Do you feel stuck? JP walks us through Acts 15:36-16:5. While this passage of Scripture is descriptive and not prescriptive, JP shows us how God can move us forward on mission, despite feeling stuck. God doesn’t give us permission to get stuck or to stay stuck, but there is hope that He can use us in our mess, and there is hope for us to get out of our mess.
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Do You Believe in the Myth or Follow the Man
The Hopeless, the Hospitable, and the Hostile
Stuck on Mission
The First Church Council and the Matter of First Importance
Watermark, how are you doing? To our brothers and sisters in Plano and Fort Worth, we love you. We're excited for you to tune in. I'm stoked to be back in Acts today. If you were watching the news yesterday at all, you're seeing Hurricane Harvey sit on a little area of Texas, kind of Victoria and Rockport and that area. That's where I grew up on a small farm.
What that meant was when we would go on vacation we would go to a place called Port Aransas. If you've ever been to Cancun or the Caribbean, it's like that. A little muddier and… Okay, it's nothing like that. More like Lewisville but bigger. Here's what Port Aransas does have that the other places don't. You can drive on the beach there. Growing up that was really cool.
We would stay in this condo outside of town, and I can remember Dad sending me on a mission to the grocery store. He's like, "Hey, you're going to go to the grocery store," and I'm like, "Man, that's awesome. I'm in, but can I drive on the beach?" Because you could pull on the beach and then drive toward town on the beach. He's like, "Sure."
Like I said, I grew up on a farm, so Dad had this long-bed, extended-cab Chevrolet pickup truck. It was a standard, manual shift. He's like, "Sure. Take the truck, but just don't get stuck." I'm like, "Get stuck." So I go in the truck and I'm driving, and there's a path there where the sand is all beaten down. You could stay on the path. That's where all of the other cars drove, but the girls and the fun was closer to the water. You know, a 17-year-old kid. You go off on the sand.
I can remember pulling over a little closer to the action and the wheels starting to slip and slide. So I downshifted, which was stupid. Then all of a sudden I'm not going anywhere. I can remember shifting into low, pulling forward, and then shifting into reverse, pulling backward, not going anywhere, shifting into low, shifting into reverse.
I kept doing that until I buried the axle. That's the bar between the two tires. That's now underground. I'm not going anywhere. Now all of the ladies I was hoping to impress are driving by like, "This joker can't even drive a standard." My brother is with me, and I have to send him for help. "You have to go get help."
I start there, because there are times in life when you're supposed to be on mission and you know God has this calling on your life and you hear "The reason I'm alive is to do all of these wonderful things for the kingdom and for God" and you just feel stuck, like you can't go anywhere. There's a circumstance, a situation, something that happened to you, something you were a part of, and you feel like you can't move forward.
As we move through Acts today toward the end of Acts 15, it's like we're watching this play unfold, and you're going to see three people who are stuck in different situations and circumstances, and you're going to be tempted… If you were just outside the narrative and you didn't know what happens, you would think the story ends here. These guys are now disqualified for the mission. But that's not what happens.
Maybe you've heard that God is calling you to a life of amazing ministry, but you came in today and you feel like too much is being asked of you and you're scared. You can't move forward. Maybe you feel like your past is following you, like you have a reputation you can't overcome and people won't give you a second chance, or maybe you feel like you're stuck in an argument or a conflict and you haven't thought about the mission in a long time because you can't see past the conflict in front of you.
Maybe you feel like you were born into such family dysfunction there's no real hope for you to do effective ministry. Or maybe you feel stuck in a bad marriage. You've chosen this person and you're thinking, "I chose wrongly; I chose incorrectly," and it's just hard. Or maybe you came in today and you're experiencing such a deep grief. Maybe you lost somebody close to you, and you can't think about the mission or God's calling on your life because you can't see past the deep despair that fills your heart.
I pray you'd find hope from this text, because the people we're going to look at are going through all of those circumstances I just mentioned. We're going to see God do incredible things despite their mess. We're talking about how God can move us forward on mission despite us feeling stuck. It's no secret this is a descriptive, historical text. There are not a lot of instructions for you here. This is not like the Proverbs or James. You're watching and observing the lives and characters of the Scripture in history.
