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?