“Love covers …”

When studying the Book of Acts, it’s easy to go from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4), right to the missionary work of Paul. Doing so, however, leaves enormous gaps in the narrative Luke records; and in those gaps is the human frailty of the apostles themselves.

In one such gap we find Paul … and Barnabas … and well, John Mark.

Barnabas arrives on the scene in Acts 4:36-37. He is a well-placed Levite, by birth, from Cyprus. According to Luke, he is a good man, filled with the Spirit, faith and wisdom (Acts 11:24). By rebirth he is a disciple, and apostle of the Messiah.

Barnabas is there in the beginning, in Jerusalem. He is one of the many brethren gathering, sharing, and laboring for Yeshua/Jesus. After he ministers in Antioch, he travels to Tarsus to look for a man, Paul. He probably never expected to have cause to seek Paul out, since Paul was seeking Jews like Barnabas out only a short time before.

When these two join together in Gospel ministry, nations begin to change. The record of their travels inspire; but the record of their sharp dispute, and split makes one wonder.

Why such a sharp dispute? Why a split? Over a young man named: John Mark.

John Mark, commonly known as Mark, yes, that one, was also well-placed in Jerusalem: perhaps similar in social standing to Paul and Barnabas, only younger. When Peter is freed from prison, he goes to the house of Mark’s mother (Acts 12:12). It is speculated that Mark was born-again under the guidance of Peter, with whom he had a lifelong relationship (I Pet. 5:13). John Mark’s “Gospel” account is widely accepted to be the apostle Peter’s witness, just by his hand.

Then, as Paul and Barnabas are sent out from Antioch, John Mark travels with them as a helper (Acts 13:5). He does so, however, for a very short time (13:13). Scripture is silent as to why John Mark left Paul and Barnabas; and it would be foolish to offer speculation. Paul, according to Luke, considers John Marks departure desertion (Acts 15:38); a rather serious accusation.

As Luke records, “And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose ta sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:36-41).

Can you imagine the anger here? Among brethren? Paul and Barnabas? It happened. For many years, before and after the dispute, there must have been tension. Until, grace changed them.

While we do not see the reconciliation between Paul and Barnabas, it is undoubtedly there. Especially with evidence of Paul’s reconciliation with … John Mark.

We find a general time period of about eleven years before John Mark reappears in the biblical record. He is mentioned by Paul in Colossians 4:10-11, and Philemon 1:24, as he is with Paul. The very one that caused the uproar. The one Paul refused to travel with, was with him once again.

Here is Paul’s words to another disciple, Timothy, “Luke is the only one with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service” (II Tim. 4:11). This is, perhaps overlooked, a warm and rather glowing remark: John Mark is useful to him.

In his youth, John Mark deserted Paul. Now, with time and maturity, grace and love, he endeavours to to travel from Ephesus to Rome, to be with Paul.

Did Peter have John Mark, Paul and Barnabas in mind, when perhaps Mark wrote these words for him, “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins” (I Pet. 4:8)?

Yes, Luke records a bitter split between brethren; but the Holy Spirit led, and then recorded their reconciliation as well.

When we put flesh and blood on the names we read in Scripture, acknowledging their struggles and victories, we recognize that in our own situations of dispute, and division, the hope of forgiveness and reconciliation in Messiah is present.

Paul, even as the apostle, was far from perfect, as he let the sun go down on his anger, and his friend sail away; but he gives us a perfect example of what happens when Christ takes center stage in your life.

Keep pressing in beloved, and trust in the One through whom all things are possible.

Be well. Shalom.

The Request: “teach us to pray…”

“Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Lk. 11:1).

Jews, even the unlearned, knew how to pray. Among Jews of the first century there were prayers common to all, that crossed the social and religious divisions.

When Yeshua/Jesus called His disciples, he called average men. While many Pharisees would become disciples, those closest to Him were not scholars or well placed in the community. Average.

