THERE’S TROUBLE BREWING!…Acts 15: 36-41

There’s trouble brewing!  It began when Paul and Barnabas sailed from the island of Cyprus for the Turkish port city of Perga.  In Acts 13:13 the writer Luke tells us that John Mark ‘…left them to return to Jerusalem.’  If that’s all we know, we’d think that nothing is out-of-the-ordinary.  Maybe John Mark has other commitments?  A message to take home to the Apostles?

A few chapters later in Acts, we’re told that something has broken out between these missionary partners, Paul and Barnabas.  All because of John Mark.  You see Paul wants to travel back to the towns where new believers need encouragement and teaching.  Barnabas, the ‘Son of Encouragement’, would certainly have said a hearty ‘amen’ to that!  But here a discovery is made.  John Mark did not just go home or take up a new mission.  No.  The Bible says that ‘…he had deserted them'(Acts 15: 38).  Deserter!  John Mark, who happens to be Barnabas’ cousin, has abandoned them.

Can you imagine?  Luke says ‘they(Paul and Barnabas) had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company'(Acts 15: 39).  A major blow-up.  ‘Take John Mark with us?’  ‘Of course’, says Barnabas!  ‘No way’, says Paul!  Swords are sharpened.  Words are spoken.  Happens only in the early church?  Don’t you wish.  Happens today more than I can count, and I’ve never been good at math!  I’ve witnessed a few sickening church battles.  Sometimes the disillusionment lingers for many years.   Dead… but refusing burial.  Others have failed us, and we have failed them.  In church, no less.

Here’s one lesson from this story.  My take.  Don’t let troubles and bitterness brew…  Does require His assistance.  And our maturity.  Don’t allow those traumatic times to stop you in your tracks.  Learn from them.  Move on.  It takes time, I know.  More than we realize.

Let the pain go.  Someone needs to do this today.  Maybe you?  Someone else?  Share this devotional.  Why not?   Hear what God has to say… to YOU and ME!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for helping us to let go of what holds us back in life.  We need your help.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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SOMEONE WHO DOES WHAT?…Acts 4: 36-37 and Chapter 9

His given name was Joseph.  From the family of Levi, who were priest’s assistants in Jerusalem’s Temple.  Israel was defeated and exiled by 586BC.  God’s people then worshipped in local synagogues wherever they lived.  Joseph was from the island of Cyprus, with a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles.  He was special to the Apostles.  So much so that they gave him the nickname of Barnabas, ‘the Son of Encouragement’!

Turning to Acts chapter 9, we find Barnabas in a bit of a fix.  Word has gotten around that some ferocious persecutor of the church has become one of them. Who?  Saul?  Are you kidding?  Yes, Saul himself says that on the road to Damascus, He has encountered the living Jesus, whom he now calls his Lord!  Oy Vey?   The enemy?  Now, a brother?  Maybe the arch con?  Didn’t Jesus warn us about wolves in sheep’s clothing(Matthew 7:15)?

Fear and trembling spread like wildfire.  ‘Lord, deliver us from the likes of Saul of Tarsus’!  Who could blame these early Christians?  I can’t.  The Lord heard their cries, and He answered them by bringing Saul to faith in Jesus.  But, no one wants to take a chance on him.  No one…except Barnabas!

The Bible says that Barnabas brought him to the Apostles, telling them all about Saul’s meeting the risen Jesus on that Damascus road .  Barnabas tells them that Saul, the persecutor, is now Saul, the preacher.  Here’s where I notice something special about Barnabas.  How did he know about what happened to Saul?  Not by e-mail, text message or tract.  Hardly.  Barnabas knew the whole story from the lips of Saul himself.  So what, you say?

Barnabas heard… because he listened.  He wanted to know all about Saul, so he listened to him.  Paid attention.  All ears.  When someone listens to you, and you know when they are, it can be such an amazing experience.  A level of caring and acceptance rarely felt.  Know what I mean?  What an encouragement when someone bothers to listen to us.  To hear us out.  Tune in to our wave length.  Keeping their ‘big mouths’, well, you-know-what(I’m speaking of myself!).

Want to encourage someone today?  You get the point!  Listen.  Hear their story.  Hold back yours.  That was Barnabas.  God wants more children of encouragement.  Like you…and me?

