“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 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.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.

“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.

Forgiveness

The Song of the Mountains 38

The hardest prayer. 

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us” (Matt. 6:12). 

This petition of the Lord’s Prayer addresses our spiritual need: forgiveness. The need for it, and the need to give it. If you are inclined to say the Lord’s Prayer as part of your prayer life, perhaps you have said these words and not considered just how difficult they are. 

Two assumptions. 

As we consider this petition, we are faced with two assumptions: 1) the need for our own forgiveness, and 2) the recognition that others have been a source of hurt in our own lives. There is an old expression validated by this petition for forgiveness: “Hurt people, hurt people.”

Two voices. 

We note that this petition is both a plea and a declaration. First, we are pleading for the Lord’s forgiveness; and second, we are claiming that we have forgiven others as the Lord has forgiven us. CS Lewis spoke to the heart, and difficulty of forgiveness, when he wrote, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Forgive the inexcusable? Yes, as that is exactly what, if you have gone to the Father for forgiveness through His Son, that you have experienced. Release from the punishment for the inexcusable. 

For disciples. 

The Lord’s Prayer was given to disciples of Messiah Yeshua/Jesus to pray, and to live. There are many in the Body of Messiah today who believe that once you are “saved” that you are no longer able to sin, to hurt, be hurt, or do anything short of perfection. If only. The inclusion of this petition for forgiveness of ourselves, and our forgiveness of others, in this disciples prayer is evidence that we will still sin, thereby falling short of the glory of God in ourselves (Ro. 3:23-24), thus relying continually on His grace – let it, however, not be wantonly, but rather accidently, unintentionally.

The apostle John writes, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Yet, he gives us great hope for those times when we do sin, he writes, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:8-9). 

It’s not easy. 

As Messiah taught us to pray these simple words, “forgive us our debts (trespasses), as we forgive those who have trespassed against us,” the prayer itself seems easy. Prayer, at least in my humble opinion, is never easy; and Scripture does not indicate prayer to be an easy endeavor. We are, after all, entering into the presence of the Lord. Yes, He is our Father in heaven, and we enter into His presence by Messiah (Heb. 10:19), but unlike the omniscient Lord, I know me, and my unworthiness to speak to Him. Dear reader, we know the depths of our unworthiness, but much greater are the depths of His grace and forgiveness. So great a salvation. So great a promise!

Realistic.

Yeshua is realistic as He teaches us to pray; as He said, “Forgive us our debts.” He knows that we come to our Father with the burden and nagging pain of our guilt. As a daily prayer, Yeshua is teaching us to seek daily forgiveness. He is teaching us to keep a short account with the Lord, to not allow the interest to grow on this account. Seek forgiveness. Admit the debts we know we have. Stop attempting to hide sin from the Lord. Admit them, expose them, mention them by name in His presence, and ask to be forgiven.

So we all sin. Again, Paul nailed it, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Still, he also encourages us to understand that there is forgiveness and restoration when we sin, he continues, “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Messiah Yeshua, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.”

Everyone.   

All of us have sinned against God, and we have all intentionally or unintentionally hurt someone else; but what a relief to learn of forgiveness. We can share in this relief for others by extending forgiveness when wronged – experiencing the power of grace from a different perspective. Why? The pain of unforgiveness is too great for us to bear.   

The beginning.

We being with a plea, “forgive us Lord,” and we continue with a declaration – that we have and will forgive those who “trespass against us.” 

As it is most commonly recited, privately and publicly, the word “trespasses” is spoken. The underlying text is actually “debts,” but the Greek words translated “debts” and “trespasses” are used interchangeably, as we find in Luke 11:4. The debts that we owe to the Lord originate with our fallen condition; just as we owe people a debt when we wrong them or damage them in some way. We are declaring, when we pray, “forgive us…as we have forgiven,” that we have let those who have wronged us off the hook as to a moral debt that they owe us.

Can we? 

There is always questions regarding forgiveness in criminal matters: violence, theft, or car accidents. While we are called by God to forgive, in cases such as these, there are civil laws, not specifically ethical laws, which must be enforced by our society.  

If someone does violence or steals, our society has laws which, in theory, are meant to right the wrong, and reform such behavior. Or in the case of a car accident, laws established to make both the car owner and the title holder whole from damage. These cases line up with what is revealed in the Law of Moses – forgiveness is extended, but reparations and civil chastisement must be executed. 

Let it drop.

What Yeshua is telling us is, to let go of the anger, bitterness and resentment that will only wear you out – extend forgiveness and be free – and also grant others freedom from personal guilt, when they acknowledge their wrong.

The general category.  

When we extend forgiveness, we are imitating the grace and love that the Lord has extended to us. As He has forgiven us, even as we are aware of just how unworthy we are, so we should also forgive others. This act of forgiveness falls under the general category of how He has loved us, and how we are called to love others as a witness to the love we have so graciously received.  

Forgiveness, as difficult as it is, for the moral trespass, social embarrassment, ridicule or oversight from others frees us to live, and ultimately restores our lives and hearts.

Difficult, but not impossible; as nothing is impossible for those with the Father.  

Shalom. Be well.