Tag Archives: paul

Paul, Barnabas, John Mark and other distractions

“Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in ministry.” II Timothy 4:11

It confounds me what we Christians allow to distract us, even scripture. What do I mean by scripture distracting us? How can scripture distract us if God’s word doesn’t return void?

Scripture distracts us when it draws us into debates, arguments, pious ramblings that, frankly, are vain. Scripture distracts us when we miss the point of what is being said and use it to prove we are “right” when it’s overarching message is reconciliation and restoration.

II Timothy 4:11 is one of those verses that brings us back to reconciliation. Let me press the rewind button…

Sometime earlier the same Mark mentioned above “deserted” (Acts 15:38; Acts 13:13 uses the term “left”) Paul and Barnabas. In Acts 15:36-41there arose a “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas about Mark, who was also known as John, rejoining them. Barnabas said “yes”; Paul said “no.” Here is where the distracting question of scripture rears its ugly head. Who was right and who was wrong. Some contend that Barnabas was wrong because he didn’t submit to Paul’s apostolic authority. Yet, in Acts 14:14 both Paul and Barnabas are referred to as apostles, so that argument is tenuous at best. (In the spirit of full disclosure, Barnabas was politicking for his cousin.)

On the other hand, when Paul and Silas departed for their missionary journey the were “committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.” This certainly lends credence to Paul’s apostolic authority. In addition, scripture is replete with testimony to the effectiveness of Paul in ministry and is rather quiet about Barnabas. Seeing that scripture is divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit there must be some reason that we’re told of Paul’s effectiveness and not Barnabas’.

And, of course, the arguments could continue in support of both. But that continues the distraction of what really happened. That would be like saying that the point of God coming to earth was to die on the cross and stopping there. Was Jesus’ death on the cross a necessity? Yes! But only to the point that it led to His resurrection. The point of Jesus on earth isn’t His death; it’s His resurrection. Simply dying on the cross would make Him a martyr. Coming back to life reveals Himself as Savior.

The biblical story of what happened between Paul and Barnabas is similar in a microcosm. When we flippantly proclaim, “I know who was right” and dropping a one liner to support our position is, at best, ending the story early. It certainly risks intellectually bankruptcy. The narrative is much more complex than that. To understand the central message of any story we must follow it to its conclusion.

Please notice that there is no animosity recorded between Paul and Barnabas. There is no mention of “he said/he said” and no mention of the argument continuing. Paul himself cautions against any such distractions when he says in I Corinthians 3:3-7, “You are still worldly. For since there is still jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another says, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men. What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? … neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

The point of the Paul vs. Barnabas narrative (and I hesitatingly use versus at the risk of continuing the pointless argument) is not who was right and who was wrong. The point all scripture isn’t about who is right, it’s about reconciliation. That brings us to II Timothy 4:11. Paul and John Mark are reconciled. I suppose that Paul and Barnabas were reconciled, as well…strike that, I contend that they were never divided. They may have gone their separate ways physically, but spiritually were united and undivided. It’s not unreasonable to contend that both Paul and Barnabas would scold us for being distracted by contention that didn’t exist.

The narrative isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. The narrative is about reconciliation. It’s a reflection of the redemption story. Jesus, the one “who makes things grow,” is the only one that is “right” and He chose to be “wrong” on our behalf so that we can be reconciled to God.

That’s why worship.

Training to Race, Not Racing to Train

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into training…I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” I Cor. 9:25 & 27

Theres’ a story of a young cross country runner who was training with his team and feeling rather “feisty” during a particular training session.  On this day, he decided to show the rest of the team that he was the fastest.  Instead of running with the pack and maintaining a sustainable pace, he broke free from the group and sprinted ahead for the last kilometer or so.

Finishing a considerable time ahead of the rest of the team he prepared himself for the accolades of his coach and teammates.  When the final runner crossed the finish line the coach called the team to circle up.  He commended the team on an excellent effort for the day and then singled out the young man who had finished well ahead of the rest, “Son, don’t ever do that again,” the coach chided. “This is a team of winners.  We have several regional and state championships in both individual and team categories.  And we win because we train to race, not race to train.  We are a team of winners, none of us are a winner above the team.”

