Barnabas: God’s Bridge Builder

Read
Acts 11:19-30
Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So, for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.  Verses 25-26 (NIV) 

Reflect 
I have always enjoyed the story of Barnabas. I guess I just like the fact that the name Barnabas means son of encouragement (Acts 4:36)and in every place of ministry that I have been active there has been a Barnabas to keep me going and pushing me forward. 

The gospel spreading to those outside the Jewish nation did not stop with Peter’s encounter with Cornelius. The scattering of believers because of persecution led to more and more Jews hearing about Jesus, and in Antioch some believers began sharing the good news with Greeks and other Gentiles. 

The task of equipping theses new believers fell to BarnabasBarnabas began ministering in Antioch, and many people came to believe in the Lord. 

God also motivated Barnabas to look for Saul and to bring him into the work in Antioch. Barnabas had introduced Saul earlier to the apostles (Acts 9:27), and now he became a bridge builder again. For the next year, Saul and Barnabas “taught great numbers of people.” And the believers there became so identified with Jesus that a term of ridicule, Christians – meaning “little Christ’s” – became a badge of honor. 

Interestingly enough, the final verses of our passage show us that the bridge works both ways. When a severe famine came into the region and Judea was hit hard, the church in Antioch sent Barnabas and Saul with gifts for the people in Judea. Bridge building is the way God wants us to work together. 

Pray 
Our heavenly Father, may we be challenged to live as bridge builders who desire to serve whomever we meet. May our eyes be opened, and our hearts be in sync with yours. Amen 

Great Cost, Great Blessing

Read
Luke 18:24-30
Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”  Verse 28 (NIV) 

Reflect 
On occasion when finances were very tight, and life was difficult I asked the same question Peter asked. Of course, I did not give up as much as the disciples but the chance to be a partner in a housing business was given up and the chance to build my own house and sell it with good profit and then do it again and again, was lost as well. When I saw friends, who had gone on with their business lives and lived with ease there were those small pains of having forfeited a life of financial gain. 

Peter exclaimed, “We have left all we had to follow you!” And Jesus understood Peter’s concern. Jesus knew that his closest followers had left valuable relationships behind to follow him. They had left their homes, wives, children, aging parents, and promising careers. They had left the most crucial relationships people have in life. It was not about wealth or power for the disciples; they had left family relationships and all the blessed conversations and memories that go with them – all for the sake of being with and following the Son of God. So, they needed reassurance. 

Jesus explained to a fearful Peter and a frightened crowd that the blessings of full life in God’s kingdom happen both now and in the life to come. Jesus held out the promise that leaving family relationships for his kingdom vision would result in healing and restoration. Jesus promised that no one keeping company with him would be shortchanged. The life that God has called me and my wife to has not always been easy, but it has always brought a full life of rewards. God is so very good! 

Andre Crouch wrote a song that expressed this so well.
If Heaven was Never Promised to Me.” 

But if heaven never was promised to me,
Neither God’s promise to live eternally.
It’s been worth just having the Lord in my life.
Living in a world of darkness,
You came along and brought me the light. 

Pray 
Lord, we know that life on this earth can be tough. Help us to look forward to the time when all is healed in your eternal presence. In your name, Amen. 

Unless the Lord Builds the House

Read
Psalm 127
Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.
Verse 1 (NIV)

Reflect
As a young man in the house building industry, I used to think to myself that I did a pretty good job building the house. Once I became a believer this verse and this Psalm had a special place in my heart. My life, whether as a carpenter or any other career, would be empty without Jesus at the centre of my life.

That is the point of Psalm 127, unless the Lord is the one directing our lives there is little purpose to life. This doesn’t mean we sit back and expect God to do all the work. Rather, as we begin to plan around a new normal and re-opening in this pandemic, we need to include the Lord in our plans. We need to ask ourselves, “What would I like to accomplish in this new normal? And how will I go about it?” Unless we plan with God, we will fail utterly. We need a higher goal than making a living, or getting ahead, or planning for retirement. We need to plan with God’s purpose in mind. As the writer of Proverbs states, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21 NIV).

