Heated Debate

fightActs 15: 36-41

37 Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.

I read a recent article on a Christian website titled:  “10 Honest Observations from a Former Church Insider.”  The author of the article had been a pastor for many years and then at a relatively young age (for reasons not cited) had to step down.  He mentioned what it was like to now be an “outsider” in church.  He listed 10 things that he saw were problems that perhaps someone so close to the heartbeat of a church might be blinded to.  I agreed with him on just about everything and appreciated his insights… and was about to move on.  Then I read the comments from pastors that read the article before me.  Many were not kind!  They didn’t like much of what the author had to say, but sometimes it bordered on people not liking him personally.  One critic wrote:  “I will gladly take advice from anyone willing to get in there and do the work. Not just leave when things are not going their own way.”  Another wrote:  “I became bored with hearing the same “complaints” from yet another disenchanted church goer.”   The idea of hearing ideas from a “quitter” was too much for some.

Just when I was completely discouraged… a number of Barnabas people stepped in and saved the day… offering encouragement and peace.   Some were among bloggers that I trust David I. Guinn and Joe McKeever.

I call these men Barnabas people because the comment page appeared to me at times to be a retelling of the sharp disagreement Paul and Barnabas had over Mark way back in the book of Acts.  It was a “sharp” disagreement… as the Greek will bear out.  Barnabas wanted to give his cousin another chance.  Paul wanted to show him the door.

The Bible does not tell us who was right or wrong,  just that the debate was heated and the result was a split of the Apostolic Missionary Super Team.   NT Scholar A.T. Robertson remarked:  “No one can rightly blame Barnabas for giving his cousin John Mark a second chance nor Paul for fearing to risk him again.  One’s judgment may go with Paul, but one’s heart goes with Barnabas.”

There is so much irony in this passage.  the second missionary journey began with the idea of checking up on people and churches from the first journey and seeing how they were doing spiritually .   Yet Paul is ready to give John Mark the boot before he even takes the young man’s spiritual temperature!  The second ironic thing is that Paul should have known by now the heart of his friend, Barnabas.  It wasn’t too long ago that Barnabas pulled a snot nosed kid out of the gutter and offered that young man a chance when no one else would even trust him… I refer, of course, to Paul himself.

My heart goes out to those who wrote out of concerned for this young man and his quest to find God… and to all Barnabas types that may face some rough criticism, but are still willing to extend a hand to “quitters” in an effort to help.

More on this… and a story too… later this week.

Feeling the Weight of It

simon of cyreneMark 15:21

21 They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross.

Simon was pressed into service (a Greek word commonly used of coercing slaves and animals in work).  It was an example of  Rome’s power over a subjugated people.   They could lay the flat of their sword on your shoulder and compel you to go one mile carrying their baggage.  Jesus refers to this when he teaches:  If you are compelled to walk one mile, walk two.  We call that:  “Going the extra mile.”  Not sure how far Simon had to go… but it had to be the longest mile or two he ever took.

There were two parts to the cross, the patibulum (the beam) and the stipes (the post).  The victim was to carry his own patibulum to the site of the crucifixion site.  It was a heavy weight… particularly for Jesus who was losing too much blood from his flogging and the ghastly “coronation” he endured by the soldiers.

Simon was from Cyrene which was on the north coast of Africa.  This may indicate that Simon was a man of color.  Mark includes two other names:  Alexander and Rufus (known by the readers?)  Mark doesn’t name a lot of people in his Gospel.  Here are 3 names in one verse.  We do know that Rufus was a member of the early church (Romans 16:13).  It is not much of a stretch to imagine that Simon of Cyrene might have been the first disciple to literally follow the command of Christ to “take up his cross and follow.”

How about you?  Have you taken up yours?  Are you following the suffering Jesus?

You might ask me:  How do I do that?  How will I know if I have done it?  You will know it because you will notice the increased weight.

Heard a story recently about a business man who visited the great Passion Play in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  Afterward he went backstage to meet the actor who portrayed Jesus. As they talked, the man saw the cross that the actor carried in the play.
Before the actor had a chance to stop him, the business man handed over his camera and said, “Hey, take a picture of me carrying the cross.” And He bent over and tried in vain to lift the huge cross to his shoulders.
With sweat rolling down his face, he turned in frustration to the actor and said, “I thought it would be hollow; why is it so heavy?”
With a smile of compassion the actor answered, “If I could not feel the weight of it, it would be impossible to play the part.”

Are you like Simon?

Are you devoted, faithful, embracing of suffering, vigilant, ultimately bearing the suffering of others?  Count the cost; take up your cross; feel the weight of it all.

The Main Event: Justice vs. Mercy

James 2:12-13

Quick!  What fictional character said:  We do not train to be merciful here. Mercy is for the weak. Here, in the streets, in competition: A man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.”?

Those were the words of John Keese, the head instructor of the Cobra Kai karate school in the original The Karate Kid movie.  (1984)  So different are the words of James:  “… judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

In no place is mercy’s triumph over justice more visible than on Calvary’s cross.  It was there that justice was served… but mercy won the day.

Eugene Peterson writes:  “…forgiveness is the last word.  I take no interest in eliminating the tension between justice and forgiveness by taking justice off the table.  …  But I am interested in reintroducing the priority of this Jesus-prayed forgiveness into our lives.  In matters of sin and injustice and evil, the last prayer of Jesus  (“forgive them, they know not what they do”)  is not for justice but for forgiveness. …  Assuming that the criminal crucified next to Jesus was receiving a just death sentence (he said as much himself), the sentence was not revoked in Jesus’ prayer.  The criminal died for his crime.  But forgiveness trumped justice.  It always does.  (Tell it Slant, pp. 247, 248.)

Having received such mercy, we need to be extending this mercy generously to those around us…   to the co-worker who has done us wrong… to the friend that has assasinated our character… to the family members that took advantage of us.  Find mercy to give them, by reflecting on the mercy YOU have been given.  It is time to enroll in the Jesus academy of mercy and to drop out of Cobra Kai.