The three of you who regularly read my blog know that I run three to four times per week.  Actually, it’s slightly above average jogging, but the allegory holds true.  I run in the morning between 6:00 and 7:00 AM.  I enjoy the solitude, just me and my iPod enjoying each other’s company plodding along for a few miles.  An interesting aside is that the more relaxed my listening music is then the better my running times for distances longer than five to seven miles.  I think it’s because I’m relaxed in not competing against anyone else, just out training for the intrinsic value of doing what is good for my body.

Needless to say that the more intelligent humans in my neighborhood are still in bed at that time of the morning.  But every once in a while another misguided soul will be out running.  This is when I get into trouble.  I start comparing myself to them.  “Is my stride as good as theirs?”  “How’s my pace compared to there’s?”  “Am I wasting as much energy in upper body movement as they are?”

Inevitably, in an attempt to increase my self-esteem I compare their weakness to my strengths.  I’m blessed with a naturally neutral stride.  That’s usually where I start.  “Their stride isn’t nearly as effortless as mine,” I assure myself.  It doesn’t matter that they just blew by me with a smile on their face while I huff and puff.

Of course, if their times appear to be better than mine it can only be because they’re just out for a quick one mile jaunt while I’m in the middle of a grueling five mile slugfest with exhaustion.  “Their form is so poor that I bet I could still catch them even with my increased distance,”  I rationalize.

My pace quickens and before I know it, I’m not training to race any longer, I’m racing to train.  I’ve lost sight of my goal.  My goal, in becoming a runner in my late forties, isn’t to win a race….I might not ever even run a competitive race.  My goal in running is to be healthy, to control my diabetes without drugs, to maintain a reasonable weight, to be the best me that I can be.  But, now I’ve made it about someone else and comparing myself to them.

In short order my session comes unraveled.  My form disintegrates, my upper body tightens, my breathing becomes erratic.  The neutral step that, just moments before, I was so proud of fails me as I fatigue and my feet begin scuffing the ground under me.  I am undone by my own pride.

I notice a similar tendency in my growth as a Christian, as well.  It’s a trap that many of us fall into; the tendency to compare our strength to others’ weakness.  The name for it is judgmentalism.  And it’s fruitless.  All it does is distract me from the race that God has called us to run.  He’s set a course, a pace, a discipline for all of us to run.  The life of a Christian isn’t a contest against others.  It doesn’t matter if I’m faster or better than someone else.  My life isn’t identified in relation to theirs.  My life is identified with the pace setter, Jesus.

Continuing with the analogy of my running, this year’s Boston Marathon winner, Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya, set a new record for that twenty six mile race: 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 2 seconds.  I run about ten miles in the same amount of time.  That means that Geoffrey could lap me and finish six miles ahead of me.  I wouldn’t stand a chance.  He could run with less than half the effort and still finish more than an hour ahead of me.

But what if it wasn’t a race to cover a certain distance the fastest?  What if the contest was to be the first to circumnavigate the globe at the equator in less than 2 hours, 3 minutes and 2 seconds?  At that point it really doesn’t matter that he’s faster than I am.  In fact, he could be one hundred times faster than I am.  He could lease a private jet and still not win.  It would be a hopeless, winless situation for both of us.

That’s the accurate race analogy for us as Christians.  We could never reach the goal except for the pace setter, Jesus.  And here’s where the analogy breaks down, He’s already won the race in our place.  But I’m thankful that analogies break down with Him.  He breaks the mould.  He doesn’t just set the standard; He also carries it for me…for you.  And He wins the race while carrying the standard in one hand and carrying us in the other.  He’s that big, He’s that strong, He’s that fast…He loves us that much.  He wants us to experience winning the race with Him.

