I am writing this blog as a pre cursor to a pilgrimage I want to take straight after Westpoint 2014. I want to visit great Christian landmarks where people built, prayed, preached and influenced the nation and nations. In preparation I am looking back over my 38 years as a Christian and viewing it as a pilgrimage with caricatures of key folk I met along my path. This is part 3.
I saw in my vision that the highway upon which I followed was often hedged on either side by strong interwoven shrubs whose willowy arms seemed to sway and encourage my steps along the highway called the Gospel. It was a rugged path with many travellers upon it. A few dispirited and sombre souls warned of dangers ahead but most pilgrims were just happy to open their knapsacks and share their few belongings and food. Every few days I would stumble upon sign posts that marked clearly the ancient paths along which I now trod. That is not to say the journey was mostly flat or routine. The Gospel highway led me through freezing rivers, into rich pastures, and pleasant villages where I would often rest awhile, and of course the breath-taking high mountain passes of faith. Seldom along the highway did I manage to reach the mountaintops, but on those few and rare occasions I noticed a profound change in my step and vision.
Over one long stretch of path I was joined by an enthusiastic rugged pilgrim who wore on his coat a dazzling array of metallic geeky badges, ‘Smile Jesus loves you’, ‘One way Jesus, and my favourite ‘God doesn't believe in Atheists, therefore they don't exist’.
I asked his name - "Barney short for Barnabas son of encouragement," he replied, only too willing to engage in my journey so far. He was a ball of energy, coiled tight as a clock spring, exploding with every new sight with applause and delight. Each day we grew closer and my heavy steps felt lighter from his presence. One particularly hard day as we rested by a stream and I massaged two growing blisters on my little toes he addressed my miserable countenance.
" Feet are amazing, aren't they? Our whole motion, balance, even destiny, are determined by these magnificent wonders we call feet. Isn't it a good thing that the Master didn't bid us walk on hands or cartwheel along his road?”
Frankly I was irritated by his positivity and thus replied, "Do you ever tire of wonder, or wows and whoopies! Do you never grow so discouraged that you swear or rant?"
His reply remains with me every day and spurs my steps, "But of course - the road is hard, the journey dangerous. But I have learnt this important truth: that I must firmly resist discouragement as firmly as I resist all other sins! Discouragement has taken out many a great servant of God, who is deceived into believing this is in some way Godly humility. It is a trick of the enemy and used when all others fail."
We were overheard by two fellow travellers who drew alongside. Their names were Snob and Sniff, and their noses matched their names. "Hey now Barney we meet again with your ridiculous badges and happy air. And to you fair pilgrim (they now looked at me) don't be fooled by the false enthusiasm, energy and encouragement of young Barnabas. He gives away his family fortune and forgets that Christianity is a serious business and not for the simple of heart who walk around with a grin on their faces. Time and disappointment will soon sour his face and teach him true wisdom beyond those of flattery."
Barnabas smiled and shared his bread and good humour with equal extravagance. And so after a short respite, Snob buttoned his ecclesiastical overcoat and allowed Sniff one loud blow in his handkerchief and they were gone.
"Good riddance to those two," I muttered, "How do you deign speak to them, let alone listen to their counsel? I would not trust their words or motives."
Barney laughed, "Love is our highest calling. I have made a decision before God to always believe the best in others. As for judging motives, I can hardly tell my own."
“But they took your kindness for granted and accused you of falsehood and flattery?"
Barney stopped his work, and looking me in the eye, said, "We can live in shadow lands, in black and white blandness, or mix them to grey living. Or we can choose to see the world in colour, to rehearse its beauty, its form and variety. A fool can spot a weakness in another but it is grace that identifies and draws out the good. I have been given a life, a name, and I choose each day to colour my world, to dress others in Joseph's multi coloured coats. Flattery is false and selfish. It pretends and manipulates to your face for its own selfish ends. Encouragement seeks the good in others and promotes their interest above your own."
And so we walked and talked, shared and prayed along the highway. A meal with Barney left me drunk with joy. A hike toward the rugged mountain top had me running the final few steps spurred by the roar of this marvellous saint. Of all the characters I have met upon my journey there is none whose company I have more enjoyed.
I love the accounts of Barnabas in scripture Acts 4:36, Acts 11:22-26, Acts 13: 2 ff. He models joy and encapsulates the spirit of Phil 4:8 "Whatever is noble” etc..
Writing this latest makes me so grateful to God for the Barnabas characters I have so been inspired and helped by in my Christian life. I think of my wife, Heather, refusing to be a victim of difficult life circumstances, but joy filled and cheering my every step. I am indebted to men like Malcolm Kayes, Greg Haslam, Mike Shore, who laugh at life's challenges and roar encouragement to this mountaineer. I have been so helped by Terry Virgo with his kind Barnabas wisdom that have shaped my leadership and attitudes. And to the many other Barnabas folk in my life, Steve Tibbert, Dave Stroud, Jeremy Simpkins and so many others, I salute you.