We can be forgiven even after failure

Published 5:07pm Saturday, February 2, 2013

Two young people in our church traveled to Montgomery recently for spelling bee competition. It reminded me of my own experience so many years ago.

I was in grammar school in Birmingham when we had a class spelling bee — I think it was fourth grade. All the boys were eliminated except me. I was able to successfully “spell down” the girls and win. I’ll never forget the boys rushing in to lift me on their shoulders as a champion — just like our church members do after my Sunday sermons.

Well, maybe not so much.

But I remember the second spelling bee we had that year when I went down for the count on the very first word. It was “baby.” Except that I without thinking spelled it “babby.” Ouch.

As a friend of mine used to say, “the big-shot found out he was only buck shot.”

I’m convinced that a mixture of success and failure is an apt description of the Christian life. That was the apostle Paul’s experience in Romans 7. He said the good he wanted most often to do he didn’t do, and the evil he didn’t want to do he often did. He explained this as the struggle between the human nature and the spirit nature given at conversion. I believe this struggle continues until the human nature is finally defeated when we meet God.

A good example of this struggle is the story of John Mark of Jerusalem.

God directed the Gentile church at Antioch to send out a mission team. Paul and Barnabas partnered and Barnabas took his relative Mark along. But Acts 13:13 tells us Mark went AWOL. He left and returned home.

Mark’s failure brought contention to the gospel warhorses when they determined to make a second journey. Barnabas wanted to take Mark again and Paul refused. Thus two teams went out: Barnabas and Mark, and Paul and Silas.

Many years passed and Paul found himself in prison, knowing his time on earth was short. He wrote Timothy, asking him to hurry to see him and to bring Mark who was now “profitable” in ministry (2 Timothy 4:11). We’re not sure what transpired other than Paul gave Mark a second chance.

Early church leaders insisted that Mark also served as Peter’s interpreter, and after Peter’s death, Mark recorded what Peter preached. Thus the Gospel of Mark had a primary source: Peter who walked with Jesus. In his first letter Peter called Mark “my son” (1 Peter 5:13).

I wonder if one of the stories Mark often heard Peter tell was when he denied knowing Jesus (Mark 14: 66-72). Peter failed and was forgiven. Mark was, too. And so can we.

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