So, let’s stop racing against each other and start training with each other.  Let’s stop competing in our habits, our lifestyles, our churches, our dogma with each other.  If we’re running in the presence of the One carrying the standard, then it really doesn’t matter that I read the Bible more, that my knees have bent in prayer more, that my church has more attenders on Easter Sunday, that my ministry has more major donors, that…anything.  It only matters that more people join the race and train to race, not race to train.

The litmus test of being great in the Kingdom of God isn’t that I’m better than those around me; that my theology is more sound than someone else’s; that my church is more Biblically accurate than the those surrounding mine; that my ministry ministers to more widows and orphans than mine.  The way to tell that I’m running the good race is that everyone around me runs a little faster, a little truer, a little straighter because of my example that reflects the One who has already won the race.  Spiritual leadership isn’t being better than everyone else; it’s encouraging, inspiring, equipping everyone else to be better.

Slaves, Servants and Other Lovers

“And I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls.  If I love you the more, am I to be loved the less?” II Corinthians 12:15

Here’s how Oswald Chambers expresses the above verse in today’s (2/23/11) reading from “My Utmost for His Highest”:

“‘I will spend myself to the last ebb for you; you may give me praise or give me blame, it will make no difference.’  So long as there is a human being who does not know Jesus Christ, I am his debtor to serve him until he does.”

We are to be slaves to anyone who doesn’t know Jesus; not just doesn’t know about Jesus, but doesn’t know Him.  We “churchophiles” often get this wrong.  We make ourselves slaves to each other; trying to impress each other and put ourselves in each others’ good graces.

I believe this happens because most of the personal attacks against Christians come from other Christians.  Think about it.  When was the last time any of us were attacked personally for being a Christian?  I’m not talking about the very real persecution that occurs in some countries.  If you have access to the internet and can read my blog you probably live in a place of relative privilege regarding persecution of Christians.

Sure, there is plenty of corporate “persecution” against Christians from the new militant atheists like Dawkins, Harris or Hitchens, but when was the last time any of us experienced a real verbal attack from any of them or their followers.  I’d be willing to place a substantial wager that the last personal attack any of us experienced was from a “brother or sister in the Lord.”

My thought here is that we make ourselves slaves to other Christians so that we won’t be attacked by other Christians.  We try to say the right things, we’re passive-aggressive (see Bob Hostetler’s post: A 21st Century Church Epidemic), we worry what each other thinks about styles of worship, we have “roast pastor/worship-leader/Bible-study-leader” for Sunday dinner, etc.

We’re not to be slaves to other Christians.  We’re to be lovers of other Christians:

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

This isn’t a command, by the way.  It’s a litmus test.  It’s an “if-then” statement.  If you’re Jesus’ disciples, then you will love one another.  If you’re not loving each other, then you’re not His disciples.  Loving (agape) each other isn’t something that takes effort, it’s what should naturally occur when we’re attached to the vine.  A grape doesn’t have to work at being a grape.  If it’s attached to the vine, then it’s going to be a grape not an orange.  Removing the grape from the vine gives us something completely different…a raisin.

If we’re slaves to the lost, let’s call them Gentiles, and we’re lovers of each other; then what is our relationship to Jesus?

Caveat: I know that these aren’t mutually exclusive terms and roles.  We certainly are to love the lost and be servants to each other, etc., but the English language isn’t the easiest tool to work with.

Our relationship to Jesus, in this context, is that of a servant.  Notice the terms Paul uses in describing a slave for lost souls: “spend,” “expend” and “loved the less.”  But he does it gladly.  What is Paul’s secret to being “content in any and every situation?”  He knows when to be a slave; when to be a lover; when to be a servant.

We are servants of Jesus Christ.  What’s the difference between a slave and a servant? Slaves “have to” and servants “get to.” (Please see “Servants versus Slaves.”)

