Sermons

RSS Feed

06-14 - Listen and Doing

Psalm 123

James 1:13-27

            Last week, we spoke from the Book of James about doublemindedness; that condition of choosing to see the world through our own understand instead of seeking God’s wisdom.  James said that those who are doubleminded are unstable in all they do. James encouraged us to seek God, so that our minds would be made clear and we would become empowered to imitate Jesus in all we say and do.  With God’s wisdom, we can make the right choices because we are guided by the right reason. 

            Right reasoning seems missing today.  A poet once satirically observed the behavior of a society without belief in right reason followed this prescription.  He wrote:

“We believe that man is essentially good.  It’s only his behavior that lets him down.  This is the fault of society.  Society is the fault of conditions.  Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him.  Reality will adapt accordingly.  The universe will readjust.  History will alter. 

 

We believe that there is no absolute truth excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth. We believe in the rejection of creeds, And the flowering of individual thought.”

 

And then the poet added this postscript reflecting the result of this thinking.  He wrote:

 

“If chance be the Father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky and when you hear:  State of Emergency!  Sniper Kills Ten!  Troops on Rampage!  Mobs go Looting!  It is but the sound of man worshipping his maker.”

 

The postscript is the very definition of life lived without right reason and without the wisdom and presence of God.  From the Book of James, we heard James make this same point in this manner.  “13 When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:13-15).  Acts of evil do not come from God, they are simply an expression of man worshipping his maker.

The good news though is that with God, we are more able to see ourselves as part of the larger context of humanity stretching through the whole course of history.  With God, we can see that each person truly is made in the image of God.  With God, we understand better the destructiveness of sinful thinking and behaviors.  With God, we come to realize why Jesus, God coming in the flesh, was the decisive act of God in history and that only God is capable of freeing humanity from the effects of sin.  Redemption then from sin, is only possible with God.  Redemption is God’s decision for humanity to transform lives and the world to what was intended by God.  But that redemption is not just about an abundant and peaceful life on earth, it is about destiny with God now and forevermore.  And so, the resurrection of Jesus assures Christians that making the right choices now is meaningful not just in the present but for the immediate future and for all of time.  Creation, sin, incarnation, redemption, and the resurrection are themes God revealed through the Old Testament and Jesus fulfilled and are described in the New Testament.  Last week, James began his discussion of these themes by encouraging us to seek God first, then assess everything else in our life from the posture of being in God’s presence and surrounded by His love.  In this posture, we can find fulfilment and happiness.

I read the other day some words from Augustine, a brilliant Christian writer from the 4th century, whose words still shape much of the thinking of the western world believed that there were two conditions necessary for happiness, peace, and contentment. The first, is that whatever we pursue in life must be the highest good and be more complete than anything else. The second condition is that that highest good would have to be something that could not be lost or taken away. Augustine concluded only God through Jesus Christ met these two conditions.  Other things in life may be good, but they are not the highest good. Other things in life may be good to have, but they could all be taken away.  Augustine was affirming what Jesus said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). This is first condition.  Jesus also said, “And this is the will of him [God] who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day” (John 6:33).  This is the second condition.  From our reading earlier today, James encouraged us all to see what happens when we follow these conditions.  James wrote, “16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (James 1:16-18).  Everything good will come from God and in that, God never changes.  He has given us birth, new life, through his word of truth, which is the Bible and his living word, His son, Jesus.  Neither good nor God’s Word can be taken from us, and yet both can be thrown away if we wish.  James was saying that we must not be deceived into believing that humanity can go it alone and be successful.  Do not throw away God, otherwise you will end up worshipping your maker who is marked by violence, lies, division, and chaos.

Now, James’ words speak on a grand scale of God, Jesus, creation, sin, incarnation, redemption, and the destiny of the resurrection and seeking God first.  But how do we practically live in this manner? What steps must we take?  James turns his attention to those very questions.

James wrote, “19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20-21).  Think about James’ words for a moment.  “Everyone should be quick to listen.”  We must be immediately ready to listen but not with the intention of responding but with the intention of listening.  First, we need to listen to God through his word.  If we do not read the Bible, if you do not hear God’s word proclaimed through the church, and if you do not pray, then how can we hear God? God once told the Apostles Peter, James, and John.  Jesus was His Son and that they must “Listen to him.”  We must listen first to God and then with God’s wisdom we can begin to properly listen to one another.  Listening is sorely needed today.  Then when we have listened, James said we should be slow to speak.  We should measure our words towards one another in view of our relationship to God.  We should be asking ourselves, “How will my words reflect on my relationship with God? Will my words reflect the love I have for God and for the person I am speaking with?”  We, Christians, should concentrate on expressing the distinctive truth that lets us stand apart from what everyone seems to believe to be true of human nature.  Finally, James said we need to keep our anger in check.  Anger is a secondary emotion; meaning anger is an expression of something else going on.  Anger may come because we are frustrated, hurt, or confused by a trial or a trying person.  An angry outburst, James said, does not reveal God within us and does not achieve what God desires. 

Being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger is necessary for our relationship with God.  What must we do to have this posture before God?  James said, “21 Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent [worldliness] and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you [God’s wisdom].  [But] 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:21-25). James moved from simply meditating on God’s word or reading the Bible or being in prayer.  Now, James gave rise to the Nike shoe branding, “Just Do It!”  We must act consistent with the thinking we have been given by God.  We are two beings in one.  We are spirit and flesh.  In the spirit, we can listen to God and in the flesh, we can still choose to do what we know is wrong.

The Apostle Paul shared with us the battle between spirit and the flesh. Paul wrote, “15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:15, 18b-20).

James was saying we must let go of the past ways of doing things and be willing to embrace in action living that imitates Jesus.  Otherwise, we are no different than someone who looks in the mirror, gets a good look at themselves, walks away from the mirror and has no idea what they look like anymore.  There are a couple of ways to think about James’ analogy of the mirror.  The one I favor is James was saying, “We look in the mirror and we see the reflection of Jesus Christ.  We see that God’s Word has been received into our mind and we are at peace. We like that image and feel close to God.  Then we turn from the mirror and begin doing whatever we want whether in anger, or lust, or greed, or brutishness, or gossip, or sowing division. We have forgotten the image we once reflected, and we present Jesus as sinful and ugly.  What on earth are we doing?  James said though that congratulations are in order for those of us who do not forget the image of Christ present within us and have the desire and strength of character to present that image to others as we do the tasks of life, whether mundane or noble.  When we get in the habit of making the right and righteous choices based upon the word of God, based upon the completed work of Jesus, then we acquire congratulations from God.

James then completed his immediate thought on personal actions of being quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, and remembering that God within us has become our outward reflection.  He said, “26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”  James will have more to say about our tongue or instrument of speech.  But it is important to distinguish what James was saying to religious people, like you and me.  He wasn’t saying, “When you are religious…” or “When you are preaching…” or “When you are assembled in church…” then it is important that you choose your words carefully.  James assumes that our “planned language,” will be suitable.  When we plan to be religious, then our speech generally is alright.  What James was getting at here was that we must not be deceived.  Our language, what we say and how we say it, in our unguarded moments, in our unplanned or unscripted conversations is more revealing about who we are and what we believe than our planned conversation.  We must recognize that the setting we find ourselves can alter what we say and how we say it.

A short illustration may help here.  To put James’ words into context, we need to think about the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat.  A thermometer we know is an instrument that measures temperature.  You can take a kitchen thermometer and place it in a hot oven and the thermometer will change to become the same temperature as the oven. Remove the instrument from the oven and place it in the refrigerator and the thermometer is happy to change again to the same temperature as the refrigerator.  James was warning us, religious people, not to allow our tongue to be like that thermometer by changing what we say to fit the environment in which we find ourselves; that is don’t change to locker room language just because you are in the locker room.  Do not allow yourself to adjust to the environment and adopt the standards of others.  Where does the thermostat come in?  A thermostat is useful instrument because a thermostat can change the temperature of the environment.  When a thermostat is engaged to change the temperature of an area guess what happens? All the thermometers in that environment will change to match the actions of the thermostat.  We can be a thermostat by our presence in any environment and cause the thermometers, that is other people, to change.  Meaning what we say in all conditions, guarded and unguarded will cause others to change to what we, as believers, set.  We would then be sharing the proper perspective as religious people.  James said that religion, “27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Our language and our actions bring about peace and hope to others.  Our local missional activities to support the most vulnerable in our community cause others to see the God or at least righteousness.  Some people see that our words and behavior are congruent, and they seek God in their life.  Other just see our words and behaviors, still reject God, but they imitate us by joining efforts to help the vulnerable in our community.  Either way, all are changed by our words and behaviors just like all thermometers change at the action of the thermostat.  So, are you a thermometer or a thermostat?

