Thursday, April 14, 2016

Three Hands, Three Strands

The associate pastor at our church, Brian Sharpe, has created a booklet called "Three Hands," with the help of some others on our communications team. The artwork on the cover is a bit goofy and I've made fun of it a lot (insert comment about living too close to Hanford Nuclear Reservation here), but the foundational idea, while simple, is incredibly important.

The booklet looks at the lives of some of those who were called, in the first century A.D., to "lean into" the task of taking the life-changing Gospel ("good news") of Jesus outward from their home villages and spreading it so that the world might be changed. This obviously took an incredible amount of passion, and conviction, and selflessness, and courage, all gifts brought from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit who fell upon Christ's disciples in Acts 2. Specifically, it looks at the Apostle Paul, and Timothy, and Barnabus, three men who made an incredible contribution to the spread of the Gospel. And more specifically, it looks at the relationship between them, and draws some simple ideas from what we see there.

Paul's mentoring of Timothy was obviously incredibly important. It was far more than the relationship between student and teacher; it was discipleship. Paul frequently said, even as Jesus did, "Those things you see me do, go and do those things." He modeled what New Testament life was supposed to be about, then encouraged others to follow the model.

And how does Barnabus fit in? One of the key things you see in Acts and beyond is that men like Paul rarely went out "on their own." They partnered with someone who could provide strength and encouragement. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says:
And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.
The truth is, we are too often alone ... and too often, inevitably, overpowered! The Christian life wasn't designed to be lived alone. It was designed to be lived in partnership with brothers and sisters. Too many Christians in this "cowboy" culture we live in here in the U.S. simply blow off "church." They don't need anybody, they can go it alone. But truth be told, our need for others is far more significant than we know. We need that brother and sister who can tell us the truth when we need to hear it, or can give words of encouragement when that is what we need. We need others to "stir us up to love and good works," as Hebrews 10:24 says.

A two-stranded cord is far better than one.

But wait ... that's not what Ecclesiastes says, is it? Oh, of course not! Duh. The third strand represents He who enters into our fellowship, and interweaves His life with ours. The Third Strand alone is unbreakable ... so any rope with it woven firmly into place is a rope that should surely hold under even the greatest pressure!

So, back to the three hands: On that goofy cover I told you about, one hand is reaching downward, one reaching upward, and one to the side. The hand reaching up reminds us that we all need to have a mentor who can disciple us and prepare us for what God has assigned. Even Paul spent something like three years learning from others and getting prepared for his public ministry.

And we should all be willing to pour what we have learned into others, for our faith is just one generation away from extinction and we must not be the ones who fail to pass it down! The hand reaching down reminds us that we should all have "Timothys" in our lives who we are pouring ourselves into. We should be showing (with our lives, not just saying with our lips), and we should be working toward a specific goal (as Paul did), to release those we mentor into ministry once they are ready.

And finally, we all need Barnabuses. (Barnabi?) I have a close friend in California named John whom I met my first year of college. Our friendship has continued to grow since then, and there has been many a time when we have needed and depended on each other. Often he is a Paul, and I a Timothy; and sometimes it may be the other way around. But always, we are Barnabuses, to whatever extent we can be, separated by 1,200 miles!

Brian asks, Who is your Paul? Who is your Timothy? Who is your Barnabus? There are no hard-and-fast rules, and this may be a season when all three relationships are not operating in our lives right now. But we should always be on the lookout for who God might bring our way. And we must never neglect "the assembling of ourselves together" and simply putting ourselves "out there" in places where we can impact (and be impacted by) the lives of others! Are you allowing God to weave that three-stranded cord in your life?

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