How can we overcome the failures and division in our lives?
I just want to say greetings to my friends at Cornerstone Church. I’ve been preaching here I think every year for the last 20 years, and that when I was a young man. The one thing I really like about this church, Cornerstone, is the people. I love coming live and chatting with people. Praying with people like Priscilla. Chatting with Mark, Richard, some of the music people like Phil, Fern or greeters like Sheila, the staff, Pastor Terry, and the rest of the people.
I can’t see you live, but I want to share this message with you during these very difficult times. I got to tell you that challenges and difficult challenges often throw a curve in our walk with God and also our emotional stability. Oftentimes, we feel that somehow we are failures because something unforeseen happened.
Now, challenges and unforeseen challenges aren’t always bad. Take, for instance, for me, during this shelter in place, and now, there’re these fires, complex fires, the air is really bad, and you might think, “Oh, that’s must be very terrible on you, Jeff.” Well, not really because even though I’d learned to be a public speaker and I’ve learned to greet people, I am basically an introvert at heart. So, I recharge when I’m alone, so this is fine. Actually, I’m more energetic and I actually do more.
Some challenges are beneficial to you. Other challenges may not be beneficial, but you can figure it out. It will be beneficial. What do you mean? Take, for instance, this sermon and video. You don’t know, but this is the third time I’m taping this message. The first time, the sound was no good. The second time, there was a glare on my glasses. The video didn’t look good. I want to look younger, too. I don’t want to wear glasses. I have to wear glasses because that’s my look. That’s my look, and if I didn’t, then I couldn’t see.
You know what though? You could work it out. I Figured out how to do the sound. I’m going to do some podcasting in the future I realized. I just ordered a pre-amp for my microphone from Amazon, good old Amazon, $39.95. Then, Vincent told me, “You got to put my ring light as far away as possible and angle it more so you don’t get the glare.” See? It’s difficult. I wish I didn’t have to record this three times, but you know what? You learn things, and if you put your nose to the proverbial grindstone, you get better.
Some challenges are downright ornery, especially when they involve failure. Change that doesn’t involve failure, that it’s just the conditions of this planet Earth, of California, yeah, they’re bad. We can adjust because we don’t take it personally.
Yes, but when you fail or it causes a division amongst friends, a separation, oh, wow, let’s really take that to heart. Okay, that really throws you for the proverbial loop.
What do we do as believers when we come across these situations of failure and division of breaking of friendships? Does it happen? What do we do about it?
Well, the passage I’ve chosen is found in the Book of Acts, Chapter 15. I’m going to read Verse 36. It goes like this. “And after some days, Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return to every city where we proclaim the Word of the Lord and see how they are.’ Now, Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark, but Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.” Now, here’s an interesting part, Verse 39. “And there arose a sharp disagreement so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia strengthening the churches.”
Now, believe it or not, this was a really messy situation. In the Book of Acts, usually, the problems of the Church one where there was persecution from the outside. That’s one of the themes in the Book of Acts. Sometimes, it was a theological question. Acts 15 talks about the Jerusalem Council. This one was unusual because it was a disagreement and failure amongst leaders of the Church. Some may think this should never happen. That you should pray about it and come to an agreement. No, no, no, no. This was really messy. It would not end that way. Even though praying about it and coming to a consensus is always probably the best option.
Why was this so messy? First, it involved the failure of Mark, John Mark. According to this text, Paul did not want to take him because he had withdrawn. He had withdrawn in a missionary journey back in Acts 13. Paul didn’t want to take him. Now, that what’s interesting; there’s nothing in the text in Acts 13 or in Acts 15 that tells us why John Mark left or abandoned them. There’s nothing written. Because Barnabas was open to receiving him back in the service and for the next missionary journey, we can conclude it’s not a moral failure, not a big moral failure. It was not a big theological error that he had. He just probably didn’t have the stick-to-it-ness at this time, at his age, to complete the task.
