One Man’s Treasure

11-24 children's Bible (1)
my first “real” Bible  (c) Carole Sparks

Jesus had just spent an hour or so with some kids. He hugged them, patted their heads, and blessed them (Mark 10:16). How do you picture that scene? I think he probably stooped down to be on their level or pulled them up to sit on his lap. I think he chatted with each one, smiled at them, comforted them, and just generally enjoyed himself. I think he learned their names, their pets’ names, their favorite activities and anything else they wanted to share. I think he was patient when they stuttered and laughed at their silly jokes. After all, the Kingdom of God belongs to “such as these.” This is one of my favorite images of Jesus, and not just because it was on the front of my very first Bible as a child.

Mark 10:17-22.

As Jesus stood to go from that happy, relaxing time, a man ran up and fell onto his knees in front of Jesus. Did he push some children out of the way? Did he see that Jesus was Continue reading

On Worship

A lifestyle of worship has been on my mind for awhile. It arises partly out of my study in Psalms and partly out of…well, a bunch of stuff. Anyway, I am glad to share some thoughts on worship this week with my blogging friend, Vanessa. Read the first bit here or click straight over to her blog and start from the beginning there.

As much as I am tempted to sleep in on Sunday mornings, I love worship time with my church. You see, we lived in a place without churches or church services for more than six years. Our corporate worship time involved gathering in the living room with some praise choruses pulled up on a computer screen. I think God was honored in those moments, but it was nothing like adding your voice to a few dozen (or a few hundred) other believers, singing out in praise and accompanied by talented musicians. Corporate worship and preaching fuel me for the week ahead.

But Sunday mornings are not the only time I worship.

I have learned that worship shouldn’t be a noun. It’s not a person, place, or thing; it’s an action. Sometimes it’s an active verb, like on Sunday mornings when we worship together. And sometimes it’s more like a state-of-being verb, a mindset that pervades everything else.

Dig into God’s call to worship–including some gleanings from Romans–at Vanessa’s blog. Otherwise, what do you think of as worship and when does it occur? Share your thoughts there or in the comments below.

What I write when I have nothing to write

I’m spiritually dry. I feel like there’s a vacuum cleaner above my head, and every time I begin to sense the Lord’s presence, that vacuum whirs into action and immediately sucks the feeling out of my reach.

This often happens to me around Christmas. Maybe it’s the extra obligations and travel. Maybe it’s the overblown expectation of some sweet spiritual experience. Maybe it’s the disruption of my regular schedule with kids home and husband off work and late nights which lead to late-rising mornings. Maybe it’s a new plan for my daily quiet time, and I haven’t adjusted yet. Maybe it’s the cold weather that makes it hard to go for a run and compels me to cook warm things instead.

What I’m trying to say is that I have nothing fresh and unique to offer you today. Even as I look back through my journals and find these great spiritual insights, I feel no conviction to write about them.

Faith is a choice founded
in conviction and ratified
in experience. (click to tweet)

But my faith is not a feeling. Faith is a choice founded in conviction and ratified in experience. It is an ever-present rock which cannot be shifted (Psalm 62:2).

God told Isaiah that people are like grass, and their faithfulness is like wildflowers in a field. The grass (which is the people) dries up and turns brown. The flowers (which is the people’s faithfulness) fall off their stems, but neither He nor His Word are like that; on the contrary, “the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8).

So I will do what I do what I do when there’s no doing left in my muscles.

I will sing what I sing when there’s no song left in my heart.

I will think what I think when there’s no thought left in my mind.

It’s the same thing so many before me have done.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will be joyful in God my Savior. -Habakkuk 3:17-18

As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long—though I know not how to relate them all. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. -Psalm 71:14-16

I can always praise Him.

I can always declare His faithfulness back to Him even when my own faithfulness falters.

I can always remind myself of His sovereignty, His presence, His goodness.

What about you? What do you do when the well of spiritual nourishment goes dry? Let’s refresh each other with your comments below!

What to do when it’s not just your skin that’s dry in winter. (click to tweet)

Paul’s Inauspicious Beginning

We all know the dramatic story of Saul’s conversation on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) and how he went from persecuting Christians to being principal among them and, most would say, the first cross-cultural missionary. No doubt, his calling was clear and certain.

Paul didn’t tell any
of the leading Christians
for a long time.

