Friday, March 25, 2011

OnFire #254 Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes?

OnFire Encouragement Letter

OnFire #254 Can a Tiger Change Its Stripes?

I have added two more introductions to Bible books on my website. Isaiah and John are now part of my Bible Reading Tips page


I owe my ministry to people who have taken a chance on me. I wasn’t out of school very long when I found that things don’t always work the same in life as they do in the classroom. What seemed so easy to decipher in a case study was much harder to discern in real time and soon people were beginning to question whether they made a mistake in calling me as their pastor. I didn’t know it at the time, but thankfully there were people who saw something in me and advocated on my behalf. “Just give him a little time” became a kind of byword.

Since then there have been many other times when people have stuck their neck out for me. I know about some of them because I was there when they laid their reputation beside mine. What an encouragement to know someone would stand beside me when I was otherwise alone. It didn’t take long in ministry to understand that I was the newcomer to the church and to the community, and most often people side with those they know best.

It is a risky thing to stand up for someone, really an act of faith, because there is no guarantee that things will work out well. I promised to attend court with someone with a troubled past. On the appointed day I couldn’t find him at the courtroom. His lawyer asked what I knew and I simply told him we had been meeting and he seemed to be taking initiative to change his life. It was a 15-second conversation at most.

When the judge asked where he was, the lawyer gave a little speech saying that he did not know the location of his client, but that his minister (me) was present, he was attending church and that he was taking steps to turn his life. He was simply doing his job, presenting the best side of his client, but I felt used. We later learned that he had stolen his landlord’s van and gone on a joyride to Quebec.

In Acts 9 we see the miraculous conversion of Saul. Jesus appeared to him while he was on the way to Damascus, where he planned a full-scale persecution of believers. We should not doubt that he was going to make good on his “murderous threats,” (9:1*) but this changed when he met Jesus that day.

We have the benefit of being able to read the clear evidence of his conversion. He stopped arresting believers and started preaching that Jesus is the Son of God. Ironically, his own life came under threat and he escaped one night by being lowered outside the city wall in a basket. The church in Jerusalem did not know this. When Saul came back it was hard to believe that this tiger had changed his stripes.

It was Barnabas who saw the change in Saul and took him to the apostles. Once again, he proved his nickname as “Son of Encouragement” by standing at Saul’s side when few would take the risk. Here we see the power of an encourager. Would we have the incredible account of the spread of the gospel in Acts if Barnabas had stayed silent? Without this encourager, would we have so much of the New Testament?

Our churches need encouragers. As a pastor I need encouragement. But more than that, there are people who are trying to make a fresh start by the grace of God. Many times I have seen people shut out of church life by others who think it is just a matter of time before they slip and fall again. I understand this feeling because I’ve been burned a few times myself.

Encouragement is not without its risks and in this we don’t have to be naive. But Barnabas provides an example of the power of encouragement. Can we make room in our hearts to encourage, to stand at the side of people that we are tempted to give up on?

I hope this helps. Be on fire.


OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published March 25, 2011. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at Blog located at

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