Mentored by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship

When I was a freshman in college, I was accosted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, not in person, of course, but by his challenging and convicting book The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian who conspired against Hitler during World War II and was executed for treason—paying the ultimate price of the cost of discipleship.

As I read page after page, I was struck by his poignant words again and again. Going over my old copy, which I still have, I rediscovered I had underlined a half page there, a quarter page here, three-quarters page there. So much was standing out to me. Here are just a few of the words that spoke so strongly to my heart:

  • “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship.”
  • “When Christ calls a man He bids him to come and die.”
  • “Only when we have become completely oblivious of self are we ready to bear the cross for His sake.”
  • “Only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ.”
  • “The call of Jesus teaches us that our relationship to the world is built on an illusion.”

Not a popular message today with the “ME” generation. But they were transforming to me, infusing in me the passion to be a serious life-long disciple of Jesus Christ, not content just to be a believer with “cheap grace” as Bonhoeffer put it, but to be a disciple, a real disciple—and the passion to be a real disciple-maker. 

Bonhoeffer’s book also brought me to the point of realizing I could not live that life of discipleship in my own efforts; I needed the power of the Holy Spirit. I experienced what in holiness terms is called “the crisis of the deeper life.” Out of the overflow of the Asbury College revival of 1970, I experienced the sanctifying baptism in the Spirit, the power to be a witness (Acts 1:5, 8).

After my sophomore year, I dropped out of college to join the staff of Young Life, taking a step in the cost of discipleship to live by faith. For me, sometimes that meant eating only bologna between two pieces of bread without ketchup or cheese, or not eating at all. I learned to fast anywhere from one day to a week, not always for lack of food, but to engage the discipline of fasting, as I discovered that you can be disciplined without being a disciple, but you cannot be a disciple without discipline.

Then also the cost of my discipleship meant for me that if Jesus could be born in a stable, I could live in a stable—I actually lived in the tack room of a stable for a year (I did have running water, a shower, and deodorizers). 

When on the staff of Young Life, I was engaged in youth evangelism. We saw dozens of teens profess faith in Christ, but I watched half of them drop out in their faith. Then I realized I needed to focus, not on merely on conversion or decisions for Christ, but on discipleship. I read John 8:31 with new eyes: 

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly My disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

I saw in this passage that not all who believe are disciples; only those who continue to abide in The Word are real disciples—costly grace, not cheap grace. And only those who continue to abide in the Word of God know the truth and the truth sets us free. We may be a believer but not know the truth and therefore not be free.  So I turned the direction of my ministry to discipleship—getting people into the Word and getting the Word into people—and that has been my focus ever since.

Getting people into the Word is hard enough; getting the Word into people is much tougher. The call to come and die to ourselves in order to experience Christ’s resurrection life is not a popular one. Self-help books don’t say much about that. After all, self-help books are meant to help self, not die to self. But Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship has endured the test of time. Enough people have had the courage to read the book to keep it in print. Enough people have realized that the cost of discipleship is worth it.

I guess Bonhoeffer has rubbed off on my son Chris as well. He researched his Ph.D. dissertation on an aspect of Bonhoeffer’s theology. He has become somewhat of a Bonhoeffer scholar, invited to participate in Bonhoeffer scholar conferences in Basel, Switzerland; Berlin, Germany (and visited Bonhoeffer’s home and office); and Capetown, South Africa. But he too has been mentored in the cost of discipleship—a story for another day.

We both want to carry to the next generations the message that the cost of discipleship is worth it—come and die so you can experience the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.

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Learning from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones—Preaching Is My Life

I trust you had a Merry Christmas! After a pause for Christmas, I resume sharing about my mentoring from the writings of great men and women of God from the past. Today–Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Although I never had the privilege of meeting Dr. Lloyd-Jones, I count him as my greatest preaching mentor through his writings.

