Part:10 Son of Encouragement
Pastor Tim Inman
In 1997 I was preparing to graduate with a ministry degree from Northwest College near Seattle, Washington. I didn’t know it yet, but my wife Lauri was pregnant with our first child. I felt called to ministry, but I knew that my degree would not guarantee me finding full-time placement.
I received a phone call from Verlon Fosner, pastor of Sunset Community Church in Livermore. He had heard that I was a ministry student who was running a school-age daycare. I found out that a combination of my years of experience working in daycare combined with some classes I’d taken in College qualified me to be a daycare director. He offered me I hybrid role: if I accepted, I would start and run a 55 student qualified school-age daycare for the church and become the church’s full-time children’s pastor. He was pretty optimistic about my ability to succeed. “It sounds like two full time jobs,” I said with a laugh in the interview - It was, in the beginning.
It was a great opportunity for me and I realized the church was taking a risk by hiring a 23-year-old rookie pastor to do such a big job. I didn’t realize until I started how big of a risk it was: I found out that the church was so convinced of the value of reaching out to the community through day care and children’s ministry that they sold several acre’s of church property to a developer to hire me!
Can you think of someone who took a chance on you? Maybe that person is now a spouse or a boss or best friend. John Donne coined the phase, ‘No man is an island’. The truth is we all need lots of people to take a risk on us: some small and some big.
Last week we learned how Saul, Christian’s public enemy no. 1, had a dramatic conversion when he saw the light. Christ personally appeared to Saul and called Him to be an Apostle. The Lord had earlier revealed to Ananias that Saul was His chosen instrument to bring the gospel to both the Gentiles and the Jews.
Saul is the very same man we now call the Apostle Paul, who wrote at least 13 books of our Bible, established numerous churches in Asia and Europe and provided powerful leadership in the early church.
He had an infamous past, a bright future and a big problem: No-one trusted him, No-one, that is, except for a man named Barnabas. Let’s take a look at our scripture: from the book of Acts, Chapter 9.
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews,[a] but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
Of all the Christian, ‘disciples’ who Paul encountered when he returned to Jerusalem, only Barnabas had the courage to take him on and vouch for him to the apostles. What distinguished Barnabas from the other, sincere followers of Jesus, who couldn’t find it in their hearts to forgive Saul and take him at his word?
Barnabas Beat fear
There was a real risk of taking Saul in. He had led the charge to arrest, imprison, and even kill the followers of Jesus. He was such a threat that after his conversion, the Christians enjoyed a time of peace. How could Barnabas risk the safety of his family, and that of his fellow Christians?
Fear isn’t the same as caution.
Caution says, “I’d better check out this guys’ story.”
Fear says, “I can’t afford to get involved.”
Fear says, “I’ll never let them back into my life.”
Caution says, “There will have to be some conditions met before they regain my trust.”
Can you see the difference? Fear is like caution in over-drive, it makes an absolute judgement. And scripture warns against being ruled by fear.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (1 Timothy 1:7, NKJV)
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
(1 John 4:8, NIV)
Faith is the opposite to fear, and scripture affirms that without faith it is impossible to please God.
Has fear been holding you back? How does God’s love for you change the meaning of the thing you fear?
But fear isn’t the only thing that holds us back from loving courageously:
Barnabas resisted cynicism and took time to listen to Saul’s story.
If you’ve ever been hurt, misunderstood, or let down by someone you trust, it’s easy to become cynical. I once became cynical after letting myself down!
But cynicism blinds us. It makes us unable to see the good. You can hardly blame those disciples for being skeptical when this man who’d previously been breathing murderous threats against all Christians now claimed to be a convert - but we now know that they were blind and they are wrong.
Cynicism is a pretty common emotion, as any casual glance at Facebook can attest. It’s dismissive and callous, it shows itself in name calling and absolute judgements, and it robs its host as much as its target.
Cynicism is tainted by the the opinions of others: “A lot of people have been talking and they feel the same way I do.”
Cynicism says, “People don’t really change.” But as Christians we have hope to believe the opposite. 2 Corinthians 5:17 teaches that in Christ we become new creations - and I do realize that the change doesn’t always materialize overnight.
Barnabas may have been cautious at first, but we know that he took time to listen to Saul’s story for himself, because he later recounted it to the Apostles. When he listened with an open heart, he saw what no one else could.
Barnabas saw good in Saul
One of the things Barnabas recounted to the apostles was that Saul had been fearlessly preaching the gospel in Damascus. It’s been pretty interesting to watch the AD series. It’s definitely not for young kids, and it’s goal is not to be Biblically or Historically accurate, but it does do a good job of helping us think freshly about what life was like for these followers of Jesus. In the series, the Saul/Paul character is bold and strong-minded both before and after conversion. It’s probably an accurate depiction. One person encounters someone like that and says there’s a jerk who’s full of himself. Another sees a potential for a courageous leader. We all have unique personalities with strengths to bring God glory and weaknesses which need redeeming.
Did you know Barnabas was actually a nickname? His real name was Joses. Lots of Jesus’ followers got meaningful nicknames. Simon was ‘the rock’. James and John were collectively, ‘the sons of thunder’. The apostles gave the nickname Barnabas, which means ‘Son of Encouragement’.
Encouragers choose to see good in people. They can even make you feel good about being rebuked or corrected. They build with their words.
While many of us are call down judgement on sinners, they see creatures created in God’s image with so many redeemable qualities designed to give him glory. Which position would you rather take?
Have you had an encourager like Barnabas, someone who saw a diamond in the rough, who remained untainted by fear, cynicism, and the opinions of others, who stuck their neck out to invest in you?
We have all needed a Barnabas, now someone else needs us to be theirs…
Let’s tell God we are willing to be a Barnabas.