3 Biblical Dads Who “Owned” Their Unconventional Roles

Father’s Day is this Sunday (16 June 2019) so, like I did near Mother’s Day, I offer you some examples of biblical fathers who “owned” their unconventional fathering roles. Continue reading

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What If God Put Controversies in the Bible on Purpose?

One aspect of a bigger thought process I’m in right now.

There are some things in the Bible that just aren’t clear. When Paul talked about mystery (e.g. Ephesians 6:19), he wasn’t joking! If you read your Bible honestly and extensively, you’ll see why there are controversies among modern believers. Just to name some of the big ones,

  • Timing of the rapture
  • Role of women in church leadership
  • Baptism’s relationship to faith
  • election/free will

There’s a part of me that says, “If the brightest minds haven’t resolved these issues in the 1500-ish years since the Bible was codified, I’m not going to figure them out.” But there’s another part of me that says, “I need to know the right answer, and I need to know it now!!!!!” I’m still trying to find a balance because I believe God enjoys our inquiry and wants us to pursue knowledge of Him (Romans 11:33my favorite, Hebrews 11:6), but He also expects us to practice our faith, which often means we trust without evidence (Hebrews 11:1). Continue reading

3 Biblical Moms who “Owned” Their Unconventional Roles

In recognition of Mother’s Day this Sunday (12 May 2019), I offer three portraits of biblical mothers who overcame their less-than-ideal circumstances and produced amazing kids (one way or another).

Naomi owned the mother-in-law role

When Naomi’s husband and both her sons died, she remained in Edom with no family and no way to take care of herself. It’s not a surprise she decided to return to her own people. What does surprise is the commitment Ruth, her daughter-in-law, made to Naomi. (For more on Ruth’s side of the story, see my recent post, Blessed Are: The Meek.) At first, Naomi was like, “whatever,” about Ruth’s refusal to leave her. She was still full of grief and even told people to call her Bitter.

Naomi rose from her grief and
directed Ruth toward a happy future.

But Naomi rose from her grief and directed Ruth toward a happy future. She advised Ruth on local customs and on finding another husband. Boaz turned out to be a wonderful husband for Ruth, and Naomi got to hold her grandson on her lap.

Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!”  –Ruth 4:16-17a

Ruth may have gained another mother-in-law when she married Boaz, but something tells me Naomi remained an important and influential part of her life.

Hannah owned the longed-for-and-lost role

Hannah desperately longed for a child—just one child! Finally (to make a long story short), after pleading to God for years, God blessed her with a son after Hannah promised to give Him back to the service of God. Hannah kept Samuel until he was weaned (probably about three years), then she left him at the temple with the old priest, Eli.

Hannah released Samuel, but
she didn’t disregarded him.

God blessed Hannah with five other children after Samuel (1 Samuel 2:21), but she never stopped being Samuel’s mother. Just because she released him doesn’t mean she disregarded him. Every year, she faithfully brought him a new cloak (1 Samuel 2:19).

Eunice owned the cross-cultural marriage role

We know so little about Timothy’s mother, Eunice. What’s the story behind her marriage to a non-Jewish guy (Acts 16:1)? And how did her mother, Lois, feel about it? Paul said to Timothy,

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.  –2 Timothy 1:5

Eunice raised Timothy
to love God.

It seems Timothy’s father wasn’t one of those “God-fearing Greeks” like the ones who joined Paul and Silas in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-4), and yet Eunice raised Timothy to fear God, love others, and follow the Law. Sometime after Jesus came to earth and changed everything, both Eunice and Lois shifted their devotion, becoming Christ-followers.

Eunice navigated her cross-cultural marriage while consistently instilling her faith into her son. She didn’t let her circumstances excuse her from diligence in faith matters.

Naomi’s grandson, Obed, was the grandfather of King David and in the lineage of Jesus (Ruth 4:17).

Hannah’s son spoke for God for years and anointed both King Saul (1 Samuel 10:1) and King David (1 Samuel 16:12-13).

Eunice’s son helped the Gospel spread around the world and was the recipient of two letters that influence Christian thinking even today (1 and 2 Timothy).

These women had unconventional mothering rolls, but they were exactly where God wanted them to be, doing what He wanted them to do. This Mother’s Day…okay, every day…let’s celebrate the mothers around us who may not look or act like your “typical” mom, if there is such a thing.

Being a mother–and “owning” that role–has always taken many forms, as far back as biblical times. Even #MothersDay is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Have you known the blessing of an unconventional mom in your life? Maybe you are the unconventional mom. Know another biblical example of an unconventional mothering role? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!

The Evangelical Extrovert Ideal

I grew up with the Four Spiritual Laws, door-to-door evangelism, and massive loads of guilt for not telling my unchurched neighbors and classmates all about how Jesus changed my life. As a young adult, I studied methods of evangelism in which I was expected to walk up to a stranger at the mall and “convert” her. There is nothing in the world that makes me more uncomfortable, and nothing in the Bible that suggests we should do this.

I went to church every Sunday, too. There was a designated time in the service to greet everyone sitting around me. If I finished my greetings quickly—which I usually did—I stood awkwardly staring forward, waiting on the singing to resume, or I rummaged in my purse, pretending to look for something. Continue reading

Seeking the King

Have you set out your nativity scene (or scenes) yet? Which people from the story are on your mind this Christmas? Every year, God brings one segment of the scene into the spotlight for me, and I find myself thinking about him/her/them throughout the holiday season.

This year for me, it’s the wise men. I know why. I recently started working for a nonprofit that supports internationals and the wise men were the first non-Jews…the first border-crossers…to worship Jesus.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  –Matthew 2:1-2

The magi came to worship him.

What’s east of Jerusalem? When I was a kid, I thought these guys were from China and places close to China. After all, the song says, “We three kings of Orient are…” To me, the Orient was where Oriental people lived. (No offense. It was the late 1970s. “Political Correctness” wasn’t a thing yet.) Little did I know that the Orient includes Arabia and that the “near East” was just as exotic as the “far East.”

Also, I thought they were kings. (The song is so wrong!!) They were more like Daniel and the guys who served with him: astrologers, scientists, magicians.

star-watchers
wise men
internationals
foreigners
strangers
seekers

Star-watchers from the near East. That’s Persia, southern Arabia, and Mesopotamia (NIV Study Bible notes for Matthew 2:1). These days, we know these areas as Iran, the Saudi Arabia/Yemen/Oman/U.A.E., and Syria.

They were internationals. And they worshiped Jesus as a king. Before anyone other than the shepherds of Judea realized it, these foreigners knew Jesus was something special.

I’ve written about all the characters in your nativity sets. Find the one the Holy Spirit has put on your mind this Christmas and dig into their story. You might learn something new. You might grow closer to “the one who has been born king of the Jews.”

Remember too, “King of the Jews” is what Pilate wrote on the placard above Jesus’ head when He hung on the cross (John 19:19).

The Cast of Christmas: Zechariah & Elizabeth

The Cast of Christmas: Mary

The Cast of Christmas: Joseph

The Cast of Christmas: Shepherds

The Cast of Christmas: Simeon

The Cast of Christmas: Wise Men

Wise men: the first internationals to worship Jesus, the first to recognize He was a king. My #NativitySet is #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Which “character” from the Christmas story is the Holy Spirit using in your life right now? Please tell us who and why in the comments in below. I would love to hear what’s on your mind!

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

 

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