CALLED TO BE A BARNABAS
--ACTS 4:36-38; and II CORINTHIAS 1:3-7
Charles Swindoll shares this story in an issue of Leadership magazine: “On May 24, 1965, a thirteen-and-a half-foot boat quietly slipped out of the marina at Falmouth, Massachusetts, for Falmouth, England. It would be the smallest craft ever to make the voyage. Its name? Tinkerbelle. It’s pilot? Robert Manry, a copy editor for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who felt ten years at the desk was enough boredom for a while, so he took a leave of absence to fulfill his secret dream.
“Manry was afraid, not of the ocean, but of all those people who would try to talk him out of the trip. So he didn’t share it with many, just some relatives and especially his wife, Virginia. She was his greatest source of support.
“The trip? Anything but pleasant. He spent sleepless nights trying to cross shipping lanes without getting run down and sunk. Weeks at sea caused his food to become tasteless. Loneliness, that age-old monster of the deep, led to terrifying hallucinations. His rudder broke three times. Storms swept him overboard, and had it not been for the rope he had knotted around his waist, he would never have been able to pull himself back on board. Finally, after seventy-eight days alone at sea, he sailed into Falmouth, England.
“During those nights at the tiller, he had fantasized about what he would do once he arrived. He expected simply to check into a hotel, eat dinner alone, then the next morning see if, perhaps, the Associated Press might be interested in his story. Was he in for a surprise!
“Word of his approach had spread far and wide. To his amazement, three hundred vessels, with horns blasting, escorted Tinkerbelle into port. Forty thousand people stood screaming and cheering him to shore. Robert Manry, copy editor turned dream, became an overnight hero.
“His story has been told around the world. But Robert couldn’t have done it alone. Standing on the dock was an even greater hero: Virginia. Refusing to be rigid when Robert’s dream was taking shape, she allowed him freedom to pursue his dream” [--Charles R. Swindoll in Leadership, Vol. 8, no. 4.].
We need an infinite amount of Virginia’s in the Church of Jesus Christ today—men, women, boys, and girls who will answer God’s call to be encouragers of their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Indeed you and I are each “Called to Be a Barnabas” in the Church of 2004. Barnabas was always an encourager of the weak, the persecuted, the
“down and out,” the underdog, those who were rejected by the “in crowd” of the First Century Church. We are first introduced to him in Acts 4:36-38, “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostle’s feet.” The apostles changed this Levite’s name from Joseph to Barnabas “which means son of Encouragement,” and Barnabas always lived up to his name in his ministry, for he was always encouraging others who were having hard times.
We first see him encouraging Saul of Tarsus soon after his conversion on the road to Damascus. Saul had persecuted the Church. According to Acts, Chapter nine Christians were afraid of him and refused to accept him “when he came to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples.” They did not believe “that he really was a disciple.” Then Barnabas steps in the picture in Acts 9:27, “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.” The apostles in Jerusalem accepted the preaching of a converted Saul because of the ministry of encouragement by Barnabas.
We remember another young man Barnabas encouraged by the name of John Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark. This young man went by two names; his Hebrew name of John and his Roman or Latin name of Mark. He soon dropped the Hebrew name and went solely by his Latin one. Mark, when we first meet him, is a cowardly “Mama’s boy.” He was the son of one influential woman in Jerusalem by the name of Mary. It was at her home that the all night prayer vigil for an imprisoned Peter took place in Acts Chapters 12 and 13. However, we most likely meet Mark for the first time in Chapter 14 of his Gospel at the arrest of Jesus. Listen to that account: “Then everyone deserted Him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind” [--Mark 14:50-2]. That naked young man who fled from the authorities when Jesus was arrested was most likely Mark himself.
Scripture tells us that Mark was a cousin of Barnabas. He started out with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but according to Acts 13:13 John [Mark] “left them at Perga in Pamphylia to return to Jerusalem.” For the second time since the arrest of Jesus John Mark appears to be a coward.
