Noble Nicknames

When I was in high school, many of us had nicknames. Several players on the football team rode home together in one car after practice (and sometimes hitchhiked). Because we lived way off on the other side of the Saline River, they called us the “River Rats”—a noble name for a noble crew.

Most of the players in that car also had nicknames. Worm was the driver, then there was Bear, Pooh, Dink, Cotton, Tuck, Root, Buck, etc. (the car was ultra-full). Obviously, none of those names came from the victim’s mother.

Some of you are probably wondering, “Which one was David?” You’ll still be wondering when you finish reading this if you don’t know already.

You can get stuck with a nickname because of a character trait (red hair, big ears, etc.), something that happens, or you can even inherit it from a big brother. My uncle was called Runt, though he wasn’t small, because that was his older brother’s nickname. That also happened to “Tuck” who inherited the moniker from his big brother.

Actually the name started out as Tucker Boy but you get lazy and shorten it. The Worm nickname cited above was shortened from Squirt-worm. Another friend’s nickname was shortened from Rabug to Bug. I have absolutely no recollection of where those names came from.

Actually those aren’t too much weirder than some of the real names people give their kids today, but that’s another Coffee Stain rant from a 50-something.

Bible nicknames

Did you know that people even gave nicknames in the Bible? The apostles were kinder in their name giving than my friends were, though. Joseph, a man first noted for his generosity, was nicknamed, “Barnabas” — The Son of Encouragement. (4:36)

His actions and his words encouraged. “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” (Prov. 18:21, Message) Barnabas used his words to build others up, to encourage; he took personal risks to promote others.

When Paul was converted, many other Christians had a terrible time believing it was true. I imagine it was difficult for others to forget what he had done to them and to their families.

Barnabas risked his own reputation by taking the young convert under his arm and presenting him to the apostles. God showed him something in Paul that others couldn’t see.

Evidently Encouragement’s Son had talked at length with Paul and got to know his heart and his call to the non-Jewish world. Paul had to run for his life and seemed to be living quietly at his home in Tarsus (if it was possible for Paul to live quietly). When revival broke out at Antioch Barnabas must have said to himself, “This is exactly where Paul needs to be!”

He went to Tarsus, found the young man, and brought him back to Antioch where he became instrumental in the growth of that church and a short time later, a missionary par excellence.


When John Mark quit the Barnabas/Paul missionary team and ran home to mama, that seemed to finish him as far as Paul was concerned. When the young man wanted to try again on the next trip Paul would have none of it, and it was Barnabas who stood up for him–as had done for Paul years before.

Encouragement’s Son took John Mark and built him into usefulness. It seems to have hurt his reputation with the church because Paul’s group was prayed for and commended to the Lord, not the Barnabas/John Mark team. We don’t hear much more from Barnabas in the Bible, but his protégé made a splash—you might have read the book that the talented writer John Mark wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—the Gospel of Mark.

Later even Paul accepted the young “failure” again.

“Get here as fast as you can. Demas, chasing fads, went off to Thessalonica and left me here. Crescens is in Galatia province, Titus in Dalmatia. Luke is the only one here with me. Bring Mark with you; he’ll be my right-hand man since I’m sending Tychicus to Ephesus…” (2 Tim.4:9-13, The Message)

Barnabas—giver, man-builder, encourager. The spotlight never shone directly on him for long but his life enabled Paul and John Mark to be all that they could be for the Lord.

What would the apostles nickname you?

Squeezing Muscles

The podcast at the end of the article is called: “Why God Doesn’t Answer Your Prayer”

My two favorite courses in high school were football and study hall. I know football isn’t a class but it sure interested me more than biology.

Each class in our small high school had a turn in the library for study hall. It was a nice break from the exhausting work of sleeping in English class or talking in science class. This time was especially educational when the teacher on duty that day had to step out for important reasons (coffee probably or a brief stab at quietness and sanity away from the wild animals).
It was great to talk to the girls, gossip with friends, read magazines, etc. If for some unexplained reason, the teacher stayed in his chair instead of going out for a stroll, and all the interesting magazines had been duly read, you could always do homework. That was ostensibly the reason for study hall in the first place.

But something happened in study hall one day, 43 years ago, that stuck in my mind and stayed there all these years. Most of the boys in our little school idolized the football coach, “Coach Mac.” Evidently he drew the short straw that day and ended up tending us in study hall. I was sitting at a table with others when he walked by and touched my right arm. Nothing mean. Coach liked to pat you on the shoulder and smile encouragingly and stuff like that for no special reason.

That day he squeezed the muscle of my arm and said something like, “Wow! What a muscle!” My 14-year old brain knew that I wasn’t Charles Atlas (For you younger readers he was a super-strong man who had been a 97-pound weakling before sprouting muscles everywhere). But I smiled, slightly embarrassed and very pleased that he had noticed me. Still remember that little moment 43 years later. Crazy isn’t it?

