John Mark: Recovered Failure

Acts 12:6–17, 25; 13:2–14; 15:35—16:3

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)

I brought the small fragment of parchment up closer to my face and read it again, hardly daring to believe the words my eyes reported: “because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” Imagine Paul actually putting that down in black and white for anyone to read! Tears of relief and joy suddenly welled up in my eyes, and I could read no further. After all these years Paul was calling for me to come and serve with him again, and describing me as “helpful.”

This was the culmination of a long struggle, a difficult process for both of us. For him it was a matter of gradually relenting in his judgment that I was a coward, a failure, someone who did not merit further investment of apostolic time and energy. For me it was the need to change, to grow up, to develop the character necessary for rigorous apostolic duty in a demanding and frequently hostile environment.

I handed the letter back to Timothy, who had sought me out and was grinning widely. “Do you think he really means it?” I asked breathlessly. Timothy shrugged. “Have you ever known Paul to pretend?” he asked pointedly.

I laughed bitterly. “No, you’re right. Paul always says what he means.” Subtlety had never been the apostle’s forte. I blushed as I remembered his frank descriptions of me as he argued loudly with my cousin Barnabas, who wanted to take me with them again on their second missionary journey. Though Barnabas argued that I should be given a second chance, even though I’d quit the first excursion and gone back home, Paul vehemently insisted that there was no way he was going to be burdened with a mama’s boy who wouldn’t follow through on his commitments. The issue had become so heated that the famous pair had split up, going in two different directions, all over a disagreement about me. I’d never felt so humiliated in my life.

But that experience had marked a turning point for me. I did learn steadfastness. Besides Barnabas, I also worked alongside Simon Peter for a while, and I wrote down his memoirs. Paul eventually acknowledged my recovery, mildly recommending that the Colossians welcome me if I should pass through their territory and listing me in his letter to Philemon, along with Demas and Luke, as fellow workers.

But now Paul was actually calling for me to come with Timothy so I could be with him and Luke, just a select, small group for what might be the apostle’s last weeks on Earth. I scanned the letter a third time, and there was no mistaking the resolute tone of the request. Paul expected to die soon, but he wanted me to come and be “helpful” to him in his ministry again before his leave-taking! Praise God!

“When do we leave?” I asked Timothy. “I’m ready for this one. Let’s go!”

Back to the Future

  • Have you ever been embarrassed by a failure that was due to character issues on your part? Was there anyone like Barnabas to take your side and help you to recover?
  • Do you know anyone else who has stumbled or turned aside from his walk with God? What can you do to encourage him to continue pressing forward?
  • Are you ever tempted to turn away from doing what God wants you to do? Who is surrounding you to encourage you when you are tempted to give up?
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Productivity Without Passion

Revelation 2:1–7

Recommended Reading: Deuteronomy 6:4–9; Matthew 7:21–23; Luke 10:38–42; 1 Corinthians 13:1–13

Imagine a marriage in which the husband dutifully earns a living to pay his family’s bills, takes care of the house and cars and sees that his family has the clothing and other things they need. Yet he has lost all tenderness and passion for his wife. Is this a healthy marital relationship?

Productivity without passion. Just as the partners in a marriage can lose their passion for one another and yet carry on, a similar situation can occur in relationships between believers and God. In fact, the church of Ephesus had fallen into this very trap. Jesus noted that this church had “persevered and … endured hardships for my name” (Revelation 2:3). But, he pointedly added, “you have forsaken the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4).

What about you? When you compare your current relationship with Christ to what it was like when you first began following him, are you just as passionate about knowing him, being with him and worshiping him as you were then? Or do you find yourself busy serving him without bothering to further cultivate your relationship with him?

Sadly, like a marriage without passion, our relationship with God can go through a period during which spiritual passion wanes. We serve the Lord more out of habit or duty than out of a desire to know God more deeply.

Consider this possibility: God might occasionally want us to stop doing for him so that we can concentrate on being with him and recovering the love we had at first. Many dry marriages have been renewed. Dry relationships with the Lord can experience renewed passion and vigor as well. Put your relationship with Christ first, then let your service for him follow as a natural response.

To Take Away

  • What feelings did you have when you first followed Christ? What words expressed your passion about knowing him then?
  • How does that compare with your current feelings for Christ?
  • How can you rediscover your “first love” for your Lord and Savior—renew the passion and vigor of your relationship with him?