My college and graduate school preaching mentors reinforced expository preaching, and even pointed me to Lloyd-Jones. They included my Old Testament and Hebrew professors. Dr. Roy Hayden and Dr. Howard Ervin (who was so brilliant and erudite, I felt like I needed a dictionary every time he spoke in class or chapel–He increased my vocabulary many-fold). Another was Dr. Jerry Horner, a Southern Baptist New Testament scholar, who preached even while teaching Greek grammar. He could preach an entire sermon on the Greek preposition eis (“into”). I also was mentored by him as I served as his Graduate Teaching Assistant. Dr. Lloyd-Jones was all of them rolled into one.

A renowned Welsh Reformed pastor and scholar, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones had been a medical doctor called into the ministry and became one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century. He is known for his in-depth insightful expository preaching. For example, he spent three years preaching through Ephesians verse-by-verse. I also relished Romans, Acts, the Sermon on the Mount—so much richness. He would not only give exposition, but illustrate through the stories, lives, and teaching of great men and women of God through the centuries.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones has taught me a love for the Puritans. I once thought of the Puritans as, well—“Puritanical,”—stuffy, strict, stodgy. But once I started reading Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Brooks, Thomas Watson, The Valley of Vision, etc., I began to realize the depth of their relationship and fellowship with God and their experiences of the Higher Christian Life. Lloyd-Jones and Tozer once shared speaking at a conference together. They remarked that they had come to about the same place spiritually–Tozer through the mystics and Lloyd-Jones through the Puritans.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones also mentored me through his books on the Holy Spirit (Joy Unspeakable, The Baptism and Gifts of the Spirit) and Revival. The biography of his preaching ministry, The Sacred Anointing, reinforced to me the sacred calling to preach, and the need for the anointing of the Holy Spirit every time I speak. John Piper (another of my mentors through his writings and video teachings) tells this story:

In July, 1959 Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his wife Bethan were on vacation in Wales. They attended a little chapel for a Sunday morning prayer meeting and Lloyd-Jones asked them, “Would you like me to give a word this morning?” The people hesitated because it was his vacation and they didn’t want to presume on his energy. But his wife said, “Let him. Preaching is his life.” It was a true statement. In the preface to his powerful book, Preaching and Preachers, he said, “Preaching has been my life’s work … to me the work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called. 

I too love preaching, even on vacation. So even though I am “retired,” I am called to preach—whether in a church service, a conference, a webinar, a podcast, a blog like this, book, or an article. I have preached to five people (on several occasions) and to 5000 (on only a few occasions)—it doesn’t matter how many or how few—I love to preach the Word of God. Just little more than a week ago, I shared by Zoom with a men’s meeting called “The Huddle” with six people. Whether three people or 300 view these blogs and video meditations, I am called to share God’s Word. I hope to do more by Zoom.

I do it imperfectly and I am still learning as a lifelong student. I have not perfected the art and skill of social media. Sometimes I am not practical enough, or relevant enough, or funny enough. I may preach too long and deep for some people, and it may not be entertaining, but that is my calling. I am like Jeremiah: “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (NIV). 

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A.B. Simpson—My Mentor in the Higher Life

Apart from A.W. Tozer, the great influence in my life from “Old Dead Guys” has been A.B. Simpson, the founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA). I have read everything I can get my hands on of his writings, even scouring old Alliance magazines for his unpublished articles and editorials. Simpson has been my portal to the Higher Christian Life. Simpson founded The Alliance, not as a denomination, but as a Higher Life movement emphasizing what he called the “Fourfold Gospel”—Jesus Christ as Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King.

As a Presbyterian pastor, Simpson read the book The Higher Christian Life, published by another Presbyterian pastor, William Boardman in 1858, and it transformed his life, as it did mine as well. I ended up writing a book on it entitled Come Up Higher: Rediscovering Throne Life—The Highest Christian Life for the 21st Century. One of my mentors, Darlene Kipling, has dubbed me as “The Apostle of the Higher Life.”

Through Boardman’s book Simpson experienced the sanctifying baptism in the Spirit to empower and make holy, and then later the healing power of God. What is this Higher Life? Very simply, it is the message of Philippians 3:10-14, my life Scripture, that God is calling us ever higher in pursuit of Him—more of Jesus Christ, more of His resurrection power, more dying to self in order to experience resurrection life—and more! To Simpson, the baptism in the Spirit is “God’s elevator” to the Higher Christian Life.

