations. I said to myself that I would get to the office early in the morning and take it down and write a better post. I didn’t even check for grammar errors. I was afraid it was going to be the worst post ever. However, the next morning, I was shocked to see the amount of traffic it generated. My inbox was full of congratulatory messages about the piece, the comment section was running out of thread, the number of “bless you” messages were inexhaustible, a local TV media house even asked to interview me about the piece, several other bloggers re-blogged it and in less than a week the traffic hit 42,000. What were 42,000 people doing on my blog? Pen Strokes was dazed. All the while I kept wondering, “How can these people seriously be blessed by this piece?” The Lord spoke to me that the tag line of the blog “Strokes of the Pen for the Glory of His Name” was exactly that. I had dedicated the site to Him and he was just working where invited. His name made more than mine- that he may increase and I may decrease.
In Genesis 11, we see humanity in a united front setting out to build the tower of Babel made of thoroughly burnt bricks and tar to make a name for themselves. In verse 4, it says “Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” God confused their tongues and it brought about disorder in their work. The Lord knows the heart of man, that once he makes himself the centre of the universe, he ceases to see himself as he truly is-sinful and in need of a saviour. When pride in oneself checks in, a hardness of heart often follows. Constantly God humbled kings who put pride in the name they built in themselves. He humbled Nebuchadnezzar. He humbled Pharaoh. And God’s humbles all those that trust in the flesh to boast. See what Isaiah 30:1-3 says “Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the LORD, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge. But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame, Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace. Israel ran for help to a man who had build a name for himself- Pharaoh. Like at Babel, the Lord humbled them because a heart that trusts in self often plunges into exceeding rebellion towards godliness.
The concept of having God increase and having us decrease is not foreign to a believer who knows that they are saved by grace through faith. This is the crux of a believer’s life- is Jesus truly Lord over your life? Do you value making a name for him more than making a name for yourself? Is your affection for his glory infinitely greater than the craving for your own glory? In the book of Numbers Balaam son of Peor set out to use his gift of blessing and cursing only to receive a reward from Balak .The Sons of Sceva used Jesus’ name to cast out demons to make a name for themselves. Simon the Sorcerer desired the Holy Spirit eagerly to make a name for himself and profit financially out of it. A bunch of traders used a demon-possessed girl to foretell the future to make a name for themselves and earn money. Jesus warned of false prophets who pretend to shepherd the flock but inwardly they are ravenous wolves, seeking to only profit self. And lastly, Beloved, the ultimate example is Lucifer, who rebelled against the Creator because he wanted to make a name for himself.
Even our salvation is not as a result of our effort. We cannot boast about it. We can’t make a name for ourselves when it regards eternity. In fact, our only contribution to God’s salvation process is our sins. Well, someone may say, what about faith in Christ? Isn’t my believing part of my effort? Well, Beloved, did it ever dawn on you that even the ability to have that faith is God-given? God has manifested himself through the Word, through Jesus’ humanity and through several instances in your life to make you have faith in him. Even the faith that leads to salvation originates ultimately from God. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it very certain that we have no share to boast in the greatest work of love that Jesus demonstrated. Look what it says in the NLT: “God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”
When man walked on the moon, the world was amazed; when God walked on the earth the world was saved. The latter remains the greater feat! Jesus demonstrates the ultimate humility. He makes a name for himself on earth and then gives away the credit to you and I. He prepares for years only to minister for three. He works great wonders and gives his followers power to do greater ones (John 14:12). He lives a sinless life then gives you that pure perfect record so that you don’t face God’s wrath (2 Cor 8:9). He takes your wrath on the cross for you after making a name for himself. After his resurrection his name becomes the name above every other name. It becomes the name by which man finds eternal security and salvation (Acts 4;12). His name becomes the name that is used to chase demons and drive out evil spirits. Like Mufasa, Jesus makes evil shudder. His name becomes the name by which every knee will bow and every tongue will confess in heaven, on earth and under the earth as Lord of all. His name becomes the name by which every prayer to God is made- in Jesus name! His name becomes the name that stops suicides, abortions, hopelessness, and even death. His name becomes the name that is the ruler of the cosmos and the universe. His name carries such weight and glory and guess what he does with that name? He gives it to you. He calls you a co-heir with Christ so that once you die, everything his name achieved becomes yours. He made a name for himself and yet did not consider equality with God but rather humbled himself to the point of death on a cross. But God rewarded him with the greatest name. And at the name of Jesus, all that believe in him are saved. Because of that name of Jesus, your name, is written in the Book of Life. So I do want my name in lights- heavenly lights. Patty, Mwangi, Peter, Susan, Joe, Esther, Stella, Eric, whatever your name is, if you have trusted your life to the Saviour Jesus he has it inscribed for your eternal blessing! And that, Beloved, is better that any customized Coke bottle.