Devotional 129: A Rift in Ministry

Acts 15:36-41

Division over John Mark

36 Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” 37 Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. 39 Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

From what we are told and not told, Barnabas and Paul never ministered together, or quite possibly, ever even met again. We are told that Mark left them, but not why. As Paul’s missions were extensive and difficult, but critical to the spreading of the Gospel, whenever Mark left them to return to Jerusalem was likely an inopportune time, and made an already difficult task that much more difficult.

Barnabas, however, was still willing to give Mark another chance, but Paul was not.

As an alternative seemed to be available, we’re not sure why it got to the point of a such an argument, but perhaps Barnabas at this time had seen and heard enough of Paul, and knew enough of Mark, to launch out on his own. We are not told that was the case, but very often, when G-d splits a ministry amid chaos and strife, it still ends to His glory.

The Book of Acts itself came after the church was persecuted and its members and missionaries forced to run for their lives, if not their freedom.

We don’t have any books written by Barnabas that chronicle his time with Mark and the work they did in Cyprus.

But we do have this, later, from Paul:

2 Timothy 4:9-11

The Abandoned Apostle

Be diligent to come to me quickly; 10 for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.

Alone and in prison, perhaps Paul had received word of all that Mark did in Cyprus to assist Barnabas. We are told that Demas made his decision to return to worldly things, and the others left for their own reasons. But now, he tells Timothy to get Mark, and bring him to help Paul during his last days, “for he is useful to me for ministry.”

This, like Paul’s conversion, is a complete 180 from where he was when Barnabas took Mark away. How very lonely even the tone of Paul’s letter is, where after having preached to millions, he only has Luke.

Yet even so, that was one more than Jesus had when ‘they all forsook Him and fled.’

And as Christ restores Peter, so Paul restores Mark, even if indirectly, back into the ministry of the Gospel. Mark, however, in contrast to Demas, never truly left.

We have the words of John:

(1 John 2:18-20)

Deceptions of the Last Hour

18 Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.

Let us be thankful that we yet have the grace and mercy of our Father, who has imparted it to the Son, who has encouraged us to stay the course. For Christ says of those who turn back: (Luke 9:62) 

62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus,

In the course of our walking, there are days it is not in us. As Mark returned to Jerusalem to get back on familiar footing, with maybe some fear of such a pagan and polytheistic culture, so we too seek comfort zones even in our missions. 

Paul took some hard, long, and difficult journeys, but as You sustained him, so You sustain us. 

Paul’s faith and trust in You was absolute, more often than not. His communication and obedience were shining examples of what our own walks could, and should be. 

Yet even when we are Mark, we yet serve. Forgive us when we take the lowly place not in humility, but in fear, discomfort, doubt, and anger. 

It is in the matters of Your sovereignty, and in Your will for our lives and the pleasures of this world come into conflict, that we ask You for Paul’s resolve, but Barnabas’ compassion. As we minister to the next generation, of new believers in all nations, and look to those who have run the race for guidance to take their mantles with fear and reverence, let us remain connected to You. 

And when and where we fall, let us rise to once again be useful in ministry, being refreshed, restored, and reconciled to You, to Your glory, and abiding in Your will.

May it be done to us as You have said.

Amen. 

Devotional 119: No Man Common or Unclean

Acts 10:24-33

Peter Meets Cornelius

24 And the following day they entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him.26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” 27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found many who had come together. 28 Then he said to them, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. 29 Therefore I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. I ask, then, for what reason have you sent for me?”

30 So Cornelius said, “Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your alms are remembered in the sight of God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and call Simon here, whose surname is Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea. When he comes, he will speak to you.’ 33 So I sent to you immediately, and you have done well to come. Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God.”

When we understand that G-d means to graft us in through the covenant of grace, the act of holding onto our own salvation without sharing the good news takes on a different kind of disobedience.

We understand the Jews were chosen, as Moses said:

Deuteronomy 7:7-9

The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples.

But under the New Covenant, Christ tells us: (John 10:14-16)

14 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

Paul affirms this again (Romans 9:22-26)

22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

25 As He says also in Hosea:

“I will call them My people, who were not My people,
And her beloved, who was not beloved.”
26 “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them,
‘You are not My people,’
There they shall be called sons of the living God.”

