This is a transcript from the July 21, 2019 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
We have a story, you have a story. That means, among other things in that story, is that there are decisions that have to be made. There are things of consequence. There are decisions that you and I have to make, and they are of consequence. That means if you go one way, something happens. If you go another way, something else happens. Most of the decisions in most of the times, most of the seasons that we have, it's a confusing set of signs, we're not sure where to go, nothing is as clear as this way or that way.
It is all kinds of different possibilities. How do you know? How do you know what to do? How do you know what guides you, and where do you go? How do you help make decisions? We could go with the easy ones, we could go with the ones that people use, there's fortune cookies, and don't laugh, I know you look. That replaces the old scales, where you could weigh your fortune for a penny, remember those?
Some of you remember those. You can put a penny in and a little piece of paper came out and said today's July 21, you weigh too much. Then, you should today buy IBM stock or something like that, it was a pretty simple way of doing it. You could go to your astrological signs, you could go to horoscope, you could do even the old thing where you take a Bible and you open it up and say, that's my verse for the day.
You could do that, but there's other ways, the more powerful ways in our life have to do with guides. That person who comes along who appears at just the right moment, and somehow, they have some wisdom, somehow they have some experience. They are there, they are full of guides in movies, you recognize many of these.
The reason we like movies and stories and books with guides in them is because somehow that corresponds with our lives. There's something about that that rings true. Whether you are on a quest to save the world, whether your quest is just to somehow open and keep a hotel running, whether your quest is somehow just to become real, as from a puppet to a little boy, there are people who show up in our stories, and somehow they act as guides. They appear. They're the mentors, they're the teachers, they're the coaches. Use all the different words that you want. You got them, and I got them.
In fact, if you want to understand your story, claim your guides this week, one of the most important things you can do is maybe in your life group, maybe around your dinner table, maybe with friends over coffee, is just talk a little bit about who were the guides who came along in your life at just the right moment and somehow helped show you the way, somehow helped guide your steps.
The Bible is full of guides, of course. The Bible is full of guides. In the Old Testament, Moses has his father-in-law, Jethro, who comes just at the right time. Samuel comes along and helps David. He also comes along and is a guide to Saul, but that ends differently. David, later on, has a guide named Nathan, and that is one of his guides in the New Testament.
Besides that, Ruth has Naomi, and Esther has her uncle, Mordecai. All of these have people, have guides who come alongside, who come to them and appear and offer their advice and their example and it changes their lives.
In the New Testament, of course, the preeminent guide is Jesus. Jesus is the guide. He's more than that, but he's no less than that. He's the guide. He is the shepherd using the shepherd's crook. He is the one who when people are following or listening to him, he says "Why do you call me Lord and not do what I say?" There's something that's supposed to happen when we come in contact with Jesus that's supposed to help us live our life wholeheartedly. Then, there's the people who help us do that.
This morning, the passage that's in front of you has to do with a guy named Barnabas. Barnabas is a special character in the New Testament, particularly in the book of Acts. It is hard to overstate the importance of this particular guide in this little tiny passage that seems almost inconsequential, almost seems like a filler, has a lot going on.
It says, "Now, those who were scattered because of the persecution," so what happened is a guy named Saul is persecuting the church. Saul was a Pharisee. Saul was a religious leader, and he was so zealous for God that he felt like this new movement, this new revival movement of Christianity was a threat. He began to persecute, ending with Stephen being martyred. It took-- and had the effect of just scattering, everybody was heading for the hills. Literally, they were heading for Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. At that time, they spoke the word. They spoke the gospel to no one but Jews because this was considered to be strictly a Jewish revival movement at the time.
The Church was in disarray. It needed a guide because, in that group, there was some men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenistic Greeks, the non-Jews also, and went out beyond the borders of what was normally done. Nobody spoke to the Greeks, nobody spoke to the non-Jews about Jewish things. The hand of the Lord was on them, and a great number became believers and they turned to the Lord.
News of this came to the ears of the Church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. Barnabas, the name, literally means son of encouragement. He shows up several chapters earlier, he shows up as the one who was encouraging and giving people their heart, giving people their courage, with some of his early acts, including as he was giving huge amounts of his own estate and money to keep and start this thing, but it was more than money. It was also his presence, somehow, had that effect on people that gave them their courage, that gave them their heart.
When the time comes, we got to figure this out, who can we send? We're going to send Barnabas, he's a guide. He'll tell us what's going on, and he'll help.
When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and exalted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great many people were brought to the Lord.