What you can do is learn a lot about the character of God and how God interacts with humans and how he might feel toward us. We're going to see about the loving, restorative character and nature of God and how he does have a purpose for our lives, but let me give you this disclaimer. This message is not permission to get stuck or to stay stuck. This message is to give you hope that God can still use you in your mess and he's calling you out of it.
In case you're just joining us, let me give you a quick review of where we've been. I'll start three chapters back in Acts 13. You have Paul and Barnabas. They're boldly declaring the gospel. "God has sent a Savior, Jesus, just as he promised," and the Jews are like, "What? Who are you talking about?" and persecution is stirred up. One thing that's important to mention in Acts 13… It's like one line there, but Luke includes it. Over and over it's John Mark. There's a guy John Mark with them, and he left. When they got to Pamphylia he deserted them.
In Acts 14, there's a crowd there at Lystra, and they want to worship Paul, but then in a strange turn of events they stone him. They think they kill him. They drag him outside the city, but Paul, being this crazy strong missionary, gets up, dusts himself off, and goes back and wrecks shop in Antioch, sharing the gospel. Then in Acts 15 you have the Jerusalem Council, and you have these guys come up and say, "Hey, you want to convert Gentiles? Wait a minute. Gentiles are believing? Well, then they need to be circumcised."
They're like, "Hold on. Salvation isn't contingent upon circumcision." So they write this letter and send Paul and Barnabas and a group of people out to the church. They go to Antioch so they can share the truth of the gospel. Today in this text, as we move through Acts 15-16, we're going to see someone stuck in a reputation of immaturity, two others who are stuck in conflict, and someone who's stuck in family dysfunction and how God helps them prevail on mission through all of these circumstances.
Acts 15:36: "Some time later…" We don't know how long later after Paul and Barnabas go to Antioch with a crew of folks. It's about AD 48. "…Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.'" I told you I grew up on a farm. Dad had cows on different plots of land in neighboring towns around us.
Saturdays for us meant we would go and check the cows. I would open the gates and we'd pull in and he'd feed them and count them and make sure they were all there, and then we'd move to another place and he'd feed them and count them and make sure they were all there, and then we'd move to another place. We were checking on them. These guys are moving through the churches checking on them.
Once a year, he would bring all the cattle into one place, into a pen and vaccinate them. He would give them some sort of vaccination to make sure pests and pestilence and things that would seek to make them sick wouldn't creep into the herd. You have Paul and Barnabas moving throughout the churches checking on them and vaccinating them with truth and grace. That's what's happening in this text.
"Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work." Luke sides with Paul here. Luke is showing you that Mark is a deserter. He deserted them and did not continue with them in the work. This way Mark has soured his reputation with Paul.
Mark gets there. They're doing work. They've seen great things happen, but they've also endured great hardship. He gets to the mountains of Taurus and he's like, "Hey, I think I'm done. I think I'm out on this." We don't know exactly why. The text doesn't tell us. He could be scared from the bandits that show up that we talk about in 2 Corinthians 11 or the persecution that Paul and Barnabas are about to endure from the Jews.
It could be very likely that he's disagreeing with advancing the gospel to the Gentiles, because he doesn't stop at Antioch and report the success the church has experienced. He goes straight back to Jerusalem, which was a longer journey. Here's what we know. This man came to a place where he was questioning his call to ministry. He's like, "You know what? To continue on this mission is hard. I'm done. I'm going to go back to where it's easy. I don't want to keep doing this."
You think, "Well, I can't really relate to that." Let me just ask you a few questions. Has this ever happened to you? You think, "You know what? I'm going to share the gospel with that coworker one day. Maybe tomorrow or the next day or next week." Or you go for it. You take a step. "Hey, how are you doing? Everything going good? How's the fam? Do you know Jesus?"
"What? Who? No. What?"
"How's the family? Okay. No, I didn't say Jesus. What?" You back off. Or you're like, "You know what? We need to have those neighbors over for dinner." You say that back and forth, husband and wife. "One day we need to have them over for dinner."