Sitting in the Light

by Charles R. Swindoll

1 John 1:5–7

“You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is required. The stars neither require it nor demand it” (Annie Dillard).

A lot of things in life are like that, aren’t they?

A piano sits in a room, gathering dust. It is full of the music of the masters, but in order for such strains to flow from it, fingers must strike the keys . . . trained fingers, representing endless hours of disciplined dedication. You do not have to practice. The piano neither requires it nor demands it. If, however, you want to draw beautiful music from the piano, that discipline is required.

A child plays at your feet, growing and learning. That little one has incredible potential, a hidden reservoir of capability and creativity, but in order for those possibilities to be developed, parents must take time . . . listen, train, encourage, reprove, challenge, support, and model. Moms and dads do not have to do any of that. The child neither requires nor demands that we do so. If, however, we hope to raise secure and healthy offspring, those things are required.

Time spreads itself before us, directionless and vacant. That time can be filled with meaningful activities and personal accomplishments, but in order for that to occur, you must think through a plan and carry it out. You do not have to plan or follow through. Time neither requires it nor demands it. If, however, you hope to look back over those days, weeks, months, and years and smile at what was achieved, planning is required.

What is true of the stars, a piano, a child, and the days ahead is especially true of your mind. It awaits absorption. It will soak up whatever you feed it: imaginary worries, fears, filthy and seductive thoughts, hours of television, and selfish greed . . . or good books, stimulating discussions, exciting risks of faith, the memorization of Scripture, and learning a few new skills. You can even take a course or two that will stretch your mental muscles.

You do not have to pay the price to grow and expand intellectually. The mind neither requires it nor demands it. If, however, you want to experience the joy of discovery and the pleasure of plowing new and fertile soil, effort is required.

Light won’t automatically shine upon you, nor will truth silently seep into your head by means of rocking-chair osmosis.

It’s up to you. It’s your move.

If the splendor of the stars is worth sitting outside in the dark, believe me, the joy of fresh discovery is worth sitting inside in the light.

What about Fidelity?

I remember returning from our nation’s capital where I was privileged to spend time with many of the highest ranking officers in the military. If you have ever wondered if there is anyone in the upper echelon of the military who loves Christ, wonder no longer. Many of these men and women are magnificent models of strong Christian commitment who frequently put their faith on the line.

While sitting around a table one morning, the subject of moral purity surfaced. They spoke of the importance of an officer’s having a clean record and maintaining strong character traits if he or she hoped to be trusted in larger realms and promoted to higher ranks. Their commitment to personal integrity was expressed so spontaneously and sincerely.

As I listened to them, I was humiliated to think that a standard of high moral character was still of paramount importance among military officers while within the ranks of the clergy an epidemic of impurity rages.

As Christian leaders, we need to reaffirm our commitment to moral purity and to private lives that are absolutely free of secret sins. While forgiveness continues to be the pulse-beat of a grace-oriented ministry, a firm commitment to holiness remains vital. Those who adopt a deceptive, compromising life of hypocrisy are responsible for the damage that occurs when they are found out. Nor are the consequences erased, even though they may repent and seek the Lord’s and others’ forgiveness.

Often, we are too quick to breeze past the damage that has been done, attempting to hurry the process of forgiveness at the expense of the restoration process. A contrite heart has no expectations and makes no demands; it acknowledges that the deception and the extent of continued sin result in the continued forfeiture of many of the privileges that were once enjoyed. Please read that again. If you’ve gotten soft on this issue, stop and read the daily reading suggested above. Don’t try to explain these verses away. They mean exactly what they say.

The issue here is not a lack of forgiveness; it’s the faulty thinking that forgiveness is synonymous with the returning of all rights and privileges.

Never has the truth of Peter’s words resounded more clearly: “It is time for judgment to begin with the household of God” (1 Pet. 4:17).

