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On The Upper Room Discourse Re-Release For Lent 2024


“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul (Paul).”
Acts 11:25

“TO BE OPENED ONLY BY THE LIBRARIAN OF CONGRESS”. Those words were written across an old package, no larger than a shoe box, wrapped in brown paper and bound with faded tape. So following these instructions, the Librarian of Congress, Daniel J. Boorstin, gingerly opened the package on Lincoln’s birthday in 1976 before a large crowd of reporters and cameras.

Once Boorstin opened the package, he discovered yet another note that read: “CONTENTS OF THE PRESIDENT’S POCKETS ON THE NIGHT OF APRIL 14, 1865.” These were the items given Robert Todd Lincoln on the night his father was assassinated in Ford’s Theatre. These everyday items from Lincoln’s pockets became precious relics to his family. Then after many years, the items were given to the Library of Congress by Lincoln’s granddaughter Mary Lincoln Isham.

The contents of Lincoln’s pockets listed below can be seen in the Library of Congress:

  • Two pairs of glasses and lens cleaner;
  • Ivory pocketknife with silver mounting;
  • Watch fob;
  • Linen handkerchief with “A. Lincoln” embroidered in red cross-stitch;
  • Brown leather wallet containing a $5 Confederate note;
  • Some newspaper clippings favorable to the President and his policies.

It is the last items from Lincoln’s pockets that stir my interest on his birthday. I am taken by his holding on to newspaper clippings favorable to him and his policies. It is difficult for us today to imagine the vilification and vitriol that Lincoln endured during the Civil War, and its effect on him. Scholars write about Lincoln’s frequent “depressive episodes”, most recently Joshua Wolf Shenk in the book Lincoln’s Melancholy, and psychiatrist Nassir Ghaemi’s in A First-Rate Madness. I am not surprised that this great man, prone to many dark nights, kept in his pockets some nice words that people had written about him. Even the greatest among us need encouragement.

In today’s brief Scripture text, we read of one of history’s great encouragers: Barnabas. But “Barnabas” wasn’t his given name. We first learn of Barnabas early in the Book of Acts: “There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’)” Acts 4:36. This Joseph was so great an encourager that people dropped his given name and called him “son of encouragement”.

Later in the Book of Acts we see this “son of encouragement” coming alongside to encourage the young convert Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:37). When the Christians in Jerusalem were afraid to receive this Saul who had persecuted Christians, it was Barnabas who encouraged them to welcome Saul. Then in today’s text the “son of encouragement” is at it again, going in search of Saul, finding him, and encouraging him to take a part in the new ministry at Antioch.

It is this same “son of encouragement” who helps pick up the pieces of young Mark’s ministry fiasco (Acts 15:37-39). Barnabas so encourages him that Mark goes on to write the Gospel of Mark, and be a great leader (II Timothy 4:11). I often wonder about the losses the early church would have suffered were it not for the “son of encouragement”! Many stood tall on his shoulders!

Our word “encourage” comes from two old words meaning to “put heart into” someone. That’s what encouragement is: it puts heart into us. I think of that every time I am called to the hospital to pray with a patient about to undergo heart transplant. Medical researchers know, and hospital policy prescribes, to first put some spiritual heart into a person before a transplant.

Often in making rounds with doctors in the hospital I hear them talk about the importance of “heart”. It is vital for a person to know that someone is pulling for him or her. The gentle touch of a hand, the words “I love you”, or ,“I’m praying for you”, can sometimes spell the difference between life and death.

All of us need encouragement. We need to hear words like: “I’m here for you”; “I appreciate you”; “I am pulling for you”; and “Thank you”. Sometimes just a phone call, an email, a handwritten note, or pat on the back can become the elixir of life.

I don’t know who first said it, but I find the words very encouraging: “A pat on the back, though only inches removed from a kick in the pants, is miles more effective”.

Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing
—I Thessalonians 5:11

Grace, Peace, and Encouragement!

photo by kathyschrock

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