He Will Be Called: Mighty God

My life feels out of control, especially as Christmas rolls toward us. The things I want to accomplish remain unfinished. I’m interrupted despite my best intentions. Things happen—like my computer losing my blog post last week. Sometimes I wish I could stomp my foot and make it all stop. Sometimes I wish I could conquer my own life.

As the people of Judah packed a few things to carry on their long walk to Babylon, I wonder if they felt the same way. (Except mine are first-world problems and their problems were far more like those of modern-day refugees.) I wonder if they began to question God’s potency. What happened to the Davidic line? And what of Jerusalem, about which God had said, “This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it” (Psalm 132:14)? It laid in ruins.

God’s promises remained.

Still, God’s promises remained. Continue reading

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He Will Be Called: Wonderful Counselor

Have you made plans for Christmas yet? I haven’t. I like to plan, but often my plans don’t come to fruition. Not so with God. When God plans something, it doesn’t change. God’s plans are so certain that the Old Testament authors speak of them in the past tense, what scholars call “the prophetic perfect.”

When God spoke to His people about His plans, however, He used future tense. We call them promises, and the Old Testament prophets gave us many of them. What a comfort it must have been for the Israelites to carry these promises into captivity in a foreign land! Continue reading

Judas Thaddaeus Jameson Asked a Question

There’s a disciple we don’t talk about much. The Gospel authors didn’t talk about him much either, so I guess we can be excused. Matthew and Mark call him Thaddaeus. Luke and John call him “Judas son of James”* or “Judas (not Judas Iscariot).” Yes, with the parentheses (Luke 6:16 and John 14:22, respectively). In other words, the other Judas.

It was such a common name; in fact, Jesus had a brother named Judas (Mark 6:3). Thaddaeus sounds like a Greek name to me,** so I’m guessing Matthew and Mark used this name (or nickname) to avoid the need for further definition. Matthew was obviously comfortable with alternate names since he’s also called Levi.

I would hate to be that other Judas.

On top of the confusion with his name, we only have one documented interaction between him and Jesus, and it doesn’t make our Judas/Thaddaeus look so good.

John 14:22-25. Continue reading

Our Identity Has a Purpose

or The ‘That’ We Can’t Delete (originally a 3-minute speech for Enrich Writer’s Conference)

As a writer, I’ve been told to ferociously edit, to remove unnecessary words and watch for repeated words. I’ve learned to limit my uses of ‘so,’ ‘like,’ ‘that,’ and similar words.

But sometimes we need to keep the ‘that.’

For the grammar nerds among us (if you don’t love grammar, you can skip this paragraph), the ‘that’ I find so important is not a demonstrative adjective or the introductory word for a descriptive clause. This ‘that’ leads into a purpose clause. One thing happens in order to produce the following thing. Purpose clauses may begin with that, so that, in order that, or lest.

The biblical authors knew we needed purpose clauses, and the translators, when the text called for it, used ‘that’ or ‘so that.’

We find a crucial example of ‘that’ for a purpose clause in 1 Peter 2:9.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession…  -1 Peter 2:9a

If we stop there, we feel pretty good about ourselves. We are chosen, royal, holy, and special. That’s awesome. I feel super-good about myself when I read that.

But there’s more.

…that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  -1 Peter 2:9b

The first half of the verse reveals our identity. The second half reveals the reason we’ve been given the identity. It declares our purpose: to declare the praise of him who called us.

These days, our Christian culture focuses a lot on identity. There are songs and sermons about it, t-shirts you can wear, and signs you can hang in your house. The things you’ve read about identity are absolutely true, but it’s an incomplete truth without the attached purpose. Focusing so heavily on our identity makes our faith about us rather than about God and His glory.

IMG_0096
Mt. Kilimanjaro (the snow-capped one on the right) (c) Carole Sparks

Our identity is not the summit of the mountain we’re climbing but the equipment we shoulder to climb it.