Simpson’s writings, many of which are out of print today, are filled with messages calling us ever higher, books like The Larger Christian Life, The Supernatural, Land of Promise, The Highest Christian Life, Days of Heaven on Earth, In Heavenly Places, Danger Lines in the Deeper LifeThe Self Life or the Christ LifeThe Holy Spirit: Power from on High, his entire 6 volume Christ in the Bible series, and so many more.

His books The Gospel of HealingThe Lord for the BodyThe Life of Prayer, and Seeing the Invisible, have mentored me in faith and experiencing God’s healing power in my personal life and family.

Of course, just as with Tozer, and for that matter, every mentor in my life, living or an old dead guy, Simpson had his weaknesses, mistakes, and things with which I would disagree. I have deep weaknesses too; many, many mistakes, and I sometimes even disagree with myself. We are all pots of clay. Yet Simpson and Tozer have had the most positive and lasting impact on my life.

Nearly a year ago, I was having lunch with two of my mentors, Bob Petty, now Alliance Midwest District Superintendent, and his wife MaryK, and I was sharing with them about the richness and depth of Simpson’s writings that most people don’t know because so many of his works are out of print. They challenged me, even commissioned me as it were, to devote this next season of my life to mentoring others in the writings of Simpson and that higher and deeper life message. That is my calling.

Christ is calling us all to that ever Higher Life in Him. That is what Christmas is all about—That we might know Jesus more and more and all of the heights and depths to which Jesus would take us in His Presence. That is my prayer for you this Christmas. Let your prayer be, “More, Lord!”

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Pursuing God with A.W. Tozer

Probably the writer who has impacted my life the most is A.W. Tozer, popular deeper life devotional writer, and pastor in The Christian and Missionary Alliance. I like to say that Tozer is in my DNA. Let me explain why.

My Dad, who was from Lutheran and Presbyterian background, came to saving faith in Christ in an Alliance church while in college. When my parents got married, they spent part of their honeymoon at an Alliance campground in Pennsylvania hearing Tozer preach. I was born ten months later. I was nearly conceived under the ministry of A.W. Tozer, so Tozer is in my DNA!

I started reading Tozer’s classic The Pursuit of God, when I was in high school—and I have read it more than a dozen times. Outside of the Bible, it is probably the book I have read most. My life Scripture is Philippians 3:10-14:

. . . that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; if somehow I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already grasped it all or have already become perfect, but I press on that I may also take hold of that for which I was even taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken 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.

That is my passion—to know Christ more and more—to pursue Him, dying to self that I might live His resurrection life, and to equip others for that deeper and higher life in Christ.

Consequently, I have devoured everything Tozer has written—more than 50 books in my collection. In the early 1990s, before the days of computer word search, I was asked by a publisher to compile an index of his writings. It may seem tedious, but I loved doing it. I was able to dive into all of His works and find nuggets throughout.

The Knowledge of the Holy, another of his classics, I have read numerous times as well. Every time I read, he cuts to the chase and challenges me spiritually. Some of my other favorites—That incredible Christian, The Root of the Righteous, Divine Conquest, his series on the Holy Spirit.

Tozer is the theologian of the Presence. More than any other topic, he writes of experiencing the Presence of God. It is a golden strand all through his writings. Leonard Ravenhill, who was mentored by Tozer, spoke of Tozer lying on his face on the carpet in humbleness and awe of God’s presence. I have heard the same of Billy Graham.

Tozer introduced me to the evangelical Christian mystics, being known as a mystic himself: Bernard of Clairvaux, Nicholas of Cusa, Lady Julian, Brother Lawrence, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Catherine of Sienna, hymnwriters (most hymnwriters were mystics), and so many more. He did not agree with all of their theology but recognized them as people who really knew God personally—who practiced the Presence of God. He called worship “the missing jewel.” Today, on one hand, he would laud modern worship emphasis on The Presence; on the other hand, he would call a lot of modern worship “vacuous” and “superficial.”

