We are Called to Comfort
Central Assembly of God, Muskegon, MI - 12-30-2001
Thanks to Pastor Aiken for the invitation to preach from this pulpit.
Thank you for the encouragement you’ve given me over the years since I first met you. Do you remember?
Six or seven years ago, I was working at the A/G headquarters in Springfield, Missouri when Pastor Aiken came, with his staff, to attend a conference on Worship hosted by AGTS. Jennifer and I met him and several staff members at Trotter’s BBQ for dinner where I sat down right next to him—and proceeded disagree with nearly everything the Pastor said. For an hour and a half.
Today I’m embarrassed by my presumption, but Pastor Aiken has always been gracious to me, despite that argumentative first meeting. In fact, he’s been very encouraging through the years—as have many people in this congregation. More about that later.
I want to open with a story:
Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.
The problems began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She’d barely said "hello" when "ssssopp!" Chippie got sucked in.
The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie -- still alive, but stunned.
Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . . she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air.
Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.
A few days after the trauma, the reporter who’d initially written about the event contacted Chippie’s owner to see how the bird was recovering. "Well," she replied, "Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore -- he just sits and stares."
It’s hard not to see why. Sucked in, washed up, and blown over . . . That’s enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart.
Max Lucado, In the Eye of the Storm, Word Publishing, 1991, p. 11.
Have you ever felt like Chippie?
Do you know anybody who’s feeling like Chippie right n ow?
Before I read my passage I’d like you to focus your mind on somebody you know who needs encouragement. Somebody like Chippie. There’s probably somebody in your life facing disappointment right now, who’s going through a rough patch in their life. We all face it now and again. Probably all of us, at this moment, can easily remember a recent setback or disappointment we’ve faced. Well, try to think of one person you know who needs some encouragement and hold that person’s name in your mind for the next few minutes, or write their name down.
I chose as my text this morning Acts chapter 15, verses 36 through 41. Let us stand so we may read the Word.
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.”
Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.
hey had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
This brief little passage is just full of wonderful questions and implications for the believer. As I contemplated these verses here are some of the questions that kept echoing through my mind:
· How can two Godly men disagree?
· If Paul and Barnabas truly Godly men why didn’t they ask God what course of action to take?
· Why was Barnabas so adamant about taking John Mark with them? Why was Paul so stubborn about the opposite?
· God had called Barnabas and Paul together, why would they separate over such a trivial matter?
Lest my questions overshadow my message, I’ll stop there. But I wanted you to get a brief glimpse of my thinking process for you to understand why I am taking the direction I am.
As I thought hard about the nature of Barnabas and Paul’s argument, it suddenly dawned on me that I was totally ignoring John Mark here. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Luke, the author of Acts, is not describing this argument just for the sake of showing us how two leaders clash: Luke also wants us to see the nature of the relationship between Barnabas and John Mark.
So, we have three people in this drama. I’m not going to spend much time on the Apostle Paul because we should be pretty familiar with him, and Paul isn’t the only focus of this passage.
First, we have Barnabas. Who is he? What did he do?
Barnabas is first mentioned in Acts 4:36 where he is described in this way:
Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.
The first thing we learn is that Barnabas was really named Joseph—but more about that in a bit.
Second, we see that he was a Levite. Levites worked alongside Jewish priests. They were a well-known and respected class of Jews. All Levites belong to the tribe of Levi—descended from the third son of Jacob. Since God chose the whole tribe of Levi to serve as priests, Levites held priestly roles, holding sacrifices and supervising religious law in local communities. Later, Levites were assigned to lower roles in the temple rites such as being gatekeepers and guards for the temple. They provided security and protected the ritual cleanliness important to Jews worship rituals. Something important to know about Levites: They were not supposed to own property. The fact that Barnabas sold property and gave it to the apostles may not be as much a mark of his generosity (though it is that) as it is a demonstration of the fact that the earliest Christians didn’t see faith in Jesus terminating their Jewishness but fulfilling it. In this case, I believe we see a good, respected Jew becoming an even better Jew with the help of Christ.
Not only was Barnabas respected in the Jewish community by virtue of his family genes, we see that he had already earned the respect and affection of the apostles for they gave him a nickname.
