It’s Okay If You Don’t Understand

It’s the night before Jesus will be crucified. He provides a place for the Passover meal. He washes the disciples’ feet. He points out the one who will betray Him. He challenges the one who will deny Him (John 13).

Then He starts talking. In my Bible, the next four chapters (John 14-17) are almost all red print. This is Jesus’ conclusion to the sermon His life has preached for the last three years. Continue reading

My Preponderance of Passion Week Posts

Easter seems early this year, and it’s on April Fools Day, which hasn’t happened since 1956. I Googled it. It shouldn’t take me by surprise since we’ve been talking about it since Valentine’s Day (start of Lent), and yet almost every year, somehow it does.

04-08 kiddos all done
I may have taken a few too many pictures this particular year. They mutinied. (c) Carole Sparks

I want the holiday to mean something more than plastic eggs and baked ham, more than crowded church pews and freezing toes in sandals for which it’s not quite warm enough (but you just have to wear them anyway because they look so cute with your new outfit).

Sometimes it helps me to go back through old blog posts (just like I go through old photos, finding ones like this) and remind myself of things God has already shown me from His Word, like a journal review but much more public. As Passion Week approaches, I’ve assembled a long list of posts–thirteen, actually–about various occurrences during the week. I offer them to you here in more-or-less Biblical chronological order. Use them however you like. I’m also posting one link per day on Facebook and Twitter (at 7:30am each day), so you can have a daily suggestion if you would prefer.

Palm Sunday

The Day The King Cried Why did Jesus cry as He looked over Jerusalem on the day He entered like a prince?

Tuesday (no special name for this day)

All You Need is Love…and More Love In this recent post, we sit down with the religious leaders in the temple as they challenged Jesus with difficult questions…and one question that was different.

Wednesday (a quiet day)

Maundy Thursday, in the Upper Room

footwashing 1
a modern-day foot-washing several years ago (c) Carole Sparks

Servant Leadership: Focusing on the Foot Have you given much thought to Jesus’ view as he sat before those 24 feet?

Who’s Humble Now? Jesus and Peter share an interesting dialogue when Jesus stoops down to wash Peter’s feet.

The Error in the ‘I’ Peter’s declaration of commitment may have been noble, but it was flawed in one very important way.

Maundy Thursday, in the Garden of Gethsemane

Help! I don’t even know how to pray Here’s an easy-to-remember four-step prayer method based on Jesus’ one-verse prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. You don’t need alot of words.

04-14 Concord Park (48)
Dogwoods have long been a symbol of Jesus’ death and resurrection. (c) Carole Sparks

The Spiral Slide of Temptation Heavy eyelids, quiet garden, late at night: Peter, James, and John just couldn’t help but fall asleep. In this post, learn what that’s got to do with playground slides.

Two Questions about Your Calling Jesus’ words and actions in the Garden and on the cross reveal the two things that were most important to Him.

Flight, Fight, or Follow For Christ-followers, there’s another option beyond the instinctual fight or flight.

Good Friday

Rethinking Peter’s Denial (I’m assuming this was very, very early Friday morning.) Trace Peter’s descent into denying Jesus. We may have judged him too harshly. One of my earliest posts.

What’s So Good about ‘Good Friday’? My mild rant from last year at this time. I haven’t changed my mind.

Easter Sunday

Easter 2017 memeFaith Has No Formula When we take a look at that first Easter morning, we find that people reach faith in different ways and at different paces.

When in Doubt We call him ‘Doubting Thomas,’ but the moniker isn’t justified.

Take your pick of My Perponderance of #PassionWeek Posts–all scenes from the Gospels. Because #Easter is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

What Gospel scene from Passion Week has been significant to you in the past? What strikes you here? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below or on the individual posts!

Easter greeting

All You Need is Love…and More Love*

It’s the week before Jesus will be crucified. A couple of days earlier, he came into Jerusalem like a triumphant king (Mark 11:1-11). You can bet the religious leaders (of every stripe) heard about that! Jesus spends these days in Jerusalem, often in the temple courts. The religious leaders come at him like waves of the ocean.

  1. Mark 11:27-33 (if you want to look it up): The chief priests, teachers, and elders ask him about his authority, and he entangles them in their own reasoning.
  2. Mark 12:13-17: The Pharisees and Herodians (a group of influential Jews who supported Rome) question him about taxes, and Jesus comes back with that oft-quoted line, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17 ESV).
  3. Mark 12:18-27: The Sadducees, having seen him shut down two groups already, think they have a better question. They pose a scenario about marriage and resurrection. Odd because Sadducees don’t believe in resurrection (Mark 12:18). Jesus used Scripture to refute their whole premise.

