Division Over John Mark

Acts 15:36-41

001-paul-antioch-philippiI read this and thought of how the church can become divided over issues. It was commendable that Paul wanted to go back and visit other believers in every city where he and Barnabas had preached the Word. I guess he wanted to see how they were doing. He had planted the church and now he was interested to see how it was growing.

This is how it should be in the churches today. Pastors or elders or church members should check on the new members or the new church to see how things are progressing. This sounded like a good idea to Barnabas and he determined to take his cousin John Mark with them. However, Paul was equally determined not to take him with them. He hadn’t forgotten what Mark had done. He had left them in Perga to return to Jerusalem (Acts 13:3). We don’t know why he left. Perhaps he wasn’t ready for the hardships, dangers that missionaries and gospel workers face.

The word used for departed here is aphistēmi which means to desert, to fall away, become faithless, to withdraw one’s self from, to fall away. Clearly Paul believed that Mark had deserted them. He had not continued with them in the work he had undertaken to do. Paul didn’t want him to run out on them again if they were to take him with them this time. He didn’t want to get burned a second time. Barnabas, perhaps, wanted to give Mark another chance. Perhaps, blood is thicker than water. They began to argue over this and things got so heated that they had to go their separate ways. Barnabas took Mark with him to Cyprus while Paul took Silas. He and Silas went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

How sad it was that these two men who had served in the ministry together and had shared so many experiences parted ways under such circumstances.

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Appearances

“I’m not one to meddle in other people’s business but I just wanted to put you in the loop about what others are saying,” Mrs. Martin said to Jennifer.  They were sitting in Jennifer’s living-room.  Mrs. Martin had dropped by to drop off some books she had borrowed.  Jennifer had invited her to stay and have some tea.  Mrs. Martin declined but told Jennifer that she needed to have a word with her.  She seemed a bit concerned.

“Please tell me what you are talking about, Mrs. Martin,” she asked.

Mrs. Martin put her hand on Jennifer’s shoulder.  “I don’t know quite how to say this.”

“Just say it.”

“People are saying that you and Robert Foster are spending too much time together.  He’s married, you know.”

“I know he is, Mrs. Martin.  I serve on the church Finance Committee with her, remember?  What you have been hearing are nothing more than nasty rumors.  Pay no attention to them.”

“But someone said she saw you leaving his home one afternoon when his wife was out of town.”

“I was there to drop off some boxes of donations for Mr. Foster to take to the homeless shelter.  I couldn’t do it myself as I had another engagement and he offered to do it for me.  If you don’t believe me you can ask his son who was there.  That is the only time I went by the Fosters’ home when Susan wasn’t there.”

“Oh.”  Mrs. Martin looked embarrassed now.  “I’m sorry I troubled you with this.  I just thought you ought to know what people were saying.  I’d better leave now.”  She stood up and Jennifer walked with her to the door.

Jennifer felt sorry for her.  She knew she meant well.  “Thank you for letting me know,” she said.  “I will straighten the matter.  Good night, Mrs. Martin.”

“Good night, Jennifer.”

Jennifer closed the door quietly behind her and shook her head.  This was not the first time that people in the church gossiped about one of the members and sadly, it wouldn’t be the last.  The pastor needed to do something about it but he was more concerned about not ruffling feathers.  If nothing was done soon, he would have more to worry about than ruffling feathers.  Already people were leaving the church.  Many times she had considered leaving but she didn’t because she believed that God wanted her there.

 

Indebted to Jesus

1 Timothy 1:12-17

Thank-you-Jesus-for-saving-my-life-1I was reading this passage and thinking of how we are all indebted to Jesus.  We have done terrible things in our lives but He showed us such love and grace that we could only respond in humility and gratitude.  There are times when my past comes back to haunt me but then I remember Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

Paul writes to Timothy about his past.  He shares how he was once an enemy of the church.  He blasphemed the Lord and persecuted His people but it was done in ignorance.  How many of us have not done things that we later regret out of ignorance?