As believers, we need to reaffirm our commitment to moral purity and to private lives that are absolutely free of secret sins.

by Charles R. Swindoll

Men’s Devotion – May 11, 2015

Men’s Devotion: May 11, 2015

Luke 4:18, 19, NKJV

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to
the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; To
proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Praying the Promises for Deliverance

On one of Jesus’s visits to the synagogue He was invited to read the scripture. He chose
to read from Isaiah 61:1, 2—the passage above. Once Jesus read the passage Jesus made
it clear to the people attending on that day that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s
prophecy. The good news for us today is that Jesus is still the one to deliver us from
our sin and bondage. We can be free from sin and controlling life habits they will
eventually destroy us. So I pray, “Jesus, the Spirit of the Lord is on You to anoint You
to preach good news to me. You proclaim freedom for me from the prison of sin. You remove
my spiritual blindness and bring me sight. You bring release to me when I am oppressed. I
receive Your deliverance and liberty today.”

Waiting on God: A Plea in Prayer

Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on Thee.” Ps 25:21

For the third time in this psalm we have the word wait. As before in verse 5, “On Thee do I wait all the day”, so here, too, the believing supplicant appeals to God to remember that he is waiting on Him, looking for an answer. It is a great thing for a soul not only to wait upon God, but to be filled with such a consciousness that its whole spirit and position is that of a waiting one, that it can, in childlike confidence, say, Lord! Thou knowest, I wait on Thee. It will prove a mighty plea in prayer, giving ever-increasing boldness of expectation to claim the promise, “They that wait on Me shall not be ashamed!”

The prayer in connection with which the plea is put forth here is one of great importance in the spiritual life. If we draw nigh to God, it must be with a true heart. There must be perfect integrity, whole-heartedness, in our dealing with God. As we read in the next Psalm (26:1,11). “Judge me, O Lord, for I have walked in mine integrity”, “As for me, I walk in my integrity”, there must be perfect uprightness or single-heartedness before God, as it is written, “His righteousness is for the upright in heart”.

The soul must know that it allows nothing sinful, nothing doubtful; if it is indeed to meet the Holy One, and receive His full blessing, it must be with a heart wholly and singly given up to His will. The whole spirit that animates us in the waiting must be, “Let integrity and uprightness” – Thou seest that I desire to come so to Thee, Thou knowest I am looking to Thee to work them perfectly in me; – let them “preserve me, for I wait on Thee.”

And if at our first attempt truly to live the life of fully and always waiting on God, we begin to discover how much that perfect integrity is wanting, this will just be one of the blessings which the waiting was meant to work. A soul cannot seek close fellowship with God, or attain the abiding consciousness of waiting on Him all the day, without a very honest and entire surrender to all His will.

“For I wait on Thee”: it is not only in connection with the prayer of our text but with every prayer that this plea may be used. To use it often will be a great blessing to ourselves. Let us therefore study the words well until we know all their bearings. It must be clear to us what we are waiting for. There may be very different things. It may be waiting for God in our times of prayer to take his place as God, and to work in us the sense of HIS holy presence and nearness. It may be a special petition, to which we are expecting an answer. It may be our whole inner life, in which we are on the lookout for God’s putting forth of His power. It may be the whole state of His Church and saints, or some part of His work, for which our eyes are ever toward Him. It is good that we sometimes count up to ourselves exactly what the things are we are waiting for, and as we say definitely of each of them, “On Thee do I wait”, we shall be emboldened to claim the answer, “For on Thee do I wait.”

It must also be clear to us, on Whom we are waiting. Not an idol, a God of whom we have made an image by our conceptions of what He is. No, but the living God, such as He really is in His great glory, His infinite holiness, His power, wisdom, and goodness, in His love and nearness. It is the presence of a beloved or a dreaded master that wakens up the whole attention of the servant who waits on him. It is the presence of God, as He can in Christ by His Holy Spirit make Himself known, and keep the soul under its covering and shadow, that will waken and strengthen the true waiting spirit. Let us be still and wait and worship till we know how near He is, and then say, “On Thee do I wait”.

And then, let it be very clear, too, that we are waiting. Let that become so much our consciousness that the utterance comes spontaneously, “On Thee I do wait all the day; I wait on Thee”. This will indeed imply sacrifice and separation, a soul entirely given up to God as its all, its only joy. This waiting on God has hardly yet been acknowledged as the only true Christianity. And yet, if it be true that God alone is goodness and joy and love; if it be true that our highest blessedness is in having as much of God as we can; if it be true that Christ has redeemed us wholly for God, and made a life of continual abiding in His presence possible, nothing less ought to satisfy than to be ever breathing this blessed atmosphere, “I wait on Thee”.

“My soul, wait thou only on God!”

