BEST DECISION EVER: BARNEY’S GAMBLE

In the course of a twenty-four hour period we make gobs of decisions. Some of these we make with a serious amount of forethought and prayer. Others we make spontaneously with little or no thought as to the consequences or impact our decisions will have—not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives are intertwined with ours.

Have you ever thought much about how a single decision can change your life forever? For better or worse?

In these blog posts I’d like to look at the one good decision that some people in the Bible made that changed the course of their life for the better. By looking at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word I hope we’ll all take comfort, courage, and hope in the fact that, despite the mess we’re presently faced with, we can still turn things around. A lousy past or dismal present doesn’t have to give us the same future. By God’s grace, our future and life can be changed for the better…if we only make the right decision today. May God help us do that on a daily basis!

BARNEY’S GAMBLE

Who of us have not heard of the apostle Paul? From his zealous persecution of Christ’s followers, to his dramatic conversion on the Damascus Road, to his tireless work in spreading the Gospel that he once sought to destroy; to his many letters which were later included in the canon of sacred, inspired Scripture; the apostle Paul almost singlehandedly changed the world of his day and made Christ known to a world who knew Him not. Christianity today is largely the religion that it is because Paul stood fast on the conviction that Christ was for everyone—not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles too. And through his tireless missionary efforts and undaunted zeal in the face of horrendous pains and persecutions; his courageous stance against those who wanted to keep Christianity Jewish; Christianity grew beyond the bounds of a peculiar religion of one race of people, the Jews, and became a worldwide religion with followers from every nation and tongue. Through him, this Apostle to the Gentiles brought to fulfillment the promise God made centuries earlier to Abraham that through him all the nations of the earth would be blest (Genesis 22:18). If you stop and think about it, Paul changed the world of his day and his profound influence continues to be felt in our world thousands of years after his death.

What many of you may not know is that all this would not have happened the way it did had it not been for one man. Barnabas was his name. Now Barnabas was an influential leader in the early church. He wasn’t an apostle like one of the twelve, but he was well respected throughout the church and the apostles used him quite a bit in the work of the Gospel.

Anyways, Paul, who was at that early time known as Saul, was dramatically converted to Christ on the Damascus Road (Acts 9). Christ personally appeared to him in a vision and that was the end of Saul the antichristian persecutor of the church. (Just goes to show you’re bound to change when you meet the Lord!)

Paul continued the rest of his trip to Damascus as a changed man. Shortly thereafter he went into seclusion in Arabia. We don’t know exactly how long he was in Arabia. But we surmise with good reason that it was during these solitary times in Arabia where the Lord taught him and convinced him of the truths of the Gospel (Galatians 1:15-17). From there, Paul returned to Damascus and began to preach with boldness and conviction the truths that he was now fully persuaded of.

Three years later, after his conversion, his time in Arabia, and his evangelistic ministry in Damascus, Paul returned to Jerusalem (Galatians 1:18). He sought to meet with the believers there, including most especially the twelve apostles. But, wonder of all wonders, the Christians in Jerusalem wouldn’t have anything to do with him! Acts 9:26 tells the story. After Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples. But everyone was afraid of him. They wouldn’t believe that he was a disciple.

He’d been saved for 3 years. He spent the last 3 years ministering for the Lord in Damascus. His was a courageous stance. His life was on the line. In fact, the reason why he came to Jerusalem was because of a Jewish attempt to assassinate him in Damascus (Acts 9:23-25).

Didn’t the apostles and church in Jerusalem hear about his miraculous encounter with the Lord and his subsequent conversion? Didn’t any of them bother to go to Damascus and check out this sensational story of the church’s chief persecutor? Apparently not.

They wouldn’t believe that Paul was saved. They didn’t believe he was a changed man. Like many of us, they probably thought this was Paul’s ploy to discover who Christ’s followers were in Jerusalem and where their meetings were at so that he could have them all arrested. It made perfect sense to the Christians and the apostles. Their lives and the well-being of their families were on the line. They would do the safest and sensiblest thing: they would refuse to have anything to do with Paul.

But Barnabas wasn’t similarly inclined. He contravened the apostolic stance, took his life in his hands, took a risk and a gamble, and went to see Paul. Didn’t it occur to him that the apostles and the entire church were right? Mightn’t this be Paul’s ploy to discover, arrest, and wipe out the entire Jerusalem church? Did Barnabas seriously think that he was right and the apostles and everyone else was wrong about Paul? What made Barnabas want to see Paul anyway? The Spirit? Curiosity? The principle of fairness and giving a guy a chance to speak for himself instead of letting his past, his reputation, and everybody else speak for him?

