Be open to the possibilities
For the last few months, I haven’t been able to get away from the story of the Church in Antioch. You’ll remember the story from Acts, chapter 11, where following Stephen being martyred in Jerusalem, many of the early believers fled the city, mostly to regions to the north. New churches were planted wherever the believers landed and some of those believers landed in Antioch (some 300 miles from Jerusalem). The Church in Jerusalem (where the apostles had stayed) learned of this and sent Barnabas to check it out. The phrase from God’s Word that has been impressed on my heart and mind recently is this one: “evidence of the grace of God.” It’s challenged and reminded me that wherever I go, whatever I do, whatever situation I find myself in, I to look for the evidence of the grace of God. But before rambling on, let’s read the scripture from chapter 11 of Acts (using the NIV translation):
(19) Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. (20) Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. (21) The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. (22) News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. (23) When he 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. (24) He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. (25) Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, (26) 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.
There’s so much guidance for us in these eight verses. But here’s how it has shaped, and is shaping, my outlook:
1. Be open to the possibilities. The Church in Jerusalem was surprised to hear of these believer Gentiles in Antioch, but that they were open to the possibility. How many of us would have dismissed the stories and not investigated further? How many such possibilities do we dismiss in our daily lives? Barnabas was also the guy who was open to the possibility that this persecutor of the early believers, Saul, had been called by Jesus to preach the Good News to the Gentiles (see Acts 9:27). How many of would have taken that one on?
2. Look for the good. There is no hint in the scriptures that Barnabas found anything to criticize at the new Church in Antioch. But we know it couldn’t have been perfect, being of this world and filled with people in this world (we all fall short). Barnabas focused on the “good” that was apparent and the Holy Spirit led him to build on that, creating this awesome center of missionary that launched Paul on his journeys. How many of us would have said, “Well this is awesome, but that needs to be changed, and you’re doing this wrong, and you should be doing that…?” How many possibilities do we miss out on because we’re focused on the evil of Satan rather than the “evidence of God’s grace.”
3. Get humble, be humble, stay humble. I’m not a Bible scholar, but I couldn’t find anything derogatory in the Bible about Barnabas. His name means, “Son of Encouragement.” And indeed he was. We know “he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith” and that through his encouragement “a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the church planters in Antioch are not named. We don’t know who they were. That’s because it’s not about them – or me or you – it’s about Jesus (get humble). When Barnabas arrived, he wasn’t jealous of the success he saw (be humble). And he quickly recognized that he needed help and he went looking for Paul, not even knowing where he was in Tarsus, some 100 miles away (stay humble). How many of us follow that pattern of recognizing our own standing before the Lord, encouraging another’s success, and be willing to go get help?
Be open to the possibilities … Look for the good … Get humble, be humble, stay humble … These are playing out in my daily life. There’s a guy at work who never steps up to particular opportunities. Another came up and my first inclination was to not even ask him. But I decided to be open to the possibilities and; I asked him, and he said yes! I clearly don’t have it all figured out, because on another day, I had the opportunity to host a Secret Church simulcast at our church and invite the world. But I decided no one would come and I foreclosed that possibility.
Is there evidence of the evil of Satan all around us? Yes. Is there “evidence of God’s grace” all around us. Yes. And more importantly for the Christian, it’s also within us. The question for each of us is which do you focus on, dwell on, harp about, and criticize others about? What’s going to build the Kingdom? Today is 9/11 and we’ve been appropriately reminded all week of that horrific event 10 years ago. So, so much grief and loss, and love and support. We shouldn’t forget the evil, but we do need to focus on the evidence of God’s grace. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult that would be for those who suffered loss on 9/11/01. I don’t have words to express how my heart breaks for the losses. I do think that showing and sharing the love of Christ is the path toward building the Kingdom. Not that it’s easy, or that there’s a timeframe attached to it, or that we should forget. Just that this life we’re in is about enduring and it’s made all worthwhile by living it through Christ our Savior.
I’m working on a new project at work; one that is new to all of us and we’re all learning. I’m in a quality review role, so I see lots of peoples work. Because we’re all so new, because it’s complicated, and because there seems to be a hundred moving pieces, there’s something wrong with every one I look at. Every one. And it has to be corrected before sending it to the client. I can choose how to get from here to there. Do I focus only on everything that is wrong or do I approach it as Barnabas would have? I also have the “opportunity” to work with new staff who have questions that for me to answer, I have to know how to do their job. Talk about humbling.
These issues play out in our churches today also. Is it perfect? No. Is there evidence of God’s grace? Yes. Are you going to choose to be a church basher or a church supporter? What’s going to get the result you’re seeking, to build the Kingdom of God? I think the answer is obvious.
As you finish this blog, think about the “evidence of God’s grace” that this is even available to you, and that you can read it. Then as you lift your eyes from the screen, start looking for the evidence of God’s grace wherever you go, whatever you encounter … be open to the possibilities.
Loving the Journey,