Cover image for The Barnabas way : an unexpected path to God
The Barnabas way : an unexpected path to God
Sloan, John, 1951-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Colorado Springs, Colo. : Waterbrook Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
119 pages ; 20 cm
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BV4647.E53 S57 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Using the New Testament story of Barnabas as a model, the author shows how we can experience a richer relationship with God by reaching out to those around us who are hurting and need our help and compassion.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

At a time when the Christian market is selling copies of The Prayer of Jabez in record numbers and masses are praying boldly for God's blessing to fall heavily upon their lives, this gentle book points to another path. Sloan observes that many Christians search for blessings first and God second. Yet he maintains that God's richest blessings come through serving the brokenhearted and battered; genuine favor rests upon those who are willing to see past the decay in order to sacrificially offer whatever comfort and care they can. Sloan sketches out a brief description of the biblical encourager Barnabas, who demonstrated a generous heart when he sold his real estate and gave the proceeds to the apostles. He showed courage in defending Paul among the skeptical followers of Christ and again took on the role of comrade and confidante when he made a stand for his fellow missionary cousin, John Mark. Barnabas continued his behind-the-scenes service to the end of his life. Sloan makes a sound case for emulating Barnabas, yet the text jumps around too disjointedly and the author's thoughts, while worthy, come across as hastily slapped together. Readers not familiar with the biblical character of Barnabas also have to wait until chapter four before they are given this pertinent background data. While Sloan's passion for service is heartfelt, it is regrettable that this information couldn't have been presented in a more flowing fashion. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



The Blessing Dilemma * * * Most of us have known people through the years who have looked for blessings, who have looked for gifts, who have looked for dramatic evidences that God was playing big in their lives. For many of those, the evidence hasn't shown up. Who doesn't want to be on the winning side? And who doesn't want their leader to be the shining one, the exemplary one, the one with all the answers? That's the type of leader we often look for in God. As Philip Yancey concedes, "Sometimes ... I wish that God used a heavier touch.... I want God to take a more active role in human affairs.... I want quick and spectacular answers to my prayers." When any one of us thinks about how we want God to treat us, the images are different, but they still describe God in terms of what he can provide or give. "We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven ... who ... like[s] to see young people enjoying themselves." We all want to experience the reality of God as our Father; no one disputes that. But when a person's view of God casts him in the role of always giving immediate answers and blessings, the lack of God's evident blessings leaves the disappointed with a couple of conclusions. Either they weren't praying right, or God had chosen to not bless them, in the face of his promises that he would. Many become disheartened and turn down the volume of their spiritual life. Some become angry and stifle bitterness in their hearts as they go on robotically attending church. Some become disillusioned and more away from their faith, looking back at God and his followers in the rearview mirror. But it doesn't have to be this way. What if I could show that there is a secret of spiritual living that guarantees God's presence with us every day? And that God will bless us in ways that we could never imagine? And that it works every time? And that this secret can be ours whether we are young or old, rich of poor, the possessor of a high IQ or an average intellect, a person who likes to serve or one who's good at leading-this secret is for all of us. These blessings are not reserved for those who think big, claiming descendents as numerous as the stars of the sky like Abraham. They're not waiting to be claimed by only those of bold faith, who walk like Joshua around the walls of what's to be conquered spiritually and blast them down. No, the blessings are much less in focus when we are first laying hold of this spiritual secret. But they are in abundance on the other side of belief and action. And God is near-very near-all the way through. Let's turn things in reverse order, as they appear most often in today's search for blessing and health and a life of comfort. Blessings are first in view. God second. Life's Good Things Going back to my childhood, I can remember many more good things happening in my life than bad. But it's the bad things that I remember the most intensely, that touch me the most deeply. And it was at those awful times that God