Wednesday, May 4

Have you seen them?

“Joseph, a Levite and a Cypriot by birth, whom the apostles named Barnabas, which is translated Son of Encouragement, sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.” [Act 4:36-37 HCSB]

Some people say to follow the fruit back to see what spiritual gifts you have been given by the Spirit to use for the sake of the Kingdom and the mission of all of those in the family of God. It is in the evidence of what has been done that what can be done is visible to expand upon and grow into an orchard of fruitful trees. They often use that in justification of the mega-church or multi-church phenomenon that has overtaken the Western Christian faith in the postmodern world.

We love successful things, tangible and concrete metrics to measure the effectiveness of our God’s investment in our lives. And it makes great business sense as well, which is the typical ‘structural’ integrity of our church system, whether it is fundamentalist Baptist, nondenominational bible-believing, missional Protestant or Roman Catholic. What chaos would ensue if we didn’t follow a successful model?

We want it in our leaders as well, that unblemished and unaltered image of success; pews or seating filled to capacity, a worship style that has them swaying in their seats and clapping out loud and a sermon that fits the needs of everyone without offending anyone. It’s a condition of the American dream; success. We don’t want those who aren’t successful by the standards set or at all to ever be in charge of something as important as the church we’ve worked so hard to establish. We fracture, angrily lash out or are heartbroken when one of the “leaders” of the universal church falls or goes off into unbiblical grounds.

We defend those who preach a gospel absent of total, absolute truth like Rob Bell and Joel Osteen "because its not hurting anyone" while crucifying those who have been isolated to the accountability of brothers and sisters around them to the point of falling into sin "because they've fallen from grace". We cheer and clap as those who have committed sin daringly stand in defiance of Scripture and proclaim themselves healed and yet keep underfoot those who openly struggle with worldly things……for they aren’t allowed to speak God’s word.

Makes me wonder if there are any Barnabas’ left in the postmodern Westernized Church of Christianity.

I know there are, because I have seen them. They aren’t the ones who grace the leadership team, spending 65% of the church’s budget to pay for their salaries and those of the rest of the team. They aren’t the ones who typically lead the ministries that are customized by the leadership to reach the ‘maximum’ people. They aren’t the ones who are visible in the church social functions or outreach events or tithing accountability.

They aren’t the ones who sit in the pews, nod at the appropriate times and dutifully clap when a worship song is done particularly well. They aren’t vocal in church dissension and don’t usually argue their cases before the authorities that be. They are silent, unassuming and dedicated to a cause that defies church walls and is unrealized by social circles.

They are the ones who are always there in the church, always doing something within its walls to encourage those who are in power positions to thrive, to do the job right that God has graced them to have and to make the mission of primary and utmost importance. They are the ones who never say no, even when they would rather take a break from volunteering and maybe be served for some time instead. They are the ones who step up when stepping up gives them nothing except a heartfelt thanks.

They are the ones who encourage those who are in better positions than they to keep on when the going gets rough and who impart the knowledge gained from their own failures for the sake of someone else’s triumphs. They very seldom sit down in a meeting or silent during discussions.

They wear their hearts on their sleeves and their lives on their shoulders. They take slights and insults, bear misery and denials and grudgingly give up on God inspired dreams when faced with opposition. They allow the lives they themselves would rather have to be lived through those who are in better positions to live them and yet they never say a word to anyone. They struggle in their weaknesses and acknowledge them for the benefits of others to avoid or draw comfort from them while encouraging those who struggle with things that aren't as bad (on the human scale).

Barnabas, the Encourager, was still active in the Lord’s work in 55 A.D., though we are not told what or where he is. Church tradition says that both Barnabas and John Mark “continued their missionary work and Barnabas became the first Bishop of Salamis, his native city, where he is said to have been martyred and secretly buried by his cousin Mark” (Meinardus 1973: 11; Acts of Barnabas). Barnabas was active in ministry in Rome, Alexandria in Egypt and Caesarea in Judea, according to The Recognitions of Clement (1994: 78-80; Zahn 1907: 459, footnote 2).

To the west of the ancient ruins of Salamis there is a Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to Barnabas and a tomb in the surrounding area that is said to be his.

Dr. D. Edmond Hiebert notes this about this man, “Barnabas stands out as one of the choicest saints of the early Christian Church. He had a gracious personality, characterized by a generous disposition, and possessed a gift of insight concerning the spiritual potential of others. He excelled in building bridges of sympathy and understanding across the chasms of difference which divided individuals, classes, and [ethnic groups]. He lived apart from petty narrowness and suspicion and had a largeness of heart that enabled him to encourage those who failed and to succor the friendless and needy. He did have his faults and shortcomings, but those faults arose out of the very traits that made him such a kind and generous man – his ready sympathy for others’ feelings and his eagerness to think the best of everyone” (1992: 52).

Do you know someone in your church fellowship who is like that? Who stands firmly in the shadows of those who need or have to shine brighter for the sake of all those who stand in the darkness? Can you see the weaknesses that they have being a part of who they are valued as?

I know a few Barnabas’……

They don’t grace the stage on Sunday, power the glorious worship in the beginning or even drive the ministries in the Church walls or without. They are there, they are unseen mostly but always sought out when things need to be supported with prayer, with time/money tithing or even physically. They never quit even when they long to be encouraged.

They are our safety net in a world that would abuse us.

They are a reflection of God's desire for us.

And that is more valuable than any success we could have.

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