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The God of new beginnings

Failure. Quitter. Deserter.

Painful words that describe someone who “couldn’t hack it” or “fizzled before the finish.” And, guilt and shame usually accompany one who’s waved the white flag of surrender while the battle’s still raging.

Such was certainly the case in 2012 when the Italian cruise-liner “Costa Concordia” struck a reef off the coast of Italy. The collision tore a 160-foot gash in the ship’s hull, filling it with water and trapping passengers inside as the boat listed to the starboard side.

Although less than three dozen lives were lost, what made the story especially noteworthy was the fact that the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, abandoned ship after the ship began to list. Even though his decision to deviate from the prescribed, charted course to sail closer to the shore caused the crash, he panicked and boarded one of the lifeboats. Repeated attempts by the Italian coast guard to have him re-board his ship failed—so paralyzed by fear was he.

Thus, it’s clear that the above-cited words describe this cowardice captain. In his passengers’ greatest hour of need, he abandoned them. Jumped ship. Left them to fend for themselves.

“Horrible!” someone says.

“Unbelievable!” cries another with contempt in his voice.

Yet, dear Reader, if the truth be known, every one of us at one time or another has been guilty of not keeping our promises. We promised to “go for the gold,” but never “delivered the goods.” Or, you promised “till death we do part,” but had your fingers crossed.

In reality, every person cited in the Bible failed miserably one time or the other. Adam and Eve took of the forbidden fruit. Noah, a “just and spiritually mature man who walked with God” (Genesis 6:9), got drunk after the flood, left himself exposed and then cursed his own son, Ham, for telling his brothers of his shameful condition (Gen. 9:20-27).

Abraham twice lied about his relationship with Sarah and had a son by his handmaiden, Hagar. Jacob stole his brother’s blessing. Moses struck the rock when God told him to just speak to it. Samson loved pagan women and was done in by Delilah. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed in battle. Every one of Jesus’ closest followers abandoned Him in the Garden of Gethsemane and Peter thrice-denied that he even knew Him.

Yes, the Bible is full of failures, quitters and deserters. So is life.

And, all of our names are on that list — whether it be failing God or others.

That’s why the story of John Mark in the New Testament is such a wonderful one. A cousin to Barnabas, he accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey; but, things got pretty rough and he left them to go back home.

Several years later the Dynamic Duo prepared to head out again and Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with him. But, Paul said “Not on your life! He deserted us once; I’m not going to let him do it again!” (Acts 15:36-40). This resulted in a “sharp contention” between the two spiritual giants and they went their separate ways.

For over 10 years there’s no other mention of John Mark; however, while under house arrest in Rome, Paul talked about John Mark as his “fellow laborer, who brought comfort and joy to him” (Colossians 4:10-11; Philemon 24). And, six years later while imprisoned a second time in Rome and awaiting execution, Paul asked Timothy to “get Mark and bring him with you—for he’s useful to me for ministry” (II Tim. 4:9-11).

Clearly, something had happened in John Mark and Paul’s lives. John had been mentored by Peter, who knew firsthand the guilt of desertion and restoration, and even recorded Peter’s recollection of Jesus’ Life and Ministry in the Gospel of Mark. And, Paul, evidently had a change-of-heart toward the young man, which likely stemmed for Jesus’ Love at work in his heart.

How wonderful that God’s Grace covers our sins and failures, helping us start all over again. Have you experienced that firsthand, dear Reader? If so, give thanks; if not, cry out to Jesus and allow Him to help you enter that proverbial “Land of New Beginnings.”

To contact Bro. Tom or receive his daily e-mail devotional, entitled “Morning Manna,” write him at P.O. Box 10614, Fort Smith, AR 72917 or e-mail him at pressingon@hotmail.com.

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