James was calling his readers to listen carefully to the word of God.  Speak slowly and purely when words are needed and always to act with grace and not in anger.  James wanted his readers to understand that such a life is possible and peaceful when we put God first.  Our Old Testament psalmist today wrote, “1 I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven” (Psalm 123). Keeping our eyes on God through Jesus Christ brings us into a peaceful understanding of our place in God’s creation, the destructiveness of sin, the grace revealed by God through Jesus, the redemption from sin that Jesus brought and bought, and the destiny of eternity. When we keep our eyes on God, then we no longer forget who we look like and we will be congratulated by God for sharing in his desires for humanity.  Let’s pray this week that our eyes remain focused and our words few and our actions righteous.  Amen and Amen.

06-07 - Doublemindedness

Proverbs 3:3-8

James 1:1-12

“Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”[1] 

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”[2]

These are the words of the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We need to hear Dr. King’s words today.  We need men like Dr. King today.  We need people with the singular mindset that Dr. King embodied in thoughts, words, and actions of peace dedicated to the proposition that all of us are created in the image of God and therefore are equals in all regard.  This past week, we have been witnesses, again, to dramatic violence across the country.  The violence from the first death in Minneapolis to the latest in other cities has been wrought by people who believe they have the right to inflict violence upon one another for no good reason at all or for reasons they may think as noble.  Those who initiated such violence and those who perpetuate it lack the single mindedness of Dr. King.  They who are violent are doubleminded people.  They who do violence are confused believing brute force is an instrument of justice and a weapon of peace.

At the heart of it all, this doublemindedness, particularly expressed through violence, is godlessness. Doublemindedness is an assumption that we understand the world better than does God and, therefore, God is rejected. You cannot love God and hate your neighbor.  That is a rejection of God.  God’s word from Proverbs today said to us, “5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7).  God is saying even when your heart is pounding within you with strong emotions to set the world right as you see it, do not yield to those emotions.  Instead, trust in God.  Follow His ways through the chaos, pain, and confusion.  When we go our own way, we necessarily have rejected God in favor of our own understanding.  We are doubleminded when we choose to make our own mind to be different from God’s mind. Instead of seeking to conforming our mind to His and become one with His, we seek our own ways.

Our New Testament reading today comes from James, the brother of Jesus, a man who was once doubleminded.  At one time, James did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God.  In fact, in Chapter 3 of the Gospel of Mark we learn that James chose to believe that Jesus was delusional, out of his own mind.  James believed Jesus was mentally or emotionally disturbed in some manner. So, James, along with his other brothers and their mother Mary, sought to take Jesus into custody for Jesus’ own good. James was rejecting Jesus and Jesus’ claims and teachings.  Then one day, Jesus was killed on the cross and buried in a tomb.  James thought the life of his troubled brother was over. But then James was shocked into a new reality.  James encountered the resurrected Jesus and James believed.  James lay aside his doubleminded nature and became single minded. James believed in Jesus completely, and became a strong advocate for the Gospel message.  So, James knows what he is talking about when he speaks of being doubleminded and single minded.  To the person who is doubleminded, James said they are “unstable in all they do” (James 1:9).

            We can learn much from James’ experience for living life in the current days amid COVID-19, the offenses of the Minneapolis police officers, the rioting, and the chaos.  James began sharing his experience through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit with these words from Chapter 1, verse 2.  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).  James started his conversation in a difficult spot calling his readers to see trials, unwelcomed and unexpected hardships, as a joyful experience.  James’ words seem absurd and cannot be lived out in our own thinking.  None of us natural welcome trails and ordeals of life as an opportunity for joy.  Our own thinking is that we will do most anything to live pain free.  Consider the example of a headache.  We do not want to experience that pain, so we take Tylenol or Advil to make the pain go away.  If we encounter some who tries our patience by being argumentative, so we stop talking to them.  We make the pain go away.  Avoidance of pain and trails and difficulties is the nature of our culture and we do not call even the easiest of trials a joyful experience.  James’ point though is that trials, rather than being something to avoid are to be embraced not for having them, but for the change they will make within us.  James saw the trails of his brother Jesus, including rejection, humiliation, betrayal, desertion, flogging, and crucifixion.  And through all these trials, Jesus remained single minded and steadfast in the will of God and Jesus experienced the joy of union with His Father.  Jesus’ union with God, that single mindedness, introduced hope into each hardship and difficult experience. James was saying that the joy found in embracing trials of life is that in the process of going through them, we are brought closer to God and come more like Jesus.  Coming closer to God colors our life with hope even into the darkest of moments.  If we truly desire to be more like Jesus, then suffering and trials cannot be avoided because they are the undesired but necessary part of shaping us into the image of Christ.

            Let me share with you a power illustration of this type of thinking. The other day, my wife and I watched an episode of Family Feud with host Steve Harvey.  On the show that day was a contestant named Wesley Hamilton.  Wesley was confined to a wheelchair.  In a brief conversation between Wesley and Mr. Harvey, Wesley commented about being in a wheelchair.  He began paralyzed from the waist down after being shot.  Wesley said that he had the occasion to meet the man who had shot him resulting in Wesley’s inability to walk.  Wesley said in his conversation with this man, Wesley thanked the man.  Mr. Harvey was taken aback and said, “Why would you thank the man who shot you?” Wesley’s reply was, “Unless I had been shot, I would not be the man I have become.”  Pause and let that sink in for a moment.  The continuing trial of having been shot and now paralyzed, opened doors to Wesley’s life that would have remained closed if not for being shot. The most notable door opened to him was the power of forgiveness.  Wesley had chosen to embrace his difficulties with joy for the single mindedness he was now experiencing.  I think everyone would agree Wesley’s thinking is not natural.  Some would say his thinking is delusional, but James would say Wesley’s thinking is supernatural and colored with hope.

            Wesley discovered that the wisdom from God, wisdom, the mind of God, is necessary to make it through trying experiences.  James continued in his letter and said, “If any of you lacks wisdom [on how to get through such trials], you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” (James 1:5-8).  We can only get through the trials of life by choosing to bring our situation to God and ask for His wisdom, that is to have the mind of God, so that we can proceeding through our trials.  If we try to go through difficulties on our own, then we are but a piece of driftwood upon the ocean that is tossed and blown about by the wind and waves.  Without God’s wisdom we would be a person who is perpetually restless and wandering from event to event seeking relief from our discomfort, often in self-destructive ways.  Without God’s wisdom, we would be a person who allows themselves to be driven by forces other than the Holy Spirit.  Without God’s wisdom, we would be that person who cannot maintain a direction in life and towards life.  This is what it means to be doubleminded.

            James continued and brought in some additional contrasts between single minded people with the wisdom of God and those who are doubleminded.  James wrote in verse 9, “Believers [those who claim Christ] in humble circumstances [meaning those going through trials] ought to take pride in their high position [the elevation of your life to being brought closer to Jesus].  But the rich [non-believer focused on the world] should take pride in their humiliation [their future without God] — since they will pass away like a wildflower.  For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.  [But] Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him”  (James 1:9-12).  James was drawing a contrast that pursuing God in amid difficulties with a single-minded determination leads to perseverance and preservation of your spirit and to life.  But being doubleminded and separated from God leads to humiliation, withering, fading, and eventually destruction.  James concluded with the words, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him”  (James 1:12).  James’ language makes clear that perseverance in a trial leads to a reversal of circumstances.  Trials are expected to deplete our life.  James said trials, taken with the wisdom of God, does not deplete us but brings us the crown of life.  James’ language also makes us think about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where Jesus used the word “Blessed.”  Blessed here is an expression of happiness, almost a congratulatory expression.  In that vein, James was saying, “Congratulations is in order for the one who perseveres under trial because they have received life with the Lord.”  Listen to how James’ words of joy and reversal of trial find their origin in Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Do you hear the congratulations in those words and the reversal of expected outcomes?  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:5-10). Congratulations to those who follow God, for you shall be richly rewarded and the ordeal of your trials is reversed.