I don’t know what went through Barnabas’ mind. I’m sure, being human like all of us, he struggled with the fears and doubts that plagued the rest of the church. But when it was all said and done, Barnabas mustered the courage to seek Paul out and give him a chance to tell his story. Turned out, after he heard Paul’s testimony, Barnabas was convinced that Paul was indeed a changed man, a believer, and a God-called minister or apostle.

With this firm conviction in hand, Barnabas risked incurring apostolic censure and discipline, he risked the criticism and wrath of the Christians in Jerusalem; by courageously bringing Paul before the apostles. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:27).

As it turned out, there were only 2 apostles in Jerusalem at the time, or perhaps only 2 apostles who succumbed to Barnabas’ persuasions and agreed to meet with Paul. They were Peter and James (Galatians 1:17-19). When the four of them met together, it was Barnabas who started out doing the talking. The apostles trusted and respected Barnabas. On Barnabas’ words, they let Paul speak for himself. And when Paul was done speaking, Peter and James were convinced that Paul was indeed a changed man. They extended the right hand of fellowship to him and told the rest of the church that it was safe to let Paul in. Paul got to meet the Christians in Jerusalem. He testified of Christ throughout the city. And the rest, as you know, is history.

History all because Barnabas rose above his doubts and fears, did the right thing, sought Paul out, and gave him a chance to tell his story, believed him, defended him, and advocated for him. It was Barney’s best decision ever! How different Christianity would have been if it hadn’t been for Barnabas! Isn’t it amazing how one decision to go and talk to Paul changed the course of history!? Think about it. If it wasn’t for Barnabas the apostles wouldn’t have seen, believed, or received Paul. They believed Paul because they believed Barnabas. If it wasn’t for Barnabas we wouldn’t have the Paul of Acts and the Epistles. We are where we are today because of Barnabas. And the Christian world owes him a debt of gratitude that can never be fully paid. Thank you, Barnabas!

BEST DECISION EVER: A MOTHER’S CHOICE

In the course of a twenty-four hour period we make gobs of decisions. Some of these we make with a serious amount of forethought and prayer. Others we make spontaneously with little or no thought as to the consequences or impact our decisions will have—not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives are intertwined with ours.

Have you ever thought much about how a single decision can change your life forever? For better or worse?

In these blog posts I’d like to look at the one good decision that some people in the Bible made that changed the course of their life for the better. By looking at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word I hope we’ll all take comfort, courage, and hope in the fact that, despite the mess we’re presently faced with, we can still turn things around. A lousy past or dismal present doesn’t have to give us the same future. By God’s grace, our future and life can be changed for the better…if we only make the right decision today. May God help us do that on a daily basis!

A MOTHER’S CHOICE

Many of you are familiar with the story of Samuel, the renown prophet, priest, and judge of Old Testament times. He was one of the most important transitional figures in the Bible. Transitional because he was the last of the Judges. After him, and ever afterwards, the nation of Israel would be ruled be Kings.

In fact, when the people asked him if they could have a king to rule over them, Samuel at first objected (1 Samuel 8). He saw it as the people’s rejection of the Lord as their ruler. As far as the prophet was concerned, Israel was asking to be like the rest of the nations of the world. Every other nation had kings and it just seemed natural to the Israelites to have a king also. But to Samuel, Israel wasn’t like the rest of the world. She wasn’t supposed to be like everyone else. She was unique. She alone worshipped the one true God. God was her Ruler. Israel was a theocratic nation and that’s the way Samuel wanted it to remain.

But God intervened and persuaded Samuel to accede to the people’s request. The people wanted a king and that’s exactly what God would give them. So God had Samuel begin the search for the man who would be Israel’s first king. This man, it turned out, would be Saul (1 Samuel 9). He was truly a handsome man. Head and shoulders taller than any man in Israel. He came from a fine stock and was a marvelous specimen of manhood. He would be a good military commander and king. So Samuel summoned the entire nation to Mizpeh, which was the ancient capital of Israel at that time, and there in the sight of the people he anointed Saul to be King over Israel.

Well, Saul was doing great as a King and General of the Army. For a time it seemed as if the nation had done good by getting themselves a king. But the honeymoon would eventually end. It always does when you’re outside of God’s will.

God told the King to utterly destroy the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15). No one was to be spared alive. Not even the women and children. Even the Amalekites’ animals and livestock were to be killed. God wanted that entire race of people to be extinct from off the face of the earth. The Lord’s instruction was pretty clear and straight forward. There was no mistaking the Lord’s order.

But the King failed to obey the Lord. The army wanted to keep some of the spoils of war for themselves. Besides, we could use all these sheep and oxen and sacrifice them to the Lord! We know what we’re doing! Let’s not kill them, Saul. So the King listened to the army. He even went one step farther and saved the King of the Amalekites alive.