Paul spoke of how Jesus poured out His grace on him.  “He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.”  How many of us are called into ministry after the Lord has shown us mercy?  I have heard of men who once on the wrong side of the law become pastors.  At a Women’s Ministry program, a speaker shared her testimony of how life was for her before she found Jesus.  She used to be a drug addict.  

It doesn’t matter where or how we encounter Jesus.  What matters is that once we surrender to Him, He can do remarkable things in our lives.  When people see how the Lord has transformed a person you never would imagine would become a Christian, they can’t help but be amazed and curious.  When Paul began preaching after his conversion, many people were amazed.  They couldn’t believe that it was the same person who used to a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man.  In his eyes, he was a chief sinner among the sinners whom Jesus came to save.  I can almost hear the regret in his words but he sees something positive in this.  As the worst sinner of them all, he can be used to demonstrate how patient Jesus is towards the worst of sinners.  He, Paul will serve as an example to all who in the future should trust Jesus for eternal life.

We, like Paul, are indebted to Jesus for His love, kindness, mercy, grace and patience.  He loved us even when we were rejecting Him.  All that time when Paul was persecuting the church, Jesus loved him.  He knew Paul’s heart.  He knew that Paul was acting out of ignorance and He knew that He could redirect that zeal.  This explains why Paul was so passionate in his work as a minister.  He testified, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).  It is as if he were working hard to show Jesus that His mercy toward him had not be in vain.

Let us show the Lord how much we appreciate His grace toward us.  Let us do this by the way we live, how we treat others and in whatever work He has called us to do.

Thank You, Jesus for saving us and using us to bring other lost souls to You.

Godly Sorrow

2 Corinthians 7:10

When I read this I remembered that Paul had written an earlier letter, rebuking the congregation for not sorrowacting in the case where a member was guilty of adultery. He had relations with his father’s wife, something that God had condemned. The other members had not dealt with matter. Apparently, they were proud of their church when they should have felt shame that this type of thing was in the church and root it out.

Paul called on them to do what needed to be done. He reminded them that they were not to keep company with such a person. His letter was very frank and it had the desired effect. The Corinthian believers repented. Their pride had turned to mourning and sorrow. Paul didn’t regret writing the letter because it produced godly sorrow.

Sometimes we have to do what is necessary what is best for others–no matter how hard or painful it may be. Paul revealed his motive for writing the first letter. It was not for the sake of the man who committed the wrong or his father whom he had wronged but for the sake of the church. He did it because he cared. Sometimes what we do might seem harsh to someone but we do it out of love. Tough love.

Church Under Attack

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When I read this I couldn’t help but notice the irony. Herod took it upon himself to attack the church. He killed James and when he saw that this pleased the Jews, he had Peter arrested and thrown into prison. Herod clearly didn’t know that the powers of darkness would not prevail against the powers of light. When Peter was in jail, chained and secured between two guards, God sent an angel to set him free. At first Peter thought it was a vision but once he was outside he realized that this was really happening, he said, “Now I certainly know that the Lord has sent His angel and delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

While he had been in prison, the other believers came together and prayed for him. God answered their prayers. After Peter went to the brethren and told them how the Lord had led him out of the prison, he went to Caesarea where he stayed. As for Herod, he was struck down by the Lord because he did not give Him the glory. The wicked ruler was dead but God’s Word spread and increased. The Word of the Lord could not be chained. “Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:8, 9).

Today, many are trying to suppress the Word of God in countries where Christians are persecuted but God declared, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11). Until Jesus comes, we are to preach the Gospel even unto death. The saving of souls makes it all worthwhile.

I Never Knew You

Matthew 7:21-23).