            How do we make all this fit into our lives today and the circumstances that confront us?  On the large scale of life, we are surrounded in an ocean of strong emotions each seeking to pull and push others to achieve their own purposes.  Those who inflict violence on others regardless of their motives have done so without seeking God.  They are like that driftwood upon the sea being tossed about by the strongest emotion they encounter.  We are free to join them and float along for the ride.  On a more intimate level, we are all experiencing personal trials and hardships.  You know the ones that are affecting you the most.  In many ways, those challenges of life can make us feel as powerless as driftwood upon the sea.  We might feel as though at this moment we are simply being blown along by the strongest force, the strongest personality, that is working against us.  We feel powerless because we are trying to experience this difficulty in our own strength, with our own mind.  We are free to do that and float along for the ride.

            But James said there is another way for believers. He said cast aside our doublemindedness because it will only lead to us being unstable in all we do.  Instead, take these hardships whether they are the circumstances of the nation or of our own personal life and expose them to the wisdom of God.  Go to God with honesty that we may present ourselves to God without fear of condemnation for what we have been thinking or experiencing.  Allow God to make His mind, his wisdom, known to you and see how through theses experiences He will make you more like his Son, Jesus.  Let God become your anchor in the stormy seas that surround you and hear and experience the congratulations He will send your way.  What James calls for is not delusional thinking, but it is supernatural thinking. Reverend King tried it and a nation moved.  Less than 24 hours before his death, Dr. King said, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”  Dr. King was anchored to the wisdom of God and so was blessed and happy to know the love and light of God.  We too can know God and be equally blessed.  Amen and Amen.


[1] Struggle for Equality: Quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.                 

[2]  Martin Luther King Jr. (1967). Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?. p. 67.

 

05-31 - Meaning Amid COVID

2 Samuel 12:15-20

Romans 8:31-39

We are now completing about three months of a pause in the normal rhythms of life because of the impact of the COVID-19 virus. The most significant impact of the virus has been measured in a mixture of emotions: sadness and gratitude.  Sadly, 100,000 of our fellow citizens have died from this virus and gratefully, that number was only 100,000 and not the 2 million or more deaths as initially projected.  There have been an abundant number of additional lesser impacts to our life.  The very fact that we are using our website and Zoom to meet is just further evidence of the existence of this virus and changes it has made in the way we interact with one another.  Today, I wanted us to spend time exploring the meaning we can find for our lives amid the many challenges of COVID-19.

            I wanted to start us off today with just a few thoughts to set the scene.  All of us have been talking and listening to conversation about the COVID-19 virus with ever greater intensity for the last five months.  We have all watched a daily press briefing by the President or the Governor as well as the seemingly endless number of “experts” sharing their predictions and insights into this virus.  And despite all the words, all the charts, and all the graphs there remains for most ordinary people some simple truths that have not changed in these last 5 months. The simple truths include that a virus is circulating among us.  The truth is that virus is invisible to our eye, it is odorless, and it is tasteless. The virus makes no sound at its coming and we cannot feel the virus should it be on our skin.  The truth is this virus is beyond our sensory perceptions. And yet, despite our inability to sense this virus on our own, we believe it exists.  We do so because of the testimony of others and the evidence of virus’ effect on others.

            Because we do believe in the existence of this unsensed virus, we necessarily assign meaning to it within our life.  Think about that statement for a moment.  We have been assigning meaning to this virus within the context of our lives. You might be thinking, I do not think I have assigned meaning to this virus.  I can assure you that we both have.  Why am I so confident we have done so?  I am confident because we assign meaning to everything in our life.  We are always putting an interpretation onto events and the things people say to us and then we assigning meaning. 

Let me offer a trivial example.  Let us say we wake up in the morning and it is raining. If we were a farmer, and it was rainy, we would say, “It’s a nice day.”  If we had a picnic planned for the day, we see the rain, and we would say, “It’s a lousy day.”  We put an interpretation onto events and those interpretations give rise to our reactions to those events.  Allow me, if you will to say that again.  We interpret events in our life and our interpretations give rise to our reactions to those events.  We are always interpreting, always reacting, always assigning meaning.

            I have given a trivial example of a rainy day in which one person, the farmer, interpreted the experience as a nice day by seeing the rain and expressing gratitude.  The other person, desiring a picnic, interpreted the same rainy day as lousy, and became sad. Same event, same circumstances, with two interpretations and two different reactions.  On a most serious note, I said at the outset that our reaction to the worst news of the COVID-19 virus has been a mixture of sadness and gratitude. Why?  One hundred thousand people have died, and we sense sadness and yet we are grateful that number of 100,000 was not 2 million.  Same event, same circumstance, same number, with two different responses because of how we interpret that number.  Neither reaction is more proper than the other and neither interpretation is more proper than the other.  So, what makes the difference in our response to that number?  I am glad you asked.  Let us dig a little deeper.

            As we consider for a moment the more serious example of COVID-19, we come to realize that our reaction to the circumstances of this virus arise from our own interpretations.  Therefore, and here is the answer to your earlier question, our experience to COVID-19 is shaped by the thinking we bring into it.  My experience to COVID-19, your experience, is governed by our individual thinking.

            Let me illustrate.  For a time, I did a fair amount of thinking about COVID-19 in the negative.  I looked at the circumstances and took stock of what COVID-19 made missing in my life.  Just a couple of examples might help here.  Before COVID-19, my two youngest grandsons would spend one day a week with us. That ended in mid-March.  My wife and I missed those kids.  They were physically absent from our life.  Before COVID-19, we enjoyed worship services at two churches and weekly Bible studies with our friends.  That too ended in mid-March.  We have missed the community worship, singing, hugs, handshakes, and knowing people in an intimate manner.  Somewhat selfishly, we could no longer visit our favorite restaurants or get our hair cut and styled when we wanted.  We could not plan our vacations or backyard BBQ’s.  Those experiences all ended in mid-March, casualties of COVID-19. How I perceived the meaning of COVID-19 was through the negative effects.  The thinking I brought into the situation was focused on my losses and absences.  The thinking I brought into the circumstances gave rise to my interpretation of the experience, my reaction to those circumstances, and thus the meaning I assigned.  It was most notably sadness.

            With some addition thinking, I have come to realize that I cannot turn off the COVID-19 virus and the impact it has had on my life.  The simple truth is, I cannot alter this experience.  And neither can you.  But my experience is not just what I am experiencing.  My experience includes what I am doing with the experience and that is something I can change.  I am not trapped in this experience and therefore, I can be radically different in the middle of the circumstances.

            I found it helpful to reshape my thinking by placing my experience into context by looking at the account in the Old Testament of David’s reaction to the death of his first child with Bathsheba.  The child was conceived through an illicit relationship David forced upon Bathsheba that also ended with the murder of Bathsheba’s husband. There are many examples and illustrations that we could derive from the David and Bathsheba story, but today I want us to focus specifically on the circumstances following the birth of David’s first child.  The child had become serious ill.  This was not a surprise as the prophet Nathan had previously told David that David’s sinful nature would lead to the child’s illness.  The Scriptures tell us, “16 David pleaded with God for the child. He [David] fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground. 17 The elders of his [David’s] household stood beside him [David] to get him up from the ground, but he [David] refused, and he [David] would not eat any food with them. 18 On the seventh day the child died. David’s attendants were afraid to tell him [David] that the child was dead, for they thought, ‘While the child was still living, he wouldn’t listen to us when we spoke to him. How can we now tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate.’  [The attendants were concerned about how David would interpret and respond to the child’s death.]  19 David noticed that his attendants were whispering among themselves, and he [David] realized the child was dead. ‘Is the child dead?’ he [David] asked.  ‘Yes,’ they replied, ‘he is dead.’  20 Then David got up from the ground. After he [David] had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he [David] went into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (2 Samuel 12:16-20).

            David experienced one of life’s most fearsome circumstances in the death of his child. Some of you listening today live David’s experience.  The rest of us hope never to do so.  What we all realize in this passage is that David could not alter the experience.  David’s son had died.  David himself could not change that fact.  David’s son was absent from him.  But in David’s response we see that David’s experience was not just what he experienced but it included what David did with the experience.  Amid this most difficult experience, David made a choice. David took his sadness with him and he chose to worship God and express gratitude.  David brought sadness and gratitude together.  David reshaped his experience by the thinking he brought into it. David was unquestionably sad at the death of his son and yet he was grateful that God was present in the middle of David’s experience. 

