To the “Mark” Among Us

Note: This post is part of a sporadic series and is best interpreted by first reading this.

So, I made mention in my last writing that everyone loves a comeback. And why wouldn’t we? It’s inspiring to see people return from relative obscurity and hone their skills until they are back on top, to watch them persevere against overwhelming odds and finish well, to win when everyone thought they would fail. But here’s a thought: instead of investing our emotional energy into someone else’s tale, how about spending some time on our own?

So, what’s your story? Anyone dwelling in anonymity and defeat? Overcome by the odds? Suffering the consequences of failure and/or disappointment? If the answer is yes to any of these questions – Good.

Yes, good. Not just good but great. Because the first step in staging a comeback is admitting you need one.

Today I want to spend some time with the “Mark” among us. To the one whose story set her on a path of Kingdom impact and yet somewhere along the way she shrank back. To the one who flat blew it and is devastated by the result. To the one who has deserted and doesn’t know the road home. To the one who is too busy to care. To the one whose heart has been shattered into a million pieces and can’t quite forgive God for allowing it to happen. The excuses are legion and yet the reasons for abandoning the God we love and alienating the people He set us among to minister to are irrelevant. What matters is recognizing that ache to walk in the calling God determined for us before we took our first breath and deciding we’ve been in this place of spiritual anonymity far too long. (Ephesians 2:10, 4:1)

There are key role players in redemption but before we can start identifying the responsibilities of the supporting cast (because don’t we love expecting other people to save us?) we must first take a serious look at the face staring back at us in the mirror and ask a difficult question beyond whether to buy that cute top that just popped up in the online boutique on our Facebook feed.

What’s the question? Where am I?

If that one query isn’t specific enough, care enough to dig deeper.

In my current spiritual state:
• Are there discrepancies between the faith I profess and my actions? (James 1:22-24)
• Am I indifferent toward my relationship with God? (Psalm 51:10, 12)
• Do I treat worship attendance and service to the Body lightly? (Hebrews 10:24-25)
• Am I unconcerned about the eternal destiny of people in my midst? (Romans 9:2)
• Am I justifying sin and daring anyone to “judge”? (Philippians 3:17-3:20)
• Am I defeated by the consequences of bad decisions? (Luke 22:61-62)
• Am I angry, bitter at a person for failing me and blaming them for my own shortcomings? (Genesis 3)
• Am I disappointed in God because He did not answer my prayers in the way I’d hoped? (Genesis 4:1-5)

I hope you allowed yourself to contemplate these questions and answer honestly. There are those among us who are as spiritually healthy as they’ve ever been, and then there are the those who are not. There is no shame in the confession – the kingdom of God was born upon them.

In the Garden, God asked Adam and Eve “Where are you”? (Genesis 3:8-13) He wasn’t playing hide and seek – He knew exactly which shrub they were using for cover. He wanted them to ask the question of themselves. The comeback road begins with a truthful assessment of where we are so we can learn how to take the first step home.

Mark began his own journey well but while traveling with Paul and Barnabas, something went wrong. It is impossible to conclude what happened to cause him to desert the team but with persecution on the rise on one hand and Paul striking evil sorcerers blind on the other, it is not unreasonable to speculate he was overwhelmed and wanted to go home to regroup. It’s not as important to know why Mark faltered as it is to see how he responded when he did. If you have identified yourself as a “Mark” at this point – someone who answered “yes” to any of the questions above and longs to be reconciled to God and His people – consider how he postured himself when Paul rejected his bid to return to the missionary team:

1. Mark accepted Paul’s charge of desertion with humility.

This statement isn’t made explicitly within the text however the fact that Mark traveled on with Barnabas to continue spreading the gospel speaks volumes. Think about a time when sin or disobedience has been pointed out in our lives and how we reacted to it? Throughout our time in ministry, I can’t tell you the number of situations when Luke has been involved in a difficult church discipline issue only to have the person being confronted become indignant and often leave the fellowship. No humility, no confession. Just an angry justification that usually included some reference to “judge not lest ye be judged” with a side order of blaming someone else for their failure.

As a ministry wife, please hear me when I say when a pastor must confront one of his sheep it is never with pleasure or condemnation. Rather, he shoulders the burdens of his people and feels every heartbreak as if it were his own. When someone falls for the enemy’s snare and is led into sin, he takes it personally because he feels he should have been able to stop it somehow. We both do. (2 Corinthians 11;29) So, if your pastor or fellow Christian – your Paul – loves you enough to pull you back from the edge of a cliff you may not even be willing to acknowledge you are standing on, know that they risked your rage because the desire to protect you far outweighed any fear of your indignation. Accept the truth with humility, repent, and be open to how God will continue to use you as you recover.