"You're right. One day we need to have them over for dinner." You know, 2015. In 2016, "One day we should really have them over and love on them. That would be good." "This is the year…" You go home. Maybe this is every year. "This is the year I'm going to start reading the Bible every morning. This is the year of quiet time. I'm going to set the alarm. I'm going to get up early. I'm going to do it this year." Then by February your Bible is getting dusty.
Maybe your heart is just stirred here. You come in and hear a message. You're like, "Oh man, there's a God. I'm going. I'm doing it. I'm going to leave here and adopt and never sin again. It's going to be amazing." Then by Monday it's back to normal. There's some immaturity stirred up. I've said before a lack of commitment is the mark of immaturity.
1._ When you're stuck in immaturity, God can move you back on mission. I could have said when you're stuck in fear or when you're stuck in a bad reputation, but I chose _immaturity because that's how I think Paul views John Mark. "The brother is immature. He's not going to go with us on mission."
Who is this guy John Mark? Remember in Acts when Peter gets out of prison and goes to this prayer gathering at the house of Mary? He's knocking on the door there. Somebody comes and answers the door. Mary is the mother of John Mark. In the garden when they arrest Jesus there's a guy there wearing only a linen garment, and the Scripture says he ran off naked. That's our boy John Mark. Then in Acts 13:13 he says, "Hey, I'm done on this mission."
You might be tempted to think, "Okay, God is done with this guy. He's not going to continue on the mission anymore," but what happens is he goes on to write the first gospel we have, the gospel of Mark. Let's just be honest. If you wrote the Bible, that's winning. He did something great. It's not just that. He doesn't stop there. Then it says he goes on to strengthen the church with Peter, and Peter loves this guy so much as a missionary in 1 Peter 5:13 he calls Mark his son.
Not just that. Right here what we're about to see is this split between these two people. He goes "Team Barnabas," because Barnabas is his cousin. We know that from Colossians 4:10. He goes with his cousin, and they see effective ministry. They see the mission. God moves and blesses that decision. Not just that. He and Paul fully reconcile. Paul sees this guy as a man worthy of the mission. Something changes in Paul's heart.
In Philemon, verse 24, Paul calls Mark his fellow worker. He goes on at least two other missionary journeys with Paul. So here Paul is like, "No, not him." Later on Paul is like, "Bring me him. Something has changed in that guy." Colossians 4:10: "My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)" In the Greek it's stronger. It's "Welcome him heartily. Give him a heartfelt welcome."
Not just that. Second Timothy 4:11… This is beautiful, because it's ironically when Demas has now deserted Paul. So Paul feels deserted by yet another one, and he's like, "Okay, I need some encouragement," and he says, " Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry." Let me just give you the bigger picture. We just read from a letter Paul wrote to a man named Timothy who now in Acts he hasn't met yet, but he's about to.
What I want you to see in that letter that is written in the future is that Paul, this guy who says, "I don't want him going with us," is now saying, "Hey, if I'm choosing teams and I can choose a person, a player, I want John Mark. That brother is faithful." He changed his reputation. Mark's life was not marked by flakiness and a lack of commitment. It was marked by faithfulness to the mission of God.
If you're here and you feel like God can't use you because of some of your immature decisions or because you're immature and young in the faith and you don't know the Bible, it's not too late for you. Maybe you've failed in something he has called you to do. The application today is it's not too late to act in faithfulness. It's not too late to grow in your faith. It's not too late to honor your commitments. It's not too late to ask for forgiveness where you've missed it, because when you're stuck in immaturity God can move you back on mission.
Over a decade, I've served in ministry with young adults, Millennials, some of them marked by their inability to make and keep commitments. As I look back early on, one particular individual stands out, the single most flaky person I've ever met in my entire life. When you're shepherding volunteers, you see a name down, like "Hey, someone is going to serve here," and there's a name that is a blessing and a name that is a beating.