Here's the question, what does a guide do? If we use the example of Barnabas, and I'll bet this links to the guides in your life, the first thing that guides do is help us see differently. Sometimes we take notes, if you want to take notes, take this one. A guide will help you see differently, a guide will help you see what you can't see for yourselves. It helps you see yourself differently, helps you see God differently, helps you see your world differently, helps you see the task differently. Whether it is a mentor at work, someone in school, or in a life crisis, someone who comes alongside and they qualify as a guide, in part, when they help you see differently.
Sometimes they challenge you to see differently. If they don't think you're getting it. There's plenty of examples in the Bible, "They spoke the word to no one except the Jews, and then they began to speak to the Hellenistic also, and the hand of the Lord was on them." So evidently, back in those days, I know this is hard to believe, but back in those days, people were tribal. People hung around their own kind, and their own race, and their own ethnicity, and their own nationality, if you can imagine that.
They didn't talk to one another if you can imagine that. They didn't even trust one another if you can imagine that. The idea that somehow the gospel is going to be spoke to people other than us, other than them, was a little bit threatening. It's people like Barnabas, who can go in and by their presence and help them see that, "No, this is actually a very good thing." Because people like Barnabas, help us see the others. They help us see something beyond what we could see before. Where we used to see an enemy, where they used to see a threat, now it is an opportunity. Now, it is a next chapter that God may be trying to unfold. Here, these people are, and they're doing these things, and they help us to see as Christ sees.
The really good guides, the guides that have come from God, are the ones that not only help you see, but they help you see as Christ sees. They help you see yourself as Christ sees you, because most of us don't. They help us see our neighbor as Christ sees our neighbor. They help us see the world as Christ sees our neighbor. They help us see things are different. He came and he saw the grace of God, he saw it as the grace of God and not something that had gone amok. He rejoiced and exalted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion.
Guides not only help us see, but the other thing they do is they affirm our story. When a guide comes, now you know you've got a story. Now you know someone understands you. Now you know someone has gone this way before. Now you know you are a part of something that is larger. They not only help you see, they affirm and they validate your story. They validate you. They say you are not alone.
Think of the guides who came into your life. Think of what they did, and among other things, because they came to you probably in a time of crisis, a time of confusion. They came in, and by their very presence, regardless of what they said, it was a way of saying, "You are not alone." Their very message is a message from God, their very presence.
Who are the guides in your life? Who have done that for you? Barnabas does this with a guy named Saul, the very guy who was persecuting the church, who later as he was on his way, was struck down with a confrontation of God.
Now he had become convinced. As he said, "Why are you persecuting me though," the person that he was persecuting was the person he was trying to serve. He felt like a complete failure. If that wasn't enough, everybody else thought he was a failure. Nobody trusted him. Even though he had begun to preach and saw the scriptures differently, the people in Jerusalem didn't trust him because he was the guy who had been persecuting them. The people who were Christians, who were other, they didn't trust him because he was the guy who was doing the persecuting.
Nobody trusted him. He finally goes off and just hangs out in his hometown of Tarsus. He's cooling his heels, and even though it's just a verse or two here, according to the Bible, later on, it's six, seven years, he's out there just by himself. Barnabas is the guy who comes and says, "You, you got a place. You who are the outcast, you the one who nobody trusts, you're the one who's going to speak to a group of people that nobody trusts, who everybody sees as outcasts. You, you're going to have a powerful message. He brings him back in and Saul becomes Paul.
Paul is responsible for a little over half of the New Testament, if you include the Book of Luke and Acts, because that came from his own direct experience. Here's a person who has over half of the New Testament, and the guy behind him is this guy named Barnabas. This is the power of a guide who comes at the right time in the right place. We're listening because it affirms your story. It validates who you are. Who do you have like that? Who was the person who came and encouraged you? Who was the person who saw in you what you couldn't see in yourself?
This summer, I had the great joy of getting to visit with one of my guides. It was my 6th-grade teacher. She was the person who came alongside of me. We lost contact after my dad died about 15 years ago. She saw the obituary in the paper, saw the church where it was going to be at, wrote a letter somehow and connected back with me, said, "Are you the same guy?" I was. We have talked. This was one of those people.
I bet you have somebody like this too who saw in me what I could not see in myself. As we talked about that, I talked about it as a guide. I said you were one of those people who came alongside at just one of those critical times in my life, as a transition from as a 6th grader going into being a teenager, and someone who, besides my own family, an adult who came and got me, and saw me, and laughed with me, had my same corky sense of humor, was able to affirm who I was and has changed me. Who has changed you? Who has that power to do that for you?