Well, it wasn’t long before the man of God came along. The bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen told him the story: the King had disobeyed the Lord’s order. It was this single act of disobedience that spelled the end and downfall of the King. God would henceforth reject him as Israel’s King. So God told  Samuel to go out and search for a new King for Israel.

The prophet’s search ended with David (1 Samuel 16). Of course, you know the rest of the story. The entire nation was changed by David’s Kingship and Israel became a regional superpower.

So, in hindsight, Samuel was a truly pivotal and landmark ruler in Israel during his lifetime—both politically and spiritually. He galvanized the nation behind him. The people looked to him for guidance. And even in an hour when the nation turned its back on God, Samuel continued to serve God’s people and direct them in the knowledge and obedience of God. Israel’s history was forever changed by the lone and solitary voice of God speaking and working through this one man named Samuel.

Like I said at the start, many of you know the story of Samuel. He got his start in the priesthood because his mother, a woman by the name of Hannah, was barren. She was so distraught with her inability to conceive and have children that she finally had a meltdown with God at the Tabernacle in Shiloh (1 Samuel 1). She made a deal with God. God, if you give me a child, a boy, I’ll give him back to you. I’ll bring him back to this Tabernacle and leave him here for you, to serve you all the days of his life. You can have him, dear Lord. Only let me have him first for a few years, then I’ll give him back to you (1 Samuel 1:11).

Well, God heard her anguished cry and gave her a son. She named him Samuel, which means asked of God. Hannah asked. And God gave.

As you can imagine, Hannah cherished every day with her son. Samuel was the answer to her heart’s cry. He filled a void in her life that only a child could fill. She was thankful to God and you can be very sure she savored every moment of every day with her son. She knew a day would come when she would have to give him back to God. After he was weaned (which most scholars believe took place when a boy was 3 to 5 five years old), she’d have to take him to Shiloh and leave him there for the rest of his life—just like she vowed to God.

Samuel is now weaned and it’s time for Hannah to make this dreaded trip to Shiloh. But in the years since her vow, conditions in Israel have deteriorated badly (1 Samuel 2). Eli the High Priest was too old. And inept in the priesthood. His sons, also priests, were sons of Belial. Which is to say, they weren’t the holy men they were supposed to be. They were as heathen as the priests of a false god. They robbed from the people. They even had the audacity to have sex with women at the Tabernacle! Their sins were so flagrant and irreverent that the whole idea of worshipping God was a mockery. Anytime you came to the Tabernacle you’d be raped or robbed. So, quite understandably, you can imagine how God’s people really hated showing up at the Tabernacle at all.

Now, knowing these things and the despicable conditions in the Tabernacle, place yourself in Hannah’s sandals. You made a vow to God to give your son back to Him if He gave you a son. God keeps His part of the bargain. Now it’s time for you to keep yours. But, quite clearly, the Tabernacle is no place to give your son, much less raise him. God, these sons of Belial are going to teach my son to be a rapist and robber. He isn’t going to be priest of God. He’s going to be corrupted. He can’t serve you if I give him over to these wicked, despicable priests!

So what do you do? Do you keep your bargain? Or do you find a way to conveniently postpone or delay it until conditions improve in the Tabernacle? Surely God would understand! He wouldn’t want a boy growing up in that kind of deplorable, immoral environment!

Hannah’s got a choice. She’s got a difficult decision to make. She’s a mother. And a mother, by nature, isn’t wont to hand over her son to immoral men who would only teach her son the ways of sin. What good would that accomplish? So you keep your side of the bargain, but your son doesn’t become the man of God that you always imagined he would become. He’d be a robber and rapist like the rest of them. So what good is a bargain kept if it’ll only result in a godless priest? Hannah doesn’t have it easy. Not by a long shot.

Of course, you know what Hannah ends up doing. She takes her son to Shiloh and, tearfully I’m sure, she leaves him there just as she promised the Lord she would do. Not an easy thing to do, especially when you’ve got pictures of a beloved son becoming a rapist and a disgrace to the family name. Hannah left her son in God’s hands. God gave him to her. He belonged to God. And Hannah somehow must have found the grace, and courage, and faith, to believe that God would watch over her son and keep him in spite of the deplorably sinful condition of the priesthood.

As it turned out, this was Hannah’s best decision ever. She gave her son to the Lord. And in doing so, she gave the nation the hope of change. The nation was changed—and remarkably so—because her son was preserved by the Lord and he cleaned house. He started with the Tabernacle. He restored the true worship of God. Then he ventured forth out of the Tabernacle and went throughout the nation, teaching God’s laws and bringing God’s people back to the worship and obedience of God. Israel was forever changed—all because a mother kept her promise to God.

So you’ve got a thousand and one reasons not to keep your promise to God. You made Him a promise. God kept His end of the bargain. Will you keep yours? Think of Hannah. And let your promise kept be the beginning of a change that will change your life forever and the lives of those around you.