Friday, March 18, 2011

OnFire #253 What’s in a Nickname?

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #253 What’s in a Nickname?

Hi Folks:
Nicknames can be a lot of fun, at least once we get past the mean ones. I was, shall we say, a portly young lad, and 6 year-old boys can be very cruel. But, thankfully, that was a long time ago.

Like I started out to say, nicknames can be a lot of fun. In school there was one boy everyone called “Soup” because his last name was the same as a major brand of canned product. In our college dorm guys picked up names like “Mick” and “Nobby.” Mick rhymed with “Rick,” his real name, and “Nobby” started when someone switched letters of his first and last names.

Our student has picked up the name “Chia,” partly because her own name is hard for us to say properly, and partly because it is a cute name and she is full of fun.

In Honduras last year, I picked up the nickname “Toro,” which is Spanish for bull. It stuck one day as a bunch of us were sharing a laugh while we shovelled sand. “Troy” was hard to pronounce, and I did a lot of the wheelbarrow work. One of the men made horns with his fingers against his head and pointed to me.

I love that Jesus called James and John the “Sons of Thunder.” Were they just so loud? Did they have a roaring kind of laugh? It sounds like the kind of nickname that comes when people enjoy each other’s company.

In Acts 4:36 we read about a man named Joseph who was a Levite from Cyprus. In many ways this tells us that he was a very ordinary kind of guy, but as the verse continues, we see that he picked up a new name from the apostles. They called him “Barnabas,” and Luke translates this as “Son of Encouragement.” What would we call him now? Perhaps “Sunny” ?

Luke introduces us to Barnabas because he will be an important figure at Paul’s side later. He is never again called Joseph in the New Testament, always Barnabas. The name seems to fit, and that’s not a bad way to be known.

For the next little while we’re going to look at what made Barnabas such an encouragement. The first thing we see is that he gave money, but this is not why he was encouraging. Other people in Acts gave money and they were not called encouragers. In fact, this little blurb about Barnabas in Acts 4 leads into a section on Ananias and Sapphira, who gave money but did it with the idea of making themselves look spiritual to other people. It was the way that Barnabas gave the money that was so encouraging. There was no pretense, no hidden agenda, no strings, just a spirit of generosity and wanting to help.

As a teenager, I was once asked by a good-looking girl to go to a banquet with her. Normally this would have been very exciting because I didn’t get that many offers. The way she asked me, however, suggested that she was hiding something, or perhaps she was making sport of me. I had heard her making fun of people to her friends, and I suspected I was next. The same offer from someone who genuinely cared would have been very different.

That was what made Barnabas stand out. His generosity and kindness was sincere. No one doubted the spirit or manner in which he gave. He saw a need and looked for ways he could be involved, even if it meant personal sacrifice.

People like this are encouraging. They build us up because we know they’re not looking for something in return. We won’t owe them or be indebted to them. They’re just trying to help.

We can learn a lot from Barnabas. May we not fall into the trap of helping someone because of what we might get out of it. Sometimes we get disappointed because we helped someone and they didn’t say thank you or come to church with us. We have to be careful about that. Our helping has to be genuine, from the heart, without expecting anything in return.

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published March 18, 2011. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

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