Bringing Back a Good Report
“And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.” (Act_14:26)
Paul and his companions had set out on a missionary journey from Antioch, empowered by grace; and now, at the end of their tour, it was only fitting that they return and give a report of all that happened.
Luke writes the account for us – “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers; while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Paul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Act_13:1-3)
There is always a great deal of fanfare at the outset of some noble campaign; but especially when the cause is directed by God. Thus we may well imagine the high excitement that attended the Christians at Antioch when they heard the Spirit of God tell them to send Paul and Barnabas out on their mission.
They no doubt would’ve watched as the pair faded off in the distance, topping the crest of a final hill, passing from their sight. Their excitement in sending them off could only be matched by hearing the news after some months that they were returning – and would arrive sometime by late afternoon. You know, “when Johnny comes marching home again — hoorah! Hoorah!” Get the ticker-tape ready!
We have here a slight advantage over our Antiochian brothers, for we (through the pen of Luke) have journeyed with Paul and Barnabas, and know full well of all they encountered – and endured.
It is a miracle that they even survived the trip at all.
And what is the news that they bring upon their return? Why, Good News, of course!
There was no chiding, “Thanks a lot for nothing, you guys! You threw us into the open jaws of snarling lions!!” And, neither was there any whining, “We had it really hard; it was really, really bad; somebody give me a hug.” Nor was there any singing of the blues, “Oh, nobody knows the trouble I seen…”
Instead, they brought back a good report, and rejoiced over all that Jesus had done through them – and TO them during their trip. And why? Because God had covered them with His grace inside His will; and all things worked together for their good.
Every experience in life makes you bitter, or better. The choice is yours to make. And it all depends on where you are standing – inside, or outside, of God will for your life.
and Barnabas, along with their traveling companions, were fully inside the will of God and, therefore, covered by the full measure of His grace for this assignment. So the team returned triumphantly from their journey of faith.
They reported everything the Lord had done, and spent some time resting and being refreshed. And then, far from backing down because of the difficulty of service, they tooled up for yet another journey into the expansive will of God.
Here is it in Paul’s own words – “I am what I am by the grace of God. And His grace given to me was not in vain, for I labored more abundantly than they all; yet it was no I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1Co_15:10)
What has God set you apart to do? Have others affirmed it through prayer and support? How is God proving Himself to be with you in your labors? And, who is waiting to hear the good news of all the Lord is doing through you?
“Oh, are you talking to me,” a guy said in the group. “I mean, you are looking straight at me, but it sounds like you’re talking to somebody else.”
You tell me. Am I talking to you?
The Higher Purposes of Winter
“Thou hast made.., winter.” Psa_74:17
It is always easy to believe that God has made the summertime. There is something in a perfect summer day that speaks to us of the divine. The beauty which is around us everywhere, the singing of the birds in every tree, the warmth of the pleasant summer sun, the amazing prodigality of life, these, as by filaments invisible, draw our hearts to the Giver of them all and make it easy to say, “Thou hast made the summer.”
With winter it is different. It is not so easy to see the love of God there. There is a great deal of suffering in winter both for the animal creation and for man. It may therefore aid the faith of some who may be tempted to doubt the love of God in winter if I suggest some of its spiritual accomplishments.
Winter Deepens Our Appreciation of Summer
One of the higher offices of winter is to deepen our appreciation of the summer. We should be blind if summer were perpetual. Someone has said, and very truly said, that our dear ones are only ours when we have lost them. They have to pass away into the silent land before we know them for what they really are. And in like manner summer has to pass, leaving us in the grip of icy winter, before we fully appreciate the summer. It is not the man who lives in lovely Scotland who feels most deeply how lovely Scotland is. It is the exile on some distant shore, yearning for the mountains and the glens. It is not the man with abundant, unbroken health who feels most deeply the value of his health. That is realized when health is shattered.
In Caithness, where I lived four years, there is a great scarcity of trees. I never knew how much I loved the trees till I dwelt in a land where there are none. And we never know all that summer means to us, in its pageantry of life and beauty, till we lose it in the barrenness of winter. Lands that have no winter have no spring. They never know the thrilling of the spring when the primroses awake and the wild hyacinths, and the iris waves in the breeze. Thoughts like these, in January days, make it easier for faith to say, “Thou hast made the winter.”
Winter Puts Demands Upon the Will
Another of the higher purposes of winter is the greater demands it makes upon the will. I should like to take a simple illustration. In summer it is comparatively easy to get out of bed at the appointed hour. For the earth is warm, and the birds are busy singing, and the light is streaming through the open windows. But in winter, to fling the covers off and get up when it is dark and perishingly cold, that is quite a different affair. That calls for a certain resolution. It makes instant demands upon the will.