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for always listening to us.  We love you and want to listen to you as well.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

A WORTHY ROLE MODEL…Acts 4: 32-37

Apart from Jesus, there was one person in the New Testament that I preached on most often.  Can you guess?  If it was Barnabas, you get a gold medal.  Try to collect!

He’s a worthy role model.  Barnabas.  He’s first mentioned in Acts chapter four.  Might want to read the entire chapter.  You’ll discover the church at its very beginning, at its very best.  Uniting in prayer, sharing what they owned, telling others about the Lord Jesus, no one having unmet needs.  In verse 36 we’re introduced to one of the members, who personifies all the best qualities of new life in Christ.  His name was Joseph.  I’m sure he was named ‘Joseph’ as a prayer of his parents that his life would mirror Joseph in the Old Testament.

This Joseph was a Levite.  Of the family of Levi, who served the Lord by assisting the priests in the Tabernacle and the Temple.  Servants, assistants, who stood alongside others with encouragement and help.  He was from the island of Cyprus, off the Mediterranean coast.   Many Gentiles lived there amidst a large, robust Jewish community.  He could mix-it-up with those who were different from himself.  He knew what life was like in the real world.

All the apostles loved Joseph.  They even gave him a nickname, one which fit him to a tee.  They called him ‘Barnabas’, which means ‘Son of Encouragement’!  A worthy name!  Fit like a glove, with Joseph never again called by his given name in the New Testament.  Now, and always, ‘the Son of Encouragement’–Barnabas!  He must have given a lift to all who came in contact with him.  Saw the very best in people.  Gave others a second chance.  Thought before he spoke.  Was kind rather than nitpicky and cutting.  A worthy role model?  Who wouldn’t want to be more like Barnabas?  Wouldn’t you?

Really?  Then look for opportunities that come your way.  To say a kind word.  Offer an uplifting thought.  Help someone in need.  Bite your tongue!  Tell someone about Jesus.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be like Barnabas?  What’s stopping you?  Or me?

Prayer:  Lord, we want to be like Barnabas.  Help us to be ‘sons and daughters of encouragement’.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

WHICH GENERATION ARE YOU? …Psalm 24

Hardly a day goes by when we don’t hear some reference to the different generations that make up society.  I’m a Baby Boomer, one of countless millions born after World War 2.  Before us is the Greatest Generation.  After are the X and Y Generations, the Millenials, and then who-knows-what?!  I can’t keep up!

Spending time in Psalm 24, I read this:  ‘Such is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob'(verse 6).  Those who seek the Lord–who want to be close to Him, hearing His Word, sitting at His feet.  Is that you?  It’s me!  Then, you and I are of the same generation.  The Seeking Generation!

When I think of the word ‘seek’, I picture someone actively searching, wanting to find out something.  On the lookout.  Works at it.  Strives.  Intent.  Have I mentioned that I bought two new Thesauri?!   Nothing passive about seekers.  Not content to be a half-baked believer.  No saint on Sunday, the devil thereafter.  No way.  Not for a seeker after the Lord.  Not for a second.

We want to follow Him.  Perfectly?  Hardly!  But our intent is in His direction.  Jesus knows that.  He knows our hearts.  What does He know about you?  Or me?  Are we in His generation?  The ones who seek Him?  Both feet in.  Off the fence.  Hat in the ring.

If not, tell Him you want to be.  That you believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life(John 14:6).  That you want to walk away from a life that in no way honors God.  Now… to follow Him.  Tell Him that.  And you’ll find yourself in ‘the generation that seeks Him’!  So, when someone asks you what generation you were born into, tell them,  ‘I’m in the Generation that Seeks the Lord!’  And that they can be also!  That’s our generation!  Even more– we are family in Jesus Christ!  ‘Such is the generation of those who seek Him…’

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for placing us securely in your family.  The family of God.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

SUCH GREAT MEMORIES!…Job 23: 8-12

I have such great memories of the 1964-5 New York World’s Fair!  Was a teenager, who the year before had responded to the invitation to receive Jesus Christ into my life.  A brand-new believer, who knew nothing about the Bible.  When I say nothing, I sadly mean it!  Listening to the Good News on the radio, I grabbed hold of what I was hearing.  Lunged toward Him in simple faith.  That started the great journey of my life.