You have to understand this is a big failure because there are only three of them in this missionary journey, and this is their early church. I mean how is a church-going to spread throughout the world? One of the three that you bring decides that “This is not for me. I need to go home.”
Have you ever been in a situation that you wanted to do something for God? You had these grandiose ideas and couldn’t bring them to pass? “Oh, sometimes,” you may say, “Well, I’m going to study the Bible more.” After a few months, you don’t study the Bible. “I’m going to pray more. I’m going to be in some ministry at Cornerstone or another church. Oh, I’m now at a youth ministry,” only to realize that time, energy, and perhaps your own makeup, you couldn’t carry it through. This has a great effect on ministry because you let people down, okay? Especially, if you were in youth ministry or children’s work.
Other times, we can fail because, I think, by default, the nature of human beings have a tendency to think larger than we can actually fulfill. We make promises to people, promises to people we love, friends, and we don’t carry through. This is what happened to John Mark. He failed. He couldn’t carry through.
But there’s the second failure in this, and this was not really a failure. It was a division between the friendship between Barnabas and Paul. You see, in the early church, in the first half of the Book of Acts, Barnabas and Paul were a team. They were the pairing. They were the dynamic duo, okay?
Let’s read about how they came to know each other. Let’s look at Acts Chapter 9. Verse 26 reads like this, “And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples.” Now, who is he? He is Paul who was known as Saul back then before he changed his name, okay? He had been a persecutor of the church. When he introduced himself, everyone was afraid of him. “And they were all afraid of him for they did not believe that he was a disciple.” They thought he was a spy trying to infiltrate, ID people, have them arrested, executed.
In Verse 27, “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord who spoke to him and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.” How this team begins is very interesting. Paul or Saul back then, no one wanted to touch except one person, Barnabas. The person who took a chance on you, who believed you, who believed what you were saying, who could see through the past, the fear, and see the genuineness of the Spirit of God within you.
But it’s more than just Acts 9 and the discovery of Paul by Barnabas. Two chapters later, Verse 25. “So, Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch for a whole year. They met with the church and taught a great many people, and in Antioch, the disciples were first called Christians.” Wow. One of the highlights of this passage was how I ended the reading. This was the first time believers in Christ were called Christians. It was a result of Barnabas taking Paul, known as Saul back then, under his wings, looking for him, and co-ministering with him for a year. Imagine that. Not only does Barnabas discover Paul or believe Paul when no one else would, but Barnabas also mentors Paul and shares his ministry with him.
Now, there’s a final passage, and there are a lot of verses I’m going to read in this sermon. It’s found in Acts Chapter 13, Verse 2, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” The first place they go is they sail to Cyprus. That’s in Verse 4.
Barnabas discovers Saul aka Paul. Barnabas mentors Saul aka Paul, and then the Holy Spirit puts the final seal of approval. “I have chosen them, set them apart for the work that I have called them.” No greater validation than this.
So, what happens because of the failure of John Mark, this friendship, the spiritual team separates. Wow. That’s pretty bad. That’s as if you’re in music and The Beatles break up. However, this is the Godly Beatles. What happened? This stuff doesn’t happen like that. Spiritual men don’t behave like that, but we do. We do. Have you ever been in a friendship, co-laboring with someone or some project, or it could be like a boyfriend, girlfriend, marriage? Then, it doesn’t work? You feel like a failure. You take it really personally.
I’ve been in four different ministries as a pastor three times. I’m a pastor now, and I was a seminary professor once. That’s four times as I lived in and grew up in New York City as many of you know. I studied in Dallas, Texas. My first pastorate was in Chicago for six years. Next, I pastored in the great city of San Francisco for 19. Then, I was a seminary professor for 10 to 12 years, 10 years full-time, two years part-time. Now, I’m a pastor in the Palo Alto area.
