Summary: Can God really change people? Barnabus believed He could, even with Saul. Do we believe it too, enough to come alongside others?
Coming Alongside: Experiencing Biblical Community
Bob Torrence was by far the best athlete in our neighbourhood. Didn’t matter the sport – street hockey, football, whatever. Bob was the best – he even went on and played for the Calgary Stampeders for awhile – he was that good. So you can imagine that whenever we got a pick-up game together, and Bob was coming to play (which wasn’t very often), we all wanted to be on his team. Playground rules usually designate the two best players as captains, who then pick their teams from the rest of the available players, and Bob was always the captain.
I remember the spring-break clearly. My brother and I had carried our hockey net about ten blocks to Bob’s street, with my beat-up goalie stick and the baseball mitt we had rescued from someone’s garbage, and we got set up to play. Then came time to pick teams. I hated that part, always have, probably always will, because of feeling humiliated on more than one occasion… Humor writer Adam Ruben describes it like this, and I could relate: “Choosing teams for any sport was always a special moment for me. After all the other players were picked, the selection came down to me and a fat kid lovingly nicknamed Dumptruck. Then an argument would ensue, with both teams insisting that neither of us should be allowed to play football, or indeed to walk the earth at all. This was, of course, until they realized they could trade me to the other team for non-human bonuses: “If you take Adam, we’ll give you an extra fifteen yards and this pointy rock you can hit him with.” Good times.”
But this particular day was different. Bob was the captain, and of course had first pick. I can still almost hear his words: “I’ll take Stevie-wonder…” Now – let me be clear – no one else has ever called me that (Praise God) – and I hope no one ever will… But he picked me first. Bob Torrence wanted me to be his goalie. I was shocked, but certainly motivated to play hard! I was elated when I made a good save, and Bob said, “That was an awesome save!” I was crushed when the other team scored on me, until Bob said, “Forget about it, you had no chance, you’re still ‘Stevie-wonder’, you’re the best!”
Someone to come alongside:
I’m confident we can all point to times in our lives when someone has come alongside of us and encouraged us – when someone we admired, who was “in”, or “with it”, or “cool”, or the best at something, included us. Supported us. Welcomed us. Made us feel like we were unique and special and valuable. And we were accepted.
We also likely each know what the opposite feels like. How it feels to be excluded, looked down upon, left out. I was the fat kid in Jr Hg (maybe that was why Bob picked me – I blocked an awful lot of the net…), so I know what it feels like to be excluded and left out. And so, believe it or not, does the Apostle Paul (who in Acts 9 is still named Saul).
Last week we read the first part of Acts 9, where Saul the great persecutor of the church meets Jesus on the road to Damascus, and becomes a child of God. I told the story of how Ananias risked everything – how he loved God enough to love Saul as much as God loved him – and went and greeted him as a brother and healed his blindness. Let’s read what happens next…
Do you really believe that God can change people?
I want to zero in on Barnabus’ role in the story, but can’t jump there without one other observation first, which I’ll make in the form of a question: Do you really believe that God can change people? Sometimes we get jaded, don’t we? We see people, and label them, and assume that the things that are wrong with them will be there forever. We think of family members, or friends, and don’t really hold out a lot of hope for change. Sometimes we even give up praying for them, or if we do still pray for them we do so without really believing it will make much difference. And having given up, we don’t think to share a little about what God has been doing in our lives, or we don’t think to invite them to come to a Christmas service or a men’s breakfast. When you start to wonder if things can really change, look to Saul. And have faith. God has changed you, hasn’t He? And, more important yet, God is STILL changing you, isn’t He? And He changed Saul. So don’t give up hope, never stop praying, and never stop believing that God really can do it. He really can take the old and make it new, take the broken and make it whole, take the dead and make it live. He did it for you and me, He longs to do it for others.