Tozer has also challenged me intellectually. Although he never completed high school, he was an avid reader—especially theologians. Once I got to see part of his library at Tozer Theological Seminary in Redding, California. He had read theologians like Augustine, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the church fathers, Luther, Wesley, the Puritans, and so much more. I loved his saying, “Truth has two wings. You have got to have both wings to make it fly.” He emphasized balancing texts of Scripture and recognizing counter-polarities. At the same time, he challenged me not to be taught only by the text of Scripture, but to be Spirit-taught—by the Spirit making Scripture come alive, fresh and new.

Tozer was very incisive in his writings, sometimes to the point of being too blunt, or even caustic. Alliance historian, John Sawin, who knew him personally, said Tozer would travel hundreds of miles to apologize to someone. Being another Western Pennsylvania blunt person, I have often had to apologize for my forthrightness (the euphemism we use to excuse our bluntness).

If you read the biographies of his life, you will know of his weaknesses—especially the neglect of his family. I hope that I have learned from his mistakes as well as his pursuit of God. No, I don’t always agree with his theology or his lifestyle, but the mentoring I have received through his books has challenged me, convicted me, humbled me, taken me to my face on the carpet, and raised me up to see that there is always more in life with Jesus Christ—to become an incredible Christian living for an incredible Jesus.

I commend to you the reading of A.W. Tozer. It won’t be easy reading or digesting–much to chew on and hard to swallow–but it will be worth it.

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Learning from Old Dead Guys

I have much more I could share on peace and reconciliation, but that is all the Lord has led me to share at this time. May Jesus bring more of both to you in this Christmas season. The Lord turned my attention once again to my mentors.

I have shared with you some of the living mentors who have influenced my life. I have also been mentored by great men and women of God of past generations through their reading their biographies and their books. I love books—they are full of life! Especially when they are books by people who love God, who have lived life with God on this earth, and who have not only plumbed the depths and heights of the riches of the Bible, God’s Word, but have lived those depths and heights.

I have nearly 4000 volumes in my library. That may seem like a lot, but it is really miniscule. When my wife asks, “Why do you need another book?”, I just respond, “Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, had 12,000 volumes in his personal library. I still have just a fraction of that.” I once had the privilege to visit another famous Baptist preacher in his study—Dr. Haddon Robinson, President of Denver Theological Seminary—raised in Harlem and saved out of gangs. His office looked just like a library—filled with library stacks shelving thousands of books—another Spurgeon. I don’t come close.

Once I was in a Facebook dialogue and I was quoting some writers from the past. One person told me he didn’t want to hear about “old dead guys.” I responded, first of all, that the writers of the Old and New Testaments were old dead guys. Second, I referred him to the Scripture:

“Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths,
Where the good way is, and walk in it;
Then you will find a resting place for your souls.

Jeremiah 6:16

Great men and women of God throughout church history have walked that good way to the ancient paths. We have so much to learn from their lives and their teachings. They show us the way to The Way, the truth to The Truth, the life to The Life—Jesus Christ.

Here are a few of many who have impacted my life: A.W. Tozer, deeper life devotional writer; A.B. Simpson, founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance; Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great Welsh Reformed expository preacher; Andrew Murray, Dutch Reformed missionary to South Africa; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor executed by Hitler; George Mueller, the apostle of faith; Oswald Chambers, Baptist devotional writer of My Utmost for His Highest; Charles Spurgeon, great Baptist preacher; John MacMillan, spiritual warfare pioneer and writer of The Authority of the Believer; E.M. Bounds, Methodist prayer warrior; C.S. Lewis; J. Edwin Orr’s books on the history of revivals.

And women like Mrs Charles (Lettie) Cowman, writer of devotional books like Streams in the Desert; missionary Amy Carmichael; Quaker Hannah Whitall Smith, author of The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life; mystics like Theresa of Avila and Madame Guyon, and many more. I won’t share all of these, but give you a taste of some that have impacted me the most. And, hopefully, you not be put off by “old dead guys,” but will be inspired to read them.

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Making Peace Jesus’ Way

“Now if your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, he is to be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17a).