I’ll tell you something. Even though each ministry I learned something, not always could I say that I left always with this greatest feeling of moving forward. You had friends. You had people you had to sever relationships with. Sometimes, I moved because I wasn’t that happy. That’s what happens in life and in ministry. This is what was happening between Barnabas and Paul. A ministry called by the Spirit goes sour. I think it’s happened to all of us at some time in life.
There’s a third aspect of this passage that makes it very messy. It involves the connection between John Mark and Barnabas himself. Here it says in the Book of Colossians 4:10, “And Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, concerning whom you have received instructions if he comes, welcome him, Mark, who is the cousin of Barnabas.” Now, I have to tell you something, Mark is a common name in the time of Christ, so were John and Joseph.
There is no real extra description of this Mark besides the fact that he was Barnabas’s cousin. You tie all the other verses of Mark and Barnabas, most people believe that this Cousin Mark is the person named in Acts 15, which means one of the reasons could be that Barnabas stood up and said, “I want to help John Mark,” his cousin. They might have grown up together.
Now, that really makes a mess. It’s one thing to have problems and another for the problem to revolve around a relative of one of the people involved. You could say, “Well, it’s nepotism.” You say, “You’re willing just to sacrifice this for your flesh and blood.” And you know what? If that ever happened to you, you would feel even worse. That’s a natural thing to always have an affinity to close relatives that you grew up with. I don’t know. I’ll always feel protective of my daughters, of my grandchildren, and I don’t think it’s something I could ever get rid of. But you know how messy it is.
So with this mess, what are we to do, as believers in Jesus Christ, to climb out of this hole or to get up and over this trial or challenge? First, I want to tell you certain things we don’t want to do. You don’t want to give up. I can see when this happens. Something which is so great it falls apart. You could be like John and say, “You know what? I gave it a chance. I spent some time following Jesus, and Jesus is not for me.” We could take it very personally. Maybe between Barnabas and Paul, “Ah, I knew you weren’t really a friend. You’re a user.” You write people off. You take it personally, or you give up.
This is not the lesson we want to learn from this passage. It is not what the scriptures reveal what happens to John Mark, what happens to Barnabas, and what happens to Paul. What can we learn from them?
There are four lessons I’m going to bring up. Three of them from the people who are involved and the fourth one revolves around the great perspective of God and the goal of God in all of this. The first one is the perspective of Barnabas. In Acts Chapter 4, here’s an interesting verse, “Thus, Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas, which means son of encouragement, a Levite, a native of Cyprus.”
Now, here’s an interesting fact. Barnabas is not his original name. The original name’s Joe, but the Apostles called him Barnabas because of one outstanding characteristic he exhibited in his walk with Jesus which was his ability to encourage people. “We’ll call you The Encourager. That’s who you are. Forget about Joe. That’s too common. Your new name is The Encourager.” And Encourager Barnabas always in the Book of Acts plays and fulfills his new name, his new alias. He was the encourager of Saul who becomes Paul. He becomes the encourager of John Mark who fails. That’s who Barnabas is.
This is a really important lesson because sometimes we fail, sometimes people fail around us, it’s as if you say, “Oh, our ministry,” or what we do was left in ashes. Sometimes, it’s a job that you lost. Sometimes, you move to a new area. Sometimes, if something happens and you get ill, you have to take time off. Sometimes, it’s a ministry like mine and you have to move around. I happen to have been in four ministries in my decades of service to God.
The lesson we can learn from Barnabas is that for some of us the next step to overcome, to get over, is to understand our giftedness. Never deny your giftedness. Always find guidance and strength in your giftedness. You see, Barnabas knew something. He would never fulfill the mission that Paul had placed in front of him in Acts Chapter 15. The mission to go to the cities and strengthen them. He can’t do that. He can never have the tie with Paul in the short period to come. For Barnabas, it is not geography. It is not specific people. It was to be true to his giftedness which was to encourage. Barnabas would always encourage. That’s who he is.
