On August 9, 2015, Dr. William D. Webber preached this sermon at the Chapel at Cedar Crest, in Pompton Plains, New Jersey, where he lives. After a life of enjoying speaking (without notes!), he announced privately to his family, “I will not preach again. My mind isn’t what it was. That time has passed.” Below is that sermon. It was fitting, as it sums up perfectly who he spent his whole life being.
Good morning! Longfellow wrote:
Lives of great men all remind us
We should make our lives sublime;
And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.
In the pages of Scripture we find the accounts of men and women, many of them like you and me. Their stories are told so we may profit from their examples. Today I want you to think with me about one such person, why he is in the Bible, and lessons we need so badly to learn from his life. His name is Joseph. You probably don’t recall him by his given name because he is most remembered by his nickname, Barnabas. “Barnabas” means “the encourager.”
HOW DO PEOPLE THINK OF YOU?
What do people call you when you’re not around? In the first church I pastored, I was called “The Kid Preacher.” Betty Jo Norton told me her father called me “that durn preacher.”
What is your name?
Acts 4:36 says, “Joseph, a Levite from Cypress, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement) sold a field he owned and brought the money [to help those who were in need].”
First, notice Joseph already had a nickname. He was always encouraging.
These were tough times for so many Christians. They were hurting. They were in need. Joseph wanted to encourage them.
Second, notice this did not come naturally to him. He was a Levite, a rule-keeper. He changed when he became a Christian.
Can people notice your life being changed by Christ?
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN PEOPLE ARE HURTING?
Who do you know who is hurting? What can you do to help?
Our three-year-old granddaughter, Linnéa, was frightened on the first day of preschool when the parents had to leave. But there was one child she knew, so the two of them stood together, holding hands. Then Linnéa noticed another three-year-old standing alone, crying. Linnéa went to her and said, “It’s okay. We will hold your hand.” Linnéa took one of her hands, her friend took the other, and the child stopped crying.
If a three-year-old can find a way to encourage others, we all can.
We don’t need to look far to find those who need encouragement. Someone you know is hurting. It might not be financial, as it was in today’s scripture. But can you find a way to encourage them?
BARNABAS’ STORY BECOMES MORE INTERESTING AS IT GOES ALONG.
According to Acts 11:19-26, the Christians were persecuted, and as a result, they were scattered. At first, they shared the teachings of Jesus only with fellow Jews. But in Antioch they did something that had not been done before. They began telling Gentiles about Jesus. A new church sprang up, and soon the majority of church members had no Jewish ties. They didn’t keep kosher kitchens or wear head coverings or keep the many Jewish traditions. Word got back to Jerusalem. The leaders of the church in Jerusalem decided to send an independent examiner to see if the church in Antioch was orthodox.
Church historians now recognize this as being one of the greatest turning points of the Christian church. The burning question was, Is it possible to become a Christian without becoming a Jew first?
Thank God they sent Barnabas.
Acts 11:23 says, “when Barnabas 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.”
They sent Barnabas because they knew they could count on his orthodoxy, and, if everything was all right, they knew he would encourage the new Christians.
Barnabas discovered the Christians in Antioch were not completed Jews, but they were sincere Christians, and he encouraged them to go deeper in the Lord.
Bruce Larsen, who was a fellow pastor in Seattle, told me of one speaking tour where he met two pastors. Each told him they pastored a church “full of Archie Bunkers.” One asked, “Pray I can get out of here.” The other said, “What an opportunity to love them, encourage them, and have the Holy Spirit work in their lives.”
HOW DO YOU RELATE TO PEOPLE WHO ARE DIFFERENT THAN YOU? How can you be an encourager to them?
Barnabas remained as pastor of the first church in Antioch. Many came to Christ. Soon they needed an assistant pastor. In response, Acts 11:25 tells us that Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Paul.
