An Encouraging Word
(Acts 4: 32-37, 11: 19-26, 13: 1-3)
There have been those times in our lives when we’ve been at a low point, maybe hit rock bottom. The situation may seem hopeless, you’ve tried everything, and nothing seems to work, and it seems that your only option is to throw in the towel. What’s the use? I give up. And, all of a sudden, along comes a person with a word of encouragement and, suddenly things don’t seem so bad and you have a glimmer of hope or, at the very least, you know someone out there feels your pain and empathizes with you. I know I’ve told this story before, but it seems to illustrate the point. In my past life I practiced criminal defense law in Tyler, Texas. It was a tough way to make a living as the prosecutor’s office and the judges took no prisoners. One of my friends used to say that the milk of human kindness had been drained from the courthouse. Anyway, I was in court one morning and I guess I must have looked pretty down because an attorney friend of mine sat down next to me and asked me what was bothering me. It really caught me off-guard and I told him about whatever it was that was troubling me, and he grabbed my hand and said let’s pray. I don’t even remember what my issue was or if it even was resolved one way or the other, but the point is God sent me someone to offer words of encouragement at a time when I needed a boost and some reassurance. Many times, we really do know what needs to be done but we just can’t seem to get off high-center. We just need someone to give us a push.
And words of encouragement are where we find ourselves in our scripture reading for this morning. Barnabas was one of those rare individuals who could see the bright side of any situation, seeing a solution to a problem and would readily pitch in to help. He wasn’t one of those people who would tell you what you needed to do without offering to help. I imagine Barnabas as one of those voices of reason, the cooler head that prevailed. He wasn’t confrontational, he was a facilitator. His goal or focus was to help believers grow. He could see down the road and he understood the objective.
Barnabas bursts on the scene in the fourth chapter of Acts. His name was really Joseph and he was a Levite from Cyprus. Apparently, he really impressed the apostles with his enthusiasm and willingness to help because they tagged him with a nickname. The called him Barnabas which means Son of Encouragement. He was so excited about what the apostles were doing for the people that he sold a field he owned and brought the proceeds to the apostles to help finance their work. It was a time when all the believers were of one heart and mind. They were coming together and were sharing all they had in the name of Jesus Christ. Whatever the need, it was met. They had adopted an attitude that everything they had comes from God and were only sharing what is already His.
Barnabas so impressed the apostles that when the persecution began, and believers fled Jerusalem for other cities and towns, the apostles put Barnabas to work assigning him to go to Antioch and minister to the Greeks. When he arrived and saw evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. We are told; He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. Barnabas presents a wonderful example of how to help new Christians. He demonstrated strong faith; he ministered joyfully with kindness and encouragement; he taught new believers further lessons about God. And then, in chapter 13, we’re told that while at Antioch, the Holy Spirit said; Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Set apart means to dedicate for a special program. The Holy Spirit had a special job and Saul and Barnabas were the perfect men for the job. The Holy Spirit probably sent Barnabas along to keep people from beating up Saul who didn’t exactly have the best bedside manner.
I think this is one of the biggest challenges for pastors and those in the church charged with Christian Spiritual development. We ask ourselves questions like; Am I the right person to do this? Or; What do I say and how do I say it? Or; What happens if I mess up? Take comfort in the fact that the early leaders, founders and teachers weren’t trained either. There was no seminary for them to attend or a Certified Lay Minister course take before being assigned a church. We must remember that God always provides what His church needs, whether it is the greater church or the church in Antioch or the little church located at 130 Church Lane, Port Hadlock. When you think about it, one can often see what a church needs by the people God brings in its doors. For those who have been here for a longtime, think about those past saints who have come and gone and what they were able to accomplish while they were here. Saints like Margaret Matheson who didn’t let being confined to a wheelchair stop her from doing what she was called to do. Think about those who have joined our ranks in the last three years and what we’ve been able to accomplish both inside and outside of our building. The gifts and talents new believers bring to the body say a lot about what God knows a particular congregation needs. Not only what we need as a church to survive but what we need to thrive. We may think we are called to do one thing, what everyone else is doing, but God has a different idea and through the nudging of the Holy Spirit we go off in a different direction with results that often times amaze us. In spite of being “Methodists” I don’t think any two churches should be the same. Sure, we have the same “playbook” in our Book of Discipline, but each community in which a church is located has unique issues and challenges in which God’s people can immerse themselves.
So, how does God supply our ongoing needs as a church? Through people, the people that are already here who are energized or refilled with the Spirit and by bringing us new people who have time to give and talents to share. There’s not a week that goes by now where someone comes in with something they think we need. People who don’t even go here have heard about what we’re doing and they’re bringing everything from egg cartons, dryer lint, hotel toiletries, candles and clothes just to mention a few items. These little missions have grown to such an extent that we can’t keep up with the demand so God is sending people to us with these items and the word of what God’s people are doing in Port Hadlock is spreading. And this is how God supplies the ongoing needs of the community. He does it through various entities like government, service organizations, non-profits, people and churches. Are they doing their part? Do they need encouragement, a good word, some inspiration to do more? Are we the ones who will encourage them?
To encourage means to inspire with hope, courage or confidence. Churches and people in general both need encouragement at different times in their lives. Community United Methodist Church is no different. We’ve been called by the Holy Spirit to take on some pretty big tasks as we try and make a difference in some of the areas where people need help and relief. We need to encourage one another when it seems like the going is getting tough. We need to be affirming and let one another know they or we are going in the right direction. When God moves, we need to move with him. We need to set aside our agenda and get in tune with God’s agenda. The church community needs leaders to arise from within just like Barnabas. We need people who have the ability to see the good in what God’s doing through us and our efforts. We’re seeing more and more evidence that people see what we’re doing and their support for our efforts is growing, which is very encouraging.
Luke talks about Barnabas being a good man who was filled with the Holy Spirit. Well, Barnabas was inspired by the Spirit and given the hope and courage to step up and out. I don’t think there’s a person here who doesn’t have the Spirit. But sometimes when we’re filled with the Spirit, we spring a leak and need to be replenished. Are you a quart low? Do you need to be replenished? If so, pray for God to clear your agenda, send someone your way to give you the encouragement you need, and move with God in the direction in which He needs you to go.
Please pray with me.
Father, please make us people of encouragement and grace, and show us who we can uplift and how to do it. Teach us Your Word and how to apply it that we may live in Your wisdom. In Jesus name, we pray, Amen.