When Paul and Barnabas were ready to make a second missionary tour, Mark became a source of contention. Barnabas, the Encourager, wanted to give his young cousin a second chance, but Paul refused. Therefore, in Acts 15:39 and 40 we read, “Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.”
Due to the encouragement of Barnabas, Mark was redeemed and became a valuable ally once again to Paul in his later ministry. Note such testimonies as these: Colossians 4:10, “My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)” Also remember II Timothy 4:11, “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” Do not forget the words of Philemon 23 and 24, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, send you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.”
The cowardly “Mama’s boy” became helpful to Paul in ministry and was restored as “one of his fellow workers” because of the ministry of encouragement by Barnabas. We need more encouragers in the Church today like Barnabas. The Holy Spirit calls you and me to “Be a Barnabas” in 2004.
Just what is this ministry of encouragement to which we are called? First of all, it is rooted in God Himself. We can not be encouragers in our own strength. God is the source of all encouragement. The word encouragement in the New Testament is also the word for comfort. Indeed the two terms are interchangeable. To encourage is to comfort, and to comfort is to encourage. There is no true comfort or encouragement apart from God himself.
Look with me again at II Corinthians 1:3-7:
“3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 6If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
God is the “Father of compassion and source of all comfort or encouragement.” “He comforts or encourages us in all our troubles” so that by the power of His Holy Spirit we then may “comfort or encourage those in any trouble with the comfort or encouragement we ourselves have received from God.”
In I Thessalonians 2:16-17 we learn the reason God has given us His grace and love: “May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” God loves us and by His grace has given us eternal encouragement and hope to strengthen our hearts and empower us to encourage and strengthen others “in every good deed and word.” Because we are “Called to Be a Barnabas,” we will be instruments of the Holy Spirit to offer hope to others, encourage their hearts, and strengthen their spirits.”
What kind of people does God call to the ministry of encouragement? He calls all disciples of Jesus Christ, those who are relatives and friends, teachers, colleagues, students, neighbors of all His children. By what means does He expect us to accomplish the ministry of comforting and encouraging? By all possible means, through visits, letters, the sharing and teaching of the Scriptures, through prayer, through music, through the arts. Encouragement or comfort is my presence with people who hurt in any way—those in any kind of trouble, those who grieve, the elderly, the dying, victims of injustice, those with any kind of handicap, those who are enduring disappointments or loss, those who are suffering hardships of any kind. He calls us to a ministry of cheering their spirits, calming their anxieties and fears, and inspiring them to hope in Jesus Christ. This was the ministry of Barnabas in the New Testament, and this is a ministry so vital for the advancement of the Gospel and Church of Jesus Christ today and the establishment of “His Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.”
Please do not forget that our ministry of encouragement is based on Holy Scriptures. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be Barnabas today as we are grounded in His Word. Paul makes this so clear in Romans 15:4,
“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” The Scriptures encourage us to hope. As we know the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit enables us to share the truths of His word with our brothers and sisters who hurt and in so doing offer them that same hope.
So often today in the Church, the ministry of Barnabas is weak or even no existent. Barnabas is never critical, sharp, or argumentative in spirit. Comfort and encouragement are diametrically opposed to the spirit of criticism. Oswald Chambers in Studies in the Sermon on the Mount reminds us: “Anyone who is continually criticized becomes good for nothing, the effect of criticism knocks all the gumption and power out of any individual” [--Oswald Chambers, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 4.].
I always enjoy the cartoon PEANUTS. Lucy in the cartoon is a nemesis of Barnabas. In one particular sequence of the comic strip “Linus has just has just written a comic strip of his own, and he wants Lucy’s opinion. In the first frame, he tentatively hands Lucy his comic strip and says, ‘Lucy, would you read this and tell me if you think it is funny?’