David could not see, hear, taste, smell, or touch the invisible God, but David believed God existed.  David saw that God, his Lord, was worthy of worship.  David related to God with an accurate picture of what he was experiencing, who God is, his trust that God is good, and that God was for him. David sought the invisible God and made God visible through worship and gratitude even amid the challenges of deep sadness.  To make God visible by our interpretation of events and our expression of gratitude is the highest honor we can have in this life.  I want to pause there for just a moment so we can consider that statement. To make God visible is the highest honor we can have in this life.  Think about David’s witness to his elders.  David’s elders were concerned that when David learned of the news of his son’s death, David might do something desperate, such as taking his own life.  Instead of something desperate and self-destructive, David worshipped God before others.  I can only imagine the profound impression David left on his elders as David made the invisible God visible.  When we worship before others, even now online, but particularly when we are together on Sunday mornings we are saying to others, “I believe in the presence of the invisible God and I am grateful for His presence in my life, for the love He makes evident in my life.”  When we worship, we are changing whatever our experience is by including in our experience how we respond.  David focused not solely on the absence in his life but on the permanent and unremovable presence of God in his life.  David blended sadness and gratitude from the same event into a different experience that made visible the invisible God, our highest honor in life.

            Centuries later, the Apostle Paul observed a similar sentiment in his letter to the Christians in Rome.  Paul wrote, “31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39, selected).  Paul was reminding his readers that Jesus Christ, God with us, achieved the highest honor by making visible the invisible God through the entirety of his days on earth.  And in Jesus’ death, the sadness of his death, Jesus gave us eternal access to the invisible God.  Paul was saying in the sadness of the cross express your gratitude for the unquenchable and unbreakable love of Jesus.

            David and Paul give us insight that our experience with hardship of the invisible virus pales in comparison to the steadfast love of God for us.  They invite us to interpret our circumstances not through the circumstances of our temporary losses but instead to find the better meaning in recognizing the permanent unshakable love of the invisible God.  We too can relate to God with an accurate picture of what we are experiencing, who God is, our trust that God is good, and that God was for us.  David and Paul’s words encourage us to respond to sadness of our experience, reshape the thinking we bring into it, and respond in a way that makes that God’s love real and visible.  Let us be the source of testimony of others and the evidence of God’s effect on our lives that they too may come and believe.  Amen and Amen.

05-24 - Hallowed Ground

Psalm 147:5-6

Matthew 13:1-9

The fields were quiet, and earth was warm. Summer was being enjoyed in the countryside.  Then in the background there came a noise.  Distant at first; hard to know just what it was.  Then the noise grew louder and more clear and seemed to be coming from all around. It was the noise of men and horses. They began to arrive and rose to the tops of the hills of this pleasant land.  Only few could be seen at first, and then dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of men, and then tens of thousands of men.  The men came from different directions and they faced one another.  A short while later the actions of these men would literally cause the ground shake violently as they began launching cannon fire at one another.  The two groups of men represented the Union and Confederate armies.   The peaceful countryside was in Gettysburg, PA.  The year was 1863.  In July of that year, over the course of three days, more men would engage and die in mortal combat than any other battle in North America.    When it had ended, 51,000 Americans lay dead, dying, or wounded.  Four months later, on that land, President Lincoln addressed a small gathering of people to consecrate the battleground to those who had died.  Lincoln would say that those who perished consecrated and made the ground hallowed by the blood shed upon it and the lives given up in the battle.  It would be another two years before the war would end and more ground would be declared hallowed by sacrifice.  Another 184,000 Americans would be wounded or perish in battle.  At the end of the war, the wounds to the nation were deep and painful.

By 1868, the nation came together to honor those who had fallen.  The 30th day of May was designated for the purpose of strewing flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country.  Flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers alike at Arlington National Cemetery. Memorial Day, born in a nation divided, had become an occasion for reconciliation.

We continue the tradition of honoring those who have sacrificed for us. But did their blood as Lincoln said make the ground hallowed?  Can man make ground hallowed and if not, what then should be considered hallowed ground?

Hallowed is a word we use each week as we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  The word means an acknowledgement that something or someone is sacred.  Within its full meaning, it is to make holy, signifying to set apart for God, to sanctify, to make a person or thing the opposite of common or unclean.

I believe we get some insight to this question of hallowed ground and into our walk as disciples from our New Testament reading today.  So let’s turn to our Bibles to the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 13, beginning at verse 1. 

Let’s look at the first verse.  It says, “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.”  This is a great verse to use to point the need for us to look at the context of Scripture.  We are beginning with the first verse of a new chapter and it starts with “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.”  We would want to pause for a moment and ask, “What day are we talking about?  What was significant about the house?  Why does it matter that he sat down?  As we look at the context for a moment as presented in the Gospel of Matthew, we would need to look back into Chapters 11 and 12. 

Turn just for a moment to Chapter 11, verse 1.  It says, “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.”  Jesus was on the move and he was determined to now speak to the people across the land.  As Jesus moved through the Galilean countryside, he shook people up by the denouncing the self-serving pride.  Yet, Jesus also offered hope.  He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  While on one hand, Jesus’ message was shaking the people up and disturbing their pride and complacency, Jesus was also offering the good news that salvation and reconciliation with God was to be found through Him. 

Turn for a moment to Chapter 12, verse 1.  It starts with these words, “At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.  But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.’  After shaking up the people and calling them to follow him, now came the opposition from the Pharisees, the religious leaders. That opposition became intense and the tensions mounted.  As that day progressed, we learn from the balance of Chapter 12 that Jesus entered the synagogue and healed the man with a withered hand.  This incited the Pharisees that Jesus would do work on the Sabbath.  Later Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who was also blind and mute.  The Pharisees accused him of being a master of demons. Finally, while Jesus was in a house teaching, Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived to take charge of him believing Jesus had lost his mind.  Jesus’ family waited outside the house and asked that Jesus come and speak with them. But Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  Jesus was redefining the kingdom of God on a very personal level making clear that one’s natural birth did not guarantee one standing in the kingdom.  It was only for those who submitted to God.

We then have the opening line to our text today, “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.”  That long day of opposition and miracles and discussion about his family, Jesus left the house he was teaching in and was met by a crowd along the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  He sat down, which is the position the Rabbi’s would take when teaching.  This day that had started out passing through a grain field would close with a grain field being used as the canvas for one of his greatest teaching, the parable of the sower.  Verse 2 tells us that great crowds gathered about Jesus, so that he got into a boat and sat down.  And the whole crowd stood on the beach.”   Jesus began teaching, “A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.  This he would later explain that “when anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.”  He had faced those who did not believe his words all day long.  Verses 5 and 6 he said, “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched.  And since they had no root, they withered away.  Here Jesus said, that as for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.   Jesus had among him those who enjoyed his miracles but could not abide by his teachings or feared the Pharisees would put them out of the synagogue for being his disciple.  In verse 7, Jesus continued, “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.”  He would explain, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”  There were some who followed Jesus until he confronted them to give up whatever they most cherished in life and they could not do so.  Finally, he said in verse 8, “Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Jesus would later explain, “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”   You could almost see him again stretching out his hand toward his disciples, saying here is the good soil in which the word of God has taken root because, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus emphasized in this parable three negative responses and only one positive to the word of God.  What could account for the differences in response to seed, God’s word?  Why was only one type of soil good enough to bring a harvest?  What was wrong with the other soil?  One was a pathway, hardened and unyielding.  This metaphor when representing people, we know them as self-centered and uninterested in anything that may alter the trail they are following. The word of God is a bother to them, and they just brush it aside.  Those comprised of rocky soil may be interested in the gospel but only for what they can get out of it.  They are practically atheists.  They may profess a belief in God but prefer they handle things their own way.  Those composed of soil rich in thorns may also believe in God, so long as doing so does not interfere with their life.  They are busy with things of this world, and always manage to find a reason why God is not high on their list.  Each of these soils, and thus the type of people Jesus was describing, share in common a lack of preparation.  They are unwilling to open their ears to genuinely hear the word of God.  They are resistant to allowing the Holy Spirit to change them.  They do not want their hard ways to be softened, or the rocks removed from them, or the weeds to be cleaned out.  They are content with themselves and define all that occurs as being for them.

