New Hope Notes

The Lifetime Of Improvement Award
No Higher Calling

Pastor Phil MaCallum
March 11, 2007 - w0710

What is a “Lifetime of Improvement Award” and how is that earned?  Improvement begins in many different ways, even with animals.  A mother giraffe cares for her newborn in a way that isn’t gentle at all, yet it is powerfully caring.  The baby is dropped from the mother’s belly onto the hard ground and then she kicks it.  Why?  Because that baby has got to stand on its own and walk, for that is the first lesson of survival it must learn.  But, as soon as that baby stands on its, the mother knocks him down.  This is lesson two.  To survive the many predators of the wild, this baby has got to learn how to get up quickly once it has fallen down.  You know, it’s the same for us as it is for this baby giraffe, because we need to learn to get up every time we fall down and every time we get kicked in the head by the trials we face in this world.


Now, some of us have excelled in life and earned awards that many of us haven’t.  Most of us are just ‘ordinary’ people, who often wonder why we take longer than others to learn things and why we just don’t achieve what we want until we get kicked in the head a number of times.  Only a handful of people in this world will achieve that first place prize.  Many of us won’t win that first prize, however, we can win that lifetime of improvement award.  It’s within reach for all of us when we follow the process that God has prepared for us. 


That process brings us a message.  We can understand this message as we focus on a young man in the bible, called John Mark, who eventually became known as Mark.  God took the ‘johnny’ out of Mark to show the growth of a foolish boy into a worthy man.  A man who ultimately gained the ‘Lifetime of Improvement Award.”  He is revealed in the Bible in a most unusual way.  The book of Mark is agreed by most scholars to have been written by this young man, John Mark.  And, it appears that he was the very first ‘streaker’ in the Bible, as Mark 14 states:


“A young man was following along.  All he had on was a bedsheet.  Some of the men grabbed him but he got away, running off naked, leaving them holding the sheet.”(Mark 14:50-52).


At the time this happened to Mark, he was probably a teenager between 14 and 16 years of age.  He knows that the disciples are out on some kind of adventure and, being that it is quite late in the night, he grabs a sheet to cover him as he quickly follows after the disciples.  He soon discovers how unprepared his is for one of the most significant events in history.  You can imagine how it must have been for him, running through the streets that was lit brightly from the full moon that night.  He must have been dodging and hiding behind olive trees and corners, rushing his way home.  This Johnny Mark was up for the adventure, but was quite low on preparation for it.  But, this wasn’t his only fiasco.  Later, in Acts 15, John Mark is a few years older when he jumps ship again. 


“Barnabas wanted to take John along, the John nicknamed Mark.  But Paul wouldn’t have him; he wasn’t about to take along a quitter who, as soon as the going got tough, had jumped ship on them in Pamphylia.  Tempers flared, and they ended up going their separate ways…”  (Acts 15:36-37).


This was a mission that Paul refused John Mark to join.  Often, missions are a great test of one’s perseverance.  If you have been on a mission, you discover the hardships of dirty bathrooms and insect-infected living arrangements.  In addition, you quickly discover who are your true friends.  In the same way, John Mark discovered the true natures of Barnabas and Paul as they also discovered the true character of John Mark.  When Johnny Mark found himself in a tough situation, he literally jumped on another ship back home to his mother.  This was his usual pattern when things got difficult.  Imagine his complaints to his mother:  “I thought it was a prayer meeting, so I just grabbed whatever I could find to cover myself.  How was I to know it was going to be a stakeout or I would have dressed differently?  And, this Paul, he’s a workaholic.  We have to get up early and preach and heal people and work all day long at our ministry.  He doesn’t realize that we all need a good 8-hours of sleep to do that kind of work.”  John Mark thought, like many of us do at times, that if God changes our circumstances, things would be better.  If people were more considerate, or if we had more money, things would be better.  What John Mark didn’t know then, was that God’s objective was to change him and not his circumstances.  It is always God’s objective to change people in the midst of their circumstances.  John Mark needed to change in order to learn the secret of maturity.  And that is…




Instead of praying to God to change your circumstances, pray:  “Lord, change ME in the midst of my circumstances.”  Learn how to be easily changeable or upgradeable.  Like a computer, there are always upgrades to constantly make it better.  We have learned so much about computers, like how to use a mouse and keyboard; programs like Adobe Photoshop, Flash, Quick Time and Windows Media player.  And now, there’s podcasting.  Computers have become better.  We too, need to have the ability to change the software of our character so that we can become better and so that we can become upgradeable easily.  Then, our Lord can download new programs in us so that we can accomplish new processes of the new seasons that come into our lives.  We need to be upgradeable to make those necessary changes in life.