2. Mark remained connected to other believers and accepted any opportunity to continue serving.

When Paul refused to take Mark along on the next mission trip, the temptation for any of us would have been to become angry, wallow in self-pity, and find someone to commiserate with us and coddle our bruised egos. But, that’s not what Mark did. He’d run home to mom once before and refused any temptation to leave again. We know a huge argument broke out between Paul and Barnabas over Mark and they split ways because of it. One can only suppose that if Mark was willing to let these two friends come to blows it is because he had repented of his earlier desertion and was coming back, ready or not.

Opportunities for service for those who have fallen or alienated themselves will vary based on the circumstance.  Those desiring a position of responsibility may be asked to go through a time of proving first.  One who is committed to finding their way back to usefulness should be willing to be a faithful doorkeeper in God’s house if it means they can be positioned to grow closer still.

3. Mark’s faith continued to grow and his ministry evolved.

Without going into a detailed treatise of the possible dates Mark wrote his gospel, we can generally agree a period of 20ish years passed between Mark and Barnabas’ ministry beginning together and Paul’s request to Timothy to send Mark to him because he was “very useful” to him in ministry.

Years of faithfulness, of developing his gifts, of being mentored by Peter – a man who knew failure more intimately than most – and ultimately penning his memoirs into the gospel of Mark. It’s impossible to know how many times Mark and Paul crossed paths during this period of time but from Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy, Mark wasn’t holding a grudge and ducking Paul in the grocery store aisles and Paul did not write Mark off as a lost cause. Both men remained open to one another and the gospel was spread further because of it.

4. Mark was eager to be proven useful in ministry to the person he had disappointed.

In case you’ve missed it, the yellow brick road back to our calling is paved with stones of humility. Mark and Paul’s story could have ended with the infamous argument however I do not think it accidental that Paul’s last known writing makes mention of Mark’s proven usefulness to him.

It’s easy to fancy ourselves humble until we are in a position requiring us to acknowledge someone else was right and we were wrong. We can be right or we can have relationship however the two are most often mutually exclusive. Mark could have continued his ministry and enjoyed great impact all over the known world without ever having to cross paths with Paul again. He would have been well-proven but not to the man he had disappointed most.

Often, we distance ourselves from those we’ve let down most because we are to proud to prove ourselves to them. We fail and we leave. We leave spouses. We leave churches. We leave jobs. We think starting over somewhere else will give us a new beginning without acknowledging that it’s not the environment that needs to change – it’s us. Mark deserted Paul and the work to which they were called but made his way back around to him to show he wasn’t the same man who had left him at Perga. That, friends, is the ultimate redemption.

Considering all these things, it’s fair to say the first step in staging a comeback is a heartfelt, humble expression of repentance for the wandering. No excuses, no justifications. No finger pointing at whomever you perceive is at fault for causing you to stray. C.S. Lewis said it best in Weight of Glory:

“I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality asking Him not to forgive me but excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says, “Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology”. But excusing says, “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame”. And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves.”

So, what’s your story? Are you a “Mark”? Then follow his path to the end. You can’t go it alone so next time we’ll talk more about your companions on the comeback road.



The Comeback

 

Everyone loves a great redemption story. Give an audience a movie about a knocked-out prize fighter who trains to redeem himself in the ring and we’ll not only buy the ticket but demand a sequel. Let a rock star who has battled personal demons finally release new music and we are waving lighters and wearing the t-shirt. Human beings – especially believers – need to have hope that a catastrophic moral failure, disappointment, apathy, devastation, tragedy, and/or any situation keeping us from intimacy and obedience to God does not have to be the end. There is always time and opportunity for a comeback.

One of the best comeback tales of the New Testament is that of John Mark (aka Mark as in the gospel writer) and is summed up in 2 Timothy 4:11: “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry”. Unless one knows Mark was once NOT useful to Paul in ministry, we may miss the significance of this statement.

The book of Acts is a narrative of the spread of Christianity throughout Jerusalem as well as the missionary journeys of Paul and Barnabas as they work to establish the church in other cities. Acts 12 tells of the miraculous release of Peter from prison where he runs directly to the home of Mark’s mom. Mark isn’t there because he has accompanied Paul and his cousin, Barnabas, to the island of Cyprus to serve as their assistant. The threesome sails back to the mainland where Mark leaves the group and returns to his hometown of Jerusalem. (Acts 12:12).

We don’t know the reason for his departure. Maybe the encounter with an evil magician who Paul struck blind was enough to send a boy running home to mom? Whatever the reason, it’s clear it doesn’t sit well with Paul. When a second trip is planned Barnabas suggests they take Mark along, “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.(Acts 15:38)

Paul and Barnabas get into a huge fight and part ways – Paul taking Silas and Barnabas sticking to his guns with his choice of Mark. I would love to hear what you are thinking now about Paul. Words come to mind like, “jerk” and “judgmental”. Who was Paul to keep Mark from ministry just because he had blown it?

