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Reflections: Christians AWOL

By Michael J. Brooks

It was a disturbing call I received several years ago. His mother phoned to say Gary was in jail. Gary had grown up in our church and joined the U.S. Army. On a weekend leave, he decided he wasn’t going back. So the Army and the rental car agency pressed charges and he was in jail. Of course I went to see him and offered what comfort and counsel I could. Gary is the only person I’ve known personally who went AWOL—absent without leave.

The “poster child” for going AWOL in the New Testament is John Mark. He accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey as far as the Roman province of Asia Minor, then decided to go home. Luke, the chronicler, doesn’t tell us whether Mark was sick, homesick, angry, discouraged or in love. But for whatever reason he abandoned the journey of a lifetime.

Mark missed a great adventure. Christians often speculate about spending an afternoon or a day with the Apostle Paul to seek spiritual understanding. Mark had opportunity to spend several days with this Christian leader but chose something of lesser importance to occupy his time.

Mark missed a  great decision. It was on this journey that Paul decided he’d stop preaching first to the Jews and become the apostle to the Gentiles. After he and Barnabas returned home, they were instrumental in bringing the mother church in Jerusalem together to hear this issue. Peter, too, offered his own insight into how God was working among those formerly considered pagans. The church finally “got it.” They realized one didn’t have to become a Jew before trusting Christ as the messiah.

Mark didn’t miss the grace of God. He later reconciled with Paul in a way we don’t know. Paul asked the Colossians to “receive him as you would me,” and asked  Timothy to bring Mark to visit him in prison before he died. And Peter called Mark “my son” in the faith. Christian tradition is that Mark served as Peter’s interpreter and wrote down the things Peter preached after the apostle died; thus the Gospel of Mark is the story of Jesus from a primary source.

Christians who quit in their walk can learn a lesson from Mark. No one is beyond the grace and forgiveness of God. The Lord invites us back and welcomes us back. Luke described this in his gospel as a God who runs. The loving father didn’t wait for his son to find him; he ran to meet him and to restore him. Aristotle said a proper man never runs in public. What a concept to think of a God who runs to us when we come home.

Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.

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