This request made by the disciples reminds me of stories associated with Rabbi Yisrael Ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism.

For many years of his life, he kept the depth of his learning and revelation of God quiet, assuming a manner and position of a humble, ignorant clay digger and wagon driver. He lived among the Jewish masses, impacting their lives by example, and being present.

When he did begin teaching publicly, he taught unlearned Jews how to draw close to God, how to infuse holiness and meaning in their daily lives – encouraging them to not to be something they were not: learned. Just keep God before you.

He taught them how to pray.

This, of course, did not gain the approval of Jewish religious academies. Yet, those who followed his teaching, both scholar and pauper, flourished in learning, even while segregated by oppressive regimes.

“Teach us to pray … “

We must note the respect the disciples had for Yeshua; as Luke includes this detail, that the disciples waited for Him to finish praying (Lk. 11:1). Then, they made their request.

It was common practice for disciples to make requests of their rabbis. This request, “teach us to pray,” was not due to a lack of familiarity with prayer. Jews had some standardized prayer, and often practiced spontaneous, extemporaneous prayer; but mentioning John tells us, and we know this from other sects as well, that teachers often taught disciples a prayer that was unique to them, their practice, and their teacher.

There is a Talmudic teaching that says, “A man should associate himself with the congregation,” (BT Berakhot 30a) meaning, man should not pray alone.

As I noted in a previous meditation on the Disciples Prayer: “Can we pray it alone? Certainly, but our hearts and minds must be aligned with our broader setting: covenant community.”

Yeshua authored a unique prayer that His disciples, past and present, could pray and unite with, even when apart. Imagine the comfort the apostles felt, when thousands of miles from the Promised Land, their culture, and the congregation of Jerusalem, that they had the words of their Rabbi and Lord, penetrating the isolation and uniting them with distant brethren.

These few, but powerful words kept the Kingdom, His will, His provision, His faithfulness and forgiveness, His power and presence, and His eternity ever before them.

It kept the voice of Jesus, Who answered a humble request from His disciples for a prayer unique to them, speaking in their hearts and mind.

The fruit of that request is our heritage: the Disciples Prayer. The prayer authored by the Word made flesh, the author of life, our Savior. Hallelujah.

It matters not your position in this life, He is your value, and when you pray His words, He is there, praying with you, His disciple. So pray it; and keep Him before you.

I’ve prayed this prayer in several nations, and languages; and it is still weaving His disciples together, even across languages and cultures. His Word, to His disciples. Amen.

Be well. Shalom.

“Teach us to pray …” the Disciples Prayer

The disciples of Yeshua/Jesus approach Him and say, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (Lk. 11:1).

He answers with what is usually called “the Lord’s Prayer.” For several reasons it should be known as “the Disciples Prayer,” but that is neither here nor there for this commentary.

The prayer itself is a beautiful example of historic, communal Jewish prayer of the Second Temple period. Written in the words of covenant, it is in the plural, and by definition, intended to be prayed with others: “our Father,” “give us,” “forgive us,” “lead us not into,” “but deliver us.”

Can we pray it alone? Certainly, but our hearts and minds must be aligned with our broader setting: covenant community.

The Hebrew word meaning daily prayer, the Disciples Prayer is an example of this, is תְּפִלָּה/tefillah. The act of praying, in word and song, is לְהִתְפַּלֵּל/hitpa’el. לְהִתְפַּלֵּל/hitpa’el in Hebrew is reflexive, meaning to pray to yourself. So the public, plural prayers that we pray, including the Disciples Prayer, is somehow private in nature? Closed off? Prayed to ourselves?

Yes, but also no. לְהִתְפַּלֵּל/hitpa’el is from the root פָלִיל/palil, meaning to judge. In order to understand this, one must know what a judge does.

A judge takes conflicting information, and in the case of a religious judge he searches biblical truth concerning the matter, and investigates in order to reach a conclusion, thus rendering a verdict. The truth found in the Word penetrates to the heart of the conflict, leading to resolution, if we respond in faith.

