Posts Tagged ‘Barnabas’

marketingI know it feels like marketing sometimes, this “evangelism” or spreading of the gospel, the good news. Back in the day, it was a little different since communication was a personal craft. People who could speak well or or turn a phrase, or read, were the ones who led the way. People who had miraculous experiences were quick to tell (for a season) and eyewitnesses retold what they saw and/or heard again and again. But, have we been playing “chinese telephone?”

The Lord has commanded us to do this. Remember His words:I have appointed you a light to the nations beyond Israel, so you can bring redemption to every corner of the earth.” [Isa 49:6] These words created two strong reactions. The outsiders were thrilled and praised God’s message, and all those who had been appointed for eternal life became believers. Through them the Lord’s message spread through the whole region. But the Jewish leaders united the aristocratic religious women and the city’s leading men in opposition to Paul and Barnabas, and soon they were persecuted and driven out of the region. They [Paul and Barnabas] simply shook the dust off their feet in protest and moved on . . . [Acts 13:47-51a]

Oral traditions are powerful. The personal telling of a story or episode is always more compelling than a newspaper article or textbook telling of the same event. We have all read about the execution of 6 million Jews in the second world war, but meeting and speaking with even one survivor of the Holocaust will sear the mind forever.  Just last week, two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, we were appalled and even fascinated, watching hour after hour for the smallest bit of news. And yet, the reality of that story was much more immediate when I spoke to Mary whose daughter was in the race. She was there.

Over the Easter season, I watched the old movie, The Robe, again. The phrase that keeps ringing through my mind was, “Were you there?” And this was the point: being “there,” being at the crucifixion was the turning point for Marcellus Gallio [Richard Burton]. And, in the end, when he finally embraces his first hand experience, he is changed.

It is our own first hand experiences that change us as well. Some of those sagas are dramatic and others are not. We cannot all have a “road to Damascus” [Acts 9] story. And yet, there is something personal that moved us from one place to another, from one belief to another, from one understanding to another. Each moment is different and even unique. When did you come to believe?

But I urge us all to take care. We are not longer living in an oral society. We are living in the Twitterverse where Google and Facebook have become verbs, where the image now trumps words, and “reach” means how many “eyeballs” we can accumulate and entice to land on a web page or a flat screen.

The gospel is not a show. It’s not some event that we are “marketing.” The gospel is only as dynamic as your story is for you.

The rest is hype. And just as you get sick of seeing the same commercial over and over again, so people grow tired of hearing and seeing the canned gospel.

If it really means something to  you . . . to me, then that is story I have to tell. And if it resonates, that’s great. If not, then I simply knock the dust from my shoes and keep on keeping on. Because I know my story is true. I cannot convince anyone to believe it. It just is what it is for me.

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Acts 15:39a
They [Paul and Barnabas] had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company…

I think about all that Paul and Barnabas had been through and wonder how this disagreement finally tipped the scale. Maybe they were always kvetching with each other and this was one kvetch too many. Who knows? But clearly, these wunderkind apostles did fight.

It appears that Barnabas was ready to extend grace to John Mark for his disappearing act when they were all traveling together before (near Pamphylia), but Paul was not. For Paul, it was simply unwise. He didn’t think they could “count on” John Mark.

Both Paul and Barnabas were considered apostles. Both men were familiar with the Holy Spirit. Both men were prayer warriors. Both men were leaders. And yet, they could not agree.

It is no different today. There will always be disagreement between leaders … between believers. Some lean toward grace and some lean toward pragmatism. Is one right where the other is wrong? No, they are simply different roads.

John Mark went on to write the book of Mark which has been included in the canon of scripture. Barnabas disappears from the story after leaving Paul. Silas, Paul’s new companion, went on to work with Timothy. And of course, Paul continued his own journeys. Each man contributed to the story in his own way.

There is a place for both: grace and pragmatism. They are not necessarily on opposite sides of the coin.

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Acts 15:19-20
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

Well, this threw a little wrench in my understanding today. By only looking at small pieces of Bible text at a time, at one moment there seems to be complete freedom and then the next chunk adds the strings. This shows how important it is to have the ability to see the forest and trees.

But I am not a bible scholar. Each day I’m just trying to find what God might be saying to me through the Word and how to apply what I read to my heart walk.