When I was 17, I was learning to be a bricklayer, and worked as a tender for Chet Mueller, a master bricklayer.  But, as the walls grew higher and higher as we built it, I didn’t know how I was going to shovel the mud up that high.  I was told that I had to stand with my back to the scaffold while I shoveled it backward up onto the scaffold.  Of course, when I did that, I missed the scaffold and the mud came flying back all over me.  I was disgusted at failing to do it right and I wanted to quit.  But, when I look back, I’m glad I didn’t.  Something told me to keep trying until I got it right.  It was in that moment where I made the decision to upgrade the software of my character rather than grumble and quit, like John Mark.  So, the lesson here is to always remember to pray for a change in ourselves rather than for a change in our circumstances.


Now comes another turn in John Mark’s life, which we will call the “Great Argument”.  John Mark becomes the cause of a great argument between two great apostles, Paul and Barnabas.  It ended up breaking a long time relationship between Paul and Barnabas.  And, John Mark had to live with that notion for the rest of his life.  Now, Paul was like a Marine, where he only wanted the best and bravest who was ready to follow him.  Barnabas, on the other hand, was willing to work with those who needed to be helped along the way.  As a result, they split, with Paul taking Silas with him, and Barnabas taking John Mark to accompany him to Cyprus.  In this moment, John Mark had to face the fact that this leader, Paul, did not approve of his ministry.  It must have been a difficult time for him.  But, his healing moment came with Barnabas, who was willing to develop Johnny Mark to becoming Mark.  And, when John Mark makes this decision to stick with this journey, as difficult as it was, he changes.  He doesn’t quit and run back home because he learned to:




John Mark broke his pattern of always cutting and running when the going got tough.  This time, he didn’t run back to mother complaining and whining.  Despite the uncomfortable circumstances and the fact that he was causing the end of a long-time relationship, John Mark decided to go the distance.  Johnny Mark finally became Mark.   Now, fifteen years later, the apostle, Paul, experiences enormous changes in his character.  Being a prisoner in Rome, Paul meets a young slave, named Onesimus, which means ‘useful.’  As Paul took Onesimus under his wing, he grew to understand that not all leaders came fully assembled.  Paul learned that he needed to focus on their potential and their development as they progressed in the ministry.  We see this change in the first chapter of Philemon.


“While here in jail, I’ve fathered a child, so to speak.  And her he is, hand-carrying this letter-Onesimus!  He was useless to you before; now he’s useful to both of us.  I’m sending him back to you, but it feels like I’m cutting off my right arm in doing so.” (Philemon 1:10-12).


As a result, Paul begins to feel differently towards Mark. 


“Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry.”  (2 Timothy 4:11)


“Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. So do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my co-workers.”  (Philemon 1:23-24)


Paul sees Mark as his equal, as his co-worker in Christ.  It was an enormous change of his heart!


Mark experienced changes too, when he learned that a coach can see one’s potential and that is why they challenge you to become better than you are, so that you will become successful.  A coach isn’t a psychiatrist and that’s why he doesn’t want to hear your problems and excuses.  He just wants to work on your potential, despite your circumstances.   It helps to ask yourself why that coach is successful and you aren’t.  Tom Landry, who led the Dallas Cowboys to many Superbowls, was asked, what is a leader?  He answered, “A leader is simply a man who takes 11 men and makes them do what they don’t want to do to accomplish the one thing they wanted to achieve all their lives.”  A coach challenges us to do what we don’t want to do in order to become what we have always wanted to be.  Each of us has a personal coach of some kind.  It could be a teacher, a boss, or a friend who challenges us to become better than what we are. 