The good soil, however, has been prepared to receive the seed.  It has been turned over and is receptive.  The focus of such people is not on themselves and their own lives for they are willing to be humble before God and man.  They want to do God’s will – not their own.  So what is it then that truly distinguishes the nature of our hearts to receive God’s word?  Missionary Andrew Murray called it “all-prevailing humility.”  He writes:  “Without this [humility] there can be no true abiding in God’s presence or experience of His favor and the power of His Spirit; without this [humility] no abiding faith or love or joy or strength.  Humility is the only soil in which virtue takes root; a lack of humility is the explanation of every defect and failure.  Humility is not so much a virtue along with others, but is the root of all, because it alone takes the right attitude before God and allows Him, as God, to do all.”

We would be wise to examine ourselves and contemplate the condition of our humility - our ground if you will.  Have we emptied ourselves of all and given our lives over to Jesus? Do we have a sense and attitude of “all-prevailing humility”?  If we do then we will be of good soil, the type of soil in which the seed - the word of God - can take root and produce the desired harvest.  If however we are prideful then our soil - our heart for the word of God - may be cluttered with weeds - the worries of this world; or rocky and shallow - not capable of perseverance; or hardened and unable to be penetrated.  You and God know what type of soil you possess.  And so it is that the seed must be received by the ground.  Are you allowing God to make you into “good soil”? If you are, then know that Jesus will reside there and you will be his disciple and he your God.  You will truly become hallowed soil.  You are to be set aside and noticeably different from all other types of people.  You are not to be common but are to be sacred.  You will bear much fruit and you are hallowed because of the blood Jesus shed for you and because he now lives within you. 

This week look carefully at a vacant and unused piece of ground.  Do you see the beautiful garden on that land?  Do you see the good soil?  Probably not because it is covered in weeds, stones, and is packed hard.  Effort will be required to clear away the past to make way for the new.  For each of us, we need to let the Holy Spirit clear away our past and make us receptive for God’s word.  Ask God to send his Spirit to you.  Submit to God that he might remove spiritual weeds, stone, and hardness.  Look for the transformation in your life like you will see in the land that will become that garden.  Allow Christ fully into your life that he may make you hallowed.  Amen.

05-17 - Tychicus

        During the last few weeks, we have been spending time exploring the lives of early Christians.  It is our hope that in doing so we might better understand how their journey can enlighten us in our walk with Christ.  We have spoken about Barnabas, the son of encouragement and Mark, the comeback kid who was given a second chance at life in ministry.  Last week, we spoke about Lois and Eunice, women of sincere faith who led their grandson and son, Timothy, to faith and into the mission field. Today, I would like us to look at Tychicus.  Now, a quick show of hands, how many of you have heard about Tychicus?  I suspect few, if anyone, listening today has heard of Tychicus.  This is precisely why we should explore his life.  Tychicus’ lack of Christian celebrity means that of the characters of the New Testament, we are probably most like him.  The reality of our situation is that most of us while we engaged in our church, have no Christian celebrity.  That is, no one knows us or our story outside of church and yet we remain essential to the continuing story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In this regard, we and Tychicus have much in common.

            We learn about Tychicus only through the Apostle Paul’s letters to the churches Paul had a hand in establishing.  In the letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.  Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him [Tychicus] to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts” (Colossians 4:6-8).

            The first thing we come to realize from Paul’s letter to the Colossian church is that ministry is not a one-person activity.  The Apostle Paul, for as influential as he was to the early church, did not work alone.  Paul had help and those fellow ministers circulated among the early churches. Paul’s letters and traveling ministers held the churches together as a network.  There were no denominations or dioceses or adjudicatory structures. There were just churches, small gatherings of people who believed in God, and who were mutually supportive of one another.  In this passage from Colossians, we see that Paul is working to strengthen that network by sending Tychicus to carry this letter to the church.  This network system kept the early Christian Church focused on cooperation, not self-reliance.  The churches focused on evangelism not competition.  The early churches focused not on praying that God would save the lost souls of the world but they, the church, would have new opportunities to witness for Jesus. 

This little passage from Colossians should cause us to ask ourselves some questions about our focus. Think about the church you currently attend.  Is that church the only church you ever attended or were you once part of another Christian fellowship?  Most people have been part of other churches.  We change churches because we move away or we leave because of a personal conflict, theological differences, music preferences, preaching styles, color of carpet in the sanctuary, and the list goes on.  Now, comes the hard question.  How many of us continue to pray for the churches we left?  How many of us continue to maintain the fellowship connections with the members of our former church as a means of keeping the network of churches alive and as an expression of the broad concern for the church of Jesus Christ?  Most Christians probably do not pray for their former church fellowships.  Paul’s letter, and the presence of Tychicus, is an example for us that we too ought to be engaged in supporting the network of churches.  We, therefore, see in Tychicus an example for us to follow in being part of the fiber that keeps the network of churches alive and vibrant.  Why is that important?  Paul identified that in our togetherness our “conversation[s] [would] be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  The Christian witness to the world is made powerful when churches are united in their display of grace first toward one another and then toward those who do not know Christ.  We all have much work to do in this regard.

The second thing we notice from this short passage is that the letter is carried by Tychicus.  Paul does not speak of Tychicus background, so it is reasonable to assume that some people in the Colossian church knew Tychicus or at least knew his name.  What do we know about Tychicus?  We encounter Tychicus in the Book of Acts.  In Chapter 20, Luke wrote, “Because some Jews had plotted against him [Paul] just as he [Paul] was about to sail for Syria, he [Paul] decided to go back through Macedonia. He [Paul] was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas” (Acts 20:3-5). Tychicus was from Asia and was part of the Paul’s missionary team going into Macedonia, modern day Greece. Tychicus had become a student of missionary work learning as a team member how to share the Gospel message across cultural lines.  Tychicus was a student of the Gospel and was engaged in the mission of the church. Tychicus reveals to us an important lesson for our faith journey.  First, we must be a continuous student of God Word.  We must be always seeking to improve our relationship with God and understanding of His Word.  And while we must be a continuous student it must be with a purpose of applying our knowledge and not as a perpetual student who simply learns for the sake of learning.  As Christians, we are not just become a greater container of the good news and comfort of Christ for ourselves, but we must also become a conduit of that grace to others.  American musician Johnny Cash put this thought to a song entitled, “No Earthly Good.” A portion of the lyrics go this way:

Come heed me, my brothers, come heed, one and all
Don't brag about standing or you'll surely fall
You're shining your light and shine it you should
But you're so heavenly minded, you're no earthly good

If you're holding heaven, then spread it around
There's hungry hands reaching up here from the ground
Move over and share the high ground where you stood
So heavenly minded, you're no earthly good

The gospel ain't gospel until it is spread
But how can you share it where you've got your head
There's hands that reach out for a hand if you would
So heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good!

 

This is the sentiment that Paul was sharing again that we must be “always full of grace and seasoned with salt.”  We must be both heavenly minded [full of grace] and earthly good [seasoned with salt].

            Paul saw our friend Tychicus just that way. Look at how Paul described Tychicus. Paul said, “He [Tychicus] is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.”  First, to Paul, Tychicus is a dear brother.  The Greek word for dear means that Paul and Tychicus had a mutually affectionate relationship.  They genuinely cared about each other’s wellbeing.  Paul then added the reason for this affection by calling Tychicus a brother, signifying that Paul and Tychicus each had been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ making them brothers.  They were not biologically brothers.  They were brothers because through the blood of Christ they had been adopted into the family of God.  The brotherhood in Christ gave rise to the depth and nature of their affection for one another.  Jesus set the standard for discipleship.  He said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).  We cannot expect the world to love Jesus, if Christians cannot love one another.  Our friend Tychicus, showed his love to Paul and was recognized as a “dear brother” in Christ.  So, we need to ask ourselves, am I acting as a dear brother or dear sister to other Christians?  If not, why not?  If not, do I recognize that my behavior is outside the teaching of Christ and quenches the work of my church?

