Wednesday, March 19, 2014

We Could All Use A Little Barnabas In Our Lives

                All of us have experienced that moment when you walk into a new job, a new place of worship, or even a new school. You feel like the odd man out. Everyone around you has been there for awhile and they have developed friendships. You stand around waiting for someone to talk to you, to notice you, but instead it feels like you are invisible. But then, someone walks up to you and says “Hi.” They extend a hand or offer you a hug. You begin to relax and become more yourself. It looks like it is going to be okay, maybe this new job, new church, new school won’t be so bad after all.
This morning, I came across the passage of scripture where Saul goes up to Jerusalem to meet the Apostles. But, instead of being welcomed by them, he is shoved off into a corner, where he too is standing, waiting for someone to notice him. But then, someone walks up to him and offers a hand of friendship, a hand of comfort. His name is Barnabas. As I was reading these passages of scripture, I thought to myself, “We could all use a Barnabas in our lives.” Most of us have experienced what Saul was experiencing. We have walked into a new church, a new fellowship and felt like the odd man out. No one even seems to notice that we are there. We may get a hug and a handshake when the pastor tells us to greet someone, but otherwise, that is about it. We may get a handshake and a “Welcome” when we walk through the door, but mostly, we are standing there, waiting to be accepted. This is not a fun place to be, and for us as Christians, it should not be a place we allow anyone to be.
                “And when Saul came up to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.” Acts 9:26-27
                To think that Saul had trouble being accepted into the church body seems weird, since we know him as one of the greatest preachers ever to walk this earth. But to the disciples he was someone new, someone they had only heard about, and what they had heard was not pleasing to their ears. They were in all respects right in their fear of him. But, Barnabas was not so easily taken back. He saw a fellow brother in the Lord who needed fellowship, who needed to be connected to the body of Christ, and the only way to do that was for him to extend that hand of fellowship.

                How many of us are willing to be Barnabas? How many of us are willing to step out of our comfort zones, out of our circle of friends at church and extend that hand of friendship to someone new? Someone we know very little about, someone we have only heard of, someone who we might even consider a threat? How many of us would be willing to extend that hand of fellowship and say, “Welcome to the family”?
                “Thank God for people like…Barnabas who will welcome people into the family of God with simple friendship….Barnabas simply extended the love of Jesus to Saul…” (David Guziak, commentary on Acts 9:26-27, Blue Letter Bible) Saul was not welcomed right away. He stood on the outside looking in, wanting to be a part of the body of Christ, but needing the encouragement to step forward, needing a mediator, a friend to take his hand and lead him in. Barnabas, being the encourager that he was, opened his heart to Saul and showed him Jesus. He showed him that he was accepted, not because of what he looked like, who he was friends with, but because Jesus had accepted him. Saul was a family member, and allowing him to stand on the outside looking in, went against everything Jesus came to preach.
                Up to this point Saul had not had any fellowship with the apostles; he had not had any fellowship except with those in Damascus and Arabia. He had not had any connection to the body of believers, the main church that was in Jerusalem. He needed someone to welcome him, to take his hand so that he could become rooted in the foundations that had been built. He needed a church body, and the only one willing to help him get that was Barnabas. Barnabas was willing to offer the hand of friendship and fellowship to Saul, which enabled him to become rooted and grounded in Christ. How many of us are willing to do the same? How many of us are willing to be a Barnabas to someone who is standing on the outside looking in?
                We must be willing to reach outside of our comfort zones, outside of our circle of friends and extend the hands of fellowship, and encourage them to come inside. We must all be a Barnabas. There is no place for cliques in the church, and this interaction between Barnabas and Saul is proof of that. So many times we welcome someone on a Sunday, we hug them, we tell them how happy we are to see them, we talk to them for a few minutes, and then off we go to hang with our circle, our comfortable clique of friends. But where does that leave the Saul? Still standing on the outside looking in, still waiting to be accepted into a family that God has already said they were a part of. Everyone needs a church family to call home, a place where they can be who they are in Christ without fear of judgment or rejection. Barnabas was willing to be the mediator for Saul. He was willing to get to know Saul on a personal level so that he could then make a way for him to become a part of the body that was in Jerusalem.
   Are we willing to be a Barnabas? Are we willing to extend that hand of friendship to a Saul? Are we willing to step out of our cliques and out of our circles to encourage, to help, and to be a friend to someone who is standing looking in? I have seen and felt, and know firsthand the affect that cliques can have on a church. Some people are very welcoming for the first couple of times that you come to their church, but then, because you may not be like them, you find yourself on the outside looking in. And, unfortunately, there are not enough Barnabas’ to extend that hand, and to extend that fellowship, and eventually, these Saul’s end up leaving the church entirely.
                Are you a Barnabas? Stop and think for a minute about all the people that have come and gone in your church. How many of them did you become a Barnabas for, and how many of them did we allow to stand on the outside looking in? Be a Barnabas this week. As you go into your place of worship and fellowship, look for those Saul’s. Get to know them, offer the hand of friendship as well as fellowship. Welcome them into the body of Christ. Welcome them to the family and help them to become rooted and grounded. Don’t just say hello, hug them and then return to your circle- be a Barnabas to someone, you will not only encourage them, but you will gain a brother or a sister for eternity.

                I pray today that we would all become a Barnabas to someone today. That we would step out of our cliques and our circles and extend that hand of friendship, that we would take the time to see them standing there, looking in, and that we would be bold enough to offer that hand of friendship to them. Father, it is my prayer today that You would make us a church of Barnabas’ reaching out our hands to all the Saul’s who pass through our doors. In Jesus Name, amen and amen.