When Saul was converted, no one trusted him. They were afraid his conversion was not real, that he would infiltrate the church, and send them all to prison or to their deaths. Barnabas recognized the problem. Paul was a person with difficulty fitting in. Barnabas got to know him, brought him to Antioch, and persuaded church leaders to accept him.
How do you help those who have difficulty fitting in?
The natural response—or, more clearly, the temptation—is to wish they weren’t there and they would go away and not come back. The Christian response is to look for a way to help.
“Sit with me in church.” “Sit with me in the lunchroom.” “Welcome to our town. What do you need?”
Who do you know who has trouble fitting in? How can you encourage them?
Then, after several years (in about 47 A.D.), Paul and Barnabas became the first Christian missionaries and went on a journey to spread the good news. The first missionaries were Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark.
John Mark quit in Pamphillia and went home.
We are never told why. Commentators suggest:
+ He might have become homesick. Have you ever gotten homesick?
+ His family may have needed him.
+ He discovered how hard it was to be a missionary.
Then, in Acts 15, we read of plans for the second missionary journey. Barnabas said, “Let’s take John Mark once again.” But Paul would not hear of it. “John Mark is a quitter. He failed once. I’m not going to take a second chance on him.”
Paul was so adamant that Paul and Barnabas did not go on the second journey together. Instead they split. Paul took Silas and Barnabas took John Mark, and they went two different ways.
What happened to this quitter, John Mark?
You know him now as Mark, the author of the second gospel.
Later, Paul wrote, “Send Mark to me in prison, because he is so profitable for the gospel.”
You never know what a difference encouragement will make.
Who do you know who has failed? How can you encourage them?
Look at the results of the encouragement Barnabas gave:
- Christians were strengthened, both in his home church and in Antioch.
- By accepting and encouraging those who were different, the door was opened to spread the good news to the entire world.
- Because of Barnabas’ encouragement, Paul went from being an outcast to being an apostle and author of many epistles.
- Mark is credited with writing the Gospel of Mark.
HOW DO WE DO IT? HOW DO WE BECOME ENCOURAGERS?
- Choose your attitude daily.
One of my favorite quotes:
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you.” –Chuck Swindoll
- Begin with a one day fast from criticism.
Catherine Marshall felt God calling her to go one day without criticizing. It’s a wonderful spiritual exercise for us all.
- Remember the ten to one rule.
Encourage more. Criticize less. We are more affected by criticism than by praise. It’s human to remember words of criticism others speak and to be sure they mean every word, while we assume praise is simply polite conversation. Psychologists tell us it takes about ten compliments to offset one criticism.
- Include your family
Be their cheerleader. Be at least as kind to your family as you are to strangers.
- Include your church family, especially pastors and staff.
Pollster George Barna has discovered that pastors are the single most occupationally frustrated professionals in America. According to the Fuller Institute survey, 80% of all pastors feel their jobs have a negative effect on their families. Pastors’ spouses and children often feel isolated and pressured by high expectations. Another study found we express our appreciation much more often to lay leaders than paid staff. Encourage your pastor! Express appreciation to everyone who does something in the church, whether the task is large or small. Encourage everyone.
- Encourage everyone.
Encourage those going through tough times.
Encourage those who are different than you.
Encourage those who have difficulty fitting in.
Encourage those who have failed.
Pray to be like Barnabas, a good man full of the Holy Spirit, and an encourager.
If this doesn’t come naturally to you, remember it did not come naturally to Barnabas, either.
With God’s help, you can change. Once, when my wife Marilynn gave a talk, a negative woman came up to her afterwards and said, “Don’t you know you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?”
Marilynn replied, “Do you think the God who created the universe, who knows everything, is baffled by you and your problems? Couldn’t God help you change if you asked?”
Our real sin is to be stuck with ourselves and refuse to change.
We thank you that in the times of our failures you have helped us. In the times of our sins, you have forgiven us. In our darkest days you give us hope. We thank you that you are a God of encouragement. Help us to be your followers and to be people who are known as encouragers. Show us now someone who needs our encouragement. Amen.