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Archive for the ‘Youth’ Category

Paul was livid.

It had been more than two years since young John Mark had deserted him and Barnabas in Pamphylia on their first missionary journey to Asia Minor (Acts 13:13), and now Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark, his cousin, with them to revisit the new believers in those cities.

Paul refused. He still burned with anger over the desertion. Maybe the journey had been too difficult and hazardous for John Mark; maybe he had been homesick for his mother, Mary, who was back home in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12); or maybe he hadn’t liked how the team had gone from “Barnabas and Saul” to “Saul and Barnabas” to “Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 11-15).

Whatever John Mark’s reason had been, Paul didn’t want him on the next mission journey.

Paul and Barnabas argued over this, and when they could not come to an agreement, they decided to go on separate journeys—Paul would take Silas, and Barnabas would take John Mark to minister on the island of Cyprus.

Barnabas’ decision to give John Mark another chance wasn’t just because they were cousins (Colossians 4:10). It was Barnabas’ nature to encourage people. In fact, his real name was Joseph, and he had developed such a reputation of coming alongside people and encouraging them, that the Christians in Jerusalem called him Barnabas—meaning “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36).

And it had been Barnabas who had encouraged the apostles to accept the newly converted Saul (later called Paul) into Christian fellowship and ministry (Acts 9:26-30), even though Saul had persecuted Christians before Jesus dramatically changed his life on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9).

We are not told what changes John Mark went through during those two years after he returned to Jerusalem, but it is likely that Barnabas might have counseled and mentored him and might have seen a new level of maturity in him that convinced Barnabas to give him another chance.

Barnabas’ patient investment in the young life of John Mark proved fruitful to the Christian movement and the growth of the church throughout the ages:

  • John Mark went on to work with the apostle Peter and heard Peter’s first-hand account of his life with Jesus (Acts 12:12-13; I Peter 5:13).
  • John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark, based largely on Peter’s first-hand account of the life and death of Jesus, but also on his own personal experience with Jesus. Many scholars believe that John Mark was present with Jesus in Gethsemane and was the young man who ran away naked after the mob ripped off his nightshirt when they came to arrest Jesus (Mark 14:51-52).
  • John Mark later proved invaluable to Paul as his assistant and companion in ministry, especially during Paul’s prison confinements (Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon1:24).

Had Barnabas not given John Mark a second chance, the Gospel of Mark might not have been written, neither might the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, for they based much of their material on Mark’s Gospel.

How different the New Testament and Christianity might be today without those three gospels—for countless millions of believers might not have come to faith in Jesus Christ throughout these two thousand years!

As we reflect on the Acts account of Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark, it’s important to ask ourselves:

  • Are there John Marks in our lives—boys and girls, and young men and women—who have failed and disappointed us?
  • Can you and I be a Barnabas to them? Are we willing to encourage and mentor them despite their previous failures?

Giving them additional chances—along with our mentoring and encouragement—could change their lives completely.

And, like John Mark, the lives and contributions of these young people could impact our society and world in significant ways in years to come.

You and I might be the difference between a young life failing or succeeding, so let’s not give up on them.

Remember, we have been the beneficiaries of second chances—the most important one being the grace and forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ.

So, be a Barnabas and ”encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13, NIV, ©1984).

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While watching the movie David on television a few days ago, I was reminded of a friend who went through seminary with me during the mid sixties. The scenes that triggered my memory were, first, the one in which the teenage David was chosen by God to be king over Israel, and the second in which David volunteered to fight Goliath. In both scenes, people questioned his ability as a youth.

The scenes reminded me that when I graduated from seminary in Jamaica, all of my fellow graduates—except one—were called immediately by churches to be their pastors. The lone exception was a 21-year-old man who could not get hired by a congregation because church leaders felt that he was too young and inexperienced.

After a year of waiting to be called, he left Jamaica and went to the United States and completed further studies, after which he was hired by his denomination to go abroad as a missionary to Bermuda and later British Columbia.

While still young, he became head of the missionary board of his denomination and supervised the ministries of scores of missionaries around the world. He was so highly respected around the world that he was sought for advice by the heads of several countries, particularly South Africa during and after Apartheid. He is now the senior pastor of a thriving congregation in a major city in the USA.

Jamaica’s loss was the world’s gain.

The apostle Paul gave another young pastor, Timothy, some sound advice regarding his youth, and it is advice that applies to all believers, no matter their age and experience:

Do not give anyone a chance to despise you because you are young; but in your words and in your conduct, in love, in loyalty and in purity, show yourself an example of what believing people should be.
(I Timothy 4:12, William Barclay’s Translation)

Whether we are young and inexperienced or older and more mature, we are to be examples to the church and the world in:

• word (speech)
• conduct (right living; righteous)
• love (self-sacrificial service to others, seeking only their good)
• loyalty (faithfulness to Christ, no matter the cost)
• purity (complete allegiance to the standards of Jesus Christ,
showing honor, honesty, self-control, and chastity, far above the standards of the world)

Too often we have seen Christian leaders whose lives and ministries have been derailed or sidetracked because they failed in their word, conduct, love, loyalty, or purity.