The next year, my Dad and I were off to the World’s Fair!  We lived maybe an hour from Flushing Meadows, where the  World’s Fair was held.  Went twelve times during those two years.  Twelve times!  My Dad loved it almost as much as I did.  He never would have gone on his own for my mother was content to stay within the four walls of home.

All those sights, sounds and smells of the New York World’s Fair!  We gawked at exhibits by General Motors, Walt Disney, General Electric, and Michelangelo’s marble ‘Pieta’ in the Vatican Pavilion.  First time for a Belgian Waffle–yummy, yummy in my tummy!

Memories still vivid.  One has had a lasting impact on my life.  It was at the Billy Graham Pavilion.  Yes, he had one at the Fair!  There I signed up for my first Bible study course, which included the gift of a modern translation of the Bible.   I still treasure it.  I thank God for Billy Graham.  He was the one I heard on the radio the year before.  Now, it’s time for getting into God’s Word.

As Job said:  ‘…I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily bread'(Job 23: 12).  It’s God’s Word I took away with me from the World’s Fair.  The Bible is the treasure God has given me to learn of Him and to love Him.  What could be better?  The same gift that Jesus gives to you.  Better than Belgian waffles!  Better that the whitest marble masterpiece!  The Bible…more meaningful than ever, decades and decades after the gates were closed forever on that New York World’s Fair!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for people who share Jesus.  May I be one who does that for someone else today.  In His name.  Amen.

 

THANK YOU, DEAR FRIENDS! …Luke 10: 25-27

A friend from our church family sends birthday greetings with this verse:  ‘Happy Birthday to you, to your Savior be true, everyday read your Bible, Happy Birthday to you!’  Obediently, I’m reading my Bible at Luke chapter 10.  A high-and-mighty religious leader comes to Jesus to test Him, put Him off-balance with this loaded question–  ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

Without hesitation, Jesus tells him to love the Lord with all you are and have, and your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus’ answer comes from the Old Testament.  Nothing new…but rarely acted upon.  I like what our good friends, Jack and Maggie Littler,  from Australia, wrote to us–‘what this sorry world needs is lots of  L…O…V…E!’  Agreed!  More importantly, Jesus would say ‘amen’!

Luke chapter 10.  ‘What must I do?…’  Jesus puts His finger on the pulse.  First, love the Lord.  Without this starting point, everything else goes awry.  Loving God means telling Him that…and meaning it by obeying Him.  Following Him.  Letting Him take the lead.

But there’s more.  The part about loving neighbors.  Pretty obvious, isn’t it?  But, we’ve had neighbors who made our lives miserable.  To love them involved staying away, avoiding confrontation as best we could, wishing them well, praying for them.  More than that would have been reckless and foolhardy.  Love doesn’t have to be over-the-top.

Then Jesus mentions loving self.  Here’s one we’re good at, without even trying!  Focusing inward.  Navel-gazing.  The unholy trinity of ‘me, I, and myself’.  Not what Jesus means.

First things first!  Love the Lord.  Our goal in life is to glorify Him.  To cherish Him above all.  Not to the exclusion of neighbor and self.  But He’s primary.  Not for His ‘goodies’, but for Him.  When we love Him, we can’t help but care about those around us.  Neighbors–near and far.  Loving ourselves?  When the first and second are properly aligned, this one will not be too far out-of-whack.  Always have to work at it, like jugglers and plate-spinners in the circus, not wanting any to fall and break.

Thanks, church friend, for the good reminder: ‘every day read your Bible’.  And Jack and Maggie, that love is so needed by us and the whole world.  I’m thankful for good friends and the Great Friend of all who trust in Him, the Love of our lives…forever!

Prayer:  Thank you, Lord, for all the love you have for us.  We love you and want to share you with those near us.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

HEARTFELT WORDS…Hosea 14

One of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible is Hosea 14.  Hosea may be included in the ‘Minor Prophet’s, but nothing minor about his message to us.  Not at all.  He begins this chapter by calling God’s wayward people back to Him saying, ‘Return O Israel, to the Lord your God’.  He then urges them to confession, repentance and sorrow for their sin.