One is like "They're going to be there. They're going to be there early." One is like, "Yeah, maybe. They might show up. We probably should recruit someone else." That's kind of a burden. For this particular individual, there was just time and time again… She would sign up for something, we'd show up, and she wasn't there. We'd reach out and she wouldn't answer. We'd text. "Hey, where were you?" Four days later… "Oh sorry. Grandmother came into town." "I had to change my sock drawer." Something.
It would happen again and again and again. I was just like, "Something is going on there. I don't know what it is." Years go by. We have some new people on the staff team, and they come up and are like, "Hey, we would like her to serve with us." I see who it is and I'm like, "Nuh-uh. No way. No, no, no. See, you guys are new. You don't know. Let me give you some history. She's not going to show up." They're like, "Really? That's strange." What was interesting was she did, and then she continued to, and people followed her, and she moved to leadership.
The Holy Spirit had done a work in her life, where this immature, flaky person I knew had become this mature follower of Jesus Christ who was the first one there and the last one to leave and one of the most faithful. So much so that when we were looking for a leader of a Labor Day retreat or some event she was first on our list. She continues to be first on our list. She ended up getting married, and God continued to do an incredible work so that now she's one of the faithful leaders here. God changes reputations when you turn to him.
You don't have to continue to embrace, "Well, this is just who I am. I'm just the non-committed person." Commitments honor God. If you're here and you look at your life and you're like, "Yeah, I'm kind of the person who always changes plans last minute," you need to know something. It doesn't honor God. That is inconsistent with a follower of Jesus Christ, and there may need to be a step of maturity, a little bit of growing up you need to do, because that's not who Christ followers are. We do what we say we're going to do.
You also need to know it is not too late. That's not a disease you're stuck with. It's not a generational sin you can't break out of. Right now you can leave this room and say, "You know what? I'm going to be the first one there and the last one to leave from here on out. I'm going to honor God and the commitments I make and the commitments I keep. That's what I'm going to do."
When you're stuck in immaturity, God can move you back on mission. John Mark made a poor decision. "I'm out, guys. This looks hard. I'm out." He went home. "You know what? I'm back in. Put me back in the game. God, use me. I'm going to write one of the Gospels. I'm in. I'm all in. Use my life." Let's go. Let's look at it again and focus on these other guys.
Verse 37: "Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them…" This is the imperfect tense: wanted to. It's he asked repeatedly to take John Mark. "Paul, can we take John Mark? Hey, I really think my cousin would do well. Let's call John Mark. Hey, come on. Give him a chance. John Mark. Oh, you want to bring somebody? John Mark." Over and over and over. "…Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work."
You have two personalities at play here. A little bit of truth, a little bit of grace. Barnabas is a high grace guy. They changed his name to "son of encouragement." I like to think of Barnabas like my friend John Elmore. I don't even know how John Elmore has so much time to encourage people. The brother is just constantly encouraging folks. He's here leading in Recovery ministry. He's the "second chance" guy, all about, "Hey, JP, listen. God can restore people. You can give them a second chance."
"Okay, John. I understand."
"Remember what a mess you were?"
"Okay. That's enough, John."
John is kind of Barnabas. Paul, on the other hand, is like, "Dude, we have to focus. If we're choosing teams, let's take the best. He's a deserter. Sorry he's family, but let's move on." So these guys are at odds. It says, in fact, "They had such a sharp disagreement…" That word disagreement is paroxusmos. It translates as anger, irritation, exasperation.
"…that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches." They split, vaccinating the churches with truth and grace, and it's this low moment in the text where the church is watching on, and you have McGregor and Mayweather swinging for the fences, but they're brothers in Christ and it's weird. You're just like, "Oh man. What's going on?"
You think this is where the church is really hurt. If you've ever heard about this text in any context, it's a low moment. But what are the results? One team of faithful missionaries who love Jesus and are sharing the gospel becomes two teams of faithful missionaries who love Jesus and are sharing the gospel. More people are reached for Christ and more people saved and the church grows and is strengthened. What the Enemy meant for evil God uses for good in spite of their dysfunction, in spite of their conflict.