put some very special people into my life. Or to say it another way, at those times God came to me in one of his special people. And this person either planted a seed or watered a withering tree in my spiritual life. Growing up in Los Angeles, I vaguely remember going with my dad to a Rams football game in the Romanesque L.A. Coliseum. It was impressive as a sports arena. I sort of remember trips to Disneyland when Walt Disney's amusement park in an orange grove was the only one of its kind anywhere in the world. This next memory is a bit hazy, but I remember going to Huntington Beach with my father and two brothers and making my way past the breakers by diving under the waves before they crashed. We swam fifty yards out from shore where the waves passed by in big swells instead of thundering down on us like avalanches. I have these good memories. But my mind doesn't hold on to their details, and I don't think I was very much affected by them in the long run. Yet I remember the day my father died like k was yesterday. I was eight years old. I felt the world slip out of its course. I thought there would never be another hour of happiness in my life. But at that moment a series of men began to appear, one after the other, who by simply being there for me kept putting the hope in my heart that God was still alive. The Sign of God's Blessing Blessings today are equated with happiness. Gifts from God are often seen as proof that God loves us. And there is great emphasis in certain circles on praying that God will bless us, increase our successes, add people to our churches, and demonstrate in fantastic ways that he is at work in our lives. When pointed in dais direction, our spiritual compass is not fixed on True N (True North) but on True B (True Blessing). And if the anticipated blessings don't appear, the unfortunate conclusion reached by some is that they just weren't praying enough. Or they weren't praying the right prayer. Or they simply haven't learned how to be spiritual. The daily orientation for this type of spirituality is the pursuing of and the claiming of "good" things, the "happy" things that we can attribute to God and celebrate with great joy. It's exciting for those who see the desired results, but too bad for those who don't see such blessing. Their lack of success threatens to invalidate the "ask big, he'll give big" thesis-their lives don't become illustrations in sermons. I had a colleague in the business world whom I sat across the table from when it was time for our companies to negotiate. We were at opposite ends of the deal. If he represented his client well, my company would end up yielding contract points or money or both. If I were able to present the better argument, then he and his client would need to yield points in favor of my company. Good recipe for a fight and hard feelings, right? No. And this is why. We knew before the briefcases ever clicked open and the notes ever appeared that Christ, and our Christian faith, needed to supersede the deal. This businessman was exemplary in this regard. When the negotiations moved into areas of disagreement, he remained calm. When it was time to square shoulders and make a point, he was pleasant. He began friendly and stayed that way. He lived his faith in the world of business. In the fall of 1999, he died in a tragic airplane crash, leaving behind a wife and four small children. In this nationally covered air tragedy, some celebrated sports figures who perished in the accident were mourned across the country. My friend's name was not that of a well-known athlete, but his family and all who knew him mourned his great loss, for they knew the type of man he was. The "blessings theology" popular today says God rewards those who ask. But how does that explain a mother and four children who today have no husband or father? This couple had asked the blessing of God upon their family continually. God rewards all those who ask, so what went wrong? Looking for the Broken Hearts Instead of the Blessings Think back to what has meant the most in your spiritual life-the nice things prayed for and received or the tougher things you have faced in your own life and in the lives of others. Choosing the first might mean avoiding my friend's widow and anyone else who has suffered loss, because their tragic experience doesn't square with a life filled only with blessings. But pursuing the latter course-trying to help and encourage those facing the tougher times-means uncomfortable involvement with heartbreak and discomfort, and getting used to not having anything to say to the hurting, and having to trust that God remains a good God in spite of a world that festers with hurt and mistakes and brokenness. C. S. Lewis says the Christian view is that this is a good world that has gone wrong but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. My wife and I were barely acquainted with a family in our town who had a fifteen-year-old son and two younger daughters. In fact, we knew the boy better than we knew the parents. The boy wanted to be a writer, and since I work in the publishing business, he would bring his writing to me