Jesus lays down a four-step process for resolving personal and church-related conflicts:

  1. if your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private.
  2. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be confirmed.
  3. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.
  4. and if he refuses to listen even to the church, he is to be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

The vast majority of conflicts could be resolved if this first step is taken properly. So often, instead of going to the person who has offended and talking privately, the wounded person tells other people, violating this basic biblical principle. If you have a beef with someone, go talk to that person, not me or someone else. I know even church leaders and pastors that have violated this basic principle. I have myself violated this principle upon occasion. Not obeying Jesus’ first main command regarding conflict creates greater and more serious conflict.

Telling someone else about the issue with this person, unless they are part of the problem or the solution, amounts to gossip, and even slander. At this point, Step 2 is necessary. I have found it not only valuable but crucial to have two or three witnesses to verify.

When we do meet, either privately, or with two or three others, Paul shares with us the way we should approach such a meeting: “Brothers and sisters, even if a person is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual are to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you are not tempted as well” (Galatians 6:1). 

When I was a Christian school administrator decades ago, things were in an uproar with several students verbally fighting with each other and accusing each other. Then they were going home and telling their parents and saying that teachers were taking sides and were unfair to them.

Finally, I gathered everyone who was involved—students, parents, teachers—squeezing all 14 of them all into my office. I had each one say their piece. And eventually the truth came out. Some of the parents were surprised that their own children were telling stories that were not true, that were distorted or embellished. We spent about two hours cramped in my office. It was hot—and not just the temperature!

Eventually, when the truth came out, students apologized to one another, to teachers, and to parents. Parents apologized to teachers and to other parents. We prayed together, wept together, and had a mini-revival before it was all over. When I left the position some time later, at my farewell gathering those students expressed their appreciation for me forcing them to talk it out together and restoring friendships again.

I have wanted to do the same thing in many a church conflict through the years, but it is more difficult to coral adults than it is kids.

When we handle things Jesus’ way, we seldom need to go beyond Step 2.

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Healing Conflict by Dislodging Our Log of Assumptions

One of the biggest logs in our eyes we all tend to have is our assumptions. An assumption is basically defined as something we take for granted or believe to be true. We can be sincere in our assumptions, but sincerely wrong. My assumptions sometimes are right, but more frequently they get me into trouble. 

Recently, I was utilizing my homeowner’s warranty to fix my garage door for which a spring had broken. I checked what was covered under the warranty—and yes, the contract stated springs were covered. I called to make sure, and yes, the service person assured me they were covered. But when it was fixed, I was told it was not covered—because it was a part of the track assembly that was not covered. I went round and round with the service person, but because of the technicality, they would not cover it. I had assumed the wrong thing. I had assumed the best, to no avail.

We make assumptions of people as well—sometimes true, sometimes false assumptions:

  • Assuming what the other person is thinking or feeling.
  • Assuming the motives of the other person—good or bad.
  • Assuming we understand what the other person is saying and meaning.
  • Assuming others understand what we are saying or meaning.
  • Assuming something that seems apparent, but we lack all the information.
  • Assuming the worst.
  • Assuming the best.

You probably know the old truism (in not so appropriate language) about assumptions. I will not repeat it here, but it means that we put ourselves into some embarrassing and upsetting situations that create misunderstanding and conflict with others. I am often guilty of that log in my eye.

One time someone sent me a text about a planned proposal from someone else that affected me negatively. He assumed I knew about it, but I knew nothing about it, so it was a great shock to me. Since it the text came from that person, not the other person, I assumed he had planned it himself, or that they were ganging up on me together. Neither were true. Because we both had assumptions that were wrong (and they were communicated through texts, which is always a bad idea), it created great conflict.

Sometimes we assume the worst, and we end up with egg on our face. On the other hand, sometimes we are counseled to assume the best of a person or situation, claiming Scripture says, “Love . . . believes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Some will even cite the Amplified paraphrase, “Love . . . is ever ready to believe the best of every person.” An old liberal commentary goes even further, “Love has trust in mankind.” That is the problem with some paraphrases—they interpret what they think the text means, sometimes with human (or humanistic) assumptions. But that is not what the text says or means, nor what the whole of Scripture counsels.

