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!

The Spiral Slide of Temptation

Imagine Peter, James, and John sitting in Gethsemane, waiting for Jesus to come back from praying…

It had been a long and significance-laden day, starting when Jesus sent a couple of disciples into town to find some man carrying a water jar. Random. But that man had a room available for Jesus and the disciples to observe Passover. Who still has a room unoccupied on the morning of the biggest celebration of the year? But there he was, and there it was. Mark 14:12-16 Continue reading

Servant Leadership: Focusing on the Foot

“Buzzword” is such an interesting word. It means a vogue term, with the idea that people are making noise about it. But sometimes buzzwords become like something else that buzzes: a fly. It hovers around your head, and you only pay enough attention to swat at it. You don’t actually stop and look at the fly. With buzzwords, we may hear them so often they lose real meaning.

Servant Leadership is one such term. A buzzword in churches for the last fifteen or so years, it’s been defined and redefined, tossed around and held up, until it has lost meaning. (Maybe not for everyone, but for many.)

gnarly foot
a gnarly foot, but clean–not mine!   (c) Carole Sparks

The image most often associated with servant leadership is that of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. I’ve written about this situation before, but today will be different. Let’s stop and put ourselves in that position: kneeling on the floor before twenty-four gnarly, calloused, dirty feet…probably hairy, possibly stinky, and perfectly awkward.

Just think about it for a second. Do you want to wash those feet? I don’t. I cut my son’s toe-nails, but only immediately after a shower. Still, it puts me in an uncomfortable position physically, there’s often a stink, and I’m left with…yep, a bunch of toenail clippings. Eww.

When our lives influence those
around us, we lead them…either
toward Jesus or away from Him.

Before you hit “next” on your e-mail or scroll down to another blog, thinking this doesn’t apply to you, remember that we are all leaders: from the CEO to “just” a stay-at-home Mom, from head pastor to nursery worker, from dean of the university to freshman student. When our lives influence those around us, we lead them…either toward Jesus or away from Him. So regardless of our leadership roles, serving those around us involves figuratively washing their feet.

Here are four observations of foot-washing as we reexamine servant leadership.

John 13:1-17.

In Jesus day, foot-washing was the job of the lowest servant.

Jesus turned a need
into an opportunity.

There were no servants in the upper room, but a bunch of feet needed to be washed. Jesus willingly stepped into a role that wasn’t in His job description because He saw a need. He didn’t delegate. Instead, He turned the need into an opportunity. An opportunity for what, you ask? For blessing those who followed him and for modeling service before He talked about it (John 13:12).

I’m a big fan of delegation. I delegate certain household chores to my children regularly. I delegate party planning to someone else in the group, if possible. Delegation helps people invest in the group/project/etc. and gives them a chance to grow. But we must never delegate a task because we are unwilling to do it. Never ask anyone to do something you refuse to do yourself.

The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.Luke 22:26

Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.Mark 9:35

Washing the feet removed filth from hard-to-reach areas.

footwashing 2
prayer with foot-washing (c) Carole Sparks

As I get older, I find it harder and harder to reach my feet in any meaningful way. Some of the disciples were older. All of them were wearing robes. (You ever try to wash off your feet in a skirt? It’s much harder.) Their backs may have been sore from all the walking. Instead of the disciples straining and stretching to scrub their own pinky toes, Jesus took each foot into His hands—toes and all—and cleaned them thoroughly. (Okay, I don’t think he gave each one a pedicure or anything, but the feet were clean when he got done.)

In leadership, it’s our job to point out spots that have been missed, to train where skills are lacking, and to fill in the gaps. The key is to approach the person with humility, like Jesus on His knees, rather than hovering over the person and pointing out all their mistakes. Again, this cleansing, though difficult, is a chance to bless the other person, to promote his or her growth (like disciplining our children).

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.Philippians 2:3

The need for foot-washing resulted from everyday life in the world.

The disciples got their feet dirty because they walked everywhere they went, and they wore sandals. They had done nothing exceptional. Just living was hard, dirty work.

“Just living” is still hard work. The stink of tennis shoes (or dress pumps) is different from the stink of sandals, but it comes from the same place: from living in the world. Sin rubs off on us; we lose focus or become lazy; we pick up a bad habit from an acquaintance. As leaders, we offer accountability to those around us, helping them shed these bits of worldliness before they grow.

“Just living” is still hard work. (I repeated myself on purpose.) We get weary or discouraged. Sometimes we lose hope. When we as leaders have the chance to figuratively bend down and pour cool water on someone’s weary feet, to take the menial task while they rest, we choose to take it because our actions will bless them and give them rest.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.John 16:33

Foot-washing produced clean feet.

When Jesus hung up that damp towel after the final foot (including Judas’, don’t forget!) and unfolded Himself from the floor, all twenty-four feet were still just as gnarly, but at least they were clean.

Investing in the purity of
those around us reaps benefits
in every aspect of life.

As Christ-following leaders, we are called to prioritize the increasing purity (You could say holiness or sanctification, if you want.) of those we lead. Our correction, our encouragement, our instruction…all have this as an underlying goal. Investing in the purity of those around us reaps benefits in every aspect of life: business, relational, personal. It may not be comfortable at the time—for the foot-washer or for the other person—but in the long run, we bless the other person by helping them draw nearer to God.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean [feet] and a pure heart.Psalm 24:3-4a (with a small change for fun)

One more thought: People can tell when we’re faking it. The desire to bless those around us must be authentic. Enough said.

Do those in your sphere of influence know you are interested in their personal growth…in their purity? Are they aware of your desire to bless them? When we get back to the real meaning of servant leadership, they will.

Want to share this? Servant Leadership: what it means to figuratively wash someone’s feet. #NotAboutMe #faith (click to tweet)

How does Jesus’ example here help you better understand servant leadership? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!


Shared at Mrs. Disciple’s #FridayFive linkup.