This week, in the process of training a new young lady as a receptionist at the office, I learned that she’d been to Ukraine on a missions trip. So, of course, I told her that my parents were both born there, which sparked an inevitable “story” about my Ukrainian Dad, who has now been living in heaven since 2006.
Humble in nature, a little rough around the edges (much like ‘Tevia’ in Fiddler on the Roof), my Dad was certainly not a model of perfection. And yet his life impacted an amazing number of people in such a positive way! All who knew him loved him, and, even if someone spent only fifteen minutes with him, they clearly understood that the driving passion of his life was Jesus Christ. And second, he loved people.
My Dad personified Proverb 18:24 –the secret to true success when it comes to having friends.He knew that true friendship isn’t generated from money or prestige, skill in oration, keen intelligence, an ability to be “right” about all the issues, or having a sharp eye for fashion. Neither does it come from physical beauty or amazing talent, because frankly, Dad had none of these. But he did have the most primary element of friendship. Very simply, that “a man who has friends must show himself friendly. And there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother!”
Like most men, my Dad hated shopping anywhere except at the “Canadian Tire” store, yet he loved excursions to the mall where he always ran across someone he knew. Or, in the absence of old friends, he’d strike up a conversation with someone he didn’t know.
He took me to the mall once during one of my visits home, and after my purchase I grew impatient waiting for him to finish chatting with someone. Eventually, I left the mall ahead of him to wait by his car. I waited… and waited… and waited…. until finally I caught sight of him finally walking out the door, chatting pleasantly with yet another friend on the way out. I watched as he walked the younger man to his car, finished their conversation, and finally shook hands with a warm gesture of resting his hand on the man’s shoulder.
Not recognizing the man, I asked my Dad, “Who was that?” when he finally sauntered over to where I was. Slightly embarrassed, he grinned sheepishly as he admitted, “You know, I forgot to ask him his name!” That was Dad. Classic.
If ever there was a Bible character that most personified my Dad, it had to be Barnabas. Though his name was really Joseph, the apostles nicknamed him Barnabas, meaning “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36) because his nature was to cheer others on.
Nothing gave Barnabas more joy than to see others pursue the glory of God and succeed in their own callings. “When he came, and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord” (Acts 11:23.) The highest goal for which a ‘Barnabas’ reaches is not his own greatness or achievement, but instead, he seeks to encourage others to reach forward, by God’s grace, to achieve all that God has called them to.
The “Barnabas and Saul” in Acts 11 became the “Paul and Barnabas” of chapter 15, and that was exactly the way Barnabas wanted it. No jealousy to be first, no striving to dominate in personal renown. Barnabas didn’t end up writing any books; he never became a renowned orator or evangelist; he never started organizations. But because he believed that God could work in others’ lives in a mighty way, he cheered others on to fulfill God’s purposes, so that many others– including John Mark– succeeded because of him.
That was Dad: “Barnabas.” Dad never earned a degree, although by his natural ability he became a mechanical engineer, working for years as a skilled tool and die maker. He never wrote books, though he was an avid reader– primarily books that stirred his faith. He never became a renowned evangelist, though he shared the Gospel with almost everyone he talked to. He never earned the title of a pastor or a missionary, though he shepherded six children over the course of about 30 years. He was never invited to be the keynote speaker at any conference, though his affirmation from the front row inspired many who were.
No one remembers him because of any status he achieved or accolades he earned. Yet he was one of the most well-loved individuals I’ve ever known, and touched many, many lives over the course of his days on this earth.
When I’d finished telling the story about my Dad (which I’ll write about in another post) to the young lady at the office, she wistfully commented, “Man, I hope I’ll get to meet your Dad in heaven some day…”
“Oh, you will!” I instinctively replied. Because I suspect he’s probably one of heaven’s “greeters.” Along with Barnabas.
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