What does this have to do with prayer?

When we pray, considering closely the words Jesus taught us, we are often wrestling with conflict of some type. The conflict between our circumstance, and our hopes. Real, pressing, and in need of immediate aid, in the face of His eternal hope.

The root of prayer, daily spoken, calls us to take in the conflicting experience and information, imbue it with holy truth and faith, by which we live the words prayed in the communal setting. When we pray in private, we are still praying in community, because we will live the words prayed in the midst of others.

Reflexive prayer brings an inflow of truth, changing us internally; for an outflow of living, changing life externally.

Yeshua taught us to pray focused on the sovereign presence of God, the author of life; knowing that He will supply the need for every circumstance, and He does so, in community.

You may fill the need, or have it filled; because someone spoke, and lived His holy Word. That is communal, covenant prayer.

Be well. Shalom.

“I’ll believe it …”

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” should not be an attitude we hold in faith. To do so would leave us in the realm of doubt, waiting for sensory confirmation in order to believe (II Cor. 5:7).

Forgiveness, is an elusive noun that is easy to define, but so much more difficult to do. In both Greek and Hebrew, forgiveness is derived from verbs; meaning to pardon, release, excuse, or send away.

Of all the concepts of faith that I have taught and counseled on, forgiveness is the most wrestled with, resisted, doubted, and dare I say, disbelieved. Why is that?

“I’ll believe it when I see it.” How hard it is for us to grasp forgiveness, and even harder to send away that which has been grasped: the offense.

The greatest obstacle to walking in forgiveness, is believing that the offender has really repented, was really sorry, or learned some type of lesson. Yet, that’s not what forgiveness is for. It is not for us to judge the efficacy of forgiveness in the life of the other, but to look deeply at how effective forgiveness has been in our heart. Have we let loose of the offense, and set the offender free in our heart?

I need not lay before you the scriptures on forgiveness, as that’s why the Bible contains them … go look them up … but suffice to say, forgiveness, like repentance, is a daily exercise in faith, rooted in God’s grace.

We do not deserve God’s grace. Furthermore, we do not deserve His forgiveness. Yet, both were freely given. Well, someone paid the price: Christ. Grace is costly, as is forgiveness. Yet it is a price you, and I, did not pay. Still, it is a debt we will carry when we do not release the offense; often in the form of bitterness, anger, resentment, and fear.

In teaching His disciples to pray, Yeshua/Jesus said, and I paraphrase, “Forgive us … as we forgive … “ To follow Yeshua is to be a person saturated in forgiveness: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” For sure, not easy; but then, we are not to rely on our strength or capability to forgive.

Imagine if we set a standard of “I’ll believe it when I see it,” regarding God’s forgiveness toward us? We would be paralyzed; unable to approach Him, pray to Him, worship Him. We would be locked up in a cage called unforgiveness, even more strongly: death.

I remember reading a rabbinic story years ago of a rabbi who inquired of an old study partner as to whether or not he believed a particular teaching in the Talmud. The man replied, “Of course!” The rabbi said, “I did not; until I did it.”

Forgiveness is difficult, not because of the other; but rather, some part of us still wrestling with it, with believing it. Until we do it, it will be theoretical. Once we do it, freedom.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” may work for those in a condition of doubt; but, “I know it because He did it,” recognizes our continuing maturation in faith, a trusting Him that necessitates doing, especially the most difficult of His teachings, in order to know it personally.

We never graduate from the feeling of pain that accompanies forgiveness, as some part of us dies, each time, in the process. But, we find more freedom in what Messiah did for us, especially when we did not deserve it.

Forgiveness: “I believe it, because He said it.”

Be well. Shalom.

Breaking Fatalism

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was known to have said, “When I was young I admired cleverness. Now that I am old I find I admire kindness more.”