‘Take words with you…’   Heartfelt words.  Mean what you say and say what you mean.  When I look at my own life, there is much to shake my head at.  I too must come to the Lord in honesty, openness, humility and confession.  Am I the only one?

Asking forgiveness.  Depending on His grace and mercy.  Offering Him the ‘fruit of our lips'(v.2).  Fruit of prayer and praise.  Reading verses 4-7 you’ll see the long list of blessings coming from our Lord.  Amazing ones!  Like healing our sinful ways.  Turning us, more and more, His way.  Loving us with a flood of divine affection that never dries up.  As dew on the ground in a parched land causing flowers to grow and bloom.  Our roots getting deeper and deeper into our God like those of the cedars of Lebanon.

The Lord says in verse 8 that ‘I am like a green pine tree…’  Two of my aunts had a primitive cabin on a small lake in the backwoods of rural New Jersey.  Pine trees were everywhere.  Though I never liked that place, I’ll never forget the aroma of fresh pine in the air.  Certainly not the cabin or the lake or the abysmally long drive to get there, but what’s memorable is the air, crisp and fresh, clean and pleasant.  The scent of pine was in the air!

The point being?  All our blessings come from the Lord.  All of them.  Each and every one.  Admit it.  It’s true.  ‘…your fruitfulness comes from me'(v.8).  Today, we offer to God heartfelt words of praise and thanksgiving.  And especially for His Son Jesus, who makes our life worth living!  Amen?

Prayer:  Lord, from our lips to your ears, may you enjoy our love and thanks today.  And everyday.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

SOMETIMES THIS, SOMETIMES THAT…Joshua 5: 10-12

For 40 years in the desert, God has provided for His people.  Many of us have had careers that long.  I have.  Pastor…financial planner…pastor again…writer.  God has provided abundantly for me, even though I have messed up more times than I like to think about or admit.  As I said,  He has been faithful to me.

Shortly after leaving Egypt, God’s people suffer a memory lapse.  They were slaves in Egypt.  Hard-work under harsh conditions in a climate that saps every bit of energy and hope.  Now free,  yet they grumble and complain, whine and kvetch.  Numbers 11: 4-6 tells all.  Not a pretty sound from those whom the Lord has liberated, led and fed.  He gives them ‘manna’ every day.  A double portion Friday morning, so they don’t have to work on the Sabbath.  Only rest and worship for that special day.

In Hebrew language, ‘manna’ means ‘what is it?’  Could tell they were not thankful from the tone in their voices!  Now, it’s forty years later.  Moses has died.  Joshua is God’s man for Israel.  They celebrate a magnificent Passover, reminding them of God’s deliverance from Egypt.  The very next day they begin to eat the produce of the Promised Land(Joshua 5).  ‘Manna’ ends within a day or two.  No more ‘what is it?’ for them!  Fruit and vegetables like they had in Egypt, but now as liberated people.  Free to worship the One true God!

‘Manna’ for 40 years.  Now the produce of the land, that they had worked for.  Clearing and preparing the fields, planting seed, caring for new growth, patiently waiting for the harvest.  Sometimes this…sometimes that.

Sometimes God needs to carry us as we are weak, broken and fragile.  Like a precious piece of Chinaware.   He leads us carefully, by the hand, cradling us in His arms, gently and lovingly.  Our burdens…on His shoulders.

Sometimes, though, He says to go out, work hard, ‘cultivate your fields’.  Struggle through it, deal with it, hang in there, grow up and harvest His provision through your hands and your hard work.

‘Manna’ from Him…one day.  ‘Produce of Canaan’…the next.  Sometimes this…sometimes that.  Praise the Lord… for His care and provision!  And strength to work!  All from His hands!

Prayer:  Oh Lord, we are your grateful people.  Whether you carry us or strengthen us to do our work, we know that all comes from you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

LIVING WATER!…John 4: 1-26

Living in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, we usually experience much more than ‘the scent of water’ that Job mentions in Job 14:9.  Usually a gentle mist, but can be downpours accompanied by thunder and lightning(hardly enough of both for my taste!).   Rain–for a good part of the year(until mid-May when ‘good’ is no longer the operative word!).  Lots of water.  Rivers and lakes, full.  Towering mountains covered with snow like icing on a cake.  Not anything like the climate of either Job or Jesus.  Parched and hot for much of the year.   That ‘scent of water’ was always welcome in their land.