So, let’s say you are changing jobs, moving out of the area because California is just really expensive. All the amenities of living in California such as going out and eating. You know you can’t do that now. So, why are you spending the money? You might as well go home. You could be at home and save half the money. What do you do when you have to make a change like that? The question I would ask is what is your giftedness? What is it that you love doing because you feel that is how God created you or has empowered you to do? Do it. Don’t think that geography or relationships are the sole defining factor in whether you are a success or a failure.
Take me. I was teaching seminary. I was a full-time professor, and then a church asked me whether I would join their staff. I thought a little bit, but I didn’t think much. You know why? Because being a pastor is my natural giftedness. I love doing it. You always want to do that. What is it that God has called you to be? What is it that God has called you to do?
Maybe by taking a look at Barnabas, we can learn from him. You can also learn from John Mark himself. What can we learn from John Mark? The interesting thing about John Mark is, when he takes the offer from Barnabas to team up with him, Barnabas takes John Mark, and the first place they sail to is Cyprus. Now, that’s a very interesting place because according to the text, I think it was in Acts 4, Barnabas is from Cyprus. What is also interesting in Acts 13 when they’re on this missionary journey with the three, John Mark, Barnabas, and Paul, they set sail to Cyprus. It’s a very interesting place. It’s the beginning of the failure for John Mark. It is also the place of familiarity for Barnabas. It’s the best of all worlds, I would say, a very wise move.
Go back to the beginning of the scene but go with someone, “We’re going to stay here a little longer. This is my territory. This is my homeland. This is where we’re going to minister. We’re not going to be traveling around.”
John Mark had to somehow come to grips with this. Get up and do over again what he had failed in a different way, and develop and grow as a minister in Jesus Christ. One of the great things that many people think, and this is basically through some passages, through the relationship of Peter with John Mark’s family, through tradition, and by the Church fathers, and believe is that this John Mark who abandoned Paul and Barnabas wrote the Gospel of Mark. Many believe it was the very first Gospel ever written. Imagine that. The first ministry you do is a failure. But you grow and develop into something that is lasting. He writes books in the Bible.
He describes in a very and probably the shortest of the Gospels the life, ministry, and teaching of Jesus Christ. You see, some of us, when we face shortcomings, challenges, or trials, can look to our giftedness and continue. Others have the dust ourselves off, look at what we did, and grow and develop as people and as believers in Jesus Christ. The failure involves you. This is what you need to do. Because one thing I know about our Lord, every failure can be a door to growth, of purification of our faith. We always learn from our mistakes. That’s one of the hallmarks of the believer, you see? Because Jesus Christ oversees us, we’re given the Spirit, and there’s always a positive way up in Christ.
Maybe at this time, you’re feeling really low, anxiety, sadness, and depression. Uncertainty really is part of the American psyche now. Maybe it affects your walk with God because churches cannot meet live. There’s no singing. There’s no communion. There are no live sermons. You feel a little isolated. I’ll tell you something. Don’t feel that this is something that’s going to knock you out. We can always grow in Christ, even to the levels we had never imagined.
The third person involved in this is Pau. Paul is very, very interesting. What Paul does is he picks up another coworker by the name of Silas. According to the text, he goes on the mission that he had presented to Barnabas at the beginning of Acts Chapter 15. The mission was to go to the cities and strengthen the churches where they had been. According to the text, Verse 41, that is exactly what they did.
What can we learn about getting over our shortcomings from the life of Paul? The first lesson is Barnabas, understand our giftedness. Second, to get up and develop like Mark. Third, some of you may fit Paul, Paul never forgot what the Spirit gave him as a mission. This is what we need to do. We need to go back to the cities and strengthen them. Even though the team splits up, Paul never loses sight of the goal. He never loses sight of the ministry that he is burdened to do.
You see, all three do different things. One is true to his giftedness. Another develops. Paul continues his ministry, what his goal was. This is a very, very important lesson that Paul gives us because not all challenges mean, “Oh, I got to do something else.”
