The pinnacle of extreme sports is the annual X-Games. The X-Games are somewhat styled after the Olympics but have an edgier and more dangerous feel. These are extreme sports that are not only judged on speed or precision but also on style. Its search for the edge has brought us amazing spectacles like a double end over end flip on a motorcycle. The kinds of things that make you wonder how in the world did they pull that off without breaking their neck. We borrow their stylized moniker of Xtreme for our next ABC of faith.
Yep, I fudged it a bit. There just weren’t any “X” words that connected with faith. I think however that as we explore some examples of faith we’ll have the same sit-down, jaw-dropping, how in the world did they do that reaction.
In the scriptures, there are two men that are described as being “full of faith.” Who do you think they are? Perhaps surprisingly it’s not Peter, John, James, or Paul. It is instead two secondary players in the narrative of Acts.
Our first example is Stephen. If you’ve read the Bible you know how this comes out, Stephen is the first recorded martyr for the faith. The declaration of Stephen’s faith, however, didn’t come at the dramatic end of his story but at the beginning.
The fledgling church in Jerusalem had grown beyond the Apostle’s ability to care for the widows and orphans among them. The Apostle’s charged the congregation to choose seven men “full of the Spirit and wisdom” to put in charge of that task. Luke records, “The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.” (Acts 6:5, NASB95) Notice how Stephen is described – “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” It doesn’t mean that the others didn’t have faith but there was something xtreme about Stephen’s faith.
We don’t know much about how Stephen’s faith was exercised prior to his trial and execution. Acts records that “And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8, NASB95) And that some of the Jewish folks could not dispute his wisdom (Acts 6:10) to the point where they concocted a story that led to Stephen’s arrest. Chapter seven of Acts records Stephen’s trial, testimony, and stoning.
Barnabas is one of my personal favorites. He was an encouraging risk taker sent from the Jerusalem church to see what God was doing in Antioch. Luke records, “The news about them (Antioch) reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul;” (Acts 11:22–25, NASB95)
Again notice the description, “for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” But the final phrase tells the story – Barnabas went to find Saul who would later be known as Paul. Barnabas had a tendency to find those that would grow in faith. He sought out Saul for a missionary journey but was also content as Saul/Paul began to take the lead. Later he would choose someone else to mentor which would lead to him and Paul going their own way. At that point, the focus of Acts shifts firmly to Paul and we lose sight of Barnabas.
So, perhaps you didn’t have that sit down, jaw-dropping, how did they do that moment during this short review of Stephen and Barnabas. Stephen didn’t rise from the dead and Barnabas faded into obscurity. It is after all easy to miss since we don’t have a complete picture of either, only these little snippets.
Consider this, Stephan and Barnabas weren’t Apostles. Probably didn’t walk with Jesus as disciples (there’s no record of it anyway). They were both chosen for a relatively mundane task and found ways to be xtreme in them. Stephen was essentially called to work the food pantry and found ways to powerfully connect with people both in prayer and in wisdom. Barnabas was called to spy out if the reports of believers outside of Jerusalem was true. He then encouraged those in Antioch, mentored and encouraged two who would contribute to the New Testament.
It’s the same xtreme faith as Edward Kimble. Who? Fair question. Edward was a shoe salesman and a Christian in the mid-1800’s. And you may never have heard of him but he, like Stephen and Barnabas had extreme faith. Edward talked about his faith in Jesus with a co-worker name Dwight – later more famously known as D. L. Moody. Moody became a well-known evangelist and founded the YMCA among other endeavors. But it doesn’t end there because there is a chain of faith that can be traced from Edward Kimble shoe salesman to a young lanky dairy farmer who we know as Billy Graham.
So often we think the marks of xtreme faith are monumental successes, miraculous healings, powerful testimonies, and thrilling preaching. But xtreme faith is boldly trusting God with the people He puts in our path. That’s what we see in Stephen, Barnabas, and Edward. It may mean sharing our story of Christ, praying with someone (instead of just promising), giving sacrificially of our time and resources, or even just baking a pie for someone that can’t repay even that simple offering. We may be called to work a food pantry, verify a report, or simply to sell shoes. On the other side those mundane tasks are people longing and needing God’s touch through you and I.
Unlike xtreme sports that displays the few who can do something fantastic, xtreme faith is regular folks bringing God’s extreme love through the everyday connections of their lives. The challenge is to see beyond the task at hand and see the people, that’s the difference between ordinary faith and xtreme faith.