Let’s think about that for a moment. Was Paul believing the best of Mark when he argued with Barnabas over taking Mark with them? Was Paul believing the best of Peter when he rebuked him publicly? Were John the Baptist and Jesus believing the best about the religious leaders when they called them a brood of vipers? Comparing with other Scriptures, we are always exhorted in Scripture to believe or trust the Lord, not man (not even noble men—Psalm 146:3).

On the other hand, I have heard people making assumptions and critical judgments of others, citing these examples, assuming that because Paul or Jesus said it, so could they. Assuming or believing the best or the worst of people are both wrong assumptions.

Jesus tells us, “Be as wary as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 18:16). There is a practical, discerning balance in what Jesus counsels. We can be too wary—skeptical, believing the worst. We can be too innocent—naïve, gullible, and too trusting. I am reminded of the old Peanuts cartoon in which Charlie Brown has just lost another baseball game, bemoaning, “How can we lose when we are so sincere?”

Wrong assumptions can be the cause of many conflicts. Many times, bringing peace and reconciliation will involve getting the log of our assumptions out of our eye. Simply saying, “I apologize; I wrongly assumed . . .,” can be a step toward restoring peace and fostering reconciliation.

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When Reconciliation Doesn’t Seem Possible

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people” (Romans 12:18).

“If possible. . .” Sometimes, even when we try, reconciliation does not seem possible. Sometimes the other person will not cooperate, will not reconcile, will not forgive. Sometimes we experience what Jeremiah prophesied: “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace” (Jer 6:14).

Sometimes the peace is only partial or only on the surface. But that is OK; it is a start. The Bible does not sugarcoat things. We see real conflicts between good godly people:

After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s return and visit the brothers and sisters in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul was of the opinion that they should not take along with them this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. Now it turned into such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas, and left after being entrusted by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he was traveling through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches (Acts 15:36-41).

Two men of God had such a sharp disagreement that they had to part company. It doesn’t look good. Which one was right? Which was wrong? Were they both right and both wrong? Was Paul wrong for refusing to accept Mark as a ministry partner? Was Barnabas wrong for not acceding to Paul? Barnabas had been the Senior Mentor, the Senior Apostle. Why wouldn’t Paul accept the counsel of his mentor of many years, a veteran in the ministry?

They both had good points. Someone who had deserted and hindered the mission before could fail again. Trust had not been rebuilt between Mark and Paul. Paul might have brought to mind the words of Proverbs: “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint” (Prov 25:19).  

Yet Mark was family to Barnabas. He couldn’t give up on him that easily. Barnabas, whose name means encourager, understood grace and the transforming power of Jesus Christ to give a second chance. Barnabas might have argued back with Jesus’ words to repeatedly forgive those who have sinned against us and exercise the grace of God.

So reconciling was not possible at that time and they went their own ways in ministry rather than working together. It seems from the text that Barnabas left without a blessing, like Paul received, “being entrusted by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.”

Yet the Lord blessed both ministries, and eventually they reconciled although we don’t know the story. We find Paul speaking well of Barnabas to the Corinthians a few years later (1 Cor 9:6). More than a decade later, Paul speaks well of Mark. We don’t know the process of healing, but It happened. It was real. Writing to Philemon, Paul calls Mark “my fellow worker” (v 24). He exhorted the Colossian church, “if he comes to you, welcome him” (Col 4:10). He tells Timothy, ‘Take along Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (2 Tim 4:11). Perhaps it took years, but they were reconciled and did ministry together once again.

There was a time in recent years before my father passed away that we were alienated. Someone had told him some false tales about me, and it caused my father to lose trust in me, and he wanted me out of his life—to no longer be his power of attorney. But I continued to love him and care for him. Someone else he did trust shared with him that the stories were not true, and I regained his trust again and he entrusted me to be his power of attorney once again.

It is certainly possible that reconciliation may never happen in your situation. But if you do your part to extend an olive branch of peace, who knows what God might do? It may take years, but wait on God to work. Peace and good will begins with our attitude and care–forgiving fully and unconditionally.

