nick’s names

nick nameWhen I was very little I was a massive fan of the Magic Roundabout. I was particularly interested in Dougal, the dog. When the Magic Roundabout was on TV (in the slot just before the evening news I think) apparently I used to crawl around and around like Dougal – always on the move. I don’t remember it, I was too young, but I have a reminder of it – I acquired the nickname from my parents of ‘Dougal’, which became shortened to ‘Doogz’. Before you get excited (and start crawling around) let me say that it only works from my parents and is not available for general use.

(My sister also acquired a Magic Roundabout-related nickname but I am going to keep that quiet as I don’t have her permission to share it. However, if you know her… ask her!)

Nicknames are interesting, aren’t they? They can be affectionate and ‘in house’ – a reminder of friendship or family love such as ‘Doogz’. They can be special, intimate, fun.

Nicknames can be rooted in affection, but they can also be rooted in malice. It is always worth checking when someone uses a nickname for another person that that person is happy with it. If we use a nickname that someone dislikes we may be inadvertently and thoughtlessly reinforcing all sorts of messages of rejection, cruelty and ridicule: for example someone may have the nickname ‘bunny’ which we think is cute when we hear it, but what if it was  an unkind reference to that person’s teeth?

So how did Simon react when Jesus renamed him in the Bible? Simon was a perfectly good Jewish name. It means ‘He who hears God’s word’ – a good name for a follower of Jesus you would have thought. But Jesus decided to start calling him ‘Peter’, which means ‘stone’ or ‘rock’. If you read any of the gospels you will see that Peter (Rocky?) was decidedly un-rock-like. He was the one who suffered from foot and mouth disease – almost every time he opened his mouth he put his foot in it.

So was Jesus being cruel? Or was he giving him the name so he could grow into it? Matthew tells us about when Jesus changed Simon’s name. It was one of those rare occasions when Simon had got something right. He had recognised Jesus’ true identity…

17 Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (Matthew 16:17f, NIVUK)

So what nickname has Jesus given to you: Encourager? Worshipper? Leader? Preacher? Servant? Blessing? Kind? Joyful? Rocky?

You can be sure that whatever it is (or they are) he is not joking. He may be smiling, but that’s because he’s looking forward to you growing into it – and he gives us his Spirit to help us.

Be blessed, be a blessing

name change

This blog now has a new address. It is – although there is still a link from the longer WordPress address if you use that.


What name will you put on here?



I decided to make the change because the longer address seemed like a fair amount of effort to type, was perhaps not so memorable, and because the domain name was available very cheaply. It also indicates that it’s a personal page and that I am UK based.

Names are quite important to us. When we were choosing names for our children I remember a great sense of responsibility. These would be the names with which they would go through life: would the name suit them; would they like their name? Some names didn’t make the final cut because we knew other people with those names and it was either (a) too old fashioned; (b) too popular; or (c) we would be thinking of those people too much if we used that name. We also quite fancied having biblical names (but that was not compulsory).

I was fascinated when our children started going to playgroup and school to see what names other parents had chosen for their children. Some names seem to have a long shelf-life while others seem to be a lot more transient.

In Biblical days the choice of names was much more significant. Moses had a son born to him while he was in exile in the desert and he named him ‘Alien’ (Gershom). People’s names carried great significance. They reflected circumstances and events. Simon, Jesus’ impetuous disciple, had his name changed to ‘Peter’ which means ‘Rocky’ because Jesus said he would be the foundation stone for the church. Saul, the arch-persecutor of Christians, used his Roman name ‘Paul’ after his conversion to be a follower of Jesus to show his mission was to all nations.

Jesus, of course, was given the name ‘God saves’. Jesus is the Greek version (via Latin) of Joshua. Mary was told that was the name they had to give her amazing son. It was an extremely common name for a Jewish man, but it took on a new significance in his case. It was absolutely descriptive of who he was and what he was to do.

If you could choose a name for yourself, what would you choose? I don’t mean the sound of the name, but the meaning. Would you choose a name that meant ‘under pressure’? Perhaps you would be ‘smiling on the outside’. Maybe you would be ‘Joyful’. But whatever name you would choose, when you are a follower of Jesus you do have a new name: child of God.

That’s an amazing descriptive name. Just think about it for a moment. God, the Ultimate, the Supreme, the One, calls you his child! And it’s not just a cosmetic name change. It’s a change of status, a new reality!

No wonder Jesus tells us to pray to ‘Our Father in heaven’. Rejoice in your name, realise your true identity. Live it and love it!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

seamless links?

If you didn’t know better you would think that this blog is planned. (It’s not – at least not by me). This morning I want to draw together some of the threads of the past few days.

Early this morning (see ‘unwelcome epiphanies‘) I woke up with a thought running around in my head that there was a better name for the spoof awards that I suggested yesterday (see ‘and the winner is’). Instead of RAFTAs they could be called LAFTAs. You can see what this means in the stop press at the bottom of that blog.

Then my brain started thinking of other sorts of acronyms (see ‘acronymity‘) for Christian activities:

BUBBLEs – Being Underwater at Believer’s Baptism needing Lifeguard’s Expertise – for baptisms that include a near-death experience (not had any)

CRUMBs – Communion Really Unfortunate Mistake with Bread – for when the bread is not pre-cut, small pieces are dropped everywhere or the loaf is hollowed out (all happened to me)

GOSH – Ground Open and Swallow me wHole – for when you ask the oldest member of your church if this is their first time (not happened to me) (and yes, the acronym is tortured)

AXE – Awful eXperience of Evangelism – for when someone approaches a stranger in the street and proclaims that ‘Jesus Christ is the propitiation for your sins’ (seen that!)