2._ When you're stuck in conflict, God can move you back on mission._ Right about now you're going to be tempted to think, "Maybe that's what I need to do. We just need to part ways and not talk again." Did Paul and Barnabas reconcile? I have a lot of reasons to believe they did. Paul in 1 Corinthians, chapter 9, when he's talking about the rights of apostles (this written later), he talks about himself and his friend Barnabas, and then in Colossians 4 he talks about it again.
It seems like they settled the bad blood between them, like they're boys again. Paul is not writing a song, "Look What You Made Me Do." That's not what's going on here. They're friends again, but more importantly, they're killing it for the kingdom. If we look at the map, you have the cousin crew hitting the island life of Cyprus, and then "Team Paul and Silas" left for Syria and Cilicia. They're vaccinating the churches with grace and truth. They're going to these places. People are converting, the church is growing, and it all happened through conflict.
When I came here, one of the first series I heard done at Watermark Community Church was a series called Lord of the Ring. It's to date one of the best series I've heard. It ministered to me. It blew my mind how practical the Bible gets on resolving conflict and how difficult some of those first steps are, like "Don't look past yourself. Look inward." Just how simple they are and yet so difficult. It really ministered to me.
I remember what Todd said in Lord of the Ring. He said conflict is a constant opportunity. I'd always viewed conflict as negative, but he said no, it's a constant opportunity to display Christ. He did the series again called Conflict: A Constant Opportunity. In fact, I'd encourage you if you don't know what I'm talking about right now to find it on Watermark.org. As soon as the morning is over I will tweet that message out. I want to make sure you have that resource.
When I got to come on staff later, the first thing I had the opportunity to do was to take that content to Africa. We went to war-torn Rwanda and got to teach the government there some of the same content on basic biblical reconciliation, conflict reconciliation, and it ministered to the people there. Not just teaching them but teaching them to teach others what the Bible says about resolving conflict.
I want to tell you about my very favorite moment on staff. If you've been here long, you know we have a lot of fun at staff Christmas parties. It's pretty epic. In fact, Todd is a genius at throwing this epic Christmas party on a tight budget. That's what we do. It's here, and it's so much fun. It's kind of like MTV Spring Break wild without alcohol and a lot of Jesus. It's actually nothing like that, but it's crazy.
You're like, "You've got to give me more." A picture is worth a thousand words. One year we had to bob for fruitcake and eggnog. There I am about to do it, there I am doing it, and there I am afterward. I'm sorry you had to see that. I had to live it, though. Then one year I was a human gingerbread man. There was powdered sugar and syrup and Skittles. Kids are included too. We let the kids get in the fun.
You're thinking, "Well, that's not fun," but it is a lot of fun. Just trust me. One year we played this game that if you lost you had to go swim in frigid waters or swim in eggnog or something crazy, something terrible, or you could get back in the game by taking a shot of Tabasco sauce, which was so fun. I thought it was. I'm like, "This is awesome." As fun as that was, that wasn't my favorite moment.
I go to staff prayer the next day, and it dawns on me that not everybody was having fun with the shots of Tabasco. They had some lingering painful effects evidently. Bobby Crotty, who leads in our men's Equipping ministry… There are all kinds of aged folks on staff and spouses are there too, so he speaks up on behalf of the people who weren't having fun and says, "Hey, we might need to reconsider that for next year."
Todd comes back and says, "Hey, Bobby, I appreciate that. I'll consider that, but I'm going to continue to do what I think I need to do." Bobby says again, "Hey, you might want to consider the legal ramifications of the choices you're making." Todd says, "Hey, I hear you." They go back and forth, and it escalates. Everybody else is sitting there quietly.
It continues, and these two men who love God and everybody respects are going back and forth until Todd says, "Bobby, that's enough." I'm like, "Oh no. I can't feel my legs. What do I do? What is going on?" It's like, "Okay, we're going to go to pray," which is what we do in staff prayer. We break and pray. They get up and walk out, and everybody is quiet. We pray and say "amen" and go back to the desk, and it's like this dark cloud is just sitting on our staff. There's no laughter. There's no fun. There's just sadness.
