September 1, 2015

The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name. Zechariah 14:9

Interesting news report on Sunday: President Obama announced that Mount McKinley in Denali National Park & Preserve is being renamed Denali.

Maybe you’re just as confused as I was before I visited Alaska in 2013 about these two designations. I always thought that when the park itself changed from Mount McKinley to Denali, the identity of the mountain changed too. Not so—at least not officially.

It seems there’s a century-old dust up over the whole thing. In 1896 a gold prospector tagged North America’s highest peak with the name of then-presidential candidate William McKinley, who was inaugurated into that office the following year. When Congress set aside the land surrounding the 20,237-foot mountain in 1917, it was called Mount McKinley National Park, to commemorate the commander-in-chief assassinated in 1901 during his second term.

But among Alaska natives, the mount was always called Denali, the “high one” or “great one” in the Athabaskan language. In 1975 the Alaska Board of Geographic Names made the name official within the state, and the legislature petitioned the federal board to do the same on the national level.

The request was blocked by Congressman Ralph Regula representing Canton, Ohio, which claimed President McKinley as its native son. When Jimmy Carter signed a bill adding more acreage to the park in 1980, a compromise was struck: the park’s new name became Denali National Park & Preserve, but the mountain stayed McKinley.

Regula continued to introduce legislation opposing any name change until his retirement in 2009, and his successors carried on the tradition. But in January of this year, Alaska Republican senator Lisa Murkowski put forth a bill to rename the mountain Denali, and during hearings in June, the Interior Department—under whose jurisdiction the National Park Service falls—said it had no objection.

Things moved quickly after that. The Columbus Dispatch editorialized that “Ohio should gracefully concede” and “let Denali be Denali.” (The newspaper also suggested the park name should be changed back to McKinley, something highly unlikely to happen). On August 30, President Obama took executive action to institute the change, in advance of his current trip to the forty-ninth state. And while Alaskans are grateful, Regula calls the move “disrespectful.” Other Ohio Republicans, including presidential candidate and state governor John Kasich, aren’t happy either and vow to fight. Even Donald Trump has weighed in: he says when he’s elected, he’ll change the name back.

Ah, politics…

As I mentioned in a previous post, names are important in our culture, which is why Ohio and Alaska have each crusaded for the one that means the most to its residents. Scripture likewise attaches significance to names, often given to reflect a person’s character or circumstances of birth (for example, Jacob’s sons, in Genesis chapters 29 and 30), or to mark events at a certain place (think Galeed, which means “heap of witness,” and Mizpah, meaning “watchtower,” where Laban and Jacob piled stones to mark their wary non-agression pact in Genesis 31:44-49).

There’s a church near me that has this sign out front: “Making Jesus Famous.” It never fails to give me a chuckle, because I don’t feel “famous” is the best word to use. I think to most people who aren’t Christ followers it gives the impression that Jesus needs a public relations boost because He’s in danger of becoming a has-been.

In reality I believe what the sign is referencing is John 12:32, where Jesus says that through His death and resurrection—His being “lifted up” on the cross and from the grave—He will draw people to Himself. That’s the Bible’s fundamental message (see also 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4), and not that the Lord is concerned with His celebrity. When you’re the active, self-existent Creator (Genesis 2:4, Exodus 3:13, 14), you hardly need the publicity.

On the other hand, it is the church’s mission to make Jesus known, by proclaiming His name, what it means (“the Lord is salvation,” Luke 1:11) and everything the Bible says about Him. To make Him “famous,” if you want to put it that way.

Yet Scripture tells us one day we won’t have to do that anymore, because that Name will be unforgettable. It will rise to the top, soaring higher than Denali or any other mere earthly crag. Then, Philippians says, Jesus’s name will be above all others, and at the sound of it, every single person will fall down in awe and worship to declare that truth (vv. 2:9-11).

No arguments, no discussion and, thank goodness, no politicking.

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