But here’s something really interesting. Paul talks about it in Galatians 1. He describes his conversion and what a complete change it made in him. Immediately, he began sharing with anyone who would listen in the Damascus synagogues, causing a major uproar! But even though his conversion was so phenomenal and he knew he was called to reach the Gentiles, he didn’t tell any of the leading Christians for a long time. In fact, after a few days in Damascus, he went away from the seat of Christianity (Acts 9:19-22, Galatians 1:11-17). Doesn’t that seem backward to you? Shouldn’t he go tell the leadership team in Jerusalem? Shouldn’t he start right away? But look at the next few verses:

Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. … Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. -Galatians 1:18-19, 21-22

I bet you’ve never heard a sermon preached from these verses. I haven’t. But there’s some real wisdom here for those of us called to something public. I’m talking to you, writers and speakers!

Three Years

Three years he remained anonymous. God called him to share Christ with the Gentiles—a totally new thing—but Paul waited three years. Jesus Himself (!!) appeared to Saul/Paul after His ascension, and yet Paul didn’t write a book, hire an agent, or start a speaking tour. He didn’t even start building a platform. (My writer friends will understand that one.) He went off by himself. So maybe he needed a little space to digest what happened on the way to Damascus and to reflect on this radical new perspective. Or maybe he realized the wounds he had previously inflicted on Christians were just too fresh. We don’t actually know why Paul went away or what he did for those three years, but I think he sought solitude because there was so much he had to unlearn from his days as a Pharisee. He knew he wasn’t spiritually mature enough to lead anything.

Get Acquainted

Finally, Paul thought himself ready to begin his ministry. So he printed some business cards, then he scheduled a social media blast and recruited a street team. He worked his connections to get a speaking engagement in a mid-size auditorium. Wait, what? He didn’t do any of that. He quietly entered Jerusalem and tried to connect with a disciple or two, but they were still afraid, even after three years! Finally, Barnabas convinced Peter to meet Paul, and Paul stayed with him for a couple of weeks. Peter was an experienced preacher and minister, a man who knew Jesus personally and who understood what “go ye therefore” (Matthew 28:19 KJV) really meant. In other words, Paul found a mentor.

Saw None of the Others

During those fifteen days with Cephas/Peter, Paul shared his faith all over Jerusalem, but he never met any of the other original disciples (Acts 9:28, Galatians 1:19). He wasn’t interested in networking with people who would further his career. In fact, I bet the only reason he saw James was because James just dropped by Peter’s house one day while Paul was there.

Personally Unknown

After those fifteen precious days with Peter, Paul went home to Tarsus. (Galatians says the more general Syria and Cilicia, but Acts 9:30 specifies Tarsus.) Jesus knew a prophet is never honored in his own country (John 4:44); it’s almost a proverb. On top of that, Paul didn’t know any of the believers in that region (Galatians 1:22). It wasn’t a logical destination for him. And yet, God began to give him an audience there—in an unlikely place at an unlikely time.

To summarize (in present tense), Jesus gives Paul an assignment. Three years later, he gets a couple of introductions, frightens a bunch of believers, then goes where no one knows him. He is not famous or popular. Not an auspicious beginning to such a profound calling.

I wonder if Paul expected more. I wonder if he was frustrated with the length of time in Arabia and the lack of recognition in Judea. I would have been. Would you?

Sometimes we have to
“grow into” our calling.
(click to tweet)

What’s my point? Calling and the ministry it produces may not be consecutive. Sometimes we have to “grow into” our calling.

More than ten years ago, I first understood God calling me to speak and write, but at the same time, He showed me I had too much pride and too little wisdom. I doubled Paul’s three-year absence, leaving more than six years before I even began blogging. The lesson we have from Paul, which is the lesson I’m still trying to learn, is to be patient. That means…

  • Not to force the ministry, like Paul waited those three years.
  • To keep working even while we’re learning, like Paul shared in Jerusalem.
  • To find a mentor, like Paul found Peter.
  • To know some people aren’t going to “get it,” like believers were frightening by Paul.
  • To take the less-prestigious, less-popular roles and wait on God, like Paul went to Tarsus.

Personally, that means I’m trying to be satisfied with my platform, with the reach of my Twitter feed, with the many (that is, all) influential people who still don’t know me. I’ll take the opportunity in front of me even when it doesn’t seem promising. And I’ll try not to scare too many people in the process.

