Archive for July, 2014

RENOVATE: Week 42

The Bible is so real and relevant. It does not seek to “hide” the ugliness of human relationships and coat with a glossy veneer its main characters. Such is the case in today’s reflection taken from the July 16th reading of our devotional Bible.

And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”

And Barnabas was desirous of taking John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:36-41, NASB77)

These men were actually human and had disagreements to the point of separation! Paul and Barnabas were close friends and a powerful team. God used their companionship in astounding ways. Yet in our text for today, it would seem all would be thrown away; lost on the proverbial trash heap of broken relationships. Paul, the strong and outspoken leader, and Barnabas, the supportive and uplifting encourager, giants of the faith, appear as if they have an irreconcilable conflict. John Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark, was their point of contention. Paul was focused on the mission at hand and he needed “all hands on deck” so to speak. Time was short and the mission great. Therefore, based on John Mark’s previous behavior of what Paul considered a desertion because of the difficulty of a previous undertaking; Mark had become a liability to the task at hand. In Paul’s mind, John Mark was not fit for what lay ahead.

Barnabas, seeming to place a greater concern on the development of John Mark as a person over the potential success of the mission, desired to bring him along. John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10) and it is probable that Barnabas’ affection for him was a major incentive for wanting to include him on the journey. To study scripture’s reflection of Barnabas reveals a man who was a gifted mentor with a drive for people development.

Hence, we are left to wrestle with the question: Who is right? As a good leader, Paul seemed to be correct. The stakes were high and the souls of lost individuals were on the line. In Paul’s mind, there could be no room for the loss of time, energy, and production should John Mark desert them again. Barnabas is focused more on the character progression and maturation of his cousin. As such, Barnabas was not only dedicated to the initial conversion of the lost, but also on the discipleship of a brother in Christ; thus, Barnabas would appear to be justified.

I submit that God is right. Regardless of the side we might be inclined to line up with between the two men, God’s kingdom wins and the gospel is actually furthered in a more significant way. This is because Barnabas takes Mark toward Cyprus and Paul acquires Silas to go through Syria and Cilicia. More individuals were exposed to the gospel as a result!

The message for us centers on the difficulties we may have faced or are facing in our affiliations with others. As difficult as interpersonal relationships might become, a life given toward the goal of God’s Kingdom purposes will always win; God using the bad toward the ultimate good.

By the way, the difference was obviously reconciled, as Paul and Barnabas again became traveling companions (1 Corinthians 9:6, Galatians 2:9). There is also evidence that Paul became reconciled to John Mark (Colossians 4:10, Philemon 1:24, 2 Timothy 4:11). How long this separation continued is unknown; but perhaps in his journey with Barnabas, Mark exemplified his courage and zeal, which caused Paul once again to place his confidence in him as a fellow traveler; even more, for Mark to become a profitable co-laborer in the spread of the gospel. In Paul’s own words, “Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” (2 Timothy 4:11, NASB77)

What an amazing testimony and lesson for us today!

In Christ,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 41

He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. (2 Kings 18:4, NASB)

This verse is in reference to King Hezekiah, who was one of the few kings in Judah and Israel of which scripture tells us he did “what was right in the LORD’S sight.” From the July 5th reading in the devotional Bible, I am especially interested in Hezekiah’s boldness to destroy what would have been considered an invaluable religious relic made by Moses himself; the bronze serpent on the pole used to heal those in the time of the wilderness wandering following the exodus from Egypt! As judgment for the unbelieving, self-centered, complaining Israelites; God had sent deadly serpents upon them and the only remedy for the vicious venom was to look upon this curative object.

Interestingly, the most often quoted verse of scripture, John 3:16, is preceded by what seems strange and very seldom mentioned. Jesus declared, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15, NASB)

What did Jesus mean? He became sin, who knew no sin. The very object of destruction for the entire human race; namely sin, Jesus took upon Himself. Those who look to Him as God’s substitute for their own sin will be spiritually healed in the deepest possible way. They trade death for life. As Jesus was lifted up on the cross, so the serpent in the wilderness was a symbolic foreshadowing of this ultimate healing. The key term being “symbolic.”

Somewhere along the way, the people of God had forgotten the principle that they were to worship God and abstain from idols; even if the “idol” was of such great significance. Hezekiah calls the artifact what it actually was, Nehushtan (meaning loosely “a piece of bronze”). What is the lesson for us today?

Every symbol loses its significance and value if it is converted into an idol. The bronze serpent was a material token of God’s mercy, a symbol of His power, and a reminder of His holiness. But when the people began to worship it, its worth departed.

Take, for instance, creeds and confessions of our faith, which are symbolic expressions of devotion from the heart; an attempt to articulate the truth of God in the words of man. Such words are valuable only as they point to that which is more valuable than themselves. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are also symbols. Whenever they begin to be idolized and seen as the means of redemption, they lose their significance and value. The Cross is the finest symbol in all history. But it is not intended that we should rest in the outward circumstances of the Crucifixion. The looking to the Cross which brings salvation is a looking through the Cross to that which it reveals.

May we all follow the example set by King Hezekiah, no matter how challenging it may be to break the idol; may we look to and worship God alone in the Person of Jesus Christ!

In Him,

Pastor Rob

RENOVATE: Week 40

The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD. (Proverbs 16:33, NASB)

Solomon’s words, taken from the July 2nd reading in our devotional Bible, are unbelievably insightful and are part of an overall thread making up an important truth about reality contained within scripture. We are finite creatures; unable to completely know the future outcome of events based on our choices and that of others. This is a continuous source of anxiety for human kind. Even the most educated decision contains an element of risk. Thus, we go on; stumbling in the dark doing the best we can with the knowledge we’re afforded.

However, for one who belongs to Christ Jesus, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb; the verse under examination carries with it much hope! When the child of God makes a resolution, he or she can move forward in confidence knowing whatever the outcome, it is ultimately rooted in the decree of God.

The older I get, the more I appreciate this fact. Usually the concept of casting lots, “rolling the dice” if you will, is equated with chance. As Sinatra might say, “Luck be a lady, tonight.” In reality, lady luck is an illusion. Life is driven by an exponentially greater purpose and every roll of the dice is connected to another roll of the dice comprising an ultimate grand cosmic plan. The plan does not depend on a blind, merciless fate; but a loving, Heavenly Father. I can reflect on my own life and see some pretty bad rolls of life’s dice. Some rolls have been rather good ones. Regardless, God is over all of them and while I cannot put trust in my own ability to roll effectively, I can trust the intention of the Perfect Creator regarding the definitive end of all that He has made.

I don’t need luck when I have the LORD!

In Christ,

Pastor Rob