The verses of Acts 15:19-23 put unexpected boundaries around the freedom I had felt in earlier verses. I would need to do much more reading, but from the little I did read this morning (Here a Little, There a Little website), I realize that it’s important to understand more about that time period and culture.

The believing Jews did not expect or want the incorporation of Jesus into their world and faith to separate them from their Judaic heritage. Jesus was/is the Messiah and therefore the completion of many prophecies. He was a Jewish phenomenon and, from their perspective, Jesus was providing a way for the gentiles to be adopted into the faith.

As mentioned in the “Here a Little, There a Little” article, James released the gentiles who were coming to Jesus from circumcision but they would enter the faith with the same restrictions as “strangers” who wanted to live among the Jews (as written in Leviticus 18). And then, they would learn about the law of Moses (verse 21) in their local synagogues. In other words, the disciples expected everyone who came to Jesus to ultimately become a Jew with faith in the Messiah.

This makes sense. But, history shows that things did not work out that way. Instead, over the years, the “Christians” or Christ followers who were gentiles, absorbed their faith in Jesus into their own traditions and faiths.

The strings that James attached to the Christ followers of Asia Minor were not strong enough and Jesus faith morphed and morphed and morphed. Many bible readers say we are following the word of God literally… but if that were true, then we would all be Messianic Jews. That’s not a bad thing at all, but it hasn’t happened that way. And at this point in our world, I doubt it ever will.

So, where does that leave us gentiles today? Hanging onto grace… that’s all we can really do.

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Acts 13:21b-22a
Then they [Paul and Barnabas] returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.

There were no Bibles for the new Christ-followers in Asia Minor, particularly the gentile converts. There were no “new believers’ kit” and there were no pamphlets. There were no “4 Spiritual Laws” and there were no welcome packets or prayer cards. There were no mentors nearby and no “big sisters or big brothers.” There were no pastors or Jesus-believing rabbi’s.

They had each other.

They had what they could remember from the introductory teachings of Paul and Barnabas. And, if they were lucky, they might have access to a free-spirited Jew who might share with them what he (or she… maybe) knew of the Law or perhaps there was someone who had memorized portions of the psalms and would sing/speak them. Only later, did they have the letters. And still much later, they had a few visits from other believers who trusted Paul and Barnabas and were willing to teach the message of Christ to the gentile converts.

They had prayer, their first and most vital connection to their faith. They had the Holy Spirit.

Their ability to “remain true to the faith” was under girded by the Holy Spirit. And I believe the message was a simple one. They were not dissecting the written word. They had the witness of Paul, Barnabas, and the resonance of truth within.

When I first asked Christ to guide my life, I was alone. I had had the witness of one fallible man, Tom, who had tricked me into reading the New Testament. And on the night I finished reading that Gideon edition of the New Testament, I could not call the essential message a lie. And if it was not a lie, then I had to reckon with the truths.

It is the essential messages that reach the heart: God loves human beings so much that God sent his son-self as a human to teach and show people the nature of the kingdom of God. Jesus proved himself and the kingdom over and over again. He loved and he served and he died (by choice). That sacrificial act made it possible for people to commune directly with God. Jesus then arose from the dead by the power of the Spirit. And that same Spirit manifests the kingdom of God within those who believe to this day. This is how faith operates. This is why we can commune (pray) with God.

But people want to codify the faith. They write, they translate, they extrapolate, they simplify, they complicate, they erase, they add, they emphasize, they minimize, they err, they correct, they change, they rearrange, they chisel, they smooth, they broadcast, they whisper, they blog, they twitter, the IM, they sing, they proclaim, they conceal.

Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ [Luke 10:27]

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Acts 13:50b, 52
…They [the opposition] stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region…And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes we mistake opposition for failure. After all, in this case, the opposition managed to expel both Paul and Barnabas from their city. And later, they even followed the two apostles to Lystra and stirred up that crowd so much that they stoned Paul and left him for dead. But none of these things deterred the apostles. They either “shook the dust from their feet” or waited on God to heal them and moved on.

How often do we cave to opposition in our own worlds? If I look back, I realize how many times I have given up my ideas or projects under opposition. I kept looking for a blessing, a success, as the signal that God wanted me to continue. If I wasn’t successful then I became too discouraged to continue. And so, there are plays unfinished, performances never executed, work undone, blogs left idle, ideas left hanging, people lost, children untouched, jobs never started.

