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Peace in the Valley of Failure

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Peace in the Valley of Failure

Acts 15:36-41      September 19, 2004


Scripture Reading:


ILLUS.: “Lady’s wild ride sets nursing home abuzz”, Chgo. Trib., Fri., 9/17/04:

God is never surprised by our sins or failures. He always has a contingency plan. He is the God of Second Chances.

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."” (Ge 2:15-17 NivUS)

 “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?" He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" The man said, "The woman you put here with me— she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, "Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." (Ge 3:6-15 NivUS)


Judah (Er, Onan, Shelah) Tamar – Perez




Jerusalem – Ezra, Nehemiah


Simon Peter, the Rock, very often looked more like a sandpile than a rock.

   John Powell

Among the apostles, the one absolutely stunning success was Judas, and the one thoroughly groveling failure was Peter. Judas was a success in the ways that most impress us: he was successful both financially and politically. He cleverly arranged to control the money of the apostolic band; he skillfully manipulated the political forces of the day to accomplish his goal.

   And Peter was a failure in ways that we most dread: he was impotent in a crisis and socially inept. At the arrest of Jesus he collapsed, a hapless, blustering coward; in the most critical situations of his life with Jesus, the confession on the road to Caesarea Philippi and the vision on the Mount of Transfiguration, he said the most embarrassingly inappropriate things. He was not the companion we would want with us in time of danger, and he was not the kind of person we would feel comfortable with at a social occasion.

   Time, of course, has reversed our judgments on the two men. Judas is now a byword for betrayal, and Peter is one of the most honored names in church and world. Judas is a villain; Peter is a saint. Yet the world continues to chase after the successes of Judas, financial wealth and political power, and to defend itself against the failures of Peter, impotence and ineptness.


The Life of Mark (John Mark, cousin of Barnabus)

            At the time of Jesus

“"Am I leading a rebellion," said Jesus, "that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled." Then everyone deserted him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.” (Mr 14:48-52 NivUS)

            After Pentecost during the beginning of the church

“Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating." When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying.” (Ac 12:11-12 NivUS)

   Was Mark one of the first people in history to be raised in a Christian home? His mother's home in Jerusalem, where Mark was likely born and raised, was a gathering place for early Christians; it was the house to which Peter fled after he miraculously escaped from prison. A Byzantine tradition says the house was also used for the Last Supper, and the Church of John Mark in Jerusalem is said to mark the site.

   -- "Paul and His Times," Christian History, no. 47.

            On the first missionary journey

“When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.” (Ac 12:25 NivUS)

“The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.” (Ac 13:4-5 NivUS)

“From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.” (Ac 13:13 NivUS)

Sometime after Pentecost, Mark moved to Antioch, and when the church there commissioned Paul and Barnabas to carry the gospel to Asia Minor, Mark was invited to assist them. For some reason, at Perga, Mark left the mission and returned to Jerusalem--a move that eroded Paul's confidence in Mark.

   -- "Paul and His Times," Christian History, no. 47.

            On the second missionary journey (see Gal. 2:11-13)

“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing." 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. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Ac 15:36-41 NivUS)

   When plans were laid for the next missionary journey, Paul argued vehemently with Barnabas against taking Mark again. The disagreement was so sharp, the group split up, and Mark went with Barnabas to Cyprus.

   -- "Paul and His Times," Christian History, no. 47.

The Greek word for this conflict is a strong one, but does not give us a hint as to who was right or wrong. It is the old problem of whether you put the interests of the individual or the work as a whole first. Human problems happen, but God’s purposes are never thwarted as now two teams set out. Even so, God’s providence is never an excuse for Christian quarreling. It is just that God is bigger than our problems. Some Christian relationship conflicts may never get resolved. In the end here, however, Barnabus refuses to give up on Mark and his hopes for him prove to be well founded.

            Renewed acceptance by Paul (12 years later)

“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.)” (Col 4:10 NivUS)

“Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.” (Phm 1:23-24 NivUS)

   Later, Mark and Paul must have resolved their rift, for Paul calls Mark his "fellow-worker" and tells the Colossians: "If [Mark] comes to you, welcome him."

   -- "Paul and His Times," Christian History, no. 47.

            Continued acceptance by Paul (another 5 years later)

“Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” (2Ti 4:9-11 NivUS)

            Embraced by Peter (who may have led him to the Lord in the first place)

“She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.” (1Pe 5:13 NivUS)

   Mark eventually made his way to Rome, where he became a companion to Peter--indeed, Peter calls him "my son Mark." Early Christian writers Papias and Irenaeus say Mark "handed down to us in writing the things that Peter had proclaimed" about Jesus. This Gospel of Mark was the first published account of the life of Jesus.

