I must confess that NBA basketball is a bit frustrating to me. I thought about this as I watched the Dallas Mavericks win their first championship in franchise history against the Miami Heat. This series was one of the most nerve-wracking I’ve ever watched. Many of the games were decided in the last seconds of the game.
What was frustrating to me was that during the game no lead seemed to be big enough. Just when I thought the Mavs had put the game away the Heat would go on a 12-0 run, or worse. The Mavs did the same thing during the series, often coming from behind to climb back in the game, and often to end up the victors.
This has led me to consider watching only the last few minutes of an NBA game. What happens during the game – the wild swings in one direction or another – really makes little difference in the final outcome of the game. It’s the final minute or two of the game that seem to determine the outcome. One team’s lazy defense met by the other team’s explosive offense can dramatically turn things around.
What frustrates me in the game of professional basketball encourages me in the game of life. I’m so thankful that in Christ, no matter how far behind a person gets in life, there’s always the possibility of an amazing comeback.
One example comes to mind. The book of Acts explains a heart-breaking fissure that occurred in the relationship between Paul and Barnabas. The disagreement erupted over whether or not John Mark should be included on the missionary team for what is called the Second Missionary Journey. Paul was determined that John Mark would not be on the team because John Mark had bailed out on a previous mission trip. Paul had no time for quitters; the stakes were too high. Barnabas, on the other hand, apparently believed John Mark should have a second chance. Luke explains the outcome: “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company…” (Acts 15:39). But the story doesn’t end there.
Something happened in the months and years to come that changed Paul’s mind about John Mark. We see that in some astounding words at the end of Paul’s second letter to Timothy: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry” (II Timothy 4:11). What happened? Perhaps John Mark had matured; or perhaps it was Paul who matured … or both. Whatever the case, John Mark was back in the game … an amazing comeback. He went from being one whom Paul considered useless on the team, to one who was useful to the team. Later John Mark would go on to be one of men chosen by the Holy Spirit to pen one of the Gospel records of the life and ministry of Jesus … the Gospel According to Mark.
It is the grace and mercy of God that makes such comebacks possible. After all, if God can perform the miracle of raising us out of the deadness of our sins and making us new persons in Christ, is He not also able to restore us when we falter and fail.
When God does work such a wonder He typically involves a human instrument. In this case it was Barnabas who never gave up on John Mark. As powerful a preacher and missionary as Paul was, he had a hard time seeing the potential in John Mark. But Barnabas could see it.
Is there a John Mark in your circle? Who needs you to believe in them and to trust them with a second (or third or fourth) chance? Who needs you to say, “You’re important to the team; let’s get you back in the game”?