Today's Lectionary Text
After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
It’s beautiful: cue stick thwacks the cue ball; cue ball rolls a line on felt-covered slate, clacks against object ball and vectors off; object ball travels its line to clunk into corner pocket. Beauty in simple, geometric motion. With practice, nearly everyone can gain proficiency at pocketing an object ball on a pool table. It is predictable — tap the cue ball correctly, at the right speed so that it strikes an object ball at the precise angle to send it into the pocket. Practice, practice, practice. But sinking an object ball into a pocket, while beautiful, isn’t all there is to gaining control of the game. Learning to do that is a start, but that is the easier part; there is more to it than that, and that more is magic.
Pool pros consistently keep opponents away from the table by what appears to be magic. They maintain control of the table by sinking ball after ball, rack after rack after rack. It’s not good enough to pocket an object ball now and then. To keep their opponents from having a chance at the table, they need to pocket every ball without a miss. To do that, they make every shot as easy as possible for themselves. Shots are easier to make when the cue ball stops in perfect position for the next shot, and the next, and the next. Pros actually control the cue ball after it contacts the object ball, and when you witness that happening, it is magical, as if an unseen hand moves the cue ball and stops it precisely where it needs to be.
The secret to cue-ball control is cue-stick follow-through. In other words, the player’s cue stick doesn’t stop immediately upon impact with the cue ball. You can sink an object ball that way, but you can’t control the cue ball. Instead, the cue stick continues forward movement after impact, shoving the cue-ball and often placing a spin on it. That spin influences the cue ball to roll where the player wants it to go. It’s hard to learn, but pro players make it look so easy that an onlooker might assume the cue-ball automatically stops in the right place. The onlooker would be wrong — it doesn’t.
I have wondered if the apostle Paul spent time leaning over a pool table, because he knew something about follow-through. He had planted a string of churches, and he decided to visit them again, to see how they were doing and to care for them. He assumed Barnabas would go with him. Come on Barnabas, let’s go back to the churches we planted and see how they’re doing. We made initial contact, but let’s not leave it there. Let’s push through to reinvigorate our relationship with them. Who knows how our follow-through might put us in position to make the next shots at the ministry God has called us to do.
Barnabas insisted on taking Mark along, but Paul refused. Mark had not followed through on prior obligations, and he was not, Paul decided, aligned properly to make this shot. We can’t have someone on our team who isn’t proficient at follow-through. Paul and Barnabas were so adamant that they split up over what to do with Mark. Paul’s follow-through would confirm to those churches and communities that Paul cared deeply for them. There was no room for glitches, because who knew how many opponents might gain a chance at the table.
While the trip would not be easy or quick, Paul’s follow-through might have been just enough of a push to strengthen the Church for a thousand-year run or more. His follow-through with those churches in Syria and Cilicia also set him in position to take his next shots at Derbe and Lystra. It also aligned him to make contact with Timothy and sink him deep in the mission-field pocket. Follow-through reaped impressive benefits for Paul and the faith economy, as if an unseen hand moved him around at the right speed and stopped him precisely in the right place for his next shot.
I have heard that people disappear from a church because no one followed through. People have reported to me that no one in that church cares about me, because no one there follows through. It’s hard to know the difference between caring and not caring unless there is an act of follow-through. Reports abound about committees frustrated over a member who didn’t follow through, and the committee isn’t in position to take the next step; time is wasted, and an opportunity at the “table” is lost. A single note or a face-to-face interaction of “Thank you,” or “I apologize” or “Glad to hear you’re back home from surgery,” deepens a relationship enough that the player stays at the table for the next shot. No residual embarrassment for a relationship out of alignment; no wasted time backing up to start over because something should have been done, but wasn’t; fewer lost opportunities; less time sitting away from the table out-of-play.
I’ve watched, jaw agape, pro players repeatedly control cue-ball position with great precision. I’ve practiced that myself but sinking the object ball and controlling the cue ball is difficult. I’m not even close to proficiency, but I don’t know how to improve except to keep practicing. Follow-through in Christ-following, disciple-making, and church-working must be difficult too, because I’ve failed at it so many times. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to improve except to keep practicing. Today may be the perfect day for that. Each day gives another turn at the table, and I take Paul’s action in Acts 15 as my cue. Maybe my practice will result in something beautiful, even magical. Maybe yours will too.
-Rev. Dennis Livingston
Hays-Hutchinson District Superintendent
This Week's Lectionary
This Week's Liturgical Color