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Capturing the Pond Monster

I was playing by the pond of our new house with my two grand-daughters, Janna and Abigail, aged 7 and 4. They saw a long branch sticking out of the water at the side of our pier on the pond and wanted me to pull it out. I reached over the railing and started to pull. it wouldn’t come out. I grabbed with both hands, then realized it was attached to a large, heavy log about five feet long that had broken off the tree above.

I was able to move it closer to the pier, and they were able to grab hold of the branch. Together we pulled and got it closer, but it still wouldn’t pull out. We could see in the water that it was stuck in the mud, pinned in by other branches and covered with leaves, plants, and slime. It looked almost like an alligator, so the girls called it “the pond monster.”

A couple of weeks later, their cousins, Frances and Naomi, aged 7 and 5, came to visit for Thanksgiving. Janna and Abigail were eager to show them the monster of the pond. Somehow these four courageous and determined young adventurers pulled this heavy, slimy log—branches, leaves, mud, and all–out of the water. They shouted with excitement, “We’ve captured the pond monster!”

I probably could have pulled the log out myself two weeks earlier if I had really made the effort, but my daughter and wife would not have been happy with all the slime and mess. Yet four resourceful and resolute little girls would find a way.

This reminded me that when we think we are dealing just with a branch in our eye, there may be a huge log attached to it beneath the surface that we may have not seen or don’t want to deal with. Sometimes the logs in our eyes have deeper, larger, and more ingrained roots. We think we have dealt with the log in our eye, and we have dealt with only a branch.

It is a pond monster, and we don’t want to make the effort to pull it out. We have enough mess in our lives, we don’t want to deal with more muck and slime. So we keep the monster of our pond under the surface and bury it in the mud.

However, Scripture counsels us: “Pursue peace with all people, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:14-15).

If determined little girls can get the monster out of the pond, by God’s grace and our willingness and determined surrender to God, so can we.

 “I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He reached down to me and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud;
And He set my feet on a rock, making my footsteps firm.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”
–Psalm 40:1-
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Peace Through Forgiveness—Not Amnesia, But Release from Pain

Full peace and reconciliation takes time and work. Continuing to forgive. Not bringing up or dwelling on the past. Forgiving and forgetting does not mean amnesia—having no memory. Rather, it means that it no longer matters; it no longer has an effect. The pain is gone.

When I had cancer surgery, there were times afterward that I was climbing the walls in pain, even with the morphine. When I had hiccups for three days that would not stop, it felt like someone was stabbing me in the gut with each hiccup. I look back now and remember that I was in so much agony and misery. But I cannot remember the pain. You know you are healed when you have the memory, but there is no more pain. That is the peace, the shalom of God.

How do you get there? By continuing to apply the healing salve of forgiveness. The healing salve is the shalom of God, well-being within. It is deep peace that only God can give, only as we let go.

On one occasion, I was destined to share the speaking roster with someone who had wounded me severely and caused major devastation in my life many years earlier. It was a test of whether I was fully healed. I had several choices. I could have quietly backed out. I could have told the organizer I did not want to share the speaking roster, but by God’s grace, I no longer had any animosity toward this person and quietly accepted the invitation on the speaking schedule. 

And although we never had opportunity to talk and this person never directly acknowledged or apologized to me for the past, I was mentioned in a positive way and I sensed in the person’s message that a change had taken place and the person had softened and experienced genuine transformation of character.

Through the years, I had continued to confess, “Lord, I forgive this person,” until I finally sensed a release. Although I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, the fact that I was able to share the speaking roster without animosity demonstrated to me that I had truly forgiven. I had let go.

When my mentors were working with me through some reconciliation issues with a couple in a conflict, I would pray as Jesus prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” My mentors encouraged me to do the tough work of reconciliation by making it more direct and personal, looking them in the eyes and saying directly to them by name, “_______, I forgive you, for you know not what you do.” That is a test of real forgiveness. When I did that, although it was hard, I felt a sense of relief and release. When we forgive, we make peace with ourselves.

If there is any pain remaining in your life from being wounded, may you find release from that pain through forgiving and letting go. May you experience God’s shalom–His deep peace.

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