Someone comes over the intercom and says, "Everybody needs to meet in the eighth floor lobby right now." I'm thinking, "Oh great. This is the end." I'm like, "What does a severance look like at a church?" That wasn't my favorite moment on staff, but this one was. I show up and Todd's arm is around Bobby and he's crying. He's moved with emotion and he's choking out the words.
"Guys, I love this man. You need to know I love this man, and I'm so thankful for his courage to speak up. Guys, you just need to know that I want everyone to have fun and I give some forethought to what that might be, but I need to learn that what's fun for me isn't fun for everybody else. Guys, I've asked his forgiveness. I want to ask the entire staff's forgiveness. Anyone who was hurt by that, I'd love to talk to you personally. Please give me the opportunity to apologize to you personally."
Bobby interrupts him and says, "Guys, I want to ask your forgiveness. I was disrespectful in the way I went to Todd. I should have talked to Todd. I should have pulled him aside. The way I approached him in front of everybody and the way it got heated was not Spirit-led." Todd says, "I was not filled with the Spirit in the way I responded. Will you guys forgive me?" Again there were tears and emotions. That was my favorite moment on staff. We prayed and celebrated and everybody went back to their desks strengthened.
What the Enemy meant for bad God used for good. All that I saw there were two men who loved Jesus who modeled what they taught and lived it out. It's not if you get into conflict. That's a fact of life. It's coming. It's how you handle conflict. It's how you respond in the midst of conflict. When you're stuck in conflict, God can move you back on mission. You have Paul and Barnabas like, "Hey man, we can't just stay here and duke it out. You want to take John Mark? You go that way. I'm going to go this way. Let's just tell more people about Jesus. Let's go."
Chapter 16 now. "Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek." If you think you have a messy family, let me just repeat that. His mother was Jewish. She married a Greek, a nonbeliever, a Zeus worshiper, and then she becomes a Christian. It's this messy situation where you're like, "Okay, single mom," because the dad leaves at some point. We don't know if he just left her or if he dies, but it's a sad situation. Timothy grows up in this broken home.
"The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him." Which is strange, for a lot of reasons. We see reputation at play here. Remember John Mark's reputation as a deserter? Now you have young Timothy's reputation as a faithful man, people speaking well of him, but this guy who would have been half Greek would have been known by Jews as a half-breed, not invited into the synagogue. He couldn't worship with everyone else, couldn't be taught like everyone else, and yet somehow the grace of God enters his life and he earns a reputation of being faithful.
People say, "Do you know Timothy?" Paul listened to them, so he wanted to take him on the journey. Verse 3: "…so he circumcised him because of the Jews…" You say, "Why did he do that?" It tells us. "…because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek." Let's agree on this: that's commitment to the mission. I'm serious. I'm not even just making a joke. Let's consider that this grown man…
Paul is like, "Hey, will you come with me?" He's like, "Sure." Paul is like, "One thing. I need you to be circumcised." "Okay." Why, though? Because he wants to be all things to all people. "If we're going to go and share the gospel with those people, I don't want the fact that your dad is a Greek to get in the way of that, so let's just make sure we earn their ear. It's not contingent on salvation. It's not something you have to do, but let's get their ear. Let's make sure nothing hinders the message of the gospel."
I see this all the time. Guys come and say, "I sense the Lord might be calling me to vocational ministry." We sit down, and I watch those young men count the cost and say, "I don't know if he is." It's okay, because they continue to be in ministry in the corporate world and wherever they are, doing ministry where they are.
I see some men who say, "I believe the Lord is calling…" Just recently I met with a guy. "I believe the Lord is calling me to vocational ministry." We start talking about what that means, and it meant an enormous sacrifice for this young man who's just starting his life. He just got married. He said, "I'm in. Like I said, God is calling me to ministry." That's what's happening here. This guy says, "I'm in. I am all in."
It seems that Eunice struck a deal with her husband who's now gone. It seems that there was something like, "Hey, you can teach him your ways, teach him the Torah, teach him the Bible now that you're a Christian, but you don't change his body. His body is mine. I get to choose what he does with his body." Even his name is the evidence of compromise. Timotheos (Timothy) means to honor God in the Greek.