Three waves, three groups of scholars, and none of them could entangle or confuse Jesus. Continue reading

What’s So Good about Good Friday?

I don’t like Good Friday. If any day should be called Black Friday*, it’s this day…

when Jesus, the Christ, had willingly walked into the clutches of His desperate and vindictive enemies,

when the Prince of Peace climbed onto a torture rack and endured hours of excruciating pain before finally releasing His Spirit,

when Messiah himself hung up there deserted by those He claimed as followers—nay, friends and confidants (John 15:15), Continue reading

When in Doubt…

When in doubt, just don’t leave.

I love to push into the Gospel stories, to take the people who populate them—the ones we’ve flattened into two-dimensional adjectives—and refold them like origami so we can see more of their personalities, more of their faithfulness.

Recently, Thomas has been on my mind. You know, “Doubting Thomas.” All we seem to remember about him is that he questioned Jesus’ resurrection. But tradition has it that Thomas travelled all the way to India and died there for his faith. That’s not the legacy of a skeptic.

John 20:24-29.

Thomas drew a metaphorical
line in the sand.

The first time Jesus appeared among the disciples, it was Sunday evening, the same day He arose. Thomas wasn’t there. We don’t know where he was. When he caught up with the rest of the disciples later, he just couldn’t believe what they said about Jesus being alive! He knew these guys; he’d spent the last three years with them; still, he couldn’t trust them enough to believe that. Thomas drew a metaphorical line in the sand: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were…I will not believe” (John 20:25).

We cast Thomas in a bad light here, but he wasn’t any different from the other disciples. Peter and John hadn’t believed Mary on that first morning. Remember? They had to run to the tomb and see for themselves (John 20:1-10). This resurrection thing was brand new. Even the night before Jesus’ death, no one understood what was going to happen. I don’t think Thomas was doubting Jesus so much as he was doubting his fellow disciples.

Thomas may have been a doubter,
but he wasn’t a deserter.

Thomas dug his feet into the sand behind his metaphorical line for a week. He didn’t go away, but neither did he believe. Don’t miss this: Thomas didn’t leave! He may have been a doubter, but he wasn’t a deserter.

The next Sunday night, all the disciples gathered in that same room—including Thomas—and Jesus appeared again. He was just there.

One second, no Jesus.

The next second, Jesus.

He greeted everyone perfunctorily, then turned straight to Thomas. He didn’t scold Thomas or withhold anything from him. He simply stretched out his hand and asked Thomas to touch Him. He gave Thomas what he needed in order to believe. With His actions, He answered Thomas’ doubt, then He commanded Thomas to believe.

Thomas immediately confessed his faith: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). There’s no greater acclamation.

I don’t know about you, but I have doubted. Sometimes, I still doubt. Maybe you should call me “Doubting Carole.” That’s why Thomas’ story encourages me so much. Like him, there’s more to me than my doubts. Like him, I can live with those doubts for a little while, until Jesus answers them.

In doubt, stay close…
stay where Jesus can
reach out to you.

As believers, the key for you and me when we doubt is that we don’t leave. Like Thomas, we stick around. We continue meeting with other believers. We keep searching our Bibles for answers. We persist in prayer (even when we think, “Umm, I don’t know if you’re even there, God.”). Like Thomas, we simply stay close, stay where He can reach out to us. The day will come—I know it will because I’ve been there—when He removes the doubt and our belief resurfaces. Then we, like Thomas, can exclaim without reservation, “My Lord and my God!”

Got doubts about faith issues? Just don’t leave. Wait on Jesus to reach out to you. via @Carole_Sparks #NotAboutMe (click to tweet)

Can you recall a time when you experienced serious doubts about God? I can, and my faith is stronger from having experienced that! Let me know how you persevered through doubts or how this post affects you…or anything else you want to say in response. That’s what the comment section is for!

Faith Has No Formula

Faith is a funny thing. It crashes over some people and trickles into others. There’s no formula, but Jesus is always there. He leads us into faith with exactly what we need in order to get there. It’s been that way since the first Easter morning…

Peter & John

John 20:1-10.