            There is an often-told story that speaks to the point of loving one another.  It seems there was a church seeking a new pastor.  The church invited a pastoral candidate to preach.  The candidate preached on the command to love one another. The congregation was stunned. Everyone thought the sermon was the most beautiful and compelling message they had ever heard.  The leadership of the church immediately offered the candidate the position as pastor.  The first Sunday the new pastor was to preach, the sanctuary was filled with congregants eager to hear this pastor deliver another wonderful message.  The pastor preached on the command to love one another giving word for word the message given as a candidate.  People thought, it was an excellent message the first time, and was still good the second time.  The next Sunday the pastor gave the message to an expectant congregation. It was word for word the same message to love one another.  The leadership of the church was in a panic believing that they had called a pastor who only had one sermon.  The leadership team met with the pastor during the week and said the message on loving one another was an excellent message the first time, good still the second, but it was concerning to hear it the third time in a row.  One member of the leadership team said, “You know pastor, there are other commands in the Bible you could preach on.”  The pastor said, “I know that there are other commands. And we will move onto to those commands, just as soon as we get this one right.”  Tychicus got it right.  He was a dear brother because he genuinely loved.  There is little point for a church to move forward if the command to love one another is not done rightly.

            The second thing we learn about Tychicus is that he was “a faithful minister.”  Tychicus was faithful toward completing his duties for the church.  He was someone people could depend upon.  If Tychicus said he would be there, he was there.  We Baptists have church covenants.  In one church I used to attend, the covenant said that we would be “just and punctual in all our dealing.”  This was an expression of being faithful toward one another in the activities of the church.  Tychicus was a faithful minister.  The Greek word Paul used for minister suggests that this person promoted the welfare and the interests of the church over any of his own personal ambitions.  Tychicus was an example for all members of a church. We each must lay aside personal ambitions for the greater cause of Christ.  James, in the New Testament book bearing his name, wrote, “For where you have envy and self-ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).  We probably all have been in churches where the interest of one or two people seems to govern the congregational activities.  The telltale sign of this sort of situation is when you hear people in the church say things like, “Well, what will ‘so and so’ think? Or ‘so and so’ is going to be upset if we do that.  Or what do we need to do to keep ‘so and so’ happy?”  In that church setting, the mission is not the gospel, the mission is keeping “so and so” from causing further disruption.  Tychicus was not a “so and so”.  He was a faithful minister who diligently worked to advance the good of the church without self-ambition.  We should do likewise.

            The third thing we learn about Tychicus is that he was “fellow servant in the Lord.”  The Greek word, σύνδουλος, sü'n-dü-los, Paul used here for fellow servant meant Tychicus was Paul’s colleague both having the reputation and posture of a servant of Jesus in sharing the gospel. It is largely in that posture that Paul said he sent Tychicus to the Colossian church to share news of Paul and to encourage the hearts of the people of the church.  Tychicus was there to be a fellow servant of the church. We would do well to learn from Tychicus and be available to support our sister churches, not by conforming them to our image, but by being fellow servants in Christ.

            The faith journey of our new friend Tychicus gives us insight into our own walk with Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Tychicus lived as a dear brother, willing and available to others as an expression of the love of Christ that was within him. Tychicus lived as a faithful minister, willing and available to do the work of the church.  He was humble to recognize the need to continually enrich his life with God’s Word and discerning enough to realize that he must also minister to others offering wisdom and comfort.  Tychicus lived as a fellow servant to the Lord accepting that he had a responsibility to share the gospel with those God placed in his path. Tychicus lived full of grace, seasoned with salt, knowing how to answer everyone.  We would be wise to see if we are living likewise.  Amen and Amen.

Lois & Eunice

As we are aware, today is Mother’s Day.  The observance of this day in the United States has its roots in the life of Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, a young Appalachian homemaker.   In 1868, Jarvis organized mothers to begin the work of reconciliation in post-Civil War America.  Jarvis labored under the banner of Mother’s Friendship Day.  Jarvis' daughter, Anna Jarvis, continued the work of her mother.  Anna Jarvis dedicated her life to establishing Mother's Day to "honor mothers, living and dead."  Because of Anna Jarvis’ efforts, the first Mother's Day was observed on May 10, 1908, in a worship service at the Andrews Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia.  In 1914, a joint resolution in the United States Congress designated the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.  By 1919, commercialization of Mother’s Day became so rampant that Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become.  Though the original spirit of honoring the mothers remained the same, what began as a religious service, changed quickly into just one more commercial enterprise.

Too often, events and even beliefs of the church are molded into something else by the world.  This is in part why many of the Christian separatist groups such as the original Baptists and Pilgrims of the early 1600’s did not observe Easter or Christmas. Those groups feared such observances would become too commercialized.  I wonder if they were right?  We must exercise care to ensure worldly beliefs do not become the beliefs of the Christian Church. 

  The Apostle Paul understood the beliefs of the world could harm the beliefs of the church. Paul wrote that when we reach for the knowledge of the Son of God and become in nature like Jesus, “then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14).  Therefore, we must use care in our churches on how we spend our time and on what becomes the focus of our energies.  In short, what we teach from the pulpit and in our Bible studies are critical because the word of God builds us up in knowledge and maturity; nothing else can do so. The understanding we acquire through the word then fashions our beliefs which should be evident in how we talk to each other and how we relate to people outside the church.  So days like Mother’s Day may be overly commercialized outside the church but it can serve as good opportunity for us to expand our awareness of God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit’s work through faithful mothers.  So today, I would like to look at motherhood from God’s perspective, and through some examples we have of mothers in the early church, in the hope that we would know better what God intends for us and the peace we can have as together we mature in Christ.

To begin with, we should reflect a moment on the maternal characteristics of God.  Though God is most often spoken of in the masculine sense, Scripture does speak to the maternal traits of God.  In Deuteronomy 32 verse 18, the Jews were reminded that they have left the presence of God.  The writer used language suggestive of God’s motherhood.  Scripture says, “You [The Jews] deserted the Rock, who bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”  In our Old Testament reading today, Isaiah said the Lord had not forgotten the Jewish people in their time of turmoil.  Isaiah wrote of God’s maternal presence when said, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”  God is revealing himself through the language of a mother. From the New Testament, we have words from Jesus as he approached Jerusalem on his triumphal entry that, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”  Jesus was describing his maternal desires for Jerusalem using the imagery of a mother hen’s self-sacrificing posture to protect her off-spring.  This is a character of a mother acting with unconditional love.  From Scripture we see that God reveals himself through the language of maternal love. God honors women when He does so and in doing so, God tells us that women who nurture and love unconditionally honor God.  This is in part why God commands that we honor our mothers.

With God’s maternal nature in mind, we now can turn our attention to the nature of faithful mothers in our New Testament reading.  We read from the Apostle Paul’s letter to his disciple Timothy. In that letter, Paul spoke of two enormously influential mothers, Lois and Eunice.  There were other mothers who play significant roles in the New Testament. There was Mary, mother of Jesus, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, as well as the Phoenician mother who begged Jesus to heal her daughter.  Other women were mentioned in the New Testament who may have been mothers such as Anna, the woman of the Temple, Mary Magdalene, and Lydia.  The inclusion in the New Testament stories of women, in general, and mothers in particular, makes Christianity unique among religious beliefs because most other faith traditions largely ignore women in the propagation of the faith.  Moreover, Christianity strongly admonishes men who believe that they are new creations in Christ and must show a different behavior towards woman.  For example, Paul said, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).  We may not realize today but Paul’s words would have sounded revolutionary to ancient ears.  Many society structures that Paul addressed treated women as property.  Women were domestic servants who oversaw the home, bore children, and lived as directed by their husband’s, their property owners. Women in some pagan religions were made to prostitute themselves in the religious temples.  Men were free to use property as they wished.  Paul walked into that scene and said, “If you follow Christ, love your wives with the same self-sacrificing love Jesus gave the church. Keep her pure, which you cannot do if you are impure in your behavior.  Love them like you love yourself.”  How revolutionary were Paul’s words then, and how transforming they still are when practiced today.

Yet among these women of the New Testament were two we want to look at: Lois and Eunice; grandmother and mother of Timothy.  Why do they matter?  What do we learn about the role of mothers through these women?  Our New Testament reading today records these words from Paul to Timothy, a young man, a believer, dedicated to sharing the gospel message; “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Paul speaks of faith as alive first in Lois, then in Eunice, and now in Timothy.  This faith was not passive and secretive.  This faith was alive, moving, breathing, and growing.