02-28 ready to run this year shoes race
new running shoes (c) Carole Sparks

Our identity is not the gold medal for which we strain but the shoes we lace up to run the race.

Our identity is not a landing point in our faith but a launching pad.

…that you may declare the praises of him who called you…

So let’s take our identity, our chosen-ness, our special-ness, and let’s embrace it! Let’s declare it! Let’s scream it at Satan and hold our heads high! But then, let’s buckle that belt of truth on tightly (Ephesians 6:14) and step into our purpose, which—no matter what your calling—is His Glory!

Our identity is pointless without the purpose for which it was given. On purpose clauses, words our editors like to delete, and the reason we are who we are in Christ. My #identity is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

How does your identity equip you to fulfill your purpose in Christ? Have you tended to rest in identity without considering the attached purpose? I know I have. Whatever you’re thinking, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

More on identity: The Idol of Identity and Q & A with John the Baptist

More on not ignoring the second half of the verse: Stillness

 

Generosity Yields Heaps of Blessings

I don’t like other people to fill my plate. They tend to give me heaping helpings of every food, then I can’t eat it all, then I feel bad for wasting food. I know they are being generous, and maybe it’s my latent control freak rearing its head…

Anyway, we have a bonus post on generosity this month. Pile heaping portions of these biblical examples onto your figurative plate and dig in! I promise I’ve kept the calories in check, but not the alliteration.

People of Judah: Heaps of Tithed Goods

2 Chronicles 31:2-10.

Hezekiah was one of the last kings of Judah. “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done” (2 Chronicles 29:2). He repaired the temple, restored the prescribed sacrifices, re-ordained the priests, and reinstituted the Passover. (Told you there was alliteration.) He also called the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding area to support the priests and Levites with their tithes. The people responded generously. They brought a tenth of everything they owned, and it took four months—four months!—to collect it all. So much came in that they had to pile everything into heaps in and around the temple (2 Chronicles 31:6). When Hezekiah saw all those heaps, he praised God and asked the priests what was going on. Azariah replied,

Since the people began to bring their contributions to the temple of the Lord, we have had enough to eat and plenty to spare, because the Lord has blessed his people, and this great amount is left over.  –2 Chronicles 31:10

Enough and plenty to spare

The Lord has blessed his people

Imagine the heaps: bread, casks of olive oil, jugs of wine, other crops such as squash and beans, plus the corrals of various animals. Imagine the priests weaving their way between the piles as they go out into the city, the cook coming out for another cask of oil. Seems funny to me.

God used the generosity of
his people to take care of
His ordained.

But more importantly, we see that God used the generosity of His people to take care of His ordained. Those who serve in our churches and other ministries can depend on God’s plan. Those who aren’t “on staff” can respond to the Spirit’s prompting to bless the pastors and ministers.

I wonder what my pastor would say if he found a heap of vegetables outside the church’s front door this Sunday.

Cornelius: Heaps of Unclean Animals on a Sheet

Acts 10:1-48.

In the book of Acts, God has a pattern of connecting God-fearing non-Jews with apostles and disciples (e.g. Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8:26-40). One such man was Cornelius, a Centurion in the Italian Regiment of the Roman army—a clear-cut Gentile. He lived in Caesarea, where everyone knew he was faithful to the God of the Jews and generous with all those in need (Acts 10:2). God responded to Cornelius’ generosity by setting up a meeting between him and Peter. Remember Peter’s vision of the unclean animals on a sheet (Acts 10:9-23)? That was this situation. In the end, everyone in Cornelius’ household believed in Jesus, received the Holy Spirit, and was baptized!

God blessed Cornelius in
response to his generosity.

Cornelius wasn’t expecting anything from God. He wasn’t giving in order to get to Heaven. He just did what he knew was right. He discovered God’s heart almost by accident, unlike the Pharisees, who tried so hard and yet missed the point (see Luke 11:41).