Paul didn’t become the best-known Christian EVER over night. Likewise, our calling takes time. (click to tweet)

How’s your calling coming along? Are you frustrated by a lack of progress? How does Paul’s example help you be patient? Write me a note in the comments so I know I’m not alone on this!

Spiritual Disciplines in the Car (part 2)

With busy lives and little time for retreat or relaxation, it can be easy to neglect our spiritual growth. This week and last week, I’m sharing some practical ideas for observing spiritual disciplines even while you’re driving down the road in the car. Join in, and let’s see what God can do!

The disciplines of activity are about things we do or things we grab hold of, compared to last week’s list of things we avoid.

Spiritual Disciplines of Activity for the Car

Study – Listen to a recording of the Bible, but don’t let it just drone on and on. Listen to a big chunk such as a chapter or full narrative story (all of Joseph, for example), then stop the recording and reflect on what you’ve heard. At other times, try very small bits of Scripture. If traffic permits, listen to one verse or paragraph at a time, stopping the recording frequently in order to meditate on what you’ve heard. No matter how much you heard, when you reach your destination, take a minute before you open the door to record any insights or fresh understanding.

Alternatively, practice a single verse or passage until you have it memorized. Pull it up on your phone or write it on a card. Look at it when you’re stopped (such as at a traffic light), then recite it while you drive. Check yourself the next time you stop.

You might also listen to podcasts of sermons or audio books on Christian topics.

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. -Psalm 119:11

Worship – Sing along with praise music. Recite psalms. Voice prayers of adoration and thanksgiving. The point is that you enjoy Who God is and relish His Presence with you.

We praise you, God, we praise you, for your Name is near; people tell of your wonderful deeds. -Psalm 75:1

Leave space for God to
respond in your prayers.

Prayer – Pray out loud. These days, you don’t have to be self-conscious. People in surrounding cars will just think you’re talking on the phone. As you pray, don’t take up all the time with your own words. Leave space for God to respond. You’ll be surprised at how He plants ideas and/or verses in your head when you pray like this!

I pray to you, Lord, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. -Psalm 69:13

Fellowship – The easiest way to do this is simply to carpool with other believers. Alternatively, invite someone to accompany you even though they don’t need to go where you’re going. Either way, use your travel time to talk about real things. If nothing else, share your stories of coming to know Christ. If you can’t be in the same vehicle, call the person. Put your phone on speaker and have an in-depth spiritual conversation as you travel. Sometimes this is easier than sitting down face-to-face with nothing for your hands to do and nowhere safe for your eyes to rest.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. -1 John 1:3

Confession – In a spirit of prayer, allow the Holy Spirit free reign in your heart to convict you of any unconfessed sin. If you have a hard time getting started, listen to and meditate on Psalm 51. When you arrive at your destination, phone anyone from whom you need to ask forgiveness. Do it immediately or you won’t follow through (at least, I wouldn’t)!

Confession is agreeing
with God about Who He
is and who I am.

Confession isn’t only about exposing sins. Remember Romans 10:9 (not in NIV but in other translations such as ESV)? It says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” There’s an idea of acknowledgement (the AMP demonstrates this) or agreeing with God about Who He is and who I am. I’ve read about and tried a sort of breathing confession that goes like this: As you breathe out, agree with God that you are sinful and in need of His guidance, shelter, presence, etc. As you breathe in, ask for a greater filling of the Holy Spirit to accomplish His glory in the moment. This type of moment-by-moment confession can help you focus on God’s presence and action in your life.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. -Psalm 32:5

Submission – Follow the speed limit for the entirety of a long drive. After all, the Scriptures say, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority” (1 Peter 2:13). Just plan ahead on this one because it will take you longer than usual to reach your destination!

Ask someone to hold you accountable for practicing some portion (or all!) of these spiritual disciplines for the car over a specified amount of time. Report your activity regularly.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. -Ephesians 5:21

It doesn’t take much to make the spiritual disciplines a part of our everyday lives—just a little intentionality. Try one of these suggestions this week and see how God blesses your effort.

Make the spiritual disciplines a part of your everyday life by practicing in the car. (click to tweet)

I pray these ideas have sparked something in your mind. What from this list do you want to try? What other suggestions do you have? Let’s start a conversation of encouragement in the comments below!