After the end of World War II, the Japanese wanted to rebuild their economy.  A businessman, by the name of Demi, tutored the Japanese instilling a sense of continual improvement to help them rebuild their economy.  He taught them principle of ‘kaisun’, or continual improvement that entails taking apart and analyzing what didn’t work so that you can put it back again in a better way.  The Japanese economy went from ruins to success.  Our Lord, God does that with us, too.  He works with each of us at the point of where we are now and shows us what we can become.  Start with what you are and what you are facing today in whatever circumstances are present, to help you do the one thing He is telling you to do, for today.  Don’t listen to the voice of the devil that may be working through your own thoughts or the voices of others trying to tell you something else.  Just focus and listen to what the Holy Spirit is showing you.  Listen to the Holy Spirit guide you into doing the one thing you need to do, today.  It may be just making a phone call or paying a bill.  But, what ever it is, just do it.  And, journal this process as it allows God’s word to speak to you.  Writing down these lessons will help you apply them in your life.  Continue this process every day, and in a year, you will have progressed through an obedience into God’s vision for your life, which has really been your vision also.  The structure of your life miraculously unfolds, as Mark also discovered.


As more time has passed, Mark is now in his 50’s, and after serving both Barnabas and Paul, he is now going to serve the greatest of all apostles, Peter.  Peter says of Mark:


“Your sister church here…sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark.”  (1 Peter 5:13)


Imagine how Mark felt to be called the son of the great apostle, Peter.  What a progress Mark has experienced.  But, it gets better.  Peter goes on to explain what he wants to leave behind when he dies.


“For our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me that I must soon leave this earthly life, so I will work hard to make sure you always remember these things after I am gone..”  (2 Peter 1:14-15)


Now, you might say there is no gospel of Peter.  There is Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but there is no gospel of Peter.  However, in actuality, the gospel of Mark is the gospel of Peter.  There is much historical evidence to substantiate the fact that Mark was the writer or secretary to Peter.  You see, Peter was a fisherman and was always in a hurry to somewhere to fulfill his ministry, and the book of Mark reflects this urgency.  Another thing about the book of Mark is the fact that it is written to show how the other apostles weren’t always doing things right.  Yet, the other gospels polish up the reputation of all the apostles.  Peter never polished up anything.  He told it like it was.  His stories always told things just they way it happened.  The book of Mark reflected exactly how Peter would have spoken those words.  Indeed, Peter was a great fisherman, but he was a terrible author.  He even struggled once in writing a letter in Greek, so he had Silas Silvanius help him to write it.  Likewise, Peter dictated his words to Mark, who then wrote the gospel words of Peter.  Now, let’s just imagine that when the book was finished, Peter didn’t want to sign it as his and wanted Mark to sign it as the author.  Of course, Mark must have refused, but after some debate, he agreed, with one small request.  He wanted to add something about himself that told the worst moment of his life.  Maybe, that was Mark 14:50-52, which is stated above.  Maybe, Mark wanted to be remembered as a lifelong learner.  We are all gospel authors ourselves because we are a living gospel.  How we allow the Holy Spirit to upgrade our character determines the bible we show to others who may be reading it for the first time.  Thus, we become a living gospel that is useful to the Lord.  It’s a gospel that can bring others to see the kingdom of God and to know Him. 


To become a useful, living gospel, as Mark became, we must learn to:




My father just turned 83, as he shared that his lifelong lesson.  He wrote that he is God’s apprentice and each test is training for yet another responsibility and task for tomorrow.  And, if he fails at these smaller tasks, then God’s greater calling and opportunity may never become his.  His prayer went something like this:  “Lord, I pray that I may not miss your best and help me to learn the lessons you have entrusted to me today, that I might be a richer blessing and a greater service for your kingdom tomorrow.  May God enrich each one of you.”  And, he signs the letter, Much Love, Dad.  I saw that the secret of my father’s success was called  ‘constant improvement’.  My father had many jobs, some of which were pastor, carpenter, engineer, missionary, inventor and a college president.  All was accomplished because of his desire for constant improvement.


Is the Holy Spirit asking you to do something today?  More than likely, He is starting from where you are today and focusing on one thing only that needs to be done today.  Listen, because that is what God’s Holy Spirit wants you to do for today.  Pray for that spiritual maturity to take the Johnny out of ‘your’ Mark and help you to achieve that Lifetime of Improvement Award.




Q1: Are you still operating with ‘outdated software’ to solve the circumstances in your life?  Why are they not working anymore?

Q2: Give an example of an event that prompted you to react differently than you normally would and explain how it upgraded your character.

Q3: Was there a time in your life when you finally gave in to a difficult challenge?  Describe the process and progress that happened for you.

Q4: What is God telling you right now, today, to do to improve your character?

Q5: What is your lifelong lesson that you want to leave to your loved ones?

Q6: Based on the circumstances you have gone through in your life, what did it write upon your life that brought a living gospel to others?