Have you ever had a nickname that stuck? I’ve had a few. In college they called me “flash” in my first semester because I had a camera with me everywhere I went. Then they called me “viscosity” because I used such long words. Then they called me “hermeneute” because I talked about the Bible a lot, using long words, and nobody understood me. Recently, my friends at work have taken to calling me “The Diesel” and my son has unwittingly become “Baby Diesel.” I don’t know why they call me that, I just hope it’s not the fumes.
But none of my nicknames have ever stuck long and become the primary name by which people recognize me. That was not so for Barnabas. The apostles called him Bar Nabas which is actually a Hebrew term meaning “Son of Prophecy” or “Son of Exhortation.” However what is really interesting to me here is that Luke doesn’t give us a literal translation of the Hebrew—he gives is a more spiritual translation.
You see, the words Luke uses to translate “Barnabas” for us is the exact same term that Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit: Paraclete.
I believe Luke is singling out Barnabas and saying to the Church, across time, that here stands a man who embodies the attitude and Spirit of God. Watch what he does.
Now, a flying overview of the next few chapters in Barnabas’ life: in Chapter nine we meet Barnabas again after Paul’s conversion. Paul is attempting to meet the church leaders in Rome but nobody wants to talk to him because they are still afraid of him. Paul is an outcast. But Barnabase comes along side Paul, takes him under his wing, and sponsors him into the church. With Barnabas vouching for Paul, doors open everywhere.
In chapter 11 the church in Jerusalem sends Barnabas to Antioch to help out with a revival that’s going on there, and this is where Luke describes Barnabase a bit more fully: “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.”
Soon, Barnabase leaves Antioch and goes to find Paul—who’s been living in Tarsus in obscurity for the last FOURTEEN years. Barnabase once more demonstrates his encouraging nature by getting Paul back on track and once again sponsoring him. This time Barnabase leads him into ministry.
Then the church begins sending both Barnabas and Saul all over the countryside, delivering money, preaching to the Gentiles, and finally, in chapter 15, to help settle a deeply serious debate in Jerusalem.
Now this is where our next character is introduced.
John Mark is a cousin to Barnabas, and a young man. We think he may have been present at Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, but he fled immediately and was never heard from again—until Acts. His mother was named Mary and in Acts chapter twelve we learn that the early Jerusalem church was in the habit of meeting at Mary’s house. In fact, that was the first house Peter went to when he was rescued from prison.
In chapter 12 we see John Mark finally hooking up with Barnabas and Paul—who had just finished delivering money to churches suffering from draught. The bible says that he became their attendant, which probably means he was something of an evangelistic gopher: attending to their needs so the Apostles could focus on their ministry.
But before the chapter even closes, something goes awry and John Mark leaves the missionary team. We don’t hear from him again until chapter 15 when Barnabase—once again being true to his nature, wants to give the boy another chance. Barnabase attempts to persuade Paul to bring John Mark along for the second missionary Journey, but Paul refuses.
What problems do missionaries face? For what things do they need prayer? Cedric Johnson and David Penner surveyed 55 North American Protestant mission agencies with more than 100 staff members overseas. The missionaries listed the following problems, in rank order:
1. Relationships with other missionaries
2. Cultural adjustments
3. Managing general stress
4. Raising children
5. Marriage difficulties
6. Financial pressures
In the end Barnabas leaves Paul, and takes John Mark on a separate Missionary Journey.
Can you imagine the pain John Mark must have felt as he was rejected by Paul for not being fit for the missionary task at hand?
Can you imagine what went through his heart and mind, how disappointed he was. We don’t know why he left the missionary team in the first place, but we do know that he wanted to be back on the team.
And we can thank God that Barnabas was there to take another young chippie under his wings. For eventually John Mark went on to do wonderful things. We almost don’t hear from Mark again, but we know that he and Paul reconciled later on. Paul calls Mark his "fellow-worker" and tells the Colossians: "If [Mark] comes to you, welcome him."
And, this is very important, John Mark went on to write the Gospel according to Mark.
There were three people in the story we looked at today. I’m sure each and every one of them is represented here tonight.
Earlier I asked you to think of one person who needs encouragement and I asked you to write that person’s name down or to hold their name in your mind. I want you to think about that person again. Right now. Can you be an encouragement to him or her? Is he going through a divorce? Did she lose her job recently? Is that family going through a difficult time with their children? Do you know a family that has suffered a recent loss?
You can encourage that person. You can be like Barnabas: the son of Comfort. Come along side that person and speak a kind word. Invite him to dinner. Have her over for dessert and coffee after church some time. Bring a casserole by, help introduce them to the church. Visit the shut-ins and let them know they’re still cared for and that they’re missed.
