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On your Mark

The paradox of call

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (Mark 1:19,20, NIV)

Several weeks ago I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Engraved into the long Memorial Wall are the 58,195 names of all American military killed in that war. I looked for the one I knew, Phillip A. Nichols. I found him at section 7W, line 133. I reached down and placed my hand on his name.

Phil and I entered college at the same time. Both of us planned to be ministers of the gospel: Phil through military chaplaincy and I through pastoral ministry. We lived in the same dorm and attended the same small classes. Phil married his college sweetheart, JoAnna, at the beginning of their last year in college.

Time went by. Phil went on to seminary, as did I, only to different schools. He received his chaplaincy appointment after two years of pastoral ministry and headed off to Vietnam, leaving JoAnna and their three young children behind.

While bivouacking with his troops one night, someone hit a tripwire and all the men in the company were killed in the explosion. To this day, Phil is the only Assemblies of God chaplain ever to lose his life in the conflict of war.

When I read the above verses from Mark about James and John, I think of Phil and me. The brothers James and John, and two friends — Phil and I — were all called to follow Jesus.

You know the gospel history. James became the first of the Twelve martyred for his faith (Acts 12:1,2), and John lived longer than all the others. We are never told why. That’s the paradox of the call. Its beginning is the same; the ending is different for each one called.

The fourth Gospel tells us John had actually been a follower of John the Baptist when he and Andrew heard the Baptist say of Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God.” So, they asked Jesus where He was staying and He told them, “Come and see.” Sixty years later, when writing his Gospel, John still remembered the time of day of that call — about 4 o’clock in the afternoon (John 1:35-39).

That first brush with Jesus had been down by the Judean desert, just north of the Dead Sea. Evidently John did not stay with Jesus long at that time because in the verses above we find him up north on the Lake of Galilee plying his trade as a commercial fisherman with his brother James and hired help.

Suppose we could interview James and John today: “James, you were killed early on, and John you lived longer than all the others, and spent your last years as an exiled prisoner on a lonely wind-swept island. Do either of you regret having obeyed so instantly Christ’s call? Looking back, would you have taken more time for reflection before leaving everything behind to follow Jesus?”

“Absolutely no regrets!” I hear them answer. “Jesus gave us the greatest privilege in life — to follow Him, all the way to eternity. And if we had it to do over again, we would leave everything instantly to follow Him!”

Phil and I would say the same thing. His life was cut short. I’ve lived long. But, following Jesus is the greatest thing of all!

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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