Monday, January 6, 2020

Second Chances for a New Year

One of the least important questions someone can ask me is why I did or did not do something. First of all, I don’t always know why I do what I do. It’s just what I did. To ask me why is judging my motives as though I strategically plan out every action.

·       I might pull out in front of a car. I didn’t do it on purpose. I didn’t see it. But the driver of the other car speaks unkindly to me as though I targeted him to disrupt his life on purpose.
·       I go out a door and it closes on a lady coming behind me. I didn’t do it on purpose. I didn’t see her. But she labels me as an inconsiderate jerk.

Many of our choices are not made with full consideration. They aren’t planned. We don’t think about what I’m about to do. I just do.

Last week I was asked why I didn’t call for help on a project at home. How do you answer that? Well, I sat down and evaluated what needed to be done and considered if I had the strength to handle it. Knowing I wasn’t under any pressure to do the job quickly, I felt I didn’t need anyone else’s help. No, I didn’t consider calling or not calling. I simply didn’t ask for help. 

No one wants to be judged by a single moment or decision in their life. To be reduced to one incident or attitude or accident or mistake or choice would skew the whole collection of who we really are.

We’re safe drivers but in one unguarded moment we go down a hill too fast and get a ticket. Are we now a reckless speeder? What about the fact that going up the hill we went under the speed limit? Or all the rest of the times when we were careful to drive the speed limit, doesn’t any of that matter? No, because in one fraction of a second when the radar hit our car and bounced back, we’re caught breaking the law.

We were in a gift shop in Alabama a couple of months ago, and when we left, George, our three-year-old grandson, still had a rock in his hand he had been looking at. When we got outside, he asked his daddy, “Aren’t you going to pay for this.” Jody took the rock back inside and apologized. But in that one moment, by definition of a shoplifter, George was a thief. He took something out of the store without paying.

People are regularly judged by incidents and not the overall content of their lives. What they say or do in one negative moment can label them and ruin a lifetime of positive moments. In one unguarded moment, we said something that cost us a friendship. Is that one moment who we are?

There was a young boy who grew up in the time of Jesus’ ministry and the early days of the church, perhaps an early teenager when Jesus died.

We first encounter him in Mark 14:51-52 When Jesus was arrested, a young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked. 

The second time: Acts 12:11-12 When Peter came to himself, he said, "Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting." And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 

Then, when Paul and Barnabas went off on their first missionary journey, they took this young man with them. But part-way through the expedition, John Mark went home. We’re aren’t told why but it later caused serious problems when Barnabas wanted him to go on the second journey.

Acts 13:1-5, 13

What might have caused the problem with John Mark?

·       He was young. Maybe missionary work wasn’t for him.
·       John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin. Col 4:10 Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas's cousin Mark; Family connections are strong.
·       When they began it was Barnabas and Saul. Vs. 2, 6-7 John Mark may have taken up offense for Barnabas.
·       Saul changed his name to Paul. Saul was his Jewish name. Paul his Roman name. That could have offended John Mark who perhaps saw it as a betrayal of the Jewish nature of the early church.
·       Paul led a Roman official to the Lord – a Gentile. John Mark may have seen that as a compromise.

You can almost hear John Mark asking why to each of Paul’s actions. Why had built up resentment.

When the movie The Hiding Place came out in the 70s, a couple of buddies and I saw it. The reality of conditions within a concentration camp could not be overstated. It was harsh and ugly. The story of Corrie Tin Boom’s life was a message of the greatness of God regardless of circumstances. But there was one moment in one scene, lasting less than three seconds, where you see the naked backside of a lady being stripped. My friend threw the whole movie away because of that one three second moment. That was all he saw of the whole movie and for him those three seconds ruined the rest of it. 

Did John Mark have a moment like that? Whatever it was that made it impossible for John Mark to continue the missionary journey, he left them at Pamphylia. And it left a negative impression with Paul. Paul defined John Mark by that one decision.

Man joined a monastery. Took a vow of silence. He could only speak two words at the end of each year. First year: bad food. Second: hard bed. Third: I quit. The head monk said, “I’m not surprised. You’ve done nothing but complain since you’ve been here.”

Acts 15:36-41 – Sharp disagreement means a violent separation. 
In the earlier account all it says was John Mark left them. Here, Paul describes it as deserted. It was a bigger deal to Paul than it was to Barnabas. Could be their temperaments or spiritual gifts.

Barnabas was known as an encourager. Acts 4:36-37 Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. 

