Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Encouragement - Barnabas - First Chances

One of the most powerful examples of encouragement in the life of Barnabas comes not long after Saul (later to be Paul) has met with Jesus and become a Christian on the road to Damascus. Saul begins preaching in Damascus, but after a while the opposition there gets too strong and he leaves and travels to Jerusalem so that he can spend time with the disciples there. However, not surprisingly the disciples in Jerusalem are suspicious of his conversion story, and fear that he is really a spy still intent on getting them all thrown in jail. We read about this in Acts 9:26-28 -

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. 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. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.

I love what Barnabas does here. 
  • First of all he takes a huge personal risk and reaches out to Saul. He doesn't just write him off out of hand, but goes to him and hears his story, and clearly in hearing that story is convinced that he is the real deal, that his conversion is genuine (he may also have heard independent reports from Damascus). This could have gone horribly wrong for Barnabas, he could have ended up in jail or even lost his own life, but he was willing to take a risk with Saul for the sake of the gospel.
  • Then he puts his own reputation on the line by speaking to the apostles on behalf of Saul. He uses his own personal favour with the apostles to speak up for Saul. 
  • Then finally in Acts 11:25-26 we read how Barnabas brings Saul under his ministry wing and they begin to work together in Antioch.
I believe that God is going to bring lots of Sauls to us as a community. Maybe not people with quite his history or reputation, but people who "have a past", and maybe wouldn't fit immediately into our culture or way of thinking, and who we wouldn't naturally think of using in ministry or leadership positions. And what those people are going to need is a Barnabas in their world. Someone who will take a chance with them, who will believe in them, be willing to stand alongside them as they come into the life of our community and then helping them to be effective in an area of ministry. Not necessarily an elder or senior leader, but just someone like Barnabas who is respected in our community and was willing to take a risk. 

I'll never forget my good friend Ed Garton, who sadly passed away last year. Ed was a fabulous guy, but he also had a past, he was one of life's rough diamonds. One of Ed's favourite stories was how not long after he became a Christian and came to Kerith, he quite quickly became a head steward with responsibility for counting the offering. Nobody had trusted Ed with that sort of responsibility in years, but he and his family were overwhelmed that people were willing to trust him. Ed went on to have a huge impact in many of our lives, and in Uganda and Serenje, but that was all rooted in a few individuals being willing to get alongside and invest their lives in him early in his time in Kerith.

So here's my challenge to all of us. Who are we going to be willing to get involved with, to believe in and to share our lives with, in order that they might achieve their full God given potential.


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