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It’s hard to believe but there are a lot of Christians who believe that the good works they are doing will get them into Heaven.  However, Jesus made it clear that this is not the case.  He specifically said that those who get into Heaven are those who do the Father’s will.  It doesn’t matter if you are ministering to the homeless, helping the poor, active in church or your community or distributing literature.  If you are not practising what the Bible teaches you are not right with God.  God wants people who are obedient and whose lives are in harmony with His Word.

Jesus said that those who claim to prophesy and cast out demons in His name also practice evil and that is why they will not enter the kingdom.  They are living in disobedience.  “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Romans 8:9).  Anyone who practices evil or lawlessness does not have the Spirit of Christ in him or her, therefore the Spirit cannot testify to their spirit that they are children of God (Verse 16).  As long as we walk in the flesh, we will not please God.  It doesn’t matter how often we go to church, are involved in ministries or how well we know the Bible, if we are not keeping ourselves unspotted from the world or walking by the Spirit, we will have no part with Christ.

Everyone thought I was living a godly life based on how I was so passionate about serving the Lord in church and in ministry but they never suspected that I was having relations with another church member.  We were both single.  No one knew what we were doing – name withheld

If I hadn’t gotten pregnant, no one would have suspected anything – name withheld

Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve disciples.  He went out with the others and preached that people should repent, cast out many demons, and anointed many who were sick with oil and healed them.  However, he turned out to be a thief and would be the one who betray Jesus.  Following Jesus didn’t make Judas a true disciple just as being in church doesn’t make a person a true Christian.  We may be able to fool others but we can’t fool the Lord.  He sees what is on the inside.  He knew the real Judas (John 6:70, 71; 13:11, 21, 26, 27).

Just as Jesus places more importance on right living than on good works, God ranks obedience above sacrifice. When Saul went ahead and made an unauthorized sacrifice to God, Samuel chided him saying, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).  Today, we could ask a similar question.  “Has the Lord as great delight in prophesying, casting out demons and doing wonderful works?  As in turning away from evil and doing His will?  Behold, to obey is better than all of these things. ”

These people were trusting in their works.  They were asking, “Lord, didn’t we do all of these things in Your name?”  What is the point of doing all of these things and not living a godly life?  They are like wolves in sheep’s clothing.  They give the appearance of being Christians, doing good works but in reality they are living in sin.  They are not practising what the Bible teaches.  God would rather have them bear fruit worthy of repentance than bearing fruit to make themselves look good.

This reminds me of when the Israelites asked God, “Why have we fasted and You do not see?  Why have we humbled ourselves and You take no notice?”(Isaiah 58:3, MEV).  Their fasting did not please God.  Why?  It wasn’t the fast He had chosen for them.  “Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into your house, covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family?” (verse 7, CEB).

Did Jesus ask these people to do all of these things in His name?  Wouldn’t He have preferred if they stopped practising evil and repented?  Instead of serving the Lord, examine your life and see if there are any areas where you haven’t brought yourself completely under His control.  If there is any sin or lifestyle you are holding on to, let it go and let Jesus give you the victory.  Don’t gamble with your eternity. The most terrible words anyone could ever hear are, “Depart from Me.  I never knew you” when they had the opportunity to change.  Don’t let this happen to you.

Paul’s Testimony

Galatians 1:13-17

paul-king-agrippa_1219951_inlIn his letter to the Galatians, Paul shares how he became a Christian. It wasn’t something he ever dreamed would happen. He was a staunch believer in Judaism and its traditions. He was filled with a jealous zeal to protect his religion and was determined to stamp out any other religion he believed was contrary to God and His law. He was bent on destroying the church. He thought he was doing God a favor. In fact, I couldn’t help thinking of Paul when I read these words of Jesus, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he is offering a service to God. They will do these things to you, because they have not known the Father nor Me.  I have told you these things, so that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you about them (John 16:2-4, MEV).

Paul was there when Stephen was stoned to death. He kept the clothes of those who stoned him. It was clear that he agreed with what was happening. The scripture stated, “And Saul was consenting to his death” (Acts 8:1). The stoning of Stephen seemed to add more fuel to his fight to destroy the church. It says that while devout men carried Stephen away to bury him and lamented over him, Saul ravaged the church, entering house by house and dragging out both men and women and committing them to prison (verses 2,3) .