Encouragers want to lift up the fallen, heal the broken-hearted, restore the misguided. They want to alleviate the suffering, stop the affliction even to the extent they will interfere when God is bringing in tribulation to test a person. If there are extremes to the use of the gifts, the upside of an encourager is to lift up. The downside is to enable, which actually keeps them down.

To Barnabas, John Mark could learn a valuable lesson from his mistake. He just needed more attention. So Barnabas invested time in John Mark.

Paul, on the other hand, was a passionate missionary. He had a mission, a driving force guiding his every move. To complete the mission, he would not take time for those who rejected his purpose or message. 

Acts 13:38-43; 44-51

In Paul’s mind, John Mark failed. That failure marked him, so Paul set him aside and went on. Barnabas took him under wing.

Then there’s a gap. Nothing else is heard of from John Mark until the end of Paul’s life. We do know that somewhere along the way he wrote the Gospel of Mark, but the other details are silent. Until…

2Tim 4:9-11 Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. 

So, at the end of his life, John Mark is useful for service to Paul. Necessary for completing a job. You can hammer with pliers, pry things open with a screwdriver, open a box with keys, but each tool has a design for more useful service. Paul may have had many who could help him, but John Mark was now a useful tool.

All we’re left with is the evidence their relationship turned around. We don’t know how, but to go from deserter to useful is a major jump. What might have happened?

·       Paul realized John Mark was immature on the first journey. Since then, he had seen his maturity and recognized God’s had on John Mark’s life.
·       Perhaps somewhere along the way they reconnected, and John Mark asked Paul to forgive him for a regretful decision.
·       Maybe Paul asked John Mark to forgive him for judging him so harshly.

Whatever happened, somehow that that divided them was healed and brought back together. What had come to a head in a moment in time in Pamphylia was now reconciled to the greater need of relationship.

What else is this story about? Second chances. We see it between two men but it reveals a much bigger picture.

Just because Paul wrote John Mark off, God didn’t. God had major plans for him.
Just because John Mark made a choice to walk out on the first missionary journey, God didn’t walk out on him for future usefulness.

Our failure or sin doesn’t surprise the Lord. In fact, He is prepared for our failure. He even factors it in.

Sign: The Call of God factors in our stupidity.

Ps 103:13-14 Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. 

We ride on a narrow rail of good or bad, pleasing or unpleasing, responsive or rebellious, of walking in the Spirit or walking in the flesh. Yet, we’re surprised when we stumble, as though we never thought we could. God knows we will. 

Ps 37:23-28 The steps of a man are established by the LORD, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the LORD is the One who holds his hand. I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread. All day long he is gracious and lends, and his descendants are a blessing. Depart from evil and do good, so you will abide forever. For the LORD loves justice and does not forsake His godly ones; they are preserved forever.

So, we’re carrying this huge burden from a past failure and, because of it, we keep stumbling and falling, what do we do? We take God’s hand and get back up. We don’t stay down. The only failure from falling not getting back up and from then on characterizing ourselves as a failure.  

How? Acknowledge the disappointment we’ve caused. Nathan confronted David with his sin. David had committed adultery which produced a child, then had the woman’s husband killed to cover up what he had done. What was the first thing he did? Ps 51:2-4 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight,
Ps 51 is the OT version of our 1 Jn 1:9. Claim it.

·       Acknowledge what caused the failure. The why is immaterial. When I deal with why I get defensive. By dealing with what, I have no defense.
·       Claim the provision for restoration that God provides in forgiveness.
·       Receive and live in the freedom of being restored to fellowship with Him.

But how do I deal with the failure?

In 1519, Captain Hernán Cortés landed in Veracruz to begin his great conquest. Upon arriving, he gave the order to his men to burn the ships. This sent a clear message to his 600 men: There is no turning back. We don’t look behind, we look ahead.

Paul said: Phil 3:12-14 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

After a fire that destroyed Thomas Edison’s research complex, he looked at the ruins and said, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.”
Because of God’s forgiveness we get a second chance. We don’t have to be labeled by our mistakes from the past. When we confess our sins to God, we can watch them be consumed as in a bonfire. Now we’re free. What an excellent opportunity to start over. 


  1. Who I was is not who I am.
  2. Who I am is not who I want to be.
  3. Who I want to be is a person who reflects of the goodness of my God and not one defined by mistakes from the past.
  4. Therefore, I will confess my failures and trust in God’s cleansing of my sin which restores me to what He designed me to be.
  5. Today, I choose God’s second chance.

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