These three roles are intrinsically intertwined.  Simply being a slave to the Gentiles, without the encouraging love of other Christians and servant devotion to Jesus, leaves one disillusioned and defeated.  Servanthood to Jesus that doesn’t lead to love for each other and service to Gentiles is just self-centered piousness (James 2:14-17).  Love of each other without discipleship toward Jesus and the compulsion to share the Gospel is…well…um…it isn’t love.  It’s just “circling the wagons” with an “us four, no more” attitude.  At its worst it’s sectarianism that leads to cultism.

All of that to say; let’s love each other more, serve Jesus diligently and be slaves for the sake of the Gospel.

FREEEEEDOOOOOOM!!!

“Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.” Acts 16:26

This is one of my favorite verses about worship in the Bible. Here’s the backstory: it’s about midnight, Paul and Silas have had a pretty typical day including travel, healing, delivering the occasional girl from demonic possession, riling up the locals with preaching; all of which leads to their inevitable arrest, flogging and prison time. All in all it was a pretty good day. [Insert sarcastic smirk here.]

So, there they sat in prison which I’mfairly certainthose were accommodations most of us would find less than acceptable for worship on any given Sunday morning. Heck, it was probably worse than most modern day prisoners would find acceptable in any US penal system facility or even at Guantanamo Bay or Abu Ghraib for that matter.

Nonetheless, there they were. And they did something rather strange, “…Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God…” What, huh? They were worshipping? But, wait, weren’t the pews too hard? Did they really have a band in prison? Where’d they get the hymnals from? Where did they find a projector to put the words on the wall? How did they worship without a decent sound system and good monitors? Really…intelligent lighting in a cave that served as a prison? Who made sure that the heat was working? [Insert another sarcastic smirk here.]

For now, I’m going to let you work that last paragraph out on your own. I’ll write about worshipping in spite of our circumstances in a later post. Today I want to dwell on what happened next.

To illustrate the result of Paul and Silas’ worship I’ll quote William Wallace as portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie “Braveheart”: FREEEEEEEDOOOOOMMMMMM! (That works a lot better when I preach on this in person, but you get the idea.)

Anyway, it’s commonly understood by us “worship music” types that worship sets us free. But, worship in “truth in and spirit” doesn’t just set those of us up on the stage and in the bright lights free; it sets even those who witness it free, too. In fact, it has nothing to do with worship as performance. Our living, breathing act of worship sets people free, as well.

When a Christ worshipper lives a life that brings glory to God, everyone around them feels the impact…the earthquake.

  • When a Christ worshipper humbly ladles a bowl soup at the downtown mission a homeless person is set free;
  • when a Christ worshipper visits an elderly shut-in a lonely senior is set free;
  • when a Christ worshipper helps a young woman with unruly toddlers load her groceries into her car a mom who may feel the hopelessness of single parenting is set free;
  • when a Christ worshipper drives to a crack house in the middle of the night to rescue the son of desperate parents an addict and his family are set free;
  • when a Christ worshipper takes in a teenage girl to help her overcome an eating disorder a scared young woman is set free;
  • when a Christ worshipper takes a stand between a battered child and their abuser a terrified child is set free;
  • when a Christ worshipper prays and sings praise choruses in a prison then prisoners are set free.

In the third sentence of the book “Let the Nations Be Glad” John Piper says, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”

I take this to mean that God’s plan is for us to worship in truth and spirit; when we reflect the glory of God and the beauty of Christas a matter of course in our life.Worship as a being verb renderspiouscatch phrases, cliched evangelism strategies or pithy bumperstickerssuperfluous at bestor at worst a distraction. When God’s people are “living sacrifices” of “spiritual acts of worship”; when Christ worshippers live a life that brings honor and glory to God; when we are the being verb “worship” then the earth shakes like an earthquake, strongholds crumble, the Gates of Hell implode, captives’ chains fall off, people are set free from bondage; they’re set free to come home to The Father! Worship isn’tintended to bespiritual jollies for the worshipper, it’s purpose is so that everyonewillsee the beauty of the Darling of Heaven inthe worshipper. Then those who merely witness worshipwill be set free, too.

That’s “Why Worship.”