Paul was exactly who he was supposed to be in this scenario – a role player in redemption. Our comeback roads require a team of different personalities to see us be useful in ministry again. We need our Paul – the one who will call us on our mistakes and hold us accountable to our restoration. We need a Barnabas who will believe in us as we are proving ourselves useful again. We need a Peter – that person who has been restored from a similar past but is walking a path of faithfulness. Mark went on to pen the gospel of Mark chronicling Peter’s experience with Jesus proving they used their common failures as a spring board for service rather than company for misery.

I want to spend some time exploring all these roles however that would make for a very long blog post. Let’s close it today with a question: Which role are you playing?

Are you Mark, the one who has deserted and needs hope you can experience a comeback? Are you a Paul, the one who consistently finds herself in the place of truth-telling and is consequentially often labeled as judgmental or critical ? Are you a Barnabas, the one who feels you are a magnet for people in distress and are willing to take time for a meeting at the coffee house to listen? Are you a Peter, a person who has been redeemed from a past alienation from God (for whatever reason) and gives hope and purpose to others not as far down the comeback road as you’ve come?

This is the beauty of the Body of Christ. It takes all the gifts, all the personalities to make one whole again however we cannot accomplish this when our churches are full of those in the throes of desertion and very few healthy or engaged enough to help others back into the ring. Those in supporting roles must be willing to invest time into the process – into people.  “Christian Introvert” is an oxymoron and yet is becoming a primary excuse to remain self-absorbed.

Mine and Luke’s desire has always been to present the small part of the church with which we’ve been entrusted as one without spot or blemish. More than ever we ache with Paul’s heart for the universal church, “Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?”  It’s beyond time for a comeback. One must be humble, willing to hear the truth, and hungry for the blessing of God to rest upon them again.

Will you come home?



More than Once in a Lifetime


2018 began with no small amount of heartbreak for the McKay family. In December Luke’s dad, Bob, was diagnosed with cancer and one short month later he was gone.

Losing a man who loved his family well and never missed one thing his grand kids did no matter what state they were currently living in deserves its own reflection. For now, let it be enough that his absence was deeply felt as Sawyer graduated college in May with Sam and our nephew, Matthew, graduating high school soon afterwards. To give us all something to look forward to during this season of mourning and to celebrate the boys’ accomplishments we planned an epic vacation to Arizona via California I like to describe as “Innocents Out West” subtitled “If Home Alone and the Griswolds had a Baby”.

The trip also deserves its own chronicle however during a Hummer tour of the Sedona red rocks our guide, Phil, pointed out an interesting cactus he called a Century plant. The base looked like a gigantic aloe with a brightly-colored flower towering 20+ feet into the air. Phil explained we were seeing a rare occurrence since it only bloomed once in a lifetime – generally when 25-30 years old. After blooming, it would die and go to seed.

I was mesmerized by this plant, took its picture, looked it up on the internet. It felt significant to be witnessing this singular event, this explosion of color knowing it would also bring about the dying process. The imagery of a once-in-a-lifetime bloom spoke to me and if only applying it to desert vegetation one could almost consider it romantic.

When images capture my imagination I often work them around in my mind to see how they may translate to spiritual metaphor. The longer I contemplated this one all thoughts of romance died. Why? There are far too many believers with a once-in-a-lifetime sense of purpose perfectly content to have experienced a singular period of obedience and go to seed knowing the brightest days are those lived sometime prior to now.

Who among us has ever experienced a season of absolute certainty we were operating within God’s call on our lives, of serving others before ourselves, of incredible wonder when God was moving in our midst only to have it wither and die? How many believe we were only allowed one “bloom” but we blew it so there’s nothing left to do now but go through the motions until we are called home?

There’s a NeedtoBreathe song called “Wasteland” with the lyric, “There was a greatness I felt for a while and somehow it changed.” Perhaps this resonates as it did with me. What brings about this sudden shift or sometimes slow departure from assurance and harmony with God’s intent for our existence? Find a few clues by thinking through scripture of those we know were dwelling in obedience and then suddenly… weren’t. Adam and Eve’s fall. Noah’s drunkenness. Abraham’s lapse of faith. Elijah’s exhaustion. David’s adultery. Peter’s denial. Mark’s desertion. One thing we know from these examples – when things change it’s because we change. God didn’t nor will He. Ever. (James 1:17) He will not reinterpret his commands to fit a new situation or generation. He will not invoke goodness over our badness.  He will not stomach our pride. He will not let a soul be at peace when it’s not seeking Him fully. He will not give rest from Him, only in Him.

These men and women are all known for their failures however I would rather focus on their restorations. The mistakes were not once in a lifetime but neither were their successes. The fall was not the end of the story for any one of them and believer – it’s not ours either. Your heart may be dry as a bone and flowers long faded but as long as we draw breath there is always opportunity to bloom again and time for a comeback.

More to come…..



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