Spiritual Disciplines in the Car (part 1)

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, in the “too busy” attitude of many Christ-followers, it can be easy to disregard the practices of spiritual discipline. We may think they’re archaic or better suited to a mountain retreat rather than everyday living. We may think our days are too segmented or that spiritual disciplines are for those in “full-time ministry.” We may even question their benefit for spiritual growth.

But here’s the thing…

Going to the gym is not enough to get you physically fit. You have to actually use the equipment or participate in a class. Exercise isn’t just for health nuts and personal trainers; it’s for everyone. And if you want even more physical improvement, you have to make small healthy decisions throughout the day like taking the stairs or eating a salad.

Small everyday habits
foster lasting change.

In the same way, sitting in a church pew won’t make you a stronger Christian. You have to participate in the corporate disciplines (the things we do together) but also apply the private disciplines (things you do on your own).  Just like you could go to a health spa, there may be wonderful opportunities for a spiritual retreat where you get to focus on spiritual growth, but those times won’t change you—the health spa or the spiritual retreat—if you don’t practice them in your regular life. Small everyday habits, however, can foster lasting change, both physical and spiritual.

Paul told Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (1Timothy 4:7b-8). Check out 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, which I wrote about last week, for more on Paul’s parallel between physical and spiritual training.

What follows are some suggested practices for spiritual discipline specially designed for our time in the car. For our purposes today and next week, I’ve taken a list of disciplines compiled by Bible.org from the writings of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster, both respected, evangelical theologians. Here’s the link to that list. It has explanations, in case you aren’t familiar with any of these terms.

How can you use this list?

Choose to concentrate on one discipline this week or try something different each day. Like working out weak muscles, the more difficult disciplines are probably the ones you need to practice the most! I’ve included a verse for meditation with each discipline. Feel free to add your own verses and to share more ideas in the comments at the bottom of this page.

This week, we look at the disciplines of abstinence. That means the focus is on letting go of something or avoiding something. Next week, we’ll consider the disciplines of activity.

Spiritual Disciplines of Abstinence for the Car

Solitude – Being alone in the car is a good start, but make a point of that solitude. Silence your phone and put it in the glove box or somewhere out of sight. If you need music, tune the radio to something without a lot of talking. Center your thoughts on God’s presence with you. Let him direct your thoughts…not to worry, but to worship.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. -Mark 1:35

Silence – This one usually begins with solitude, but if your children are sleeping or distracted, you might also find a few minutes of silence. Put away your phone as above but also turn off the radio. Practicing silence also means quieting your mind. We have to teach our minds to stay present and still. This is not a time to unload your concerns to the Lord but to seek contentment in His sufficiency and sovereignty.

The fruit of [God’s] righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. -Isaiah 32:17

Fasting – Delay your drive-thru destination for a couple of exits or completely skip your coffee stop. But don’t distract yourself from the hunger or the caffeine craving. Instead, use the feelings to remind your body that Christ is more important than food. Depend on God to meet your need for food or caffeine in other ways, even if it’s just for ten minutes.

Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. -Psalm 63:3

Frugality – Turn off the heating or a/c for the duration of your drive. Why? Because frugality is about learning to live with less, and temperature-manipulated air is not essential. (Maybe don’t do this on the hottest or coldest days of the year, when it could be dangerous.) Like fasting, use the discomfort to remind your mind and body of God’s place of priority in your life.

Brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. -Romans 8:12-13

Chastity (sexual purity/abstinence) – Determine a period of time in which you will not listen to music with suggestive lyrics. If there’s a provocative billboard on your route, intentionally look elsewhere when it comes into view. If a sexual TV or movie scene often pops into your head, practice taking every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and replacing that thought with praise. Pray for your spouse (or future spouse), especially for sexual purity and faithfulness. By the way, sexual purity isn’t just for the unmarried.

There are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it. -Matthew 19:12b

Secrecy is action
without accolades.

Secrecy – As your drive, ask God to show you a charity to support. Then, when you arrive at your destination, use your cellphone to make an anonymous donation to that charity. Many charities have special text messages that automatically donate a small, specified amount to their cause through your service provider. Another option: pay for the order of the person behind you in the drive-thru line. Someone did this for us once, and it was such a delightful surprise blessing!