Giving Value To Others

Young people have so many questions about themselves and when an adult that they respect affirms them, that makes all the difference. Oh, Coach Mac could let you have it on the football field if you goofed up (or in his history class if you talked too much), but you took it a lot better from someone that you felt cared about you.

You remember people like that. Miss Mary made me want to write because in English class she told everyone that I wrote well. Pastor Van Horn came by when I was an excruciatingly young pastor, struggling to lead a little country church and frankly “on the ropes.” He invited me to work with him. What a privilege to learn how to love people from a pro.

My Uncle Donnie was another who took an interest in me as a young man and showed up at some important times.

Jesus was like that, always looking around to find people to validate and help.

“The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.” (The Message, Mark 10:13)

It’s easy to get nice little fuzzy feelings thinking about this but I suspect there is someone around you who needs a touch, needs to be affirmed. May even be someone that you’d rather not be around, but could you do some small thing to let them know that God values them—and you value them too?

Some people remember a little muscle squeeze for a long time.

Dream Squashers

I spend a lot of time in my car, so inevitably I listen to hours of radio. The other morning I was listening to a preacher and he was really doing well, talking about how children should respect their parents. “Amen, brother!”

I like it when preachers talk like that and especially when they say that my wife should do what I tell her.

But he began to talk about how children should listen to their parent’s advice because us old dudes (my words, not his) have already been there and we can tell them the pitfalls they need to avoid. So far so good but then he said something like, “My children will never know as much as I do. They might know as much as I do when they’re the age I am now but I’ll always be older and wiser.”

Lots of luck in trying to convince them of that, buddy. When my kids left home I figured that one of the best ways to get them to do what I wanted them to do, was to tell them to do the opposite of what I really wanted them to do. Then they would do the opposite of what I told them, thus accomplishing what I really wanted them to do. Smart, huh?

Can I let you in on a secret though? Sometimes they did things that I feared wouldn’t work out—and it worked famously. Sure, they occasionally fell on their faces. Kind of like me when I tried my wings for the first time. (Actually it’s kind of like me now, but that’s another story).

Smart parents give advice in small doses, with large time lapses between the doses, unless that advice is asked for.

You want to know the worst of it, though? We can kill our kid’s dreams with our “wisdom” if we’re not careful. Once my Uncle Billy, a successful insurance man, was talking to his father-in-law. Uncle Billy had been a barber when he decided to change professions and his father-in-law was dubious about the change. After all, his daughter and granddaughter figured in the mix.

“You didn’t think I’d make it, did you?” Uncle Billy teased years later.

Mature, older people can either kill vision among younger people or we can help enable them to reach the dreams that God has given them. Dreams are one of the most valuable possessions young people have. If we take that away from them (because we’re afraid they might supplant us?) we’ve ripped out a vital part of what they are.

When I was 24 years old a church in Texas had confidence and called us as their leader. I don’t know if they saw potential in me or if they were just desperate for a pastor. But as I began to share the vision that God had put in my heart for reaching that community for Christ, most of them joined in and reached out to make the dream come true.

There were a few that tried to squash the dream (and me too while they were at it!) but the vast majority participated in it. Some of them were three times my age but they still worked at my side.

That was over 30 years ago, and I’ve done a lot of different things in ministry, but one of the most fulfilling works came in that church when I was between the ages of 24 and 30. Dream enablers.

Jesus gave Joseph and Mary a start when they looked for him and couldn’t find him as they journeyed home from his first trip to the big city—Jerusalem. They hurried back and frantically looked for him, finally finding him in the temple, talking with the teachers. These men were amazed at his understanding.

But Mary and Joseph were shook up, as we all are when we don’t know where our kids are. Mary got onto him but Jesus answered her, “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Mary didn’t understand it all. She could have raked him over the coals. “Just who do you think you are? You need to be satisfied helping your father Joseph. There’s a need for good carpenters in this country. You’ll never be anything but a peasant anyway so forget this stuff and get your feet anchored on the earth where they belong!”

She didn’t do that though. “But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51, NIV). I’m sure that her heart guided her actions. I wonder if she didn’t sit at the table at times and listen to him dream out loud.

Is it any wonder that the next thing we hear is, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:52)?

The Heavenly Father made sure He didn’t give His Son an earthly mother who was a dream-killer. She was a dream enabler.

Young people love to dream and sometimes their dreams sound foolish to those of us who’ve been down the pike. We know how life works, don’t we?

And a lot of their dreams are just that-dreams and no more. But some of them become reality, most especially when those around the dreamer encourage him instead of pounding on him.

Parents, help your kids accomplish their dreams. Older pastors, help these younger men of God fulfill what God has put in their hearts. Don’t be afraid of their success. Participate in it by helping them.

You know, I wouldn’t want my kids to know this (though they all receive Coffee Stains), but I suspect they are a lot smarter than I am in a lot of ways. I hope I helped them get that way. I hope they accomplish a hundred times more for the Lord than I do. I hope I can help other young men and women accomplish what God has given them to do.

I don’t want to be a dream-squasher. I want to be a dream helper.