Now broaden that thought to the compass of the day, and you reach a truth that cannot be denied. The countries where the will is most developed and where moral life is most vigorous and strong are the countries that have winter in their year. There “ain’t no Ten Commandments east of Suez,” says Kipling in a familiar line. The singular thing is that east of Suez there isn’t any winter in the year. Rigorous winter days when life is difficult and when it takes some doing even to get up are God’s tonic for His children’s will. “O well for him whose will is strong. He suffers, but he does not suffer long.” Let any young fellow have his will under control and he is on the highway to his victory. Summer is languid; winter makes us resolute. We have to do things when we don’t feel like them. And Thou—the Giver of the Ten Commandments—Thou hast made the winter.
Winter Intensifies the Thought of Home
Another accomplishment of winter is to intensify the thought of home. In lands that bask in a perpetual sunshine, home-life is always at a minimum. I had a friend who for three years was prisoner in an internment camp in Germany. I asked him once when he felt most homesick, and I am not likely to forget his answer. He said that the only times when he felt homesick were when fog settled down upon the camp reminding him of winter fogs in Glasgow. In summer he was happy. It was good to be alive in summer. But when the fog came, he thought of lighted streets and saw his cozy and comfortable home. And always the thought of home is sweetest, and the home-life richest and most beautiful, in the dark, cold season of the winter. We talk in the same breath of hearth and home, and it is in winter that the hearth is glowing.
There is one poem about a humble home more beautiful than any other in our literature. It is a picture by the hand of genius of the joy and reverence of the hearth. But the “Cottar’s Saturday Night” could never have been written in the tropics. It is the child of a land with winter in its year.
Now think of everything we owe to home. Think of what the nation owes to home. “From scenes like these auld Scotia’s grandeur springs.” Home is the basis of national morality. Is it not easier when one thinks of these things to say in the bitterest January day, “Thou hast made the winter”?
Winter Stirs Us to Charity
The last purpose of winter I shall mention is how it stirs our sluggish hearts to charity. With that we are all perfectly familiar. Did you ever watch a singer in the street in the warm and balmy days of summer? The passersby pay him little heed and rarely give him a coin even though he is singing all the charms of Annie Laurie. But in winter, when the air is biting, and when the snow is deep upon the ground, Annie Laurie brings him in a harvest. Folk are extraordinarily good to me in giving me donations for the poor. For one donation that I get in summertime, however, I get ten in the bitterness of winter. Winter unlocks the gates of charity. It unseals the hidden springs of pity. It moves us with compassion for the destitute, and so to be moved is a very Christlike thing. Such thoughts as these in stern and icy days, when we are tempted perhaps to doubt the love of God, make it easier to say with David, “Thou hast made the winter.”
DAY-BREAK ON THE BEACH
“When the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.” — Joh_21:4.
THE PREVIOUS evening had been full of interest and hope. Those seven fishermen had long been separated from their craft, and thinking probably that they were not to see their Master again, they betook themselves, with considerable zest, to the shore of the Lake. They entered the old familiar boat, and that night they caught nothing! It was the last fishing expedition they were to have. They were to navigate other waters, use other nets, and sail under other skies. The greatness of their disappointment was to block the door in that direction and open it in another. No longer fishermen on the shores of Galilee, but shepherds, pasturing their flocks on the celestial mountains, whence views are to be obtained, in fair weather, of the Eternal City. Has your life been a disappointment? Did you start out, years ago, with good heart and hope? Perhaps the winds were soft, the starlight brilliant, and there was a chance of the moon breaking through. But the sky soon clouded over, and the years have gone wearily! It isn’t that you have been idle, but for some reason everything has miscarried; and now there seems nothing for it but to land on the shore of Eternity, as Paul did on the shore at Malta. But do not be too sure of this! When the morning breaks on that coastline, it is more than likely that you will see Jesus standing on the beach. He will know the time of your arrival, and will come down to meet you, as He did for the first martyr, Stephen, and has done for a multitude beside. It is very pleasant, as in the big ship, you emerge from the night, to see familiar faces greeting you, or even one dear face with a smile of welcome awaiting your coming! It may happen to be the landing-stage at New York, Bombay, Melbourne, or Liverpool, but what a difference it makes! And when the Day of days shall break, and the shadows flee away, and the little boat of our life grates on the shore, it will be good indeed to see Christ standing there, with His outstretched hand to welcome, to help us disembark, to lead us to the prepared place on which He has expended thought and care. “I go to prepare a place for you I will come again to receive you unto Myself.”
Suffice it if—my good and ill unreckoned,
And both forgiv’n through His abounding grace—
I find myself by hands familiar beckoned
Unto my fitting place.