   -- "Paul and His Times," Christian History, no. 47.

Eventually writes the Gospel of Mark from Rome to Roman believers

This was the first gospel written (50-60 AD) and the one on which Matthew seems dependent. It is basically an account of the preaching of Peter – simple, unadorned, concise, powerful and direct. It is the “beginning of the gospel” as noted in Mark 1:1. In his gospel, Mark addresses the power of Jesus in overcoming fear. He seems to stress the subjects of suffering and discipleship (for example Mark 8:34-9:1).

   Church historian Eusebius says Mark eventually went to Alexandria to become its first bishop. Tradition claims Mark was martyred there; in the ninth century, his relics were carried off as war booty to Venice, where they are said to rest in the Cathedral of St. Mark.

   -- "Paul and His Times," Christian History, no. 47.

Mark became a missionary in his own right, having been the first to set out for Egypt to preach the gospel and establish churches there. He turned out to have a significant place in Christian history and provided an important link between the ministries of Barnabus, Peter and Paul.

Paul learned from this as we see him ultimately refusing to give up on people like timid Timothy and the weak-willed Corinthians, despite their weaknesses. This is the hope that comes out of the possibilities of grace.

We encourage people who have failed in any particular area of their lives best when our main message to them is not, “You can do it,” but “He can do it in you.”


Are you holding a failure against someone else? You can have peace.


Payback for Wrongs

Forgiveness; Justice; Punishment; Remorse; Repentance; Retribution; Sin

Matthew 18:15-35

Each week Kevin Tunell is required to mail a dollar to a family he'd rather forget. They sued him for $1.5 million but settled for $936, to be paid a dollar at a time. The family expects the payment each Friday so Tunell won't forget what happened on the first Friday of 1982.

That's the day their daughter was killed. Tunell was convicted of manslaughter and drunken driving. He was 17. She was 18. Tunell served a court sentence. He also spent seven years campaigning against drunk driving, six years more than his sentence required. But he keeps forgetting to send the dollar.

The weekly restitution is to last until the year 2000. Eighteen years. Tunell makes the check out to the victim, mails it to her family, and then the money is deposited in a scholarship fund.

The family has taken him to court four times for failure to comply. After the most recent appearance, Tunell spent 30 days in jail. He insists that he's not defying the order but rather is haunted by the girl's death and tormented by the reminders. He offered the family two boxes of checks covering the payments until the year 2001, one year more than required. They refused. It's not money they seek, but penance.

Quoting the mother, "We want to receive the check every week on time. He must understand we are going to pursue this until August of the year 2000. We will go back to court every month if we have to."

Few would question the anger of the family. Only the naïve would think it fair to leave the guilty unpunished. But I do have one concern. Is 936 payments enough? Not for Tunell to send, mind you, but for the family to demand? When they receive the final payment, will they be at peace? In August 2000, will the family be able to put the matter to rest? Is 18 years' worth of restitution sufficient? Will 196 months' worth of remorse be adequate?

How much is enough? Were you in the family and were Tunell your target, how many payments would you require? Better stated, how many payments do you require?

No one—I repeat, no one—makes it through life free of injury. Someone somewhere has hurt you. Like the 18-year-old, you've been a victim. She died because someone drank too much. Part of you has died because someone spoke too much, demanded too much, or neglected too much.

à        Citation: Max Lucado, In the Grip of Grace (Word, 1996)

“"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. "The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. "Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."” (Mt 18:15-35 NivUS)

Are you holding a failure against yourself? You can have peace.


Why Failure Lingers

Emotions; Failure; Human Condition; Human Limitations; Psychology; Regret

1 Kings 19:1-9

Failures take on a life of their own because the brain remembers incomplete tasks or failures longer than any success or completed activity. It's technically referred to as the "Zeigarnik effect." When a project or a thought is completed, the brain places it in a special memory. The brain no longer gives the project priority or active working status, and bits and pieces of the achieved situation begin to decay.

But failures have no closure. The brain continues to spin the memory, trying to come up with ways to fix the mess and move it from active to inactive status.

à        Citation: Perry Buffington, licensed psychologist, author, columnist; "Forgive or Forget," Universal Press Syndicate (August 29, 1999)

“Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, "May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them." Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat." He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you." So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." The LORD said to him, "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel— all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him."” (1Ki 19:1-18 NivUS)

Big Answer:

God is never surprised by our sins or failures. He always has a contingency plan. He is the God of Second Chances.

Timeless Truth:

A failure is not someone who has tried and failed; it is someone who has given up trying and resigned himself to failure; it is not a condition, but an attitude.