We should be joyful that we who believe are no longer under the wrath of G-d, but we are not to keep silent. We are to tell the Good News, and it is up to Holy Spirit to open the ears and hearts of those who would listen.

Cornelius thought to gather his relatives and close friends ahead of Peter’s arrival. They were expecting something great to happen in the presence of the most volatile disciple who had finally come to a more steadfast faith, to the point where he was standing up in the midst of assemblies to proclaim the divine glory of someone he once vehemently denied to the point of cursing.

And he says to them:

Acts 10:34-35

Preaching to Cornelius’ Household

34 Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.

If the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, and all who dwell on it, how then, in His presence, can anyone be unclean? Through faithlessness,  doubt, denial,  unbelief, backsliding,  compromise, and willful and presumptuous sin without repentance.

We cannot find the Narrow Way without faith, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, prayer, and works.

In the current times when xenophobia and racism are at a fever pitch, not just here, but all across the world (as Christ foretold, ‘brother against brother, and nation against nation’) we are not to consider the ‘other’ as an unclean thing unworthy of salvation.

As Paul told the Corinthians,

 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

So while there is no partiality, it is not a license to continue sinning, for without repentance and faith in Christ there is no remission of sin, and the wrath of the Father remains.

We are not called to judge, but tell, and let the Spirit do His work. He may be content to leave the seed for the moment, and water it another time, but we must remember always that it is G-d who brings the increase.

In the meantime, we work out our own salvation, and take the planks from our eyes, living righteous lives and worshiping the Lord in spirit and truth, loving G-d with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving one another as Christ loved the Church.

In these times, it’s a daunting task, but we have the words of our Savior: (Matthew 19:26)

26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Therefore I pray:

Lord Jesus, 

You have invited us to the wedding feast, ragged and unworthy to stand before G-d, worthy of judgement and the outer darkness. Thank You for giving us a way to be reconciled to our Creator without sin, and that is through faith in the atoning work you did for us, that we might escape the tribulation of the days to come, and inherit the kingdom along with You.

We thank you, Good Shepherd, for the grace you’ve given us, for sustaining us in the valleys of trials and temptations, for bringing us out, for healing us by Your stripes, for granting us Your peace, and for showing us the Father.

We thank You for providing us a Comforter who guides us into all truth, and convicts us of sin. He is the seal and approval of our salvation, when You’ll call us forth from the grave with a great shout.

We thank You for interceding for us, the unchosen, before Heaven’s throne, and not condemning us as we continue to strive for Your example, growing in favor with G-d and man. Continue to speak to us while we’re enduring the scorn of Your enemies as proof we are indeed the sons and daughters of the living G-d, as we contend in the gates with those who would silence us. Fill our mouths with Truth no one can speak against, and give us what we should say.

Help us to speak truth to power, and truth in love, proclaiming You before men that we might also be proclaimed by You to the Father.

Give us the strength, in our trembling, to stand in the midst of the assembly, and by the power of Your Spirit preach the Gospel to all who cross our path, that they may see and know we are Christians, and glorify G-d as You claim them for the kingdom.

Open our hearts, our eyes, our spirits to rejoice with the angels when souls are redeemed from all nations, not just with those who look, act, and believe as we do.

From this day forth, help us to know that it is the Father’s will that all should come to repentance and faith in Christ, and no one should perish, but to also tell them that there will be a day of judgement, and in that day the Covenant of Grace is void.

May the grace, peace, and power of  the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all.

Amen.

 

 

Devotional 116: The Kingdom Within

Luke 17:20-30

The Coming of the Kingdom

2Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

22 Then He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.23 And they will say to you, ‘Look here!’ or ‘Look there!’ Do not go after them or follow them.24 For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day.25 But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.26 And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man:27 They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.28 Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built;29 but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.30 Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

The Father has done His part to reconcile us to Him: it is through faith in the atoning work of the cross through the Son.

They are one of will and purpose, but Jesus was obeying the Father’s command, for He was the only one who could. Yet, G-d let Him be tempted, mocked, brutalized, scorned, and challenged, that He might know what we face in our weak and mortal flesh.