“In the next frame, we see Lucy patting her foot, and a little bit of a grin come across her face. She looks at Linus and says, ‘Well, Linus, who wrote this?’
“With his chest heaved out and a great big grin Linus says, ‘Lucy, I wrote that.’
“In the next frame Lucy wads it up, throwing it to the side, and says, ‘Well, then, I don’t think it’s very funny.’
“In the final frame Linus picks up his comic strip, throwing his blanket over his shoulder, looking at Lucy and saying, ‘Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life.’
I must confess with great sorrow that too often I too have been “the crab grass in the lawn of somebody else’s life.” “None of us wants to be a loser. None of us wants to be a source of discouragement.” However, unless we obediently let the Holy Spirit keep us in check, “we can find ourselves being more pessimistic than optimistic, more discouraging than encouraging” [--Rod Cooper, “The Kiss of Encouragement,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 141.]. In our own strength we so often become like Lucy, but in the power of the Spirit, we can be like Barnabas. “The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” as we surrender to Him will empower us to “comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God . . . so also through Christ our comfort overflows”
[--II Corinthians 1:3-7].
Maggie Kuhn founded the Grey Panthers, an organization concerned about age discrimination, pension rights, nursing home reforms, and other interests of senior adults. Maggie shares with us “some interesting facts about sandhill cranes. It seems that these large birds, which commute great distances and traverse continents, have three remarkable qualities. First of all, they rotate leadership. No one bird stays out in front all the time. Second, they choose a leader that can handle turbulence. And then, all during the time one bird is leading, the rest are honking, signaling their affirmation. That’s not a bad model for the church. Certainly we need leaders who welcome turbulence and who are aware that leadership ought to be rotated. But most of all, we need a church where we are all honking encouragement” [--Bruce Larson in James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 124.].
Which are you, my brother and sister? Are you a Lucy, “the big brother or big sister who is the crab grass in somebody else’s life?” Or are you a sandhill crane, “honking encouragement, signaling your affirmation.” God calls you and me to be Barnabas today, to “honk encouragement” to our brothers and sisters who are hurting or in trouble. May we truly fulfill our ministry as sons and daughter of encouragement in the Twenty-first century. “AMEN!”
Please note: This sermon ends at this point. However, when first preached, it was followed by Holy Communion. My wife Liz and I had also purchased enough carnations to give to everyone in attendance that day. Each carnation was to be given to another person in attendance at the worship service that day as a token of encouragement, love, and appreciation. That was the special invitation at the close of the worship service.
Here is how that invitation was presented: “Lena Horn was the first African American to be signed to a long-term Hollywood studio contract. For over sixty years she has had an illustrious career as a singer, dancer, and actress. Along with Ella Fitzgerald she has made famous the song “Can’t Help Lovin’ that Man of Mine” from Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s musical SHOWBOAT. She often has been a very controversial person—sometimes sultry, often sophisticated, on occasion braze, but given to wisdom as well. Once she expressed her true wisdom by reminding us, “It’s so nice to get flowers while you can still smell the fragrance” [--Lean Horne as quoted in Edythe Draper, Draper’s Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entry 3137.].
Today you were given a carnation when you entered the sanctuary. This is a special gift of encouragement from Liz and me to each one of you as part of our congregation whom we love so early. We are asking you, after you have received Holy Communion to seek out another brother or sister in Christ here today and present your carnation to that individual as an act of encouragement, affirmation, love, and appreciation for what they mean to you. Ideally no individual will receive more than one carnation, but it is okay of some receive more.
We have been in other worship services where this act of worship and ministry of encouragement has been the closing invitation, and we have done in other congregations we have served as well. It is always a meaningful, inspired, Spirit lead and Spirit filled experience. Please consider thoughtful and prayerfully the person to whom God wishes you to give your carnation of encouragement. Perhaps it would be an individual who oftentimes might be overlooked. May God bless each of you as you participate in this ministry of encouragement today.