If you know who that is, you'll know this third part then, is that these are the people who not only help you see differently, not only affirm and validate who you are, but they point beyond themselves. Because the last thing a guide does is point to themselves. That's not what a guide does. A guide is always pointing somewhere else. That's their job. Their job in life is they're truly a guide, is to not make themselves the issue. It's to make your journey. It's to make your story. It's to make the next hill, the next turn, and make that you who you are. It's to point.
Saul became a guide too. He became Paul and in his life began to guide others. It says he was there for an entire year, and he taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. It was because of the guide of Barnabas, and then the guide of Paul, that people started to shape their lives and follow in a different way. So much so that people started to refer to them as little Christs.
It was not a compliment, by the way. It was a fairly derogatory kind of a phrase. "Look at all these little Christs walking around, thinking now their job id to change the world." It stuck. They liked it and said, "Boy, wouldn't that be great if we could." So that name stuck because it meant people's lives had been guided and changed. Who guided you? Who gave you a good word? Who challenged you? Who pointed you on to a larger story?
This morning I want to talk about guides. I want to finish up with just a couple of minutes because I couldn't stop right there. I couldn't stop because the other thing that is true about a guide is not only do they help you see differently, not only do they affirm your story, not only do they point beyond themselves, but once you begin to see them, you begin to realize they are everywhere. God is using people all the time to try to get our attention, to try to point us in a different direction, to try to show us what God is up to.
They come in some of the most unlikely places, places you wouldn't see them perhaps at first until you begin to see them in your own life and some of the more obvious places. Hopefully, you've been thinking about some of those people. Your teachers, your coaches, your friends, people at work, people in the community who somehow were able to show, and by their very lives, are pointing at something larger than ourselves. Because once we tune our eyes and our ears and our soul to that God is trying to get our attention, we begin to see God in lots of places. God is guiding.
God was guiding with a guy named Saul, who later became Paul because he was an outcast. He was able to speak directly to people who saw themselves in their whole lives as being outside the center, people who were not included, people who were rejected and suspected, and because Paul had been on the inside and now was on the outside, he had a unique place to play and a unique voice to give. He is still a powerful voice as a guide. The suffering and outcasts have always been those kind of guides. We just don't always recognize them.
I was reminded by this, and you've seen this before, but I was reminded about it this week. "I screamed at God for the starving child until I saw the starving child was God screaming at me." That some of the suffering that I see in the world gets my attention because it's supposed to. That is God screaming at me. God is using the suffering and the outcast, and God is using the poor and the hungry and saying, "That is me." That's what Matthew 25 is talking about, "Whenever you have listened to, cared for, talked about and been there for those, you've done it for me."
Because God uses these people and these conditions. Whether they're on the border of our country, whether they are in Zimbabwe, whether they are in Sudan, whether they're on the streets of Downtown Denver, the people who we sometimes want to look the other way on, the people we would rather not see and not be bothered by are the very people who are trying to get our attention because they are pointing to a different reality. They're calling us to do something that is different.
We can, and we do, we can block our eyes. We can turn the channel, we can talk about something else, but we are at peril of closing our ears to the very guidance of God. These are the people whom God is trying to use to get our attention. This morning when we go and we read and talk about Rachel Held Evans, and she is a person who as a part of her generation and part of this century, particularly the last century, just the role of people who haven't, and particularly the churches who did not listen to and validate and value the role of women, listen. Listen, you're missing something. You're missing half of the world's population. You're missing the wisdom.
Different churches, they turn those corners at different time, but it is still a cry, and it's still something that needs to be paid attention to. Listen to the children who are around you. Listen to the people who are on the outside, who have been outcast because they may have the best message, the most important message that we need to hear.
God's message comes from unlikely people, let me finish it with this way. That includes you. That includes me, but there are people who we bump into every day, and the way we live our life is a message, and it's pointing to people. The question is, which way will it point? I know most of us don't think of ourselves as guides, but we are there. Who is looking for guidance, who was looking for an ally, who was looking for someone to come alongside, who is looking for someone to say, "I see you. You're not alone. You are loved."
We could give that message with our very presence, with our ears, with what we do. There are people this week who are trying to make decisions, and they are in a time when it's lost. They are lost in their grief. They're lost in their doubt. They are lost in confusion. They are lost because they're not sure what to do. Who will come alongside, and by their very presence, say "I'm here. I will walk alongside of you. I don't know what to say. I don't have all the right words, but I see you, and I will be here, and we will walk together because in doing so, in doing so, my life will point to the one who was walking beside us, and who's trying to guide us, and it's pointing us to a different way of life."
We have come and we go out this week, you have a story that's going on, it's your life. You have a story, and there are decisions to make. May you see the guides who God has given, and may you respond. May you be one of those guides. May we fulfill the word that was given so long ago. May this week be a week that we truly are Christian wherever we go.