   Sydney J. Harris (1917-1986)

A failure, within God's purpose, is no longer really a failure. Thus the cross, the supreme failure, is at the same time the supreme triumph of God, since it is the accomplishment of the purpose of salvation.

   Paul Tournier (1898-1986)

Failure is an invitation to have recourse to God.

   Antonin Dalmace Sertillanges

Failure is not falling down; it is remaining there when you have fallen.

Great accomplishments are often attempted but only occasionally reached. Those who reach them are usually those who missed many times before. Failures are only temporary tests to prepare us for permanent triumphs.

   Charles R. Swindoll (1934- )

He who has never failed cannot be great. Failure is the true test of greatness.

   Herman Melvllle (1819-1891)

I'd rather attempt to do something great and fail than attempt to do nothing and succeed.

   Robert Harold Schuller (1926- )

I've never met a person, I don't care what his condition is, in whom I could not see possibilities. I don't care how much a man may consider himself a failure, I believe in him, for he can change the thing that is wrong in his life any time he is ready and prepared to do it. Whenever he develops the desire, he can take away from his life the thing that is defeating it. The capacity for reformation and change lies within.

   Preston Bradley (1888-1983)

If at first you don't succeed, relax; you're just like the rest of us.

If you have made mistakes, even serious mistakes, there is always another chance for you. And supposing you have tried and failed again and again, you may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call "failure" is not the falling down, but the staying down.

   Mary Pickford (1893-1979 )

If you've never stubbed your toe, you're probably standing still.

In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.

It is defeat which educates us.

   Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

It is very difficult to be humble if you are always successful, so God chastises us with failure at times in order to humble us, to keep us in a state of humility.

   D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)

It's the nature of God to make something out of nothing; therefore, when anyone is nothing, God may yet make something of him .

   Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Jesus Christ's life was an absolute failure from every standpoint but God's.

   Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)

Often we assume that God is unable to work in spite of our weaknesses, mistakes, and sins. We forget that God is a specialist; he is well able to work our failures into his plans.

   Erwin W. Lutzer (1941- )

Our mistakes won't irreparably damage our lives unless we let them.

   James E. Sweaney

We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do, and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.

   Samuel Smiles (1812-1904)

We mount to heaven mostly on the ruins of our cherished schemes, finding our failures were successes.

   Amos Bronson Alcott (1799-1888)

You've failed many times, although you may not remember. You fell down the first time you tried to walk. You almost drowned the first time you tried to swim, didn't you? Did you hit the ball the first time you swung a bat? Heavy hitters, the ones who hit the most home runs, also strike out a lot. R. H. Macy failed seven times before his store in New York caught on. English novelist John Creasey got 753 rejection slips before he published 564 books. Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times, but he also hit 714 home runs. Don't worry about failure. Worry about the chances you miss when you don't even try!

  Saul's soldiers thought Goliath was too big to kill. David thought he was too big to miss!

God uses broken things. Broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.

When the frustration of my helplessness seemed greatest, I discovered God's grace was more than sufficient. And after my imprisonment, I could look back and see how God used my powerlessness for his purpose. What he has chosen for my most significant witness was not my triumphs or victories, but my defeat.

   Charles Colson (1931- )

I myself, at a certain point in my life 18 years ago, became such a failure in what I truly wanted to achieve, that the only thing left for me was success. I just couldn’t envision further failure. That was when I reached my “bottom”.

Failure doesn't mean you are a failure -- it does mean you haven't succeeded yet.

   Failure doesn't mean you have accomplished nothing -- it does mean you have learned something.

   Failure doesn't mean you have been a fool -- it does mean you had a lot of faith.

   Failure doesn't mean you've been disgraced -- it does mean you were willing to try.

   Failure doesn't mean you don't have it -- it does mean you have to do something in a different way.

   Failure doesn't mean you are inferior -- it does mean you are not perfect.

   Failure doesn't mean you've wasted your life -- it does mean you have a reason to start afresh.

   Failure doesn't mean you should give up -- it does mean you must try harder.

   Failure doesn't mean you'll never make it -- it does mean it will take a little longer.

   Failure doesn't mean God has abandoned you -- it does mean God has a better idea!

   -- From You Can Become the Person You Want to Be.  Copyright 1973,

      by Robert H. Schuller.  Reprinted by permission of the publisher, E.P. Dutton, Inc.

It is no disgrace to Christianity, it is no disgrace to any great religion, that its counsels of perfection have not made every single person perfect.  If, after centuries, a disparity is still found between its ideal and its followers, it only means that the religion still maintains the ideal, and the followers still need it. 

   -- G.K. Chesterton,  Leadership, Vol. 10, no. 3.

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