Yet, He didn’t sin.

It was painful for Him to be apart from the Father, painful to the point where He accused the Father of abandonment.

Matthew 27:46

46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

The sky went dark because as our sins were upon Him, the Father couldn’t look on it. The physical disconnect was palpable to our Christ. When it was over and He prayed before His ascension, He said:

John 17:5

And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

I imagine the anticipation made Him want to go as soon as possible.

Do we seek the presence of G-d like that?

Do we ask Him to restore us to our former glory of the day we felt that presence, and knew we’d been called out of the world?

Do we ask Him to rekindle the passion of our first love for Him, or do we begin to doubt in the day to day of taking up our crosses, denying the lust of the eyes, participating in the grueling quest for money, crucifying our flesh, and walking the narrow road?

Do we grow weary of doing good, and remaining steadfast in an increasingly hostile and mocking world that would like nothing better than a dead G-d? They would have it so the whims of the wealthy can be imposed, and their price exacted, on those of us who fear and follow Him.

Yet the Father tells us this:

Deuteronomy 7:9-11

“Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; 10 and He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face. 11 Therefore you shall keep the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments which I command you today, to observe them.

When you love and trust someone, and they advise you, and have the power to benefit you greatly, you will heed their advice because you believe they will cause you no harm.

Jesus tells us:

John 14:1

 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

And again…

Matthew 18:3

Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

Our Lord is not telling us to become or think like little kids, but to also trust, wait, and manifest the Spirit of righteousness and love within us, as children accept with no expectations or preconditions.

So then, if all we need to manifest the will of the Father on earth is indeed already within us, (“Your kingdom come, and Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven), are we trusting that what He told us is true, and do we release it with the power of faith, or do we lean on our own limited, human understanding and honor Him with our lips, and not our hearts and obedience?

Will He marvel at our faith, or our unbelief?

We must be ready, for when the day comes, there will be no more time to prepare.

Therefore I pray:

King Jesus,

You tell us the kingdom is within us, but we are not profitable for heavenly things, and these are words we cannot bear, though we know them to be true because You do not lie.

You told Your disciples that the prince of this world had nothing in You, but he does in us, Lord, and it’s compelling, strong, and evil. His presence brings blight upon our earthly forms, and damnation of our eternal souls.

Sometimes he covers the path to condemnation and death with pretty things that camouflage his slithering, cursed form.

Remind us then, that we have all of Your words, and that not one of them shall pass away, outlasting both Heaven and Earth. You reassure us, as Peter said, with the words of Life. 

You know our weaknesses, but You also command us to remain strong, fearless, and faithful to the Truth You’ve shared with us. Let us keep an ongoing spirit of godly repentance, that our shallow fellowship with You may deepen, and the power of sin be dulled.

The seeds of the Kingdom of Eden are within us, dormant in a fallow field, awaiting the harvest. In the meantime we sow, and drink from the Water of Life, take shelter beneath the Holy Vine, follow the Good Shepherd, give thanks for our Savior, and praise the Son of G-d to whom all things were given. May the seeds of Eden become the fruits of the Father’s divine will on the new and sinless Earth, created anew and purified for all who believed.

This day, we bow before You, O King, and cut the stones from our hearts that they may be tender to receive Your eternal Word. Let our ears hear the lessons in the parables, and receive comfort in the prayers, blessings, and assurances from Your lips, believing with our mustard seed faith that nothing will take us from the power of Your nail-scarred hands. 

Impart to us, the disciples of this age, the power of the Holy Spirit so that unbelievers shall see the signs and wonders that follow us, and the love we demonstrate for each other that will bring them like gathered wedding guests taken from the streets.

Let us be of one accord so they see us as lights on a hillside, that we might point them to You, as You point them to the Father.

Let the kingdom within us shine forth as the noonday sun, that they may see, and hear, and be saved. 

Keep our steps sure, our hearts steadfast, and our faith as a threefold cord, not easily broken.

Keep our souls humble, that we may not exalt ourselves and be cast down.

May it be done to us according to our faith.

Amen.