So Paul’s admonition to Timothy is not only for those young in age or faith, but even more so to those who are positioned in higher levels of leadership and responsibilities, for if they stumble and fall, it is usually revealed in a very public manner, and the consequences are great and affect countless others.

So to all of us—young and old, neophyte and veteran—let us see Paul’s admonition to Timothy in a slightly different way:

Do not give anyone a chance to despise you—period! But in your words and in your conduct, in love, in loyalty and in purity, show yourself an example of what believing people should be.

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The years have seemingly flown by quickly, and I now find myself as part of the “sandwich generation”—those of us who are caught between aging parents and in-laws on one hand, and children and grandchildren on the other.

In recent years, my wife and I have experienced the loss of our fathers in their late eighties and nineties, and have seen the rapid decline in the health of our mothers to Alzheimer’s or old age.

And we have been involved with the lives, hopes, and careers of our children and the births and lives of our four grandchildren.

As I approach age sixty-eight, I am mindful of Psalm 90:10, “Seventy years are given to us! Some may even reach eighty,” (New Living Translation, NLT) so I’m committed to living full out in the service of Jesus Christ in the remaining time, however short or long that might be.

But it is Ecclesiastes chapter 12 that captures this “sandwich generation” stage of life, with an urgent call to young people to:

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them….”
(Eccl. 12:1, New International Version, NIV)

Or as the NLT version paraphrases that same verse:

Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and no longer enjoy living.

Verses 2 to 7 then describe the ravages of old age that drain life of any enjoyment. But, depending on the translations we use, two different pictures emerge.

The NIV, New King James Version (NKJV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), and the New English Bible (NEB) describe old age by using the metaphor of a once-busy and prosperous mansion that has passed its prime and is now dilapidated and creeping towards collapse. It’s a house where:

  •  household servants grow old and are unable to work
  •  the keepers of the house, former strong men, are now stooped and tremble as they shuffle around
  •  servants, once numerous, are too few to finish the hard menial work of grinding corn
  •  the lady of the house, with failing eyesight, must now content herself by gazing out of her window at the declining activities of her home
  •  the gates to the street, once open for bustling business and social activities, are  closed
  •  silence prevails
  •  the former life of vitality is dead

However, other translations such as the Good News Bible (GNB) and the NLT use different parts of the human body to interpret verses 2-7. For example, the NLT, in urging the youth not to wait till they are old to serve their Creator, adds:

It will be too late then to remember him, when the light of the sun and moon and stars is dim to your old eyes, and there is no silver lining left among the clouds. Your limbs will tremble with age, and your strong legs will grow weak. Your teeth will be too few to do their work, and you will be blind, too. And when your teeth are gone, keep your lips tightly closed when you eat! Even the chirping of birds will wake you up. But you yourself will be deaf and tuneless, with a quavering voice. You’ll be afraid of heights and of falling, white haired and withered, dragging along without any sexual desire. You will be standing at death’s door. And as you near your everlasting home, the mourners will walk along the streets.

Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.

I wish that my mother had taken seriously that advice, for she waited until last year when she was in her eighties to commit her life to Jesus Christ. But by then she was losing her memory to Alzheimer’s, and her health has since declined rapidly to where she does not recognize loved ones, her body is racked with arthritis, she stumbles frequently and has to walk with a frame, she’s incontinent, and she sinks towards dementia.

As a latecomer to the Kingdom of God, my mother is assured her place in heaven through the sacrifice, grace, and love of Jesus Christ. But, oh, how much of the abundant life, peace, and deep-seated joy she has missed over the decades of her life because she chose to live independently from God!

How different her life would have been if she had followed her Creator in her youth and had allowed Jesus Christ to be the center of her life, her marriage, and the rearing of her children!

In light of our human tendency to drift from God in our attempt to live on our own terms, here is the advice that Ecclesiastes offers to us—both old and young:

To those of us in mid-life and older, Ecclesiastes reminds us:

Light is sweet; it’s wonderful to see the sun! When people live to be very old, let them rejoice in every day of life. But let them also remember that the dark days will be many.  (11:7 to 8, NLT)

Rejoice! Enjoy the sweetness of life! Give thanks for every morning that we wake up to the light and warmth of one more day, for we know how fragile life can be, since so many of our peers have not made it this far!

Rejoice—and give thanks that despite the difficulties of life that we might have experienced, and despite the knowledge that we might yet encounter even darker days ahead, we are not without hope if we align with our Creator who gives us an eternal perspective from which to view our future, and we know that “nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Jesus Christ.” (Romans 8:39, NLT)

And to the youth, Ecclesiastes says:

…it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do. So banish grief and pain, but remember that youth, with a whole life before it, still faces the threat of meaninglessness. (11:9 to 10, NLT)

This is not a green light for you who are young to live irresponsibly, but it is an encouragement to live fully and productively according to the gifts of mind, body, strength, and spirit with which God has blessed you. What you do matters to God, to whom you will eventually have to account for how you lived. May it not be said of you, “youth was wasted on the young!”

So, to all of us, young and old, let us remember our Creator and rejoice in the gift of life that he grants us each day, for on that great resurrection morning, we will give an account of how we lived. May each of us then hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant…Let’s celebrate together!” (Matthew 25:21, NLT)

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