“Be strong and courageous…for the Lord your God goes with you. He will never leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
I would have liked Barnabas.
He was the older cousin of John Mark, a young man we met in the book of Acts a couple of weeks ago. John Mark had run afoul of Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, when he had left him and Barnabas in the middle of a missionary journey. When Barnabas proposed a second trip, Paul aggressively opposed taking John Mark with them. The two men went separate ways. John Mark heard the criticism, and that’s always hard. Fortunately, that was not the only voice he listened to.
That brings us back to Barnabas. His name literally means “son of exhortation” or, in some translations “son of encouragement.” He must have had a great father for this wonderful trait shows up in every scene we have of Barnabas in the Bible.
You remember Paul’s early history with Christians? He persecuted them, imprisoned them, and even consented to the death of Stephen. Then he became a Christian and tried to join with other believers. Imagine that scene on Sunday morning. “Any guests with us today? Oh my…” Do you know who smoothed the way and vouched for him? Barnabas.
One early controversy in the church concerned Gentile believers. Could they become followers of Jesus? Or did they first have to become Jewish? The two sides were entrenched, and there was some hostility. Church leaders needed someone with a clear head and warm heart to investigate and make a recommendation. They chose Barnabas, and he helped calm a very tricky situation.
I had many occasions in my pastoral career to rely on certain people who were genuine statesmen; men and women who simply combined grace, strength, and persuasion to defuse controversy. They were also typically the people who were my steadiest supporters and encouragers. They knew how and when to speak a positive word.
Dot Robertson was one of those people for me. She was a member of Berwick Baptist, a little white clapboard church about 10 miles beyond the Great Commission in rural Mississippi. Dot was 70 when I started, an age that sounded impossibly old to me then. She was a retired teacher who stayed in public schools during segregation because she thought little black children needed a good education just as much as the ones who went to private schools.
Dot did everything with enthusiasm. She sang enthusiastically, albeit not very well, but that was part of her charm. She kept the books accurately. Showed up for everyservice. Was never afraid to speak her mind. And she sure did love Jesus and the string of young preachers who drove up from the seminary on Sundays for decades to inflict their sermons on that patient congregation.
I recall after an unpleasant encounter with a couple of disgruntled church members, I dragged myself back to Dot’s house and told her what had happened. She listened, then just walked over, hugged me, and told me that couple had been doing that kind of thing for quite a while. She added that I was a good man and good minister. Actually, she probably said I was “such a good little preacher.” That’s the way they talk. I learned to accept it as a term of endearment.
On the wall of her home she had cross-stitch that her daughter had given her. It read “I wonder if you realize how many times your love for me has helped me to find a strength I didn’t know I had; How many times your faith in me has made the difference between giving up and trying again.” I came to realize that Dot embodied that kind of encouragement. That’s what an encourager does. They help you recover your strength and hope. That’s exactly what Barnabas did for John Mark.
Here’s what I suggest for you this week when life beats you up, or when you beat you up, ask God to send you an encourager. He will. God has sprinkled them throughout your life. Just watch and listen for them. They are the oxygen of hope and will help you recover your courage and faith.
But also, ask God to lead you to someone who needs encouragement. Those hurting people are all around you too, and they’re waiting for you. God will help you notice them. And oh how wonderful it feels to help someone recover courage and faith!
Of course God goes before you and will not forsake you! That scripture is true and powerful. What is equally true and powerful is that God uses believers to carry out His will and purpose, and manifest His character and glory. God's encouragement for you will come this week through one of His sons and daughters. And you can pray for the wisdom and insight to become one of those sons and daughters to people around you.
Grace and peace,
September 10, 2019