I awoke this morning in heaviness of heart; as a shepherd this happens often. At times it is difficult to shut the theological mind off as I read posts or listen to conversations; attentive to the underlying theological issues influencing a particular conclusion, or course of action. I found myself praying about what I might term perspectival fatalism, which appears to be creeping into people’s biblical theology. While it is beyond the scope of this blurb to define philosophical fatalism properly, it is a perspective that resigns itself to fate, or the fates, if you will: an outcome is predetermined, and therefore, it is unavoidable.

The apostle Paul wrote, “My eager expectation and hope is that in no way will I be put to shame, but that with complete boldness Messiah will even now, as always, be exalted in my body – whether through life or through death. For to me, to live is Messiah and to die is gain. But if to live on in the body means fruit from my work, what shall I choose? I do not know. I am torn between the two – having a desire to leave and be with Messiah, which is far better; yet for your sake, to remain in the body is more necessary” (Phil. 1:20-24).

Some have come to an almost “oh well” attitude concerning situations we presently face, even suffering and death. People are exhausted, overburdened, over-extended, worried, mourning, fearful, angry, etc. Yet, Paul is not given to a fatalistic attitude, as noted above. He is not surrendering to “fate,” rather, he is surrendering to the sovereign will of God in Messiah. He remains, even while in prison, missional in disposition.

Yes, absent the body sets him with the Lord – which is gain; but to remain, even with the pressure he faces, is necessary for the maturing of those in his care concerning the Gospel.

What breaks a fatalistic attitude? Kindness; specifically biblical loving-kindness.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, kindness, first translated by Myles Coverdale as “loving-kindness” into English, which I explain as covenant faithfulness, is derived from חֶסֶד/hessed. What is hessed? Simply: love expressed as deed. Hessed is a gift of ourselves to the human other. It reorients the perspectives of those giving it, and those receiving it. I’ve heard it explained that God’s hessed humanizes fatalism, by transforming what some thought inevitable with a simple act of loving-kindness. When destined by “fate,” the reach of God saved the soul.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Messiah gives a startling illustration of the separating of His sheep from goats. The sheep, to whom He says, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me,” (v. 40) are sent to the right, where He is. To the goats, however, Messiah says, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me,” (v. 45) and they are sent to the left, representing everlasting judgment (v. 46).

The actions are surprisingly simple: give to the hungry, give to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned (v.35-36). Uncomplicated. What was the difference between the actions of the sheep, and those of the goats? In a word, loving-kindness. Hessed is an outward demonstration of the inward love for the Lord, and the human other (cf. Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18). As Paul expressed above, his love for and desire to be with the Lord was paralleled with the love he had for the human other as well. Profound.

In an age where argument is viewed as strength and boldness, the needed redirect is to kindness, which, contrary to mounting opinion, is not weakness, but this: sureness with whom you walk. As the prophet writes:

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy (loving-kindness), and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8).

Further:

“For I desire mercy (kindness) and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6).

In faith we bring the theoretical, perhaps even the abstract, to life by faithfully outreaching to those trampled over by life in the name of the Lord.

Can fatalism be caught up in the life of faith? Only when we turn our eyes from the Messiah. Fatalism and faith are simply incompatible.

As we find in the Great Commission, and again in Acts 1:8, those in Christ remain on His mission, regardless of circumstance, history, or political atmosphere. Therefore, our perspective cannot be fatalistic, but missional. As Paul writes regarding putting off the old man with his abundant wickedness, and the putting on of the new man, we do so with “tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another” (Col. 3:12-13; cf. Gal. 5:22-23).

We are all enduring something, somethings more tragic than others; but when we reach out our hand in loving-kindness, we are caught up in His grace – and all it encompasses. Hessed changes the perspective of both recipient and actor. A simple act, lost in the myriad acts of a day, week or year may not change your life, or be a moment remembered; but it may give hope to and radically change the life touched.

Loving-kindness is the power of God manifest as a glass of water to a thirsty, hurting soul.

Be well. Shalom.