Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why Nicknames Are Important For The Church

I was that guy when I was growing up. That guy that made fun of people. Yes I was a bully. To my everlasting shame I was a bully and made fun of people without regard for who, as long as it was not
me. I was merciless with no discrimination as to who it was, as long as it was not me being laughed I was ok with that. It probably had a lot to do with me being harassed and ruthlessly being picked on as a Middle Schooler. What is it with Middle School that brings out the worst in kids. It certainly was a horrific experience for me too. So when I got into High School I decided that I was going to be the one doing the bullying, and not being bullied. With incredible remorse now looking back, I know I hurt many people in the process, all the while claiming to be a sold out Christian. I am terribly ashamed of that part of my life. Part of my bullying included name calling. I was good at making up embarrassing, silly, and rude names for people. After confessing and repenting from these terrible sorts of bullying practices, I realized that God was not quite done with that part of my life, and wanted to use that and turn it for His glory in my future ministry. Early on in my ministry in College, I made up my mind that I would NEVER again degrade anyone with name calling, or mocking nicknames, but rather I would use this ability to empower others, and build them up by finding positive, empowering nicknames that would build the teenagers in my ministries up as people, and give them an identity in the community of Christ. 

The Lord began to use this ability in my life. I gladly decided to never ever denigrate or make fun of people again, but rather build people up with the ability to find nicknames. I started to use silliness and fun to create community. In nicknames I have found an empowering aspect for people, personalities, and the greater community of Christ. I started to to do this with consistency in youth ministry in the past 10-12 years. This has specific application to youth ministry, but I believe the broader body of Christ also. I will give a few examples. Ryan we called Rhino, Peter we called Uncle Pedro, Rebekah we called Sassy Pants (Which she loved by the way), just to name a few. This was a mixture of on the spot nicknaming people according to their personalities, and according to the fun stuff we did together. In the Bible there are many examples of people with nicknames. There was none more effective and interesting at this than the example of Jesus himself. Jesus named his closest three friends Peter, James, and John "Sons of Thunder" (Boanerges in Greek). He named Peter himself "Petra" or rock. Thomas was called "Twin." Jesus seems to use nicknames for specific purposes. He used godly empowering nicknames in a few specific ways...

1. Jesus and the rest of the Bible give nicknames or new names to call people. He gave nicknames to call them out of the world and into his work. For example, when Jesus says to his disciples that they will no longer be fishermen, but in a turn of phrase, they will now be "fishers of men." That is a calling that Jesus placed on their lives. When Jesus called Peter "Rock." he said and "on this rock I will build my church." This is the calling that Jesus placed on Peter's life. We see also that the early Church took on this value of giving new names. For example, Barnabas was named "son of encouragement." The Church nicknamed Barnabas because God had given him the calling as a great encouragement to everyone who he was around. This is how Jesus employed nicknaming people, to call them to a higher calling. 

2. The Bible and Jesus use nicknames or new names to give people a new identity in Christ. Jesus called men to a new life and identity in Him and his power. This is never more evident than in
Barnaba Introduces Paul to the Church (From a Kids Book)
the life of Saul of Tarsus. He was a hateful man who tried everything he could to persecute the Church of Jesus. Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and intervened and saved him. Jesus literally gave him a new identity. With that new Identity Jesus gave him a new name. He was no longer Saul, but Paul. In this case a nickname would not suffice. What was needed was not to accentuate a personality trait, but rather a new name which brought with it a new identity. And who was there in the end to bring Paul into a communion and acceptance into the community of Christ? Barnabas the "Son of Encouragement." This is the type of name calling God had in mind. One of these men had a new name and new identity, and one had found his identity as the "Son of Encouragement" in the Community of Christ. Names are important, and we ought to use what God has given to call people into a New Identity in Christ

3. The Bible and Jesus used nicknames and new names to give people a new work and goal. Jesus gave three men Peter, James and John a new challenge and
A favorite picture is Jesus laughing with friends
possibility to turn the world upside down, and bring their thunderous gifts to bear in His church; to this work of the gospel. Some people debate the semantics and source of the term "Beaneries." Wether it means "Sons of Thunder" or "They Act Like Oxen" it does not really matter. Either of these nicknames could lead us to believe that Jesus had a great powerful work planned for these three men. Jesus in using this nickname was intimating that these three men of power might give their power and kraft to the work of the Gospel. History and the Scriptures reveal that these men put their whole lives and "Thunderous Oxen Power" into the ministry of the Gospel. Jesus obviously used fun, laughter, and nicknames to empower people in Ministry, Calling, Identity, and New Work. This side of Jesus personality is often overlooked for the more serious aspects of his life and ministry, but he was an emotional man that was wholly engaged with his disciples, and people whom he loved deeply. So deeply that he knew them and used names, and nicknames to call them to a new identity in Him. Let us take Jesus example and invite people into the community of Christ wether we give people nicknames or not, and love them the way Jesus did us. This has specific application for youth ministry, but also for the wider Church community. Jesus has called us in love and we can respond to him in love by calling out to him. It seems to me a little weird sometimes to call on the creator of the universe by name, but he has called us by name. He has called and named us as his friends. in John 15:15 Jesus said, "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." This is the big brother we have, he has called us friends, and given us a new name in Him. That name he has given to us who trust in him is, "Friend!" Now that is something to celebrate! "In this fortunate turn of events you (Jesus) ask me to be your friend!"

No comments: