Saturday, May 8, 2010

Blog Hiatus - Gone to Finland!

Just wanted to let you know that I will be out of the country for a few days, and will not be blogging for a while. I will be singing at the Vaasa Choir Festival with my quartet, Lunch Break. See ya in a few days, Lord willing!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - May 5 - When Brothers Have to Part Ways

Yesterday’s reading featured the friendship of David and Jonathan. Today’s NT reading (Acts 15) describes the parting of ways of two brothers in the Lord, Paul and Barnabas. It was Barnabas who vouched for Paul when he first came to Jerusalem after his conversion (Acts 9:26-27). Later, it was Barnabas who went to find Paul in Tarsus and brought him to Antioch to help minister the word to the first Gentile-dominant church (Acts 11:25-26). And it was Barnabas who shared the load of work on the first missionary journey, facing danger (Acts 13:50) and controversy (Acts 15:2) side by side with Paul.

As close as these two men were in the work of the gospel, we learn from Acts 15:36-41 that these two determined servants had to part company over a disagreement. The issue was not any kind of doctrinal matter. It was a matter of judgment over whether to include John Mark on the forthcoming second journey. Barnabas wanted to bring him; Paul did not. From Paul’s point of view, this young man had proven unreliable when he quit while on the first journey (Acts 13:13). This was serious, dangerous work, no place for an immature and irresponsible boy.

But Barnabas wanted to take John Mark. This is not at all surprising, since Barnabas’ very name means “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). Further, John Mark may have been related to Barnabas (see Col. 4:10), adding an additional reason for Barnabas to want to give him a second chance.

This difference of opinion was deep – Luke says it was a “sharp disagreement” (15:39). Eventually, Paul and Barnabas had to part company, Barnabas taking John Mark, and Paul taking a new comrade from Jerusalem named Silas.

Who was right – Barnabas or Paul? I think a good case could be made for either man. Surely Paul was right in thinking that John Mark needed to realize this work was too important to be approached half-heartedly. And Barnabas was also right in thinking that everyone deserves a second chance (and who benefited more from Barnabas’ gracious spirit than Paul?). Maybe John Mark needed both sides of love, soft and hard, to become the man he had the potential to be in the Lord.

And he did indeed become a faithful servant. In Col. 4:10, Paul makes a special point of asking the Colossians to “welcome” John Mark. And at the end of his life, Paul requested that Timothy bring Mark to him in prison, “for he is very useful to me in ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11).

I think the best part of this whole story is the way Paul and Barnabas moved past their disagreement to work for the Lord. Many times when brethren disagree the work of the gospel comes to a screeching halt. Not so here. In fact, the preaching of the word doubled, with two teams of workers rather than just one traveling to proclaim Jesus.

It is unavoidable that brothers will disagree. But if the end result can be what it was in the case of John Mark – spiritual development; and if the outcome can be what it was in the case of the gospel – more preaching rather than less, then God will be glorified.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - May 4 - Knit Together Soul to Soul

The friendship between David and Jonathan is one of the great friendships in all of literature. I don't mean that David and Jonathan were fictional characters like Sam and Frodo, or Holmes and Watson. But I do mean that in the annals of all writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, the story of these two souls knit together in friendship (1 Sam. 18:1) is truly exemplary.

This friendship was tested by the hatred Jonathan's father had for David. In 1 Samuel 19, Jonathan reasoned with his father, convincing him that David was a hero, not a traitor. Saul agreed - but in one of his characteristic moments of weakness and vacillation, he quickly turned against David once more.

This makes the story in 1 Samuel 20 even more tragic, and poignant. David asks Jonathan why his father seeks to kill him, and Jonathan can't believe this is the case (v. 1-2). It would be hard to accept the fact that your own father is a paranoid maniac, especially when you think you have changed his mind. But as the story in 1 Samuel 2o goes on to explain, Saul did indeed want to murder David - and when Jonathan spoke up for David, Saul tried to kill him! (1 Sam. 20:33). Jonathan got the point (hardee-har-har).

What I love most about Jonathan is his humility. No one stood to lose more by David's kingship than Jonathan. He was the heir to the throne, his father's natural successor (a fact Saul angrily reminded him of in 1 Sam. 20:31). But Jonathan remained ever loyal to David, willing to serve by his side because he knew it was God's will for David to be king (1 Sam. 23:17).

Jonathan was a true friend. He remained loyal to David even at the expense of his father's resentment, and even at the cost of his own status. And despite Saul's failings, he remained loyal to his father, dying at his father's side in battle (1 Sam. 31). We would all be blessed to have a friend in our life with the integrity, courage, and loyalty of Jonathan.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - May 3 - The Book of Acts (of Two of the Apostles)

One of my favorite college professors used to introduce his class on the Book of Acts by saying: "The Book of Acts is not all the acts of all the apostles; or all the acts of some of the apostles; or some of the acts of all the apostles; it is some of the acts of some of the apostles."

That is exactly right. And in particular, it is some of the acts of two of the apostles: Peter and Paul. In fact, an easy way to organize the Book of Acts is in two main sections, Acts 1-12 - the acts of Peter; and Acts 13-28 - the acts of Paul. At the end of Acts 12, Peter disappeared from Jerusalem after his escape from prison (Acts 12:17), and other than his speech at the Jerusalem conference in Acts 15, he is not mentioned again in the book. From Acts 13 to the end of the book, Paul is the focus of the story.

As you read the second half of the book, look for parallels between Peter's ministry and Paul's. For example, in today's reading in Acts 13, we have the first record of one of Paul's sermons, which naturally parallels the narrative of Peter's sermon in Acts 2. Each sermon has its unique characteristics, but both end up at the same spot - the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Acts 14, Paul will heal a lame man, just as Peter healed a lame man in Acts 3. And so on.

One important dimension to this similarity between Peter's preaching and miracles and Paul's is that it gave legitimacy to what Paul was doing in the minds of some of the more traditional Jews. This acceptance was not automatic for Paul, any more than it was for Peter when he went to preach to Gentiles and eat with them in Acts 10. But, if they accepted Peter's work, since Paul's work was quite similar, then they had to accept Paul.

So be on the lookout the rest of Acts for parallels with Peter, and of course, also bear in mind that both apostles share in the same kinds of experiences as did their Master.