3._ When you're stuck in family dysfunction, God can move you back on mission._ Eunice's life is marked by challenges because of decisions she made before she was a believer. Anybody here have some permanent renderings or permanent consequences from decisions you made before you were a believer? Maybe a marriage situation, broken relationships, something that follows you from decisions you made. I personally have a tattoo of a red spade. You would say, "Why red?" I don't know. I thought I was in a gang or something crazy.
My kids ask me all the time, "Daddy, what is that?" I tell them, "That's a scar. That's a reminder that there was a day that I didn't walk with Jesus. That's what that is." I'm not slamming tattoos. I'm slamming my tattoo. (Unless you have a red spade. Then I'm slamming your tattoo.) Things that follow us. What happens with Eunice is the Holy Spirit comes into her life, and she did a good job raising Tim. Paul loves this guy. We know over and over that Paul loves this guy. He calls him his son.
Second Timothy 1:3-5. This is Paul writing to Timothy. "I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy." Because when I see you, Timothy, I'm filled with joy. "I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also."
All the time here we see divorce and old habits and broken homes and single parents and people who think, "It just seems like the cards are really stacked against me," and God blooms something really beautiful from that situation. Someone moves forward on mission in one of the most beautiful ways.
Here you have Eunice saying, "Yeah, I married a nonbeliever and he left or died, and I'm not looking to jump right back into something else, because I have a son. I'm going to begin to pour my life so that he knows the ways of God. That's my ministry: to care for this young man and to show him the way he should go so that when he grows he does not depart from it."
He goes on to be one of the greatest missionaries who ever lived. He would not have been voted "most likely to succeed" by anyone, and certainly not the most likely to pastor one of the biggest churches that ever was, but God. All of these people give us hope. This gives us hope. Whatever your family dysfunction is, you're not disqualified. I'm not sure what it takes for you to believe that, but you need to hear that. You're not disqualified.
All of these stories give us hope because they demonstrate that God can work through some of the biggest messes we find ourselves in. I look back at my own marriage. Year one… You talk about a mess. She didn't marry a Greek pagan. She married a green, immature believer who used God as a weapon and wanted to be worshiped. When I thought of marriage, I thought it was this incredible place where I'm served and a party of the best kind, and when I got there it was different.
I had no idea and none of the maturity how to handle that situation. It felt like my marriage situation was the worst situation. I felt stuck. Guys came around and girls came around her and said, "This is the path. You don't have to walk on the path. You can go on any path. If you want to veer off the path and get stuck you can, but this is the path, and you can take one foot in front of the other and walk in faithfulness."
I see it here all the time. Some of the biggest situations… You think you're stuck in a bad situation. I promise you I've seen God work through worse. One young woman in particular comes to mind. Divorced. All kinds of pain and scars from that situation. She copes with the divorce in the worst kinds of ways…at the bars, in the clubs, with men. She latches onto this guy who was a predator, to say the least.
I'm coming around her and saying, "Hey, this guy is no good for you," and she continues like a dog to his vomit to go to that which is bringing destruction and death in her life. As a minister, you watch on and you're so deeply grieved. One day we're meeting and she says, "He doesn't want me to tell you this, but I think I need to," and she starts telling the truth. I was like, "Oh, God just might be at work here."
She starts learning the Scriptures and following the Lord, and it's crazy because she has this personality. Girls start following her, and I just see this tremendous change. She becomes a minister of the gospel. So much so that when we had a spot on our staff I was like, "We have to hire the dysfunctional girl who now loves Jesus." God is at work there. She became truly, as I look back, one of the greatest partners in ministry to me as she cared for the women here. That's what God does over and over. He works through people who are stuck to put them back on mission.
Let's look at the results quickly. "As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions…" Remember the letter they got last week. They delivered the decisions from the Jerusalem Council. "…reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey." They're vaccinating the churches with truth and grace. "So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers."
Here's the result. It's not a passage of man's faithfulness but God's faithfulness to work despite man's imperfections. Let me give you the summary one more time. When you're stuck in immaturity, God can move you back on mission. When you're stuck in conflict, God can move you back on mission. When you're stuck in family dysfunction, God can move you back on mission, because we are called to the greatest mission that ever has been and ever will be. What are you doing?
