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Barnabas and Phoebe

November 30, 2012

Christians don’t believe in reincarnation. Such notions belong primarily to Eastern religions and those new age philosophies seeking to explain death and the after life apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Christians, however, have the firm hope of following Christ into eternal life after death – not the recycling of this present life., even though we don’t believe in reincarnation, I am convinced that I spoke with Barnabas and Phoebe last night. No, not the reincarnation of these early Christians, but the embodiment of their spirit of encouragement and service in two people at our church.

Last evening Barnabas came into my office and sat down. In the Bible, Barnabas (whose name means Son of Encouragement) served as an encouragement to the Apostle Paul and the early church. In Acts 9:27 he stood with Paul and was able to ease the anxiety of those early Christians who were skeptical of Paul’s conversion. He was Paul’s advocate. And yet, in Acts 15:37 Barnabas challenged Paul’s reluctance to keep young Mark in the ministry with him after Mark had disappointed Paul. These two accounts demonstrate to us what biblical encouragement is. It serves both as a challenge and a comfort.

As Barnabas sat down with me last evening, he offered both comfort and challenge. He challenged me to consider the nature of my calling as pastor and how easily my heart can be turned aside to personal agendas. He reminded me of the stewardship God has given us as leaders of the church and how we must guard against our own private kingdoms. It was a gracious challenge, and yet it was clear. It was a gift from God that humbled me and reminded me of my need to live a life of repentance. It was a comfort to know that God has Barnabas’ in my life who will on one hand stand arm and arm with me, and on the other hand say the tough things that need to be said.

After Barnabas walk out, and my heart humbled by the reminder of God’s continued grace in my life, to my amazement Phoebe walked in.

Phoebe was a prominent woman in the early church. In fact, in the Bible she is referred to as “a servant of the church at Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1). She was a servant (diaconos), one who had made the church her home and her home the church.

In speaking with Phoebe last night, I was moved by her love for God and all things the church of Jesus Christ. She spoke of the example her now deceased parents had shown her in what it meant to serve God and his people.  She reflected on the unexpected joy of washing the saints’ feet. She told me how she loved to serve, and yet  she is growing tired and weary. She needs a rest.

I was reminded that at time it is necessary for some of us to do as many of David’s men did by the Brook of Besor – they rested (1Sam. 30:9).  Her desire for rest is really a testament to God’s goodness to us.   It should remind us that our God loves to replenish his servants and his church.

Phoebe is a faithful sister. Her service is not in vain. And yet, I am reminded that we need to appreciate and comfort those among us who have served long and faithfully. We need to remind them that their reward is imperishable and kept for them (1Pet. 1:4) by the one who loves them with an unchanging, everlasting love.

Last night, God reminded me why I am a pastor, and how much I need him if I am going to continue faithfully in this calling. He places Barnabas in my life to comfort and challenge me. He gives me Phoebe so I would remain steadfast and diligent. Ultimately, both are there to point me anew to Christ – not the reincarnated, but the resurrected Lord.

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