By Andrew Murray

Breaking Free From Bondage

Do you truly enjoy the grace of God? Many Christians know the Bible, attend church and even do ministry work while they struggle to understand the core of the gospel. They can quote Scriptures about what Christ did for them, but they still feel they must work to earn His love—and often they end up feeling unworthy and separated from God.

Even though Jesus died on the cross so we wouldn’t have to be judged according to the law, many Christians are still living in the Old Testament. They have never embraced the reality of New Testament faith. They are slaves to performance-based religion.

The apostle Paul wrote the epistle of Galatians to challenge us to make sure we remain in the grace of God. Do you struggle with legalism? Here are the most common signs of a legalistic spirit:

1. Lack of true joy. Jesus didn’t forgive us of our sins so we could be sour-faced and sad. Yet I’ve met hundreds of Christians who looked like they were attending a funeral when they came to a church service. Why? Legalism kills joy. When someone has an encounter with God’s mercy, their hearts always overflow with praise and gratitude. The apostle Paul wrote: “The kingdom of God is … righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). There’s no such thing as Christianity without joy.

2. No real victory over sin. All Christians struggle with temptations. But a person with a legalistic mindset finds it difficult to receive the grace of God to overcome sinful habits. Are you striving to break free from a particular sin in your own strength? You cannot do this on your own! We must admit our weakness and to invite the Holy Spirit to give us supernatural power to live a holy life. It is the indwelling Spirit of Christ who gives us victory—not your straining and sweating. Relax and let Him live His life in you!

3. Unhealthy performance orientation. God is a loving Father, and He wants us to lavish us with His affirmation and encouragement. Yet many Christians don’t have a revelation of God’s unconditional love. They feel they must earn His love by reading the Bible, praying and performing other religious tasks. Do you ever feel God is mad at you because you overslept and missed your morning devotions? He wants you to spend time with Him, but not to fulfill a duty. Chill out and just enjoy His love!

4. A critical, unloving attitude toward others. People who don’t understand God’s grace cannot extend grace to anyone else. This is why some Christians are hateful toward unbelievers. When you understand how much mercy God extended to forgive you, it’s easy to show mercy to other people who don’t deserve it! When you hear Christians using harsh language to condemn Muslims, atheists, liberals or gay people, you have just identified a legalistic spirit.

5. Obsessive focus on outward standards of dress or behavior. Some Christian denominations have taught that God demands strict conformity to dress codes. Some churches in the past have condemned makeup, jewelry, pants and short hair for women. Others taught it was wrong for Christians to play sports, play cards, dance, wear wedding rings, go to movies, wear jeans in church or even own a television! Yet God emphasizes inner holiness rather than outward conformity. When you walk in grace, the Spirit will lead you to dress and act in a way that honors Him, but this will not conform to a man-made religious code.

6. Bondage to religious tradition. The Pharisees rejected Jesus because they couldn’t leave Old Covenant religion behind. A legalistic spirit says, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Some people rejected a new move of the Holy Spirit because they didn’t like a new style of music. Some churches today are in danger of missing God because they want to live like it is still 1973. Legalistic people tend to fight any new move of God. Remember: God is unchangeable in His nature, but He does new things. We must stay in step with Him.

7. A sectarian attitude toward other Christians. People who don’t understand God’s grace believe they have a corner on truth, so they cannot accept the fact that the Holy Spirit might be moving in other denominations. Some churches even teach that they are the only people going to heaven. If your church believes they are the only true Christians, exit quickly. Legalism is toxic! Find a church that embraces the whole body of Christ.

8. Little or no assurance of salvation. People with a legalistic mindset often doubt their salvation because they trust their own obedience instead of Christ. When you receive the grace of God, the Bible says your heart will cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15). One true encounter with Jesus will cause you to know that God has adopted you—and that He will never abandon you.

The apostle Paul wrote: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). If you haven’t experienced this freedom, ask the Holy Spirit to fill every area where legalism has distorted your understanding of God.

Don’t fall for a graceless Christianity. If you see any of these warning signs in your life, invite the Holy Spirit to set you free from legalism. Stop striving, repent of pride and ask God to open your eyes to the reality of His amazing grace.

J. Lee Grady is the former editor of Charisma. You can follow him on Twitter @leegrady. His newest book is The Truth Sets Women Free (Charisma House). You can learn more about his ministry, The Mordecai Project, at themordecaiproject.org.