My wife and I travelled to Jordan to visit one of the amazing cities of the ancient world–Petra.  The picture always displayed of Petra is but one of its buildings, the ‘Treasury’.  Trust me–that’s but the tip of the iceberg.  No ice in Petra the day we visited.  Temperatures reached 120 degrees.  Oy vey, that’s broiling!  We brought lots of bottled water with us.  Seemed like we were carrying way too much.  Wrong!

We walked what seemed like a couple miles from where the tour bus let us off.  How in the world, or in Petra, could they ever build such structures using the primitive tools they must have had?  Today, the ‘smarties’ can’t figure out how.  But build they did!  We walked and climbed, drank every drop of water we had.  Not even a ‘scent of water’ left.  After we ditched our slow-poke, lazy tour guide, we had over five hours to tour Petra.  A pleasure… until thirst grabbed our necks and throats.  Felt like we were made of recycled cardboard.  Drank everything.  Never quenched.

Finally,  hiked back to the hotel where we had lunch.  Did we drink every drop of ice water that was placed in front of our dehydrated mouths?  Seemed like we downed gallons.  Later we ordered ice water from room service and they brought us a tub filled to the brim.  Consumed every last drop!

Will I ever get to John chapter 4?  Glad you asked!  This woman at the well is offered ‘living water'(4:10) by Jesus.  ‘Living water’ never runs out.  His well never dries up.  You’ll never thirst again(4:13).  Of course, Jesus is not referring to our bone-dry mouths, but to our relationship with Him.  ‘Drinking’ of Him, drawing nearby reading our Bibles,  praying and obeying Him, will help keep thirst at bay.  Our thirst for forgiveness, healthy relationships and salvation will all be quenched by Jesus.  He gives us more and more…of Himself.  Not only that scent of water.  Thirsty today?  Jesus offers ‘Living Water’!  Stay close to the source… to Him!

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for ‘living water’.  For Jesus in all His abundance.  Amen.

 

THIS LITTLE LIGHT WILL DO!…Job 14: 7-9

We were at the Mount of Olives.  Should have been black-and-blue all over from pinching ourselves with what we were seeing in the Holy Land.  Were we in a dream?  Is all this real?  We’re strolling through the Garden of Gethsemene at the foot of the Mount of Olives.  Looking at old olive trees.  Some may have been from the time of Jesus!  See what I mean about pinching ourselves?  In the Garden, gazing across the Kidron Valley, to the city of Jerusalem, with the Temple Mount less than half a mile away.  My wife and I could only shake our heads in wonder!

The olive trees were gnarled, twisted, chopped-off, rather dead looking.  Not a pretty sight.  A tree only its mother could love!  We wondered–are they dead?  They appear to be less than alive!  Upon closer examination, you could see, from the side of the trunk, new shoots displaying life.  New growth…as they had for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Job, is certainly feeling rather down-and-out, like a withered old olive tree.  With but a drop of water, all that would change.  Listen–‘At least there is hope for a tree:  if it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail.  Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant'(Job 14: 7-9).  I love that phrase–‘…at the scent of water…’  A hint of mist, and things begin to happen.  A slight increase in humidity and new life begins to stir.

For us, too.  A whiff of added prayer.  A dash of encouragement.  A dollop more giving.  A smidgen extra Bible reading.  A pinch more witnessing.  Gradually, little by little, shoots spring forth, leaves appear, fruit produced.   Healthy growth for the Lord.

You don’t have much to offer Him?  Neither do I.  As a little boy, I used to play a vinyl record of the song ‘This Little Light of Mine’.  I’d play it over-and-over again.  Don’t have to be a big, blazing light.  Only a little one.  Key is to let it shine.  Don’t hide it.  Shine for Jesus.  Will He bless your little light that shines for Him?  Try it…you’ll see!

Prayer:  Lord, let us shine for you.  No matter how big or small our lamps, let us shine them so others can see you.   Jesus, the Light of the World!  Amen.