Lois, the grandmother, in this passage must have heard Paul the good news of the gospel.  She learned the good news that God sent Jesus with a new message of hope and salvation. That in carrying out that message, Jesus gave his life to atone for the sin we did, are doing, and will do.  Lois learned that through the work of Jesus, she could be reconciled with God and enter His kingdom.  To show that Jesus’ words were true, God raised Jesus from the dead and God placed Jesus at his right hand.  It is next to God that Jesus continues to intercede for those who love and follow Him.  Lois came to faith and was fully alive in her belief in Jesus. 

Paul’s words tell us that Lois made three important decisions. First, Lois in coming to the knowledge of the Son of God believed in Jesus as her Savior.  This was a life changing event for this grandmother.  She had accepted the Holy Spirit’s movement in her life to receive Jesus.  Lois was rare.  Studies consistently show that people over the age of 30 rarely submit themselves to a faith journey; perhaps as few as 4% of the population will make a faith decision once over 30 years of age.  Lois was a grandmother, meaning she was well over 30 years old and yet she was open enough to hear God speak to her and become alive in faith.

After accepting Jesus, Lois had a second decision to make.  Lois needed to decide if accepting Jesus as Savior would change her life in noticeable and meaningful ways.  Paul said he saw that Lois exhibited sincere and living faith.  The Book of James helps illuminate the idea of sincere faith.  James wrote, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17).  Faith for it to be evident must be expressed by deeds, actions. Consider again a question often asked in a sermon.  “If Christianity became a crime, would there be sufficient evidence to convict you of that crime?”  Lois, a grandmother, expressed her faith in Jesus in ways that made her different from her past and different from her neighbors who had not accepted Jesus. Lois would be convicted of being a Christian.

Third, Lois decided to display God’s maternal character.  We know Lois was a mother of at least one child, a daughter named Eunice.  Lois decided to share the gospel with her daughter. Lois was present and part of her daughter rebirth by the Spirit.  We do not know how old Eunice was but she may have been around 30 years old.  Studies show that people between the age of 15 and 30 occasionally make a faith decision.  Those studies suggest that only 10% of the people in this age group will make a faith decision.  Paul told us that Eunice learned from her mother Lois.  Eunice heard the gospel and witnessed her mother living in accordance with God’s will.  We learn so much by watching.  If you are a person of sincere faith, I can assure you that someone is watching you. People want to know if our faith is genuine.  They look at our behavior and compare it to our words.  That might sound intimidating, but it is a good thing. Jesus said, “Be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).  We are at our best as Jesus’ witness when people can see Jesus in us.  Lois’ was a witness to her daughter Eunice and that helped Eunice come to faith in Jesus.  If you follow Lois’ example, who is it that you are witnessing to?

In our reading today, Paul credited both Lois, the grandmother and Eunice, the mother of having a great influence on Timothy, a grandson and son.  Church tradition holds that Timothy was likely a teenager when he made a faith decision.  Studies show that 85% of all faith decisions are made between the age of 5 and 15.  You need to let that sink in for a moment.  About 85% of those people who will make a lifelong faith commitment will do so before their 16th birthday.  If they have not done so by then, it becomes less likely they ever will as each year passes.  By the time someone reaches age 30, it will be rare for someone to make a faith commitment.

Timothy, a boy of perhaps 15, saw in his grandmother and mother the progression and transformation in their lives brought about by the Holy Spirit.  Lois and Eunice nurtured faith within Timothy guiding him and protecting him much in the same way Jesus desired to do by collecting those of Jerusalem under his wing.  The impact of parent and grandparent behavior on the future beliefs of their children cannot be overstated.  Lois and Eunice understood that they had given physical life to Timothy and saw that they could help him receive spiritual life with God through Jesus. Lois and Eunice knew Timothy’s physical life would last but a short time while his spiritual life with God would be forever.  These mothers wanted their son to have the joy of life and encouraged Timothy in the faith.

Through Lois and Eunice, we have seen that motherhood is a powerful ministry.  Mothers bear the pain of childbirth so that life may be given.  Jesus bore the pain of the cross so that life may be abundant and eternal.  All women who accept Jesus are empowered by their faith to mother others into a second birth.  That type of motherhood expresses unconditional love.  That type of motherhood gives protection, believes in the truth, lives in faith, shares the Gospel, and leads those under its wings to eternal life.  That type of motherhood shows the maternal nature of God.  This Mother’s Day, may God bless all the mothers today for the living and sincere faith they show and have shared with us.  We would do well in honoring them by sharing the joy of a living faith with others.  Amen.

2020-05-03 - Mark

Jonah 1:1-3; 3:1-5, 10; 4:1-2

Acts 13:1-13; Acts 15:36-41

            The last two weeks we explored the life of Barnabas, one of the early Christian church leaders.  We found that Barnabas was a person of faith, purpose, advocacy, and vision.  His story in the New Testament challenges us to examine our degree of commitment to Christ, our actions to live out our commitment, our focus on being righteousness, and our submission to the teachings of Jesus and to the support of his church.  Barnabas had a powerful story that intersected with many early Christians from whom we might learn.  One of those individuals was known by three different names.  His name was John Mark, also known as John, and other times known as Mark.  I would like us to look at this man and see how his life story can impact our faith journey.

            John Mark, John, or Mark was known widely in the early church.  In the Book of Acts and in Paul’s letters to the churches, Mark is never introduced.  He is only spoken about suggesting everyone knew Mark.  As we will see, this young man was the nephew of Barnabas, he was a confidant of the Apostle Peter, and a fellow missionary with the Apostle Paul. John Mark, John, or Mark as a young boy may have met Jesus.  And this man is best known for being credited with leaving us his written legacy in the Gospel of Mark.  But I think Mark leaves us an even more important legacy.  If we look a little bit harder, I think we will find through Mark’s life a truth about God that we need to here.  Namely, God is the God of second chances.  We will see the expression of God as a God of second chances through Mark is not a new element of God’s character.  We saw second chances given in our Old Testament reading from the life of Jonah and the Ninevites.  Let us start by taking a quick look at our reading from the Book of Jonah.

            Jonah is a marvelous little book for the Bible and a favorite for storytellers because we have this account of Jonah being swallowed whole by a fish and living within for 3 days and nights.  While that is what the story tells us about Jonah, our interest today is to see what the story tells us about God. 

We start with Chapter 1, verse 1.  “1The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’  [Nineveh was in modern day Iraq.]  But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.  [Tarshish was in the southern coast of Spain.  It was in the exact opposite direction to Nineveh.] He [Jonah] went down to Joppa, where he [Jonah] found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he [Jonah] went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord” (Jonah 1:1-3).  We learn something about God right away.  God is a God of purpose.  God, aware of the great wickedness of the people of Nineveh, sought to warn the people that he would not tolerate their sinfulness.  He called on Jonah, a Hebrew, to speak this warning to Jonah.  Upon hearing God’s command to preach against the people of Nineveh, Jonah was gripped with powerful emotions.  Jonah was fine preaching to the Hebrew people but not Nineveh, they were pagans.  Other Hebrews would see Jonah preaching to the Ninevites as a betrayal of them.  To preach to the Ninevites was dangerous.  Jonah feared the Ninevites because they were wicked people who could put Jonah to death. Jonah also feared the Ninevites might repent and God would save them.  Fear gripped Jonah and thinking impulsively, Jonah decided to run away from home and from God.  So, Jonah ran in the opposite direction from God’s purpose for his life, perhaps hoping that in a distant land he would no longer be troubled by his fears.  Jonah fled with a profound sense that he had failed God.

            Think about hearing those words, “You are a failure.”  Those words are a punch in the gut that can knock the wind out of you.  There is no love or compassion in those words; there is only judgment.  “You are a failure,” are words that depress us and immobilize us.  Those words are hurtful when said to us and even worse when we say those words to ourselves.  Have you ever failed at something?  I am sure you have.  It is painful.  To a believer in God, what could be worse than failing God?  To whom can you reach out to help you if it is God whom you have failed?