Before his conversion, Paul was on fire. He was like a dragon, breathing out threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He was determined to stamp out what he perceived to be heresy so he went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any there of the Way, either men or women, he might arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1, 2). This was an attack on religious freedom. People were being persecuted and imprisoned for their faith. Satan, through Paul was impeding the work of the saints and the Lord had to intervene. His people had to be free to carry out His commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, 20).

So, on his way to Damascus, Saul encountered Jesus. This experience changed his life forever. Jesus got his attention in a big way. As Saul was nearing the city, a bright light shone from Heaven shone around him and he fell to the ground. Then, Jesus spoke to him. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” It doesn’t occur to people that when they persecute Christians, they are persecuting Jesus too. It’s the same as when we neglect to care for the needy. When we neglect doing good to others, it’s as if we are neglecting Jesus too. When the people rejected Jesus during His ministry, they were rejecting the Father who sent Him. When Saul asked Jesus who He was, Jesus said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” There was no room for doubt. Saul was persecuting Jesus when he persecuted the church, after all, Jesus is the Head of the church. Saul was attacking the body of Christ.

Can you imagine Saul, who a moment ago was breathing fire, ready to hunt down and throw Christians into prison or do worse, was now trembling like a leaf and in total shock? Probably sounding like a man who realized now that he was fighting a losing battle, he asked, “Lord, what will You have me do?” When Jesus points out something we are doing in our lives that needs to be changed, do we ask, “Lord, what will You have me do?”

Jesus said to him, “Rise up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” What a testimony of God’s grace and forgiveness. Saul had been wreaking so much havoc on His people yet Jesus did not condemn him. Instead, He reached out to him, opening his eyes to what he was doing—that instead of working for God, he was working against God. And Jesus was going to use him. The Lord always has use for us—He will by no means cast us aside once we humble ourselves before Him and are willing to do whatever He asks of us. Saul was willing to do whatever Jesus asked of him. So, now Jesus will find good use for him. We learn in Acts 26:16-18, that Jesus revealed His plan for Saul to him. “For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness both of what you have seen and of what I will yet reveal to you.  I will deliver you from your people and from the Gentiles to whom I now send you,  to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me’

All the time Saul was there on the road in the light, his eyes were closed but when he opened them, he couldn’t see anything. He was physically blind but could see spiritually. His sight was restored and he was baptized. And he began preaching. There was some skepticism of course as people remembered that this was the same man who had done many evil things to the believers at Jerusalem (verse 13). There are a lot of times when we are shocked to see certain people become Christians. We never saw that coming but we forget that with God all things are possible. If anyone could change people, He can and He does. Saul became Paul and his letters are what we have today to help us in our walk with the Lord. That day on the road to Damascus changed not only one life but many.

What is your testimony? How did Jesus reveal Himself to you? Are you willing to share your testimony with others as Paul did?

Appearances

Mark 11:12-14

My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples – John 15:8

downloadI am sure a lot of us know Christians who go to church every week, know their Bibles inside out and say “Amen” and “Hallelujah” or “Praise the Lord” a lot during the sermons and can sing the hymns without looking at the open hymnals in their hands. Yet, how many of us would be surprised that these same Christians are like the fig tree that Jesus curses because it bore no fruit? They look good, sound good but that is all.

As the story goes, Jesus was hungry. He saw a fig tree afar and it had leaves. So, He went to see if He could find fruit on it. He found nothing but leaves. It was not the season for figs but the tree gave the impression that it had figs. The leaves of the fig tree promised fruit. Apparently the figs come before the leaves. But for this particular tree, there were leaves but no figs. If it were not the season for figs, why then did it have leaves?

