nicknames and true identities

There are 2 Josephs we typically think about in the Bible: the son of Jacob and the father of Jesus. But there’s another famous Joseph who we know about but tend to call by a different name. Barnabas

Barnabas was an early church leader, a stewardship pioneer and, for a season, the traveling companion of the Apostle Paul. But Barnabas wasn’t actually this man’s name. His name was Joseph. And the changing of his name wasn’t like other name changes in the lives of people like Abram, Simon or Saul. No, God didn’t decree a change to this Joseph’s name, it seems that it was his behavior and conduct that necessitated this name change.

The first time we read about Joseph/Barnabas is in Acts 4:

Acts 4:36-37

36 For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus.  37 He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.

And this brings up an important idea for every Christian: what is your nickname in the faith?

Yes there are the names that we’re given at birth, and even some nicknames that we might have acquired over the years, but what about the names that we are given because of who we are, how we act and the way that we live? Barnabas wasn’t given a nickname because he looked like his uncle or because he could cook a mean leg of lamb – he was given this name because it seems that he was living a legacy of encouragement through his everyday life. 

It was this Barnabas, this “son of encouragement” who vouched for Saul/Paul when the rest of the church was still a little antsy about taking in this one-time persecutor of their families. He trusted the un-trustable before it was a popular thing to do. Barnabas was an early adopter of the radical love and mercy of Jesus, and people could see the encouragement oozing out of every pore, through every word and in every decision he made. Even the text that introduces us to him in Acts 4:36-37 tells us about a business decision he made that would literally make it possible for those without to be provided for!

It seems that this Joseph made such an impact with his optimism, generosity and social grace that people just assumed that encouragement was in his DNA, and so they just started calling him “son of encouragement.”

And heading into this new year I am wondering what people would call me if they stopped calling me by my given name and started referring to me by what they see in my life. What would my nickname be if it was a description of what I reveal to the world each day?

I know what I want it to be:

• Son of the Presence

• Son of Love

• Son of Wisdom

• Son of Discernment

• Son of Faith

• Son of Mercy

• Son of Obedience

• Son of Jesus

But would it be?

Perhaps a part of 2023 for me is learning how to live into those nicknames. I want to learn to live the kind of life that leaves a new name on people’s lips.

Yes they will know me as Kris, but how else will they know me? And the better and bigger question is: will they know the name of Jesus because they know me?

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