Lord, forgive me for running from the opposition… the challenges of life, the struggles, the confidence in You. Give me courage to hold fast and move forward. May wisdom be my sister in all things.

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Acts 14:10b-11
…”Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”

Miracles are tricky things. In Lystra, the people who witnessed a crippled man healed at the word of Paul, completely mistook this show of power and called both Paul and Barnabas gods (Hermes & Zeus respectively). They responded to that event, that miracle, within the context of their own culture.

We are no different. We often take what we don’t understand and integrate it into what we do understand. We do all we can to make sense of it. It is very difficult to absorb something so outside the norm and make it fit our world.

Jesus could have done many more miracles than he did. But how would people understand them? Even today, we try to attach formulas to miracle working: oil anointing, laying on of hands, prayer, fasting, and commands, just to name a few. We are trying to recreate the circumstances in which we hope healing can take place.

But here’s the truth: it’s not about the words, the actions, or even the faith. It’s the relationship we have with Jesus, with God, that sets the stage for miracles. It’s our ability to “hear” the Spirit… feel the Spirit… know the Spirit is ready for us to broker a miracle. God chooses. God says, indicates, reveals: this one but not this one is to be healed. This circumstance, but not this one, is to be changed. This mountain, but not this one, is to be moved.

Jesus knew that miracles could overshadow the message. He chose carefully. Each miracle had an intent and a message. This overshadowing was the case for Paul and Barnabas in Lystra. Paul knew the man could be healed… but perhaps Paul missed the timing or the method. Paul was not Jesus. Paul was fallible just as we are fallible.

We all want miracles in our lives. It might be for the healing of a loved one, ourselves, or a transformation of a situation. I pray each day that God would heal my daughter of fibromyalgia. It is a debilitating and chronic pain condition that is overwhelming for a teenager. And yet, I know, with each day that she is not given a miracle of healing, there will be another day, a moment, when that miracle will come for her… it may not look like the miracle that either of us expect, but it will come. Miracles cannot be dictated… not in their timing or their effects.

I have said before and will say again, miracles are not private. Miracles happen for the person, yes, but also for the witnesses and bystanders. As believers, we must trust God’s timing. And when the miracle comes, give praise and acknowledgment where it is due.

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Acts 13:9-10a
Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil…”

This incident happened on the initial leg of Paul’s first missionary journey in Cyprus. Apparently, it is on this journey that Saul changes his name to Paul, which historians surmise he did to be more accessible to the Greeks. And it is here that he and Barnabas encounter a sorcerer named Elymas who opposed them when they sought to speak to the proconsul that Elymas had been serving up until then.

But what is of greater interest to me is this phrase about Paul being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” As far as I can tell, this particular phrase, or ones similar to it, are only mentioned a dozen times in the New Testament. And yet, this is a phrase that many contemporary Christians (particularly Charismatics and Pentecostals) bandy about as a frequent experience marked with outward expressions like tongues, laughing, shaking, and the like. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying these expressions of the Spirit are not authentic, I’m just not sure they represent being “filled” as in filled to overflowing.

I think that true fullness would, by its very nature, pour out on others. Most of the “filled” examples in scripture are followed with a time of emptying by speaking and prophesying, literally speaking for God. Anything else is probably less than full. I just think we have diminished the impact of what it means to experience the Holy Spirit in this way.

I have used the phrase myself. But now, I think I have been merely touched by Holy Spirit. Whatever experience I had was just a breath of the Spirit compared to being filled. There is so much more. If a person is actually filled to overflowing, something happens… something changes. Power is exercised and by its very nature, it is according to the direction of God for the sake of another. Someone else is changed, not so much the person who is filled.

I am ashamed to say but I believe I have sought these “infillings” for myself and not for others at all. Oh, it sounds so pious, to seek the Holy Spirit and to go deeper into the things of God. But really, isn’t the whole point of my faith supposed to be to touch others?

So many traditional church folks are afraid of the “postmodern” movement because it is so inclusive and yet, there is one thing the emergents and postmoderns have over a lot of the other Christians… they “get” the “relationship” message. They are loving and serving others as a natural outpouring of their faith and their walk “in the way of Jesus.” They are living with and serving the poor and the unlovely. They are not trying to get more filled… they are trying to empty. They are pouring themselves out for others.

Clearly, I am still holding on too tightly to what I have. I am afraid to empty myself because I don’t really trust God to keep me filled. Forgive me.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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