God has a plan for us. We are called to be kingdom builders in this pandemic recovery, each of us in our own way and in our own place. The question for all of us is: How will we use our gifts, our talents, our resources, our dreams to be a part of God’s building program?

The recovery to this pandemic should include the heart, mind, and soul of God’s people. Pray that God will give many of us opportunity to be difference makers and kingdom shapers in our community, in our neighbourhood, and in our culture. To God be the Glory!

Pray 
Thank you, Lord, for inviting us to help in building your kingdom. Show us your plan and help us to build with you. Amen. 

Compassion, Humility & Healing – Part 2

Read 
2 Kings 5:7-19
“Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”  Verse 15 (NIV) 

Reflect
I am amazed at video evidence that so many people are not willing to wear facemasks during the pandemic. Health experts say it is simple and one of the best ways to reduce the spread of the virus. Yet there are so many excuses as to why people will not wear them. By and large that is all they are, excuses.

Naaman is on a journey to seek healing from leprosy. He first goes to the king of Israel, but that king is not the source of healing. Elisha hears about this visitor from a foreign land and invites the king to send Naaman to him.

Naaman arrives at the house of Elisha, expecting to get a royal welcome and healing from the prophet himself. But instead a servant comes out and tells him to wash seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman’s expectations almost derail his hope filled journeyMilitary leaders are not given to take orders, especially from the servant of a prophet!

In this critical moment, however, Naaman’s own servants redirect his thinking. These unnamed servants respectfully challenge Naaman not to turn away from an “ordinary task” when he would have willingly done a much more difficult thing. Naaman wisely listens to these servants, humbles himself, and dips into the Jordan River.

Naaman obeys, somewhat haltingly, and he is healed. A journey that began with an unnamed servant girl from Israel ends with Naaman testifying that there is no God in the whole world except the God of Israel. Naaman’s unnamed servants are ordinary people whom God uses for his extraordinary purposes. Because of their words, a follower of God is given new life in the waters of the Jordan.

Pray 
Gracious heavenly Father, thank you for the healing that comes when we humble ourselves before you. Thank you for the community of faith that can encourage us on our journey to you. Amen. 

Compassion, Humility & Healing – Part 1

Read
2Kings 5:1-6
“If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
Verse 3 (NIV)

Reflect
Kindness and compassion sometimes appear in the most unlikely places or unlikely people. One of our special needs people suffers from fairly regular occasions of discomfort and pain that cause him lots of distress. From time to time when I check on him, I will ask him how he is feeling. Each time he struggles to get in a position that he can look at me and says: “Louis, I am happy.” Talk about melting your heart. I am trying to show compassion and he is telling me that he is not just “OK”, but he is happy. 

If anyone had an excuse not to be used by God, the servant girl of Naaman did. She had been captured by the enemy. She had been taken from her family, her people, and her land. She was a stranger and a foreigner, and now she was a slave in the household of Naaman.

If anyone had an excuse not to be compassionate or kind, this servant girl did. Many people in her circumstances might have taken great joy at the suffering of their master. Naaman was afflicted with leprosy, a deforming disease that separated people from their community and eventually caused great suffering and death. And yet. this slave girl was moved to be a servant of the living God. When suffering entered into her household, she wanted to see that suffering relieved and her master healed.

In our passage, the phrase “If only …” is the phrase that turns the story from one of hopelessness to a great God storyWhen we read this story carefully, we see that it is a story of compassion and hope. This unnamed servant girl’s careful cry to her master’s wife starts Naaman on a journey that will eventually lead him to Elisha and an encounter with the living God. An unnamed servant girl has a heart of compassion and kindness,that leads to a life that is changed by the power and heart of God.

Pray
God of healing and hope, there is so much suffering in our world, in our neighborhoods, and perhaps even in our families. Lord make us instruments of your compassion, healing, and hope. Amen.

