There was a time in history when names meant more than they do to us today. We just don't take names seriously. After the Civil War a group of wealthy businessmen started an insurance company and wanted to use Robert E. Lee's name. They would pay him a comfortable salary, and he wouldn't have to do any work! What he discovered is that they just wanted to use his name. General Lee responded to them, "Gentlemen, I have nothing left but my name, and that is not for sale." He knew that power and reputation are part of a name.
Escaped convict Sylvan Carter had been free for twenty-eight years when he turned himself in to authorities. When asked why he did so, he stated he wanted his own name on his own tombstone. He was tired of living a lie.
In the Old Testament, names and essence are intertwined. The Third Commandment is about God's Name: Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God. In ancient times, they revered the name of God because using a name implied the subject's power and reputation. Today, we may use someone's name on our resumé because of that person's reputation. God doesn't want us to take His Name lightly. Use care in all of your words and especially in using His Name.
Graffiti — defacing property by painting words on it — is a modern-day illustration of the importance of words. Sociologists, community leaders, and law enforcement officials say that areas that tolerate graffiti and defacing of property are areas where the sense of community pride is down and crime is up. If we don't care about the words we use, then it shows a lack of care about who we are and how we relate to others.
The mouth that takes words lightly is a mouth that takes God lightly. Who we are and what we think are reflected in how we speak. Graffiti is contempt for property, others, and ourselves and is an outward symptom of an inner problem. Taking God's Name lightly is an outward expression of an inner attitude.
We might express it as, "What's in the well comes out in the bucket." This is not just a "world" problem. It is a "church" problem. If you say, "God revealed this to me," as a way of achieving your own agenda, you take His Name lightly.
A little boy ran into the house holding a frog he had killed. He said, "Mama, look, I killed it! I beat it to death. I stomped on it. I knocked it against the wall." He looked up and saw the preacher there, paused, and added, "And then the Lord called it home." That's religious talk. Religious talk alienates, gives us a feeling of superiority, and dishonors His Name.
Vanity occurs often in the Old Testament. It means to empty of content, to make God irrelevant. If God is not relevant in your everyday life or if He is not significant when you leave the church, you are taking His Name in vain. If the church becomes irrelevant to society, we take the Name of the Lord in vain. We take away the significance of His Name when we fail to make God relevant to our world.
Hypocrisy is words without practice. Hypocrisy in the church is worse than profanity in the streets. Why? We have named the Name of the Lord. We carry His Name. God's people were referred to in the Old Testament as "people who named the Name of the Lord." Naming His Name stands for character, for God's integrity.
A friend once told me he could get me a Rolex watch for $49.95. I asked how he could do that, and he told me that it was not a genuine Rolex. Everyone would think I had a Rolex and that I was much more successful than I am. He offered "the name" at a bargain price. This decreases the reputation of the Rolex name. Don't take His Name lightly and put His Name on something with poor quality. We either exalt or defame His Name. Some people never become Christians because they have never met a Christian, but some people never become Christians because they know a Christian.
The profanity of indifference or mediocrity is giving our best for second-rate causes and not giving our best for God. Don't show up for Him with a little time and ask what you can do for Him. Don't be a church where the lack of preparation is embarrassing. When speaking at events, a speaker or a singer will sometimes tell me that they haven't had time to prepare, but maybe God will bless it. I want to say, "I've prepared all week, I'm ready to go, so why don't you just stay seated?"
Once I went to lunch with a wealthy man in the church. I left a large tip, and he told me if I would leave a small tip, one day, I would be a rich man like him. I told him that if he gave a large tip like me, he would be a happy man and, one day, a great ambassador for Christ. A good thought during the convention is to remember that a newspaper once claimed that Baptists come to town with the Ten Commandments and a $10 bill — and they don't break either one.
Let's not take His Name lightly. Let's be ambassadors for Him — not an embarrassment to Him — because His is the Name above all names.
Charles Lowery is founder and president of LIFE, Inc. and is in a fulltime speaking ministry. You may contact LIFE, Inc. at 903-881-9422 or www.charleslowery.com.