One of the reasons I love preaching at Cornerstone is Pastor Terry. I think if Pastor Terry retired, I would stop preaching at Cornerstone. The reason is Pastor Terry is a veteran pastor in the city of San Francisco. I have pastored almost 20 years in the city of San Francisco. I know the ups, and I know the downs. I saw the .com boom. I saw the .com bust. I saw the high-tech boom, and I’m seeing the exodus of people now in the Bay Area because ‘why pay the rent if you can’t enjoy the city that much?’ But through it all, Pastor Terry has endured because he has a mission. We are not deterred and we do not give up our mission in Jesus Christ.
There’s an important lesson for us all. Sometimes, things change. We can find our giftedness, we can grow, and sometimes, we pray about it. I have to continue doing what I’m doing. Even though it’s a difficult time. I have to continue what I’m doing. That’s kind of what you have to do in ministering in San Francisco now and in the United States where live church services are not really that available. You have to keep doing what you do and not give up hope and not lose sight of the mission.
Now, oftentimes, failure comes and we just want to give up. That’s not the lesson of Paul. There’s a final lesson, the fourth lesson. That’s the overall goal of God for everybody. I chose a passage from the Book of 2 Timothy 4:11. “Luke alone is with me.” Me being Paul, okay? “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you for he is very useful to me for ministry.”
But what’s interesting is Paul is writing his young protégé, Timothy. He tells Timothy, “You know what? Bring Mark. He’s useful. He’s a great guy. He’s a benefit.” For some of us, we’d say to Timothy, “And one person you never bring back, I never want to see his face again is that guy Mark because he abandoned us.” You see, that’s natural. But because Paul is true and he understands the grace of God. Even someone who disappointed him so greatly that it tore apart the team. Oh, there is grace in God to always restore, to always reconcile.
It doesn’t always work out that way, but it’s the heart of the Gospel that beats within Paul. He never gives up his mission. He never gives up on the grace of God because even though failure may involve people and persons, he will always understand the grace of God. It means you never can close the door on anybody because you never take it personally. Not because he’s sort of like convincing himself, “Look at the bright side.” No, no, no, not that. It’s because he knows that he himself was not someone worthy of a second chance, not before Jesus and not before Barnabas and that he must bestow the same sort of graciousness to John Mark. What a great end to this story.
Now, where are you in life at this time? Probably a lot of challenges. No one I think in America or very few has been left unscathed emotionally, economically, socially, or spiritually by what’s happening. I’ll tell you something. Don’t give up. Find your way. Understand these things come. Understand the grace of God. Utilize your giftedness. Develop and never forget the mission.
May God give grace to His Word. It’s been a great time preaching this message to my friends at Cornerstone. God bless you at this time.
How good was that? What a blessing. Thank you, Jeff. I don’t know what part of this message most resonated with you, but I would encourage all of us to consider embracing something if we felt like the Lord was prompting us to hold it, to not just let it pass, but sit with it through the week.
This is also the time when we’re going to share a song. It’s actually called Breakthrough which is what I think God wants to do in all of our lives at this time, for sure. But I do remind everybody about our giving time, and you have been an amazing church. I just have nothing to say but positive things about the way that the church has rallied.
I do want to remind you that you can give in our traditional way. You can send it to the offices. You can give through the website, or as I do, on our app, whatever works. We just want to say we’re in this together. We’re making this journey together, and we’re going to experience Breakthrough together. Keep that in mind, and I’m going to come back around and share a final blessing.
That’s what we desire, Lord, Breakthrough. We’re thankful. We’re so thankful because You’re so good and You’re so God. And we want to sow good, and we want to sow God. My prayer for you is do not be weary in well-doing, no. Come on. In due time, we shall reap if we do not faint. We have better days ahead by faith in Jesus. Let’s do this. I know the waters may get rough in different ways. That’s true, but we’re together and the Lord is with us.
So, may the Lord keep you and your Spirit and your soul and in your body. I really pray that for you and for me, too. In Jesus’ name, be blessed, for you are greatly loved.