Rich Man / Poor Man

Read 
Luke 16: 19-31
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.”Verses 19-21 (NIV) 

Reflect 
I think because my parents knew the hardship of coming to Canada with two kids and only two suitcases, they also knew the hardships of those who just did not have enough. Although I do not remember my family being generous in a monetary way, they were always there with food, clothing, and the labour of their hands (and our hands as well). One thing was certain, there was never any negative or bad talk about poor people around our house. It was not allowed. 

Jesus and the prophets of God who brought God’s Word to the people, had sympathy for the poor and often rebuked rich people who were selfish and did nothing for the poor. In this parable, the poor man Lazarus, who died, was carried by angels to Abraham’s side in heaven, and the rich man was sent to hell, where he was in torment. 

The rich man had lived for his own pleasure and had ignored the message of Moses and the Prophets. Lazarus had no comfort in life, but in death he received the blessings of life with God in heaven. 

I have read that this parable was a comfort to many slaves in the American South in the 1800s. One of their spiritual songs speaks of God as the “Rock of my soul” in “the bosom of Abraham” – an expression referring to “Abraham’s side.” Where could those slaves find justice when their children were ripped from their arms and sold down the river, when the earthly powers and people were stacked against them? But the Lord saw their plight and he will bring justice to their oppressors. 

In this parable, the rich man’s sin was not that he was rich; it was that he refused to care for a person in need. His stony heart ignored the call to share food with the hungry and to provide shelter and clothing for people in need (Isaiah 58:7). There are still many who look for kindness and justice and search in vain to find it. As followers of Jesus we are called to be that kind word, that hand up and the voice of justice and peace. 

Pray 
Lord, instill in us your heart of compassion, and lead us to do some good with the earthly treasures you have given us. In the name of the Jesus who has compassion on us, Amen. 

God and Money

Read 
Matthew 6:19-24 
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Verse 24 (NIV) 

Reflect 
I learned a few bits of information that were new to me this week. I learned that the Roman god of love was Venus, and the god of war was Mars. To me and I am sure to many of us, those are just the names of a couple of planets. But to a Roman army, it was crucial to sacrifice to Mars and pray for victory before going into battle. And a young Roman man would pray to Venus that the woman who had stolen his heart would someday return his love. 

Most of us don’t know that the ancient Syrian god of wealth and prosperity was called Mammon. Jesus lived just across the border from Syria, and he knew about Mammon. This was a false god that represented the love of money and the material wealth and comforts and power it might buy. Jesus also knew that you cannot have any other god alongside the Creator of heaven and earth. That would be idolatry. Therefore, he said, “You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” Any of us who were raised with the King James Version of the Bible will vaguely recognize the name “Mammon.” 

Idolatry is at the root of looking at the world differently or doing business differently rather than via a Biblical norm. And gradually the idol takes over. Greed and worry which accompanies so much of the pursuit of prosperity today, replaces the moral guidelines of the Bible, and the calm trust in God’s blessing disappears along with them. The result so very often is trampled human relationships, anxiety, and sometimes even nervous breakdowns. These can be signs that, somewhere along the line, serving Mammon has squeezed out serving God. Mammon is not a god of love but a false god that leaves a trail of destruction. 

Who are you serving today?” 

Pray 
Lord God, earning a living is an important part of our daily life. Help us to serve you alone, and to trust you for our daily bread. Amen. 

Clenched Hearts

Read 
Matthew 5:1-12
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Verse 3 (NIV) 

Reflect
Make a fist and squeeze as hard as you can. After a few moments that feels uncomfortable and creates some tension in your entire body. Now imagine that your heart is like that: clenched, closed, so tense and tight that it almost hurts – but in a strange way, that tightness feels safer than letting anyone in to hurt you.

Jesus begins a powerful sermon, declaring, “Blessed are the poor in spirit …” It’s as if he’s saying, “Of course your heart wants to clench up. It feels inadequate; it is wounded and weary; it feels threatened, like it’s under attack. It wants to protect itself.” 