The knock came early, just after sunrise. Mary rushed into the room, out of breath. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” Peter and John rushed out the door before she could close her mouth. (At least that’s how I imagine it.) Continue reading

Two Questions about Your Calling

The Apostle John makes it clear in His gospel that Jesus was concerned about two things: God’s glory and the circumstances of those around Him. When we consider Calling (i.e. that thing God has specially designated for a person to do) Jesus’ concerns focus us on two questions. Let’s take a look…

John 18:2-9. (I really tried to move out of Gethsemane, but there’s just so much!)

It was late at night…Passover night. A crowd of armed, antagonistic men stood opposite Jesus as He asked them a simple question…a question that didn’t need asking. Everyone knew why they were there; surely everyone recognized Jesus, yet He said, “Who is it you want?” (18:4).

Why did they fall back
when Jesus identified Himself?

When Jesus acknowledged His identity a moment later, they didn’t rush to grab Him. Instead, they drew back and fell to the ground (18:6). Isn’t that funny? (Not “haha” funny, but weird funny.) Jesus didn’t have lightning streaming from his fingers. He didn’t shout in an otherworldly voice. He didn’t suddenly enlarge and turn green like the Hulk. He simply said, “I am he.” I imagine He said it matter-of-factly, calmly but not quietly. Was it the power of His “I am”? Was it somehow a recognition of His innocence? Was it fear?

That falling down reaction must have amused Him. He tried again with His question. They answered again. He affirmed His identity again, but this time He adds a little something (18:8). In a way, He bargains with them. If this were a Western, He would have said, “You have what yer lookin’ for. Now let the rest of these men go. There’s no bounty on their heads.”

In the next verse, John tells us that Jesus’ mentioned the disciples because of an earlier (John 6:39) prophetic prayer.

This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”John 18:9

It was also because He loved them, and He knew it wasn’t their time to die just yet.

What concerned Jesus
in those moments?

Here we see Jesus at perhaps the most crucial moment in human history—His own personal crisis of belief, where they could have started fighting (Peter, we know, did start fighting [John 18:10-11]) but He obediently, even docilely, submitted to arrest.

What concerned Him here?

  • It wasn’t His social media status.
  • It wasn’t His reputation.
  • It wasn’t His future or His past.
  • It wasn’t His actual guilt or innocence.

Jesus was concerned with (1) fulfilling prophecy and (2) safeguarding those He loved.

Or take a look at John 19:25-27.

On the verge of death, hanging from a cross, Jesus didn’t discuss theology, argue against capital punishment, or spout some apologetics toward the bystanders. Instead, He used His precious, labored breath for something more personal. He ensured His mother’s future well being.

Jesus wasn’t worried about Himself. He took care of this one He loved.

Jesus prioritized His Father’s
glory and His followers’ good.
#NotAboutMe #faith (click to tweet)

I haven’t searched through all the gospels for all the examples. (This is a blog post, not a book–although it’s getting almost long enough.) but there seems to be a pattern emerging here. Jesus wasn’t interested in His own comfort or justification. He paid way more attention to His Father’s glory and to the circumstances of those around Him.

What’s that mean for us? Well…

People (including me) talk a lot about calling. We pursue God’s calling in our own lives and sometimes express His calling in the lives of others. Nothing wrong with that. But if you’re wondering whether this thing right now is your calling, apply this test to it:

  1. Does it glorify God? Not just tangentially, but predominantly.
  2. Does it show compassion for others? That might look like hands-on helping (e.g. teachers) or it might be more distant, but the thing is others-centered, not you-centered.

I applied this test to my calling to write. Writing makes me feel good, and I think God has given me a bit of talent for it. But enjoying something, even being talented at it, aren’t clear indicators of a calling. It might just be a hobby.

I can tell you that God meets me in the writing. Every. Single. Week. Without fail. My number-one purpose in writing is to glorify God. It has been since day-1. Not day-1 of kindergarten, when I started learning to write, but day-1 of writing for an audience according to His leadership in my life. There have been tears of gratitude and joy, hands raised in praise (yes, sitting alone at my desk), and this increasing awe at what He gives me. So yes, it glorifies God—at least in my heart.

Secondly, I write to help you. I’m concerned about the people who read my blog, and I truly want you to grow in your relationship with Christ. It’s not serving meals to homeless people, but even though I say ‘I’ a lot, these paragraphs and poems are for you.

Use Jesus’ example to ask 2 questions about your calling. My #calling is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

What about you? Have you identified a calling in your life? (If you’re not worried about such things, I hope I haven’t started something.) How did you know it was a calling from God? Do these questions help you verify your calling? Please share!