The Encouragement Bridge - Acts 9:26-31 NIV
Why study this? To understand importance of ENCOURAGEMENT in Christian life. It's like a BRIDGE. You don't miss it until it's gone! 1967 Collapse of Silver Bridge. 46 people died. Designed to last a century. Didn't make it 40 years. For years I would unbuckle my seatbelt and hold onto handle whenever crossing a bridge! A bridge gets us from here to there... and so does encouragement.
Important that it be constructed right ==>
#1 - Encouragement bridge is constructed by ________________________ .
Today our focus shifts to the encourager of Acts. His name was Barnabas.
“[Barnabas] was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” Acts 11:24 NIV
Luke summarizes this man in 11:24. Could a better compliment be given? - a good man, a great number brought to the Lord. But let's not miss the central truth - "full of Holy Spirit and faith!"
Barnabas was a great encourager! We need more like him. Here's a central core to encouragement. You cannot encourage others unless you yourself are encouraged! You can't pour out what you don't have within you. Where do we get encouraged? Encouragement that is always there, that never fails? From God's Holy Spirit!
We are first introduced to Barnabas in Acts 4:
"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." Acts 4:36-37 NIV
Have you ever wondered how Barnabas got his name? "Son of encouragement." Does that mean his dad was an encourager? Or maybe more there. Maybe he was the son of God and was encouraged by God through the Holy Spirit! Tradition holds that Barnabas was one of the 70 sent out by Jesus, two by two. If so Barnabas was one of the earliest disciples. No wonder he was so generous! An encourager.
Before we move on, let's stop and ask the question - could I be an encourager of others? If so, do I need to be encouraged? Who more can I count on to encourage me than God Himself?
4 Bridges of Encouragement:
#2 - Encouragement bridges the gap between ___________ and ____________ .
"When he came to Jerusalem, [Saul] tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles." Acts 9:26-27a NIV
When we last left Paul, in verse 25, he was being lowered through a gap in the wall in the city of Damascus. We pick up the story in verse 26, "When he came to Jerusalem..." Just reading that it seems like one thing happened right after the other. Not so! We read the Book of Acts together with the other letters in the New Testament.
Paul himself fills in the blanks for us...
Paul: "Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles - only James, the Lord's brother." Galatians 1:18-19 NIV
Paul got away for three years of study and preparation. Three years - about how long Jesus taught. Three years - about how long seminary lasts.
Once Paul was ready to go into full-time Christian ministry, he seeks out the apostles in Jerusalem. But his reputation remained scary. Everyone was afraid to trust him. They were skeptical that he had really changed.
What Paul desperately needed was a Barnabas to speak up for him. Barnabas was the bridge of encouragement. We all need that bridge of encouragement to speak up for us. Someone who believes in us. Someone who will give the chance to prove the change.
What about you today? Is there someone who needs your bridge of encouragement?
#3 - Encouragement bridges the gap between _________ and ______________ faithfulness.
Last week I told you that our past follows us around. That's especially true for the new Christian. But can also be true for the one who has been a Christian for awhile. Here Paul had been a Christian for at least 3 years and had spent those 3 years in preparation. But here was that past again.
"[Barnabas] told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus." Acts 9:27b NIV
I love 2 things about this.
(1) every little change you make in the right direction is another step away from your past and a step toward your new life in Christ.
Every step matters. Yes Saul had murdered Christians and systematically attempted to wipe out the church. It was past and he couldn't change it. But he also started a new past with the changes in his steps. He had preached the gospel courageously in Damascus. That was one step in the right direction.
What steps in the right direction have you taken today? What present steps toward the man or woman God intends you to become? You're stepping into your new future in Christ!
(2) The key to Saul connecting with the disciples/apostles in Jerusalem was the encouragement of Barnabas.
"So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord." Acts 9:28 NIV
We all need people to remind ourselves and others of the positive steps we have taken. It's easy to forget. Remember Damascus was 3 years ago. Encouragement bridges the gap between past and present!
#4 - Encouragement bridges the gap between ___________ and _________________ .
"[Saul] talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus." Acts 9:29-30 NIV
Recall that we each have a spiritual enemy. If he can't turn us away from our certain journey with Christ, he will attempt to make our journey a wasteful one. Without the ability to be useful to the kingdom of God. Without bringing another soul along with us into Glory.
Once more in this Acts story, Saul gets himself into a jam by debating with the Hellenistic Jews. (These were Hebrews who took on the language and lifestyle of the Greeks.) The result? They wanted to kill him. Can we look a layer deeper? Who really wanted to stop Saul? The spiritual enemy!
What made the difference? The encouragement bridge. The believers. Those who were once skeptical, now not only trusted but protected. They made Saul escape down to the seaport of Caesarea. But even more importantly sent him to Tarsus - a key crossroads of commerce. The perfect spot for Saul's talents. (Also his hometown!)
The encourager looks deep into someone's life and encourages the life not to be wasted. Here's your strengths. Here is where you can be really useful!
#5 - Encouragement bridges the gap between ___________ and ______________ .
"Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers." Acts 9:31 NIV
You might be surprised that there is a gap between peace and growth that needs to be bridged. But the truth is that peace can and often does lead to complacency and divided attention. The stress of living can often take us away from our focus on Christ.
Silver Bridge - eyebar 330 was defective. Water pooled at the bottom. Residual stress created a hidden crack. At it's worst - only 3 millimeters long! Domino effect.
Don't take for granted your need for the Holy Spirit to restore peace and growth into the cracks of your stressful life. Or one thing could lead to another!