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. -Matthew 6:3-4a

Sacrifice – Intentionally let another car cut in front of you as traffic backs up, especially the one that zoomed to the front of the line instead of merging with everyone else. Leave the closest parking space for someone else and take one further from the door for yourself even though it means more walking.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. -Philippians 2:3

Small steps in the spiritual disciplines—even in the car—lead to big spiritual growth. (click to tweet)

Come back next week for ideas on how to apply the active disciplines even while driving down the road! In the meantime…

Have any suggestions for practicing these spiritual disciplines in the car? Please share in the comments below! Did you try one of these suggestions? What happened? Join the conversation!

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.)

John got there first. He stopped at the entrance to the cave. Why did he hesitate? Fear? Anticipation? Respect for Peter?

Jesus hadn’t been taken;
He had been raised!

Peter, always the impulsive one, didn’t stutter-step, didn’t stop to discuss their options. He ran all the way into the tomb. It took his eyes a few seconds to adjust to the darkness, then he could make out the burial cloths. John stepped inside after him. Together, they could see that Jesus hadn’t been taken; He had been raised! We know John immediately believed (John 20:8). And Peter? It took him a while (Luke 24:12), but he eventually understood it all.

Though one believed immediately while one had to think on it, for both these disciples, Jesus’ disappearance, coupled with what they already knew, was enough. They believed.

Mary

John 20:11-18.

Mary returned to the burial site after telling the disciples. She stood outside the cave, confused and crying. She couldn’t make Peter and John’s leap from the absence of a body to the resurrection of that same body. Even the appearance of two angels (who hadn’t been there earlier) couldn’t knock her out of her stupor, and usually angels scare people straight. Just saying.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a man. He said…something. It was a question she couldn’t bear to answer. Instead, she questioned him: “Tell me where you have put him” (John 20:15). Mary’s eyes were full of tears, probably puffy and read. It was barely past daybreak, early in the morning. She had hardly slept at all for the past two nights. Still.

The man spoke again. Jesus said her name. With that one word, Mary believed.

Thomas

John 20:24-29.

Where was Thomas that first time Jesus showed up among the disciples (John 20:19-23)? We don’t know. He caught up with them later, but he just couldn’t believe what they said about Jesus being alive. He knew these guys, and he didn’t trust them enough to believe that. He drew a line in the metaphorical 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).

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

It took a week. Thomas didn’t go away, but neither did he believe. Don’t miss this (even though it’s not the main point): Thomas didn’t leave. He may have been a doubter, but he wasn’t a deserter. In the same way, we can live with our doubts for a while, until Jesus answers them, but we have to stay close, stay where He can reach out to us.

Jesus was just there. One second, no Jesus. The next second, Jesus. He greeted everyone perfunctorily, then turned straight to Thomas. He stretched out his hand and asked Thomas to touch Him. He hadn’t told Peter and John; He hadn’t told Mary, but He told—commanded, really—Thomas to believe.

Jesus met Thomas with a doubt-erasing action, and Thomas believed.

Cleopas and Another Follower

Luke 24:13-35.

Two followers of Jesus (not part of the inner circle) took advantage of a necessarily long walk to process everything they had heard and seen since Jesus’ crucifixion three days earlier. Just that morning, they heard Jesus wasn’t actually dead any more. He had come back to life! So there was a lot to talk about.

When a scholar of the Scriptures joined them on the road, they continued the conversation. In fact, they figuratively walked through all of Hebrew Scripture even as they literally walked to Emmaus. This man was obviously brilliant, with an understanding of Scripture like they had never seen before. (Funny, since they’d been following Jesus and presumably had heard Him speak on numerous occasions!) They convinced the man to have dinner with them, and when He blessed the food, they suddenly saw they had been walking with Jesus.

Jesus revealed the full pattern of Scripture to them, and they believed.

So What?

Jesus gave each of these followers exactly what they needed in order to believe. For Peter and John, His absence was enough. For Mary, a simple word sufficed. For Thomas, it was sight and touch. For Cleopas and that other guy, it took a long, history-rich discussion and some fellowship. Faith has no formula.

Jesus doesn’t begrudge those
who need more from Him…

Even in the 21st century, some people come quickly to Jesus and some need years of doubt and/or discussion. It’s all okay. Jesus doesn’t begrudge the ones who need more from Him in order to believe. Neither can we judge, classify, or categorize the rate at which belief infiltrates a life. Faith is harder for some.

The rate of one’s response to Jesus doesn’t affect the quality of salvation. Faith has no formula. (click to tweet)

What do you think? How quickly did you respond to Jesus? How quickly have you seen others respond? Please share in the comments.