Never forget: you may never, ever, know what impact this encouragement had. God doesn’t call us to give each other comfort and encouragement because it makes us feel good and it s nice to have a list of accomplishments: people we’ve helped along the way. God calls us to give comfort because HE gives comfort. We are to be like him.
Perhaps, while you were thinking about someone you could encourage this week—or maybe while I was talking—it occurred to you that you were the source of discouragement in someone’s life. Maybe you had an argument with your wife, your son, or a friend. Maybe you yelled and said some things you know were hurtful. It doesn’t matter whether you were right or wrong. What matters right now is that God is pricking your conscience about the matter and you know you need to repent. Tonight, before you leave this sanctuary, you need to lay this on the altar before God and commit yourself to undoing your discouragement. Commit yourself to reconciling and being an encourager, not a discourager. Be like Paul who even though he brought discouragement to John Mark’s life, eventually reconciled with him and validated his ministry.
Now, we reach the close of my message. Perhaps you haven’t been the source of discouragement or dismay at all. Maybe you couldn’t think of a single person you could encourage because—and this is all that’s on your mind right now—you are the one needing encouragement. Perhaps you are feeling beaten down, dismayed, discouraged, depressed, destroyed. There’s hope for you. You are surrounded by a cloud of encouragers.
This is one of the most encouraging churches I know about. I opened this message tonight describing how Pastor Aiken has been an encouragement to me over the years. But there are others in this church who have encouraged me, too. Bruce McClain, and Jackie, have been there for me for as long as I’ve known their lovely daughter. They have been unfailingly encouraging through both my successes and failures—too few of the former and too many of the latter. Pam Biller was deeply encouraging to me when I was attempting to lose weight—and still failing miserably at it. Dave Lacy encourages me with his acceptance and great conversation every time I come through town. You have taken in Teen Challenge students and minister to them every week. You’ve helped the homeless. You’ve fed the poor. There are many others here who are encouragers, and I’m sorry I didn’t name you, but there are many others and the point I’m trying to make is that I don’t even attend this church and already I have been encouraged! I don’t even have the advantage of living in the same state as you all do, and I have seen the power of encouragement at work in this body.
All you have to do is ask. Pastor Aiken is here for you. The entire staff of Central Assembly is here for you. The board members are here for you. The Christian Education teachers are here for you. They all stand ready, willing, and able to listen and to help. They want to touch your lives. They want to encourage you. But too many times they just not aware of what’s going on in your life because you won’t tell them. You’ve got to ask.
Pastor Aiken’s message this morning about touching and being touched was straight from the heart of God. I did not consult with pastor before preaching tonight. I had no idea what he was going to preach this morning and he had no idea what I was going to preach tonight. But any time two preachers’ messages dovetail like his and mine do, I can assure you, it ain’t coincidence. God is trying to speak to somebody here today. And you need to respond. Your heart is breaking and you need to cry out for help. I watched your pastor’s heart break this morning, tears moistened his eyes, and his voice cracked as he pleaded with to step out in faith and come close to Jesus and touch him.
Remember those of you who are suffering: God can work it out for good. One of the ways he does that is by helping you through this tribulation so that you can learn to comfort others who are facing the same problems. Look at what Paul says:
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
I’m going to step aside here, soon, to let Pastor close, but before we do I want to give you an opportunity to commit yourselves to God for the purpose of bringing encouragement to somebody who needs it this week and in the weeks to come. This is part of the ministry God calls us all to. It’s not just for your pastor or the “professional” ministers to do. This is your job. It’s my job. None of us can shirk it.
Let us pray.
If God has been speaking to you about this matter, and you feel an urgency to speak words of comfort and encouragement to somebody, I’d like you to raise your hand and make that commitment public. Raise it and keep it raised for a moment. You don’t have to tell anybody who you’re going to encourage. That’s a private matter. But it’s helpful to take a public step to acknowledge you’re going to take action on something God is calling you to. Good, now… if you are needing encouragement, or if you are not a believer and you want to talk to somebody about what it takes to become a believer, find somebody who had their hand raised just a moment ago. Or grab a pastor, or talk to me after the service. It’s time for you to make a change.
May God give you his grace, wisdom, and power this week as you minister out of the love he pours into our hearts.