for my evaluation. I never knew he had a struggle with depression; he kept that secret from me. I found out later that his parents had been getting him medical treatment and counseling. But as is sometimes the case in these situations, on the last day of his life he projected a radiant optimism to his parents and to everyone in his school. He helped at his favorite charity that afternoon. And that night he took a gun and ended what had become for him an unbearable and seemingly unwinnable emotional struggle. When we heard the news, my wife and I couldn't stop thinking about our young friend, and about his parents. So I went to them. I wanted to tell them I was sorry. I wanted to tell them that my father, too, had ended his life with a gun. And I wanted to just tell them we were around. I took them a pound of coffee. When I went the first time, the mother wasn't capable of coming to the door. Over the next few months my wife and I asked the couple a few times if there was anything we could do for them. We asked them to neighborhood gatherings; we asked them to go out to eat. Initially they just weren't able to do anything. The hurt was too great. But eventually they asked us over for brief periods. We took some walks together. And I accepted their invitation to go with them to a support group for survivors of suicide. We really don't know what we did ultimately that was helpful, but months later at a conference we heard them tell a group of people that we had helped pull them out of the despair they had faced. And they'd felt God had brought us to them. Looking back, I realize that they brought God to us. We were at a loss as to what to say because there are no words that can be said at such a time of painful loss. So we begged God for help. And he came to us. That was the biggest blessing. It was all because we wanted to encourage someone. This experience begins to reveal the blessing that Barnabas enjoyed. In the context of Barnabas-like spirituality, two people can both be helped when one lends a hand to the other in the middle of a tough situation. This truth is mythically but realistically illustrated by the movie Hoosiers . Norman Dale, played by Gene Hackman, is a high-school coach seemingly without a past. He comes to the small Indiana town of Hickory to try to work the magic of making the school basketball team into a winner, maybe even a contender at the sectional playoffs. For Indiana, this is about as sacred a quest as Arthur searching for and finding the Holy Grail. Dale is opposed by parents of the players and other adults who think they know better what coaching a basketball team is all about. And winning over the players to Dale's way of playing is just about as hard a task. Into Coach Dale's life drops Shooter, played by Dennis Hopper, a former Hickory Huskers basketball star who happens to be one of the players' fathers ... and also the town drunk. In exchange for Shooter's vast knowledge of the players and teams and strategies they will face, Dale offers Shooter a job as assistant coach. With one caveat. Shooter's got to get and stay sober. Dale forges an important bond with Shooter, who supplies the Huskers with good scouting and takes the first real, though not perfect, steps toward conquering his lifelong problem of alcoholism. But Dale also benefits from his relationship with Shooter in a way other than basketball statistics. Most of the town had seen the coach as a cold, unfeeling personality when he first arrived. But after his efforts with Shooter, people found out just how thoughtful a person Coach Norman Dale was. He finally received the support that he needed. That's the way it can be in real life, too. We reach out to those we think need help, and in the process of giving that mercy, we ourselves are helped. Which is the great paradox about the life of encouragement. The most remarkable aspect of the Barnabas Way is this: It works whether or not a person knows the right spiritual technique or the right prayers of the right answers on the Bible quiz. Even for those in the worst of life's situations, who feel like what Philip Yancey calls "neglected saints, who learn to anticipate and enjoy God in spite of the difficulties of their lives on earth." These find true blessing because, "In their lives, the Beatitudes have become true." This, then, is the experience we can share with Barnabas, the man who made his name in the life of the first-century church by believing in and encouraging a professed persecutor of Christians named Saul (later called Paul) when nobody else would. Barnabas, the person who slipped in alongside those who needed help and encouragement and those who had failed and became the blessing that so many were seeking. Barnabas, the one who ignored logic when choosing his candidates (John Mark) for "most likely to succeed" at getting back into the saddle again. Barnabas, the one who believed what his eyes told him he could not. He is the patron saint of those who give and of those who need encouragement. Excerpted from The Barnabas Way by JOHN SLOAN Copyright © 2002 by John D. Sloan Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.