This fig tree is like the religious leaders that had the promise of fruit, the leaves (the outward appearance) but produced no fruit. They were the ones having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5).  Outwardly they appeared righteous but inside they were filled with hypocrisy.  They honoured God with their lips but not with their hearts (Matthew 15:8).

For all their rituals, Sabbath-keeping, knowledge of the scriptures, traditions, they were spiritually barren. Much like some Christians today. For all their perfect church attendance, knowledge of scriptures and church doctrines, Sabbath-keeping, they are spiritually barren. They are of no use to God. They are not producing any fruit.

If Jesus were to come to your church, what will He find? People having the appearance of fruitful Christians or Christians actually bearing fruit? Will He find only leaves or leaves and fruit? As the body of Christ, we are not to be ornaments and bench warmers but active in our communities, families, workplaces or wherever the harvest is. No more keeping up appearances. We may fool some people and ourselves but we can’t fool the Lord. We must be out in the field, bearing good fruit for the kingdom.

What can you do today to make sure you are bearing fruit for Jesus? You want that on closer inspection, He will see your fruit and reward you. Don’t be like those who are good for nothing and useless like salt which has lost its flavour. Barren trees and flavourless salt will be thrown out. Be fruitful so that when people see your fruit, they will glorify your Father in Heaven.

When Jesus comes looking for fruit, make sure He finds some.

Slow to Speak

“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19, 20).

person-listening-300x200James is saying that sometimes we need to listen more and speak less or say nothing.  King Solomon says in Proverbs 10:19, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.”

There are times when we speak instead of listening and later regret it because our words lead to bitter quarrels and fights.  Feelings can get hurt and relationships can be jeopardized or destroyed because of words spoken in a fit of anger.  There are times when we ought to just listen and other times when we ought to speak.  We have to have the wisdom to know when to do which.

Problems arise when we stop listening to God and to each other.  Whether in the home, at work, or in the church, arguments ensue when listening stops.  When that happens, talking begins to accelerate and anger builds.  This slippery slope of sinful communication, like the uncontrolled inward desires of James 1:14, 15, can never produce the righteousness of God.  That is why James juxtaposes God’s righteousness with human wrath.  As long as we rely on what bubbles up naturally from our sinful nature, the creative power of God’s Word is blocked, and our own unhelpful or even hurtful words arise instead (The Book of James Sabbath School Quarterly, p. 26)

Notice James advises us to be “swift to hear”.  We must be quick to hear what the other person has to say first before we have our say.  In doing so, we might learn something and diffuse an otherwise volatile situation.   How many times have we been quick to speak and slow to listen and gotten ourselves in trouble?  It takes wisdom to hold our tongue.  It takes maturity to listen. 

We have to be careful of what we say.  If we have nothing good or helpful to say in a situation , it is best to keep quiet.

Proverbs 15:1 says, “a soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.  When we respond to something someone says in a quiet, non-combative way, it will diffuse the situation or prevent it from getting worse.  Once when my husband, Dave made a request, he didn’t like the tone of his co-worker’s reply but he responded in an agreeable manner.  The co-worker, initially surprised, responded positively.  Dave chose a gentle answer instead of a harsh one and turned what could have led to a bad situation into a peaceful resolution.  Both men benefitted from Dave’s wise handling of the problem.

The prophet Isaiah tells us that we should know how to speak and when to speak (Isaiah 50:4).  Paul encourages us to speak only words that will encourage and benefit others.  Our words must not be corrupt or harmful (Ephesians 4:29).  Our words should not be filthy, foolish or coarse.  They should be fitting and full of thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:4).  Our words should always be filled with grace, seasoned with salt so that we know how to answer people appropriately (Colossians 4:6). 

Be a good listener.  Hear what the other person has to say.  The same rule applies to God.  Too often when we spend time with Him, we have our say but don’t wait to hear what He has to say.  Be still and listen for that small, still voice.

He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction (Proverbs 13:3)

 

 

 

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