OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #255 Barnabas and Change
As I’m writing this morning, my computer is updating one of the programs, and to be honest, its driving me nuts. The update manager promises that I will have an improved user experience with a new look, new features, and great new free down loadable apps. It sounds promising, but I’m a little sceptical. My experience is that not all updates are improvements in this user’s interface. It doesn’t help my mood that the update is hogging the CPU and slowing everything down. Oh, and get this, just when I clicked to check its progress, yellow and red letters in the middle of the screen tell me “installation failed.” So much for that.
Before you’re tempted to write to me with one of your own stories about computer trouble, to ask what the application was, or to suggest something related to changing my operating system (usually these letters contain phrases such as “drop kick,” “have you tried...” or “linux”), I’m going somewhere with this, so lets not get distracted. Sometimes we resist change (computer related or otherwise) because we don’t know where its going or because we have not had a good experience in the past. The situation is not unlike what we find in Acts 11.
The persecution of the early church drove Christians out of Jerusalem. When Stephen was martyred in Acts 7, many left for Judea and Samaria, but as zealous persecutors like Saul pushed further and further to find them, Christians travelled into other regions as well. In one of God’s many ironic ways, the persecution spread the good news about Jesus.
In Acts 11, a change happened which caught the attention of Christians back in Jerusalem. Instead of the scattered believers speaking about Jesus only to Jews, as they had done in places like Phoenicia and Cyprus, a few believers in Antioch started telling the stories about Jesus to the Greeks. The result was that a number of Gentiles turned to Jesus.
So what’s the issue, you ask? This was a new thing. The message about Jesus started among the Jews, and so at first it did not seem natural that Gentiles might come to the Lord. Was this a new act from God, or something which only had the appearance of good and would cause trouble later? This was the question which arose among the leaders back in Jerusalem .
What to do? They decided to send Joseph, now nicknamed Barnabas, “Son of Encouragement,” to be their eyes and ears so that they might discern the issue. We pick up the story in Acts 11:23-24:
“When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”*
It was a great strategy. Being full of the Spirit and a man of faith, he would be able to tell if this was from God. First, it takes one to know one. If we’re going to recognize a movement of the Holy Spirit, we need to be “full up,” filled and relying on the Spirit to lead and guide.
Second, it does indeed take faith to see a new work from God. Often God leads in new ways which require us, as it did for those who went before us, to step in faith, to move in a new direction in a new way, unlike the ways He has led in the past. Too often in our churches, we look back upon “glory days” but forget that those steps were not free from controversy and required a lot of faith, just as they do now. Personally, I’d love to hear more stories about how church leadership overcame the obstacles in those steps of faith rather than to hear about how successful things used to be. We can’t go backward, only forward, and we need to hear these accounts of how God gave courage and strength.
And then, finally, it was a great strategy because, if this was a move from God, the new believers would need someone like Barnabas to come alongside of them, encouraging them and demonstrating what a person of the Spirit and faith looks like. And so we read, “he encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” Who better to do this than Barnabas?
I think we are living in an exciting time and are seeing some neat new movements of God. There are many effective entrepreneurs of the gospel who bring new thinking, new ways to engage the culture, new ways to worship, new ways to do church. At the same time, I also see that there is much controversy, and much risk that some movements may not be of the Spirit. Hardly a week goes by without receiving email warnings about this or that writer and their supposed heretical teachings.
Sorting through this requires faith, discernment, humility, and willingness to see that God may be leading differently than He did in the past. We have ways of testing these things, and we should. God will not lead in ways contrary to his revealed will in Scripture, and His people are expected to reflect character and behaviour in keeping with true repentance. We can be sure Barnabas tested this change against these things and was then able to recognize this new move of God for what it was.
Every new move of God needs people like Barnabas to discern and also to encourage. In this he stands as an example for us as we live in these exciting but changing times.
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 April 1, 2011. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Archives are located at www.onfireletter.com. Blog located at www.onfireletter.blogspot.com.