Called to Brokenness

Bread doesn’t grow on trees. If I want to make bread, I have to use flour. Flour typically comes from a grain, such as wheat.

Grain  ⇒  Flour  ⇒  Bread

We once lived in a place with less strict processing standards than the United States FDA. Sometimes, a few kernels of our rice retained their tough outer hulls. That hull was like the shell of a nut! It was difficult to break with your hands and almost impossible to chew. We checked and cleaned our rice to remove those pieces before we cooked. Other grains grow the same way. Continue reading

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There’s This “One Thing”

Jesus told the rich young ruler, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).

Jesus said to Martha, “Few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).

For the young ruler, the one thing was what he would gain by losing his possessions. For Martha, her sister had found the one thing and she was left holding the oven mitt.

But I think, at the root, these two very different people lacked the same one thing. Continue reading

Generosity Makes Time

I remember sitting in my tent cabin on the side of a mountain in Yosemite National Park, where I was working for the summer. I was twenty-three years old, and I had just finished college. It was the summer before I got engaged…and the summer my grandmother died. It was the summer I read Mere Christianity. I opened to the inside back cover of my journal, and I wrote, “Rules to Live By.” I already longed for wisdom, and I asked God for it daily. I had been paying attention to what happened—both to me and around me. For those couple of months, I thought back over my life. I tried to see where God was working. I thought about the spiritual relevance of everything.

People are more
important than plans.

By the end of the summer, I had three rules. The first one was this: People are more important than plans. Maybe you’re thinking, “Duh!” But to this Type A, first-born, compulsive list-maker, who would do whatever it took to tick that last task off the day’s to-do list, such a simple sentence both convicted and challenged me. In not-so-many words, God told me to prioritize the people in my life over the plans/tasks/lists/projects/obligations.

I haven’t always heeded my own rules, including this one. Continue reading

Demolition is Messy

When the Israelites paraded around Jericho, God demolished the walls of the city (Joshua 6:20). What the text doesn’t mention, however, is the cloud of dust that must have risen into the atmosphere and all the rubble that must have remained on the ground from the walls, not to mention the noise it made when it fell! I think when the Israelites “charged straight in,” there was some up and over to their straight line.

Last fall, I wrote about the walls Satan builds around our hearts—an image the Lord gave me as I prayed for someone I love. I shared a detailed study of 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 with you. Paul said we have other-worldly weapons which “have divine power to demolish strongholds,” arguments, and pretensions” (emphasis added).

Since I wrote about demolition, we did a major remodel in our home. We knocked out the center wall to create an open floor plan. Here I was, praying for spiritual/emotional walls to crumble, and God gave me a tangible wall to demolish—one I couldn’t ignore, right in the middle of my house. I would say that’s crazy, but truth is, that’s how God works. Continue reading

Spiritual Maturity and Sentence Diagrams

If you’re of a certain age, you remember diagramming sentences in elementary/middle school. If you’re a #wordnerd like me, you don’t just remember it, you enjoyed it! Yes, I am that weird kid who diagrammed sentences just for fun.

So when I showed up in New Testament Greek class and my professor started diagramming some of Paul’s sentences in Greek, I was delighted. A couple of them took up the entire board! (We were then using dry erase markers on white board, not the chalkboards of my grade school years. Ah, progress.)

When I come upon a long,
complicated sentence, I fall
back on sentence diagramming.

Paul could write some of the longest sentences. I often get lost in them. But when I do, I fall back to some mental diagramming. (Confession: if it’s extra-difficult, I might draw the diagram in my q.t. journal. Am I alone in this? Probably.) Hopefully, I’m not alone, however, in finding real spiritual truth in a well-diagrammed sentence.

Take this one, for example.

Colossians 1:9b-12.

It’s one sentence in my NIV, and the ESV includes the first half of verse 9 in the same sentence. If not periods, Paul could have at least used some bullet points in this section. I won’t force a sentence diagram upon you now because it might unearth long-buried nightmares, so let’s turn it into a list. We like lists, don’t we? I took a little time to dig out  the key words (watching for prepositions and paying attention to punctuation) then bulleted some questions I asked myself as I studied this.

4 Marks of Spiritual Maturity

One whose life is worthy of God and who pleases God (v. 10) will model these four traits.

  1. Bearing fruit
  • Is my life producing/causing good in the world?
  • Are people learning about Jesus?
  • Are needy people blessed?
  • Is my church better/stronger because of my service there?
  • Do my thoughts and actions honor the Lord?
  1. Growing in knowledge of God
  • Do I know more than I did last year about God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit?
  • Am I more familiar with the Bible now?
  • Do I know how to apply biblical truth to life situations (wisdom)?
  1. Being strengthened to have more endurance and patience
  • Does it take me longer to get angry now?
  • Can I withstand longer/harder trials?
  • Do I seek Him more often than I seek His solution to my problems?
  1. Giving joyful thanks to God
  • Am I perpetually thankful for my salvation?
  • Do I find ways to give thanks regardless of my circumstances? (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  • Do I see God’s blessings in my life—the good parts and the bad?
  • Is my perspective on life characterized by joy?

2 Notes of Caution

I’m sure you know what I’m about to say, but it’s easy to overlook the bigger picture of God’s Word when we zoom in so tightly.

  1. Doing these things doesn’t qualify us for heaven. God qualifies us through Jesus (v. 12b). Instead, these “marks” are evidence of what God has already done in our lives.
  2. God doesn’t supply this list so we can judge others but to affirm for ourselves that we’re on the right track. This is one of many passages designed to encourage us.

There’s so much more to this set of verses. We could go in ten different directions with all the Truth Paul packs into one long sentence. My goal today was to give you (or remind you of) one tool for dissecting the Scripture. (Oops—I switched from English to Biology.) I don’t know about you, but turning Paul’s long sentences into bullet points (a sneaky half-diagram) helps me understand, remember, and apply the guidance God has given us through Paul.

This is not middle school English, but we can use sentence diagramming to clarify Paul’s super-long sentences. #BibleStudyTools #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Do you remember sentence diagramming? Have you used it in your personal Bible study? Any other good suggestions for understanding Paul’s grammar? Or more personally: How have these verses spoken to you? Is there a particular one of my questions the Lord has highlighted for you to ask yourself? Any way you’d like to answer in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

Authentic Generosity Springs from Humility

We get so we can give.

Why does God give us things (tangible and intangible)? First, because it’s in His nature. God is generous. But second, we get so we can give.

From my car to my children to the love I show my neighbor, everything I have is, in a sense, on loan from God and on its way to someone or somewhere else. I am the conduit of His blessing for others. The things He gives me are mine for the time it takes them to pass through my hands, through my circle of influence. Like an earthen ditch flowing full of water, some of God’s blessing soaks into the earth over which they pass, and so I am blessed as all these things pass through me.

That last paragraph is where I want my mindset to remain. I’m not often there, which is why I write this month about the connection between humility and generosity. Continue reading

Generosity’s Connection to Joy

I like to give gifts at random times, for no apparent reason. I think it’s fun to surprise someone with something they’ve wanted or needed, and I enjoy doing it. But I don’t like being expected to give a gift.

Have you ever felt pressured to give a gift? I’m not talking about the compulsion of the Holy Spirit. I’m talking about that time when social expectations or high-pressure tactics practically forced you to make a donation or give a gift. Call me coldhearted, but I strongly resist emotional pleas and guilt-ridden appeals.

If you’re bullied into giving, that’s not generosity. Continue reading