JUG – Jargon Used as Gibberish – for when we use Christian jargon that non-churchgoers will not understand.

The thing is that Christians regularly get things wrong. Not intentionally (most of the time). Usually it’s because we have not thought things through properly.

It can be because we are so caught up in our subculture that we don’t realise how difficult it is to penetrate. Earlier I had a conversation with someone who wanted to know if it was all right if they just turned up at our church. Of course I was delighted at that question because it showed interest and also reminded me that we are strange to most people and coming across our threshold takes courage.

Or perhaps it’s because we are (ministers at least) too professional. It can be because we are doing something automatically to which we actually should be devoting our entire attention. Have you noticed how in the homes of tradesmen and women there are often tasks that they would do as part of their work (putting up shelves, mending dripping taps…) that don’t get done because it is too much like work. There is a danger that ministers (as professional Christians) only do the Christian stuff at work and forget about it at home, in the quiet, on their own. Please God prevent me from ever being too professional about my faith!

what’s his name?


I have been looking at some of the ‘names’ of God from the Bible, preparing for a new series in our evening services. I may reflect on some of the individual names but the thing that has struck me is just how many there are. It is difficult to put a precise number on them because some may be seen more as descriptions of God or functions of God. Have a look for yourself!

Each name reflects a way in which we experience God. Each one shows a different way in which he reveals an aspect of his character to us. Every name adds to our understanding of him.

gemsInitially I felt like these many names were like facets on an enormous gemstone. Each one is highly polished and shines brightly on its own, yet when seen alongside other facets it shows more of the beauty of the gemstone. A compelling image but it feels inadequate. A gemstone, no matter how big, only has a limited number of facets. There is no limit to God. The more we know of him the more we know we don’t know of him. Perhaps that is why we need an eternity in his presence – just to get to know him!

Some time after Sidney died, his widow, Rachel, was finally able to speak about what a thoughtful, considerate, and wonderful man her late husband had been.

“My Sidney thought of everything”, she told them. “Just before he died, he called me to his bedside. He handed me three envelopes. ‘Rachel’, he told me. ‘I have put all my last wishes in these three envelopes. After I am gone, please open them and do exactly as I have instructed. Knowing you’ll do this, I can rest in peace’.”

“What was in the envelopes?” her friends asked.

“The first envelope contained £5,000 with a note, ‘Please use this money to buy a nice coffin’. So I bought a beautiful mahogany coffin with such a comfortable lining that I know Sidney is resting very comfortably.

“The second envelope contained £10,000 with a note, ‘Please use this for a nice funeral’. I made Sidney a very dignified funeral and bought all his favourite foods. Everyone felt it was a fitting tribute to him.”

“And the third envelope?” asked her friends.

“The third envelope contained £25,000 with a note, ‘Please use this to buy a fantastic stone’.

At that point, Rachel held up her hand and pointed to her ring finger, on which was a gorgeous diamond ring.

“So?”, said Rachel, “Do you like my stone?”


commenting on commentators

I have been listening to commentaries on World Cup matches (just about audible above the vuvuzelas) and am impressed by the ability of the commentators to identify the different players from around the world and (attempts to) pronounce their names. They must spend a long time practicing and seem to work on the same basis that I use to pronounce Biblical names when reading in public. If you go at it with confidence and don’t stumble then people assume that you have got the pronunciation correct.

I have been trying to work out some of their methods and I reckon part of it is the ability to link the numbers on their backs to their names quickly, perhaps by learning the team numbers and names by repetition. It is true that the players’ names are on the back of their shirts, but sometimes it can’t be easy to read that quickly, especially some of the longer ones. Part of it may be knowing where the players are likely to be on the pitch, so they know whether it is more likely to be an attacker, midfielder or defender (not so easy because they keep running around). However they do it, it can’t be easy.

I wish I found it as easy to remember people’s names when I have met them. It would be helpful if they had their name and squad number on their shirts but that is not going to happen anytime soon. The problem is that after a while it becomes embarrassing to admit that you can’t remember someone’s name. A colleague at Bible College thought he had a good way around the problem when he had forgotten my name. He asked me, “How do you spell your name?” I answered: “N, I, C, K – got you, you’ve forgotten my name!”

Blue pass 2I have wondered about having a ‘name amnesty’ at church – where we assume that nobody knows anyone else’s name and everyone wears a name badge. That way we can find out the names of those people whose names we have forgotten without embarrassment. It sounds like a good idea in practice, but perhaps is a little puerile.

At this point I could make a ‘spiritual’ point about God knowing us intimately and never forgetting who we are, even if we forget him sometimes, but you already know that. Don’t you?

The manager of a large office noticed a new guy one day and told him to come into his office. “What’s your name?” the manager asked.

“John,” the new guy replied.

The manager scowled, “Look, I don’t know what kind of a namby-pamby place you worked at before, but I don’t call anyone by their first name. It breeds familiarity and that leads to a breakdown in authority. I refer to my employees by their last name only – Smith, Jones, Baker – that’s all. I am to be referred to only as Mr. Robertson. Now that we got that straight, what is your last name?”

The new guy sighed and said, “My name is John Darling.”

“Okay, John, the next thing I want to tell you is…”