God responded to Cornelius’ generosity and blessed him with eternal life.

Publius and the Maltese: Heaps of Hospitality

Acts 27:1-28:10.

God blessed those who were
generous to His followers.

Toward the end of Acts, we find Paul on a ship headed for Rome. The ship was caught in a big storm, Paul had an I-told-you-so moment (Acts 27:21), and the ship wrecked on Malta. Not only were the people “unusually” kind (Acts 28:2), but also Publius, the chief official on Malta, showed “generous hospitality” (Acts 28:7) to Paul and the other shipwreck victims. Publius’ father was sick, so Paul prayed for him and laid hands on him. God responded by healing Publius’ father and, later, all the sick people on the island.

Publius wasn’t looking for a healing when he took Paul and the others into his home, but God responded to his generosity by using Paul to heal. God blessed those who were generous toward His followers.

Wealthy Landowner: Heaps of Indignation

Matthew 20:1-16.

Jesus famously told a story about a wealthy landowner who recruited workers throughout the day. When it came time to distribute the day’s wages, he gave the late-arrivals the same amount as those who had worked all day. The all-day workers were incensed! They grumbled and said, “These who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day” (Matthew 20:12).

I, in my right-wrong, merit-based, justice-driven worldview, tend to agree with those workers. The all-day workers had done more work, so they deserved more pay. Perhaps the late-arrivals were even lazy or shiftless.But they had contracted with the landowner to work all day for one denarius, and he gave them one denarius—the same money Roman soldiers made in a day (NIV Study Bible notes). As unfair as it may feel, he didn’t cheat the all-day guys.

Generosity must be based
on what is needed, not
what is deserved.

We must turn our perspective upside down to understand what’s going on here. The landowner gave the workers what they needed, not what they deserved. Those who worked for only one hour needed to feed their families just as much as those who worked all day. This landowner met the needs of his community rather than judging who deserved to be paid and who didn’t.* Maybe that’s why God gave him wealth in the first place.

“Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”  –Matthew 20:15

Here I find one of the biggest challenges to my efforts at generosity. I want to give only to those I judge deserving, those who work hard, or those I somehow deem trustworthy. In this parable, Jesus shows our generosity isn’t about what others deserve. It’s about what the other person needs, and I don’t decide what others need. I must simply respond to the Holy Spirit as He prompts me to give.

To bring it all together, when I respond with generosity as He prompts, I can trust He will bless me with what I need. Heaps of generosity lead to heaps of blessing.

4 biblical examples of generosity and blessing: it all piled up in heaps. Because my #generosity is #NotAboutMe, from @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Going back to our image of a heaping plate, I would love to know which point you need to “chew on” for awhile. Or maybe it’s time for the next course, if you have any room left. Can you think of another biblical example of generosity? (Not Zacchaeus—I did that one last month.) Encourage us all by responding in the comments below!

*I am indebted to Amy Jill-Levine, in Short Stories by Jesus, for opening my eyes to the landowner’s point-of-view.

Chasing Jesus

The crowds just kept getting bigger. Jesus had healed many sick people and did other miracles. (John calls them ‘signs.’) When he tried to take a break, escaping by boat, many people followed Him around the Sea of Galilee to somewhere near Bethsaida (NIV Study Bible notes). Then He started handing out free food. He fed five thousand men, plus women and children, from the lunch box of one boy (John 6:1-14).

Not the way to thin your crowds, Jesus. Everybody likes free food. Continue reading

There’s good, then there’s Good

“You’re good people.”

I heard it again last weekend. What do you say to that? “Umm…thanks?”

I live in the south, and most of us are good…at least we’re polite and nice. Our mommas told us, “Be good!” every time we went out the door. We wait our turn; we try to help people; we give Christmas gifts to our mailmen and garbage collectors. We try our best to be nice (except on college football Saturdays, but that’s another story). Continue reading