            In Chapter 1 of Jonah, we find that as Jonah was making his escape from God, a storm raged on the sea. Jonah told the crew that God caused the storm because God was angry at Jonah and to save themselves, they must through Jonah into the sea.  The crew threw Jonah overboard and Jonah was swallowed by a large fish.  In Chapter 2, Jonah, now inside the fish and stripped of everything in life, did the only thing he could do.  Jonah prayed to God.  Isn’t that so true of us as well?  For the most part, we do what we want to do, when we want to do it, and how we want to do it.  Then when circumstances fall upon us and we can no longer exercise our freedom of choice, we pray to God to save us.  Jonah prayed for God’s salvation.  We read at the end of Chapter 2 and the beginning of Chapter 3, “10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it [the fish] vomited Jonah onto dry land. 1Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you’” (Jonah 2:10; 3:1-2).  God had given Jonah a second chance at life and renewed purpose.  This is a good physical representation of salvation.  Salvation is a second chance at life and a renewed sense of purpose.  Past failures no longer have hold over us.

            As we read further, we would find that Jonah obeyed God and preached to the Ninevites about their wickedness.  The Ninevites repented.  Chapter 3, verse 10 records God’s reaction, “10 When God saw what they [the Ninevites] did and how they turned from their evil ways, he [God] relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened” (Jonah 3:10).  God granted the Ninevites a second chance.  But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:1-2).  Jonah knew God was a God of second chances and Jonah feared God would give one to the undeserving Ninevites.  I think Jonah’s reaction points out that personally we want second chances, for ourselves, but we are not always so desirous to see others, you know those undeserving people, receive a second chance.  We need to keep in mind that we are all someone else’s example of an undeserving person.  Thankfully, God believes in second chances not because we deserve a second chance but because in granting the grace of a second chance God can display his love for us.

            How does the idea of second chances come into play with our friend John Mark, John, or Mark?  Let us see. Church history tells us that as a young man, Mark, was present when Jesus was arrested.  After Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, the apostles ran away. Then soldiers and Temple officials led Jesus back to the city of Jerusalem.  The Gospel of Mark included a curious remark. “51 A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they [the soldiers] seized him [the young man], 52 he [the young man] fled naked, leaving his garment behind” (Mark 14:51-52).  Church history tells us that young man was Mark. He was following Jesus in the sense that he was there to assist Jesus or accompany him and receive instruction. Apparently, Mark’s presence was a distraction to the Temple officials and soldiers, and they sought to take him into custody.  Mark slipped through their grasp and fled naked into the night.  So, Mark likely had been in the company of Jesus.

            We next encounter Mark in the Book of Acts.  By this time, Jesus has been resurrected and ascended into heaven. In Jerusalem, the Apostle Peter had been preaching about the resurrected Christ.  Peter’s preaching did not sit well with the city officials and so they put Peter in jail.  Then one night an angel freed Peter from prison.  Peter, at first unsure where to go now that he was out of prison, remembered some dear friends.  So, Peter “went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying” (Acts 12:12). So, Mark was in the company of Peter.

            Soon after Peter’s release prison, we find that Barnabas and Saul (later known as Paul) were in Jerusalem making ready to return to their work at the church in Antioch.  The Book of Acts, Chapter 12, verse 25, tells us Barnabas and Saul took with them [to Antioch] John, also called Mark.  So, Mark was in the company of Barnabas and Saul.

            From our New Testament reading today in Chapter 13 of the Book of Acts, verse 2, we learn that in Antioch, “While they [the church] were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they [the church members] placed their hands on them [Barnabas and Saul] and sent them off.  The two of them [Barnabas and Saul], sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.   When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John [also known as Mark] was with them as their helper” (Acts 13:2-5). Mark was part of the missionary journey to the island of Cyprus specifically to bring the good news to the Jewish people on that island.  The NIV says Mark was a helper or assistant to Barnabas and Saul.  The context of the Greek word for helper here is that Mark was likely responsible for preserving and carrying documents used to support the ministry.  Some historians speculate, Mark was carrying with him an early account or compilation of sayings and stories of Jesus.  Mark was a key member of this missionary team and was becoming familiar with ways of expressing Jesus’ story in writing.

            Then something curious happened.  While on Cyprus, the Roman governor, a man named Serguis Paulus, wanted to hear from Barnabas and Saul.  A Jewish man, Elymas, a magician of sorts, tried to stop Paulus from believing in Jesus.  The Holy Spirit, working through Saul, blinded Elymas.  “When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord” (Acts 13:12). The Roman governor, a Gentile, received a second chance from God. 

After this event with the Roman governor, we read an important verse about Mark.  “13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John [also known as Mark] left them [Paul and Barnabas] to return to Jerusalem” (Acts 14:13).  First thing we notice is Saul’s name, a Jewish name, is changed to Paul, a Greek name.  Second, the writer of Acts changes the description of who was present from Barnabas and Saul to “Paul and his companions.”  Third, after the conversion of the Roman governor, Paul began a significant outreach to the Gentiles.  Following these changes, John [also known as Mark], left the group to return to Jerusalem. We are not told why.  Perhaps, Mark did not like Paul becoming the leader replacing Barnabas.  Afterall, we learn that Barnabas was Mark’s uncle.  Perhaps, Mark did not like the idea of a mission to the Gentiles.  Why should the Gentile’s receive a second chance? We do not know what caused Mark to return home.  We only know that he did, and we discover later that Mark’s leaving was deeply wounding to Paul.

The mission trip of Paul and Barnabas continued and time passed.  Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch to continue the work of that church.  We then read in Chapter 15 of the Book of Acts, “36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he [Mark] had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They [Paul and Barnabas] had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He [Paul] went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:36-41).  Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance.  Paul refused to give Mark a second chance believing Mark was a deserter.  The sense of desertion is not that Mark ran out of energy for the journey.  The sense is Mark actively, consciously, and purposely withdrew from the mission.  Paul seems to believe once you fail, you are done.

I find Paul’s reaction ironic. The entire message of the Gospel is God is a God of second chances.  The Gospel is the good news that we can be a new creation in Christ regardless of our past. And Paul who so strongly preached this message said no second chance for Mark.  It is also interesting that the answer “No,” would come from Paul who persecuted the church and was given a second chance by God.  But Barnabas stood beside Mark and did not waiver in giving Mark a second chance. 

Barnabas and Mark sailed for Cyprus. Mark received his second chance.  Church history suggests that in Cyprus, Barnabas once again encountered a Jewish magician or sorcerer.  Only this time, the sorcerer stirred up a crowd against Barnabas.  The mob threw a rope around Barnabas, dragged him from the city, and burned him.  Mark escaped this scene of his uncle’s death. Mark continued in ministry and mission with Peter.  Mark became Peter’s assistant writing the account of Jesus ministry we now have in the Gospel of Mark.  In 1 Peter 5:13, Peter describes Mark as his spiritual son.  Mark would rejoin Paul in his ministry.  It appears that Mark gave Paul a second chance for their relationship. With Paul, we find that while Paul was imprisoned, Mark ministered to Paul.  In the short letter of Philemon, we read Paul closed his letter by writing, “23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers” (Philemon 23-24).  Further, we would read in Paul’s letter to the Colossians these words, “10 My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him)” (Colossians 4:10).  And finally, Paul wrote to Timothy, Paul’s spiritual son, these words, “11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

Weaving throughout the Bible stories we explored today is the reality that God is the God of second chances. Jonah experienced a second chance as did the Ninevites.  Mark experienced second chances, as did Barnabas, Paul, and a Roman governor. Barnabas extended a second chance to Mark and even though Paul refused to give Mark a second chance, Mark gave Paul a second chance.

I think the personal and enduring message of Mark’s life may well be that we would understand that God is the God of second chances.  We understand that no mistake is too big to disqualify us from God.  No failure is beyond the forgiveness of God.

God wants to give you a second chance to become a new creation in Christ.  This second chance is called salvation.  God offers us that second chance not because we deserve it.  He offers it as a gift and as an expression of who He is.  You can refuse God’s gift but why would you?  What is to be gained in refusing a gift from God?  Those who accept God’s gift in Christ are people of second chances.  We who have received are expected to take on the character of the gift we received.  As such, we must ask ourselves who in my life needs a second chance from me?  Think about it for a moment.  Who needs a second chance from you, not because they deserve it, but because you have Christ in you and the power to offer someone the gift of a second chance?  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Then do something about it.  Amen and Amen.

Posts