I was at The Porch this Tuesday. The Porch is about to start. I walk out there, and I'm talking to a pastor, and we're interrupted by a young man. I say, "Can I wrap up this conversation? I'd love to hear what's going on." We wrap up and I go to him. "What's going on?" He's facing me. My back is against the wall. He's like, "I'm just stuck, man." Very expressive. "I'm just stuck. I'm so discouraged." I'm like, "What has you discouraged, bro? Talk to me about it."
"Man, I lost my job. Nothing is going my way. God, where are you? I feel angry at God. I'm so stuck. I turn on the news. People are pulling down monuments. There's so much racial tension. What's going on in our world? It seems like we're going to hell in a handbasket. I'm so stuck. I'm so discouraged." He's getting expressive, and people are watching now. I'm like, "Man, I'm sorry you got stuck. I'm sorry you lost your job. Are you connected? Are you serving here?"
"Oh man, no, I'm not serving. I'm stuck." I put my arm around this young man and turned him around to face everybody who was walking in. I said, "Do you see all those people?" He just keeps going. "You turn on the news, man. I'm so discouraged."
"Hold on. Do you see everyone? Do you see all those people coming in? Do you know 3,600 twenty- and thirty-somethings are about to fill this place right now? It's Tuesday. They could be out for $2 mojitos, but they're here around the Word of God. I don't know if you noticed, but do you see past that group? Do you see that trash can back there against the wall? In fact, there are three of them. Do you see the three trash cans? What's interesting is somebody changed the trash. You see they're empty. I don't know who but someone did.
Right above those trash cans there are all these papers set out, and they're stacked up nicely; papers about re:generation and re|engage and Prodigal and all of the ministries that are happening here all throughout the week. I just want to make sure you know someone created those handouts, cut those handouts, printed those handouts, and brought them out and stacked them in those nice stacks you see. Right beside those handouts, do you see that big tub of water? Do you know somebody put that out?
I don't know who did, but somebody filled that water tub. They woke up today and said, 'The way I am going to serve my Savior Jesus Christ is I'm going to take a big plastic tub and fill it with water so that people can drink.' I don't know who did it, but what's going to happen in a minute is someone in there is going to preach the gospel. They're going to read from the Scriptures, and everybody who comes in is going to think, 'Thank you for your faithfulness,' but they don't realize that it took an army.
I'm sorry you're stuck, bro, but the mission moves with or without you. You can take a step and be a part of the greatest mission that ever was and ever will be. Not The Porch, not Watermark but the movement of Jesus Christ and his church. You could take a step and be a part of it or you can continue to sit back and be so discouraged and not see past your own discouragement at all of the incredible things God is doing."
Go back with me to being stuck on the side of that beach. My brother went and got my dad. My dad is a John Wayne-like character. He opens the driver's side door. "Move over, boy." "Yes, sir. You got it." He puts the truck in reverse, gives it a little gas, puts the truck in first, gives it a little gas, and just pulls out. It's frustrating. Just like magic, like dad magic. "How did you do that?" He pulls it back on the path and says, "Go to the store. Continue the mission."
I don't know where you are. You look to the Father, you get back on the path, and you continue the mission. That's why you're here. That's why God has you here. You look to the Father, you get back on the path, and you continue the mission.
Father, I pray that they would. Thank you for all of the folks who make this possible through faithfulness and service and all that they do. Thank you for the great and amazing God you are, that you would move despite our brokenness, despite the messes we find ourselves in. Everything we're in, we want to blame you, like we didn't choose the person we married, like we didn't choose the place that we work, like we didn't choose the circumstances.
When we find ourselves in circumstances that we chose, we want to turn to you and blame you, God. We want to start there. Would you please forgive us for that? Some of us are stuck in our choices. We're stuck in our circumstances. We're stuck in our situations and need your help. Would you move us back on mission? Would you help us, God? Would you move us forward? In the name of Jesus, amen.