But we know that a clenched heart might also shut out the love of God. So, Jesus invites us to open our hearts, just as they are, wounded and weary. It’s as if he is saying, “Be real; be vulnerable, be open hearted.”  Many of us are sensitive and actually poor in spirit, but we hide that from people around us, so we clench our heart. Being poor in spirit is not something to hide, it’s a way to be blessed. 

My dad told me that if I really wanted to get to know someone well, I should find a way to work with that person on a common task. Our strictest professor at Bible College was very hard to get to know. One summer he hired me to do a significant amount of work in his backyard. The great surprise was that he decided to work alongside me. During those days, his hard exterior came down. We had some very personal discussions and we got to know each other at a different level.  

That September, back at school, I encountered the same strict, hard professor but I knew the heart of the man just below the exterior. It made for a much more enjoyable learning experience. 

Open your heart! It will bless someone else and you at the same time. 

Pray 
Lord, thank you for inviting me to come to you as I am. Help me to open my heart to others – and to show your love. Amen. 

Community is Caring

Read 
Romans 12:3-13
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. Verse 6 (NIV) 

Reflect 
In my many years of pastoral work I have been blessed to see the church community act and react with all of their gifts, to be the warm embrace of Jesus in our world. When a middle-aged couple lost the baby they had waited so many years for, their sorrow was unbearable. I watched as people gathered around them to console their broken hearts. I watched as older wise men sat with the husband and responded to his questions about “Where was God in this tragedy?” At the funeral, a young mother who had also lost a child sat with this grieving mom and simply offered her shoulder and an understanding of pain. For weeks following the funeral people dropped off meals, flowers, and cards with expressions of sympathy and support. The entire community cared for them in whatever way they could. 

When the apostle Paul talks about the body of Christ in Romans 12, he urges his listeners to use whatever gifts they have been given to their fullest ability. It doesn’t really matter which gifts we might have. What matters is, that we use them to the best of our ability for the good of others. That expression of caring and love makes the body of Christ strong, resilient, and attractive to those outside the community. 

In community, people care for each other. They use their gifts to help each other and to see that anyone who is wounded, or hurting, or in some other difficulty, is looked after and loved. Sometimes healing is possible. Other times mourning and support are needed when healing doesn’t take place. 

There are times when we all need to know is that someone will care for us. Having a community around us to do that is essential. 

Pray 
Father, help us to use the gifts we have been given to care for each other, and help us to receive care when we need it. Amen. 

Testing

Read 
Judges 2:20-23 (NIV) 
Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.” The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua. 

Reflect 
I recall the time that I prayed a very hard prayer: “Lord do whatever it takes to make my friend see the error of his ways.” The next day my friend was in jail. That was not what I expected, however, the longterm result was that good fruit has been growing from my friend since those days. 

Peter writes that Christians will suffer for their faith, but unrighteous behavior or compromising the faith will also produce suffering (1 Peter 4:15). If we ignore God’s commands, we may well face consequences. As James points out, we are not to merely listen to God’s word, we are to do what it says (James 1:22). 

One author describes Israel’s disobedience with James image of the person that looks at his face in the mirror and forgets what he sees (James 1:22-25). That image also raises a question for us: Are God’s people suffering today for their faith or for their lack of obedience? 

We regularly pray for our fellow believers around the world who suffer for their faith. Perhaps we also need prayer for believers who do not or cannot yet take responsibility for their lack of obedience?   

Scripture asks every generation to examine if the testing of our faith is a result of our faith or faithlessness. Hebrew 12:7-10 instructs us to bear with suffering, regardless of the reason for suffering, because God means it for good, for growth, for an example for others. 

May our worship today provoke us to self-examination and to direct our eyes to Jesus for the sake of our spiritual health. 

Pray 
Lord, please show us and forgive us our sins – and if we suffer, may it be for Jesus’ sake. Amen.